Find a story you really, really want to write. That’s the view of Anne Madden, as we can see from her answers below, and it helps to explain how she came to pen her debut novel, “The Wilderness Way.”

The novel, which is published Thursday in the U.S., tells the true story of the Glenveagh evictions in County Donegal when landlord John Adair put more than 200 people out of their homes in April 1861. That same month, the American Civil War got underway. 

“I was struck by the misery this landlord inflicted on his own tenants and wanted to explore the reasons why he evicted them that very cold spring,” the novelist said. “I became more intrigued by Adair when I read that he had married an American Civil War widow, Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie whose father was a famous general. I’d studied the Civil War at university and decided I could fictionalize an account of the period that could bring to life what had happened.”

“The Wilderness Way” is told through the eyes of the landlord and one of the evicted tenants, a fictionalized character Declan Conaghan. While John Adair is planning to build a castle on his new estate, Declan and his brother emigrate to the U.S. to escape the workhouse where they ended up after the evictions. They join their uncle in upstate New York where they fight with the Wadsworth Guards led by Cornelia’s father in the Civil War.

Madden, who works with cycling advocacy Sustrans, has spent a lot of holidays visiting Donegal and in particular Glenveagh National Park. “Donegal is undoubtedly one of the most scenic parts of Ireland. It was a pleasure to write a story with the stunning background of Glenveagh,” she said. “I only hope I’ve done it justice in my descriptions in the novel.”   

In addition to trips to scenic Donegal, the writer lists cycling and learning to speak Irish among her favorite pastimes.  “I recently got my ‘cupla focal,’” the Oxford graduate said, “and am now doing an improvers’ Gaelige class in the heart of east Belfast [Turas school].”

Anne Madden

Date of birth: March 16, 1976, the day before St Patrick’s Day, hence my middle name is Patricia.

Place of birth: Belfast

Spouse: Heather Ferguson

Residence: Belfast

Published works: debut novel, although have written for the Irish News & Belfast Telegraph as a journalist.


What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

I wouldn’t say I have a routine that I stick to. I work full-time and write when I can, so usually evenings and weekends. It is important to discipline yourself to write everyday if you can in order to make progress. However, sometimes the creative juices just aren’t flowing… I like a quiet room with a view so I can day-dream.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Find a story you really, really want to write because it does take a lot of commitment to complete. Be prepared to write and rewrite chapters. Writing is a bit like sculpting,  it takes a lot of shaping and reworking to make something good. Definitely read as much as you can, especially in the genre you’re interested in. Join a creative writing group for ideas, tips and support. 

I was very fortunate to win the Spotlight First Novel Award from a London literary agency, Adventures in Fiction. I won a mentoring package with the Director, Marion Urch, whose ancestors hail from Leitrim, a few miles from the Donegal border. As she told me, my novel chimed a lot with her own family history. She provided really constructive criticism of early drafts of my novel and helped shape it into something publishable.

Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.

I’ve a wide-ranging taste in fiction. “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” Emily M. Danforth; “Gone with the Wind,” Margaret Mitchell; “Days without End,” Sebastian Barry.

What book are you currently reading?

 “How to Build a Boat” by Elaine Feeney.

Is there a book you wish you had written?

 “The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton.

 Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.

 “Empire of the Sun” by JG Ballard.

If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?

Charles Dickens – “The Christmas Carol” is still one of my favorite stories. I read it every Christmas. He wrote so many incredible books and was such a keen observer and critic of the 19th century.

What book changed your life?

“A Time to Speak” by Helen Lewis. This is a stunning memoir of Helen, an Auschwitz survivor from the Sudetenland, then Czechoslovakia. She came to Belfast after World War II and became a pioneer of modern dance in Northern Ireland. A really inspiring woman whom I met as a teenager and made a huge impact on me.

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

Glenveagh National Park, Donegal, of course…You're Irish if... 

You say “so it is” after most sentences.