Ida Linehan Young is an emerging author out of Newfoundland and Labrador with two novels and a memoir to her credit: Being Mary Ro and The Promise, both published by Flanker Press, and No Turning Back, Surviving the Linehan Family Tragedy, which was published by Breakwater Books. In this candid interview, Ms. Linehan Young discusses many things dear to her heart, not the least of which are her fictional characters, Mary Ro and Erith Lock.
Miramichi Reader: Tell us about your background, education, employment, etc.
I believe I was a great student throughout grade school. I received honours right up to grade 10. In my final year of high school, I had been in a tragic house fire that summer, so I attended my grade 11 starting in January the following year and, between surgeries and doctor’s visits, sporadically until June. I had wonderful teachers who helped me succeed by introducing me to the “main” topics that I’d need for public exams. I completed the school year in less than half the time. I was fortunate to graduate with my fellow classmates.
From high school, I was accepted to college in a Civil Engineering program. Not well thought out. I did it because my brother, who had died the previous summer, had done it. The powers that be got me in and it was a complete disaster. I was one of two girls on the whole right-hand side of the college. I was the only girl in a “man’s” field, I was 17, I had lost half my family the year before, I was still recovering from burns and surgeries, and I was mercilessly tormented by students and teachers alike for trying to do what only men could do. I lasted almost two years there before quitting. It was a forced quittal because I had to go for surgery and had complications which caused me to miss four weeks of school. Teachers were unwilling to help me catch up, so I gave up and went home.
Two years later I went back to the same college (to the left-hand side) where I took a one-year secretarial program. I worked a little in that field at a helicopter company and at a couple of schools before leaving it all to get married. I left the big city to live in a small community called St. Brides. I worked seasonally there in a fish plant at cod and I tended bar at the local lounge to supplement my income. I had three babies and we lived a minimal life until the cod fishery closed in 1992 after which we dipped below the poverty line. I wanted to return to school to better our lives, however, the schools were filled with people displaced by the fishery (I had missed the cut-off by a year), and I had to wait for three years before I entered a three year computer networking/troubleshooting program (same college, same wing as the Civil Engineering). I became a weekend mom and a weekday mature student. I graduated in 1998 with numerous awards and honours. I was successful in getting employment with the federal government in the information technology field. I’ve been there for over 20 years. I love my job and I love the people I work with.
MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that influenced you to become a writer.
A substitute teacher, Mrs. Marrie, read a book aloud to the class during her several weeks with us. The story was about a young boy who was lost at sea in a boat. He found his way home by remembering the stories his father told about the sea and stars. She held me captive in grade four and I could see myself accompanying the young boy on his journey through tropical waters as he fought to get home. I loved to read the books from the school library but never imagined I have books there with my name on them. I loved writing poems in grade school. It was something that came naturally to me. When I started work, I had to do technical writing that I tried to express in plain language so that it could be understood by more than the tech community.
Circumstances steered me towards writing my first book, my memoir. I had a personal epiphany that influenced my “want” to write the story of my family tragedy. The stars aligned and finally, pen went to paper when my daughter became interested in genealogy. She told me she had no idea who my brothers and sisters were, and that once I was gone, none of our family would know. A short time later I watched a TV show which talked about people who had circumstances similar to mine, and that was the catalyst for No Turning Back, Surviving the Linehan Family Tragedy in 2014. A reviewer said it was a one-hit-wonder and that I wouldn’t be able to write anything else. I took that as a personal challenge and continued to write.
MR: Do you have a favourite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?
I don’t really have any favourite book or even a favourite genre. I like to take something away from a story. I like to read about people who have had personal tragedies to see how they “survived”. I also like historical fiction, especially from Scotland and Ireland, because it reminds me of home.
MR: where did the ideas for both your novels come from?
I was always intrigued by my maternal grandfather and grandmother (my namesake). He was a sailor who travelled the world, a sealer, an accordion player, a man who loved his wife beyond measure. In their 80s, they would hold hands going to the store when they got their old age pension cheques. Her world lay within the confines of a small community and in the stories of her soulmate. They were kind and fun to be around. I listened to stories about how he had been shipwrecked and, after being brought to our small community, he played at a dance that night. He saw my grandmother and said she was the woman he was going to marry. And he did. And, despite their struggles, especially losing a son, losing five grandchildren, and having a simple existence, they always had each other. We felt that growing up. We listened to that growing up. We lived that growing up. I always dreamed of what their lives would have been like when they were young around the turn of the century. Their history, their lives, they themselves, inspired my love of our history.
Then I had my father, who had been orphaned at a very young age. His mother died before he was two. He often reminisced about his youth. He was much older than my mother, born in 1917 and her in 1933. I listened to his stories about his struggles as a boy. But, despite everything he had been through, he was always positive and jovial.
Stories from my father and my grandfather spawned the ideas for my novels and then my imagination did the rest. I looked up events in the time period that I wanted to write about and I put my fingers to the keyboard and just let the characters come to me. I like writing about our Newfoundland and Labrador history. There are many books dealing with the wars, the seal hunt, our political lineage, etc. but there are very few which go back in the late 1800s and bring the past to the present. Ideas are triggered from the events and the characters are my own.
MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be?
I would like to write my mother’s biography. She is such an inspiration in so many ways. Her book could fill an old-time encyclopedia, an entire volume of encyclopedias, in fact. She hasn’t been ready for that yet. I hope to convince her to change her mind.
MR: What are you working on now?
Right now, I’m working on a follow-up to The Promise. It will be like Being Mary Ro is to The Promise. It will be a stand-alone novel but characters will cross from the pages of the other two, into the newest one. I’m still gathering real events that can shape their story, but it is plotted out in my mind and I’ve got a few chapters completed. Sometimes I have no idea the course my lead characters will take. I had lots of feedback from Being Mary Ro that I took to heart. Many people felt like Mary was one of the family, an ancestor, somebody from their family tree. They wanted to know more about her, so I gave her a few scenes in The Promise. From The Promise, readers fell in love with Erith and want to see more of her. So, she will get a few cameo appearances in the next one, and her new husband may have to play a role there, as well. I also heard from descendants of some of the “real” characters in the book who said they felt like I was describing their family history. That means a lot to me.
MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?
When not writing (or working), I love to spend time with my grandkids. I like to read. I like to spend time by the ocean or on the ocean. I love to renovate (I believe there is a gene for that). I love to walk and bike on the trails around our beautiful town of Conception Bay South. I’m a volunteer at our local Kiwanis Club and we do some wonderful work in the community. I like to help people (I believe there is a gene for that as well).
MR: Finally, what is your kryptonite?
My kryptonite comes in several forms. Bread and fish are physical kryptonite. I’m a celiac with severe fish allergies. Ingesting either would almost surely lead to my demise or at least put me in a bad way for dying (or wanting to die). I am drawn to people who need help, especially children and seniors. I avoid the food like the plague and, despite the time and commitment involved, the latter lifts me up. Oh, and competitiveness! Did somebody say I’d never write another book? ?