Author Interview: Aubrey Flegg

Can you tell me a little about yourself and how you got into writing?

I think I have always been fascinated with words, but being dyslexic, writing just wasnt an option when I was young. My early childhood was spent on a farm in Co Sligo; this was a formative time for me. There was no electricity on the farm, so milking was done by hand, and as it was war time, there was no fuel for a tractor, so the work on the farm was done with horses. Many years later when I came to write my first book, Katies War, it was easy for me to imagine what it had been like for Katie back in 1922 when she was growing up on similar farm. I find I use my own experiences a lot in writing, and when necessary, will try to find out more by reading or travelling. My working life was spent as a geologist, studying rocks, mostly in Ireland, but also in Africa. When wanted to describe life for Yola, a young African girl who steps on a landmine, I was able to give her a home and a family based on the people I had lived among in Kenya.

Lets talk books:

Book CoverYour first book Katies War was published in 1997. It is a book set during the civil war period in Ireland. Can you tell us a little about this book?

One day I was standing at the door of my lodging near Killaloe after a hard days geology when I heard a horse galloping towards me. A pony and trap flashed by; I think the pony was bolting, but standing up in the trap was a girl leaning on the reins laughing as the wind blew her hair, I said to myself then: one day I will write about that girl and I will call her Katie. We have all heard of the brave Irish men and boys who went to fight in the trenches with English army during the First World War, but we forget that when they came home they found that they were not wanted, as by that time we were fighting our war of independence against the English. I began by imagining Katies father returning from the war, wounded and shell-shocked, and being nursed back to normality by Katie. How would he feel when, just as the war of independence was won, not only Ireland, but his own family was split, Republican versus Free State in vicious civil war? At the time of writing the troubles in the North of Ireland, echoes of the same civil war, were still raging. I wanted someone to observe Katie and her family from outside so I brought in the Welsh boy Dafydd; he nearly took over the story for me.

Your novel The Cinnamon tree is about a girl named Yola who has her leg blown off by a landmine and her life is changed forever. She travels to Ireland to be fitted with an artificial leg and her life is changed further when she meets 17 year old, Fintan.

Book CoverWhere did you get the inspiration for the book?

I had finished Katies War and was wondering what to write about next when I saw by chance a TV programme showing Princess Diana in Africa showing the world the evils of landmines. These small bombs which are buried to wound soldiers are still ending up wounding and killing civilians, mostly women and children. I felt so angry that I decided to write a book about this evil. I started to write but soon was in deep trouble, my Irish hero was useless. I asked advice of a friend who said: “Simple, you dont know what it is like to stand in a mine field!” I rang Norwegian Peoples Aid and asked if I could come and see how they were clearing landmines. To my horror they said; “Yes, provided you do as you are told.” I flew out to Angola and within hours had met the African girl who would become Yola, and within a week had seen all that I needed to write about landmines. Back home at the Rehabilitation Hospital I met the boy who would become Fintan. Now all I had to do was blend my Kenyan experience with the Angolan minefields.

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Book CoverYou have also written the Louise Trilogy including books, Wings Over Delft, The Rainbow Bridge and In the Claws of the Eagle. Wings Over Delft has won some prestigious awards including the Bistro Book of the year award 2004. Can you tell us a little about the trilogy and where you got the inspiration for it?

I had on the wall above my desk a postcard of the Vermeers portrait of: The Girl with a Pearl Earring. One day the card fell onto the floor and lay there face-down. It was then that I realised that it wasnt the card or the canvass that made the picture come to life, but my action of looking at it. What about a book, I wondered, that starts with the painting of a portrait of a girl, a masterpiece, so perfect that she seems about to step out from the canvass. When she regrets that the portrait is finished and she will be trapped in it for ever, the painter points out that a picture is never finished because it is the people who look at it that finish it, and that she may well live again in the minds of her viewers. So, what if a century and a half later her picture falls, into the hands of a French Hussar who becomes so absorbed with her portrait that she does indeed come to life for him? Or leap forward to Vienna between the world wars where she becomes the constant companion of a young Jewish violinist. The Louise trilogy started as a single book and turned into the trilogy: Wings Over Delft, The Rainbow Bridge, and In the Claws of the Eagle.

 A theme I noticed in your novels is that most are placed in Ireland and set in the past. Is there any other genre you would like to explore I.e. Dystopian, paranormal etc.

For someone who was brought up on Patricia Lynch, who loves the fantasy of Tolkien, and Philip Pullman, and has the greatest respect for modern fantasy writers, I dont seem to be able to write fantasy myself. Im like a kite that needs the thread of reality to fly and not to wander. In both The Rainbow Bridge and In the Claws of the Eagle Louise, however, my heroine does step out of the minds of my heroes to play an active role.

What can we expect next from you? Are you working on anything new?
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As you observe, I tend towards history; and to Ireland for my locale, as I have for my most recent novel Fugitives. This is a story based on the Flight of the Earls. Hugh ONeill stood on the deck of his boat with a hundred passengers waiting for his young son Con to join him in their flight. Con never arrived. That is all I knew when I devised a story in which two foster brothers, Fion ONeill, a fictional nephew of Hugh, and James de Cashel of Norman descent set off with Jamess sister Sinéad to find Con and bring him to the boat in time. They fail, which gives me the opportunity to write a sequel, which I am working on at the moment.

Check out the authoswebsite If you have any questions email the author at . Aubrey's  book  are published by: The OBrien Press, 12 Terenure Road East, Dublin 6. Books can be ordered on line from: .


  1. Wonderful interview Megan. I enjoyed learning more about Aubrey Flegg and his work. I recently picked up Fugitives in a Dublin book shop and not only found myself sharing the children's adventures as I read, I also learned something about Irish history. Well done, Mr. Flegg!