2 minutes with… Martina Devlin


This year at Dublin Book Festival we are delighted to be able to host many fascinating history events throughout the festival, so we are beyond excited to speak to Martina Devlin, author and award-winning journalist, about Historical Fiction. Her latest novel, Edith (The Lilliput Press), is a captivating and insightful novel based on the life of Edith Somerville, a writer struggling to keep her art and spirit alive in the turbulence of 1920s Ireland.

Why do you think there has been a rise in the popularity of Historical Fiction in the last few years?

Historical fiction is a conversation between past and present. It shines a light on untold stories and sidelined figures, and allows readers to engage with the past in a more nuanced way. It gives back their voice to people deemed unimportant.

What drew you to this particular time period/historical figure?

Ireland was in a state of flux during the revolutionary years (1912-1923) –one order was making way for another; and not willingly! The labour rights movement, feminist and nationalist movements were electrical charges people could plug into. Anything was possible, and it can only have been exciting – and frightening – to experience. Life after these tumultuous years must have been dull and maybe even disappointing in some cases.

What historical time period would you like to have lived in yourself?

1918 – I’d be a suffragette, that “mad wicked folly” to quote Queen Victoria. I’d be out on the streets with my companions, holding a Votes for Women banner, I’d be chained to railings, defying judges and ending up in jail. I might have struggled with the hunger strike policy applied in prisons, however, because the idea of being force fed horrifies me – it was a brutal, authoritarian response. I’d also like to have been part of the campaign team which helped to elect Mary Robinson as Ireland’s first female president in 1990, but strictly speaking it doesn’t count as a historical period. She made history, though.

What are some writing tips you would give for writing Historical Fiction?

Honour the facts – unless you’re writing an alternative history novel, you can’t change the outcome of World War One, or have Countess Markievicz executed in 1916, or save President Kennedy from the assassin’s gunfire. But give yourself the freedom to explore emotional truths – which are not the business of historians but belong in the realm of the novelist. Imagine your characters’ emotional responses to events, invent plausible conversations and substitute gaps in information with possible outcomes.
Inhabit the past and not the present when you write about it.


You can catch Martina at our Writing History event on the 11th of November to hear her discuss her novel and more!

Tickets and further information are available here