The Hungry Road: Questions with Marita Conlon-McKenna

Dublin Book Festival gave you the chance to ask best-selling author Marita Conlon-McKenna questions as part of our #AskAnAuthor series. Keep reading to find out her answers, and to hear even more from Marita, tune in to her podcast with Marianne Lee and Breda Brown as part of #DBF2020!

Anne-Marie O’Donnell: Where did your fascination with the Famine come from and how has it sustained your interest enough to write both children’s and an adult book about it?

I am not  sure where my fascination for the famine came from. History and the past fascinate me and have always made me want to discover and find out things. I do  remember even when I was young realising how little information or books there were about The Great Irish Famine even though it was the most important and transformative event in our history. I couldn’t understand why more hadn’t  been written about it. I had heard stories about the time of the Great Famine in West Cork from my mother and my aunt, but it was fate and hearing about the discovery of three small children’s skeletons buried under a hawthorn tree, that riveted me.

I immediately took out my pen and began to write the story of this huge event through the eyes of three children. I wanted to write a book for my daughter and knew immediately this was the story to tell. The book would go on to be published and read and enjoyed by children all over the world. It certainly changed my life and since then I’ve  found myself researching and discovering more about the Famine and have been involved in all kinds of events and projects around it.

I certainly had never intended to write a big Famine book again and had started work on a new book which had a small element about the Famine, when suddenly the research down in Skibbereen led me to a much bigger and bolder story. There I read about the town’s doctor Dan Donovan and his heroism during those terrible years of The Great Hunger when starvation and sickness stalked the town and the huge efforts he and the good people of the town made to save lives and cope with the absolute tragedy that engulfed them. I was very nervous about it as I soon realised what an epic story I was writing; it was daunting, but I knew it was a story that deserved telling. I just kept on but was stunned by the sheer magnitude and scale of such human tragedy that was there to see in documents, reports, and Doctor Dan’s diary of a dispensary doctor. Pulling it all together through the eyes of my four main characters was a task in itself , to make a book that would work on all levels and yet be truthful to the past. The reaction to The Hungry Road from readers both here in Ireland and overseas has amazed me.

Aoibheann Murphy: Is writing a career you would want for your children?

Certainly, as I have loved every minute of being a writer and could not imagine a few days, weeks, or a time I wouldn’t write! It is a part of who I am.

My children are all creative and write already. My daughter Amanda has had two books published very successfully already but is kept busy with a young family, another has developed big advertising campaigns, another works in film and writes scripts, and my son writes music and lyrics. They have all seen the satisfaction I get from my work and I think writing and creativity will always in some way be a part of their lives. However, the publishing world has changed since I started off and is more difficult. But the satisfaction of seeing your work in a book is enormous.  

Emma Walsh: If you could live in any era of your choosing, which would it be and why?

I would probably go way back to the time of the Romans or even the Renaissance which has always held a fascination for me. There would be just so much to excite and discover and be a part of, once I was not a slave!  

Many thanks to Marita Conlon-McKenna for taking part in our #AskAnAuthor series!

#AskanAuthor is an initiative at the Dublin Book Festival that encourages our audience to pose questions to the authors at DBF 2020. We may be going digital but we want to make sure that our audience don’t miss out on direct engagement with the authors. 

You are invited to submit questions to each week’s chosen author via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Email. Create a tweet or post containing your question and include the hashtag #AskAnAuthor. Alternatively, you can send us an email at with #AskAnAuthor in the subject line.