Novel: The Portrait of Isabella Simmons
I am reaching completion of my latest novel and I have not provided much information on it, only what I have mentioned on my website. It has been and still is, a labour love and October will see twelve months gone by since I first started it. The name is called “The Portrait of Isabella Simmons” and it revolves around two very different characters who find themselves in 1954 living in a house in the town of Ballsbridge, Dublin, Ireland.
Readers will first be introduced to Johanna Cahill, born and raised on the hills of Connemara, west of Ireland until the age of sixteen years when she has to flee her home and on her way to Galway city finds employment at the Harrington Estate for the Belfort family. But circumstances see her escape and she eventually arrives in Galway prior to making her way to Dublin and is taken in by the Sisters of Mercy on Baggot Street. Opportunity has always favoured Johanna despite leaving a trail of bodies behind her and by 1954 she is living in luxury in the area of Ballsbridge, Dublin.
The second main character is a forgotten artist by the name of Francesco Romano who once painted portraits for the Italian and Maltese nobility. He is a lover of men, seduced by a woman who captivates his thoughts and imprisoned for twenty years in a London prison and on his release, escapes to Dublin.
The two characters become acquainted with each other when a portrait of a young woman named Isabella Simmons, daughter of the English Governor to Malta in the late 19th century is purchased by Edmund Cunningham, just prior to his death. Edmund lived with Johanna at Ballsbridge. The portrait was purchased from a private collection in London and this leads to an investigation by Bernard Cunningham, the nephew of Edmund, into the history behind the lady in the portrait and the curiosity of how his uncle, discovered the mysterious Italian artist Francesco Romano - the artist of the portrait.
The story revolves around the secrets both Francesco and Johanna keep from each other and the portrait of Isabella Simmons is what Johanna uses to carry out her investigation into Francesco’s past - a past if revealed would have consequences for her and her loved ones in Dublin.
The story has had many struggles and challenges. One of the biggest struggles in writing this story is keeping many aspects of the character’s past hidden from each of the main characters and additionally keeping the reader in the dark about many aspects concerning both of the characters. Hence why I mentioned in the opening, it is a labour of love but I have really enjoyed the challenge of writing it. Another stumbling block I had to overcome, is getting into the character of Francesco, an elderly man who is incapacitated by arthritis. This has led to certain situations where I found myself often blocked due to his inability to move freely.
I am using many different techniques to retell the story of the characters past for example, with Francesco, his past is revealed through journal entries as he sets about innocently writing his life story. There is an important emotional aspect to Johanna’s character which in turn reveals why she behaves and thinks the way she does. She has a secretive nature in contrast to Francesco who as an old man is grumpy, but as a young man he was carefree, indulging in all that life had to offer. Both characters have a Catholic upbringing however their life paths have seen them both fall away and disbelieve despite Johanna using god as a way to get Francesco to open up.
Despite the last twelve months seeing many rewrites and restructuring I am now polishing it off. I will write further posts on the novel informing about the techniques used and the challenges I have incurred during the writing process. Until next time – take care.
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