10 Sep 2013

Derry O’Dowd: The Scarlet Ribbon

3 Comments Book Reviews

 

TSRCover

The Scarlet Ribbon was chosen to launch the History Press Ireland’s fiction line in 2012.

Written by father and daughter team Michael (a doctor and medical historian) and Katy O’Dowd (a writer), the book follows James Quinn, a young Irish surgeon battling prejudice, suspicion and personal demons in his controversial quest to change the face of medicine.

Following his marriage, tragedy strikes, thrusting James into a life of turmoil and despair. Throwing himself into his work, the young surgeon eventually begins to find solace in the most unexpected of places. From the backstreets of Paris, through the glittering social
whirl of London and finally back to Ireland again, this is a story of the thorns of love and the harsh reality of life in the eighteenth century, where nothing is simple and complications of all kinds surround James Quinn, man midwife.

 

“The Scarlet Ribbon” by Derry O’Dowd is a fascinating historical novel about man-midwifery in the 1700s.
I am amazed at the amount of research that must have gone into this work of art. With much attention to detail O’Dowd sets the scene perfectly with the description of a dramatic birth that draws our protagonist James Quinn into the field of mid-wifery.
Quinn immediately encounters the first prejudices and obstacles to his new chosen career path, which continue through his life and the rest of the book.

Although it is quite specific in its theme and full of medical procedures and jargon the book reads easily and makes the topic accessible for readers like myself who have lesser knowledge of the field.
Many other historical novels also loose themselves in excessive insertions of researched facts whereas this books strikes an excellent balance. I feel that I got a wonderful insight into the state of medicine, mid-wifery and 
also some entertaining superstition of the times but this never gets in the way of the smooth flow of the novel.

James Quinn is a greatly chosen protagonist, possessing a caring nature and a genuine desire to help but also some weaknesses. Without giving much of the plot away, his professional and private life are both full of painful moments which makes for a very good balance between history, facts and fiction.

The Scarlet Ribbon refers to a piece of wedding finery and stands for the strong connection Quinn holds with his wife and mother of his son Daniel. The book is full of great locations, such as Dublin, Galway, Paris and London and rich in plot and sub-plots. It is a personal journey of loss, endurance and professional vision but it also reflects on mid-wifery and medicine in more general and political terms.

O’Dowd creates a great feel for the times yet he has drawn characters we can easily relate to. One of my favourite parts in the book is a very moving letter to James written by a rejected admirer, so well composed and heart-warming and gracious that I had to stop and read it again.

The authenticity of the book is greatly helped by lovely short excerpts from the ‘Quinn Household Recipes and Remedies Book’ which are so cleverly put at the beginning of each chapter, often serving as very appropriate indication of the themes to come within the story.

This was a real find for me and a book that I would chose over many best-selling historical novels for its genuine and lovely feel. O’Dowd has written an astonishing debut novel, I have no doubt he will do very well with his writing and hope there will be many more books to come.

 

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Hi Christoph! Thanks for having us over – I’ll be answering on behalf of Dad and I.

 

How long did this book take you to write?

Dad had the idea for The Scarlet Ribbon years ago but didn’t have the time to write it. He approached me and asked me if I would like to write it, and from there it took a couple of years. Dad plans and plots the books out and I write them. We have a weekly meeting, and talk through the scenes which I then go away and write.

 

How did you research for it?

Dad is an ObGyn and a medical historian. He put a lot of extra work into research for The Scarlet Ribbon series (we are hoping to write at least three) and then had to explain and re-explain the medicine of it all to me until I could write it in layman’s terms. Quite the challenge, I can tell you, but hugely interesting.

 

How comfortable do you feel writing about history and medicine? How much did you know before you started writing?

Dad has written about history and medicine before with the text books The History of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and The History of Medications for Women. I on the other hand, knew absolutely nothing when I started, but feel much more comfortable writing about it now that I know I can do it.

 

How difficult was it to draw the balance between research and invention/ imagination?

I think the difficult bit was presenting all the research in a way that seemed natural to the reader rather than bombarding with lots of facts. A difficult thing to do for any historical fiction writer.

 

Was the storyline pre-determined or did it change during the process?

The storyline was pre-determined. I think when working in collaboration with another person it’s probably absolutely essential to do so. There were small deviations, but on the whole the plan was kept to.

 

How many rewrites did it take you?

I have put it out of my mind! Ha! We edited as we went along, so a fair few.

 

What did you find most challenging about this book?

Turning all the medical stuff into something that I could understand and then write for the reader to understand too.

 

Will there be more books from you? Will they be the in same genre or even about the same characters?

Absolutely. As Derry O’Dowd, Dad and I have at least three in the James Quinn Scarlet Ribbon series. And plenty more ideas too. Medical historical would seem to make sense as Dad has so much knowledge, but we may deviate at some time.

What would you say is the message of this book, or rather, what would you like us to take with us from it?

Ah. It has to be love. Kindness. Compassion.

 

What are your next projects and where would we be able to hear about them?

We are currently writing the second in the series (as yet it only has a working title). You can find out more at www.derryodowd.com

 

 

The Scarlet Ribbon is widely available in bookshops and online in ebook and paperback at

Amazon UK 

Amazon USA 

The History Press Ireland

Find out more at www.derryodowd.com

And visit Katy at www.katyodowd.com

 

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written by
Christoph Fischer was born in Germany in 1970 as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. ‘The Luck of The Weissensteiners’ is his first published work. He has written several other novels which are in the later stages of editing and finalisation.
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3 Responses to “Derry O’Dowd: The Scarlet Ribbon”

  1. KatyO says:

    Thank you so much Christoph!

  2. Carol Bodensteiner says:

    Sounds fascinating. I’m reading “Call the Midwife” at the moment. Getting the technical info right for readers is a real challenge. I used to write for veterinary journals and I kept a medical dictionary close by. Some days I had to check for almost every word! What a great experience to have working with your dad, Katy. Priceless!

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