WITH a background in the army, Cobh native Michelle Dunne has plenty to draw on for her writing career.
The 42-year-old mother-of-one says that romantic relationships are never going to be the focal point of her writing.
Having self-published two novels years ago, Michelle succeeded in getting a publisher to take on her latest book,.
The main character in this thriller, the fictional Lindsey Ryan, is a veteran of the Irish Army who was on a UN mission in the Golan Heights. An improvised explosive device killed two people there and badly injured Lindsey, changing her life forever. She is back living in Cork with her service dog and has a whole new career as a youth worker, mentoring the troubled youth of the city.
Michelle said: “Lindsey is living with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Nobody in her new life knows anything about her past. How she chooses to deal with it is to throw herself into the lives and problems of the troubled young people she works with.
“Along the way, she has attracted the attention of a stalker but with PTSD, she finds it hard to decipher which threats are real and which are not. There’s a psychological element to the book. There’s a whole host of characters, including hookers and addicts. I think the book has something for everyone. Lindsey is a force to be reckoned with.”
Although inspired by her own experience in the army, Michelle’s five year stint there was very positive. Why did she join up?
“When I was coming to the end of my school years, my life revolved around sports and training. I was an outdoors type. I wanted a career where I could continue doing sports, so I joined the army. Not a lot of women are in it. I was one of the first infantry instructors.
“I went overseas to the Lebanon and when I came back, I got onto a non-commissioned officer course which was probably one of the most difficult physical things I’ve ever done. It was gruelling. You were physically and mentally pushed to your limit and beyond for 16 weeks. I loved it and hated it at the same time. But it would never have been in my nature to give up on something.”
Such is Michelle’s determination that she spent ten years looking for the right publisher for her thriller.
Her experience in the army “was so positive. I’m still friends with people who were in my recruit platoon.
“When I went overseas to the Lebanon, I was the only female in our company at the time. It never bothered me. Nobody ever made an issue of it. The lads I worked with treated me exactly like how they treated each other.”
There was a dangerous situation in the village of Haddatha in the Lebanon where Michelle was stationed.
“It was a real black spot. We were always caught in cross fire between Hezbollah and the South Lebanese Army. They would fire over our heads.
“One particular night, a mobile patrol was set up and they basically used our camp as a shield and started firing at a compound in the distance. There was retaliation. We had a couple of injuries that night and a lot of damage to our camp.”
After Michelle’s five year contract in the army was up, she decided to leave as she had other interests.
“I had an interest in physiotherapy so I studied it part-time in Limerick. I was still in the army at that stage, based in Limerick.”
Michelle now works in nursing homes on a part-time basis, giving older people physiotherapy, to help improve their independence. She had been writing for years, as her first two novels attest to. Before she wrote her latest book, she had read negative accounts of women in the army.
“The women I worked with in the army all had positive experiences. So I started writing a book based on my own time in the army. It wasn’t going where I wanted it to go but the idea for this book came into my head. I had seen a clip about service dogs. It took me about a year to write the book.
“I came across Bad Press Ink (a relatively new UK-based publishing house). We had a Skype meeting and I knew straight away they were the right people. They loved the book and they want the option of any further books with the same character in them. I have another Lindsey Ryan book in the pipeline.”
Best-selling author, Cathy Kelly, requested to read the book and gave it her seal of approval. She wrote: “Page-turning thriller from someone who knows the world’s trouble spots up close, Michelle Dunne is the real deal.”
The book had a virtual launch recently in the beautifully restored Belvelly Castle, just outside Cobh. Its owners, Anne and Garry Wilson, from Antrim, “want to use the castle to help promote the arts”.
Michelle is combining her nursing home work with her next novel, “a work-in-progress.”
She says she was very disciplined “until I had Emily. Now, it’s a matter of literally finding the time. I tote my laptop around with me. I can get so much work done during a lunch break. That’s how I write. I can get into the zone anywhere.”
The camaraderie of the army is something that Michelle misses. She’s in a WhatsApp group with some of her army friends. But she has now found her ideal career.
“Writing is my passion. I would love to be a full-time writer.”
Michelle’s writing style “is very normal”. She explains: “I don’t go for the saccharine element. My books have very strong independent females. My first two books were based on three women friends growing up in Cobh.”
Pleased to be back living in Cobh with her wedding photographer husband, Dominic Dunne, and their daughter, Michelle “absolutely loves the town”.
She says she has “broad taste” in reading. She likes the novels of Marian Keyes and Cathy Kelly and thrillers by Lee Child, Karin Slaughter and Liz Nugent. Her publishers are looking into the possibility of sellingto TV or a film company.
“It’s a difficult area to get into, but wouldn’t it be fabulous?”
Michelle gets all her best ideas when she’s out running in the evening.
“Ideas come into my head. None of my stories are very structured. I have an idea in my head and I start writing the rest of it when I get home.”
I don’t go for the saccharine element. My books have very strong independent females. My first two books were based on three women friends growing up in Cobh.