Press & Media: Celtic Remnants

The following is a general "Question & Answer" session about Celtic Remnants by Deborah O'Toole.


Where did you get the idea for "Celtic Remnants"?

Irish politics have always played a big part in my life. I might be American, but my interest in history and the conflict in Ireland was something which began when I was very young. One of my most beloved and positive role models was my uncle Mike O'Toole, who passed away in 1993. He was a wellspring of information about Ireland and the Irish, although his interest was more to the militant side. Thanks to him, I became fascinated not just with history in the sense of religious and political turmoil, but in the foundation of our family line.


To answer the question, my idea for Celtic Remnants came about in the early 1980's. The notion of a well-heeled Englishman mingling with an Irish-Catholic girl of modest means caught my imagination. The original premise for Celtic Remnants began much differently, with the Englishman posing as a terrorist in order to reunite with his lost Irish love. That scenario didn't seem to work too well as the story progressed, so I changed the first few chapters of the book. Instead, the Englishman is looking for his lost love years later. However, by then, she is a hardened terrorist and wants nothing to do with him.


Why did you choose to make the central character - a woman - the terrorist, rather than portraying a man in the same position?

It's all too typical, isn't it? People assume only a man can feel so strongly about his political convictions that he resorts to terrorism to get his message across. Wrong. Women feel just as passionately about issues that matter to them, so why not put a female in charge of a militant group? Even from the start, I never considered putting a man as the focal character in Celtic Remnants.


It was always going to be about the woman, one way or another.


"Celtic Remnants" by Deborah O'Toole

Visit the official web site for "Celtic Remnants" >


When a man stays true to his convictions, he's admired for his integrity. However, if a woman follows her heart into the heat of a battle, she is viewed as tough, bitchy or unladylike. Do you find that to be true?

Unfortunately, social perceptions of strong women are still skewed. Perhaps all the warped ideals will change in a future generation, but I doubt I'll see it in my lifetime. Yet that doesn't mean I have to accept them as they are now. Frankly, I have no use for men who expect women to act a certain way just so they can feel "masculine" about themselves. It's a ridiculous waste of time, and it's a game I've always refused to play. My views will probably render me an old woman living alone with a bunch of cats, but so be it.


Without giving too much away, the female character in Celtic Remnants does not cave when it comes to deciding between her love for the Englishman and her strongly-felt political convictions. Because of atrocities inflicted upon her family, she has no other choice, really.


Yet you portray Ava Egan - the female terrorist - as having emotional conflict over her "work" and her love for David Lancaster, the Englishman.

Well, she's a human being, isn't she? If her family members hadn't been deliberately killed by British soldiers, her life would have taken a very different path. In Ava's mind, her choices were taken from her because she had to avenge her family. After awhile, it also became about the injustices suffered by the Irish as a whole, and not just her family.


She doesn't like killing or torturing people or setting off explosions, but her rage and sense of injustice drives her forward. There is no other way for her.


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When Ava first decides to join a militant group, she goes through a specific bout of physical training, as well as learning about explosives and weapons. Are those things you have personal knowledge of, or did you need to undertake research?

I'm not a gun enthusiast by any means. Some of the particulars came about after research, while others were gleaned from people I know with knowledge of various weapons.


I don't have an inside line into terrorist-training, so I developed the physical aspects of Ava's initiation into the militant group by using my imagination. For instance, I decided to use Irish stick-fighting as a training method to increase physical endurance. Also known as Shillelagh or Bataireacht Sail-Eille, stick-fighting is an ancient form of Irish medieval combat involving spears, pikes, quarter staffs and wattles in varying lengths. It might be antiquated, but it worked for story purposes.


Ava is close to her childhood friend and fellow terrorist Tim O'Casey, yet sometimes they bicker ferociously. Is their relationship based on people you know?

The testy relationship between Ava and Tim is of my own making. They are more than just friends and fellow terrorists, although their interaction is never romantic. Their respective family members were taken from them violently, which irrevocably binds them together through thick and thin. No matter what happens at the end of the day and no matter how bitterly they argue, they both know their connection is permanent. Basically, it's until death do us part for them, without the marriage factor or romantic love. They have each other's backs, without question.


With Northern Ireland now enjoying relative peace, do you think "Celtic Remnants" will be viewed by some as outdated?

The bulk of the story in Celtic Remnants take place between 1972 - just before Bloody Sunday - up to 1993, with the epilogue going forward to the year 2000. So, no, I don't think it's outdated at all. It's part of history, anyway, the long struggle between the Irish and English. Treaties and promises do not erase painful memories or feelings of bitterness.


The idea of Irish terrorists running amok nowadays may seem a bit dated, especially since the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. However, many years prior to the peace process intense sectarian violence in Northern Ireland raged unabated. The individual memories created by "The Troubles" certainly did not wash away with the flourish of a pen stroke on April 10, 1998.


Model for the cover of "Celtic Remnants" by Deborah O'Toole.

Model for the cover of "Celtic Remnants" by Deborah O'Toole.


The model for the cover of "Celtic Remnants" bears a striking resemblance to you. Did you pose for the cover?

[Laughter]. No, it's not me. The model is my cousin Sheila. Out of all our family members, Sheila and I are the two who look most alike. The cover for Celtic Remnants was designed around a photograph of Sheila taken many years ago. I thought the background looked like the coast of Ireland – depicting the character Ava as she goes back and forth across the Irish Sea to take care of "business" – so naturally I thought it perfect for the book cover. It was either going to be that, or an image of a broken Irish rosary. [Note: For more, read Deborah's blog post Celtic Cover History @ Irish Eyes].


The ending in "Celtic Remnants" leaves open the possibility of a sequel. Do you have any plans to write a continuation of the characters?

I think Celtic Remnants stands very well on it's own, so I haven't made any plans to write a sequel. This might change in the future, but at the moment I have nothing in the works in regards to a continuation of the story.


Out of all the different books you've written, how does "Celtic Remnants" rank on your list of favorites?

Near the top, naturally. [Laughter]. Books are sometimes like children. You can't very well favor one over the other without unduly prejudicing the reader.

UPDATE 04/28/2024: Deborah O'Toole is currently working on a sequel to Celtic Remnants. The book is titled Celtic Fragments, with a tentative release date of 2026. Storyline, estimated release date and book cover design may be subject to change.


Q & A: Celtic Remnants (PDF, 845 KB).



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