Press & Media: Tyborne Hill Interview

The following interview with Deborah O'Toole originally appeared on the Tyborne Hill Publishers web site in 2003, shortly after the first edition release of The Advent (aka "Passion Forsaken").


With your last name, you're obviously Irish. Are you Irish from Ireland, or Irish from America?

Irish from America. The O'Toole's came from County Leitrim and County Wicklow (Glendalough). They settled in Wisconsin in the mid-1800's. The family owned and operated a mortuary, or so I'm told. My Mum is from Ontario. I suppose I'm technically American-Irish-Canadian.


Is the story in "The Advent" something that actually happened to a branch of your family?

No. However, I created the fictional town of Larkin based on a small town where everyone knew each other's business. The town has since grown beyond recognition. When I began writing The Advent, I shifted coastlines and set my story in Maine.


Are any of the characters people from your family?

There are vague references here and there, but nothing too specific. Some of my family members might recognize hints of themselves or other characters in the storyline, yet it wasn't my intention to follow our history verbatim. I didn't set out to blow the lid off our closet full of skeletons, so to speak.


There are some eye-opening sex scenes in "The Advent." Are they hard to write? How do you go about writing something like that?

I'm not comfortable writing sex scenes, which might be an inherent leftover from my Catholic upbringing. However, when I sit down and write it's not as if I'm speaking to anyone about sex, and the words seem to come easier. Still difficult, but easier. In the case of The Advent, I started the book and worked for several weeks straight, during which time I wrote the sex scenes without really thinking about it. It was just part of the story. I wasn't inspired by any personal experience, but the scenes between Molly and Colm seemed natural to me at the time. The characters had a very powerful attraction for each other, and sometimes the attraction makes for more riveting reading than the culmination of the physical act itself.


Staying on the passionate scenes for a minute, this was supposed to be the 1890s. Do you think stuff like that went on in the 1890s, or is that something that goes on now and you just set it back in 1890?

I definitely believe the kind of sex portrayed in The Advent went on then just as it does now. The only difference is, it was never talked about or so blatantly open like it is now. Of course, a proper young lady in the era The Advent is set would never even think of such things, but Molly was very different from most women of her time. She also had a rather isolated upbringing and wealth beyond imagination. She had the world at her fingertips. She wasn't used to being denied much of anything, but part of her sexual aggression was also a clue to her later mental breakdown. Her relationship with Colm left her with very deep guilt.


The main character, or one of them, is an absolutely gorgeous guy. Do you know any like that, or did he come out of your imagination too?

While I was writing about Colm, there was a specific man in my head. Years ago, Showtime used to air a series called "Robin of Sherwood." Two actors portrayed "Robin" (Michael Praed and Jason Connery). I always saw Colm as the image of Jason Connery as he played Robin, with the longish blond hair and perfect beauty.


Of course "beauty" is in the eye of the beholder, but that's where I drew Colm's looks from.


Without giving anything away, one of main female characters named Molly is going crazy. By the end of "The Advent," she has gone off the edge. That's not a usual device in a romance novel. Why did you do that, or is it that you just couldn't think of anything else to do with the character?

I purposely made Molly different, which stemmed from my boredom with other books where couples ride off into the sunset, happy as clams. I created Molly's passion and later mental deterioration so that her fate would be irrevocable. When I began writing The Advent, I decided Molly's perception of shaming her family and failing her father was going to eat at her until it destroyed her sanity. This makes it sound as if The Advent has a sad ending, which it doesn't. However, I've always felt Molly should have been a little more of her own person. That she wasn't comes partly from the fact she wasn't as strong as she thought she was, and partly because women were expected to behave a certain way in the mid-1800s.


This same character's mother, who started out to be a normal, down-to-earth woman winds up by the middle of the book to be miserable, probably because of all the money and servants, someone who has descended into an alcoholic fog. Are you saying that money makes people miserable?

In the case of Anne Larkin, money complicated her life and made her uncertain of herself. It took her husband away from her frequently, and she - like Molly - adored John Larkin. From the beginning of her life with John back in Ireland, Anne knew she was his second choice because he had first been engaged to marry her sister. Anne knew John loved her, but she was also aware it was not the deep, abiding kind of love she felt for him. Later, once they settled in Maine and became wealthy, she had too much time on her hands, plain and simple. Anne mired herself in alcoholism, which contributed to her mental state.


In writing Anne as a paranoid alcoholic, I was also trying to place her state as a genetic link to Molly's own mental weakness. Molly isn't an alcoholic, but she has the same genetic make-up as her mother. The two despised each another eventually. Most of their mutual loathing was based on the adoration they both felt for John, for different reasons.


Your descriptions of some of the things that are actually real, the lighthouse, mansion, the environment of the late 1800s, and stories of the people seem to be very accurate. How do you research something like that, or do you just make it up?

I did endless research about lighthouses, through online sources and books. I wanted to be as accurate as possible. Even though The Advent is fiction, I still felt there should be some realism in the surroundings and in some part with the characters. I also dug into information about Maine, which is when I decided to place Larkin Village between the real towns of Searsport and Bucksport. It was during my research that I also found interesting mention of puffins, which are parrot-like birds that like to nest in rocky crevices along Maine's coast.


Even though "The Advent" is a romance novel, it covers a lot of history. What gave you the idea of combining a romance novel, which is usually pretty formula stuff, with such a rich historical picture?

The idea germinated from the settings and characters in The Twain Shall Meet, which was the first book I actually wrote (set in the 1970's), but is now the third book in the Collective Obsessions Saga. It was a foregone conclusion that the characters would be Irish, mainly because the stereotypes leave a lot to pick over. The image of the Irish as a hard-drinking and hard-fighting race is not so far from the truth, but as with all people, there are exceptions to every rule. I try to make the characters in my stories exceptions rather than the rule.


It sounds like you could make a whole series out of these books, something that follows the various characters into later life. Have you ever thought of doing that?

Funny you should mention that. The Advent is just the first part of a series of books I've written about the Larkin's and Sullivan's of Maine. I wrote the stories backwards, actually, which is probably why I was inspired to do The Advent in the first place.


Eventually, there will be eight books in the Collective Obsessions Saga, covering the years 1865 through 2008. All will involve the extraordinary loves and intricate obsessions between the Larkin and Sullivan families, and will also contain mystery, murder, madness, perverse self-indulgence, the paranormal, historical romance, a touch of the macabre and hints of classic Gothicism.


In time, I want to combine all eight books into one volume. The cool notion is a long way down the road, but that's the plan.


Family sagas are not to everyone's liking, but I love them. Some of my favorite books are part of a series, such as Bertrice Small's O'Malley Saga and Skye's Legacy. Barbara Taylor Bradford's Harte Family Saga also ranks high on my favorites list. I prefer long-read books that connect to each other and carry the reader through several generations, if not centuries.


< Back to Press & Media

Request an Interview

To request an interview with Deborah O'Toole, click here for contact options. Please include "Interview" in the subject matter if you choose e-mail as the method of communication.