Author Ann Mann: ‘I have everything I need here in Highgate’

Ann Mann

Ann Mann - Credit: submitted

Ann Mann tells Alessandra Scotto Di Santolo how she wrote a time travelling tale inspired by her love of the emerald isle

Riverdance may have brought Irish Dancing to the fore in the 1990s, but fewer people know of the dance form’s rich history.

Highgate author Ann Mann decided to put that right when she started writing her supernatural novel three years ago.

“I wanted to write something to dedicate to Ireland because I think that’s my spiritual home,” she says of her novel author of Arcanum: An Irish Mystery (Troubadour Publishing £7.99)

“Trying to get the idea for it was more difficult, but it suddenly struck me that nobody knew anything about the old dance masters who toured around the Irish counties teaching communities to dance, sometimes at great risk to themselves because it was under the Penal Law period, when they weren’t allowed to express their Irish identity.”

The singer, writer and broadcaster attended an Irish school for three years as a child and was taught Yeats alongside the English poets.

She fell in love with the Irish poet and went to Yeats Summer School in Sligo as a teenager in the 60s.

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“I became aware of the amazing artistic and cultural contribution that Irish writers and artists had made to the world. I learned a great deal and I went back there in the 80s to lecture on his poetry and music, it was a brilliant experience!”

Mann’s novel catapults a contemporary group of Irish dancers en route to Ennis, County Clare back to 18th century Ireland when under English rule the Catholic Irish couldn’t express their religion, join any fighting force or hold any high office in Government.

“And of course they weren’t allowed to compose any music or practice their dancing tradition.”

As the world is left baffled by their disapearance, protagonists Silas Murphy and Clodagh Trevor desperately search for their friends.

Set between past and present, it’s full of that “mysticism that kind of reaches out to you when you’re Ireland”, says the author. “I’m not a kooky person you know,” she continues, “I’m very down to earth, but I do find that in that country there is a spiritualism crawling through the ground.”

Clodagh is a dedicated Irish dancer who tries to bring the rest of the crew back to modern Ireland through a pack of tarot cards. It’s here that the theme of religion versus paganism is explored in an attempt to relate to younger generations searching for something new and questioning their religion.

Mann writes from her study and is inspired by the view of the Parkland Walk from her window, “I love the sea but I have everything I need here in Highgate,” she says.

While she admits to taking geographical liberties in the book, even moving a lake to a different location in her imagination, she says: “A lot of writers do this so I don’t feel guilty about it!”

But while she can cope with geographical discrepancies she confesses she hates authors who use modern language in books set in the past - which is why hers is accurately written in 18th Century English.

“If you suddenly take the language too much out of context it doesn’t ring true. Not every publisher would like to have this change of style but for me was the right thing to do.”