Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott
It’s the year 2025. President Trent is in the White House and he’s hand-picked a man called Rienham to head up the Deportation of Latinos Agency.
The premise of Sheila Agnew’s thriller “The Exclusion Wars” suggests it might be a ripped-from-the-headlines satire. Trent is certainly Trump-like. Even the lack of Orwellian finesse to the agency’s name seems influenced by the mogul’s tell-it-like-it-is approach.
But the author said: “Spookily, I wrote it in 2013. I was inspired by my own family’s history of immigration and by the time I spent living in South America.”
“The Exclusion Wars” has teenager Mateo Rivera in hiding, as “Matt,” in New York City where he must avoid capture by Mr. Rienham’s DLA.
“But Matt isn't alone,” Agnew said. “He's got the Underground, an organization which advocates peaceful resistance. He’s been trained by the mysterious Underground leader, Polaris; harbored by reluctant shepherd and drop-out lawyer, Steve.
“And he has the not always helpful but well-intentioned support of his best friend, 15-year-old wannabe Navy Seal, Danni Singh.
Rienham, the DLA and its roving pack of DepoDogs aren’t Matt’s only problems. There’s a new enemy on the horizon, and it calls itself ‘The Latino Alliance.’”
“Dark and dangerous,” said the “Artemis Fowl” author Eoin Colfer. “I loved it. Slick writing, a fascinating premise and a rollercoaster plot.”
The County Wexford native Colfer said that Agnew’s “The Exclusion Wars” is a book “that needed to be written and needs to be read.”
Agnew said in a piece in the Irish Times that the seeds of “The Exclusion Wars” were sown during a spell in Buenos Aires, though she wasn’t aware of it at the time.
She went there in July 2011. “I walked out of my office on the 13th floor of the Chrysler Building, leaving behind the life of a lawyer. I had no desire to eat, pray, love,” she wrote in the Times. “I just wanted to get as far away from my life as possible – the way lots of us feel every Monday morning. But it was a Friday,”
Agnew said: “I found what I sought in Argentina, the country at the end of the world.
The author got used to having feet in two worlds at an early age. “Although we moved from New York to Ireland when I was a child, we continued to celebrate the Fourth of July,” she wrote. “We shuttled back and forth, never quite Irish, never quite American, but always pro-immigrant.”
Date of birth: Feb. 7, 1972
Place of birth: New York
Residence: Melrose Street, Brooklyn.
Published works: “Evie Brooks is Marooned in Manhattan” for children (aged 10+) Shortlisted Literary Association of Ireland’s Best Children’s Book, 2015. Published by the O’Brien Press in Ireland and Britain and by Pajama Press in the U.S. and Canada. “Evie Brooks in Central Park Showdown” for children (aged 10+) An Irish Times Best Children’s Book 2014, Published by the O’Brien Press in Ireland and Britain. Scheduled to be published in the U.S. and Canada by Pajama Press on March 21, 2016. “The Exclusion Wars” for young adults (and not-so-young adults). Just released as an e-book.
What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
My routine for writing a first draft is a bit like preparing for the Leaving Cert or any major exam. I basically eat, sleep, whimper and swear at the book until the first draft is nailed down.
Miserable weather is a good way of keeping writers at their desks. I think that the Irish rain is responsible for fertilizing a lot of seeds that blossom into books.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
I didn’t write my first novel until I was 29 because part of me was waiting for someone to give me permission. But you don’t need permission or a platform on twitter or a Mr. Darcy with his £10,000 a year. You just need you. Start today. As Dr. Seuss said, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than you.”
What book are you currently reading?
I’m reading “Michael Collins, A Life” by James Mackay. It’s a wonderfully written biography. I was particularly struck by a letter written by Mr. Collins about the 1916 rising. After pointing out that the leaders of the rising died nobly, Collins wrote, “it had the air of a Greek tragedy about it . . . on the whole I think the Rising was bungled terribly, costing many a good life.”
The book has also inspired the next choice on my reading list, “The Napoleon of Notting Hill,” a novel by G.K. Chesterton because it was one of Collins’s favorite books, in fact, he was “almost fanatically attached to it.” I’m very intrigued to find out what about that book so fascinated Michael Collins.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
No. That would make me feel like a thief.
Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.
“In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China” by Michael Meyers. It’s a memoir published last year about the three years the author spent in a rural village in northeast China. When I visited China in 2002, I felt very disconnected from the Chinese as if there was an unbridgeable cultural chasm between us. Mr. Meyers’s depictions of the local characters and events in contemporary Wasteland reminded me so much of the village in County Clare where my mother was born. We’re not so different after all.
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?'
Dingle. I moved there in 2012 seeking a refuge far removed from the busy nothingness of modern life. Soon after arriving, I had a fall from a horse that landed me in Tralee General Hospital. When I eventually returned home on crutches, my new neighbors had a home-cooked meal waiting for me. I loved the people in Dingle. It’s a real mix of native Irish and blow-ins from all corners of the globe.
You're Irish if …
You habitually begin conversations with “To be honest. . .” or that other classic Irish tic, “To be fair . . .” Foreigners must wonder if we’re being dishonest or unfair at all other times.