Interview: Shannon O’Leary

I had the wonderful opportunity to do an email interview with the author of The Blood on My Hands, Shannon O’Leary. This was my first author interview, so I hope you like it!

To read my review of this book, please click here.

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TCD: Please describe to my readers what your book is about.

SO: The Blood on My Hands is the story of my childhood. I have written the book as I felt and saw things during that time. As a child, I felt my life was like everyone else’s life, but as I grew older, I realised this was not the case. My father was psychotic and my mother and I lived from day to day in fear of him. My childhood was violent and oppressive, yet, there were glimmers of hope which somehow got me through the years and where I am today.

TCD: I just want to say how much I loved your book. I had a hard time
putting it down! At times, I was so engrossed that I forgot I was reading
a memoir versus a really good crime fiction book. What influenced your
decision to finally tell the world about your father and growing up in
those horrific circumstances?

SO: I wrote the book as a healing mechanism. I needed to put my past down on to paper to stop my nightmares and to put all the memories into chronological order. I thought the best way to heal was to face my fear and I did this by writing about it. I have five children so I did not want to publish it until they were all over eighteen years of age. I also wanted to be sure my mother was OK with my telling others about our experiences. My partner, mother, and my eldest son encouraged me to publish the book and so I took the leap. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.

TCD: While writing The Blood on My Hands, what was it like to bring all the memories of your childhood to the surface and then put them out there for the world to read?

SO: Putting my childhood out for everyone to read has been a terrifying and all-consuming experience. As you know, the content is very traumatic and I find that the events of the past are as vivid today as when they happened. Before I published the book, I had to reconcile with myself that there would be people who would be very critical of me and others who would be empathetic. I eventually made the decision to publish the story because no matter what people say, this was my childhood. I believe if my story helps one family escape a predator and start again; to move forward towards a more positive life, then my turmoil in deciding to publish the book has been worth it.

TCD: You talk throughout the book about being sexually molested by your
father, yet you don’t just come right out and say it. You leave the reader
to kind of figure out what’s going on. What was the reason behind that?
Was it easier to write about it by doing that?

SO: I wanted to write what I was thinking as a child at the time of these incidents. Yes, it was incredibly difficult and painful to write about these experiences as these memories never leave you. They come back when you least expect them to, triggered by random incidents or events in your life. Reminders come back in nightmares or in haunted thoughts that propel you back into the past, filling you with feelings you thought you had squashed into the furthest corners of your mind.

TCD: You mention in the book that your father had multiple personalities, including a baby. I know that this often results from a traumatic experience as a child. Did anything traumatizing happen to your father when he was a child that you are aware of?

SO: I only knew a little bit of my father’s history. This information was told to me by family members or people who knew him. His father died before he was born and his mother bought the children up on her own.

TCD: What or who helped you the most to get through all the tragedy you
experienced from an early age?

SO: Creativity and Education! Without a doubt, my music and my writing have helped me give a voice to the highs and lows in my life. Through writing you can look at things objectively and try to gain insight. Education has also been a saviour, I often say “Books saved my life.” I read to gain new perspectives and broaden my understanding of the human psyche. I have also been fortunate enough to meet some wonderful people who have taken the time to talk to me, act as mentors during my education, and be my friends. My mother has always been my best friend and have a wonderful partner and family.

TCD: You went to a Catholic school. The nuns never seemed to believe you, and I felt that they just ignored the signs that you were being abused. Your mother also went to the police several times, and they claimed they didn’t handle domestic problems. How hard was it knowing that nobody would help you from this terrible, tragic situation?

SO: At the time, the Catholic Church did not believe in divorce and if there was abuse, they looked the other way.  I think this is partly because they had no idea what they were seeing or how to identify a child crying out for help. The nuns were always talking about Project Compassion and how the children in Africa were starving and had no water. I often felt guilty and thought I was better off than the children they described. Nowadays child protection laws educate people in how to see the signs of abuse. In the 1960s it wasn’t talked about. I thought what was happening to me happened to every other child. It wasn’t until I was older I realised the truth. At the time, I lived in hope that one day it would all end, and then, in fear about how this would come to pass.

TCD: Your mother is an amazing woman. She fiercely protected her children, despite being physically abused by Patrick and believing he would kill her one day.  How did she not lose her mind or the will to live?  Has she ever talked about that? I’m sure that her children kept her going, but to go through everything that she did that most women do not, and survive, well that’s amazing in itself.

SO: My mother was overwhelmed by fear and resigned herself to the worst. My father said she was the cause of his anger and violence and after many beatings, she came to believe him. She thought about suicide, had a failed attempt and another she couldn’t go through with.  She said she couldn’t go through with it because of us (the children) and I believe her. She is an amazingly strong woman and has opened up in the last twenty years about how she felt.  She always says her children kept her going, but at the same time feels guilty about not having the courage to leave him earlier in the marriage.

TCD: Your maternal grandparents were typical, loving grandparents. So, it surprised me a bit that they never helped all of you. Were they aware of
what was going on?

SO: My father was scared of my grandfather and he knew my grandfather didn’t trust him. My father didn’t act up when he was in our house. When my grandfather died, my father’s episodes escalated. My grandmother was very frightened of my father and after grandfather died, he terrorised her with mind games, especially towards the end of her life.

TCD: They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. You paternal
grandparents and your father’s brother were just as crazy as he was, it
appears. Do you think any of them helped him when he was killing all those people? Why or why not?

SO: I didn’t see anyone else other than my father kill people. I think my father’s mother knew something was amiss, but I will never know what she knew or to what extent. The only person I think knew about the murders was the priest who preached directly to my family every Sunday at mass. It was as if the whole sermon was aimed at us. My father went to confession, got absolved, and killed again.

TCD: When you, your mother, and your brothers finally manage to escape from your father, he still found you wherever you went. He seemed to enjoy playing mind games with all of you, a mental torture, if you will, popping in and out of your lives. How were all of you able to carry on a normal life considering you never knew when he would resurface?

SO: We all tried to move forward but we never knew when he was going to show up. It became second nature to not trust packages and be overprotective of our pets. I guess the result was to avoid contact with him at all costs and keep looking over your shoulder to see if anyone was following you. My mother and I always had a “What if?” scenario as an escape plan and she slept with a tomahawk under pillow and I slept with a hammer and a knife.

TCD: When your father died, you went to the police and told them about the murders and even went back to the places he took you while committing them, yet nothing came from this due to lack of evidence. Giving an estimate, how many people do you think your father killed?

SO: I went to the police several times before he died. My mother also reported him and handed in guns when I was a child. The lack of evidence was due to the many years that had passed since the incidents took place and his methodical ways of getting rid of bodies. I can say I definitely saw six people killed and there were also several people that disappeared.

TCD: You’re a fantastic writer. Do you plan on writing any more books in the future?

SO: Yes, I am currently writing about the next part of my life and I am also writing an historical novel. Also, as a musician, I am always writing songs and poetry…I cannot imagine my life without writing as it is an integral part of my life.

TCD: Just for fun: What’s your favorite book? Movie? Website?

SO: My favourite book! Now that is a really hard question. I love reading all types of work both non-fiction and fiction. I love historical novels, art and poetry books, and children’s books.  I also love contemporary writers such as Bill Bryson, Colleen McCullough and MC Scott. I also love reading research papers and classical writers such as the Brontës, Austen, Steinbeck, Shakespeare, and Dickens.

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