Birdy Flynn (US Only)

by: Helen Donohoe

Release Date: May 9, 2017

Publisher: Oneworld Publications/Rock the Boat

About the Book:

“Birdy is a complex, compelling creation. A terrific debut.”

  Sarah Waters, bestselling author of The Paying Guests

Birdy Flynn carries secrets.

There is the secret of Birdy’s dead grandmother’s cat. How the boys tortured it and Birdy had to drown it in the river to stop it from suffer-ing. There’s the secret of Mrs. Cope, the teacher who touched Birdy. The secret of the gypsy girl at school who Birdy likes. But she can’t tell anyone about any of these secrets. Because Birdy’s other secret is that while she fights as good as the boys, she is a girl, and she doesn’t always feel like a girl is supposed to.

So Birdy holds on to her secrets and tries to become what others want, even it if means losing herself.

For readers of GEORGE and GRACEFULLY GRAYSON, BIRDY FLYNN is a beautifully nuanced and deeply felt portrayal of a girl growing up amid an imperfect family, and an imperfect world, to become the person she was meant to be.


About the Author:

HELEN DONOHOE studied politics and government at Manchester University and the LSE. For a long time she dedicated her career to speaking up for the powerless and invisible as an LGBT campaigner, social activist, lobbyist and volunteer. While studying for her Master's in Creative Writing at City College London, she was mentored by the novelist Sarah Waters. Helen won the PFD Novel Writing Prize for the first draft of her debut, BIRDY FLYNN. She now writes full-time and lives in London with her partner and two daughters. For more information, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter at @HelenDonohoe.



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Q&A with Helen Donohoe:

BIRDY FLYNN is full of England in the 80s – why is the book set then and not in the present?

The book is set in the ’80s because it was a time that could effectively illustrate three layers of conflict: first, the personal internal conflict that Birdy experiences in regards to her sexual and gender identity and her loyalties; second, the level of conflict represented by an underlying mistrust of the Irish which was particularly acute in the 80s following high levels of immigration and a terrible campaign of terrorism by the IRA; third, the societal conflict as epitomized by the industrial strife and the Falklands War. The Falklands War created a diversion from the economic problems of the time in England. There were union jacks everywhere and in army towns the patriotism was particularly fervent.

Arguably we live in equally divisive times right now, but in contemporary western culture, there is far more understanding and discussion of sexuality and gender and you would not get the same racial tension between the English and Irish.

I also wanted to use the 80s because it has so many iconic symbols, distinctive music and major events such as the birth of Prince William, the World Cup in Spain, the visit of the Pope to the UK, and Thatcher’s politics.

What was the most challenging part of writing the book?

BIRDY FLYNN is my first novel, and I found it very hard to keep faith in my ability to finish. I had many breakdowns of confidence. My personal fears over my lack of formal English language skills — including vocabulary and grammar — was also a major inhibitor. Thank God for spell check!

Emotionally I found being inside the head of such a vulnerable young person difficult at times. It was tempting to just make everything all right!

And I also had to juggle writing it with a full time job, being a co-mother to two young girls, and caring for my very ill mother.

BIRDY FLYNN is not just a roman a clef – it’s a portrait of a working class family struggling to come to terms with a daughter’s gender identity and also just to get along with their daily life. Can you talk about the family dynamics in the book and why they’re important?

I wanted to paint a picture of a working class family with so much love in it, but ‘’innocent ignorances,’’ perpetual dysfunctions and vulnerabilities exacerbated by external events. I am from an enormous Irish family on my mom’s side and an enormous Scottish family on my dad’s, and I personally draw on the incredible bond that we have, despite life’s struggles. In the book there is a unconscious strength that Birdy has that eventually becomes conscious, because although she fears her world will fall apart if she reveals her secrets, she also knows, on some level, that because of her extended family she will always be ok, unlike two other characters in the book, Gypsy girl and Martin.

I was determined to avoid any tired clichés about Irish people being drunks and so it is the English dad that you see as the heavy drinker. The conflict between mum and dad should reflect the frustration of being working class and powerless at the time. It is the immigrant Irish that have the strongest sense of identity. The dad however, has an Irish name but considers himself English, he feels let down by his trade union, he can’t find work — partly because of his Irish name, and he can’t communicate with his children. He is, in many ways, more of a lost soul than Birdy.

Did you always intend to surprise the reader with the revelation that while Birdy identifies as a boy, her assigned gender is that of a girl? Can you talk about how you decided to include that as a revelation in the narrative instead of upfront?

It sort of happened by accident. One of my early manuscript readers commented on how she thought the character was a boy until some way in. That played to all the assumptions we make about gender, the language we use and the way we dress, so then I wanted to maximize its impact.

Birdy experiences sexual abuse from a female teacher at school — why did you make the decision to include that in the novel?

On one level it was again about showing something different, that is very rarely talked about. It’s a fact that female to female sexual assault and abuse does exist but doesn’t come to light. The 80s were also a time of widespread sexual abuse by people in power and authority across the UK, the extent of which has only just started to be realized. It was important to me that Birdy didn’t entirely resolve that situation as well because that is true to what would have happened at the time.

Was there anything that surprised you when writing the book?

I won the PFD City University prize for literary fiction for an early draft of the book — that was a MASSIVE surprise!


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