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Saturday 20 September 2014

Martina's bewitching tale of Ireland's Salem lands film deal

John Spain

Published 30/08/2014 | 02:30

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Martina Devlin on the sea front at Glasthule. Photo: Frank McGrath.
'The House Where it Happened'

A major deal has been struck for the film rights to Irish Independent columnist and author Martina Devlin's latest novel, The House Where It Happened.

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The gothic novel, inspired by Ireland's only mass witchcraft trial which took place in Antrim in 1711, is published on Monday. Eight women were prosecuted for witchcraft - the last conviction for the felony in Ireland.

The rights to the book have been optioned by Samson Films, the company that made the Oscar-winning film Once starring Glen Hansard. Samson's productions also include The Sea, the recent adaptation of John Banville's novel, starring Ciaran Hinds and Sinead Cusack, and the comedy-drama Run and Jump.

"I stumbled across the story which forms the basis for my novel by chance," Devlin said. "I was flicking through a newspaper, and paused at the 'It Happened This Day' column. It said that on this day, in April 1711, eight women were convicted of witchcraft at the spring Assizes in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim.

"I thought there must be some mistake. There hadn't been any mass witchcraft trials in Ireland, surely? They had happened in Salem in Massachusetts, and in Scotland - in other parts of Europe.

"I felt compelled to dig deeper - and the more questions which were answered, the more questions I had. The trial caused a sensation at the time, and hinged on an 18-year-old named Mary Dunbar who arrived in the community and almost immediately started complaining about being tormented by witches."

International bestseller Joseph O'Connor said he was "utterly gripped by the book's power".

In an unusual move, the deal for The House Where It Happened, published by Ward River Press, was struck even before the novel was published.

Devlin's awards include the Royal Society of Literature's VS Pritchett Prize, and a Hennessy Literary Award. Her previous books include Ship of Dreams and Banksters.

Irish Independent

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