It was while reading The Ferns Report all the way back in 2005 that the idea for Small Things Like These first came to Claire Keegan. Set in New Ross in the mid-eighties it is a fictional account of life in a community ruled by the Church, a time when turning a blind eye, maintaining one's silence, was often the safest option.
'It had been on my mind to write this book for a long time,' explains Claire. 'I was actually in the middle of it when the mother and baby home report came out.
'But it goes all the way back to when I first read the Ferns Report, it had been rumbling around in my mind since then. I remember reading one of the witness testimonies and when one of the men was asked "what was the worst thing you saw" he replied "there were many worst things."'
One of the testimonies from that report came from a man who had been banished to a shed as a child, locked away in a darkened room, later discovered by a coalman doing his rounds.
And it was this which ultimately formed the narrative for Small Things Like These.
'My story isn't actually about the boy who was discovered in the shed,' Claire says. 'I thought about the coalman and what he would do with that information in a town dominated by the Catholic Church and why so many people chose not to say anything.'
Although the book won't be released in Ireland until this coming October, Small Things Like These has already been launched in France, and to great acclaim.
'I started writing it last October and actually finished it in October, once I start writing something I can't leave it alone, it's like having a baby in the house,' says Claire who grew up in Park Bridge on the Wexford Wicklow border.
'I made the unusual decision to ask my French publisher Sabine Wespieser, if she would like to publish it first. We published it in France and it sold 20,000 copies in the first two months even though book shops are closed, it's been a great success there.'
Such has been its success that Small Things Like These, or Ce genre de petites choses to give it its French title, has won the Ireland Francophonie Ambassadors' Literary Award 2021, for Irish authors who publish their work in French.
Thanking her translator Jacqueline Odin for her tireless work, Claire revealed that she has also been nominated for the 'Roman Etranger', a prize for the finest novel translated into French this past year.
Adding to the anticipation ahead of its Irish publication, The Irish Times named Claire's novel one of its books to look out for in 2021. Now taking a brief break from writing, Claire explains why she chose to set her work in New Ross.
'I knew there was a laundry there, but there were other reasons I chose to set it in New Ross,' she says. 'I always associate New Ross as being a town which hasn't changed much, even during the boom.
'And then when I went to the library there to do some research I came out and I immediately smelled coal smoke in the air, I knew then that this was the right place for the book.
'In addition, I always liked the Barrow, we used to play beside it as children; it's a mystical, magical river, it just felt right, the whole thing cohered for me. Also I like how the people in New Ross speak, I like the accent, the language, it's quite witty and terse, everything about it felt right for the story.'
Although no-one can predict exactly where we'll be in terms of restrictions come October, Claire said she would like to have an official launch of Small Things Like These in Wexford when it's released here.
In the meantime, she says the writing of her new novel has inspired a potential trilogy of sorts.
'For my next project I am thinking about linking up my previous book, Foster, and Small Things Like These, while writing the latter I discovered a link between the two, there's a girl who appears in Small Things Like These who could form the basis for a new book.'
Small Things Like These will be published by Faber & Faber and released in Ireland on October 26.