Whipping up the truth with Irish American author Deborah Henry


“I’m a happy person, but I really like meaty material,” Henry reveals. “I’m not really big on beach reads. I write things that I want to leave behind.”

The subject matter of the book, which involves overcoming abuse and adversity to achieve some measure of forgiveness and a new life, appealed to one of the most famous readers in the world -- Oprah Winfrey. Henry was astounded to be told that the chat show queen had picked The Whipping Club as one of the members of the sought-after Summer Reading List compiled by Winfrey’s magazine, O.

“That was a beautiful moment in my life,” Henry confesses. “I was in the auto shop of all places and I got an email to overnight my book to O magazine. To have a no-name novelist get picked up, it was really miraculous.

“I don’t know how they found the book or me. I have clues. I love New York and go to some writing events there. So maybe through one of her writing comrades?”

After it was published Henry says she treated The Whipping Club as if it was one of her children.

“I really had a lot of energy once it came out to promote it. I just went gung-ho to get the word out,” she says.

“I spent years rewriting this damn book because it was my first. I started before I took any writing course. It was painful getting it down right. So I wanted it to be read.”

The extensive research Henry did on the Industrial Schools and orphanages in Ireland outraged her, the sheer scale of the abuses and the dysfunction.

“I had an Irish grandmother who told me that Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes was nothing like her childhood.  She was on a pony eating apples off a tree, according to her. I grew up thinking that all these happy people that I loved represented Ireland,” Henry said.

To find out the real truth was like cold water to the face. But it was a wakeup call, and she welcomed it.

“The real truth is that I am a novelist who truly believes that telling the truth dispels darkness. I have an absolute passion to have this subject to come out in literature,” she says.

“All the books on the subject I have found to date are non-fiction or memoir. I didn’t find any novels that dealt with it, and I think there needs to be. I set myself the task. I asked myself who I thought I was to even attempt it, but I went ahead.”

In the end Henry realized her book was not an indictment of the Catholic Church. Instead it’s an indictment of the secrets we like to keep, the silence we let fall, and the unsavory things we all agree to sweep under the carpet.

“I think we should look our dark sides in the eye, because we all have dark sides. Staring the monster down is the only way to move forward. There’s a lot of good nuns in the book, there are decent hardworking Christian Brothers. Human nature presents us with grey areas,” Henry says.

The journey toward forgiveness is the journey that the characters in The Whipping Club are going on, and at times you have to wonder if they’ll ever get there.

But to reach that final shore of forgiveness there has to first be an admission of the truth, or else how can there be healing? Breaking that silence to tell the truth is the journey of The Whipping Club.