Not many girls from the Bogside in Derry have ended up living in a fabulous mansion in Malibu, and no one is more surprised about it than the Derry girl it actually happed to, Roma Downey.
Most famous for her starring role in the long-running television show Touched by an Angel, Downey, 57, is also a notably successful film, web and television producer and now an author of the already number one bestseller Box of Butterflies: Discovering the Unexpected Blessings All Around Us.
This month she's in the midst of a book tour to promote Box of Butterflies and the experience is unlike any she's undertaken before she says.
“It's a big new adventure for me, the world of books and publishing,” Downey tells the Irish Voice. “I began with my wanting to tell my own story and to be honest I feel extraordinarily vulnerable. Of all the tings I've ever gone on the road to promote, suddenly it's my own book, my own story, my own hurts and my own trials and my own lessons learned. I hope it's valuable for somebody.”
If you consider the arc of her career she started as an actress and then she put on her producers hat to bring to the screen some of the biggest epic stories in the bible, but to write a memoir is a much quieter more intimate experience she says.
“It's not just my story it tells how at some crossroads in my life God was already there although I didn't always know that, or it didn't always feel that way. Nobody gets away with a life that doesn't include suffering, you know? To love is to be vulnerable and I experienced the trauma of loss of love so young. I was only 10 when my mum died and I know it's a long time ago but it shaped the person I became.”
The inspiration for the new book came from a very private place she says. When she was visiting her mother's grave as a child a butterfly appeared, she recalls. That could be your mother's spirit, her father told her. “It was a comfort to me at the time to think that her spirit could still be somewhere nearby.”
Since that time Downey has associated butterflies with her mother' spirit, with the idea that she's somehow nearby and watching over her, and that God is with her every step of the way too. That's why she has has designed the new book to comfort, to provide the encouragement and inspiration that the butterfly idea always has to her.
“Growing up in Derry in the 1970's things were crazy. It wasn't your typical backdrop, but I was said I had a happy childhood. Even though we all became experts in which part of town gunfire had occurred or where the latest bomb scare was.”
Nowadays Downey says she has come to the realization that everything, the successes and the losses, all of them amount to a gift. It's all part of the wider journey she says. “There's a Mary Oliver poem where she writes that someone she loved once gave her a box full of darkness, and it took her years to discover that this, too, was a gift. That idea speaks to me very deeply.”
I would not have gotten where I am without my faith, no question. I wouldn't have endure my teenage years, I don't know how I would have gotten through my mothers death if I hasn't had the promise I would see her again. So my faith has been a source of joy, it has held me up and rocked me to sleep on nights where I thought my heart was going to break.”
Being from Derry is also very important to her too, she adds. “It's my north star, it's my compass. As a woman who lost both parents very young part of my life's ambition was to live the best life I could to honor the memory of Maureen O'Reilly and Paddy Downey.”
It's a safe bet to say she has.
Box of Butterflies: Discovering the Unexpected Blessings All Around Us is published by Howard Books, $14.95.