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Winner of latest draw to receive a signed copy of ‘Pretty Ugly’


It is with great pleasure that ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ announces Melanie Finney as winner of our latest draw, a signed copy of ‘Pretty Ugly,’ a dramatic novel by Sean Hillen, author and retreat writing coach, combining media, medicine and modelling focusing on the issue of toxic chemicals in everyday cosmetics, which is set in both the US and Ireland.

Melanie is Professor of Communication and Theatre at DePauw University, a small liberal arts institution in Greencastle, Indiana in the US. Over the last ten years, her research interests on identity, loss and trauma have expanded to include issues in Irish studies, primarily on how people talk about and memorialize culturally significant events. Some of her work has focused on the memorials and murals in Northern Ireland concerning the Troubles, memorials about An Gorta Mór, and most recently about the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 2016.


Melanie has traveled to Ireland several times, and has visited all 32 counties. In 2012, she spent two weeks in County Donegal with her late husband, Jerry, on their last trip to Ireland. During that trip, they drove through the Inishowen Peninsula, saw the Chieftains in concert in Buncrana, went to the Bob Dylan Festival in Moville, and spent time in Ardara and Glencolumbcille. After her husband died in 2013, she wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to return to the island they loved so well. However, while on an extended sabbatical during 2015 and 2016, she traveled back to begin work on a photographic narrative project titled, ‘Journey to the Thin Places.’ During the first three months in the Fall of 2015, Melanie drove over 8,000 km and took over 8,000 images as she traveled by herself to find places of healing after the loss of her husband.


She writes, “During the six months I spent alone in Ireland, I traveled to abbeys and dolmens, holy wells and stone circles, and revisited well-loved places like Newgrange and Glendalough, the Doo Lough Pass and the Giant’s Causeway. But I also found my way to lesser-known mystical places like Dún na mBó on the Belmullet Peninsula, remote locations on the Beara Peninsula, hidden gardens in County Waterford, the Samhain Festival of Fire in County Meath, the lonely haven of Inis Oírr, the woods of Cong and the mountains of Connemara, the haunting landscape of the Clare Burren, and the coastline of the ‘Wild Atlantic Way,’ from Mizen Head to the Dingle Peninsula to Achill Island and on to Bundoran. As I immersed myself in the restorative landscape, I embraced my grief and in ways profound and beautiful, discovered healing for my broken heart in my thin places.” Here is a link to part of her work on “Journey to the Thin Places.

Melanie enjoys reading historical fiction, especially based in Ireland, as well as creative nonfiction, memoir and contemporary fiction. Her secret dream is to retire to Ireland someday, but in the meantime, she’ll try to satisfy her longing with regular visits. She loves reading, writing, photography, cooking, traveling, and spending time with her family. She’s hoping to visit Donegal in Summer 2018, and is thrilled to become a Friend of the ‘Ireland Writing Retreat.’

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