"Reluctantly Charmed is a sweet, whimsical, quintessentially Irish novel guaranteed to add a little magic to your day!" - Liane Moriarty, author of Big Little Lies
It’s Kate McDaid’s birthday and she’s hoping to kickstart her rather stagnant love-life and career when she gets some very strange news. To her surprise, she is the sole benefactor of a great-great-great-great aunt and self-proclaimed witch also called Kate McDaid, who died over 130 years ago. As if that isn’t strange enough, the will instructs that, in order to receive the inheritance, Kate must publish seven letters, one by one, week by week.
Burning with curiosity, Kate agrees and opens the first letter – and finds that it’s a passionate plea to reconnect with the long-forgotten fairies of Irish folklore. Instantly, Kate’s life is turned upside down. Her romantic life takes a surprising turn and she is catapulted into the public eye. As events become stranger and stranger – and she discovers things about herself she’s never known before – Kate must decide whether she can fulfil the final, devastating step of the request . . . or whether she can face the consequences if she doesn’t.
Reluctantly Charmed is about what happens when life in the fast lane collides with the legacy of family, love and its possibilities... and a little bit of magic.
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This reading group guide for Reluctantly Charmed includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Ellie O’Neill. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
When Dubliner Kate McDaid turned twenty-six, her goal for the next year was to get a promotion at work. Focused on a pay raise and a new job title, she certainly never expected that her twenty-sixth year would bring her fame and attention beyond anything she could imagine—or want. It begins when a mysterious letter arrives inviting her to attend the reading of the will of Miss Kate McDaid. What seems at first to be an obvious mistake will soon turn Kate’s life completely upside down when she is named the sole beneficiary to the estate of her great-great-great-grand-aunt of the same name. The catch is that the estate will only be revealed after Kate publishes a letter and a series of seven poems that her ancestor has bequeathed to her. Curious—and a little amused—Kate agrees, and decides to publish the poems online. And so begins a frenzy in Ireland and around the world as each of the “Seven Steps” brings followers closer to a world beyond ours, a world with fairies and witches and the promise of eternal youth. As the messages gradually become more sinister with each step, Kate is faced with the decision of whether or not to see them through. Could the fate of humanity be in her hands?
Filled with humor, romance, building suspense—and of course a little bit of magic—Reluctantly Charmed makes us think about the things we believe in and ponder what may exist just beyond our detection. It charms from page one and is a debut to be devoured without any reluctance.
Questions and Topics For Discussion
1. On page 32, Matthew says, “Some of that stuff is kind of nice. Thinking that there’s something else out there, that maybe it isn’t just this.” Do you agree? How do you feel about the idea that it could be “just this”? Do you think it’s possible in today’s modern world to believe in an “other world”?
2. Kate and her parents have very different approaches to dealing with the sudden fame and publicity they receive from the Seven Steps. What do you make of their reactions? Who would you act like in a similar situation? Or would you take a totally different approach?
3. Drake Chandler’s suicide note mentioned fairies. Was it a coincidence—or something more?
4. On page 89, Kate decides to keep following the steps. She acknowledges that she likes to stay on top of trends: “If people are talking about it, I’m going to try it.” Are you also quick to try out the latest fads, or are you more of a wait-and-see type? Do you think you would have been likely to start following the Seven Steps if everyone else around you was talking about it?
5. Kate had an imaginary friend as a child that she later remembers and realizes was one of the fairies. Have you ever had a childhood memory suddenly come back to you? Do you think it’s possible to hold onto childhood beliefs, like fairies, into adulthood? What were the magical things you believed in as a child?
6. “A stranger in a small town will never know the rhythm of the place. A stranger will always cause an eyebrow to raise or a throat to clear. There is a language, a code built into the locals that a visitor cannot translate” (p. 250). Does this notion of a small town ring true with your own experiences? Have you ever been an insider or an outsider in a small town?
7. Do you think it was right for the people of Knocknamee to try to profit off the attention that the Seven Steps brought them? Should they be “making hay while the sun shines” (p. 347), as Annie put it, or do you agree with Father O’Brien that cashing in on the attention is worshipping money as a false god?
8. Compare and contrast the characters of Hugh and Jim. How did your feelings toward each of them evolve throughout the course of the story?
9. Kate handles the truth about her ancestor the Red Hag fairly well. How do you think you would feel if, like Kate, you found out that you were the descendant of someone who was considered evil and murdered by his or her contemporaries?
10. Do you agree with Kate’s decision not to share the real Seventh Step? What would you have done in her position? Should she still have inherited the blue bottle even though she didn’t actually do what the will required of her?
11. What do you make of Kate losing her hair? Discuss the symbolism in her supposed punishment from the fairies.
12. Kate’s journey with the Seven Steps changed her. She felt distanced from the people closest to her because no one could really understand what she had gone through. She acknowledges, “I wasn’t the person I had been” (p. 349). Discuss the ways that Kate changes and evolves throughout the story. Have you ever had an experience where you came out feeling like you were no longer the same person?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Every year on Kate’s birthday, she has dinner with her parents at the same Italian restaurant and they recount the story of her birth: “It’s a redhead!” Do you have any specific birthday traditions in your family? Or funny stories that you tell every year for the occasion?
2. Have you thought of what your fairy name might be? Go around the group and try to come up with a fairy name for each member of your book club.
3. What childhood beliefs have you held onto in adulthood?
4. At the end of the book, Kate says, “I’ll keep loving nature and enjoying every beautiful moment in it. I’ll keep having fun, and singing and dancing and laughing, just like they asked us to” (p. 387). Not everything in the Seven Steps was manipulative. What can you appreciate from them? Pick one or two of the more positive aspects from the fairies’ instructions and try following them.
5. To learn more about fairies and Irish folklore, visit the website ireland.mysteriousworld.com/Mystery/Folklore/FairyTales/, or pick up a copy of W. B. Yeats’ Fairy & Folk Tales of Ireland.
A Conversation with Ellie O’Neill
You’ve said this story came to you in a roundabout way from your grandmother. Do you think she truly believed in fairies?
I really don’t know—I’d love to be able to ask her that. She may just have been erring on the side of caution. My granny was a formidable woman who shed her rural upbringing with delight and made a very modern life for herself in Dublin. She always wore a fur coat, had her nails polished, and worked when it wasn’t the thing for a woman to do. But there were traditions from her upbringing that she was never able to shake, and one of them was talking about fairies. Her childhood was colored with stories of the nasty tricks the Little People had performed. I touch on this in Reluctantly Charmed—how sometimes it’s hard to lose childhood beliefs, that often there’s a niggle of doubt about something you heard as a kid. But did she truly believe? I don’t know.
Do you believe in fairies? Or in magic, or the existence of something beyond?
I choose to believe in the possibility of them. I hope there’s magic out there, that karma exists, that there’s some great puppeteer in the sky pulling strings to make wonderful things happen. I have that dream, but I’m also a realist—bills need to be paid, bones get broken, feelings get hurt, life can be really hard . . . but maybe because life can be hard we need to believe in magic even more!
What kind of research was involved in the writing of this novel? Was there anything particularly interesting that you came across while researching?
I read a lot of books (shocker: Writer in Reading Scandal!!!). I was living in Ireland while I was writing, and so I spoke to a lot of people to hear their stories and get their opinions on fairy lore, which was ridiculously good fun. William Butler Yeats was probably my primary source of inspiration from a literary point of view; I fell in love with his idea of fairies. His poems and his imagery of Ireland is really breathtaking.
Folklore is fun—its very nature as an oral tradition leaves everything in a gray area. There’s a lot of wiggle room for truth and fact, and that’s part of the appeal. It’s good old-fashioned sci-fi!
Is Knocknamee a real place? Or based on one? Have you ever been anywhere like it?
It’s fictitious. Sorry! But there are plenty of places like it in the west of Ireland. Little pockets of heaven are there, just waiting for you to stumble across them at the turn of a road.
How do you think you would personally handle fame and media attention, like Kate had to?
I am a bit—OK, a lot—celebrity-obsessed. I read my show-biz blogs and magazines, check out the fashion, discuss the romances. I love the crazy world of selfies and surgery. But could I handle being in it? Probably not. I am happy to remain a voyeur, with no fan clubs and all of my own wrinkles. If you had the chance to go to Tír na Nóg and live in the land of eternal youth, would you?
Imagine—a world with no wrinkles, no creaks in your back, no aches and pains? Amazing. Just think of the money you’d save on creams alone. The only problem with Tír na Nóg is that once you’re there, you can never leave. And as exciting a prospect as it is to still be raving well into my nineties, I wouldn’t want to be without my family.
Why do you think the Irish make such good storytellers?
Have you ever walked away from an Irish person and thought, Well, they really didn’t have much to say for themselves? You see? It doesn’t happen. The ability to chat is in our DNA, and somewhere along the way we learned that a beginning, a middle, and and end, with maybe a few jokes and some bad language thrown in, might get you a pint in the pub and win you a few friends.
Are there any particular writers or works that inspired your interest in writing a story of magical realism?
I read a broad spectrum of genres. A good story is what appeals to me, whatever the backdrop.
What has been the most exciting part of the publishing process so far?
I remember when the contract came through—I was five months pregnant and literally shaking from head to toe in disbelief and thinking that all this adrenaline couldn’t be good for the baby! It was surreal, after countless rejections, to suddenly have a contract in front of me. I was dumbstruck by it all.
What’s up next for you?
I’m working on another book and running after a toddler, so life is pretty full and busy right now.
Ellie O’Neill has sold spider catchers in Sydney, flipped burgers in Dublin and worked in advertising in London. Her debut novel, Reluctantly Charmed, was a bestseller, followed by The Enchanted Island. Ellie lives in Ireland with her husband and two children. See www.ellieoneill.com.au
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