Painting Through the Dark

by Gemma Whelan

ISBN: 9798987135907 (paperback), 9798987135914 (eBook); 264pp Fiction

Book cover, dark night view through tree branches with a full moon in the background.

Fleeing from the emotional shackles of her family in Ireland and the convent where she was training to be a nun, the feisty 21-year-old Ashling O’Leary arrives in San Francisco in 1982 with a backpack, a judo outfit, her artist’s portfolio, a three-month visa, and a determination to find a way to speak up about the abuse of girls and women in Catholic Ireland. As she becomes embroiled in a whirlwind of love, art, and deception, Ashling learns that her success as an artist and a human being depends on dealing with the ghosts of her past and speaking out on behalf of others.

“Gemma Whelan has written a tender, dramatic portrait of a young woman from an Irish convent, driven to explore the world—and her past—through the power of art. Painting Through the Dark probes how far we will go to avoid, and then confront, the truth. It is a testimony to our ability to survive, against all the odds.”
—Rene Denfeld, bestselling author of The Child Finder

“Gemma Whelan, as Irish as her protagonist, writes with courage and precision, chronicling through Ashling’s eyes the damage incurred by sexual abuse, the burden of broken dreams, bravery, betrayal, the claustrophobia of conventional expectations, and most prominently, the darkness in men’s hearts. Through Whelan’s flowing narrative, Ashling attains the triumph of self-realization and the finding of grace, and the reader is well met.”
—Mark James Montgomery, The Lightning Field

“With an engaging voice displaying her Irish storytelling roots, West Coast author Gemma Whelan has written a multi-layered novel that encompasses a rich tapestry of themes from first love and sex to a nation and church reeking of abuse.”
—Ellen Kesend, author and screenwriter

About Gemma Whelan:

Gemma (she/her) is an award-winning director, screenwriter, and educator. As an Irish immigrant to the U.S., her perspective crosses the boundaries between cultures, and as an artist, she gives expression to stories that have been suppressed. Gemma was the founding Artistic Director of Wilde Irish Productions in the San Francisco Bay Area and of Corrib Theatre in Portland, Oregon. She has been directing and teaching at universities and conservatories in the U.S, Ireland, and Asia for over 35 years. Her novels are Fiona: Stolen Child and Painting Through the Dark. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Purchase from your favorite independent bookseller:


January 24 @ 6pm

Broadway Books

Reading and book signing. Hosted by Rene Denfeld, best-selling author of The Enchanted and The Child Finder.

February 9 @ 7pm

Powell’s City of Books

In conversation with Anna Quinn for the launch of her novel, Angeline. Moderated by Rene Denfeld.

March 2 @ 7pm

Annie Bloom’s Books

Reading and book signing. In conversation with Joaquin Lopez, Portland’s Creative Laureate. More…