Susy Flory Interview: NYT Best Selling Author’s Upcoming “Sanctuary”

Sanctuary: The True Story of an Irish Village, a Man Who Lost His Way, and the Rescue Donkeys That Led Him Home

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Liscaroll, Ireland – Patrick Barrett’s childhood in the beautiful little Irish village of Liscaroll might have been considered idyllic: out and about in nature, fresh air, and sunshine, Barrett was called upon to help care for abandoned donkeys rescued by his family. But for Barrett, who struggled in the classroom as a youngster with dyslexia, and who would go on to seek comforts leading to alcoholism, the rural life was not always the blessing it might have been. Barrett’s time in the military compounded these challenges, and he was eventually diagnosed with PTSD.

While caring for donkeys might not have been Barrett’s own childhood ideal, it was a duty that eventually developed into a labor of love, then of delight, and then into a calling. Barrett’s family’s sanctuary focused (still does) on care for these working animals who would be put into service and then often discarded. Left to roam, donkeys aren’t so great at fending for themselves. Barrett and his father would go and reclaim these four-legged angels and provide a safe and stable place for them in their donkey sanctuary.

All the while Barrett was saving donkeys and, at some point, these donkeys- one, in particular, named “Jacksie”- would begin saving him.

Barrett discovered he has a particular talent for communicating with donkeys. Over the years, he’d become fluent in donkey communication and able to mimic their braying so as to elicit verbal response and cooperation even when the animals might ignore any other human contact. Barrett’s seen here in a beautiful clip that refers to him as “the donkey whisperer.”

Patrick Barrett and “Jacksie”

Sanctuary: The True Story of an Irish Village, a Man Who Lost His Way, and the Rescue Donkeys That Led Him Home, Barrett’s story written with the help of New York Times bestselling author Susy Flory, follows the sometimes difficult but ultimately beautifully poetic story of Barret’s having cared for these animals and then later, when life became too much, their caring for him. Along the way, Barrett also shares about finding his faith in God who gifted him not only with a four-legged friend in “Jacksie,” but also with (spoiler alert!) his anam cara, his wife who came to him in a way that can only be described as God-sent.

Barrett is using his wisdom gleaned from adverse life experiences to help others. His is a story of losing and then finding love- love of God, love perhaps even for himself as well as others, and Sanctuary is a story of love of many kinds: rediscovered love for God, family love, father-son love, mother-son love, love for all of God’s creatures, and yes, even romantic love.

Sanctuary: The True Story of an Irish Village, a Man Who Lost His Way, and the Rescue Donkeys That Led Him Home is an uplifting story set in a fascinating location. Readers will no doubt find great enjoyment in discovering Barrett’s quaint community, customs, folklore, and Biblical stories in the setting of life in an Irish village. The book’s themes of overcoming life’s obstacles, redemption, the interconnectedness of all creatures, and love that never fails sweetly reverberate throughout.

The book will debut in March of 2022, however pre-orders are available now. Don’t wait; this is a perfect St. Patrick’s Day gift! More specifics below in this interview with New York Times Bestselling author Susy Flory in which she shares some more about the magical details.

New York Times Best Selling Author Susy Flory

MC: I’d first like first to thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I’ve got to say that Sanctuary is an amazing story and a wonderful read. I completed reading the manuscript in two evening sittings. Engaging and inspiring- plus a magical setting that also includes sweet animals Thank you for the sneak peek!

MC: How do you like to describe this particular book when someone asks you what it’s about?


SF: Sanctuary is the story of a donkey whisperer from a small village in Ireland. His father founded Ireland’s donkey sanctuary, so his son Patrick grew up with donkeys as his first and best friends. He became a troubled teenager, and ended up in the Middle East with the Irish Army, later coming home a broken man. He went back to work at the Donkey Sanctuary where the donkeys embraced and began to help heal him. His father never knew the donkey sanctuary he’d started would someday save his wild donkey of a son.

MC: How did you find Patrick and his amazing story? And how do you usually go about choosing an author/story to help write? Were there any similarities in your own life story- or in that of someone you know and love- that made Patrick’s story particularly appealing to you (or was it mainly the setting in Ireland!)?

SF:  One day I received an email out of the blue from a man named Patrick. He told me a little of his story. Something in it spoke to me, and I loved the video he sent along of him with a donkey named Jacksie (who plays a big part in the book). We started a conversation, and I did some research on him and his family, and next thing you know I was in Ireland meeting everyone and hearing his story firsthand.


I loved the themes of redemption and hope, salvation and sanctuary, and the healing power of animals like donkeys. I also loved the idea of the village and his family never giving up on him. (Since my mother was Irish), I had been to Ireland before and remembered the beauty of the place and the people. I fell in love with the story and the people behind it.

MC: You are a co-author, and you worked with Patrick to tell his (and the donkeys’!) story. Who determined the tone and the outlining? How was the writing divvied up? How does that usually work? Who wrote the section titles? What was the inspiration, if any, for all of these choices? I noticed a closing statement from Patrick’s father (lovely); is that a usual part in stories you write/help write?

SF: The tone, story structure, section titles and everything else rose organically out of the friendships and conversations with Patrick and his family. I feel like the story is there, and it’s my job to chip away at it, bring it into the light, refine and polish it, and get it into the pages of a book. In this case, Patrick’s part of the writing was storytelling, and my part was shaping and writing the story. Patrick’s father has his own powerful story, and we asked him to write something and are delighted that he did! I hope and pray he writes his own book some day.

MC: I’m guessing the process of writing this book was profoundly healing and cathartic for your co-author, as well his family members. Is there anything that can be shared about that?

SF: Writing a memoir is a very difficult, painful, and serious endeavor. It’s not to be taken lightly. Towards the end of the book, there is a story about a PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) episode that happened to Patrick during the writing of the book. I do believe it is healing and cathartic, but at a price. However, Patrick wants very much to use his story to help others, particularly those suffering from PTSD, and that is what drove him to reach out and get help in writing the book.

MC: The Bible stories, as told in Patrick’s own voice, were just wonderful. How did you decide about including those and in the particular form/language they are in?

SF: Most people in Ireland grow up in the Catholic church and are familiar with some of the stories, so these naturally came out when we would talk. I took the moments and emotions that had touched Patrick, and developed those, weaving them into the story in a way that made sense.

MC: Wondering how amazing it was to visit Ireland! We know you had a writer friend tag along who also has a drone, so I’m wondering what kind of amazing photographs of Irish countryside, beaches, cliffs, and the like you might have brought home with you?

SF: This brings back happy memories. People talk about Ireland being a magical place, and it truly is. This lush green island has a very long history of faith, and is rich in holy places and holy people. My photographer friend, Marci Seither, is a visual storyteller. She brought her cameras and her drone and we loved exploring Liscarroll Castle (in a private tour) and also a ruined monastery called Ballybeg Priory. As storytellers, our imaginations took over and we had a blast! My favorite photo, though, is one that I captured on my phone: Patrick interacting with a young donkey on the hill at the sanctuary, the big Irish sky behind him. He bent over and kissed her nose. The photo said everything, and was recreated for the book cover by a professional Irish photographer!

MC: What was it like to meet all of those lovely donkeys at the donkey rescue place? “Who” did you meet, and did you choose a favorite? (And, did one or two choose YOU as a favorite?)

SF: Jacksie is my favorite–a fuzzy white donkey with gray and brown patches who is full of personality, willful and mischievous. He was rejected by his mother and hand raised by Patrick’s family. I saw a stable hand try to catch him and Jacksie ran away. But as soon as Patrick walked up, Jacksie ran up and Patrick could do anything with him. Donkeys have very distinct personalities and are very opinionated, which is why people think they are stubborn. The donkeys live in herds and are bonded with other donkeys, so while they can be friendly, they definitely seem to prefer their donkey friends!

MC: What are some favorite (or, not-so-favorite, but with a favorable ending) and worth sharing as “wisdom is hindsight” or “but for God…” experiences you had while getting this book done?

SF: While on my second trip to Ireland, I had a health issue pop up that I’ve had to deal with before (a side effect of breast cancer treatment from a few years back). I became ill and needed to go to a hospital for treatment. It’s never fun to get sick, and especially in another country. But Patrick and his family were kind, and made me feel safe and cared for. It all turned out okay in the end, and I got to experience a little bit of the feeling of being inside of a warm and loving Irish family that always makes you a fresh cup of tea when you feel a bit off.

MC: If not for living with family in California, would Ireland be a place you’d want to be?

SF: I think it might be hard to get used to the cold and wet Irish winters, but I’d love to go back as often as I can to explore the island and hear people’s stories. I have an idea for another book based in Ireland, about monastic women, and fingers crossed, I’ll get to write it someday.

MC: Any favorite parts of the book? Or not-so-favorite parts?

SF: The hardest part for me about writing the book was visiting the pub where Patrick had his last drink. That chapter is also the hardest for me to reread; it’s as if he was walking a knife’s edge, and his life could have gone either way. One of the best parts of the book is everything that happens at the top of “the rock,” a very important place in the book. The rock is the center of Patrick’s life, and a place where he feels close to God.

MC: Spoiler Alert question: The way Patrick and his anam chara met sounds too good to be true- and yet I would surely not accuse you or him of “blarney”! How might you say, as an observer who spent time with them, has this impacted each of their lives?

SF: They are amazing together–two people who found each other in the right place at the right time (and they had known each other since they were children!) They seem to really get each other, and to function as a team, with grace, forgiveness, plenty of love, and humor, too. And they love to be outside together with their children.

MC: Patrick’s conversion (or re-commitment) to his faith is so wonderful. Anything about being around him indicate his charism or other influence of the Holy Spirit? Any sharable for the good of the Body stories that are worth sharing that didn’t make it into the book?

SF: I feel like I learned so much from Patrick about praying every morning, opening your hands and laying everything on the altar, and listening to God. Patrick knows that he is alive because God saved him, and that truth informs his everyday life in a way that I have rarely experienced. When I look at pictures of the old Patrick, or hear stories, it’s like a different person than the one sitting in front of me. He is truly a new man, still with scars, but with a light about him.

MC: Do you keep in touch with Patrick? Has he finished his licensing and become a counselor as he’d decided to do?

SF: Patrick is a counselor and he has been very busy during the pandemic with the mental health crisis in his country (as has happened here, too). He has enjoyed the time at home during the quarantines (Ireland had very strict regulations and strongly enforced their shutdowns) and spent lots of time with his family at the Sanctuary with the donkeys. He loved being at home!

MC: You mention Sanctuary is currently available for pre-sale with Tyndale on Amazon. What’s the anticipated release date? 

SF: Release date is March 17, 2022. So excited! And here’s something strange–a book I wrote called The Unbreakable Boy has become a major movie with Lionsgate Studios, starring Zachary Levi and Patricia Heaton. And it releases March 18! I could never have planned this, and it’s going to be a strange, unusual, and lovely time for these two stories!

MC: Wow! That is terrific! Patricia Heaton was actually recently in the news talking about having her “last drink,” too. Any “sneak peeks” to be had regarding promotional materials for Sanctuary?

SF: I have the most lovely original watercolor map created for the book by Candace Rose Rardon

MC: What’s the next book you’re tackling? 

SF: I’m working on a stunt memoir called The Ultimate Bible Nerd: One Year, One Girl, Six Million Words. It’s about reading through the venerable six-volume Anchor Bible Dictionary in one year. It’s also about my seminary journey (at 56!!!) and at heart, a spiritual memoir.

MC: You’re reminding of A.K. Jacobs’ book The Year of Living Biblically… I think you’ve mentioned that during one of your talks for memoir writers. Thanks, again, so much for taking the time to answer my questions. The manuscript was just amazing, and I can’t wait to see the finished book!

Fans of New York Times Bestselling author Susy Flory can go on line at Amazon and pre-order Sanctuary today. Flory’s back list (titles below) can also be ordered on Amazon or through an independent book store new you!

Other Titles by Susy Flory

Desired by God: Discover a Strong, Soul-Satisfying Relationship with God by Understanding Who He Is and How Much He Loves You, pastor Van Moody/Susy Flory (2018)

The Sky Below: A True Story of Summits, Space, and Speed, astronaut Scott Parazynski/Susy Flory (2017)

Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero9/11 survivor Michael Hingson/Susy Flory/(2011)

Miracle on Voodoo Mountain: A Young Woman’s Remarkable Story of Pushing Back the Darkness for the Children of Haiti, Megan Boudreaux/Susy Flory (2015)

The Good, The Bad, and the Grace of God:  What Honesty and Pain Taught Us about Faith, Family, and Forgiveness, TV personalities Jep & Jessica Robertson/Susy Flory (2015)

She Believes: Embracing the Life You Were Created to Live, speaker and pastor Debbie Lindell/Susy Flory (2016)

So Long, Status Quo: Nine Amazing Women Who Changed the World, Susy Flory (2009)

Fear Not Da Vinci: Using the Best-Selling Novel to Share Your Faith, Susy Flory and Gini Monroe with W. Ward Gasque PhD (2006)

Sanctuary: The True Story of an Irish Village, a Man Who Lost His Way, and the Rescue Donkeys That Led Him Home
By Patrick Barrett & Susy Flory

Tyndale Momentum

Anticipated publication date: March 15, 2022

Available now in Kindle version in pre-order on Amazon ASIN: B08XQZXLCF

256 pages
Hard Cover: $24.99; Paperback: $16.99; Kindle: (*Pre-Order Special) $9.99

Patrick Barrett and “Jacksie” at the donkey sanctuary
About Michele Caprario 58 Articles
Michele Caprario is a writer and editor covering great people, projects, and things that bring goodness to the world.

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