Posting on the blog today is a fellow historical fiction writer, Tony Riches who brings history to life in his novels and non fiction works.
Tony is a full time author of best-selling fiction and non-fiction books. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales with his wife and enjoys sailing and kayaking in his spare time.
Tony first came to my attention when I noticed that one of his novels was about the Duchess of Gloucester in, The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham, which overlaps my own novel, The Imp of Eye, that also has the Duchess as a main character.
Tony has a new series out about the Tudors. Not the ones we all know, though, and below he talks about how he became interested in them.
Although I was born within sight of Pembroke Castle, I only began to study its history when I returned to the area five years ago. I was amazed to find there were no books about Owen Tudor, the father of Sir Jasper Tudor, the Earl of Pembroke, who once owned and lived in the Castle. I found several accounts of the life of Henry Tudor, Jasper’s nephew, (who later became King Henry VII and began the Tudor Dynasty) but there were no novels that brought his story to life.
I was reading Conn Iggulden’s impressive Wars of the Roses trilogy when the idea for the Tudor Trilogy (unsurprisingly) occurred to me. I realised Henry Tudor could be born in book one, ‘come of age’ in book two, and rule England in book three, so there would be plenty of scope to explore his life and times.
I started with a year of research, as I do my best to ensure my novels are historically correct, and feel the role of the historical fiction novelist is to ‘fill in the gaps’ with a plausible narrative and explore how people might have reacted to often quite dramatic events. I am always disappointed when authors distort or manipulate the known history, and firmly believe history has more amazing stories than anything I would ever dream up.
The first book of the trilogy was my fourth novel, so I had a good idea about the structure, and it had a ‘natural’ and dramatic end point (not wishing to give anything away for non-Tudor aficionados). In book one, OWEN, a Welsh servant of Queen Catherine of Valois, the lonely widow of King Henry V falls in love with her and they marry in secret. Their eldest son Edmund Tudor marries the heiress Lady Margaret Beaufort, and fathers a child with her to secure her inheritance. Unfortunately, Lady Margaret is barely thirteen years old and the birth of her son, Henry, nearly kills her. When her husband dies mysteriously without even seeing his son, his younger brother Jasper Tudor swears to protect them.
This all takes place during the Wars of the Roses and in book two, JASPER, (published 25th March), Jasper and young Henry flee to exile in Brittany and plan to one day return and make Henry King of England. In the meantime, King Richard III has taken the throne and has a powerful army of thousands – while Jasper and Henry have nothing. Even the clothes they wear are paid for by the Duke of Brittany. So how can they possibly invade England and defeat King Richard at the Battle of Bosworth?
I am currently researching the final book of the trilogy, HENRY, and plan to explore how he brought peace to England by marrying the beautiful daughter of his enemy, King Edward IV. I also want to understand how their son, who became King Henry VIII, became such a tyrant and transformed the history of England forever.
Today I have a guest post from Jessica Knauss, someone, who like her novel, is awash with talent. Besides writing, Jessica has also spent many years as an editor. I first encountered Jessica when she edited my historical biography, Anahareo, A Wilderness Spirit. Our shared love of history and writing were two of many things that extended our relationship beyond editing that book. Jessica has lived many places, but currently she lives in Arizona where she is editor and writer.
My contemporary paranormal, Awash in Talent, has been picked up by Kindle Press and is now available for preorder. Here’s a little more about it:
Emily can’t escape her annoyingly Talented telekinetic healer sister by going to a university 3000 miles away, in Providence, or even by doing a field study in Ethiopia. Why don’t people give credit where credit is due?
Kelly is forced to attend a pyrokinesis school/lockdown facility, but she must escape and bring Emily’s healer sister to Boston—her mother’s life depends on it.
Appointments with Emily might drive psychic therapist Patricia insane. Meanwhile, Patricia falls ever deeper into her husband’s selfish, cruel trap. In Providence, Friendship is a one-way street.
Awash in Talent is a novel in three interrelated novellas, all set in Providence, Rhode Island, where telekinetics, firestarters, and psychics attempt to function in a largely un-Talented society unappreciative of what they have to offer. Love/hate between sisters, mother and daughter, scared teenagers, a mismatched married couple, adult female friends, and an obsessive and the object of her affection are all put to the test.
Awash in Talent started as a handful of lines I wrote after a vivid dream. It was in 2010, and I was living in Pennsylvania. Over the next few years, I would live in four different states and would work on the first novella, Hope & Benevolent, whenever I had a spare moment. I focused on other projects and only ran Hope & Benevolent by my critique group when other writing wasn’t moving along.
While living in a hotel in North Carolina, I decided there was much more to the story, and completed the second novella, WaterFire, during NaNoWriMo. Ideas for the final component, Friendship Street, had been percolating, and by the time I’d moved to two more cities (only one across state lines), it had wrapped up the story in a way I found satisfying. The critique group was enthusiastic about how Awash in Talent finally turned out, but after lots of editing and a few more beta reads, I had trouble finding a publisher quirky enough to consider it.
After a year of submissions, Awash in Talent had been rejected only twice. I was already exhausted from the waiting and hoping that had come to naught with my agent queries for my first novel. That first novel had been accepted by its own small press in the end, and I was ready to place Awash in Talent as soon as possible, as well. I purchased the best cover in the world from designer Jasmine Green and was about to self-publish it when we moved across state lines again.
I was taking the long stroll between our new mailbox and new apartment with my husband when the sunshine got to me. “There’s this thing called Kindle Scout” was more or less my pitch. “Do you think I should try it?”
“Why not?” was the idea behind my husband’s reply.
It was the best decision I could’ve made for Awash in Talent. In the Kindle Scout process, each book gets a 30-day campaign during which the author can rally support from readers. It doesn’t feel so much as if it’s just a few people concerned with salability and marketability who make the decision to publish or not. It’s more about convincing a bunch of readers to feel enthused enough to click a button in favor of the book. It’s traditional publishing with a very modern slush pile.
There are a lot of factors to consider before an undertaking like this, but in my case, it was all pros and no cons.
I did more social media campaigning than ever before in my life during the campaign. In spite of some very moving shows of support from my intimate friends, I honestly don’t think my numbers were that great—and a significant number of my votes must have been for the sake of the great cover alone. But no one knows how Kindle Press uses the data collected during the campaign. They have the final say on which books are published, no matter how many votes a book receives.
That’s why, when I got the fabulous news that Awash in Talent was going to be published by Kindle Press, I was sure it was because of a single editor who pushed against any objections to demand the best for my little book. Deep down, I most want to be appreciated on that hyperlocal level. Just let me share this zany story with you!
I go into detail about what I learned from the Kindle Scout experience here, and muse further about how Kindle Press makes their decisions here.
I’m pleased with the professionalism at Kindle Press and am thrilled with their speed of action. That’s what I was missing from traditional publishers! Awash in Talent is already available for preorder and I hope you will check it out if you like action-packed stories with a lot of heart.
I hope someone will review it and say that it’s “Gilmore Girls with a paranormal twist!”
You can find Jessica on the following sites:
Today, Claire Stibbe is my guest to discuss her forthcoming novel, The 9th Hour, a fast paced thriller featuring Detective David Temeke and set against the dramatic backdrop of the New Mexico landscape. It's a departure for Claire, whose previous novels were historical and set in ancient Egypt.
Researching ideas for the first novel in the Detective Temeke series has been so much fun, especially driving around Albuquerque through all the areas Temeke & his female assistant, Malin Santiago, would go. This book takes place in Cimarron State Park where a nine-year-old African American girl has been abducted. Temeke, a detective working in a police unit for violent crimes against children is called out one early December morning to take over a case nobody wants. Why? Because former lead Detective Jack Reynolds was found dead under the bridge on Exit 230 to San Mateo. He had a gunshot wound to his head. With a new partner, a new case and a new set of wheels, Temeke takes to the roads in search of a man who keeps the body parts of his eight young victims as trophies and has a worrying obsession with the number nine.
With so many state parks here in New Mexico, the hiking trails are numerous and great places to learn about the history of the southwest. Big blue skies, palisade cliffs and all kinds of fauna only add to each scene. With the help of detectives in the local police department, this has been crucial in piecing together a serial killer’s steps. Winter’s coming . . .
With the weather being so stormy recently, slate-grey skies, a sheet of rain one minute and the growl of thunder the next, it has provided the right mood to give me inspiration. I’m loving the characters and the way they lead each chapter to who knows where. And yes, I do normally have a structure, only this time it all went out of the window.
It’s all David Temeke’s fault. His dry wit often goes for the jugular, rubbing the department up the wrong way. Unit Commander Hackett is clearly suspicious of Temeke, an African/British ex-pat, and has reluctantly assigned him a new east coast transfer, Malin Santiago. It’s a high profile case where her Hispanic/Norwegian roots are a valuable asset to the team. Can’t say why. You’ll just have to read the book. Only, Temeke believes that Santiago lacks the necessary experience for such a case which is adding a considerable strain to their professional relationship. Not to mention her physical attraction to him which is about as welcome as a skunk at a lawn party.
So this afternoon as I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop, I was this close to writing Santiago a great scene that would change Temeke’s view of her; maybe give him something to chew over. But being despicable me, I decided to leave it as it is. Unrequited love in the Northwest Area Command is much too much fun to watch. And Malin isn’t all smiles and teeth. There’s a certain metal in her psyche that gets stronger with every book. She might have started out as a pit-dweller, but she’s sure making up for it now.
All this and more in The 9th Hour, soon to be published in the fall of 2015 by Crooked Cat Publishing.
To find out more about CMT Stibbe’s books, visit her website at http://www.cmtstibbe.com. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ClaireStibbeGoogle: https://plus.google.com/+CMTStibbe/posts Twitter: https://twitter.com/CMTStibbe
Claire is also a member of the New Mexico Book Co-op and the Southwest Writers Association.
In 1541 Eleanor, the Duchess of Gloucester, was accused of witchcraft. Margery Jourdemayne, ‘the Witch of Eye next Westminster’, Thomas Southwell (Chaplain of Westminster Palace and a canon), and the scholars Roger Bolingbroke and John Home (Hume) were all accused of witchcraft too. It seems impossible that a noblewoman and other powerful and learned people would be accused and tried for something like witchcraft at that time period. And that some of them would meet a terrible end, as a result. But there was more to it than meets the eye (excuse the pun).
The Imp of Eye, uses these events as the centrepiece for its plot.
15th century England was a time of great turmoil and power shifts. When Henry V died he left an infant son, Henry VI, who was under the care of his uncles. The Duke of Bedford and the Duke of Gloucester who were appointed the regents. As Henry matured, various powerful nobles maneuvered for position and control, including his uncle, Duke Humphrey of Gloucester. When Humphrey’s older brother died it left Humphrey as the next in line to the throne and closest to the young king. For a while, he was able to influence the young king and encourage him to continue the war with France that had dragged on for almost a century. But other factions, especially the one headed by Cardinal Beaufort, a distant relation, vied for power. A key plan was to discredit Humphrey and get him out of the way.
His second wife, the lovely but volatile Eleanor Cobham, former lady in waiting to the Duke’s first wife, played into their hands. They used her desperate, frequent consultations with the known herbalist and witch, Margery Jourdemayne (the Witch of Eye), to try and bring about her downfall.
Moonyeen Blakey read about this trial and the witch, Margery Jourdemayne, in the course of her research for a previous book she’d started writing. She discussed the storyline with me several times and I followed its development. She sat down to write it and had a draft of it completed when she fell ill with a second bought of cancer. This time, unfortunately, she was unable to beat it and she died in March 2014. Before she died, she asked me to take on the novel and do with it what I thought best. I read it through and overhauled it, creating some new characters, changing some other characters, and eliminating characters entirely. All the time I worked on it I felt her looking over my shoulder discussing and debating as the story took shape. Though there are missing faces, changed faces and new faces in the current story, one character above all remained as he was: Barnabas. I made him older, but his spirit is unchanged, as is the voice that she created for him.
This book is now the first in a series, The Renaissance Sojourner Series, that features Barnabas.
The book is published in ebook and print and can be purchased below or the print copies ordered in bookstores.
To get updates on this series or any others, or on special offers, giveaways and free books, subscribe to the mailing list here. Recieve a free novella, A Treasure Beyond Worth, when you subscribe. Just use the button below to get back to the home page and the signup form.
Catherine Hokin and the The English Historical Fiction group on Facebook tagged me to write about a character in my forthcoming novel. How could I resist the chance to write about Barnabas, who features in The Imp of Eye?
BARNABAS is a streetwise thirteen year-old orphan who dreams of sailing off to foreign countries. His mistress, the Witch of Eye, Margery Jourdemayne, and his guardian, Thomas Southwell, the Canon of Westminster, want to use his clairvoyant talents to further their ambitions. When the vain and ambitious Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester and her maid Alys visit the Witch of Eye for help to conceive a child, Barnabas is pulled into a web of intrigue and danger.
While Barnabas is a fictional character, Margery Jourdemayne, Thomas Southwell and the Duchess of Gloucester are actual historic people who were caught up in the political intrigues of the times.
The ebook is now available for pre-order from Amazon. The hardback will be published with the ebook on June 15.
Jessica Knauss works as an editor and translator as well as a writer.She has published individual short stories and short story collections over the years as well as working as an editor for academic and commercial small presses.Her latest collection, Unpredictable Worlds, is released today.
You can find the book through this Amazon link:
You can follow Jessica on her blog:
Most of the stories included in Unpredictable Worlds contain magic realism. What is it about that genre that attracts you?
When I began to read the works of the classic Latin American magic realists, I had already been creating stories set in a reality that was similar to what “everyone” lives, but had certain noticeable differences. I was so relieved that a genre existed where this kind of thing was acceptable! I don’t feel compelled to create whole other worlds with totally different rules, as in pure fantasy, but when I’m writing about the contemporary world, I just don’t see it the same way other people do. I can’t resist throwing in a few surprising or disconcerting elements with their own—mysterious—logic. It expresses what I have to say more accurately and, most importantly, it’s a lot more fun!
Writers in the past have been known to say ‘write what you know’—would you agree with that?
If I were to write only about my direct experiences, it would probably only interest me. But if we understand that quote to mean that if you do your research, you can write about anything, and that we know our own imaginations, then I’m in wholehearted agreement.
One section of Unpredictable Worlds focuses on rhinoceroses (see I knew to use that for a plural after reading the stories)—what inspired you to write about them?
I see the stories are reaching their goal of spreading information about rhinos (and their crisis) to the reading public! My first “encounter” with rhinos was when the first line of “Rhinoceros Dreams” dropped into my head from some unknown place of inspiration. I learned more about them to write the story, and I’ve found that the more I learn about them, the more fascinating they are. To keep it short and refrain from gushing, in recent years, I’ve been to different zoos to see all four species that can live in captivity (Javan rhinos haven’t been kept in human environments since the nineteenth century) and each animal is unique and full of personality. Last year, I got to actually touch not one but two white rhinos. It’s impossible to describe the transcendence of that experience without exaggeration. I’m hoping to capture it as a pivotal scene in a novel I’ve started.
You have one story that is written as an homage to Hemingway and his style. Is there any particular writer that inspires you?
When I was in school, everything I read found its way into my writing in an imitative way. Now that I’ve found my own voice, other writers inspire me differently: I admire the poetry of certain scenes, whether in a published book or in my critique group, and I feel inspired to achieve something that good in my own way.
You have moved around a lot in the past ten years. Do you think these moves have informed your writing in any way?
Over the past ten years, I’ve lived in Spain, Providence, the far Boston suburbs, the Boston area, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Atlanta, Illinois, North Carolina, and have now, at last, returned to New England. I grew up in the unique environment of Northern California, so I imprinted early on with a strong sense of place, which has been sorely tested in recent years. Where do I belong? is a question that’s haunted me. My longing for specific places has affected my writing. I wrote my second novel, Awash in Talent, when I was living in Arizona and North Carolina, which couldn’t be more different than the book’s setting in Providence. My first novel, Seven Noble Knights, is set in Spain, my favorite place in the world.
What are your aspirations as a writer?
It is my biggest honor to be allowed to entertain someone looking for a good read. I would love to be able to support myself with my writing. That would mean reaching a lot of readers. I can’t think of anything more meaningful. Winning more awards would also be a welcome validation…
Are you working on anything right now and can you tell us about it?
Seven Noble Knights will be published by Bagwyn Books in 2016, so right now I’m focused on getting it and my second novel ready for publication. But as I mentioned, I have a novel about a girl, a boy, and some rhinos in the works. I’m planning to write quite a few short stories set in thirteenth-century Spain. I have ideas for sequels for both of my novels, and aspirations for a couple of other historical epics.
What do you have on your bedside table at the moment to read?
I’ve just finished The Price of Blood by Patricia Bracewell and Lucky Us by Amy Bloom. They were both so unusual (that’s a good thing), I wouldn’t want to leave them out. I’m in the middle of an Advance Reader’s Edition of The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan—it’s great! It makes me think of you, Kristin, because it has selkies. My husband and I are reading The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack together. Next I plan to finish Love in Infant Monkeys by Lydia Millet and start Hild by Nicola Griffith and La nación inventada by the Escolar brothers. I have a feeling that last one will inspire a few new novel or story projects.
For the past ten years, I have been coordinating a teen book club at the village library and through the years we've tackled different projects, along with reading and reviewing books each month. Many of the teens that have participated in the library book club love to write as well as read books and we often would play with changing endings, creating titles for dream books and other related things. This year, I decided to try a more extensive approach and began by having each member create a character. The first step was to think of a name and a description. Even at that level the variety of characters they created was amazing. There was a blue-haired girl from the future and a lad from another world with no name, a geeky musician, a painfully shy girl and an artist.
Gradually. they expanded the characters by creating their family situation, their specific location and then writing a short piece on a typical day or a scenario that showed something about their personality. Though the characters were all teen-aged, they had vastly different personalities, family backgrounds and aspirations. The fantasy character was on his own, except for the wolf that followed him everywhere. The blue-haired girl lived on a futuristic farm and the geeky musician suffered from terrible dreams in which a clown tried to kill him.
When the characters were fully rounded, I challenged the teens to create a plot that would link all the characters together. No easy task. They rose to the challenge beautifully and they threw around many ideas, but in the end they came up with a fantasy and horror genre using the clown nightmares as a device to create a theme of a threat from another world. After much discussion the story was finalised and some tentative titles suggested. I wrote it up and published it on Amazon as a short story called, 'The Othersiders'. The proceeds, the group decided, would go to Breast Cancer Ireland. So, if you are curious and would like to help a good cause, please go to the Amazon link below .
In 1987, Victor Mair, a professor of philology at the University of Pennsylvania, led a tour group through a museum in the Chinese city of Ürümchi in the central Asian province of Xinjiang. During the tour, he went into a newly opened room that showed, under glass, the recently discovered blond-haired mummies of a man woman and child with long noses and deep set eyes that were over 3,000 years old. The real shock was that they were Caucasian. Dr Mair was intrigued by the mummies’ existence, 2,000 years before the West and East admitted each other’s existence. These mummies were among some 100 dug up by Chinese archeologists over the course of 16 years. They came from the Tian Shan Mountains in northwest China and the fringes of the Taklimakan Desert.
Professor Mair attempted to investigate further, but met with some difficulties from the Chinese authorities at the time because of the political climate. Eventually, he led a small expedition to the Tarim Basin and the group found more mummies that were tall and blond, dressed in clothes that were still intact, even woolen plaids that were as brightly hued as the day they were woven.
Professor Mair and others have documented the discoveries from this research trip and some successive ones in books, film documentaries and published articles over the years (for example: The Tarim Mummies by Victor Mair and The Urumchi Mummies by Nancy Barber). I first discovered his work when reading a National Geographic article on the first expedition and was intrigued by the possibility of what could be a proto-Celtic group finding its way there.
Who were these people? As far back as the second century B.C., Chinese texts refer to alien people called the ‘Yuezhi’ and the ‘Wusun’ who lived on China’s far western borders. The texts indicate the Chinese regarded them as troublesome ‘barbarians.’ Until recently scholars have teneded to downplay evidence of any early trade or contact between China and the West regarding the development of Chinese civilization as an essentially home grown affair, sealed off from outside. Recently, some archeologists argue that these so-called ‘barbarians’ were responsible for introducing things like the wheel and the first metal objects. Professor Mair’s own research leads him to believe that these people were Tocharian, an early Indo-European group about whose origins little is known.
This article and the books inspired me to write a novel that imagined how such a group would come to be there. It took the form of Raven Brought the Light, to be published in April. In writing the novel I created what is mostly my own invention about the mummies, and also the small band of proto–Native Alaskans that they encounter. The accepted understanding for the Native Americans now is that they migrated from various areas in Asia, in waves; most by boats and others migrating across the Bering Strait at different time periods. I realize that my little group is very late to be leaving the Asian continent and I took a lot of artistic license with it. I hope that it doesn’t hinder people’s appreciation of the tale.
This month's blog is an interview with fantasy novelist, Lela Markham whose novel The Willow Branch is the first in a series set in a mythical kingdom.
Her novel is available from Amazon:
Tell us about yourself.
Thanks, for having me, Kristin. I was raised in Alaska, which is also my home now. It's a grand adventure that gives me a unique perspective on the world. We spend our summers risking our lives walking in the woods with major predators and unmarked trails and the winters following creative pursuits like writing.
I tried to be a journalist once, but objected to the politics of it, so then I went into administration. I work with road engineers these days, but I had a long period working in the social work field.
I've got a daredevil husband and two fearless offspring and we share our lives with a sentient husky who keeps a yellow Lab as a pet.
Tell us about your book, The Willow Branch.
The Willow Branch is an epic fantasy, first in the Daermad Cycle. It explores the magical world of Daermad by focusing on the kingdom of Celdrya, which has a mysterious connection with the Celts of Europe. It occurs in two time lines. The past time line follows the destruction of the royal family by a vengeful Celtic goddess and black mages, while the current time line follows Padraig and his friends as they seek the One's True King who is meant to restore Celdrya and unite them with their ancient enemy the Kin before the Svard overwhelm them.
What inspired you to write the book?
It started with research into a family name we wanted to give our daughter. It's a very unusual name (which works great for her as a professional blue-grass musician). In learning that it was a Celtic name, I also picked up some information that I found intriguing.
My stories are always character driven, so I really didn't do anything with that kernel of an idea until Padraig presented himself a couple of years later. He was clearly a Celtic character, so I went back to that research and combined it with reading I'd done in political science, history, etc. in a genre I loved to read.
Is there any one character that you love the most in your book or one that you find you dislike?
I enjoy writing Ryanna, the half-elven woman with the good sword skills who talks to dragons. I hope she's still alive at the end of the series because I do enjoy how she thinks and conducts herself.
I hate Sawyll, one of the black mages. He's totally evil and even his redeeming qualities annoy me. I hope he comes to a bad and bloody end.
What is it about fantasy that appeals to you?
The world building. It is such a fun process to create a world that has never existed before. I enjoy writing in the real world too, but that is what I love about writing a fantasy.
There is a definite Celtic thread through your book—do you have any Celts in your background?
I hit almost all of my ethnic parts in writing The Willow Branch. My dad was Swedish and the Svard are based on Norsemen. My mother was Irish/Welsh and American Indian. I don't know if I can work the Indian into the story – no character has presented itself yet – but it was the Indian part of the family who brought a French name with ancient Celtic roots into the family which inspired The Daermad Cycle. My husband's family are very Irish. There is a thriving community of Irish immigrants here in Fairbanks and I grew up listening to their stories, music and especially their accents. My daughter studied highland dance (which is Scottish) when she was a dancer. While we're definitely American Celts, we do have some influences.
Do you plot out your books before you write them?
Yes and no. No first! I am a discovery writer initially. A character comes and wants to tell me his/her story. I play around with different ideas until something clicks. I can be halfway through a draft before I know where I want it to end. Sometimes I plot at that point, sometimes I just free-write to the ending. But when I go back for the second draft, I have a clear idea of my plot and the major points I want to hit and I mostly stick to that, but I do believe in following the creative muse in directions that I might not have considered first. An outline is a helpful road map, but just as in the real world, there are often multiple ways to get to the same location, sometimes diverging from your outline is where creativity lives.
Is volume 2 in the works yet? When can we expect to see it?
The Willow Branch was originally a huge manuscript that needed to be broken up, so Murklin Wood is about half written and I am working on the parts of the story that were not written before. That said, I am a firm believer in taking breaks from a story from time to time, so I am currently working on Life As We Knew It, an apocalyptic thriller based in a small town dealing with the aftermath of a remote terrorist attack. That will come out this spring, I think. Murklin Wood should be ready for publication late 2015/early 2016.
How did you end up becoming a writer?
I think I was born a writer. My parents were huge readers. My mother's family had a number of literary folks in it – my grandmother was second-cousin to Edwin Markham, the poet. My parents said I told tales from the time I could talk and I used to get in trouble with other kids' parents for “telling lies”. My parents actually encouraged me, so long as I told them the truth. I wrote down my first story in the 5th grade. I hated the process because the teacher had a very strict idea of what I should be doing, but it ignited something that has followed me for the rest of my life.
What books are on your bedside table?
Currently, Martin's Dance with Dragons and Sherlock Holmes and that's typical for me. I usually trade between two books both in my reading and in my writing. It keeps me from getting bored.
I was enjoying the Seamus Begley and Steve Cooney concert at the end of December, back in the Mills, (one of the pubs in the village) when I had something of a realization. It was a great treat to see the two musicians who give a really dynamic concert: Steve with his energetic style on the guitar and Seamus with his distinctive box playing. Great stuff altogether. Seamus was in his usual form throwing jokes around to the audience like they were sweeties in a mixture of Irish and English, and getting some very talented locals up on the stage to perform. Step dancers, sean nos dancers and set dancers. And wonderful singers, Nell Ní Chroinín and Ownie Maicí Ó Sulleabháin. It was friends all round and we were all loving it. Then Seamus told limerick jokes and ended with one from Kerry (his native county and great rival to Cork) and one from Cork. The one from Kerry was a typical saucy one, but the one from Cork had us roaring with laughter. No rhyme, but full of innuendo. I thought it was brilliant. Seamus cut in on the laughter and said ‘the Americans didn’t get that at all when I told it over there.’ I laughed even harder and said to my friend next to me, ‘This American gets it,’ and she said, ‘Well you’ve been living here long enough now, then.’
I realized in some ways, I suppose I have. I’m here ten years now, and though still a ‘blow in,’ I am really no longer an observer of my Irish community, but a part of it. I automatically lift my finger when I drive along the local roads to salute a passing car or person out walking. It is rare that I attend local events and don’t know at least one person there or when people are recounting some news or tale that I can’t place the person they are mentioning. But I don’t even think about these things, they just are.
My life here in Coolierher/Cúil Iarcht (I can pronounce both now—it only took me 6 years) is as different from my life in Philadelphia as anything could possibly be. I look out every morning on a meadow and a valley and hills in the distance, not my yard and the other neighbor’s flat grassy expanse. Right now there is a strong hoar frost on the grass and drops of rain clinging to the bare branches of a cherry tree. Our fruit bushes—black currant and worcester berry—are pruned back into skinny little skeletons waiting for spring. The wild daffodils that cover the meadow are starting to poke up just a little.
Every morning I walk up the road, along the furzey bogland to a farmer’s field where I’ve met the bull I thought was called Charlie because that’s what I thought the farmer said (it really was a Charlois bull) and on, to the view of the large valley capped by the Paps Mountains in the distance. It isn’t every day that I remember how fortunate I am to be able to walk it so often, certainly not when the rain is lashing down, but I do still think it on occasion.
The house is finished enough, but of course that means it’s needing attention, like the painting jobs on a huge suspension bridge: once you finish it, you have to start all over again. Such is the fact of an old stone built cottage that has no damp course and has a north wall that is below ground level. If you’d asked me in Philadelphia what a damp course was I would have said it was a series of lectures about damp. A lecture series I am well equipped to give now, since I’ve learned many little tricks about that alright, in our dear little house.
Another thing I’ve learned is that my reading desire and capacity is still more suited to a large house than a cottage. It was the one thing I wasn’t able to downsize when I came here. Books spill out of shelves and are piled on surfaces around the upstairs bedrooms, despite my best efforts at weeding. Just yesterday I was hunting for Antonia Fraser’s biography of Mary Queen of Scots that I had since I was a teen and have resigned myself to the fact that I probably got rid of it. Even my Kindle can’t resolve that problem.
I did downsize my art space. I no longer have an art room that my house outside of Philadelphia provided, but when everywhere around you outside nearly is a painting it is a fair trade off. I still paint, creating makeshift art areas in the kitchen or upstairs with my oils or water colors. I don’t paint as often, but teaching art classes certainly keeps me on my toes and allows me to nurture some of my creative self with some very talented people. In the summer I have been fortunate, so far, to work as a relief librarian in libraries in the county that are short-staffed from employees who take the summer off because of their children. I’ve worked in a number of libraries and found it a great opportunity to work in different communities and different staff. It also allows me to plunder other book stocks to check out and pile by my bedside for future reading.
I still run the book clubs in the village library and can hardly believe I’ve been doing it for ten years. The early members of the teen book club have long left university and some of them are now working in far flung areas like Canada and Australia. Sadly, one is dead, drowned in the Lee River several years ago in a tragedy that hit the community hard. But fresh groups have kept coming, giving me the enjoyment of hearing their own views on books and life in general. One of the highlights for them and for me was when the group was selected to be among the judges of a national children’s book award and travel up to Dublin for the award ceremony. That happened twice and the teens really enjoyed meeting the authors and getting a real insight into one aspect of the publishing world.
I’ve broadened the teens’ ideas about the publishing world after my own experiences of it in publishing my books as well as encouraging their interests in creative writing and understanding of writing novels. They have surprised me (and I shouldn’t be surprised) with their incredible creativity and I’ve broadened the teens’ ideas about the publishing world after my own experiences of it in publishing my books as well as encouraging their interests in creative writing and understanding of writing novels. They have surprised me (and I shouldn’t be) with their incredible creativity and imaginative approach to some of the exercises I’ve given them from designing book covers to creating a character that might go in a story. Inspiring.
I was also inspired by my years in the community to write a novel that included St. Gobnait, the local patron saint and patron saint of bees who lived during the 6th Century. It was a project that compelled me to really visit the nature of the community and their deep attachment to Gobnait, whose remains, holy well and the remains of once might have been her women’s community. It was a journey in itself for me, to learn about the legends, to immerse myself in understanding what life might have been like in that time and to come to my own understanding of the nature of Gobnait herself, ‘who drew women around her,’ as the narrative written by the scholar and former occupant of this house, Donncha Ó Líonsigh, stated. I am hoping that novel, ‘In Praise of the Bees’ will be published later this year.
And so now that I’m here ten years, in a life so different than it was before, despite the economic downturn, I still feel fortunate to be able to be here. People ask me when first meeting me what brought me to Ballyvourney and I tell them it was the music. And there is no denying that I have been privileged to meet and hear some amazing musicians, not just traditional Irish musicians either. I’ve seen my all-time favorite fiddle player Martin Hayes up close and personal on many occasions, have heard Donal Lunny, Paddy Keenan, Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh (Altan), Tony McMahon and a host of other Irish traditional music legends in the intimate space of the Ionad Cultura in the village and in some cases afterwards in the pub for a session. I’ve had an opportunity to sing original pieces in Irish in the local choir and play the harp at events in the county. I was present at the Oireachtas this year when Nell Ní Chronín won the Corn na Ríada (O’Ríada Cup), the first time for someone from Munster. Wonderful thrilling opportunities to experience music happen all the time here, sometimes spontaneously. Music is certainly one of the things that drew me to this area, along with the very paintable scenery. And they help keep me here, along with the warm welcome and support and very good friends I have here.
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Kristin Gleeson is a writer, artist and musician who lives in the west of Ireland in the Gaeltacht.
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