Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Trip to Ireland Research on Setting for forthcoming novel "Emily's House"

At a writer's conference in 2009, I heard famed author Richard Peck say that he never writes about a place that he hasn't been.  As I heard that statement, I was in the midst of writing a novel, the good part of which takes place in Ireland, but I had never been to Ireland.

Despite the fact that I'd never been to Ireland, I purchased books, read articles online, viewed hundreds of pictures and videos and continued on with my writing.  I finished the first draft of Emily's House on August 25, 2010, still hadn't made it to Ireland.

Three days after I finished the first draft I got a call that I'd won a trip for two to Dublin to see the band The Script.  Less than two weeks later hubby and I were on a plane!  "Ask and ye shall receive."

We were able to extend our trip and visit each of the sites in Ireland that were settings in my novel.  I think it was important to visit these places and I think it will make a difference in the final novel.

A picture may be worth a thousand words but the pictures of the bucolic Irish countryside don't include the smellivision that reveals the powerful oder of cow dung so prevalent!  For anyone who lives in Ireland or has been to Ireland, I think I got a few details that they'll pick up on and they might say "Hey, that's right."  But will the verisimilitude of these details be lost on someone who has never been there?  Or will those details, even for someone who has never been, enrich the story anyway?
My trip to Ireland gave me sensory details to include that I think will enrich the story for all readers (such as the smell the cow dung in the fields or the smell the rain on the road or the newly fallen leaves).  A writer can't get these kind of sensory details from a photograph.

I only hope that I can capture in the words the feel of the place.  Like Monasterboice.  It's the site of an old monastery but is now a historic graveyard dating back to the 12th century.  Before going there, I thought it would be creepy, but it really wasn't.  Maybe it's because it was a sunny day.  Maybe it was the lovely lady volunteers that greeted us at the door.  Or maybe it was the rolling green hills all around it.
But then the clouds began to form and I looked up and there were crows circling around the tall round tower and suddenly it reminded me of a Vincent Price movie.  And that was the feeling I needed for my novel so I took it in and then imagined what that scene would feel like for three teenagers there in the middle of the night.
Loughcrew, County Meath, Ireland
That same afternoon we visited a megalithic site called Loughcrew.  This site is a setting for part of the "story within a story" in Emily's House that takes place over a thousand years ago.  In my first draft, I had a rather non-descript setting.  But when I went to Loughcrew, I knew it was the setting I needed.  It was up on a hill and there were only two other people there (brave enough to travel the twisty, turny narrow Irish roads and to come face to face with large sheep and dodge sheep shit!).  In my first draft, before going to Ireland, I had envisioned a marriage "bed" made of stone for Saorla and the King to sit on.  As we rounded the stone circle, there it was - a large stone slab that looked like it might have been an alter (or maybe a bed?!).  Perfect.  When I re-wrote that scene, I could totally picture a Druid priest performing a ritual amongst the stone circle with the bonfires and feasting in the valley below the large hill.  And the spritual energy of that place!  I can only say that I have never before felt such energy.  It was almost electrical.

St. Brighid's Well, Kildare, Ireland
The last site we visited was the Well of St. Brighid.  In Emily's House, she must enter a portal to another world at the Sacred Well.  In my research, I found out that there are "sacred" wells  dedicated to St. Brighid all over Ireland.  But there was one in Kildare that looked particuarly promising and legend has it that it had been a sacred well even before Christianity.  It had once been in a grove of trees and is known for its healing waters.  It is visited regularly by devotees of St. Brighid.

I hope that I have captured in the story the feeling of these places.

Not all of the trip to Ireland was walking in ancient graveyards!  We got to meet the band The Script at a concert at the Guinness Brewery as they kicked off their world tour promoting their CD "Science and Faith."
Danny O'Donohue, lead singer, with hubby
Gravity Bar, Dublin, Ireland
So why is it that hubby is the one who got to meet cute Danny and get his picture with him but I didn't?!


  1. Can't wait to read your book! I wrote a paper on Muirdach's cross, the southern High Cross at Monasterboice and I would love to go there-you are lucky to have had the chance! I absolutely believe that all of those sensory perceptions you added will enhance the depth of your story, even if on a subconscious level. Forgive my typos, I am writing on my phone!

  2. Thanks Kimber - I can't wait to get it finished! Yes, if you ever get a chance to go to Ireland, it is AMAZING!


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