An Author Goes to Ireland...
The year was 2008. I had just finished my first year of college and was back home for the summer. Over the course of my freshman year, I'd learned that college classes were far more intense than their high school counterparts, realized that maybe a Communications degree wasn't for me, and made (and lost) tons of friends across the 11 floors of the close quarters of my co-ed dorm building. One of those friends is still in my life to this day, is in fact my best friend, and that year we had bonded over an arbitrary and surprising mutual interest.
She lived in the room next to mine. After meeting her, I thought she might make a good acquaintance, mostly because we were a lot alike on the surface: African-American, quiet, bookish, friendly. Even so, we often simply acknowledged each other's presence, not really speaking, and certainly not making any kind of instant connection. Then one day, as I was headed out, I passed her open door and heard the most unexpected thing --
An Irish jig.
My favorite film at the time (and still a top favorite to this day) was called Tristan + Isolde. Not only was it one of the most romantic tales of tragic, star-crossed lovers I'd ever seen, but the backdrop of Ireland in the Dark Ages instantly grabbed my attention. As I'd only ever seen the flat shores of North Carolina, I was mesmerized by the scenes of monstrous, rocky cliffs rising out of the ice-blue Atlantic ocean, unaware until that moment that such a landscape existed. The film appealed to my love of history, literature, romance, and beautiful landscapes.
I stopped dead in my tracks when I heard the music coming from her room and walked backward. "What in the literal world are you listening to?" I blurted at this girl I barely knew.
Though her large, round eyes grew wide, her response was open and confident. "It's Celtic Woman. They're an ensemble of Irish female singers."
We began chatting, during which time I discovered she was also working on a short story of her own at that very moment. Here was another black girl who was interested in writing and all things related to the culture of Ireland, of all places. It was uncanny how we'd come from different parts of the state, only to wind up living right beside each other. And the similarities only accumulated from there.
That summer, she and I began working on our novels, both of which were set in Ireland. I did extensive, painstaking research, lovingly crafting my characters and their story. My friend did the same. During those three months, we consulted with each other every day about our progress.
I had in my head the story of Brooke, a writer who has just published her first novel. **Brooke's novel was... not received well. At all. Disheartened and shaken, she decides to get away from it all for a few weeks to regroup and rediscover her creativity and confidence. And she decides to do it in a place she's always wanted to visit: Ireland.**
(**I may or may not have drawn from my own insecurities and goals here**)
Brooke stays at a bed and breakfast in Dingle, County Kerry. (I had researched both Gaeltachts and scenic towns in Ireland, and Dingle fit my vision perfectly.) There, she encounters the owner, a cheery and welcoming woman named Evie, who runs the place with the help of her two grown children. Brooke also meets a man named Tristan who, despite being young, attractive, and possessing a good head on his shoulders, also appears to be homeless. As she navigates her solo trip in the country, Brooke finds out things about herself and about Tristan that both inspire her and challenge her views about people, fate, and the complexity of familial relationships.
I wrote about half of it, so proud of myself, so passionate about the story, so determined to see it through until the end. Then I returned to school for my sophomore year and hit a wall. This was, in part, due to another story idea I came up with (which I discuss a little more in my 5 Things post about YA novels -- check it out if you haven't) and the rabbit hole I subsequently tumbled down because of it.
But the main reason why my progress fizzled on the Ireland novel is because I realized I could never fully capture and present in writing the spirit, people, and beauty of the country the way I wanted to. Why? Because I had never been to Ireland. In fact, at the time, I'd never even traveled out of the country. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how much research I did, the story felt forced and inauthentic.
That year, my best friend and I made a pact: When we were adults, we would go to Ireland together, not just because of our mutual love for the country, but to gather experience and notes for our novels. Our novels would one day be complete, we told ourselves, and we held each other accountable for that goal.
We initially decided to make the trip when we turned 25 years old (because 25 was a very mature age, and surely we'd have our lives together by then -- yes, I'm laughing too). However, before we could even start making any big plans, I got engaged, and the year we turned 25, I got married. Then, shortly after I got married, my son was born. Needless to say, I was a bit distracted -- and also tapped out, because weddings and babies are not cheap.
Neither of us lamented this course of events. It was a beautiful and exciting time in my life, and she was living her life to the fullest as well. We were both growing into ourselves, becoming adults, and trying to balance our busy lives with our passions. She started a new career. I finally published a book. We were feeling more secure in our art and our work and our relationships.
But we always talked about that trip and those half-finished novels from ten years back still sitting on our computers. In 2017, we decided we would definitely do it. We started saving money and booked the trip in December of the following year. I was thrilled to revisit those characters and the feeling of my story, eager to no longer neglect them.
We touched down on April 22, 2019.
Watching the sunrise...
descending through the thick clouds...
and circling an alien green landscape.
Over the course of our six days in the country, we not only visited Dingle, but also Killarney (the setting for her story), Waterford, and Dublin. Along the way we had so many experiences and saw innumerable sights.
I nearly sideswiped every car I passed while driving on (the wrong side of) Ireland's winding roads. I ate more lamb in one week than I have in my entire life. I drank in everyone's accent... and a lot of beer. I tried black pudding. I saw and photographed every old structure and bit of nature that I could. And I took lots and lots of notes.
Was this a pleasure trip? Absolutely! Ireland is a popular country to vacation in for many, many reasons, and after having gone nearly ten years without traveling anywhere, the wanderlust was strong with this girl. However, the life of a writer is to always seek potential in every encounter and file it all away for future use, drawing on it when world-building or developing characters or describing a moment or feeling.
I'm now more excited -- and, most importantly, more equipped -- than ever to finish this novel. I'm lucky to have had the time, funds, and motivation to embark on this journey, and even luckier to have a best friend to do it with. Being able to share my passions with another person and have that person hold me accountable for staying productive are reasons writers need an excellent support system.
I'm grateful for every life experience -- positive and negative -- that has inspired my novels. And my goal is to one day be secure enough in this field to be able to do more in-person research just like this.
*An excerpt from this untitled work is coming soon*