Writing Historical Novels About the Irish

Amanda HughesI’m very pleased to have Amanda Hughes guest posting today. According to Amanda, she has been a “Walter Mitty” all her life, spending more time in heroic daydreams than the real world. At last she found an outlet, writing adventures about audacious women in the 18th Century. Her debut novel, Beyond the Cliffs of Kerry was published in 2002, The Pride of the King released in 2011, and her latest historical adventure, The Sword of the Banshee released in February of 2013. Amanda is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and when she isn’t off tilting windmills, she lives and writes in Minnesota.

Writing Historical Novels About the Irish

“A thin place? What do you mean?”
“The ancient Celts believed certain spots on Earth have thin boundaries between the natural and the supernatural world. I believe the monks felt that transparent quality here and for that reason chose this site for a monastery.”
“What a beautiful idea. I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“Some think its romantic superstition. I prefer to think of it as evidence of eternity.”
~Darcy McBride to Father Etienne from Beyond the Cliffs of Kerry
About twenty years ago when I first read about “thin places” in an article for St. Patrick’s Day, I was moved. Little did I know that years later it would find its way into my debut novel Beyond the Cliffs of Kerry and influence my latest novel, The Sword of the Banshee.
All my life, I have loved all things Irish, but serious investigation into Ireland never occurred to me until I decided to write a novel. Although my mother taught me to be fiercely proud of my Irish heritage, she had no interest or knowledge in Irish history. The English monarchy is what fascinated her, and the study of Great Britain was a priority in school so their past is what I learned. All of my youth, I was under the impression that the Irish had no history at all. History did seem to be “written by the conquerors.”
Years later when I decided to write a book, I came across the short article about “thin places” in a neighborhood newspaper, I became curious. I realized that it was time to do some investigation into my Celtic heritage. It was no easy task in the 1990s. I found little documentation of Irish history and next to nothing about 18th Century Ireland. There was no information at the public library, so I had to order dusty old books from the university. Most of them were sadly outdated, but I persevered and continued to research the novel.
Eventually, I learned that Ireland had suffered many famines, not just the “Great Hunger” of the mid 19th Century, the mass starvation when most of our Irish ancestors came to America and Canada. There had been many more. Instantly I knew that my main character, Darcy McBride, would be the survivor of a devastating famine that swept Ireland in 1740-41.
In my research for Beyond the Cliffs of Kerry, I also discovered that diseases killed most of the Irish at the outset of the famine, long before the slow painful death from starvation. Rickets and anemia were the killers, taking out the elderly and the very young first. Those who managed to survive the disease and the famine were scarred physically and emotionally for life.
Without a doubt, complex and disturbed characters were beginning to evolve for my book. Together they would make up the villagers of Kilkerry, Darcy McBride’s home in County Kerry.
I also learned that smuggling was a way of life in Kerry in the 18th Century. It was a common practice for the residents to smuggle goods to the French as a livelihood. Exposed and convicted of this crime, I decided to have Darcy transported as a prisoner to Colonial America. She would serve her sentence in the colonies as an indentured servant. Early America was another historical obsession for me, so the progression beyond the cliffs of Kerry seemed obvious. Once in the New World, Darcy finds even more danger and bloodshed, but she also uncovers the great love of her life with Jean Michel Lupe.
Beyond the Cliffs of Kerry took shape and was published in 2002. As I began to formulate my next book, I saw a pattern begin to emerge in my storytelling. I seemed to be writing about gutsy women in the 18th Century and I created the byline “Historical Novels with Epic Adventure and Love.”
Though my second novel, The Pride of the King, concerns the adventures of a French woman from New Orleans, Ireland drew me back once more when I started my third book.
This time, it was “The Troubles” that interested me, the turbulent and frequently bloody conflict between Ireland and Great Britain. With my research, I traced the roots of this turmoil back as far as the 13th Century. I learned about “The White Shirt Boys,” an underground society of resistance fighters who challenged the authority of the Crown throughout Ireland. It became clear to me that my next heroine must be a freedom fighter for the Irish living in the 18th Century. India Allen was created.
“The Ice Queen,” as she is called, steps up from the shadows in 18th Century Ireland and spearheads a rebellion that shakes the country, but it is doomed to fail. Fleeing to the New World, she joins forces with a cavalier Irish adventurer who will become her true love, Quinn Calleigh, and together, they form a vast and deadly partisan network during the American Revolution.
Beyond the Cliffs of KerryI was taken with the idea that even though the Irish could not attain their freedom from the British in Ireland, they were victorious here in the New World with the American Revolution. It was here in America where they found their opportunity to prosper, and it was here that they were at last able to worship freely and celebrate their heritage. As a result, The Sword of the Banshee was born.
Today I am formulating the plot line of my fourth book. Even if I do not write about the Irish in my next novel, there is no doubt that the powerful lure of the Celts will draw me back once more. “To be Irish is a proud thing.”
I want to give special thanks to Mary for inviting me to do a guest post on her wonderful blog. For more information about my writing please visit my website: www.amandahughesauthor.com and my blog I Love the Classics at http://www.fortheloveofreadingandwriting.blogspot.com/

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Meet M.K.Tod

The historical fiction author behind A Writer of History...

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9 Responses

  1. I haven’t read many books set in Ireland but Irish history has always fascinated me. It’s books like yours that will make people seek out the history behind the story.
    Wonderful post.

  2. I love your writing style Amanda! I am 3/4 of the way through the Sword of the Banshee (slow reader)… but read both of your other books… and they ‘catch’ me right away… and also helped me to understand that the Irish had many struggles as well.

  3. It was so interesting to read about how your ideas for your books came to you through all that research. I had wondered where you came up with your story lines.

  4. Your stories make it impossible for me to put the books down until I finish them I love the history thats woven into the stories that you write, the adventures that the characters endure and can’t wait for the next story to begin. I never knew how much research you had to do to put your stories together. I love your books and will be waiting for the next one to be available.

    1. Le Ann, I am so glad you enjoy my books! There is no doubt that I like to keep the action coming, and it is music to my ears to hear that you cannot put them down. Thank you for your comment.

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