Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Finding Ireland

Today I welcome Susannah Sharp to Terry's Place. Susannah is trying hard to get motivated to finish the revisions on her first novel, “I Am of Ireland: Saving Loarlis,” a contemporary romance set in Ireland and the first of a series that will alternate between contemporary and historical novels in the same setting. She is a medical transcriptionist by profession and lives in Utah with her husband and the youngest of their three children.

How do you take a city, or even worse, a country and distill all of its history, its culture, its beauty, down to just a few powerful images and then try to share it in words with other people?

This is a question I have been struggling with ever since I started working on my series of novels, and believe me when I say that has been a long time and is still an ongoing effort.

I am getting close to publishing the first novel in an entire series set in County Cavan in Ireland. I absolutely adore Ireland and have been blessed in my life to be able to get there three times (so far!) from my home in Utah. But I’m not Irish and my combined total of a few weeks staying there hardly qualifies me as an expert. Still, though, I want to give as authentic feeling as possible when I write my books. I want people who read my books to believe they’re there. I want them to be transported. I want them to breathe deeply and smell the countryside, even if they’re sitting in an apartment in Ohio.

All authors face this struggle, though, whether they are writing about their own neighborhood or whether they are writing a novel set in a fictional universe a thousand years from now. We have to bring the setting to life; we have to bring our readers in.

I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, but I will share with you a few of the things I’ve done to attempt this with my own setting.

First. Go there. I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful husband who, on our last visit to Ireland, arranged for us to stay in County Cavan for two days. We walked the streets, ate in the restaurants, walked through the Irish rain to see landmarks, visited the County museum, etc., etc. We didn’t just soak in the atmosphere, though. We videotaped everything and collected all sorts of brochures and pictures. All of those things will eventually find their way into my books, I expect. Now it may not always be possible to visit your location, either because it doesn’t exist or because of limited finances. But you can still try to get a feeling for it by going to a similar location.

Go sit in the hot sun in a nearby desert, or walk down the streets in a small town not too far from where you live. Eat something your character would love. Climb a mountain in the fog, dip your toe into an icy river. Ride a horse or milk a cow. Each time you are able to do something that you can drag into your story, record all of your impressions either on tape or on paper. How did you feel? How did things taste? How did things smell? Use all your mad ninja writing skills to truly capture every detail of those moments, so that you can recall them again when you need to.

Second, do your research. Just because you can’t transport yourself magically to ancient Egypt, doesn’t mean you can’t find out anything about it. There are countless books written about every country in the world, their history, their current situation, their people, and their food. There are travelogues as well as nonfiction analyses available. Nonfiction about your setting should become your reading of choice during that part of the writing process.

Lastly, make a list of things you especially want to discuss in your novel and then do the best you can to practically become an expert about them. In my case, my novels are set in an ancient castle, so I have made a serious effort to learn everything I can about castles built at the time period when mine was started. I’m Facebook friends with an ancient castle building site. I’ve got books, books, books. I’ve recorded shows off the History Channel about castles. This is above and beyond what I have done with my County Cavan setting. I need them both, but being able to write in a knowledgeable way about this made-up castle is a key to my readers believing it actually exists.

Distilling a huge complex setting into words you can include in a story or novel is not easy, but then that’s why they pay you the big bucks, right? It can be done and it will really add a great deal to your work. I hope these suggestions have been helpful.

For more: Susannah blogs about romance, writing, reading, and all things Irish on susannahsharp.wordpress.com.

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Karen C said...

Wishing you much success, Susannah, with your new series.

Janet Kerr said...

Thank you the tips Susannah.
& congratulations on your upcoming series!