Lisa Alber whose debut novel Kilmoon, A County Clare Mystery, launches tomorrow. How perfect for St Patrick's Day!
Travels to Ireland, or, Bah, I Scoff at “Write What You Know”
There’s an old writing adage that states, “Write what you know.” I never took it seriously and thank goodness for that, because if I had, I wouldn’t be here to tell you about Kilmoon, my debut novel.
The story of Kilmoon’s birth began with what I call my drawer novel, a tale filled with druids and lost manuscripts. (Quite the tale, yes.) I chose to set Drawer Novel in Ireland for many reasons, chief of which was my odd and unlikely fascination with an ecological anomaly called The Burren.
I wrote Drawer Novel in a state of heady cluelessness. If I’d listened to the naysayers who insisted I write what I knew, I wouldn’t have written the novel in the first place, much less traipsed off to Ireland for after-the-fact research that led me to stumble on the inspirations for Kilmoon.
Having never been to Ireland, I chose a B&B near The Burren pretty much at random. And let me tell you, cosmic forces must have been on my side, because I chose a B&B that landed me right in the heart of a novel not yet born, not yet dreamed of, not yet fathomed.
I ended up in Lisdoonvarna village, County Clare. It’s not a quaint village, more like a pub stop on the way to the coast. However, I couldn’t help but notice a pub with an odd name, Matchmaker Pub. The pub owner told me all about the annual matchmaking festival.
Whoa, I thought, wouldn’t a happily-ever-after atmosphere be a cool backdrop for a darker story?
Just a thought, in and out and forgotten for many moons because I was preoccupied with Drawer Novel.
The B&B itself was located a few miles outside the village proper. Talk about atmospheric Ireland! The landscape was downright moody at times, the way the leaden clouds whisked by overhead, casting shadows over drystone walls that slithered over the hills in every direction.
That said, I was disappointed by my B&B choice—too isolated—until I discovered an old church down the lane from the B&B. Twilight had hit the Celtic crosses just right. I stopped to snap some photos and was amazed to discover that I was standing in a thousand-year-old early Christian churchyard with only a tiny fingerpost to mark it.
Don’t ask me why I fell in love with Kilmoon Church, but I did. It really is a tiny, falling-apart place, but it sits peacefully on its plot, crumbling in the sea winds, brooding over its gravestones.
In fact, the sense of Kilmoon as a thing that can brood never left me, and in the novel it turned into: Kilmoon Church stood in genteel isolation, open air to the night as if shrugging off its Christian ties and embracing a more benevolent lunar goddess. The church seemed to watch us, indulging us our frail humanity and our unseemly trespass. We strolled around the site, taking in the uneven stones and skinny windows, the crumbling gravestones and tall Celtic crosses.
When I eventually set Drawer Novel aside, I found a matchmaking festival (and by association, a matchmaker) and Kilmoon Church waiting for me. On one hand I had what’s on the surface—happily-ever-afters—and on the other, secrets long buried. I love a good juxtaposition!
So I wrote Kilmoon, a story about a Californian named Merrit who travels to Ireland to meet her long-lost father, a celebrated matchmaker with a dark past. And I planned another after-the-fact research trip. After all, what’s not to love about traveling to Ireland for novel research? That’s all the reason I need not to write what I know.
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