Thursday, March 16, 2006

Island of Poets

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel all around the world. I’ve walked with cheetah in Kenya, unearthed ancient Aboriginal cave dwellings in the Outback of Australia, danced at a ceili in Edinburgh and swum with manatees in the Caribbean.
But the place that I’ve been drawn back to time and again is that verdant green Island of Poets, Ireland. During my two trips there I have repeatedly found myself transported by the friendliness of the people, the awe-inspiring vistas, the heart-lifting music and above all, the craic.

“The craic is mighty tonight,” a young man named Padraic told me as he and his cousin Michael regaled me with tall tales of their family history in a bar in Killarney. I raised an eyebrow, being unable to make myself heard over the toe-tapping fiddle and bodhran duet beside me, and he explained. “The craic, the stories, the talk, ya know?”

Oh yes, I know. That melodious accent, burred by stout or good whiskey, husky with the smoke of peat fires, and rich with visions passed down one generation to the next. Every trip I’ve made to Ireland, I’ve returned home enriched with ideas and possibilities, delighted by the prospect of weaving the people and stories I met into my own tales, and eager for the opportunity to go back once more.

I’m currently finishing the hopefully final revisions on a thriller that echoes with the roar of the explosion of Atlantis; reveals the brave deeds and anguished decisions of an ancient Irish warrior queen, Maeve; spirals into the present as two lovers meet on the storm-swept cairn where Maeve is buried; and finally crescendos with one woman’s struggle to save two children.

I’m pretty pleased with it—as I read it, I can almost feel the rhythm of Padraic’s lilting speech, the beat of the bodhran, the slashing ribbons of rain. My hope: that when I’m finished, it will be as inspiring as the island that inspired me.

Are there places that have inspired you to write? Novels that captured the essence of a locale so much that you felt you were actually there? Please feel free to share.

Cathryn J Lyons, MD
No one is immune to danger…
BLINK OF AN EYE is “a perfect blend of romance and suspense.” –Sandra Brown
Coming soon from Tor Books!
Check out my new reading group at


Teresa Bodwell said...

Interesting that you should bring up Ireland today. I was just thinking about how St. Patrick's day became such a huge part of our national culture when the Irish population must be a very tiny minority in the U.S. I suppose the things you mention here--the Irish gift for storytelling, the music of the language and the rich culture explain the fascination with things Irish.

The excuse for drinking helps too. My dh went to college in Ireland. He tells me that St. Patrick's day, being a Holy day there, the pubs are closed. Don't know if that is still true--but the drinking part isn't the only crazy American twist we put on the day.

Sue-Ellen Welfonder said...

Hi CJ,

I've just wrapped up one of my deadlines (whew!) so I'm popping in here before Allie has a chance to do so.

I've locked her out of my office, in fact.

Any-hoo ... what a beautiful tribute to Ireland. And so appropriate with tomorrow's specialness looming on the horizon.

And Ireland certainly is special. I visited there frequently when I lived in Munich for fifteen years. That was in the days when I was working for the airlines. I'd use my freebie passes to pop over to Dublin for long weekends.

But I enjoyed the countryside as well. And especially the pubs! Much as my heart belongs to Scotland, I have to say the Irish are the friendliest people I have ever encountered in any of my travels.

And like you, I've pretty much seen the world. Through my flying career, of course. On duty, but also using my passes.

One of the most exotic things I ever did was backpacking through the wilds of Indonesia for six weeks. Just me and a girlfriend. A highlight was a visit to Sulawesi, a pretty amazing place straight out of National Geographic. We explored Sulawesi's Torajaland - a fascinating village in the island's middle with cliffside burial caves filled with skeletons and big chests brimming with skulls! Think Indiana Jones. And the people there live in houses that look like carved and painted Polynesian boats! They are on stilts and absolutely incredible.

And I was also quite fond of the Greek Isles, especially Santorini, which is incredibly atmospheric.

But it is Scotland that holds my heart and inspires me. To, me, it is a place like no other and pure magic. I think of Scotland as being blue - much like Ireland is green.

Scotland is a beautiful landscape of ever varying blues. At least, in my eyes. And, like Ireland, Scotland is steeped in legend and lore and deep, deep history. In fact, the farther back in the past you go, the more the two countries are entwined. Very much so.

I spend as much time there each year as I can and being there never fails to replenish my soul. Scotland is my whole inspiration and all my story ideas come from there. When I write, I am there again in my heart and it is my hope that my words will then transport my readers. Let them see the beautiful and atmospheric places that so inspire me.

The photos you posted of Ireland are stunning and I have similar ones of Scotland. But I am not adept enough at 'blogging' to post them on here.

But anyone wishing to see them can visit my website at

Every page has stunning photos I've taken in Scotland - even the Recipes page.

So, yes, places do inspire me. But only one place. See above. To me, it is all about Scotland and always shall be. I can't imagine writing about a Greek tycoon or an adventurer in the Indonesian rain forest - even though I am grateful to have seen and explored those places.

It's said we should write what know, and I agree. But I think it is more important to not just write what we know, but also what we are most passionate about.

And for me, that is Scotland.
Hands down.
Forever and aye.


CJ Lyons said...

It's wonderful that you've found one place that has so captured your heart, Sue-Ellen!

It's funny, but the more I travel, the more "foreign" lands remind me of my well-worn, comfortable Pennsylvania mountains. Not the highest or most formidable peaks, but they're home.

And in all my travels, even the airid Outback or wilds of Africa, I've always found people, places, music or smiles that remind me of home.

Guess that's why I love to travel--because I find my heart can be home almost anywhere with good company and stories to tell!

Thanks for reading,

JoAnn Ross said...

CJ -- That's because your mountains are the same chain as in Ireland and Scotland. They go up into New England, then beneath the Atlantic, and pop up again on the west Irish coast. That's also why horse breeding is in KY, because the same limestone is in the soil as is in Ireland.

My family arrived here in 1928, after my grandfather McLaughlin picked the wrong side of the Irish Civil War and my school sent me to speech therapy in the 2nd grade because no one in Oregon's ranching country could understand the Irish brogue I picked up from all my relatives and the people always filling our house planning and plotting for a United Ireland. Sigh.

Anyway, Ireland has always seemed like home to me, and I settled here in East TN because it so reminds me of Ireland ( but with trees), but I have to admit that my new great love is Florence. (Pasta, ice cream, and wine. What's not to love?) I'm still trying to figure out how to make best friends with John Travolta because I want to start spending six months a year there and the only way I can figure out how to get my high-maintenance rescue doggies back and forth without them dying of stress is to have a friend who'll fly us on his jet. Which is where John comes in. LOL

CJ Lyons said...

Florence! Sigh...I've always wanted to go there. My father's parents fled Italy (my grandfather was a royal guard of the last king and the brown shirts chased them out) but they grew up in a small town southeast of Florence.

My travel wish list is soooo much longer than my free time or my bank account will allow, it's not even funny. Of course, nice thing about books, is that you can travel without leaving home.

I'm hoping for New Zealand next--am saving to go next year. In the meantime, think I'll go curl up with my Lonely Planet guide.

PJ said...

I've been enjoying reading your blog, getting to know some of my favorite authors through your posts and finding new ones to read too.


Now I know why I love your books so much (aside from the fact that you're a fabulous writer). I've never visited the land of my ancestors (Ireland) but hope to be able to go there one day. There's no accent more beautiful than an Irish brogue (imo). I hope they didn't completely drum it out of you. I've settled on the Carolina side of your mountains in an area that feeds my soul with its beauty and serenity (and which is probably one of the reasons I so loved the Stewart Sisters Trilogy) and my new great love is also Florence! I visited there last fall with a friend and fell completely, totally in love. If I could figure out a way to spend every summer in Tuscany without leaving my beloved dogs behind (and of course win the lottery so I could afford it) I'd be over there in a shot. I'm going over in May for two weeks and taking my niece with me to celebrate her graduation from college, and of course packing lots of great romances for the long flights.


CJ Lyons said...

Be certain to drop us a note after you return from Italy and let us know all the wonderful sights you saw! And of course, any good books you read on the way there and back again!

Thanks for reading,

JoAnn Ross said...

PJ -- What a lovely thing to say about liking my books! Thank you! As for the brogue, I didn't realize I'd kept it until the first of my Irish trilogy -- A woman's Heart -- came out. My son was at a hotel in Florida when he finished it, called me up and asked me how I'd nailed the accent so well. (He traveled in Ireland before and after going to school at Oxford, so he knew what it sounded like.) I was taken aback by that because I'd just written the book the way I heard it. (I'm one of those who hears, rather than sees my stories.) I was discussing this with an editor who said, "JoAnn, it's obviously your first language." And I guess she's right because with the other two Irish books, and whenever I write an Irish character, I never stop to think about the change in voice. Oh, and my sweetie just reminded me that when we were first married, he'd laugh because when ever I got angry at him, it'd come out. Not so much in the brogue accent, but in the change in syntax. It still also does when I get tired.

Isn't Tucscany beyond wonderful?!! I'll tell you what, as soon as I make best friends with John, you can fly with us, because there'll be tons of cabin room in that huge jet he parks behind his house for your doggies to come along with mine. LOL Have a glorious trip! If you hadn't said such nice things, I'd have to hugely envy you. What a terrific, generous aunt you are; I hope that niece realizes how lucky she is!!!

Gail Dayton said...

I've never been to Ireland or Scotland--they're on my list (Italy too)... But I've been inspired by the high desert of New Mexico. The endless sky and the weird shapes of the rock and being able to feel like the only one in the whole universe... It's definitely inspirational...
and I'm waiting for the chance to gain inspiration from all your places...

Colleen Thompson said...

Interesting topic, C.J.

Both Ireland and Italy are on my travel lists as well, and your posts have only reinforced those desires.

The places that have inspired me most as a traveler, reader, and writer have been distinctly American. I've written books after spending time in the red rock canyon country of Arizona (and falling in love with Tony Hillerman's descriptions). I've written another after visiting Big Bend National Park in West Texas(and falling in love with Larry McMurtry's work). Often, place comes to me before anything else about the story, and the setting becomes a character in its own right.

I don't have a lot of interest in writing about the East Coast state where I grew up, but the years I've lived in Arizona and Texas have very much shaped me as an author. Maybe you see a place more clearly when you come to it as an outsider. You catch details that those who've lived there their whole lives miss.

JoAnn Ross said...

Colleen -- That's a very interesting thought about seeing more clearly when you come from the outside. I know people who've grown up here in East TN -- which is just about everyone going back to the 1700s -- always look surprised when I told them I chose it out of all the places in the country. Then they say something about gee, maybe they'd been taking it for granted.

I did like Sedona a lot before all the development (wow, sounding like a grumpy old woman here, LOL), but having grown up in Oregon, I could never connect emotionally with the rest of AZ. I'm just a girl who needs a lot of green and running water all around her, which so isn't the desert! Sometimes I think there are places we all fit and when we find them, we know it. (This is also why I sometimes suspect I woudn't be as happy as I imagine in Tuscany, though I still like the dream.)

I'm also with you about setting as character! And really feel that in your writing. More often than not, it's what I begin with when I start thinking of a story and hopefully when I'm finished, the reader can't possibly imagine the story taking place anywhere else. (Which is why I had to start entirely over with Impulse after shelving New Orleans last fall.)