Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Beginnings of the "Bard"

Eight years ago, when we were planning our first trip to Ireland, I decided we should visit Wales as well. And so, a few hours after our plane landed in Dublin, we ended up on a ferry crossing the Irish Sea. It was very windy and the journey was quite rough. My stomach didn't fare well and I was very relieved to arrive on solid ground. After a few days in North Wales, we took the ferry back to Dublin (it was a little better the second time) and resumed our tour of Ireland, ending up in County Antrim, where we searched for a native oak forest that had supposedly survived since medieval times.
We never found the forest, but the scenery of northeast Ireland was spectacular anyway: enchanted-looking hazel and oak groves, deep valleys dotted with silvery stones and the purple glow of foxglove, and along the coast, the dazzling contrast of velvet green hills and the deep blue of the Irish Sea gleaming in the sunshine. (We had wonderful weather the whole trip.)  I was enthralled, and immediately knew I had to set a book there.
I imagined crossing the Irish Sea, not on a large modern ferry, but a small leather and wicker boat (just the idea made me nauseated). I thought of what an incredible relief it would be to arrive on that lush coast, with its timeless, magical beauty. It was a setting to inspire poetry, and the perfect place for Maelgwn the Great's son Bridei—a renowned bard who hides his wounded spirit behind a facade of charm and cynicism—to find love. My heroine Dessia came later. But she's also a traumatized soul, reacting to the horror of her past, determined to regain all she has lost, no matter what she must sacrifice to do so. 
The setting of north Ireland plays a large part in the book, as if the land itself had a destiny for Dessia and Bridei. For the spell this place casts is very powerful. Once ensorcelled by the beauty of the landscape, people never want to leave it, and they will fight bitterly for this homeland that has stolen their heart. Warfare and brutality is also part of the plot of The Dragon Bard, making the journey of my characters even more challenging and treacherous. In a sense, that seems like the essence of Ireland to me: a place of almost supernatural beauty, and yet one that seems cursed by a heritage of violence and conflict.
Soon after I returned home from Ireland and shared pictures of our trip with family, my oldest sister reminded me that our great-great grandfather Hill Logan was born in County Antrim. Perhaps that explains my special connection to this area, and my determination to see this book published. I tried for years to sell The Dragon Bard. A fair number of editors declined to even look at it because of its setting. (While books set in Ireland sell reasonably well, the dark ages are considered too obscure.)  As ebooks gained popularity, I realized I could publish it myself, and did so this last winter. But even then I wasn't content. I'm "old school" and nothing is as satisfying as holding an actual print book in my hands. So, in about another month, The Dragon Bard will be available in print, almost exactly eight years after my visit to Ireland inspired me to write it.