Friday, December 6, 2013


by Sheila Connolly (aka Sile ni Conghaile)

I write a mystery series set in Ireland.  Sometimes I think it’s presumptuous of me to pretend to know enough about somewhere else to write convincingly about it.  That’s why I travel to Ireland as often as I can (well, that’s not the only reason).  I’ve been there twice this year, once to Dublin alone (at both ends of a trip to Italy), and then over the past two weeks.

There is, I think, a temptation to portray Ireland as cute and quaint—all those old guys in tweed hats sitting around dim pubs over an endless pint of Guinness swapping tales for hours on end; all that endlessly green scenery punctuated with cows and sheep and the occasional ruined castle. The thing is, it’s kind of true, so it’s a challenge to write about it without lapsing into caricature.

I’m not sure why I feel I need to try to create an accurate picture of the place.  Most of my readers will never know if I’ve nailed the small stuff, but (I think I’ve said it before) most writers feel an obligation to get their facts right.  You’d think this would refer mainly to police procedures or what happens to a decomposing body or how a particular pistol works, but to my mind it goes beyond that. I find myself trying to work out tiny details, like what the trash bins look like, or how the weather is reported (re the latter, a forecast that we would call overcast and partly cloudy is a “dull day” in Ireland), and the fact that the Irish use “Please” more often in public signs.

And there are other things about Ireland that we in this country don’t always think about.  I’ll admit I’ve always lived in a suburb of one or another large city, so when I go to Ireland the quiet is almost a physical thing, because it’s so different than what I’m used to.  We’ve rented a rural cottage for a couple of years now, and there you can hear a car coming for several minutes before you actually see it (although the road we were on served only two houses, and I saw two motor vehicles, one tractor, and a bicyclist in the time we were there).  You can hear a dog barking or a cow lowing for miles.  Airplanes?  I think I noticed one in two weeks.


It’s the same with the light—or the absence of it.  In this country we are so much surrounded by light, all the time.  There are streetlights every hundred or so feet on the street where we live at home.  Why?  It’s a fairly rural, quiet community.  When did it become mandatory to illuminate everything in an unearthly orange glow?  Inside our houses we have at least tens of blinking or glowing lights—on our phones, our televisions, our radios, our surge protectors, our computers, our servers, our routers, our microwaves…the list goes on.  On our hilltop in Ireland, in the middle of the night you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.  What you could see was not only stars, but the Milky Way arching overhead.  I think I’ve seen it only three times in my life.

[Note: I was thinking of inserting a black image here, to give you an idea of just how dark it was.] 

Tell me it’s not a different lifestyle when you’re not constantly besieged by visual and aural stimuli.  When all you have to deal with is the shifting forces of nature.  When you are reminded of how bright the moon really is, and how very dark it is when the moon isn’t shining.

I know, I’m jetlagged as I write this.  Humans were not meant to traverse thousands of miles in a day.  It messes not only with our bodies, but also with our heads.  What time is it?  What day is this?

Sometimes I wonder if it’s a good thing, to be reminded of the things we cannot have, like true silence and darkness.  If I threw over everything, sold all my worldly possessions, and bought that small cottage in Ireland, would I come to hate it?  It is too quiet, too dull?  And could I live without the Internet? I’m still thinking about it.
Coming February 2014


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Lovely post, Sheila. I think getting the details right helps immerse the reader in your story at a subliminal level -- well worth doing! Living in the heart of New York City my whole adult life, I'm grateful for those illuminated streets at night. Every once in a while I remember NOT having that sense of safety forty years ago as I walked the last block from the subway to home. But the illuminated bedroom with the blinking lights, now, there I agree with you. I periodically consider sleeping with a sleep mask every night, but then my mystery writer's brain takes over, and I think, "But when the burglar comes..."

Galway artist said...

Sheila ! Great job posting all that detailed info. Thanks ! Pete