Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Discovering a Jane Austen Story in Ireland

Writer's Tears Irish Whiskey - I needed this when I decided to embark on an entirely different book!

I just returned from a month in Ireland, where I planned to research a totally different book then what I ended up with. If any of you have ever participated in NaNoWriMo.com, National Novel Writing Month, where you write an entire novel in November, then you understand the adrenaline rush of finding a story and running with it. Well, I did that during a vacation. 

I entered Ireland for my fifth research trip with a planned itinerary for a novel I’ve been working on for years. Then I landed and entered my regency era Dublin hotel in the middle of Georgian Dublin and BOOM - Jane Austen was stuck in my head for the entire month!

I chucked my itinerary and researched a Jane Austen styled book to be set in Ireland in 1802, just after the Act of Union, which disbanded the Irish Parliament and greatly reduced the number of eligible bachelors for the “Social Season” in Dublin.

But first, why Jane Austen popped into my head upon landing in Ireland. I’ve been obsessed with Jane Austen for the past six months, ever since I saw a production of Jane Austen Unscripted by Impro Theater. 

This is an improv theater company that performs long form narrative plays - as in they improvise an ENTIRE PLAY every evening. The genre is already stated, like Jane Austen, Western or Twilight Zone, etc., and then the play is based upon an audience suggestion, like “Purple ribbon,” or “Kidney pie.” I saw four productions and was so dazzled I signed up for improv classes. Reminder - I’m a writer and a scientist. Me standing up on stage causes severe heart palpitations, sweat stains and enormous grins of fear. But good golly, those improv classes are the happiest days of my life! I’m so excited to start again tomorrow night! The entire world should go to Improv classes. It makes you a better person. But that’s another blog post.
For the past six months, I’ve been rereading Jane Austen’s books and everything related. See reading list below:

So I guess it’s really no surprise that Ireland inspired a Jane Austen styled story and my original book has been side lined. Thankfully, NaNoWriMo.com offers Camp NaNoWriMo during April and July, so woohoo, I’m writing my novel during the month of July. 

Since this blog is about using real locations in novels, you'll get the inside scoop on the real locations I'm using in my upcoming novel temporarily titled: Tolerance & Temperance. Just kidding. I'm really going with A Lady's Troubles. Um... Nope, not that either. Okay, you can help me name the novel. Think Sense & Sensibility meets Pride & Prejudice in Ireland. Go!

The novel opens at these two locations:

Muckross House. Photo by me. The weather in Ireland was stunning this trip. 

Muckross House is located in South West Ireland in Killarney National Park. I took a tour of the house and decided to use it as the model for the big country estate of my Anglo-Irish Protestant family with three daughters and one young sickly son. In my story the estate will be located near the city of Athlone, about 50 miles west of Dublin. The travel distances in Jane Austen novels are typically about 20 - 50 miles. Killarney is 150 miles from Dublin, so keeping the estate in it's real location can't happen. However I'm researching the Athlone area of 1802 to confirm that the industry and estate operations could be similar to that of Muckross.

Turin Castle. Photo by me. 

Turin Castle (which can be rented) is located in West Ireland, near Cong. We’ve spent many a joyful evening here, so I know it well. However in 1802, most of Ireland’s castles were in ruins because England destroyed them due to fears of Catholic military strongholds. Bummer! Not long ago Turin Castle was also a ruin. But thankfully our friends, Brendan & Marnie, restored it to the historical magnificience it is today. Seriously, click on the Turin website and check out the interior. It's an amazing time warp. So in 1802, the daughters and son will play at the romantic castle ruins, but imagine themselves Lord and Lady of the fully restored magnificient castle. 

Interior of Muckross Abbey bell tower in Killarney. That's Wes, my husband.

I wanted to imagine Turin as a ruin, but more than just from pictures. I needed to feel and smell the mossy stones, and see the bird's nests in the empty beam holes that once held floor boards. So we ventured into as many old ruins as we could find. Muckross Abbey, also in Killarney National Park, was a great example to explore for this purpose.

Banquet Hall of Turin Castle - Music Session.
I've never seen anyone rock out with a mandolin. Awesome!

Gathering a bit Irish culture to color the story, we were honored to partake in a music session at Turin Castle. My wealthy Anglo-Irish Jane Austen characters will play their harp and piano forte, but one of the girls might learn of a more interesting Irish tradition that lures her toward a rebellious intrigue with a celtic drum. 

Upcoming novel locations will be Georgian Dublin, Aran Islands, Belleek Castle and the seaside town of Howth.

If you've got a name for the novel - toss it at me. Please!


  1. Absolutely fascinating!!!! So glad to hear of this research trip. I am unbelievably charged to work on my work in progress after reading this, which is a good thing! By the way, I mentioned your website in my latest blog post, here: http://wp.me/p35Mk4-8b I find this page so inspiring.

  2. Hi S.M. - I just read your post. Thanks for plug, hugely appreciated. You book sounds great. When do you think you'll be done with it?

    1. Hi Sara,

      Believe it or not, I finished my first round of edits a couple of weeks ago and it is with three betas now. I would love to share about the process of writing this novel on your blog sometime.

      How about the book based on your Ireland travels? Please keep us posted on your progress throughout July. I can't wait!


    2. Hi Susan,

      Considering the book is based upon travels that occurred so many years ago, I think it would be great to read about the process. Approaches about how to draw upon past travels for writing would be a great post! Do you want to do something this month?


  3. Sara, this month sounds good! If you'd like, you can send me an email with any details of how to submit you a post, as well as a deadline. My email is smnystoriak@yahoo.com