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Places of the Heart

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Some have asked how important setting is to my books. Well, only as important as the characters, the dialogue or maybe the HEA. It’s just a small consideration ranking up there slightly behind my ability to put my backside in a chair and start typing.
For twenty-five years, consumed with the needs of a husband and five children, putting that backside in the chair was well-nigh impossible! I ran myself down to a (gasp) size eight working full time, caring for said husband and kids, my parents, his mother and two horses as well as other assorted pets. And if you knew me you’d know that ever wearing a size eight was nothing short of a miracle. If I got to pen four lines of a sonnet in the middle of the night while waiting for barfing kid number two to exit the bathroom in time for child number three to hurl, I considered myself blessed. They only got sick in tandem, only got well in time for the next round to start, and when they were all healthy at one time (oh, thank you, God!) I was in the car. We had vacations in Cape May and on the Chesapeake Bay; for some reason, the entire family was drawn to water. But I was too busy brushing sand out of pants, including my own, to pay a lot of attention to scenery. When I finally got home, ready to kiss the ground because it didn’t move, I had a vague memory of views I had enjoyed at the time. But memory sped away like something seen from a train window, disappearing into the onrush of daily life.
Then—so suddenly, it seemed—everything changed. The nest began to empty. My parents and mother-in-law were gone. And then—also so swiftly yet with such agonizing slowness—my husband was gone, too, taken well before his time by leukemia.
There was only one thing to do. As soon as the dust had settled, I left for Ireland. A portion of my genes come from the Emerald Isle and for some reason I was convinced I would find peace there.
At first glimpse from the plane window, the famed Emerald Isle was brown. Murky brown, visible through streamers of cloud and mist. I could see the fabled stone walls, the little patchwork of fields and occasional farmhouses, the winding silver of waters. But where was the green? The plane descended, the fog cleared, the sun came out. BAM!!! There it was. An eyeball-hurting color unlike anything seen anywhere else. The green, green grass of home. My Scottish-by-descent grandmother’s family had been relocated, wending their way through both halves of Ireland and intermarrying with natives along the way. I had been close to Nana and there was no doubt in my mind, heart or soul– I had come back to the place of my beginning.
I spent the next three years where I knew I needed to be, punctuated by trips back to the States to attend to business and renew my tourist status. I didn’t work while I was in Ireland; I wrote. In hotel rooms and B&B’s, sheep pastures, Norman watch towers, on the shores of the Lakes of Killarney and amid the ruins of the Rock of Cashel, I wrote all those words I never had time to write. They poured out of me like never-ending streams of water running straight down the wild hills of Connemara. I wrote of the Burren, where slag heaps of rock lay piled like playthings of the gods. And the Dingle Peninsula, where painter’s light could make a fortune for the people if only they knew it. But they are happy with their life where everything is rock and sky and white sand beaches stretching away like fingers pointing to America where so many went because they have nothing in Dingle but fish. Hard to feed a family that way.
Eventually I came back to my family, of course, not healed but at least more whole. And the wonders of the books that Ireland wrenched out of me never cease to amaze me. I know with sure and certain instinct that they are the best I will ever write. Not the most technically perfect, perhaps. My craft will improve. But my soul is in those books and in the land where clouds follow you, scudding so low that you move in their shadow on sunny days, like a soft hand holding your heart.

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41 COMMENTS

  1. Beautiful post, Miriam. One of my critique partners is currently writing a series entitled Daughters of Famine about an Irish dynasty. I'm going to share your lovely insights with her.

  2. Wow, I'm sure I'm a customer for your critique partner's series. While in Ireland I visited the main port from which most people fleeing the Famine embarked for America and the vibes there were so strong you didn't have to be psychic to feel them. They called them the coffin ships because so many perished in the abysmal conditions for which they had PAID. Some familes held wakes for their departing relatives. Now that's a sobering thought.

  3. What a wonderful, heartwarming article. I enjoyed reading your post, Miriam. I can relate to your story in so many ways.

    Best–Adele Dubois

  4. Oh Miriam, what a heart-tugging story. I love Ireland myself—actually I'm a quarter Irish thanks to my father. We were lucky enough to visit last summer—I adored every bit of the land and the people.

    Hope your weekend will be wonderful!

  5. Oh Miriam, you make me want to jump on the next plane and go back to Ireland. I have not been back in a number of years. My dad was Irish and when he sold the family home there after my aunt died, we have not been back since the early 1998. I think it ia a great place to heal and get inspired..

  6. Kathleen, I haven't been back in five years and I'm dying. I can only imagine how you feel.

    Val, oh, how I have changed! I feel better, though.

  7. Miriam

    What beautiful post. You know how much I love your faeries. You make Ireland come alive in your stories and I see why. Your readers are the recipients of your love of Ireland.

  8. Beautifully written, Miriam. And what heart, and soul, and guts it must have taken to climb on that plane and begin anew after losing so much.

  9. Thank you, Lainey. Actually, I was thinking that I was completely out of my mind, but at the time I didn't care! It all worked out, though, and opened my life to a whole new place, good friends and wonderful times, some of which I'm having right now.

  10. Oh Miriam,

    That post brought tears to my eyes and touched me in ways I don't think I could ever explain. I also have that same feeling when I am in Scotland- as if I have come home, at peace with the land and its people- its past and its future.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

    Andrea
    CHRW

  11. Thank you, Andrea. That's the best part of writing–touching that special place. Maybe it's because we're writers that we feel the land so deeply; I don't know. But it's a very special gift.

  12. The love you feel for Ireland comes through in your post. Thank you. Now I know I definitely have to go. The place a story is set is so important. A story works only if it is set in the right place. I love stories that make me want to go to the place where it is set and discover for myself the wonderful things that the author talks about as the story progresses.

  13. I related to your connection to a foreign country, Miriam. I live in Australia, but always felt like a fish out of water, yearning to be in Europe. My Dad's family were Danish and my Mom's English. I grew up reading English literature and most of my books are set in an England that probably never existed except in my heart and mind. I travel to the British Isles whenever I can and try to find that place. But maybe it's a bit like Brigadoon, it only emerges every hundred years or so!
    Maggi

  14. Well, Maggi, I sure hope that hundred year cycle is coming due the next time you visit! It's like any kind of love, I guess–there's just no accounting for where the heart goes. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Hi Miriam! Ireland is definitely a place I would love to visit! Wish I could claim some heritage there but my Dad's family was from Holland and Mother's was from Germany. Sounds like you had a busy time raising 5 children. But I bet you developed lots of memories to add to your settings!

  16. Thanks for stopping by, Martha. Ireland corners the market on beauty, so I don't think you have to qualify by heritage to enjoy it! It's as though God was having a little experiment and said, "Hmm, here's 300 miles to play with." As you say, my life had been frantic and it was the tonic I needed.

  17. Your blog moved me to tears. What a wonderful moment in your life–to be able to have the opportunity to go to where your heart is called–I loved learning a little more about what moves you, heals you, and how you have developed as a writer. Oh, that we call all some day see our ancestral soils.

  18. Wow, Danielle. You are obviously a very empathetic person. It's a wonderful part of being an America, I think–to have a common identity but also all of our cherished ancestral roots. I still will never know what exactly called me to Ireland or why it healed me. The person who would know is long gone. But not forgotten.

  19. I enjoyed your comments very much. It must have been wonderful to visit Ireland. My family came from England and Wales. I've always wanted to visit there along with Ireland and Scotland.

  20. Phyllis, I'm going to just diet very, very hard and stow away in some wealthy person's suitcase when they are headed to the British Isles. Gotta go! Thanks for your comment.

  21. Miriam – you put so much of your heart and soul into your post, it is very moving. I have a dash of Irish blood – like Maggi I'm Australian, and like Americans we have mixed and interesting ancestries.

    I raised four kids, worked in my husband's business as unpaid office/person, and nursed him through illnesses, so I empathise with that aspect also. I longed to write for years and didn't begin until the nest was empty.

    Two books now, more on the way. My mother didn't find out she was an artist 'til she was 62, so we're a family of late starters.

    I do wish you all success in your writing and contentment in your life.

  22. How wonderful that you were able to create a new life for yourself with your writing and your extended visit to Ireland.

  23. Monya and Linda, thank you for your thoughtful comments. I never published my first book until I was 56. Talk about late bloomers! And it has probably been the hardest work of my life, but I've enjoyed all of it.

  24. WOW Mariam!
    What a beautifull post!
    I just sitting here trying not to cry.
    I'm so glad you were able to go Ireland and be inspired by it's beauty, and in turn were able to share with us your wonderful writing that was inside of you just itching to get out. 😀

    ~Afshan
    Afshan522@aol.com

  25. Miriam, you should have warned me to have a tissue nearby. What a truly beautiful post. Your stories come from a place deep in your heart, so your settings must be "Specially Significant.

  26. Hi, Afshan and Sandra! My editor always complains that she cries at my stuff, too. I guess I had better watch it! Thanks for dropping by and for your comments.

  27. What a moving post Miriam, and one I can relate to. I've never been to Ireland, but from what I know of it, it is very similar to my beloved Wales. Thansk for sharing.

  28. Amazing story, Miriam! Thanks so much for sharing it. And Ireland…the closest I've ever been is books and photographs, but it looks like such a beautiful land with a rich culture.

  29. Thanks, ladies. I don't know what it is about Ireland–the fantastic scenery, the wonderful people, the sense of history permeating the entire place. Whatever, it works for me. I have always wanted to see Wales, too. I have an ancestor whose surname was Brattain, which I was told was in the Welsh Book of Names. Think this could be true? Our family always held singing fests, which we were told was something he introduced. We had some good times.

  30. Miriam, a lovely, poetic entry. Having visited Ireland for a short time this summer, I can just imagine how incredible it would be to linger and write in all those places!

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