A simple, mysterious phrase inspires a new beginning
I’ve wanted to write since I was a little kid. Alone in my bedroom, almost 10 years old, I wrote little stories about dogs and squirrels and gave them to my mother to read (top secret, because if my sisters had known they’d have teased me relentlessly). And Mother in Heaven forgive me, once I even wrote a story about a swan on a lake. (I know, it’s been done…). My poor mother had to listen to it accompanied by me on ukulele.
My father always called me the dreamer.
I did excel at daydreaming and he always seemed to catch me. He did not consider it a good thing. And yet, as much as I loved my mother, it was he who had the most influence on my writing.
My sisters and I grew up celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, hearing him sing songs like It’s the Same Old Shillelagh, Harrigan, I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen, Peg of My Heart, My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, When Irish Eyes are Smiling, and Too-Ra-Loo-Ra_Loo-Ra. That last one still brings tears to my eyes because he sang us all to sleep with it. We were Irish. It didn’t really matter how much.
And it was fun to be Irish.
I was proud of that heritage but I never knew how it might one day affect my life. In grade school and then college I continued my dreaming. I majored in English, and then education, until my roommate finally convinced me: If you want to write, study journalism. Her name, by the way, was Patty O’Brien. I followed her advice and have never regretted it, but in a way it distracted me from writing those stories. My career drifted from newspaper journalism to trade press and then to corporate communications, until I believed my stories were gone for good.
The last time I saw my father alive was in the fall of 1996. By then I was married, had a masters degree and a management level job, and lived in Seattle. I was visiting him in Florida. He took me to lunch and asked, “When are you going to start writing again?” I don’t think he knew about the squirrel stories, but he'd always been proud of the newspaper ones. I shrugged and said I didn’t know if I could write anymore. My writing was all bureaucratic now.
He said quite simply, “You’ll write when you’re ready.”
We lost him on the Ides of March of the following year when he was just 75. It was almost exactly a year later that I was awakened from a deep sleep as sure as if someone had shaken me, and a phrase was in my head: A snow path to Dingle. A snow path to Dingle — a phrase so strong and nonsensical, it had to come from somewhere, for some reason, and it refused to leave me alone. Hardly having any choice, I resolved to do some research to discover its meaning.
And, because I already loved historical fiction, and had twice visited Dingle in the west of Ireland to explore our family’s Irish heritage, I felt I had a clear place to start. And so I was off…on a real adventure.
That phrase inspired the story of Sharavogue, my first historical novel, and it names the chapter in which the protagonist Elvy Burke makes a decision that changes her life. It is appropriate because that phrase, which I am sure was sent by my father, has most certainly changed mine.