Irish Magic Realism

Dear Readers, I haven’t written an update on my book for a while. I was on course to finish the current (8th) edit by the end of the creativity bootcamp I hosted in February, but other events threw me off course. Now I find myself at home with the girls, both recovering from chicken pox, and long Easter holidays. While I love the lapse of routine and schedules it is hard to find writing time.

But the book is never far from my mind and I’m still determined to finish editing by the time summer holidays roll around in June. Aside from my characters and the story itself I’ve been thinking of possible titles and whether to self-publish or go the traditional route and seek an agent first. I’ve been thinking of genre too.

My book is Irish Magic Realism, I didn’t plan that, it’s just what it is. Magic realism is a genre in which seemingly magical happenings and ideas are part of accepted everyday life. Well that’s Irish life isn’t it?

It comes from Latin America with authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende, but my feeling is that this is a genre that also belongs firmly in Ireland, and could scarcely be more relevant.

As to the question of why we haven’t a tradition of writers in this genre I can only surmise that magic is such an intrinsic part of Irish life that we haven’t thought that much about it. Fairy forts, stray sods, hidden meanings, the fae, banshees, superstitions, ghosts, curses, are part of the fabric of life still.

For me the latin American version is exotic and romantic, or perhaps that is a foreigners view? Irish magic realism is a blend of our natural world, the intense relationship we have with a tough landscape, with the elements, plus our superstitions, tradition, and folklore. It is anything but romantic, unless you count tragedy, which of course we do. To someone on the other side of the world it may seem exotic, romantic.

Ireland is geographically western but psychologically magical. Our feeling for magic runs deep.

'The Fairy Rath' by John O'Grady
‘The Fairy Rath’ by John O’Grady – click image for website link

My book centres around a family of women with various cures and powers, bean feasa, wise women. These abilities make the women both important and accepted in the community while also being feared, bullied and ostracised. I explore themes of freedom, self-realisation, culture versus the natural world, rebellion, and the outsider woman. Can we create our own worlds? Our own identities?

The women in my book are in one way freer than anyone else in town, women especially, but they are prisoners too, not just of the central quest and curse but of society, of history, of legacy issues.

Nature and the natural world is personified in the form of a fearsome cailleach, a female supernatural witch, a landscape power. The women, their independence, and their power comes not from the indulgence of a patriarchal society but from a more ancient and female origin, from nature itself. In the end it is about the fight, the battle between nature and culture, between the ancient, the modern, and the stagnated, most of all it is about the battle for the self.

While I think it was inevitable I would write about a family of women, the story is set in the 90’s but visit’s the 70’s and 80’s too, much of what has emerged in this book surprised me. I don’t think we don’t choose our genre, our story, it is already there, and can be reached in the writing.

When I started I thought an idea had finally hit me, out of the blue, after years of wondering, searching, asking, what would I write a novel about? Turns out this was false, for when I looked back through old notebooks I found clues, signs that the story had always been there, brewing for most of my life. Regular writing unlocked it, that was all.

The best way to discover your story is to let yourself write it, see what appears on the page, go where it leads you, even if you’re afraid.

Stephen King was asked in an interview why he chose to write horror? His answer, ‘What makes you think it was a choice?’

It’s easier of course to see these things in hindsight. Recently I explored around the house of my childhood, where I lived the first eight years of my life. I was pleasantly shocked to find parallels between that sweet little house and the formidable house of the women.

In my book the house of the women is high set, with stone steps running at an angle along the walls up to the door. At the top a ledge or step is unprotected on all sides except for the side of the house. This accurately describes the back door to my childhood home, and how from our garden you had to look up to see it.

While the book is not autobiographical I have explored themes and ploughed the stores of my subconscious, and the idea of home as a haven is just another one of those themes. That little house was a haven to me, just like the house in the book is a safe place for the women.

And when this story goes out in the world, as it surely will, what then? Well there’s a ghost story waiting in the wings, I can’t wait to see what that brings, though feel free to bet on a woman and a house, and one day, if I get brave enough, I may write the true memoir.

What would you write? Do you know? xo Jane

Bog Heather by John O'Grady
Bog Heather by John O’Grady – click pic for website

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