Today I’m welcoming the lovely Lynn Marie Hulsman back to One More Page to tell us about the location inspiration for her new novel, Summer At Castle Stone. Lynn Marie lives in New York with her family and her favorite thing to do is write Romantic Comedy. Welcome Lynn Marie!
Of all the experiences I’ve had in my life, travel ranks as one of the most important. It falls only below giving birth and becoming a mother, moving to New York City and making it my home for life, and publishing as a contracted author. When I’m not traveling, my favorite pass times are reading and writing. Being sucked into the “world” of a novel thrills me. I enjoy living vicariously through a book’s characters. What is it like to taste the cuisine of a place? What does a city sound like before dawn? How do the streets smell at high noon?
When I write fiction, I feel a thrill when I’m in a character’s skin, sensing what she is sensing. Now, as a novelist, it’s nearly impossible for me to visit somewhere without taking mental notes of what it’s like to navigate my days and nights in a place that’s unfamiliar to me.
When I co-wrote the cookbook The Irish Pantry for chef Noel McMeel, I was given the opportunity to travel to Ireland to do research, and to trail him in his kitchen and restaurants. From the moment I landed in Dublin, I felt a shift. Everything moved more slowly than in New York City, where I live. The stakes of little things, such as getting ahead in the customs queue or finding the best seat on the bus to the city center, seemed lower. For me, Ireland felt like the right place at the right time.
I’d been stressed, and feeling depleted. I had been buying into ideas that made me suffer, such as comparing the décor and size of my apartment to those of acquaintances whose spouses work on Wall Street, and worrying that if my kids didn’t get into the “right” middle school that they’d surely never get into the “right” high school, or university and were therefore doomed for life before reaching the age of 10. Without trying to sound like a drama queen, I realized on the spot that Ireland offered me the chance at a spiritual awakening.
During that trip, I stayed in and cooked with old and new friends, taking the time to really listen people as they talked instead of making to-do lists in my head. On the train trip north to Fermanagh, I looked out the windows at the countryside instead of burying my face in my phone. Instead of spending an hour doing my hair and makeup, and choosing an outfit, I used that hour to walk the lanes of the village with my friend’s big, slobbery Labrador retriever, observing the difference in the trees and shrubs to what I knew in New York, and my birthplace, Kentucky.
When I returned to New York from that trip, the sights, sounds, and smells of Ireland stayed with me. An idea for a new novel, which was to become Summer at Castle Stone, slowly took shape. I’d write down a note here about the smell of baking soda bread, and another there about the voices I heard at the early morning green market near Great Georges Street in the North end of Dublin. I could see, hear, taste, smell, and feel the world, but what was the story?
The answer lay in my bones, of course. The story’s roots were in food, cooking, restaurants. I’d traveled through the world. It needed only finishing touches from my imagination. But who would live there? A jaded girl, of course, exhausted and world-weary from shadow-boxing against opponents whose defeat didn’t matter. Boom! There was Tom O’Grady. Zip! There was Shayla Sheridan. They meandered around my mind picking up my memories of turf fires in 17th-century thatched-roof cottages, of colcannon and cod served with pints of stout that were meals unto themselves, of charming men with mischief in their eyes and flirty words that bordered on insulting but drew me in with their witty challenge, of the kind of damp, cold air that slowed my blood to a crawl, making rushing anywhere impossible, even if I’d been inclined to accomplish much.
I suppose it wasn’t strictly necessary to return to Ireland early this summer in order to gather more information for the final, polishing details of Summer at Castle Stone, but I’m glad I did it. Had I not, I wouldn’t have experienced County Wexford, my new favorite place in Ireland. Its combination of sophisticated arts community and unspoiled, rural village life left its mark on me. Visiting grand estates such as Wells House informed my book. So did spending time with locals ranging from George Lawlor, the Lord Mayor, Billy Roche, the celebrated playwright, Maria Nolan, who spearheaded the organization of the Wexford Literary Festival, to my dancing partner at Screen Village’s local pub – Freddie’s Bar – who was described as “a maverick, that fella” by a local Irish mammy.
The details of rugged, wild, beautiful, ancient, wise old Ireland burned into my brain won’t lose their sharp edges soon, I predict. The impact was too great. I predict I’ll write more books set on The Emerald Isle. But not without another visit or two first…
Thanks Lynn Marie!