Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Revisiting the beginning with a wee bit from Orphans and Inmates.

Cover art for Orphans and Inmates by Ebooklaunch.com

May 3rd, 1835
            With two feet safely on land again after months at sea, Ciara Sloane walked slowly toward the city of Buffalo’s bustling Central Wharf.  She had taken each of her younger sisters by the hand as much to keep them close by in the unfamiliar place as to anchor herself and dispel that feeling of the ground moving beneath her feet as she became accustomed to walking on land again.  The late afternoon sun shining down did little to ease her disorientation.  At the age of seventeen she was in a strange place and now the sole guardian of her two younger sisters, Patricia and Martha. Stunned at the events of the last few months she had no choice but to keep moving forward.
The Commercial Slip at the Central Wharf in Buffalo, New York. 
Photo by Rosanne L. Higgins
            In March she had boarded the ship in Galway with her three younger sisters and her parents headed for America.  Ciara’s parents, Mary and Ian Sloane, were eager to start a new life in Buffalo, New York.  It was arranged for Ian to work at his cousin's printing business, a vastly different life than that of the farmer he’d been.  It was a chance to learn a trade and maybe open his own shop one day. Ciara would help her mother keep house and look after her younger sisters until such time as a suitable husband could be found.   In America, her parents had hoped, there would be no shortage of potential suitors.  While prepared for this eventuality, Ciara was completely unprepared for what happened next.
Galway Bay, Ireland. Photo by Robert J. Higgins
           The White Heather Princess, the ship on which they’d sailed, fell victim to typhus fever.  It was called “ship fever” for its common occurrence on ocean voyages, where quarters were typically cramped and sanitation was lacking.  This was an ideal breeding ground for typhus, an acute infection spread by lice, the constant, if unwanted, companions of the rodents that managed to find their way on board ships.  At the height of the outbreak what few healthy adult passengers remained sidestepped over bodies as they carefully made their way from one patient to another trying to ease the discomfort from high fever and severe headache.  Seldom seeing daylight, Ciara and her parents spent most of their time below deck, clutching a candle in one hand and a small bucket of fresh water in the other as they made their way from hammock to hammock tending the sick.   A week into the outbreak Ciara’s youngest sister, Katherine, fell ill.  At just two years old, the fever attacked wee Katie with a vengeance.  She was dead within two days. Ciara barely had time to register the loss of her baby sister when symptoms appeared in both her parents, keeping her in a constant state of motion.  Between tending the sick and looking after her remaining two sisters, she hardly registered the passing of each day.

Farm house on Inis Mór, Ireland.  Photo by Robert J. Higgins
            When they finally reached New York, the White Heather Princess was quarantined by the harbor master.  No one left the ship until the fever had run its course.  Nearly all passenger belongings were burned, standard procedure to ensure the sickness was eradicated before passengers were finally permitted to disembark.  The Sloane girls had only the clothes on their back and a silver pocket watch that had belonged to their father.  Shortly after her father took sick he told Ciara to retrieve the watch and keep it in the pocket sewn on the inside of her skirt.  The small purse of coin their father always carried was stolen before he, their mother and their baby sister were unceremoniously buried at sea.
          Upon retrieving the pocket watch, Ciara went through their belongings and removed their remaining valuables before they were rummaged through and burned by what was left of the crew. Most of the “valuables” had personal rather than monetary value.  Tears rolled silently down her face as she removed her father’s clay pipe from the pocket of his jacket.  Clinging to it was the faint, sweet smell of pipe tobacco which reminded her of that quiet time right after supper when the family sat around the hearth.  Her father would smoke his pipe while her mother read from the Bible when Ciara was just a child.  As she got older, Ciara would read passages herself and she and her mother would teach the younger girls to read.
Irish cottage.  Photo by Rosanne L. Higgins
            She unwrapped a small linen cloth to find her mother’s hair combs and a rosary made of tiny wooden beads.  The hair combs had been carved by her father from wood, a present given on their wedding day.  She ran her fingers across the tiny roses etched on the top of the combs. Her mother only wore those on special occasions.  The rosary had been a gift from her grandparents when her mother was a girl.  She gave the hair combs to Patricia and the rosary to Martha so that each would have something of their mother’s to remember her by.  She kept her father’s pipe.

          The tale of the Sloane sisters continues in A Whisper of Bones, The Seer and the Scholar and A Lifetime Again.  The fifth book in the series, The Girl on the Shore, will be available on December 14th.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A wee bit from book five of the Orphans and Inmates series: The Girl on the Shore


Patricia’s comment was on Martha’s mind for the rest of the afternoon.  That voyage across the Atlantic over four decades ago had forever changed their lives.  Martha was so young when the family left their small village on Inis Mór, the largest of the three Isles of Aran, and there was little she remembered of the journey or why they had left in the first place.  Sitting in the back room with their cups of tea, she asked, “Do either of ye remember much of Inis Mór?”
Ciara looked surprised to hear the question.  Patricia took a sip of her tea and placed the cup back on the saucer before answering.  “If I close my eyes, I can see the wee cottage we lived in plain as day.  Do ye recall old Dearg?”
Nenagh, County Tipperary.  Photo courtesy of Robert J. Higgins
Martha closed her eyes, searching deep in her subconscious for an image and then seeing clearly the shaggy red horse.  “Aye, I think I do!  He had long whiskers, I recall, and they tickled my hand.”  Her expression changed as another less pleasant memory of the horse came to her.  “Funny, now that ye mention him, I remember the sound of old Dearg crossing the bridge on the day we left the island.  I had my head tucked under ma’s arm the whole time, so I couldn’t see a thing, but I remember the sound of the hoofbeats changed once he got to the bridge, and I knew we’d soon be at cousin Patrick’s and that he’d take us across the sea to Galway.” 
A flash of memory showed her the reason Martha had her head buried beneath her mother’s arm.  An old woman had approached the wagon as it lumbered up to the bridge, yelling something, but Martha could not remember what.  The woman had frightened her as did her mother’s reaction to draw Martha closer.  She quickly pushed the unpleasant recollection aside, not wanting to cast a shadow on their memories of home.   “’Tis odd, I’d never thought of that day until now.”

Inis Mór, Aran Islands.  Photo courtesy of Robert J. Higgins
“Well, ye’d hardly remember it, would ye?   I was seven and I recall very little of our life on the island.”  Patricia’s thoughts wandered out loud as she struggled to bring back another small detail of her childhood in Ireland.  She smiled, and almost popped out of her chair at the sheer joy of the memory she recalled.  “Oh, I remember our wee cottage was full to burstin’ and cousin Patrick had a penny whistle.  There was music, and everyone was dancin’.”
Ciara had been silent until now.  She smiled, recalling the occasion.  “That’d ‘ave been at the new year.”  She thought for a moment before continuing.  “You were five, I think, and Martha was just two.  ‘Twas Da who gave Patrick that penny whistle.  He got it in Galway.” Ciara’s voice dropped off, and it appeared as though she, too, was lost in the memory.
Inis Mór, Aran Islands.  Photo courtesy of Robert J. Higgins
“Surely ye must remember how it was before we left?” Martha asked her oldest sister.  Ciara was seventeen when they left Inis Mór and had become the guardian of her sisters after the death of their parents.
Occupied with her own thoughts, it appeared that Ciara had not heard the question, so it surprised Martha when she spoke.  “No, not really.  Just bits here and there, like Patricia.”  She was quiet for a moment, but then felt the need to addend her comment.  “We had a time of it aboard the ship, if ye recall, and I’ve not had a moment since to spare many thoughts for the old country.” 

She didn’t quite sound defensive, but moved to redirect the conversation lest her sisters pick up on her anxiety.  “Well, that’s enough talk of the past.”  Turning to Martha, she asked, “Can ye stay for a while, sister?  I’ve got Patricia until month’s end and I’d dearly love to have ye here as well.”
Inis Mór, Aran Islands.  Photo courtesy of Robert J. Higgins
The Girl on the Shore will be released on Thursday, December 14 at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, New York (see website for details).  The book will also be available online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.  Locally, print copies can be purchased at The Antique Lamp Company, The Buffalo History Museum, The Museum of Disability History, Talking Leaves Bookstore, Dog Ears Bookstore and Cafe, Parker Pharmacy, and The Burchfield Penney Art Center.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Field research on Inis Mór

Cottage on Inis Mór.  Photo by Robert J. Higgins
     The fifth installment of the Orphans and Inmates series takes our characters, both past and present, back to Ireland.  If you are familiar with the story, the Sloane family made their way to Buffalo, New York from Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland.  The three islands that make up Aran, Inis Oírr, Inis Meáin, and Inis Mór are a microcosm of traditional Gaelic culture not found elsewhere in the country.  I was moved by the haunting images of the islands I had seen in the book Images of Aran: Photographs by Father Brown, 1925 & 1938,  By E.E. O'Donnell.  After a bit of research, I thought Inis Mór was a great place for my characters to start their journey.  Until now, I had written very little about the small island.  It was mentioned in Orphans and Inmates as the birth place of the Sloane sisters, with some brief references to what their lives were like there.  In the fifth book of the series, a good portion of the story will take place there.  More research was needed.  

     I was able to talk my husband into a brief trip to Ireland in May so that I could visit Inis Mór and get a feel for what life was like there.  As indie authors, our research budgets are often tight and may not include travel, particularly to another country.  Having said that, my advice to my friends and colleagues is:  Go there anyway!  Go where your story takes place, however you can get there.  It is worth the time, the expense and the sacrifice of whatever you had to pass up to get there.

Inis Mór.  Photo by Robert J. Higgins


     There is no better way to get a feel for how your characters will behave in any particular setting than going there yourself.  From the minute our ferry left the dock at Doolin, I knew my decision to scrape and save, put off roof repairs and skimp on groceries, had been worth it.  As we moved out on the Wild Atlantic, we were tossed about like a beach ball, although the vessel was substantial and held over fifty people.  Passengers sat in their seats, green in the gills and white knuckles clenched on the benches in front of them.  My mind went back to the nineteenth century, and to the fishermen of Aran.  Those brave men made their living using only their currachs, small wood frame boats covered by cow hides.  Such boats were keel-less and rudder-less, relying on two to four men with narrow oars to negotiate the same choppy seas.  The necessity to feed their families required that these men make such a treacherous journey often.  My characters speak of the harsh life on the islands, now I have a sense of just how difficult it could have been.


Climbing the road to the ruins of Dún Árainn.  Photo by Robert Higgins

     Inis Mór is a bit less than twelve square miles, with a population of about 900 people.  We could not bring a car on the island, but there were a few options for exploring the area.  There were bicycles for rent but we chose a horse drawn cart which had the advantage of a native tour guide.   We also spent time walking on some of the narrower and steeper roads.  These methods of transportation gave me the opportunity to move around the island at the same pace that my characters from the nineteenth century would have and to get a feel for the clip clop of hooves on hard packed earthen roads (although some of them were paved).  

Our guide, Andy, and Johnny Cash.  Photo by Robert J. Higgins
       Exploring on foot also gave me the opportunity to explore the flora and fauna of the island up close.  In addition to the purple clover, forget-me-nots, butter cups and ferns, there was bleeding heart, yarrow, hawthorn, and numerous other plants I’m in the process of trying to identify, cascading down the stone walls, dotting the pastures, or creeping around fallen headstones.  There were beautiful Connemara ponies for riding, sturdy Tinker’s horses for work, shaggy donkeys who stood in judgement as we passed by, and a rather large herd of goats.  Surprisingly there were few sheep and even fewer dogs to be seen.

Photo by Robert J. Higgins

Photo by Robert J. Higgins
Photo by Robert J. Higgins
     

Photo by Rosanne L. Higgins

     The most important part of the trip for me was being able to see so much of the rugged landscape.  Essentially, Inis Mór is a giant rock protruding out of the sea.  Stone ruins speak to centuries of occupation, yet give the feel of little cultural change over time.  There were/are no wooded areas, and the few trees have been contorted by the harsh wind. Every field on the island was man made. That was something I had read, but did not appreciate until I saw it for myself.  When you look across the landscape at the hundreds of stone walls that divide up each pasture and realize that each wall is made from the limestone that was dug out of the earth by hand and each field was created by hauling in crushed rock, sand, seaweed and whatever else would support the growth of rye grass, cabbages, carrots and potatoes, it is awe inspiring.  Our guide described it as slave labor, yet each man was working to make a small part of the island his own.  Being able to experience this inhospitable landscape gave me a sense of the true grit my characters possessed.  That same grit allowed three orphaned children to survive the journey to America and months in the almshouse.  It would serve them well as they met the challenges that life in the burgeoning city of Buffalo set before them and will help them in this next book to untangle the secrets of their past.

Photo by Robert J. Higgins
Photo by Robert J. Higgins
   

Dún Árainn.  Photo by Robert J. Higgins
Photo by Robert J. Higgins

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Whispers across the Wild Atlantic Way




Standing on the Cliffs of Moher looking over the wild Atlantic Ocean, I could see Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands, hiding in the mist.  Those of you who follow the Orphans and Inmates series may recall that the Sloane sisters began their lives in a small village on that very island.  



      What a journey it would have been, traveling to America.  As I looked out over the ocean, I imagined a shaggy pony pulling Ian and Mary Sloane, their daughters, and the few possessions they were able to bring with them in a cart that lumbered over the rocky terrain.  The four girls, Ciara, Patricia, Martha and wee Katie huddled together against the unforgiving wind.  It didn't take long for them to reach the shore, where a small currach would take them across the rough sea.  In Galway they would seek passage to America.


     The fear and anticipation was palpable as I watched the waves rage against the cliffs.  It was a dangerous crossing just to get to Galway.  I realized it was not the angry sea that frightened them.  Everything they knew was behind them and the path forward was filled with uncertainty.  It became evident to me that the Sloane family had not undertaken the perilous voyage in search of a better life.  They were fleeing Inis Mor.


     What secrets does this ancient island keep?  Beneath the harsh December wind was the low moan of Celtic spirits beckoning me to come and find out for myself.  Is there a fifth book in the Orphans and Inmates series?  The answer lies on Inis Mor.  Of that we can be sure.