Inkwell Guest: Cynthia Owens on Snippets From Her Past
Today, Cynthia Owens returns to the inkwell and talks about snippets of her past. Welcome, Cynthia!
They say many writers put themselves into their stories. They’ll use experiences from their past, or maybe base a character on someone they once knew. They may not even realize they’re doing it until the story has been written and published.
Such was the case with my story, Keeper of the Light, Book II in the Wild Geese Series. It wasn’t till I read the first “real” copy, i.e. the actual print copy of the book, that I realized just how much of myself I’d put into this story.
For instance, Laura Bainbridge’s father is the lighthouse keeper, and when the chores are done and there isn’t any threatening weather, life can get rather dull. So Stephen Bainbridge took up wood carving, using bits of driftwood he found on the beach and fashioning it into all manner of things from a sea gull in flight to a wooden love spoon.
My own father was a master craftsman when it came to creating from wood. His specialty was furniture, from the beautiful curio shelf that hangs on my daughter’s wall to the five-legged “reading” table made from an old hardwood floor. Stephen Bainbridge became a tribute to my dad. He also calls his daughter “sweet’art,” a term of endearment my father often used with me.
There’s a carved driftwood sailboat that plays a key role in the story. It brings back a shattering memory for my hero, Cathal Donnelly, who is suffering from amnesia. I actually got the idea for that boat from similar carved boats I used to see every summer, when I visited my paternal grandparents in Percé, on the Gaspé Peninsula on the east coast of Quebec on the Atlantic Ocean.
One of the secondary characters in the story, a dairy former named Gil Forbes, ages his cheese in a cave on the island. That idea came directly from a visit to the village of Cheddar, in England, where cheddar cheese in aged in the famous “Cheddar Caves.”
And as I wrote the opening scene of Keeper of the Light, in which Cathal is desperately fighting a stormy sea, I recalled my last evening in Dublin, Ireland, during that same trip. We stayed in a bed-and-breakfast overlooking Dublin Bay, and when darkness fell, I fell asleep watching the lights sparkling on the water.
And having spent some time on the water during those summer vacations in Percé, I was able to call upon my experience with sea gulls for the book’s prologue.
We are a Fenian brotherhood,
Skilled in the arts of war,
And we’re going to fight for Ireland,
The land that we adore.
Many battles we have won,
Along with the boys in blue
And we’ll go and capture Canada
For we’ve nothing else to do.
~ Fenian soldiers’ song
Queenstown Harbor, Ireland, “Black ‘47”
“Cathal, lad, look at me. Look at me now, and tell me why ye’re here.”
Cathal Donnelly’s soul shrank as the priest grasped his chin between long, bony fingers and forced his reluctant gaze up to his face. Father O’Reilly’s black robe flapped and snapped in the chill spring wind that slashed Cathal’s own skin. The gulls screaming over the sea like banshees sent shivers down his spine. He caught his lower lip between his teeth, struggling to control his shameful tears. “We’re going to America, Father.”
“And do ye know why ye must go to America?”
“Because we’ve no food, Father.”
“Ah, now that’s where ye’re wrong, lad.” Father O’Reilly glanced over to where Cathal’s family huddled together on the shore with hundreds of other emaciated refugees waiting to board the Sally Malone. Then he knelt before the ten-year-old boy, his dark-blue eyes blazing, his hands biting into his flesh. “Ye must go to America because the English decided ye’ve no food, Cathal. England starved ye, abused ye, and when ye dared to cry out for help, she turned blind eyes and deaf ears. Where has all the grain gone? And the cattle and the pigs and the sheep? All gone to England.” The priest waved a bony hand toward the quay, where huge, many-masted ships filled with food and livestock waited to sail. “All of it sent over the water so England may grow fat while Ireland starves. Do ye realize that, Cathal Donnelly? Do ye, lad?”
“Aye, Father.” Cathal widened his eyes in awe, pride swelling his heart and puffing out his thin chest. No one had ever talked to him this way, as if he were grown up. As if he understood. He’d heard the whispers in the back room at Phelan’s pub, or when the men were digging the praties before they’d turned to black slime in the pit. But never had anyone told him why they must send their own food away. “I understand.”
“Remember it then, lad. Remember it all—the hunger, the evictions, the cruelty. Remember it, and tell yer children, and in time their children. Will ye do that for me, Cathal Donnelly?”
“Aye, Father, I will.”
“The English drove ye from yer land.” Father O’Reilly’s voice shook with emotion. Tears sprang to his eyes and rolled down his cheeks, and Cathal’s heart twisted for the priest’s grief. “Don’t ever forget that, lad. Keep the memories alive, so that one day, please God, the wrongs done to our people will be righted.”
Blinded by tears that had nothing to do with the sharp salt wind blowing off the sea, Cathal clenched his fists, his soul crying out for justice. For vengeance.
“I promise, Father.”
Come visit me! 🙂