“Liam. It’s time for the tea and the chats.”
That was how his mam always prefaced a ‘talk’. It had always been like that, ever since he was little.
He sat opposite her as she poured a cup of tea in the kitchen at An Mullach and pushed a plate of freshly baked scones and butter closer to him.
“Tell me how you are, lad.”
He sipped the tea. It was the best tea in the world, as usual. “I’m grand, Mam. You know that.”
“I don’t want to pry, son, but I don’t want you getting hurt either. I’m wondering if our Ash is planning on staying, you know, forever.”
Liam ran a hand through his hair. “Mam, if I knew the answer to that, I’d have taken out a full page ad in the Tipp Times by now.”
“But she loves you?”
He felt his face turn pink. “Yes, Mam. She does love me. It’s just that…she’s been through a lot, you know that, and let’s face it, our family is a force to be reckoned with. She’s an only child, her parents didn’t give a hoot about her, she’s grown up being independent and resourceful and, well, she’s not ready to relinquish all that just yet.”
“Now, Liam, that’s crap and you know it. Yes, I know Ash has got her plans. But they’re all coming to fruition here at our farm. What happens when she’s achieved all her goals? What then? Will she make a new set of plans and move on? Or will she be content to enjoy life here with us?”
Liam lifted his head and held his mother’s gaze. “Mam, I’m prepared to wait. But there’s something else you should know.” He paused, then continued. “I’m also prepared to follow Ash to the ends of the earth to be with her.”
His mam’s gaze never wavered. “That’s what I would expect from a man with your conviction, Liam.” Her eyes shone, and she looked away. “Lord knows, I’d hate you to leave, but…”
He reached across the table and covered her hand with his. “Mam, I…”
She lifted her gaze to his, her eyes now welling. “My Stan left his family in Durrow to come and work on An Mullach, to be with me. We couldn’t live apart, you see. He moved into a one-room shack at the back of the dairy, and we made love there every chance we got. We couldn’t breathe when we were apart. Our lives only really mattered when we were together. But because my mam was so ill, well, I had to look after Da and the boys. That’s why I didn’t get much schooling. Because I had to cook and clean for seven brothers. So I couldn’t leave.” A tear spilled over and ran down her cheek, landing with a soft plop on the seersucker checkered tablecloth. “So Stan followed me here. And we were madly in love for over thirty years, until the good Lord took him from me.”
Liam felt the sting of salty tears in the back of his eyes. He remembered how affectionate his mam and da had been, doing big passionate kisses in the kitchen as Cherry and the boys were trying to eat dinner, and them groaning and saying how bad it was that their parents nearly made them feel sick. He remembered them dancing together at all the family gatherings, only having eyes for each other, and how every Sunday morning Da would go out into the fields early and pick a bunch of wild flowers and put them in a little vase on the breakfast table right in front of where his mam sat.
He cleared his throat. “I’ll be a good husband, Mam, just like Da was. And one day, I hope to be a good father too. But nothing would make me happier than to raise my family here at An Mullach, and I say prayers every night that the good Lord will make that possible. But either way, Ash will be my wife. I know it.”
Ireland and all things Irish fascinate Noelle Clark and her holiday there has led to this three-book series ...
What are the greatest challenges, and the greatest joys, of writing a series?
The biggest challenge for me has been to ensure that books 2 and 3 live up to the promise that the first book has. They are stand-alone books, and therefore have their own story line, but the surroundings and characters from book one are there as well. In the second book, I’ve been able to again showcase the loveable Mrs. Cullen who has been so popular with readers, plus focus on her boys, particularly Liam. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Liam better. He’s a really nice guy.
What I’ve enjoyed most about writing this continuing series is creating a world where I feel quite at home. I know their farms well, their homes—heck, if I was to visit the kitchen at Robinhill I’d know exactly where the toaster is, the teapot, and of course where Mrs. Cullen hides the bottle of Jameson’s under the kitchen sink.
I have to admit that I’ll be very sorry to leave Robinhill Farm after book three. I’ll miss the characters, and I’ll probably worry about them and wonder if they’re doing okay without me.
One of the pleasures of a series is becoming more familiar with the family and community in which it is set. Which characters can we expect to meet again?
As I said above, Mrs. Cullen takes a fairly strong supportive role as Liam’s mam. She’s the matriarch and likes to be in control.
Honor and Bryan, Dermot and Cherry, and their children are in the story, and Liam’s brother Tom. Each of the characters has grown and changed—as we all do—over the past three years, and it’s interesting to see how their relationships have grown as well.
Liam (what a wonderful name!) is the hero of book two. Where does he fit into the story begun in book one?
In book one, Liam had a supporting role as Cherry’s oldest brother, a wise counsel, protector, and I guess the overseer of the farms. He and his brother, Tom, are loveable men who love their mother’s cooking, and Mrs. Cullen dotes on her boys. They are not all that well educated, but are brilliant farmers. They work hard, party hard, and love abundantly.
How do you structure your writing day?
Susanne, I wish I did have a structure to my day. I do try, but something always seems to distract me. But most days, I rise early, check my emails and then spend an hour on social media doing promo work for myself and other writers. I then set out to write a minimum of one thousand words. If the Muse is being kind, that’s an easy task, and I often keep going until I literally need to take a break.
On days when the words aren’t flowing so easily, I shift my brain into auto-pilot by writing a blog piece, or something else that lets my sub-conscious churn away on the story. At the end of the day, I like to have completed some tasks and to have written a good chunk of my work in progress, otherwise I feel I’ve wasted my time.
Writing a series means you have many threads of characters, places and events. How do you keep track of the wealth of details within each story as well as the series?
I’ve got to know all the O’Dohertys and the Cullens quite well, and I keep charts with their character traits, ages, relationships, and their physical details (eye colour, hair, height, build, clothing preference etc).
I have a map of Ireland in front of me at all times, so I know exactly where my characters are, and the landscape around them. I use ‘earth view’ in Google maps to get a feel for the lay of the land, mountains, hills, rivers and so on. I pore over photos I took while visiting that area, and research the local Tipperary newspapers for any events that might lend authenticity to my story.
I also monitor the weather conditions at the particular time of year that the story is set. This is extremely important when writing a rural story, as farming is so governed by the seasons, especially in Ireland. Needless to say, I immerse myself deeply into the landscape, the Irish slang, customs, and the Irish psyche.
Although I mostly write in a quiet environment, I’m a great believer in music to set the mood for a scene. Do you need a calm writing space, and do you play music to help achieve an atmosphere for a scene?
When I first began writing, I loved having atmospheric music playing in the background, but these days I prefer total silence. I hear the voices of my characters better. J But if I’m a bit stuck in a particular scene, I like to take a break and watch a movie, or at least a part of one, that triggers some emotions akin to my characters. For instance, if I’m stuck writing a bedroom scene, I watch parts of a film called Unfaithful. It has passionate, lusty sex scenes and gets me into a space where I can then write my scene. Yesterday, I watched for the first time the episode of Outlander called the Wedding. Phew. Now I have a much more tender, yet no less passionate snippet to watch to inspire me to write certain scenes.
As a singer/songwriter, do you channel your musical background for any of your characters, or for your setting?
This is a tricky question. I really don’t know. I do see clear visuals in my head of the landscape and setting for my stories, and my songs also evoke pictures. Writing songs is a lot like writing a 70,000 word novel – it’s introducing a concept, character/s, telling a story, and wrapping it up in a neat ending. Only it’s microscopic, can only last around three to four minutes, and has to rhyme. When inspiration for a song comes to me, it’s a similar experience to when I get an idea for a book. But I don’t think I actually channel songwriting in that way.
What piece of music would you choose as the ‘theme song’ for Liam’s story?
Until I read your question above, I’d never really considered a theme song for Liam, however I dug around and found the perfect song. It is one of my favourites from Australian singer Shanley Del. She wrote it, and sang it as a duet with her husband in about 2000. The words and sentiment aptly mirror Liam’s quiet determination to wait for the love of his life to take the plunge and marry him. It’s quite uncanny that I literally dug this song out yesterday, as I remember that there is a line in Honor’s Promise where Liam actually says words similar to ‘she can take her own sweet time.’ I must have channelled this song subconsciously.
You Tube link https://youtu.be/RAGM-kkQD8A