Today I’m featuring a guest post by Florida author Nancy Blanton, whose award-winning historical novels are set primarily in 17th century Ireland. her latest book, The Prince of Glencurragh, has won three awards since its July 2016 publication, and is a finalist for two others. She chose the setting not only because of an Irish heritage, but also because it’s a period not heavily covered in fiction. For Nancy, it’s not just a passion, it’s a strategy. She explains why in the following interview.
First of all, what made you choose to write historical fiction?
It is what I love to read. I like to learn as I read, and I feel my time is well-spent. Recently I posted a blog about my favorite book, the first historical novel I read: Gone with the Wind. I learned so much from that book about America’s Civil War and its aftermath. I was both fascinated and hooked. Many writers avoid historical fiction because it requires so much research, but for me that’s the best part. It’s a treasure hunt to discover details most people have never seen or heard before, that will bring history to life.
Why did you pick 17th century Ireland?
My father emphasized our Irish heritage when I was growing up. We heard the music, sang the songs, wore the green, marched in the parade—all that. Our family toured Ireland when I was 15, and he sent me to Ireland for a summer study during my junior year in college. That I would want to write about it seems only natural. But when I started researching, I realized books about the 16th and 18th centuries were prominent, but not so much the 17th. A study for the Historical Novel Society found that the 17th century ranks 7th among time periods readers are most likely to choose when buying a book. This surprised me because it’s an exciting time of sweeping change, when the Irish clan system is overtaken by the English plantation system, when Cromwell led his bloody march. I saw a niche for myself, and made it my mission to illuminate this period.
Most novels set out to explore a question. What question did you have in mind when writing The Prince of Glencurragh?
In 17th century Ireland, many hopes and dreams were destroyed as the English took control of the island. So I was asking, “Is it possible to reclaim a dream once it is lost to the mists of memory?” The book is about a young Irishman facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles in a quest to realize his father’s dream of a castle and estate called Glencurragh.
The premise is interesting to me on two levels. First, everyone has awakened from a dream so beautiful they want to hold onto it, but the longer they are awake the faster it recedes. And second, many of us have seen the sacrifices our parents made and then tried to live their dream for them, only to realize later in life that it doesn’t satisfy. And dreams are sometimes fulfilled in ways we had not expected.
What is setting for this story?
It takes place in southwest Ireland, primarily County Cork, in 1634. As the English plantation system spreads across the province of Munster, lands that have been in clan ownership for centuries now are given to English soldiers as rewards for service. Even castles, once both the bounty and protection of the strongest clans, now have fallen against the power of the siege and cannon.
Faolán Burke will try almost anything to make his father’s castle a reality, including abducting an heiress to elevate his station and his income. But the heiress has a mind of her own, and they are drawn into the crossfire between the most powerful noblemen in Ireland—each with his own agenda.
What themes does the book address?
In many ways, this book is about friendship, the relationship between best friends from childhood. The story is narrated by Faolan’s best friend Aengus O’Daly. I have some very deep and lasting friendships of this kind, and those relationships informed this story in ways I didn’t even realize until the end. I am deeply grateful to my friends for that.
This story is also about hope. In great difficulty, when you have no power to change a circumstance that gives you pain, hope is what we rely on to get through, and it is the most human part of us.
What will readers find most appealing about this book?
This book captivates readers right away because it is fast-paced and rich with interesting historical detail. The 17th century is rife with conflict, disaster, invention and change.
The story also is relevant because it focuses on issues we still face today, such as oppression of ethnic groups and women, the struggle for survival and the struggle to achieve one’s dream. It is also a very personal struggle that most of us can relate to. Faolán is tested, just as anyone is who aspires to a goal. You want this thing, and it seems the mountain grows suddenly higher, the road more rugged, forcing you to show just how much you’re willing to fight for what you want.
Does the protagonist achieve his father’s vision for the Castle Glencurragh?
Without revealing the ending, I will say that Faolán adapts. The end is hopeful, as should be any story that deals with dreams.
The Prince of Glencurragh is available in e-book, soft cover and hard cover on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and from other online booksellers.
(Jennifer B. Duffey is the author of two novels and a collection of short stories. To download a free copy of her latest novel, The Face in the Mirror, click here.)