by Sheila Connolly
For the past decade or more, I’ve harbored the fantasy of buying a cottage in Ireland. At first I was fixated on buying the site where my Connolly family originated, but I was discouraged by several things: (1) I had no job at the time, so no money, (2) the place was falling down since it hadn’t been lived in for half a century, (3) the farmer who lived next door used the space behind the house for his very large manure pile, and (4) there was a rather aromatic piggery up the hill. All excellent reasons not to buy that property!
But the dream persisted through the years, and through a lot of changes in my life. So I have to ask myself why the idea still appeals to me, and I didn’t come up with one simple answer, but multiple ones:
–family ties, obviously—although none of my family lives in that part of West Cork now
–owning a place that is uniquely mine (without my husband’s name on the mortgage or title)
–the romance of the idea—most Americans I mention it to seem to love it, and wondered when they could come visit
–the Irish people I’ve talked to about the idea say it’s a good time to buy since the market has bottomed out
–the area is pretty and peaceful and quiet and you can see the Milky Way at night, and I can imagine getting good work done there as long as I had a wi-fi connection
–and finally, it would be like starting over—minus all my stuff.
I have a lot of stuff. I’ve written about it before, and I’m horrified that not much has changed. I haven’t undergone some miraculous transformation and purged my house (too big for two people!) of non-essential items. Although we did rent a dumpster and dispose of over THREE TONS of accumulated construction debris, plus odds and ends that prior owners had left behind (but not that Civil War cannonball I found under the house, a relic from a previous owner who was a Civil War veteran).
Why do I haul this issue out again? Well, in August I spent ten days in a rented apartment in Ireland, which I’d booked sight unseen. It was built over a garage, and it might have measured 15×40 feet all in (two rooms plus bath). I will say that it was very nicely fitted out, and had all the necessary amenities, and it was scrupulously clean, and even had free wi-fi. It became home very quickly during the short time I was there, but it was really suitable for only one person (which was fine since I was traveling alone). Add one more body and you’d be tripping over each other all the time.
With limited space you start thinking about what you really need. The kitchen-end of one room there drove that home most clearly. There was a two-burner stove, an oven that might hold a casserole if you left the top off, a fridge about one foot deep, a microwave, and a dishwasher. I never even opened the dishwasher, but I did use everything else. I even cooked! But it made me think: how would I have done things differently in the same space? (Skipped the dishwasher for sure.)
Don’t get me wrong: I love my stuff. Some of it is inherited, and it comes with memories of my family members attached. Some of it I’ve bought myself, and I can tell you when and where and why for almost all of it. When I see an item or hold it, I remember. I understand why “souvenir” is such an important concept—the word means “memory” in French—and having that tangible thing takes you back to a place and time from your past.
But even so, there’s something appealing about starting fresh, with a blank slate. And no matter how much I love my assembled clutter, it’s unpeaceful.
Writing is sometimes like that, especially if you’re writing a series. The first book is that blank slate, and you can fill it with people and places and things however you choose. But then there’s a second and a third (and if you’re lucky, even more), and you start collecting baggage. If a character appears in one book, do they have to come back? (Assuming you haven’t killed them.) Are you stuck in one place or can you visit others? If they’re living in one place, they must have surrounded themselves with something—furniture, knickknacks, books. And don’t forget the pets—you can’t just make them disappear.
So by the time you’ve written a few books in a series, things are getting a little crowded. Just like in life. Stuff happens.
The eighth book in the Orchard Series, Picked to Die, comes out tomorrow. When I began the series, my heroine Meg went from a Boston apartment to living in a 1760 colonial house with a barn, and one of the first things she added was a pair of rescue goats. Talk about a change in lifestyles! Curiously, she really isn’t into acquiring more stuff. She hasn’t spent a lot of time worrying about furniture or new curtains. I have to keep reminding myself: I created her. Is she mirroring my own (buried) feelings about accumulating stuff, or am I letting her try out a more streamlined space for me?
As Henry David Thoreau said, “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”
It’s been a busy few weeks on the book front: