Talking Location With author JS Monroe – West Penwith, CORNWALL
How Irish Legends and Landscapes Inspired ‘The Way to Impossible Island’ by Sophie Kirtley
13th July 2021
Tiny TripFiction’s FIRST EVER blog tour! And it’s an adventure around Lathrin Island with Sophie Kirtley and friends! We’re at The Secret Tunnel and we’re thrilled to share this very special blog post by Sophie on the Irish legends and landscapes that inspired The Way to Impossible Island.
Growing up in Ireland, myths and legends were all around me – in the rocks, in the rivers, in the mountains, in the plants, in the animals. Everything had its story to tell. The myths of my homeland are inevitably twisted and twined throughout my writing too, especially in my latest book, The Way to Impossible Island.
The Way to Impossible Island tells the story of twelve-year-old Dara who, inspired by his very own local legends, dreams of rowing out all by himself to wild and rugged Lathrin Island. But Dara was born with a serious heart condition which makes his adventurous dreams feel impossible…until, that is, he finds a mysterious girl hiding in the boat shed. She wears animal skins. She has a real live pet wolf. Could Mothgirl really be from the Stone Age? Dara and Mothgirl set out on a wild, windswept sea-journey to Lathrin Island where the tales Dara has always known take on a reality and an urgent importance beyond what either of them could ever have imagined.
Lathrin Island, the fictional setting for my book, is very much based on real Rathlin Island off the north coast of Ireland. It’s a wonderfully rugged place which feels right on the edge of the world – you experience the forces of the nature so keenly here; the wind is windier; the waves are louder and the animals who live here own the place so much more than us humans ever could. Even though I made up the legends Dara knows about his Lathrin Island, they do all spring from Rathlin Island itself and from the research I did about this incredible place: some came from the real island’s own folklore, like the stories of a mysterious banshee who haunts the place, and others were based on historical events which fascinated me, like the Rathlin’s connections with smuggling and piracy.
One of the most important myths I created in the book is the one which fuels Dara’s desire to go to Lathrin Island in the first place; the Legend of the Golden Hare. Dara believes in this story so he believes that glimpsing the Golden Hare will lead to “good luck through all your waking days” and he therefore longs to see this extraordinary creature with his own two eyes. In real life, the Island is home to a strong population of Irish hares and amongst them lives the rare Rathlin golden hare, which, thanks to a genetic quirk, has pale fur and blue eyes. To me, the legend that Dara believes in feels very plausible; there is something so wonderful and otherworldly about these creatures that you can just imagine legends and stories springing from their unusualness and you really would feel so lucky to see an actual golden hare. (My dad caught a glimpse of one once, but I never have!)
Really, I think that’s where stories often sprout from – odd or amazing things in the natural world which make us gasp in wonder and then curiously ask ourselves Why? Think of the famous Giant’s Causeway, just along the coast from Rathlin, with its mysterious hexagonal basalt columns. I can utterly understand how a natural feature this extraordinary, produced an epic legend of feuding giants ripping up great chunks of land and hurling them into the sea. To be honest, it still seems a perfectly reasonable explanation to me!
I spent my childhood playing on the beaches and rocks of this wild coastline and splashing in the raw Atlantic waves. This place, its wonders and its stories are all deep in my bones…and deep in my writing too. The myths and landscapes of Rathlin have seeped into The Way to Impossible Island and I hope that readers, both young and not-so-young, will find real joy in exploring this extraordinary place through the wide-open eyes of Dara and Mothgirl. Fingers crossed, you might even spot a golden hare on your travels!
Sophie Kirtley, author of The Way to Impossible Island
Links and References:
BBC Two – Nature’s Calendar, Series 1, Spring: Islands, Golden hares
Giant’s Causeway | National Trust
Sophie Kirtley on the Rathlin Ferry – Andrew Kirtley
Cows on Rathlin & Rathlin JL & Sophie Kirtley age seven and her little sister on the winter beach – James Logan
Sophie grew up in Northern Ireland, where she spent her childhood climbing on hay bales, rolling down sand dunes and leaping the raw Atlantic waves. Nowadays she lives in Wiltshire with her husband, three children and their mini-menagerie of pets and wild things. Sophie has always loved poems and stories: she taught English in secondary schools for many years and has worked in a theatre, a bookshop and a tiny pub where folk tell fairytales by candlelight. Sophie is a prize-winning poet and children’s author; her first book, The Wild Way Home, was shortlisted for the Joan Aiken Future Classics Prize.
sophiekirtley.com | @KirtleySophie
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