The Cheltenham Literature Festival – 5th to 14th October 2018
Thriller set in Ireland, plus talking location with author Laura Treacey Bentley
20th January 2017
The Silver Tattoo by Laura Treacy Bentley, thriller set in Ireland
Ireland is “solitude without loneliness“.
Leah is doing a Masters at Trinity College, Dublin, living in Halls. Her husband Conor has not accompanied her, because he cannot, he is incapacitated back in the States. She is trying to heal and get her life back on track.
As the book opens, a frisson of apprehension sets the tone for the narrative: Leah is in her room one evening and someone attempts to enter it. When she exits the next morning, she finds her name daubed in nail varnish, from a small bottle that she knows was last seen in her own vanity bag, in her room. Notes, supposedly from Conor start to appear in the most odd places…. yet Conor is in no position to write anything. He is being cared for by his best friend Ferdie, back in West Virginia.
Unnerved, and in order to clear her head, she decides on a spontaneous trip to Doolin, where she is witness to the death of a Spanish woman at the Cliffs of Moher in County Claire. The woman did not simply stumble and fall but was propelled over the edge by a local woman, Maura, “well-known for her erratic behaviours” – yet it almost feels as though Leah herself was the principal target. Gradually it is dawning on her that she is in fact being targeted by a stalker, and an increasingly dangerous one at that.
Laura Treacy Bentley really transports the reader to her chosen settings, the Emerald Isle is a character in its own right… whether it is having a coffee at Bewleys Oriental Café (as I write, closed for a refurb) in Dublin, hanging out at St Stephen’s Green or remarking on the barren nature of the West Coast, with the exception of Ennis, one of the few places with towering trees.
The author also captures the otherworldly feel that is so often present on the island, there are references to the Triskele (a Celtic symbol and one of the most convoluted to decipher, pictured was the backdrop to the book above), shape-shifting goddesses who can morph into ravens, and at times Leah is mistaken for Maeve, the name of the Celtic warrior queen, whose greed led to death and destruction. And of course Rowan, the tree with supposed magical qualities. There is always a bit of magic about Ireland, sometimes though it is very dark….
Tina for the TripFiction Team
Over to Laura for our #TalkingLocationWith…. feature
If I hadn’t been mesmerized by a busker painted silver from head to toe on Grafton Street in Dublin one summer, I wouldn’t have taken the photograph that inspired my first novel. I didn’t even think about writing a book, so any research I did was on a purely unconscious level when I took long walks, wrote in my journal, and saved moments with my point-and-shoot camera. On a whim, I had applied to be writer in residence in Co. Clare near the Cliffs of Moher, and it turned out to be my third stay in Ireland, so I guess you could say I was smitten.
It’s both exciting and frightening to travel alone, especially internationally, but I think the extra adrenaline makes me more sensitive to my surroundings and sparks my imagination. I hadn’t traveled outside of the United States until the mid 90s when I was accepted to study at the Dublin Poetry Workshop. Since childhood, I had dreamt of going to Ireland. Keenly aware of my Irish heritage, I knew that my paternal grandfather had been born in Co. Galway and immigrated to the United States with his family. I took a bus once to Dunmore near Gortnagoyne, a townland, and found the castle farm where my ancestors had lived. It was not a castle but a deserted cottage that had probably been part of a working farm long ago. There were broken windowpanes and a missing door, and the house was partially hidden in tall grass, wild roses, purple foxglove, and mystery.
I vowed to compose a poem each night of my month-long residency in Co. Clare and had the luxury of sleeping in, so it was the perfect writing challenge. During the day, I explored the countryside and often hiked to the dramatic Cliffs of Moher. I rewarded myself with a cup of hot tea or soup and brown bread in their tiny café. A couple of times, I journeyed to the village of Doolin which is known for its traditional music, quaint cottages, and brightly painted shops. It took me several hours to walk round-trip, so my food reward was bigger, usually fish and chips and maybe a Guinness or two for strength. I steeped myself in the landscape and had a front-row seat to the stormy Atlantic as I followed the coastline. Once I ferried to Inisheer from Doolin and hiked its winding roads framed by stacked stone walls. One of my favorite books The Aran Islands by W.M. Synge and his play Riders to the Sea came alive for me as I passed by roadside shrines and Celtic crosses that faced the ocean. Later that month, I traveled by bus from Co. Clare to Dublin to participate in a reading at the Dublin Writers Centre. To unwind and relax before the event, I roamed the streets near Trinity College and took photos. The one I captured of the silver busker on Grafton Street was a most fortuitous moment.
When I came home to West Virginia, I framed the picture of the busker and hung it on the stairwell wall alongside others that I had taken that summer. Each time I climbed up or down the stairs, I’d look at the photos. As luck would have it, I joined a small group of writers a couple of years later and wrote a short story that was triggered by the photograph of the busker and a little girl chasing bubbles. The group loved it and wanted more, so I got to work and wrote a rough draft of The Silver Tattoo. All the photos, journals, and mementos that I had saved from all my Irish trips were invaluable. I started digging through Irish books and doing intensive research to supplement my own personal records and memories. I taped a huge map of Dublin on the wall and covered a full-length mirror with yellow Post-Its as I plotted and revised my story arc. I’ve discovered that I like to have a real location in mind (a city, a residence, a building, a country, etc.) to help bring my characters come to life, so Dublin and Co. Clare figured prominently in my novel.
My only travel tips would be to enjoy life and your journey in it. Try to walk whenever you can to discover and experience the world around you. Take it all in. Solitude is good; it grants you time to think and reflect, and ultimately create. If I had traveled to Ireland to research a novel, I might have been totally intimidated by the task. I never dreamt that I would ever travel abroad, so when that first window of opportunity presented itself, and then another, and another, I jumped at every chance. I ate in small cafes, usually just soup and brown bread, tea, and treated myself to cups of coffee at Bewley’s crowned with freshly whipped cream and to 99s with a Cadbury stick whenever possible. I was careful with my money, so I could buy books by Irish poets and writers to take home. When I needed to travel long distances in-country, I took a bus or train and stayed in Irish homes, dorms, and hostels. I was never brave enough to rent a car for fear of a head-on collision with me at the wheel on the “wrong” side of the road, but many people prefer to experience Ireland by car. It was so flattering to learn that my novel had inspired a few readers to visit Ireland, especially Dublin and the Cliffs of Moher. A friend read it en route on the plane and a couple even went to The Winding Stair Bookshop, Dublin, and retraced my protagonist’s steps!
When I returned to the Cliffs of Moher in 2014, they were just as breathtaking as I had remembered, and I felt so lucky to experience their stunning beauty again. I was also lucky to be able to read at The Winding Stair Bookshop where I had lingered years before, browsing through books and sipping tea in their second story café that overlooked The Ha’ Penny Bridge. When I arrived at the bookshop, two friends were seated at a small table in the front window. It was such a warm welcome. I read a few excerpts from The Silver Tattoo, and one of them was set in the bookshop and café. I felt as if I had come full circle. After the reading, some poet friends and I ate a wonderful meal in the newly renovated The Winding Stair Restaurant where the old café had once been. It’s a wonderful destination for great food, fine wine, gracious service, good conversation, and full circle celebrations. I didn’t stay in a dorm and hike around the Dublin with a backpack this time but spent two nights in the luxurious Gibson Hotel and rode the Luas to my reading. Quite an upgrade to my normal fare! I told my friends at dinner that I didn’t know when I’d return to Ireland, but if another window of opportunity opens, I’ll be ready and willing to jump.