Here you will find stories, facts, folklore, and a sneak peek at the writing tips you may expect to encounter on Ireland Writer Tours . . .


In Ireland, castles are like hiccups. One pops up every few minutes when you’re driving across the countryside. Some have been painstakingly restored, but many are crumbling yet still beautiful ruins. Most are located on bodies of water, which made them easier to defend, and now makes them positively breath-taking. Unlike fairy tale castles, these are the genuine article, with most of the structures dating back to the 12th through 16th centuries. That means the castles were usually tower houses or keeps, built so that the people inside could be protected.
The renaissance period in Ireland was fraught with peril, and overrun by a bunch of angry white dudes greedy for land. The Normans swept across the country to the west, defeating the High Kings of Ireland; the War of the Roses created a wave of trouble beyond British shores; rebelling Anglo-Irish and Gaelic families wacked off heads and asked questions later; the Battle of Kinsale was a total nightmare; and then there was that whole Cromwellian load of crap. All this fighting meant that castles were a necessary practicality. 
Neuschwanstein - not the real deal
Consequently, a real castle doesn’t usually look like Cinderella’s Magic Kingdom digs at Disneyland. That structure is a hollow façade (so Hollywood) based on the Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria. Neuschwanstein was built by wacky King Ludwig in the late 19th century when people no longer needed to live in castles for protection. To put it in perspective, Ludwig was more or less deposed for spending too much on his castle.

This coming summer, Ireland Writer Tours, will include multiple castles in both the June and July tours. In addition to countless drive-byes, where ruins will be visible, and stories told, we’ll also be spending private time with specific famous castles. 
  One of the magnificent structures we’ll be visiting dates back to the 12th century, complete with a moat and a Rapunzel tower. Though we’ll be touring the grounds, the interior is off limits (unless you want to be sneaky!) Another castle we’ll be touring used to belong to a famous pirate queen, who actually gave birth to a couple babies while plundering other ships. There will also be an option to visit a privately-owned 14th century tower house that is so haunted, a psychic medium used to travel from Scotland to teach classes there.
So, if you’ve not yet registered for an Ireland Writer Tour next summer, you might want to. Our early bird discount is still available, but just for a little over a month. There's nothing quite as spiritually enlightening for a writer as travel to a new place, learning how other civilizations lived, and walking a few miles in a real, or imagined, ancestor’s shoes. 


I sold my first book in 2010. Next month I will release my 30th. Yes, it’s been a busy season in my life. So how did I do it? What’s the formula for success? Can writing be a full-time career? I’m so glad you asked. So grab a mug of your fav drink, find a comfy place to sit, and let’s chat.

Of course I can only speak to my own experience, and writing by definition provides a unique path for each person. That said, I certainly learned a lot from the writers who came before me, and I’ve learned even more from my own experience. So here’s my top 5 tips.
Keep writing. That should go without saying, but we all need to hear it. My first book was rejected, as was my second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth. Somewhere there in the middle I was acquired by a top New York agent, but we still continued to receive rejection letters, and I continued to write. It was a difficult time, but I was determined, and I didn’t give up.

Be flexible. My big break involved a genre I had never even considered writing--Amish romance. I didn’t know any Amish people, and I didn’t know where to find any. How was I supposed to write about them? But my agent encouraged me to do some research, take a trip, and give it a try. Of my 30 books published, 23 of them have been in the Amish genre.

Focus on what you can control. I couldn’t control whether a pub committee accepted my manuscript. I couldn’t control whether those books would “earn out” (they all did) or be “bestsellers” (they all have been). The only thing I could control was the writing. So I focused on that. I attended conferences, joined critique groups, entered contests, and eventually those things paid off.
What do you mean by writing full-time? I was a public school teacher when I started writing. I was in a difficult school, and I was desperate for employment that would pay at least what I was making and offer the potential for growth. For me--that career was writing. My goal, from the beginning, was to earn as much from my writing as I did teaching. If I could earn even more (which I have every year since I went full-time 7 years ago), then even better. But the goal from the beginning was to earn what I was making at my current job.

Understand the drawbacks. I believe in researching every facet of a thing before I commit to it. I understood before I quit my “day job,” that going into writing would involve some challenges: healthcare costs, unpredictable income, working alone for days on end, deadlines, proposals, publishers that changed lines or closed lines. All of those drawbacks were things that I researched and was aware of from the beginning. Forewarned is forearmed.
I’ve been very fortunate in my writing career. Since that very first contract, I’ve been contracted out at least 2 years in the future--so I’ve never had to worry about what I’m supposed to do next. There have been changes and challenges as well as successes and celebrations. Here’s hoping that the next 10 years bring the same.
Learn more from Vannetta and Amanda this summer in Ireland about how to turn your writing into a full time career. And to find out more about Vannetta, check out her webpage: webpage

Yeah, it sounds crazy, but it’s probably true. The inspiration for Dracula was a short Irish guy.

Abraham (Bram, to his friends) Stoker, the author of DRACULA, was born in Dublin, Ireland nearly 171 years ago (November 8th). If you take the Hop On/Hop Off tour of Dublin, you’ll be shown the house where he lived.
The month in which he was born, November, is referred to as ‘Samhain’ (pronounced Sah-win) in Irish. It’s a holiday that begins on the 31st of October, and marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the Celtic new year. The hollow or hallow season, is an entire month when the veil between worlds is thin, and communicating with spirits or entities in other dimensions is easiest. It is, perhaps, this time of year when Bram began to write the work for which he became famous, the gothic novel, DRACULA.

Many people believe that the antagonist of the novel, Count Dracula, was based on Vlad the Impaler. In fact, the many cinematic versions of the novel do utilize this belief. However, Stoker’s research notes for DRACULA do not indicate that he had detailed biographical knowledge of Vlad the Impaler. Instead, Bob Curran, a lecturer in Celtic History and Folklore at the University of Ulster, suggests it is more likely that Stoker’s inspiration came from the Irish legend of Abhartach.

Abhartach (the Irish word for ‘dwarf’) was a malformed magician and a dreadful tyrant who perpetrated great cruelties on people, until he was vanquished and slain by a neighbouring chieftain. But for years after his death, Abhartach rose from his grave to drink the blood of his subjects. He didn’t stop until he was dug up and reburied, head-first, in the ground.

It is possible to visit Abhartach’s grave in Errigal, County Derry. Oddly, the wretched dwarf’s resting place is called ‘The Giant’s Grave.’
So, if you want inspiration for Nanowrimo—or maybe even someone in spirit form to ‘dictate’ their story to you—November is the perfect time to ask for their assistance. Especially if you’re writing, or would like to write, historical fiction, fantasy, horror, or anything with an otherworldly influence, there are likely spirits who will gladly help you. After all, just because someone no longer has a physical body doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in a little popularity.

Next summer’s guest instructors find inspiration in much the same way Bram Stoker did, and will have loads of informative pointers to share during Ireland Writer Tours in June and July 2019. Plan to join us and learn about everything from plotting, characterization, and querying, to marketing, hybrid publishing, and building a writing career. 
And in the meantime - Happy Celtic New Year! 

This week author, Julie Dao, shares her perspective on the challenging road to finding representation. 

Why Subjective Passes Stink… And Also Make Sense
One of the toughest rejections a writer can get, in my opinion, is: “I didn’t connect to the story.”

I don’t know a single person who has queried and hasn’t heard this at least once. Just for fun, I searched for “didn’t connect” in the Gmail folder where I keep my old query responses (yes, I still hang on to them, and no, you don’t want to know how many there are!). The phrase showed up in roughly 30% of the emails.

Here’s another fun one: “I didn’t fall in love.” That popped up in twice as many emails as “didn’t connect” did.
Numerous responses included the agent telling me how much they enjoyed X, Y, and Z, and how I did A, B, and C well. A compliment sandwich, if you will, but two slices of kindness on either side of “no” is still a “no.”

And man, did it hurt. I came up with all kinds of explanations for what “didn’t connect” and “didn’t fall in love” REALLY meant. There didn’t seem to be a good reason for why someone would say that. Surely they hated my characters, or thought the plot was weak, or couldn’t take on my manuscript because they already had a client writing about such-and-such. Those would be solid reasons, and at least I’d know what was wrong. I could even work on the first two.

But what could I do about “connecting” and “falling in love”?

Julie & Corinne being wacky at the Cliffs 9f Moher during IWT 2015
And then I got the opportunity to jump on the “other side,” so to speak, when I volunteered to mentor in the Pitch Wars contest this year and last.

As the queries and chapters began rolling in, I finally understood what it meant to not connect... to not fall in love. I began to see how someone with hundreds (maybe thousands) of queries and very little time could possibly pass on a good story.

I read entire manuscripts where the writers clearly had raw talent and an excellent premise, but something just didn’t click for me. There were good stories, but I didn’t feel the need to read them over and over again. I saw solid characters, but I didn’t stay up all night thinking about them. I noticed writing that had a lot of potential, but I had no idea how to help the writer improve it, with my particular skills and experience.

And then a certain manuscript appeared – one I wanted to read again, with a main character I thought about even while waiting for my car inspection, and whose weaknesses I felt sure I could help because I’d struggled with the same things in the past. So I chose it.

Look, there are a lot of things a writer can control. You can write the best book you can. You can revise it as best you can. You can send it to people you think might be a good fit.

But, similar to real life, you can’t make someone fall in love. You can’t make someone connect to your story. Think about the books you’ve read this year. You may have enjoyed some of them, but did you love every single one the way you love your favorite books? Of course not. Look up a popular book on Goodreads; look up your favorite book of all time. I guarantee they have one-star ratings. Not everyone in the world is going to love any one book. 
Julie signs with an agent!
This is why it’s magical when you find someone who does connect and fall in love with your story. Don’t give up just because you haven’t found them yet. And don’t stop writing until you do! 
Next summer, you could enjoy a wonderful summer holiday while getting excellent instruction and personal feedback from two of your favourite authors, Amanda Flower and Vannetta Chapman. Both ladies make their living doing what they love - writing - and they will be teaching Ireland Writer Tour participants the secrets to how they've achieved their successes. This week, Amanda shares a wee bit of her story in:

The Malice Domestic Convention, which awards the Agatha Awards for best traditional mysteries, is at the end of this month in Bethesda, Maryland. In 2011, to my utter shock and delight, my debut mystery novel, MAID OF MURDER, was nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel and so began a chain of events that changed my life.
Of the nominees, I was the only one without a literary agent. With the nomination in my pocket, I knew it was time for me to ramp up my search for the right one. Like any creative professional, authors have to make strategic moves when they are in the news. There was one particular literary agent, Nicole Resciniti from the Seymour Agency, who I wanted to represent me. I had heard wonderful things about her and the agency from author friends who I trusted implicitly. Also she sold to inspirational and mainstream houses, and I wanted to be a crossover writer. Most agents I spoke to said I had to pick one or the other. They insisted I couldn't do both. I didn't believe them, which is one of the reasons it took me so long to find the right agent.

I queried Nicole, and she requested a partial of my novel to read. A few weeks later, I was supposed to go on a cruise somewhere in the Caribbean, but due to an illness in my family, I decided I needed to stay in the country. I changed my plans just a few days before flying out. The boat was scheduled to leave from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and I wasn't able to refund my plane tickets—note to self, buy travel insurance—so I decided to just go to Florida for the week. It would be easy to return home if need be. The night before I left, I realized Nicole was in Florida at the same time. Now, I chewed on my lip. Do I contact her to tell her I'm in Florida for a week or not? Is that pushy? The worst thing she could do was say "no," right?

I emailed Nicole, and again to my shock—are you getting I'm surprised a lot—she emailed me back within the hour saying that she would be happy to meet up with me while I was in Florida.

We met for lunch, and I have no idea what I ordered because I was way too nervous to eat. I learned within a few seconds that all the good reports I had heard about her were true. She's one of the most encouraging and charming people I've ever met. I told her I wanted to write mysteries for both inspirational and mainstream publishers. She was unfazed by this and didn't seem to think it was a bad idea like so many others had. We chatted for a bit more, and she said, "You know I'm going to sign you."
I believe my heart actually stopped when she said that. I think I lost my hearing too because sounds echoed for the next hour or so. After I more or less regained my composure, we discussed series ideas, and I mentioned that I used to live in Ohio's Amish Country. That got her attention, and she told me I needed to write a mystery about that. She could sell that. I said I would try, thinking, “I hope I pull this off, or she's going to regret signing me!”

When I got home from Florida, I wrote a fifty page Amish mystery proposal for Nicole, and she sent it off to the publishing houses within days. A few short months later, Nicole told me that she sold not one but two Amish mystery series for me. The Appleseed Creek Mystery Series to B&H, an inspirational house, and the Amish Quilt Mystery Series to Penguin, a mainstream house, which I would write as Isabella Alan. Since then, Nicole has done over a dozen of deals for me, and I have traditionally published over twenty-five mysteries, some of which have hit the USA Today bestsellers’ list. I can honestly say we are the perfect team. Finding an agent is hard and finding that perfect fit can be even harder, but when you do, your career will soar!

Learn more from Amanda and Vannetta in Ireland this summer to help make your writing career soar. 

“The great Gaels of Ireland are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry, and all their songs are sad.”

― G.K. Chesterton

Two centuries ago, Celtic tribes dominated Europe from the Black Sea to the British Isles, from Galicia in northwest Spain to Galatia in modern-day Turkey.

Eventually, three main Celtic groups were dominant: The Gauls lived in what is now France, Britons lived in Great Britain, and Gaels lived in Ireland.

Naturally, these different groups of Celts had different dialects and practices, which probably made for some pretty confusing conversations.

One thing that united all these different tribes of Celts was their belief in life after death. In ancient Ireland, you were born, you lived, you died, and you came back. Then you repeated the whole process over and over and over again. So strong was this belief that you could take out a loan and promise to pay it back in your next lifetime. People spoke to the dead just as they did to the living. And if you died in the middle of an argument, well . . . It wasn’t over ‘til it was over.
If you join us for an Ireland Writer Tour next summer, you’ll likely encounter some interesting aspects of the Irish language. Since both tours are based in the west of the country, you’ll see road signs in Irish: Go Mall - slow down. An Gaeltacht – a region where Irish is spoken. And if you’re looking for a public toilet (NOT called a restroom), it will likely be labelled Mná for Women or Fir for Men.

Even more fun than the road signs will be the people you meet. At least some of them will have names that either frustrate you or make you laugh. Lee Mack explains it far better than I can: