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

The fourteen tribal flgas of Galway

Why is Galway called the City of the Tribes?
When you come to this country for your Ireland Writers Tour, your flight will likely arrive early in the morning (especially if you’re coming from the U.S.). From Dublin or Shannon, you’ll catch the bus or train to Galway, where we will collect you at 2pm to begin the retreat/tour. That means you’re likely to have a few hours to explore, so this post will give you some helpful information and an introduction to Galway, City of the Tribes.

For six centuries, between 1250 and 1850, fourteen families dominated political, commercial, and social life in the City of Galway. Their flags, decorated with family crests, are often flying at the centre of town in Eyre Square. They were the families of Athy, Blake, Bodkin, Browne, D'Arcy, Deane, Font, French, Joyce, Kirwan, Lynch, Martin, Morris and Skerrett. They were mostly Norman, but also Irish, Welsh and English.

These families lost much of their power and land with the invasion of Cromwell and his forces in the mid-1600s. At that time, Cromwell referred to the fourteen families as ‘The Tribes of Galway.’ It was meant to be a derogatory label, but the people later adopted that name themselves as a mark of defiance.
Galway Bay Swans
When you arrive in Galway, either by bus or train, you may notice one or two of the roundabouts. Each one is named after one of the tribes. Leave your bags in the holding area at the station and have a look around this small city. Let yourself join the tribal energy.

You might want to stroll down the cobblestoned Shop Street, buy a gelato, watch the street performers, visit a vintage clothing boutique, a new bookshop, or a huge shop filled with used books.

You might pass Lynch’s Castle (where the first ‘lynching’ occurred) and walk on to the Claddagh pier where you are likely to encounter a large number of swans. It’s a good idea to check out the medieval city walls inside Eyre Square Shopping Centre (also known as Corbett Court Shopping Centre). Downstairs in that mall you’ll find Puffs & Tarts, home of ‘the best scones in Galway,’ and some fabulous chocolate chip cookies. A lovely treat after hours of sightseeing.
Puffs & Tarts - home of 'the best scones in Galway'
Or, you could just go from the station to the pub across the street, or the tea room at the hotel next door, and relax with a cuppa. Whatever you decide to do, remember to head back to the station for your 2pm pick-up and the next part of your adventure to unfold!

Introducing, the July 2019 Conference Schedule
One month from today, July 7th, you may be standing here: 
. . . and getting ready for some wonderful classes and workshops taught by Julie Dao and Thao Le. Both ladies have worked hard to study individual participant's requests, and have planned a dynamite conference schedule and private consultations. In between the conference days will be relaxing tour days (see tab above for itinerary), and even some free time to work on your writing as you wish. So, without further ado, here's the conference schedule for the July Ireland Writer tour: 
Introducing, the June 2019 Conference Schedule

If you're joining us four weeks from today for the June conference and tour, you'll be happy to know Amanda and Julie have put together a fabulous learning experience for you. In addition to classes, workshops, and participatory exercises, you'll have private one-on-one consultations with each of the guest teachers to discuss their feedback on your work and any questions you may have.

The tour itinerary can be found on the separate tour page (see tab above). And now, here's our June 2019 conference schedule:

June 2019 Conference Schedule


When Roman Christianity invaded Ireland in the 12th century, a shameful Irish custom began, and continued until the 1960s. It was decreed that no unbaptised child or individual could be buried in consecrated ground. This was a concept used by theologians in an effort to compel individuals to be baptised into the Catholic faith.

Most unbaptised children, as well as victims of murder, disease or suicide, were buried in a lisheen. One such lisheen lies in the Ower countryside of County Galway, on the Black River. It is atop an ancient Iron Age ring fort, which is now an overgrown forest. To previous generations, this ruin would have been a ‘faerie fort,’ a landscape haunted by the fey. A place in between worlds, much like the ‘Limbo,’ unbaptised babies would be resigned to. To reach the lisheen, you have to traverse around briars and prickly hawthorne trees. In the springtime, the ground in this forest is covered in beautiful white wild garlic flowers. Always there is an air of extreme peacefulness here—an almost eerie calm—occasionally punctuated by the fluting of birds in the trees overhead and the rush of the river far below.

The land slopes down into the forest and the ground is covered in tumbled, moss-covered stones. Headstones.

Back when most babies were born at home and infant mortality was high, parents suffered unbearable grief and anguish, believing that their child would never get to heaven or they’d never see their unbaptised loved ones again. Standing in this forest, it’s easy to imagine a father burdened with the task of bringing a baby here, probably under cover of darkness, and laying the tiny creature in a shallow grave without a wake, or any support from neighbours.

In the centre of this forest is a large rectangular mound of stones which it is said was once an altar where the local Franciscan monks said mass during the time of the Cromwell invasion.

The Ower lisheen, like most of the Irish landscape, is fertile both agriculturally and emotionally . . . a place where stories seem to come up out of the ground, grab you by the ankle, and demand, ‘Write me!’

If you're joining us for an Ireland Writer Tour this summer, prepare to be inspired.

Details That Will Help You Have a Grand Journey:
Getting the Most for Your Money and Understanding the Climate
If you've registered for an Ireland Writer Tour this summer, six weeks from today (or eight weeks if you’re coming in July), you’ll be standing here:
Now’s a good time to start thinking about establishing your comfort level when you get here. The less ‘foreign’ things feel, the more comfortable you will be. To help you have a relaxed and happy holiday, here are some helpful tips for tour participants—and anyone—visiting Europe this summer.

Two questions you should not ask in Europe:
How much is that in dollars?
What is the temperature in Fahrenheit?

Of course, you can ask those questions, but you'll most likely get blank stares in response. Here, dollars are like Monopoly money—paper with numbers on it. And, since the U.S. is pretty much the only country that still uses Fahrenheit, you shouldn’t panic when you hear that the temperature in Galway is 25 degrees.

Why not use this time before you travel to acclimate yourself to Euros and Celsius?

This is what Euros look like:

They’re colourful, the coins are heavier than U.S. money, and (at the moment, anyway) they’re worth a bit more than dollars. A good website for keeping track of up-to-the-minute exchange rates is:

Ireland is one of 19 nations whose currency is the Euro. Of course, no one can predict with absolute certainty what will happen with international currencies, but there are people who make their living making accurate predictions. Right now, those people are saying the dollar is doing quite well. Certainly, the dollar to Euro exchange rate is better than it was a few months ago. That means, now's a good time to exchange currency.

If you wish to make any large purchases while you are visiting Ireland, you will probably find that your credit card offers the best exchange rate, but for little things, you will want to use cash.

1. Before you leave the U.S., check to see if your credit card company adds a surcharge for purchases made in other countries. If they do, it is worth getting a credit card that does not add a surcharge. If you need suggestions, let us know. Also, before you leave, notify your credit card company that you will be traveling or they might deactivate your card when you try to use it in Ireland.

2. Exchange rates quoted on the internet are for big banks. Since Chase Manhattan exchanges more money than you probably will, they get a much better rate. So expect to add about 3 cents per Euro to the exchange rate listed on

3. When you exchange dollars for Euros in the U.S., you’ll likely be given large bills. Undoubtedly, you will need a few one or two Euro coins very soon after landing in Ireland. Since many small shops will not be able to change large bills, before leaving the airport, stop and buy a bottle of water or packet of mints so you can get change.

4. It’s important to know that restaurants in Europe usually do NOT offer ‘separate checks.’ This means you will want to have some available cash for restaurant meals and gratuities (excluding those that are pre-paid as part of the tour). If you can’t remember what you’ve already paid for, there’s a list on our website, here: 

5. When you are in Ireland, if you purchase something with your credit card, the merchant’s till will sometimes offer you a dollar conversion rate. DO NOT TAKE IT! Your U.S. bank will almost always offer you a better conversion rate, so tell the merchant you want your credit card to be billed in Euros.

In this part of the world, ‘0’ is freezing, while ‘25’ is balmy and warm.

If you purchase an inexpensive, old-fashioned thermometer and keep it near your kitchen or bedroom window, you can compare Celsius and Fahrenheit on a daily basis. That way, by the time you get to Europe, you’ll have a basic understanding of differences in temperature readings.

Money and Temperature Conversion may seem like small details now, but when you get here they can make a big difference in your comfort level. Having a basic understanding of Euros and Celsius can make visiting Ireland seem less like of a strange, foreign experience, and more like coming home.

Amazing Stories in the Irish Landscape
If you’d like a dramatic perspective of time and space, without having to be hit by a meteor or propelled into outer space, then you might want to visit the Burren in the west of Ireland. Luckily, if you’re participating in an Ireland Writer Tour this summer, the Burren is on your agenda.

In the middle of the rolling, green Irish landscape, the Burren looks eerily different, like the surface of the moon. It is a peaceful, windswept area of limestone formed by glaciers and graced with sea fossils. In the present season, a strange combination of alpine, Mediterranean, and arctic wildflowers bloom in profusion between the rocks.
In the middle of the Burren, is Poulnabrone, the most famous Irish dolmen portal tomb. Poulnabrone, which means ‘the hole of sorrows,’ dates back to 2500 B.C. Within this chamber and the cracks in the surrounding limestone, the bones of one newborn baby, six juveniles, and 16-22 adults, were buried. (Or, more accurately, REburied after they had been left exposed to the elements.) Also buried with these individuals were grave goods, including tools, a bone pendant, quartz crystals, pottery and arrowheads. 
Poulnabrone is only one of approximately seventy ancient tombs in this evocative, lunar landscape. And, the Burren is one of the many places where you may be romanced by a muse, especially since this tour will be sandwiched between two dynamic writing instruction days.

Be prepared for a summer holiday that could see your writing soar to new heights!
Aerial view of the Burren amidst green fields

If you're joining us for one of the Ireland Writer Tours this summer, sixty or seventy days from today, you will be here:

Why not prepare for your trip with some good reads and fun films . . . 

Your first tour stop will be a 13th century abbey, now a well-preserved ruin, with loads of interesting history. In order to better understand this haunting location, and others like it, as well as Irish history in general, you might enjoy reading How the Irish Saved Civilization.
How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill
Not just dry history, this is a compelling read. The narrative is a cross between a once-upon-a-time tale and a detective story and offers an explanation of how Ireland of the Dark Ages eventually brought light back to Europe. You can expect to learn little-known facts while being entertained, and, really, what more can one ask from a book?
McCarthy’s Bar by Pete McCarthy
In this delightful book, Pete McCarthy is a visitor traveling the entire west of Ireland, meeting bizarre people and enjoying the spectacular landscape, all while obeying the rule, “never pass a bar that has your name on it.” McCarthy was the Robin Williams of the written word and had a knack for accurately capturing Ireland and Irish people at their best and worst. If you really want to know what to expect when you come to Ireland, avoid the notoriously inaccurate Rick Steves, and read McCarthy’s Bar instead. *Warning: This book will make you laugh out loud, so be prepared for a few stares if you read it in a public place.
Trinity by Leon Uris
If you enjoy historical epics, this is a great one. Ireland’s story is basically a series of invasions. This book tells of the country’s struggle for independence. Uris weaves together the lives of three families: one nationalist, one unionist, and one gentry. He accurately depicts points of view and feelings so that you will come away with a good understanding of the whole north/south conflict and how and why it evolved.

During the tour, you’ll also be visiting the quaint, lovely village where The Quiet Man was filmed in 1951 (John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, directed by John Ford). You might want to watch the film for fun and to get an advance look at the landscape, but do be aware, it’s pure fiction ripe with bad stereotypes!

The Field (1990) Staring Richard Harris and directed by Jim Sheridan is a dramatic but realistic look at rural Irish life. Though the play was originally written in the mid-1960s, the plot and characterizations are timeless. It was filmed in the region you will be visiting.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh
This is a dark but engrossing play that takes place in a wilderness outpost in Connemara. You’ll be touring this area (see photo at the top). 

This magical site is tucked away in the Connemara countryside. Well hidden, you'd need a local guide familiar with the area to help you find it. What is this place? A very unusual PAIR of holy wells, with a faerie tree growing between them, and a waterfall rushing nearby that becomes an underground spring. In age-old Celtic terms, this is a very powerful place.

Holy wells are sacred springs that ancient people believed held magical powers. Often these wells were dedicated to one of the gods or goddesses of the area (the ancient Irish worshipped over 300 deities). People came to the wells to give thanks, perform rituals, and leave gifts to deities and nature spirits. Eventually, Christians took over the wells, claiming them for one saint or another. The stories told about such wells were memorable and arresting: The well appeared when a saint shed tears upon leaving this beautiful place, or water burst forth when a holy man struck this rock with his staff. Today, all over Ireland, people still come to these wells to pray, perform rituals, leave gifts, tie ribbons on the faerie trees.

Water from a holy well will not boil, but it might cure you. Each well is locally famous for its particular magic. Some cure headaches, others infertility, warts, mental illness, insomnia . . . Whatever your problem, there’s probably a holy well somewhere in Ireland that can fix it. According to old beliefs. And that, of course, is the key. For without belief, very little magic can occur.

Most holy wells, like the ones pictured here, are hidden in back country. But once you see a well, you will know it. They are disturbingly beautiful. At nearly every well, you will find an ancient ‘faerie’ tree or bush covered in offerings of small bits of rag or ribbon tied to the branches. When a rag is tied to the tree, a wish or prayer is made. Usually, an offering is also made of a coin or personal memento. Sometimes people leave the most peculiar things: a piece of broken crockery, a shell, a rusted piece of metal, a headless statue, a plastic Virgin Mary. . .
The photo above is of a unique pair of holy wells located on either side of an ‘altar,’ with carefully white-washed stones all round. Tobar Mhuire and Tobar Feichin (Mary’s Well and Saint Fechin’s Well) are located in a beautiful, quiet valley, near a huge lake. They have been known to cure different maladies, but their particular offer is of enhanced sight.
In the 1800s, there were those odd individuals who would come to this pair of wells to use a cursing stone, and put a curse on their neighbours (never a good idea). The person who was cursed would die within a year. However, the person who performed the curse would also be struck with bad luck. It is said that a woman named Peggy Griffin, who had performed the curse, went mad and spent the rest of her days wandering the hills, ‘speaking to the ghosts that haunted her.’
If you're joining us this summer on an Ireland Writer Tour, we'll be visiting the wells, Tobar Mhuire and Tobar Feichin. If you'd like to engage in the more positive local custom, we'll teach you how, but you might want to start thinking now about what you can bring with you to tie to the faerie tree and an offering you may wish to leave. Bringing a small strip of cloth from your clothing (or that of a loved one), or a ribbon, and tying it to the tree, enables the faeries to take your illness away, along with the cloth. As the cloth disintegrates on the tree, so does the illness. The offering you leave can be anything but should have meaning to you. Many cures have been attributed to this sight, so you may wish to give it a try! 

The Ballycurrin Lighthouse is a landmark with an enigmatic past. It's said to be the only inland lighthouse in Europe, located on the shore of Lough Corrib (the largest lake in the Republic), about nine kilometers away from our conference base, and about thirty-five kilometers away from the sea.

A fascinating collection of stories swirls around this 18th century lighthouse, not unlike the whitecaps the wind sometimes creates on the lake. Situated at the edge of the Galway/Mayo border, the structure is a lovely hidden wonder. So hidden, in fact, that when William Wilde, Oscar Wilde's daddy, wrote his extensive account of the area, Wilde's Lough Corrib, he sailed right by this lighthouse, not even remarking on it.

The roof is made out of a mill wheel (now there's an interesting architectural choice), and the tower was built in 1772 by a member of the Lynch tribe (a family made infamous for committing the first 'lynching').

There's a claim that Liam Lynch, a local landlord, built the lighthouse. But the boathouse beside the lighthouse has a stone engraved with 'Erectred by Henry Lunch, Esq. A.D. 1772,' so that supports the story about Sir Henry building the lighthouse as a marker for the Galway to Cong ferry. Timber was burned in the uppermost portion of the house to create the light that would guide the ferry to Lynch to deliver his provisions. Sir Henry was a 7th Baronet, an inherited title which meant that, technically, he was gentry, but literally, he had not been knighted or even received any kind of accolade. He was just a guy whose great-grandda owned a big house. This might be why he was more often referred to as 'Harry.'
Another story involves Sir Henry's wife. The polite version is that she had the lighthouse built so he could find his way home at night, since he was fond of visiting the pubs in Galway City and Cong. In this version, Sir Henry's wife has no name or identity of her own, poor creature.

However, in another version of the story, Sir Henry's mistress is named. Sibella Cottle, the mother of seven of Henry's illegitimate children, might have built the thing. She was reputed to use 'witchcraft' to spellbind Sir Henry to her for life.

Oh, those wacky Georgians . . .


The Cliffs of Moher are, without a doubt, the most popular sight in Ireland. These dramatic 700 foot cliffs are at the edge of the Burren in the far west of Ireland, and are one of the places Ireland Writer Tours participants will visit this summer.

Imagine Ireland as a giant chocolate cake with green icing on top and floating on a large body of water. It’s as if someone cut off a big slice of that cake, leaving these cliffs at the edge of the plate.

When you stand on the cliffs, the Atlantic crashes dramatically far below and seagulls scream as they soar beneath you. The cliffs consist mainly of beds of Namurian shale and sandstone. It is possible to see 300 million year-old river channels cutting through, forming unconformities at the base of the cliffs. Approximately 30,000 birds from 20 different species live on the cliffs, while dolphins and seals swim in the water far below. 
In the old Irish language, the word Mothar meant ‘ruined fort.’ There was a fort on these cliffs a couple thousand years ago, but even though there is no trace of the thing now, its name still lingers. The Cliffs of Moher, or cliffs of the ruined fort, include an extensive indoor exhibition, short films, shops, a long walkway, and a viewing tower.

There are loads of stories connected to this place—legends about a mermaid, an eel that ate corpses, and a lost city beneath the waves. Part of the Spanish Armada hid in one of the caves at the bottom of the cliffs, Napoleon Bonaparte built a signal tower here, and back in 1835 Cornelius O’Brien built an even bigger tower. The cliffs were renamed ‘The Cliffs of Insanity’ for their role in The Princess Bride, and in 2009 Dumbledore brought Harry Potter here in the Half-Blood Prince. Register for an Ireland Writers Tour and you will be here too. 

This week, our June instructor, Amanda Flower, shares tips on how she best uses her time as a fulltime writer . . .

by Amanda Flower

1. Get up every morning and go to work. Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you can sit back and relax. In fact you might have to work even harder than before. Get dressed and go to work even if going to work is just toddling down the hall.

2. Be flexible. Not everything I have written has been my idea. Sometimes publishers had asked me for a very specific kind of story. I’ve made those ideas my own by writing them. My flexibility and willingness to write what sells has gotten me far in my career and it has allowed me to write the books of my heart, the ones that were my ideas start to finish, because I have proven to publishers I can deliver.

3. Learn to prioritize. I write multiple series for multiple publishers. There are times when all my publishers want something from me at the same time. Many times this causes me panic and anxiety, but that’s when the paper a pen comes out. I make a list and prioritize all my work. If need be, I look at my deadlines and see which publisher will be most likely to grant an extension. Then, I ask my agent to do the hard work and ask for the extension.

4. Remember you are small business. As a small business you have to take care of small business stuff. Do you have a social media platform? Have you incorporated? Do you know how to organize for your taxes? Do you know how to reach your audience? These are all big questions and many writers would much rather ignore them and write. The problem is you have to do those business things to make money and you have to make money to write fulltime unless you have another source of income. There are so many great small business guides and books out there. Also there are podcasts. Educate yourself in this area as much as you hone your craft as a writer.

5. Get moving. Exercise is the number one way I deal with work stress. I allow myself at least an hour every day to go to the gym or when the weather is nice go for a run. It’s my time NOT to think about writing and a much needed brain break.

6. Fight distraction. When I’m writing just about everything else in the world can be more interesting than the story I’m trying to write, especially when working from home. The best way to stop myself from folding laundry or organizing my desk is to leave the house. Writing at a local coffee shop where I’m responsible for nothing has been key for me. Leave your house!

7. Don’t be discouraged. This is tough one for anyone in any profession, but especially us creative types. At every level of my writing career, I’ve had to fight discouragement. Writing is hard. Everything I’ve ever written has been hard. When it gets hard, it’s time to remind yourself that you’ve written before and you will always write again. You are good at this! The best way to fight it is keep writing, even if what you’re writing is terrible because it never stays terrible.

8. Have a support system. Have people you trust to bounce ideas off of, to complain to without judgment, and to hug you when your characters are fighting you. They don’t have to be other writers. They just have to be people who are invested in you as a person just like you are invested in them as people no matter what their dreams are.

9. Make sacrifices. This is a hard one, but it’s true. There are many times that I want to do something but I can’t because I have to write. It could be something as silly as watching TV or as important as missing out on time with friends and family. You have to find a balance between work and life, everyone does. However, there will be times when you will have put work first just like there will be times you have to put friends and family first. As long as your support system understands, don’t worry about what others might think about your choices.

10. Keep going. I worked two fulltime jobs, one as a librarian and one as a mystery writer for ten years. Ten years. Let that sink in. Yes, there were many times it was hard and I wanted to quit, but I never quit. I never quit because I wanted it. If you want something bad enough, you will find a way to make it happen. Perhaps your career will look different from mine. You may write fulltime sooner than I did or later than I did, but you can do it if you are willing put in the time.

Learn more success secrets from Amanda this summer while touring the west of Ireland!
The great thing about any Ireland Writer Tour is that there are a small number of participants, so you are guaranteed individual attention. This means, whether you are a published author or a novice writer, these conference/tours will offer the opportunity to improve your writing and learn new skills. This week's post is by one of our June instructors, agent, Julie Gwinn. It offers insight into getting published, and staying published!

 By Julie Gwinn

You’ve heard the quote from Thomas A. Edison that “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” So as an aspiring author you may wonder, “How does that apply to me?”

Did you know that every bestselling author started their career with the thought, “I want to write a book”? And the one big difference between them and you right now might be that they finished writing it.

Several agents I know agree that more than half of the people they meet at writer’s conferences end up NOT submitting materials to them. And as I dove into my slush pile of starred proposals to read and review you would be surprised how many authors I asked for additional chapters that never responded. Never sent me their chapters.

The reasons for not finishing vary from life getting in the way to fear of failure. But I have collected my own Ten Commandments that I would like to share with you that should help.

#10 Thou Shall Write What You Know – You’ve heard it before but it really is easier to write about what you know. If you have dyslexia, have a character with the same trait. If you live on the West Coast, put your characters on the West Coast.

#9 Thou Shall Do Research – One of the main reasons for rejecting a project is the wrong word count, wrong genre, wrong age group, or common errors.

#8 Thou Shall Read What You Write – If you write young adult, read young adult. If you write romance, read romance. There are things to be gleaned from published books/authors.

#7 Thou Shall Find Others To Read What You Write – Iron sharpens iron. Find a critique partner, beta readers, friends or a writer’s group to give you unbiased feedback.

#6 Thou Shall Blog, Post and Snapchat – Platform does matter and you need to establish a fanbase even before you have a book published. Find authors you read and follow them to get an idea of what content resonates with readers.

#5 Thou Shall Not Give Up – Unfortunately rejection is part of the process but publishing is very subjective and what might not resonate with one editor might be the perfect fit for another. Keep trying!

#4 Thou Shall Write to Accomplish YOUR Goals – Are you writing because you have characters who won’t leave you alone? Do you have a calling? Are you wanting to inspire others? Winning Awards, becoming a bestselling author and getting a movie are also acceptable goals as long as they are yours

#3 Thou Shall Keep Priorities in Check – Don’t compare yourself to other authors. There will always be authors with more books, more awards, more sales.

#2 Thou shall continue to learn and grow as an author – Try new genres. Push yourself. Attend conferences. Submit to awards. Learn. Your books ten years from now will be vastly different than the book you are writing today

#1 Thou Shall Not Make Excuses – If it is important to you, find time to write every day. In the car. Standing in line. Keep your BIC (Butt in Chair) and Get ‘Er Done!

Finally, in case you're looking for a literary agent, here's an interview with Julie Gwinn with advice about what to consider when hiring an agent:Julie Gwinn Interview



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: