My new novel THE LIGHT ON THE SWAN which I wrote with Terence Brady as lively editor critic and contributor – is set in what I can only call Old Ireland. The reason for this is that I have hardly been back to visit the land of the Celtic Tiger since I was first married. Some fleeting visits for Christmas and birthdays do not really count, although my few days in Dublin to promote TO HEAR A NIGHTINGALE and THE NIGHTINGALE SINGS were a joy, the Irish Press, as Noel Coward once noted, being inherently more sympathetic to playwrights and novelists than some other nations.
THE LIGHT ON THE SWAN came about after I had read about the Celtic belief that the start of the New Year came about from seeing just that – a swan with the first dawning sunlight on its neck. There is something magical about all the old ideas of life birth and death, whether they spring from Avalon, or the Celtic traditions. And the memory of early days in Ireland when we visited places so peaceful that you could imagine the monks deep in prayer and contemplation were passing by you, and see them penning their scripts; and the young monk putting with some asperity that the blob on his manuscript was due to a naughty robin walking across it …..
Of course I believe in the Little People, why wouldn’t I? The Little People were shoemakers, and there is still preserved on display in Ireland a shoe, made of moleskin, that is so small and so precisely fashioned that only they could have made it, and everyone is agreed to that. Besides which the Old Irish were themselves a very Little People, with delicate bones, and tiny elegant limbs and features, and I know that is true because I am still friends with at least half a dozen of them.
But that is not how the book came about. THE LIGHT ON THE SWAN came about because I was so shocked by a grand lady by whom I was temporarily seated telling me that yet another of her sons was divorcing. She was so pleased! The next day the book started at once, and indeed that is still the start of the book. My heroine and her mother have to flee England to get away from the hatred of her mother in law and her wrong-headed love for her sons. Where should they go? Suddenly Ireland came to me. Not just because I am married to an Irishman, but because I remembered it as being a land of gentle voices, of mists and myths, seeing the carts of hay in summer swinging down the fuchsia draped hedges, and past the distant sea. An old nanny who still believed, fervently, in ‘Santy’ as she called Father Christmas. My father’s relative, Lady Gregory, who helped to bring about the Celtic Revival which inspired Synge and Yeats and so many more. My little Grandmother, whose father was an Irish musician, always saying in admiring tones when something made her laugh ‘oh but that is so Irish!’
Old Ireland brought us plays, and playwrights, poetry and song. It brought us an acceptance of life being both a little more and a little less than we thought or perhaps hoped, and my heroine and her poor mother are given a new life in, as the song has it, ‘that dear land across the Irish Sea’ - where they find peace and warmth, laughter ad song, and finally, after many trials, a lasting happiness.