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Kerry is on every page

Traditions of life in rural Kerry are very much brought to life in Killarney author Breda Joy's new book. She chats to Sinead Kelleher about her latest novel, 'Under a Skellig Sky'.


Breda Joy with her new novel ‘Under a Skellig Sky’. Photo by Michelle Cooper Galvin

Breda Joy with her new novel ‘Under a Skellig Sky’. Photo by Michelle Cooper Galvin

Breda Joy with her new novel ‘Under a Skellig Sky’. Photo by Michelle Cooper Galvin

There can't be much greater praise for a new Irish writer than to be likened to the late Maeve Binchy, whose work sold millions of copies world-wide and who brought the rich traditions of Ireland to life in her books.

And this is exactly what Irish author Breda Joy has also done in her novel 'Under a Skellig Sky' - although she has set her focus closer to home, with the novel set in the heart of South Kerry.

As a fan of Irish fiction, I read the book myself, and one thing that can certainly be said of it is that the rich tapestry of life in rural Kerry comes out of every page - from the wonderful descriptions of the beauty of South Kerry to the language and words used by the characters, it's quintessentially Kerry and a tribute to the traditions that are the backbone of the life in this part of Ireland.

Set in a farmhouse Bed and Breakfast turned Airbnb, in keeping with the modern world, the novel also gives a glimpse of the tourism world of South Kerry, from the viewpoint of those who open up their doors to the guests who travel to Kerry every year.

In fact, it is Breda's very upbringing that inspired this setting.

"I can't have been much more than four years of age when my mother called me to the breakfast table of an English couple and their little daughter, who had brought her own miniature cutlery on holidays with her. The encounter with these guests in our street-side 'Bed & Breakfast' is my earliest memory of this sector of Ireland's tourism industry," says Breda.

Growing up, Breda's summer revolved around tourism, much like the family cast central to her novel.

"The B&B and Farmhouse owners were and are fiercely competitive businesswomen who, at the same time, often created bonds of kindness lasting generations with guests," she says.

"I felt it was timely to record their contribution through fiction because the emergence of Airbnb and other factors have led to a more impersonal accommodation sector in Ireland."

It has also never been more apt to demonstrate this Kerry welcome as the county attempts to become, once again, the home of tourism following the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Breda has likened her novel to a ' Kerry Fawlty Towers' but it is much more than that - it is the story of life, as the characters, just like you and I, find their way forward through the world's trials and tribulations.

Like any good fiction, it is the lives of those within the pages that draw the readers, who will be rooting for Carol and her friends as they face their own hidden challenges. There is love, laughter and tears to be had along the way.

"Star Wars, Airbnb and the Wet [sic] Atlantic Way are all in the mix when Carol O'Connell returns to Kerry to recover from a broken relationship and discovers that the sleepy valley of her youth has woken up to a busier reality," according to the book's blurb.

"Carol's plans for a new life before she turns 40 are disrupted by an old lover, a troubled friend, a bingo-loving Fáilte Ireland inspector and sinister outsiders."

"The best compliment I've got for 'Under a Skellig Sky' from early readers is that it has so many laugh-out-loud moments," said Breda.

"I'm glad I went for a romantic comedy - one with a bite - at a time when we all badly need humour. I describe my novel as a kind of 'Kerry Fawlty Towers'."

All of this is set in a fictional valley in the heart of South Kerry, overlooking the Skelligs and the famous Skellig Michael, made more famous thanks to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

For those not lucky enough to live near this scenery, the book brings this region alive vividly and will make anyone want to come and visit the South West Kerry region.

It is also perfect timing for the Killarney author as many may not get to see the wonderful Skellig Michael this year due to COVID-19. The pandemic has closed the UNESCO site for the foreseeable future, but its beauty and the beauty of South Kerry is very much a live in 'Under a Skellig Star'.

"I set the novel in South Kerry because the tourism experience is evolving dramatically there since the filming of Star Wars and the advent of the 'Wet Atlantic Way', as I call it," she said.

"It's such a beautiful part of Kerry that it was a perfect canvas for descriptive writing. Also, I wanted to promote the area because peripheral areas lose out a lot."

This novel is Breda's second novel. 'Eat the Moon' was another wonderful Irish novel in which Breda captured local traditions, stories and languages, set in Coachford in Cork, her mother's home place.

Breda has always dreamed of writing a novel and for years has written poetry, plays and short stories and, of course, plenty of news in her role as a journalist, but in 2018 her dream came through when she signed a three-book deal with Poolbeg.

'Under a Skellig Sky' is the second of her books, and I am sure readers will be impatiently awaiting her third too.

And the secret to getting published, according to Breda, is to never stop writing.

"I kept on writing, but my big failing was that I never finished a novel. An adult literacy student I was mentoring with KETB inspired me with the confidence to finish my first novel, 'Eat the Moon', through her can-do attitude.

"My big break then came through the Novel Fair organised annually by the Irish Writers' Centre in Dublin. I couldn't praise it highly enough."

Because of the uncertainty of the pandemic, Poolbeg is initially launching 'Under a Skellig Sky' as an eBook on the website Amazon, with a strong marketing drive in the Irish-American market. It can be downloaded to read on Kindle, iPad or laptop. Amazon has a 'Print on Demand' option to purchase the novel in paperback form,

"It would be a great help in promoting the novel if readers posted a few sentences of a review on Amazon," she says.

"The more online activity, the sooner the paperback will be on bookshop shelves."