Sunday 1 March 2015

A Signature in a Guestbook

‘Irish Intrigue’ was released last week, the culmination of over a year’s work, and more if I count the earlier drafts of this story.

Charley Hunter returns unwillingly to Ireland to complete the filming of a TV drama series. She still hasn’t come to terms with the tragic loss of her husband there two years previously, and the last thing she expects is an instant attraction to an Irish veterinary surgeon.

Luke Sullivan’s life is full as he tries to balance caring for his two young children with his busy rural veterinary practice. After the break-up of his marriage, he vowed to leave women well alone, but now finds himself drawn to Charley.

While Charley struggles with the re-awakening of her emotions, Luke faces a series of unexplained crises at his clinic, as well as an impending custody battle with his ex-wife.

They grow closer as their initial interest in each other develops into mutual support and then into love. But how can an English actress and an Irish vet reconcile their different worlds? And will their relationship survive when Luke believes Charley has endangered his children’s lives – and then betrayed him?

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An important character in the story is a retired actress. I’ve called her Alice Vernon, but one incident in the book originally involved a real actress.

In 2011, during one of my trips to Ireland, I visited a small village called Cong in County Mayo. The main reason was that this was where some of the movie, ‘The Quiet Man’ was filmed in the 1950s. It starred John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. The cottage used in the film is now in ruins, but one of the cottages in the village has been set up to look like the original cottage, with authentic reproduction of the rooms and some of the costumes worn by the stars.

After we’d explored the cottage and studied the photographs and local newspaper accounts of the filming in and around the village, we were asked to sign the visitors’ book. Out of habit, I glanced at the previous page of signatures and did a double-take at the one at the bottom of the page – Maureen O’Hara - Yonkers, NY.

I must admit my immediate reaction was. “I didn’t realise she was still alive!” – but when we asked the girl in the small shop, she said, “Yes, she has a house near Cork, and often visits here when she’s in Ireland.”

I knew I would use this small incident in a novel at some point – and so in Chapter 2 of ‘Irish Intrigue’, Charley visits a small cottage – and see the signature of Alice Vernon in the guest book. Alice goes on to play an important role in the rest of the story. Originally I based her on Maureen O’Hara – but somehow as I wrote her, she became more and more like Maggie Smith!