Raise your hands if one of the first writing rules you learned was “write what you know.” I know many of us write about what is near and dear to our hearts, but what kind of novels would we have if we only wrote what we knew? For me, writing what I know would be the stroke of death for my storytelling. I’ve always been a wanderer at heart–I need to be able to roam outside my own boundaries.
In fact, I began writing stories set in Ireland before I’d visited the country for the first time. Take that, rule-meisters! I wouldn’t be here at all if I’d obeyed the write-what-you-know rule.
The story of Kilmoon’s birth began with what I call my drawer novel, a tale filled with druids and lost manuscripts. (Quite the tale, yes.) I chose to set Drawer Novel in Ireland for many reasons, chief of which was my odd and unlikely fascination with an ecological anomaly called The Burren that I’d read about in a memoir.
I wrote Drawer Novel in a state of heady cluelessness. If I’d listened to the naysayers who insisted I write what I knew, I wouldn’t have written the novel in the first place, much less traipsed off to Ireland for after-the-fact research that led me to stumble on the inspirations for Kilmoon.
In research mode, I happened to land in Lisdoonvarna village, which just happened to host a matchmaking festival each year. And, my B&B just happened to be located down the lane from Kilmoon Church, a thousand-year-old early Christian relic with only a tiny fingerpost to mark it.
Don’t ask me why I fell in love with Kilmoon Church, but I did. It really is a tiny, falling-apart place, but it sits peacefully on its plot, crumbling in the sea winds, brooding over its gravestones.
In fact, the sense of Kilmoon as a thing that can brood never left me, and in the novel it turned into: Kilmoon Church stood in genteel isolation, open air to the night as if shrugging off its Christian ties and embracing a more benevolent lunar goddess. The church seemed to watch us, indulging us our frail humanity and our unseemly trespass. We strolled around the site, taking in the uneven stones and skinny windows, the crumbling gravestones and tall Celtic crosses.
When I eventually set Drawer Novel aside, I found a matchmaking festival (and by association, a matchmaker) and Kilmoon Church waiting for me. On one hand I had what’s on the surface—happily-ever-afters—and on the other, secrets long buried. I love a good juxtaposition!
So I wrote Kilmoon, and then I planned another after-the-fact research trip, this time to attend the matchmaking festival and learn something about the Irish police. Sometimes knowing too much ahead of time can hamper the creative process. That’s all the reason I need not to write what I know.