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How Under the Emerald Sky came about

The first time I ever thought about writing a novel was during my studies. With no particular plan after I finished school, I had decided to study biology, and now found myself doing a PhD in physiology. During my doctorate I discovered a passion for writing, preferring writing about scientific research to conducting experiments myself. I had also always been an avid reader and had just discovered the wonderful Outlander series of books by Diana Gabaldon. When I found out that Diana was a scientist turned novelist, I thought it would be great if I could also write a novel one day. Not much was to happen with my hypothetical novel for several years, though, as I carried on with normal life while waiting for inspiration to come. I knew only that if ever I were actually to write a book, it would be a historical fiction novel, but not when or where the story would take place.

After completing my PhD, I fell into a career of medical writing, which I had never heard of before becoming a medical writer myself, but thoroughly enjoyed, nonetheless. During the years that I wrote and edited for various employers I got married and had two children. Shortly after my second son was born, my husband and I decided to move from South Africa, where I had lived for most of my life, to Germany, where I was born. As you can probably imagine, relocating to another country is never easy, and it wasn’t easy for me either. For various reasons, we initially landed up in a town in Germany that I hadn’t previously known existed and there I sat, with two small children, a cat and a dog that had travelled with us from South Africa, and a husband who was having to spend most of his time away from home for work.

The mind is a curious thing as we know and indeed this is true of mine too, for there, in the stress of it all, I suddenly wanted nothing more than to write a book! The difficulty was, though, that I still had absolutely no idea what it was that I would be writing about. I had, however, begun envisaging a few scenes that I thought might fit into a historical novel, but had convinced myself that I needed a particular setting before I could start writing. When complaining about this dilemma to my husband he suggested that I just start writing anyway. Well, that’s what I did, and while it wasn’t much, the few paragraphs I wrote did make me realise that I could in fact write fiction, not just the strictly factual – and rather formal – writing I had done in the past. And so, I was finally ready to start writing that book … except that I still had no historical context to work with.   

Feeling quite frustrated with this literary stalemate, I finally decided to just google interesting times in history. I got the usual hits on the World Wars and the American and French Revolutions, but steered clear of these, being the untried novelist that I was. And then I stumbled upon the Irish Potato Famine, a subject that I dimly recognised from a long-distant history lesson. Well, I thought, why not? I liked the idea of the 19th century, I liked the idea of Ireland and I liked the idea of writing about something that – as far as I knew – hadn’t been written about a thousand times before.

And that was that. 

I did almost immediately regret my choice, though, as I delved into the complex political, social and historical underpinnings of the Great Famine. Fortunately, I know a bit about doing research and so I scoured historical records, scholarly articles and books by experts, and soon found myself engrossed in the topic, until at last Under the Emerald Sky started taking shape.

I thoroughly enjoyed writing the book and hope you enjoy reading it! And learn a little about history too.  


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