Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Writer's Ireland: Guest Post by Julie Christine Johnson, Author of The Crows of Beara

May 2002. My first trip to Ireland. Alone, I join a small group of strangers to hike the Beara peninsula, West Cork, and there I fall truly, madly, deeply in love. On the flight home two weeks later, I turn my face toward the window and sob. I am as if torn from a lover, forever. Ireland has changed me. Beara has given me a sense of peace and wholeness I have never before experienced.

The years pass and I return to Ireland several times, hiking the Wicklow Way, Connemara, the Dingle and Kerry peninsulas; exploring Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Kenmare, Tralee. But that first time—and Beara—remain a dream crystallized in photographs and memories.
Photo Credit: Julie Christine Johnson

January 2014. I set the first complete draft of my first novel aside to rest, exhausted by the effort to corral a 170,000 wordsoup into a 99,000 word manuscript. That novel becomes my debut In Another Life, which is named 2016 Gold Winner for Fantasy by FOREWORD Indies at the American Library Association Annual Conference in June 2017. I leave behind a timeslip of modern and medieval southwest France to enter the cool, scabrous beauty of southwest Ireland.

Perched on hill overlooking Ballycrovane Harbor in the remote southern end of the Beara peninsula sits a humped, ragged block of stone. One edge resembles the profile of a woman, her furrowed brow arched over a proud nose, her gaze fixed on the Atlantic Ocean. She is An Cailleach Bheara, the Hag of Beara, mother of Ireland. Her story is Ireland's story, her survival the enduring drama of a tortured land of legendary beauty. I learn of the Hag by reading the poetry of Leanne O’Sullivan, who grew up in the Hag’s shadow, a child of West Cork, a woman of Ireland. O’Sullivan’s work whispers, sings, howls of romance and loss in this place of stone and sea. This modern poet’s magic opens the door to the legend that shapes my novel’s spirit and themes.
Photo Credit: Julie Christine Johnson

I create the story of a recovering alcoholic who has a marriage to repair and a career to salvage, and another of an artist who cannot forgive himself for the tragedy he caused. As my characters begin to take shape, I know the threads connecting them will be found in the presence of the Hag. Her voice filters through these characters’ pain to reveal their authentic selves.
Photo Credit: Julie Christine Johnson

Spring 2015. I am packing for Ireland. The Beara peninsula, specifically. The Universe is granting me the opportunity to come full circle. I’ll visit An Cailleach Bheara for the first time. I will attend my first poetry workshop, led by Leanne O’Sullivan.

  June 2015. I am is in the land of poetry and legends, of An Cailleach, Clan Ó Súilleabháin, St. Caitighearn where battles were fought on gorse-cloaked mountains and warriors marked their Ogham runes on tall pillars. I am where the ruined shadows of a British Coast Guard station destroyed by the IRA in 1920 pale against the shadows of history cast by circles of ancient altars—these slabs of stone sculpted by Bronze Age hands now scratching posts for the russet and inky-black flanks of Angus and Friesian cows.
Photo Credit: Julie Christine Johnson
I am walking through Eyeries village where rows of houses line up like Crayons and lace curtains flutter in open windows; in MacCarthy’s Bar, Castletown-Bearhaven, enjoying the craic with new friends, laughter stealing my breath.
Photo Credit: Julie Christine Johnson

I am high on a hillside peering into the green and blue infinity, sheep scattering in my wake, boots soaked through with bog, fingers wrapped around a trekking pole, pack cinched around my waist like a lover’s arms. I learn that my novel, The Crows of Beara, has been offered a publishing contract and will take flight in September 2017. I am so happy I could explode from the very fullness of my heart.
Photo Credit: Julie Christine Johnson
Publisher: Ashland Creek Press
Pub. Date: September 1st, 2017
Pages: 300

Along the windswept coast of Ireland, a woman discovers the landscape of her own heart

When Annie Crowe travels from Seattle to a small Irish village to promote a new copper mine, her public relations career is hanging in the balance. Struggling to overcome her troubled past and a failing marriage, Annie is eager for a chance to rebuild her life.

Yet when she arrives on the remote Beara Peninsula, Annie learns that the mine would encroach on the nesting ground of an endangered bird, the Red-billed Chough, and many in the community are fiercely protective of this wild place. Among them is Daniel Savage, a local artist battling demons of his own, who has been recruited to help block the mine.

Despite their differences, Annie and Daniel find themselves drawn toward each other, and, inexplicably, they begin to hear the same voice--a strange, distant whisper of Gaelic, like sorrow blowing in the wind.

Guided by ancient mythology and challenged by modern problems, Annie must confront the half-truths she has been sent to spread and the lies she has been telling herself. Most of all, she must open her heart to the healing power of this rugged land and its people.

Beautifully crafted with environmental themes, a lyrical Irish setting, and a touch of magical realism, The Crows of Beara is a breathtaking novel of how the nature of place encompasses everything that we are.

Praise for The Crows of Beara

"As Johnson's wounded, good-hearted characters sort inner truths along the mystical Irish coast, the personal decisions and missteps they make have consequences that reach around the world. A captivating tale of our yearning to belong and the importance of following this ancient call." --Kathryn Craft, award-winning author of The Far End of Happy and The Art of Falling

"Like Ireland itself, The Crows of Beara pulls at something deep inside the reader and won't let go. In this captivating and thoughtful novel, the enchantment of Ireland heals two damaged souls and reminds all of us that no matter how dark life may be at times, there is always hope." --Kelli Estes, USA Today bestselling author of The Girl Who Wrote in Silk

"You don't have to love rain or Guinness or wild, windswept coasts to be seduced by the delicate intermingling of Irish mythology, environmentalism, and love that are entangled at the heart of this novel; the juxtaposition with darker, harder truths of grief and addiction create a rich and reflective resonance. From France to Ireland, across centuries and oceans...where will this author take us next?" --Jenny Williams, author of The Atlas of Forgotten Places

"Julie Christine Johnson swept me away from the first page. 'It is that nervous time between seasons, when chill winds skirr across faces upturned to the sun.' How can one stop reading after this? Johnson incorporates the beauty of the Beara Peninsula with such exquisite language that I wanted to fly off to Ireland immediately and hike the Beara Way. Annie Crowe is that memorable character--flawed but vulnerable--who fails in fits and starts but engages the reader with her desire to rediscover life. Johnson writes with her pulse on the heart of the people who fly off the page. When she introduces Daniel, aching and shamed, she does not fall into sentimentality. Opting for truth, she creates depth, even when reaching back into Gaelic mythology to prove her point. Johnson writes music on the page with words. She is a lush writer who does not turn away from the heart. " --Julie Maloney, poet, author, director of Women Reading Aloud

"In this important novel, Julie Christine Johnson brings together a remote peninsula in the west of Ireland with environmental issues that threaten a local community and its attachment to the landscape...Written in a lyrical voice with honesty and authority on the environment, addiction and recovery, and the magic of the Irish landscape, The Crows of Beara is a passionate story of one woman's recovery of her soul." --Christine Breen, author of Her Name Is Rose and O Come Ye Back to Ireland (with Niall Williams)

"The Crows of Beara takes the age-old question of whether a book's setting can be a character one step further by proving that it can be an emotion. Ireland is longing. Daniel is the lure. And Annie -- well, she's something special. A sumptuous book through and through." --Scott Wilbanks, award-winning author of The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster

"Haunting, hopeful, and transporting. You'll sink into this story of loss and redemption and be carried away from the very first page." --Kelly Simmons, international selling author of One More Day and The Fifth of July

Buy the Book


About the Author

Julie Christine Johnson’s short stories and essays have appeared in journals including Emerge Literary Journal; Mud Season Review; Cirque: A Literary Journal of the North Pacific Rim; Cobalt; and River Poets Journal. Her work has also appeared in the print anthologies Stories for Sendai; Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers; and Three Minus One: Stories of Love and Loss. She holds undergraduate degrees in French and psychology and a master’s in international affairs.

Named a “standout debut” by Library Journal, “very highly recommended” by Historical Novels Review, and “delicate and haunting, romantic and mystical” by bestselling author Greer Macallister, Julie’s debut novel In Another Life (Sourcebooks) went into a second printing three days after its February 2016 release. A hiker, yogi, and swimmer, Julie makes her home in northwest Washington state.

You can learn more about Julie by visiting her website and can connect with her on Twitter.


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