Twenty Thousand Words Under The Keys.

Jules Verne, Eat your Heart Out!

My assistant, Jules V. Octopus, on a slow day. Just imagine what happens when he types with six of his eight arms at once.

Not all Literary Fiction is lengthy, but Irish Firebrands is a big book. Different counters may have varying opinions about what constitutes a “word”: Smashwords counts separated punctuation forms (such as dashes and ellipses), coming up with a total manuscript length of 199,230, when my word processor yields only 196,131.

I write chapters that take around 30 to 40 minutes to read. Chapter word counts throughout the book range from just under 5,000 to 6,250. This means that any four chapters of Irish Firebrands, counted together, total well over 20,000 words. That’s as many words as a lot of modern series novelettes contain.

It was fortunate that it’s not hard for me to write profusely, because my immersion in Irish newspapers taught me that Hiberno-English boasts a large vocabulary, and the natives are not afraid to use it. My challenge was to get the rhythm and flow of the prose correct, with no taint of the stereotypical “stage Irish” that afflicts much poorly researched fiction. That resulted in my copying many thousands of phrases in current usage into a spreadsheet workbook, comparing variants and contexts, and transferring what I learned to the minds and mouths of my characters.

Irish-language purists may want to pick a bone with the Gaeilge pronunciation key, but there is a wide variety in pronunciation of the language across the island. After acquiring four sets of Irish lesson recordings, I learned enough Gaeilge to be dangerous, and did the best I could.

Incidentally, the spelling of Irish names is fluid, too, as any quick survey of contemporary Irish newspapers will reveal. For example, in addition to the Anglicized Maeve, you’ll find Medb and Méadhbh in current use.

The bibliography includes many (but not all) of the research materials I acquired during the writing of the novel. I own printed copies of all but four of the books listed therein. A selection of their colorful covers resides on the Library page, on the menu above.

Are we drowning in legendary Irish verbosity, yet?

Octopus tentacle & typewriter plate - Handpainted (artist unknown) (link broken)

Octopus tentacle & typewriter plate – Handpainted (artist unknown) (link broken)


Filed under books, Uncategorized

7 responses to “Twenty Thousand Words Under The Keys.

  1. Are Medb and Méadhbh people names? How are these pronounced?


    • They’re pronounced the same as “Maeve.” They’re variations of the name of the sovereignty goddess of Tara, and of the infamous Queen of Connacht who perpetrated Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley), about whom I wrote the limericks. It may interest you to know that the Ó Dochartaigh (Daugherty) are descended from Niall Noígíallach (Niall of the Nine Hostages), the first Ard Rí (High King). My kids have a paternal 2nd great-grandmother Daugherty, which (in other circumstances) might have entitled my sons and yours to be candidates for election to be the High King of Tara and the Southern Uí Néill.


      • Wow! That’s very interesting indeed. That must have taken a lot of research to figure those pronunciations. As for Mr. Daugherty, he’s not my birth father, only the man who was around to blame me on, so I’m sure my son would be disqualified. 😉 But being as I was stuck with the name for my youth, it is funny to meet someone else who actually was able to spell it correctly 🙂


        • Irish spelling is something else … and even as an Anglicized version, Daugherty is a spelling that’s easily subject to typos. Most Irish names have a bunch of spelling variations, each related to how the name was pronounced in different parts of the country. If you have other Irish names in your family, you might enjoy trying this utility from an Irish newspaper:

          Maybe your son wouldn’t be disqualified. Offhand, I can’t recall any details, but Brehon law might have dealt with such a situation, within the practice of fosterage or adoption. Anyhow … there’s a slightly fictionalized account of the O’Neill heritage in chapters 7 and 14 of Irish Firebrands.


  2. Wow, that is really an impressive word count! What an achievement 🙂


    • Thank you! I instinctively write like an Irish journalist (when I went to Ireland for research, I knew I didn’t need to go anywhere near the Blarney Stone), so to me, the accomplishment was my keeping it UNDER 200,000 words. I have no Irish ancestors, either, so it must be the half of me that’s Gallic (Continental Celtic). For example, it was the Napoleonic Code that required the wordy format of French vital statistics records. During the French Revolution they invented the fill-in-the-blank form, but like the bizarre revised calendar system the revolutionaries also tried, it just didn’t catch on. 😉


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