In Irish Firebrands, developing the setting was just as important as character development; and regarding Drumcarroll farmhouse, the setting is almost a character in its own right. I also needed to get the blocking correct for the movement of the characters within enclosed spaces. (That’s the former actress, playwright and director coming out in me.) Here’s how the micro-settings came about:
One of the events I looked forward to during my childhood was the appearance of the calendar for the new year. My father was a construction worker, so the new calendar often came from the local lumber yard. The monthly artwork featured elevation paintings of houses, accompanied by floor plan drawings. I was fascinated by these, and after I became acquainted with graph paper at school, I began drawing my own floor plans on blue graph paper. This pastime kept me occupied for hours at a time, while I unwittingly prepared myself to plan for kitchen renovations in houses I would later own.
The habit came back when I began writing Irish Firebrands. The first floor plan I sketched was for Dillon Carroll’s ancestral home in the Gaeltacht: I’d been researching Irish vernacular houses, and after coming across a photo of an old stone house that matched my idea of Drumcarroll farmhouse, I designed my own interior for the dwelling.
My next step was to re-create the plan in my computer. There are architectural drawing programs out there, but I’m a low-budget operator. Using the drawing utility in my word processor, I assembled basic geometric and flowchart shapes to represent the layout of the rooms and the placement of the furniture. Inevitably, more drawings followed: Dillon’s little flat, Boyne Fields farmhouse (Frank Halligan’s home), and even Geary’s pub (not pictured).
Wandering graphics were a headache (such as window apertures that wouldn’t stay put), but eventually I found satisfactory ways to solve most pixel-oriented problems. This exercise also kept me engaged with the book when I had to wait for my subconscious to catch up with the story. (Click on drawings to enlarge them.)
For the illustrated Beta edition of Irish Firebrands, I tweaked a few glitches and inserted the floor plans at the middle of the book, where they served as a kind of “intermission” in a novel that’s of epic length. When I format the hardcover edition, they may illustrate the endpapers.
What helps your vision of the micro-settings in your books?
(Thanks to author Angela Misri for her blog post that brought to mind the details of this aspect of “The Writing of Irish Firebrands.”)