KERRY-based Breda Joy wrote Under A Skellig Sky during the heatwave of 2018 and set it in that summer, drawing directly from the weather conditions as she wrote.
A romantic comedy which doles out quick-fire laughs as well as confronting issues such as rural crime and depopulation, it makes for an intriguing mix that reels in the reader.
“As part of my research, I took a boat trip to the Skellig on a day when the sea was like a billiard table and the sky was a sapphire blue,” Breda says. “I had been on the island previously but it was my first time visiting when the puffins were in residence and it was wonderful to see them.
“That idyllic day informed my descriptions of the island and sets the background to the visit of my two main characters there.”
When planning the novel, she explains she set out to write a romantic comedy to provide readers with some escapism.
“I wanted to write a kind of Kerry-based Fawlty Towers,” she says. “Humour is very much at the heart of both my fiction and journalism. When I want to get a serious message across, humour is my lure.
“My debut novel, Eat The Moon, was set in 1969 and had a serious theme. I wanted to try something entirely different and contemporary for the second book.
“I had quite a lot of experience in working in a farm guesthouse as a secondary school student and as a college student.”
Breda drew heavily on those experiences for inspiration.
“One memorable little character from a work stint in the 1980s was a Dublin girl aged six or seven who was filled with boundless curiosity about farm animals,” she says. “She wanted to know why the sheep didn’t have names.
“This fragment inspired the child character, Lisa, who took wings as the book progressed.
“I’m both amused and intrigued by the challenges faced by returned emigrants as they try to settle back into a rural community. My main character, Carol, returns to Kerry after a nomadic existence. She is filled with good intentions but things go drastically wrong.
“All is not lost, though, because she finds romance with an unlikely love who checks into the guesthouse she is running.”
Carol O’Connell’s return to Glenoshen overlooking the famed craggy Skelligs turns into one more in a series of half–baked decisions that pass for her life. Through the sultry heat of that summer, we read how she searches for peace to recover from a broken relationship.
The timing couldn’t be worse, as her sleepy valley homeplace has woken up to Star Wars fever and mass tourism. An experiment with Airbnb in her mother’s old farm guesthouse on the ‘Wet Atlantic Way’, a disastrous reunion with an ex and a rescue of a troubled friend set her tumbling through the year.
Carol’s saga keeps the reader intrigued as a trip to the stunning Skellig Michael with a mystery guest called Oliver turns the tide in the love stakes for Carol.
We are drawn into Carol’s new life. Does she find new love - or a new way of living?
Using her mother’s old guesthouse as a bolt hole, Carol walks the tight rope of catering for international guests while following her dream to become a successful artist before she hits 40.
One of the bright lights under the ever-changing Skellig sky is a mystery New Zealand guest called Oliver. Tensions rise with the arrival of a eccentric bingo-loving B&B inspector who sets all the guest- house owners on edge.
Friendship and the promise of a new relationship sustain Carol when she unwittingly introduces danger to the valley through her venture into tourist accommodation.
“Carol’s mother, Mary, stands for all the strong Irish women who carved out businesses of their own from farm guesthouses,” says Breda.
“She is one of my favourite characters in the book because she is independent-minded and shrewd. She plays a two-hander with a workman, Timmy, who epitomises the wit and colourful idiom of sSouth Kerry.”
Breda became familiar with the Kerry lingo.
“A short stint at the writers’ and artists’ retreat, Cill Rialaig, sharpened my ear for this rich use of language.”
Under A Skellig Sky is a charming and humourous read with intriguing story strands throughout the plot that keep the pages turning swiftly.
Breda has previously published two non-fiction books, Hidden Kerry: The Keys To The Kingdom and The Wit & Wisdom Of Kerry with Mercier Press in Cork.
She published Brian Crowley: Against The Odds, A Biography with Brandon Press in 1996.
Breda is researching a third novel while writing two weekly columns for a regional newspaper, Kerry’s Eye.
Under A Skellig Sky is available from book shops nationwide, priced €9.99.