* What was it about 5th century Ireland that compelled you to set your story there in your debut novel BRIGID OF IRELAND?
I was intrigued by the fact that there were only a handful of Christians in
Ireland at the time. I wondered how they kept their faith and I also
wondered about the pagans. What did they believe? I am amazed that
Christianity spread so smoothly in Ireland. The early Christians there had
to have been amazing people.
* How much of your novel is based on fact and how much is fiction?
The story is based on legends. Not much about 5th century Ireland can be proven. The legends were written down hundreds of years later. At the time of my story, there was very little written language in Ireland. But the Irish have a reputation for being storytellers and the stories were preserved orally.
The setting is as accurate as I could make it and I used the actual names of people that appeared in those legends. Some characters are completely from my imagination. I tell people to look for the names that are easy to pronounce. Those are the ones I made up.
* Tell us something surprising about women in 5th century Ireland, a pagan country about to be visited by the figure we know today as Saint Patrick.
Some people are surprised to learn that women held high positions in that society. They were druidesses and warriors, just like men. The idea that Brigid could have been ordained a bishop is not really as far fetched as it seems.
The other thing is that there were slaves in ancient Ireland who did not think their lot in life was that bad, and many of them were women. To be on your own, not connected to any clan, was much more frightening. Not that there weren't abuses. We know that Patrick did not like being a slave. But there was a lot of poverty and for many people being a slave meant you could survive.
* In what way is your protagonist, Brigid, characteristic of her time (5th century) and country (Ireland)?
Well, like I mentioned, women were held in high regard so it wasn't unusual that she obtained a place of influence. But being a Christian would not have been characteristic of that time. Also, giving everything you had to others, during a time when basic survival was uncertain, would have been highly unusual and is probably what made her a celebrity of her time, or at least a
* In 5th century Ireland, what was life like for the *average* woman of the lower, middle and upper class?
The classes at the time could have been described this way:
Royal: you were a member of the royal family or connected in some way, such as being a king's druid. A woman here could have been someone of great influence or just a pampered member of the clan with servants to wait on her. Life was not secure, however. A war could displace you.
Landowner: More than owning land, if you owned livestock, you were wealthy. A woman who either owned land (like the woman in the story who owned an orchard) or cattle was wealthy and secure--until there was a cattle raid, but that's another story!
Slave: A woman could be well taken care of or be abused by her owner. Either way, she had food to eat and a roof over her head.
None of the above: There were no cities, so if you did not belong to any of the other groups, you risked your life living out in the forest. There were women who had trades (seamstress, herbalist, warrior, for example) but they would have been connected to a clan.
* Are you working on another historical fiction novel, and if so, will it be set in Ireland again?
I have written another based on another Irish saint, Brendan the Navigator. My publisher ceased publishing fiction so I'm searching for a home for it. The story of St. Brendan fascinated me. An abbot and some monks climbed into a leather skin boat and sailed, some believe, all the way to North America--and in the 6th century! What they must have seen and experienced would have been truly amazing to them, and frightening. They went out of obedience to God and what Brendan learned changed him forever. The story goes on beyond the journey, however. He was one of the evangelistic monks who set up monasteries across Ireland and into Europe.
I'm currently working on a non Irish novel, a baseball mystery set in the early 20th century, and a non fiction book on the spiritual lessons we can learn from the ancient Irish saints. People often call them Catholic saints, but there was only one church at the time. Their lives have much to teach us whether we are Catholic or not (and I'm not.)
Thank you Cindy! And feel free to visit Cindy Thomson online for more information about her novel Brigid of Ireland.