Erin O’Quinn writes about the little-known past of Ireland: the Ireland of St. Patrick, the high kings, the cattle barons, and others...the poets, the pirates, the sacred hill of Tara, the druids and much more...all of it shrouded in a veil of mystery. Only with the arrival of Patrick did learning and written history begin in Ireland, and so it is up to my cast of characters to shed light on what really happened, starting in roughly 431 AD.
I received a Bachelor’s degree (in English) and then a Master’s degree (in Comparative Literature) from the University of Southern California. My background helps me take a fresh look at the language, culture and mythology of ancient Ireland, elements which I always try to weave through my novels.
I have an abiding interest in language, mythology, and folklore. Add to that some experience in the martial arts—king fu, karate, free-style fencing—and a fascination with all things botanical (gardening, herbology). Those interests combine to bring my readers what I hope is a fresh and unique look at a specific period and place not touched by any other romance writer.
My first romance, Storm Maker, is also the first of a three-part series called, “The Dawn of Ireland.” The romances that follow, while not having Liam and Caylith as the central characters, are all grounded in the Dawn universe.
Fire & Silk is my fourth book and also my favorite in many ways. The main characters, while being at odds personally much of the time, are cut from the same cloth: they are fiercely independent, lovers of the earth, and deeply passionate. But the crusty redheaded bachelor needs to let down his guard; and the headstrong virgin needs to show a bit of the real woman under her silks.
The final two books so far in the Dawn of Ireland universe are the series called, “The Iron Warrior.” These novels are in the M/M genre, called ManLove, and deal with the relationship between two male warriors, their friends, and their enemies. While the first four books are considered mainstream and are rated “steamy,” these last two are all-out “scorching,” considered erotic. Watch for these titles: Warrior, Ride Hard andWarrior, Stand Tall.
Q: What’s with all the Irish words and expressions in your books?
A: When Caylith first arrives in Ireland—from now on I’ll call it Éire—she meets a drop-dead gorgeous man named Liam O’Neill. Liam is a clansman who of course has no knowledge of any language outside of Gaelic, his native tongue. And so Caylith begins to learn his language while he learns hers. And so you will learn phrases from “kiss me” to “kiss my bum”...all in the spirit of sensual romance.
Q: Why do you put a religious figure like St. Patrick in a romance?
A: St. Patrick—then called simply “father” or “bishop” Patrick—was the single most important figure in the entire history of Ireland. To ignore his presence would be to distort the history of that country. He figures as a character, but he is not there to preach to the reader. You will see—Patrick is an interesting man with a surprising history all his own.
Q: Do you write only M/F romances?
A: I have written a few ManLove novels set in the Dawn universe, and one contemporary M/M.
Q: Some of your characters seem to be more like modern-day cowboys. Isn’t that a little far-fetched?
A: Not at all! Cattle were a way of life in Éire—raising them, herding them, milking them, stealing them—so much so that their currency was entirely based on the value of a milk-cow. The high king himself was wealthy not just in brothers (he had seven, most of them kings in their own right), but also in cattle. They dressed in actual “britches” (bríste) and drove their herds to mountain pastures and back to the lowland byres in winter. I hope the readers will learn a lot of interesting things like this when they read my novels.
Q: Where do you find your inspiration for your plots and characters?
A: I hope that this doesn’t sound crazy. They are all in my head, clamoring to be let out! All my books are character-driven. The plots are ones that the characters force on me, whether I want to go there or not.
Q: Which of your characters are based on actual historical figures?
A: St. Patrick, of course, for starters. Also High King Leary, his oldest son Lugh (aka Torin), his brothers (especially Owen and Conall), the character Murdoch, the poet/scholar Dub. All these, and more, were real figures in the history of Ireland. The reader will even meet the O’Cahan clan—this was the clan who were the ancestors of the man sung about in the famous Irish song “Danny Boy.”
Q: Where do you get the lyrics for the songs that Liam sings?
A: From my head, based on a girlhood spent listening to Irish music. (Thanks, Dad.) In fact, I have gathered all the songs in my novels into a kind of “songbook,” and there are lots of them—in English, Irish Gaelic and German (Saxon). Someday I hope they will be set to music. They range from lullabies to sea chanteys, from wistful love songs to ribald dances.
Q: Why don’t more authors write about ancient Ireland? It seems to be full of amazing charactersand fascinating places.
A: Honestly, I can’t figure that out. My best guess is that authors tend to shy away from the long, difficult-looking names (like Lóeghaire, which turns out to sound just like “Leary,” the name I use for the character). Another reason might be that the genealogies of the people can get really complicated, since the clan system was iron-clad. I have simplified these tangled family interconnections.
Q: Many of your books take place in what is today Northern Ireland. Aren’t you afraid thatpeople may think you have a hidden political agenda? Or even a religious bias?
A: Wow, I hope not. I am the most un-political person I know...and not much of a church-goer either! People have to remember that the action takes place 1500 years ago. Back then the politics were all about clan vs. clan, provincial king vs. king, cattle barons vs. cattle rustlers. The religion was 99% druidic influenced, almost a nature-based theology; and the “gods” were bigger-than-life warriors with bad-hair days. When St. Patrick came, of course the entire country changed with his ministry. But that took hundreds of years. The characters in my books react strongly to Patrick—both as a person and as a spiritual figure—because he was one of the most charismatic and powerful men who ever lived.
Q: Do you intend to expand beyond your “Dawn of Ireland” universe?
A: I have a lot of characters and possible plots swimming around in my brain, ones centered in places other than Ireland—but all roughly the same time in history. For example, I would love to take a character—we’ll say Marrie AppleSprout, Caylith’s crotchety old aunt—and create a back story that takes us back to when she was a young girl, sixty years before the time of the current novel, when she lived in the Roman province of Lindum (modern-day Lincoln, England).
Another idea I have is to tell the “real” story of Vortigern, the Britannic king who was reviled for centuries for allowing the Saxons to become mercenaries, and later conquerors, of Britannia. I have even created that man, quite by accident, as a ten-year-old in one of my novels. Let his story now be told!
Q: Where did you learn the necessary background for your historical novels?
A: Mostly two places: the internet, and actual, page-turning books. I have probably bought more than twenty books on every subject from Roman Britain to Gaelic Grammar, and I have read probably fifty more in libraries and bookstores. Yipes!
Q: Are the places in your books just made up to fit your plot?
A: To the contrary—they are all places that existed 1,500 years ago in Ireland. There were no such things as “cities” in Éire back then, only settlements and a few monasteries. But places like Tara, Derry, the huge lake called the Neagh, the river and lake called the Foyle—all are authentic.
Q: When did you realize that you would be a writer?
A: I will answer that as I answered Siren author and blogger Melodee Aaron. I was pretty darned young when I knew I’d be a writer. Let me back up a little and say that, until I had already passed the age of going to kindergarten, I lived on the side of a Nevada mountain in a cabin. Yep. The walls inside were covered with cardboard as insulation. And that huge expanse of firm brown paper was my notebook, where I could write and draw to my heart’s content.
Mind you, even when I was escorted into town fifty miles away to attend school, we still went back to the cabin every weekend and every summer almost until I was in high school. My first writing on those walls was probably poetry, of the moon-June-spoon variety. After that came the silly notes to myself about who I loved, from acne-scarred boys in my class to tight-pants singers and celebrities. Those little paeans to love I hid under various flaps and in odd corners where I was sure no one could see and read them.
The result of all my furtive, raptured scribbling was that I became a passable writer. I was interested in words and the way they hung together. To this day, I keep scrawled notes on pieces of paper all around me at my computer desk. Until I answered your question today, it never dawned on me that all these notes are a way to revisit my silly young self, writing on the cardboard walls of that long-ago cabin.
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