Saturday, December 17, 2011

Interview with Historical Fiction Author Kathy Cecala

Kathy would you mind introducing yourself?
I’m Kathy Cecala and I write historical novels for teens and young adults. I‘ve published two books in a loose-knit series called The Foreigners Isle Saga, which spans some 1500 years on a small remote isle in western Ireland. The Raven Girl takes place during the Age of Exploration and Discovery, specifically in the year 1488; while The Hounds of Nemhain is set in 4th century pagan-Celtic Eire.
When did you start writing?
In eighth grade, I began keeping a diary. Not one of those precious little pink things with a lock and key, but a spiral-bound lined notebook, which I scribbled in obsessively. Sadly, it no longer exists, because I kept destroying it whenever anyone threatened to read it. I wrote about school, friends, family and yes, cute boys. I also described and reviewed all the books I was reading at the time, as I was also an obsessive reader. My favorite genre then and now: Historical fiction!
What period do you write about?
In my current series, The Foreigners Isle Saga, I’m not restricting myself to any particular era, only setting. Each book takes place on the mythical Irish west-coast island of Inis Ghall, but each book has its own era. It makes for a lot of research, but I was fascinated by the idea of how time and the influx of various peoples can affect a small corner of the earth. And of course there’s the whole idea that people don’t really change much through the centuries…but actually, they do.
How importance is historical accuracy?
It’s very important to me personally, although I will forgive another writer for lapses in accuracy if her/his storyline is strong and engaging, and the characters are beautifully drawn. Story really is the thing, after all, or else you might as well write straight academic history. But since I’m writing for students, younger readers in the 12-18 years group, I try to make sure my fiction is as accurate and ‘real’ as possible, so that it can dovetail with the history they’re learning in school. The biggest dilemma I face is that most Irish history is extraordinarily violent. It has to be acknowledged, but I try not to glorify the violence, but focus on the people and their lives instead, how they’re affected and even traumatized by this violence. Relationships are really more my thing, and each of my books also has at least a hint of a romance in them.
Is your main character real or fictional?
I have different main characters for each book…all are fictional, though they are sometimes inspired by real personages; for example, much of my current book, The Hounds of Nemhain, is inspired by the real Saint Patrick’s journey from Roman-British slave to Irish bishop, As for which character I might like to meet, all of them, I suppose. I’d also like to meet Saint Patrick!
What is the most surprising thing about the periods you write about--common misconceptions?
I’m always amazed at how much people traveled and got around in times past. Sometimes we have this notion that people just stayed in one spot back in the olden days. But people are restless, and have been moving about, sometimes great distances, for centuries. One of the reasons I embarked on this series, and chose Ireland as the setting, is that we often have this idea that Ireland has a very singular, exclusive, homogenous culture, freckles and red hair and shamrocks, but it is actually quite complex, composed of several different cultures from elsewhere in Europe, plus shreds of DNA from the most unlikely places. But it is not difficult to understand, when you consider the number of invaders, visitors, refugees and strangers who have landed on Eire’s shores over the years.
Why does historical fiction matter?
Historical fiction may be fun and diverting for adults, but I feel it is crucial for children and young students, in helping them understand how history unfolds and relates to their lives today. I think too often we think of history as a set of dusty facts and dates in a book, but it really is the massive story of humankind--basically, it’s what people have been doing for years and years and years, as well as what people have been feeling, thinking and experiencing. And I do believe that history holds lessons for all of us. Okay, off my soapbox now. My regards go out to all my fellow historical fiction writers, in what must be one of the most difficult, challenging--and most rewarding--genre of all to write in!
Kathy, thank you so much.
You will find The Raven Girl and The Hounds of Nemhaim on Amazon. Or visit Kathy at her website

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