Greetings, readers! I’m delighted to be guest blogging today from the cozy and enlightened nightstand of BookGirl. My name is Jeanine Cummins, and my new novel, The Outside Boy, is on-sale this week, so I thought I’d write about the time I spent living in Ireland, where the book is set.
I’m American, of Irish and Puerto Rican heritage, but like BookGirl and my narrator Christy, who is a gypsy (or traveller, tinker, or Pavee, depending on who you ask), I’ve moved around a lot in my life. I was born in Spain, and lived in California, St. Louis, Maryland, Belfast, and now New York City.
Perhaps because of all that moving around, I am that incredibly annoying person who picks up accents in about five minutes. While this may be (okay, IS) a trait that is ridiculous and embarrassing in real life, it’s been a great benefit to my narrative voice, as it allows me to feel at ease writing dialects.
When I lived in Ireland, I worked as a barmaid (yep, that’s what they call girl bartenders over there) and spent my downtime writing. Well, gallivanting and ogling cute Irish boys and visiting Yeats’s grave, and then writing. After a few years, I’d picked up such a convincing Belfast accent that my parents demanded to see ID when I came home to America for Christmas. When I first moved to New York, I would meet Irish people here in the city and they’d immediately ask me where I was from. I would reply, “Oh, I’m American.” And they’d roll their eyes at me and reply, “Sure we’re all American now, but where’re you from?” It was most discomforting. But really, I defy anyone to live in Belfast for any length of time without picking up the accent. Language is primal in the north of Ireland; it’s a matter of survival. If you go there for a visit, you’ll be saying, “What about ye, mucker?” before you check into your hotel. Dublin is probably a safer bet for Americans wishing to retain that dignified Yankee twang.
But back to Belfast. I loved my adopted city, despite the violent political troubles that have plagued it for centuries. Or maybe even, in part, because of them. Belfast maintains the hopeful feeling of a place that rejects the role of victim, that acknowledges its troubles mostly with a middle-finger and a smirk. I’ve seen Belfasters respond to the threat of a nearby car-bomb by ordering another round. It’s a proud and resilient city, and its people have a caustic, spiky wit, the sort of humor that sometimes looks like a hand grenade. They’ll make fun of your ears, your weight, your dead grandmother, and most of all, your American-ness. Almost no subject is off-limits. Almost. But God help you if you breathe a word about religion or politics in a northern Irish pub. There’s no quicker way to find yourself friendless there.
It was during my time in Belfast that I first became interested in the Irish Travelling Community. They were, like everyone else in that city, the target of some good-natured (and some not so good-natured) ribbing. One person actually warned me not even to look at the travellers when I walked past their camps, as if they would come flying out at me, wielding machetes and demanding all my imaginary cash, if I so much as made eye-contact with them. It wasn’t difficult to see that, even in a city as beleaguered and sarcastic as Belfast where no one was safe from mockery, the travellers were singled out for a special level of harassment.
So maybe it makes sense, as a travelling Irish-Puerto-Rican-American, that I chose to live in Belfast, among people whose battle for identity was current and routine, a part of their daily existence. And maybe it makes sense too, then, that I chose to write about travellers, whose very culture is on the verge of extinction. All I can say for sure is that these were cultures that fascinated me, and filled up the inquisitive, thirsty places in me. And it’s my great hope that I can share some of that with readers, in The Outside Boy.
Thank you to BookGirl for hosting my musings. And happy reading, everyone!
Thank you Jeanine for sharing with us your expat experience! I know one of these days I’d love to travel to Ireland but I guess for now via the pages of your new novel will have to do.
So now for the giveaway (open to U.S. residents only). If you’d like to read The Outside Boy leave me a comment and tell me where you’d love to travel right now, right this moment. I love to read about foreign places so indulge me. Right now, I wouldn’t mind getting on a plane off to Sweden. We are expecting temps in the 100s this weekend so Sweden seems like a nice, cool place. hee. I’ll announce the giveaway next week!