When is a Sandwich not a Sandwich? This question might sound similar to the one the Mad Hatter asked Alice: "When is a Raven like a Writing Desk?" He never got an answer to that riddle but I'll give the answer to mine. Later.

When writing my novel The Irish Lady's Spanish Lover, I decided I was going to set it during the battle with the Spanish Armada in which that mighty navy was defeated by the British. I had it all laid out in my mind: One of the Spanish sailors escapes from his sinking ship, is captured by an Irish Lord friendly to the English and held for ransom. He and his captor's wife fall in love and attempt to escape together. Tragedy ensues.

Since what little I knew about that sea fight and what happened before and afterward was gained by watching the movie Young Bess, I decided I'd better start researching. With visions of men in velvet doublets, starched neck-ruffs, and quilted codpieces, and women in low-cut gowns with bejewelled stomachers, I set out to enlarge my knowledge.

Before 1588, there was a great Spanish influence in Ireland. Galway had been a trade center since around 1124 AD. It was an important seaport for trade between Spain and Ireland during the Middle Ages and that city still is architecturally different from the other towns. The Armada was defeated off the coast in 1588. At Milltown Malbay alone, six ships went down with all hands. A good many of the Spanish sailors didn't drown but swam ashore to be killed by the Irish. There are many graves in Irish cemeteries whose headstones bear Spanish names and the date "1588." Not all the sailors died in the sea or on the shore, however. Some were given haven by the countrypeople.

The legend is that the "Black Irish" are the descendants of the Spaniards who didn't die at Milltown Malbay but a good many sociologists and pathologists will tell you it's just that--a legend.

I decided I'd accept the legend as fact. My hero wouldn't be one of the surviving Spaniards, but his descendant, dark-haired and brown-eyed in a country of ruddy-cheeked redheads.

Okay, so far, so good. But how to work in the other things I'd learned, such as the information about Bunratty Castle? Simple. I'd have my hero take the heroine there. She'd be a tourist, and he's been asked by his cousin, the heroine's friend, to show her around.

The castle was built in 1250, burned in 1318, and restored in 1460. Nowadays, its open to the public, where medieval banquets--those so popular in reenactments in California at present--are held. In a dining hall where the Lord and his Lady sit at the head table and the others are arranged according to rank and caste, while authentically-clad saucy serving maids bring them trenchers of food and minstrels dressed in velvet capes and pointed-toed shoes with bells attached, walk among the tables playing their lutes, the tourists grasp drumsticks in their hands and toss the bones on the floor while swigging mead from pewter tankards. Bad manners? Not at all! It's all in the Era.

Two other castles fit into the story also, one real, one fictional. Dungary Castle rises proud and tall above the water, a thin veil of fog nestling around its banks as it sits on an island in Kinvarra Bay. It's still a private residence and not open to the public. Kilmeath Castle is a fiction, a ruin abandoned after its last owner--and all the others in his family--died a mysterious death on its walls, killed it's said by a dearg-due, the "red bloodsucker."

So where would my Spanish sailor fit in? He'd the dearg-due, I decided, wreaking his revenge upon the descendants of the man who killed and buried him in unconsecrated ground.

Satisfied with the way the story was going, I now sat down to write it. My hero and heroine would see much more of the Irish countryside before being confronted by this vengeful ghost, as well as learning a secret hidden in the dust of time and one woman's heart, and I would use descriptions of the Emerald Isle to make my story come alive.

So when is a sandwich not a sandwich? When it is a round--as my heroine learns. In Ireland, what they call a sandwich is really half of one, and a whole sandwich is called a round.

Here's a peek at the finished product of my research, The Irish Lady's Spanish Lover:



  1. Mary Ricksen // April 12, 2009 at 3:58 PM  

    Well isn't that interesting.
    I just learned today after speaking with another author Joan Hammond, who has a wealth of knowledge. That the term you used meant ghost. That's so cool!

  2. Edie // April 12, 2009 at 8:11 PM  

    I love those kind of details in stories. That's what makes a book come alive. And it's great to get ideas for a book from research.

  3. Scarlet Pumpernickel // April 12, 2009 at 8:29 PM  

    Excellant post! Intriguing bit of history. Love the way you weave the past and the present together. The trailer is great, very professional. You're getting way way good at it! Gonna have to hire yourself out!


  4. Anonymous // April 12, 2009 at 10:53 PM  

    I like the way you've weaved history into your story.

    Well done.

  5. Mary Marvella // April 12, 2009 at 11:10 PM  

    Toni, you have done it again. Oh,to have your memory for details and history.

  6. Mona Risk // April 13, 2009 at 8:02 AM  

    great post Toni and I love the trailer, pictures, music and the way the the captions are easy to read.

  7. Judy // April 13, 2009 at 8:05 AM  

    Loved the history woven in with the paranormal aspects of the book. The trailer was terrific. Congratulations!

  8. Barbara Monajem // April 13, 2009 at 10:45 AM  

    Fascinating research, and your trailer leaves us with a huge question. :~)