Beautiful scenery at Cill Rialag, Co. Kerry

by Katherine Mezzacappa

Last month I was one of seven writers awarded a ten-day Irish Writers Centre residency at Cill Rialaig in Co. Kerry. I am grateful not only to the IWC for selecting me, but also to Dr Noelle Campbell-Sharp for having the foresight to save what remained of a former famine village and rebuild it as a dedicated artists and writers retreat.

My stay was one of the most productive periods of my writing life, but the effect of Cill Rialaig will last much longer than the time I spent there. I can now go there in my head, and continue to work as I did there. Life at Cill Rialaig was almost Carthusian, in that each of us lived independently in a simply furnished cottage, though we did meet, talk, and walk;I have formed long-lasting friendships with an exceptional group of women. Is writing really a lonely business? I don’t think so, not when you sense the quiet presence of other writers around you.

My task at Cill Rialaig was to revise a novel set in the 16th Century, across Florence, Mantua and Venice. One might ask why someone who lives in Italy needs to go to the far end of Co. Kerry to do that. However, as a writer of historical fiction I find that though knowing a location is essential, to enter into it as far as possible as it once was without the overlay of the parallel, modern world, distance is crucial. Sitting at the battered, paint-stained table in the silence of my cottage, I could hear the voices of my characters more clearly than ever before.

That book is now with my agent. I also managed to work through the copy-edits for a book being published in June 2020, and complete an initial revision to its sequel, due out in June 2021. It was hard to leave, very hard.