In the spring of 2017, after the publication of Mafiosa, the final book in my Young Adult trilogy, I found myself floating between projects, uncomfortably idle and unsure of what to write next. Or even to keep writing, at all. Then an unexpected invitation arrived.
My cousin had written to ask whether I might be interested in teaching a stint of creative writing in a secondary school on Arranmore, the island where my grandparents were born, lived and fell in love, before emigrating to America together. When they returned from Chicago in the 1970s, they settled in Galway, and I grew up listening to fond memories of their childhood, the island always hovering in the background, both character and canvas. As the years passed, this wild and remote place seemed to drift further and further away, until it became as mythical to me as the idea that my grandparents had ever been children at all. The sudden closeness of it, after so much time, was impossible to pass up.
On the ferry ride out to Arranmore, I watched the island bubble up from the sea and was struck by the bolt of familiarity that came with it. It was beautiful in its ruggedness, eight square miles scooped out of the waves and held in the ocean’s palm, like a precious coin. The scent of seaweed and sea-salt lingered like mist in the air. It followed me onto the pier and into the heartland of Arranmore, where I fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing against the distant shore.
In the mornings, I taught creative writing in the local school and in the afternoons, I explored the island. I peered over its jagged edges, my back pressed to the lone lighthouse. I traced the soupy waters of Cowan’s lake, tiptoed down the weathered cliff-steps with the Atlantic wind howling in my ears, until the ocean churned restlessly at my feet. I visited the cottage where my grandmother was born, picked my way through the beaches where she played as a young girl, painting my shoes with sea-foam and sand. I had a drink in the pub where my grandfather grew up, clinked glasses with cousins who wore the same sea-blue eyes.
Arranmore holds its people long after they’re gone. Centuries of stories are hemmed in by the Atlantic Ocean, kept safe and passed around on like cups of tea on cold nights. In the evenings, I travelled from house to house, cousin to cousin, discovering them. My ancestors unfurled like ghosts from their tales, survivors of shipwrecks and invasions and famine, brave rescuers of half-drowned vessels, harbourers of soldiers washed up during both world wars, visitors and deserters, rebels and criminals and heroes. In the patchwork of the island’s history, I found not only my own people, but a piece of myself, too. It was the closest I’ve ever come to experiencing real magic, and when I left Arranmore for the mainland a week later, I was determined to find a way to put that feeling into a story.
The Storm Keeper’s Island began with its setting. An island of enchantment and myth and impossibility. A place that lives and breathes, and most importantly, remembers. Then came Fionn Boyle. Just shy of 12 years old, Fionn is a sea-fearing boy from a sea-faring family, who, along with his older sister Tara, is shipped off to stay on Arranmore Island one summer when his mother falls ill. Here, Fionn meets his grandfather for the first time – an eccentric old man known as the ‘Storm Keeper’, who lives in a tiny cottage filled to the brim with strange candles. It is on this enchanted island, where magic sings in the wind and rumbles in the earth, that Fionn relives the daring adventures of his mariner ancestors, sinking further and further into the past, until he finds himself facing his own terrifying destiny, caught up in an ancient war between good and evil.
The months following my return to Arranmore passed in a whirlwind. Writing days bled into nights and then weekends, as I worked feverishly, trying to capture the sense of magic I had found on the island before it faded away for good. Emails to my agent turned into emails from publishers and before long I was sitting in the offices of Bloomsbury in London, selling the book of my heart to an editor, who had read the opening chapters of The Storm Keeper’s Island and had felt that same magic, too.
The Storm Keeper’s Island is a story about magic and memory, courage and sacrifice, and nature at its wildest. It’s inspired by my real-life ancestral home of Arranmore Island, the stories of my grandparents and the Celtic myths and legends that I loved as a child. In July 2018, I visited my grandparents with a copy of the finished book, which I dedicated to them. Still living in Galway, and now in their 90s, they are no longer able to visit Arranmore, but they found it as they left it, within the pages of The Storm Keeper’s Island. Just with a little bit more magic.
(c) Catherine Doyle
About The Storm Keeper’s Island:
When Fionn Boyle sets foot on Arranmore Island, it begins to stir beneath his feet …
Once in a generation, Arranmore Island chooses a new Storm Keeper to wield its power and keep its magic safe from enemies. The time has come for Fionn’s grandfather, a secretive and eccentric old man, to step down. Soon, a new Keeper will rise.
But, deep underground, someone has been waiting for Fionn. As the battle to become the island’s next champion rages, a more sinister magic is waking up, intent on rekindling an ancient war.
‘Magical in every way’ EOIN COLFER
‘Funny, dark and blazingly beautiful’ KIRAN MILLWOOD HARGRAVE
‘So magical and wild that it’s like being swept away by the sea’ KATHERINE RUNDELL
Order your copy online here.