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Finding Inspiration: The Songbird’s Way by Jennifer Barrett

Writing.ie | Magazine | Women’s Fiction

By Jennifer Barrett

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I still find it hard to believe that within the space of a year my first novel Look into the Eye been published, and that I have also written and published the second, The Songbird’s Way.

It took me a couple of years to first get published. Along the way I took several ‘how to get published’ workshops, read lots of articles and books on the topic and worked with Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin of Inkwell and Writing.ie to fine-tune the storyline of Look into the Eye. The manuscript review helped me to turn the corner with the book and when I finally got the wonderful phone call from Poolbeg last year offering me a three book deal, I was thrilled. Nothing could have prepared me for the joy of seeing my book on the shelves. I must admit however, that though my publisher did warn me from the beginning not to give up the day job, I couldn’t help but expect life to change dramatically – as you do when your dreams come true.

They did and it didn’t: I still had to turn up for work at the day-job on Monday morning and I’m still waiting for Oprah’s call . . . but the outpouring of support from friends and family was overwhelming and over the course of the year I have had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know a fantastic, inspirational, supportive group of writers, bloggers, booksellers, readers and book people who have been a tremendous source of encouragement, support and fun to me over the past year. Writing is quite a solitary business but getting published can open up a whole new world and it’s been wonderful to be a part of it.

jennifer_barrettOnce I came down from the high of getting published I settled down to write my second novel The Songbird’s Way. I had originally come up with the idea for a play but when I got the book deal and had to write my second book within six months I changed it a little and turned it into a novel. I wrote the book for all of those who are different or who may be struggling to fit into society’s view of what’s conventional. The story is inspired by the writing of Joseph Campbell who encouraged people to ‘follow your bliss’ and by Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. It is the story of a girl who has had quite an unconventional upbringing, then as she enters her thirties she struggles to go against her natural instincts and interests to please those around her. My experience from my work in international development helped me to write Red’s story in the missionary school in Zambia, and my Anglo-Irish roots were the background to Chrissie’s story which moves from the traditional music scene in Dingle to a mystical forest in deepest rural Kent.

As you may expect from the title, there are many references to birds in the book. I’ve always been intrigued by the natural world and believe that as animals are so close to nature they may have the upper edge on us mere humans when it comes to understanding the natural order. I loved researching and writing about whales for Look into the Eye, and it didn’t take me long to work out that my second book would have a bird sub-theme. The symbolism was all there – freedom . . . travel . . . singing.

But other than knowing that I wanted the story to have a theme about birds I wasn’t sure what that would mean. So I amassed a tall pile of bird research books and I lined up a bird-watching friend to advise on African birds. For inspiration, I also created a playlist of every song in my I-tunes library with the words ‘bird’, ‘fly’ or ‘wings’ in it. The song ‘Songbird’ by Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac was one that resonated with me during that time. I played it over and over, and one line particularly struck a chord: ‘And the songbirds are singing like they know the score’. I liked the idea of the songbirds singing as if they knew something perhaps we didn’t – as if they knew the score. And so I chose three songbirds – the nightingale, the lark and the starling to represent the three women in the multi-generational story. The songbirds appear at crucial moments in the women’s stories – as if they know the score.

(c) Jennifer Barrett

About The Songbird’s Way:

Click to read our writing.ie review of The Songbird’s Way here.

When she is a child, Chrissie’s beloved father encourages his daughter to use her voice and to overcome her fear of singing in public. Inspired by her parents’ passions, music and travel become Chrissie’s whole life, but after seven years on the road and a family tragedy on a cycling tour of Tanzania, she loses the heart for both travelling and singing.

As her thirtieth birthday approaches, life for the former singer appears to be back on track as she settles in London with boyfriend, Tim. Only Chrissie’s not so sure that she’s the settling-down kind. Her secret dream is to follow in her mother’s tyre-prints, to tour Africa and see as much of the world as she can. As she struggles with her choices, Chrissie becomes intrigued by a newspaper article about the adventurous, unconventional life story of a woman three times her age.

But Chrissie is a people-pleaser. Despite her father’s early advice, she rarely has the courage to speak up and is afraid to hurt those closest to her. Events reach crisis-point, and on the day she turns thirty Chrissie panics and leaves her own party suddenly. What happens next is both astounding and revealing.

 The Songbird’s Way is in bookshops now, or pick up your copy online here.

About Jennifer:

Jennifer Barrett is author of two novels The Songbird’s Way and Look into the Eye. She also runs Edmund Rice Development, a charity that supports the schools, informal education, health and human rights projects of missionaries in Africa, India and Latin America.

Wildlife photography is one of Jennifer’s passions and her first novel, Look into the Eye was influenced by a close encounter with a wild orca while the author was photographing the whales underwater in the Norwegian fjords. The experience also led to her becoming Greenpeace’s ‘International Fundraiser of the Year’ in 2007 and to her ongoing involvement as a campaigner and advocate for an end to whaling and the captivity of cetaceans around the world.

Music is another of Jennifer’s great passions and she admits to: “shamelessly indulging my love of many different types of music in The Songbird’s Way. I’m hoping, that if the reader listens very carefully, that they might even be able to hear, as well as read, this book!”

Jennifer comes from a large family and divides her time between her own home in West Dublin, Kerry where her father hails from, and her mother’s native London.

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