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Real or Imposter? Kelda by Dolores Lyons

Writing.ie | Magazine | Tell Your Own Story | Writing & Me
Dolores Lyons

Dolores Lyons

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Real or Imposter? Maybe Kelda will reveal all

I’ve had a lot more experience of reading than I have of writing – a lot more. Therefore, when a tiny flash of ambition to write hit me some years back, I was very cautious.

Around the same time, I spotted an advertisement in the Irish Times for a weekend writing course. Before I could lose courage, I made an application. As a prerequisite, I had to submit some of my writing to the other applicants. In turn, they would send me their manuscripts and we would read and comment on each others work. I promised the facilitator that I would be able to do that, finished the phone call and exhaled slowly.

It was summertime, and I had been reading Women in the Viking Age by Judith Jesch.  This was well before the Viking television series and all the interest that ensued from it. I was impressed by these women. They were strong and resilient. While the menfolk were away for months at sea, trading and raiding, they were defenders of the homeplace as well as being homemakers.

Wouldn’t this be a rich background for my story? Except of course, I hadn’t a story…yet.

Up to this, I had spent thirty-five years in the classroom often reading stories to children. I knew how to keep my young listeners engaged, how to increase the drama of a story and create suspense. Could I work the same effect with my own creation?

Leaning towards children’s fiction, I dreamed of a heroine  similar to the feisty girl characters of my own childhood. Girls like Jo in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, or Eleanor Porter’s Pollyanna.

I had discovered that that the wives and families of Viking adventurers had sometimes sailed with their menfolk. I decided that my heroine would be a young Viking girl from the Norwegian fjords. Her name would be Kelda (my favourite from a list of Old Norse names for girls in a Google search).

I managed to write a page and a half for that weekend course, just an opening really and set off. Driving home that Sunday, I felt both humbled and elated. Now I knew how much I had to learn yet about the whole business of writing. But, the words “strong and promising” had been written on my very slim manuscript and this was all I needed to propel me forwards.

Next came more historic details. Upon discovering that Olaf Bent Shoe, a Viking King, had ruled both Dublin and York in the mid-tenth century, I determined to include York in my story, thus linking up Norway, Ireland and England.

Then a darker bit of information surfaced. Both Viking towns had been thriving slave trading centres in that era. In Ireland, people were being captured to be sold as slaves as far away as the Slav countries in the East. I couldn’t have a more colourful backdrop for Kelda’s adventures.

I read some great books on how to write. I even did practice writing and end of chapter exercises. This was followed by a trip to the beautiful city of York where I soaked up the Viking atmosphere on the Viking trail.

At last, I was ready. Surrounded by my notebooks, I waited for the words to tumble out onto the page. Horror of horrors! I had become so conscious of what constituted “good” and “bad” writing that I was afraid to write a word without worrying that I was guilty of breaking some writing rule.

At that time Waterford City & County Arts Office was inviting applicants for a literacy mentoring scheme, I wondered if this could be the answer. I submitted some writing and Grace Wells, author and poet became my mentor, helping me to find my voice again. Under her mentorship, I continued to write.

Next, I applied for a Date with an Agent as part of the International Literature Festival on the Writing.ie website. Some weeks later, I sat with the other hopefuls in Bedford Hall in Dublin Castle, waiting my turn. Alas! There was no book deal, but I got some very solid advice that kept me writing.

Thinking it was time for submission, I tried the Irish Publishers. There were rejections. I kept trying and along came a contract. I signed and sat back for many months, awaiting developments. I made a shocking discovery one day. Another newspaper article. Suffice it to say that my contract, for reasons that had nothing to do with me or Kelda, couldn’t be honoured.  I was back to square one.

This is where the real or fake comes in. I had wanted so much the “stamp of approval” from a  Publishing Company, that objective confirmation that my writing was “worthy”. These rejections made me wonder whether I could really write. I was torn between self-doubt and powerlessness.

One day I took a fresh look at it all. If Kelda was going to prove my worth, I needed to get even more serious about editing. So I pared it down until one chapter moved seamlessly into the next.

I chose Kazoo as my self-publishing company. Chenile introduced me to Martin Beckett, illustrator par excellence, and to Claire of Red Kettle Design for the map that I would need.

Soon, the books arrived, beautiful in purple and gold and blue. So also did Covid 19, with its restrictions and lockdowns.

No launch being possible, I visited some independent bookshops and heritage centres who took copies.  Then, just before Christmas, Des Kenny of Kenny’s Bookshop Galway kindly agreed to stock Kelda and due to its Irish context, copies would be sent to Congress Library in Washington,  and to the Academic Libraries of Harvard, Princeton and Notre Dame.

A great review from the INTO magazine “In Touch” recommended Kelda highly. It was chosen by some Primary Schools as a class reader for the senior classes as it tied in with aspects of the English language curriculum.

Then everything went quiet again in the second lockdown.

As I write, Covid restrictions are being gradually lifted and I’m doubling my efforts to promote Kelda. There’s lots to be done yet. Without a distributor, it will always be a challenge to get my book out there. I know that. Above all else, though, I really want everyone who reads Kelda to love her and be captivated by her story.

(c) Dolores Lyons

About Kelda:

Kelda is a true Viking girl and she loves adventure. Soon she and her family will leave Norway forever and sail to Ireland.

But nothing goes to plan, and the exciting Viking adventure quickly turns into a nightmare.

Kelda is desperately lonely in Ireland. Then one day her father brings Maeve home. Maeve is an Irish slave girl who has to help with the chores in the Viking household. Will she be the friend Kelda so badly needs? If only Maeve wasn’t missing her family so much. If only she didn’t keep talking about running away.

Together the girls plan Maeve’s escape. But, after a shocking betrayal and a dangerous sea journey, Kelda finds herself on the busy harbour in York in yet another strange country, this time completely alone.

What will become of her now? Will she ever see her loved ones again? And when the time comes, will brave Kelda be able to outwit the terrifying Queen Gunnhild of York in the most daring escape plan of all?

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Dolores (Whelan) Lyons grew up in a family of book-lovers. One of her favourite books as a child was “Pollyanna” by Harriet Beecher Stowe. That book and other favourites awoke in her an enduring interest in feisty heroines like Kelda.
Dolores was a primary school teacher for many years, with a particular interest in English and literacy. Her fascination with Vikings stems from their rich contribution to the history of Ireland and of her native County Waterford, where Dolores still lives today in the seaside town of Dungarvan.

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