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In The Media--a couple of my favorite interviews!

Writing Irish: Welcome to Ballydara

Cascadia Weekly

Whatcom County author Susan Colleen Browne has never traveled to the Emerald Isle, but that hasn’t stopped her from embracing her strong Irish roots, or creating stories that take place among the country’s lush landscapes. {Note from Susan--I did go to Ireland after this interview!]

In fact, it was Browne’s resurgence in researching the place where many of her ancestors were born and raised that eventually led her to start writing novels set in the Village of Ballydara. Although the locale is fictional, it’s set in a specific place—County Galway, in the west of Ireland (near Lough Corrib, if that narrows it down for anyone).

When Browne celebrates the release of Mother Love, her second Village of Ballydara novel, it’ll be with a St. Patrick’s Day celebration in mind. At the March 16 event at Village Books, she’ll bring along Irish treats to share, and Cayley Schmid from the Bellingham Ceili Club will provide musical entertainment.

Additionally, Browne will talk about how she, as an Irish-American, came to write Irish stories, and share how people can learn more about their family dynamics through the lens of their cultural heritage. For her, reconnecting with her familial roots changed her life.

“I’ve been looking at my Irish-American ancestors and members of my family with new eyes—poring over the memorabilia I’ve inherited from my dad, talking more with my mother about her memories and exploring my own has given me deeper insights into the Irish character,” she says. “The more Irish stories I write, the more these relationship dynamics sort of sneak in.

“Also, connecting with my roots, I’ve been more affected by the contrast between the fun-loving, talkative, hard-drinking personalities we associate with the Irish with a culture that has experienced a huge amount of suffering over the centuries: oppression, famine and immigration, to name a few. On a lighter note, I’ve grown more passionate about all things Irish: books, films, music, culture and, more recently, food.”

In Mother Love—which Browne describes as an “epic love story wrapped inside a small-town romantic comedy”—a young Irish woman named Grainne (pronounced Grawn-ya) struggles with issues of love and loss while helping her mother launch a bed-and- breakfast in the aforementioned village. The author says the tone of the novel is humorous, but notes it also tackles darker subject matter.

As an Irish-American who’s writing novels set in Ireland, Browne must also make sure she’s including dialogue—and subject matter—that rings true to the setting.

“The biggest challenge is using the Irish expressions and idioms correctly,” Browne says. “I get a lot of slang from my favorite novelist, Dublin author Marian Keyes, who uses it liberally. I’ve created a glossary of Irish expressions I’ve gleaned from other writers that I keep nearby as I write, which has been hugely helpful.

“There’s a specific rhythm to Irish voices that to me is so engaging—it’s really satisfying when my intuition tells me I’ve gotten it right. Also, I love sprinkling Irish names from my own family throughout my books.”

Browne is hoping her Irish spirit rubs off at the St. Patrick’s Day event, and hopes those who’ve been to the intriguing island will share their own stories about the country she’s grown so close to—despite having never (yet) been there.

As for the holiday itself, Browne says for her it’s a time of remembrance.

“Every time I hear ‘Danny Boy,’ I’m reminded of my grandma, whose grandmother came from Ireland, and with whom I was very close—it was her favorite song. And I think of my sweet mother-in- law, born on March 17 and Irish on both sides, who passed away two years ago.”


Village of Ballydara novel, Book 2

Memoir recounts 'starter homestead'

The Bellingham Herald, May 26, 2009

If you’ve ever dreamed of establishing your own “starter homestead,” or turning your yard into a food-producing paradise, Susan Colleen Browne has written the book for you.

A longtime local writer, editor and writing instructor, Browne has just released “Little Farm in the Foothills: A Boomer Couple’s Search for the Slow Life.”

The 201-page memoir, written in conjunction with her husband John F. Browne, reveals the steep learning curve they experienced while creating Berryridge Farm in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. The book combines gardening advice with light-hearted humor and dozens of stories about the joys and challenges of rural life.

Susan likes to say she has learned that “simplicity can be awfully complicated.”

Susan, 54, and John, 60, each have two grown children. He retired eight years ago after a public safety career with Western Washington University; she is a 1993 graduate of Western’s Huxley College of the Environment.

Question: Susan, is your farm a never-ending project?

Answer: It definitely is a work in progress. We’ve got quite a little orchard and vegetable garden, even though we have only a half-acre cleared out of 10 acres we own. We’re focused on growing as much of our own food as possible. Someday, maybe we’ll grow enough to sell at the farmer’s market.

Q: Have you fulfilled your dream of “the slow life?”

A: Oh, yes! It’s pretty amazing to wake up every morning and realize that there is no place you’d rather be…It was one of those life-changing dreams. Call it our “midlife reinvention.”

Q: What can people learn from your book?

A: It takes us from conceiving our dream to carrying it out. We have a few segues into our pasts, since looking at your past really does inform so much of who you are and what dreams you might have. We’d like to think we provide a sense of inspiration, a sense that your dream might not be as far off as you think. But it’s not a how-to book; you won’t learn how to build a chicken coop.

Q: What are the challenges?

A: Be prepared to downsize a bit as you dream. We started with nothing but raw, old, clear-cut acreage. We came in dreaming of a log cabin home, but we realized we don’t have the finances for that so we put in a new manufactured home.

Now we’re dreaming of building a traditional big red barn. You might say we’ve gone from a dream home to a dream barn in our aspirations.

Q: Can urban gardeners benefit from what you’ve learned?

A: This book is for anyone who loves to garden or loves to dream about a more peaceful, slower life, especially if you’re into growing at least some of your own food.

Q: Is that why you donate part of your profits to Sustainable Connections?

A: Sustainable Connections has deeply inspired us with its “buy local” movement, along with the organization’s farm map, so we very much want to give back to this wonderful effort.

Meet Susan

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