We talk Detectives, Aerial Yoga and Peru!
Welcome, Columbkill Noonan! Please tell us a little about your fabulously titled up-coming novel, “Barnabas Tew and the Case of the Missing Scarab”.
I have an obsession with British detective shows. And supernatural, mythological, paranormal things. And Jane Austin and the Bronte sisters. Put all that together, and you get a Victorian British detective who gets dragged into the mythological underworld of Ancient Egypt. Of course, right?
Now, one can’t really put all of those things together in an altogether serious sort of way, so “Barnabas” doesn’t even try to. “Barnabas” is fun, and a little weird, even, with lots of twists and turns and unpredictability.
Even though the fate of the world depends on Barnabas’ success, I knew I wanted the story to have a fun feeling to it. Barnabas is a very earnest, very nervous little fellow, who likes for things to be just-so, and the Egyptian afterlife if anything but. I had a wonderful time putting Barnabas into all of these strange new situations and seeing how he handled it. Sometimes he did smashingly… other times, not so much. I really enjoyed exploring his journey.
If you could be a fictional detective character from another great author’s book, who would that be and why?
I could take the easy route and say ‘Sherlock Holmes’, but he’s far more serious and methodical than I could ever be. So, I think I’d be Charles Lennox (written by Charles Finch). He’s smart, like Holmes, but a bit more fallible and, well, human, so he’s attainable.
Can you give us any clues as to what you are working on next?
I’m working on the sequel to “Barnabas Tew and the Case of the Missing Scarab”. It involves an entirely new afterlife, with all of the new mythology and gods and stories that entails. Barnabas may be a bit more accustomed to dealing with the unusual now, but he still retains his quintessentially Victorian love of order. And this new afterlife is one of the most chaotic ones in all of history (hint: there are Vikings!) so poor Barnabas is cast pretty far out of his comfort zone in this one.
One of your hobbies is aerial yoga. I would imagine this involves a similar level of discipline and skill as being a writer?
It does! I started about two years ago (I was forty-two years old at the time, and in a class with a bunch of twenty-somethings. I thought, what am I doing in here? I’m too old for this! Then I thought, oh well, I’ll be the old lady dangling like a beached walrus in the midst of all these agile young people, and so what?) Anyway, I did it (and I was like a beached walrus for the first couple months!) But I worked at it, and practiced, and was determined, and now I can do things that I never really thought I’d ever do. The practice takes a lot of work, though; if you miss a week or two of class it’s much harder to do some of the moves.
Writing is the same. The first things you write, starting out, are a bit ungainly, too. Then you work on it, and practice, and get better, until suddenly you’re writing things you never dreamed you could. And if you skip a few days of writing then it’s much harder to find your way back into the story again.
I’m not so much into sweets. And I’m a vegan, which makes it pretty hard to find a cake that I can eat. But there is a restaurant in Baltimore (called the One World Café…it’s actually the place that is hosting my launch party!) that is very vegetarian/vegan friendly. And when they bring you a piece of vegan cake, no matter what flavor it is, you eat that little piece of heaven. It’s really that good.
Favourite place you have ever visited anywhere in the world?
Cusco and Macchu Picchu, Peru. I went there with a good friend a couple years ago, and it was fabulous. When your bus finally makes it up to the top of a rather terrifying climb up a very skinny dirt road that snakes its way along the side of a very high mountain with some very steep drop-offs and you see Macchu Picchu spread out below you, it takes your breath away. The drop-offs were so precipitous, and so close to the side of the road, that you pretty much feel certain several times over the course of the trip that you are definitely about to plunge to your death. There was an elderly lady seated on the seat behind us, and boy did we learn some interesting combinations of swear words from her! Once you get to the top though (adrenaline pumping and your heart leaping out of your chest) you see this unbelievably magnificent ancient city spread out below you. Then you walk through that city, touching stones that were laid thousands of years ago by an ancient people. Wild llamas jump around delightfully from ledge to ledge all around you, and you are surrounded by beautiful mountains and valleys in all directions. It feels as though you could touch the gods in that place. But you really earn that experience.
To get to Macchu Picchu, you can either take a bus (didn’t have time for that!), hike for several days up the Inca Trail (I’m adventuresome, but not that adventuresome!), or fly to Cusco from Lima and then take a four hour train ride down the mountain, followed by the (formerly mentioned terrifyingly harrowing) bus ride to Macchu Picchu. We opted for the Cusco/train ride/bus trip.
The difficulty is that Cusco is very high up in the mountains, and the air is ridiculously thin. As in, every store, every restaurant, every hotel has oxygen tanks to give to people who are starting to pass out from oxygen deprivation. My friend and I knew that altitude sickness was an issue there, but we (rather stupidly) thought, well, we’re pretty healthy so we’ll probably be just fine. And besides, we can acclimate a bit in Lima.
Now, altitude sickness doesn’t care how healthy you are, and Lima is at sea-level, so nobody is going to do any “acclimating” to high altitudes there. My friend is a microbiologist, and I’m a biologist. You’d think one of us would have been smart enough to catch on to the error in our thinking. But no. We didn’t. So we land in Cuzco, and then we realize our mistakes pretty quickly. It’s like you’re constantly out of breath, you get winded even though you’re walking so slow a turtle walking backwards could pass you by, and you get dizzy every time you turn your head. We ordered an oxygen tank from room service once we got to our hotel (room service brings you oxygen tanks!!! That says it all right there). They also gave us some candy (they called it “coco-candy”, and it’s made from the same plant that people use to make cocaine) because they said it helped with the sickness. Well, you can bet that we were eating that “coco-candy” like our lives depended on it, and sharing that oxygen tank back and forth all night long. After a couple days it did start to feel better, but the whole experience was really an exercise in understanding just how much I can endure in order to see one of the most amazing places on earth. There was a lot of spiritual growth that came from that (and I don’t think that’s the “coco-candy” talking!)
Your one piece of advice for anybody writing in your genre?
Just keep trying. Keep writing. Keep submitting. Keep editing and revising. Be yourself, don’t try to emulate this-or-that writer. And write things that you enjoy writing about. I look forward to seeing Barnabas every morning. It would be much harder to write if I didn’t feel that way about him and his story. It should be fun! And if it’s not, well, go to Peru, get some altitude sickness, have some “coco-candy”, and regain your perspective.