Of Castles and Ireland — Welcome Guest Art Taylor

It’s always a joy to welcome Art Taylor to the blog and to celebrate a new book. This time The Adventure of the Castle Thief and Other Expeditions and Indiscretions. We met through the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime and found out we were almost neighbors.

While I’m a follower and a loyal fan of all six of the current authors here at The Wickeds (thanks particularly to Sherry for hosting me!), I’m actually thinking most of a former one as I write this: Sheila Connolly, who passed away in April 2020.

Sheila was a prolific and prodigious author (in a single year, she’d write more books than I write short stories!), and one of her best-loved series was the County Cork Mysteries, eight novels about Boston expatriate Maura Donovan and her adventures in the tiny village of West Cork. Sheila herself bought and renovated a cottage in Ireland, a process she wrote about in the blog My Cottage in Ireland. And to help celebrate one of Sheila’s novels, Scandal in Skibbereen back in February 2014, her fellow Wickeds wrote a group post about their own various Irish ties.

I’m thinking about Sheila and about Ireland because of my new collection, The Adventure of the Castle Thief and Other Expeditions and Indiscretions, which came out earlier this week from Crippen & Landru, a small press specializing in short mystery fiction.

The title story (previously unpublished) is set in an Irish castle, where a group of American students on a study abroad find the capstone of their trip disrupted by a series of thefts: a scarf, a whiskey glass, a notebook, and more. Could it be someone among their own group stealing from their friends? And why? Professor Erwin Conroy and his star student set out on a Sherlock and Watson investigation (or is it Watson and Sherlock?) to determine the truth. All of it unfolds on “a majestic 14th-century estate south of Sligo”—the castle itself conjuring up different kinds of adventures for Professor Conroy and his students: knights and damsels, dragons maybe or ghosts, or maybe another group of kids, wizards in training discovering powers they haven’t quite learned to harness.

The story and its setting were inspired in large part by my own trips to Ireland—two of them, and each with a castle as the highlight.

My wife, Tara Laskowski, and I honeymooned in Ireland back in 2009, traveling from Dublin to Cork, Killarney, and then Galway—actually north of Glasgow, to the village of Cong in County Mayo. There, we stayed at Ashford Castle, a beautiful castle with 800 years of history behind it. The Guinness family once lived there; an island on the adjacent lake features the ruins of a monastic church attributed to Saint Patrick; and The Quiet Man with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara were filmed mostly on the estate and in the village of Cong. Oh, and we did some falconry while we were there—a highlight aspect of the highlight destination! (What could be more castley than falconry, right?)

Several years later, I helped lead a study abroad trip to Ireland myself—a creative nonfiction outing through George Mason University. Our journey kept mostly to the West of Ireland: Sligo, Glasgow, and the Aran Islands at each step of the stay. And here again one of the highlights was a castle: Markree Castle, dating from the 17th century and located in County Sligo. In the mornings, our group held classes in one of the meeting rooms; in the afternoons we took small fields trips, hiking and exploring local bits of history; and in the evenings, the students all gathered for drinks and dinner and then settled in to savor the feel of the whole experience.

While none of the characters in “The Castle Thief” are based on any of those students (of course not!), the time we shared together helped inspire the sense of wonder, adventure, and community that I hope come through as the heartbeat of my story—with both Markree and Ashford Castle providing a suitable (even necessary!) backdrop to the tale.

Needless to say, setting does more than simply provide backdrop; character and plot and setting all intertwine to affect one another as a story unfolds—and to circle back to Sheila again, we’ve seen elsewhere how Ireland in particular can play such a central role.

Readers: I’m curious if others here have ever stayed in a castle or perhaps wanted to. What were your own experiences like? And how did all the connotations and expectations of “a castle” impact or enhance those experiences?

Art Taylor is the author of two collections—The Adventure of the Castle Thief and Other Expeditions and Indiscretions and The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense—and On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. His short fiction has won three additional Agatha Awards as well as the Edgar, Anthony, Derringer, and Macavity Awards. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University. www.arttaylorwriter.com.

Art Taylor

34 Thoughts

  1. Welcome Art! Love this articles and the photos attached. Were you scared when the falcons landed on your hand/wrist? Also I’ve never stayed at a castle. Looks like I need a trip to Ireland in my future.
    Congratulations on your book.

    1. Thanks, Dru Ann! It was a little unsettling having a bird of prey flying at top speed toward us, yes! And you have to hold a bit of meat between your gloved fingers to attract them—they can see it from a great distance and then swoop in suddenly. It was very exciting. And we got the chance for Dash to do it another time at the Greenbrier closer to home. Fun!

  2. What fabulous adventures, Art! I can’t wait to read the collection.

    Besides would-be Hearst Castle in California, I’ve only visited one, castle near Strasbourg, France, and it was pretty impressive

  3. Although we have never stayed in one, we did visit Boldt Castle in New York. Located on it’s own island, the story behind it, the heart theme through out and the history all made it a fabulous experience. If I was able to visit others or be fortunate enough to stay in one, I’m sure we would definitely do it.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  4. Three cheers to you on the new release, Art! Visiting Ireland is at the top of my bucket list. Hopefully, that will happen sooner rather than later. Sláinte!

    1. Hope you can make it—it’s a magical place in so many ways. And thanks for the kind words on the new book—very excited about it!

  5. My family has looked into renting a mini-castle in Scotland for a family reunion but haven’t actually done it yet! I am little confused- did you mean Galway in Ireland? Glasgow is in Scotland… the west coast of Ireland is amazing!

    1. Oh, my gosh, Shanna! What a mistake to have made! I did mean Galway, yes indeed. Where’s my head? (At least I got the G right…. though that was the cause of my stumble, I guess….) I just emailed Sherry to ask her to correct that, or if any of the other Wickeds see this note and can fix, I’ll appreciate!!!

      And in another direction: rent that mini-castle! It’ll be great fun, I know!

  6. Congratulations on the new book! I loved that you talked about Sheila, Art. She was such an amazing woman and author. I’ve never been to Ireland but hope to one day soon!

  7. Hi Art, and welcome to the Wickeds. I love short stories and I really love the cover of The Adventure of the Castle Thief. I have been to many castles. In fact, my husband and I joked that our cruise from Dublin to Edinburgh this summer over the top of Scotland was a castle tour–instead of the usual European cathedral tour. But I’ve only stayed in one, somewhere outside Copenhagen on a business trip to Denmark.

    1. Barb! That cruise sounds delightful. I’ve never been to Scotland (despite my typo on Glasgow! thanks to Sherry for fixing) but have always wanted to, and that sound like it would be quite the trip. #envious

  8. Art, the story – and the collection! – sound wonderful. Congratulations! I’ve never been to Ireland, although I’ve always dreamed of visiting. So I haven’t stayed in a castle. But I have spent the night in a Louisiana plantation manor house. The stay inspired my Cajun Country Mystery series.

    1. Thanks, Ellen! So much appreciate. And isn’t it interesting how often place can inspire us? Seeing a new place, fresh eyes, new experiences—all of it. A fan of your series as well, of course!

  9. As soon as I read the title of today’s blog, I thought of Sheila. She is so missed.

    I’ve never spent the night in a castle, but I have visited several so-called castles: Gillette Castle in E. Haddam, CT (home of William Gillette, early portrayer of Sherlock Holmes); Hearst Castle; Hammond Castle in Gloucester, MA; Casa Loma in Toronto; and the Piatt Castles in West Liberty, OH. I’d be happy to stay in any of them. But I doubt if any of them could offer the inspiration for a really good old-fashioned spooky mystery like the ones in Ireland.

    I’m not a huge short story fan, but your this book has me on the phone to my indie bookstore, Aaron’s in Lititz, PA, to place an order. (I always get in a plug for Aaron’s any time I can.)

    1. Thanks, Ginny—much appreciate! And hope Aaron’s can get it in easily—tell them I appreciate as well! And a coincidence: I was up at the Baker Street Irregulars weekend in New York in early January and several folks were talking about visiting Gillette Castle. Clearly it’s calling to me in some way—and several places here to add to the travel list. Thanks so much!

  10. I’m part Irish so visiting Ireland has always been at the top of my bucket list LOL.
    Love reading short stories to long novels.

  11. Shelia is well missed. I am so grateful that she was able to live her dream.

    Okay, you when you go to Ireland, you’re supposed to kiss the Blarney Stone, not find the Fountain of Youth. You and Tara look exactly the same as you did on your honeymoon!!!!!

    No castles for me – need to add that to the bucket list. Of course, I’d end up exploring and locking myself in a dungeon. Would make for good story fodder 🙂

    1. Haha! We missed kissing the Blarney Stone—I think we balked at the entrance fee and went in another direction.

      As for dungeons, I just taught Stanley Ellin’s “Moment of Decision” again—one of my favorite stories—and it’s got some dungeony-vibes as the story progresses. Good story material indeed!

  12. Welcome Art! The books sounds wonderful, congratulations. Ireland is on my bucket list. Though I’ve never stayed in a castle, I took a river cruise in Germany that was very castle centric, so I’ve visited many. So interesting…

  13. I’ve never spent the night in a xastle
    I loved Sheila’s books, not just County Cork, but the Museum and Orchard series as well.

    1. Sheila was so prolific, it was amazing. I don’t know how she did all she did quantity-wise and still kept the quality so high. A gift! (And hard work too, I know.)

  14. When my family went to Europe right after I graduated from college, we spent a couple of nights in castles that were hostiles. One we’d booked on purpose, and it was an old castle on the Rhine. The other? It was a complete shock when we pulled up and discovered it was a castle. We suspect it had been built in more modern times, but it was still fun staying there.

  15. Congratulations, Art. I’ve never stayed in a castle, but I toured Casa Loma on my honeymoon. It’s a castle-mansion in Toronto. Staying for a night would be fun, I think. Mostly. As long as the bathrooms had been renovated to use modern plumbing.

    1. Oh, yes…. Updated plumbing is a *must*! We did stop into another castle that was in its more original state (not a hotel, just a tourist site) and boy would that have been roughing it!
      I’ll look up Casa Loma too!

  16. I’ve never stayed in a castle but I’ve visited Blarney and watched tourists kiss the Blarney stone. I was too old to assume the position needed to reach the stone they considered the “official” Blarney stone but I did kiss one of the stones in the castle wall.

    1. We missed the Blarney Stone! We were staying just nearby and looked into it, and then didn’t… despite knowing what a highlight it *should* have been of the trip. Kind of regret that now, but at the time we just kept moving on to some other destination. (And now that I remember it, I think that might have been one of our hesitations as well, having to lean down backwards so far to get into the position….)

  17. Wonderful story Art and Sherry! Absolutely fascinating. Great photos. I love castles. I have been lucky enough to stay in two. Hawthornden Castle (which is a free writers’ retreat and highly recommended) in Scotland for a month and Książ Castle in Poland for about 2 days.

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