Full Moon, Cow Crying, a guest post by Jessie Ann Foley
When I tell people I’m a writer, they often ask me where the ideas for my novels begin.
The short answer: never at the beginning.
The longer answer: sometimes in the middle, sometimes nearer the end, never with a coherent plot in mind (I wish), never even with a specific character.
It’s always just an image or fragment, sometimes real, sometimes imagined, that feels important to me even if I don’t know why. All I do know is that I must immediately record this little idea sliver into my notes application before it floats away and is forgotten. I like to think of this list of half-formed thoughts (now at 657 and counting) as my own personal insurance policy against writer’s block, but the truth is, the vast majority of these notes will never again see the light of day.
But sometimes, they do.
The idea for Breda’s Island, my fifth novel but my first for Middle Grade readers, began very late one night on my husband’s family farm in rural County Kerry, Ireland. I was lying in bed next to my husband and was awoken by a strange sound. I sat up, brushed aside the bedroom curtains, and saw the mournful, lowing shape in the darkness. I fumbled for my phone on the nightstand, squinted at the screen, pulled up my notes and wrote: full moon, cow crying outside my bedroom window.
Now, for a creature that stands in a field all day chewing grass, digests said grass in its four stomachs, then produces so much flatulence that its farts contribute to an estimated one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions made by the agricultural industry—I have to tell you, a cow’s “moo” can convey a surprising amount of nuance, depth, and feeling.
The night this particular cow woke me up, the emotion she was feeling came across quite clearly: wild, all-consuming grief.
The next morning, I asked my husband, “Did you hear that last night?”
He nodded, drinking his tea.
“Her calf died,” he said simply.
Heartbreak, it turns out, sounds the same in both human and animal language.
Three years after the cow lost her calf, Covid descended across the world. In the months that followed, I found myself supervising the remote learning of our three very young children while queasily but excitedly expecting our fourth.
So I was thinking a lot about mothers and their babies.
I was thinking a lot about loss.
I was thinking a lot about the distances, both physical and emotional, that live in the middle of families like wide dark highways bisecting fertile grazing lands.
And I started thinking, again, about that cow.
During those difficult early pandemic days, I began a draft of Breda’s Island. Through the writing and revision process, I began slowly circling my way closer and closer to the real story I wanted to tell, which was about a cow but also not about a cow, in the same way a dream is about one thing but really is about something much trickier and harder to pin down.
Eventually, it became a story about a twelve-year-old girl named Breda, her mother, and her granda. It became an exploration of what can happen when families don’t communicate their love and their grief to one another, not because they can’t speak, but because they were never taught the language. It became a story about what draws us back again and again to stories of the complex, often painful, bonds of family—because, as Breda’s friend Noeleen explains to her, “Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann an daoine”—We live in each other’s shadows—no matter how far the distance of time and geography that separate us.
Meet the author
Jessie Ann Foley is the Printz honor-winning author of the novels The Carnival at Bray, Neighborhood Girls, Sorry for Your Loss,You Know I’m No Good and Breda’s Island. Her work has been named to best-of lists by Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, YALSA, Bank Street, Entertainment Weekly, and many other outlets, and has been featured on school and library recommended reading lists across the United States. Jessie lives with her family in Chicago, where she was born and raised.
BREDA’S ISLAND (QuillTree Books, July 2022)
AGATHA MAY AND THE ANGLERFISH (Dial Books for Young Readers, December 2022)
About Breda’s Island
In the vein of When You Trap a Tiger and Shouting at the Rain, this is the story of the journey one girl undertakes to find herself.
After Breda Moriarity gets caught stealing one too many times, Breda’s mom sends her to Ireland, a place she has never been, to live with the grandfather she has never met.
While Breda doesn’t want to be in this strange land, she finally gets to meet Granda, her mom’s father. He’s a grumpy farmer who is also a seanchaí, a traditional Gaelic storyteller. But the most important story is the one nobody will talk about: what happened to her absent father. If nothing else this summer, Breda is determined to figure out the truth about her family’s history—and herself.
This powerfully poignant middle grade novel, the first from award-winning author Jessie Ann Foley, asks questions about estranged relationships, immigration, and family secrets.
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/12/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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