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An Interview with Jennifer Deibel about A Dance in Donegal
Today, Jennifer Deibel shares more about her new book, A Dance in Donegal. Be sure to enter the giveaway at the end of the post to get a copy of your own!
Debut novelist Jennifer Deibel spent six years on the Emerald Isle and fell in love with the sights, sounds, smells, and language of the lush country and its colorful people. Now she brings her love of Ireland to the pages of her historical romance novel, A Dance in Donegal.
In the summer of 1920, Moira Doherty decides to fulfill her deceased mother’s wish for her to leave Boston and teach in her mother’s home village of Ballymann in Donegal, Ireland. Though a few locals offer a warm welcome, others are distanced by superstition and suspicion. Rumors about a scandalous family reputation abound and threaten not only Moira’s new position but also her life.
Moira must rely on the kindness of a handful of unlikely friends, including a handsome thatcher named Sean, to help clear her family name before it’s too late. As she seeks to navigate her new life in Ireland, she may find that this truly is the life she was always meant to live.
Historical romance fans will embrace this lyrical tale of family and relish the cultural nuances, the rich history, and the beautiful settings embedded in the pages of A Dance in Donegal.
Q: What was the inspiration for your book?
I started writing A Dance in Donegal as a way to process my emotions and experiences after our first two years in Ireland. My family and I lived in a tiny, rural village in far west Donegal—a place that eventually inspired the fictional village of Ballymann. As “blow ins,” we often struggled to break through barriers of suspicion and distrust, and it was very lonely and trying. However, over time, we were able to make deep, meaningful connections. Moira’s story is, in many ways, a mirror of my own experiences, but it takes a much deeper and richer look through the lens of a history and culture unlike any other in the world.
Q: You and your family spent almost a decade living on the Emerald Isle. How did your experiences impact your novel?
Oh my goodness, how did our experiences not impact this novel! Had it not been for those two arduous, lonely, wonderful, exciting years in Donegal, we never would have come to know—and love—the Irish people and land as we do now. Those two years changed the trajectory of our entire lives, opening our eyes to the beauty that is Ireland and her people . . . and the rough and storied past that made her the enchanting Emerald Isle she is today. My heart and soul are echoed throughout the pages of this book, and our time spent there was the catalyst and inspiration for it all.
Q: One of the themes in your book is living the life you were meant to live. Can you explain how this theme plays out in your book?
Throughout the story the main character, Moira, finds herself confronted with her own limitations as well as those placed on her by the local villagers. She faces decision after decision in which she must choose if she is going to do what is right, no matter the consequences. In her darkest moments, Moira questions her choice to move to Ballymann, but through her hardships, she comes to realize that she had to endure those difficulties in order to discover a deeper, richer love and joy than she would have ever dared to imagine.
Q: Are there any other lessons embedded in the pages of your novel?
Along with the idea of doing the right thing no matter the consequences, themes of bravery, love, selflessness, and grace are woven throughout this book. It is my prayer that the picture of God’s grace and love for humanity would be apparent in a very natural and organic way and that readers would view how great, wide, deep, and long is the love of Jesus in a fresh way.
Q: A Dance in Donegal combines a winning combination of setting, history, romance, and just the right amount of mystery. What do you love most about the historical romance genre?
I love being able to explore times and places long since passed. Being able to experience what it might have been like to live in Victorian England or settle a patch of land in pioneer days or be an Austrian woman during World War II—it ignites my imagination and awakens my spirit.
Q: Was it difficult adding in the mystery element?
In its very early stages, the story was a sweet romance. It still is in many ways, but I knew something was missing. After some conversations with a dear author friend, I realized what this story needed—mystery! Once I realized that there was more awaiting Moira than even I had known, the ideas flowed and the mystery almost revealed itself to me, rather than the other way around. I never fancied myself a mystery writer, but I really love that aspect of the story, and writing it just might have been my favorite part.
Q: What type of research was required to bring authenticity to your work?
My main research came from six years of living in Ireland—being immersed in the culture and language and getting to know the people and the history. When we moved there, I had no intentions of using those experiences to write a book. It was as though my heart was born in Ireland and I never really found it until we moved there. And if I didn’t find some way to share those things with the world, I might have exploded. We spent those years studying Irish Gaelic, learning the history (of which I still have so much to learn!), visiting the holy sites, and fully embedding our lifestyle into the Irish way.
Other than that, once I started writing, I researched specific dates, places, and/or people to make sure my details were as accurate as possible. I’ve used several books and websites, as well as lots of questions asked to my Irish friends to ensure accuracy.
Q: What are you working on next?
I am currently writing another historical novel that’s set to release in Spring 2022. This one is set in Galway City in 1921 and surrounds the legend of the Claddagh ring. After two years in Donegal, my family and I lived in the Galway area for four years, so I am excited to draw on our experiences there to bring the same depth and detail to this new story as I did A Dance in Donegal.
Jennifer Deibel is a middle school teacher whose work has appeared on (in)courage, on The Better Mom, in Missions Mosaic magazine, and other publications. With firsthand immersive experience abroad, Jennifer writes stories that help redefine home through the lens of culture, history, and family. After nearly a decade of living in Ireland and Austria, she now lives in Arizona with her husband and their three children.