Inspiration for novels can come from almost anywhere, some unexpected places. For Along the Far Shores, it was especially unusual. When I was a children’s librarian outside of Philadelphia years ago, I was doing some much needed weeding and I came across this book that told about the legend of Prince Madog of Wales’s voyage to America in 1170. It wasn’t a beautifully illustrated picture book; it was a nonfiction text that investigated the legend in order to substantiate its truth.
I was so intrigued, I took it home and read it in a night. I have to confess I’d never heard of the legend before this. I’d heard of Leif Ericsson’s eleventh century voyage along Labrador and that area and of course I heard of the sixth-century voyage of St. Brendan, which again was most likely up in the northern areas of the Americas. Madog’s voyage apparently ended up in Mobile Bay, in what is now Alabama, and he sailed up what is now called the Mad Dog River. All very intriguing.
At the same time, I was writing a novel that looked at the red-haired plaid-clothed mummies that were discovered in the Xinxiang Province in western China. They dated back to about 1500 BC, long before any archaeological evidence of “Celts” or what we group as Celts, though they seemed to share many of the same characteristics in their burial patterns, clothing composition and other items. I loved the idea of it and my novel evolved as two parallel narratives, one in the ancient past that brought a small proto Tlingit group and a proto Irish/Celtic group together, and the present that brought an Irish woman and a Tlingit man together. In the many centuries in between those periods I thought I would write other novels that told the story of similar encounters between the two groups where I could show the two cultures in different periods and the aspects of prejudices and assumptions that each time period might have. Linking all this was a medallion passed down through the centuries and back and forth and appearing in each novel as a connection that means something strongly to one of the characters.
When I read the Madog tale, it seemed like a wonderful event to use as part of this novel chain. Aisling, an Irish noblewoman, escapes the turmoil in her country only to find a similar situation in Wales, where her brother is serving one of the many princes. She stows away on Madog’s ship in order to be with her brother and is tossed overboard during a storm. She is rescued by a Tlingit trader, Caxna, who reluctantly takes her along his trading journey, first to the declining Mayan city of Xicallanca and then later to Etowah, the powerful city of the Mississippian empire. For Caxna a successful journey means his clan’s freedom. But Aisling changes everything.