First-time author Lydia Little has just launched the first of a new series of books based on the adventures of a schoolgirl in a gothic-style castle boarding school with a mysterious past set in enchanting countryside.
The adventures of Ms Harriet Potter this is not, however. Instead, it’s a story very much rooted in reality but with a ghostly twist; a sort-of Irish Mallory Towers set in 1980s Kylemore Abbey in Co Galway. Just like the heroine of the story, Alice Stone, Little was seduced by the prospect of going away to a boarding school and determined to convince her parents to send her there.
“There were two schools on offer in Kinsale where I grew up,” says Little, “and they just didn’t offer the sort of adventure that I was looking for at the time… and when I read Mallory Towers, I just thought ‘Gosh, wouldn’t boarding school be fantastic?’”
She was additionally influenced somewhat by her older brother Fergus (frontman with the group Interference), who had already been coming home with inspiring tales of life at his boarding school in Co Meath.
Little was also captivated by the story behind the Henry family that lived there and who had originally built Kylemore Castle. In those days, long before Downton Abbey, stories of the lives of the landed gentry didn’t feature strongly on the cultural radar.
“I was fascinated with that world — a world of princesses, big dresses and grand balls and in the back of my mind, I always knew that there was a girl buried at Kylemore but I never really knew her historic past.” The girl in question was a certain Ruth Stoker — cousin of Dracula creator Bram Stoker. She died suddenly at Kylemore at the age of 14 while on a visit to the house and her spirit returns as one of the main characters in K-Girls.
The book has been in gestation since Lydia was a boarder at Kylemore. She finished the first draft three years ago at the age of 39 and put it out to all Irish publishers and agents, issuing the standard package of sample chapters, synopsis and covering letter. The response was a success, with two publishers responding positively: they were interested in the book and the series, but only if the story was updated to present-day Ireland.
Instead, Lydia stuck to telling the story that she knew best and continued to polish her product. She opted for the online publishing route with Kindle Direct Publishing and, after encouraging sales of the electronic version of K-Girls and strong feedback, demand began to grow for a printed version, with Kylemore Abbey itself starting to place orders for a printed version.
“The only danger with self-publishing is that people might be a little bit impulsive in doing it. I had to be cautious because I wanted to ensure that it was properly edited and reviewed before I put it on the market, because I wanted to give it a professional feel.
Some people are very happy just writing it, self-editing and putting it up. Then you get the phenomenal stories where people do that and it just takes off in a huge way. Then there are the likes of myself: I was in it for the long road and I wanted to make sure that it was a presented professionally and took it from there with the view that it would eventually break into print.”
n‘K-Girls, the first in the ’Kylemore Abbey School’ series is now available under the Little Red Gate label at €9.
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