Monday, February 26, 2024

Q&A with Linda Crotta Brennan




Linda Crotta Brennan is the author of the new middle grade novel The Selkie's Daughter. Her many other books include When Rivers Burned. She lives in New England.


Q: What inspired you to write The Selkie’s Daughter, and how did you create your character Brigit?


A: Brigit inspired me to write The Selkie’s Daughter. One morning she strode onto the page of my journal. She was standing on a cliff hurling a prayer over the raging sea, “Bring him home, bring him home, bring him home.”


Who was she? Who was “he” and what had happened to him? I journaled further to discover the answers, finding them on the mist-shrouded coast of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia and its storied Celtic traditions.


Brigit’s father was a fisherman, lost at sea, and her mother…well her mother was a selkie, a seal woman, a secret Brigit must keep from her suspicious neighbors. 


Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book said, “This fresh and evocative tale, rendered in Brigit’s clear voice, is propelled by a resilient protagonist toward a satisfyingly complex resolution.” What do you think of that description?


A: Oh, what a lovely one! I worked long and hard to achieve this. In the original version of this story, Brigit was less resilient and more passive. I pushed and prodded her character to make her stronger.


Then there was Brigit’s voice. Originally this was a novel in verse which flavors Brigit’s way of expressing herself. I tried to retain that flavor as I rewrote it in prose, expanding and enlarging the novel.


And while the first two thirds of the plot came together easily, I struggled with the final third and the resolution. This published version of the book took years, seven years in fact, of revision after revision to achieve.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Brigit and her mother?


A: Brigit’s mother is forever drawn to the sea, and although she loves her family, she is not particularly present for them. Brigit is forced to take up the slack, cooking, cleaning, and caring for her little brother. Because of this, Brigit sometimes resents her mother and is afraid she’ll leave them.

But Brigit also loves her mother deeply and is inspired by her mother’s songs and tales. She admires the jewelry her mother makes which gives Brigit a glimpse of life in Sule Skerrie. She aches to hear more about her mother’s life as a selkie.


Q: How did you research the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: Even though this is a fantasy, I did a lot of research for this book. I’ve written over 20 nonfiction books for young people, so I’m in the habit of digging deeply into a topic.


Of course, I delved into the Celtic myths surrounding selkies and into the rich heritage of Celtic song and legend. But I also researched the diphtheria epidemic, the symptoms of hypothermia, how to sail a dory, the lives of seals, and much more.


One of the most fascinating things that I discovered was how finely attuned seals are to their underwater environment, possessing senses beyond our own that can read current trails through the sea.


Getting the setting details just right was also important to me, so I studied Cape Breton history, the customs of its people, the plants and animals that are found there. I had someone who lived in Nova Scotia read the manuscript through for accuracy.


One startling discovery was a site on Cape Breton that is eerily similar to Brigit’s Finn’s Point, with caves like the one I envisioned leading to Selkie Cove. I will not reveal exactly where that is, but my husband and I drove down six miles of dirt road to see it, with Hurricane Fiona bearing down on us.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m juggling a few projects in various stages of development, and I’m not sure which of them will bear fruit. One is a historical fantasy set at the dawn of America’s industrial revolution, another is a fantasy featuring mini humanoids. And I’m in the gathering stage of a fantasy based on Italian folklore.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I wrote The Selkie’s Daughter, but now the story belongs to its readers. I am eager to hear what they bring to it, and what they take away. I’m hoping it encourages young readers to be more accepting of differences, in themselves and in others.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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