GALWAY HAS long been a magnet for folk of an artistic bent; they arrive for a weekend or short stint in college and then find themselves setting down roots in the city.
American writer Mikal O’Boyle is one more artist who has succumbed to the city’s charms; having arrived here for a term in NUI Galway she ended up getting married, having a child, and settling in the city.
Mikal has also recently written a young adult fiction book entitled Snake the Gypsy which was officially launched by the former Arts, Culture and Gaeltacht minister Jimmy Deenihan and Galway senator Fidelma Healy-Eames.
Enchanting and full of adventure, Snake the Gypsy, narrated by an elderly snake, is a recounting of the life of a lonely gypsy girl who is ostracised by her own nation and is neglected by her unsympathetic mother.
Times seem very hard for her as she struggles to find happiness in life until she finally befriends an extraordinary snake who follows her, protects her, and even dances with her during her rigorous training sessions. When the time comes for Snake to enter into the Locé, the bi-annual gypsy festival, a horrible fate befalls the gypsy girl and her snake, leaving her in a place she is unfamiliar with, and even worse, she has stumbled into the midst of a war between two very unlikely beings.
The persistent suitor
Mikal grew up in Indiana and her ethnic background is fascinatingly diverse.
“I grew up with two older brothers,” Mikal tells me over an afternoon phone conversation. “There are Irish roots on my dad’s side, that family would have been Crawfords, but I’m kind of a Heinz 57, there is a bit of everything there, native American, Slovakian, German and Scottish. I think the Slovakian comes through though as I am 5’ 11’ with blonde hair and blue eyes.”
Mikal studied in Smith College, Massachusetts, but while on study abroad in NUIG she met and lost her heart to a strapping young gallant from Mayo. After going back to finish her studies in America they maintained a long distance relationship and got married in August 2012 after which Mikal returned to live in Newcastle, Galway, with her husband Adrian.
“In my college in Massachusetts there was an option in third year for studying abroad so I took up that chance and I always had this thing for Ireland, maybe because of the fairies and all the storytelling,” she tells me. “I travelled here to study English and history. Ireland definitely lived up to my expectations. I was a bit heartbroken at first when I landed in Dublin, I thought the whole country was going to be like that but then I went to Connemara and then I met my husband Adrian who is from Mayo, and the more countryside I saw the better I felt!”
Mikal outlines her fateful encounter with her husband-to-be: “I met Adrian in NUIG. Funnily, it was in a class about Native Americans which was taught by an Italian man. The first time I met him I wasn’t very impressed because he kept asking me to move over and there were only 10 minutes left in the class so I thought he was a bit of a pain!
“He writes as well but more in the journalism/non-fiction field. After we got together, I had one more year of study to finish in US so Skype came to the rescue then. As regards settling here, we just jumped into it and decided to see what happened, but once I came to Ireland I felt I wanted to stay here. Now we have a daughter, Isabella, and I like the schools here better than the ones in the States so I am settled here.”
An avid reader
I ask Mikal about her reading and writing impulses and influences as she grew up.
“I was an avid reader as a kid, especially the Wishbone series,” she tells me. “I always loved Dr Seuss as well. When I got older I became obsessed with Jane Austen and Edgar Allen Poe, they were my two favourites. I used to write when I was little but never took any real notice of it. It got a little more serious when I was in college and I realised I was writing stories in the margins of my notes whenever the lecture was a bit boring! I took a writing course while I was in college and after that I just started writing like crazy.”
Away from writing, Mikal is a member of the NUIG Alliance volleyball team, “We are in the premier league and represent Galway, I think the girls might kill me if I didn’t mention that!” she declares.
So, with her debut novel Snake the Gypsy already published, has Mikal got a follow-up planned?
“When I was pregnant with Isabella I started on another book,” she replies. “Since she was born I put it on pause for a while but I’m going to jump back into it now. It’s kind of influenced from when I was younger.
“We’d get the hose out and turn the sandpit into a mud-pit and my oldest brother then used to make it into a town, making buildings from rocks and sticks. Then me and my other brother would gather up as many bugs as we could find and put them in there so the novel is about these bugs and they start a war. I don’t know exactly where it’s going to go but that’s how I write, I just start and keep going rather than planning it all out!”
While waiting Mikal’s intriguing take on bug wars, readers can access her novel Snake the Gypsy on the websites of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and its publisher Black Rose Writing.