Part III: Visiting Sheepskerry Island

Monday, June 17, 2013

At long last: Part III! Sorry for the delay, I was with the Fairy Bells themselves (art for Book 3, the cover for Book 5 now finished.) I promised you a trip to Sheepskerry Island, so let's go!



I have been WAITING to tell you about this secret trip for almost a year! 
What made it so secret? 

Well, (1) the Fairy bells were not yet announced, and (2) Sheepskerry itself was based on a real and secret island (which shall not be revealed) on midcoast, Maine. It cannot be found on a GPS. It is only known by locals. There are no streets or cars on it, just worn paths for wheelbarrows and boardwalks for feet. The only way to get there is to drive up a winding mainland road clutching a detailed map written by Margaret McNamara herself, putting a lot of trust in her, your little city Civic, and a lobster boat...

Lobster boat? Yes, lobster boat. You must leave your car here, at the tippity top of the hill, and get on one, if you want to cross the water. While you wait, you will be stunned by the view that suddenly opens up ahead: a sparkling bay dotted with islands. Sheepskerry is SO secret and small that someone (a kind, older woman, also waiting for the lobster boat on your bench) might lean over and ask: "Who do YOU know on the island?" Because everyone knows everyone on the island!

    (In the books, there is a fairy ferry...and it is a harbor seal named Merryweather, see Book 3.)

So that is how to get to Margaret McNamara's favorite place, home to the Fairy Bell sisters. Before I continue, I'll tell you the third and final secret: Margaret's real name is Brenda (she writes as Margaret and represents artists and writers as rep Brenda Bowen). She graciously invited me up last August, so I could see Sheepskerry myself, take pictures, and learn how to build a proper fairy house. It was a pleasure getting to meet her, and her family, and childhood friends. Most of them have summered on this island for generations.

When the lobster boat reached Sheepskerry, I could see Brenda arriving at the dock, accompanied by her family (right away I spotted her and daughter's red hair and freckles–thought of Rosy!) It was a treat to finally meet her after the long journey, emailing, and reading her stories. And, just like the Summer People do in Book 2, we loaded my bags into a big wheelbarrow and headed up the footpath to her cottage, passing friends and fields of wild flowers on the way. 

Author, Margaret McNamara

I wasn't prepared for the meadows! They stole the breath right out of me. The Fairy Bells' world expanded into wildflower blooms and sun. My lungs were filled with the kind of air you can't breathe in the city. It was a old-fashioned, unplugged place, surrounded by blue, magical even just for those reasons, if not for the fact a whole village of fairies were living here, and I'd get to meet them soon...

We passed Brenda's friends on the way to her house. We set the wheelbarrow down so I could meet them: Betsy, and her daughter, Isadora (who served as the inspiration for one very crafty, creative and stylish fairy–guess who?) She even let me peek into her attic craft room full of scraps of cloth and strings of beads and yarn, dolls and dresses in the works. Goldie would have loved it up there...

 We reached Brenda's cottage and she showed me my room so I could set my bags and supplies down...there I spied a wildflower bouquet (what would become Rosy's wildflower bouquet in Book 2!)

Lunch was on the porch (which included, yes, Fairy Cake, recipe in Book 1) with the wind whipping and the sound of surf. We finally had a good chat. We talked about Clara, Rosy, Sylva, Goldie and Squeak, J. M. Barrie. It was fascinating to hear about her many hats in the publishing industry.

We laughed when we found out we were both from a big family, full of sisters. And I could tell she liked pretending. It's always interesting, being an adult who makes a living at pretending. And it's especially fun to meet another who does, too. You can relax, you can be kindreds. Brenda was full of ideas and always had a glint in her eye. I could tell she had some adventures planned. Sure enough she announced it was time for our first appointment on Sheepskerry: Building Fairy Houses! 

Is it terrible I had never made a fairy house until that day? Have you? I was a little nervous. Brenda, Betsy, Isadora, and Avery (a "Summer Child" who came through the woods to join us) knew just how to do it. Isadora patiently explained that you use only found and natural things in a fairy house (but more on How To Build A Fairy House later, I'll be making a post for that).

Here are some highlights from the woods...

Look at the tiny furniture Isadora made with bits of bark! 
(For al fresco fairy dining.)

The boardwalk runs right by Fairy Village, just as it does in Book 2, when the fairies hide in their homes from the loud summer children (and dogs)...

I topped mine off with a found crab's head chimney.

Betsy's looked like a sacred fairy place, a good place for a wedding?

Then we toured Sheepskerry, with Brenda leading me to all the places she wrote about...

"Fairy School"

"Cathedral Pines"

Avery joined us too!

(Where I imagined the mermaids from Book 2.)

Evidence of troll-life?

It wasn't long before I could really SEE the Fairy Bells living under the ferns and tall pines, playing cards in their mossy little house. When sunset came, we all paraded down the boardwalk toward "White Rose Cottage" for dinner on their back porch facing the bay. It was a sweet bunch of people, a night of old island tales, twinkling light. I was so grateful to be a part of it and invited to Sheepskerry.

Dinner on the island.

Yes it was a visit to a real place, but one woven with ribbons of fiction. Everywhere we walked, even during dinner, or in the middle of a story, Brenda would break into a whisper with a wink, a nudge and a Fairy Bell clue...that "this" or "that" was something from third book, or where Goldie collects sea glass. The best part of our jobs, as book makers I think, is to pretend, and I was honored to be able to do it alongside Margaret McNamara, in the place where the Fairy Bells lived...

Farewell, till next time, thanks for making the trip up to Sheepskerry!

Books 1, 2 are all available wherever books are sold:

If you'd like to read the rest of the Fairy Bell Blog Kickoff,  Part I: Fairy Bell Release Day is HERE and Part II: Behind the Scenes With the Bells is HERE. This summer I'll be posting How to Build Your Own Fairy House, so I'll be seeing you again very soon...!