Childhood holidays inspire new novel

Sheila Bugler found her calling in 2008 when she began writing crime novels. From Ballinasloe and living in England, she has just launched her 10th book, a murder mystery set in an Irish seaside town. She tells JUDY MURPHY about being finally ready to base a novel in her home country, and how childhood summers in Lahinch with her extended family gave her the inspiration.

As a seasoned author of crime fiction, English-based novelist Sheila Bugler is a dab hand at readings and public events.

But a recent one, in the library of her hometown, Ballinasloe, was possibly the most nerve-wracking yet, she says with a laugh.

A visit home to her parents Harry and Adrienne, coincided with the launch of Sheila’s latest book, Dark Road Home, published by UK company Canelo Crime – her 10th novel, and her first set in Ireland. She got a great response from the large crowd for what was her first hometown reading, so clearly her worries were misplaced.

Sheila and her brother Tom grew up in Beechlawn, on the outskirts of Ballinasloe in an old house which had been a staging-post for the Bianconi coaches that had revolutionised travel in Ireland in the 1800s.

Her parents later moved to an apartment in the town but Sheila has fond memories of playing in the gardens of the old house and climbing onto the sloping roof from an upstairs window.

However, it was her County Clare roots rather than her Ballinasloe childhood that inspired her new novel, Dark Road Home. In particular, Sheila drew on memories of seaside holidays spent in her father’s home county with his brother’s family.

“We spent every single summer holiday in Lahinch,” she recalls, adding that while Harry was a GP in Ballinasloe for decades, when it came to holidays and hurling, “he was a mad Clare fan”.

Sheila was living in London when Clare won the 1995 All-Ireland – their first since 1914 – and she remembers bringing her friends into the famous Swan pub in Stockwell to watch the game.

“None of them had ever even seen hurling before then,” she chuckles.

Settled England since the 1990s, Sheila had “always thought I’d end up back in Galway”, but realises that’s getting less likely as the years go by.

“I married an Irishman who didn’t want to come back,” she says, laughing as she refers to her husband Sean whom she met in Italy when she was working as an English language teacher.

Their children, Luke (21) and Ruby, (18 this month) navigate their dual nationality with ease, and although Sheila did feel a sense of grief when she realised the family wouldn’t be moving back to Ireland, she accepts their lives are in England now.

Still, her links with Ireland remain strong and she loved writing this book. Set in the fictional Clare seaside town of Dungarry, it contains references to real places including the Burren landscape and Moran’s Oyster Cottage in Kilcolgan.

Pictured: Sheila loves writing, describing it “as 70 per cent torture and 30 per cent pleasure”.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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