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Ireland: it’s all about the light

Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott

Another book of photographs of Ireland? Leslie Conron Carola’s short answer might be “Why not?” But her latest collaboration with leading Irish art historian and archeologist Peter Harbison focuses on a dimension that hasn’t perhaps gotten as much as attention as it deserves.

“Ireland: A Luminous Beauty,” said Carola, is a “look at Ireland and its extraordinary ever-changing, wind-blown, reflective island light through layers of time, a light that shines, reflects, and inspires.

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“Stone Age builders knew to orient their structures to maximize the light for visibility and to utilize the seasonal light for phenomenal effects,” she added. “One of the first great pieces of architecture — the 5,000-year-old Newgrange passage-tomb which predates the pyramids of Egypt by more than 500 years – is oriented toward the rising sun at the winter's solstice on Dec. 21, offering an extraordinary 17-minute light show ushering dawn's light into the darkest recesses of the tomb.

“The two tallest stones at the front of Drombeg, one of the best-loved stone circles gracing the landscape in County Clare, frame an entrance leading to a point on the horizon where the sun sets on the winter solstice; other stone circles – their very shapes link them to the sun – point toward the midsummer sunrise on the horizon,” Carola said Carola, a long-time writer, editor and independent book producer. “The position of the ancient structures in the landscape heightens our observation and response to the surrounding light. From the icons and artifacts of the ancient world to the textural, colorful contrasts of the natural world and the imagination and style of the cultivated world we journey to one of the most beautiful places in the world.

“Lucky for me I was born into a book-and-music-loving family. Maybe that’s a nature-nurture discussion,” she said. “A frequent comment from my father when I was a child was ‘See it clearly. Take your time. Don’t just look. See it. See it with your mind’s eye.’ And that is how books take shape for me, most often from a very simple idea.

“The evolution of an illustrated book from concept to finished product is an exhilarating journey, one filled with seemingly endless questions, the answers to which provide fodder for more thought and questions,” Carola said. “The visual and text dialogue carry their own weight, running parallel and weaving in and around each other when appropriate, each one supporting and pushing the other. An exciting and stimulating challenge; theatre itself.”

Leslie Conron Carola

Place of birth: Newport, R.I.

Spouse: Robert Carola

Children: Maria Carola, Matthew Carola

Residence: Westport, Conn.

Published works: “Ireland: A Luminous Beauty”; “The Irish: A Treasury Of Art And Literature”; “Mrs. Grossman's Sticker Magic”; “Wrapped With Style”; “Irish Folk Tales”; “Magenta Style Paper Magic”; “Creative Techniques For Stylish Cards Tags, Boxes, And More.”

What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

Sometimes I scribble random ideas in a notebook to return to later. Other times I work on my computer with a fairly fleshed-out thought, or at least a progression of ideas. It depends on the project. In the early stages I love to have music playing—mostly Mozart.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers:

Don't be afraid to start. Small ideas grow into big ones. Slow down and let it happen. Do it.

Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.

It's interesting to me to see the books I've listed here. They confirm my fascination with a sense of place. These are stories of time and place (quite varied places) as much as of the people inhabiting the places. They all implore us to slow down, observe, reflect. And I've named four. Difficult to eliminate one of them now that they are here on the list.

“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen; “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy; “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “The Sea” by John Banville.

Is there a book you wish you had written?

A Mozart biography because I could listen all day to his music whole-heartedly and whole-headily concentrating and responding to it viscerally without feeling it was distracting me from work, but contributing to it necessarily. A joy.

Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.

“Life After Life” by Kate Atkinson. A wonderful example of the use of authorial devices and imagination.

If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?

Shakespeare, so I could find out who he really was.

What book are you currently reading?

“Norah Webster” by Colm Tóibín. Extraordinary. What a stunning book.

What book changed your life?

“To the Actor by Michael Chekhov. Studying theater in college and specifically acting, this book on mastering the process of training your body as a creative instrument was electrifying. The practical work of a series of focused exercises made us more involved, aware, thoughtful and stronger as performers and as individuals. It was a lesson in finding and defining one's own creative imagination, taking the time to see and express what is beyond the surface.

A few years later at my first interview for a job in publishing, the interview was interrupted by an editor who came in carrying this book. I waited for a brief pause in the editor's concerned conversation with her boss and then said. "That is one of my favorite books. I didn't realize you published it." I think they had just bought the rights and were reissuing the book. They asked why I liked it. I went on and on about how exciting it was to have such practical information for a creative process especially for young actors and all creative people. And they just stared at me. I got the job.

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

I don't think I have just one. I wouldn't want to limit the choices since I have not seen every spot in Ireland. I love Connemara, Kerry and the sea, the town of Kenmare, Ballymaloe in Cork, Wexford, Trinity College, Dublin. And more.

You're Irish if...

you know that the best way to start any conversation is with a cuppa tea. And a Guinness might be a good way to top it off.