Intersection Column | A Sense of Belonging
by Jennifer Deibel
Readers of my previous books will know how much the six years I spent living in Ireland prepared me for, and informed, the writing of each of my novels. There really is no substitute for that firsthand experience to help bring authenticity to my stories.
But I also believe that growing up as a minister’s daughter has influenced my writing as well—especially the faith element. Because of my parents’ faithfulness to lead us to know Christ, and teach us how to grow and live out our faith, I feel better equipped to write a meaningful and realistic faith arc into each story.
In The Maid of Ballymacool, Brianna Kelly was abandoned at Ballymacool House and Boarding School as an infant. She has worked there since she was a wee girl and will likely die there. Despite a sense that she was made for something more, Brianna feels powerless to change her situation, so she consoles herself by exploring the Ballymacool grounds, looking for hidden treasures to add to the secret trove beneath the floorboards of her room.
When Michael Wray, the son of local gentry, is sent to Ballymacool to deal with his unruly cousin, he finds himself drawn to Brianna, immediately and inescapably. There is something about her that feels so . . . familiar. When Brianna finds a piece of silver in the woods, she commits to learning its origins, with the help of Michael. What they discover may change everything.
The idea for this novel was sparked while I was researching Kylemore Abbey—a location I visited several times, but never got to tour, though I desperately wanted to. This iconic and stately building located in the Connemara wilderness of County Galway looks like something straight out of a fairytale. When I learned that it had once been used as a boarding school, the idea for The Maid of Ballymacool immediately came to life. Wanting a setting a little less well-known, I waited until the right place jumped out at me. That moment came in the form of an Instagram reel of a drone circling the ivy-covered ruins of Ballymacool House. Instantly, I knew this was the place where Brianna and Michael would live out their adventures.
That’s one of my favorite things about Ireland—around every corner lurks fodder for another story. The whole country has a story to tell, and history oozes from every nook and cranny.
This story really deals with themes of belonging, family and identity. Not identity in the way it is meant in culture so often these days. But rather, the true, deep down knowing who one is, what one’s purpose is and where one’s value lies.
As someone who has struggled my whole life with low self-esteem and self-confidence, it required me to really explore and examine exactly how someone finds her identity in Christ and His calling on her life. And it changed how I view myself and my children, and the way I view my relationship with Jesus.
The story of the Prodigal Son inspired me a lot for this novel by looking more closely at the relationships between the father and son, and the son with his brother. While The Maid of Ballymacool isn’t a Prodigal Son story (if anything, it’s a reverse prodigal), looking at the family dynamics there helped inform the way I wrote the relationships in the book.
Secondly, 2 Corinthians 6:18 is sort of the core verse for this story. In the NIV translation, it reads, “‘And I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters,’ says the Lord Almighty.”
My prayer for anyone who reads The Maid of Ballymacool is that they would walk away with a deeper sense of peace with God, a greater sense of faith in Him and an undeniable understanding of both who they are and Whose they are.
About the Author
Jennifer Deibel is the author of A Dance in Donegal (winner of the Kipp Award for Historical Romance) and The Lady of Galway Manor. Her work has appeared on (in)courage, on The Better Mom, in Missions Mosaic magazine and in other publications. With firsthand immersive experience abroad, Jennifer writes stories that help redefine home through the lens of culture, history and family. After nearly a decade of living in Ireland and Austria, she now lives in Arizona with her husband and their three children. You can find her online at www.jenniferdeibel.com.
About the Book
Abandoned at Ballymacool House and Boarding School as an infant, Brianna Kelly has worked there since she was a wee girl and will likely die there. Despite a sense that she was made for something more, Brianna feels powerless to change her situation. When Michael Wray, the son of local gentry, is sent to Ballymacool to deal with his unruly cousin, he finds himself drawn to Brianna. Together they discover a tiny treasure that may change everything.
Did You Know?
Winston-Salem, the fifth largest city in North Carolina, calls itself “The City of Arts and Innovation,” and with good reason. The city’s dedication to promoting and preserving the arts is a long-standing tradition that plays an important role in the plot of the novel Songs for a Sunday. Vocal performance and ballet are major themes in the book as well.
Historically well-known for cigarette making, the city was also home to the first municipal Arts Council in the nation, founded in 1949 as an initiative of the Junior League. The Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County is the largest funder of arts education in the local school district.
Winston-Salem is home to the first public conservatory for the arts in the country. University of North Carolina School of the Arts opened in 1965 and trains students at high school, undergraduate, graduate and post-master's levels. The institution consists of professional schools of Dance, Design & Production, Drama, Filmmaking and Music. The school mascot is The Fighting Pickle.
The Stevens Center in downtown Winston-Salem is the primary performance space for UNCSA and is also used by Winston-Salem Symphony, Piedmont Opera, National Black Theatre Festival and RiverRun International Film Festival.
Perhaps the city’s inclination toward artistic endeavors started with the early Moravian settlers, who used their talents to document the landscape with detailed maps, surveys, drawings and paintings. Whatever way it began, the city’s appreciation of creativity—endowed to us by our loving Creator—is something to be celebrated.
-Heather Norman Smith, Songs for a Sunday
Why I LOVE My Local Christian Bookstore
“When I walk into my local bookstore, the clerks greet me by name. It’s like entering a special world where I am able to watch people shop for the words that tug at their hearts. Often times, I’ll strike up a conversation with them and make a new friend. For me, shopping at a bookstore is all about friendships.”
-Rebecca E. Ondov, Great Horse Stories for Girls