ArmaghCaliforniaCanadaFranceParisFrom Armagh to California, Paris, Canada & South Africa With Author Byddi Lee

https://travelinspires.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/ArmaghSunset-1280x853.jpg

Jackie De Burca

Today’s guest is Byddi Lee, an Armagh-based author who’s lived in Canada, South Africa, Paris and California, before settling back in her hometown of Armagh in Northern Ireland. Her first novel March to November was written while she was living in California and actually helped her ease her homesickness. Byddi’s Rejuvenation Trilogy has been rated as one of the Best Lockdown Reads of the Year by the Belfast Telegraph. She’s also published flash fiction and short stories and is the co-founder of the spoken word event, Flash Fiction Armagh. Byddi has written- co-written I should say the play Impact, Armagh’s Train Disaster with Malachi Kelly and Tim Hanna. Plus, she teamed up with the guys again to write and stage on Zoom, Zoomeo and Juliet and Social Bubble, Toil and Trouble. Byddi, you’re so welcome. It’s a delight to have you here today.

Part 1

Byddi Lee

Thank you, it’s great to be here. So excited.

Jackie De Burca

Fantastic. And we’re recording this because of course, we’ll probably broadcast this in February of 2021. But we’re recording this on the 14th of January. I’m doing this purely for the fact that we’re in the third lockdown. Obviously, where you are in Northern Ireland, just for people to be aware of that because of course, we’re going through a very historic moment. Terrible, terrible times, obviously. But at least, we’re very lucky that we’re creative people, and we’re getting the best out of that. Byddi, I know, you’re used to people being fascinated about where you were born, we had a bit of a giggle about that before our chat today. And you spent the first four years of your life there. Now I just can’t resist starting off with that. Go on Byddi, tell us all about those formative years.

Byddi Lee

So I was born on a First People’s reservation, Wiikwemkoong Unceded Reservation in Manitoulin Island in Canada. I actually wasn’t born on the island. My parents were living on the island, I was born in a hospital in a town nearby. But I lived on the island and the reservation for the first four years of my life until my parents moved back to Ireland. And people are very, very curious about it. And unfortunately, I don’t feel that I justify the curiosity because I don’t remember enough about it to be able to- you know, to recount great tales from it. So that’s where I- that’s why I feel sort of a bit embarrassed by it all.

 

manitoulin island
Manitoulin Island

Jackie De Burca

But you have some little vague memories. I mean, I know you would have been obviously, only four years of age. So it is such very early years. But little vague memories about the reservation, how you were treated there, how was Canada compared to Ireland because of course, that was going to be quite a dramatic difference when you went back there at the age of four.

Byddi Lee

Yeah, so my memory of it is that- the island was really progressive, you know? They had- we had a lovely- now I’ve since been back and it isn’t as as big as it was in my memory but I felt like we lived in a lovely big house and- but I can remember the layout of the house really clearly and details like that. I went to nursery school, and we had a tunnel between the story room and the nap room and you get snacks and nap in the nap room, and you lay down and slept. And things like that, little snapshots of memory like that. And then coming to- and another thing- I don’t remember this, but my mom would always say that they had an automatic washing machine and tumble dryer, which people here didn’t have in the early 70s. They would have maybe at best had a twin tub, you know?

Jackie De Burca

Yes, yeah. Absolutely.

Byddi Lee

But my biggest thing was- because these things are so important, the TV. The TV that we had in Canada was a colour TV. And I can remember watching Sesame Street on the colour TV in Canada, and then coming to Ireland, and people only had black and white TVs here at the time. So that was pretty huge for me, on a personal level. So it’s all very superficial things. You know, it’s not the deep and meaningful. But that’s a four year old’s perspective, I suppose.

Jackie De Burca

Of course. Tell me something, Byddi. You know, we haven’t met each other in person for the obvious reasons, me being in Spain and you there in Northern Ireland in the middle of a pandemic. But how- do you have any memories of how the native people on the reservation were with this curly, blonde-haired child?

Byddi Lee

Well, what’s funny is I didn’t even have the curly blonde hair at that stage. I look bald until I was three and then my hair came in in really fine wisps of sort of frizzy little curls close to my head and very blonde, so from a distance, I still looked quite bald. And in fact, even when I was about sort of five or six, and my hair was still quite thin and fair, and my mother thought there might be something wrong with me, she took me to the doctor and then realised that he hadn’t much hair either. And (inaudible – 00:05:15) there, but- (inaudible – 00:05:19) of me, of course. But I do know, like, I have reconnected through the miracle of social media, with some of the children who, you know, they’re not grown up, obviously. But the people who were my age from the reservation. And the thing that they would say is that they thought that we were incredibly cute- because remember, we were in the minority. And it was quite a multicultural community as well. I mean, there was us from Ireland, there was a family from New Zealand, and the wee boy was the same age as me, and he had straight blonde hair, he actually had hair. And then there was a family from Taiwan, and they had twins, I think twin girls, and about my age and that. But we were- my sister and I were considered to be really cute and everything. And I think a lot of that was because we were so different from children with their beautiful, straight black hair, and their lovely skin colour and everything. And were just- I feel we must look like such oddities, especially (inaudible – 00:06:32)

Jackie De Burca

Yeah, that’s funny. I mean, one of the things that I’m sure listeners are gonna be curious- okay, that’s all fascinating. And how was it that you’re on the reservation? We should fill in that gap, shouldn’t we?

Byddi Lee

Yeah. Well, I mean, there was a- I think it was the Jesuit ministry there. And they had a sponsor, I suppose, or you know, provided education and health care to some degree on the reservation. So my dad was a teacher, and my mom was a nurse. And so they went and worked in that capacity. I do know that it’s through the Jesuits. And it’s a disgrace. I should know all these details, but you know how my family folklore is, and you kind of gloss over the details like that, because you want to get to the good bits. So you tend to forget them. But yeah, I think if- they went out, it was the Jesuit order that had them placed. And then when they’re out there, because they were white people, obviously they couldn’t own any of the land and I think even that’s in their society as well. They’re the First People, they don’t own land as such, and everybody gets what they need. And according to what the council decides, or whatever. So mom and dad were allocated- housing and everything. And they were very well received and taken care of and welcomed. And in years gone by when I’ve gone back to the reservation, it’s felt like a homecoming. They welcome me like long lost family, it’s amazing. You know, it really is.

Jackie De Burca

That’s absolutely lovely. And can you describe Byddi, how it is visually because I can’t- I don’t know the area, and presumably lots of listeners don’t.

Manitoulin Island Sunset
Manitoulin Island Sunset – Byddi Lee

Byddi Lee

So Manitoulin Island is the largest freshwater lake in the world. And it’s in Lake Huron, in Canada, in the Great Lakes of Canada. And it is beautiful. It’s fairly flat they wouldn’t have hills like- even as undulating as we have here in Armagh. And definitely, it wouldn’t be up on the scale of big mountains and whatnot but it’s heavily forested. And it is beautiful. I kind of always think of my dad, would have sometimes have gone hunting and that with the natives and with the people there. And there’s photographs and that of and it’s- he had a wee Sony camera as well, so he has some some pictures of it. So a lot of forests, beautiful clear lakes. Lakes actually on the island as well as the island being in a lake itself. And you would have had that maple colour in the autumn time, the beautiful red leaves and that. So it really is- it is a beautiful part of the world. Now the land wouldn’t have been probably very good for farming, which is probably why it was allocated to the First Nations. And then the biggest setting nearby is Sudbury. And it would have- it’s a nickel mining capital. So it’s not a pretty city from that perspective, but the landscape is beautiful.

Jackie De Burca

Okay, okay. So such an interesting place to have started life even though as you say yourself, you feel like- the memories aren’t as dramatically meaningful. But for sure, it got right in- somehow or other into your subconscious, I imagine.

Byddi Lee

Yeah, I think so. I think so. And I think even just this, I think- I know that when we came back, and my family would have had a certain perspective of the colonisation of North America, for example. And we want to watch the cowboy movies, and we weren’t shouting for the cowboys, you know? I like that it gave us a broader view of how people around the world were treated during colonisations, for example.

Jackie De Burca

Mm hm. That’s very important, obviously. Now, after a start in life like that Byddi- living abroad, and then of course, living abroad later in life- how would you perceive the role of place in your life and in your creative output?

Byddi Lee

It filters into every aspect of what you’re doing. Even if you’re not being creative, but in terms of like-

I know, for me the creativity, it’s- just even when you travel, it broadens your outlook on whatever it is that you’re doing.

So I’ll give you a quick example. We had lived in California for eight years, and we’ve gotten very used to life in California. And then we moved to Paris, and we moved in October. And I felt at that point, that- that the climate, that the temperature outside was nearly like a personality, you know? I would wake up in the morning, and I’m thinking about- I’d have to go to get groceries or whatever. And I’d be planning. I need to wear this coat, and I need to wear that. And I wasn’t in any way prepared at all for the winter weather in central Europe, after living in such a warm climate.

Jackie De Burca

Yeah, I can imagine. Yeah.

Byddi Lee

So even that was an element. So you have the climate of the place that you’re living in really bears heavily upon how you perceive where you are. The people of the place. And then of course, the climate will affect the, the vegetation, the landscape in that respect. But then there’s other things like, is it mountainous? Is there a coastline or what. And it all plays into how you perceive the place and your place within it, and how you interact with it.

Jackie De Burca

Definitely. Definitely. And of course, the food as well is another aspect.

Byddi Lee

Yeah, definitely. Although I suppose we cheat a little bit nowadays with food and that you can- even in Armagh you can get great Indian food, you know?

Jackie De Burca

Yeah. Obviously we’re living in different days in that sense. Of course, we’re talking pre-lockdown and post-lockdown, but when I made a comment. So which places Byddi are important to you, and your creativity and why? I’m talking about just a very quick synopsis of each of those places.

Half Dome Yosemite California - Byddi Lee
Half Dome Yosemite California – Byddi Lee

Byddi Lee

I suppose, you know, everywhere is to some degree, but the most important case I suppose, is home. And that really came to the fore when I was in California and I was writing about home and Belfast is my- it certainly was for the longest time my second home and my first home of homes is of course Armagh. And I find that when I write about Armagh, I feel like I write with great tenderness. And Belfast is to me- Belfast was like- I was a teenager when I went to Belfast, and Belfast in those days- so this was like late 80s. It nearly was like a teenager in and of itself in that it was just kind of learning to recognise itself. In terms of going out, there was only a certain- there was the golden mile at that stage. And that was kind of like from the city centre south and into the university area. And it wasn’t a huge area, not compared to what Belfast is. Now Belfast has really grown up. To me Belfast is now in its 30s. So the timeline’s now a little bit- not quite. But it’s like- it’s more like a person in their 30s who are more sure of themselves, they like their culture, they like their nice coffees, they like their trendy bars. Whereas, when I was there, Belfast was a city that was just figuring out who it was.

Jackie De Burca

Fascinating. Fascinating because yeah, I never thought of comparing it. In one or two of the other recent interviews that I’ve been recording, I’ve been asking the guests to compare Belfast in at least one instance, to a lover or a partner. Rather than- rather than an age group, which is fascinating that you actually came in with that. That’s another way of- totally another way to look at it. Of course it is. So look, I’ve mentioned the pandemic more than once. But we know that we’re- we know that we’re recording during this historic and very, very difficult time. Imagine if tomorrow, you were told that out of the places that are very important to you, you can only be in one place. Which place would it be, Byddi and why would you choose it?

Byddi Lee

You know, I have said this so many times since the start of the pandemic, I am so glad I’m here. And that’s a wonderful thing to be able to say. Absolutely. I mean- and I’m still in very regular contact with my friends in California and I know that they have a lot more in terms of maybe vast vista to their disposal, in terms of mountains and that. Like they’re locked down. We’re just talking about this during the week, they’re locked down. The furthest they can travel is- oh it’s only what, 150 miles? And I’m like, oh okay. And then you’re comparing that with- down southwards, it’s five kilometres, you know?

Jackie De Burca

Yes.

Byddi Lee

But what I like about living in Armagh for the pandemic is- is what brought me back to Armagh in the first place.

There’s a very strong sense of community here. And this feeling that we’re all- we are, pardon me, we’re all looking out for each other. And I like that there’s a closeness to that. Which of course, in this pandemic, a closeness can be a good thing or a bad thing, but I mean that in the best way.

Armagh Orchard County - Byddi Lee
Armagh Orchard County – Byddi Lee

Jackie De Burca

Sure.

Byddi Lee

And I think, climate wise- I mean, okay, we don’t have the lovely hot summer days that California has all year round. But we had enough of a summer this year to satisfy that. And this winter, we’ve had little snippets of frosty cold days, but like- I was out this morning for my walk, and it was a beautiful morning, you know? And it’s January, so we’re lucky that way. So yeah and just, yeah, the small scale as well of Armagh is nice because I can walk out of my home and be in fields in a matter of minutes. So that’s nice. Whereas if we were stuck in a really urban area, that would be a lot more challenging.

Jackie De Burca

Okay, okay. Yeah, I totally get that as well. So let’s return to Ireland, Byddi, of 1973, which would have been the year that you and your parents came back home? What kind of childhood memories do you have of Armagh? And how was that impact for you as a younger person?

Byddi Lee

Well, it’s- so 1973, we lived right in the centre of Armagh and Market Street. I think sometimes my childhood memories of Armagh can sound rather shocking? But to us again, it’s all about what your normal is, and unfortunately, our normal was the troubles. But I do remember an example of this. As I remember, we had a siren on the top of the old library in Market Street. And it went off, I mean, it would have lifted you out of your skin. And so we were quite used to the siren going off, and maybe even being evacuated from the house, and having the sound the top of the street because I don’t really know what the difference really was in that but- and witnessing bombs going off and, or the fallout of the bombs afterwards, with fires and whatnot. And I, at a certain age, even remember being there was a- it was a bomb in the next street over. There was no warning given for it. And I remember seeing the ground left- you know, like the whole place sort of shifted to one side with this blast. And for me, it was like, I was lucky in that I was able- young enough and naive enough to be able to look at those things through the lens of curiosity, like it was, ‘oh my goodness, what caused that to happen’? My parents were very, very clever in how they dealt with it too because I remember that I had reported seeing a man with blood all down his face. And my cousin at the same time she had- she was only a wee babe in arms and she had gotten a little cut on her forehead from flying glass, and my dad had taken her to the hospital. So later on, he said, ‘oh, I saw that man in the hospital. He had the same thing that your cousin had’. A wee cut like that can just, you know, have a lot of blood and he was fine.

Jackie De Burca

Oh good. Okay.

Byddi Lee

I was traumatized by that, you know?

Jackie De Burca

Right, yeah.

Byddi Lee

But years later I find out that that wasn’t true.

Jackie De Burca

Sure. But still, dealing with children. Certainly, I think that was the intelligent approach by your parents. You know, you’re not the first person also Byddi, from some of the guests that I’ve had on for this for a season- who did grow up during the troubles either in Belfast or other areas that were affected, that talk about the curiosity element because- of course, just their own way of perceiving it and perhaps been encouraged, as you say, by your parents to have a certain attitude. So it is very interesting, for somebody like myself. Obviously, I grew up in Dublin, being very aware of the Troubles, but of course not being in the area where they were directly happening. Tell me something big, which of your works, if any, can you connect with these early memories?

Byddi Lee

I’ve not really- funny,

I’ve kind of worked against the idea of addressing the Troubles at all in my work, because I’ve never wanted the world- I want the world. I don’t mean I’ve never wanted but I want the world to see this part of the world. And for other things than just the Troubles.

So for example, my big March to November, it’s set sort of in the late 90s-ish, and we don’t really need to talk about the Troubles, I feel. And then I have a little piece here, and you had asked for a little reading and it’s just, it’s the more- it’s a softer element of growing up in the 1970s in Armagh. And I think that if you take- if you can kind of separate the Troubles and those very kind of like, stark images, it’s like everybody else’s childhood. The things that are important to you are the people who love you, and the fun that you have with them and the things that they said to you.

Jackie De Burca

Absolutely. So, yeah. So would you like- would you like to read that passage?

Byddi Lee

Oh alright. Yes, I’ll do that. Yeah.

Jackie De Burca

Thanks, Byddi.

Byddi Lee

So this is called- I’ve just called it Market Street. Market Street. My childhood playground in the mid ’70s. Were blunted, pyramidal bollards arose from an expanse of black tarmac, like giant concrete icebergs. Iron bars strung between them as if to stop them from floating off. An instant gymnasium where my sister and I tumbled and hung from our knees. The smooth metal biting cold against bare skin in the winter, silky in the summer. We’d skipped down the hill to the library, plod back up clutching our books. The siren blare from the top of the library made my insides shrivel, and my skin loosened as though I might slide out of it. In autumn, leaves piled in musty copper heaps along the cathedral rails at the top of the street. My father often recounted the story of being a little boy with his head stuck in those same railings. He marvelled at how the firemen had lifted him bodily up and turned him so that he could push his head out face first, the same way he’d gone in the ears like a one way valve. Dad grew up on that street too. Every crack in the pavement and brick in the walls came with a story. When he walked us to school, my short legs trotted three steps for every stride he took, his warm hand holding mine. Often, our breath hung before our faces as we made our way along Castle Street, him telling stories, me asking questions. Some mornings, the sky behind the old windmill on the far hill, blushed as pink as our cheeks in the sunrise. On other mornings, that hill could be lost in the fog obscuring the view of our school. On those occasions, dad would stop, give my hand a squeeze and say, oh no, the school is gone. We’ll have to go home. I’d giggle at his silliness and play along. But we always kept walking towards the school, for we both knew it was still there, even if we couldn’t see it. So that’s it.

Market Street Armagh - Byddi Lee
Market Street Armagh – Byddi Lee

Jackie De Burca

I love that. That’s absolutely wonderful, Byddi. Thank you so much. Tell me something, at what age did you notice, or did you notice- that you had a special interest in reading or writing? Do you have any memories of that?

Byddi Lee

Yes. I remember, the first sort of book I read cover to cover, it was Famous Five Go to Mystery Moor by Enid Blyton. And I remember at the end of the book just feeling bereft, that I didn’t have these five friends in my life or four and a doll- friends in my life anymore. And I was so glad that there were more Famous Five books so that I could meet up with them again, you know? So that was my first sort of memory of reading. And then in terms of writing, we went to Dublin one year and Oliver Twist was on in the gaiety theatre. And we managed to get to the last minute tickets, and you were up in, you know, the box on the side? Like the man in the Muppet Show? At the end.

Jackie De Burca

Yeah, I remember.

Byddi Lee

Yeah. So we were sitting up in this box, and it was such a great view of the stage. And I just loved the play, and the musical. And so I would have been in first year at school at this stage, and I came back and I started writing plays. And-

Jackie De Burca

Really? Wow.

Byddi Lee

Now, they were all rip-offs of Oliver Twist, or you know, complete plagiarism. But there was always the storyline- and you had like, the posh lady and the naughty child, and all this. But I would write these plays, and they were taken to the vice principal, and she would allow me to get my friends together and rehearse them in the hall at lunchtime. And then- we’d agree on putting them on. Maybe on a Friday, at lunchtime and whatnot. And we did that, and my poor friends were so strong armed into- to be in these plays. So when I told them I was starting a play again, they all ran the mile.

Jackie De Burca

That was quite encouraging of the vice principal, was she or he the main person who encouraged your creativity at that time? Or were there others?

Byddi Lee

She really was great because I mean, there was a lot going on in those days, just with the- in people’s lives outside of work in school. And so, yeah. I mean, yes, that was Mrs. Daly. And I still see her and she’s just adorable, I still love her to bits. And she’s- I even named one of the teachers in March to November, Mrs. Daly in honour of Mrs. Daly.

Jackie De Burca

Really? She must be honoured.

Byddi Lee

I hope so. She realises that I’ve done it with the- for that purpose. But she was lovely and encouraging, and it was nice to have that and not be sort of told to go and, you know, catch yourself on or anything like that. And our English teachers- my English teachers were good, Sister Smith was good as well. She kind of- would have encouraged me to write as well, you know?

Seagahan Dam Armagh - Byddi Lee
Seagahan Dam Armagh – Byddi Lee

Jackie De Burca

Okay, and that’s lovely. I think once you have even one or- obviously, two is pretty good at that age because it could work out the opposite if your work has been put down by somebody, you know? So that you lose- you know what I mean, you lose the initial thrills- that creativity, of that young creativity.

Byddi Lee

Well I kind of- then I sort of shot my own self in the foot in that I was very drawn to biology and science. And it’s- I kind of give up the English side of things, you know, in terms of English- you know, subject-wise. I still loved reading and that, but I did then sort of focus on biology. That was what I did my degree in.

Jackie De Burca

And we’re going to come to this a bit later in our chat. But do you think that plays any part? Just hold on to this question, we won’t do it now.

Byddi Lee

Okay.

Jackie De Burca

Can we relate that to the Rejuvenation Trilogy at all?

Byddi Lee

Oh, absolutely.

Jackie De Burca

Yeah. Good. Okay, we’ll go there a little bit later. So going back to your childhood, did you spend any time away on holidays and any places that would have had an impact on you?

Byddi Lee

You know, it’s funny you should say that because- I’m going to go back to something that you said about- like getting encouragement creatively and that. So yes, we would have always gone to- there wasn’t an awful lot of disposable income in those days. So camping. We were a family who camped and it was such a treat, it was great because once the tent was blown down in a storm and we got to stay in hotel one night. I was always hoping for more storms. But we used to go to Kilmore, and there’s a place, I don’t even remember what the cove is called we nicknamed pre-historic Cove. But it’s along the coast from Kilmore towards Cork. And when you go down to it, there’s- you have like the different- you have the arches and the stacks and then you have rocks in the sea sort of thing.

Jackie De Burca

Byddi, now for listeners who are not Irish, Kilmore is County Waterford, is that right?

ireland-waterford
Ireland Waterford

Byddi Lee

It is, yes. Kilmore, County Waterford. Yeah. So this is the south, the very south and that was a long way to travel in those days. I mean, it took us five or six hours just to get there, maybe longer. And daddy had a pickup truck and he used to put a mattress and you know, he had a cover on it. And like a canvas cover on it, and we put a mattress in it and me and my sister was laying this mattress. And we’d be scolded- you know, don’t be messing about and keep your head down and all. And like for nine hours in the back of this- and you know, of course no phones those days. You had your books and snacks to eat and whatnot. But we were really monkeys because what we’ll do is when we were going through Dublin- because there wasn’t- they didn’t have the M50 around Dublin and you had to go through Dublin to get to Waterford. So we would stick our heads out on the back and wave at the cars behind us. You know, sometimes knowing that they’re not back to back traffic, people would kind of jump out of their cars and give us snacks from their cars and we’d throw snacks from ours.

Jackie De Burca

Wow. Such different times.

Byddi Lee

Totally! Like now, you’re all strapped in and you have to be- yeah. But we would go to this at this pre-historic Cove. And I just thought it was amazing. And I remember coming back to school after the summer holidays, and we were told to draw something about, our summer holidays. And I think I did what I thought was the Pre-historic Cove. And when I look back at it, it wasn’t too far off. But there were very strange rock configurations, that’s how we came up with the name. They look like dinosaurs poking out of the water. And my art teacher laughed at it. So-

Jackie De Burca

Oh. Oh.

Byddi Lee

So I’m not an artist.

Jackie De Burca

Oh, yeah, but that is terrible though, isn’t it? Your teachers at the end- at the end of the day, teachers and particularly, as my memories of teachers in the convent school going back in the same kind of- same time as yourself, Byddi, they were normally very young, fresh women or nuns, older nuns. So-

Byddi Lee

Yeah. This was a male teacher. Actually, my art teacher was a male teacher, and I don’t know if that was- if that played into maybe him being a wee bit more- I don’t know, maybe arrogant or something? And maybe I’m judging him harshly because I felt very bothered by being laughed at but he said, ‘you don’t see rocks like that, mate’. And you know, like, I couldn’t make them believe that that’s what they looked like, you know?

Jackie De Burca

Oh dear, that’s a shame because really an art teacher should be absolutely free about the possibilities as art is all about perception, at the end of the day. I’m taking it Byddi, you didn’t feature this guy as a character in your book then? Any of your books.

Byddi Lee

Well, you know, you never know.

Jackie De Burca

Not as yet, but he’ll be out there. So listen, when you finished school- you mentioned before, of course, going to Belfast and the adventure of that. You were 18, weren’t you? And you went to Queens?

Byddi Lee

Yeah.

St Patricks Cathedral Armagh - Byddi Lee
St Patricks Cathedral Armagh – Byddi Lee

Jackie De Burca

Queens University in Belfast. Tell me how that was. Of course, it was like the big adventure. You were dying to get out of Armagh at that time. How was it?

Byddi Lee

It was brilliant. Yeah, I was- and I have to admit, I was dying to get away. You know, I felt really- I had this big dream of being like David Attenborough. I wasn’t going to be painting any pictures of why I left, I was definitely going to do the photography side of it, not after my experience with my art teacher but yeah, I was studying biology. And I loved it. You know,

I had this dream of travelling down the Amazon. And again, that was inspired by reading. I had read in my early teens, the Willard Price adventure series. They were actually books for boys and they were about two zoologists who travelled around the world and picked up animals for their father’s zoo.

And, you know- and it- they’re actually- in terms of environmentally friendly and the thoughts that, you know, I think these were written in the ’50s even. So they were completely way off base in terms of their political correctness and environmentally friendly aspects, but it did inspire me. I wanted to see the Amazon, I wanted to see the Amazon. And I did actually go to see the Amazon but I was 30 before I got a chance to do that. And that was just like a sort of a two, three-week holiday trip that I managed to do. But this whole- the escaping to Queens was a part of that. It was one step closer to this dream of escaping to somewhere tropical and warm and full of animals and wildlife. And there was plenty of wildlife in Belfast, mind you. But usually, most of that was of our own making. So, yeah. So it was a great place to start, I think. it was great. I think for me personally to start because it was a small enough city to not feel lost in it and completely swallowed up in it. And close enough to home obviously.

Jackie De Burca

Yeah, sure. Okay, so you were studying biology you mentioned. So what did you do? How was your career path once you left university?

Byddi Lee

So I studied biology and then I kind of drilled down into- there must have been- there’s always been this thing about story, I love story. I love the lecturers who could tell the best stories with their lectures that I would listen to. And one of those lecturers, in particular, was called Jonathan Pilcher, and he taught the- and Mike Bailey. And they taught the woody plants course. And a component of that was all about tree ring analysis and measuring tree rings. And it’s got a name, it’s called dendrochronology. And so I chose that as my honours project. And using tree rings, you can actually construct or get some idea of what past climate was like because tree’s rings reflect how happy the tree is to grow that particular year, how well it’s growing that year. If conditions are right it puts on a nice wide ring. And if the conditions aren’t, the rings get narrow. And so there is a tree ring, an oak tree ring chronology that goes back 7000 years from the present day. And I was part of- so that was what was happening while I was an undergrad. And then as soon as I graduated, a job came up in the department. And I was very lucky and very well placed and managed to get that job. And so the first three years after university, I worked in Queens then on the tree ring chronology that we were putting together at the time.

Jackie De Burca

It sounds really fascinating. And that was very lucky for a student just coming out of uni.

Byddi Lee

Oh fantastic. And just to be on a proper wage- and back in those days, 1 in 10 people were unemployed. Graduates, you know? So to have a wage and to be able to live here and have a wage- because most people were getting their degree and heading off to other countries. So it was great, yeah.

Jackie De Burca

Hm, okay. So you’ve had kind of a fairly- I wouldn’t like to call that a cushy number, but that obviously sounded quite idyllic out of university. You’re getting your wage, you’re doing something of interest. And so what happened after that? You were there for just- you say three years?

Byddi Lee

It was a three-year contract. And during that time, I also did a master’s degree in computer science, because- computers were still new, this is 1993, and I was like, okay, I’m gonna do that. And then I came out- so I came out with my master’s degree roughly around the same time as my contract finished, so I was back out looking for a job again. And the best I could do was find a job working to sell computers in Macro in Dunmurry.

Jackie De Burca

Okay, so, that doesn’t sound quite as glamorous as your tree ring chronology job.

cape-town-south-africa
Cape Town South Africa

Byddi Lee

It really wasn’t. It wasn’t as good money either. But it wasn’t- it wasn’t ideal and it was hard- you know, retail is really hard. I have so much respect for anybody in the retail sector, especially now. And always at Christmas, I always feel so sorry for them because I know what that’s like. But I was working there for a while and then just different ones were talking to me about how there wasn’t very many- you’ll find it really difficult to get science substitute teachers and that so I thought, well, I’ll have a go with that. And at that, you could be a substitute teacher without having your teacher diploma, if you like. I had a degree. So I sat down with my dad and he basically gave me the 101 on teaching and classroom discipline and everything. I learned more from him in a two-hour telephone call than I did maybe for like half a year at teacher training in college. But I did- I taught for- so I got into teaching that way. So I started just doing supply teaching and then getting, sort of like, a day here and there and then, oh a two-week post here and then I got a longer post down in Banbridge, which actually extended nearly for a year and a half. Gone in for different ones so- and then I got on to the PGC and did my teacher training and then when I came out of that, I was in Saint Genevieve’s in Belfast for a year. And then I got my permanent post in Rathmore Grammar School, and that just sealed the deal for me and my love of teaching. I mean, Rathmore was just- it was teacher heaven. We talked about it in teacher training about schools like Rathmore and St. Dominic’s, they were teacher heaven. Rathmore really was teacher heaven.

Jackie De Burca

Okay, so why because maybe most people won’t know Rathmore and why it was like that. Tell us about that.

Byddi Lee

So Rathmore- it’s a grammar school in Belfast. But what made it teacher heaven was that the staff were amazing. The staff were amazing. And the support, you know, within the staff from management was amazing. It was really good. And the kids were super- we were- it’s one of the top- still is one of the top five schools. And so it was- you know, it’s on the top of everybody’s list, in terms of, kids wanting to go there. So they were getting the best kids as well. But there was a great ethos in the school.

Jackie De Burca

Yeah. So what were you actually teaching? Were you teaching a variety of subjects, Byddi or just one?

Byddi Lee

BL Yeah. Biology. Biology and Chemistry, yeah.

Jackie De Burca

Okay, so you were lucky. We’ve got your career up to the point of- the selling of the computers, obviously, you know, not your most glamorous one. But apart from that you did quite well. But then, when you were in your early 30s, something prompted you to go off on an adventure. What happened at that stage?

Byddi Lee

Well, at that stage- I was married at that stage, and that marriage didn’t work out. So I’m not going to too much detail on that.

Jackie De Burca

No? Okay.

Byddi Lee

You know, those things that they say that people’s names have been changed to protect the innocent? Well, this is maybe a case of protecting the not so innocent.

Jackie De Burca

Okay.

Byddi Lee

At that stage as well, I had been teaching for five years. And I was allowed- you’re allowed to apply for a- what’s the word?

Jackie De Burca

Sabbatical or something?

Byddi Lee

Yeah. And so I thought it would be a good time for me to kind of touch base with myself again and just figure out who I was and what was going on with me. And so I applied for the sabbatical. And I went off travelling for- well initially, the sabbatical was for up to two years. And I set off thinking I was going away for a year, and I stayed away for the full two years. Well, and that part of it was because I was born in Canada. So I took an around the world ticket and once I got as far as Canada, I could stay there for another year and work there.

Wikwemikong Ontario - Byddi Lee
Wikwemikong Ontario – Byddi Lee

Jackie De Burca

Of course.

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Byddi Lee

I applied. And I wasn’t just gonna go off and travel like I was- I applied for a dolphin and whale project in South Africa.

Jackie De Burca

Now I’m very envious.

Byddi Lee

So I went off to South Africa and I worked on this dolphin whale project for- well, the project itself was three months, but I was in South Africa for a total of 10 months. And then I moved on from there and I did- and while I was in South Africa, I learned how to scuba dive and I have to say that was amazing. That was like falling in love. It was just an amazing experience. I loved scuba diving.

Part 2


Jackie De Burca

I can imagine. But Byddi, can we go back to this- two things, a couple of things I’d like to pick up on there, the dolphin and whale work. Talk to me about that and talk to me about the environment that you were in, in South Africa.

Byddi Lee

Oh, unbelievable. That’s so beautiful. So I was in I was based in Knysna, which is a town built on a lagoon. And the next town over it was Plettenberg Bay. And it was Plettenberg in Plettenberg Bay. And the bay would have a huge amount of Southern white whales coming through especially at that time of year which was around October time by the time I was working on the dolphin and whale project. And so it was a highway for those whales coming from their feeding grounds and going to their breeding grounds. And then there was a lot of dolphins coming through there and humpback whales as well. And they’re gonna- when the dolphins came through in pods of about 200 at a time. And you know, and that one day, just sea kayaking. There was two of us in our sea kayak, thank goodness, because if I had been on my own, I don’t know what I would have done. And you know, a pod of dolphins came through, and they were as long as the boat. They were massive and they came right up to the boat and they’re eyeballing you, you’re looking right into their eyes. And your feet away from these guys. But it was nearly like running with a pack of wolves. It was the aquatic equivalent of running with a pack of wolves because dolphins are friendly towards man, for the most part. But they’re still wild animals, and if they decided to tip over your boat, you were in the water. But they were amazing, they were really amazing. And thankfully, nothing happened. They just kind of came and eyeballed us and swam on.

Jackie De Burca

I can only just begin to imagine, like other people, not only Irish obviously, but I had the pleasure of going to see Fungi the dolphin- well, decades ago actually at this stage, which of course- of course, poor Fungi is missing in action, or possibly he’s gone now at this stage. But I can’t imagine Byddi, the amazing impact hundreds of dolphins would have. But I remember just like- I was on a high for at least a day after seeing Fungi the dolphin.

Byddi Lee

And so, this is what kind of started the writing again. So I would be having- I was going through- obviously, divorces are a really hard thing to go through. And regardless of the circumstances- you know, I kind of set out on my journey going, oh God, how am I here? Like, I can’t believe I’m in this position, you know? And then a few months later, I’m sitting surrounded by dolphins going, how am I here? I can’t believe I’m in this boat! So you could say the same words but with a slightly different tone and it completely meant something different. So I felt those two years were really strange, because I was carrying such grief and yet, I was seeing such amazing things and experience and such as. I mean, there was the quintessential bungee jumping and skydiving that one must go through. But it was the quieter things, the softer moments that maybe stuck with me a bit more. And so I didn’t have a blog- I don’t even think people- maybe people did blog at the time, I don’t know, but I had my email and- this was back in those innocent days, and you knew everybody on your email address list. You knew them personally. So I would just, like, bung everybody’s name into the address, you know, like the address section, and I would just write out this big email address home to everyone of what- what was happening with me and my adventures. And I know, like, for close friends and family, that was an important thing for them to have because they were worried about me. Because I was off on my own in the world, and they knew I’d been very sad and all that there. So it was- so it was partly to say, look, I’m surviving, I’m living, I’m doing all these things, and look how wonderful my life is and look at how wonderful the world is.

And it was nice to go out there and see that the world actually was wonderful. And that, even though you were crushed with grief and loss, you could still get on with life. So that was a great lesson for me if anything- of anything else, you know?

Jackie De Burca

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Byddi Lee

That must have come through and- and so I did have people answer and said, oh you should write, you should write. And that’s what sparked the writing again, really.

Jackie De Burca

That’s fantastic. It is fantastic. And tell me something Byddi, when you came back home after going through this obviously massive process that I hear from how you’ve described it- when you came home, what places do you feel you brought with you? How had you shifted as a person with those experiences? What was indented in you, if you like.

Byddi Lee

I think just this idea that all things are possible. All things are possible, but it takes time to get to them. And the things that you thought you wanted aren’t necessarily the things that you needed. And to be patient with yourself.

And I think more than anything else, I wanted to go back sort of five years to when I was at the depths of my grief and the hardest part of the divorce and sort of go, I’m here. You’re okay. Look, if I could have given myself a crystal ball at that moment in time to show myself that you get through these things. That was something that I definitely brought with me. But the other thing that I thought was that the world is a wonderful place. But it’s wonderful even- you don’t have to go that far away to find the wonder of it. And I think that’s what I really did. And because I stayed in each place for so long, I really got to look closely at each place. And then I realised there are wonderful places everywhere if we know how to look for them.

Jackie De Burca

Absolutely. And also, if there’s not something so difficult in your life that you can’t see the wood for the trees as the song goes.

Byddi Lee

Exactly. Yeah.

Jackie De Burca

Yeah, of course. I get that. I get that. So listen, around that time, I don’t know exactly how long you were home. But then around that time you met somebody who would become centred in your life. Go on tell us.

View of East Belfast.
View of East Belfast.

Byddi Lee

I met my husband. He’s really private but he probably wouldn’t want me to say his name, so I’m not going to. I just call him my husband. And it was a- I would say he’s my soul mate. Now, I don’t want to get all washy because he hates that too, but he definitely is. And he really is a wonderful person. And he has supported my writing career. Like, 100%. I’m so grateful to him for that as well. You know, he had faith in my writing before I ever had faith in it, if I even have faith yet in it as you know what writers can be like.

Jackie De Burca

Of course, yeah.

Byddi Lee

And we met in a bar in Belfast, as any good Irish woman knows where to find a husband. But he’s from Hong Kong. And so- I kind of was saying to him, oh you’re far from home and how long have you been in Belfast for? And he said, oh, about 20 years. So then I felt like a right eejit, you know? And then I was trying to explain to him, oh, it’s just that I’ve travelled and I know what it’s like to be, you know, sort of- not on home territory and out on your own in that. And trying to explain why I was just assuming that he wasn’t from here. And we got talking about travelling and that was kind of what led us into chatting and meeting up again and forming a relationship. So we formed our relationship around our love of travelling.

Jackie De Burca

How interesting that he’s been in Belfast, and well obviously, Armagh now from Hong Kong. Well, the interview is not about your husband, but it’s also quite fascinating.

Byddi Lee

Yeah, he came over in 1984, I think. Well, in the mid-’80s anyway, so he’s been here a while now, yeah.

Jackie De Burca

Mm, okay. So look, you mentioned that he’s been very supportive of your writing and of course, that’s really huge and so important as well. You have begun to write fiction around this time, as well, hadn’t you, Byddi?

Byddi Lee

Yes, I had started writing march to November. And again, a lot of it was drawn- as a form of catharsis. And that was, it was also- it was just- there was a story there that I wanted to explore. And it was about divorce, and it was about meeting new people and forming relationships and relationships breaking down and all that there. So that’s all in March to November as well.You know, they say, write what you know, so that’s where I started. And it’s set in the holy lands of Belfast.

Jackie De Burca

Okay, okay. Now you started writing that before you went to California because your husband had a job offer, didn’t he?

California Hills - Byddi Lee
California Hills – Byddi Lee

Byddi Lee

Yes. So I started writing this when I came home from school, and there was always this wee bit of a time lag between me getting home and my husband getting home from work. And that was a wee bit of time that I would just set aside and used for writing. And that’s when I started writing March to November, but it wasn’t- just a wee hobby at that stage. I wasn’t really thinking it was gonna go anywhere. I was just playing with it, you know?

Jackie De Burca

Mm hmm. Okay. So it was kind of like your me time and doing something a bit creative. And you weren’t really with any vision for it as such.

Byddi Lee

Exactly. Yeah.

Jackie De Burca

Okay. Okay. So then, obviously your husband got the job offer that took the two of you to California. Tell us about that.

Byddi Lee

Yeah, so he got offered a job in San Jose, heart of Silicon Valley. And on a certain level, we’d always sort of said, we would travel and live abroad so that when we got the opportunity to of course, we weren’t going to turn it down and- for me, I was a bit sad leaving Rathmore and my colleagues and obviously, my family back home here, but it was it was just so exciting to go and do that. But I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to- you’d have to start again for teaching. You’d have to retrain and everything in America and I didn’t want to do that. So he said, well, why don’t you try writing full time and see where that goes. And that solved a lot of problems in terms of visas and everything as well. So I said, okay, let’s do that.

Jackie De Burca

Okay.

Byddi Lee

And that’s what we did.

Jackie De Burca

So yeah, San Jose. Where were you living? What was the environment like? How was the new life for you? Tell us all about that.

Byddi Lee

Well, when we first went out, we lived in a third story of an apartment building and there was no elevator. So you had to go- you had to walk up all these- so we kept really fit with all these stairs. And it had a swimming pool and everything. So that was like, wow, this is great. But we stayed there for the first year, and then we bought a house on the outskirts of San Jose. So right on the edge of the city limits, in the Santa Teresa foothills. And it wasn’t a- not a big, massive house by American standards. It was three bedroom, but the average size of a sort of a family home here. Well, a small-ish family home here. But it had a massive garden and a fantastic view. So that’s what we loved about it. And we had a view of the hills. And you know that real thing in like the westerns? Where the VISTA is sort of flowing prairie land? It kind of looked like that in our window. But it was beautiful. And then I was writing, but then I was also- started off volunteering with a local conservation group. And then that led to me getting some work in the conservation as well, which was great. Habitat restoration is the fancy name for it, but it’s actually just weeding. And I also got work with a really good friend, she was able to kind of show me some- threw me some work with a conservation group that was doing a butterfly conservation. And it was funny, because I remember going home and telling my mom I had this job, and it was gonna be conserving butterflies. And she was like, well, what do you do? It was basically going out and counting caterpillars. And she was like, you had to do a degree and a master’s to count caterpillars? But yeah, it was fantastic. So we’re in the hills and you saw rattlesnakes, and you saw coyotes and elk, and oh it was amazing. It really was beautiful.

Santa Teresa Foothills San Jose - Byddi Lee
Santa Teresa Foothills San Jose – Byddi Lee

Jackie De Burca

Sounds absolutely fantastic. And so when you went there, and you were there for- I think you told me six years, you continued to write. You did continue to write March to November, didn’t you?

Byddi Lee

Yeah, yeah. So I was there for 8 years. And that was the- the writing thing was great because- well, first of all, I joined a writing group and they were lovely. And then I also sort of formed another writing group. Because I kind of needed a more frequently meeting group than that one. And we formed another writing group. And like, I still- those girls are fantastic, and they’re my writing go-to group still. And thank goodness for Skype, because we still meet. And now with the pandemic, they’re all on Zoom. And we meet every three weeks, and we critique each other’s work and it’s been great.So yeah, the writing helped me get into a community of writers in San Jose, which was fantastic as well, really fun.

Jackie De Burca

Yeah. Obviously makes a huge difference if you can relate to like-minded people in a brand new area where you’re living. So, talk to us a little bit. Also at that time, you also began to write the Rejuvenation Trilogy, didn’t you?

Byddi Lee

Yeah, so I self published March to November because I just lost faith in my ability to actually get somebody to publish it for me. And so I just- and this whole self-publishing thing was was gone out.

And it was quite terrifying to put out a book that I had no idea if it was any good and if anybody would like it and they did like it and I was very pleased by that. But I really wanted to get a publisher fruit for Rejuvenation. So I started writing Rejuvenation pretty much as soon as I finished writing March to November. So for a while there was- I was in tandem, promoting March to November and writing Rejuvenation.

Jackie De Burca

So was rejuvenation coming to you- like for quite a period of time while you were still writing March to November? How was it born?

Byddi Lee

I, at any one time, I would have about five or six ideas on a bookshelf in my head. And it’s really just a matter of when I finished writing one story or novel, which book pushes itself out of that bookshelf next, is the one that gets written next. And for some reason- well, one of the reasons Rejuvenation got written next was because it was in the near future, I wanted to get it written before I caught up with it myself. The technology was moving along and even now, there’s technology in my story that’s on the cusp of being developed by Elon Musk, for example. So I’m like, Oh, I have to get this done. So that was why I pushed so hard at that point. And yeah, and it was just interesting. And I started writing it in 2014. And that was kind of the rise of- actually Donald Trump in the politics world in America as well, interestingly enough. So that made me think about democracy, what did it all mean? And then there was the whole idea of big tech, and what does that mean? How does this play into our future world? And so that’s where- it sort of kind of really got born. Yeah.

Jackie De Burca

So yeah, just describe the concept underlying Rejuvenation for our listeners, please Byddi.

Byddi Lee

So we’re in a near future, which has been devastated by war with an extraterrestrial. But society has picked itself up and recovered to some extent, but the population is very heavily- well, there’s a lot of very aged people in the population. All the sort of young and able bodied people got taken out during the war and things like that. So there’s this very heavily dependent portion of the population. And my protagonist is a geriatrician, a doctor who looks after the elderly. And she notices this strange new disease. Now, honestly, this was written back in- she noticed this strange new disease that only affected elderly people, and the first wave of it killed the elderly people. But then there seem to be a second wave of it that- and her grandmother was one of those people where they survived it. And then they started to get younger. And this new find, youth did come at a price. And so my protagonist is setting out to discover who is behind this, and how can they mitigate the disastrous consequences of it.

Jackie De Burca

Okay. Okay. So now for those who aren’t familiar with the Rejuvenation trilogy, obviously, you’ve got Book One, Book Two, and Book Three. Book one, Biddy. Where was it written? I know you started in California, did you? Did you complete it there and what places are featured in it?

Byddi Lee

It was written while I was in California. All of it was written while I was in California, but it is set in Ireland. Okay. So it starts off in sort of- between Belfast and Armagh. Belfast is completely underwater, right. And Armagh isn’t, Armagh’s fine, Armagh’s grand. Of course. And they do go to the Cliffs of Moher as well, for a while. So that’s where it’s set. But I was in California the whole time I was writing that. And then we moved to Paris. So we left California and moved to Paris for a year. And while I was in Paris, Book Two was written- most of Book Two was written. And it was set in California. And then towards the end of it, some of it is set in Paris as well. So it was kind of- I was sort of laughing at myself that I was sort of- there was this time lag between where I lived and where I was writing about.

The Argory Armagh - Byddi Lee
The Argory Armagh – Byddi Lee

Jackie De Burca

So yeah, let’s jump in with that. I was curious about that. Because of course, in doing the research for today’s chat, of course, yes. You were clearly homesick. Okay, California in some way, sounds great and you had your group and obviously the conservation work and all that stuff. So you know, it was a quite a positive experience but you were homesick, weren’t you?

Byddi Lee

Yeah. And homesickness is such a hard thing to define and to actually explain unless you’ve actually experienced it. But it’s like a constant dragging up, you know? And it just got bigger and bigger and bigger, I suppose over the years. And then we- I don’t like the health care system in the US, for example. I didn’t want to be an old lady living in America, for example. It’s not like I’m an old lady- I hope at this stage, but I just- we were looking towards the future and what it would bring. And then the Trump era was looming, and that that wasn’t feeling right, either. And then-

Jackie De Burca

Seems like that was a good judgement call.

Byddi Lee

Yeah. And you know, it just is one of those things. So sometimes you just have to let the flow of life carry along. And my husband had finished his contract with the- he was working for Uber, actually, and his contract was up. And we decided to do a little bit of travelling. And for three months, just to let him have a- he’d worked really hard and intensively and we saw right, take a break, reassess. Let’s see where life is going. And this was at the start of 2016. And when he got back, and I was- you know, I was joking, everywhere we visited on that three month- it was sort of like Pacific Rim, you know? New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, not in that order, but that those are the countries we visited. And, and I kept saying to him, you know, I’m kind of in a place where I could move anywhere, if you want to work anywhere you want. I’ll follow you there. Don’t be worried about me. I can leave and go anywhere sort of thing, you know. And we left Singapore, and we left New Zealand and- if there was job opportunities, would you go there? And my answer was always, yes, I’d go anywhere. So when we got back to- and then we spent four weeks in Ireland as well, and it was just lovely. And with really good weather. You know what it’s like when the weather’s good in Ireland? It’s like heaven.

Jackie De Burca

It is. It is. Yeah.

Byddi Lee

So we got back to the States and he got basically got chatting to somebody about work. And I had been out doing something and he came into the house. And he said, he said to me, parlez-vous anglais? Straightaway, because his French isn’t great. So I said, yes, I could go there and it was Paris. So it was a job in Paris. So we couldn’t- we didn’t say anything about it. We sneaked away to Paris for a week in July to- for him to do his interview. I didn’t want to tell anybody, I didn’t want to say anything in case it fell through and people thought, oh, you were happy enough to leave us, now you’re staying sort of thing, you know? And so it was really quite exciting to have that little secret. And then he got offered a job but then that meant that we had to get packed up and leave.

Jackie De Burca

Of course. Of course. When you moved to Paris, how was that environment for you? How does it compare to your previous experiences of California and back home?

Byddi Lee

A completely different experience than I’ve ever had before. So we lived in suburban San Jose. But quite on the edge of things, you know, again. Walking for half an hour would take you out into the countryside. But you were very car dependent. So I said, if we go to Paris, I want to live right in the centre, can we do that? And he was like, okay, we can give it a go. And we did. And the centre of- I lived in the centre of Belfast as well, but the centre of Paris was just spectacular.

Jackie De Burca

I can imagine, yeah.

Paris - Byddi Lee
Paris – Byddi Lee

Byddi Lee

And we had the Seine like at the bottom of our street. And we had the Pompidou Centre literally in our backyard. And it was great. We lived near the Châtelet- train station. My poor husband. It would take him 12 minutes on the train to get to work and 25 minutes trying to figure out how to get out of the train station because it’s so big and if you come out at the wrong exit, you could be miles away.

But Paris was beautiful. And Paris was just- it was just so different. It was exactly what you needed to do. If you’re gonna do something and you’re gonna kind of get your head charged, you have to do something really different to really- you know how I keep talking about the wildlife that I see everywhere and how I love my wildlife.

There was very limited wildlife- you know what the wildlife in Paris was? I remember one day walking along, and somebody had dropped a bag of chips beside railings, right?

Jackie De Burca

Uh huh. Uh huh.

Byddi Lee

And there was about- I would safely say between 10 and 12, rats out eating.

Jackie De Burca

Oh nice, nice.

Byddi Lee

They’d come through the wall from the park. And I stood on the other side, no, I was safely on the other side of the road. I was a good distance from them. And I nearly took up my phone to take photographs of them. And then I saw somebody else watching me. They thought I’m nuts if I do this. And all I could think was that’s the wildlife. You know, that’s the only wildlife I have to see.

Jackie De Burca

So that was the downside for you. But Paris, of course, going back to like- I’m not going to say only the 1920s, but in various stages of history, you know, for many important people, it’s been like, absolute hope of creativity. Was that like that for you?

Byddi Lee

Yes, absolutely. And it was so- it was beautiful. And okay, so one thing about the rats is that I have to also say that- that wasn’t really that bad of a moment for me, because I’m not averse to them. Again, it’s that curiosity. I was like, super intrigued by the number of them and the way they were presenting themselves. And there are a lot of rats in Paris, but it didn’t bother me as such. But the homelessness really got to me. That really- in a very serious note, that that was the bit that really broke my heart in Paris, you know? it was the underbelly of a place, you know? And that’s just because it’s so in your face in Paris. It was in San Jose too, it’s here in Armagh. But you don’t see it, not as in your face. But the buildings in Paris. And my friend- I’ve mentioned her before, my butterfly project friend, she actually visited me in Paris, and she really opened my eyes to the art world in Paris, because we went to one of the- we went up to probably just one of the churches, the many churches that were- you know, they’re beautiful inside, and they have such amazing art. We also went to that place with all the stained glass. Can’t remember the name of it right now, but it’s quite a famous, a chapel.

Jackie De Burca

I know exactly where you mean.

Byddi Lee

Sainte-Chapelle, that’s what it is. Yes, Sainte-Chapelle. So we went to that, and we were standing there. And she said to me, you know, imagine- we say, we can just look on our phones and see pictures of things and see movies and see art and all that, you know? It’s all at our fingertips. But can you imagine living in mediaeval times when this was first built? And we’ve never seen anything like this before. And then you walk in here. And you know, when you go into something like that, with that mindset, you realise just (inaudible – 01:13:09) and how it must have been at the time, you know?

Jackie De Burca

Yeah, absolutely.

Paris - Byddi Lee
Paris – Byddi Lee

Byddi Lee

So that was a real gift, because then I was able to walk around Paris and pretend that I was a 12th century person that hasn’t seen it for the first time, you know?

Jackie De Burca

Wow. So listen, you know, the various places and the Rejuvenation trilogy. Is there anything that really resonates with you that you think you would like to read from any of those books?

Byddi Lee

I’ve just one with a short bit here from a from the Rejuvenation trilogy. And I’ll keep it really short, but I think it’s kind of cute because it’s about Armagh and it is actually even edited from what’s actually in the book. I’ve kind of shortened it out as well, because it’s just to get the gist of it across. It’s only about a minute long. And again, Rejuvenation is set in 2053. Okay? So we have hovercrafts in 2053. I can’t wait. So, anyway. So the hop from the Belfast buckets to Bobbie’s apartment in Armagh took 15 minutes. “I can never figure out which way this is forward”, Granny said switching seats again. “You’re good there”, Bobbie said. “Let’s look outside”. The top half of the hovercar turned transparent. “Hm, I’m glad the floor doesn’t do that”, Granny mumbled. Below them lay the water covered M1 superhighway. The route home from Belfast before the Melter’s attack had raised the level of the world’s oceans. Everything had changed except the worn down mountains. White Mountain Island loomed ahead. The hover car swept over the land rise, then there were over greater Lough Neagh feeding into the Portadown Pond. The hover car flew the homestretch over solid ground now. In the distance, lights twinkled in the Armagh skyline bookended by the silhouette of twin spires on one hill and a church tower on another. The original ancient cathedrals now nestled inside gigantic church shaped skyscrapers. “I really love this view of Armagh, nearly as much as I loved the original”, Granny said with a sigh. We’d come down the Newtown Hamilton road, see the twin spires in the distance and sure, you knew you were almost home.

So that’s it.

Jackie De Burca

That’s fantastic. That’s fantastic. So we didn’t cover Byddi, Book Number Three, where that was written and which places are featured in it.

Byddi Lee

So it was written in Armagh. And the featured places- this is really quite random. One of the features in it- one of the places in it is not somewhere where I’ve lived, but I have visited and its northern Norway. But very briefly, we’re only there for a very brief time. And then a lot of it is in- is split between the Armagh mountains, which is Slieve Gullion. And Switzerland, which I’ve also- I’ve only very briefly- sort of passed through Geneva. So I haven’t been in the Swiss mountains. And I think I was writing about the Swiss mountains, because I was starting to get superstitious and thinking I always ended up in places that I wrote about. I was hoping that that would bring me there. And unfortunately then, lockdown happened and all that. So, yeah.

Jackie De Burca

Well. Yeah, we’re all- I think the whole collective consciousness around the world is wishing for the days where it’s like possible to travel again, safely, obviously. Isn’t it?

Byddi Lee

We’ll be there. We’ll get there.

Jackie De Burca

We will get there. This is one thing that kind of caught me. You said a little while ago by going with the flow of life. And at the beginning when you were talking about the the actual landscape of where you lived for your first four years- I have a bit of a fascination with water. And I’m just curious, do you have a connection with water and in terms of how it is in life and creativity?

Byddi Lee

Oh, I think I’m a mermaid, actually. But I do love water. And again, my sporting activities. I love kayaking. And in fact, March to November opens with a kayaking scene on the River Lagan. Yeah, there’s an energy in water that I think we draw from. And you know, rivers again- the Amazon River was a big inspiration in my early teens and my life. Both rivers and the sea. Yeah, water definitely is a big part of- I don’t want to say the flow again, because that’s just too kind of cliched. But yeah, there is definitely something there. Yeah.

Jackie De Burca

There is something special. I find it very much the same. Listen, Byddi, since returning to Armagh, how have you actually felt? This is one of my favourite and a lovely short little quote, Anita Desai quote, “wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow”. How do you feel about that?

Byddi Lee

Yeah, I think so. It does become a part of you in that- but it’s always about the people really, isn’t it? To some degree? The people that you meet at wherever you are, and you take a little bit of each person, I think with you. And then sometimes if you’re lucky- I find this with California. I would meet somebody in California and they would remind me of a really good friend from here. And I find that often I’ve made friends with them really quickly and still friends with them and then you know, as time goes on, you realise they’re actually two very different people. But there’s sort of like an essence of a place and the people in the place that you carry with you.

Armagh - Byddi Lee
Armagh – Byddi Lee

Jackie De Burca

Okay, very interesting. Now, let’s talk about your flash fiction work and the local community that you’re involved with there.

Byddi Lee

Okay, so this came originally from San Jose. Lita and Tanya, two writing friends in San Jose, they started Flash Fiction Forum San Jose. And it was it basically very, very short pieces of fiction or poetry that read- it was a good strong narrative. And they invited people to come and stand up and read their pieces of work in front of an audience, in front of a live audience. And it was to build a community in- especially in San Jose, which was always very techie-oriented, so we wanted to create a creative community. So when I came- I just loved the idea, I thought it was a really good idea. And when I settled in Armagh- they have a lot of that sort of thing already in Paris so there was no need for it in Paris. But when I settled in Armagh, everything here seems to be very Belfast-centric as well. So I thought, we’ll do Flash Fiction Armagh. And I happen to bump into really randomly, another writer from Armagh, and he’s an Irish speaker, and he writes in Irish. And I said, well, why don’t we do this, but also have an element of the Irish language and a twofer, for the- you know, something different. And so together we came up with this idea of Flash Fiction Armagh. And the first night we had, it was in Mulberry Bistro, and we invited submissions, and then we curated the submissions, and invited those readers to come and read. And it’s just- this just seemed to have taken off. It’s gotten really popular amongst both writers and the audience who come to watch them. And it’s lovely, because a lot of our writers have gone on to do great things and have gotten fantastic publishing contracts and all sorts of different things have come out of we call it the Flash Fiction Armagh fairy dust.

Jackie De Burca

That sounds amazing. Now obviously, we’ve mentioned lockdown, you know, sporadically throughout the whole interview. So it would be rude, obviously, not to tell listeners about the amazing zoom plays that you’ve been involved in.

Byddi Lee

They were so much fun. Yeah, so Malachi and Tim and I had worked together on Impact the play, the stage play about the Armagh train disaster. And it was a really great experience working with them. And I learned so much about writing from them, and theatre and all that. And we just had a great time. And it was supposed to be staged again, in the Marketplace Theatre last June. But of course, lockdown happened. And so the producer of it, Margery Quinn, she sort of said to us, do you think you could do something that we could just do on zoom? And so we put our heads together, and we came up with Zoomeo and Juliet. And so Zoomeo and Juliet is about a thea- so it’s very recursive. It’s about a theatre company trying to use Zoom to put on a play. But we’re the behind the scenes. You don’t see Romeo and Juliet. I know some people at the end of the play last time, we’re sort of waiting for the play of Romeo and Juliet to start because there’s a lot of talk about it. But it’s about how, you know, the theatre company. You know, this fictitious, I have to hasten to add- fictitious theatre company or drama group and all the infighting and- of course, it has all the references to what was going on with the pandemic and everything as well. And it was a comedy, and we wanted to do a comedy because Impact had been such a serious play and we thought, right, next time we write anything together, it’s going to be a comedy. So that’s that. Sure. Yeah. And then it went down so well. You know what, even if it hadn’t gone down so well,

I think we just had so much fun writing it and it just was just so much fun rehearsing and performing it. And we decided, the next week and the week after it- right, let’s do another one. And we based it on the Macbeth story. And it was called Social Bubble, Toil and Trouble. So it was just a continuation of what had happened and how people have gotten their revenge for things that have happened in the first play. And that’s so- yeah. Again, another comedy. So it was great, really good, fun.

Jackie De Burca

Fantastic. Now, listen. We’re going to look ahead in future days that we’re all so looking forward to when we can travel safely, again. If somebody was coming, whether a friend from Paris or California or who knows where, if somebody was coming to your area there as a visitor for the first time, where would you recommend first of all, for them to stay?

Byddi Lee

So funny, because we actually had people who were supposed to come in on the 20th of May last year, and we had it all worked out.

Wildfowers California - Byddi Lee
Wildfowers California – Byddi Lee

Jackie De Burca

Oh, really?

Byddi Lee

That’s the amazing part of the interview. Yeah. So obviously, they’re going to come to Armagh. Now, we don’t have big mountains and we don’t have a coastline or whatever as such here, but we’re still central. You can get to all of that from here. So this is a good place to base yourself. If you want the day just where you’re- not in the car, it’s all here for you too. So there’s lots of different places to stay in Armagh. There’s the City Hotel, there’s Charlemont and all that. But we have actually got two bed and breakfasts at the end of our street. So if we had friends coming, we would put them up in the bed and breakfast at the end of the street. That answered. And then I’m gonna cheat a bit, because I know, you had sort of- well, what one place would you take them to see. And I couldn’t decide. So I would book them into a Donna Fox tour. She’s a tour guide here, she does walking tours and food tours in Armagh and the food tours are unbelievably good. So it’s local produce, and award winning authors – sorry, authors on the brain here. Award-winning chefs who are part of these food tours. So I would just book my friends, my visitors in with Donna and leave them in her capable hands to show them around all of the sites of Armagh which you can walk around a good few of them in a lovely sunny afternoon, of course, the sun would be shining, of course.

Jackie De Burca

Of course.

Byddi Lee

Yeah. And then for my sort of quirky thing, I couldn’t decide between taking them to Navan Fort, which I have done with my Paris writing group who came over to visit me. We took them to Navan Fort, and they still talk about it. So that was good.

Jackie De Burca

So tell the listeners, because not everybody knows what you’re talking about.

Byddi Lee

Okay, so Navan Fort- it’s an old- it’s an archaeological site, that dates back to pre-Christian times. And you’re back to sort of- I don’t know, is it 1000 BC, even maybe as far back as that. And it’s where the druids would have lived in that. And I don’t know if the listeners would know about Cuhullin, but Cuhullin, the hand of Ulster, he would have trained here, and Queen Macha, she lived there for a while. And, you know, I really should know more about art.

Jackie De Burca

Listen, I’m just saying. I’m just saying, well, I’ve kind of put you on the spot, I’m sorry about that.

Byddi Lee

But what I loved about Navan Fort was they have this little mock up village on site. And it was all about the- like some of the drui way of living, pre-Christian times and everything. And that’s really, really interesting. And how they’re- the different laws, especially with regards to women. People of that era, it didn’t matter whether you were male or female. If you were good at hunting, you were a hunter, if you were good at weaving, you were a weaver or whatever. So it didn’t- it wasn’t like the women did the cooking and the cleaning and the men did the hunting and looking after the animals. Do you know what I mean?

Jackie De Burca

Sounds so intelligent.

Byddi Lee

It really was, yeah. Another intelligent thing was that the men had to wear like a string around their waists. And their girth increased- this is obviously men who had reached adulthood. If their girth increased, it meant they were taking too much from the communal pot. Whereas, women didn’t have to do that, because obviously, with bearing children, their girths would change, fluctuate and everything. So I thought that was funny. And then you could only- and when you first got married, you got married for a year. Now, in the first year, you could decide if you wanted to stay married or not. So that was great.

Jackie De Burca

So intelligent!

Byddi Lee

So anyway, those were all the things that we latched on to on that tour that we took at Navan Fort. But it really is spectacular. It’s all about Irish mythology as well. And it’s beautiful. But it’s beautiful, just to walk around that area as well.

Jackie De Burca

I would want to go on that whenever I’m able to get back over to Ireland, I would be fascinated with that now because it just sounds amazing.

ireland-armagh
Ireland Armagh

Byddi Lee

Well let me know if you’re coming this way. And I’ll make sure (inaudible – 01:29:21)

Jackie De Burca

I will.

Byddi Lee

Another thing that I would highly recommend, it’s a little bit outside of Armagh, but it’s like a 20 minute car journey. And it’s Tayto Castle. Tayto Crisps are the best crisps in the world. Potato chips, for those who don’t know what crisps are. And this is the castle where they are made. And the best thing about this tour is the freebies. You get loads of free samples. So that was- that’s fun. That’s really fun.

Jackie De Burca

So that’s kind of like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but for potato crisps.

Byddi Lee

Totally. And there’s just this big potato costumed person. It’s really funny.

Jackie De Burca

Okay. So look, I’m loving your tour so far. What about when you’re going to take us somewhere nice for a bite to eat at night.

Byddi Lee

And again, for such a small place, I was still stuck between two places. And it depends on maybe you want to go with local food or if you wanted to go with something that ethnic. So I’d already mentioned about the lovely Indian food that you get in Armagh and so you could either go to Spice Lounge because they’re amazing. And then you could also pop in, there’s across the road from it. There’s the- oh gosh, the name of it escapes me. But it’s- the Irish language centre, it’s just newly- oh, it’s just newly opened and then they had to close down for the pandemic. But it’s right across the road. But yeah, so there’s the Spice Lounge or Uluru, which is right in the centre again and Market Street. So maybe that’s why I like it because Market Street is so close to my heart. But it is actually in one of those buildings that I as a child remember burning. But it’s lovely. It’s really nice food and it was originally started by somebody who was from Australia, hence the name, Uluru. Yeah, so those are my- that’s where we’re going for our fancy dinner. So you’d have to come for more than just one night so we can try both places. And then first sort of like- sort of ordinary little kind of snacky foods, everyday food like lunches or coffees, there is Mulberry Bistro, which was our home to the Flash Fiction, Armagh people but also they’ve won Best Bistro a couple of years ago, and maybe a couple of years in a row as well. And there’s Rumours which is in Market Street as well. So if it’s sunny day, we can sit outside Rumours with a coffee. So that’s-

Jackie De Burca

Okay. That sounds great. Now, of course, it would be very weird to go to an Irish or a Northern Irish location and not go for a drink or two. Where would would you be taking me?

Byddi Lee

Okay, indecision.com again in one respect and that- why don’t we just do a pub crawl of the town? Let’s start at one end of the town. And I can guarantee you, you will not get to the other end of the town because there’s so many bars and good bars in Armagh.

Jackie De Burca

I thought you were insinuating something else there.

Byddi Lee

Oh no, no. There’s so many of them that yeah, I mean, we maybe make it halfway through and then we’d be so-

Jackie De Burca

We’d have to stop. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Any like-

Byddi Lee

If it was a lovely sunny afternoon, we could go out into the country, there’s a lovely place called Basil Sheils out in Tassagh. And it’s actually a long road that has been named as one of the prettiest roads in Ireland.

Jackie De Burca

Really?

Byddi Lee

I don’t know how they decide these things, but this is its claim to fame. But it has like picnic tables, out by the river. So you could sit out by the river in a lovely May afternoon with the sun beating down on you and have a few wee drinks there.

Jackie De Burca

Oh that sounds lovely. Now, what was the name of that last place, Byddi? I didn’t quite catch it.

Byddi Lee

Basil Sheils.

argory-armagh
Argory Armagh

Jackie De Burca

Okay, okay. Okay, that sounds brilliant. Now, listen. I’m so looking forward to that whenever the day arrives. So this is one of the things that I completely forgot to ask you. Of course you studied and you taught biology, and we mentioned much earlier on about that would have been playing a role, of course, as well as the environments in your writing. Talk to me a little bit about that. Sorry, Byddi, I forgot to ask that.

Byddi Lee

No problem at all. And so again, the thing with the biology was that it’s- well, first of all, I’m never going to do this again. But my protagonist was a doctor. And having a protagonist who is much cleverer than you are is really hard work. So I had to make my readers believe that I knew what I was talking about. So I had a lot of research to do. And so the biology came in handy there. And then even for the the concept of what was causing- I don’t want to give anything away, but to explain what was causing this rejuvenation, I didn’t- I wanted it to be like what they call hard science fiction, and that it’s completely plausible, that this could could completely happen, you know? And so it needed to be something that I could scientifically explain, if you like, even if the technology isn’t available now but in the future, it might be.

Jackie De Burca

Right. Okay. Yeah.

Byddi Lee

So that was part of it. And then there’s a whole section on viruses- but again, not wanting to give too much away, don’t think that this rejuvenation was caused by a virus. It wasn’t necessarily caused by a virus. So but there was a whole, you know, exploration about viruses and the use of viruses to deliver other things. So that all had to be researched. And I had to understand what a vaccine was, that’s come in handy. And so all of that- all of that played into Rejuvenation. And then the other thing was, like, I really wanted to play with this idea of the ice caps have melted, but I found it to be-

I wanted it to be sooner rather than the projected later. And so I- that’s why we ended up having it, that they were melted on purpose by another entity. So yeah, so that was all my environmental biology coming in there. Yeah.

Jackie De Burca

Okay, fantastic. Now, listen, finally, what are you currently working on? And what places will or are being featured in this work?

Byddi Lee

Well, life is all about cycles. And so when we came back from- one of the first things I did when we came back to live in Ireland after living in Paris and America was I was looking to see what was on locally. And in the Armagh County Museum, there was a talk being given by none other than Mike Bailey, one of the professors that I had worked with. So yeah, so I went along, I was telling to Mike, I just popped up, hadn’t had any contact, you know how back in those days, when you know, people weren’t connected by social media and all this, where they are now. So I just went and sat in the front row, and I thought, I wonder if he’ll recognise me. And he came in, you know, how you have that wee bit before you actually get up to speak where you just sort of come in and sit down and get your notes together? I mean, he was, “oh my god, Byddi, hi”! So I sat and listened to his talk. And his talk was fabulous. But he was going through the chronology and how they had identified- and I mean, we’ve talked about this often in our lunchroom, but just hearing him talk about this again. And he had a few more nuances to add to his series. But he picked up on this moment in time, in 2354 BC, where the tree ring chronology gets really narrow with the tree rings are really narrow for a period of nine years. So what that means is that for nine years-

Jackie De Burca

That things were not good.

Byddi Lee

It was so bad, that nothing grew. Right. And he also said that at that time, there is evidence and I knew the tree he’s talking about, because I’ve counted that particular sample. I’ve seen that sample with my own eyes, but he has this sample. And there is a gouge in the wood in the bark. And these are sub fossils. So they fell over at this period of time probably because of flooding or the land was so waterlogged, right? The gouge in the bark tells the story possibly of floating debris, and then he happened to mention something about a tsunami that could have come in over the Barmouth and down into Lough Neagh. So over the north coast, a tsunami so big that it came over the north coast of Ireland and flooded and raised the level of Lough Neagh.

barmout
Barmout

Jackie De Burca

Wow. Now what year did you mention again?

Byddi Lee

So this is 2354 BC.

Jackie De Burca

Okay. Okay.

Byddi Lee

So we’re talking 4000, just over 4000 years ago. Right. And they’re not that- that water would have taken a long time to recede. And the fact that those- the water levels were high would have meant- but what could have caused the tsunami to take place? So these are things that they don’t know. They do know that there were volcanic eruptions periodically, because they found the volcanic ash in the layers of bog at those moments as well. So I thought, oh wow, can you imagine going back to that moment in time and seeing that tsunami?

Jackie De Burca

Wow.

Byddi Lee

Why imagine it, why don’t I just write a story about it. So that’s what my next novel is about. And it’s a dual timeline. So I have a 2354 BC storyline and then 2015. There was no way I was going anywhere near 2020.

Jackie De Burca

I don’t blame you, Byddi. I don’t blame you.

Byddi Lee

I couldn’t- I couldn’t do that. And so I’m playing about with a couple of different themes in that story as well. I’m playing about with a theme of what story means even to people and your legacy. It’s all about legacy and story and fertility and things dying and things not being able to survive.

Jackie De Burca

Okay, that sounds fascinating. Now, are you in so much of an early stage of that book that you won’t know possible publication dates or-

Byddi Lee

I mean, I’ve got it sketched out plot wise. I’ve got about the first 20 to 30,000 words written and I’m at that stage, I’m going back in and play about with that bit so that I can have it well set up for flowing into the next bit.

Jackie De Burca

Okay, fantastic. It sounds it sounds brilliant. Listen. And for those of you who haven’t Byddi’s books so far, we’re going to have links on the transcript page of the podcast. So it’ll be all very easily accessible, everything- Byddi’s website itself and the books obviously, that you might want to be buying. And Byddi, anything else you’d like to tell us? I’ve just really enjoyed our chat today, it’s been brilliant.

Byddi Lee

I can’t think of anything, I’m all talked out.

Just that I want to thank my writing- I’ve talked about my writing groups in Paris and my writing group in California and how wonderful they are, but also my writing community here in Ireland, and in the north here. Women Live Northern Ireland are fantastic. And people like Karen Mooney, who have been real champions of helping me promote my work and everything like that. So yeah, there’s so many people to thank, I’m afraid to start.

Jackie De Burca

I know it’s a difficult one. I know for myself, when I did the credit for the Dali book that I wrote. It is difficult, you don’t want to leave people out. And then you’re put on the spot, so it is awkward. I also wanted to mention Karen Mooney, because thanks to Karen that she got the two of us together. So I’m really grateful for that, Karen, thank you very much. Listen, thanks so much Byddi for joining us today on Creative Places and Faces. I hope you enjoyed it.

Byddi Lee

Oh, I did.

Jackie De Burca

Good stuff. Now, for our listeners. We have a lot of fascinating guests that have been recording away this month, coming over the coming weeks and months. So we hope to see you all again very soon. Thank you very much.

 

[01:42:38] [END OF AUDIO]
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Nicolas Raherinjatovo

Thinking of visiting Madagascar? Be sure to check out our articles by Nicolas. Born in Madagascar, Nicolas knows his homeland like the back of his hand. But not only that, he is a tourism graduate and expert. Nicolas it the Travel Inspires' Madagascar specialist! He is passionate about writing and travelling.

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      From Armagh to California, Paris, Canada & South Africa With Author Byddi Lee

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