by Luke Osteen
Local raconteur Lee Lyons has turned her formidable storytelling talents to create a new novel, her first – “Southern Shamrock.”
If you’ve lived on the Plateau for any length of time, you know Lee. She’s performed with the Highlands-Cashiers Players and presented her stories in monologues and spoken word performances throughout the twin communities. Her voice is big and clearly the product of an Upstate South Carolina upbringing, and her enthusiasm is irresistible.
That passion drives “Southern Shamrock.” As the back page explains, “Reeling from the unexpected death of her son, Margaret Ryan struggles to rebuild her life. Divorced and at odds with her older sister, she does little more than sit in the cemetery where her son is buried and write letters to him in her journal. While cleaning out her parents’ house before putting it on the market, she discovers letters written in the late 1800s to her great-great-grandmother, for whom she is a namesake. She goes to Ireland with a plan to write about her family history. The magic of Ireland, however, has other ideas, and Margaret discovers that the only thing harder than holding on to the past is...letting it go.”
That’s a pretty hearty stew of a story and Lee delivers it with aplomb.
“It’s cozy, the kind of book you can cuddle up with at night,” she says.
Though her first novel is straightforward and laced with her characteristic gentle humor, its publication was anything but certain.
“There was really nothing in my path that suggested I’d ever write a book – much to my regret, I didn’t focus on studying in college ” Lee explains. “Later I was a wife and mother and nothing out of the ordinary”
“But I got wiser and wider, so I guess I started looking at life a little bit differently. Tragedy and menopause finally forced me think clearly for the first time, and it sent me on an uncertain path that somehow ended up here.
“I came to Highlands unsure of myself and looking to get away from everything. But you know, life somehow helps you to find where you need to be. My friend, Ann Doggett asked me to join the Highlands Writers Group. I didn’t have any interest in writing, but she insisted, and I was hooked. I decided I needed to write a book, maybe something personal. I made it my goal to write a chapter a week, and by year’s end I had a completed manuscript. When I looked at it, I realized it wasn’t very good and I threw it in a trunk and tried to forget about it.”
Her friend, the novelist Diane McPhail asked her to join her at a writer’s workshop in Ireland.
“I was totally intimidated because I found out that everyone who was participating was a serious writer, and I was just a dabbler. But you know, everyone should have someone like Diane in their life. Maybe the class had a cancellation or something, because I really can’t figure how I got in.
“They told me that I needed to add a little romance into my story, so I came back and added some stuff. They also said I didn’t need to write a memoir, which ended up being the advice I needed.”
“Southern Shamrock” is available at The Book Nook, on Amazon.com, and Hudson Library in Highlands and Albert Carlton-Cashiers Community Library.