I’ve been asked to write a brief pronunciation guide for anyone who might need help with character and place names in The Door on Half-Bald Hill. Pronunciation guides are tricky! It’s always easier to hear a new word than to decode it by means of the kind of weird, inconsistent descriptors I’m about to give.
Two quick rules of thumb. First, when you come across a strange name in a piece of fiction, make your peace with it right away. Keep it simple and logical. You don’t want to trip over it every time the word appears. Second, assume that the writer was going for something beautiful. Nobody wants to work with ugly, ungainly words for years on end. It should sound nice when you say it aloud and when you think it in your head.
Idris: sounds like you think it does. Idris Elba.
Corann: COR – un, rhymes with “foreign.”
Deirdre, Muriel, Calder, Shannan, Sloane, Etain, Murdoch, Pixie, Vaughn, and Brennan: all sound just like you’d imagine. Hard “c” at the end of “Murdoch.”
Barra: I can’t think of a rhyming word! Wait. Okay. Think of an excessively wealthy Southern woman who’s very proud of her family lineage. One of the older characters in Gone with the Wind, for example. Imagine her saying “horror,” and you should have it.
Llyr: rhymes with “steer” and “clear.” Llyr steers the coracle through the clear water.
Clodagh: CLO-dah. Ignore the “g.” Rhymes with “Yoda.”
Saoirse: Think Saoirse Ronan. This insane combination of vowels makes a sound somewhere between a long “e” and a short “e.” Say “Seershah,” but flatten your tongue a bit.
Cogath Tornech: CO-goth TORE-neck. This is the War of Thunder. Necks get torn.
Tír Ársa: TEER AHR-suh. Oh, the fair land of Tír Ársa! The sound of these words should fill you with longing and bittersweet memories! If it doesn’t, say them differently.
Tullagh Sé: TOO-luh SAY. This first syllable rhymes with words like “took” and “look,” so you can remember it like this—“We took a look at the Tullagh Sé.”
Baileléan: Trickiest word in the book. Think “balalaika” without the “aika.” Slap an “ane” on there instead. Laure Hittle divides that last syllable ever-so-subtly in two, and it’s gorgeous.
Fir Bolg: feer BOLG. First syllable rhymes with “fear.” Because you should fear them. They’re the Lightning Men. They will eat up your land. That syllable also rhymes with the “Tír” of “Tír Ársa,” but I didn’t add the accent because the Fir Bolg are part of Irish/Celtic Mythology. Like so many elements of The Door on Half-Bald Hill, I didn’t make them up. But maybe I should have added the accent. Hmmmm. Well. You can’t win ‘em all.