The past and present are stitched together with threads of magic, if we could only open our eyes to see them…

Welcome to aliisaacstoryteller!

I blog about my writing, my experiences living with a special needs child, and anything else which takes my fancy. Feel free to have a look around.

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Chancer

Carys loves sleeping in her safety bed tent.

Carys loves sleeping in her safety bed tent. You can guess the level of her excitement by the blur of movement with her hands!

Carys was crying angrily. She had been crying angrily for three days. I had to give her credit for such a consistent sustained campaign. It was certainly wearing me down.

At midnight, I shut down my lap top, and poked my head through the bedroom door. “Should I go in to her?”

Conor was sitting up playing games on his I-phone. Even he,  normally so expert at falling asleep anywhere, at any time, could not doze through that. “You can try,” he replied wearily. “But I’ve just been in. Nothing I do or say seems to make any difference.”

I knew my presence would not have any effect either, but I just wanted to hold her. I crept quietly through the gloom of her room. I could just make out her thick mop of curly black hair in the shadows of her cot.

Living with a child who has special needs is at best a challenge, at worst, destructive. Most of the time, it is just plain exhausting.

I held her tight and she quieted somewhat, but I was no fool, I knew what was coming. “Night times are for sleeping,” I whispered hopefully, switching on her musical toy, and we started the whole bed-time routine again.

Sing the nursery rhymes, zip her into her sleeping bag, give her a soft blanket to hold, and she falls asleep happily to the gentle sound of her cuddly classical music teddy… that’s what’s supposed to happen.

But not this time. She exploded into a tempest of renewed crying and yelling. She balled her little hands into rock hard fists and pressed them into my throat. At the same time she planted her little feet into my belly and kicked out with her legs.

How the hell do these kids get so strong, I wondered to myself, as I caught her in my well-honed Ironman grip. Must be a side effect of all that physiotherapy.

I lowered her gently to her bed, zipped up the side of her safety tent, and went to bed myself.

But not to sleep. I couldn’t. Not until I knew she had nodded off first.

This time, it didn’t last long. She went quiet at about quarter to one. I know, because I realised I had been listening so hard to the sound of silence. And if you have read my other posts, you’ll know how silence freaks me out! More than anything, I wanted to get up and check that she was asleep, breathing, alive. But I didn’t dare, for fear of waking her up. So I lay there in the dark and oppressive peace of my sleeping household and fretted.

This was the third time in as many months.

Occasion One; long weekend in a hotel on Co Mayo. We made excuses; she was out of her comfort zone, she lost four of her bottom teeth while we were there. So. Two perfectly good reasons to explain her behaviour.

Occasion Two; we were visiting family back home in England. Again, out of her familiar surroundings. And didn’t she only go and lose two of her top teeth this time? Well, that had to be it… didn’t it?

Occasion Three? No idea! Her teeth were all intact. Her crying had started at school, a place she is very familiar and happy with, surrounded by teachers she adores. Nothing untoward had happened there. She had no temperature. There were no signs of pain; I know her well enough by now to recognise a cry of pain. Besides, I sneaked some Calpol into her food when she wasn’t looking, just in case. Of course, I may as well just have given her Smarties for all the good it did.

We could find nothing wrong.

“She’s a chancer,” muttered Conor darkly.

“What d’you mean?” I countered, immediately on the defensive.

“I mean, she’s playing us,” he replied.

I thought about that. Was she? My little girl was one of life’s innocents, her state of development no more than that of a one year old. Was a one year old really capable of such calculating behaviour? I tried to think back to when the boys were that age, but it was no good. My leaky fragile memory had discarded the negatives of babyhood long ago. There was only room in there for the good stuff.

But I knew that Conor had a way of seeing through a situation to its core. He was good like that. Me, I am always blinded by emotion.

If Carys was crying to get her own way, how could she sustain it through three days and nights? If she was angry about something, what was it, and how was she fueling it? I was, still am, dizzy with dissecting. I have over analysed everything so many times, there is nothing left but a pile of mush where my brain should be. And still I find no answers.

I must have slept, because at quarter to three, I awoke to the song of Carys’s crying. We repeated the whole rigmarole again. And then again at five thirty, but this time Conor just got her up for the day. And despite the lack of sleep, she seemed happier. Guiltily, I sent her to school.

Sometimes, I feel desperate. So desperate, that I have to resort to switching on the vacuum cleaner just to drown out the voice of my crying child. Conor coaches our local kids rugby team, and had taken both boys to a tournament in Mullingar. Carys and I were alone. Normally, I would relish this opportunity for girly togetherness, but by lunch time I couldn’t take any more. Imagine your toddler’s worst tantrum. How long did it last? Half an hour? One hour? Two?

Imagine it carrying on for the guts of three days and nights. How would you feel? Well, I’m no saint; I am just an ordinary Irish mammy who has been given the gift and privilege of raising this special child. But sometimes it’s too much. Sometimes it’s hard to go on. Sometimes, I just can’t cope. Perhaps if I could understand the problem, and do something about it, alleviate her unhappiness in some way, it might be more tolerable. And if I could just get some sleep…

That feels like failure. That feels like me.

So I picked her up, put her in her cot where I knew she was safe and comfortable, pulled the door to, and switched on the vacuum cleaner. Just so I didn’t have to hear. I searched out every escaped dog hair and clump of mud (living in the heart of rural Ireland with a Labrador and two sporty boys, the evidence is never far away, despite my best efforts), just so I didn’t have to think. The house got a very thorough clean until my men came back. By which time I felt a little better. And Daddy’s little girl sobbed into Daddy’s chest about how horrible Mama had been.

Carys can’t walk. She can’t talk. She can’t sign or communicate in any way. She can’t use her hands properly. She can’t really do anything for herself. She is totally at the mercy and whim of those around her. We are just imperfect human beings, full of faults and flaws and selfishness. We try to the best of our ability to interpret her needs and wants. We try to teach her ways of communicating, of being independent, but we’re not good at it, we haven’t yet found the way to make her understand. It’s no wonder she gets upset and angry at times; we have to allow her that.

Carys had no behavioural issues then. I clearly remember her psychologist saying, “I can tell Carys lives in a family where she is sometimes told ‘No’.”

“Really?” I spluttered, surprised but pleased, because I knew how easy it is to spoil a special needs child, to always make allowances and excuses for bad behaviour when in fact, there are none. “How do you know?”

“Because,” he replied solemnly, “she has no behavioural problems.”

I clung gratefully to that small statement. It was evidence that somehow, amid all the chaos, heartbreak and joy of rearing this strange, mysterious little being with whom we shared our lives, I, we, must be doing something right.

I doubt he ever knew the impact his words had on me, but I think I grew a couple of inches that day.

Geis | The Curse in Irish Mythology

The geis (pronounced gesh or gaysh) is Irish for ‘curse’, or ‘taboo’, yet in some circumstances, they might also be seen in a positive light, as a ‘gift’. Irish mythology is awash with geisa, almost every hero being afflicted by at least oneif not more. At first glance, they seem little more than a sprinkling of magical spice to add a little extra drama to a story; if the hero violates his geis, he suffers dishonour and maybe even death.

However, a closer look yields a slightly different concept behind the use of the geis in Irish myth and legend.

Ancient Irish society revolved around the hero-warrior, and the code of honour; to match this ideal brought respect, admiration, glory. To fall short earned only disgrace and shame. But to maintain one’s place in this chivalric hierarchy required constant competition, and the geis, rising as it did from society’s shared communal fears and desires, served to prod the hero-warrior in the right direction, to guide him, and ensure he never strayed. Or, as John R Reinhard put it in his The Survival of Geis in Medieval Romance, ‘the function of the geis is to avoid dishonour, disaster or death’.

Sometimes, there are multiple geisa put in place, and one must choose to violate one in order to maintain another. This seems to equate with high rank,  the greatest warriors and Kings constantly tripping over their various taboos. In such cases, the ‘personal’ geis would often be sacrificed in favour of the ‘public’ one.

For example, Cúchullain famously acquired his name (meaning ‘Hound of Cullain’) for slaying one of the smith Cullain’s ferocious guard dogs with his bare hands. As well as then serving in place of the hound, he was under geis never to eat the flesh of a dog. One day, after many adventures, an old woman camping on the roadside offers him refreshment of a meal containing dog meat. The Ulster hero was also under geis never to refuse hospitality, and so was put in a quandary; which geis to break? His decision would inevitably violate one of them. To refuse this woman’s kindness and generosity, to refuse her hospitality would damage his public persona, so he chose to break the private taboo, and accepted the dish. This decision was ultimately to lead to his death.

This geis never to refuse hospitality crops up in various other tales of Irish mythology, for example, in the stories of Fergus mac Róich, Fionn mac Cumhall, and Bres mac Elatha. It seems the ancient Irish prized the giving of hospitality, and it was seen as bad form to refuse it.

Fergus mac Róich (Fergus meaning ‘man-strength’, or ‘virility’, son of Ró-ech, the ‘Great Horse’) was an Ulster king who was tricked out of his crown by the woman he loved, Ness, and her son Conchobar. The young Conchobar’s bride, Deirdre, eloped with her lover, Naoise, and his two brothers, and the jilted king sent Fergus and his son, Fiachu, and two companions to track them down. The escapees were duly rounded up and escorted homeward, but along the way Conchobar sent a message ordering Fergus and his two friends to a feast, knowing they were bound by geis never to refuse hospitality. Fiachu continued alone with the prisoners, but on arrival at the royal castle, they were all killed by the jealous king’s command. In revenge, Fergus burned the castle and fled to Connacht, taking service with Queen Medb against Conchobar and the Ulstermen.

Bres, a deposed Denann High King goes to war against Nuada and is defeated in battle by Lugh, who grants him mercy. Some stories say that later, Lugh offers Bres a poisoned drink, which he obtains through rather bizarre circumstances; first he builds three hundred wooden cattle, which he then fills with a deadly red fluid. This he then ‘milks’ into pails and offers to Bres. Under geis not to refuse hospitality, Bres has little choice but to accept the beverage, drinks it, and falls down dead. I have racked my brain thinking about this one, and can’t come up with any explanation. Perhaps it speaks of ancient ritual we no longer have knowledge of, perhaps it is simple mistranslation. I suspect we’ll never know.

Often, the breaking of a geis resulted in tragedy. The story of Diarmuid and Graine is a particularly poignant one. Young and beautiful princess Graine is married to the now ageing Fionn mac Cumhall. Her eyes fall on the dashing hero, Diarmuid, and she is smitten. She puts a geis on him to help her escape (there are many stories of young women putting geisa on their would-be lovers in this way), and they fall in love. After chasing the couple across Ireland for  year, Fionn finally lets them be. Over the years, Diarmuid and Graine raise four sons. Finally seeking reconciliation, it is agreed that Fionn, the Fianna and Diarmuid will go hunting together, just like the old days. Unfortunately, it is the wily old Boar of Benbulben they give chase to, which Diarmuid is under geis not to hunt. He kills the beast, but not before being gored by its horns. Fionn has the power to save his old friend by offering him healing water from his cupped hands, but old hatred dies hard, and he hesitates a moment too long. Here, Graine’s request for help shows that it is the hero-warrior’s duty to protect and help women, it would be churlish and dishonourable to deny her. The boar was considered the mightiest and fiercest of all animals (and also the tastiest of all meats!) and was greatly respected for his bravery, but as to why Diarmuid would be dishonoured by hunting this one, I can’t say. I suspect in this case, the geis was a gift rather than a curse; that be being informed of the unusual circumstances of his potential future death, he might avoid hunting the beast, thus avoiding his death.

Another sad and tragic story involves Cuchullain and his son Connla. Whilst Scottish warrior-woman, Aífe, is still pregnant with their unborn son, Cúchullain demands that when the boy comes of age, she sends him to his father, and puts three geisa on the child; 1. That once he begins his journey, there is no turning back. 2. He must never refuse a challenge to a duel. 3. That he never reveals his name. When Connla duly presents himself as a young man at his father’s dun, he is met with a request for his identity. When he refuses to give his name, Cuchullain challenges the youth to single combat. They fight fiercely, and when Connla realises who his opponent is, he throws down his weapons in horror. Overcome by the red rage of riastragh (battle frenzy), Cúchullain thrusts with his spear. As Connla lies dying, he finally reveals his name, leaving Cúchullain overcome with grief at killing his own son. It is clear that the first geis is making Connla duty-bound to find and serve his father. The second geis is all about winning honour and respect as a warrior, and the final one concerns the ancient belief that to give one’s true name to another is to give them power over you. This could explain why so many kings and warriors of old are known by titles and epithets. Cúchullain himself was given the name Setanta at birth, although he is only ever referred to as the Hound of Cullain.

The Friday Fiction featuring Jay Howard

  jay

A Nice Cup of Tea

Laura parks in front of the sprawling farmhouse and walks back across the yard to close the five-bar gate. The metal spring catch is warm in her hand, the air suffused with the scent of apples ripening on a half dozen sun-dappled trees.

Against her will her eyes are drawn across the valley and the gentle contours of the Chilterns towards Ivinghoe Beacon. She feels her heart start pounding. That’s where it had happened, with the Harvest Moon silvering their bodies and the chalk landscape glowing a ghostly white. That memory is all she’s had for so long now she finds it hard to remember the wonder, the joy.

“Go on!” The voice in her head is as loud as the voice she heard on that fateful day nearly forty years ago. “Get off this land, you lying whore, and don’t ever come back!”

Laura grips the top bar and closes her eyes, raising her face to the soothing early evening rays. She takes a deep, steadying breath, reminding herself that the scene has changed in two important respects: his parents are dead and she is no longer a helpless, naive teenager. But she is still unsure she’s done the right thing in coming here. Her feet are refusing to move.

“Whatever you’re trying to sell I don’t want it, so you might as well leave now.” The voice booms across the yard, its owner approaching from around the side of the house.

Laura turns slowly and looks him up and down. “You sound just like your father, Joe.”

The years have not been kind to him. Most of his once luxurious hair has gone and his big frame has accumulated fat. She wrinkles her nose in distaste at his filthy trousers and a plaid shirt that should have been added to the rag pile.

He hesitates, squinting against the sunlight to get a better view of her. “Who are you?” he says, his voice hostile.

With a wry smile she wags a finger and shakes her head. “Tut, tut, Joe. Your mother was a dear, kind soul and she taught you better manners than that. You might have had a happier life if you’d followed her example rather than your father’s.”

Joe frowns. She can see him trying to reconcile the mature woman before him with his memories of her voice. Many expressions flit across his lined face before the years melt away.

“Laura?”

He steps to her side, turning away from the sun. Laura stands proudly, knowing her appearance passes muster. Tailored light brown trousers and a crisp white blouse are cool and smart. Her jewellery and watch are elegant, subtly expensive. As a confidence boost she’d even gone for a chic new hair style.

“You still look like Katherine Hepburn,” he says, a trace of awe in his voice. He reaches forward to touch her arm, as if not quite believing what he sees.

“I hope not – she’s long dead.”

She notices him trying to suck in his belly. Caught in the act he flushes, tugs on his wide leather belt and shifts his gaze beyond her shoulder. Painful memories hold them both in thrall, immobile, silent.

A blackbird’s liquid trill breaks the spell. Laura takes a step back.

“It used to be the custom in these parts to offer visitors some refreshment after a long journey.”

“What do you want, Laura?” His voice is harsh and a small muscle below his left eye jumps repeatedly.

“Well, a cup of tea would be nice.”

He scowls at her, opens his mouth to speak, then changes his mind. He turns abruptly, flicking his fingers at her to follow him indoors.

Laura pauses in the kitchen doorway. It takes a moment for her eyes to adjust after the brightness outside. The windows cast a checkerboard of sun and shadow across the room and she can hear the buzz of a bluebottle somewhere nearby.

For three centuries wood smoke has permeated the ancient beams and walls. The aroma takes her back to the last time she stood on that spot. The big wooden slab of a table was where she had done most of her homework with Joe’s sister, Jenny, her best friend all through their school years. Echoes of their girlish voices sound down the decades. She looks around, half expecting to see the young Laura and Jenny playing there still.

Her roving gaze halts on the fireplace. Laura feels a strange giddiness and supports herself against the stone door jamb. She remembers the night, sitting with Joe in the inglenook, when he had kissed her for the first time. For months he had gone out of his way to make her feel special. His wooing had the desired effect: she fell in love and yearned for his ever more passionate kisses. While she accepted that it must be kept secret from his father, his mother became their ally.

Laura looks across the kitchen. Yes, even the hob and sink are unchanged. In her mind’s eye Laura can still see Joe’s mother scuttling between the two. She takes a few deep, controlled breaths to slow her hammering heartbeat. She doesn’t want to take a pill, not with Joe there to witness her weakness.

She clears her throat. “You know, I don’t recall ever seeing your mother anywhere but here in the kitchen or in the pantry. Did your father ever allow her out?”

“You’re still fond of saying bloody stupid things, then,” he says and turns his back on her.

“It’s a long time since I’ve said – or done – anything stupid, Joe.”

He turns the hot tap on full and pulls dirty crockery out of the sink while the water gets to temperature. The sink is deep and the growing mountain of china and pans on the bench bear witness to how long it has been since he’s bothered to wash up.

Laura does not try to speak over the din he is making. She checks there is enough water in the battered kettle and puts it on the hob. She knows exactly where the brown earthenware teapot will be, the cosy, the tea caddy, milk and sugar. Not a cupboard has changed, and everything lives where it always used to.

Joe fishes in a drawer for a tea towel. He wipes two cups and saucers dry and puts them on the table, then sees what Laura is up to.

“Make yourself at home, why don’t you?” he says.

Laura just smiles and warms the pot. She opens the caddy and her eyes widen. “Tea bags, Joe? Your mother wouldn’t like that.”

“Well she’s not here, is she?” His colour is rising rapidly.

“Nor is Babs,” Laura says, “or your boys.”

He makes a guttural noise like a wounded animal. “Have you had your spies reporting back to you, then?”

“Your mother told me. It broke her heart when you just let them go.”

“You weren’t here,” he shouts. He stops, seeming shocked at his own vehemence. He half raises an arm towards her. “You have no idea what it was like,” he says.

“I know what it was like for us, but we were so young, we had so few options. It was different for you and your wife. Why didn’t you stand up to him, Joe?”

He glares at her, fingernails tight into his palms, his knuckles white.

 “Your mother understood about parental responsibility. She loved you and Jenny so much – she stayed here for your sakes. Your father ordered you to stay here for the farm.”

He stands in front of her, shaking his head. “Woolcotts have been here since 1705. That’s worth something, too.”

“And will a son of yours be prepared to take over?” She shrugs, pretending indifference to his pain. “Your mother kept in touch. She thought that one day I might need to know what my daughter’s father is up to. You know, the daughter who would have been aborted if her grandfather had had his way, the daughter whose father was too scared to fight her corner.”

She gives herself a moment to let the ancient anger subside. Sharp chest pain tells her clearly that her heart will not take more confrontation. She gestures around them, feigning nonchalance. “Anyway, I don’t need ‘spies’. A woman would just need to look at the dirt in this kitchen to know only a man lives here.” She takes a dishcloth between two fingers, gingerly sniffs it and changes her mind about wiping the table.

He grabs it from her, slooshes it through the washing up water and defiantly wipes the table himself. “I’m a farmer, not a housewife.” He throws the cloth back into the sink and the water splashes over onto the windowsill.

 “I wasn’t surprised when I heard she’d left you,” Laura continues. “It would’ve taken a saint to live with your father.”

She turns back to the hob and pours the boiling water into the pot, pops the lid on, snuggles the cosy over it and carries it to the table. “My grandmother swore that only tea made with water that had percolated through your native soil ever tasted quite right. Mum hated going to an area without our chalky water for the same reason. She used to check the area’s geology before deciding where we were going on holiday. Tea just doesn’t taste the same in Somerset, she says, but we’ve got used to it over the years.”

Joe slams his hand on the table. “You didn’t come here to discuss cups of tea, Laura! Now answer my damn question: what do you want from me?”

Laura puts her elbows on the table and steeples her fingers. “I realise I had a lucky escape, not getting landed with you as a husband.” She holds up a hand, palm towards him when he starts to speak. “And you’ve taken no interest in your daughter – do you even know her name?” She pauses, eyebrows raised. “No, I thought not. Anyway, despite that, she still wants to know about you. She wants you to know you’ll be a grandfather next month.” She stops and looks across the table. “Could I have a teaspoon? The tea needs a stir.”

Joe turns back to the sink and suddenly thrusts his face towards the window. “It’s that bugger back again!” He dashes to the wall rack, grabs his rifle, then stealthily opens the back door.

Laura goes to the window and sees a stag down at the edge of the wood. As Joe raises the gun to his shoulder she barges against him, sending him reeling. As he falls the gun goes off and the stag leaps away, back into cover.

“You stupid cow! That’s how accidents happen.” He gets to his knees and jabs a finger towards the wood. “I’ve been after that one for weeks. I’d have had him this time, but no, you come swanning back and find another way to screw up my life!”

Laura raises her chin, her eyes disdainful as she watches him clamber back to his feet. “I’m telling you about your grandchild but a stag is more important to you?” She turns on her heel.

He watches her walk away then goes to replace the gun in the rack. His work-roughened fingers caress the stock.

Laura sits back at the table, cradling her temples with both hands. She looks at him sadly. “Your father turned you into a clone of himself. Why did you let him do that, Joe?”

Joe stands hunched over in front of the gun rack while the wall clock loudly ticks off the relentless, painful seconds.

“Daisy,” he says. “Her name’s Daisy.”

The words sound wrenched from him. He hides a sniff in a loud harrumph and fishes around in the drawer underneath the rack. He returns to the table and sits down heavily, shoulders slumped.

“They were always your favourite flowers; open, guileless you said.”

“And strong,” Laura added. “It doesn’t matter how many times they’re chopped back, they carry on and flower again.”

“Daisy… she’s a bit old to be starting a family, isn’t she?” he says.

Laura doesn’t tell him why Daisy needed to be as resilient as the flower she was named for; her anguish each time she miscarried is still too painful, too personal.

He watches her for a while then pushes a pad and pen towards her. “Put her address and married name down there,” he says gruffly. “I’ll think about it.”

“You’ll think about it?” She crosses her arms and sits back in her chair, studying him with narrowed eyes.

He squirms sideways, making the beech stretchers creak within the chair legs. “You are going to tell me, aren’t you?”

“All these years you’ve made no effort to contact me, no effort to get to know your daughter. Can you give me one good reason why I should let you into our lives now?”

“Because that’s why you came here? Isn’t that what she wants?”

Laura sits forward and stares at him for a long time.

“I’ve kept my promise to Daisy,” she says eventually. “Now then, shall I be mother?”

She reaches for the teapot and holds it aloft, letting the questions hang between them in the dust mote laden air.


 


“I know what hell would be like: it would be a life without books,” says author Jay Howard. “I can’t remember ever feeling lonely or bored as there are so many wonderful characters willing to share my mind. Like all young people I went through a period of reading trash but quickly realised I was wasting the most precious commodity of all: my time. I reverted to reading good literature, having given myself permission to unceremoniously dump a book I’d started if it didn’t live up to the publisher’s promises. That probably sounds strange, but I’m a bit of a terrier and don’t like to let go of something I’ve started, not until the rat’s neck is broken and it’s good and dead.

“Filling my world with the works of the giants in literature was both good and bad for me. I absorbed the rules of English purely from reading so many good examples of it. I remember being taught, in a very offhand ‘modern’ way, the basics about nouns and verbs, subjects and objects, but when you get to participles, the future perfect tense and other grammatical stuff (lovely word, ‘stuff’, so useful… but I digress) let’s just say my Latin and French teachers were not too amused at having to first teach me English. I’m still not sure about much of the terminology, but you don’t need to be able name every part of a sentence to be able to write well. The down side is that I hid away my attempts at writing for decades as I knew my scribblings could in no way compare to my heroes: Thomas Hardy, DH Lawrence, Maeve Binchy, the Brontes, Jane Austen, Isaac Asimov, Elizabeth Goudge, Mary Webb, Harper Lee, John Steinbeck, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell… the list is very long and very intimidating to a novice writer.

“My husband gave me the kick in the butt I needed to finish my first novel; he secretly took my half-written book in to work for the women there to read. They demanded to know what happened next. I had little option but to retrieve the file that had been lurking on the hard drive in various stages of writing for the previous eight years and finish it off. They loved it but I couldn’t find an agent who agreed with their opinion so I learned the indie publishing process. Oh boy was I unprepared for how much work is involved in assessing the opinions of beta readers, rewriting, editing, proof reading and formatting! It was tiring, frustrating, time-consuming, but ultimately fascinating and rewarding. My first novel was launched with champagne from my son.

“Then I got a taste of reality. I had some very good reviews then one at just 3*; I was horrified to see that it had been down-rated because it required editing and I’d left proof errors in it.  How could that be possible after all that work? That’s when I learned that it is extremely hard to edit one’s own work; the brain just isn’t wired to work on the two different levels needed for writing and editing the same words. This article by Nick Stockton explains it very well http://www.wired.com/2014/08/wuwt-typos/ . It is possible to trick your brain into switching from one mode to another, but you first have to be aware of the situation.

“I have since written a sequel to Never Too Late and many short stories which have been reasonably well received. I am currently working on the full novel version of my short story A Nice Cup of Tea. The novel, A Strong Brew, tells Joe’s side of the story as well as Laura’s. The really exciting thing for me is that I am working with a co-author; Ryan Stone is a very talented Australian poet and he is writing all of Joe’s poetry for the novel.

“My latest venture is as an independent editor; it appears that I have an unexpected flair for it. I suppose it’s that terrier instinct kicking in again, gnawing away at the ragged bits until clean white bone is revealed in pure, elegant lines. For the last few years I have been editing books for authors I’ve met online and whose work impressed me. It has been an honour indeed to be let loose on the novels written by such talented writers as Ali Isaac, Patrick de Moss, Mark Bell, K.A. Krisko and many others. My thanks to them all for such enjoyable times, and their encouragement and support in starting my venture into professional editing. And thanks, Ali, for this invitation to join you here on your very impressive site.”

 


You’re very welcome, Jay, it was a pleasure and an honour to have you on my blog!

You can buy Jay’s books here and hereYou can find her on Smashwordsand connect with her on GoodreadsLast, but by no means least, if you would like to avail yourself of Jays excellent editing skills, and I heartily recommend and endorse her services from personal experience (she worked on both my Conor Kelly books), please contact her via her website.

If you are an author, and would like to feature on my Friday Fiction, please CONTACT ME… I would love to hear from you!

Is this a book review?

Today on Amazon I saw this book review on a book I was considering buying;

Arrived, but not yet read.” They had given the book a 1 star rating.

Am I missing something? Duh!

Teltown | Legendary Home of Tailtiu, Last Queen of the Fir Bolg

This picture shows my son Cai watching the fish jump in the River Blackwater at Tailteann.

The Teltown complex is vast, and rather elusive. Despite following signs and maps, the various monuments are hard to find and easy to miss. Teltown (Tailteann, in Irish) is an area located between Navan and Kells on the River Blackwater in Co Meath. Today, there is not much left of this once massive and important ancient site.

The Yellow Book of Lecan (in Irish Leabhar Buidhe Leacáin) written in C15th records over fifty monuments, including several artificial loughs and an ancient roadway. Only the partial remains of two mounds and an earthwork embankment are all that have survived the irrepressible advance of farming on the landscape.

Rathdhú (Rath Dubh in Irish, meaning ‘the Black Fort’) is a large mound dating to 2000BC, which spans some 85m across, with a flat surface 4m high above the level of the field. In mythology, the site is named after the woman who lived here. She was the last Fir Bolg Queen, and her name was Tailtiu. She was said to be the daughter of Mag Mor, the King of Spain, although there are those who name her Tefffi Tea, and equate her with the Egyptian Queen Neffertiti.

In any case, when the Tuatha de Denann invaded Ireland, her husband, the High King Eochaidh mac Eirc went to fight against them, but was killed. Tailtiu survived, and as a mark of trust, the Denann gave her one of their own, a high-born son, to foster. Fostering children in those days was a popular way of gaining alliances and forging goodwill between clans and nations. Tailtiu dedicated her life to clearing the land to make way for farming, and raising her foster-son, Lugh. She must have done a good job, for he later won for himself the titles Lamfadha (‘of the long arm’ for his prowess with spear casting) and Samildanach (‘master of all arts’, because he was multi-talented), and went on to become High King.

According to the Book of Invasions (Lebor Gebála Érenn in Irish), Tailtiu died from exhaustion clearing the land. Lugh was so devastated, he founded the Festival of Lughnasa (in  Irish Aenach Tailteann) on August 1st at Teltown in her honour.

The Aenach Tailteann was held not only to commemorate Tailtiu, but to proclaim laws and entertain the people. It was presided over by the High King, and the whole affair lasted two weeks. There were sporting contests in hurling, spear throwing, sword fighting, handball, running, wrestling, boxing; horse and chariot racing; staged battles, displays of Irish martial arts, and possibly even swimming competitions in the artifical loughs.

But Lughnasa wasn’t just about the strength and agility of warriors; it also sponsored music, poetry and story-telling, singing and dancing, and competition amongst goldsmiths, jewellers, spinners, weavers, and the forging of weaponry and armour.

A curious feature of the festival was the event known as the Teltown Marriages. Young people could be married by joining hands through a hole in a large stone, or wall. If the relationship didn’t work out, the marriage could be dissolved at the following year’s festival by standing back to back on top of Rathdhú and walking away from each other.

The Teltown Marriages were associated with a monument known as the Knockauns (in Irish Cnocan, meaning ‘little hills’), which consists of an earthwork featuring two parallel embankments 92m long, with a ditch between them.

To see images of Rath Dubh, where Queen Tailltiu is supposed to have lived, the largest fort of the Teltown complex, please click here.

Rath Airthir, meaning ‘the Eastern Fort’ is located nearby; it measures 30m in diameter, and boasts three ramparts.

Incidentally, despite there being no obvious signs of a burial mound when we visited, despite the proximity to a busy road, and the power lines marching like giant aliens across the land, there was an immense feeling of peace and contentment which descended upon us as we entered this field. It felt a fitting resting place for Queen Tailltiu.

The lush peaceful pastureland and serenity of Teltown.

Ancient Places | A Poem

What cities lie buried beneath each hill?

Monuments born of ancient times,

Forgotten and lost but standing still,

Neglected, disconnected, these are our crimes.

*

What histories are etched into ancient stones?

Tales decayed with the fall of walls,

The sag of dynasty, the crumble of bones,

The march of ghosts through tumbled halls.

*

If we could learn to unlock the past

What shrouds would unfurl from our eyes?

Would realisation be ours at last?

Understanding the what, when, who and why’s.

*

The power was strong, up on Shee Mor,

I felt at great peace, content.

At Moytura, where warriors fought their war

no harm for me was meant.

*

At Uisneach, by the lough where Lugh was drowned

I grieved for Eire’s loss, watched Beltaine fires leap.

Then to Tara, where High Kings were crowned,

the Sacred Stone sadly lost in eternal slumber deep.

*

These places, their magic floods my soul,

washes me clean of the now.

Their stories surge through me, re-make me whole,

ancient voices tell of the how.

*

Ancestors sing and call me home.

I would go if I knew the way.

Under my feet, beneath the loam

stirs blood, beats heart of a by-gone day.

Ugly

Carys at 2 months old, pre-surgery. The haemangioma was to double in size over the next 2 months. You can see here it's already starting to push down on her eye lid.

Carys at 2 months old, pre-surgery. The haemangioma was to double in size over the next 2 months. You can see here it’s already starting to push down on her eye lid.

The birth of a child with a rare syndrome like Carys is truly a lesson in human nature, your own as much as anyone else’s. It’s like taking a trip into the dark side of your soul. It’s not somewhere you want to get lost.

On this journey, we discover many ugly emotions lurking beneath our skins on a scale we never thought ourselves capable of; anger, despair, jealousy, shame, sorrow, confusion, self-pity and depression, to name but a few. And worst of all?

Hate.

For the strangers, who treat us like freaks. For the professionals, who treat us like an exhibit. For the friends who treat us like we’re made of china, whilst trying to hide their normal, perfect lives and normal, perfect children. For family, who aren’t there when they’re needed.

But all that is understandable, forgiveable. What’s not, is the hate directed at the child, that sweet, smiling, innocent cause of it all. 

Confessing is so very hard to do. I don’t want to hear myself say it, because that makes it real. It makes me a monster, not a mother. Not even remotely human.

But it’s true. And here’s why; all I can see is a lifetime of changing nappies, mashing food, coping with tantrums, singing nursery rhymes to an adult child who keeps patting her head for yet another performance of ‘head shoulders knees and toes’, caring for a baby who never grows up in the true sense of the word, despite getting bigger.

And I wonder, will I ever climb a mountain again, hitch-hike across South America, stay out late drinking wine with friends, and not worry that I have to stay sober in case Carys goes into heart failure during the night and I have to get her to hospital? Will I ever feel weightless and carefree again?

Probably not.

And then I feel guilty for being so selfish. The hate creeps back in, suffocates me with self loathing, and that mocking, disdainful inner voice tells me I don’t deserve a child like Carys. In my blindness, I don’t even know which way to read that statement. 

That dark side of me is relentless. It haunts me, never leaves me. It has become my cruel, faithful shadow, waiting eagerly to enfold and absorb me when times are tough. It reveals to me what true ugliness is, and it terrifies me that such a parasite can lie coiled up so tightly within me. Sometimes I get lost, and then it senses my vulnerability, it pounces and makes me do things I never normally would do.

So it was that one night, I almost deliberately ended it all. It was dark, I was driving, and the headlights of an oncoming truck were dazzling, mesmerising. It occurred to me how easy it would be just to swerve across the road into its path, just a tiny twitch of the steering wheel was all it would take, and then the deed would be done. Peace. No hatred, no grief, just nothing.

I didn’t do it, because in the dark, I’m a coward. But even over-riding my cowardice, my love for my children and my husband was stronger. I couldn’t do it to them, couldn’t leave them. The truth is, if you haven’t guessed by now, I love them far more than I love myself. And that’s how it should be; it’s the shining beacon which always leads me safely home, abandoning my trusty dark side and ugliness at the front door.

Shortly before Carys had surgery to remove the haemangioma, the birthmark which had bloomed on her forehead in the days following her birth, I took her shopping at our local mall. I was used to people gawping in her buggy as if it contained something they’d scrape off their shoe. Being used to it didn’t make it any easier to bear, but my choice was to tolerate or hibernate. I hadn’t expected to be hounded around the shopping centre by a group of children old enough to know better, quite frankly, who laughingly pointed out her deformity (just in case anyone happened to miss it), and exclaimed loudly, amid mock puking, how ugly my daughter was. I think the exact terminology went like this, “It’s (not she) disgusting!”

Instantly, hatred and anger flared and went to war inside me, using my soul as their battlefield. 

But I think we can all see the real ugliness here. It has nothing to do with facial disfigurement. In fact, it has nothing to do with physical appearance at all.  Like it’s polar opposite, beauty, it’s something which can only be truly found on the inside of a person. 

That’s why Carys has nothing to hide.

 

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