The Friday Fiction with Michael Bolan

I am delighted to introduce Irish author Michael Bolan to you today. Like me, Michael bases his books on Irish myths. Here is an excerpt from his latest book, The Stone Bridge; check it out,  and give the gift of a book this Christmas… even if it’s to yourself! Enjoy!


Michael Bolan’s latest book

Isabella’s good mood stayed with her as she walked her horse slowly through the ancient trees of the forest. It seemed that most of the world was covered by trees, something she never complained about. The soft sounds of the forest soothed her, the rustling of the leaves overhead helped her forget the perils that lay ahead.

She kept thinking about her mission and about the family she had left hours previously. Their life was etched in sweat and toil, bound by the cycle of the seasons. It was so different to the pampered life she had enjoyed in Leuven, or even the unusual existence she had built for herself within the warband, something she had only been able to do because of the education, both formal and informal, that she had received as Duke Henry’s daughter. And yet, despite being simple, uneducated folk, Dentek and his family were happy; happier than most.

Spending time with them had refreshed her; as a long bath washes grime from the skin, her brief sojourn with the farmer left her feeling more alive than she had for weeks. Her burning need to rejoin her people was lessened, her desire for Conor banked like an overnight fire, as she found her thoughts repeatedly returning to the simple family. Leaving Dentek without offering some form of recompense for their hospitality galled her, so she slowed her horse and wheeled the beast around. She would hide her coinpurse where it would be easily found. She found herself humming a gentle ditty as she moved through the woods, dappled in the sunlight.

The sun was beginning to sink towards the western horizon when she smelled the smoke. Assuming that one of the farmers in the hamlet was burning stubble in the fields, she thought nothing of it and continued riding. Something struck her as odd about the smell. It was early to be clearing fields; that was done post-harvest, the ash serving to enrich the soil for the next year. And the smell was strange: not the golden dryness of burning straw, redolent of leather and sunshine; but a more acrid smoke which made her think of Leuven’s ironworks. Frowning, she picked up her pace, bouncing in the saddle as she trotted her horse towards the hamlet.

As she crested the ridge overlooking the shallow valley in which the homestead lay, she felt bile rise in her throat. The thatched rooves of the farmhouses were ablaze, the livestock running wild. Of Dentek, his family and his neighbours, there was no sign. She felt a curious detachment settle over her as she slipped from her saddle and unhooked her packs. Without haste, she loaded her four pistols, strung her bowstaff, checked the fletching of her arrows, and loosened her throwing knives in their sheaths. Satisfied she was ready for battle, she remounted and kicked her heels hard into the horse’s sides. Well-trained for war, the stallion galloped headlong through the trees towards the village.

*****

The roan steed crashed through the treeline like a cannonball, hooves ripping up great clods as it raced towards the homestead, rider clinging centaur-like to its neck. As they neared the village, Isabella could smell the metallic tang of blood and knew her worst fears would be realised. The dispassion that had taken her deepened. Her mind focused on what was to come.

Rider and mount burst into the open space between the houses, unable to stop. Her eyes caught glimpses of dead bodies strewn between the buildings, and she almost crashed into two demons running from one of the houses, swords dripping garish blood onto the hard-packed earth. The pistol in either hand boomed, and the two demons fell, their twisted carmine masks alive as they screamed. Her hands holstered the spent guns and raised her second pair. Hoping that the madcap ride had not loosened their deadly load, she raised and fired, dropping another pair of demon-masked men. And then she was through, her mount barrelling out of the homestead and back into the open fields.

Isabella paused at the treeline to reload her guns and then trotted the lathered horse along the edge of the fields to approach the village from a different angle. Her horse gathered speed once again, and she used her knees to steer it between houses, surprising yet another pair of attackers. One gun rang true, dropping a fifth, while the other misfired. With the grace of an acrobat, she drew her spare pistols and kicked her leg over the saddle, dropping to the earth and rolling, the farmyard dust coating her dark leather armour. She regained her feet with grace, sighting the attacker as she did so. Firing both pistols, she killed him without qualm.

Her senses were fast becoming overloaded with the rank charnel-house odour when stone chips exploded from the wall of the house behind her. She hadn’t even heard the report of the musket. Another shot boomed out, pinning her down behind the low stone wall of the communal well. A brief lull suggested that there were only two marauders left, and that they were reloading their guns. Thinking it likely they both had pistols as well as their muskets, Isabella’s mind raced, unfettered by emotion. Knowing her current position was untenable, she looked around for ideas.

The well-bucket lay on its side, its contents long soaked into the dry soil. Hefting it with her right hand, she used a throwing knife to saw through its rope before throwing it backwards over the well, towards the muskets’ position. Two shots rang out immediately, and she burst from cover, sprinting in a crouch towards the byre. The large double doors were barred shut, but the small picket hung open. Inside she could hear the bellowing of the bull, driven mad by the noise and smell. She dove headfirst through the door, hearing two more shots ring out, higher-pitched than before. Pistols, she noted, as she skidded face-first through the fragrant loam of the byre floor. She rushed to the doors and lifted the stout wooden bar that held them closed, before spinning and flipping the latches of the bull’s pen.

The enraged beast burst from its stall like a horse at the beginning of a race, knocking the byre doors from their hinges as it escaped its confines. Twelve hundredweight of prize beef made no attempt to pause for the man before it; in fact the bull’s weak eyesight didn’t register the obstacle until it was too late. Isabella followed the beast from the byre to see one of the remaining attackers crushed to a messy pulp under its broad hooves, dead before he could scream. She ran for cover, throwing knives in hand as she sprinted.

“A woman!” roared a voice behind her, astonishment colouring the anger it contained. “You demonic bitch!” it screamed, the irony of the statement lost. Isabella skidded to a halt beside the wall of one of the houses, realising with a start that it was Dentek’s. At least, it had been. Fury rose inside her, as she stood and walked into the open.

Before her stood a heavily-muscled man, his six-foot frame clad in blood-red leather armour. He cast his pistol aside, having no time to reload it, and drew a shortsword from his belt. His left hand held a long dagger, blade crimson with the spilled blood of the villagers. As Isabella walked towards him, he spat and stretched his neck from side to side, readying himself to pounce. “Who are you, whore? I would know your name before I fuck your dead body,”

The pair were separated by no more than three yards. Isabella dropped her knives. “I am the bull of seven battles; I am the eagle on the rock.” She undid her belt buckle, allowing her empty sheaths to fall to the earth, doing the same with her shoulder quiver. “I am a flash from the sun; I am a strong wild boar.” Her voice grew from a whisper, gaining strength as she stared at the man. Never had she felt such hatred, such righteous anger.

Impatient to finish her, the man attacked. His shortsword slashed crosswise before swinging back, as he stabbed his dagger towards her belly. He was fast, but Isabella was not where he had thought. She skipped aside. “I am a salmon in the water.” Her right foot shot out, catching the warrior in the side, knocking the wind from him. He whirled, both blades swinging low to catch her legs. She jumped, smashing a foot into his face as she spun sideways. “I am the word of knowledge,” she cried as he attacked again, his blades finding nothing but air as she spun away.

The man stepped back, ripping off his mask, exposing a cold face reddened with anger. “Who are you, bitch?” he shouted. “Ach, it matters not, you will die!” He leaped forward again, swinging both blades in sequence, chopping and scything as if cutting wheat. Isabella’s hands darted out, blocking the insides of his forearms, deflecting his blows, seemingly at the last possible moment. Her punches began to take on force, beating him in the stomach, the chest, the neck, the head, as she shouted in his face, “I am the head of the spear in battle!

Her hands flew back, striking his wrists at the same time, knocking the blades from unfeeling fingers. With all her force she drove her right fist forward, her bunched knuckles hitting the man’s throat. She heard the gristly crunch as his windpipe collapsed. He flew backwards, landing on his back.

Isabella stared down at his gurgling countenance. “I am the god that puts fire in the head. I am vengeance. I am Nemesis. And I will wait for you in Hell.”

She stamped her heel down on his face.




Michael Bolan: nomadic Irish storyteller

Author Michael Bolan
Author Michael Bolan

It took Michael Bolan over two decades of running in the corporate ratrace to realise that all he actually did was tell stories.

There was no Damascene revelation for Bolan which caused him to pen his first work of fiction, “The Sons of Brabant”. An avid reader, he simply felt that he could do as good a job as many of the authors he read and decided to put his money where his mouth was.

Living and working in many countries left him with smatterings of a dozen languages and their stories, and his love for history focused his ideas on the Thirty Years War, the most destructive conflict that the continent has ever seen.

Now living in Prague (again), Michael brings alive the twisted alleys of the 17th century and recreates the brooding darkness of a fractured Europe, where no-one was entirely sure who was fighting whom.

Michael writes while liberally soused in gin, a testament to Franz de le Boë, who was mixing oil of juniper with neat spirit while the thirty Years War raged around him.

His website (http://www.michaelbolan.org) is a place where he can post his thoughts and feelings – along with reviews of books he finds lying around the internet.

 Twitter: https://twitter.com/michaelbolan225

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/michaelbolan225

LinkedIn: cz.linkedin.com/in/bolanov

Author Central: https://www.amazon.com/author/michaelbolan

Conor Kelly and The Fenian King | An Excerpt

So sorry if anyone just received a blank post notification from me… somehow in the seconds between finishing this post and hitting the publish button, wordpress managed to lose my entire content. There have been some weird things going on at wordpress lately,,, gremlins in the machine?

Ali Isaac - Conor Kelly and the Fenian King

Hugh from Hugh’s Views and News has very kindly featured my book, Conor Kelly and the Fenian King as his Book of the Month… cue sparkly lights and glitter! Yaaay! Thanks, Hugh! In tandem with this, you can find the book at only 99c/ 99p on Amazon, and completely FREE on Smashwords and associated retailers. And now, here is an excerpt…


Chapter Forty Two – The Disappeared

the present day…

 

Conor coughed and spluttered as the dust rose in clouds around him, then admonished himself; his body and lungs were safe in his aunt’s little Micra at the bottom of the hill. As a free roaming spirit, he couldn’t be harmed by clouds of dust, or collapsing masonry, or landslides, or whatever it was that had caused Sidhe Finn to cave in.

But Ciara could. What if she was killed, crushed beneath a fallen orthostat? What if…

Conor felt waves of panic swell inexorably through him like the tides of the sea. He couldn’t find her. He couldn’t see her. Even with his spirit eyes and his supernatural senses, he couldn’t detect any sign of her presence. It was as if she had simply vanished.

But that was impossible. Maybe she had got up and wandered outside, dazed and confused. Maybe she had a head injury, and didn’t know where she was. She could be out there, floundering about in a state of bewilderment.

Oh my God! She could fall off the cliff and plunge to an untimely death in the quarry…

He had to get out, had to find her. He took another quick look around. Many of the orthostats had fallen inward, held up from the floor only by the central pedestal which supported the coffin. A couple of the ancient stones had cracked in two. The coffin had been smashed into matchwood, but Conor saw no evidence of bones. Fortunately, much of the loose rubble which traditionally comprised the infill between the chamber ceiling and the mound had been removed by Aylmer’s builders, and replaced with blocks and mortar, thus forming a secure foundation for the tower. The old mortar had cracked and crumbled in places, releasing some of its bricks, but had mostly held firm. The devastation was not as terrible as he had expected.

But his heart jumped into his mouth when he realised that one huge, carved orthostat had collapsed directly onto the spot where Ciara had crouched the last time he had seen her. Its fall had not been halted by the softness of a body beneath it; no pool of blood lay spreading on the ground around it. The relief Conor felt on observing that was short-lived. Where was she?

Beside the stone, the flagstone with the Ogham symbol lay smashed into several pieces. It had been lifted from its resting place, and placed beside a small pit. Which, Conor noted with disappointment, was completely empty. Had Ciara found the missing mouthpiece and removed it? Or had she lifted the flagstone to find only an empty space and a sense of despair? He had to find her. Where was she?

Convinced at last that the chamber was completely empty, Conor allowed himself to drift up through the ceiling and into the circular chamber above. The stairs leading down from the entrance had collapsed into nothing more than an unstable pile of rock. He floated over it and out through the devastated doorway.

It was dark. The weak wash of moon and stars showed Conor that the hillside was deserted. After the explosions and collapse of the tower, it was eerily silent, almost as if nature itself was shocked at this traumatic turn of events.

He wandered around the remains of the tower, dejected and overwhelmed with guilt. There was no sign of Ciara.

Am I to blame? Did I cause this with the ferocity of my lightning attack on the tower? Or was it the quarry? I’m surprised the hill didn’t collapse years ago after such extensive mining. Surely it was an accident just waiting to happen; we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time…weren’t we?

Pushing his way carefully between the yellow gorse bushes, Conor stood on the edge of the cliff and contemplated the drop. Was Ciara down there, broken and battered and bleeding? Far beneath him, a tear trailed down his face as, in the car, his inert body responded to his desolation.

The only way to find out was to leap down after her. Even knowing that he could not fall or be hurt, it took Conor a good few moments to find the courage to jump over the edge. He found it much easier to control his descent this time around. As the ground rushed up to meet him, he saw that the quarry men were running about in a panic. Alarms were sounding, people were shouting, but the drills were silent, and the trucks which transported rock and rubble lay abandoned.

Hmmm…looks like there’s been a bit of a disaster down here.

Conor levelled out a couple of metres from the ground and glided slowly along the base of the cliff, searching for Ciara. Eventually, elated, he had to conclude she had not fallen. His only other option was to search the path on his way back to the car. Perhaps she was already waiting there for him. With his spirits lifting, Conor retraced his journey. But Ciara was not there.

For what felt like the hundredth time, he wondered where on earth she was.

The car was waiting on the far side of the car park, just as they’d left it. Conor felt anxious now; for Ciara, and also for himself. His body was lying in wait for him on the back seat, but what if he couldn’t get back into it? He hadn’t stopped to contemplate how that part of the process was achieved. He might not be able to do it. What then? He had been outside of his body for quite a long time. He might not be able to readjust to its rhythms and limitations.

He went first to the front of the car, half expecting to see Ciara sitting there, impatiently waiting for him. She wasn’t.

What do I do now? Do I re-join my body, and wait? Or do I go out looking for her again? I’m really tied by my mobility if I re-enter my body at this stage. But the longer I leave it, the harder it’s going to get.

Conor wavered between his choices. Then the decision was snatched from him. When he looked in at the rear window, his body was gone.

smashwords-button  kindle-button


allen-collageAylmer’s Folly and Sidhe Fionn are real places. I visited them when I was researching for this book. You can read about them in my post, Almu | Home of Irish Legendary Hero Fionn mac Cumhall.


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The Crow and the Phantom Queen

I am busy working on two book projects at the moment, and it’s very exciting to see them both approaching publication. As a result, I haven’t had much time for blogging this week, so I thought I’d dust off an older post, for the newer followers who might not have seen it. For those of you who have, walk on by this week, and I promise I’ll have some newness for you next time. Bye for now!


In the gathering of huge trees in the churchyard opposite my house lives a colony of crows. They are noisy and gregarious, and I enjoy their hoarse, wild calls and feathery antics immensely.

Apparently, though, they might not be crows at all. Crows are said to be solitary creatures, but my neighbours certainly aren’t. They belong to the Corvus family of birds, ranging from the small jackdaw to the much larger raven.

Perhaps surprisingly, they are considered one of the world’s most intelligent creatures, right up there with the dolphin and the ape. If you don’t believe me, watch this short video… it’s amazing!

 

In tests, they have been found able to count up to 5, use tools to obtain food, and are even thought to be able to recognise humans by their facial features.

They are omnivorous, and will eat anything. They are  most well known for the damage they cause in fields of crops, hence the ‘scare-crow’, and also for eating carrion. In fact, they have been seen to harass foxes and birds of prey in attempts to steal from them their fresh kills.

It is perhaps for this desire to feast on the flesh of the freshly deceased that the crow and the other members of the Corvus family have been so reviled in the past. Undoubtedly, in ancient times, when our ancestors were more war-like than we are today, the crows would have gathered over the battlefield to take advantage of the dead bodies laid out for their delectation, and this would been observed with dread and abhorrence by survivors.


In Mythology

Around the world, the crow has been associated with war, death, the Otherworld, or as a cunning trickster not to be trusted. Despite this, there has also been a grudging acknowledgement of its intelligence.

In Irish mythology, the crow is seen as a manifestation of the Morrigan (in Irish, Mór-ríoghain), meaning phantom/great Queen. She was seen as a deity signifying ‘battle, strife and sovereignty’, a harbinger of war and death, who spoke of the battlefield as ‘her garden’. It was said that she would often fly above a battle, her cry bringing courage and encouragement to her warriors, whilst simultaneously striking fear into the hearts of the enemy. Sometimes she would join in the battle in her human form.

There seems to be much confusion surrounding this particular deity. For a start, she has many names; the Morrigan,  Badbh (meaning crow), Macha, and Nemain are those most commonly used. Sometimes, the names Anann and Fea appear in conjunction with the others, too.

It is well known that the number 3 was held sacred to the ancient people, and so often she is depicted as three sisters, representing the three different aspects of the Goddess as mentioned above, but also perhaps the maiden, the mother and the crone. In that case, the term ‘the Morrigan’ is likely a title or epithet which could be applied to the threesome collectively.

In the Lebor Gebála Érenn, the tale of the first cycle of Ireland’s mythology, the Morrigan is said to be the daughter of Ernmas, and grand-daughter of King Nuada, who led the Tuatha de Danann into Ireland.

This is interesting, because one of the names given her is Macha, and Macha was actually Nuada’s wife, and mother of his four sons. She fought beside him in the Battles of Moytura, and was slain by Balor of the Fomori, whilst the Morrigan flew overhead in crow form, casting spells which bought forth strange poisonous fog and rains of fire and blood upon the heads of the enemy. She is also credited with various prophecies.

The Morrigan is also mentioned in the Tain Bó Cuailnge, Queen Medb’s famous Cattle Raid of Cooley, where she shape-shifts into the form of an eel, a wolf and a cow, as well as her more habitual crow. She has various interactions with hero Cúchullain, finally showing him an omen of his own death. Mortally wounded, he ties himself to a standing stone so that he can die on his feet,  whereupon she alights on his shoulder in her crow form to show his enemies he is dead.

The Morrigan is remembered in sites around Ireland which are named after her. In Co Tipperary, there is a fullachta fiadh called Fulacht na Mór Ríoghna ( the cooking pit of the Morrigan), and in Co Meath there are two hills known as Dá Chich na Mórrigna (the breasts of the Morrigan).

Finally, here is a poem I wrote about crows; it’s called Carrion.

Carrion

Cold crow,
black crow
sits in the tree.
I’m not afraid of him,
he’s not afraid of me.

He flaps and
he watches
with dark beady eye.
He knows things about me
as I stumble by.

Bold crow,
black crow
feeds on death.
He knows it won’t be long
till I draw my last breath.

Patiently,
he waited,
while the action in the field
overwhelmed me.
Thus my fate was sealed.

Cold crow,
black crow
cares not for human strife.
Our woes and battles
are just the stuff of life.

His voice is hoarse,
his cry sounds
triumphant intent.
I look back with regret
and sorrowful lament.

Bold crow,
black crow,
my soul will be renewed.
For I go now to meet my maker,
my flesh will be your food.


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Swanskin The Final Update

Swanskin the Final Update www.aliisaacstoryteller
Swanskin the Final Update
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller

It’s been a difficult week; two children sick at home, and now I have contracted the dreaded lurgy myself. It’s not conducive to sleep, writing or creativity. However, I got all my re-writes done, and have just started the final edit before sending my new little book-baby out into the kind (I hope!) hands of my lovely beta-readers. Current word count is 30, 317, but I expect to reduce that as I edit. This is the last time I will post about Swanskin until nearer its launch date. Btw, if anyone’s interested, I’m looking for two more beta-readers.

Here is an excerpt. This piece is one of the re-writes I worked on this week. Cethlenn has something of a complicated relationship with her mother, as you will see…

The atmosphere in school was pretty hyper. There were groups of students everywhere, some happy, a few distraught, many hugging and screaming and doing little happy dances. The noise was intense. I felt sick as I moved through them, a part of it all and yet not.

I signed for my envelope, then turned to be confronted by a shrieking Sophie. She flung her arms around me. “I passed,” she yelled in my ear. “I passed. Well, only just, but still. It’s a miracle.”

She faltered when she saw my own envelope was unopened. “Congratulations. I’m happy for you,” I replied, and meant it. I had really missed her friendship over the summer. She took my arm and drew me over to a quiet corner.

“Go on. You’ve got to look some time. Might as well get it over with.”

I groaned, stomach jolting. “I don’t think I can.”

“You could always leave it to your Mam.”

I ripped open the envelope. “I don’t think so. I need to prepare myself. She’s gonna go mental.” I scanned the results and sighed. “Yep, she’s gonna flip. That’s her plans for me being a teacher down the drain.”

“You don’t even want to be a teacher,” Sophie retorted.

“I know, but since when did that matter?”

Sophie snatched the sheet of paper from my hand. “Well, it’s not that bad. But it’s not good enough, that’s for sure.”

“Maybe I can re-sit them.”

“Yeah.” Sophie regarded me seriously. “Are you still seeing that guy?”

I shook my head. “No. But I’d rather not talk about it just yet, if you don’t mind.”

She nodded. “And how are things at home?”

I tried to twitch my lips into a smile, but failed. “Not easy. It’s world war three between Mam and Cian lately. Don’t know what the hell he’s supposed to have done. He hardly ever comes home, just works on the farm with Dad and dosses with mates at night.”

“Well he’s gonna get a reprieve when you bring this home.” She handed back my results and I stuffed them into the envelope. “A few of us are going down the town for a celebratory coffee. Want to join us?”

I shook my head. “I think I’ll just go home and face the music. Better get it over and done with.”

“Ok. Well, you know where I am if you need me. And I’m sorry about… well, you know.”

“I know. Me too. And thanks.”

I headed down the road to wait for a bus. I was dreading Mam’s reaction.

She was surprised to see me. “I thought you were celebrating with your friends?” she said.

I didn’t reply, just handed her the envelope. She stared at me for a moment, compressing her lips into that awful white line. She sat down at the kitchen table, shook out the letter and read its contents without a word. She must have stared at it for ten minutes while I stood there, anxiously hopping from one foot to the other. I thought I was going to throw up over her freshly mopped floor.

Eventually, I couldn’t stand her silence any more. “Well say something, then,” I burst out. But she didn’t. Slowly, she tore up the results, allowing the pieces to fall from her hands onto the floor. Then she got up and left the kitchen without even so much as a glance at me. I fled to my room. I didn’t go down for dinner, and no one bothered to call me, or bring me anything on a tray.

And here’s a little snippet from Ruadhán, too…

Nothing exceeded the rush of flying. It was my only solace. I lost myself in the spaces between winds and soared, nothing but the roar of the empty air about me, and the landscape passing beneath me, glorious in its abundance and many guises.

Sometimes, I thought I would fold my wings and allow myself to plummet and end it all, but somehow, I was ever unable. Perhaps my soul still cleaved on to hope, even though my heart and mind did not.

I wandered, and the days and nights merged into one formless mass, as they had done for centuries, each one nondescript and indistinct from the other. Just loneliness, and an ache that could never be relieved. I felt so heavy beneath its weight, I wondered that my wings could lift me.

I sailed from river to river, drifted from lake to lough, flying and feeding in the day, hiding and sleeping in the night. I say sleeping, but oft times it eluded me completely. Or else I was mired in traumatic dreams and memories which served only as torment.

SWAN FACT NO.4  A swan has over 25,000 feathers covering its body. Wonder who took the time to count them, and how the swan felt about it at the time!

OTHER NEWS; I entered a piece of flash fiction into Sacha Black’s Writespiration, you can read it here. The prompt was ‘write about a struggle’. Mine was based on a true story.

I also entered a poem into Jane Dougherty’s Poetry Challenge. You can read it here. The prompt was to take a favourite line from a song, movie, etc and allow it to inspire a poem. I chose a line from Demons by Imagine Dragons, and wrote a villanelle (my first ever).

Ad that’s it for today. Have a great week!

Swanskin | An Update

swanskin2So last week I set myself a challenge of adding four thousand words to Swanskin, and guess what? I did it! I finished last week on 15,629, and I have actually added 5470. Here is the picture to prove it…

Only another 10, 000 or so to go… first draft could be complete in a couple of weeks, if I manage to continue at this rate! I never imagined that at the beginning of the year.

Here is an excerpt. This is from the other main character in the story, Ruadhán. You pronounce his name Roo-awn. It means ‘red-haired’. He is Cethlenn’s love interest, and also a swan shifter. You met her in last week’s excerpt.

As we passed through the outer palisade walls and into the court, my eyes were on stalks, my head turning this way and that, anxiously searching for a sign of my lover. Could it be that I had imagined her? Had I flirted all night with some ghostly creature, an apparition born of my intoxication and imagination? Or was she a temptress of the Sidhe? It wasn’t unheard of for the folk of the magical realm to interfere with mortals when the will took them.

We joined the queue waiting to enter the great hall. “Will you ever stop fidgeting,” complained my father at last. “What has got into you?”

“Ruadhán’s in love,” announced Siadhal, and I blushed furiously.

“How wonderful,” exclaimed my mother, taking my arm.

“Who is she? Is she beautiful? Will we meet her tonight?” clamoured my sisters.

Father rolled his eyes. “Women!” he and Siadhal declared in unison.

Thankfully, I did not need to explain further, as we arrived at the High King’s hall and were ushered to our places.

The King’s hall was an oblong building with a large central hearth. His table stood at one end. My sisters nudged each other excitedly when they saw Cuchullain seated at the King’s side. Long tables with benches either side lined the walls and filled the central floor space. Servants scurried back and forth, serving food and drink.

“Not too far from the King’s table,” my mother approved.

“But far enough from the fecking O’Connollys,” Father glowered across the hall. We all instinctively followed his gaze.

The feud between us MacMahons and the O’Connollys stretched so far back into previous generations that not a one remembered any more who had started it, or why. It remained a matter of honour which could only be settled with the seizing of land and the raiding of cattle. The price? Spilled blood, and far too many families on both sides grieving over the loss of sons.

We watched now as two of the five sons helped their aged father, O’Connolly Mór, into his seat, followed by his attractive young wife, who they say was more interested in her stepsons than in her doddering old husband, and who could blame her?

Their assemblage of beautiful daughters of various ages filed dutifully onto a bench behind their parents. Like their mother, each one of them had a fine head of jet black hair and a pair of crystal clear blue eyes.

One of them was staring back at me. The blood drained from my face. It was Aoife.

Hope you enjoyed that. My plan for next week is to achieve another four thousand words. Watch this space…

SWAN FACT No.2    Swans do mate for life, and they touch beaks to kiss. When they kiss, their necks form a heart shape. No wonder they became associated with love and fidelity.

My first book, Conor Kelly and The Four Treasures of Eirean picked up two reviews, one from Sacha Black, and the other from Eric Klingenberg. Thanks to both, just for reading, which makes me so happy, and for your reviews. You can read them here…

Sacha Black’s Review  4 Mistakes to Avoid when Transcribing Research into Fiction

(not what it sounds lol!)

ERIC KLINGENBERG’S A REVIEW CONOR KELLY AND THE FOUR TREASURES OF EIREAN BY ALI ISAAC

Introducing SWANSKIN…

swan
Introducing SWANSKIN… http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

I’ve been fairly quiet lately. Some of you may even have missed me, lol! It’s because I am burying my nose in my latest WIP. It’s a novella called Swanskin, and it’s a YA love story with a difference… it’s based on Irish mythology, of course, particularly that which surrounds swans and shape-shifting.

I have written about both swans and shape-shifting on my blog before. Here are the links for both posts, if you missed them…

The Beast Within | Shape-Shifters in Irish Mythology

Irish Mythology | The Swan 

swanskin1Currently, I’m at 15,629 words, roughly 39% of the way through… woohoooooo! And I’m expecting somewhere between 30k and 50k. Its quite different from anything I have written before, and I’m quite enjoying the ‘lightness’ of it. I’m literally just about to write the first kiss scene, and I’m quite excited about that!

Here is a little taster of the story, taken from the beginning of Chapter Two…

Dad was right; the field was a mess. It was pitted with holes and little mounds of earth where the metal detectorists had searched in vain for buried objects beneath the soil. The holes were concentrated in and around the old fairy fort, which was ringed with trees.

I set down my shovel with a sigh, and sho0ed the cows away to the other end of the field. This was going to take longer than I’d thought. I’d have to keep a close eye on the cattle; they were gentle creatures, but curious, and I knew they’d be drifting back over before long to see what I was doing.

It was a lovely morning, cool and quiet. The sky was washed with pale blue, reflecting silver in the lake. I looked over at the crannog, overgrown with trees which reached branches down to the still surface and trailed them in the water like long, crooked fingers. Had the treasure hunters been over there, too?

A lone mute swan sailed gracefully across to the far side of the lake. For as long as I could remember, there had only ever been one swan on the lake. Swans mated for life; perhaps this one had lost its love and now lived a lonely life of sorrow.

I shook myself out of my reverie. No time for that, I admonished myself sternly. I’ve got work to do.

It was great to get away from my books, to bend my efforts to physical labour under the broad blue sky while letting my mind trip randomly up and down the lanes and alleys of my imagination. I was sweating by the time my work was done. The field was spotted with patches of bare brown earth where I had filled in all the holes; it was unsightly, but at least the cows would be safe.

I leaned on my spade, wiping the sweat from my brow. The swan drifted back into the cover of the crannog, where it no doubt had its nest. The cows had surrounded me; one of them gave me a gentle butt with her head, and laughing, I pushed her away.

“I haven’t got any treats for you today,” I said, but she was quite insistent. I sighed gustily. “I’d better be getting back,” I told her. “Before Mam loses it completely. If I don’t get home in time for lunch, she’ll come and drag me back to my books by the scruff of my neck. Just be glad you were born a cow.”

She blinked her big brown eyes, and wandered away in search of a fresh tuft of grass to crop. I sighed again. It was hard to turn my back on such a beautiful day and limit myself to dry, dusty old books. I lifted my spade and forced myself back towards the gate, and that’s when I fell into the one hole I had somehow managed to miss. Sudden sharp pain in my ankle brought me to the ground with a hefty bump.

Surely it was only slightly sprained? I groaned. How could I be so clumsy and stupid?

As I carefully lifted my foot out of the hole, a flash of colour caught my eye. There was something stuck in the mud, something tiny. I carefully loosened the earth around it, then prised it out with my fingers. My heart was pummelling with excitement now, sore ankle forgotten. What had I found?

Don’t forget, it’s still in first draft phase at the moment. Next week I plan to write another 4000 words; I’m making myself accountable to you now. We’ll see how much procrastination I can manage, I have practised quite a lot! If I do, there may be another sneak peek for you. Catch you this time next week!

Swan Fact No.1: Male swans are called cobs, females are called pens, and babies are called cygnets.