It’s taken a long time, quite a few very late nights… by that I really mean early mornings 😂, a few a lot of glasses of wine, much foul language sweet blessings, blood, sweat and tears, but finally, my latest book, ‘Conor Kelly’s Guide to Ireland’s Ancient Places‘ is here!
This has been, without a doubt, the hardest book I have written and produced so far. Formatting images is hard, hard, HARD, I’m telling you! And you can’t have a guide book without images. Let’s just say I unexpectedly learned a lot. And I sincerely hope you will think it was worth it.
So, what’s it all about?
Well, you could be mistaken for assuming that all the locations in my books are pure fantasy. After all, we are used to the sophisticated world-building of today’s brilliant fantasy and science-fiction authors.
But that’s not what you get with my books; all the magical locations are REAL, and I have visited every one, most of them many times over. (Except for the Otherworld, I’ve only ever been there in my dreams! 😜)
This book features images and information on some of the ancient sites – Tara, Uisneach, Newgrange, Knowth and several others – as featured in my Conor Kelly series, The Tir na Nog Trilogy.
But it’s not just a bunch of dry facts on archaeology, oh no! In it, I tell you some of the myths attached to each site, why each site is so special to me, what I love about them, as well as essential info like how to get there, should you decide to tour Ireland yourself one day. I also connect each site to the relevant chapter in my books, so you can see how I built the story around them.
But before you all rush off to Amazon… hehe, I should be so lucky!… I should tell you that this book is NOT FOR SALE.
This book is exclusively a gift for my email subscribers.
It’s a thank you for supporting my blog and other writing endeavours. I do appreciate you all immensely.
If you have not yet signed up to my mailing list, but would like to, and get your free copy of ‘Conor Kelly’s Guide to Ireland’s Ancient Places’, all you have to do is click the button below, and you will receive a download link direct to your email. Simple!
If you are already a subscriber, you should already have received your download link in a newsletter.
I hope my books bring a little Irish magic into the lives of people for whom these legends are new and unheard of. I hope I do that in a way which is fun, and in language that can be easily understood. I hope I transport you to Ireland’s ancient places, even though you live on the other side of this multi-faceted global community we are lucky to be a part of.
I hope in your mind’s eye you can see them as you read, feel the stone, cold and damp under your hand; feel the mist caress your face, hear the rustle of the hawthorn trees in the breeze, feel the beat of Eriu’s heart in the earth deep beneath your feet.
I hope you can see the bustling splendour of Newgrange and Almu as they once were, witness the victory and defeat of battle, hear the soft murmur of lovers’ words, exult in the stirring speeches of High Kings, weep at the tragedy of a hero’s death, delight in the strains of a harper’s song. I hope all this, and much, much more.
Wahaaay! Author friend and blogger, Hugh Roberts has just released GLIMPSES, his first book! I’m well-jell of that gorgeous cover! Hugh is a fellow member of the Bloggers Bash committee, and I can honestly say you couldn’t meet a more lovely guy. Not only that, but he’s seriously talented when it comes to penning the quirky and the strange, and he’s a master of the compelling trademark sting-in-the-tail, didn’t-see-it-coming conclusion. Meet your new favourite author, and Give the Gift of a BOOK this Christmas!
The Truth App
London, 28th November, 2030
Melanie Carter had saved for months and was about to change the course of her life.
She left the Everything People’s Electric Gadgets store with a brand new purchase in her possession. She’d fallen in love with the ‘iPad 13’ as soon as she had read about it. The review written by Joan Withers, in a national magazine, had persuaded Melanie to buy one.
On going through the front door, the voice of her father called out to her.
“Is that you, Melanie?”
She wondered why he always asked this question given as they were the only two people now living in the house. Her mother, who had been an expert in computer technology, had died just before Melanie had reached her eighth birthday, and some mystery had surrounded her death. A man had been arrested and charged with the murder, but he had always claimed he was innocent. He had written to Melanie many times, but her father had intercepted all bar one of the letters. However, the one letter she had read had frightened her and she immediately destroyed it. She would never know that he had sent many more letters before and after the one she had read.
“Yes, it’s me, Dad. Have you eaten?”
Without answering, her father nodded his head and continued to watch television. He did little these days but watch television and occasionally surf the web to complete the family tree he had started to put together just before retiring from his job.
Melanie climbed the stairs to her room and closed the door gently, almost as if it was the middle of the night and she did not want to wake her father. She was eager to get her new purchase out of its box. It took her less than a minute to set up. The shop assistant, Greta, had offered to, but she was eager to get home and politely turned the offer down.
She immediately went to the App Store and scrolled through all the wonderful applications that were on offer. Many were free, but some would require payment. Nonetheless, she wanted to start downloading and to use some of them that evening.
Ten minutes later, Melanie had downloaded three free games and a couple of applications that promised to organise her busy lifestyle. These had cost her a few pounds each, but the reviews were very good and she thought it money well spent. Then, out of the corner of her eye and towards the bottom of the screen, something caught her attention.
It was the name of the app that intrigued her. ‘The Truth App.’ It was a strange looking app containing the face of a woman who was smiling. When she placed her finger over the app, Melanie was convinced that the woman was smiling at her, but when she moved her finger, the smile faded away and the woman began to look unhappy. She’d never seen anything like this before and thought it must be something new that only came with the new device.
“Download me,” whispered a woman’s voice. Melanie paused and looked around the room. The sound must have come from the television downstairs as only she and her father were in the house. Her finger once again hovered above the app and, this time, she pressed it.
The download took a few seconds. Melanie pressed the ‘open’ button and immediately looked for information on what the app did; nothing but a blank screen appeared. Even the review section was blank. Scrolling, she flicked her finger gently up the screen of the device. Nothing. She scrolled again, faster this time, but still nothing. When the scrolling finally came to a halt, a tiny door appeared on the screen. There was nothing else on view other than the tiny door and it got Melanie’s heart racing. Her finger hovered above it for a while before finally pressing it. Immediately, a fuzzy video clip started.
What Melanie saw took her breath away. There, in front of her eyes, she recognised her father arguing with a woman. The woman’s face seemed familiar and it wasn’t long before it struck Melanie that it was the same face of that of the woman on the app. They were arguing about money and then about not having anything in for dinner. The woman threw a plate at her father. It missed him by inches, smashing against a wall.
“I know exactly what you have done,” shouted her father on the videoclip. “When you married me you said you would be faithful to me and only me.”
The woman started to cry and held her hands to her face. Then it clicked. This was her mother and father she was watching.
“I’m so sorry, but I love him,” said her mother, as she dropped her hands away from her face. “You and I were never meant to be together, you know that!”
Melanie heard the sound of glass smashing. It was coming from the video clip, elsewhere in the house. She watched as her mother turned around to witness who had entered the house. To Melanie’s amazement her father picked up a knife and ran towards his wife. The screen then went blank.
She tapped the screen, but nothing appeared. She picked the iPad up and shook it, but still nothing. Then she remembered something she had heard many times before when this kind of thing happened with electrical items. She turned the iPad off and back on again.
For some reason the device in her hands felt strange. She fumbled for the on off switch, shaking the device hard.
“Hurry up and start again, please, I don’t have much time!” What must have been a matter of a few seconds seemed like hours, and tears rolled from her eyes as the screen of the device lit up again. She immediately looked for the apps which had been downloaded. Five of the apps were still there, but the one she didn’t ever want to see again was gone. She pressed the App Store icon and searched for the missing app by name, but it was nowhere to be found.
Downstairs, Frederick Carter had gone to the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea. He opened the cutlery draw and took out a teaspoon just as a noise from upstairs disturbed his thoughts of what he was going to watch next on television. He walked to the bottom of the stairs and started to climb them. He was sure it was Melanie he had just heard shouting yet her voice seemed different. Now, as he climbed the stairs, it was crying he could hear.
“Are you alright, Melanie?” he gently asked as he got to the door of Melanie’s bedroom. The crying suddenly stopped. He hesitated before putting his hand on the door knob. Turning it slowly, he paused noticing the house was now in complete silence. Even the television seemed to have gone silent. Fredrick pushed open the door. “Melanie?”
To his amazement it was not his daughter he saw sat on the bed but the strange ghostlike figure of his wife. Speechless, his body froze on the spot.
The figure moved off the bed and glided towards him. There was no struggle or noise until his body fell down the stairs.
As her father’s body hit the floor at the bottom of the stairs, the noise it made startled Melanie and she woke from the shallow sleep that had engulfed her.
“Dad? Is that you? Dad, are you alright?”
The door to her room was open. She was sure she had closed it when she had come into her bedroom. Melanie got off her bed and walked out of her bedroom to the top of the staircase. The sound of the television coming back on was met by a terrifying scream.
Over a hundred miles away, at exactly the same time Melanie Carter screamed, Joan Withers decided to take a look at the App Store on her new iPad. She was delighted with the review she had written and had been paid well for it. Something caught her eye on the screen of the device. She pressed the app, which seemed to have the image of her father on it. He had been sent to prison for a murder she was convinced he had not committed. She’d never seen anything like this on the iPad before.
Pressing the image of a tiny door which was the only thing that now appeared on the screen, a fuzzy video clip started.
click image to enter
Oh. My. God!
Hello, my name is Hugh, and I live in both the town of Abergavenny and the city of Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom.
I have always enjoyed writing and the fact I suffer from a mild form of dyslexia has not stopped me. Yes, I get things wrong with my reading and writing but I always find those mistakes humorous and always laugh about it. I no longer allow dyslexia get in my way. Now in my fifties, I thought it about time I let my writing become public and becoming a blogger seemed to be the perfect way for me to do this.
I share my life with my civil-partner, John and our Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Toby, who I both cherish with all my heart. I have a very positive outlook on life.
I started writing short stories at school but was never really encouraged to continue writing them. Then, many years later, I discovered blogging and wrote and published several short stories on my blog. They soon became hits and I was encouraged to publish some of the stories in a book. Now, finally, my dream of becoming a published author has come true with the publication of ‘Glimpses’ the first volume of 28 of my short stories. If like me, you enjoy shows such as The Twilight Zone, Tales Of The Unexpected, The Outer Limits and Tales From The Dark Side, then my short stories will hopefully take you on twists and turns to unexpected endings.
If you decide to buy and read my book then I’d be delighted if you would consider leaving a review on Amazon. Reviews help all authors and feedback is vital to improving my writing
I’ve always considered myself as a peoples’ person and I love to hear from anyone. Please do feel free to contact me.
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!
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
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.
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?
Hugh fromHugh’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.
COMING SOON: Conor Kelly’s Guide to Ireland’s Ancient Places, an exclusive free gift for all newsletter subscribers, featuring all the sites and locations upon which The Tir na Nog Trilogy is based. WANT ONE? It’s FREE, and coming to a newsletter near you soon! All you have to do is sign up to my Marvellous Myths newsletter.
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.
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.
sits in the tree.
I’m not afraid of him,
he’s not afraid of me.
He flaps and
with dark beady eye.
He knows things about me
as I stumble by.
feeds on death.
He knows it won’t be long
till I draw my last breath.
while the action in the field
Thus my fate was sealed.
cares not for human strife.
Our woes and battles
are just the stuff of life.
His voice is hoarse,
his cry sounds
I look back with regret
and sorrowful lament.
my soul will be renewed.
For I go now to meet my maker,
my flesh will be your food.
So 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…
Geoff needs no introduction on this blog; he has practically become a regular of late having taken up residency on the Friday Fantastic Flash! As a member of the Bloggers bash committee, and proponent of #1000voicesspeak, he has become quite well known around the blogosphere. Well, in case you hadn’t heard, he has a new book out, and here he is to tell you all about it.
Ali has kindly offered me the chance to share with you a little about my new book, My Father and Other Liars.
The extract below is the start of chapter five. Before this point we have focused on the two main protagonists, Maurice Oldham and Lori Ann Beaumont. In this scene we meet Isaac Beaumont for the first time. Isaac is Lori Ann’s father and the current head of the Church of Science and Development. We already know about the Church, its focus on genetic research at the university it funds and that an investigation is underway into the possible misuse of certain Federal grant monies it receives towards that research.
I wanted to share this with you because (a) It begins with a description which for me is quite long but since it relates to the fictional town of Beaumont where a lot of the action takes place is crucial to the narrative – how do you feel about this? I explored locations over at the Daily Echolast week; (b) We hear a little about the investigation but also the internal stresses at the University – in this context we come across two important characters for the first time: the Professor in charge of the genetic research, Jacob Stzinski and the Chief Operating Officer of the Church and the acting head of the University, Dan Albertstein – do these introductions leave you intrigued? (c) We are also introduced to Gina Peroni, Isaac’s PA and friend to his daughter who it turns out has crucial part to play in the story – what do you surmise about her from this section? (d) Apart for the opening chapter that probably changed ten times, this was one of the most difficult sections to write, mostly because I was trying to answer the questions I’ve posed above.
A lot happens in this part, most of it via dialogue. As I’ve written over at Sacha Black’s Writespiration, having effective dialogue is a real skill and difficult to master. The combination of the longish opening description, the significant information dump and Isaac’s internal and external dialogue make it something I want to change every time I read it. So what do you think? What would you change?
Beaumont is a modern town situated close to the panhandle to the north west of Oklahoma. It is within 100 miles of Enid, the nearest town of any size. In the 1987 edition of Towns and Cities of Oklahoma Beaumont, then called Cooloon Heights (pop 1720) was described as ‘a bustling little throwback to a distant age of ranching and staging posts’; that ‘while the oil and gas wealth that has benefited other parts of the north of the State did not extend to Coolon Heights, the town has grown with ‘the unexpected and unbalancing addition of the Church of Science and Development’s growing community’. That year, two changes that would dramatically alter the landscape occurred. First, Pastor Joseph Beaumont persuaded the town council to change the town name to Beaumont on a promise to drill for new water supplies, and second, Isaac Beaumont, his son, produced the first sketch of what was to become the Beaumont Christian University campus, later renamed the Christian University of Beaumont. The development was rapid. The old town survived but as a twee museum piece of boutiques and coffee shops serving the university’s growing population. The campus itself, shaped like a fan with each Faculty housed along one of the spines, was dominated by a 15 storey monument of glass and steel, designed with more than a nod to Mies van der Rohe. This centre piece, at the hinge of the fan and called the Cornucopia building, housed the headquarters of the university, the Beaumont Charitable Foundation and, at the top, the administrative offices of the Church itself. Isaac Beaumont, now Pastor of the Church, occupied a corner office that looked out over the town. Whenever he needed inspiration, for a sermon or an essay or any one of the many interviews he gave, he would stand and stare to the west, calling to mind the stories his Father told him of that first bumpy truck ride when he found Cooloon Heights and knew he’d come home.
Isaac was a tall man with a straight back and the remnants of blond hair, mostly now silver. His blue eyes shone in the light from the hot Oklahoman sun. He turned away from the window, having briefly caught his reflection, distorted by the angle of the glass; it made him look tired and older than his 57 years. He glanced towards his PA, Gina Peroni, bent over her notepad. She had short blond spiky hair that Isaac felt sat oddly with her conservative dress sense. She was waiting for him to continue the read through for Friday’s sermon, but his concentration had gone.
He said, “You know, Gina, several times I’ve thought I missed the cut and thrust of the university, helping shape its future but talking to Professor Stzinski earlier reminded me what a… a pain it can be.”
She smiled up at him. “He did sound animated, sir.”
“You heard? Jacob was pretty loud.” Isaac paused, wondering if he should say anymore.
Gina said, “Can I do anything, sir? In Mr Albertstein’s absence?”
“No Gina. Jacob’s just a little paranoid. You’d think, after the press he’s just had, he’d be happy.” He picked up a sheet and read, “The Chronicle called him ‘genius’ and The Monitor said he was a ‘once in a generation marvel’ and Beaumont Christian University is the ‘go-to place for budding geneticists’.”
“It hasn’t all been favourable, sir.”
“What have I missed?”
“The Oklahoman was pretty rude, I thought.”
Gina shuffled her papers, avoiding his gaze. Isaac smiled. “Come on Gina. Tell me the worst.”
She coughed. “It implied that you didn’t know what you were getting into when you recruited him and you’ve been lucky so far. Pretty churlish I thought. It said… it said you must be crowing.”
Isaac smiled as Gina lifted her head. “That’s pretty good for those fellas, don’t you think? After all they usually display their Southern Baptist prejudices quite openly.”
“I think they feel we are a little too liberal, sir, taking on the Professor.”
Isaac smiled. “First folks to call us liberal. That wouldn’t please Dan.”
Gina nodded. “Did Professor Stzinski say why he was upset, sir? Was it Mr Albertstein?”
Isaac hesitated before continuing. “It’s nothing really. And yes, it seems to be Dan’s fault this time. Apparently, Dan agreed to one of the department’s main funders, the Medical Research Funding Bureau, he said, sending in a team to do a check and, of course, according to Jacob, their sole aim is to disrupt him and his work. I’d not heard about this.”
He glanced at Gina but her head was down. “It sounded harmless enough to me. As usual Jacob expects me to sort this out.”
Gina nodded. “I’m sure Mr Albertstein can quiet him, sir. Maybe during your 2 pm call you could mention it?”
“Dan’s good at polishing Jacob’s ego, isn’t he? Yes, probably best if I ask him to speak to Jacob.” Isaac looked at the picture that dominated his room, a reproduction of Raphael’s Madonna and Child. Another reminder of his Father. “Sometimes…” He shook his head and looked back at Gina. “Sometimes it’s easier dealing with the egos of TV producers than those of scientists and administrators, that much I have learned. Now, this interview with the Chronicle…”
My Father and Other Liars is the second book by Geoff Le Pard.Published in August, it is available as an ebook and paperback on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
Geoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls.