There. I’ve admitted it. I’m addicted to Irish Mythology.
There is no organisation out there, like the AA, which can help people like me. We are left to skulk around the internet, trawling libraries and stalking librarians, to get our hands and eyes on ancient books and archaic documents to feed our addiction.
We pore over old maps, identifying possible mythology related sites, then traipse through rain and fog over bog, hill and farmers fields, even braving the fierce protectors (cows and bulls) of said monuments, often finding little but a pile of stones to prove our theories.
It doesn’t matter what we find. It’s the thrill of the chase. It’s the excitement of discovery. It’s standing in that place where those characters lived and died, looking over the landscape they looked on, standing under the same sun and stars they slept beneath. It’s the connection which matters.
You will already know all this, if you have ever read any of my posts, because here is where I share it with you. I know you feel the same way, at least to some extent, because you keep coming back for more, and that means a lot to me.
Very soon, something quite momentous is going to happen (for me anyway) and I’ll blog about it when it does.
But for now, I make an apology; there is no Monday Mythology today. You have no idea how I am suffering from the pain of that! It’s not because I have run out of things to write… oh nonononono! Quite the contrary!
The trouble is, I haven’t even looked at the manuscript of the third and final book in the Conor Kelly series SINCE NOVEMBER!
I have become too distracted with research, trying out new writing formats like short stories and even shorter microfiction, book reviewing, article writing, etc. I have loved it all, but my book has suffered. And I can’t give 100% to it all, as well as my book, my blog, and my family.
So there will be less blogging (booo! I’m going to miss it!) from me over the next couple of months, and hopefully more novel writing (yaaaay! Conor’s story needs to be told and finished!).
I hope you’ll bear with me, and not suffer too much from the pain of Monday Mythology withdrawal. I personally will be turning to my other many addictions to help me get by… coffee, chocolate, Prosecco, Bloody Mary’s…
In the mean-time, just to get you in the mood, Jane Dougherty tagged me on FB last night to share the first seven lines of my current WIP, and I thought I’d post it here too, so you could see what I’m working on. I tag Sacha Black, Craig Boyack and Chris Deards to do the same.
Conor awoke with a start. The deep, impenetrable shadows of night pressed their velvet drapes heavily against his skin, forcing the breath from compressed lungs as he fought to control his fear.
For months now, his nights had been full of dreams, and his dreams were all of Ruairi.
Ruairi, his brother. His twin. His only living relative, so far as he knew. Ruairi, who was High King of the Sidhe, and who wanted to kill him.
The moon was like a cold sun and the stars stopped their navigating. Twilight fell through stained glass, casting the great hall in pale reds. The sword of air shone like an ancient candle. I opened the glass case and ran two fingers along the precious steel. I lingered over the point, then pushed down hard. Blood trickled from my fingers like spilt wine. I felt nothing. The sound of boots clicking against the stone floor echoed along the corridor. I snapped the cabinet shut and massaged the blood into my skin. The metal door clanged open and Lorcan entered. I drew a deep breath through my nose and sat on the emerald throne.
‘Your majesty.’ He growled, bowing before me. His reptilian eyes narrowed and cast a shadow across his blunt nose and mouth. The thick scales of his skin were scared from a lifetime of war. It was as if a half man, half dragon stood before me.
‘I hope you bring me news of the child.’
‘No my lady.’
‘No!’ I said standing. A sensation of increased strength flowed through my body. The terror in his face was reflected in the polished floor as he bowed again. This time his head almost touched the step in front of him.
‘Stand.’ He rose, his skin a pallid green.
‘My lady, we have searched the forest from Tara to the south coast, burning every settlement in our way and…’
‘Enough of your excuses,’ I said cutting across him. An overpowering silence rang in my ears.
Lorcan’s tendons stood out in his neck, his pulse visible. ‘Please madam, but how do you know if this child even exists?’
‘You dare to question me?’ I said stepping down from the plinth so that I was level with him. He stepped backwards and I could smell the sweat on his skin. Rotting fish and driftwood. The foul smelling sea, that gave birth to the Formor’s.
I walked forward and caressed the side of his face. His skin was rough like leather. His pupils dilated swallowing the yellow of his eyes.
‘Lorcan, do you love me?’
‘Yes my lady.’
‘Why?’ I whispered still holding his head in my hand.
‘You freed my people.’
‘Yes, and what do I ask of you in return?’
‘To find the child.’
‘And is disappointment anyway to repay me,’ I said, my grip so tight my knuckles were now white.
‘No my lady.’
I dropped my hand, turned and make my way back to the throne. I stared at Lorcan, and blew out a long breath that rattled my lips.
‘I will see that you and your men enjoy yourself this evening. There will be enough food and drink to make yourselves sick, and you will have your pick of the Fomor women. Then tomorrow you will continue your search for the child.’
‘Yes my lady,’
‘Do not let me down Lorcan. I will hold you personally responsible if this child is not found.’
‘Yes my lady,’ he said blinking rapidly.
‘You may go now.’ He turned and walked stiffly out of the great hall.
I watched the flames in the central hearth. They twisted and flicked in a way that reminded me of my sister’s golden hair. Everyone had loved her, especially our father. He would never have sold Shania the way he sold me to settle a political grievance. I ground my teeth together and heat flushed through my body. He indulged her, turned her into the kind of child who thought she was Queen of the universe. The kind of child who thought she could command the stars and sea. When my sister closed her eyes at night she imagined the rest of the world stopped too. What she wanted she thought she should get and what she wished for she deserved. It was his fault she became involved with a mortal.
I rose from my throne and stepped down onto the floor. There was a chill in the air and I wrapped my robe across the front of my body. I left the great hall and walked silently to my chamber.
The door creaked open. Flames cast shadows that waved and dipped on the red walls. The candles in the chandelier were bent like witches fingers. Ona lifted her head and yawned, her pink tongue lolling between fanged teeth. I make a clicking sound with the back of my throat. She moved her head but her golden eyes remained fixed like an owl. A purring sound filled the room. I sat next to her on the four-poster bed that I never slept in. Her ears moved forward and her whiskers relaxed as I massaged her fur. I held my arm out and she left a trail of sandpaper kisses on my skin. I had the greatest respect for animals. We shared a point of view that most people tended to forget: life was about survival. I leaned my head down to her and we bumped noses. Her fur smelled of summer grass.
I heard a low rustling sound. The window had been blown open by the breathing of the stars. My cloak hanging over the chair of my dressing table flapped in the breeze. When I was sixteen and my sister had just turned ten, our father gave us two cloaks made entirely of feathers. ‘Faery wings’ the Danann people called them. My sister’s cloak was made of eagle feathers. Like her golden hair, its brightness delighted and charmed anyone who saw it. The sight of it made my chest burn and my stomach harden. The cloak he gave me was the colour of midnight and made of raven feathers.
‘Cloaks from the magical isles’ he said. I remembered the sensation when my father first laid the cloak across my shoulders. It was as though I was being squeezed from within. I suddenly felt weightless, and before I knew it I was floating. I looked down and watched him lay my sisters cloak over her shoulders. He pulled her close and kissed her forehead before letting go. Suddenly she was in the air too. With her gold hair floating around her she was as beautiful as the sun. I looked down at my father staring up at her, his dark eyes pools of adoration. My breath became coarser and faster and there were spots in my vision. I knew my father expected me to look after Shania on our first flight, but instead of taking her hand I turned my gaze and flew towards the horizon. The wind rushed through my hair and around my ears, and for the first time in my life I felt free.
When I returned that evening I learned it would take more than a pair of wings to release me from the shackles of patriarchy. I remembered my father’s eyes, cold and hard like flint. His chest heaved and his nostrils flared.
‘You will be married before the waning moon is full’, he said and they were the last words he ever spoke to me.
I distracted myself by getting up and walking over to my dressing table. I stared into the mirror. I did not look a day over thirty, but I was as old as the earth. My eyes burned like green fire against my porcelain skin and my raven hair fell in glossy curls about my shoulders. My coral lips were full of life, not thin like an old woman’s.
The night air smelled of burnt leaves. Mmm, I said to myself. I snatched my feathered cloak and in the next moment I was airborne. My skin and blood ripped into bone and feather. I slipped out of the arched window and unfolded my wings.
As I hovered over Tara, only the silence breathed. I dived downwards, my feathers taking on a blue-purple iridescence. Pine needles scraped my skin as I entered the forest and headed towards the Grogoch’s house.
I caught the smell of copper on the wind. My eyes scanned the forest floor for prey. I spotted a dead deer and swooped down. I perched on its antlers. The bloody contents of the animal’s twisted insides were laid out beside it. Wolves I thought smiling to myself. I hopped along the deer’s warm, limp body. Spotting a deep incision in the animal’s fur, I stretched out my wings and stabbed my beak into its flesh. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that Ravens go for the eyes of a fallen creature first. The flesh cut like steak when raw, but was even richer in taste. Strength flowed through my wings and body. My feathers were wet with blood.
I flew inches from the forest floor and slipped through the smallest of gaps. Split second timing, always a breath away from collision with a tree. Wings in, twist right, twist left, long tail taking over for fine control. A full three hundred and sixty degrees for recovery. A lightening strike of branches loomed overhead. I soared high into the night sky. I wheeled back on myself, then dived down, every branch a near miss and landed at the foot of the Grogoch’s tree.
I shook my feathers until I was nothing but a black blur. The blackness bleeds apart and forms the shape of a woman. I placed my hand on the thick bark, closed my eyes and allowed my mind to become silent. A cracking sound filled the air and the trunk splintered in half revealing a staircase. In three great leaps I was at the top.
I listened for the Grogoch’s heartbeat. Unbroken silence wrapped itself around me. I looked around the dark room taking a mental note of the blankets strewn on the floor and the unwashed breakfast dishes in the sink. I walked over and picked up the blankets. One at a time I tossed them aside until I found what I was looking for. I smiled to myself pulling a single strand of golden hair from one of them. It was like the wind had swept through and left me proof of the girl’s existence. I held the blanket to my face and breathed in the child’s scent. She smelled of jasmine and elderberry just like Shania.
There were three unwashed breakfast dishes so the girl had at least two companions with her. Damn the Grogoch, I should have known he was too weak to ever hand the girl over.The hardened grease, shining in the moonlight on their plates, also told me they were a whole day ahead. My chest tightened and my limbs tingled. Could they have made it to the stone circle by now? I threw my cloak over my shoulders and was a raven again. I flew down the staircase and into the night air. My wings beat slow and purposeful. The feathers flexed and extended like fingers with every motion. I had no time for acrobatics now. I wanted to get to the stone circle as fast as I could. The stars overlapped each other in the sky like tree trunks in the middle of a thick forest. Their light made the evergreens appear like stalks of wheat. I flew past rivers and mountains that looked like long silver snakes and castles children had built in the sand. I tasted salt on my tongue. I lowered my head and saw the restless sea. As I descended I heard the waves speak the oceans language. Water crashed against the rocks and the spray stung my feathers. The stone circle rose from the sea.
R.J. Madigan is a London born writer who has taken a slightly different route to other authors by publishing her first YA Fantasy novel ‘The Sword of Air,’ as a multi-touch iBook. Inspired by the Pharrel Williams quote ‘Kids today need visual,’ she has used iBooks author to include stunning photography, cinematic soundtrack, HD video and 3D modelling to colour the world of The Sword of Air to give her readers a much more visceral experience. Decades ago writers like Issac Asimov and Neil Stephenson envisaged a world where books were more than just print, they came alive and talked to you, reacted and interacted with you. That world is now with the iPad bringing science fiction into reality. No one has really taken advantage of this new technology so R.J. Madigan has decided to shake up the publishing world by using it for her storytelling.
If there are two things you have learned about me from following this blog, it’s 1. I love mythology, and 2. I love researching mythology! It seems I am not alone; fellow author and blogger, Craig Boyack, has dropped by to tell us how mythology helped pave the way for grounding one of his recent novels, Cock of the South, which I recently reviewed on this blog, and which featured on The Friday Fiction. So without further ado, here’s Craig…
Ali asked me to visit today with the topic of researching a fantasy. Many people think there is no research involved in fantasy, and that authors make it all up. This isn’t true, and we must ground our readers in some kind of reality they can relate to. This is more than having air and gravity. Readers have expectations and it’s important to consider those.
The Cock of the South is a Dwarven fantasy. I’ve already made a promise to my readers that I must fulfill. It must have dwarves in it. Everyone knows dwarves are small, hairy, semi-grouchy miners of some kind. They’ve all read a book, or heard a fairy tale to cement that in place. Many of them watched some pretty popular films about dwarves recently.
This isn’t to say I can’t change things up, but somewhere along the line I need to fulfil this promise.
My Southern Dwarves are a conquered people at the beginning of the story. They’ve scattered to the four winds as refugees. I wanted to bring something new to the characters, so I placed them in an area with no valuable minerals at all. Mining was off-limits. This is where my research began in earnest. I wanted them to be characters of the Earth, but adapted to their environment. I made them into quarrymen, stone carvers, masons, glass blowers, and potters. This led to even more research into what kinds of stone they work with, what a pit kiln involves, etc.
I avoided putting them in the typical Scandinavian setting. Southern Dwarves, hmm? The Cock of the South is set in a Greco-Roman environment. Looks like my stone is going to be marble. I also made another promise to my readers. This setting comes with its own expectations.
The setting led to another round of research. I bought a copy of Bullfinch’s Mythology. I poured through reams of data about both Greek and Roman religion. I needed monsters too, and found a wealth of them. It would have been easy to let Gods and Goddesses take over the story, but they don’t. There were minotaurs and rustics that failed to make the cut. The story is full of cyclops, centaurs, and satyrs. I even wound up checking part of the Bible when researching the cockatrice.
I also twisted one of the oldest myths on its head. I needed to establish the dominant civilization in the area, and still have the freedom to change things. I decided that Remus killed Romulus, and Rome was never founded. Remus took its place, and while they are similar (they were brothers after all), I had the freedom to change weapons, tactics, trade routes, and more.
At this point, I’ve managed to ground almost everyone who reads this story. They have a reference point that allows them to move forward with the tale. It may be The Lord of the Rings for one reader, the Odyssey for someone else, and maybe even The Bible for another.
There was a huge amount of research that came after this. Grecian pottery, the Cambodian Plain of Jars, and the recipe for Dwarven sand. (Which probably landed me on some NSA watch-list. Don’t make this at home kids.) I even researched dwarf breeds of milk cows, but you’ll have to read the story to find out why.
I needed other humans around too, so I learned about the Paeonians, Goths, and slaves. When I used these characters, and the fantastic ones, they all needed to be distinctive. Each society demanded a period of research. The Internet became my best friend.
The promise of fantasy, the Greco-Roman setting, and Dwarves, are all fulfilled. There was still a ton of room to play and make things up as the tale came together. The research helped me build fences to focus my story on where it needed to go.
All stories require research of some kind. Medical thrillers, police procedurals, inter-racial romances, science fiction and all the rest need to be grounded in reality at some point. They also need to keep in mind the promises made on the cover and in the blurb.
I went down the rabbit hole again today with a paranormal tale I’m writing. The New Orleans cemeteries I want aren’t working out for me. They still might, but I have more research to do. Where has your research led you?
Craig’s other books
I was born in a town called Elko, Nevada. I like to tell everyone I was born in a small town in the 1940s. I’m not quite that old, but Elko has always been a little behind the times. This gives me a unique perspective of earlier times, and other ways of getting by. Some of this bleeds through into my fiction.
I moved to Idaho right after the turn of the century, and never looked back. My writing career was born here, with access to other writers and critique groups I jumped in with both feet.
I like to write about things that have something unusual. My works are in the realm of science fiction, paranormal, and fantasy. The goal is to entertain you for a few hours. I hope you enjoy the ride.
Introducing Chris Graham, otherwise known as The Story Reading Ape, champion of Indie authors and all round good ape. What you may not know is just how cultured an ape he actually is, but I had realised this from his many intelligent comments on my mythology posts. Impressed, I asked him to write a guest post for my blog. This is what I got…
When Ali asked me to consider writing a guest post for her blog; on my interest in mythology, my first reaction was ‘WHAT?’
Then I thought ‘How on earth can I avoid sounding like a furry Erich Von Daniken?’
Finally, I realised that everyone already thinks I’m just a crazy / Mad as a Hatter / eccentric (minus the riches) old ape, so I might as well GO FOR IT…
Have you ever wondered where all the strange and exotic creatures may have come from in our myths and legends?
Plus, what actually happened in the past to make legendary events… well…
I’m sure we’ve all got different opinions, but bear with me for a while (go fix yourself some refreshments, this might take a while lol)
For the purposes of this article, let’s look at a list of some mythical creatures (this will NOT be all of them, but these are believed in almost worldwide with only the local names differing):
DRAGONS have to be top of the list.
GIANTS / TITANS.
FAIRIES / FAERIES
DEVILS / DEMONS / ANGELS / GODS
I better get on with it then…
Cough, clears throat, takes drink of water (WATER you doubting Thomas at the back…some people…I don’t know…)
Now, where was I?
“DRAGONS” I hear someone shout…
Time for an interesting (and colourful) map:
Imagine yourself as a pre-historic person out foraging for food and generally minding your own business when SUDDENLY, sticking out of the ground / hill / riverbed / seashore sand / bog you see what looks like a… a… what the heck IS that called?
So, it’s a quick scamper back to the village / cave / tree / whatever, to ask the Chief / Shaman / Witchdoctor / Wise Woman / oldest person you know, what the thing is called.
Have YOU ever tried describing something you’ve never seen before?
After a while the person you’re asking will say something like “Shut up and take me to it you idiot” and you duly comply…along with probably the rest of the village / tribe / family / whatever (apart from those whose duty it is to make the meals).
Upon arrival at the scene of the find, everyone gathers round to hear the words of wisdom and knowledge from the wise and knowledgeable person…who looks long and hard at the object, sends the smallest (and most expendable) person over to touch it, and bring it back with them (if it hasn’t killed / destroyed / made them burst into flames / eaten them first).
The wise person didn’t get to be wise by being stupid…
Anyway, possibly with more help, the object is uncovered completely, cleaned up a bit and brought over to the wise person to inspect closely (now that it has been established as safe).
Today, any two year old would immediately identify the object as a DINOSAUR skull…a four year old could probably identify WHICH ONE…but wise as they are, the wise person does not have the benefit of watching National Geographic on his cave / hut wall so has to take a calculated risk and make up a name and story to go along with it…(have you ever told someone the name of something they’ve never heard of, then ended up describing it, complete with a story that describes how it works?)
Thereby were DRAGONS BORN…
Don’t believe me?
When the Ancient Greeks uncovered some long extinct Mammoth bones and skulls during one of their City State Capital projects, or cutting tunnels through mountains to bring water from somewhere else to it, they arrived at the considered opinion that giant one eyed man-like creatures existed in the dim and distant past, during the AGE OF HEROES…
Right that’s enough waffling from me on this subject.
What about the GIANTS/ TITANS, TROLLS, ELVES, DWARVES, GNOMES, FAIRIES / FAERIES, DEVILS / DEMONS / ANGELS / GODS?
Oh that’s a story for another day I think, besides, to quote the Sce’ali (Storyteller) in the pub in the movie ‘The Quiet Man’…
“Me TROAT is very dry”
Thanks Chris! I am truly honoured to have you on my blog today!
If you don’t already follow his blog, take the time to drop by now, as not only does he interview and review authors and their books, guest post them, and promote them, but he lists a wealth of information and resources perfect for the Indie, and can even create book covers and trailers at very reasonable rates! There’s just no end to this multi-talented Ape’s skills…
When Rhea opened her eyes it was to a silent blackness filled with pain. Her breath came in ragged gasps and she could see nothing. The pain was almost welcome. She did not think death would hurt this much. The lack of sight frightened her. She moved experimentally and groaned as a shaft of pain lanced her ankle.
“Ah, you are back, my dear. Wait a moment.” Merlin’s voice in the blackness was the most wonderful sound she had ever heard. There was a soft whoosh and a pale golden light bloomed in the mage’s hands, illuminating his face, the peat brown eyes full of concern. “My dear child, can you ever forgive me? You seem to be taking the worst of this fight once again…” As he spoke he set the dancing flame on the ground beside her and began to examine her injuries with infinite care.
“There is nothing to forgive, Merlin. I’m just glad you saved me.” The old man’s familiar chuckle did much to steady her.
“I didn’t. You will have to save your thanks for a friend of mine. This mountain is the home of one of the Elder Race, Ogmios. He opened a door for us and let us in. Nothing moves on this mountain without his knowledge.”
“He is allowed to intervene?”
“He is as old as the mountain itself. Indeed, you could say he is the mountain in a way. There are few left to command him. We are now in his domain and safe until you are able to move again.” His probing hands found the damaged ankle and he worked his healing magic, coaxing the swelling to manageable proportions and soothing the worst of the bruising. While he worked, Rhea looked around her. The soft light showed that she was lying at the bottom of a long slope covered with a thick carpet of bracken and heather which had served to break her fall. Yet they seemed to be in a cavern with no other entrance, than a dark, winding tunnel stretching away to their right.
“There, how does that feel?” Merlin sat back on his haunches as Rhea flexed her ankle cautiously
“Much better!” she replied with relief. “I should be able to walk on it now. Shall we go? The others must be worried about us.” She held out her hand and the old man helped her to stand. The ankle ached abominably when she put her weight on it, but it felt no worse than sprained and Rhea could only be thankful she had escaped so lightly.
The tunnel stretched away in shadow, Merlin’s light serving only to illuminate a few feet before them. Rhea felt her way along the walls, surprisingly smooth to the touch, as if polished by countless centuries of passage. The stone of the floor was worn into a deep furrow and sloped gently upwards, and, thought Rhea, into the heart of the mountain. After perhaps ten minutes the wall beneath her hands disappeared and the passage opened out into a vast and beautiful cavern. Merlin’s light danced on the glistening pillars and arches of the lofty hall, too faint to reach the roof, so that Rhea had no real idea of the dimensions of the space. She felt that it was immense and the echo of their footsteps seemed to come from a hundred directions at once.
“Welcome to the garden of Ogmios,” said Merlin, his words whispered by ghostly voices till they faded into silence. “Here, outside of time, he tends the roots of the mountain and grows his home from living rock. Look well, Heart of Earth, for you will not see its like again.” Rhea was spellbound by the beauty of the place and could well believe that this spectacular hall had been wrought by art and not mere chance. All the colours of a pigeon’s breast glowed on the graceful curves of the rock, catching and reflecting the golden witch-light.
Rhea had seen the show caves of Cheddar and the deep, silent caverns at Chislehurst, neither of which possessed the vibrancy and vigour of this place. Cheddar’s wedding cake loveliness was as nothing compared to the living filigree of stone through which she now walked.
In the centre of the cave, a large central space held a great slab of millstone grit, shaped like a couch with a raised pillar at one end. It reminded Rhea of the altar on the moor which she had touched that first day, save only that this was much larger and had not suffered the erosion of wind and rain.
“Ogmios’ couch,” Merlin explained. “Here he spends the centuries dreaming the shape of his garden and growing his crystals from seed.” He indicated that she should look to her right and she saw a small field of crystal and semi-precious stones laid out in a spiral pattern on the floor. There were huge clusters of amethyst and quartz, glittering pyrites and all the varied hues of agate. One large stone, polished by the dripping moisture from the stalactites above, looked like black glass, frozen around a snowstorm. Rhea was bewitched by its soft sheen and reached out a hand to touch the surface.
“What is this, Merlin? I’ve never seen it before.”
“The world calls it snowflake obsidian. You can see why.”
“It is lovely.”
“Ogmios would be pleased by your appreciation. He grew this as a memento of the first time he saw snow falling. It was at night, beneath a full moon at the dawn of life as we know it today. He thought it too beautiful to allow it to melt away forgotten so he caught the flakes in a stone the colour of midnight and preserved it for eternity.
“Geologists don’t have all the answers,” he chuckled. “They may understand the physical conditions required to produce these crystals, but they will never understand that they were first dreamed to encapsulate a moment of beauty which touched the soul of a grotesque giant whose very existence they would deny. Rose quartz was the light of the first dawn, amethyst the clouds of a summer sunset. Agates are all the colours of the autumn earth.”
“And diamond?” asked Rhea, holding out the ancient ring on her finger, which seemed to have woken to life in this place.
“Starlight in frost,” he smiled. Rhea nodded her understanding, humbled and grateful for the deeper understanding of the forces of the world that guided her. She had begun to see the life innate in her surroundings and with that privilege had come a renewal of wonder and respect. “Come, child, the others will be worried although Ogmios may have told them that you are safe.” His face lit with unholy glee,” In fact, if they have met my friend, they will probably be more concerned that they were before! This way!”
Merlin led Rhea through the scintillating garden of living rock towards a shadowy opening at the end of an avenue of slender columns ablaze with mica. Rhea turned before entering the tunnel to take one last look.
“I could never have imagined that so much beauty lay hidden in the earth beneath my feet. It feels right, though, somehow. I can feel the life in the stone. If I knew how to listen, I think I could hear them whispering all the secrets of the underworld.” She turned away. Another unforgettable memory adding one more reason for reverence of the earth upon which she walked.
A steep stairway grown from the rock to fit the stride of Ogmios wound upwards and inwards. Rhea found the going difficult, her ankle ached and the weight of the mountain above her was oppressive. They had been climbing steadily for perhaps two hundred feet when they hit a dead end.
“Sit down a moment, Rhea, and hold steady.” said the mage. “Ogmios!” There was a terrific crash above their heads and the roof split asunder, showering them with earth and debris. Rhea looked up into a cloudless sky and the eyes of a giant.
Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire born writer, painter and award winning poet. She is also known as an esoteric teacher and is one of the Directors of The Silent Eye. Sue now lives in Buckinghamshire, having been stranded there due to an unfortunate incident with a pin, a map and a blindfold; a temporary glitch of twenty years duration. She has a lasting love-affair with the landscape of Albion; that hidden country of the heart that is the backdrop for many of her books, particularly those co-authored with Stuart France. She is currently owned by a small dog who also blogs.
You can connect with Sue, and buy her books, in the following places…
I’d just like to add that, as well as being an accomplished novelist and esoteric teacher, Sue writes wonderful poetry, some thoughtful and heartfelt, others light-hearted and humorous, accompanied by stunning photography which she snaps herself. She also has the ability to take the most mundane of daily events, and transform them into amusing and entertaining blog posts. Is there no end to this lady’s talents? I urge you to visit her blog, if you do not already follow her, and find out for yourself.
Thank you Sue, for joining me on The Friday Fiction today, I am delighted to showcase your wonderful writing here, and think I have just found a new addition to my (looooong) To Read List!
Ali has asked me to write about the importance of mythology in my writing, and what exactly it is doing in the near-future dystopia of The Green Woman series. I have heard it said that every fantasy world, if it is to be taken seriously as a rounded, realistic proposition, has to have references to religion. No real society can exist without religion. That’s as may be. But without wanting to pick a fight over it, I’d say that no society can exist without stories. There has to be a collective imagination to bind people together, a system of common shared beliefs. In older, pre-Christian societies, stories, religion, and history were more or less interchangeable. Some cultures have stories that represent a world-view that I personally find more appealing than others.
When I was a child, my maternal grandmother would go back to Ireland a couple of times a year, usually out west where her own mother came from. She always went alone, to the wildest parts of Sligo, Mayo and Clare, where she took photos of cliffs and pouring rain and landscapes of rolling bog and heath. She used to climb Croagh Patrick for the view, never did the stations. And she always brought us back books. One of my most treasured and most often read possessions was a copy of Irish myths and legends edited by Seán Ó’Faoláin. I loved those stories for their verve and passion: because there were lots of girls and women in them; because they weren’t supine, they were dangerous; and because the love stories were not romances. They ended badly as often as not, without melodrama or high tragedy, but often in a vengeful blood bath. Something you can relate to when you’re an under-ten.
In our house and at school to an extent, legends and stories were Irish. Mythology tended to mean Greeks and Romans. The world-view of those poor benighted people was cruel and misogynistic, with gods and goddesses who behaved like petulant children playing with the antique equivalent of nuclear missiles. I pitied them.
When I was older, I was very much drawn to Robert Graves’ interpretation of the beliefs of ancient societies, and I have tried to adapt some of his ideas into the fundamental ethos of The Green Woman. The very earliest societies, Graves argued, before paternity as a biological fact became established, were matriarchal. Women controlled the birth of children, the growth of the crops, and knew about the properties of plants. Women could make magic, because all of this power was magical. Men were useful members of society for their muscles. He also hints that possibly women were well aware that once men realised the part they played in reproduction, the female mystique would be harder to maintain. Once brawn took over from brain, we would see the development of conflict and aggression. And we do see it today in almost every society in the world.
When I created the utopia of the Garden (which is a nod and a wink to the Garden of Eden as it might have been if God hadn’t interfered) I wanted to go back to a hypothetical age of innocence, where birth, growth, nurturing and protection were more important than beating the brains out of your neighbour—or casting your children into the outer darkness, come to that. Transposed to a modern society it would mean wiping out cultural prejudices and taboos, and treating each individual as a unique member of society, not a reproduction of a type.
It is this kind of world Deborah proposes to the people of Providence. To help convince them, she brings back the memories, essentially the stories, of a time when we were closer to nature and further from the aggression that has come to typify the human species. Given what we know of Providence, its cruelty, police brutality, religious and civil oppression, and its all-pervading ignorance, you’d think they would have jumped at the chance. But human nature hangs onto what it knows, and no group likes relinquishing power. Without giving away too much of what happens at the end of the trilogy, I think I can say that she has an uphill struggle.
Myths, legends, stories, history, language, are what bind a culture together. They give us common points of reference, something to talk about, something to differentiate us from the rest. That is why I believe they are fundamental to any world we care to imagine, the backbone that supports the rest of our culture. If you go back far enough, you will find stories and beliefs that have little in common with the rapists and torturers of Greek myth, but instead see meaning in rocks and mountains, the sun and the moon, rivers and animals. Rather than cruel gods with very human failings, the earliest peoples venerated concepts: purity, the power of the elements, motherhood, wisdom, the cycle of life and death. To me it seems that we, modern, sophisticated people that we are, could do worse than try and recapture a little of the wonder our distant ancestors felt at the sight of waves crashing on a silver strand or a white doe on a hill.
Jane Dougherty is a product of the Irish diaspora. She was brought up in Yorkshire and educated in Manchester and London then moved to France to work in the wine trade. She spent fourteen years in Paris where she married and had four children, sold a lot of wine, studied Irish for a year at Paris’s Irish College, and taught herself Italian. Next move was to Laon in Picardy, a medieval gem of a town set in beautiful countryside, where her fifth child was born. She now lives in Bordeaux with her family, a Spanish greyhound and a posse of cats.
Jane said something here on my blog last time she visited, which I haven’t forgotten. She said “We have similar influences, Ali and I, both steeped in the magic of Irish legend and history. Culture is like a genetic marker; it finds its way into our writing, inviting itself in even when it wasn’t asked.”
I think this is very true. Those Irish heroes of the past and their stories have found their way into our hearts and cannot now be denied. I am proud to be able to bring them to life in my writing. Thank you, Jane, for joining me on my blog today, and sharing what our heritage and mythology means to you, and how it inspired your creation of The Green Woman Trilogy.
With this book, author CS Boyack has proven two things;
He is a brilliant story-teller (I already knew this, having previously read ‘Panama’).
That writers can excel in more than just one genre.
By his own admission, ‘The Cock of the South’ is Boyack’s first foray into fantasy. Never one to be daunted, he has thrown himself wholeheartedly into the challenge and come up trumps with a whole new spin on what we accept as the norm for this genre.
This is not a story about good against evil, although such conflict does occur; it’s not about big battle scenes, although there are some (and exciting and detailed, they are too!); it’s not about weird and wonderful mythical creatures, although there are plenty; it’s not about doomed and unrequited love triangles, although there are romances; and it’s not about handsome musclebound heroes, although heroes do show up, albeit in the most unlikely packages.
Set in the Roman-Greco era, even this has a twist. Boyack is a master at turning everything on its head with that infamous ‘but what if’ question. Cobby is a southern dwarf brought up by humans to be totally unaware of his true heritage, although it is evident to everyone else. When disaster strikes, he sets out on a journey to find the truth. His fair-mindedness, ingenuity and cunning soon have peoples of all races flocking to him as their leader, leading him to a conclusion he could never have anticipated.
And here we come to the crux of the story. Although set in a historical context among mythical peoples, this story is a very current and human one; it is about equality, acceptance, belonging, self-reliance, independence, teamwork and hard graft. Without moralising, Cobby takes a group of displaced peoples of different races full of enmity and animosity towards each other, and melds them into one society which works together to achieve a common goal, namely, to find a safe place they can call home.
In doing so, Boyack shows he has done his homework. The dwarves have the secret of ‘black sand’… of course! So that is how they were able to carve out such wondrous underground cities. They also know how to build forges, make tools and weapons, brew alcohol, make cheese, blow glass… their list of skills is endless, and the author gives us just enough of an insight into these real ancient technologies to make it interesting, but not overwhelming.
All this is blended seamlessly with a plethora of mythological references to keep the fantasy fans happy. But the greatest strength in this story is the growth of Cobby himself, from someone much maligned and of little consequence in the world he grew up in, to respected and beloved leader, strategist, warrior, lover and king of the new world he has created.
If you are currently mourning the end of a certain movie about an adventurous band of dwarven misfits, and are wondering “What next?”, I advise you to look no further; ‘The Cock of the South’ is definitely the book for you.