Who was Tréanmór -The Fionn mac Cumhaill Series

Within the Fenian Cycle, the character of Cumhal (Fionn mac Cumhaill’s father) is sometimes referred to with the interesting patronymic “mac Trénmóir” (or “mac Tréanmór” or in modern Irish) which, literally, means ‘Strong-Big’. This unlikely name is believed to originate from genealogists of the seventh century Leinster families who were keen to link the famous hero to their own ruling dynasties – even if they had to bend the truth to do so.

Apart from those original references, there’s no other mention of Tréanmór within the various historical narratives (which, given its invention, is hardly a surprise). That said, there is a hill called Comaghy Hill in County Monaghan which holds a large grave that’s fancifully claimed to be the spot where he was buried.

This lack of definition around a character who should play an important role in the Cycle (he is Fionn/Demne’s grandfather, after all) provides a lot of room for creative licence and I’ve taken full advantage of that, of course. Over the last twelve months I’ve had a lot of fun creating the character to fit in with the ongoing Fionn mac Cumhaill Series. As a result, for the next book in the series (The Adversary) Tréanmór plays a much larger role than in any other version of the Fenian Cycle in recent times (truth be told, I’ve yet to come across any literary use of the character in the last 100 years!).

Developing the Character of Tréanmór

When developing the character of Tréanmór I was keen to incorporate the world of 2nd century Ireland and link him to some of the issues associated with the tribal society that existed at the time (and which – amazingly – very little literature on Fionn mac Cumhaill refers to). In The Adversary therefore, Tréanmór holds the title of – chieftain – of Clann Baoiscne.

Back in the second century, a person’s tribe would not only have played a dominant part in that individual’s personal identity but in his/her entire social interaction as well. Dominant, shrewd, politically astute and completely ruthless, in this particular story, Tréanmór’s driving motivation is the expansion of the Clann Baoiscne tribal powerbase, an objective that’s often attained at the expense of friends and family members. For that reason, although he’s her father, Bodhmhall knows she cannot completely trust him and this becomes clear from the very first reference to him (when Demne – or Fionn – asks about the fortress of Dún Baoiscne:

‘Will we see my grandfather there?’
‘Tréanmór? Yes. As rí of Clann Baoiscne, he rules the stronghold.’
‘Is he nice?’
Bodhmhall blinked, taken aback by the simplicity of the question, the naive reduction of people to those who were ‘nice’ or ‘not nice’.
‘In some ways he is … nice. In other ways, he is not.’
The boy frowned at her. ‘Well,’ he persisted. ‘Do you think he’s nice?’
‘No,’ she admitted. She shook her head. ‘No, I don’t.’

And then of course there’s the little issue of the reason Bodhmhall was expelled from the fortress of Dún Baoiscne in the first place.

In this book, the character of Tréanmór tends to dominate many of the scenes, some of which involve dramatic verbal duelling between himself and Bodhmhall, who also has to contend with his ‘Whispers’ and his ‘Cúig Cairdre’ – his ‘Five Friends’. This has been a lot of fun to write.

This kind of creative licence is one of the things I most enjoy about writing with Irish mythology and lore. The original Fenian Cycle is strong enough and linear enough to provide the basis of the story but it’s also broad enough to allow immense creativity, even when the story needs to align with the historical realities of the period. It really doesn’t get better than that!

The Adversary is expected to be available at the end of February 2017.

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Intriguing Titles from the Celtic Short Story Competition Submissions

irish-books

Well the entries are in and the submission folder has been removed to a separate hard drive.

Yesterday, while we were doing the admin for the registration and processing, we were struck by the number of intriguing titles this year. I’ve learned long ago not to put too much stock in a title, of course. A good one can draw a susceptible reader towards a book or a story but its effectiveness very much depends on the individual and the personal experiences/ interests of that individual. Titles can also be a double-edged sword, of course, in that if they insinuate or evoke one thing and the story delivers something different, that can work against it.

In any case, here are some that immediately appealed to me (only me – the other judges haven’t seen them yet) and my first thoughts on seeing them:

Konla’s Dream (A reference to Connla – the son of Conn Céadcathach?)
Lexi on her Sixty-Second Journey (Time travel or a journey across the room?)
Mama’s Skin (Possibly a selkie but could really be anything)
My Sprightly Tailor (I just love the image this brought to mind)
Seasick (Brings back many pleasant memoires!)
Strangers in a Familiar Setting (Lovely juxtaposition)
The Black Hen (Intriguingly simple – for some reason I like that)
The Curse of Ulster (Possibly a reference to the ‘Pangs’ of Ulster?)
The King Who Could Not Die (now that certainly rouses interest)
Tiny Broken Horses (?!)
The Púca with the Swivelling Head (Actually, no. Sorry. I think I just imagined that one!)

How to Write Sex Scenes

That made you sit up.

I suppose I should start by saying I really don’t particularly enjoy writing sex scenes. Writing protracted sexual encounters always seems to lead into pornographic territory or, even worse, purple prose. Then of course there’s always the thought of your mother peering over your shoulder, shaking her head and tutting with disapproval. Previous experience also means I’m pretty sure the first draft will come back from Madame Blackwing (editor extreme) pointing out some critical error (“That’s a physical impossibility”, “It’s not located there” or perhaps even more disturbingly, “Is this meant to be a sex scene?”).

Photocredit: Tertia van Rensburg

Photocredit: Tertia van Rensburg

Diligent individual that I am, to research this article I asked a few writer friends about how they wrote sex scenes. The responses included:

“I’m probably more of a ‘doer’ than a talker/writer'”

“Writers do it sitting down”

“Are you serious? My target audience are 8-12 years olds

All very helpful, of course.

Carrying out even further research, I headed off to the Literary Review magazine and looked up the “Bad Sex in Fiction Award”. This particular competition has been around for over twenty years and I’ve always quite enjoyed it, not only because it’s deliciously funny but because it provides a good-natured but well-needed poke to the pomposity of the mainstream publishing industry. Think of it as a kind of antidote to the Nobel Prize for Literature and you’ll be on the right track.

Originally started by the Literary Review in 1993, the approach is simplicity itself. Every year, reviewers at the Literary Review nominate the worst sex scene passages they’ve read during the year and a committee pick the, eh, … winner. Although it’s never been intended to cover pornographic or erotica, it sometimes comes pretty damn close.

This year’s crop of nominees included a number of well-known names like Ian McEwan, Eimear McBride, Gayle Forman (a New York Times bestselling author) Erri De Luca (a European Prize for Literature winner) and many more. Here are a number of the passages that caught the judges’ attention this year:

“Anne,” he says, stopping and looking down at me. I am pinned like wet washing with his peg. “Till now, I thought the sweetest sound I could ever hear was cows chewing grass. But this is better.” He sways and we listen to the soft suck at the exact place we meet. Then I move and put all thoughts of livestock out of his head.
The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis

“His heart immediately started hammering like mad, and a fiery heat welled up inside him. He wanted to ask something, something tremendously urgent, something incredibly important, something that was tingling on the tip of his tongue but already her other hand was on his other buttock.”
The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler

“When she was sufficiently aroused, a hush would finally settle and then with a sigh she would roll over gently onto her back, like a doe turning in leaves.”
A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin

“She wiggled her breasts beneath my hands and intensified the pushing. I went in up to my groin and came out almost entirely. My body was her gearstick.”
The Day Before Happiness by Erri De Luca

“Our sexes were ready, poised in expectation, barely touching each other: ballet dancers hovering en pointe.”
The Day Before Happiness by Erri De Luca

“With one thrust I sank into her without coming back out. She took her hands from my hips and from my prick came the entire “yes” that had coursed through her. The “yes” of my emptying and my goodbye, my welcome, the “yes” of a marionette that flops without a hand to hold its strings.”
The Day Before Happiness by Erri De Luca

“During sex she would quiet, moving suddenly on top of him like a lion over its prey. Her eyes stayed wide, Andret liked to keep his own closed; but whenever he opened them, there she would be, staring down at him, her black pupils gyroscopically inert.”
A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin

“The act itself was fervent. Like a brisk tennis game or a summer track meet, something performed in daylight between competitors. The cheap mattress bounced. She liked to do it more than once, and he was usually able to comply. Bourbon was his gasoline.”
A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin

“He jerked off with the determination of someone within sight of Everest’s summit, having lost all his friends and Sherpas, having run out of supplemental oxygen, but preferring death to failure.”
Here I am by Jonathan Safran Foer

I don’t know about you but most of this didn’t leave me hot and bothered so much as, well …. gyroscopically inert, I suppose. Just to be sure I wasn’t missing anything, I decided to check up on what’s considered to be this year’s strongest contender for the prize.

“His finger is inside me, his thumb circling and I spill like grain from a bucket.”

The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis

Spilled grain aside, I’m pleased to say that I’ve since come up with the perfect formula for writing sex scenes and because you’ve been so patient I’m going to share that secret with you. To start with, you really have to approach the whole sex scene in the correct manner. In that regard, I tend to make a bit of an effort. I usually wait until it’s a little late, put on some soft music, slip into my Hugh Heffner dressing gown. If I’m in the mood, I’ll have a sip of wine or two, dim the lights right down. massage the fingers in oil as I ease my way towards the computer and then …

[scroll down]









……. The next Morning dawned cool and rainy.

I won’t tell if you don’t.

Update:
The winner of this award was announced last week and it was …… Italian novelist Erri De Luca’s genital ‘ballet dancers’.
Congratulations and well done, Mr De Luca.

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Earthquakes and Irony on the Shaky Isles

A bit hectic this week and people have been asking so I figured I’d give some information/ context on what we’re dealing with here – at least from a personal perspective. Even after many years in New Zealand, coming from one of the most stable pieces of land on the planet (the good ole conservative rock that’s Ireland), means this earthquake stuff can still be a bit new to me.

Around midnight on 10 November, New Zealand’s south island was hit by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Normally, at least in my experience to date, when an quake occurs at night, you screw your eyes tight, snuggle deeper under the covers and wait for it to pass.

Unless it keeps going.

And boy, did it keep on going!

This particular quake went on for over a minute by which time we were all out in the hallway sheltering under the door jam (usually the sturdiest area in the house). Finally, it eased off but aftershocks kept rolling in over the next few hours. Nobody really got any sleep that night.

In most respects of course, we were exceptionally lucky. Although quite violent (the ground lifted in over three meters in places), the quake was centered in an area of the south island that had a very small population. Two people died but if it had happened at a different time and in a different place that could have been dramatically more. In Wellington – the closets city – because we’re on the coast, a tsunami warning went out with sirens going on and off irregularly. Many people evacuated to higher ground – not easy with the aftershock, others remained in bed. It was a complete shambles with mixed messages and nobody clear on what the safest course of action was.

When daylight came, the extent of the damage in Wellington began to become clear with damaged buildings, and lots of broken glass (this would have showered down and probably killed – or at least seriously hurt – people in the streets had it happened during the day). The city centre was blocked off until the city and government officials gave the all clear (which turned out to be a remarkably bad idea). Although the aftershocks had declined , a huge storm blew in over the subsequent two days, flooding parts of the city, the main roads in and out of the city and causing numerous landslides in areas already weakened by the shakes. Many people going into town for work ended up getting stuck and unable to make it home (we had two people stay over at our place). Conflicting messages kept coming out from the media. It’s safe/its not safe! Come in/ stay home!

After three days, a sense of normality returned. The storms stopped, the roads dried out. The tremors had reduced to an occasional perceptible shake but that was it. Everything seemed okay until, suddenly, people started being evacuated from buildings and told to go home. First it was one building, then two, then over ten and by the last count, somewhere between 20-30 buildings. It turns out the building owners and the government departments had demonstrated far more optimism than they had any right to. Many of the buildings considered safe turned out to be a major risk hazard. Three significant buildings in the inner city have now been programmed for demolition as they can’t be saved. There’s construction work going on all over the city and bizarrely, the most damaged buildings are those which were most recently constructed (to higher standards). A lot of people are asking questions that no-one seems capable of answering.

irish-earthquake

And there there was us:
Fortunately, our house is located on a hill inland from the sea. As a result, we didn’t have to deal with the whole tsuanmi issue. In addition, because I’m a complete paranoid, I’ve been carrying out major house strengthening work (removing the brick chimney, increasing the strength of the roof, screwing cupboards to the wall etc.) and as a result, we came through remarkably unscathed. At the time we had a lot of books falling off the shelves, food flying out of cupboards but, otherwise, nothing major. A quick look around the structure of the house the following day revealed a number of cracks in our garden wall and paths up to the house that may be a problem in the future but not for the moment at least.

We were also lucky in that we’d both finished our external contract work so anything we had to do, we could do in the home office and hence, didn’t need to go into town. As a result, we missed the flooding debacle, the initial construction work etc.(in fact, I didn’t leave the house for four days). We were also lucky in that although some of the city lost power and communications, we managed to escape all that. Our systems are also backed up on mirror servers in other countries. As long as we have access to a computer we can access most of what we need.

Overall, therefore, we were remarkably lucky and its seemed oddly surreal to be sitting in front of the television, in the comfort of our own home, watching “low-key Armageddon” as our city floundered from one event to another. It’s been twenty days since the quake now and although we still get the odd aftershock everyone seems to have put it behind them. Underneath it all of course, they’re still going around with baited breath and frayed nerves. Generally speaking, I consider myself quite brave and even heroic (except where it comes to actual danger!) but I have no problems saying this whole event scared the crap out of me.

God, the trauma!

You know, this has actually been quite therapeutic. It feels oddly liberating to vent all this onto someone. I haven’t really spoken to anyone else about it (they usually start running away). But, hey! I feel a hell of a lot better!

Eh … How much do I owe you?

Update:
Since originally writing this article, I returned to the city centre for a very short external contract to facilitate a conceptual workshop on – get this – impacts on the Christchurch earthquake sequence in 2010-2013. Ten minutes before the workshop was due to start, the alarms went off and the building was evacuated. I had to escape down the stairwells from the seventh floor.
Now THAT’s irony!