Driving across a Mythological Line

You know the way you sometimes start up the car and then park at your destination but have absolutely no recollection of having driven there?

That’s pretty much how I’m feeling at the moment. After three intense months of writing, research, half-finished articles, external contracting, publishing infrastructure, admin etc. etc. we’re coming to the close on a number of projects and, looking back, I honestly have no recollection of how we got to this point.

We also have a bit of a production line going on this week to finalise a number of those projects. With K away on the external contracting route however, most of the production has inevitably fallen to one lucky individual; me!

First up is the fourth book in the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series (coming in at about 120,000 words), Fionn: The Adversary. This will be released in digital form on 28th February (next Tuesday week).

Next up is the Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Collection. At present, we’re in the process of assembling the shortlisted stories and organising a time for the judges to meet. The plan is have an announcement on the winners by Feb 28th as well but given the hectic schedule at the moment this may end up being delayed. We’ll see.

Apologies are probably due to all of you who’ve tried to contact us over the last two months. Apart from a rare and very occasional foray on Twitter/Facebook, we’ve remained pretty much off-line, we’ve had to delay last months newsletter and respond very selectively to emails.

Once we’ve resurfaced in March and had a chance to gasp some air, we’ll be back to normal.

A Long Shortlist for the Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition

The Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition kicked off with an unexpected roar this year. As a very small niche press with less than a three year history we weren’t expecting the degree of interest we ended up receiving and, to be honest, we were a bit overwhelmed.

In summary, seventy four submissions were received for the 2016 Competition and the standard was … well, pretty exceptional really. This created some issues in that the short-listing process proved far more difficult than anticipated but it also revealed some challenges in terms of communicating what the Competition was actually set up to achieve. Some of those stories that didn’t make it to the shortlist, frankly, deserved to be published. The problem was that sometimes they just didn’t align with objective of the series: mythology. Some submissions, good as they were, felt as though they’d been sent to the wrong competition.

That said, there are two or three stories in the final list that have scraped by on the sniff of a mythological connection, mainly because they were intriguing enough to offer them a chance. It’ll be interesting to see how that works out.

But enough of that. A more detailed analysis will be provided in a later post but, meanwhile, here’s the (long) short-list for the Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition 2016:

  • A Face in the Snow by Majella Cullinane
  • A Fire in Emain by Sheelagh Russell Brown
  • All Man by Philomena Byrne
  • Daughter of Sorrows by Fiona Honor Hurley
  • Delusion of Grainne by Paul Moore
  • Fairy Hill by Patrick Belshaw
  • Gebann’s Daughter by Jane Dougherty
  • In the Hour of Greatest Need by Will O’Siorain
  • Joes Malshy by Farren McDonald
  • Lexi on her Sixty-second Journey by Randee Dawn
  • My Fair Lady by Paula Puolakka
  • My Sprightly Tailor by Owen Townsend
  • The Fairy Child by Nicola Cassidy
  • Revival by Méabh Browne
  • Sá an Bhrú – The Passage Home by Delaney Greene
  • Seasick by Molly Aitken
  • The Black Hen by Diana Powell
  • The Good Man by Damian Keating
  • Up The Airy Mountains by Eithne Cullen

So What Happens Next?

There’s actually two processes from this point on.
Those authors who made the short-list will be looked at again before they’re sent onto the judges for consideration. In an effort to avoid any prejudice on my part (being human, I already have some favourites), the final group will be considered by a group of my judges where I will have one vote out of four.

The winning authors and those being published in the final Celtic Mythology Collection will be announced by the end of February 2017.

For those authors who didn’t make the shortlist, we’re offering an opportunity to receive some feedback on submissions. This was a policy decision we made about two months back because we were keen to provide at least some feedback to people who made the effort to submit but didn’t actually make it to the shortlist. At this stage, given the number of submissions and our own workloads, we’re treating this as a pilot which we’ll implement as follows:

  • If you are a submitting author who didn’t make the shortlist and would like to be eligible for feedback, please confirm by email (some of you have already done so based on a post we did on the website when we first made that decision so if you did we already have you listed).
  • We’ll provide feedback to a certain percentage of eligible authors but given that we’re feeling our way on this, we just can’t tell how many we’ll be able to complete. We will do as many as we can.
  • At this stage therefore, we propose to provide the feedback as a scanned file of the hard-copy submission with hand-written notes (this will be emailed to the author).
  • Feedback will be provided only after the Celtic Mythology Collection 2017 has been published. We simply won’t have time to do it before then.
  • Obviously, any feedback provided will be based on ‘judgements’ of some (not all) judges and is only meant to be of assistance. We can’t enter into any further correspondence once that feedback is provided.

I’d like to wish the best of luck to those shortlisted authors.

A Quick but Important Update

Wellllll, I think I’ve finally got the message that the summer holidays are done and dusted although, to be honest, it’s been something of a working holiday this year. For over a week, we were ensconced at a beach in Australia with temperatures hitting 35°C and over. The holiday dips consisted of a dash to the (lukewarm) water and then another rapid dash back to shade. There was really no way of remaining out on the beach in that temperature unless you were wearing a radiation suit.

In some respects, that was probably a good thing as being forced indoors meant a lot of work was actually completed. Of course it never actually stops! These next few days are going to be pretty hectic on the work front as we’re running a special offer on Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma, I’m going hell for leather finishing the next Fionn book (Fionn: The Adversary) and then, of course, there’s the Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition.

I’ll start off with the special offer on Fionn.

Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma

It’s very hard to believe but there hasn’t been a contemporary version of the Fenian Cycle (written by an Irish person) professionally published for almost one hundred years.

For those of you with an interest in Irish historical fantasy, Irish Imbas Books is making Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma available for 99c or 99p at all the major ebook outlets over the next two days (possibly three – I still haven’t worked out the time differences!).

Currently a finalist in Mark Lawrence’s SPFBO 2016 competition, this first book in a contemporary series of the Fenian Cycle has probably been our most popular over the last two years. Just be aware though, it really is a very different take on the sanitized Fenian Cycle tales we grew up with as kids, far grittier and more realistic (i.e. it’s not Celtic-Lite). I’d be particularly keen to hear what other Irish readers think.

Other Updates:

The Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition – Bloody hell! The quality of the submissions this year has certainly jumped several notches. Thus far, I’ve read about 54 of the more than 70 entries. Only 20 have been identified and put aside as unsuitable at this stage (and I’ll be doing a post to explain that in the next 2/3 weeks). The shortlist will be posted on the website on Tuesday 31 January.

Fionn 3: The Adversary – Currently working on the first draft of the last chapter. The book will be released on 28 February.

Newsletter: We’ll be recommencing the monthly newsletter (after the Christmas break) this month but with the current workload it may be running two or three days late. That will contain a full update on what to expect over the next year.

The Surprising Truth about Irish Women Warriors

There’s a lot of fantasy out there when it comes to women warriors, particularly where it relates to characters mentioned in Irish/Celtic mythology. To be fair, the subject’s hardly a new one. Writers and readers have been enamoured by tales of fighting women since people first started telling stories (particularly Herodotus with his notes on the inaccurately-named Amazons, the High Medieval literary references to supernatural Valkyrie/shield-maidens etc.), probably because they’re such a rarity in ancient warfare, an area generally dominated by men.

Obviously, that’s not to say that woman didn’t fight. There’s plenty of historical examples of women fighting to defend themselves or, more often, fighting to protect the ones they love. In terms of real female warriors however, who specifically followed the warrior path, the archaeological and historical evidence seems to indicate they were very much a rarity in ancient times.

When it comes to women warriors in the ancient Irish mythology, there’s actually quite a lot of literary references compared to other contemporary societies of the same period. Some people use this fact to argue that female fighters were common in early Irish society and that it was a far more ‘gender equal’ society but that’s a veeerrrrry big leap to make. The early writings on mythology tended to express older cultural belief systems as fiction and the authors/recorders of the time weren’t above a bit of creative license or prejudice, so you really have to take what they say with copious amounts of salt. The fact that, until relatively recently, the skill of writing (and, thus, recording Irish mythology) was almost completely dominated by male authors (often of a religious bent) created a pretty substantial bias as well.

Portrayal of Warrior Women in the Ancient Irish Mythology
It’s the latter, more than anything else, that explains why male and female warriors were portrayed so differently in the Irish mythological narratives. In the surviving literature (mostly from the early medieval period onwards), male warriors were the main protagonists and were most commonly depicted as fighting for abstracts like honour or glory. The depiction of women warriors however, was very different.
If we look at Irish mythological, the most well-known women warriors tend to include:

  • Scáthach – a woman warrior who appears in the Ulster Cycle. Based in modern-day Scotland. She instructs Cú Chulainn in a number of martial feats and when he catches her with her guard down, he forces her to take him as a lover
  • Aífe – a rival of Scáthach who Cú Chulainn forces to lie with him at swordpoint and subsequently bears him a son
  • Neasa (Ness) – a woman warrior forced into marriage at swordpoint by the warrior/druid Cathbad and future mother of the famous Conchobhar mac Nessa
  • Liath Luachra – a guardian of the young Fionn mac Cumhaill, briefly mentioned in the Fenian Cycle but for whom there’s very little information available

From the pattern of the first three examples from the literature, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that powerful, woman warrior characters were introduced predominantly as a device to emphasize the skill, accomplishments and sexual dominance of the male ‘hero’ (who subsequently ‘conquers’ them). With respect to the last example, Liath Luachra is portrayed as a guardian to the young hero Fionn mac Cumhaill, a relationship that is, in a sense, desexualised. There was probably a body of lore associated with this character as well but, unfortunately, it didn’t survive.
Two other female figures mentioned in the ancient Irish literature who are occasionally offered as examples of women warriors include:

  • Meadhbh (also spelt Medb, Maeve etc.) – Queen of Connacht in the Táin (The Cattle Raid of Cooley)
  • The Morríghan (or Mór-ríoghain) – a female war spirit most prevalent in ‘An Táin’

In fact, neither of these really make the cut if you look at them in any kind of detail. All the literary and archaeological evidence to date suggests the characters were personifications of female deities as opposed to warrior women.

Contemporary Portrayal of Irish Warrior Women

Over the last forty-plus years or so, the representation of women warriors has become far more prevalent, particularly in the fantasy fiction genre and, naturally, reflect more modern-day social values such as gender equality, cultural diversity etc. Generally speaking, the fictional women warrior characters we read today are far more rounded and well developed, they’re often the main protagonist in a story but even when they’re not, they tend to get equal treatment to their male counterparts.

Given the prevalence of woman warriors in the Irish mythology, over the years there’s also been a tendency to ‘borrow’ Irish characters for alternative fictions. Thankfully, the contemporary representations are far more positive than they used to be but I often wonder if the authors are aware of the strong negative gender undercurrents associated with the originals.

Note: This is an updated version to an earlier article from last year

Farting around with Covers: The Fionn mac Cumhaill Series

For me, one of the real pleasures of independent publishing is having the opportunity to work with some incredibly talented artists and graphic designers. As someone who’s always wanted to draw or sketch (but had no talent for it), I’ve always been fascinated and a little bit envious of those people who could not only do so, but were very good at it. Since we started Irish Imbas Books almost three years ago, we’ve had some great artists working with us, some of whom we hope to work with again.

A few weeks ago, as a trial, we decided to run some ‘alternative’, more fantasy-based covers for some of the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series books which can be seen below.

The first one is a version of the original cover (by the same artist) but, at the time, we felt it didn’t reflect the look we were going for so we decided not to run with it. The Fionn mac Cumhaill series is very much designed for an Irish audience (as opposed to the international ‘Celtic’ audience) and we work hard to make it as historically realistic and authentic as we can. We felt this version just didn’t support that intent.

The second cover variation – for Fionn: Traitor of Dún Baoiscne – was in a similar vein and portrays the woman warrior Liath Luachra in an almost ‘model-like’ fashion. Again, although its a nice image, we felt it didn’t accurately represent the character or the mood of the series.

At this stage, the intention is to replace these covers next month. We had intended to play around with them for only a week or two but I successfully managed to screw up some technical details, preventing us form doing so yet. In February however, we’ll resort back to the original, more realistic and gritty look.

We also have a new cover for the hard copy version of Fionn 1 (Defence of Ráth Bládhma) which we’ll be using for books ordered through non-Amazon/Createspace routes and will probably be commissioning a follow-up for the second and third books. The prequel to the series (Liath Luacha) will remain as it is for the moment.

Working on the Beach: Update on Future ‘Productions’

God, I love Christmas/New Year in New Zealand!

Through a pure twist of timing and climate, the Christmas celebration here falls at the very start of the summer holiday season. As a result, holidays in this country can stretch from 24th December, all to the way through to the end of January. That’s not to say you don’t work over that period – most people do – but the cities are definitely a lot emptier, people are more laid back and there’s a great holiday vibe that just keeps rolling on (when the weather and earthquakes allow, of course).

This year, given other responsibilities, I’ve had to spend a lot less time at the beach to catch up on writing projects that have lapsed throughout the year. The main pieces of work coming through over the next few months are as follows:

Fionn 4: The Adversary

I’ll be starting the last chapter (plus epilogue) on Fionn: The Adversary next week. It’s been something of a struggle to complete this book given workloads last year, the length and the structural approach I’ve taken with it. Essentially, this book ties up a number of loose ends, reveals the identity of the mysterious Adversary, the reasons for Bodhmhall’s expulsion from her tribe and of course it sets up key elements for the last 2-3 books in the series. It currently sits at about 110,000 words.
I’ll be leaking bits and pieces on this over the next 1-2 months prior to the launch (planned for some time at the end of February 2017).

Audiobooks
We had some bad news with audiobooks last year as a result of the November earthquake. Naturally this all happened at a time when we’d just started the preparations to finish three audiobooks (short stories from ‘The Irish Muse’) before Christmas. Now that the building we used for recordings is no longer available, we’re holding off until we can find a suitable alternative to complete the final touches.

The Celtic Mythology Collection 2017
I’ll be releasing a more detailed update on this shortly but submissions are currently being read and selected for the shortlist (which will be released by January 31st). The final collection will be released in March 2017.

Meanwhile … once more unto the beach dear friends!!!

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.

Bored? In need of scintillating cultural stimulation?

Then consider our monthly newsletter (below). More in-depth articles on Irish culture (contemporary or historical), mythology/ folklore, occasionally news on new books, writing or other things that amuse us.

 

 

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.

Bored? In need of scintillating cultural stimulation?

Then consider our monthly newsletter (below). More in-depth articles on Irish culture (contemporary or historical), mythology/ folklore, occasionally news on new books, writing or other things that amuse us.

 

 

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!

A Cultural Theft in the West Cork Heartland

Travelling to a favourite West Cork site this July took on a somewhat surreal edge. Over the morning, the drizzle congealed to mist then back again (several times) before finally deciding to settle on a light grey fog of soupish consistency. Taking the old road right some time after the Coosane – a road I’ve taken all my life – I somehow went astray, heading up into the mist coated hills and ended up negotiating an unfamiliar labyrinth of grey-green botharíns. Beside me, my French friend said nothing, calmly trusting my driving skill as he did his best to locate a view.

When we got to the lake, the water was black and still, the air heavy with moisture. Even as I parked the car however, I could see a busload of tourists down by the water and exploring the island so we retired to the Gougane Barra Hotel until they were gone. Before I went inside, I looked back just in time to see the fog come down hard, swallowing up the tourists. In the odd, fog-bound silence that followed, I could hear the sound of clicking cameras and an occasional laugh and wondered what they could possibly be taking photos of.

One of the girls serving in the café told me that there’d been a theft from the island two months earlier.

‘The mass box?’ I asked, assuming they’d have gone for the little donation box in the rectory, the only cash on the island.

‘No,’ she told me, her voice full of unexpected outrage. ‘An altar stone.’

That threw me. The altar stones are flat, very heavy stones that mark some of the stop points for pilgrims doing a round on the island (the prehistoric ritualistic route still followed by pilgrims today). Most are a few hundred years old and bear deep white marks on the surface where generations of pilgrims have carved crosses when they stop to pray or meditate. The stones themselves have no monetary worth. Their value is entirely historical, cultural and spiritual.

irish-mythology

There was a lot of talk in the café about who might have stolen the stone. No-one believed it was local people. The alter stone was a respected fixture in their lives and, more importantly, it would have taken at least 2-3 people to carry it. Impossible then, to keep it secret.

The initial suspicion had fallen on vandals from Cork city but given the amount of effort required, it seemed uncharacteristic behaviour. Divers had also searched the shallow waters around the island but there was no sign of it, suggesting it had been transported away from the site.

The latest theory was that it was some over-avid tourist or an overseas collector of antiquities, individuals so impressed by the site they decided to destroy it.

Later, on the island, a small poster and photo in the rectory confirmed the theft and plaintively asked anyone with information to pass it onto the Gardaí. Staring down at the empty spot where the stone used to sit, I shared some of the girl from the café’s outrage. I wondered whether the stone was now lying in some idiot’s garden, or in their home like a prized museum piece.

I’ve always had a sense of key aspects of Irish culture being eroded but generally these have been mostly at an intellectual level – the different way of thinking we have compared to other cultures, the different way we look at and see the world. The stone however, was a physical representation, a corporeal snippet of native culture.

In some respects, we can consider ourselves quite lucky. The stolen stone is now just a stone with a few crosses on it and has no other meaning that that. In Gougane Barra however, the ritual continues, more popular than ever.

And there are plenty of other stones in West Cork.

Bored? In need of scintillating cultural stimulation?

Then consider our monthly newsletter (below). More in-depth articles on Irish culture (contemporary or historical), mythology/ folklore, occasionally news on new books, writing or other things that amuse us.

 

 

Update on the Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition

competition-small
Less than four weeks now remain before submissions close for the Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition (closing date is 10 December 2016).

Feedback on your submissions:
After some discussion amongst ourselves, we’ve decided to offer the possibility of feedback (from the judges/editor) to those authors whose stories didn’t make the final Celtic Mythology Collection. Having gone through a number of competitions ourselves in the past, we know what it’s like to have work rejected and this is our way of giving something back to those of you who’ve made the effort of submitting.

Given that this is a last-minute decision however, we’re going to implement the process as a limited pilot (to see how it might be more effectively implemented in future competitions):
At this stage therefore, we propose to provide the feedback:
(1) as a scanned file of the hard-copy submission with hand-written notes (this will be emailed to the author)
(2) for a percentage (yet to be decided) of the total submissions that didn’t make it to the final selection.

photo-1470169048093-08ac89858749

Given that we’re still feeling our way on this we can’t guarantee your submission will receive feedback but if you’d like to be eligible for this feedback, please make a note of that in your email when you make your submission.

Obviously, any feedback provided will be based on ‘judgements’ of the various judges and is only meant to be of assistance. Because of workloads, we won’t be entering into any further correspondence once that feedback is provided.

A link to this post will be sent out to those authors who’ve already made submissions.