Escaping The Chains Of Genre

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost four years since I published FIONN 3: THE ADVERSARY – the book that completed the first three-book arc of the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series.

The above image is an alternative cover for that book (developed from a series that the artist went off and created predominantly to satisfy her own creative urgings).  An incredibly talented cover designer, she had the whole fantasy genre down to a tee and, hence, thought I’d love what she sent me. And I did – anything this artist does is amazing!

Unfortunately, by then, I’d also been feeling increasingly uncomfortable with having my work locked into the ‘fantasy’ genre, predominantly due to my growing understanding around the confusion between genuine mythology and ‘fantasy’ (particularly where it relates to anything Irish). The over-sexualised imagery that tends to accompany the fantasy genre was also wrong for the kind of books I produce.

In the end, we used a different variant for the cover (using the original photostock – you can see the final here) but I ended up paying the artist for the additional set of images as well. She’d done some amazing work for me in the past and, frankly, she deserved it. Although I’ll probably never use any them, its nice to pull them out on occasion and appreciate the great skill she put into them

The Rider

This is another of the images pulled from my regular weekend research of imagery – something about the mood in this image really drew me to Eve Ventrue’s ‘The Rider’ ( the image attached to this post).

I’m currently writing a chapter which involves the use of horses and was reminded of a question I occasionally get asked: Why don’t the characters in the Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Liath Luachra books ride horses?

There are several reasons for this but the most important is authenticity. Back in the 1st and 2nd century, Ireland was a very rugged land, full of dense forest, marshes and terrain that was extremely difficult to traverse. People didn’t tend to travel very far unless they had to and, a lot of the time, the journeys they took were simply too onerous for horses (because of the huge amount of clambering required).

We also have to remember that horses weren’t all that plentiful. For those communities fortunate enough to have a horse, the animals were mostly kept for critical farm work and if they were ridden, they would only have been ridden by the most important members of the tuath (tribe).

Ancient Ireland: In The Scheme of Things

When you’re dealing with Irish mythology, Irish history, Irish archaeology and so on, one of the more difficult concepts to get across to people is that our ancestors back in the day were just as smart as we were. In contemporary societies, there’s a general assumption that OUR society is going to continue indefinitely, without any major change. There’s also a common, generally unarticulated, belief, that we’re far smarter or more advanced because ancient societies didn’t have science or believed in a whole bunch of ‘mumbo-jumbo’ religions.

The reality, of course, is that this simply isn’t true and one obvious example of our ancestor’s abilities are the passage tomb clusters spread around Ireland at Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange), Knowth, Loughcrew etc. These passage tombs were incredibly complex edifices that not only required huge structural design, engineering and architectural ability but social organisational skills and in-depth knowledge of astronomy (not to mention the artistic design skills that can still observed to this day).

Complex edifices like the passage grave clusters required a stable and organised society to build them. In practical terms, for example, it’s estimated that the main passage grave at Brú na Bóinne could have been completed over a sixteen-year period provided there was a well-managed workforce of over four hundred people (who ceased other agricultural activities for two months of every year – probably after the seasonal sowing of crops etc.). Such a workforce, however, could only have existed if they formed part of a much larger, secure and organised society. Like many other preceding and subsequent societies, the society that built Brú na Bóinne is now long gone, of course, but the physical remains of their achievements and aspirations still impress us today.

If we look at contemporary Irish society, the only true advantage we have over our ancestors is that we’re more technologically advanced. Unfortunately, technology is not an effective measure of societal health (science and technology doesn’t make our human behaviour any better, it simply amplifies the impact of our behaviour – good or bad). The true problem for societies is that, at heart, humanity doesn’t really change. Many people within our modern-day populations are just as arrogant, just as misinformed, just as selfish, just as power hungry and just as self-destructive as the people within ancient societies and, unfortunately, it’s people’s behaviour that decides the longevity of a culture.

It’s more than likely that the people who built the passage grave complexes at Brú na Bóinne and Knowth had the same condescending opinion as us for those who’d gone before them, for that certainly seems to be a consistent human failing. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to imagine what people will make or our contemporary edifices when they excavate the ruins in another thousand years or so.