The first reviews from the paperback are just starting to trickle in. Usually, by the time I release a book I’m far too close to tell if its any good or not. As a result, it’s always a bit of a relief to find the reviews are positive.
The digital version gets released on on 15 December.
The first review from Padraig O’Mahony can be found here:
The second review, from Wayne McAuliffe is here:
Huge thanks to Wayne and Padraig. Go raibh mile maith agaibh!
All going well, I’m aiming to have this out in Oct/Nov 2023.
This current arc develops the ongoing direction of the series a little further. Demne/Fionn – the titular hero – is growing up and takes a more proactive role in the adventures but his three guardians (his aunt Bodhmhall, the woman warrior Liath Luachra, and the gregarious Fiacial mac Codhna) have their work cut out for them as they try to identify who’s behind the latest threat against their charge.
Cue more adventure, betrayals, and violence with a sprinkling of friendships and romance.
One of the early variations from artist Brian Mahy when developing the cover for Liath Luachra: The Seeking.
This was at a point where we were still playing with the colour palette and we hadn’t reached the final ‘look’. I’d asked Bryan to get me a somewhat shocking/bracing cover that reflected the anger/frustration of the character and his final version image certainly delivered.
So much so, that Facebook banned the image from its shop front (one of the many reasons I don’t bother adding anything new there). Hilariously, the initial reason given was because they didn’t permit the sale of animals (the screening programme thought she was a zebra). When I appealed that, the decided the image was too lewd.
That’s why I love running this on their newsfeed (where such apparently lofty regulations appear to be dispensed with)!
With ‘Fionn: Stranger at Mullan Ban’ now sorted and ready for release next month I’ve been focusing more on ‘Liath Luachra: The Great Wild’, which I’m hoping to release in the first half of 2023.
Usually, when I’m starting a new book, I play around with the first chapter for a time as this cements the overall mood and theme of the story. I’m currently on the fifth or sixth rough draft of ‘The Great Wild’ and although I’m still shifting various sequences and descriptions around, I’m getting close to locking it in.
This work was always going to be something of an experimental piece as you can see from the attached mood/theme images I’ve been working with (mostly from artist Leila Amat Ortega but also from Reza Afshar and Julie Cherki).
Because I tend to feel my way intuitively with a lot of this stuff, I can never really tell whether the final product is going to work or not. Fortunately, the process seems to have worked so far with other books.
Nice, atmospheric image by artist Joseph Feely depicting a spear volley by a group of Ceithrenn (normally referred to as ‘Kern’ by non-Irish speakers).
I get a lot of overseas fantasy militarists visiting the website who get quite turned on by the idea of Ceithrenn. Some of these have quite strange views about what they were and how they operated (usually based on information from other non-Irish-speaking militarists), much of which doesn’t align with what we know of them from a historical context.
As a general rule, I wouldn’t put too much fate in anything you see on the internet relating to Ceithernn unless it comes from a recognisable Irish historian/academic.
I’m just in the process of completing the last chapter in Fionn: Stranger at Mullán Bánand felt it might be timely to offer a small taster of what that book will be about.
For those of you who’ve been following this series, the events in this fourth book take place six years after Fionn: The Adversary. By now, the settlement of Ráth Bládhma is well-established, even if it’s inhabitants are still haunted by the unknown forces arrayed against over the previous three books. Demne – soon to be Fionn – is now a young teenager and dealing with the ramifications of drastic actions to keep him safe. Bodhmhall, meanwhile, continues to lead the growing settlement while dealing with her Gift and the disturbing premonitions it continues to send her.
Liath Luachra, meanwhile, continues to roam the wild, hunting and teaching the younger members of Ráth Bládhma … where this story begins
It was a death-sun that revealed the strangers’ tracks, south-east of the Bládhma mountains. Sliding in on the heel of dusk, its slanted glare cast a bloodstained hue that clearly illuminated the broad spread of footprints. Liath Luachra, the Grey One of Luachair, regarded them in silence, her expression grave and hard as stone. In all her years travelling that isolated territory, she’d never once encountered evidence of another person’s passage. To find such a number, and such a diversity, of tracks all at once, made her stomach muscles clench in unease.
Kneeling beside the nearest footprint, she chewed on the inner tissue of her left cheek and glanced warily around at the surrounding forest. The dense vegetation meant there was little enough to see: a series of endless dark walls where tall oak trees layered the ridges to the north and south, the distant blur of the Bládhma mountains peeking above the canopy to the east. Within that landscape however, there was no sign of movement or anything else out of the ordinary.
Reassured by the absence of any immediate danger, the woman warrior bent closer, probing the footprint’s shallow depth with the fingers of her right hand. Conscious that the early evening sunlight would soon be fading to grey, she scraped a piece of dirt free, raised it to her nose and sniffed.
It smelled, naturally enough, of earth.
Of The Great Mother’s moist and muddy breath.
Tossing the gritty residue aside, she wiped her hand on the leather leggings that hugged her haunches and considered the two boys who stood nervously to her right. Bran, with almost seventeen years on him, was more youth than boy and by nature tended to solemnity. That sombre temperament was evident now in the furrows that lined his forehead and the nervous manner in which he chewed at his fingernails while studying the erratic mesh of tracks. The youth was visibly troubled by the prospect of strangers in Bládhma territory. He might not have been able to remember the full detail of his parents’ brutal murder at Ráth Dearg fourteen years earlier, but he was certainly old enough to realise that incursions like this didn’t bode well for anyone.
‘Who are they, Grey One?’
The younger boy, the dark-haired Rónán, had little more than seven years on him but was markedly more upbeat than his friend. Despite being burdened with a wicker backpack full of pork and venison cuts – the prize from a successful hunt in the Drothan valley – he stared down at the scattered tracks with unbridled excitement.
The woman warrior shrugged dispassionately. ‘Read the story in the Great Mother’s mantle. Read what the earth tells you and tell me what you see.’
The dark-haired boy reacted to the suggestion with his usual animation, nodding fervently as he moved closer to the tracks. Ever keen to accompany the woman warrior on her forays into the Great Wild, he invariably responded to such tests with enthusiasm. Crouching alongside her, features fixed into a frown, he chewed on the inside of his own cheek in unconscious mimicry as he studied the tracks. His long hair was held from his eyes by a leather headband, but several strands had worked free, and he brushed them away with an irritated gesture.
Liath Luachra watched as his gaze fixed on the single footprint in front of him before transferring to the jumbled network of other tracks that surrounded them.
He’s just like Bearach. Happy, eager as a puppy.
She suppressed that thought immediately, burying it deep in a dark place where she rarely chose to venture. Some memories were best embedded in dark caverns, places best avoided, crannies where it was wiser not to light a torch for fear of what you’d see.
‘There’s five or six sets of tracks,’ noted Rónán. ‘The prints are spaced wide apart so they’re travelling fast.’
She nodded, pleased by the keenness of his observation.
‘They’re headed east.’
She inclined her head to her left shoulder but made no response. That fact was plain enough to see from the direction in which the tracks were pointing.
Sensing that he’d disappointed her, the boy tried again. ‘They’re men,’ he said warily, as though not entirely convinced of his own conclusion.
Again, easy enough to work out from the breadth of the imprints and the depths of their impressions.
‘Yes,’ she pressed. ‘But what else? What’s the pattern?’
Rónán looked down at the prints once more. Unable to distinguish any obvious configuration, he threw an anxious glance towards Bran, but the youth had already turned away, focussed on other, more distant tracks.
Realising there was little succour to be had from that quarter, Rónán turned back to scrutinise the nearest imprint, bending to examine it more closely in the fading light. Despite further study however, his efforts garnered no fresh intuition. Finally, raising his eyes to the woman warrior, he conceded defeat with a frustrated shake of his head.
By then, Liath Luachra had already changed position, moving away to lean against a holly tree, her backpack pressed against the coarse trunk to take some of the weight from her back and shoulders. She was looking towards the dying sun when she caught the movement of his head from the corner of her eye and, squinting against the ruddy light, turned back to consider him with an impassive regard.
‘It’s a tóraíocht. A pursuit.’ She shifted to adjust the balance of the backpack against her shoulders. ‘A group of men is chasing a single man, a solitary traveller from the looks of it.’
She gestured towards a particular line of tracks that had a visibly different appearance to the others.
‘See how those footprints look older? The edges of the prints are friable, the flat sections drier. All the other tracks are still damp because they haven’t fully dried out. That means they were made more recently, probably just a little earlier this afternoon.’
Rónán thought that explanation through for several moments before raising his eyes to look at her, his lips turned down in a frown. ‘Why are they chasing the single traveller?’
The woman warrior shrugged. ‘I don’t know. The Great Mother only ever reveals part of the stories of those traversing her mantle.’
Bran, who’d turned back to observe their interaction in silence, cleared his throat and shifted his weight awkwardly from one leg to another. ‘Grey One. If they’re travelling east, they’ll strike Ráth Bládhma.’
Liath Luachra rubbed her nose and sniffed.
‘Perhaps. Perhaps not. Just because the tracks here show them moving east, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll continue in that direction.’ She gestured loosely towards the forested ridges north and south of where they were standing. ‘In the confines of this landscape, it makes sense for the intruders to travel east but they might well drift to a different course once the ridges drop and the land opens out.’
Bran kept his eyes lowered and he made no response, but she sensed he was unconvinced by the argument.
Sighing, the Grey One stepped away from the tree, grunting as the full weight of the backpack settled back down on her shoulders. ‘Rest easy. Our own course to An Poll Mór follows their trail for a time yet. If they veer off the eastern path, we’ll know they’re no threat to Ráth Bládhma.’
‘What if they don’t veer off?’ asked Rónán. ‘That …’ The woman warrior gave another noncommittal shrug. ‘That’s an issue we’ll address if we come to it.
This beautiful painting is entitled “Oisin Rides to the Land of Youth”. Painted in 1936 by American artist Newell Convers Wyeth. it represents a more Anglophile view of Irish mythology that many non-Irish creators continue to produce today.
You can’t fault Convers Wyeth however. A talented illustrator and painter, he produced a huge body of work in his time. This included well over a hundred ‘action/adventure’ style images for book covers.
The first book of the Irish Woman Warrior Series has been on a trial sale for the last two weeks but this will soon be coming to a close.
Liath Luachra: The Grey One is probably the favourite book (and Liath Luachra is the favourite character) of readers who follow my mythological adventure stories, so if you want to get a ridiculously cheap introduction to her, you only have a few days left.
Set against a backdrop of encroaching forest, mythic ruins and treacherous tribal politics, the Irish Woman Warrior Series (or the’ Liath Luachra Series’) is a series of books based on the adventures of the woman warrior Liath Luachra and her mercenary fian (war party), Na Cinéaltaí (The Friendly Ones).
It tells the story of a damaged young woman who can count on nothing but her wits and fighting skills to see her through. Rising above the constraints of her status and overcoming her personal tragedies, she emerges Ireland’s greatest warrior and a protector whose influence lives on one thousand years later.
Some very strong portrayals of Gaelic culture in this image (the Tara broach, the tartan, the bodhrán etc.) but, in fact, this is from the Polish ‘Witcher’ Card Game.
The talented artist was Anton Nazarenko but it aligns with Sapkowski’s borrowing of other culture’s constructs. The naming patterns in the Witcher, for example, often include garbled mixings of Gaelic, French etc.
Today, I’m scoping out a short series based around a little known Irish battle.
At this stage, it’s looking like a limited series with only three books and I’m hoping to start writing it about mid-way through next year. This is so I can allow myself time to finish another Liath Luachra Series(and hopefully aFionn mac Cumhaill Series) book.
At present, the cast of characters include a womanizing warrior, his wife, and a warlike religious zealot. The characters, supposedly based on real people, are one of the key reasons I was drawn to this story.
Further announcements on this project will come once, I’ve completed the first book.
This bronze shield excavated from Lough Gur gives many ‘Cardboard Celts’ a frisson of excitement as they imagine the warriors who used it in battle. The truth of course is less violent but just as fascinating.
Contemporary theory is that this was one of a number of votive offerings deposited in the lake and it was probably never used in battle at all. The fact that the shield dates back to over 700 BC is also an eye-opener in that it shows a thriving level of craftmanship in the country well over two thousand years ago. That’s several hundred years before the time period in which the Fionn mac Cumhaill stories are set.
The shield in the image is actually a replica which can be seen at Lough Gur. The original is kept in the National Museum (for obvious reasons).
It’s just about four years since I published the second Liath Luachra book and, keen to distinguish it from the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series, I had the action take place much further south in the area that was once called ‘Usraighe‘.
I also incorporated a number of elements from ancient stories associated with Usraighe as part of the plot. As a result, the final story is often described as a kind of Irish version of the movie ‘The Thirteenth Warrior’ (itself based on a book called ‘Eaters of the Dead’ by Michael Crichton which I’ve never actually read). That was never the intention but I can certainly understand the comparisons.
‘The Swallowed’, therefore, was very much a standalone novel and although it contributes to the Irish Woman Warrior Series and reveals elements of the character not found in other books, it’s not necessary to have read it to follow the series. This is also why, when the series was originally optioned as a potential television series, this book was not included with the other three as part of the final deal.
A blast from the past with this old post (and draft cover) from 2015.
At the time, I was still writing the first Liath Luachra book with the intention of using it as a prequel for the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series.
That plan went kinda sideways. After an initial lacklustre reception on it’s publication, more and more people started writing and asking for a second book. Four books (and a few short stories) later and the Liath Luachra series has now surpassed the popularity of the original series it was meant to introduce.
Add in subsequent screen options and the character seems ot have taken on a life of her own that I’d never really anticipated.
LIATH LUACHRA – THE GREY ONE (VERY EARLY DRAFT COVER)
2015 has been a bit of a tough year on the work front so far but I’m pleased to say that we’re actually making good progress on the book and website fronts (amongst others).
At this stage, I’m approximately two thirds of the way through Liath Luachra – The Grey One (which is something of a prequel to the Fionn Mac Cumhaill Series). I usually find that by the fifth chapter, the plot lines are cohesive but that I need to go back and rewrite/amend some of the earlier sections to ensure the linear flow of the narrative. This tends to delay the completion but it really is the most important part for me in terms of ‘plot quality’ so getting over that ‘hump’ is important. Everything else after this feels like “walking downhill” (as one of the Ents in LOTR says)
This is a selection of some of the images I used when I was originally conceptualising the woman warrior Liath Luachra.
This particular set (from Spanish artist/photographer Lídia Vives) visually captured the savage/thoughtful aspect of the character and proved a helpful prompt when writing. I’ll probably be using these again for the next book (Liath Luachra: The Great Wild) – which will actually be a prequel to the Irish Woman Warrior Series, and involve the character when she’s far younger and far more feral.
I have a number of key scenes already sketched out and I’m looking forward to getting them down on paper.
It’s almost a year to the day since ‘Dark Dawn’ – a free, online interactive project based on the Irish mythological Fenian Cycle was released online. Although produced on a shoe-string budget over the initial chaos of the 2020 Covid pandemic, the final product remains quite strong and garnered some very favourable reviews
Shortly after it’s release, unfortunately, I came down with a bug that prevented any marketing or any further work on the project but, Shortly after it’s release, unfortunately, I came down with a bug that prevented any marketing or any further work on the project but, for anyone who wants to give it a try, the story remains free online HERE:
I’m very grateful to Nate Aubin from ‘Grimdark Magazine’, Mike McGrath-Bryan from the ‘Irish Examiner’ and all other reviewers