Apparently, I’m Getting Better

Apparently, I’m getting a bit better with this whole writing malarkey. Usually, my co-director/partner rolls her eyes when she gets asked to do the initial pre-final draft peer review. Today, she actually demanded the next chapter of LIATH LUACHRA: THE SWALLOWED,

Honestly! That is a good thing.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38086182-liath-luachra—the-swallowed

What Comes Next: Update On Production

As you’re probably aware, Fionn: The Adversary , the third book in the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series was released at the end of February (if you’re not aware you must be deaf and blind as I’ve been shouting about it from the rooftops for months while waving a bright red flag!).

Following that publication and various other projects, I decided to take some time off and do absolutely no writing for a month or two. I was still working of course. There were still numerous articles to write, my sections for the Celtic Mythology Collection 2017 (released last week) to complete and then of course the editing and the actual publication process. Although this preoccupied me on an administrative level, creatively it freed up some headspace to think about the next book. Having completed another in the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series, I was keen to try something slightly different.

Subsequently, I’ve decided to work on two books this year (three really, if I count the next Celtic Mythology Collection but that’s not for several months yet). The first one (which I’ve already scoped out) is going to be a second Liath Luachra novel. Some of you might be a little surprised at that, given that I discounted that possibility last year (I’m nothing if not fickle!).

I originally wrote the first individual Liath Luachra novel (Liath Luachra: The Grey One) as a prequel to the Fionn mac Cumhaill series, one I had intended to be accompanied by a second book called ‘Bodhmhall: The Black Hag’. Both were meant to provide context and background to the two main protagonists in the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series and essentially serve as an entry into that series.

As it was, Liath Luachra: The Grey One ended up being far darker than I’d originally envisaged and I felt it just wasn’t suitable as a prequel. The lack of response (reviews and sales) to the book following its publication also convinced me to put it aside, something I announced in one of the earlier newsletters. Many of the elements I’d intended to put in ‘Bodhmhall: The Black Hag’, meanwhile, ended up in Fionn: The Adversary.

Following the SPFBO 2016 competition however, there’s been quite an unexpected surge of interest in Liath Luachra with several people writing to ask for more stories on this particular character. As a result, I’ve decided to give Liath Luachra her own mini-series (of three books). This series will include Liath Luachra: The Grey One and the remaining two books will follow on directly from the events in that novel.

The second Liath Luachra book (the one I’ve started) has the working title Liath Luachra: Sons of the Land. Gaelic speakers amongst you will know that ‘Sons of the Land’ is a direct translation of the word ‘Mactíre’ – the Irish word for ‘wolf’ and wolves of course will play an important part in this story. I’ll tell more about that in the next newsletter.

But that’s the Liath Luachra book.

The second book I’ll be working on this year is a non-fiction work that requires a substantial piece of research – something I’ll be carrying out through the remainder of the year. At this stage, I’ll say no more about it apart from the fact that I’ve previously written about it in other newsletters as Project Tobar. Tobar is the Irish for ‘well’ (the one with the water in it, not the “well, well, well!”).

In between times, I’ll also be working on the plot lines for the next Fionn book (FIONN: The Salmon of Secret Wisdom). This has some significant plot twists in it and it will require quite a bit of thinking to get the effect I want while aligning it with the established Fenian Cycle. Some of it will also overlap with the new Liath Luachra series.

I feel exhausted already!

Sample Chapters for ‘Liath Luachra – The Grey One’ now available

 

Liath Luachra cover

After numerous interruptions, distractions and rewrites, the final draft of “Liath Luachra – The Grey One” is nearing completion and a two chapter ‘sampler’ ‘is now available here on the Irish Imbas Books website.

I’m in the process of tidying up the last chapters prior to final editing but the finished book should be available at the end of November (about 6-7 weeks). For those who are interested, the back cover summary reads as follows:

Ireland 188 A.D. A land of tribal affiliations, secret alliances and treacherous rivalries.
Youthful woman warrior Liath Luachra has survived two brutal years with mercenary war party “The Friendly Ones” but now the winds are shifting.
Dispatched on a murderous errand where nothing is as it seems, she must survive a group of treacherous comrades, the unwanted advances of her battle leader and a personal history that might be her own undoing.
Clanless and friendless, she can count on nothing but her wits, her fighting skills and her natural ferocity to see her through.
Woman warrior, survivor, killer and future guardian to Irish hero Fionn mac Cumhaill – this is her story.

*********************

I have to admit, the story’s been an interesting one to develop in that it’s darker, grittier and much more character driven than some of my other work – particularly interesting when writing from the perspective of a woman with violent tendancies (a big thanks to my ‘advisors’). Although it’s a stand-alone work, it’s also a prequel of sorts to the Fionn Mac Cumhaill series in that it deals with the backstory to one of the main characters from that series.

Unfortunately, the sample’s available in PDF form only as we’re holding off on ebook conversion until the final draft has completed the editing process.

Numerous people have expressed interest in getting their hands on this so I will keep posting as things develop.

Liath Luachra – The Grey One (Initial Draft of Cover)

Liath Luachra 03

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 Cumhal 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 after this feels like “walking downhill” (as one of the Ents in LOTR says).

I know other writers are much more focussed in terms of outlining their plot but I find that when I do that, the emotional resonance of the story tends to falter. Everyone has their own way of doing things, I guess.

Word count with Liath Luachra at this point is 54000 words or thereabout. I realise some people are waiting for Fionn 3: The Adversary but I needed to get this story done first as part of it is relevant to  the plotting in the latter. Fionn 3 is sitting at about 48000 words. Both will definitely be complete in the last quarter of 2015.

The above is an early draft of the cover image for Liath Luachra but the finished version is quite different. I’ll be putting out the back cover blurb (the summary of the plot) next week with an updated version.

Thank you for being patient with the – ahem – creative process!

Update on Forthcoming Productions

7HolidayGlengarrif 24April 2011 085

Winter is coming.

Not that you’d know it in Wellington at the moment with all the gorgeous weather. Despite this though, the days are getting shorter, it’s darker in the mornings and at night. Meanwhile, there’s lots of quiet industry going on in the downstairs office.

I thought it might be useful if I gave a quick update on where things are at in terms of …. eh … upcoming productions. People have been hounding me for the third Fionn book for a while now (not to mind Beara 2 which I still feel pretty bad about having to put aside). So, here’s the plan.

Fionn 3: The Adversary

I completed chapter 5 of this, last week. I have bits and pieces of 6 and 7 written but they need to go through the narrative melding process. My target for publication was June this year and although I’m still working to that, work and family responsibilities mean it’s probably going to be more like July/Aug. This isn’t helped by the fact that this looks like it might be a longer book than 1 or 2. It covers quite a lot of Bodhmhall’s background story (much of it is centred around Dún Baoiscne and her relationship with her father) as well as the ongoing narrative.

Liath Luachra: The Kindly Ones

I just completed chapter four of this manuscript tonight. It’s essentially a kind of prequel to the Fionn series and focusses on the backstory of the character, Liath Luachra. Given the complexity of this particular character, I felt she needed a full story to herself and it was one I needed to complete in order to clarify some of the plot points that pop up in Fionn 3.

Oh, and yes, I should warn you it’s slightly darker than the other books in the series.

The story here is a  very much a stand alone one concerning Liath Luachra’s days with Na Cinéaltaí  – the Friendly Ones – the mercenary group she was part of prior to meeting Bodhmhall us Baoiscne and the events in Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma. She doesn’t actually encounter Bodhmhall in this particular story as I wanted to focus on my research on fian (war parties) and tribal dynamics – particularly for those individuals who, through no fault of their own, weren’t actually part of a tribe.  I have left scope for a sequel to this but that’s low on the list of priorities for the moment.

Non-Fiction Book

This is a book I’ve been wanting to write for several years. If you’ve read my blog you’ll know that I see myself more as an amateur folklorist/historian  than a writer and over the years I’ve spent researching Irish culture and heritage, there are a number of things I’ve discovered that I’m really keen to pass on. These are the kinds of things which I – in my great wisdom – believe are increasingly important but which nobody else seems to understand or even consider. Anyway, if I do succeed in writing it and publishing it, it’ll probably be the most important thing I’ve ever done.

Well that’s one person anyway!

In terms of timeline, I think it’ll be late next year before this is published as there are a few items I still need to get clear in my head so I can articulate them clearly.

Beara 2:

Ah, yes! The guilty conscience.

I have to confess, the Fionn series is great to write as it allows me to work through and introduce a lot of ancient cultural concepts, Gaelic vocabulary and elements of history that people wouldn’t normally get to hear or think about. For me, though, the Beara Trilogy is really where the intellectual grey pedal hits the cultural metal (Yes, sorry. Talk about forced metaphors! It’s late. I’m tired.)

The plot for Beara 2 is pretty much outlined in my head but I didn’t want to leave Fionn readers in the lurch with a cliff hanger, hence the rationale for finishing Fionn 3 first. This will be the next thing I launch into after the first two books are completed.

Fionn: The Stalking Silence – Audiobook

I’ve been planning to do a pilot audiobook for some time and I’m pretty sure that this will finally occur before Christmas this year. Naturally, I’m using this book as the pilot because it’s (a) short (b) stand-alone and (c) I have the audio style already mapped out in my head. This is really just a fun project for me – a chance to play around and do something different so please just bear with me. Like the book Fionn: The Stalking Silence (Kindle) and Fionn: The Stalking Silence (Smashwords), this will be a freebie I’ll probably make available on this site.

Anyway, that’s as much as I know at the moment. Apologies if you visited looking for some insightful commentary on Irish cultural folklore.

My writing: Excerpt from Traitor of Dún Baoiscne

One of the more enjoyable aspects of writing is the ability to create a conversation between two or more characters  whose  personality and mannerisms you know intimately. For me, these ‘dialogue’ scenes are probably the most fun and – at the same time – the easiest scenes to write. If you have your characters well defined, the dialogue between them flows easily onto the page however you also need to have a context for the dialogue  (i.e. why the characters are talking together in the first place). Often, dialogue is a handy mechanism for getting plot details across in a fast and natural manner without laboriously having to describe them. Sometimes however – and these are the one I really enjoy – the dialogue is just a scene to cement character development.

This scene is from my new novel Fionn: Traitor of Dún Baoiscne and outlines the discussion between the battle weary Liath Luachra (a hardened warrior woman who has difficulty connecting with her emotions or getting close to people) and the six year old Demne (who is soon to be taken away by his real parents).

**********************************

Before she started, she paused for a moment to rest her head in her hands. Fatigue lay heavy on her, the sleepless night and the after effects of the battle adrenalin combining to wear her down. From experience, she knew that she could force herself to remain alert for a while longer if necessary but, at some stage, she would need to curl up in a dark corner and sleep.

Using a ladle from the rainbucket, she poured water over her feet. The liquid was already tepid from the morning sun and its touch briefly reminded her of the moment the blood had spurted over them. That sticky warmth of spilled battle blood was a distinct sensation that wasn’t easily forgotten. There was really no other feeling like it. Even the slaughter of animals was different for it lacked the heady intoxication of violence, the overpowering sensations of desperation and relief.

She wiped the remaining stains away with her hands, watching the pinkish liquid dribble off her skin and onto the surface of the lis where it was immediately absorbed by the dusty soil.

Another offering to the Great Mother.

She felt no remorse at the taking of the scout’s life. The scout and his comrades had posed a threat to those she held dear and she was very clear about where her priorities lay.

A dark shadow slid across the earth in front of her and she looked up to find Demne standing before her, staring down at the pink stains with a troubled expression.

‘The blood of your opponent,’ she said. ‘Always better than the blood of your friend.’

She spoke quietly for most of the Lamhraighe warriors were still dozing in the makeshift beds off to the far side of the hearth. Demne too had slept with the visitors, his mother insisting on removing him from Lí Bán’s roundhouse, where he usually slept with the other children, to spend the night with her and Gleor.

The boy nodded sagely, acknowledging the wisdom of her words although he couldn’t possibly have understood the context behind what she was saying.

‘You do not remain with your mother?’

‘She sleeps.’ He sniffed and looked up towards the sun as though to verify that it was still up there. ‘The old man is tired. He snores.’

‘Uh-huh,’ Liath Luachra grunted sympathetically. The news came as no surprise. The Lamhraighe party had travelled a significant distance in a very short time. Anyone would have been taxed by such a hike. And Gleor was not a young man.

‘You do not like my mother.’

Liath Luachra looked at the boy, surprised by such intuition in one so young. ‘No,’ she admitted and looked down, her attention focussed on scrubbing the last of the blood from her hands and feet.

‘Why?’

‘Your mother is … untrustworthy.’

‘Un-trust-wor-thy,’ he pronounced the word out in four distinct syllables. ‘What does that mean?’

‘It means that she is scant with the reason of things. She does not always tell the full truth.’

‘Do you always tell the full truth?’

This time she stopped what she was doing and raised her eyes to consider him intently. Demne could be an odd one at times and had the annoying habit of switching from the temperament of a gregarious child to that of a worldly old fogy without any warning. ‘Usually,’ she admitted. ‘Unless I have strong reasons not to. People who lie are fearful of others or fear repercussions for their actions. I have been close to death too often to truly fear the Dark Leap anymore. When you do not fear, you can tell the truth and when you tell the truth you make any problem belong to someone else.’

‘My mother says I am to leave Ráth Bládhma, that I will live in a fortress far from Glenn Ceoch and never see you or Bodhmhall again. Is she telling the full truth?’

Liath Luachra returned to scrubbing her feet. ‘She is probably telling the full truth as she sees it.’

Demne went very quiet and stared down at the ground. The woman warrior glanced sideways at him and saw that he was trembling and his face had gone very pale.

With a grunt, she got to her feet. ‘Perhaps this is a good time to give you something.’ She started across the lis in the direction of her roundhouse, trailed by Demne’s haunted eyes. Her flax backpack lay against the wall by the entrance way and as she knelt to rummage through it, she could hear Bodhmhall and the others arguing inside. The voices were heated and full of emotion, not anger so much as concern and fear.

Ignoring them, she pulled an object wrapped in dock leaves from the basket and returned to where the boy was waiting. His face was still pale and his lip quivered but his eyes held an unmistakable trace of curiosity. She held out the package. ‘This is for you.’

Demne looked at it and then at her. ‘What is it?’

‘A weapon.’

‘A weapon?’ His eyes widened.

‘You are no longer a child of the hearth ashes. Tomorrow you go Out. You travel in the Great Wild so you will need a weapon of your own, something more threatening than the wooden sword we practise with.’

Face bright with suppressed excitement, he took the package and started to rip it apart, tossing the torn leaves aside until the contents were exposed: a hand-woven flax cradle attached to two separate lengths of braided flax and a small leather bag.

‘It’s a sling.’ The boy’s voice was flat.

Liath Luachra scowled. ‘Do you want a weapon or do you not?’

‘I want a real weapon. A man’s weapon.’

‘You’re too small to fight with a full-grown man’s weapon. You need something you can use from a distance. Something that’s accurate and fast but allows you to flee if you miss.’

The boy’s eye brightened at that. ‘I could use a javelin. Or a harpoon. Like Aodhán.’

She shook her head. ‘No. You’re too small. Your cast would lack force.’

‘Bran’s small. And he casts javelins.’

‘He’s bigger than you. And he’s had practice casting javelins for many years.’ There was no give in the woman warrior’s voice. For her, at least, the subject was closed. She picked up the leather bag, undid the leather string that bound the opening. ‘Hold out your hand.’

Demne did as he was told and she poured a number of smooth, pigeon-egg sized stones into his palm. Each individual stone had been painstakingly decorated with small carvings, basic but creative depictions of wild-fern curls, bird’s wings, or badger claws.

Demne stared at them, intrigued and suddenly looking more impressed. Noting his expression, the woman warrior put the leather pouch aside. ‘These stones … They are not playthings, do you understand? They are carriers of death and should be respected as such.’

The boy reluctantly dragged his eyes away from the stones and glanced up to give a half-hearted nod before his attention turned once more to his gifts.

‘The sling carries no name for it does not draw blood. It is the stones – the bullets – that do that.’ Liath Luachra took the sling from his hand and hefted its weight in hers. ‘Don’t underestimate this weapon. The fools do, the loose-mouths who brag about close quarter fighting. Close quarter fighting’s all hack and cut. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are. It all comes down to brute force and strength and it’s only a question of time before you get cut.’

She grew silent for a moment, haunted by some distant memory until she realised, with a start, that Demne was waiting for her to continue. She drew herself up straight. ‘With practice, a good sling cast can hit a man at seventy paces and kill him dead. Even if he’s wearing leather armour the blow from a stone will break him on the inside.’

She reached over to pluck one of the bullets from his hand and dropped it into the cradle. ‘The sling stone is placed in the cradle, like so. You see how I have cut a slit. That allows the flax to fold around the bullet to hold it more securely.’

Demne peered closely. ‘I see, Grey One.’

‘Put your middle finger through the loop at the end of this length of flax. The other length has a release tab that you hold between your thumb and forefinger, like so. When you’re ready, you swing your sling to build up speed, then flick your wrist to release the tab and the bullet flies out to hit the target.’

The woman warrior got to her feet. Turning towards the southern embankment, away from the sleeping Lamhraighe warriors, she slowly started to swing the sling in a vertical loop, adjusting her position until she was facing the lean-to where firewood, tools and other items were stored. To the left of the lean-to was a wide, flat section of wood used as a base for chopping wood. Standing on top was a solitary wedge of firewood.

‘You see the wood there, waiting to be split?’

Demne nodded.

Using the momentum of the arc, Liath Luachra snapped the sling upwards, releasing the tab at the exact same time. The discharged bullet flew through the air, smashing the firewood backwards off the base. Demne clapped enthusiastically, his earlier sorrow forgotten. Off to the side of the lis, one of the Lamhraighe warriors cursed and turned on his side, angrily drawing his cloak tight over his shoulder.

The woman warrior bent down and started to wrap the sling about the boy’s forearm. ‘This way,’ she explained, ‘you can carry your weapon at all times.’

Demne looked up at her shyly. ‘Thank you, Grey One. This truly is a wondrous gift.’

He moved as though to hug her but the woman warrior quickly shifted backwards. ‘The sling extends the strength and the length of your arm,’ she said hurriedly. ‘That means you can cast your shot farther and faster than you would if you tried to throw it by hand. If you cast from higher ground you can increase that range. If you have enough comrades you can create a hailstorm of stone that no force will resist.’

Demne stared at her, confused and unsure how to respond to the woman warrior’s sudden coldness. Liath Luachra, meanwhile, continued with her awkward lecture. ‘You might wonder why the flax cords are braided. That would be a good question. It’s because the braiding stops the flax from twisting when it’s stretched. It improves the accuracy of-’

‘Liath Luachra.’

Taken by surprise, the woman warrior turned to find Bodhmhall standing beside her.

Book Two of Fionn mac Cumhal series for release

I’m pleased to say that Book Two of the Fionn mac Cumhal series is almost ready for release. Given a lot of family, work and other pressures this has come out several weeks later than originally planned.

The story is set six years after the events of the previous book. The survivors of the assault on Rath Bladhma (in book one) are still struggling to get their lives back together when two separate techtaire (messengers) show up unexpectedly. Both bear unwanted news that will take Bodhmhall, Liath Luachra and Demne on a dangerous trek across the treacherous lands of the Great Wild.

A three chapter sample is available here.

The book will be released digitally on Amazon on 18 October 2014 and will be available on hardcopy a few weeks after that. The book will also be available on Kobo and other ebookstores.