SCÉAL

‘Scéal’ is an interesting little story-based game I came across last year (although it was actually released way back in 2016!).

Originally created by Sandro Magliocco, the Slovakian-based developer drew on childhood holidays in Carlingford to set the overall look and design of the project. ‘Scéal’ tells the story of the ghost of a young girl who’s trying to work out where she came from and how she died. To do this, she has to travel through the watercolour world of a magical storybook, using paint strokes to reveal elements of her backstory.

Some of the marketing and advertising for the game suggests strong links to Irish folklore and mythology but in fact, there’s no real connection to established native folklore (or if there is, it’s fanciful and paper thin). The game is essentially a fantasy ghost story that takes place in an Irish setting with moody Irish background music but, that said, it’s a lot better than a lot of the ‘Oirish’ themed games released over the last few years.

Overall, the game is absolutely gorgeous to look at and the music (by Sean-Nós singer Lorcán MacMathúna) is particularly outstanding.

Apparently, the game can still be downloaded via Steam and other sites. YOu cna find a smaple of how it works here: Irish Game

Irish Art Performance Battles

Ever since the infamous Battle of the Books (when the force of Saint Columba and Saint Finnian ended up fighting over the illegal copying of a psalter), Irish people have been opposing each other over the creation and ownership of works of art.

It’s been particularly interesting to watch the dynamics in the Irish art and creative sector over the past 10-15 years, especially where it relates to live performances. In an area where larger, nationally funded organisations tend to dominate the landscape (and hog the available funding), there’s been a noticeable sense of exasperation among performers and creators locked out of that funding stream. That frustration has led to many independents going off to create their own organisations or working as part of larger collectives to compete with the established ‘institutions’ for a more democratic share of the funding.

The pandemic has probably had the biggest impact of all, in that Covid prevented most large-scale performances (the mainstay of the larger art organisations) over a protracted period. Under immense pressure from a struggling sector, the national art funder finally had to release money to smaller, more localised organisations and performance. Since 2020, therefore, we’ve seen some ingeniously innovative, local and regional art productions, most of which wouldn’t even have received the ‘sniff’ of a single Euro just a few years before.

A nice indicator of this is a recent report from ISACS (the Irish Street Art, Circus and Spectacle Network – a support and advocacy group for the smaller arts organisations). ISACS was established in 2010 and since then, have seen their membership grow steadily year on year, reaching a peak in 2021 with over 200 members (40% more than the previous year). 

You can be certain that some of the established Irish arts institution will be watching such developments with concern and using every connection they can to ensure the funding goes back to where they believe it should reside (with them).

ISACS are going to have to be very canny and very strategic in their thinking to prevent things going back to the previous status quo.

I wish them luck.

You can find the ISACS promo reel HERE

Image featured above is ‘The Bishop’s Lady’ from Limerick’s 2019 Samhain Festival (creator’s name could not be found)

Five Years!

I got a bit of a shock today when a ‘Facebook Memory’ post alerted me to the fact that it was seven years since I’d published Fionn: The Adversary.

After that initial shock – and suddenly feeling very, very old – I was slightly mollified (and relieved) when I worked out that the post was actually referring to the online publication of the ‘cover image’ rather than the publication of the book itself … a mere (cough!) five years ago.

Despite the time that’s passed since publication, I do recall feeling a great sense of relief when I finally pressed the ‘release’ button and sent the finished product out into the void. As the third book in the series, Fionn: The Adversary completed the first of the two plot arcs I’d envisaged but it was something of a hard one to write due to the numerous plot lines and characters (and, of course, overlaps with the Liath Luachra Series where I had to be careful not to give too much away). It was also the last book I published with the limited stock photos I had available at the time (although the artist did a very good job in making it look far better than it probably should have).

Still, the post was an effective reminder that it has been a substantial time since I released anything in the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series and that it was well due another story. Fortunately, I can say that the next (the fourth in the series) will be out before Christmas. At this stage, I don’t have a working title but there will be more news in two to three months or so.

Quick Tempers in Beara

Looking across to Beara from the Sheep’s Head peninsula with ‘Cnoc Daod’ glowering under the central clouds. The name ‘Cnoc Daod’ can be roughly translated as ‘the quick tempered hill‘ (relating to the weather and its ability to turn bad fast). Back in the day, the name was anglicized to ‘Hungry Hill’ (and there’s an old – not sure how credible – story explaining that) which I personally refuse to use.

Interestingly, there was a film made in 1946 based on Daphne du Maurier’s bestselling novel ‘Hungry Hill’ (ironically, shot in Wicklow) – based on two Irish families feuding over a copper mine on the hill. By all accounts, it’s pretty bad, factually wrong on most counts and “oh, so, very Oirish” – in other words, a typical foreign representation of Ireland and Irish stories. From the poster, I get the impression this was an attempt to cash in on the success of ‘Gone with the Wind’.

I’m looking forward to heading back to Beara in the next few months. While I’m there, I’ll be working on an outline for a potential television series based on the Beara Trilogy books. I’m not overly convinced that’s ever going to happen but it’ll help me prepare for when I get back to writing ‘Beara: Cry of the Banshee’.

Pleased ot say, I finally have a plan in that regard.

A Dark Dawn on a Hill

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

GrimDark Magazine

Irish Examiner

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

Sky Dance

I came across Fidget Feet (a Limerick-based Irish ‘aerial circus performance company’) several years ago when I saw their ‘Sky Dance’ – a performance carried out against the backdrop of Dublin’s Customs House as part of the 2016/17 new year’s eve celebrations – which really blew me away.

I’ve always had a fascination with dance as an artwork – that physicality of movement operating within the confines of strict choreography. Aerial-based performances, however, raise the stakes dramatically, bringing in an even more complex physicality and sense of perspective that makes the choreography a hundred times more complicated.

To be honest, my first reaction was ‘why the hell would you do that?

Merging dance with aerial display on public buildings felt a bit like merging ‘Opera’ with ‘Demolition Derbies’ (this was on a scale far greater than the more theatre-contained works I’d seen from companies like Cirque du Soleil etc.).

Utilising light projection, aerialists, drummers, pyro dynamics and vertical dancers however, Fidget Feet managed to introduce me to a pretty spectacular art form I’d not encountered before. Fidget Feet are still out there doing new festivals and production but ‘Sky Dance’ remains my favourite.

You can get a quick taste of that HERE.

Northern Colony

This is the bird colony out in Rathlin Island where generations of guillemots, razorbills, puffins and others, have nested for centuries (and possibly longer). I visited the spot a few years ago with friends and was very struck by the amazing cacophony of noise from the birds – it sounded like a very noisy and excited crowd of people.

Last night, I realised that I was incorporating all those strong impressions while I was writing a scene in the next ‘Fionn mac Cumhaill’ book.

If you ever get a chance, I’d go visit it but beware the cranky bus company at the harbour. The company seem to have a monopoly on a section of private road that you need to access it. If you don’t pay for that section of road (and they’re pretty coy on that), they’ll drive you t the colony and then desert you on that side of the island to make your own way back.

Charming people.

A Pre-Covid Hubris Project

I’m not sure if anyone remembers this strange project from the pre-Covid world (2018) – a spy thriller based on ‘Casablanca’ that was funded, directed, and acted by Michael Flatley.

When it was first announced, the film got something of a savage reception (apparently, reviewers were dubbing it “one of the biggest vanity projects since John Travolta’s Battlefield Earth”).  As a result, it never actually received a general release, proving something of an expense for Flatley in that it ended up costing at least £2.94 million in production costs (which, given other, more famous, film failures, isn’t actually an enormous sum).

I have a lot of respect for creatives who think outside the norm and experiment with new forms and formats of storytelling but, even at the time, this one seemed a bit… unusual. Flatley is known for his Riverdance as opposed to his acting (the film was produced by produced by ‘Dance Lord Productions’) and this venture into a ‘Casablanca homage’ felt more like a fantasy-driven regurgitation rather than a creative attempt to try something unique or different.

I guess we’ll never know … although it’s possible the film will remain hidden in a dusty vault for decades only to be rediscovered one bright day far into the future and lauded as a ‘true classic’.

Hmmm.  

Screen versus Book

I dropped all my current work to spend a few days working on the series outline for this – basically updating it to incorporate The Seeking and The Metal Meninto the final story of Liath Luachra.

Writing for the screen is a very different way of writing compared to book writing – you really have to take the visual components of the story far more into account.

It’s also hard to know whether the work I”m doing will ever see the light of day but, that said, I’m actually quite enjoying it.

Cultural Knowledge or Cultural Object

There’s an interesting article in the Irish Times today on attempts to have the Annals of Innisfallen transferred back from Oxford (where it’s now housed) to Killarney, where the annals were first compiled around 1092 AD.

I’m of two minds with this one as there are really two ways to consider the Annals of Innisfallen. Firstly, as a physical object and, secondly, as a mechanism for transferring knowledge from more ancient times.

In a general sense, I’m usually for the return of all historically pilfered cultural objects, where foreign institutions are making use of them at the expense of the culture from which they’ve been taken. There are a few reasonable exceptions – such as where there’s no suitable protective or preservation capacity in the original country, for example – but otherwise, its really just an extension of colonial practice.

At the same time, I also recognise that when it comes to the cultural knowledge, we already have pretty much everything that the Annals of Innisfallen can provide – that is, the knowledge (the accessible parts of it) in the manuscript is available in other forms now (and freely available). That’s because a written cultural work such as a manuscript, transfers ideas, concepts, and information in a far different way to physical objects such as statues, artworks etc. – which require a physical presence to get the knowledge across.

I also wonder at the drivers behind the demand for the transfer of the original manuscript back to Killarney. If it’s being driven by national institutions for genuine national/cultural reasons, then I’m all for it. If it’s simply seen as a cynical commercial opportunity by local tourism and politicians … well, they have a bit of a crediblity issue. Ironically, if it was used as a tourist draw, far fewer Irish people would probably get to see it than tourists.

I guess, we’ll have to wait and see.

A Mythological Silhouette

Most striking topographical sites have mythological stories associated with them so it’s no real surprise to find so many linked to the dramatic silhouette that’s Binn Ghulbain – the peak of Gulbain (there’s still a lot of disagreement around what ‘Gulbain’ refers to, but it’s far better than the anglicized – and meaningless – ‘Benbulben’).

The Fenian Cycle has several tales associated with that mountain including the climax to ‘Tóraíocht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne’ and, of course, Fionn’s encounter with Sadhbh.

I’m still scoping out how much of the Fenian Cycle stories I’ll cover through my ‘Fionn’ Series (and another I hope to do once I’ve completed that) so I’m not sure if I’ll incorporate these stories or not. Producing more culturally authentic versions of the story (i.e. not the sterilized and anglicized versions we were taught as children) means a number of the more common variants of these stories are difficult or unsatisfying to adapt for contemporary audiences.

But it’s certainly not for want of material.