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Update on the Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition

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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.

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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.

The Last of the Fir Bolg (Irish Mythology)

Earlier this year when visiting the Aran Islands I came across a story I’d not heard before concerning the Fir Bolg.

But first, a bit of context:

According to that very dubious source of Irish history/mythology, the Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of Invasions), the population of Ireland was derived from a series of numerous (well … six) consecutive colonising invasions from six different population groups. The fourth of these invading groups were known as the Fir Bolg and were said to be descendants of the third group (the Nemed) who died from disease or fled the country (commencing the long tradition of Irish emigration!)

According to the Lebor Gabála Érenn, the Fir Bolg were enslaved by the Greeks and obliged to toil by carrying bags of stone and soil, an uneasy rationale for how they got their name (one possible interpretation for “Fir Bolg” is “Men of bags” although it’s now believed actually mean “those who swell up” with battle fury). Somehow surviving 230 years of slavery, the Fir Bolg manage to depart from Greece and returned to Ireland where they divided the country up into Ireland into five separate provinces.

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Unfortunately, after all that effort, a mere thirty-seven years later, the fifth invading population group (the Tuath Dé Dannann) turned up and defeated the Fir Bolg in battle at Mag Tuired (Moytirra). At this point the narrative of the text varies with some versions indicating the Fir Bolg left Ireland altogether and others saying they retreated to Connacht to live in peace.

For a long time, as a result of the Lebor Gabála Érenn and other sources, many people believed that the inhabitants of the more isolated islands off the western Irish coast were the descendants of the Fir Bolg. More importantly, these people were also believed to be almost direct descendants as the population on the western islands had remained relatively untouched and unspoiled by the undue influences of civilization and progress.

From 1859 onwards, this particular belief became more important as a result of Charles Darwin’s “On The Origin of the Species”. Following its publication, there was immense interest in theories of evolution and the idea that physical characteristics such as height, hair and eye colour etc. might show a direct line of progress from ‘ape/uncivilised’ man to ‘civilised’ man. With reference to the Irish situation, Alfred Haddon (an English anthropologist and ethnographic) co-founded Dublin’s Anthropometric Laboratory in 1891, ‘with the explicit aim of understanding the racial characteristics of the Irish people’.

The people of the islands in the west of Ireland suddenly became very important because their “pure pedigree” (as descendants of the Fir Bolg) meant that they potentially held the key to the origins of the Irish race. In an increasingly nationalistic Ireland, there was keen interest from many nationalists to use these new ‘sciences’ to justify and support their own political beliefs. From the English camp meanwhile, there was also great interest in locating evidence that might explain the existence of the ‘black’ or ‘Africanoid’ Irish and the presence of such a primitive (white) race living so close to the United Kingdom (during this period, the Irish were regularly portrayed as apelike in English newspapers such as ‘Punch’ etc.)

It came as no surprise therefore, when Haddon and an Irish doctor by the name of Charles Browne arrived on the Aran Islands in 1893 and started recording the head size, cranial capacity, eye colour, skin pigmentation etc. of every islander (whom they referred to as “Aranites”) they could get their hands on. Women, of course, following the prejudices of the time, were excluded from analysis.

The study created immense interest and in the end, the results were published in 1893 in the Proceedings if the Royal Irish Academy. In terms of the Fir Bolg theory, unfortunately it all turned out to be something of a damp squib for all concerned with the report author’s summarizing it as follows:

“To what race the Aranites belong we do not pretend to say, but it is pretty evident they cannot be Firbolgs, if the latter are correctly described as small, dark-haired and swarthy.”

[Final Note: These days, the general academic consensus is that the Fir Bolg were an early Celtic group called the Bolgae (not to be confused with the Belgae) who established a settlement in Ireland.]

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Literature, Bob Dylan, and the Emperor’s New Clothes

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I’ve never really been a Bob Dylan fan. That’s not because he particularly annoys me or anything, it’s simply because I never actually got around to listening to his music. Growing up in Ireland, we had a significant number of local and national musical influences that competed strongly with the international acts in demanding our attention. Bob kinda fell between the cracks and as a result, even now, if I tried to name one of his songs, I’d be struggling to come up with would anything beyond “Mr Tamborine Man” (and I’m sure he’s put out one or two more tunes since then).

All the same, Dylan came to my attention over a week ago when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (this is one of the five Nobel Prizes – the others are for Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine and, of course, the Peace Prize). This was all fine and dandy of course. Yet another celebrity getting an award (or a knighthood) is hardly anything new. What did prick my interest however was the reported absence of any reaction from the singer/songwriter in response to the announcement. Dylan never issued a public statement, he didn’t return the Swedish Academy’s phone calls (the group responsible for choosing and awarding the prize), he made no comment on his website. Strangely enough, although Dylan didn’t actually decline the prize, neither did he acknowledge it.

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Again, I probably wouldn’t have taken much notice of that either if it hadn’t been for the surprising bitchiness of the Swedish Academy’s subsequent commentary. One member of the Academy sounded particularly petty when he came out publicly and stated that Dylan’s behavior was “impolite and arrogant”. There was a delicious kind of irony to the fact that what he was really saying, was ‘how dare Dylan not acknowledge the prize that WE decided to award him.”

And therein lies the key problem with the Nobel Prize for Literature. It’s chosen and awarded by a small group of Swedish critics (and occasionally some exclusively invited add-ons). When you think about it, that’s pretty weird. How can such a small group have such influence and power with respect to international literature.

The reality of course is that it can’t. Unless …
Unless it has the tacit support of a whole sector or infrastructure behind it.

And that’s pretty much the situation here. The infrastructure consists of the Nobel Foundation (which is of course a renowned institution, although it’s just not entirely clear whether it’s a good one or a bad one) and the mainstream commercial publishing industry. The latter in particular has strong vested financial interests in ensuring society as a whole accepts the authority of the Swedish Academy, the Man Booker Prize Committee, the Hugo Award Committee yadda, yadda, yadda, in deciding whether a book has merit or not.

The reason for this is fairly simple. Despite the millions of published works available out there (more than any one person could possibly hope to read over their lifetime), the only ones you’ll ever hear about are those that are commercially advertised or which you’re told have literary merit (as decided by someone you don’t know and who doesn’t know you).

Oh, and you should really go out and buy them, by the way.

That pressure from the commercial literary sector has an important downstream effect. Because so many critics, publishers, and arts funding agencies accept the authority of entities like the Academy to decide ‘literary merit’, writers too are obliged to toe the line and go along with the established storyline. There’s prize money associated with the prize after all. And lots of publicity and prestige which the more insecure writers seek for validation and, the more canny ones, for leverage.
Given its subsequent influence, the Swedish Academy is accustomed to a degree of ‘forelock pulling’, bowing and scraping from the privileged individuals blessed by their munificence.

This time around, in awarding the Prize for Literature to Dylan, the Swedish Academy shot itself in the foot. Bob Dylan is someone who doesn’t have anything to prove. He’s already made his millions, he’s achieved more fame than he’s probably ever wanted. He has no need for the official validation the Swedish Academy offered and he has no need to pander to them. In essence, they probably have no little relevance or value to him.

The Academy are furious with Dylan of course and it’s not because he was “rude” but because he’s exposed the whole “Emperor’s New Clothes” scenario associated with literature and, in particular, revealed the worthlessness of what the Swedish Academy offers. That revelation threatens the justification for their existence (and possibly the Nobel Foundation’s existence) but it also threatens the personal income/ kudos of those connected with the institutions. In their view, what Dylan has done is unforgiveable and as a result you can probably expect a substantial number of ‘safe’ (mainstream) winners of this award for the years to come.

To quote the New York Times, “Dylan’s refusal to accept the authority of the Swedish Academy has been a wonderful demonstration of what real artistic and philosophical freedom looks like.” It would be fascinating to see writers who are brave enough to step forward in that regard.

[Note and update: This article was originally published in the October Irish Imbas Books newsletter. Since then, a vague reference has been included on Bob Dylan’s website in that it now includes the declaration “winner of the Nobel prize in literature”. No other statement has been made. Go, Bob!]

Bored? In need of scintillating cultural stimulation?

The 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.

 

 

What If New Zealand Maori Colonised England?

Few things get my blood curdling but one was a media announcement in New Zealand yesterday when an individual by the name of Don Brash introduced a lobby group of ‘like-minded individuals’ vowing to vanquish radial separatism of the New Zealand political landscape (i.e. suppress the uppity indigenous people).

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[Pic: Maori woman warrior wielding ‘patu’ from the film ‘The Dead Lands’]

To be honest, I was a bit surprised they gave this racially-prejudiced lunatic any media time. A previous Reserve Bank Governor and past leader of New Zealand’s ‘National Party’, he ran a campaign back in 2004 based on pretty racist, anti-Maori sentiment. His claim at the time, was that the indigenous people of New Zealand (the New Zealand societal group who are the worst represented in terms of education, income, health and crime statistics – in fact every feckin quality of life statistic you can measure) were apparently being more favorably treated than whites and received special privileges that white people didn’t.

[I should probably mention here that my kids are Maori (and Irish, of course) and have a very strong sense of both cultures].

Unexpectedly, at the time, that appealed to large mass of the New Zealand population who’d been conned (by the National Party and a pretty inept New Zealand media) into believing Maori were going to ‘own’ all the beaches in the country and block white New Zealanders from using them. Fortunately, sanity prevailed, Brash lost the election and over time the dodgy tactics he was using came to light (as did a better media understanding of the genuinely poor state of Maori in New Zealand). Since then, Brash has become something of a figure of amusement/contempt although he still has enough friends in the political and media establishment to get a hearing when he has some money to throw around.

Seeing Brash on screen, peddling his well-heeled prejudice like some kind of high-end, soft porn, was genuinely infuriating and brought back a lot of memories of 2004/2005. Back then, I was so furious at the injustice of it all I wrote a short story called ‘Morris Dancing’ which imagines a scenario where Great Britain is visited by Maori explorers and missionaries and subsequently colonised. Most of the story reflects key aspects (and events) of New Zealand’s colonisation by the English Crown but by putting the boot on the other foot, I was able to play around and have a lot of fun with the concept. Much of the narrative in the story incorporates material from Don Brash’s speech notes of 2004, much of which is recognisable to New Zealanders.

The story was originally published in the short story collection Leannán Sidhe – The Irish Muse but I’ve put a free version of it here (see below) if you’re interested. I don’t think it’s one of my best stories by any means, but it was a way of dealing with the anger. To my surprise, when it was released it received quite a lot of positive commentary and a lot of Kiwis seemed genuinely intrigued (and amused) by the idea. It turns out that sometimes, we can better more effectively see our own faults and prejudices through a contorted mirror image.

If you’re interested, you can download a copy (PDF) of the story here at morris-dancing.

The Truth About Irish Woman Warriors (Irish Mythology)

There’s a lot of fantasy out there when it comes to women warriors, particularly where it relates back to those in the Irish or Celtic realm. To be fair, the subject is hardly a new one. Since the development of literature itself, writers and readers have been enamoured by tales of fighting women (particularly Herodotus with his notes on the inaccurately-named Amazons), probably because they’re such a rarity in ancient warfare, an area generally dominated by men.

That’s not to say, of course, that woman don’t or didn’t fight. There are numerous historical and contemporary examples of women fighting to defend themselves or, more often, fighting to protect the ones they love. And, in most cases, that’s the key difference. Men were most often portrayed as fighting for abstracts like patriotism or glory. Women, less so. Women’s role in ancient warfare obviously differed within cultures but, in a (very) general sense, women were portrayed as fighting only when it was absolutely necessary or when it was necessary for some other element in the tale. People have different opinions on whether that’s a product of biology, society, upbringing or something entirely different. Either way, it’d be foolish to ignore the patterns of millennia across ancient (and modern) societies.

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When it comes to the concept of women warriors in the ancient Irish mythological context, there’s certainly a lot more 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 pretty big leap to make. In general, most academics tend to agree that this discrepancy is simply due to the fact that the Irish mythological narratives (and here you can loosely use the term ‘Celtic’ as it also covers modern-day Scotland) were much more successively conserved in Ireland than they were in the other, more directly colonised countries.

Whatever you believe, the ancient tales still have to be treated with a lot of caution. The writers/recorders of that time were not above a bit of creative licence or prejudice. People forget that just because something was written a long time ago, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.

If we look at Irish mythology then, the best known women warriors tend to include:

  • Scáthach – a woman warrior who appears in the Ulster Cycle who was based in modern-day Scotland. She instructs Cú Chulainn in a number of martial feats and when he catches her with her guard down, is forced 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

In the first three examples, one gets an overpowering impression from the literature that the character of the powerful woman warrior was created specifically to highlight the sexual accomplishment and domination of the male ‘hero’ who subsequently overpowers her (a pattern also found with other women warrior characters in the mythology). With the third example, Liath Luachra is actually a guardian to the young hero, a relationship that, in a sense, is desexualised.

Other women mentioned in the ancient Irish literature who are often 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)

In fact, neither of these actually make the cut if you look at them in any kind of detail. All of the literary and archaeological evidence to date suggests the characters are personifications of female deities as opposed to warrior women. Articles or literary works suggesting that they are, generally indicates the author hasn’t done his/her homework or is pushing an argument that’s probably driven more by wish fulfilment than fact.

Over the last twenty years or so, representation of women warriors has become much more prevalent, particularly where entertainment aligns with more contemporary underlying themes of gender equality etc. Given the prevalence of characters in the Irish mythology, there’s also been a tendency to ‘borrow’ them for contemporary fictions but without any real consideration of the underlying cultural context. This occasionally results in works that are not only overly romanticised but which ignore some of the strong negative gender undercurrents associated with the characters, something of which the authors often seem – disturbingly – unaware.

Souvenirs from Ireland – Battle of the Books

Every time I come back from Ireland it’s a ‘Battle of the Books’ in terms of permitted baggage weight on international flights. I suppose the only good thing is that its something of a natural restriction to excess reading.

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This is a selection of the books I carried in my bag (but not all) last week. It also doesn’t include a number of graphic novels, some additional fiction and, of course, the numerous old local history books (about 20) I’ve had to photograph into digital form (the libraries don’t allow you to photocopy theses nowadays in case it causes damage). I reckon there’s at least 1.5 years of analysis, additional research and conceptual thinking associated with all this.

Still! Keeps me off the street and out of trouble.

Fierce Times at the Black Fort (Irish mythology)

We did some exploring around Na hÁrainneacha (the Aran Islands) for a few days this month, carrying out research on a number of the prehistoric fortresses and hoping to get a few photos that we could work into future covers for the Fionn mac Cumhaill series.

Most people tend to associate the islands with the more famous Dún Aoghonsa and although that fortress is undeniably spectacular, our favourite actually turned out to be the lesser known Dún Dúchathair. Incorrectly translated into English as ‘The Black Fort’ (the name is more correctly translated as the “Fort of the Black Stone”).

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This formidable site sits up on an isolated cliff promontory on the south-eastern side of An Árainn Mhór (Inishmore), the largest of the three islands. As prehistoric buildings go, this one is old, so old there’s very little actually known about it (although it’s believed to be contemporary with the equally dramatic Dún Aoghonsa which was built around 1110 BC). On a bright day, seeing the edifice silhouetted against the startlingly vivid horizon you can also understand the origin of its Irish name.

Although An Árainn Mhór is only nine kilometres long, the Black Fort is surprisingly difficult to access, set as it is on the far side of network of rocky channels that have to be traversed with some caution. Crossing the flat – but very pitted and uneven rocky surface – is a bit like walking across a benign minefield. It’s all very possible but you’re obliged to keep your eyes on the ground at all times unless you stop moving. If you don’t, it’s inevitable that you’ll become a cropper. That was one thing that really struck me about the entire island. Because the terrain’s so rough, unless you’re walking on a modern road or flat, you always have to walk with your head bowed.

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The most immediate thing that comes to mind as you approach Dún Dúchathair is that it was obviously built with a defensive purpose in mind. Even today, it’s a site that’s not easily approached due to the reasons outlined above. Add to that, the cliffs on three sides, the chevaux de frises (dense series of rock obstructions placed in a vertical position that make the difficult surface even harder to traverse) and a six-metre high wall spread across the edge of the promontory, and you’re seriously left wondering how successful a land-based assault could possibly have been. Even with dramatically superior numbers, any attacking force would also have been exposed to sling-shot, javelins and spears and suffered losses that were almost certainly unsustainable.

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Ironically, despite its immense defences, Dún Dúchathair turned out to be most at risk from its own defensive positioning. At some stage in the distant past, a large section of the flat promontory making up the interior of the fort, fell into the sea, its base eroded over centuries by the crashing power of the waves below.

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Love on the Aran Islands

The attached photo will be the cover shot for Irish Imbas Books’ exciting new range of romantic and erotic novels under the brand “Love on The Aran Islands”. Titles include:

  • First Touch at Killronan (Cill rónáin)
  • Fast Times at the Dark Fort
  • Fierce Goings On at Dún Aonghasa
  • Forty Shades of Bungolwa
  • Hot Sweats in Innisheer

 

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Hopefully, you actually didn’t believe all that.

This photo was taken during some extraordinarily hot weather out on the islands last week, just a day after a storm that knocked the telephone mast down.

Broody Days in the Galway Gaeltacht

Broody days in the Galway Gaeltacht under skies like a mottled bruise.

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I’m travelling around Ireland at the moment, catching up with old friends and family and doing a lot of research. Some of my travels took me up through the Galway Gaeltacht – a place I haven’t been in a long time.

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I couldn’t get over how manicured the land around Lake Corirb looked compared to the Beara peninsula.
Even the sheep looked neat.

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HURRAY! I THINK I WON SOMETHING (ah, crap! No, I didn’t)

(Fionn amended aspect ratio)

Earlier this year I entered a competition (initiated by author Mark Lawrence – of ‘Prince of Thorns’ fame) called the ‘Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog Off 2016’. This basically sees three hundred self-published and small-publisher fantasy books assessed by ten different speculative fantasy book review bloggers and … (well, yes. A bit difficult to explain and I haven’t quite got my own head around it yet). Just click on the link. That’ll explain everything.

Having entered, I promptly forgot about it so it was a nice surprise this afternoon (having returned from the temporarily internet-free Aran Islands) to receive an email from a fan telling me that I’d won my heat (not sure what that is but apparently the competition is still ongoing and there isn’t an actual prize per se). In any case, the book received a nice review from the Bookworm Blues blog (attached below):
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FIONN: DEFENCE OF RATH BLADHMA BY BRIAN O’SULLIVAN

You know how some books come out of left field and just shock you? Well, this was one of those. If you’re looking for an action/adventure fantasy that is different than the normal, look no further. This book has some welcome diversity, and a story that is absolutely unforgiving. This is a novel based on some ancient Irish texts, and is full of myth and magic and I just loved it for that. The writing is tight and the book is well edited. I welcomed the strong female characters, the obvious twist on tropes, and the way the author genuinely owned the book he wrote. Some of the names were a bit of a mouthful to try and pronounce (even mentally) but that’s not the author’s fault, and as far as complaints go, that’s not even one that’s worth registering.

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Interestingly, I’d also entered Liath Luachra in the same competition. This was reviewed by a different blogger but it got dumped about a month or two ago (which I hadn’t been aware of). They also did a quick review as follows:

LIATH LUACHRA: THE GREY ONE BY BRIAN O’SULLIVAN
Dark historical fantasy. It is 188 A.D in Ireland, a land of tribal conflict. The book starts with a young warrior woman called Liath Luachra (the Gray One) fighting a battle with her fellow band of mercenaries. Pleased by her prowess and potential, her battle leader offers her a mission that she cannot refuse. Writing is good, though there’re a lot of straight-up translations for the large number of Celtic terms used, which can be very distracting. Despite the battle at the beginning, the story is also slow to take off, though soon enough an interesting conflict presents itself and the character finds herself in a bit of a bind. This book was a strong contender, but it didn’t hook us as quickly as a few others did. Still, we loved the atmosphere, and there are some very strong grimdark fantasy vibes here, so it’s worth checking out if you are a fan of this sub-genre.
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It’s always interesting to see how different people react to my books. That’s the beauty of individual tastes, I suppose – it’s different for everyone.

Sentinels in An Irish Doorway

It’s always the little things that get you.
Wandering in from the yard back in Cork yesterday, this cluster of wooden sentinels triggered a twinge of emotion as I recalled playing hurling myself as a kid.

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I was never a particularly gifted player but there really is no sport like it in the world (in terms of speed and sheer acrobatic watchability). Given my lack of access to the game over the last few years (oddly enough, there isn’t that much hurling going on in France or New Zealand), having a chance to watch my nephew and his friends battering the sliotar (the hurley ball) around over the last few years has proven much more satisfying than anticipated.

Judges’ Submission Tips From the 2015 Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition

kaboompics.com_Top view of desk with typewriter

In September 2015, we initiated our inaugural Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition. At the time, the plan was to publish a compilation that included the best of the submitted stories but also some explanatory commentary (in terms of the mythology/folklore aspects covered in the stories). This was, we figured, an effective means, not only of disseminating good cultural information, but encouraging authors of Celtic heritage to draw on aspects of their background they might not otherwise have previously considered.

The three criteria we used for judging the submitted stories were as follows:

  •  Celtic mythology or folklore forms a fundamental element of the story (i.e. the characters can be characters from Celtic mythology, the action can take place in a mythological location, mythological concepts can be used etc.).
  • Any Celtic folklore or mythological reference used should be as authentic as you can make it (for example; no dedicated pantheon of Irish Gods, no werewolves or vampires etc.)
  • A compelling story/theme, engaging characters. You’re a writer – you know what we mean

In total, 37 submissions were accepted, a relatively small number for such a competition but then, understandable given that we were an unknown entity and had never run this type of competition before. This time around we’re hoping to increase that number slightly.

In order to help those authors who might be considering an entry for the forthcoming 2016 Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition, the three judges recently met over a bottle of wine (amazing how fast that became a tradition!) and compiled a number of guiding notes that they were (roughly) able to agree on.

(1) Mythology/Folklore are not the same as fairy tales: Stories of beings known as ‘na daoine maithe‘ or ‘fairies’ form a part of folklore but the contemporary representation of them really has nothing to do with Celtic culture. We actually received queries from two people who wanted to submit stories from their kids (again, thinking that this was a ‘fairy tale’ competition). They were pretty miffed when I tried to explain the above which just goes to show how little people understand about Celtic culture out there. Having said that, the winning story from last year’s batch hit the whole ‘fairy’ aspect perfectly.

(2) Submitting a story based on lesser known aspects of Celtic mythology will probably give you an advantage: Of the 37 submissions we received last year, a full quarter of these were based on the Selkie (Enough with the Selkies already!) and we essentially chose two of these because they were very good. Fair enough, they were last year’s mythological ‘Bête du jour’ but you might want to broaden your subject appeal.

(3) You might want to submit a story based on (or using) cultural aspects that weren’t already covered in the 2016 Celtic Mythology Collection: This is just generic advice. Given that our stated aim is to provide information on different aspects of Celtic mythology, you’ve probably worked out that something different to last year’s subjects is probably a good thing. That said, if your story on Selkies (sigh) is good enough, we’re still very interested.

(4) Don’t confuse Vampires with Leannán Sidhe: This creature came second in the list of most covered cultural elements but there seemed to be a lot of misunderstanding around what a leannán sidhe was. To be fair, these are two relatively similar concepts but they come from two very difficult cultures (and in fact, the leannán sidhe is actually a kind of Gaelicised derivation of the Belle Dame Sans Merci muse tradition). WB Yeats really deserves a kick up the arse for confusing the two of these (which really is a good lead into the next tip).

(5) Avoid writing a story based on Cultural Advice from W.B. Yeats: W.B. Yeats’ books are regularly published by publishers because they’re out of copyright protection and there are no royalties to be paid for the use. Having said that, W.B. Yeats’ books are a BAD source to go looking for culturally accurate advice. I’ll repeat that in case you haven’t got the message. W.B Yeats = BAD!!!
This Shite that W.B Yeats Says article explains a little better what I’m talking about.

(6) Edit your stories (or at least get someone independent to peer review them) before you submit: Last year’s winner (Sighle Meehan) had, I think, three minor editing issues which gives some indication of what you’re up against. There’s always going to be some minor editing needed of course, and if we really, really like your story we’ll work with you on finalising it (but VERY rarely). There was one excellent shortlisted story that we wanted to publish in last year’s batch but, in the end, this just wasn’t sufficiently well-edited to get through to the final round (which was a shame – as it had great potential).

(7) Now – Did I mention the whole Selkie thing?

At the end of the day, of course, it all comes down to a matter of judgment (hence, the … em …judges). It also has to be said that, even between the three judges, there was some substantial disagreement on the final stories included in the collection (except for the first three prize-winners) although we did everything we could to be consistent and fair.

Hopefully this article provides some useful guidance but, without doubt, the best thing you could do is to download the free digital copy of the first Celtic Mythology Collection and check for yourself.

The Celtic Mythology Short Story Collection 2016

It gives us immense pleasure to announce the launch of the 2016 IRISH IMBAS CELTIC MYTHOLOGY SHORT STORY COMPETITION .
Submissions will be accepted for this competition from 1 September 2016 to 10 December 2016.

celtic-mythology-short-story-competition
This is the second year that we’re holding this competition and we’re coming into it a little wiser, a little less ambitious than the last time around but just as enthusiastic. Despite the almost overwhelming amount of work that went into it, the initial competition was a success (from our perspective, at least). Although this was a new and untested competition, we received a very respectable number of submissions, many of then of excellent quality. It was also particularly enjoyable to work with a number of new writers on the cusp of launching their writing careers. We’ll be watching their ongoing progress with interest and a certain satisfaction that we’ve helped that to some degree.

For us, a key objective of the competition was to try and increase the understanding of Celtic culture. We don’t really have any delusions that we’ve come anyway close to achieving that but we do feel we’ve made an important first step. By merging the creative short stories of the authors with our own cultural expertise, we’ve managed to release a free product that we’re exceptionally proud of and which fulfils the vision we established two years ago – cultural narratives that are entertaining and informative at the same time.

In terms of the 2016 competition details, we have made some minor changes (predominantly extending the word count to a maximum of 4000 words) but the value of the prizes are the same as last year.

First Prize

$500 and story published in Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection

Second Prize

$250 and story published in Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection

Third Prize

$100 and story published in Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection

What We’re Looking For

Once again, any kind of fiction short story will be considered (action, romance, drama, humour etc.) as long as they meet the following criteria:

  •  Celtic mythology or folklore forms a fundamental element of the story (i.e. the characters can be characters from Celtic mythology, the action can take place in a mythological location, mythological concepts can be used etc.)
  • Any Celtic folklore/mythological reference or context used should be as authentic as you can make it
  • A compelling story/theme, engaging characters.

Next week, we’ll be publishing a blog post that summaries learnings from the judges that might prove useful to potential entrants. Otherwise, the necessary details can be found here at Rules and Conditions. Important dates to note are:

  1. Submissions will be accepted from midnight 1 September 2016 
  2.  Submissions close at midnight 10 December 2016
  3. The shortlist will be announced at irishimbasbooks.com and on the Irish Imbas Books Facebook page before 1 January 2017. An Irish Imbas Books Twitter account has also been set up and we hope to provide updates and commentary on that throughout the competition.
  4. Prize money will be paid to the authors of the three prize-winning stories in February 2017
  5. The Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection will be released in March 2017.

Update on Forthcoming Productions

Yes, its that time of year again when we give some indication of where things are at on the (cough, cough) ‘production line’.

Fionn: the Adversary (Fionn mac Cumhaill Series: Book 4):
It’s been something of a frustrating month with this book. Although I’ve been working quietly on the various scenes, given its burgeoning length I’m starting to wonder whether this is going to be split into two separate books. If you receive the newsletter you’re probably aware that plot wise, the two key protagonists are moving in different directions which creates some nice tension but also two different storylines. One is very much following an action-adventure story along similar lines to the previous books, whereas the other is travelling more of a character development/mystery path.

I still have to make up my mind on how best to approach this and it’ll very much depend on how the writing flows (and where it flows) goes over the next month before we close down for the month of August.

If you really, really want a taster of what it looks like you can download the first chapter (sorry PDF only) here at: Fionn: The Adversary but that’ll have to do until later this year.

Audiobooks:
We’ve started development on the next audiobook (The Irish Muse) which should be available on this website later in the year next, probably sometime in September. We’re seriously considering the possibility of starting Beara Dark Legends as an audio series later this year.

The Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition 2016:
This is all set for launch later this month although we’ll be accepting submissions from September until December again this year. The final details will be here on the Competition Page at the end of July 2016, dependent on the finalisation of the cover illustration. Meanwhile, here’s a sneak peak at the initial ‘concept’ drawing for that. Can you guess what it is? [Clue – Not the Children of Lir]

Concept 1

Other Stuff:

We’ve been commissioning a whole bunch of images for book covers and other projects over the last month or so. The biggest of these (a complete redesign of the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series covers) involves one designer doing a photography shoot with a model outside of Dublin. This was, in fact, meant to be completed by now but, unfortunately, we’ve had to delay it due to trouble with Vikings.

It turns out that the series ‘Vikings’ – much of which is filmed in Ireland – has about 2500 extras for the current season and they’ve pretty much snatched up every scrap of costume clothing to be found in the country. We were going to give them some grief on this but, in the end, demurred because “they were fierce scary looking feckers”.

Interview on Irish Mythology And Folklore

irish-mythology-folklore

It’s been something of a hectic June here in Wellington this year but I did manage to fit in an interview with Capital Irish Radio (based here in the city). Capital Irish Radio are a volunteer-run group who produce a weekly, 28 minute programme for Irish people (I occasionally present a show – about 2/3 times a year). Usually they provide a range of music, interviews and news from Ireland but recently I was asked to come in and explain what exactly Irish Imbas Books does.

During this interview with Finbarr Murray, I explain where Irish Imbas Books comes from and also discuss aspects of Irish mythology and Irish folklore.

What Ireland Looks Like as a Woman

national-representation-of-Ireland

Like many other Western countries, poets, politicians and artists in Ireland also fell into the trap of trying to personify their nation, that is, trying to characterise the concept of the country as a person, usually a beautiful young woman.

Such personifications are mostly restricted to the western world and were most popular in the late 19th and early 20th century. Usually, they tended to be used by governments in times of upheaval to ‘bolster’ the population when that nation was at risk (or portrayed to be at risk) from other influences. This is why most of the personifications are actually quite militaristic in their visual manifestations (they were often modelled on female war goddesses). If you look closely at the classic examples such as Britannia (England), Germania, (Germany) Marianne (France) and so on you’ll see they all carry weapons.

In Ireland, things were slightly different in that our first national personifications were usually a helpless young woman of great beauty (or an old woman) beset by oppressors. This is probably because they were created from a subjugated society as opposed to an oppressive (and foreign) government. Certainly, they were all intended for propaganda purposes but at least the independent earlier creations had (slightly) more depth than those military representations used by the latter.

The personification of Ireland as a nation originally started with the Aisling (Dream) poetry genre produced by Gaelic poets such as Aodhagán Ó Rathaille and Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin from the mid-to late- 1600s right up to the late-1700s. In these poems, Ireland is represented as a young woman/old woman (generally referred to as ‘spéirbhean’) who lament the excruciating existence of the Irish people and prophesises the imminent coming of heroes to save thsem. They were very much political poems, of course. By the mid-1600s, most of Ireland was pretty much under the military yoke of the English Crown and the Penal Laws (forbidding many basic Gaelic cultural expressions) had been introduced. This, then, was the Gaelic poets’ attempt at rallying the people and giving them hope against the invaders.

Unfortunately, of course, the heroes never came. All elements of Irish military resistance were overcome, the English Crown secured complete control of the country and over the next four hundred years the Gaelic language and culture was substantially eroded.

As with all oppressive regimes, however, rebellion and nationalised sentiment fermented and arose once more, particularly towards the start of the early 20th century. By then, of course, Gaelic culture had been largely eradicated but in an effort to revive some of the old traditions, the Aisling poems were brought out and dusted off. The original 16th century Irish spéirbhean was updated and reframed into more contemporary versions such as Róisín Dubh (by the likes of James Mangan and Pádraig Pearse) or Cathleen Ní Houlihan (by WB Yeats and lady Gregory) in 1902. Ironically, the English Punch magazine introduced their own version (called Hibernia) around this point but it never really took off back home.

Kathleen_Ni_HoulihanCathleen Ní Houlihan

Following the Easter 1916 rebellion and the War of Independence, the Anglo-Irish treaty was signed. Keen to have its own national personification to show how unique and different this new country was, the Irish Free State government immediately mimicked other countries by inviting an artist (Lavery) to create one for the new Irish banknotes.

John Lavery was something of an anomaly and an interesting choice for creating the national personification picture. A Catholic-born painter (from Belfast), he’d been offered the post of official artist for the British Government during the First World war and later awarded a knighthood. Lavery was a rare individual in that he was equally at home in both the English/Protestant and Irish/Catholic/nationalist camps. With a foot in both, he must also have been one of the few people of his time to be made a free man of both Dublin and Belfast.

Lavery used his wife (Chicago-born, Hazel Martyn – also known as Lady Lavery because of her husband’s title) as the model and its her likeness on the personification of Ireland that’s probably the most well known today. This likeness was reproduced on Irish banknotes from between 1928 until the 1970s but when these were superseded, it continued to be used as a watermark on some notes until the euro was introduced in 2002.

In conclusion therefore, the personification of Ireland is a painting of an American woman created by a Belfast-born Catholic and based on a 20th century regurgitation of a 16th century Gaelic poetry concept.
In an odd way, that seems to quite accurately summarise where Ireland is today

Creating an Irish historical fantasy series (Part one)

In May 2014, I was champing at the bit to start a new creative writing project. Feeling somewhat tired and shagged out from publishing Beara Dark Legends (that particular epic took about two years out of my life) however, I was keen to try something different, but different in a way that let me use some of the material I’d collected during my research on Beara. The Fenian Cycle is made up of thousands of narratives collected over hundreds of years from many different Celtic countries. In a creative sense, there are several lifetimes’ worth of material to draw from and despite all the research I’d put into Beara Dark Legends, I felt that I’d barely scratched the surface.

irish-historical-fiction-irish historical-fantasy

Initially, I wasn’t sure what aspect of the Fenian Cycle I’d write about but it seemed logical to do a more action-based narrative. The prospect of a simple, linear plot line appealed and I’d been mulling over a fresh – more Irish approach – to what many people think of as ‘Irish mythology’ for years.

The startling truth is that very few contemporary Irish authors actually write Irish historical fiction or Irish historical fantasy for adults. Despite the huge amount of native mythological material available, fewer still revamp or produce contemporary versions of Fenian Cycle stories (although some use elements of it to spring of into their own particular stories).

It’s always struck me as bizarre that although Fionn has probably been the key figure in Irish literature since the sixth century, the Fenian Cycle-related literature that exists on the adult reading market today consists predominantly of:

  •  the republished ‘dry as bones’ sanitized stuff from the Celtic Twilight period (late 1800s to the early 1900s); or
  • modern interpretations of Irish mythology from non-Irish authors.

In terms of reading entertainment, there’s nothing wrong with the above although my research to date suggests that the Irish reader (generally) finds the former a bit childish and patronising and the latter overly romanticised. Although there’ll always be exceptions, neither appear to reflect the aspirations or yearnings of contemporary Irish culture and hold little resonance for Irish people. It seems a bit ironic but most are published to target the international market as opposed to the market from which the material actually originates.

It’s interesting that this trend also appears to be reflected in the mainstream Irish publishing market. Few Irish publishing houses actually publish Irish historical fantasy for adults (to be honest, I don’t actually know of any – but I’m happy to be corrected). It’s unclear whether this is an effective reflection of market taste or simply a case of literary snobbery. No-one’s ever looked close enough to tell so it could be either, neither or both.

The challenge then (as least, as far as I saw it) was to write something that was true to the established mythology but which Irish people wouldn’t snort at in derision, something that downplayed the fantasy elements of the Cycle and focussed on a grittier, more realistic and more culturally authentic narrative.

I’ll tell you how I got on next time.