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A New Liath Luachra Story Coming Shortly

After two pretty shocking workload months, we’re finally at a point where we can actually release some new writing. This short story (The Pursuit) should be selectively available at the end of next week (before we close down for the month of August) and more widely in September.

The story takes place sometime after the events in Liath Luachra: The Grey One. It’s a stand-alone short story but will form the first chapter of the next Liath Luachra book in 2018.

To be honest, even now it still surprises me how fiercely people like this character. When I first introduced her, I didn’t think honestly believe many readers would relate to a Gaelic, sword-wielding, gay woman. I should have got some inkling however, when despite the much smaller role planned for the character, she took on a life of her own (to the point where she ended up completely dominating the first book in the Fionn mac Cumaill series).

And then of course there was the review feedback:

“The thinking woman’s warrior.”

“An intriguing female protagonist unlike any I’ve come across before. Intelligent and competent, she’s also tragically damaged and vulnerable and yet somehow manages to cling to her fragile moral core.”

“Tough, tenacious and unflinchingly truthful, Liath Luachra is an admirably strong female protagonist. Her own inner conflict – between her past and present self, her loyalty to Bodhmhall and her own sense of right and wrong – is as engaging as her woodland exploits, and her fighting scenes are stark and exhausting.”

“A female heroine who is commanding and fascinating.”

“In the legends of Fionn mac Cumhaill, Liath Luachra is an intriguing name with minimal context, but in Brian O’Sullivan’s adaptions she becomes a most fascinating and formidable character in her own right.”

“In Fionn’s aunt, Bodhmall, and her lover Liath Luachra, O’Sullivan has created an intruiging warrior women who each provide their own strength to the narrative. I could continue reading a series about just them without any difficulty.”

Etc.
Etc.
Etc.

As a writer, you really can’t get more positive or more affirmative feedback than that and I’m extremely grateful to all of those who made the effort to write those comments. At the end of the day, I guess that as long as people enjoy those stories, I’ll keep writing them.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Collection 1

This is a FREE digital resource

What we refer to as ‘mythology’ today was actually a framework of ideas and beliefs used by our ancestors to understand the world around them. Over the past centuries, many of the more important Celtic cultural narratives and tales have been relegated to the status of children’s stories or cartoonish caricature, misunderstood and misinterpreted for as long as most of us can remember.

This collection by a new wave of contemporary authors hauls Celtic stories out of the dusty shadows and with succinct mythological analysis places them back into the light where they belong.

Love, mystery and drama, these fascinating tales mark a new movement of authentic and original Celtic-based writing and a better understanding of Celtic cultures.

The ‘Fairies’, the ‘Salmon of Knowledge’, the ‘Children of Lir’ and the ‘Selkie’. They’re all waiting here for you.

Na Ceiltigh, abú!

The Story of Berrach Brec (Irish Mythology and Folklore)

Background Context: This originates from a 12th century tale concerning the two Fenian heroes Oisín (son of Fionn mac Cumhaill) and Caoilte mac Rónáin. Both warriors have returned to Ireland from the Otherworld Tír na nÓg (the Land of Youth) but many centuries have passed and their homeland has very much changed. The two warriors have split up to travel around the country and visit old sites they once knew. Caoilte is currently being hosted by the of Kinelconall (around modern day Wicklow) at his home in Dún na mBarc.

The Story of Berrach Brec

After they had eaten, Conall mac Neill gestured out to sea where a dark patch was just visible on the blue blade of the horizon. ‘You see the island out there?’ asked Conall. ‘Out on that island stands the ruins of an ancient fort. In those ruins there’s an enormous tomb whose origins have been lost to time.’
On hearing this, Caoilte looked towards the distant isle and surprised them all by starting to weep.

Conall approached him cautiously. ‘Caolite. You who are courageous and so skilled with a sword …’ He paused. ‘I beg that you and your companions accompany us to the island tomorrow to view it’.

‘By my word,’ said Caoilte. ‘That island is the third place in Ireland I do not wish to see for the memory of the noble people who once lived there.’ He sighed, a sigh so great it echoed down upon the distant strand. ‘But, yes. I will go with you tomorrow.’

Because of the great warrior’s melancholy mood, it was a subdued night in Conall’s dwelling. At dawn the next morning however, Conall, his wife and other members of the settlement had gathered eagerly to await his rising. Since his arrival, Caoilte’s tales and knowledge of times past had stimulated them, raised their spirits and explained much that was now unknown after the passing of so many centuries.

Day broke with a glowing sun, perfect visibility and a faint breeze. The waves were low and mild as three boatloads of people travelled across the glistening sea to the island which consisted of several forest-coated hills. Landing on a clear, white strand, they started uphill to the ruins of the small fortress which was located on the island’s highest point. There, within its cramped ruins, they found the enormous stone tomb that Conall has spoken of and which measured seven score feet in length and twenty-eight in width. Caoilte took a seat on the tomb and sat staring at the ground while the others gathered around. The bustle and chat of the crowd slowly dropped to a solemn hush as they looked about at the ancient, moss-coated stones.

‘By my soul, Caoilte,’ said Conall. ‘I have seen many tombs in my day but never one to match the marvel of this one. Can you tell us whose it is?’

The warrior did not speak for a time but when he did his voice was heavy with emotion. ‘I’ll tell you the truth of it, Conall. This is the tomb of the fourth best of all women who ever lay with a man back in the day.’

Conall paused, carefully choosing his words before posing his question. ‘And who were these four distinguished women?’

Caoilte closed his eyes as though struggling to recall but his answer, when it came, was clear and confident. ‘The first was Sabia, daughter of Conn Cétchathach (Conn of the Hundred Battles). The second was Eithne Ollamda, daughter of Cathaír Mór. The third was Cormac’s daughter Ailbhe, known as Ailbhe Gruaidbhres (Ailbhe of the feckled cheeks). The fourth – and the woman in this grave – was Berrach Brec, daughter’ of Cas Cuailgne, king of Ulster, and beloved wife of Fionn mac Cumhaill.

If any one of those four women had goodness in excess of the others, it was Berrach Brec. At her home, a guest could remain well hosted from the first day of Samhain-tide to the first of spring and had his choice to remain longer should he wish. If any man lacked arms or clothing, she ensured he received enough of both before he left.’

‘And what was the cause of her death?’ asked Conall.

Caoilte gave a sad laugh. ‘Love, of course.’ He grew quiet once more and it was some time before he spoke again.

‘Berrach Brec was raised by Goll mac Morna’s father and mother as their only fosterchild. On her eighteenth year, when she’d grown to a beautiful woman Fionn mac Cumaill begged her father for her hand. Because Fionn’s tribe – Clann Baoiscne – was a onetime enemy of Clann Morna, he agreed only on the condition that the tribal leader, Goll mac Morna, also gave his consent.

Fionn, passionate as ever, then approached his old adversary Goll and asked for the hand of his foster-sister. After much discussion, Goll finally agreed. “But there are three conditions,” he told the Clann Baoiscne warrior. “These are that you can never dismiss her as your wife; she will be your third wife and you will give her whatever she asks without refusal.”

“All of those conditions will be met,” Fionn answered him.

“And who shall you provide to Clann Morna as sureties?”

“I leave that choice to you,” said Fionn.

In the end, Fionn gave his own three foster-sons as sureties: Daighre, Garadh and Conán. Berrach Brec, for her part, was happy to go and live with Fionn and over the subsequent years she bore him three strong sons: Faelán. Aedh Beg and Uillenn Faebairdherg (Uillenn of the Red-Eye).

Fionn had her for a loving wife for many years until the peace between Clann Morna and Clann Baoiscne was broken. Clann Morna turned on Fionn and raised a war party that numbered three thousand warriors.’
At this point, Caoilte closed his eyes and uttered a quatrain in an ancient form of the language that was now no longer spoken:

Ten hundred and twenty hundred there
That was the bulk of proud Clann Morna’s rank and file
Over and above which chiefs and their chieftains
Who numbered fifteen hundred

‘The Clann Morna war party travelled to Daire Taebdha (Oakwood of the Bulls) in Connacht. There, three groups of Fionn’s warriors caught them by surprise, attacking at dawn before they’d arisen from their camp. In the oakwoods, we felled fifteen of the most battle-hardened and well-armed Morna warriors and would have felled more had Goll mac Morna, that experienced battler, not arranged to protect their rear. As they retreated, we were unable to inflict any further damage.

Infuriated by the defeat, Clann Morna decided then to slay anyone who was aligned or friendly with Fionn and his Fianna. Conán Maol (Bald Conán) was the one who gave this advice. Goll’s brother, Conán was a man whose mind knew no peace. A breeder of quarrels, he was a malicious mischief-maker in times of war or peace.

Making their way to this island and this fortress where Berrach Bec was staying, Clann Morna paused on one of the nearby green-grassed meadows to decide what to do with her. Berrach Bec was their foster-sister after all. After much argument and discussion, they decided to offer her a choice: to bring away all her possessions and valuables and leave Fionn. In that way, they reasoned, by returning to her foster kin, she’d never have to fear Clann Morna again.

When this message was conveyed to her, Berrach Bec appeared on the ramparts of the little fortress and cried out to them. “Would you truly injure me? Would you truly injure me, my own beloved foster brothers?”

“We would,” they answered.

“Then do your worst,” she countered. “By no means will I forsake my husband Fionn mac Cumhaill, my first family and gentle love.”

Angered by her response, the Clann Morna war party approached the fortress in battle formation and surrounded it, each man within touching distance of his neighbour. When it was completely encircled, they set it alight from every side.

The panic-stricken Berrach Bec somehow managed to flee the settlement with a number of her serving women. Slipping through the Clann Morna battle line, they made a break for the sea. Up on the rampart of the burning fortress however, Art mac Morna, spotted her hurrying towards a sailing ship on the long white strand. Slipping a finger into the thong of his javelin, the Clann Morna warrior raised it and cast at her.

Down on the strand, Berrach Bec heard the javelin’s whistle and, startled, glanced about to see what was causing it. The missile struck her full in her chest, cleaving straight through her breast to break her spine in two.’

Caoilte sighed. ‘And that is how she died.’

The warrior got to his feet and leaning against one of the moss-coated walls, he stared down at the impressive stone structure. ‘Afterwards, once this fortress had been plundered, her own people carried her up from the shore and laid her here. This then was the woman whose tomb this is. The loyal Berrach Bec.’

The BEARA Trilogy

The Beara Trilogy is a proposed series of three novels that concern the adventures of an Irish mythologist/historian based on the rugged Beara peninsula in the South-west of Ireland.

Although each book is a stand alone thriller, the series merges ancient and the contemporary aspects of Irish life and culture together in a way that has not been done before.

All books come with extra historical notes and pronunciation guides.

The three novels are as follows:

Book 1: BEARA: Dark Legends (available in ebook and in paperback)
Book 2: BEARA: Cry of the Banshee (not yet available)
Book 3: BEARA: The Relic (not yet available)

The Irish Woman Warrior Series

In the first and second century AD, the island of Ireland is a rugged land of dense, green forest that stretches from coast to coast, treacherous brooding marshes and clear, rivers that run fierce and deep. Scattered throughout this forest wilderness are magnificent stone ruins of an ancient Neolithic people, long since departed. Standing stones, dolmens and passage graves, erected more than a thousand years before the Celts arrived in Ireland, they are older than the pyramids and the native population treat them with awe and wonder.

Set at the edge of the European Continent, that isolated island is a mysterious land that intrigues the minds of many neighbouring classical intellects. Writing in the sixth century B.C, Himilco, the Carthaginian, makes vague references to an enigmatic island he calls ‘Iernei’ and to Celtic tribes based on the North Sea. In 50 BC, Julius Caesar refers to the distant land of ‘Hibernia’ in his account of his Gaul campaigns. Around the same time, Greek philosopher Strabo marvels at the shadowy country of ‘Ierne’ located on the limits of the known world, and the stories he’s heard of the savage, man-eating inhabitants and their sexual practices.

Ptolemy, the famous geographer and astrologist, produces the first map of ‘Hibernia’ in the middle of the 2nd century AD and lists native tribes said to live upon its distant shores; the Erdin, the Nagnate, the Menapii, the Iverni and others. Several decades later, in 81 AD, the Roman general Agricola also looks across the Irish sea from Wales and dreams of invasion.

For all of these men, that distant, mist-shrouded island is a strange and mysterious place that’s open to infinite possibility and interpretation. The few snippets of fact from infrequent traders mingle tantalising with tales of gold mines and wolf packs, of outlandish savages and fearsome, magical inhabitants.

Meanwhile, on the island, oblivious to the ponderings of those distant strangers, the native peoples have secured footholds within the land’s green mantle, settlements on open sections of coastline or inland waterways. Tribal communities led by their chieftains, advised by their druids and protected by their fian – their tribal war parties – stick close to their own, ever cautious of the surrounding forests, ever watchful of dark shadows between the trees of the untamed ‘Great Wild’.

Suspicious of strangers and jealously defensive of their territory, the different tribes trade warily amongst themselves, form alliances and sometimes wage war. Occasionally, they’ll intermarry to re-establish a more lasting peace and some expand and grow to form mórtuath – tribal confederations. But all tribes rise and fall relative to the quality of their leaders and the strength of their warriors.

This realm of tribal societies, of visceral physical experience and intimate connection with nature, is the world from which most Irish mythology originates. One name from that world still resonating amongst the descendants of those people today, is that of Fionn mac Cumhaill. Hero, warrior and seer, his adventures have inspired millennia of tales and stories known as the ‘Fenian Cycle’ and are often considered the original basis for the magical tales of King Arthur of Britain and Wales.

Fionn’s life was filled with chaos and danger, and it was only through the skills of his guardians that he survived his early years to become the legend he was. Key among those guardians was the woman who taught him how to fight, who taught him how to lead men but, more importantly, who taught him how to overcome adversity in all its forms. That woman was the woman warrior called Liath Luachra – The Grey One of Luachair.

Set against a backdrop of encroaching forest, mythic ruins and treacherous tribal politics, Liath Luachra 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.

The Irish Woman Warrior 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).

The events in the series take place prior to the events in the first Fionn mac Cumhaill Series book (FIONN: Defence of Ráth Bládhma).

The books in this series are:

The character Liath Luachra originally appears in the 12th century text Macgnímartha Finn (the Boyhood Deeds of Fionn) but historical/ mythological information on her is very sparse.
Essentially, the name Liath Luachra means “Grey One of Luachair”. Why she was known as ‘The Grey One’ is impossible to tell. The text collates oral narratives that were in existence well before they were ever written down.

“Luachair”, meanwhile, is an Irish word that means ‘rushes’ (as in reed plants) but could also mean ‘a place of rushes’. There was a Luachair in West Kerry mentioned in many of the early texts (Luachair Deaghaidh – Sliabh Luachra) but, of course, it’s impossible to know if that was where the author of Macgnímartha Finn was referring to.

Fascinating Patterns from the SPFBO 2016 Competition

Honestly! Who’d be a fantasy book reviewer?

Day in, day out, reviewing endless narratives from a single literary genre, ducking the infinite queries from enthusiastic independent authors and then …Wham!

Just when you’ve established a workable regime, you’re suddenly enlisted in some bizarre, year-long competition, obliged to score thirty books you had no desire to read, books that are dragging you away from the ones you’d set your heart on.

But, I guess the view is very different from the other side of the mirror.

I came across Mark Lawrence’s Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO) back in 2016, completely by chance. Because I like Mark’s books and I wanted to support what he was doing, I submitted two books on a bit of a whim (FIONN: DEFENCE OF RÁTH BLÁDHMA and LIATH LUACHRA: THE GREY ONE) and promptly forgot about it. Generally speaking, I’m not a fantasy writer so much as a writer of Irish mythological fiction. This contains substantial elements of fantasy so my books occasionally get lumped into the ‘fantasy’ category but it’s by no means a perfect fit. [Please note, Amazon – your categories need work!]

I intentionally refrain from spending too much time online so it was several days after the announcement was made before I found out that FIONN: DEFENCE OF RÁTH BLÁDHMA had been selected as a finalist and only then because a fan of the FIONN series alerted me (cheers, Gary!).

As a slightly abstract finalist however, it’s been quite interesting to watch the competition unfurl. At first, I’d occasionally drift over to Mark Lawrence’s website to see how/if things were progressing. Later of course, the twitter account I’d set up to facilitate our annual Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition was hijacked by fellow SPFBO authors (you know who you are, you bastards!) obliging me to spend many hours of unproductive activity gigging over my keyboard like an inbred teen.

Meanwhile, back in reality, far away from the land of publishing, my alter-ego – mild-mannered concept designer and strategic analyst Brian O’Sullivan – couldn’t help but notice some interesting patterns that related to the particular dynamics of this unique competition. He’s done his best to summarise these below.

The diversity of reviewer tastes:

One characteristic that’s immediately obvious with the SPFBO is the diversity of reading tastes amongst the reviewers. One reviewer might absolutely LOVE a book, others might hate it. Others again might be all a bit …’meh’ about it.

That’s all completely natural of course and yet this characteristic wasn’t immediately obvious during the initial phase of the competition. At that point, the finalists and semi-finalists are still being chosen and the reviews produced tend to be mini-reviews so it’s hard to get a real feel for a reviewer’s taste. I became aware of the characteristic only because I had two books in the mix and the one which I’d thought the strongest contender (LIATH LUACHRA: THE GREY ONE) fell at the very first hurdle whereas FIONN: DEFENCE OF RÁTH BLÁDHMA ended up being the second book selected as a finalist. Both initial assessment/ reviews were carried out by different reviewers (Bookworm Blues and Bibliosanctum) so it was enough to get me thinking.

In the final phase of the SPFBO, once the three hundred contenders had been reduced to ten and the scores started to appear on Mark’s spreadsheet, the diversity of review blogger taste became far more visible. As the competition progressed, it was interesting to watch some books like THE GREY BASTARDS, PATH OF FLAMES and LARCOUT receive remarkably consistent scores whereas others like OUTPOST, PATERNUS or ASSASSIN’S CHARGE seemed to experience a much wider fluctuation, depending on the individual tastes of the reviewer. Interestingly, if you look at the score detail a bit more closely, you can actually see how some review blogs have quite a narrowly defined spectrum of what they like whereas others are far broader. Occasionally, this can be explained by the fact that some review blogs have a number of different SPFBO reviewers but this wasn’t always the case. Bring human, there’s also a genuine possibility of reviewers being influenced by the scores of their peers but, in fairness, any incidence of this appeared low (if at all).

For me, this wide range of tastes was one of the more interesting dynamics of the competition. Whereas for some reviewers you could see a slight trend of “every book but the one I chose wasn’t great”, for others there was really no way you could even hazard a guess as to what kind of score you were about to receive. This made the competition far more exciting.

A surprising openness to diversity

This characteristic really took me by surprise but in a sense it shouldn’t have as it’s probably a logical expansion of point (1).

As explained earlier, the books we publish (fiction and non-fiction) are based on Irish mythological fiction and focus strongly on historical accuracy and cultural authenticity (otherwise, the mythology makes little sense). Cultural authenticity was the whole reason I went down the self-publishing route in the first place. Generally speaking, my experience with mainstream publishers, distributors and reviewers in the English-speaking market is that they don’t allow much room for diversity of style or culture, preferring to stick to strict genre formulae that have proven themselves in the past. It was surprising therefore to see how the SPFBO reviewers handled things.

From the SPFBO FIONN reviews that have been published thus far, you can tell that the Gaelic names (characters and placenames) in the book created a degree of discomfort or challenge for the reviewers. For some this was minor and others complained a bit more, but in almost every case, to their credit, the SPFBO reviewers accepted them for what they were – an essential part of the story.

That genuinely surprised me. Having looked at the websites of the SPFBO review blogs, I’d got the impression they predominantly read and reviewed mainstream fantasy. As a result, I’d expected a similar mindset and that the language (and other Gaelic cultural aspects) would pose something of a barrier. Indeed all the advice I’d received from mainstream publishers to date (including Irish ones, sadly) was that it was critical to ‘anglicize’ Gaelic names for the market. The predominantly positive response from the SPFBO reviewers, however seems a pretty good indication of yet another reason why mainstream publishers are losing such a large proportion of the fantasy genre market to independent authors.

The SPFBO openness to diversity was not just limited to culture of course. Style also formed an interesting part of that. If you look at Jonathan French’s winning novel – THE GREY BASTARDS – you’ll see that the descriptions include ‘coarse’, ‘foul’, ‘filthy’ (one SPFBO reviewer even suggested it could “dial back the profanity/ sexuality”). My personnel favourite however, was from Pornokitch’s review:

“The Grey Bastards is filthy. In every way, really… from being coated to swamp mire to constant penis jokes. If there’s a way to be earthy, or just plain dirty, Bastards will find it. And then roll around for a while. This is part of the book’s steep learning curve: in the first few pages, we’re thrown in the deep end, with politics, sex, action and naked women shooting crossbows.

Despite all that, this book consistently scored ‘nines’ and – most amazingly – a ‘ten’, a first for the SPFBO.

The writing style of a number of other finalists (K. A Krantz’s LARCOUT and Dyrk Ashton’ PATERNUS, jump to mind) was also criticized on occasion by one or two reviewers (maximum). Again however, both of these books scored exceedingly well overall and remain comfortably nestled in the top five of the three hundred books considered, which speaks strongly about their quality.
For me, this situation with respect to diversity was best described by Bibliotropic (in one of the FIONN reviews) as follows:

“We don’t read fantasy novels to be confronted by the distressingly familiar — we read them, in part, to have our minds stretched a little bit.”

There’s been a lot of criticism in the fantasy/sci-fi (and other) publishing sectors over the last three to four years with respect to diversity. Overall, the SPFBO methodology of assessing books across ten different book reviewers seems a far more accurate and less biased process for looking at the general public’s taste with respect to fantasy literature.
If they have any nous, the mainstream publishers will be watching this carefully.

SPFBO Finalists receiving early (and positive) reviews have an advantage

The SPFBO competition is quite different from most other literary competitions in that it’s spread over an extended period (a year). In most cases, this works well for the participating authors (as they receive more exposure and visibility) and the participating fantasy review blogs (who see a corresponding increase in the number of visits to their sites).

The busiest, and most popular, period of the SPFBO definitely appears to be the initial phase of the competition. Over this period, at least 300 authors are online discussing the SPFBO, their own (and other authors’) books, exploring the various reviewer websites to get a sense of the reviewers to whose groups they’ve been assigned and ‘checking out’ of the competition (the other authors in their reviewer group). Numerous other bloggers and fantasy review sites are also interacting at this time, mini-reviews are released, some semi-finalists are identified, the identities of selected finalists trickle in and, of course, other participating authors are slowly but surely, eliminated.

The second phase of the competition seems a little more subdued in comparison. As the number of participating authors has been reduced from three hundred to ten, many of the eliminated authors have moved onto other things and the associated social media activity appears correspondingly diminished. There’s still quite a lot of interest in the initial reviews of the finalists however.
By the time more than half of the finalist reviews are in, there’s certainly a visible tapering off in activity with a drop off in Twitter and Facebook shares, blog comments and in discussions across most other social media outlets.

This all means that there’s a sliding scale with respect to timing of SPFBO Finalist selection, SPFBO reviews and the associated activity/visibility benefits for the authors. This was highly apparent this time around when the Pornokitsch review blog released a post identifying its finalist (Phil Tucker’s PATH OF FLAMES) and close contender (Josiah Bancroft’s SENLIN ASCENDS). Because this post identified the first finalist and provided the first in-depth review, the Pornokitsch post generated an enormous amount of interest and publicity for both Phil and Josiah (deservedly so, I’d have to add). Despite the fact that Josiah was eliminated from the competition, the positivity of the Pornokitsh review and the amount of interest it garnered (plus the quality of the book and a subsequent review from Mark Lawrence) meant SENLIN ASCENDS actually went on to perform exceptionally well in terms of sales and online reviews. Far better in fact than some of the actual finalists.

In some respects, this was also the case with FIONN: DEFENCE OF RATH BLADHMA as there was a flurry of sales and reviews following its initial selection (and like the Pornokitsch review, the Bookworm Blues reviewer struggled to choose between FIONN and Benedict Patrick’s excellent THEY MOSTLY COME OUT AT NIGHT). Due to very understandable circumstances, the reviews for both books were relatively short compared to those of the other blogs which no doubt had some effect.
I haven’t analysed whether the other finalist authors experienced similar dynamics with their initial selection but given the timing issues, I suspect the associated benefits diminished for the later finalists. I suspect this is also the case with the actual reviews themselves. Finalists who received a lot of reviews at the start of the second phase would have obtained far greater benefit than those who received the majority of their reviews in the latter part (for example F.T. McKinstry’s OUTPOST, S.K.S. Perry’s THE MOONLIGHT WAR and to a lesser degree K.A. Stewart’s THE MUSIC BOX GIRL).

The diversity of the fantasy blog reviewers creates different scales of response/benefit

When you consider the SPFBO review blogs, it quickly becomes apparent that they vary broadly in terms of size, from one man/woman bands (such as Bookworm Blues and Bibliotropic) to larger, more collective-style blogs (such as Fantasy Faction or Fantasy Literature). Over the course of the competition, I certainly got the sense that the smaller blogs suffered more from the strain of the increased review workload (the larger blogs could, at least, share the load amongst a larger number of reviewers). Given that, you would have expected the larger sites to complete their reviews first. Ironically, that didn’t seem to be the case. At the time of writing this post, many of the SPFBO reviews from two to three of the larger sites have yet to be posted (although the scores have). This isn’t a criticism – I’m sure there are perfectly good reason why – I just found it quite amusing.

From the perspective of the participating authors, the size and of the reviewing blog probably has some importance. It seems logical that the larger (or more established) review blogs have a greater follower count than the smaller (less-established) sites. This also means that any reviews from those sites (and associated benefits of visibility etc.) spread far wider than the reviews from the smaller sites. To a degree, this effect is balanced by the linking of all the reviews to the centralised SPFBO home site but it’s almost certain that some variance of benefit remains.

Conclusion:
The above are just some of the interesting characteristics that I’ve personally observed over the course of the SPFBO competition research but given the limited amount of analysis I carried out, that’s all they really are: observations.

All competitions have their own particular features, their strengths and their shortcomings. Given that the SPFBO is facilitated by volunteers who do it for passion rather than for pecuniary or other benefit, I don’t think any of us participating authors have too much reason for complaint.
Personally, despite my initial lack of expectations, I ended up obtaining immense enjoyment from the experience (more as a result of the online friends and relationships I’ve established than from any increased sales or visibility – although these too have been beneficial).

I recently carried out a scoping exercise to assess the possibility of facilitating a SPFBO event here in Wellington and although the results indicated it wasn’t really a feasible option as yet, I did identify hints that the SPFBO competition was on the cusp of a step-change in terms of influence. I’m not really interested in the political pros and cons of the “indie versus traditional” publishing discussion but what’s clear to me is that events such the SPFBO have irreversibly transformed the publishing sector. Independent or self-publishing is (and probably has been for a while) the mainstream publishing sector.

I’ll close off with thanks to Mark Lawrence (read the Red Queen), Sarah Chorn and all the participating reviewers of the SPFBO 2016.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh

That a thousand good things might come to you.

Brian O’Sullivan

PS: If I’ve got anything wrong, omitted or misinterpreted anything, feel free to correct me in the comments.

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!

The Completion of Two Irish Imbas Projects, the Start of Another

The first batch of hardcopies for Fionn: The Adversary arrived in this morning. Fifteen copies and they’re already gone, mostly committed to people who’ve helped with the production, editing, reviewing etc. I think I have a single copy left which is remaining here on the home shelf.
Even after all these years, there’s still a great thrill and satisfaction in seeing all your intellectual work captured and consolidated into physical form. Digital copies are fine but I still prefer the tactile experience of flipping pages and the tangible weight of a book in my hand when I’m reading.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the way the book has been received. Given the rush to complete it on time, I was growing too close to the final product by the last stage of edits and found it increasingly difficult to tell whether the story was working as I wanted (really need to work on those self-imposed deadlines!). In the end, I went with gut instinct and the advice of my test readers and editor and, fortunately, that seems to have worked. The reviews to date (on Goodreads – it seems to be getting increasingly harder to get reviews on Amazon) have been extremely positive so that’s a major relief.

Since the publication, I’ve done absolutely no creative writing and have been focussed mostly on editing the next Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Collection (due for release this week if everything comes together). The timing for this release has actually been seriously hampered by New Zealand Post losing our final edited version between the north and the south islands (despite having paid for tracking, they were unable to find it). Essentially, NZ Post has been run into the ground by the current New Zealand government over the last few years and can no longer be trusted for even the most basic of deliveries. We certainly won’t be using them again.

Apart from that our monthly newsletter will also be released later this week. I’ll be outlining my next writing projects in that and on this website in a future post.

A Restrained Saint Paddy’s

St Patricks Day in New Zealand started with a bang – literally.

I heard the story from the Honorary Consul General who’d been stuck on a plane in Auckland airport for two hours. Bound for Wellington, the plane ended up being grounded due to a dog running loose on the runway. Ironically, we later found out the 10 month-old dog was actually an Aviation Security Dog (a ‘sniffer’ dog) who’d escaped its handler and panicked. The airport staff tried to catch it for three hours but in the end they resorted to shooting it. Sixteen flights had been grounded (including the Consul-General’s) and several more had been diverted. Apparently, they weren’t going to let an animal cause any further loss of income.

Even more ironically, I started the day by attending a St Paddy’s Ulster Breakfast celebration at the British High Commission. I was a bit surprised to get an invite to such a formal occasion, particularly from a British Government organisation. When I told K, she was cynical: “They’re probably trying to cover all options for the forthcoming Brexit trainwreck. Maybe they’re hoping to get jobs in Ireland.”

Actually, this turned out to be quite a bit of fun as the weather was stunningly beautiful and there were numerous people from Cork there. Apparently there’s some secret special deal between the New Zealand Emigration Office and Cork people at the moment. I used to be the only Cork person in Wellington city. Now the place is flush with the bastards.

I had an interesting conversation with one person (from Cork) who approached me to ask why I wasn’t wearing green.

Me: I’m green on the inside.

Him: Ah, sure, I know but it’s symbolic of the day. If you wear green people will know you’re Irish.

Me: All I have to do is open my mouth and people know I’m feckin Irish.

A lot of people were wearing Irish rugby jumpers. Given there were so many people from Cork they could have probably just have worn the red and white Cork colours. The High Commission staff were the only people who wouldn’t have got it.

As we were leaving the British High Commission, one of the senior staff was outside playing with a control handset for a drone set up on the pristine grass garden in front of the residence. ‘A communications package,’ he hurriedly assured us. ‘Just testing it out.’

We nodded knowingly. There’s no hiding the enthusiasm of a fifty-plus year old man with a new toy. While we watched, he pressed the ‘up’ button. The drone literally jumped a foot into the air, did a flip and collapsed, props spinning, back onto the grass. There was a stunned silence.

‘It’s not a drone’, my witty friend commented. ‘It’s some kind of new Flymo.’

That afternoon I returned to the home office to do some work on the Celtic Mythology Collection 2017. I’d decided to give the whole creative writing side a break for a month or so and it was actually nice to just write contextual notes for other people stories.

That night there was a party but you’re getting no further details on that.
I want to be invited to another Ulster Breakfast.

Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Collection 2017

Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Collection 2017

What we refer to as ‘mythology’ today was actually a framework of ideas and beliefs used by our ancestors to understand the world around them.

In the absence of modern-day science and technology, these people used an approach based predominantly on observation and deduction over an extended period to make sense of the things they saw in their lives and in their environment but could not explain. Instead of developing theories or hypotheses to articulate those explanations as we would do today, they developed narratives or stories that used those observations and deductions and presented it in a way that people could understand. This is why so much mythology is connected to the larger questions of creation such as ‘Where did we come from?’ ‘Where did the moon and stars come from?’ or explanations for uncommon natural phenomena such as giant waves, earthquakes, rainbows, mists and so on. These stories, and others that helped to guide how people should treat each other, formed the basis of the Celts’ cultural belief system.

Since the colonization and erosion of what are generally referred to as the Celtic Nations, the cultural beliefs of those societies have often been seen as something to be looked down on and many of the important cultural narratives have been classified as fantasies or relegated to the status of children’s tales. As a result, despite the affection that people of Celtic heritage feel for such stories, very few actually understand them today. That lack of knowledge – the result of a great disconnect from one’s cultural heritage – means that, in contemporary times, we’ve come to believe in skin-deep, almost cartoon-like caricatures of our own cultural origins

Following on from the popular 2016 collection, this new set of short stories includes an explanatory note on important Celtic cultural beliefs and context behind ‘Macha’ and the naming of ‘Eamain Macha’, the development of the deity ‘An Daghdha’, ‘Changlings’, the beliefs of Crows and others.

This collection by a new wave of contemporary authors will again haul Celtic stories out of the dusty shadows and place them back into the light where they belong. Love, mystery and drama, these fascinating tales mark a new movement of more authentic and original Celtic-based writing and a better understanding of Celtic cultures.

Na Ceiltigh, abú!

Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Collections

What is Mythology?

What we refer to as ‘mythology’ today was actually a framework of ideas and beliefs used by our ancestors to understand the world around them.

In the absence of modern-day science and technology, these people used an approach based predominantly on observation and deduction over an extended period to make sense of the things they saw in their lives and in their environment but could not explain. Instead of developing theories or hypotheses to articulate those explanations as we would do today, they developed narratives or stories that used those observations and deductions and presented it in a way that people could understand. This is why so much mythology is connected to the larger questions of creation such as ‘Where did we come from?’ ‘Where did the moon and stars come from?’ or explanations for uncommon natural phenomena such as giant waves, earthquakes, rainbows, mists and so on. These stories, and others that helped to guide how people should treat each other, formed the basis of the Celts’ cultural belief system.

Since the colonization and erosion of what are generally referred to as the Celtic Nations, the cultural beliefs of those societies have often been seen as something to be looked down on and many of the important cultural narratives have been classified as fantasies or relegated to the status of children’s tales. As a result, despite the affection that people of Celtic heritage feel for such stories, very few actually understand them today. That lack of knowledge – the result of a great disconnect from one’s cultural heritage – means that, in contemporary times, we’ve come to believe in skin-deep, almost cartoon-like caricatures of our own cultural origins.

The Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Collections Project is our attempt to haul Celtic stories and beliefs back out of the shadows and to counter the centuries of misinformation around the different Celtic cultures today. At present this consists of:

Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection 2016

Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection 2017