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It’s always a bit of a thrill to see the physical end product

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It’s always a bit of a thrill to see the physical end product from your creative work. Even after five or six printed books, the tangible experience of holding the first physical copy in my hand still gives a bit of a buzz. Oddly enough, from experience, I also know that sensation fades pretty rapidly. Within a month or so, whenever I pick it up a book I’ve written, it always feel as though it’s someone else’s book.
I’m not quite sure why such ‘distancing’ occurs. In some ways it’s good in that I can actually pick up and read one of my previous books with a very objective eye. I recently reread Fionn: Defence of Rath Bladhma and the nice thing was that I actually quite enjoyed reading it. How weird is that?

I suppose I’ve never really thought about it too much until yesterday (when I picked up the physical sample copy of Liath Luachra – The Grey One from the printers we use here in Wellington). Now, I suspect that what happens is, once one creative project is completed, I just mentally “chuck it” as I move onto the next. This is probably good in that it actually makes me quite productive but it also means I no longer have such a strong sense of creative ownership of the works I produce. I suppose that just doesn’t become so important any more once you’ve delivered your first “creative baby”! With each new creative work you become a lot more pragmatic and substantially less precious about them.

Anyway, Liath Luachra – The Grey One is now available for pre-order on Kindle. It’ll also be available in hard copy from Amazon in the next 1-3 days.

For those who live in Wellington, I’ll have paperbacks available from sometime next week providing all goes to plan.

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By the way, the white paper to the right of the computer is the rough draft of Fionn: The Adversary. I’m taking a week or two off from it at the moment but, yes, I am working on it.

The Warrior Woman

The Woman Warrior

Writing Liath Luachra – The Grey One turned out to be a lot harder than I’d anticipated. Most of it was written over a miserable New Zealand winter (in Wellington, at least), we had a number of other strenuous work contracts on and constant repair work on the house meant it was difficult to focus at times. This slowed down the writing immensely but, to be honest, in some ways I think this was a good thing. When you push yourself to write a pre-determined plot you can end up writing an almost perfect outline that lacks genuine emotional resonance. When the plot’s clear in your head but you take additional time to work through the different scenes in terms of characterisation, motivation, additional twists and so on, the story usually ends up much more powerful and dramatic for that.

Although ‘The Grey One’ is essentially a ‘stand-alone’ prequel to the Fionn series, for me it was an interesting opportunity to explore the dynamics of war-parties and inter-tribal relationships in Iron Age Ireland. There’s a surprising amount of material available on early war-parties – particular on fian – although, as always, you have to take what’s written with a grain of salt. The Church in Ireland hated them with a passion and, hence, wrote very negatively about them but other sources describe them as a pragmatic part of society at the time. Interestingly, the word ‘fian’, eventually disappeared out of common usage and instead, the plural noun ‘Fianna’ was used. This is, of course, what most people mistakenly believe to be the name of the war band led by Fionn mac Cumhaill (as well as the origin of the more modern term ‘Fenian’).

Having a single female protagonist in a male-dominated world (particularly one involving violence) has proven a particularly interesting challenge in that it creates powerful tensions between characters that I normally don’t delve into in great detail. Obviously, the main one is that of sexual harassment/coercion – particularly with more vulnerable younger women – and that’s dealt with pretty bluntly throughout the novel. Most of my previous books have strong female characters but it’ll be interesting to see what people think of the approach I use in this particular one.

When it comes to female warriors in the ancient world, there are of course, occasional snippets available in the historical sources but, again, you really have to take care with these as well. Most of the writers tended to be male and that almost certainly influenced their descriptions and interpretation. It’s also probable that at least some of them sensationalised the topic just as much as in contemporary times. The truth is that, for some very obvious practical reasons, women didn’t tend to engage in physically dangerous and violent combat unless there was a particularly compelling reason to do so. Given that ‘The Grey One’ is a work of fiction with elements of fact, this is something I’ve had to dance around somewhat carefully.

To give people a sense/taste for what the book’s about, I prepared a three-chapter pre-launch teaser in ebook form under the title ‘The Warrior Woman’ which went up on Amazon last week. Being Amazon of course, they insist on charging a minimum of 99 cents however if you want a free copy in mobi. (Kindle) or ePub (Apple, Kobo etc.) you can find one at Smashwords or at Noisetrade. If you read/print off your computer you can get a good, old-fashioned PDF document here under ‘Download sample chapters’.

This book itself becomes available through Amazon on 4 December 2015. Hardcopy versions will also be available in hardcopy through Amazon (sometime in December) and by ordering through other bookshops (from February). If you really, really, absolutely have to get an ePub version just email me though the website and I’ll see what I can do.

Ah, that’s nice – Our Books Available for Half Price on Kobo

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We’re not really that fussed one way or the other about different devices or ebook platforms but a recent sale announcement from Kobo took us a bit by surprise and we thought we’d share. Obviously this is really only of interest if you have a Kobo reader or similar ePub device.

Essentially, Kobo are supporting small and micro publishers like us by making our books half-price. The announcement we received is as follows:
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On the heels of our successful 50% off promotion in August–which was fully supported by us–we’re excited to announce we’ll be holding a second 50% off sale.
Customers will be able to redeem 50% off of any title published by KWL using the promo codes below an unlimited number of times—so please, let your readers and fans know about this incredible opportunity to stack up on eBooks while they can! Unlike last time, the sale runs in different dates by territory, and each territory has it’s own promo code. See below for the full details.
Canada: October 28th – October 31st
Promo Code: CA50SALE
United States/Australia/New Zealand
October 27th – October 30th, Promo Code: GET50SALE
United Kingdom
October 30th – November 2nd, Promo Code: UK50SALE

Promo code is valid for 50% off select eBook purchases from this list. Discount will be confirmed at checkout. Offer valid from October 28, 2015 at 12:00 AM EST through October 31, 2015 at 11:59 PM EST. This offer is not valid in conjunction with any other offer or promotion and cannot be used to adjust amount paid on previous purchases. Promo code must be entered at time of purchase to qualify for this discount. Discounts cannot be applied nor the discount value refunded once a purchase is complete. Rakuten Kobo Inc. reserves the right to change or cancel this offer at any time without notice
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Normally we wouldn’t even bother mentioning this but it does seem like pretty good deal. And there are plenty of other books out there apart from ours.

A Mysterious Concrete Chair on the Side of the Road

Several years ago while visiting a friend I found a concrete chair set up a ditch on the side of the road in the townland of Doonflin. Fascinated, I stopped the car to have a look and try to work out what it was. Because of its dilapidated condition, the writing engraved on it was almost completely erased. I drove past it again a few other times but the only people around that I could ask were either tourists or knew only that it was a monument to someone who’d been murdered in the vicinity. One person told me it was called ‘The Bard’s Chair’.
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Although I was intrigued I didn’t have time to research it any further so I just let it go and went my way.

Not long ago, my friend contacted me and mentioned that the concrete chair had been removed but, fortunately, replaced by a new chair and an information panel that explained its predecessor. Apparently, the original had been constructed sometime in 1931-34 when the road was still a quiet botharín (little road) and was a monument dedicated to Dubhaltach MacFhirbhisigh, a famous Irish writer most people have never heard of.

Dubhaltach MacFhirbhisigh was a member of Clan MacFhirbhigh (Mac Firbis in English), a family whose original territory was north Connacht (their descendants can still be found predominantly around Ballina in County Mayo). This clan were the hereditary poets and historiographers to the O’Dowds of Tireragh (an area that stretched along the west coast of Co. Sligo) from the 12th to the 17th centuries. Dubhaltach MacFhirbhisigh was one of the last Gaelically trained scribes of his day and is best known for his work Leabhar na nGenealach (the Great Book of Irish Genealogies). This work compiled Irish genealogical lore relating to the key Gaelic and Anglo-Norman families of Ireland from pre-Christian times to the mid-17th century.

To understand the significance of that you need to understand a bit about the context of the literary caste in Ireland from about the ninth century onwards. Essentially, this group held an official place in the Gaelic social system, they were extremely well educated (trained through a Gaelic educational system independent of the Christian system – although they eventually overlapped) and were immensely respected. In Gaelic Ireland, most Irish dynasties employed these men of learning as their official poets and genealogists/historians, and occasionally advisors (although the latter decreased over the centuries). In essence, these scholar-scribes were the direct descendents of the druidic class and responsibility for their role was passed down through select families from generation to generation.

At the time Dubhaltach MacFhirbhisigh was active (1640 to 1671), Ireland was undergoing a period of immense societal change. Due to the encroachment and increasing military influence of the English crown, most of the great hereditary Irish dynasties had fallen (or were in the process of it) and as a result, these scribes no longer had patrons to support or employ them. Some made a living doing translations, researching and writing genealogies and transcriptions for a dwindling number of clients. Others – despite their immense intellect and education – ended up doing the most basic of menial tasks. In a contemporary sense, this impact would be the same as if someone took over your country today and forced all of your university academics to make a living through manual labour (and you may have your own views on that). These men were an essential part of Gaelic culture but by the end of the 1600s, their positions were eroded just as effectively as the memorial writing on the original concrete chair.

Although we don’t know much about Dubhaltach MacFhirbhisigh, what we do know was that he was a supremely educated and competent (but, more importantly, a fanatically dedicated) scribe. At the time he was producing some of his greatest works in the Galway region (around 1949) bubonic plague had broken out in the city (causing an evacuation by most of the population). He was also in the environs around July 1650, when English parliamentary forces crossed the Shannon and began a nine-month siege of the city. Preoccupied with his own literary projects however, MacFhirbhisigh never makes reference or commentary on the activities taking place around him (except once where it disturbed his work). What’s even more amazing is that despite all the violence and furore taking place around him, he managed to produce works that far exceed those of the scribes before him, often without any financial support. The Leabhar na nGenealach, for example is almost as large and as detailed as the more famous Annals of the Four Masters which was produced by a whole teams of scholars around the same period. Quite frankly, MacFhirbhisigh was the ultimate scholar. Nothing mattered as much to him as research and knowledge.

Although scribes like MacFhirbhisigh lived in constant fear of their lives from Crown forces and supporters, they were still respected by the native population and it looks as though MacFhirbhisigh managed to scrape a living carrying out translations and other literary work for a wealthy peer in Dublin. During the latter years of his life, he moved back to a place near Easkey village and it was at a sibín (an illegal pub) near the village of Skreen (when he was in his eighties), that he was stabbed to death by a local man called Thomas Crofton. Little is known about the actual altercation apart from what the celebrated academic, Eugene O’Curry, wrote:

…the last of the Mac Firbiscs was unfortunately murdered at Dunflin, in the county of Sligo, in the year 1670…. Mac Firbis was, at that time, under the ban of the penal laws, and, consequently, a marked and almost defenceless man in the eye of the law, whilst the friends of the murderer enjoyed the full protection of the constitution. He must have been then past his eightieth year, and he was, it is believed, on his way to Dublin, probably to visit Robert, the son of Sir James Ware. He took up his lodgings for the night at a small house in the little village of Dun Flin, in his native county. While sitting and resting himself in a little room off the shop, a young gentleman, of the Crofton family, came in, and began to take some liberties with a young woman who had care of the shop. She, to check his freedom, told him that he would be seen by the old gentleman in the next room; upon which, in a sudden rage, he snatched up a knife from the counter, rushed furiously into the room, and plunged it into the heart of Mac Firbis

MacFhirbhisigh truly was an astonishing individual in that he managed to save the history and records of Gaelic culture and allow them to be passed on for future generations at a time when other forces were doing all in their power to destroy that culture. Most of the source material he used no longer exists and if he hadn’t worked with the almost manic determination he did, we would have a much lesser understanding of our ancestors today. For that, at least, he deserves his chair – and his story – preserved for future passers-by along the road.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homesick Dreams and a Place to Stand

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Years ago when I was living in France, I experienced a series of amazingly detailed dreams of West-Cork, mostly involving travels around the Beara peninsula, Schull or Glandore.  Although I knew where I was in the dream, the odd thing was that I kept ending up on side roads I didn’t recognise, following twisting botharín to sights and views that could only be described as surreally breathtaking. West Cork is a beautiful place by any definition but, in a weird way, this felt as though I was seeing the landscape through a spiritual rather than a physical lens.

Aaaaaaaand I reckon, I’ve lost half of you out there by now!

Interestingly, the art of perceiving auras or chakras (and, no, this philistine has no real idea of the difference) with the naked eye has been around forever (and at least a few decades on a commercial basis). This also became a bit of a fad over in the States during the eighties, according to the late Michael Crichton (of Jurassic Park fame). If you’re interested, he wrote a very pragmatic (he was medically trained at Harvard), funny and interesting chapter on it in his book ‘Travels’.

With respect to the dreams I experienced, these only occurred on an irregular basis and after a short period of two to three months, I never had them again. I’m pretty sure they were linked to a time of immense homesick because they were definitely of the “rose-tinted spectacle” variety. In the dreams, it was always sunny, warm, beautiful. In real life Ireland a single week of rain has an odd way of washing such tints away.

You don’t really need dreams of course – as long as you can get back on a relatively regular basis. Whenever I’m home, I make a point of driving up the Healy Pass, looking down on Glenmore and travelling around the whole Beara peninsula. I do it alone so I can draw it up in my head again whenever I want to, a kind of recharge to hold me over until the next time I’m back.

In New Zealand, Maori have a great word – tūrangawaewae – which literally means “a place to stand”. It’s a great concept that we don’t really have in English speaking countries and it refers to those places you feel especially connected to or empowered by. It doesn’t have to be your home or even where you come from. In that respect, Wellington is home (currently), Cork is where I’m from but Beara and West Cork will always be my tūrangawaewae. It just seems a bit of a shame there’s no similar English word to describe it.

There’s something about Brighid (Irish Folklore and Mythology)

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Growing up in Ireland, it’s practically impossible to escape Brighid. A huge proportion of my family or friends are called Brigit, Brigette, Bríd, Bride, Bridie, etc. etc. When I was in university, I also had a friend called Brída who formed part of a group of girls (Brída, Nuala, Gráinne, Aoife and two others) known as ‘The A-Team’ (Irish people will get this). With almost half the Irish population named after one particular individual, you’d be forgiven for wondering whether that figure was someone of particular importance.

Because you’d be right!

The first major figure associated with this name is the Celtic (and possibly pre-Celtic) land goddess, Brigit, who was worshipped by a number of Celtic tribes including the Brigantes (and that tribal name is certainly no coincidence). Interestingly, parts of this tribe are also believed to have moved from central England and settled in the south-east of Ireland during the first century A.D. It’s therefore quite possible (although not certain by any means) that it was these original settlers who brought the belief – and the name – to Ireland.

The second major figure associated with the name is the Leinster saint – Saint Brighid – a figure said to be from the Fortharta sept and who’s probably most famous for founding the convent at Cill Dara (Kildare), the huge number of miracles associated with her and, of course, the festival on St Brighid’s Day (1 February).

In some respects, Saint Brighid has always struck me as a kind of Celtic version of the Virgin Mary. She’s always been a bit of a poster girl for the Church (at least in Ireland) and if you look through all the old religious material about her, she reads very much like:
(a) a kind of ‘perfect’ role model that all woman should aspire to; or
(b) a kind of ‘sop’ to the female members of the congregation along the lines of: Yes, ladies. God likes women too – they just can’t hold positions of authority in his male-dominated church.

Given the odd similarity in names between the saint and the original land goddess (and the Church’s long established habit of ‘borrowing’ elements of local belief systems) you’d also be forgiven for wondering if – just possibly – the two might be linked. To work that out of course, you’d first have to go back to the key sources of information available on Saint Brighid.

The earliest surviving record of St Brigid is an origin story for the Fotharta, dating back to about 600 AD and linking the saint to them. I haven’t seen the original but it reportedly describes her as ‘another Mary’ (i.e. the Virgin Mary), a reference that indicates the record was made with a Christian hand (hardly surprising given that it was said to have been written by Saint Broccán).
A few decades later (in 633 A.D.) an Uí Dhúnlainge leader by the name of Faolán mac Colmáin became king of Leinster. Connected to the Fotharta by marriage and to the Church through a brother who was Bishop of Kildare, Faolán mac Colmáin clearly had a vested interest in encouraging the belief and worship of Brighid in order to cement the authority of his own rule. It comes as no surprise therefore to discover that, around this time, the church of Kildare actually engaged a cleric (by the name of Cogitosus) to prepare a biography of the saint to support this claim.

Arguably, the most fascinating thing about Cogitosus’ biography of Brighid (entitled Vita Brigitae) is the fact that it doesn’t actually contain any biographical material – it’s essentially a compilation of the various miracles attributed to the saint (a kind of “Best Of” collection ). This substantive absence of biographical information suggests:
(a) there wasn’t any biographical material to be included in the first place; and
(b) the biography was written predominantly to cement the Kildare church’s position and authority against competing religious centres who had saints of their own.

The case supporting the actual existence of a ‘Saint Brighid’ therefore starts to look a little shaky when you look at it in detail and this is probably why (over the last few years) there have been so many reports that she was de-canonized” following the establishment of the second Vatican Council (Vatican II). Generally, when it’s worked out that a particular saint has a dubious historicity or no credible basis for existence (and yes, this happens) the Church doesn’t formally de-canonize them. They are sometimes however, removed from the liturgical calendars (the religious equivalent of locking your insane and socially embarrassing Uncle Seán away in the back room).

In this respect, the Catholic Church is in something of an unenviable ‘lose-lose’ situation. They can’t officially “get rid of” a saint that they’ve previously used to convert the masses as this would undermine their spiritual credibility. At the same time, neither can they completely ignore the issue as that too would undermine their credibility. This is probably why Saint Brighid hasn’t been removed from the liturgical calendar (if that happened there’d probably be uproar – in Ireland, at least). For now, the Church seems to be doing the only thing it can do – keeping quiet and hoping no-one will notice.

Irish Imbas – Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition

 

 

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Tomorrow (or today, depending on what part of the planet you currently occupy) we’re launching our first Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition. Over the next few week therefore, you might see the above image turning up on various website/Facebook pages etc. It also has it’s own page (with all the rules and what-not) located here (if you’re feeling particularly ‘devil-may-care’ you can throw caution to the wind and look upwards to the top of the screen to find the tab!)

At this stage, the plan is to publish a compilation that includes the best of the submitted stories but also some commentary (in terms of the mythology/folklore aspects) in 2016. If we can cover the production costs, the digital version of the book will be available for free. A hard copy version will also be available.

Please feel free to forward to anyone you think might be interested.

What Irish Mythology Is Not

Blarney-West Cork18-20April 2011 031 (2)[I had a fascinating, if somewhat surreal, conversation about two weeks ago with someone (not Irish) asking me about elements of Irish mythology for a book he was writing. This is a summarised version of that discussion.]

HIM: ‘So there’s no vampires in Irish mythology, then?’
ME: ‘No.’
HIM: ‘But what about Bram Stoker?’
ME: ‘Well, I suppose it’s true he came from Ireland but he was one of the more privileged Anglo-Irish types so it’s probably unlikely he had much time for native folklore. He certainly knew his Transylvanian legends though because that’s what Dracula was based on.’
HIM: ‘How about werewolves then?’
ME: ‘Nah. No werewolves in Irish mythology.
HIM: ‘Dragons?’
ME: ‘Dragons? They’re feckin Welsh or Chinese!’
HIM: ‘Huh! OK. That’s pretty boring, then. Did you, like, have monsters and stuff. Or wild animals? Lions and sharks and shit.’
ME: ‘We have basking sharks.’
HIM: ‘Are they dangerous?’
ME: ‘Well, if one sat on you you’d know about it.’
HIM: ‘I was being serious.’
ME: ‘Me too. Basking sharks are fucking huge.’
HIM: ‘Do they kill many people?’
ME: ‘No. They’re harmless. I hit one by accident years ago when I was out sailing in Kinsale but he didn’t seem to care too much. We did actually have monsters though.’
HIM: ‘Really? What kind?’
ME: ‘Monster worms.’

Momentary silence.

HIM: ‘Monster worms. You have got to be shitting me!’
ME: ‘No, no.’ [Laughing.] ’There were quite a few.’
HIM: ‘And what did they do? Mug a bunch of midget sparrows?’
ME: ‘Actually, they were said to have carved the earth to make rivers and lakes. I suppose you could say they were our creation stories.’
HIM: ‘Creation stories?’
ME: ‘Stories developed by a local population to explain how their world and local environment were made. I suspect the Loch Ness monster was probably based on one of those.’
HIM: ‘But the Loch Ness Monsters in Scotland.’
ME: ‘Same thing. It was the same cultural and societal grouping as in Ireland. The defined territories of Scotland and Ireland came in much later but, to be honest, borders don’t really mean anything from a mythological perspective.’

Laughter.

ME: ‘What’s so funny?’
HIM: ‘Giant worms. It’s hardly … scary.’
ME: ‘Fair enough. But we also had some badass pigs. They did pretty much the same as the worms although usually on a slightly smaller scale.’
HIM: ‘I’m hanging up now.

This is going to be a bestseller!!!

I received a personal message from the Rain Gods

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Thank God it’s spring!

After a long and particularly arduous winter we were rewarded last weekend with this stunning double rainbow over the Miramar peninsula. Set at the very end of the peninsula, it really was an amazing sight from the other side of the harbour. In some respects it felt like a personal message from the Gods along the lines of “All right, lads! Enough’s enough. You can have some sun now.”

When my kids were growing up here in Wellington, I taught them a little poem to help them remember the names of the colours in Irish. It went:

Dearg agus glas – red and green
Gorm agus buí – blue and yellow
Feach sa spéir – look up at the sky
An bogha báistí – the rainbow!

Because of their sheer scale and striking visual impact, it’s hard not to be impressed by a rainbow, particularly the big ones that span large swatches of space. Its’ hardly surprising so, that every culture has some associated mythology or folklore. In Hindu mythology, their Thunder God uses a rainbow as a form of bow to shoot arrows made of lightning. Maori have a legend about Hina (the mother of Maui), the moon, who causes a rainbow to span the heavens for her husband to return to earth. In Ireland of course, the most famous legend is the story of the leprechaun’s pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Although most Irish people hate the plastic paddy shite associated with leprechauns, I have to admit the central concept of this particular story is quite clever. Rainbows don’t have an end so you can never get the gold. In fact, to see a rainbow you have to have the sun behind you. Hence it’s only got one side as well – truly a no-win situation!!

Ironically then, I once saw the end of the rainbow. This happened when we were kids and my Dad was driving the family home from a weekend in Beara. Naturally, this being West Cork, it was raining but as we drove through the Cousane Pass the clouds cleared and this beautiful rainbow opened up, one end filling the field with the standing stone at the top of the Cousane.

Needless to say, the event caused some consternation amongst the four kids stuffed in the back of the car. My poor Dad nearly crashed when we started screaming at him to stop so we that could run in and get the gold. We were smart. We all knew that you could only reach the gold for as long as the rainbow remained.

For some reason, my father ignored the screeching from behind and kept on driving but I’ll never forget how galling it was to see the rainbow’s end just alongside, marking untold wealth and riches. And us driving placidly (not) by.

I’ve never really forgiven my father for that excruciating lapse of judgement. If he’d only stopped the car for twenty seconds, we’d all be multi-millionaires today.

Update on Forthcoming Productions: Irish Imbas Books

It’s all been a bit quiet on the communication front from my end as there’s been a lot of changes going behind the scenes with the Irish Imbas Books website at the moment. Anyway, here’s the update since March 2015.

The Fionn Series:

For once, I actually  seem to be holding to schedule (on some books at least). I’m on the last chapter of Liath Luachra – The Grey One which is on track for release in Oct/Nov 2015. I’ve been spread pretty thin these last six months so I haven’t completed any further progress on Fionn 3: The Adversary but I’m still looking to release that later this year – probably in December now, given the delays.

Beara 2:

Still only three chapters in. Given the complexity of the storylines, I am seriously going to have to commit to taking a large segment of time aside to make a further dent in this. Because of family and other commitments, I’m not really free to do that yet.

Fionn: The Stalking Silence – Audiobook

I had great plans for an audiobook and although providing information and books through audio is something I’m keen to do, this has now been postponed until late next year. Too many other pieces of work to finish first.

Another Book:

Yes, I know. Considering all the whinging above, you’re absolutely right. Whys the hell am I even looking at producing yet another book?

The truth is, I was going through my files the other day and came across some old short stories I’d put to one side at least seven years ago. Two were relatively decent drafts which don’t require too much work to finalise. A third is a longer and more complex story that I wrote more than ten years ago but which I was never able to finish in a way that satisfied me. Last year, I finally developed an ending that works (yes, it’s been mulling around in my head that long) so I’ve decided to make this into a minor collection of stories – a bit like Leannan Sidhe – the Irish Muse. All three stories are set in Kinsale – a coastal town in Cork – so I’m probably going to call make it a specific Kinsale-themed book. I’m having a cover drawn up at the moment under the title ‘Sleepwalking at Altitude.’ This probably won’t be available until mid- to late next year.

The Non-Fiction Book: Project ‘Tobar’

I first mentioned this book back in March and explained that its something I’ve been wanting to write for several years.  Aaaaaaanyway, I’ve finally decided to get off my butt and do it. I now have the structure I need to use pretty much sorted out so I’m hoping to get the bulk of this out of me and into draft form by Jan/Feb next year. Given the title ‘Tobar’  (the Irish word for ‘well’ – as in a source of water), you may be able to work out what it’s going to be about but I’m only going to offer vague hints for the next wee while at least. I think it’ll be mid next year before this is available and given that it isn’t really something that will work well as an ebook, I’m looking at different options for publication. Possibly, I might just distribute this in some form from my own site. Speaking of which …

Selling Directly from the Irish Imbas Books Website:

In a week or so, I’m hoping to be able to sell some books direct from this site. This, essentially, allows me to get around the whole DRM issue (which for those of you who don’t know what ‘DRM’ means, stands for ‘Digital Right Management’ ). DRM essentially establishes monopolies for large companies.  In a practical sense, it means that if you download a file for Kindle e-readers, you can’t use it on another e-reader such as Apple or Kobo etc. (and vis-versa). This essentially locks readers into a particular device and prevents sharing of files. By selling them on my site, I can make works available in different formats so that nobody is locked out. More importantly, it means I have more control over my own work and I can actually make new work available on the website that isn’t available elsewhere.

Cover, covers covers:

I went a bit mad on covers this year and produced, or commissioned quite a few different ones. To my surprise, the one I liked most was one that my designer Marija sent to me out of the blue yesterday. Basically, she went off and rejigged the covers for the Fionn series and sent me a number of associated wallpapers – all of which are stunning (I’ll probably make those available on the website for anyone who wants one when I actually work out how to do that).

I really love Marija’s work and have also commissioned her to do the ‘Sleepwalking at Altitude’ cover. I’ve added the new look of Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma in this post. What do you think?

Defence of Ráth Bládhma minor

Newsletters:

Finally learning how to do these. I feel a bit guilty as these were supposed to start going out earlier this year. At the moment, I’m assuming they’ll be quarterly only, have a section on folklore, news from me and some pieces of what I’m working on so people can add feedback or comment if they want to.

Righto!  That’s all for me. I’m off for a beer!

 

 

Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition

WHY WE POSTPONED THE 2018 CELTIC MYTHOLOGY SHORT STORY COMPETITION.

Introduction from Brian O’Sullivan

With the Celtic Mythology Short Story competition, we’re hoping to collect the best contemporary narratives on genuine Gaelic/Celtic mythology that we can find.  Stories from Celtic mythology have been lying dormant in the shadow of “Children’s fairytales” for far too long and it’s time to haul them back out into the open where they belong.

There’s a new wave of Gaelic/Celtic authors out there, writers ready to draw on their cultural heritage to create a rich and compelling portfolio of new works. We’re hoping this competition is going to help kindle that process!

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

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 or mythological reference used should be culturally accurate (for example; no dedicated pantheon of Irish Gods, no werewolves, vampires or other elements that don’t fit with the established mythology of ‘Celtic’ countries)
  • A compelling story/theme, engaging characters. You’re a writer – you know what we mean.

At the end of the day, of course, the success of a story comes down to the judgement of the individual reader and it’s impossible to tell what one person will like over another. The stronger your narrative however, and the stronger the cultural element, the greater your chances of getting through to the short-list. To get a feel for the type of stories that were successful in previous competitions (and the context behind them) we strongly advise downloading a free digital copy of previous Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Collections at the Irish Imbas Bookshop. These can also be found free of charge at most other ebookstores.

The Process and Important Dates

1. Submitted stories will be read and assessed and a shortlist compiled.

2. A panel of judges will score each shortlisted story and choose the top three prize-winning stories. A selection of the top 5-10 scoring stories will be published in the 2018 Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Collection. In this respect, Irish Imbas Books retains one-time, non-exclusive publication rights to the selected entries chosen for publication.

3. Submissions will be accepted from midnight 2 September 2017 to midnight 10 December 2017.

4. This will be an annual competition so any submission received after midnight 10 December 2017 will be automatically entered into the competition for the following year.

5. The shortlist will be announced on irishimbasbooks.com, on the Irish Imbas Books Facebook page and on the Irish Imbas Books Twitter feed [@ImbasInfo] before 31 January 2018.

6. Winners will be contacted by email.

7. Prize money will be paid to the authors of the three prize-winning stories in February/March 2018.

8. The Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Collection 2018 will be released in March/April 2018.


Terms and Conditions

  • Irish Imbas Books reserves the right to decline a story for entry to the competition for any reason at its absolute discretion.
  • All successful authors will be contacted by email.
  • The judges’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into once the winners have been announced.
  • By submitting a story to the competition the author warrants that the story is original, and entirely the author’s own work. The author warrants that the story they have entered does not infringe the copyright or any other rights of any third party and is not libellous, unlawful or defamatory of any living person or corporate body.
  • By submitting a story to the Irish Imbas Books Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition the author acknowledges that, free of any fees or royalty payments, their short story and biography:
    • will be made available for publication in the Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection (digital and hard copy version);
    • can be used (in whole or in part) in advertising and marketing material in any format via any medium for the purposes of this competition
  • By entering the competition you agree that Irish Imbas Books may email you with news of subsequent competitions). We hate spam as much as anyone so any email sent to you will enable you to unsubscribe at any time.

How to Enter

The entry fee can be paid by credit card via Paypal using the form below.


Number of Stories



Following payment, submissions must be sent by email as attachments (i.e. not in the body of the mail) to: info@irishimbas.com . See full details in The Rules below.

Submission of an entry is taken as acceptance of all the Rules, Terms and Conditions. Failure to comply with the rules could mean you are disqualified. Although we would not do so arbitrarily, Irish Imbas Books reserves the right to update the terms and conditions at any time.

The Rules

    • Maximum number of words is 4000 words, excluding the title.
    • Submissions must be received by midnight 10 December 2017. Submissions received after that date will be automatically enrolled in the 2018 competition and the same conditions apply.
    • Submissions must be in English
    • The competition is open to authors residing anywhere in the world.
    • The submitted stories must be the original work of the entrant.
    • The submitted stories must not have been previously published (print or online). If you receive a prize and/or are published as part of this competition, we’re more than happy for you to resubmit your story for publication elsewhere, provided we retain one-time, non-exclusive publication rights to the story for the Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection
    • Authors will retain copyright of their submitted stories.
    • Authors can submit up to three stories maximum however each author can only win one cash prize.
    • Submissions must be sent by email as attachments (i.e. not in the body of the mail) to: info@irishimbas.com
  • Submissions should include:
    • The submitted short story(ies) as attachments – Word documents in doc. or docx.
    • Your name and address in the body of the email
    • The transaction ID of your Paypal entry fee payment
    • A short biography (maximum 300 words) in the body of the email (to be used in the Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection)
  • The email subject line should contain the words: ‘Irish Imbas Short Story Competition Entry – Author Name’.
  • Judges are only human so if the fonts you use are difficult for judges to read, your entry is likely to suffer as a result. Therefore, please ensure submissions use clear, simple fonts (Times New Roman, Georgia or Arial)
  • There is a $US 7 (seven US dollars) entry fee for 1 (one) entry, a $US 12 (twelve dollars US) entry fee for 2 (two) entries and a $USD 15 (fifteen US dollars) entry fee for 3 (three) entries. Please pay BEFORE sending your entry.
  • Submission of a short story to the Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition is taken as acceptance of all the Rules, Terms and Conditions.
  • Once a submission is received, no refunds of the entry fee will be given under any circumstances.

The photo used above was by Chris Campbell: creativemarket.com/chrisjoelcampbell

I Don’t Believe in Countries

 8HolidaySligo 26 April 2011 028 (2)

Over the last few years, I’ve slowly ceased to believe in ‘countries’. Nations and borders always have been an artificial construct, basically created in the past by ruling dynasties to maintain power over a territory. I can’t think of many examples where they were actually intended to represent the population that actually resided within its borders. The only exception to this are those smaller ‘countries’ who broke away from larger ‘countries’ who did not represent them or failed to recognise their culture (think Bosnia and Herzegovina and other states who broke up from Yugoslavia, East Timor which separated from Indonesia, Kosovo, Ukraine etc.). In fact, 34 new countries have been created since 1990.

The concept of a country seems to serve exclusive minorities because it allows a large population to be structure and controlled, often to their own detriment. That’s why some nationalist governments (the new ruling classes) continue to condition their young, programming them to obtain an emotional response from a waving flag or the tune of a national anthem. People are essentially trained to love their country without questioning why.

From an early age, we’re encouraged to adhere to a false concept – that we’re part of some mutually beneficial collective or brotherhood. Here in New Zealand, there’s currently a laughable attempt by the government to divert attention from its poor management of the country by trying to rally interest in the design of a new national flag. Unfortunately for them, it’s like the party that nobody turns up to. People actually aren’t that stupid, despite the money desperately being thrown at it.

It’s true that some countries have populations of a similar cultural background and heritage. Ireland is a classic example of this, particularly as our island status ensured a relatively consistent cultural system over the centuries. Northern Ireland of course is the exception. Planted with a new population that had different belief systems to the existing system, such an act was bound to create adversity and violence. It’ll take a few more generations to smooth that particular wrinkle out but it is inevitable (despite what politicians with their own agenda tell you).

When you see growing inequality within a nation, when your ‘countryman’ is more than happy to screw you for his own personal benefit, you have to ask yourself if you really want to be associated with that particular grouping?

If you’re someone who flies your national flag outside your house – something I confess to having done in the past – you might want to consider the potential that you’ve been manipulated.

Final Cover for Liath Luachra – The Grey One

Liath Luachra cover

Some months ago I mentioned that I was writing a prequel to the Fionn mac Cumhaill series entitled Liath Luachra – The Friendly Ones. The latter part of that title referred to the mercenary group Na Cinéaltaí (The Friendly Ones) originally mentioned in FIONN: Defence of Ráth Bládhma and to which the character Liath Luachra had at one point belonged. After some feedback from various people, the title name was changed to Liath Luachra – The Grey One and the final cover completed (at last!).

Some of you will have recognised An Grianàn Ailigh (the Grianán of Aileach) there in the background. An ancient stone structure up in Donegal that’s believed to date back to around 1700 B.C.,  I passed it by on my way to visit the ever-amazing Mel and Ruairidh last year. For the purpose of the the story, I actually transferred the Grianàn south and east to northern Leinster. It’s a pretty amazing place with spectacular views that I’ll write about again at some stage.

This particular book basically came about about as I was keen to explore some research I’d carried out on tribal dynamics and on the use of fian (the original word for a ‘war party’ but also the word that later became ‘fianna’) in pre-fifth century Ireland. I was also keen to provide some additional background context to the character of Liath Luachra in the Fionn mac Cumhaill series.

The book currently has it’s own page on this site and although it won’t be released until September/ October this year, I will be putting a sample chapter up in the next two weeks or so.

The back cover blurb reads as follows:

Liath Luachra – The Grey One
Ireland 188 A.D. A land of tribal affiliations, secret alliances and treacherous rivalries.
Youthful woman warrior Liath Luachra has survived two brutal years with mercenary war party “The Friendly Ones” but now the winds are shifting.

Dispatched on a murderous errand where nothing is as it seems, she must survive a group of treacherous comrades, the unwanted advances of her battle leader and a personal history that might be her own undoing.

Clanless and friendless, she can count on nothing but her wits, her fighting skills and her natural ferocity to see her through.

Woman warrior, survivor, killer and future guardian to Irish hero Fionn mac Cumhail – this is her story.

————————————————————————

To be honest, it always feels a bit weird doing the whole back cover blurb thing. Obviously, you want to give people some idea what the book’s about and try to make it sound interesting (with a limited number of words). At the same time though, it’s hard not to find yourself falling into cliché. To my ear, the blurb often rings wincingly melodramatic at times. I guess this was as good as I could make it without taking it all WAAAYY too seriously.

Hope you enjoy!

The Moving Statues and Me

AAA

When people talk of 1985 in Ireland, a lot of them mention how awful the weather was that summer. Oddly enough, for me it was one of the brightest and sunniest summers I can recall. It’s all down to perspective, of course. In the summer of 1985, I was in Kinsale, a beautiful seaside town/ tourist centre on the Cork coast. Having completed my university exams (successfully, for once!), I’d been unable to find work (Ireland was in mid-recession at the time) and a result, I was living on my Dad’s boat on Kinsale marina. I had a whole summer of sailing, drinking and partying ahead of me and I was blissfully unaware of the storm blowing in from about five miles off to the south west, a storm that was about to set the country alight.

The story of the moving statues started in Ballinspittle one evening in July. I have memories of meeting a French girl I really liked so around that time so I was desperately preoccupied trying to win her affections. Over in Ballinspittle however, two local girls had just told their parents they’d seen a roadside statue of the Virgin Mary move while they were praying. Most people who’ve been to Ireland will be familiar with these roadside grottos and their statues of the Virgin Mary. There are hundreds of these statues dotting the country in all sorts of places as a result of the religious fervor during the Marian Year in the 1950s.

By late July, the French girl was well gone, continuing her tourist trip around Ireland. I consoled myself by sailing with my family at the Schull and Baltimore regattas and then returning to skim around Kinsale harbour on my Lazer (a very fast and fun one-man sailing dinghy). Most nights, I’d end up drinking at a friend’s house (or at my cousins) as I rarely had enough money to actually get to a pub. By then, people were already talking about the “Ballinspittle Miracle” and the small groups of four or five congregating around the grotto. By the time I got back from Schull a week or two later, the Cork Examiner was reporting on the matter at length. The one thing that really indicated how serious things were getting however, was the sudden and startling presence of a double decker bus on the tiny streets of Kinsale as it brought the faithful down from Cork city to see the miracle.

Looking back now, in many respects it seems strange that nobody really took notice or reacted to the event for such a long time. I guess, the truth is that most of us kind of took it for granted. Miracles weren’t exactly unheard of. In Ireland, we’d always been raised with tales of the miracle up at the Knock shrine in Mayo. My parents – and most of my friends’ parents – had visited Lourdes or Fatima at least once to see the miracle sites there. I don’t think my friends were ‘believers’ by any stretch of the imagination but our generation had been raised to adhere to the beliefs of those that preceded us. The interesting thing was that although we accepted their religious beliefs, we were never truly confronted with them (not, really). They were our parents’ “thing”, not ours and we were fortunate in that we had sufficient freedom that they didn’t really touch us as much.

In August, the country started to get a bit crazy when a Marian statue was reported moving at the grotto in Mount Melleray (County Waterford). The papers picked up the story and connected it with Ballinspittle and almost immediately, competing Marian statues started shifting at thirty other grottos around the country. Everybody was now talking about it – mockingly or fervently – and it was becoming a phenomenon that could no longer be ignored. A tangible religious fervor was picking up amongst the more fanatical believers although the developing sceptics movement was just as strong. Thousands of people had started to gather at Ballinspittle every Sunday, although it has to be said that not all of them were believers. A large proportion were going out of sheer curiosity, for the craic, or simply to take the piss (something not unheard of in Ireland).

Even at the time, feckless youth that I was, I remember being surprised that the Catholic Church were so silent on the whole matter, refusing to be drawn on whether this was a genuine miracle or not. Fortunately, I’d discovered the joys of sex by then. That and the sheer physical pleasure of skimming across the waves in the Kinsale’s outer harbour held much more appeal than discussing the theological strangeness of moving statues although the subject seemed impossible to ignore. At this stage, reports of moving statues were on the television every night and public opinion seemed to be polarised predominantly along the lines of:

  • Yes, this is some kind of supernatural event and God is sending us a message (we’re just not exactly sure what it is)
  • No, it’s all an illusion driven by religious hysteria

Keen to get in on the action, a group of scientists from University College Cork (the Psychology Department) declared that the visions were either optical illusions caused by staring at static objects too hard in the evening light or a general psychological and sociological reaction to the recession, the crippling unemployment, the wet summer (WTF? It’s raining?!). Given the fact that I was actually studying Science at University College Cork, I was immediately skeptical, although for no particularly strong reason. I ‘knew’ many of the scientific ‘experts’ (albeit more for their personal foibles than for their professional competence and when you know people in one light it’s hard to accept them in another). To be honest, I suppose that even back then I was something of a cynic. Personal experience with both groups meant that I distrusted the religious ‘experts’ just as much as I distrusted the scientific ‘experts’.

In September, the situation took a sharp turn off Bizzare Street to career precariously down Wierdo Avenue. Up in Culleens (County Sligo), another moving statue had been spotted and strange things had started to appear in the sky. People were reporting ‘red balls of fire’ and ‘lights descending from the sky’ and for a moment, attention switched away from Ballinspittle. One night, watching the Late Late Show, I saw an interview with some local boy talking wide-eyed about ‘angels in the sky’ (the actual interview can still be found here: http://oldportal.euscreen.eu/play.jsp?id=EUS_F2B237A5C9B1497786593EBDF0F4B31F).

Even then, I felt things were balancing precariously on the hysterical. Despite this, another two or three weeks passed without major event. Life went on. Leaving the freedom of Kinsale behind, I returned to University for another gruelling year of study and socialising. The weather grew colder, it rained more often. Slowly, but surely, the statues started to reclaim their immobile pedestals. Despite the transfer of attention to Sligo and the subsequent ‘statue fatigue’, crowds of people (markedly smaller) kept flocking to Ballinspittle but it was clear the party was drawing to a close.

On Halloween (October 31st), it all flared back to life again when the Ballinspittle statue was attacked by three men wielding axes and hammers. Destroyed in front of a number of praying onlookers, the men (led by a man called Robert Draper) were arrested by Gardaí and the ensuing court case filled the headlines for weeks. The three men were some opposing religious group who disbelieved in praying to false idols. Like all fanatics, rather than protesting or getting their own message across though peaceful means, they’d taken it upon themselves to ensure nobody else could pray to them either. Despite boasting publically of what they’d done, the men were never sentenced. This caused immense resentment but the response was remarkably restrained (apart from a number of broken windows at Draper’s home). Apparently, buoyed by success, Draper went on a roll smashing other statues and ended up doing six months in prison in 1987. Whatever you believe however, following the Draper attack, I’ve not heard of the Ballinspittle statue ever moving again. Things went all quiet and the resulting silence was ear-splitting.

Thirty years have passed since the whole Moving Statues event and yet, despite all the weirdness, the thing I find most striking is the total silence surrounding the topic since 1985. In some respects, it’s as though it never happened. Loathe to be ridiculed, few people are willing to discuss the subject (although there have been one or two small documentaries where the original witnesses were sticking strongly to their stories). To be honest, to this day, I still don’t completely understand the madness that overtook the country.

A few years ago, when I was back home I finally went down to the grotto in Ballinspittle. Ironically, despite everything (and the fact that I was living just a few miles up the road) I’d never actually got around to visiting the site of all the action. On two separate occasions, I’d actually been invited to join a group of friends going over to the statue for a ‘squizz’ but on both, I’d declined. The first time, because I was still chasing the French girl, the second because of more ‘generic’ party reasons. I’ve never really regretted either decision.

It was early morning when I got there. I’d driven over from Kinsale where I’d spent the night revisiting some old friends and some old haunts and I was in a melancholic state of mind. Conscious of the fact that my plane back to New Zealand was in two days time, I was feeling ‘homesick’ although in hindsight, I think it was a homesickness for my youth and the freedom I’d enjoyed in Kinsale rather than for my country.

The grotto is actually a pretty place that reminds me of my childhood, with its white balustrade and blue concrete letters reading “The Immaculate Conception”. The new statue has small electric bulbs around its head in the form of a halo. Because it was so early, there was no-one else around although I’m not sure if people still come here anymore. Before I hopped into the car to drive back to Cork, I looked up at the statue one last time, waved and shouted goodbye.

But it didn’t move.

Magic Roads in Ireland

way-out-far-ireland5

The Magic Hill up in Louth (or ‘The Angel’s Highway’ as it’s sometimes called) is one of a number of magic roads in Ireland where, if you park at the ‘bottom’ of the hill, turn of the engine and shift it out of gear, your car will actually run back uphill.

Magic roads are, in fact, what are sometimes referred to as ‘gravity roads’ (that’s an area where the landscape creates an optical illusion so that a downhill slope actually looks like an uphill slope). There are actually quite a number of such places around the world (and there’s a least three of them in Ireland that I’m aware of). Most have their own folklore associated with them although most of that lore is usually derived after the invention of the motorcar.

When my Dad took us on our very memorable trip to Dundalk (county Louth, we went to see the magic road there and there’s an amusing summary of it here on youtube: http://talkofthetown.ie/2014/02/25/the-real-magic-hill/

It’s hardly deep, intellectual folklore but it’s great craic!!

Liath Luachra – The Grey One

Ireland 188 A.D. A land of tribal affiliations, secret alliances and treacherous rivalries.
Youthful woman warrior Liath Luachra has survived two brutal years with mercenary war party “The Friendly Ones” but now the winds are shifting.

Dispatched on a murderous errand where nothing is as it seems, she must survive a group of treacherous comrades, the unwanted advances of her battle leader and a personal history that might be her own undoing. Clanless and friendless, she can count on nothing but her wits, her fighting skills and her natural ferocity to see her through.

Woman warrior, survivor, killer and future guardian to Irish hero Fionn mac Cumhaill – this is her story.

Dark, dangerous and strikingly original.”