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It’s always nice when a box of books arrives at the door, a delivery I tend to limit to once a year. Usually, this occurs only when I’m releasing one of my own books (Liath Luachra: The Seeking, in this case) or printing off a small number of books for presents/reviews, or treating myself to a rare book gift from home.
This year however, given the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s a particular poignancy to the annual ritual. I’m currently based in New Zealand (something I’m very grateful for every day) – an isolated island at the edge of the planet. It’s very difficult to make or to receive deliveries here due to the international mail disruption and the reduced number of aircraft carrying goods to this part of the world. To send a book to America from here, can currently take up to four weeks. To Australia (just “across the ditch”) it can take three.
And just last week (early March), I recieved a whole bunch of Christmas mail from Ireland.
This year, I couldn’t get the books I wanted to order from lreland so I focussed instead on updating my own stock. In the scheme of things, of course, I’ve nothing to complain about.
There’s a lot of rubbish online about Sheela Na Gigs. Carvings of female figures displaying an exaggerated vulva, there’s certainly a sexual reference in there somewhere, but the truth is that we still don’t really know what they were used for, or what they’re meant to represent.
Although found across the European contient, the largest number seem to be centered in Ireland, but mostly in areas that were controlled by Anglo-Norman colonists (which is when most date to). This, and the fact that there’s no clear lexicological trail for an Irish (Gaelic) meaning, would seem to suggest it was an introduced motif rather than a native Irish one.
But the jury’s still out on that.
Whenever there’s any ambiguity, of course, you’ll find online ‘authorities’ (most who’ve never even seen a Sheela na Gig) claiming to know what they represent. Most of these tend to be pushing their own pet theories or agendas (thanks Facebook!) which is why you should never believe anything you read on the platfrom which hasn’t been reviewed elsewhere.
That said, this is an interesting take (in the Guardian) by some Irish feminists. I suspect (but I certainly dont know) the figures were used as a kind of ‘suppressor’ by the Anglo-Norman Church. It’s kind of amusing to see the shoe on the other foot. Sheela!
With the ‘soft’ release of Liath Luachra: The Seeking, I now have a slight breather where I can mull over future works in the pipeline and consider what’s coming up next.
In terms of “Definitely Coming Soon”, I can confirm priority on the following projects:
(1) Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha/ Dark Dawn This Irish/English language project will be released in May/June 2021. You can find a little more information on this at: HERE.
(2) Liath Luachra: The Metal Men Given that this completes the story in ‘The Seeking’ I’m keen to get this finished and released as soon as possible. I’m feeling pretty confident about getting this out as five chapters are already in ‘close to final’ draft (i.e. they’re written but haven’t yet been touched by the red pens of partner K (my first ‘rough’ reader) and editor Madame Palamino Blackwing.
(3) Fionn: Stranger fromMullán Bán This novel has been sitting patiently in my drawer for well over a year now. The first six chapters are done and dusted so this will be the immediate priority after ‘The Metal Men’. As usual though, its completion will depend on the intensity of my freelance work and how much publishing time I have available. The first chapter/short story can be found here on the Irish Imbas website (Fionn: The Twisted Trail)
New and Potential Projects
From past experience, I know it’s just impossible to foresee what I’ll be prioritising once these initial three projects are completed. Every year for the past five years, some major event has unexpectedly slammed in from the side and thrown all my well-laid plans to the winds. At present, these are the projects on my work table. Hopefully by the end of the year, I’ll have a better idea which ones I’ll be working on.
(1) Irish Mythology Project This is a substantial non-fiction project I’ve been working for over two years. Basically, it’ll explain – in a practical manner – how Irish mythology works, how you can use it apporpriatey and effectively and how you can make it personally relevant (or not).
(2) Smaller Irish Mythology Project This is a fiction-based mythology project. Possibly another Short Story Collection – I’m not entirely sure yet.
(3) A Liath Luachra novella A prequel-novella based on an event in Liath Lauchra’s life during her first year with Na Cinéaltaí.
(4) Beara 2 and Beara 3 This is a substantial piece of work given the size of the existing book but I’m keen to get this story finished.
(5) An Irish Battle Series This is a short, three-book series based on on the events leading up to a major Irish battle and the people who took part in it.
(6) Cú Chulainn I’ve also recently been thinking of doing a series on Cú Chulainn (i.e. from an Irish/Gaelic perspective as opposed to the anglicized fantasy stuff that’s usually served up). The Cú Chulainn story is actually one that’ll be very difficult to adapt for a contemporary audience while keeping it culturally authentic. I suspect this will probably take a lot of commitment in terms of time (for research, scoping and actual writing).
Please feel free to let me know if any of these projects sound of interest to you.
I had a bit of fun with ‘Facebook Shops’ recently.
A recent attempt by the social media company to break into the eCommerce market, I’d generally avoided Facebook Shops in the past as it was simply too difficult to load products onto it. Remarkably complicated and driven by a clunky algorithm, it always seemed to come up with some amusingly obscure reason for rejecting my books. After loading the few books it would accept, I left the others and promptly forgot about it.
A few days ago when I was launching another book (called ‘Liath Luacra: The Seeking’) I decided to try Facebook Shops again for visiblity reasons but ended up with an even more surreal response than ususal. An adventure series dealing with the experiences of a young woman warrior in 1st century Ireland (and linked to the Fenian Cycle), the book cover depicts the protagonist – a very feral character – in a scene where she’s adorned in black and white war paint. This is the cover:
When I submitted the book cover to Facebook Shops, this was the response I received. Note the policy that Facebooks says I’ve violated!
Apparently, the Facebook algorithm thinks she’s a zebra!!
As promised, Liath Luachra: The Seekingis finally being released today. It’s something of a ‘soft’ launch however (in that you wont see much fanfare) as the book will only be available in digital form through the Irish Imbas Books website (and in paperback form through Amazon) for the next month or two. After that, it’l lbe relased wider.
Part of the reason for this apporach is that the story’s a two-parter to be completed in Liath Luachra: The Metal Men, which I’m hoping to finish and release in the next 4-5 months or so. I’m not overly comfortable putting out a completely unfinished story but people were demanding something be released and this seemed like a good medium.
It’ll be interesting to see the reaction the cover gets when it’s released wider than this website. As covers go, it’s a bit confrontational and controversial (given the naked – albeit desexualised – woman on it). Those who know the character or who’ve read the book will ‘get it’, of course.
Brian Mahy – an artist who I really enjoy working with – was given the task of designing a cover that represents a scene from the book where the character is naked. To do this, I asked him to make the protagonist clearly recognisable as feminine while also ensuring it wasn’t sexualised. I think he did an excellent job of that and also in reflecting the ferla nature of the character. You can find more of Bryan’s work at Bryan Mahy Artstation or Bryan Mahy Behance.
The paperback version on Amazon is available HERE but note that this link may change depending on which country you’re living in. If you search for it, it’ll probably only appear if you look it up in the ‘Books’ section as oposed to the ‘Kindle’ section. If you’re based in Great Britian – the whole Brexit mess menas a lot of books don’t appear on Amazon UK.
I have to admit, it’s not my preference to make the paperback available uniquely on Amazon, unfortunately most other paperback distributers have made it too expensive to go through them at the moment.
By the way, you should also be aware that there appear to be delays with the shipping of paperback products from Amazon. I ordered several paperback copies recently for review purposes and probably won’t get them until mid- to end- March. If you’re downloading through the Bookfunnel system meanwhile, remember that it can take up to two hours (admittedly rare) to receive the file and if you have a gmail address the email may end up in one of the more obscure folders.
Recently, the Cherokee Nation in the United States gave notice to Stellantic – the company making ‘Cherokee Jeeps’ – that it was time to stop using their name and culture for commercial branding purposes. This followed actions by other American tribes (e.g. pressures on the Washington Redskins football team to change their name, the Navaho tribe taking J.K. Rowling to account for her use of their cultural belief systems for her ‘fantasy magic’ stories etc. etc.) and indigenous peoples in other countries to prevent the misuse and misrepresntation of their culture by commerical entities.
Ireland’s in an interesting place in that regard. We’re not an indigenous people like native Americans – except perhaps in Ireland (or parts of it!) – yet our history means that we’ve ended up one of the few countries in the western world where individuals and commercial entities from other countries feel completely free to come in and ‘cherry pick’ aspects from it, for their own commerical purposes.
That’s a very simplistic summary of course. There are many different aspects to this and very many layers which first need to be looked at before we can even start to understand how we got to where we are.
Still, it’s an interesting parallel and I’m seeing an increased levels of anger amongst Irish people at the way in which ‘Irishness’ is transformed to ‘Oirishness’ for commercial and branding reasons.
‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ anyone?
You can find a link to a Guardian article on the Cherokee situation here:
Attached is a short but interesting video on Brian Boru from an old television series called ‘Ancient Warriors‘.
This being an American series, much of the pronunuciation of Irish names and terms is pretty dodgy and the producers seem to have got their locations badly mixed up. That said, they do cover the inter-tribal discord and Brian Boru’s early years fighting the Danes quite well.
For several years, when Brian Boru was in his early twenties, he waged a guerilla war against the Danes around Limerick and other parts of western Munster. Although records of the time are sparse, he seems to have created some serious disruption for them over that period. Living a tenuous existence with his fian, his shortage of men, tribal support and resources menat that he coudl never do more than carry out ambushes and surprise attacks before quickly retreating to the relatively safety of marshes and hidden caves.
This and violent lifestyle inevitably led to attrition over time and many of Brian’s followers were either killed or deserted him. It wasn’t until his tribe – the Dal gCais – finally committed some resource, that Brian was able to move on to bigger and better things.
Unlike many of the Irish heroes described as warriors, Brian Boru did appear to deserve that description and the ‘up close and personal’ battle experiences would have helped his later – far more strategic – battle planning.
Over those early two to three years however, Brian and his men lived a life very much like Na Fianna as described in some detail in my own books on the topic.
You can find the link to the video here: Brian Boru
It’s interesting when you use different languages for what’s supposed to be the same thing or the same word defining the ‘thing’. The problem, of course, is that langauge is culturally-based and, often, a word cannot be directly translated or even explained without a good understanding of the culture in question.
In English, the word ‘druid’ has really taken on a kind of ‘magic’ or ‘fantasy’ element in contemporary times. In Irish (Gaelic), because it’s quite a different culture (and a different way ot thinking), the word has a somewhat different context. That’s pretty much the reason I mostly use the Irish term instead of the English term in my books.
Either way, like all people who want to tell you what to believe in – draoi, druids, priests, bishops, gurus, swamis etc. – you should never truly trust what they tell you.
You can’t really understand mythology if you don’t have the culture and the historical context – one of the reasons Western-based “internet mythology” remains an ‘entertainment’ rather than actual ‘knowledge’.
When it comes to mythology, one of the biggest mistakes people tend to make is an enthusiatic and frenzied focus on individual events and records rather than the longer term patterns. It’s a basic scientific principle that nothing makes sense unless it’s repeated (ie. it’s reproducible) and that truth holds just as well for mythology.
Attached is a link to a recent NYT article on an ancient Roman pandemic which gives a good example of this kind of thinking (although related to historical events rather than mythological). Obviously, you can’t compare apples with oranges but there are certaily clear patterns to be found if you look closely enough.
Attached are some conceptual images we used during the development of the Dark Dawn project.
Here’s a bit of the draft media release:
The latest product from IRISH IMBAS is ‘Caomhaoir Fuilsmeartha/ Dark Dawn’. An experimental narrative project, told in both Irish and English, it relates the story of a dying warrior’s attempts to protect the isolated settlement of Ráth Bládhma – future home of Fionn mac Cumhaill – from a potential attack. Brian O’Sullivan describes the project as follows:
“Essentially, it’s the story of a sick warrior who’s convinced – against his better judgement – to try and save a tiny settlement. Over the course of the story, that warrior must make a number of decisions – all influenced by significant events in his own life – that can change the outcome of the story. It’s a very simple story. A very human story.’
We’re now looking at a release date in late April /early May 2021.
In terms of plot patterns, ‘Peaky Blinders’ is probably one of the best shows on television at the moment and I’ve had a lot of respect for the writer Stephen Knight ever since seeing his startlingly innovative series ‘Taboo’ with Tom Hardy.
This interesting interesting post from the Irish Times shows some of the links on which the ‘Peaky Blinders’ scripts related to Irish gunrunning were based.
Today I sent the completed manuscript off to my editor for a final check prior to its release in March so it seems apt to put it out again.
Emerging from the cave, the warrior woman found Murchú already mounted and waiting below the yew trees. Swaddled against the cold in his black cloak, he had the lower hem drawn up and held in place beneath his inner thighs. The sight of the Uí Loinge man poised so casually astride the animal took Liath Luachra by surprise. Too dazed to take note when he’d first arrived, she’d assumed Murchú had managed to make it to Luachair on horseback only through a combination of good fortune and determination. The restful pose and the relaxed manner in which the reins dangled loosely from his fingers however, suggested he was a more than competent horseman.
She was even more surprised when he reached down with one hand to help her mount. Looking from the hand to Murchú, then back at the hand again, she firmly shook her head.
‘All the way to Briga?’ He adjusted the folds of his cloak. ‘That could cost us days. Days we don’t have, Grey One.’
The woman warrior frowned and regarded the horse with a measure of distrust. She didn’t know much about horses and had always viewed them with wary circumspection. They were beautiful creatures to look at and had their obvious uses but they were also skittish and could let you down when you needed them most.
With crazy workloads and various schedule upsets last year (not looking at you, Covid!), Liath Luachra 3 (The Seeking) was one of the main projects I was working on to suffer unexpected delays. Originally, my intention had been to release the final book in December 2020, but the on again-off again nature of the way I’d been obliged to work throughout the year, meant that completing the project by that date just wasn’t feasible.
This situation probably wasn’t helped by the length of the story. Originally developed as an outline for a potential second season in the proposed television series, this required a plot that was far more complex than I’d originally planned. Add in the need to incorporate the first links and overlaps with the Fenian Cycle (and the later Fionn mac Cumhaill Series) and the wordcount quickly expanded.
At this stage, my current draft stands at 130,000 words (The Grey One – the first book with Liath Luachra – was about 97,000 words) and I don’t think the story I want to tell (in the manner I want to tell it, at least) will take less than 170-180,000 words to complete. As an independent creator, (or, at least for someone who does as much research and writes as slowly as myself) this amount of work to produce a single book isn’t viable. I’ve therefore decided to release Liath Luachra: The Seeking in two parts and as two separate books.
Given that the first half of the story (Part 1) is already done and dusted (edited, proofed etc. etc.), this will be released in a limited form on 1 March 2021.
I’ll be aiming to complete and release Part Two by June 2021.
For those who really, really want Part 1, the full details and links to reading options will be outlined in the next issue of our newsletter (Vóg) but at this stage, the plan is to make it available for download here on the Irish Imbas website and probably in limited paperback form.
Once Part 2 is ready to go, they’ll both be available far more widely (for those who prefer to read the entire story in one sitting).
It’s hard to believe but it’s apparently been two years since this home-made trailer for the Irish Woman Warrior Series ( a series of books on the fictional adventures of an Irish woman warrior and her mercenary war party, Na Cinéaltaí – The Friendly Ones) first appeared online.
It’s certainly been an interesting (and slightly ironic) ride since then, with two seperate screen production companies unexpectedly expressing interest in the first book (Liath Luachra: The Grey One), those rights subsequently being sold to Graisland Entertainment and the book itself being adapted into a script for a televsion series.
Watching my work being transformed into a television series script by someone as talented as Michael Grais (and being allowed to watch it’s development) has probably been one of the highlights of my publishing work to date.
I’m finishing up this year with a beautiful photo from Aida Pascual that summarises my feelings for 2020 and 2021 far more effectively than words probably could. 2020 was extremely hard for everyone and although there’s hope for stability and peace in 2021, for many that remains a distant goal across a dangerous traverse.
On the personal front, I’ll be working over the Christmas period – just not so much online – although I will be taking a break in January. In early 2021, I’ll be releasing ‘Liath Luachra: The Seeking’ as well as launching my experimental project ‘Dark Dawn/ Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha’ – two works I’ve struggled with during the pandemic and associated complications.
Later in 2021 (probably towards the end), should see the completion and release of ‘Fionn: Stranger at Mullán Bán’. I had hoped to restart (and finally publish) Beara 2: Cry of the Banshee at that point but experience has shown me that, with creative independent publishing, sometimes you just have to go with the unexpected fluctuations and plans often end up going by the wayside.
With respect to the two narrative series that people seem to enjoy most, Liath Luachra (The Irish Woman Warrior Series) has four books planned in total. That series will end and segue nicely into the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series (which will have six books in total). By the end of 2020, therefore, six of the proposed ten books will be complete.
As of the December 2020, I have eleven fully published works available in ebookstores or obtainable through individual bookshops. Over the last year, with my growing cynicism of the ‘Amazons’ and ‘Apples’ of this world, I’ve started selling several small items – mostly short stories – exclusively from my own bookshop at Irish Imbas Books. In 2021, I’ll probably be doing more of that as – longer term – I don’t think I can continue working with self-serving and community-damaging ‘Supercorprates’. That’s just me, though. I’m not advising or encouraging anyone else to do what I do. The approach I’m taking works for me because of my own personal goals and because of what I want to achieve. It makes little immediate financial sense for anyone trying to make money from writing books.
If you want to support me in this – probably flawed endeavour – you can find the bookshop here (Bookshop). That should be getting a facelift in 2021 too.
There’ll probably be several other changes taking place at Irish Imbas over the next year or so too but I’ll reveal those through my newsletter (Vóg) as they start to occur.
I’d like to finish by thanking those of you who’ve been supportive with what I’m trying to achieve through Irish Imbas. I’ve been exceptionally lucky to have met some outstanding people online as a result of various projects I’ve completed over the last few years and those are relationships I value and appreciate highly.
You know who you are.
Beannachtaí na Nollag oraibh, a chairde! Agus Athbhlian faoi mhaise.
Note: You can find Aida Pascual’s beautiful photograhy here: https://www.aidapascual.com/
When I first wrote this tale some twenty years ago, I was originally trying to create a situation involving a dialogue between two strangers, where you could never be entirely sure whether anything that was said was true. Over the course of the story, therefore, when the protagonist (a young Irishwoman called Kathy) first encounters Dahl, she shifts from scepticism to wonder and then back again, never entirely sure whether the Hungarian girl is what she claims to be – or, indeed, if she’s even Hungarian!
To create the level of surreal uncertainty needed to make this story work, I set it in the seaside town of Hove but supported the technique of ‘unreliable narrator’ with ‘unreliable environment’ – in this case a mist that obscures the town, temporarily removing the normal physical features that offer a contemporary societal context. The surreal circumstance is then further confounded by Dahl spinning one outrageous story after another – to the point where you have to believe she’s lying.
Unless she’s not.
Dahl is a great character to write as you can honestly make anything come out of her mouth sound plausible. I liked her so much, in fact, that I used her as the template for a character in Beara Dark Legends – another mysterious woman but with a far more developed personality. I’m hoping to write another short story with Dahl at some point when time allows.