Changes in Creative Output

It’s been three years since I released the first official ‘Irish Imbas Catalogue’ (to much hoorah!) back in May 2020. One of the problems with catalogues, however, is that they really are a snapshot in time of creative work and output and, often, they don’t reflect creative or professional changes that have occurred over a particular period.

Last year, I instigated a slow-moving change in response to patterns that I was picking up around Irish culture and what people mistakenly call ‘Irish mythology’. Some of that involves an increase in non-fiction work – on top of my fiction work – the results of which should become more evident towards the end of this year or the start of next year.

At the moment, therefore, the current Irish Imbas catalogue doesn’t provide information on the following:

• LIATH LUACHRA: The Great Wild (book release 4 June 2023)

• LIATH LUACHRA SERIES: Screen Bible and Script (Aug 2023)

• The IRISHNESS Conceptual Model– Cultural Work (Oct 2023)

• THE FENIAN PROJECT – Cultural Work – (Oct 2023)

• How MYTHOLOGY works– anticipated release Dec 2023)

• FIONN 5– book release – anticipated release Dec 2023)

• BEARA SERIES: Screen Bible/ Script (Dec 2022)

Fortunately, it does still offer a good summary of what Irish Imbas does and why. If you’re interested you can find that here: Catalogue

What is the Sweetest Sound?

What is the Sweetest Sound?

The music of what happens next.

In terms of what happens next, I’ve got my head down on a number of separate IRISH IMBAS projects, most of which won’t see the light of day until later this year (and some later still).

Most of these are in varying stages of completion and although, in some regards, I’m champing at the bit to get them out, I also know they won’t taste anywhere as sweet if I rush them.

Key amongst these projects are:

  • LIATH LUACHRA: The Great Wild (book release for 4 June 2023)
  • LIATH LUACHRA SERIES: Screen Bible and Script for Pilot Episode (Aug 2023)
  • The IRISHNESS Conceptual Model – Cultural Work – anticipated release Oct 2023)
  • THE FENIAN PROJECT (working title) Cultural Work – anticipated release Oct 2023)
  • How MYTHOLOGY works – anticipated release Dec 2023)
  • FIONN 5 – book release – anticipated release Dec 2023)
  • BEARA SERIES: Screen Bible and Script for Pilot Episode (Dec 2022)

I’m back home in Beara and travelling around Ireland during June and July, catching up with family and friends and carrying out some additional research.

If you’re seeking an interview or have a mutually interesting project you’d be keen to work on together, feel free to email before I get back.

Liath Luachra: The Great Wild Release

I’m currently behind on where I want to be with Liath Luachra: The Great Wild. At this stage, the draft is sitting at over 30,000 words and although I had planned to keep it around that length, the final product is looking more like 40-50,000 (in other words, it’s about 3-4/5 complete).

This means that the final version it won’t be released in April as intended. I’m now postponing release until the start of June (although Patrons and paid newsletter subscribers will get it earlier).

In that regard, I’ve now put it up as a pre-order for Amazon which you can find here: The Great Wild Preorder

The back cover blurb reads as follows:

Ireland : 1st Century

In the deep, green depths of the Great Wild, a naked girl awakes in a forest clearing. With no belongings – bar a cloak and a bloody knife – and no memory to guide her, she must adapt and survive in an unfamiliar world.

With every possible kind of danger.

The Irish Mythology Seekers

We had a bunch of foreign visitors arrive at our home in Cork last night.
Being hospitable, we fed them at the kitchen table.
As soon as they’d consumed what we’d offered, they got up and started rummaging through the cupboards, combing through our personal correspondence, pulling our belongings out and throwing them one side as they continued their search.

‘Where do you keep the Irish mythology?’ they demanded.

Cath Fionntrá – The Battle of Fionntrá

For those of you who aren’t aware, an updated version of An Seabhach’s “Cath Fionntrá” came out last year.

The story concerns the King of France’s ire (clearly, this was pre-revolutionary France) when his wife and daughter run off with his guest Fionn Mac Cumhaill. Joining up for vengeance with Dáire Donn (the King of all the World who wants to add Ireland to his collection) and a host of other famous kings and warriors, they sail in a gigantic fleet to Fionntrá in Ventry (Kerry) where the biggest battle the world has ever seen, takes place.

The white sands of Ventry will be white no more.

Although a little formulaic, this classic is still an interesting read for anyone interested in the non-kernel Fenian narratives.

An Táin

There’s a new version of ‘An Táin’ released this week. The cover image and fact that its title is ‘THE Táin’ suggests it’s designed for a non-Irish audience (although, to be fair, it’s primarily targeting children).

I’ll be writing more about ‘An Táin’ in ‘Vóg‘ – the Irish Imbas newsletter – at the end of the month.

Blinkers!

Representation of mythology, in the modern context, is a bit like those small leather screens attached to a horse’s bridle.

What we see -or, rather, what we’re shown by various commercial and other vested interests – only gives us a very limited view of what mythology actually is and what it does.

Irish Imbas is currently working on a project that will hopefully start to address and rectify some of those limitations. I’m hoping to be able to make some kind of announcement on this project in August 2023 but there’s still a lot of work to do.

Culture Integrity in Creative Irish Projects

When I first started writing the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series almost nine years ago, I was keen to create a realistic, culturally authentic version of the famous Fenian Cycle. In particular, I wanted to write stories that were genuinely Irish while also accessible to non-Irish readers.

As part of my overall goal with Irish Imbas however, I was also keen to use the books as a means of reintroducing lost Gaelic/Irish concepts (that is words, expressions and – more importantly – ways of thinking) that have been lost from common Irish parlance as a result of language decline, the impacts of colonization and so on, but which still have significance at a societal level.

This is why throughout my books (and other projects), I always add a smattering of words like ‘fian‘, , draoi, ráth, and so on – words that by themselves mean little, but which in the context of understanding Irish/Gaelic culture, have a hugely significant resonance.

The word ‘Fianna‘ is a classic example of how much has been lost. This word – the basis for the contemporary word ‘Fenian’ – is believed by most people (including many Irish people who were never told any better) to be the name of Fionn mac Cumhaill’s war band.

In fact, ‘Fianna’ was simply nothing more than the plural of the word ‘fian‘ (which meant ‘battle group’ – usually in a tribal context). This means that Fionn’s fian was just one of a number of such groups and a recognised dynamic in the society of the time.

It’s a little thing, but when you take the downstream consequences of that new knowledge into account you can see how it changes the interpretation of both story and culture. For creators who want to retain cultural integrity in their work, this absolutely has to be done.

Trying to balance those competing goals (the requirements of cultural integrity and the requirement to deliver an accessible and enjoyable story to an international audience) can actually be quite a challenge at times. The balance is never easy and any creative decision you make with one can have a huge consequence for the other.

One of my earliest decisions, for example, was to retain the original Gaelic spelling for the character names (Fionn, Liath Luachra, Bodhmhall, Fiacail etc.) and place names (Seiscenn Uarbhaoil etc.). This goal for cultural accuracy – naturally – clashed enormously with the accessibility goal. For non-Gaelic speakers, Irish names can be the equivalent of having a broken stick in your mouth – whatever comes out is going to come out mangled! Anyone used to thinking in English – understandably – struggles with the unfamiliar combination of vowels and consonants.

Naturally, the advice I received from everyone was to use an anglicization of the names to make the reader more comfortable. After all, that’s why in the early days Fionn mac Cumhaill’s name was anglicized to the meaningless ‘Finn Mac Cool’. Sure, the latter is easier to say for an English speaker but the English name doesn’t carry the strong cultural associations of the Irish one (Fionn means ‘fair-headed’ but also has related connotations of ‘insightfulness’ etc.). ‘Finn’ is a meaningless term that includes no such depth or resonance (and, here, I’ll have to apologise in advance for to those parents who’ve gone and named their kids, Finn!).

Most of the books and other products I produce are strongly influenced by my decision to always lead with the ‘heart’ (cultural authenticity) as opposed to the ‘head’ (commercial ease). That said, I usually try to improve the accessibility where and when I can. For example, with the names and placenames, I soften the challenge for readers by providing an audio pronunciation guide.

In most respects, that actually pays off in the longer term as readers can generally work out when something’s authentic or not. Most readers tend to respect what I’m trying to achieve and have demonstrated immense patience and willingness to overcome things like the initial pronunciation challenge.

At the end of the day, I guess what my experience has really demonstrated is that if you produce something that’s good enough/intriguing enough/interesting enough for people to enjoy, they’ll put up with your whims and, often, they’ll support you.

As an aside, here’s a question I once held up at Irish cultural/heritage class I was running:
How would you pronounce the following?

  • Zach Galifianakis
  • Michelle Pfieffer
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor

Everyone in that group of attendees (about 18) was able to pronounce at least two of those names. Even when they couldn’t, they still knew exactly who those individuals were and what they had achieved as part of their creative career.

Basically, culture is not a barrier to success unless you let it be.

Breith [Birth]

Father Sun had neared his peak when the girl in the clearing stirred.

Stretched across the ankle-high grass, her initial shiftings were indiscernible beneath the black cloak that swathed her. As vigorous ripples of activity shifted through the garment however, it loosened and slowly unravelled. A bare pair of legs slid into the open and a solitary figure unfolded from it in a series of awkward angles.

Lying face down in the flattened grass, the dark-haired girl who’d emerged, raised her head to peer at the forest standing twenty paces away. A long moment passed as she stared blankly at the trees, engrossed by the shifting depths of its mottled browns and greens, the smooth sway of branches that throbbed with the sound of birdlife.


This is the opening scene to Liath Luachra: The Great Wild, a novella that I’m hoping to complete by the end of next month.

It’s probably been influenced (to a degree) by some of Alessio Albi’s beautifully moody works (attached)

Some readers might find this image a little familiar.

That’s because it’s remarkably similar to the layout of the ‘Crannóg‘ used in the book ‘LIATH LUACHRA: The Metal Men.

In fact, this is an early image of the ráth at the Irish National Heritage Park. It has a very similar layout to the fictional crannóg as, in general, there wasn’t major differences in terms of structural designs back in the day. People used the natural materials available and the fundamental designs of what worked were easily adapted to many structures.

Our ancestors were eminently practical as, a lot of the time, their lives depended on it. 

Cutting through the Lies and Misunderstandings of Irish Mythology

Much of what people think of when they think of Irish Mythology is flawed, influenced by decades of commercial fantasy entertainment, or rendered generic to the point of irrelevance. This (and a number of other influences) has essentially meant Irish mythology is now a subject lacking a clear intellectual architecture or even a basic, a commonly understood set of concepts and a common terminology. For this reason, it’s almost impossible to have a meaningful conversation on the subject (in the same way it’s impossible to have a conversation with someone on the subject of ‘chemistry’, when they don’t even know what an ‘atom’ is).

One of the Irish Imbas projects I’m hoping to complete this year, is a small training process to explain the fundamental concepts of mythology, those basic initial concepts you need to understand what you’re being presented with.

Longer term, this is something I’m hoping that people can use to apply to their own circumstances but that can only be done in a number of sequential steps.

It’s going to be an interesting year.

Conversation on a Beara Beach

A segment from the second Beara book, Beara: Cry of the Banshee

Although this sequel to Beara: Dark Legends is still very far from even a first draft, I was doing some work on it last weekend.

This is a quiet scene between two of Mos’ co-characters: ‘kind-of’ partner, Ailbhe/Olva (Hungarian magician and acrobat) and good friend Bróna (West Cork’s most industrious hacker). In the first book, both women took an instinctive dislike to each other which was fun to write and play out.

In the second book however, enough time has elapsed that their enmity has softened, to the point they can even have conversation on topics as arcane as ‘connection to place’.

In this scene, they’re standing together on Beara’s south coast, considering the view over Cuan Baoi.

———————————-

Ailbhe stared at her, at the grey rock, the cold sea and back to her again.

‘I don’t know if I could live here. The weather’s … sad. The landscape has a bleakness to it I …’ Unable to find the words she wanted, she stopped trying and settled for a shrug.

Bróna nodded. ‘That’s only because you read the landscape differently to people living here.’

‘What do you mean?’

Bróna mused on that for a moment.

‘Landscapes are like a book.  If you don’t have the necessary vocabulary – the placenames, the local history, the contextual terms of reference … then it’s hard to make sense of it.  There’s no relationship, no emotional connection with it.’

Ailbhe smiled at that.  ‘You need an emotional connection to the land?’

‘You do.  It helps when times are hard.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘What do you see when you look around?’

Reluctantly, Ailbhe did another slow sweep of the surroundings.        

‘Grey rocks. A grey sea. Gorse. A lighthouse in the distance.’

‘Sure. You see the physical topography of the land. Yet, when I look around, my personal history in this region means I’ll see layers that mean nothing to someone who’s never lived here. I see Cnoc Daod the hill that’s dominated our family’s view for several generations. I see Parc an Tobar – the field with a hidden well behind the fern bushes. I see An Tráthín where one of my brother’s fell and broke his leg.  I see a buachalan bush that the sidhe were said to fly away on, fuchsia bushes that will heal a sore throat.  I see the mass rock where people gathered in secret during penal times, I see an trá bán – the beach where I collected shells as a child and where, as you can see, my own son is now doing so.’

She paused and pointed to a nearby rock coated with moss. ‘Over there by that big tree, about fifteen years ago, I lost my virginity to one of the Harringtons.’

Ailbhe stared at her, then gave one a rare, deep, and very hoarse, laugh.

Bróna grinned.

‘I guess what I’m saying is that our roots run deep here. Our personal history is fundamentally linked to the place, physically through the bones of our ancestors and, metaphorically, through the stories and emotion we’ve shared here. It’s always there – a constant fixture and reference point.  My father saw this view every day, so did his father and so do I. For that reason, it represents a continuity of landscape relationships, of memories connected to places that have been shaped by our ancestors. That emotional connection means we don’t see the land as existing uniquely in the present.’ She shrugged. ‘Which, of course, triggers a whole different interpretation of what we do see.’

There was a long silence when she finished. It went on to stretch far longer than either expected.

‘Did you really lose your virginity under that tree?’ Ailbhe asked at last.

‘Let’s just say that if you’re ever looking for a spot that’s private and dry and doesn’t have nettles, that’s one I’d highly recommend.’

Fionn mac Cumhaill Taking the Dogs for a Walk

An impressive stainless streel representation of Fionn (and doggies) in Kildare. I really like the style by Lynn Kirkmann (the creating artist) but I was surprised at the Kildare County Council website notice which provided the following text:

——————————

The sculpture came about following a consultation with Kildare County Council who wished to commission a significant landmark sculpture to celebrate Kildare’s colourful history and folklore and the presence of the Military in the area since earliest times and up to the present day.

Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Fianna are genuine historical figures whose deeds and life stories have been embellished through time, myth and legend. There are many tales of their acts of bravery and magic. They were hunters and warriors, the bravest, the swiftest, the strongest and made the wild places of Ireland their demesne.

—————————————-

To find a County Council publishing that colonial-style fantasist perspective is genuinely a bit concerning. Fionn and the Fianna were not historical figures but native cultural representations.

Coming in 2023

For all of the bad news over 2022 (the Ukraine War, Climate change disasters, attacks on democracy etc.), the year was a relatively calm time at Irish Imbas Books and we managed to release a trio of works that I’m quite proud of.

In March, the fourth book in the Irish Woman Warrior Series – Liath Luachra: The Metal Men – was released (and well received by followers of that series). This was accompanied by a supporting short story, Liath Luachra: The Consent (note: this is only available through this website) which resolved a gap in the plotline that I hadn’t been able to cover in the books without disrupting the flow (it brings the character Bressal back into the series). Overall, I’m very satisfied with both

Meanwhile, in about two weeks, the digital version of FIONN: Stranger at Mullán Bán, book four in the Fionn Mac Cumhaill Series finally gets released.

This book marks a step change in the direction of the series as the maturing Fionn (Demne) starts to make his mark and begins his struggle to solve the mystery around his heritage. As always, he’s supported by his three guardians: his aunt – the bandraoi Bodhmhall, the woman warrior Liath Luachra, the eccentric womaniser Fiacail mac Codhna, and a number of other characters from Rath Bládhma (and further afield).

At this stage, I’ve seen three reviews for the book. All three have been very positive, which is always something of a relief.

What’s coming in 2023?

For the next six months, I’ll be working full time in the creative space and focused on completing the following projects:


Liath Luachra: The Great Wild.

The Great Wild is a prequel to the Irish Woman Warrior Series. The first ‘chapter’ is now complete but its slightly experimental nature means I’m still a bit uncertain as to what the final product is going to look like. The target for release to Patrons is Mar/April 2023. I’m not sure when it’ll be publicly available, yet.

Liath Luachra: The Raiders

This isn’t a new book but a repackaging of two previous ones (Liath Luachra: The Seeking and Liath Luachra: The Metal Men) so if you’ve read those, this probably won’t be of interest

Given the strong positive feedback on these books, I wanted to bring the two stories together into a single narrative (which had always been the original intention). This will require some minor rewriting to make the story more accessible for people who haven’t read the other books, but it shouldn’t be significant.

‘The Raiders’ will be exclusive to Amazon for a few months (which means the digital versions of Liath Luachra: The Seeking and Liath Luachra: The Metal Men will be unavailable from all other bookstores over that time. If you’re thinking about getting either of those books from Apple/Kobo/Google Play/Barnes & Noble/ etc., I’d recommend getting them before Christmas as they won’t be available from those suppliers for several months.

Fionn: The Betrayal

Are you a follower of the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series? Have you ever wondered who facilitated the deadly ambush in Fionn: Traitor of Dún Baoisnce or how’The Adversary’ managed to obtain physical tokens from Bodhmhall and Liath Luachra? Have you, perhaps, wondered what exactly happened at the great battle of Cnucha (where Fionn’s father Cumhal was killed) or why so many vested interests have it in for Demne/Fionn?

If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, then Fionn: The Betrayal may be for you. This series is slowly but surely drawing to its conclusion, so I’m planning to resolve a number of plotlines with this particular book. It won’t be the last in the series, but it will certainly answer some of the mysteries lurking in the background since book 1. There’s also an overlap with the Liath Luachra Series in there although I don’t think you’ll be able to identify it just yet.

The projected release date for this is June/July 2023.

Beara: Cry of the Banshee

Yes. It’s finally happening. After six or seven years of distraction with the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series and the Irish Woman Warrior Series, I’m finally returning to West Cork and Beara, the most south-western point of Ireland. There, more skullduggery and mythological detective work, await the ever-cynical Mos O’Suilleabháin (O’Sullivan).

Beara: Dark Legends was my first self-published book and it took about 4 years to research and write. It was quite successful at the time of its release, but the effort of producing it left me wrung out to the point where I couldn’t cope with starting the second book (hence the detour into the Fionn and Liath Luachra series). I’m now satisfied that I can get this series up and running again, so expect to see an announcement towards the end of 2023.

Other Projects

There are also a number of other projects sitting at different stages of development or completion, that I’ll also be working on over 2023. Some of these include audiobooks, film/tv scripts, a non-fiction project (The Fundamental Concepts of Irish Mythology) and two more ambitious projects that I’m not in a position to talk about yet. These kinds of projects are hard to scope out in terms of timelines but they’re important from a creative perspective in that they allow me t explore different aspects of storytelling.
I’m also hoping to carry out at least one or two collaborations over 2023 so if you have an interesting (and appropriate) project, send me an email before I get overloaded. 

All in all, 2023 is looking like a very important year from my perspective. Roll on New Years Eve!

Training the young Fionn mac Cumhaill

This is a representation from illustrator Arthur Rackam of Liath Luachra teaching Demne (the young Fionn) at a very early age.

It’s actually a visual representation of a scene from Macgnímartha Finn where Liath Luachra and the young Fionn chase other around a tree with a switch.

There are quite a few interesting and unknown elements associated both with the picture and to that scene, but I’ll cover those in Vóg at a later date.

Cú Chulainn was Arrested and Led Away in Handcuffs

Louth has been running a pretty fun community re-enactment of An Táin every summer since 2011 (sadly cancelled in 2020/2021 due to Covid) and it was back again in June this year.

Designed as a community walking and cultural education festival, it usually begins in Rathcroghan (where Queen Maeve first assembled her army to obtain the Brown Bull of Cooley) and terminates at Bush in Cooley, Co. Louth on the June bank holiday. The march follow Maeve’s route across the rugged terrain over three weekends (and 12 walking days) with a number of events taking place at various towns and villages along the way.

There was an amusing report in a local newspaper of the festival from back in 2012 which goes as follows:

“Brothers Eoghan and Sean Whelan made for a convincing Cuchulainn and Ferdia as they fought each other at the centre of the refurbished Market Square, where the water was turned on for their final battle at the ford of the River Dee. Members of Dundalk Red Cross administered first aid to a dying Ferdia while Cuchulainn was arrested and led away in handcuffs!”

Another Fionn mac Cumhaill Book

I’m currently in the process of outlining the next book in the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series, which will finish up the adventure commenced in ‘Fionn: Stranger at Mullan Ban‘ (but not the series).

All going well, I’m aiming to have this out in Oct/Nov 2023.

This current arc develops the ongoing direction of the series a little further. Demne/Fionn – the titular hero – is growing up and takes a more proactive role in the adventures but his three guardians (his aunt Bodhmhall, the woman warrior Liath Luachra, and the gregarious Fiacial mac Codhna) have their work cut out for them as they try to identify who’s behind the latest threat against their charge.

Cue more adventure, betrayals, and violence with a sprinkling of friendships and romance.

Liath Luachra III Cover Image

One of the early variations from artist Brian Mahy when developing the cover for Liath Luachra: The Seeking.

This was at a point where we were still playing with the colour palette and we hadn’t reached the final ‘look’. I’d asked Bryan to get me a somewhat shocking/bracing cover that reflected the anger/frustration of the character and his final version image certainly delivered.

So much so, that Facebook banned the image from its shop front (one of the many reasons I don’t bother adding anything new there). Hilariously, the initial reason given was because they didn’t permit the sale of animals (the screening programme thought she was a zebra). When I appealed that, the decided the image was too lewd.

That’s why I love running this on their newsfeed (where such apparently lofty regulations appear to be dispensed with)!