A different Warrior Woman

I’ve been an enormous fan of Czech artist Satine Zillah for a few years now as I’ve always been impressed with the incredible amount of detail and cultural research she puts into her work (it really has to be seen to be believed).

As a result, I was very pleased to learn that she’s still working on her graphic novel ‘Warrior’ (I had thought this had fallen by the wayside due to other work pressures) but clearly it’s a labour of love she intends to follow up on.

The story for ‘Warrior’ is based on ancient kingdoms and tribes such as the Scythians and follows the lives of two characters – Roe, a merciless leader of Sarmatian tribes, and Sevan – queen of vast Iberia, with progressive ideals way ahead of her time. Both women are adept at leading their people, both scarred by their own grim histories, both pushing onward with an entirely opposite sets of morals and beliefs.

It’s very much a different approach to my own Irish Woman Warriors Series (which I hope one day to present in graphic novel format as well) but I’m absolutely in awe of her skill and dedication.

Keep an eye out for it’s crowdfunding release in 2024. You can support her work here: Satine Zillah

Dark-Eyed Girl

I’ve been asked several times where the ‘look’ of Liath Luachra came from.

I’d have to say, the main ‘look’ began with a canvas print from Luis Royo, a Spanish artist famous for his fantasy style images back in the 1980s and 1980s (although he’s still going). A lot of Royo’s work from that period reflected the sexualised fantasy portrayal of women of the time – usually half naked, occasionally with armour and swords (google his name and you’ll see what I mean).

I think I came across Royo’s ‘The Wait’ around 2014 when I first started writing notes for the initial Liath Luachra book (which was really mean to be nothing more than a short prequel book for the Fionn Series). I already had a clear image of the woman’s personality and physical appearance at the time, as the character was pretty well developed for Fionn: Defence of Rath Bladhma. The ‘Grey One’ book however was far darker and far deeper and I needed an image to reflect that. In my head, I had no idea until this turned up on my screen.

The Wait is from Royo’s book ‘III Millenium’ which depicts women in scenes from a harsh future landscape. The character in the image really appealed as it captured a tangible sense of solitude and loneliness but also avoided the sexualised cliches which I really wanted to avoid.

When I had the initial cover brief developed, I included this but sadly a miniscule budget meant I was restricted to stock photography. Fortunately, I received permission from a gracious pair of Australian artists/cosplayers to use one of their photos and that’s the Liath Luachra who turned up on the first cover.

That said, there is a secret to Liath Luachra that most people aren’t aware of and which I’ll be writing about in the next few weeks.

Update On Liath Luachra 4

I’m currently working full blast on the remaining two chapters (and epilogue) for ‘Liath Luachra: The Metal Men’ but the book is now available for pre-order at Amazon and Kobo and soon thourgh the other major ebook stores. You can find the details here: Liath Luachra: The Metal Men Availability

At this stage, it looks as though at least two (earlier) chapters will need to be removed and reworked for use in a separate book in the series (Liath Luachra 5). Unfortunately, I won’t have a title or any kind of release date for that for several months (as I want to complete Fionn: Stranger at Mullán Bán for a June 2022 release).

Some other good news is that interest in the potential television series seems to have raised its head again. That doesn’t mean, of course, that it’ll actually go to green light. There are always at least a dozen or more other variables on those kinds of decisions.

I guess, like Book 5, we’ll just have to wait and see.

LIATH LUACHRA: The Seeking – “THE BEST BOOK YET”

After the release of Dark Dawn/An Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha, I took a break for a few weeks, however this weekend I intend to recommence work on the next Liath Luachra (The Metal Men).

I also caught up with up a few reviews on Goodreads for Liath Luachra: The Seeking and was particularly gratified to find these two from Andrea and Peter – two people who’ve been incredibly supportive since the series’s inception. I value both of their opinions highly so this was a big thing for me.

Liath Luachra: The Seeking is currently available on Amazon in paperback but in digital form only at the Irish Imbas Books website. The digital book will be available everywhere from 30 June.

I’m hoping to release the next book in 3-4 months time but I’ll revela more on that in the next newsletter.

THREE YEARS/ THREE MONTHS

Apparently it’s been three years since I last released a Liath Luachra book through the usual ebook stores. I do recall that, on that last occasion, I mistakenly made the book exclusive to Amazon. As a result, it was another three months before anyone who didn’t buy it through Amazon could obtain a copy.

I don’t particularly enjoy distributing my books through a monopolistic corporate that doesn’t pay its taxes. For that reason, with the most recent Liath Luachra book (Liath Luachra: The Seeking), I released the book directly through my own website.

To be honest, It’s always bothered me to have so little control over my own creative products and to support the greed of entities who take so much and return so little to society. This decision really felt like the best for me and, longer term, I suspect I’ll continue down that route.

As a result, for those who’d like to access the latest Liath Luachra in digital form, this is currently available through this site only. THe book will be available through the corporate ebookstores in about two months time (30 June 2021). The fourth (and possibly final) Liath Luachra book will be available before the end of the year. Initially – and predominanlty – through the Irish Imbas store.

LIATH LUACHRA: THE SEEKING has been released (kinda)

As promised, Liath Luachra: The Seeking is 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.

Where Can I Get IT?


You can get the digital version HERE.

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.

IRISH WOMAN WARRIOR ON A HORSE

This was a snippet from Liath Luachra: The Seeking which I first put online this day a year ago.

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.

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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.

‘I’ll run.’

‘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.

And, of course, they were also rather high.

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[Image from the film, “Centurion”]

Liath Luachra: The Seeking

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).

Cover Grow Up

Had a timely ‘blast from the past’ today when I received a reminder of a book cover from October 2014 (for FIONN: Traitor of Dun Baoiscne). It was timely given that Amazon have somehow managed to revert to printing my paperbacks with the older covers instead of the more recent versions (which have been in place for some years).

Back when I first started writing and publishing, there were far fewer artists available to do illustrations and limited stock photos that you could purchase within a shoestring budget. For 1st/2nd century Ireland – the time/culture in which my books are set – finding ‘representative’ covers was particularly difficult. Despite many days searching, in the end I had no choice but to resort to fantasy-style photostock and using a graphic artist to try and ‘Gaelicise’ the result as far as possible.

I was never entirely comfortable with the resulting image. The fanboy, Red-Sonya fantasy style image I ended up with, really didn’t work that well for the culturally-realistic feel I was trying to reintroduce in our mythological narratives (not to mind the lack of realism around Irish weather!). As a result, this cover (deservedly) endured some serious piss-taking (predominantly from my partner, daughter, editor [female], proof-reader [female]).

Despite that, it proved remarkably popular until I could finally afford to replace it. Skimpy-clothed model aside, I think the standing stone, the colour and the background terrain worked really well.

Scáthach and Cú Chulainn

Scáthach – the Shadowed – is a woman warrior who turns up in the tenth century manuscript Tochmarc Emire (The Wooing of Emer). A supporting character to the narrative adventure that focuses on Irish hero Cú Chulainn, her main purpose is to add an element of depth and context to Cú Chulainn’s legendary fighting skills and, of course some 10th century feminine (cough) “pizzazz”. In the Tomharc Emire, advised by his friends that to complete his martial training he should learn from Scáthach, Cú Chulainn immediately sets sail for Alba (in modern-day Scotland) and the fortress where she’s based.

To be honest, whenever I think of Scáthach, I have this mental image of a longsuffering professional working woman, gritting her teeth and doing her best to hide her irritation at an extended visit from her daughter’s boorish boyfriend. To imagine Cú Chulainn’s visit as a pleasing or welcome one would be to ignore the other interesting elements of the tale. Most people sadly, enamoured by the romanticised aspect of a woman warrior teaching the mythological hero, tend to limit their focus on that.

When Cú Chulainn first arrives and enters Scáthach’s domain, he inveigles his way into her fortress by manipulating the romantic passions of her teenage daughter, Úathach. Despite Cú Chulainn breaking her fingers (and the slaying of the warrior Cochair Cruibne), Úathach is so besotted she casts any loyalty to Scáthach aside, advising her new beau on how to overcome her mother while she’s resting. Following Úathach’s advice, Cú Chulainn overcomes his host, places his sword between her breasts and threatens her with death unless she grants him three wishes:

• that she trains him without neglect,
• that she pays the bride price for him to marry Úathach; and
• that she uses her seer skills to warn him of anything that might befall him.

Over the course of Cú Chulainn’s visit, Scáthach puts up with her unwelcome visitor’s regular acts of violence and trains him as obliged without comment. When Cú Chulainn attacks Aífe and forces her to have his child (Úathach has disappeared from the narrative at this point), she continues to keep her silence.

In the end however, it’s Scáthach who has the last bitter laugh. Prior to his departure back to Ireland and Eamain Macha, she draws up her seer skills and recites the events she sees in store for him, foretelling the bloody slaughter of the Táin Bó Cuailgne. Cú Chulainn, preoccupied, pays her recitation as much attention as a blind man to the cinematic trailer of a subtitled movie.

The moment passes, nothing is learned.

I’m occasionally asked why I’ve never written a contemporary version of Cú Chulainn or An Táin, given that – in some ways – he’s far more well known to non-Irish, English-speaking audiences. The truth of it is I find it hard to write about characters I don’t particularly like. For a contemporary audience, the actions of the Iron Age Cú Chulainn are difficult to get across in a way that would remain true to the original stories. Particularly as, in many of those stories, he comes across as a violent meathead (and, to be honest, a bit of a bastard).

Just like some real life heroes, I suppose.

Update on Liath Luachra: The Seeking (The Irish Woman Warrior Series III)

Liath Luachra: The Seeking has now passed 80,000 words – essentially the first eight chapters (and I’m currently working on Chapter 9). The book is planned for release later this year.

Above is a section of the new cover for this book. Below is the current draft of the back cover blurb.

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In the bleak Luachair valley, the woman warrior Liath Luachra’s seclusion is disrupted by a desperate plea to rescue a comrade’s abducted sister. Raising her ‘fian’ to pursue the raiders, this ‘Seeking’ turns out far more perilous than first imagined.

Pursuing a mysterious war party across ancient Ireland’s Great Wild, she soon finds herself confronted on every side. Old enemies seek to undermine her, new allies can’t be trusted and in the deep south-east, a dark threat rises, roused by a chilling spectre from her past.

Faced with horrors she’d thought long forgotten, Liath Luachra must revert to the worst part of herself to survive the phantoms of her past and present.

But you cannot stalk – or kill – a ghost.