Travels with Rocinante.

Four days was he deliberating upon what name he should give him; for as he said himself, it would be improper that a horse so excellent, appertaining to knight so famous, should be without an appropriate name. … he finally determined upon Rocinante (Rozinante),  a name in his opinion lofty, sonorous, and full of meaning…..

The mount.

I had no idea to tilt at windmills but had an idea I might go to La Mancha on the hot Spanish plains to see where the mythic monsters live.  My steed was to carry two and it would be named Rocinante 6. Rocinante was the name Cervantes gave to Don Quixote’s horse. It was the name John Steinbeck gave to his camper in his book Travels with Charlie in search of America and it was the name I gave to my first camper – Rocinante 3 to be fair to the previous users. Now we have Rocinante 6 my latest and best camping-car /motor-home/motor-caravan.

The big red one

There is some disagreement about the spelling for the Don’s mount, I’ve seen it rendered with an S rather than C and a Z too. How so ever it’s spelt; it’s the idea that counts. The noble and faithful mount that carries it’s knightly and grandly deluded rider on his adventures and his final doomed tilt at a monstrous windmill.

The way forward
The freedom box inside the door contains the portable generator.

A knight errant without a mistress was a tree without fruit or leaves and body without a soul.

This area makes up into an huge bed.

My mistress was to be the ‘beloved B’. Brigitte shared my dream of romantic wandering over unknown lands filled with sunshine and lacking the rain so… always here, in Ireland.

The cooking, eating area and toliet room.

Our Rocinante 6 was a long time in the finding. Beloved B and I having decided we wanted to spend some retirement funds on a vehicle for our dreams – dreams of adventure and exploration – mini-ventures locally here in Ireland – midi ventures here and the UK for longer periods and maxi-ventures to continental Europe. Close encounters with windmills would be avoided and no lance would be carried.

Much research and one false start led us to this bright red VW LT35, beautifully fitted out with exquisite carpentry by a fastidious enthusiast. It is not conventional in that it is all electric – no gas fridge or cooker. This means either an electric hook up in a camp site, a small portable gas stove or – we get out the 3kw generator hiding under the big box inside the side door.  (This was my way of giving us freedom to camp almost anywhere.) All though called silent, the generator running makes enough noise so we would not want to stop near other campers.

Rocinante 6 is the right size for us, big enough not to be cramped inside. We can leave the rear bed made up and still have a table to eat at and plenty of space to work at cooking and cleaning. It’s narrow enough to negotiate little mountain roads and easy enough to park. It is comfortable to drive and very fast but the economy is good too. All camper vans are by their nature a compromise but this one has the right balance of compromises for us. However, a few short trips showed us some mods were needed to the bed arrangement. My six two frame would not fit – so some woodworking was needed to extend the bed. It now sleeps two long folks in great comfort.

Rocinante’s saddle

Rocinante’s maiden maxi-venture was planed for June/July – 32 days in France and Spain. No actual route plans were made. We would land in Cherbourg and head southish – that was the extent of the planning.

In the next blog I’ll get into the actual travel and waffle about the philosophy of looking and touching the new.

The tec: VW LT35.  Max weight 3.5 tonnes. 2.5 ltr 5cyl turbo diesel. Shares body with Mercedes Sprinter. Top speed 100mph! Average fuel – 30mpg. Fully insulated and winterised. Fully loaded weight ready for maxi ventures = 3.1 tonne. ( Lots of space and payload to return laden with fine French wines!) Special alloy wheels fitted to save weight and allow heavy duty 16″ tyres.

On imagination.

My beloved B and I recently returned from four days in Barcelona. The Catalan capital has long been on our bucket list, largely due to an architect called Antoni Gaudí. We have seen many iconic images and films about his work. A potent appetizer. His natural forms and original thinking appealed to us hugely.

Expectation and images had created a… an appeal, an appetite that could easily have led to disappointment. Too often we have been underwhelmed when reality has failed to match such expectation. We have stood before certain great works in Rome and Amsterdam and been respectfully awed by the obvious talent and skill that created such work but somehow we remained underwhelmed, unmoved.


And so we approached Casa Batlló with restrained optimism.  Huge crowds stood outside the tall thin terrace and that kicked in my aversion to long queues. We looked from across La Rambla at the extraordinary exterior and that was enough to encourage me to cross the road. As it happened the dense crowd was content with the exterior and few had joined the ticket line. We were inside in minutes and since it was early it was not oppressively crowded.

As we climbed the stairs to the first floor we exchanged knowing grins. There was going to be no disappointment here. We pointed, smiled, touched and minutely observed a great deal but spoke little, as we drank in the detail and the forms. We were truly and properly awed by the small-scale spectacle of Gaudí’s achievement. The beauty was in the detail and the overwhelming attention to every tiny facet of the design. On the way back down from the roof I stood by a door with my fingers nestling in the ergonomically perfect form of a small handle shaped to fit the hand. I called B and she too held it and smiled and a tear moistened her eye. We sighed and smiled and touched each other and we were silent.

That day we saw more, so much more, but it was only when we lay side-by-side back in our hotel that we spoke of the Gaudí house that had moved B to tears of joy.

We replayed and synced our mind movies and talked: “The blue tiles in the light-well that were graduated from dark to lighter lower down to exaggerate the incoming light…”


“The turtle shell patterns…”

“The curved organic flow of wood in windows and frames and the way light was used to paint rooms through stained class…”


Those mind movies play still so that weeks later we share and try to find words to connect our imaginations so our four-day break will stretch into the future.

I marvel at the power of imagination; I marvel at the creative spark that can move others to a lifetime altered by that creative spark that ignites ones’ imagination to previously unknown heights of … what? ‘Aesthetic appreciation’ is accurate but too narrow. The nature and power of the human imagination, when done this well, is a soaring flight that lifts us and makes us feel glad we have that creative spark. Some, like me, try to find that spark in words, others like B, in dance movement, still others with music or paint or film or any of the other arts-and-crafts that seem so fundamental a part of the human imagination.


For me the majesty of Gaudí’s basilica Sagrada Familia, is a homage not to any religious mystical experience, but to that spark and leap of human imagination that can create joy and tears in us.

Chepi The Butterfly Effect. The next novel.

I am perhaps half way through the first draft of the last in the trilogy: The Butterfly Effect.  Chepi is a fascinating character that has a secondary but pivotal role in many of my previous novels.  A first nation Cree who grows to be a seer and medicine woman. I say woman because that’s how she lives but she was born a boy who is … I was going to say transsexual; but that is not accurate – Chepi transcends normal ideas of sexual identity.

In this novel we follow Chepi from childhood to extreme old age – she lives to be over 115 years old.  The fist half of Chepi’s story is as it was in the Prairie Companions, the Daniel series, and the West Cork Trilogy.

In this novel Chepi’s path changes as we follow the alternative story lines established in the two Rachel novellas and the Bonny and Lauren novels of this trilogy.

Thanks to Nancy G Photography, I have a perfect image for the cover of the Chepi. This image is exactly how I saw the young Chepi.

Chepi as a child.
Chepi as a child. The new cover.

What’s in a name?

What is in a name?   A whole world of meaning, inspiration and ideas that are highly personal to the namers.

Art was a surprise to me but the inspiration story was not. Ria and Paul were looking at the first scan print and she said, “It’s like art.”  A glance and a grin told these pair of creative artist they’d found their child’s name. Art it was.

Leonis came when they remembered looking at the night sky in Donegal during a late honeymoon when the baby was earnestly  wished for on the stars . Constellations were named and ’Leo or ‘Leonis’ spoke to them.

So we had Art Leonis Elliott.

Then  the birth fell on the birthday  of Paul’s much loved Grandfather, Parker Lindsay Legear so in tribute, Parker was added and we have Art Leonis Parker Elliott.

I have written about the First Nation tradition of letting a new-born find its name. The child or mukki will be known as say, Ria’s mukki until that happens.  In the western Christian tradition a child is named at birth in case it dies and it used to be baptised quickly too. So we tend to seek out names before the birth. My daughter Ria and her man Paul had names sorted because they knew it was boy well in advance.

Ria's bump henna Ria had a great henna design on the bump with the name rendered in Hindi. We did our heads in trying to translate it but never did get it.

Birth is about renewal and the passing  on of genes and influence from one generation to the next. Little Art found his names early and he can choose which fits him best when he is older.

We who are onlookers may be tempted to be critics but we shouldn’t be because we are not entitled – for what’s in a name is personal and belongs only to the parents and the child. On the 15th of June at 13.05  I celebrated this birth and the continuation of my line and the child with the unique personality who found the names: Art Leonis Parker Elliott.


Music in my novels.

In my novels there is one piece of music that features several times. It is the aria: Je crois entendre encore, from the little known George Bizet opera: Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers).

This beautifully haunting aria sung by Nadir (tenor) in which he sings of his love for Leïla has always touched me deeply. Why is not so mysterious. It is simply one of the most spine tingling, hair raising pieces of music ever written.

A scene from The Pearl Fishers - at the Met.
A scene from The Pearl Fishers – at the Met.

The Pearl Fishers is rarely performed, the last was created by the English National Opera in London in 2010. However the Met in New York decided to present this production as ‘a live to cinema and radio’ performance on Saturday the 16th Jan. It has been 100 years since the Met put on this opera featuring the legendary Enrico Caruso. I only spotted this on the cinema listings at four the same day when looking for times for the film The Danish Girl. I quickly got on line and booked one of the few remaining seats. I rushed off and came in to the cinema at 5.30 for the 6.00 performance only to discover I’d come to the wrong theater!

I got to the right place at 5.55 following a fast and furious drive to the far side of town. I settled in a house packed with Irish opera lovers of advanced age; I’d say I was the youngest person there by a decade.

I had listened to this opera many times on my iPod but this was the first time I’d seen the live performance. I was stupidly excited and worried I might be disappointed. I was not. The cinema fouled up the lighting in the theater which took the edge off a bit, but I left delighted, uplifted and having  had a supposedly unmanly blub just two times.

It confirmed for me the correctness of using this opera in a few high emotion romantic scenes in my novels.

It was fortuitous that I stumbled on this – it was without doubt a once in life time opportunity and I’m glad I didn’t miss it.



The year past and ahead.

It is almost a requirement of this time of year to reflect on the year past and the year to come – so – uncharacteristically I am going to follow convention and do that. This was my writer’s year:

The big interest in the past year centered on an experiment on the value of social media for book sales. I have long been skeptical about the value of social media to an author in generating sales. Facebook and Twitter in particular, are awash with posts that essentially say: “LOOK AT ME and BUY MY BOOK.” I have never bought a book as result of such posts and I know of no other person who does. In the main such posts get ignored, blocked or sent straight to the trash bin. Advice books for writers are full of how to use social media and how essential it is to any Indi author. You see this advice mostly in books being sold on-line about how to sell on-line. It’s very incestuous and mostly absolute bullshit! Indi authors rarely sell serious numbers of books and are an easy target for people telling them how to get thousands of sales.

Books sell the same way they always have – by word of mouth recommendation reader to reader. That is especially true for writers like me who are not writing about shades of grey, vampires or what ever the current hot formula or genre is. If one writes literary fiction and presents ones work with good covers, properly edited and designed; then reader’s recommendation is the only thing that sells that work.

I decided to put this idea to the test last year. I withdrew from almost all social media activity. No tweets, only a simple announcement of a new book on FB, my website and blog and that is all. I stopped blogging every month and did not participate on Goodreads or any other forum.

Result? My sales are better for 2015 than 2014 when I was doing the social media thang.

The lesson for writers is this: Don’t buy into all the hype. Make the best book you can and keep writing. You must keep new titles coming and they must all be to the highest standard possible. Then hope readers like your efforts enough to buy the next and tell their friends. Unless you are Random House and can throw huge sums at a launch, then huge sales are not going to come your way. Accept that and your life, as a writer, will be better, more satisfying, and more productive. If you are hoping for fame and huge sales as an Indi you are playing a lottery with very unfavorable odds of winning. Write because you must.

A slowly growing base of readers who appreciate my efforts; the smile I get every time I get a sale announcement from Amazon or Smashwords, and the steady trickle of money into my account is my reward. A good and genuine review is sure to generate a broad smile.

Last year I published the first two novels of the Butterfly Effect Trilogy. Bonny The Butterfly Effect and Lauren The Butterfly Effect. I also wrote the next novella in the Rachel series: Rachel’s War. I refined and republished The Prairie Companions and tidied up all my other titles. It was a very productive year thanks to the time freed up by my largely abandoning social media activity.


The next novel.
The next novel.

What of 2016?  I have begun the next in the trilogy called: Chepi The Butterfly Effect. The cover of this is used here. The photo on which my cover artwork is based has been a puzzle.

It is well known image but I cannot find the person who might own the copyright to this photo. If you know please let me know. I may not be able to use this for the cover if I can’t find the copyright status of the image it’s based on. I have changed the image a good deal in this cover artwork but still I am reluctant to use images in this way with out the owner’s permission.

Apart from Chepi, I plan one other novella and perhaps I will finish: Beloved Warrior. This is about my family during the first war. It has been set aside three times and is proving to be a difficult subject, too personal perhaps?

More likely I will rewrite the novella called: Leotie Flower of the Prairie and turn it into the full sized experimental novel it was always intended to be.

Have a happy and productive new year.

(All three of you who read this?)

The latest novel.

I finished the second in “The Butterfly Effect Trilogy’. This will be: ‘Lauren The Butterfly Effect.’

The MS is with my editor Miriam for it’s final work and I hope to publish it mid-October.

The great challenge was finding a model for the cover, Lauren is an athlete and very muscular but also beautiful. Finding a suitable model and photographer has been difficult but I struck lucky in the end.  The model is Olivia Moschetti and the photographer Tyler Porter both from Colorado. I’ve played around with the image a little to give the golden skin and hair  described in the text but I am very pleased with the results. Olivia is closer to the younger Lauren than any other model I’ve seen.

This is the final cover as it will be on the paperback.

This book is out now for ebook and paperback on Amazon.


My Mourne Refuge.

The old farm house on Kinnahalla Road near Spelga in the Mournes.
The old farm house on Kinnahalla Road

At the age of seventeen I began a love affair with a place. That place was off the Kinnahalla Road near the Spelga Dam in the heart of the Mourne Mountains, County Down, Northern Ireland. I had been coming to stay in a friend’s old rented cottage for a few months and wanted to find a place of my own. I asked in the local pub and heard about an old farmhouse that might be suitable. I was directed to the owner’s modern farm and asked about the old place.

He pointed across the valley to a group of farm buildings surrounding a two-storey house. “It needs a fair bit doing. It has nae electric nor any modern stuff but if yee want it I’ll take ten bob (Ten shillings or 50 pence) a month aff yee.”


The entrance to the old farm.
The entrance to the old farm.
The house as it is now.
The house as it is now.
The stove on which I did all my cooking.


I rode my little 50cc step-through scooter down the rough lane and explored the house. It had water running down one kitchen wall from missing roof tiles, rooks nesting in the chimneys and one downstairs room had no floorboards. Water was from a well and it gurgled out a few black, wiggling leeches when I tried the tap. The main room had a little cast iron range of the Aga type. A sofa and two armchairs sat beneath a blanket of dust. Upstairs there was a huge high-ended double bed in the main wood panelled bedroom. Another room had two singles. The mattress looked astonishingly clean to my eyes and that was as well, since carrying a new mattress on a scooter would have been a challenge.I spent three days hooking twigs out of the flue and chimney of the range. Rooks are very industrious birds – there must have been a whole tree’s worth of sticks dropped down that chimney to make their nest.

The fallen.
The fallen.

The bedroom and the living room got a coat of white paint. Three paraffin hurricane lamps were bought for lighting. A big old enamel coffee pot sat on the now lit range and was always hot while I was there. Eggshells were dropped in the fresh ground Kenyan blend in that pot, it was supposed to make the coffee shinny and thick and it did. When the pot was three-quarter full of grounds, it got emptied and a fresh pot started. I smoked Capstan Full Strength un-tipped cigarettes and drank very strong coffee!

This place, hereafter known as the house in the Mournes, became a bolthole and refuge for me for the next ten years. Every weekend after work I’d escape Belfast and my family. So important was it, I once walked the thirty-five miles from Belfast when I had no transport. I walked in the blackness of night and enjoyed every step.

The Shimna River
The Shimna River
My swimming pool.
My swimming pool.

I explored the mountains and swam in the beautiful pools of the Shimna River. Screamingly cold but sensually stimulating to a horny twenty-year old. I brought my first serious girlfriend to the house but she did not appreciate the simple romance of it all. Coming as she did from a farming family, an outside toilet in a rickety shed and a chamber-pot under the bed for the night, paraffin lights and no TV had no appeal for her. The big double bed collapsed under us one night during vigorous use. The cloud of dust that rose round us, showed my idea of clean and hers was rather different. She didn’t come back.

This past week I took the beloved Brigitte to see the old house that had meant so much to me. The roof had fallen in and it was completely derelict but the range was still there and I could smell the brewing coffee as I stood before it, transported back forty years to the time when this place saved me from the madness of the Troubles and my wildly dysfunctional family. Brigitte said she would have loved the hurricane lamps, ever-hot coffee pot and even the collapsing bed. If only we’d met then – but – she would have been thirteen years old jailbait to me then? But since when have facts mattered when to comes to memories and romance?

The Mournes and the wall.
The Mournes and the wall.

Once such memory relates to the Mourne Wall pictured here. My father told me about his own father walking the sixty miles there and back to the Mournes from his home in Belfast every day. He and many others built this dry stone wall to enclose the new water catchment area known as the Silent Valley. This was a kind of unemployment relief for men like my Granda who could find no work after the Ist World War. So much for a home fit for heroes! The history of the wall makes no mention of this but simply says it took from 1902 to 1922 to complete.





Willful neglect and social media overload.

noI have been engaged in an experiment of willful neglect. This blog and other social media have been little used this past nine months. I have, for a long time been deeply skeptical about the call to scream into the virtual void that is Social Media. It is accepted wisdom among the author/publisher community that one lives or dies by how often one screams in the void. It is said we should blog x number of times and tweet every day and give Face to the Book once a week at least. Then there is Goggle+ and Goodreads and Amazon forums and Linked-in and on and on. The list is near endless. This is how we make a brand. This is how we get sales and readers, expect— except it’s not. It’s just not.

There is only one way to sell books as an author/publisher – word of mouth. End of story.

How to start that momentum is tricky and one I’ve not fully resolved yet. But it starts with producing work that is as good or better than any mainstream publisher – I do that.

Then one needs to actually write – you know write books. Not blogs or tweets.

One needs to keep them coming so readers have a journey to make and that keeps them coming back. So one needs talent and persistence and a very good editor. Did I say how important that is? It’s vital and any Indi who thinks they can produce worthwhile books without a good editor is deluded.

Luck, yes luck. We all need a bit of that. Getting noticed by the right people is vital and impossible to predict or demand. No amount of tweets or FB or blogging will provide that. So has this willful neglect resulted in a drop off in my modest sales figures? NO.

I’ll repeat that – NO.

In fact, my sales are on a steady upward climb and what could be doing that? Readers speaking to readers. The age-old method that only a multi-million sales campaign can partially cheat.

Now I am clear about this and sure I’m right, I can get back to blogging about what I want, when I want and Tweet hardly at all and give Face only when I feel like it and not torture myself with guilt about not following the stampede to social media overload.