No apology for the long break between blog posts. It was deliberate policy to retreat from all social media activity. We have been distracted by the enforced need to find a new home or nest as we call it. Our long-term lease on our place at Killoscully was not renewed. It was understandable, the landlords’ daughter needed the house, but it was a blow for us. We were settled and happy there. The idea of having to move was unappealing to say the least. No it was horrific!
We have gathered a lot of stuff over the years, much of it was resistant to the idea of downsizing. (I simply can’t part with books or art.) We toyed with and explored the idea of buying an old cottage to do up. That proved a painful search with our limited budget. Everywhere we found was either much too small or had issues that would have swallowed vast amounts of time and money – so rental it had to be. The rental market here in Ireland is under great strain and prices have skyrocketed. We needed to stay within reasonable traveling distance of beloved B’s place of work at the University of Limerick. Long searches on-line were discouraging, but eventually we found the right place at the right price. The cottage is much smaller than our previous place so we had to be ruthless and dispose of a lot of stuff, even so, it was and is a very tight fit. I spent all of October shifting what remained by turning the camper Rocinante from old charger to a packhorse pulling a trailer.
The last week was a trial when I ripped a muscle in my calf and could no longer lift or even walk. I spent a painful time watching beloved B toil over the last weeks work. We rented a man with a wee lad with a van to move the beds and big sofa right at the end. At the beginning of November we were in, mostly sorted, and utterly knackered.
B’s birthday celebration had had to be postponed for a week as it fell on the day after the final move. We planned a few days escape to a hotel and spa to recover. Our new favorite restaurant in Kenmare Kerry, the Limetree was booked for the birthday dinner. Fab scallops, followed by Hake for B and Salmon for me. We went to the ever lovely Glengarrif where I bought a walking stick to help me hobble to the Blue Pool to take in the beauty. We drove back over the spectacular Healy Pass and spent an hour in the spa pool, B swimming, and me submerged in the Jacuzzi being massaged by hot water to ease the gympoid symptoms.
have set up a new work station and have now gotten back into writing. My latest
is a novel following my FBB heroine Rachel, whom I’d tried to kill off in the
last novella of the series. That was met with howls of protest by a loyal fan
base – so she had to be resurrected. Thus the title: ‘Rachel’s Resurrection’.
I’m glad I left her end ambiguous so this resurrection was possible. I am enjoying writing the new adventure which sees her seeking revenge for the… oops – nearly a spoiler there. Anyhoo she’s back as feisty and dangerous as ever, but will have a total change of path and try to renounce her life as a spook. I expect to publish it around February 2020.
I found this and thought it might be of interest to readers. It’s an older film that was never completed but it does explain why this location was used in so many of my novels. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjexpA59O1k
Many years after I began independent publishing I am still asked (and sometimes ask myself) why I did not go the more accepted traditional route. The reasons are various but the often received response from publishers and agents: “Not mainstream enough.” “Perhaps tone it down and avoid the controversial subjects” “Great story and wonderfully drawn characters but just too unconventional.” I got all these responses in my first years trying to go down the traditional route. It was dispiriting and hard to hear. Everyone was telling me I was not writing to an accepted formula. Yes, yes, that’s the point of my writing – it’s not formulaic, it’s not conventional. It is original, challenging, thrilling, truthful, and character driven. I was not prepared to try to become a clone for the sake of a publishing deal. So… I learned to do it myself. I was an early adopter of Indi publishing and quickly established that proper editing, good covers and interior formatting, as good as or better than mainstream, was what I needed to achieve. I believe I did that. I am sure any of my twenty plus novels will stand close critical scrutiny. The freedom I now have is invigorating. I can let my imagination run free unconstrained by the gatekeepers rules and constraints. I am free to re-edit and re-publish all my work. It improves over time and it is always available, unlike trad books that have a very short active life. The one downside to Indi, is the difficulty of getting noticed among the floods of mediocre drivel crowding the Amazon lists. I tried all the various methods advised by so called Indi experts – none are effective except as a means to sell their work and services. Reader loyalty and recommendations is the only method that works; but one has to be patient. I’ve never paid for reviews or cheated in any way. My sales are modest, but steady and ever growing, as readers discover my work and keep coming back for more. When I get a genuine review that is praiseworthy I am delighted and gratified because I know that reader will tell others and so sales keep coming. I will never earn much, but I write because I have to. It is my creative life and it is immensely rewarding. Discovery by a new reader is wonderful and getting noticed by a film maker would be an unlikely delight. Ultimately, I write and Indi publish because I have to – it has been creative liberation. To all who are regular readers I say thank you and keep talking!
Always Leoti, is the title of my next novel. The launch will be next month and will include a filmed reading. This is a departure for me, being slightly experimental. It is fourteen chapters that read like a series of short stories each using the same two protagonists, Leoti and Aaron, but set in different historical time periods. That sounds odd, but test readers have enjoyed the experience and I have had a lot of pleasure researching the history and settings.
I had published a novella called Leoti, but that has now been withdrawn to make way for the full novel.
The appeal of athletic and strong women is fascinating in it’s complexity. I recall an event when I was single and much younger, that sums up that complexity. I had a large poster in my bedroom featuring a very sexy female bodybuilder called Tonya Knight. She was by no means as big as some, but was very athletic, and in my eyes, very feminine. A girl I started dating saw it and said, “You must be gay to like her!” I had already demonstrated my fully heterosexual appetites to her on several occasions, so I found this comment puzzling.
Since then I have heard similar comments from men and women. I can see why they might arise in the case of female bodybuilders that push too far and take testosterone and other drugs. They do often look, at best androgynous, and at worst masculine. My character Rachel is not of that type, she is athletic and genetically suited to building muscle. She is fully feminine and beautiful. In these stories she struggles with societies perceptions of what it is to be female. She is often described as an amazon warrior. I use these tales to explore sexual roles and to push against stereotypes imposed by those who are threatened by strong women, strong of character and body.
Chepi, born at a time of great transition on the Canadian plains, is gifted with the ability to see into the past and into the future. Solitary and wholly independent, yet deeply connected to her Native Cree culture, she moves fluidly between worlds as both medicine woman and pragmatist, both nurturer and warrior.
Intuitive and intellectual, her highly adaptive survival skills help others to survive, to awaken, and to change, as she travels across oceans and continents, seeking knowledge of a rapidly changing world. All that she sees and experiences will be applied, when she returns home.
How Chepi’s self-contained, magnetic presence and decisive energetic influence holds others together, whether their meeting is brief or enduring, is the element that makes this story so compelling. The author provides his readers with a well- researched historical journey, a cross-cultural exploration of the human condition, and a deep character study of the singular, ineffable, magnificent creature who is Chepi.
This novel was two years in the creation – the longest time I’ve ever spent on a project. It is by no means my longest at less than 80,000 words. 100,000 + is my norm.
The time was taken by deep research and a desire to refine and reduce this complex story to a poetic fine point.
Chepi will be known to anyone who has read The Prairie Companions, the Daniel Series or the previous two in the Butterfly Effect Trilogy. In those novels, she was an important but secondary character.
I always felt she was deserving of her own story and so here it is. I am unashamed to say I feel it the best work I’ve done… so far. I have included a few extracts here as a taster.
(From Chapter 1)
The grey wolf ran darting and diving through the thick forest, the wet mist parting before him and trailing in eddies behind. Above him a hawk swerved and swooped, easily following. The hawk squealed and the grey wolf stopped and raised his head in cry, howling twice. He sniffed the air and howled once more. The hawk landed above and chirped his high squeal in answer. The grey wolf said, “The little fairy has no sex. The little fairy is not boy or girl and is both.” The hawk swooped and flew into a mist swirling above the canopy. Its call echoed and grew distant until it was a whisper. Sooleawa called in the mist, “Manito, tell me what grey wolf spoke to you.” The hawk hovered above her and spoke its music high and piping and its words entered Sooleawa in her mind but not her ears. She smiled and nodded and gave thanks to her manito.
(From Chapter 12)
It was almost black dark when she reached the river. She stopped and stilled. Breathing slower, she closed her eyes and looked with ears and nose. The river misted the air with chill freshness and old wood and leaves added their musk tone. A pine amber scent spoke of evergreens near. A mushroom pungency rose somewhere close. Little scampering scuttling things rustled in the leaf litter but no large animals gave up their presence to Chepi’s searching senses. She opened her eyes and the darkness was gone, replaced by slants of silver moon and starlight. Dark flashes of movement drew her eyes, as bats cruised the river picking moths foolishly lingering in the moonlight beams.
An area of low scrub on a rise of the riverbank was trampled flat as Chepi set up her small tent, tying it to branches around rather than using easily lost tent pegs. She unrolled her ex-army sleeping bag and found her bag of pemmican, cornbread and water bottle. She did not feel like disturbing the night with a fire so washed down her supper with plain water. She popped a rock of golden sugar under her tongue as a sweet treat and settled cross-legged by the tent entrance. She lit a pipe and whispered: “Sorry, forest things, if tobacco smoke intrudes upon you, but we humans are part of you and we bring far off things with us.”
Chepi sat late into the night in a state of peaceful stupor, her mind as blank and directionless as in sleep but… but she was hyper-awake – attuned to the nightlife of the forest. Lost in its palpable throb and pulse. She would from time to time have to bring her focused attention to a presence near. A bear came to the stream as morning was beginning to fanlight through the leaf lace. Chepi watched it drink and then snuffle and dig in the soft river banks, breakfasting on snails, worms and crunching beetles and the crawfish it nosed and clawed from their unsafe pools. After a time, the bear lifted its head and sniffed the air, slowly turning to the human scent Chepi wafted to it. It grunted its displeasure and plunged away into the forest, noisy and frustrated by the disturbance of the danger-laden human scent.
Chepi hung her rucksack high in a tree, then climbed into her sleeping bag, sighed, put her head down and instantly found a dream-free sleep. It was perhaps ten when she woke and crawled from her tent. She toileted, then plunged naked and squealing into the river to bathe. While there she spotted little trout hiding in a small pool nearby. She lay on a rock and fished for them with her hands. She was beginning to shiver with cold when she threw the second onto the bank. She lit a fire and put two stout sticks through the centre of the trout, pushing their spine and most of the small bones out as she pulled off the tails, spine bones and all. The fish cooked as she dressed and fetched water in her billy to boil for coffee.
When the coffee was blown cool enough to drink, she sat with her back on a tree and savoured the sugar tucked in her cheek, the heat of the coffee and the growing warmth of the day. Maybe I stay here longer. It is a good place here and I feel lazy and unwilling to walk. My feet and legs are pained still. Yes, another day and night here and then I climb high and look at the plains. I am at peace already – it was good to come here. I must keep thought and remembrance from me.
(From Chapter 15)
Only when she had made that eye contact with everyone present, did Chepi speak: “Gentlemen, ladies, I am Chepi Morningstar and I am Nehiawak or Cree in English. Beside me is Bonny-Ann Beckett an officer of the Canadian Security Service. Forgive me for this deviation but I must say why she is here. I call her Numees Bonny-Ann or simply Numees. This means sister or spirit-sister and this is what she is to me. If she had not been with me here, I would be dead. This morning three men tried to kill me outside our hotel. Numees stopped them, they’re all dead.”
Chepi paused as a murmur arose in the room. She waited for everyone to still and look back at her before she continued: “Numees, my sister, came to me when she was a girl of fourteen. We knew we would meet and we saw each other when we did. Saw we were sisters. I do not intend to explain the mystic element of this bond, it is not relevant to this place. I mention it to show you that all human kinship and human bonds know no boundaries of race or colour or background. Numees came with me because she knew I was in danger. She knew there are those who do not see these bonds, who do not believe in the commonality of humanity. Indeed, they are threatened by relationships such as ours because it undermines their dreadful certainties. This certainty is what drove those three men to try to kill me this morning and their dreadful certainty is encouraged and enabled by the various acts the Canadian government has in place to forcefully assimilate First Nation peoples. I will use that term rather than ‘aboriginal’ because Numees warns me ‘aboriginal’ is often a pejorative term.
I have seen dreadful certainty of this kind once before. It was in Germany and Poland in the 1930’s. There too, a government sought to de-humanise people. They made them separate – other – sub-human and then they tried to exterminate them. Yes, dreadful certainty is not a new thing. Genocide is not a new thing. My government has not resorted to death camps and I do not mean to compare them. But they have enacted laws that forcefully remove children from their parents and subject them to so called industrial schools and fostering. They seek to remove the cultural identity of those children and force a new culture upon them.”
Chepi was born into the void between male and female – the void between First Nation Cree and European Canadian – the void between native mysticism and science. Chepi must forge a new path using her unique abilities that may be a burden or a priceless gift. Chepi will touch the lives of many and change their life-paths, but Chepi will always be separate and alone.
This is part of the introduction to my next novel Chepi The Butterfly Effect due out next month. The theme of this, (and indeed the novel in progress right now. Title: Always Leoti.) is the life of an outsider.
In both these cases I created First Nation or Native American primary characters because in my view these people have been the ultimate outsiders. Here are a few lines from Leoti that are illustrative:
“I am sorry I have worried you my husband. I thank you for letting me be still and absent from you. As you say, demons have been at me and I have been fighting them. I can’t describe it, it is too complex but if I say that I have been coming to terms with the fact I am an orphan it might explain this struggle. I am a cultural orphan and I am orphaned from my family too. I think you know this feeling well my Aaron. You too are this kind of orphan yes.”
Aaron is from Belfast, as am I, and he too is a ‘cultural orphan.’
This feeling of not belonging, even in the country of ones birth, is fundamental in both these books.
Right now in the world, outsiders and cultural orphans face monumental challenges as rampant nationalism gains traction. In so many cases, those propagating and exploiting division and fear do so for the most crass motives, personal power and financial gain.
Those in power distract their followers with lies and fear and forget they and those that follow them were once outsiders, were once displaced and despised.
Our common humanity is degraded and history forgotten.
These two novels are my small attempt to remind us that all humanity share the same needs and value the same fundamental morals. We are all outsiders and we all need to feel wanted and included.
We left the Pyrenees behind and returned to the coast south of Biarritz, to the little resort of Bidart. My iPad had been left in a motel there and that was the reason and excuse for the return. We booked three nights in one of their comfortable self-catering apartments, which cost little more than three nights in a camp site – now it was high season and much more expensive.
Next day we headed into nearby Bayonne. What a surprise that was! A delightful medieval city at the confluence of the Nive and the Adour rivers and the largest city in the French Basque region. We struggled to find a spot to park our longish van but found a place under the main bridge on the west bank of the river. The bridge led us into the heart of the old town and I soon sniffed out the market – I do love French markets!
The picture shows me sizing up a charcuterie. I did not pick anything there but found a very small stall were Madame specialised in poultry. (A small Label Rouge poulet was bought here and provided a splendid meal that evening. I simmered it in white wine with mushrooms and cream.)
We wandered the ancient streets and did our usual slow gawping tour, stopping to poke our noses into any interesting corner, building, church or shop. Bayonne was a completely unexpected delight and it was well worth ignoring its bland commercial suburbs to penetrate to the old center.
We ate out one evening in Bidart and found a lovely restaurant serving organic local produce in a smart and stylish way. After dinner and good wine, we walked the few miles to the beach and spent the evening, in the fading light, being mesmerised by the seas restless beauty. My reverie was spoiled by a loud band getting going in a nearby beach surfers bar.
Next day we returned to San Sebastian in the late afternoon and having found a place to park closer to the centre than during our previous visit; set off to explore the old town and the bars serving the famous Basque version of tapas – Pinchos. We peered into a few bars before one took our fancy and then we went mad and picked far too many pinchos. Two or three at most is normal –we had five or six! They all looked so damned good – picking just a few became impossible. Mostly they are served on small slices of baguette, I stay off bread when I can, so picked others things and one in particular was such a triumph, B went back for a portion herself having at first been not keen on the look. They were little tarts filled with elvers. Baby silvery eels. Had I not already had four other pinchos, including a mouth-watering mini steak sandwich topped with ham and fried quale egg, I would have had more of those. We had a few glasses of dry chilled white sherry with the food before moving on to explore more bars laden with tempting treats. When we saw the variety, we realised our mistake in stuffing our faces in the first bar we entered. A tour of different bars with one or two pinchos in each, is the way to do it. We did enter other irresistible bars, and had a few mini snacks. We left the town feeling a little tipsy and overstuffed. No dinner that night!
We headed north to La Rochelle and an appointment with one of the ‘Plate de Fruits de Mer’ that this sea port is renowned for. We found a camp site about ten miles south of the town that had all the facilities but was a typical high season French coastal site – stuffed with families noisily enjoying the extensive water park within. It was hot – meltingly hot –over 110f. We struggled to find anywhere to park the van in La Rochelle and ended up several miles outside the center. The walk down to the port was long and sweaty. We found a cool restaurant on the sea front that was bearable inside and had water misting devices cooling the outside tables that were inexplicably packed. Why do people sit outside in the blazing sun? No, how do they? Out Plate de Mer, featured lobster, crab, oysters, langoustines, prawns and would have had bullot–welks but we refused those as they attack me. We had a bottle of chilled Sancerre rouge and spent a happy two hours peeling and picking. It was much too hot to linger long in the craft market so we headed back. Now I am known for a great internal GPS and never get lost- never except this day when I did. We headed out of town, not the way we came in but: ‘by a more direct route” – said me. We were getting seriously hot and bothered and we could not recall the name of the road we’d parked on so asking directions didn’t help. Nearly two hours later I spotted an area I recognised and we staggered into the van and swallowed pints of water. The van had cooked in the sun and was unbearably hot inside, despite superb insulation. That night getting on the bed was like trying to sleep on a hot grill. Adding to our misery was the itch of multiple mosquitos bites got siting out trying to cool off before bed. Yes we had spray and burned citronella candles but these were determined buggers that got through all our defenses.
Next day we headed to the salt marshes that surround the town, the Marais. We stumbled upon a little town called Marans on one of the big canals that crisscross the marsh. There was a boat hire place there and we hired a little motor boat for a three hour cruise. It was delightful, peaceful and infinitely interesting seeing the area and the waterside houses from a different perspective. B loved driving the little boat and it did have a nice canopy to hide from the sun – however once again our anti-mossies’ spray failed us and we got chewed to bits. Not that we noticed as it was happening – only in bed did the itching and red spots erupt.
We headed north again headed for Le Mont St Michel and a hotel of the same name. We needed respite and air-con and baths to heal from the heat and bites. I’d booked the hotel on line but when we got close we discovered it was on the causeway leading to the Mont and behind a barrier that one needed a code to open. This was new since we’d last visited the area and it nearly got me arrested! There were lines of vehicles waiting to go through and nowhere to park near the barrier. I sent B to walk to the hotel in search of the code. I stopped near the barrier, out of the way and causing no obstruction. Local police arrived and a female officer came and told me to move. I refused, explaining that if I moved B would not find me again. She kept saying I was “causing an obstruction” – “No I’m not, vehicles are passing easily alongside and behind.” She was adamant and I dug my heals in. Clearly she was not used to disobedience and was getting very agitated. French police are armed and as her hand rested on her pistol I decided to give in and move. I drove around in a big circle and came back to the same spot, just in time for a text from B giving me the code. It was worth nearly getting shot, the hotel was lovely, the free bus ride out to the Mont was fun and the food we had in a restaurant in one of the most spectacular locations on earth was average but made splendid by the stunning views.
The drive to Cherbourg and the last supermarket stock up before sailing home was uneventful and only a little sad. B said she wanted to turn around a do it all again. We could not do that but our next sailing is booked for next June and we will have another four week adventure in Rocinante – south of France and Northern coastal Italy is the target – we are counting the days. Consolation will come at Christmas when we fly to Rome for two weeks in a nice little hotel, much walking and gawping. A cheap old-fart high-speed train travel that will take us for day trips to Florence and Venice. We do love to travel with or without Rocinante.