Skellig Inspiration

The cover.
Skellig Testament.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The body of this post was first put up more than a year ago. That trip inspired me to write a new novella based on a question that I had then: What makes a man choose to go live on a rock on the sea? Out of that rose Skellig Testament, my latest work. It was designed to be sold in the Skellig Experience Visitors Centre on Valencia Island.

Yesterday Brigitte and I had a wonderful drive round the ring of Kerry in beautiful sunshine to deliver the first books to the centre.

The Skellig Experience.
The Skellig Experience.
John O'Sullivan
John O’Sullivan

John O’Sullivan the manager there, made us most welcome and will be offering the book exclusively in his bookshop.

The centre is well worth a visit if you are ever on the ring of Kerry or are planning the sea trip out to the island of Skellig Michael. The ancient monastic settlement is a world heritage site and is jaw-droppingly deserving of the distinction.

The original post:

It was a steamy tropical land south of the equator; swamps, mountains, high rainfall, a primal jungle teaming with the land-pioneers – insects. Amphibians came ashore to harvest the vegetation and insects and some evolved to stay on land. They were the very first vertebrates to colonise the land; lizard-like Tetrapods crawling and slithering through the mud. The high rain fall brought floods of silt from the mountains, quickly filling and burying the tracks of the Tetrapod.

Grandads foot prints.
Grandads foot prints.

Over the millennia those tracks became encased in sedimentary rocks and those rocks moved. The great planetary upheavals that saw tectonic plates pull  the land apart causing it to drift across the mantle north and east and west until the earth-shapes we know now, were created. Erosion and more upheaval revealed the place where the Tetrapod roamed. His tracks exposed to the curious eye of one of his distant evolutionary off -spring. Another vertebrate, very recently evolved upon the earth, stood and gazed in wonder at the track in the rock and saw that this was special. Experts descended and applied their science and with awe they proclaimed: These are the oldest known in-situ footprints on this earth.

Tetrapod sign
Tetrapod sign

Now on the most westerly tip of the old-world, the edge of Europe, Valencia Island, County Kerry, Ireland – I stand and gaze at these tracks and am awestruck by their significance and puzzled by the fact that on a busy holiday weekend in August, in glorious sunshine, B and I are alone. There is no line of people waiting to see this wonder. There are no others here to see the marks of our ancestor and wonder at the passage of such a vast amount of time – 385 million years!  We are always alone when we come here.

Skelligs
Skelligs

The island crawls with visitors and tourists but they are here to see much more recent marvels; the monastic building on the remote Skellig isles; the site where Saint Brendan the navigator baptised islanders; the place where the Great Eastern set sail to lay the second attempt at a transatlantic telegraph cable; the radio and metrological site where Marconi’s work bore fruit.

Blooming hedgerows.
Blooming hedgerows.

Valencia and the Skellig coast are truly beautiful and full of history. We come here to recharge out batteries every few years. It’s an easy two and half hour drive from home but we usually stay over in some friendly B&B.

View from guest house.
View from guest house.

This time it was the Calafont with it’s wonderful views over the sound from Portmagee to Valencia.

The chrdh
The Fitzgerald chuch. Knights of Kerry.
Lived and died for empire.
Lived and died for empire.

As we wandered in the old church yard, where so many who served the British Empire on the remote Valencia radio and cable station worked and died, I was struck by the thought that this island should be world famous for the awesome Tetrapod tracks. The evidence in rock of the miracle of evolution that lead to the birth of creatures that could span the earth with first their cables, then radio and now the instant medium carrying these words – is that not truly awe inspiring?  Where are the queues of keen young minds wanting to see the wonder of their distant ancestor’s tracks? They are instead marvelling at the work of monks who built a doomed edifice on a sharp rock in a hostile sea to escape earthly things and there to worship myths and legends that violently divided people then and still do.  Those monks didn’t look far enough back in time to find the majesty and awe inspiring works of creation in this place.  They couldn’t see. We can, so why do we not see? Why do we stand on the edge of the old world and gaze with wonder at the great ocean and the new world beyond and prefer myths and legends, man-made from ignorance, to the wonder and majesty of life here at our feet?

Look again at the 385 million year old foot prints.
Look again at the 385 million year old foot prints.

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Heritage.

1545.jpgSaturday the 17th August 2013 was Cork City Heritage open day.  A unique event celebrating the architecture and history of the built heritage of the city. Many buildings not normally open to the public were opened for the day, many had special events and guided tours. We could not miss this.  Continue reading

The old-world, begining and end.

View from Valenica
View from Valenica

It was a steamy tropical land south of the equator; swamps, mountains, high rainfall, a primal jungle teaming with the land-pioneers – insects. Amphibians came ashore to harvest the vegetation and insects and some evolved to stay on land. They were the very first vertebrates to colonise the land; lizard-like Tetrapods crawling and slithering through the mud. The high rain fall brought floods of silt from the mountains, quickly filling and burying the tracks of the Tetrapod.

Grandads foot prints.
Grandads foot prints.

Continue reading

Taking liberties with the facts.

It’s often called artistic licence, some might say it’s not justified, others it’s a valid tool of the creator of the fiction that is the novel.

In my first published novel, Conflict, I use a location for some of the crucial scenes, which I knew to be historically inaccurate. The prime location for much of the action is a driving school located in Smithfield Square, Belfast. The old covered market that once stood there is the setting for several pivotal scenes. The novel is set in the late 1970s several years after the old market was burned down in a firebomb attack. It was eventually re-built in the form it now has. When I set these scenes, I knew I was playing fast and loose with the facts of the location.

So far, no reader has pulled me up on that, so for the record here is a little of the nostalgia that led me to use this location – even after it had been consigned to the history files I raided for these images. (They are taken from public access internet sources, if any are considered copyright protected let me know and I’ll take the offending image down.)

The bookshop

I set one scene in the second-hand book shop seen in this image.  This place was responsible for my youthful literary (and sexual) education. Harry Hall, book seller, sold and traded mostly cheap paperbacks but also mens interest magazines! A boy who looked older than his thirteen years might, if he was bold, buy such a magazine there. Perhaps to stash it under his bed for secret pleasures and revelations about the mystery of the much desired but unknown land that was the woman.

I began my collection of John Steinbeck’s novels in Harry Hall’s shop. I still have several first edition paperbacks bought there when I was perhaps twelve. The more common and long forgotten pot boilers were traded for the shillings, I earned on my paper rounds. I spent money earned in this way, feeding my mind rather than on the more usual: sweets and soda and the then new – cheese and onion potato crisps.

The market square.

Fiction and non fiction, anything and everything could be found in this literary underworld of cheap and often pulp fiction. So when I embarked, late in life, on a literary adventure, this my literary touch stone, had to feature in that work, even if the historical facts didn’t support that. I took liberties with an area infamous in Belfast’s cultural history, for the taking of liberties.

 

This history taken from: http://www.culturenorthernireland.org/article/355/a-belfast-souk

An old map of Smithfield.

Smithfield Market became the focus of popular culture throughout the nineteenth century with, at one time, 27 public houses being resident on the square. Smithfield’s reputation for bawdy life was embodied by the location of Marshalsea Prison, a hospital, dispensary and a house of industry, on the square. The market itself was mostly open to the elements until the Belfast Corporation created a square roofed building sometime during the late nineteenth century. The market housed clothes dealers, auctioneer’s, theatres and a handball alley. One contemporary noted: ‘We penetrated into Smithfield court, which is not unworthy of the patronymic. This is, as we learned on the spot, the battle ground of the whole neighborhood; and wrathful pugilists resort thither, even from the most distant parts of the town, to settle their disputes after their own fashion, undisturbed by impertinent policemen.’

The Rev WM O’Hanlon expressed stronger views in 1853: ‘The very worst grade of our population will be found heaped together, corrupting and being corrupted, in this quarter. It is a sort of tumour … in the heart of our city.’ The square was at its most lively at the end of August during the Lammas fair. As SM Elliott testified: ‘Thousands of country people, especially sweethearts, gathered in Smithfield.’ The ghost of Biddy Farelly is said to walk the market at Lammas time, seeking out Luke White, her childhood sweetheart who deserted her to earn his fortune in Dublin.

With the advent of the covered square, Smithfield became, in the words of Robert Johnstone, ‘like the souk in an Hibernian Casablanca’, an underground paradise of bric-a-brac.

Prominent families included the Dawsons, the Kavanaghs and the Havelins, who still run premises on Berry Street. The last inhabitant of Smithfield, Joe Kavanagh, did not close his ‘I buy anything’ shop until 2000, which for many was the valedictory event in Smithfield’s history. The market continued to exist under the noses of the great industrial citizens, always regarded as a low place with dubious morals. For most of the twentieth century, the Belfast Corporation, as the council was then called, attempted to close Smithfield down.

An inside lane.

In 1974, the Corporation was planning to demolish the old bus station site, but they were saved the trouble by the efforts of firebombers in May. Amid the uproar of those years, nostalgia was a rare resource, but many were aware that a complex and colourful past had been razed.The market was rebuilt with prefabs in 1976, and a new brick building was opened in 1986. But to many in the city, the soul of the market was gone. With the advent of Castle Court, a smelly, dirty and disorganised market had little place in the city.To those who remember the old Smithfield or have listened to its tales, a certain part of the rough and ready exoticism of Belfast has been lost. As Herbert Moore Pim states in Unknown Immortals:’In Smithfield, breathing as it does the majestic maxim, “Man know thyself” we have a storehouse of splendours, for the loss of which nothing could compensate this city of success.’

The Mythology of Flags.

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What colour is this?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What color is this?

 

 

 

 

 

?

 

What color is this?

 

 

 

 

 

Put them together and what do you get?      The Irish flag perhaps? Well no. This is not the Irish flag and there lies a tragic tale. People often call the Irish flag green, white and gold. It’s almost standard and it’s a myth. A damaging myth based on intolerance and sectarian divide.

 

 

?

 

What color is this? Yes orange.

 

 

 

 

 

True Irish flag.

What flag is this?

 

This is the true Irish Flag. The founding fathers had an idealistic idea:Green to represent traditional Irish cultural identity and orange to represent the other cultural identity in the island with white to be peace between them.  A noble idea and one we have still not achieved fully and nor will we so long as people still refuse to acknowledge that noble idea by describing the flag as green white and gold instead of the truthful and meaningful: green, white and orange.

In calling it gold, refusing to say orange, they are disrespecting that ideal. Refusing it.

It’s time we started being bold and brave and using our flag with respect.

Creative Recharging.

We took a last minute break and travelled north to the Causeway Coast in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. (NI)

The village of Portballintrae or Port-balance-your-tray as it’s been nicknamed as an aide-mémoire – is a sleepy little holiday village with a small sandy bay, a harbour and 50% second homes. It has also got what we think is one of the best small hotels in the world: The Bay View. The premier rooms all have big bay windows with a lounge for viewing … the bay!

Room 202

The place is simple, unpretentious and offers spectacular value for money. We were lucky and found two days of sunshine in a summer of otherwise unrelenting gray and rain. When we arrived about four, we sat in the bay window, sighed a lot and watched the Oystercatchers and Redshanks following the tide up the beach.

That lounging area in the suite is supremely sigh-worthy and we drank tea, took in the views, sighed and smiled a great deal and felt a year of care drop off us.

The view from the room.

We watched the wet-suited youth throwing themselves squealing into the harbour. The boys were trying to outdo each other with athletic excess to impress girls who were much too cool to notice. Cool in attitude and body. The water looked very cold.

Bush Foot bay.

Later we took a stroll round the harbour and into the next bay Bushfoot where the Bush river enters the sea. (The water from this river is used in what is reputed to be the oldest whiskey distillery in the world: Old Bush Mills). The river was pregnant with dark brown torrent water off the peat-moors so the surfers looked like they were riding creamy crests of Guinness. Across the bay stands the Causeway Hotel and the entrance to the Giants Causeway. The columnar basalt formations that are such a tourist honey spot.

Runkerry House

On the far shore stands the gothic looking Runkerry House, built by the Macnaughtons They were given most of North Antrim in times past. They gave the house back to the NI government in the 1930s. They used it up to the 1990s when they decided to sell it. £4 million changed hands and it went to a US based developer with big ideas for a golf centre. One thing NI doesn’t lack is golf facilities so that didn’t happen. Now the place is being sold off piecemeal as apartments.

As we came back, B captured a stunning sunset over the harbour. We sat in our room, sipped a Black Bushmills whiskey and watched the sun sizzle into the sea in the west.  Refreshed and delighted we retired glad we made the impulsive trip north.

Next day, after a hearty breakfast and a reading of the world’s oldest newspaper in continuous print – The Belfast Newsletter (first published in 1731), we drove round the coast to Whitepark Bay. A place of great significance to me but that story can wait for tomorrow.

Non-conformity and rebellion vs. literary conservatism and establishment values.

A call to arms.

A call to arms.

There is a tradition in literature that has been deeply under threat until the advent of Indi publishing.  The tradition of novels that question the wisdom and normality of the day. Examples of these being: Steinbeck’s, Grapes of Wrath or any Joyce or Pushkin or Dostoevsky. That tradition of the subversion and undermining of the tribal, religious, political or social establishment in the novel; was deeply undermined by the contraction of the publishing industry in the past twenty or so years. The grip of a few international publishing and sales conglomerates was becoming overwhelmingly conservative and restrictive. Celebrity worship, meaningless pap, magic and fantasy dominated their output.

Non-mainstream or non-conformist work had little chance of making it past the all powerful gatekeepers. There were exceptions and those tokens are held to be examples of freedom but that was an illusion. Truly radical or overtly critical work was always marginalised at best and buried in the slush pile at worst. We writers conspired in this movement towards conformity by submitting to the idea that rejection by the gatekeepers was our shame. “Not good enough to be published by the establishment means not good enough.”

‘Conform, don’t speak unpalatable truths, don’t bite the hand that feeds you, don’t upset the apple-cart.’

Suddenly we are free of the gatekeepers, we can publish our work and bite as hard as we wish, well with certain reservations. We must still not upset the giant that facilitates this apparent freedom. And that freedom is still more apparent than real.

Having a radical non-conformist novel published means little if it is buried unseen and unread at the bottom of a pile of a million others. Struggling out from under that pile still remains a daunting prospect and one must still confront the powers of conservatism that seeks to keep us buried, marginalized and dismissed as: ‘Indi – worthless – self published – vanity – non-approved pap.’

It is time for we who choose this freedom to properly utilise that opportunity by losing our tendency to feel inadequate and apologetic. Above all we must stop using the derogatory and divisive language of the establishment. We need to do as the gay lib movement did with words like ‘fag’ and ‘queer’. We must take words like ‘self-published’ or ‘Indi’ or even ‘vanity’ and inject them with pride and remove all stigma from the idea of independence in publishing.

I call for an ‘Indi pride’ parade here on the world wide web.

Let’s not fall into the trap of petty tribal squabbles and arguments about which form of self publishing is worthy and which not. Yes some of this new found freedom will be abused by trash and ill conceived and poorly executed rubbish but that is the price we must pay for this freedom. We must rejoice in the opportunity, feed the giant and support each other in our efforts to surface in the fast and vast pool of detritus it produces.

Celebrate the possibilities and offer a helping hand to others who swim in this new sea.

A revolution is here if only we can make it.

Blocked or just wrong?

Beloved Warrior.

I’ve been engaged in struggle with my current work, ‘Beloved Warrior’, the second in the Historical Trilogy. The first chapter came as easily as is usual for me but the second abruptly blocked. That was six weeks ago. It was a novel experience for this prolific novel writer. I didn’t panic and tried all the worthy advice seen on other writers blogs. Nothing worked. I decided the problem was lack of free flowing fuel. My research had gaps I thought. So I got stuck into more reading. Tried again, still nothing. I spent four weeks intensively blogging and one result of that was this much improved blog. The blogging grew ever more intense. I spent time on my Goodreads authors page. In the dark wakeful hours, I tried to guide my mind on to the book but it kept worrying at the blogging stuff. I simply could not get my mind on to the block. I tried a bit of writing but it was like pulling teeth. The sentences just would not flow. I considered scrapping it all and starting again with a new structure. There are three main and several peripheral characters. I’d intended each chapter to follow one character within the same time line. Later in the book the three main charter’s time lines cross and they interact. The second chapter introduces the main female protagonist. A nurse called Winny, the sister of Pat from the first of the trilogy: “‘The Prairie Companions.’ I’d started with a letter from Winny to her sister Pat in Canada and the reply. It seemed like a nice device to give back story and establish secondary characters.

Yesterday I saw this was what was blocking me. The device was interrupting my normal story telling voice. I needed to loose this and just plunge into Winny’s story as I had with Dan’s in the first chapter. It worked, I’m flowing, the block is gone. Loud cheers from the beloved B, who was getting sick of my morose mumblings and cussing under my breath as I sat at the Mac. I have uploaded the first chapter on a page here as a taster. I’d really welcome feedback about it from followers and visitors. (It’s a rough first draft, unproofed. So please be kind about typos and goofs.)

Now that I’m unblocked I will be blogging less but will try to post once a week at least and keep an eye on friends.

Block?

What I do when I’m blocked? After ten novels in three years without any hesitation, I am finally faced with the infamous writers block. Not serious, I can still write but I seem to have lost the flow, it’s like pulling teeth and I am not confident I have found the right voice for this book. I’ve been working on the second in the history trilogy: ‘Beloved Warrior’ and have had two attempts to get going. The first I rejected when I noticed the soapbox beneath. I was having a rant, not writing a compelling  novel. The next attempt got going and flowed the first chapter nicely then, thump, blocked.  I usually deal with this by stopping and doing something else, in this case, editing the 5th Daniel novel: Daniel’s Grip. The ‘Warrior’ is till bubbling and I am immersing myself in WW1 history reading. Fuel for later.

I find if I try to force it I can produce work but it’s usually indifferent and gets scrapped. I must be patient and wait for the bubbling and simmering to produce the magic spark of creativity that will reignite, or should that be unblock, the flow.

This is the second cover design for Daniel’s Grip, the next in the Daniel series to be published soon.