Keeping calm and writing on

Instead of plodding ahead with yet another manuscript that may never see the light of day, I have decided to go back to my favourite, and I think my best story, and have another try at selling it. It’s a saga set in an alternate ninth century, wrapped up in fantasy. Here is a bit from the beginning.

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Una lay curled up with her face to the wall and the dying fire warming her back. She heard her father stumble home and throw his boots by the door, her mother get up from their sleeping place in the alcove to bar the door. In a few moments the only sound was her father’s snoring. But Una could not find sleep. Her mother’s fanciful story of the Guardians had woken the Valdur general who murmured inside her head. Sigmarr. She formed the name in her thoughts and the deep voice was there, filling her head with his murmurings.

She closed her eye, but behind the eye band, the other eye saw, the eye that was no longer there. Shadows moved behind the eye and she peered over the battlements of a high tower onto a devastation, charred and blackened by fire and the ravages of war. At her side she felt Sigmarr’s presence and she was not afraid. Just infinitely sad.

Una, listen, the voice whispered urgently. Look. This is Vænnland, the land of your ancestors. Listen to its story. Sleep and watch.

Una closed her eye tight and shook her head. An army moved below the battlements like a dark sea. She moaned, not wishing to see the beasts that hid in the shadows of that sea.

Una, sleep and listen and see.

Una gave up the struggle and let herself drift into sleep. Drifting, she spread broad wings and became a gull, to soar high over cities of white limestone and pink and green marble, with graceful towers and peaceful gardens and great buildings where the Valdur housed wisdom of all kinds and shared it with the people. Her gull’s eyes saw the teeming fish beneath the waves. The gull flew inland and Una trotted, a red vixen, across rich and prosperous farmland and through forests rich with game.

She became an Elder of the High Council and read the star runes in the night when the Beast fell from the sky. She helped cast the runes of power that would bind the Beast in the deeps. She watched as the Beast raged in its chains and hurled the ocean from its bed in monstrous waves. The High Council was safe, high in the Vardgnæfa, the watchtower set on the highest hill behind Westwater, but the Vænnlanders fled screaming in terror from the devastation of the city and into the mud-filled woods beyond.

In the ruins of the farmland along the banks of Westwater, the Vænnlanders picked their way through the corpses of their livestock and the wreckage of their homes looking for their lost and dead. They raised angry eyes to the tall Vardgnæfa and Una heard their dark mutterings as they buried their dead.

Una became a salmon and swam the furious currents, through the turbulent deeps. Blood and ash clouded the water. The Beast was silent, but waves of pure wickedness pulsed through the walls of its prison, sending visions of red blood and carnage coursing through the ocean. Giant morays were drawn inexorably to the place, their primitive senses filled with the taste and scent of raw, bloody flesh.

The salmon Una beat her tail to avoid their path, but the morays paid the fish no mind. The fury emanating from the Beast reached out to the terrible creatures, ensnared them, and spawned the servants of the Beast, the servants that would stride through the waves and destroy the Valdur. The servants that would release their master.

Sacks of grey, gelatinous eggs throbbed and shivered with life. Grey larvae wriggled free, biting and tearing at egg cases and other larvae in blind savagery. As they grew and developed, gorged on the flesh of their brothers, the servants kicked their way to the surface, their lungs craving air, dissatisfied with the taste of salt water. As they rose heavily from the depths, they grew thick leather garments, salt-laden and water-drenched, their pale fish eyes blinked in the grey light of a winter morning and they clawed heavy cowls over their scaly faces.

Una salmon leapt and became a gull that soared, a trotting vixen and finally a girl sleeping in an uneasy troubled dream—a dream of Guardians marching heavily up the pebble strand, and troll-children with an expression of sorrow and pleading in their eyes, one blue as the sky, the other brown as a bird’s wing.

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Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

16 thoughts on “Keeping calm and writing on”

  1. I love stories like this. They remind me of a mix of Celtic and Norse mythology, but are more approachable than that style. I am currently reading Patrick Rothfuss who is a young author who has written some tremendously creative novels along such lines. I generally prefer female writers, couldn’t say why, other than they speak of the land in a way that I can relate to. Incidentally, Una has long been a favorite name of mine. This (stained glass?) picture goes perfectly with your preview J. I know it goes without saying, but never let any lack of immediate appreciation for your superb work, prevent you from going forward, nearly all my favorite authors struggled to publish, as we said before, based on those who are published (Bridget Jones Diary #300, really???) it’s clearly not based upon merit but absurd lines of nepitism. So many appreciate your talent and your unerring and intricate understanding of character and scene. xo

    1. I’ve heard a lot about Patrick Rothfuss. Must read something of his. Norse and Celtic storytelling are favourites of mine. Other mythologies I can take or leave alone. The Yorkshire dialect is heavily based on Old Norse, and the place names, the landscapes are reminiscent of the landscapes I imagine for the Norse myths. Mingling the two cultural threads I know best has been great fun. I shall write the sequel to this one even if I keep on getting completely non-plussed responses from agents.

      1. I have been reading some of the Norse (modern) books of late also after watching Vikings on The History Channel. Patrick Rothfuss is really worthy, I’d highly recommend him for people like us who enjoy that type of writing. He’s quite ‘long’ but not a word is wasted. Oh I love the Yorkshire dialect, interesting to know that, didn’t know that, linguistics is so fascinating you would need about four lifetimes to study. People who know and read you, love your work that means a lot and says more than the morons who work at some of these houses (of ill repute!)

      2. Yorkshire is the only part of England I know, so I suppose it has to be special to me. It’s a place I’ve enjoyed writing about anyway, childhood and adolescence. It’s a comforting idea that just a few people enjoy reading my stuff. It does make it worthwhile even though the filthy lucre type of success would be nice too 🙂

  2. All I can say, again, is that I love your writing. I read fantasy almost exclusively. My favorite 3 dozen authors can’t keep up with my appetite, can’t publish fast enough to keep me from historical fiction, or some other genre not my mainstay. You capture my attention and paint the pictures perfectly. I am always in the “fictive dream,” as John Gardner calls it, when I read you.

  3. I’m always pleased knowing a writer is back into the flow.
    Intriguing, a one-eyed girl seeing with the eye that is no longer there, shape shifting to enter her vision, or dream. Got pulled into the epic atmosphere.

    Una is a clean and lean name, same as a supporting characters in the sequel to Course of Mirrors.

    1. That must be an omen 🙂 I hope someone picks this book up. I’ve put a lot of me into it and it’s a good, if rather strange story. I’m sorry your publisher fizzled out, but you’re lucky in a way that it happened before they’d got your book out. At least you get another first chance with it.

      1. Same here, there’s a lot of me in my novels.
        And yes I’m lucky, after many promises over a period of three years that left me disappointed, I got an email today that clears the road. The book part of the business is folding. I haven’t actually submitted to big publishers, but will now. There’s a challenge ahead 🙂

  4. It’s so exciting that you’re coming back to this story! I agree with the other comments on here: Una is a great name. Simple and clean and beautiful too. Have you already gone through an editing process with this one, or is that on the to do list before publishing? I love the feeling of mythology throughout it and this opening raises so many questions about who Una is, what happened to her other eye and where she’s going: the perfect hook! 🙂

    1. Thank you! I’m pleased to getting back to it. This isn’t the opening, but a section from the start of the story. I’ve already posted the opening a while back. The story was beta read by a good friend who is also an editor and revised according to her suggestions. Then a reputed publisher was interested and gave it a first round of edits, but couldn’t take it on immediately. They subsequently got into difficulties (health not publishing) and I let it go. All I’m doing now is giving the text one last polish and trying very hard to write a synopsis. There’s a lot of ‘alternate’ mythology in the story, mostly invented but with echoes of existing stories.

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