#writephoto: Cappamore

I’m trying to let go of this story, but Sue’s photograph won’t let me. For her Thursday photo prompt.

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Cappamore. It was tumbled down long ago because the heart had gone out of it. No one lived there after Aoife died, after her murderer died, after the old animosities and tragic misunderstandings had been put to rest. Isobel saw to that. She remembered it only as the place where her mother had wandered like a wraith after Richard died, unable to come to terms with her loss. Isobel didn’t remember her father, no more than she remembered her brother who died too, both in the lake, both at Cappamore. But she felt his warmth and the passion of her parent’s love in the stones, in the air.

Her husband had wanted to claim the place for his own once Aoife was dead, but Isobel refused him it. She was the heir, not him. Sometimes she wondered if it wouldn’t have been better to let him set up a household in the old keep, let him swagger along the banks of the lake, let the lake see to him. Because it would have done, of that she had no doubt. But finally, she decided that the revenge fate had arranged for him was sweeter, slower, more devastating than death for one so full of his own importance as William.

Isobel had borne him ten children, five girls, five boys, and the boys she had cut out of her heart as soon as they were weaned. They were too like their father, antipathetic and arrogant, but with the violent nature of his detested father. None of them produced an heir, none kept a wife, three died young, violently and needlessly, and the other two were childless poltroons. The girls had daughters, lots of daughters, and at each new granddaughter, she had laughed. All of it, a lifetime’s manoeuvring, ambition, judicious changing of sides, had garnered a wealth of lands and titles for William, yet nothing he had done would prevent his name dying with him. Isobel, daughter of a Norman earl and an Irish princess would inherit it all, and she would pass it all on to her daughters.

She savoured William’s despair. After all he had done to get his hands on her father’s lands, titles, to usurp his place in history, he would see it all revert to Richard’s granddaughters. He would leave no more trace than a dying ripple on the surface of the lake. Isobel watched as he was forced to accept the inevitable, the gnawing anger and frustration that spoilt his every pleasure, turned every taste to bitter bile in his mouth. She knew the part he had played in her father’s death, and when he lay dying, she whispered as much in his ear, and placed on his soul the curse the Guivre had cried out in her sorrow.

On his deathbed, she described to him how she was having Cappamore pulled down, stone by stone. Later, she would have the lake filled in too, but not yet, she said. She let him watch in the water mirror as all the ghosts were put to rest, all except one, the ghost that would never be still, the ghost he recognised, all in white samite dressed and her hair golden as ripe barley in the morning. His eyes widened with terror as she stepped from the lake; Isobel made sure he saw. He turned to her, his old man’s watery eyes pleading. He tried to call out, but who could he ask to protect him from a ghost? Was his great castle not protection enough?

She forced him to watch as the woman left the lake and left the mountains, walking the hills and forests, drawing closer. The she sent away the servants and let the woman in white into William’s bedchamber. She closed the door behind her, letting the woman take her revenge alone.

 

All is at peace now. The lake gone, the ghosts still, but the wind still murmurs the lovers’ names. All three.

#writephoto: Empires

For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto challenge. It just so happens that this photograph fits my new WIP like a glove. This is not an excerpt, but a taster.

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Jessop told them to use the stone from the quarry. He was damned if he was going to pay to ship stone from elsewhere when he had perfectly good building materials on his own land. The foreman tried to explain that it wasn’t a quarry, that he’d never get local men to dig stone out of that hillside. So Jessop fired the local labourers and hired immigrants, half-starved men who would work for a meal a day.

The skeletal workforce dug and hewed and dragged the millstone grit up the hill to the site, through the winter when east wind blew bitter across the moors and the wind from the north brought snow. If he lost a few labourers there were plenty more. A whole country full of them, he snarled when a delegation of Quakers reproached him on the subject.

He had to bring in masons from the south. None of the northern folk would touch the stone and the work dragged. It was autumn before the house was finished, the dressed stone shining pale gold in the late sun, and Jessop, mill owner, builder of empires and mansions fit for emperors installed his family and servants in the Hall. On that first golden evening, he stood beneath the chestnuts of the alley, thumbs stuck into the pockets of his ample waistcoat and looked down on the valley town with its smoke and smells and thought himself a king.

Later, when the house was quiet, when the last scullery maid had stumbled into her attic bed, and the butler had locked every door and window tight, the quarry that wasn’t a quarry sighed a dark sigh, and through its dark entrance, the starved and the crippled, men, women and children of Jessop’s broken army of labourers and mill workers drifted into the dark. Their feet made no sound as they followed the passage in the hill that was not a quarry, that passed beneath the foundations of Jessop’s new house, and opened with a sigh into the deepest of the cellars.

 

Pale and gaunt with smouldering fire in their dead eyes they drifted, silent as falling snow up the stone stairs to the cellar door. The only door in the house without a lock.

#writephoto: The Seeing

For Sue Vincent’s photo prompt, a scene from a finished WIP that is now back on the drawing board. Since Sue painted Sabh’s portrait I had to write a bit of that particular story.

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Sabh took the silver bowl outside into the starlight and into it poured water from the well. The summer sky was shot with stars that blinked on and off behind the drifting clouds. She listened. No sound came from within the house; the baby slept and her mother too. The serving women watched, murmuring among themselves perhaps but low as a lullaby.

There was no moon, little enough light, but what there was fell upon the water in the bowl. Sabh held it still and waited, watching the water swirl, full of silver clouds, fuller and fuller until the surface was smooth and bright as a mirror. She whispered words, more for her own comfort than because she believed they had any value, and dipped a yew rod lightly, reverently, into the water.

She held her breath as the ripples cleared and an image rose from the bowl’s depths, a woman’s face, skin moon-pale and framed in hair red as autumn leaves. The face smiled and her hair floated free, filling the bowl, bright, fiery, and it was no longer hair, but flames. In the silence of the birth night, Sabh heard the clash of swords, the cries of men dying and the terrified whinnying of horses.

The woman’s face frowned in sorrow and tears budded in her eyes. The flames crackled, faded and died. Silence fell again and the woman’s eyes were two stars shining in the silver surface of a mirror. The meaning was clear, and Sabh would not tell it to her sister-wife. She would not dash Mór’s happiness on this day of her daughter’s birth.

The water became plain well water with two stars reflected in its innocent surface. She would tell the seeing as a lucky one. The baby would be a great queen, and she would find a great king for husband. Sabh would tell only happiness. She poured the water onto the ground and returned to the house where a new born baby crowned in red fuzz slept peacefully on her mother’s breast.

WIP update

I’ve finished the second draft of my WIP. Chopped out a lot and added almost as much again. Maybe I ought to get straight back to the second part of the story, but the last three weeks of digging about in Medieval minds, speculating on motives and reactions, emotions and lack of them, has worn me out. I need a break from it, to get back to earth (this one, this time) and do something simple like dig holes to put flowers in.

‘On the Quilleboeuf, a man clings as the sea rages and the tide rises and falls. In the morning, he is the only survivor of the wreck of La Blanche-Nef, a butcher from Rouen. He knows nothing of what happened to the Adelin, but jabbers incessantly about a woman, dressed in white who stood on the shore, singing as the ship went down, a woman with the lower body of a serpent. Was it Mélusine or one of her kin, he saw, or the spirit of the vessel? He doesn’t know. But when the flower of the English nobility lies battered and water-bloated on the seashore, who is listening to the stories of a butcher?’

 

#writephoto: Parricide

There is something funny going on with Sue Vincent’s photo prompts. I’m finding that each week, the photo illustrates a scene I’m in the process of writing. Maybe we’ll get kangaroos next week to prove me wrong.

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Diarmait has ridden hard. By the time he is within sight of the walls of An Fearna, he knows his favourite horse is broken. He feels not even the slightest hint of regret. He is going to see Con again, the son they told him had been beheaded at Kincora by Aedh Mac Ruaidrí. He had looked out for Aedh during the fighting before the siege of Waterford but the devil’s melt was killed in a skirmish before he could get his hands around his throat. The message that Dónal sent would have made another, cooler-headed man pause. It seemed that there had been a mistake, a hoax. Three hostages only had been killed and their bodies burned. Ruaidrí had not had the nerve to kill them all; it was only Aedh’s bragging that he himself had taken the head of Conchobar Mac Diarmait that had started the rumour of their deaths.

Diarmait doesn’t ask himself why Ruaidrí didn’t deny the rumour. Perhaps he didn’t know the truth of it—not if Aedh was killed before he was able to explain himself. Nor does he ask himself why the hostages have been kept so long without any word from them and how Con got away. He doesn’t ask himself, because he wants to believe in his weasly son Dónal who never spoke a true word when a lie would serve him better.

His horse is foundering but he beats it on, across the ford of the Sláine and over the low rolling hills to the fort. The church tower is in sight, then the palisade. The gates of the caisleán are open, and just before the woods of the valley side hide it from view again, he sees a horseman ride out, dark-haired, bright green brat—Dónal. A watchman must have seen Diarmait on the road and passed on the word.

Another man might have thought it natural that Dónal would be eager to tell him the news face to face. But his father knows Dónal had never liked Con. Why would he be so keen to share the news that his brother was come back to them? So close to home, so close to discovering that the past months had been a nightmare and the dawn was coming, Diarmait begins to doubt. All the inconsistencies in the message nag at his intelligence. The trees oppress him, obscuring the sight of home. If Con had been at An Fearna he would surely be riding out to meet his father. Perhaps he is hurt, sick. Diarmait grinds his teeth at the idea that Ruaidrí Ó Conor had illtreated his hostages, welcoming the distraction from his more unsettling thoughts.

Coming up the last rise, his horse falters. If they had been on the downward slope Diarmait would have been thrown. The animal’s legs crumple beneath him and Diarmait slides from his back. The drumming of hoofbeats comes to him through the trees. He leaves the foundered horse and runs towards the sound. A flash of green, of chestnut, and Dónal is before him, reining in his horse.

“God be with you, Father,” he says, looking about him.

“God and Mary be with you, Dónal. Where is Con? Does Ruaidrí still have him?”

“Did you come alone?”

“As you asked. I told no one I was leaving. How is he? Is he at An Fearna?”

Dónal drops from his horse’s back. “I have a message from him.” He reaches for his belt. “He’s waiting for you”—Diarmait steps forward eagerly, his eyes on Dónal’s belt, holding out his hand to take the letter. Dónal’s hand thrusts. There is a flash, the sunlight through the trees strikes steel, makes it glitter—“in the otherworld.”

Cold slices under his ribs, reaching up, spreading. Diarmait staggers backwards. The knife thrusts again, higher this time, hitting a rib.

“Dónal,” he gasps, scarcely understanding what is happening. The face, dark, but with some of his own traits, his father’s too, dark eyes and the mouth that twists into a grin. His son. “Dónal.” He remembers when he was born, his first son, and that he had been proud. The man, his son, grown strong and twisted, grabs his shoulder, holds him steady and draws back his arm again. This is the last. The knife slips between the ribs and finds the heart. He still doesn’t understand.

 

 

Grá mo Chroí : Cover reveal

Unless you’ve been living under a stone for the last few weeks, you will have heard that Ali Isaac and myself have got together a collection of our retellings of some of the great love stories from among the Irish myths. This is the official cover reveal for Grá mo Chroí. Second really because I see Ali was up sometime before dawn in her excitement to blog about it. ☺

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It might seem no big deal to those of you with blockbuster epics under your belt, but we have gone back in time, to the golden age of Irish storytelling, and we have added our own small contribution to the great tradition.
Susan Toy, blogger, writer, and very perspicacious asked, why did we decide to do this? Good question. Why did two writers who have never even met decide to produce a collection of stories that, let’s face it, have already been told many times?
The easy part of the answer is that if your roots lie in Ireland, you will know that the myths and stories you were brought up with are at least as true as the Magna Carta and the Wars of the Roses. We are dealing with real people who have landmarks named after them and local legends associated with them.
Both Ali and I are familiar with some of the versions of these stories and have had great fun researching some of the versions we didn’t know. Because unlike the Wars of the Roses, for which there is a fine, blow by blow account, the Irish stories have had so many interpretations that some have been tempted to doubt they happened at all, incredible as that may seem!
The Christian monks wrote down the first versions. Their ecclesiastical superiors disapproved and made them do it again with saints instead of sinners. Fiery Brigid becomes a nun, and Saint Patrick sticks his oar in wherever it’s humanly possible.
But if you dig deep enough, dump the Christian misogynist overtones, you get some beautiful stories, full of real people with real, modern emotions. Irish love stories are not soppy and they are rarely about rescuing damsels in distress. There is almost always blood shed, wars waged, and the damsel is as likely to be waving a sword about as she is to be cowering behind the battlements.
For a writer who loves the poetry in words, these retellings are pure self-indulgence. For a reader who enjoys reading a bit of prose mixed in with their poetry, these stories are for you. Our gift to you for Valentine’s Day, especially for those with a drop of Irish blood in their veins, hoping to rekindle a dormant passion.

Although Grá mo Chroí isn’t released until February 11th you can pre-order a copy at
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Book review: Wildewood Revenge by B.A. Morton

Wildewood RevengeWildewood Revenge by B.A. Morton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book I highly recommend for lovers of historical romance who like their romance to fit into a story of adventure, action, mystery and…time travel.

This was a good read, more in the style of historical romance than fantasy adventure, which is what I imagined it would be. I mistakenly thought Grace was a teenager to begin with, and found her relationship with Miles a little bit disturbing until I realised she was in fact much older. Once that point was cleared up I found Grace a great character, strong, but not brainlessly spunky. She is consistent in the way she behaves and sticks to her guns throughout.
Miles is a perfect mate, good to look at and with an air of mystery about him that keeps him from being a cardboard cut out knight in shining armour. The descriptions of the wintry forest are very convincing, and I had no difficulty visualising the scenes. The action is circumscribed and the cast of characters is limited so the reader’s attention is concentrated on a small area, more like a theatre production than a film. Put me in mind of Robert Bolt’s The Lion in Winter.
The period details are well researched creating a convincing slice of life in Norman England. The language is well chosen and the dialogues are convincing, even though the one flaw for me in this piece of writing was the language. It was always going to be a problem, the moment you have a woman from the 21st century landing in 13th century England—Miles and Grace wouldn’t have been able to understand one another. Miles would have spoken Norman French, quite different from modern French, and Edmund and the English characters would have spoken Early Middle English.
That said, language is a hobbyhorse of mine, so my problem, and who wants to read a story written in Middle English anyway? I probably wouldn’t have even thought of it if Grace hadn’t drawn attention to the fact in her first efforts at conversation with Miles and Edmund.
The story ends in a cliff hanger, it’s true, but I didn’t find that a let-down. It’s obvious there’s a sequel, and the final chapters of the story create quite enough drama and leave quite enough loose ends to make the reader immediately start searching the Internet for the next installment.

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