#writephoto: History

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday Photo Prompt. This would have fitted in nicely with my last WIP but one. Thanks Sue. Atmospheric photo.

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They used to meet at Weatherall’s where there was no one to bother, his wife being dead and his children grown and moved on. It was a corner house, neighbour on one side, an old lass whose wits had flown away years. They weren’t all union men; many of them didn’t dare. If Taylor or Holdsworth or Sheard had known about it they’d have been given their cards straight away. But they still gathered round on a Sunday evening to listen to George Hewitt explaining where they all fitted into the gaffers’ scheme of things. He wouldn’t stand for them bringing the minister into it either. He scoffed.

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

That’s what Minister tells you when you say you can’t live on what Jeremiah Taylor pays you, isn’t it? When you’ve nowt to pay a doctor with when one of the bairns is sick, isn’t it? He says it’s the way of the world, your labour belongs to Caesar and the rest of your time belongs to God. But what belongs to you? Between Caesar and God, what do they leave for you? Neither Samuel Sheard nor Alfred Holdsworth, nor the God Almighty’ll listen when your bairns are crying with hunger, will they? No matter how much you render them!”

George Hewitt worked in the carding shed at Samuel Sheard’s mill. He never married because he wouldn’t be responsible for bringing more bairns into the world to be eaten alive by the looms. He left no weeping wife and children when the Peelers rounded him up and the men who sat with him on Weatherall’s step on a Sunday evening. His ‘disciples’, as the presiding judge called them, got five years hard labour, but George was deported for life for sedition.

The steps where the men sat were smashed as a symbol of the might of the law, as if any were needed, and it wasn’t until a hundred years later, when George Hewitt and the Peelers were forgotten, and the mills themselves were silent, that the owner of the house that had been John Weatherall’s made up two neat concrete steps. Children walk carefully up the worn upper steps now, pausing sometimes to wonder why they are hollowed like the bed of a river, listening to the ring of the stone and trying to catch the words. But the new steps are dull and silent. They do not stir beneath the feet and have no story to tell. And if the children were to ask why the steps were dumb, who would be able to answer them?


#writephoto: Glade by the river

Back to the WIP for this one. I’m still working out the details, how fact will slip seamlessly into fiction, who knew what and how. Thanks to Sue Vincent for asking questions with her photos and provoking hypotheses that could turn out to be the answer, or at least, the answer I choose.

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She doesn’t know which one she is mourning. The tears that rise in her throat until she thinks (hopes?) she too will drown are for which of them, the child or the husband? The world has shrunk to this glade by a river that she knows is important but not why. They took her husband away to bury him in the cathedral. He lies now beneath a stone effigy that looks nothing like him, because its eyes are stone hard and he had never clutched a sword to his breast like that in life.

They took him away because he was a king and a king has no rights over his own body not even in death. In life he held his title in fief to the king over the water who could order him to his banner whenever he made war, wherever he made war. In death, the king ordered him to lie in stone pomp beneath the vaulted stone of the cathedral in the stone city. But the king has no rights over his infant son. The child at least, she will keep by her.

She brought the small body here, to the leafy glade by the river and placed it in a stone casket like a bullán. His drowned body was surely as full of magic as any spring. She did not see how it happened. The scene had been muddled and misty, Riseárd had cried out, holding his leg and she had run to him, seen Art appear, his face full of wild victorious laughter, the sword drawn. In the spaces between Art’s laughter and her screaming she had heard the child’s terrified struggling to call out when water filled his mouth.

Riseárd fell, crumpled into the shallows, the water too dark to show the blood, and before she could reach Art, wrench the glee from his face with the narrow blade of Damascus steel, the water had stirred and risen. There was mist and spray and a sound like the hissing of waves in a blowhole, and Art had staggered, fallen back, and out of her sight. It was only when the mist had cleared and the spray, and silence fallen that she had seen the bundle of red wool, rocked by the ripples, washed up among the rushes. The red wool of Gileabard’s leine.

Forgive me. He did remember.

The voice, if there had been a voice and not the suggestion of words, the rustle of sedge, wind on the water, is fading now from her memory. The glade is still and hushed. Riseárd will never walk here by her side. Nothing will wake her child again.

The custom of the country

For the NaPoWriMo prompt, looking at a meadow not with the eyes of a developer.



bounded by hedge and stream

and tall trees swaying

not grass, not much,

but flowers

buttercup dandelion vetch flax bugle salsify and orchids.

So many orchids.

Pasture never worked

never ploughed

a piece of ancient farmland

untouched except by hoof,

and the swift pads of hare and fox.

Rodent-burrowed and fissured by contraction

into tiny tectonic plates

running with water

seeping hollows full of marsh plants.

History treads here

silent as nightfolk

holding its breath

for the future is coming.


The future sees building plot

house in breeze blocks and pvc

swimming pool and shaved lawn.

Does anyone care

if the nightingales will still sing

in Monsanto-perfumed air?

Looking for criticism

Today, I have a favour to ask of anyone who reads fantasy and has about ten minutes to spare. I have a book, several in fact, but one in particular that I am pretty proud of. I’ve been sending it out to literary agents for months now, and their enthusiasm for the story is underwhelming to be kind about it. None of them has asked to read more than the sample pages, and about half haven’t replied at all.

The last agent said what she didn’t like about it (the first ten pages) was that she found it hard to follow. Now, I wrote it so I know what it’s all about. If I think it’s easy to follow, that could be just my natural bias and knowing what happens on page eleven. What I would really really love, would be for a handful of volunteers to read the first ten pages and tell me honestly what they think.

What it’s about: ‘Shadows in the Tide’ is the first part of ‘Ys’ a historical fantasy series set among the windswept fjords of Norway and the horse-running plains of Ireland in an alternate Ninth Century.

The story centres on Una One-Eye, daughter of a sea wolf, and Fiachra, the household’s Gaelic thrall, both gifted with some of the magic that has survived the Rök, the breaking of the world, and both cursed with its mark, the sapphire eye, impossible to hide from the fishmen Guardians who are collecting the magic to free their master, the Beast.

If you would like to help out with a bit of brutal honesty, just leave your email in the contact form and I’ll send you the first ten pages. Thank you!


Book review: Conor Kelly and the Fenian King



This sequel to The Four Treasures of Eirean is a more complex, darker page of Conor Kelly’s story than the first volume.

Conor is a year older, still bound to his wheelchair, still unable to communicate verbally. He is more of an adolescent, and even more frustrated at his condition. In the first volume, it is Annalee who wheels him from one world to the next. In this book, it is Conor’s cousin Ciara, to whose tender mercies he has been left while his parents and sisters go on a walking holiday. Ciara is a (typical) student—independent, pretty slobby, and mouthy. She also discovers she is telepathic—she can communicate with Conor. When Conor receives what he believes to be a call for help from Annalee in Tir Na nOg, Ciara is up for the adventure.

The story eases us into the war-torn land of the Sidhe with a talking cat and a couple of wolfhounds who had once belonged to Fionn Mac Cumaill, and before that…But that’s another story. In fact there are so many stories within a story in this book that there is no chance that the reader will not feel completely immersed in Irish mythology.

But the story rapidly becomes darker. Talking cats, enchanted dogs, and unicorns sound relatively safe, but in this novel, Alison Isaac takes us into realms where people are not what they seem, friends become traitors, and even one’s own family is not to be trusted. There are difficult issues tackled here—love and friendship, hatred and wickedness, responsibility and forgiveness, death and loss. In the twists and turns of a plot that comes up with a surprise almost every chapter, where the story is as full of possibilities as a fairy tale, Conor has to steer his way as an adult. Tir na nOg is a place with as much unpleasantness as our own world, and is far more unpredictable.

I loved the way Conor grows to maturity as he learns to cope with family (and what family!) he never knew he had, in a context so far removed from the safe, loving environment of his human home. Ciara is a tremendous character, the kind of girl who could get you into all sorts of trouble, but who you’d be glad to have beside you once you were in it. Her presence alone gives a more mature feel to the story. The Fenian King, I would say, is a story for rather older children than the first book, as some of the complexities of the relationships might go over the heads of kids younger than twelve or so. Like The Four Treasures of Eirean, I wholeheartedly recommend Conor Kelly and the Fenian King to anyone who loves a thrilling, magical story, and can keep their head in a plot that wanders in and out of some of the loveliest of Irish legends.

You can read my review of Conor Kelly and the Four Treasures of Eirean here

Amazon UK link