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A Lost Tale

The Celts Reach Past Samhain To Halloween

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This morning, on a regional radio show, the host told us – with surprise – that he recently learned the folk in Newfoundland & Labrador hollow out, and carve faces on, turnips for Halloween, instead of (or, in addition to) doing so with pumpkins. Had he pursued this knowledge further, he would have found that the ancient Celts, who created the original Samhain from which the Christian All Hallows (Halloween) comes, did this very same thing.

I don’t know if I have any direct connection to the Celts. My Scottish grandmother had an ancestor who was classed as a “Herb Doctor”, well versed in the healing ways of nature. Oddly (very oddly) I have such a character in my first published novel,  A LostTale, dealing with the Celts and Druids and their supernatural ways. I wrote it long before I knew of my “Herb Doctor” ancestor. In my novel, she is just referred to as “The Old Woman”.
I have another odd connection to the Celts. During the Second World War, my father guarded Stonehenge. And he did so on Midsummer Day.

During the Second World War, it was feared that Germany would invade England. Many of the Canadian soldiers stationed in England were spread in a wide circle around London. An outright invasion would be a do-or-die situation, and Canadian soldiers had it been known to them – without direct orders – that no prisoners were to be taken.

One of the areas put under guard was Stonehenge. Though less so now, at that time Stonehenge was surrounded by vast planes. It was feared that the Germans might use these open areas for paratroopers, and also gliders full of troops. Thus the area was defended.

My father was part of this protection, and it so happened that he stood guard duty near Stonehenge itself on Midsummer Day, and watched the sun rise over the monument. He was aware of the significance of both time and place, as many of his comrades might not be. Indeed, when he informed them that the Celts, at one time, sacrificed virgins on altars at Stonehenge, they expressed – in more earthy soldier language – what a waste.

Though I have not been to Stonehenge itself, I have written three novels about Celts and Druids, one of them set during World War Two. I’m happy to believe that, in the supernatural realm, there is some ethereal connection.

With Halloween upon us, and it having become a major festival in the last few decades, let us give thanks were thanks is due. With some grudging recognition to the Christians.

[Image]  z.bp.blogspot.com/-PyK4hGSbA9w/Umf_tzo39ZI/AAAAAAAAAb0/EoM1vWXqAd8/s1600/Jack_turnip.jpg

Getting Published In New York In The Old Days

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Over The Transom

My friend Google tells me that “over the transom” is still a viable term. In this case it refers to a manuscript accepted by an editor submitted cold – perhaps even from the dreaded slush pile.

At any rate, my manuscript for A LOST TALE was accepted “over the transom”, and I was asked to New York to meet the editor. Although I had experienced and appreciated Montréal, Toronto, London, Berlin and other large cities by that time, I had not been to New York. Many events of that trip are memorable, but none more than my “lunch” with the editor.

The editor took me to a dark and trendy place for a late lunch. There were not many people there and, restaurant fiend though I am, the food was not my top priority. Discussion of “the work” and proposed changes was more on the menu for me.

As I sit across the table from my editor, I can not help but notice a man seated by himself beside the wall. He is tieless and shirtless and, though the lighting is dim, what there is reflects from his naked skin. He sits with a beverage and seems to hum to himself.

My editor is discussing both the menu and some confusion he perceives at the beginning of my novel. I note items on the menu unknown to me and am doubly confused.

The shirtless man at the other table increases the volume of his humming and eventually a waiter goes to him and has words. The shirtless man has words back, but they sound like gibberish. At my table the editor suggests something from the menu and I happily comply. There is wine.

Whilst I eat and listen to suggestions, the shirtless man is spoken to by two other waiters. As I (wisely) restrict myself to a second glass of wine, two uniformed policemen enter the restaurant and approach the shirtless man, whose gibberish had increased even more in volume. In the course of a few minutes three other uniformed police officers – one of them female  – arrive on the scene. They are now ranged around the shirtless man and his table. I finally tell my editor what is happening behind him and why I am not concentrating fully upon his suggestions. He turns around.

Two of the officers remove the table from in front of the shirtless man. Two others, one on each side of him, haul him to his feet. It is then that we see his shirtless state continues all the way to his naked feet. The female officer takes the tablecloth from the table and drapes it around him. The four male officers form a circle around the naked, shrouded man uttering his gibberish, and hustle him from the restaurant. The female officer picks up what appears to be a pile of clothes from beneath the table, and a pair of roller skates, and follows them.

I say to my editor that I have never seen anything like that.

My editor concurs.

Ogma Meets A Unicorn (for National Unicorn Day)

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Twitter and many other parts of the world are awash in comments and observations about National Unicorn Day. Since so much of it seems frivolous, here is an excerpt from my novel, A Lost Gospel, where unicorns are as real as the fingers on your hand.

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“You want us to think like the unicorn?” Ogma was irritated, and spoke with deliberation. “The ways of the beasts are even beyond the girl. At her best, I believe she just follows.”

“There are times, Ogma, when the worth is not in the accomplishment, but in the attempt.”

“I’ll be a better man by trying to think like the beast?”

“You can’t help but be a better man, Ogma.”

“Well. That’s spoken like a Head Druid.” Although Cowin could not see his actions – perhaps because Cowin was unable to see him – Ogma held out his hand and rubbed his fingers together. “Here, beastie, beastie. Uncle Ogma has a wee treat for you.”

“Is that what you think a unicorn thinks?”

“But if you come up to Uncle Cowin,” Ogma’s voice now had a sing-song tone. “Just jab him in the arse with that big horn, for he doesn’t have anything for you at all.”

“A least I promise nothing.” The Head Druid had finally deduced what Ogma was doing. “But what will be the reaction of those very sharp teeth when your hand is found to be empty?”

“What?” Ogma hesitated.

“Does the unicorn possess your sense of humour?” Cowin did not try to suppress a chuckle. “Or will your empty hand be empty even of fingers?”

Ogma momentarily considered the question, then quickly raised his hand. He was about to make an obscene gesture, but instead turned in the direction of a distant noise. He could feel by the brush of Cowin’s cloak that the Head Druid did the same.

“We’re being approached without hesitation.” Ogma whispered the words.”By more than one, if the sounds don’t play tricks.”

“That isn’t possible in this fog.” As the oncoming noise shifted, Cowin turned slightly. “I don’t suppose you have a knife under your cloak?”

“No, Head Druid.” Ogma stared into the dark. “Like most, I rarely carry arms while on the Island.”

“The times are changing.” Cowin looked at the vague shape of his companion. “Keep no more than a few strides distant.”

“We’re not prepared for a fucking invasion.” Ogma got into a crouch and flanked the Head Druid.

“Maybe they won’t see us.” Cowin leaned toward the approaching noise.

“I think that’s a false hope.” Ogma moved into his fighting position, bracing for an attack. “They’re aiming right in our direction.”

“The fog will give some protection.” The Head Druid also crouched into a combat stance. “Let as many as possible go past, then jump the ones at the rear. If they’re armed, we might wrestle a weapon from them.”

“Or a body to use as a shield.” Ogma wrapped his cloak around his arm to help deflect a thrusting sword.

“Nothing fancy.” Cowin dug his heels into the earth. “We have to go on this voyage – nothing is more important. If we’re overwhelmed, we must try to escape.”

The fog seemed to muffle noises which were close, yet make distant sounds crack like a whip beside their ears. This aided to the druids’ confusion, and they couldn’t tell who was approaching, or from where. It was Ogma who spoke first, using an oath which held traces of fear around the words.

“Something’s brushing against me.”

“What do you – ”

“Curse Manannan’s damn fog – it’s at my legs.” There were sounds of commotion, and then of a body rolling on the earth. “Fucking sword of death.” Ogma’s voice was high.

“Where are you?” Cowin stared uselessly through the fog.

“By the gods of hell. Get it away from me.”

“Ogma.” Cowin moved toward his voice. “I can’t even – ”

“It’s the beast.” Ogma shouted. “The damned beast.”

“Beast?”

“The unicorn.” Ogma was sputtering in anger. “It’s pulling my clothes with its teeth, and that horn has come inches from – ” Ogma’s voice moved. “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

“Ogma.” The Head Druid was both concerned and relieved. “Don’t struggle – it’s not going to hurt you.”

“You don’t think being frightened can’t hurt you?” Ogma’s voice was sharp, but the rage was ebbing from it. “I’m stopping, you bag of shit. I’m sitting on my arse and not lifting a hand, so get your head away from me.” There was a pause, filled only by the heavy breathing of the unicorn. “This damn thing is bigger than you’d think, Head Druid.”

“Do you still have all your fingers?” Laughter surrounded Cowin’s words. “Or does the unicorn look upon you with a smile?”

“This was its game?”

“Be thankful.” Cowin walked toward the other man’s voice. “You found out the unicorn has a sense of humour.” He reached his hand to help Ogma to his feet.

“The beast does not go after your fingers,” complained Ogma.

“I don’t tease him.” Cowin rubbed the animal’s neck. “Nor do I speak of him in such a rough manner.”

“You think it understands me?”

“Not the words – but the intent.” Cowin felt the unicorn become tense under his hand. “The girl approaches.”

Isle Of Man Celebrates Independence, If Not My Novel

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Because today is Tynwald Day on The Isle of Man, which is the Isle of Man’s National Day celebrating the Oldest Continuous Parliament in the World, it seems fitting (to me) to post the first review I had of my novel, A Lost Tale, that is set on the Isle of Man.

It is not a rave review.

DE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Lost–but not lost enough, this is an uneasy mix of soothsayers and spies.

Wounded German soldier Rolf lands on the Isle of Man during World War II and is taken under the wing of young Druid virgin Brigid and her friends.

Brigid falls in love with Roll, of course, but his recovery is slow and his fate is tied in with the appearance of a white unicorn on the beach.

Taggart, the leading Druid priest and a master of the supernatural, investigates Rolf’s background by way of other Druid soothsayers.

And then mysterious William Stephenson shows up looking for Rolf–yes, he’s the Stephenson, the Man called Intrepid and master of secret intelligence, and he knows Rolf’s secret: that he was sent to this beach to help his father, a brilliant Nazi scientist, escape from England with atomic secrets.

But the Celts have their own sense of destiny, quite independent of the British secret service, and their mystic signs determine that the secret of the horrible bomb must be destroyed right on the beach before even Stephenson can rescue it.

Will true love survive these warring conflicts?

Will the white unicorn appear once more?

Can Druidic power fight Nazi evil?

The answers are none too enlivening, but Canadian first-novelist Estey shows some talent for characterization and might do better next time, having now gotten both Druids and Nazis out of his system.

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