Bricriu’s Feast An Inquiry into the Diet and Cooking Techniques of the Early Medieval Irish
“A Spell in the Country” was the first book I wrote – and I wrote it on a dare – so I was trying for the simplest, most linear plot arc I could find. I wasn’t writing for publication. I was writing so a book rep would buy me an expensive lunch and admit he was wrong about something.
But I also wanted to stay away from the things that annoyed me in so many fantasy novels: the “young man” and “the Chosen One” central character that was literally everywhere at that point (it was at the Robert Jordan/Wheel of Time peak of the cycle) and I didn’t want to “do” Tolkien, so I needed to find a way to have a plot that didn’t have a “quest” or a “McGuffin” to chase.
I created Keridwen as a kind of accidental heroine. I imagined what it would be like to be a conscientious person, a person with a sense of responsibility towards others, but not especially “gifted” or unique, who randomly gets tangled up in these great events because she doesn’t just walk on by.
(I will say this, though. The people who inspired me the most in my life were my parents. When it came time to write the model of a happy family, I knew the characters of Keridwen’s parents were going to be key.
So I gave her my own.)
Anyway, Keridwen’s character really made the book, in the end. She was funny and awkward and ignorant about things, but with a lot of “common sense” – enough to get her into trouble, at least.
The prequel (“Casting in Stone”) was based, in fact, on one throwaway line in “A Spell in the Country”. It’s a bit of a challenge to write that way: to try and get a completely different story to not mess with a timeline that has already been established, and to see some traditions or historical facts from a different perspective. “Casting in Stone” is a smaller story, in a lot of ways, but it explains or illuminates a lot of things that I made up on the fly for the first book.
If I have a theme, for any of my books, it is that you don’t need to be a “Chosen One” to have a huge effect on the world around you.
When I was very young, I got the dry season fever very badly, and looked to die. When my colour drained and my breaths came shallow and infrequent, the godtalkers knew I would not live much longer, and so the People made a pyre, covered it with a new-made cloth and laid me on it.
They brought rich gifts, each tent giving the thing that was most precious to them. A hammered gold cup, a string of amber beads, a carved bone spindle whorl, all that seemed as worthy gifts that I could take to the gods, since it seemed that my lingering was a sign that they required a messenger. They hoped, young as I was, that I would be grateful, and give a good report, and the gods would send rich herds to follow and sweet grasslands for grazing, and that they would keep the Dark Ones at bay.
They covered me with Aliana’s wedding robe. It was softest doeskin, richly decked, and all the People had worked on it, or given something to its ornament, for she was a chieftain’s daughter, and must show the value of the People when she went to marriage. It was by Aliana’s own choice, a grand gesture, and one that the People were impressed by. They drew in their cheeks and whistled at the sacrifice, and said that surely the gods would give twenty fine seasons or more for this. Surely no People could be more worthy than ours.
The ritual calls for the pyre to be lit at the very last breath – it must be judged rightly, so the godtalkers say: too late, and the messenger fails; too soon, and a People could bring down a fearful curse upon them. And they stood watch with one from every tent to witness, through the night, torches at the ready, waiting for that sacred moment.
And then there was the miracle.
I did not die.
It was a sign, said the godtalkers. The Eternal Ones were keeping me as a token of their favour. A holy presence. A new godtalker, who would, when my life was done, go to them and report on the People’s faithfulness.
That was when they took me to their tents, along with all the gifts, to teach me how to tread this new path.
And that was when Aliana swore she would be avenged.
Snippets: A Year of Writing Dangerously
… FOR FREE!
I’ve done a whole year of flash fiction pieces on my blog, and now I’m publishing them as an e- collection. For free.
There are, in the western world, a lot of problems.
On the whole, we’re misogynistic, racist, homophobic, and classist, with a “Me first” approach to almost everything, and it is killing us.
But what it comes down to, at the most rock-bottom base, is a lack of empathy.
We don’t care what happens to anyone or anything else: we only care what happens to us in any given and fleeting moment.
It’s as if a huge percentage of people in Europe and the Americas never got beyond that infant and infantile stage of recognizing themselves in a mirror – like their emotional development stopped right there.
Because this is how toddlers see the world: they understand themselves as single individuals, but they can’t yet recognize that everyone else is an individual, as well. They don’t grasp that everyone feels pain, feels hunger, feels joy – they don’t understand that we are all real, and that we all feel.
That’s why small children will bite other people – and why it sometimes takes being bitten back to cure them of doing that.
But we’re supposed to grow out of this. We’re supposed, by the time we’re five or so, to have grasped this, and to have developed at least the beginnings of empathy.
But apparently, an awful lot of us never have.
We don’t see anyone but ourselves. We want what we want, at any expense to the people around us.
And that’s why we don’t, for example, collectively give a rat’s ass about women’s rights – and will fight against those rights, because someone else having rights might interfere with our enjoyment of having power over these others.
Ditto for everything else.
I don’t think most people are really as squicked about same-sex marriage or transgender persons as they say – I think that their real antipathy is that movements to expand human rights means they will have less chance to indulge themselves in feeling better than other people.
I think that racists are more frightened of losing a huge population of cheap labour than they are of anything else, because cheap labour means cheap clothes and cheap electronics and cheap restaurant service.
Hell – in my province, they resisted even the mere idea of being retrained for better jobs, because they didn’t want to make the effort to prepare for a better future for themselves and their families.
And they are willing to die – willing to let their children and spouses and closest friends DIE – rather than use less fossil fuels, give up single-use plastics, or even just eat fewer steaks, in order to save themselves or anyone else.
I don’t know how to encourage empathy in an economic system that literally deifies people who cheat on a grand enough scale to gain more money than they know what to do with.
I don’t know how to create empathy in a culture that constantly indoctrinates us against this, by urging us towards even greater consumption every day.
I don’t know how to tell any adult that you are supposed to care about this world and all the beings on it.
I don’t know, anymore, if a species that can’t collectively and wholeheartedly see the value and uniqueness of this world and everything in it deserves to survive.
“Don’t think about him, Gretel. Don’t think about the past,” said the witch. “Don’t think about the future. Don’t even think about “now” – none of these things exist.
“Float on the wind. Dissolve in the sunlight.
“Feel things. Be acted upon. None of the things you have thought or lived matter here, and “here” doesn’t matter either. There is no time, there is no substance.”
And that was how she got me, of course. With mind candy.
Like a lot of people this last week or so, I’ve been in some arguments about the OK Boomer meme.
I am on the meme’s side, because I have spent an ungodly number of free time hours over the last six decades showing up.
My protest life began early, because my parents were involved in things like civil rights and anti-war protests throughout my childhood, and I come to this naturally. Over the years, I have marched in support of other causes like “Take back the Night” and so on, worked on projects to give victims of childhood/domestic abuse ways to raise their voices and record their experiences, joined with others to pressure local politicians into enacting legislation on behalf of those victims, and have tried, as best I was able, to financially support others in these fights.
I’ve also been that gadfly and thorn in law enforcement’s side, by reporting police behavior that is sexist, racist, and violent whenever I see it – and, oddly enough to my other Canadian peers, I see an enormous amount of it.
I have been arguing/attempting to get people in my life to pay attention to climate change and environmental issues since the 70s. I have fought for municipal recycling projects, and tried to convince employers to adopt better buying habits and methods in the workplace to reduce their impact on the planet.
I am not virtue signaling here – I am trying to point out that
The point that I have been trying to make to my fellow Boomers is that what we collectively did when we were twenty is not a virtue and cannot absolve us. It’s not a passport to a blanket forgiveness to the mess we created by our inaction, let alone our selfish voting habits over the following decades.
If you are offended by a gently mocking meme, you need to ask yourself not what you did in the 60s/70s, but in all the years after.
What are you doing NOW?
How many marches have you shown up at in the last year? How many letters have you written to politicians to let them know you don’t support racism, or sexism, or tax cuts for billionaires?
How many progressive candidates have you worked for, locally as well as nationally?
How many emails have you written to remind those representatives that lots of you don’t agree with cutting funding to education, or letting people be poisoned by lead water piping or polluted water, just because they are poor.
How many $5 donations have you given to support the causes you say you believe in?
And even more pertinent to the meme itself:
How many times have you “liked” and/or “shared” a meme extolling the virtues of how boomers were raised/have skills that you assume younger people do not have?
(Quick now: ever hearted/like/shared a meme that claims younger people can’t read cursive? Can’t balance a chequebook? Don’t know what a rotary phone is? Didn’t get spanked and are worse for it? Be honest with yourself.)
How many times have you enjoyed a post that calls everyone under the age of fifty a “millennial”, or a “snowflake”, or just implied that you, by virtue of having been born in the 50s, are somehow inherently more hardworking, or better read, or have an innately better grasp on spelling and grammar?
Ever used “avocado toast” as a way to mock a 20-year-old working at three part-time jobs and still can’t afford to buy a car, let alone purchase your overpriced McMansion so you can retire?
Ever thought that someone working at Walmart who wants a better life should go to college? Or simply isn’t fit for anything better?
Ever complained that the barrista at Starbucks took too long to make your vente mocha latte, or didn’t use soy milk like you forgot to tell them to?
And – here’s a real kicker – have you ever laughed about “participation trophies”?
Because if you are resting on the dried-up laurels of the one anti-war rally you went to in ’69, and last week used that “activism” as a reason why those younger folks should not even DARE to mock you or criticize your political bona fides………….
You just asked for a participation trophy for yourself.
It’s not even that we, as a generation, failed our children and grandchildren.
It’s not even that we failed ourselves.
It’s that we are so self-involved and narcissistic that we cannot see the blinding hypocrisy of our words, let alone consider how to change.