Ancient versus Contemporary

Hello Yvonne!  Thank you for inviting me to your blog today. It’s lovely to be visiting you again.

Formal versus Contemporary – A Comparison

The Beltane Choice is set in AD 71 in Brigantia, north Roman Britain.

I’ve used what I call a more formal writing style in my historical fiction novel The Beltane Choice,  to give a semblance of authenticity to the story set so long ago. Getting into the heads of my characters, to recreate what would have been their ancient lifestyle and speech patterns, was a lovely challenge. But, just for fun today, I’ve given my main characters an opportunity to experience 21st Century speech patterns and vocabulary.

I’ve chosen a section where my darkly-handsome hero (think of a mid-twenties Aiden Turner or Aragorn /Lord of the Rings Viggo Mortensen) talks to his captive, Nara, a Selgovae princess. In normal circumstances the Selgovae were mortal enemies of the Brigantes, but the advance of the Roman Empire has altered the usual state of affairs.

Extract from The Beltane Choice

Lorcan had been thinking long and hard about what to do with her once they reached Garrigill. Since knowing her princess status he had planned a positive method of using her abduction, the recent conversation with Gyptus’ warriors making him decide to speed up the process. Now he needed Nara to believe in his plan.

“Nay, Brigante.” Slapping at his arms, Nara of Tarras’ manner was unyielding. “You are mistaken. Callan will not negotiate.”

“Why continue this pretence? You hold high status in your tribe.”

“Callan of Tarras will not bargain.”

Her jaw was so set, her voice almost to shouting level. The vehemence could not be faked, but Lorcan was not ready to take her at her word just yet. He maintained his level tone. “Then I will know the truth. There is much you have not told me.”

“In that you are correct.”

Nara jumped up and stomped off, gaining little ground before he snaked his arm around her shoulders. Pushing him away her chide was as brutal as the sharp blades flashing from her eyes, her mouth whipcord lean.

“You declared you would not touch me. You are just like your warriors.”

“Aye, but I am the one who prevents them from accosting you.”

Nara’s furious face held his attention for a moment before he continued. “Perhaps I am wrong? It may be you would not deem their advances unasked for?”

Lorcan loathed that she misunderstood his motives. Restraining his anger he sought to explain his reasoning.

“You are a temptation, Nara. They must believe they cannot have you because I deem it so. That gives you a measure of safety.”


And now something…more contemporary. I’m avoiding the really crude version it could be but you’re welcome to use your imagination, and fill in the asterisks! Especially if you’re familiar with all of the brand new swear words out there in 2021, which I’m afraid I’m not.

Lorcan wondered what the **** he was going to do with her once they reached his house, at Garrigill. Shit! She was a princess of her tribe. He’d thought about how best to tackle the consequences of her abduction. He had a damned good plan…but he needed Nara on board.

“Back off, Brigante!” Nara, princess of Tarras, slapped at his arms. “You’re a daft git! Callan won’t negotiate.”

“The cra* he will! You’re a prime hostage.”

“I’m telling you that Callan of Tarras doesn’t do bargains! And never for the likes of me.”

Her jaw was set so firmly like plastic surgery gone wrong, her grating voice through clenched teeth bursting his eardrums. Lorcan could tell she meant business, but there was no way he would take her word for it – not nearly yet. He kept his tone level.  “So, tell me. What secrets are you still keeping?”

“D’you think I’m going to tell you!”

Nara jumped up and stomped around, only pulled-up short by his arm hook around her shoulders.  Shoving him away, her tongue-lashing was as reckless as her flashing eyes, her mouth thin and nasty.

“What happened to your ‘you wouldn’t lay a hand on me’ speech?  Absolute crap! You’re worse than your hangers-on.”

“You think? I want to **** you like the rest of my men, but I’m the one who is keeping them off your back.”

Nara’s furious expression stripped him before he continued.

“Am I wrong? Maybe you do want to screw all of them?”

Lorcan hated the thought that his motives might be misunderstood. Tamping down his anger, he struggled a patient tone.

“You’re beautiful, Nara. If they think you’re mine, they’ll back off. And you’ll be safer.”

Nara’s sputters were explosive. “Yours? How is that safer?”


What do you think? When reading historical fiction set so long ago would contemporary language work for you? I’d love to know your thoughts.


Don’t miss out on the bargains!

During the whole month of May, as the Ocelot Press Book of the Month, Nancy Jardine’s Celtic Fervour Series of historical adventures will be on special prices.

The Beltane Choice  will be 99p.

The other 4 novels in the series will be reduced to £1.99 (equivalent prices across the Amazon network)

Nancy has a couple of competitions on the Ocelot Press Readers page on Facebook during May 2021 where you can win 1) a beautiful Celtic Keyring 2) a signed copy of The Beltane Choice. Join us there and enter the competitions


Nancy Jardine lives in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. She creates her fictional characters in historical; time travel historical; and contemporary mystery/ thriller novels at her usually messy desk. When not writing, researching (a total obsession), reading or gardening, her young grandchildren will probably be entertaining her, or she’ll be binge-watching historical series’ made for TV.

Signing/ selling her novels at local events is great fun, as is giving author presentations – on her novels or on Ancient Roman Scotland – to groups large and small. Both are a fabulous excuse to get away from the keyboard and meet new readers. Zoom sessions have lately been an entertaining alternative to face-to-face events till Covid 19 pandemic rules permit local events to restart.

Current memberships are with the Historical Novel Society; Scottish Association of Writers; Federation of Writers Scotland, Romantic Novelists Association and the Alliance of Independent Authors. She’s self-published with the author co-operative Ocelot Press.

You can find her at these places:






Amazon Author page

The Unkindest Cut of All

Welcome to the brand-new Ocelot Press Book of the Month. 

Each month, we will focus on one particular Ocelot Press publication.  This month it is Sue Barnard’s romantic intrigue The Unkindest Cut of All, the action of which takes place over one week in March, during an amateur dramatic society’s production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.


Brian Wilmer is God’s gift to amateur dramatics – and he knows it.  So when the Castlemarsh Players take the ambitious decision to stage Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, there is only one man who can play the title role – even though Brian’s posturing “prima donna” attitude has, over the years, won him few friends and many foes.

Rehearsals progress apace, and the production draws ever closer.  But when another member of the cast has to drop out due to illness, local journalist Sarah Carmichael (a stalwart of the Players’ backstage crew) suddenly finds herself called upon to step into the breach at the eleventh hour.

Not surprisingly, Sarah finds that Brian is in his egotistical element playing the mighty Caesar.  The fact that the final performance of the play takes place on the infamous Ides of March – the day when, according to tradition, Caesar was fatally stabbed – only adds to the excitement.

But tragedy is waiting in the wings.  And when it strikes, it falls to Sarah – with the help of Brian’s personable and fascinating nephew Martin Burns – to uncover the incredible truth of what really happened…

The Unkindest Cut of All is available from Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.  To celebrate it being the Ocelot Press Book of the Month, the Kindle edition is currently available at the special offer price of just 77p (or the equivalent in your local currency).  To find out more, click here.  

And here’s a special treat for anyone who orders the e-book during this month.  Post a screenshot of your Amazon order in the Ocelot Press Readers Group on Facebook, and you will be entered into a draw to win a signed copy of the paperback edition.  The draw will stay open until the end of March 2021.

Competition time!

To enter, click here to be taken to the Amazon listing for The Unkindest Cut of All, click on the “Look Inside” feature, and find the answers to the following questions:

  1. On what date does the story open?
  2. How long ago had Sarah been at university?
  3. Why is the backstage area painted black?
  4. What announcement does the stage manager make over the tannoy?
  5. What is the name of the wardrobe mistress?

Please don’t post your answers here!  Email them to sue barnard author AT gmail DOT com (remove the spaces, and replace the shouty bits with appropriate punctuation) to arrive by no later than midnight (UK time) on Wednesday 31st March.

All correct entries will go into a draw, and the lucky winner will win a free Kindle copy of your choice of one of Sue’s Ocelot Press titles.

The Book of Lismore: the Past is a Lost Book

Cas and Sam are back, having recovered from their adventures in The Calgary Chessman. Cas is settling into her home on the Isle of Mull. She’s starting to feel more comfortable as a lonely divorcee in the middle of nowhere, and she has friends now. Best friend Bernie is a comfort, even though the roof leaks and Cas can’t find a job. Her budding relationship with Ewan crashed before it had half begun, but she’s determined not to let their friendship suffer. And archaeologist Niall seems as married to his job as ever.

Sam, meanwhile, is preparing for his first year at university. He’s working as a intern at Niall’s dig on the beautiful island of Lismore (Gaelic Lios Mòr, the Great Garden) between Mull and the mainland. Sam’s grand sexuality reveal (in The Calgary Chessman) rocked the boat less than Cas might have expected, but don’t worry. There’s plenty more trouble where that came from.

The Lismore dig is looking for evidence of monastic settlement. Unlike the Isle of Iona (settled by Columba, arguably the most famous of all the Celtic monks) Lismore was founded by the less well-known Moluag. But physical evidence for his monastery’s location is hard to find, and the team is working hard.

Niall brings Cas to visit, and takes her to a second location, down on the south coast of the island, where he is thinking of opening a new site. There they make a gruesome discovery which will change the story of the island forever.

In the meantime, Sam has finally plucked up the courage to tell his homophobic dad that he’s gay. That goes about as well as you might expect, and at one point Cas and Niall are fearful for Sam’s safety. It’s up to Sam to deal with his father, though – he’s an adult now, as he’s fond of pointing out. How he does so will set the tone for his parental relationships for years to come.

The acclaimed Calgary Chessman trilogy:

The Calgary Chessman

The Book of Lismore

The Ashentilly Letters (forthcoming in 2021)

Yvonne Marjot is a lost kiwi, now living on a Scottish island. She has been making up stories and poems for as long as she can remember, and once won a case of port in a poetry competition (NZ Listener 1996). Her first collection, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, won the Britwriters Prize for Poetry in 2012. She is fascinated by the interface between human mind and the physical world, and her poems often have a scientific or mythological theme.

Her paranormal romance, Walking on Wild Air, and The Calgary Chessman trilogy of archaeological romances are published with Ocelot Press. Her short story collection, Treacle and Other Twisted Tales, is available from Crooked Cat Publishing.

You can follow her in any of these places:

Goodreads where she welcomes questions.

Facebook and her friendly group


The Unremembered Places: a haunted world, where traces of human presence evoke lives of hardship and resilience.

Patrick Baker’s ‘The Unremembered Places: Exploring Scotland’s Wild Histories’ takes us straight, from word one, into the dark, dank recesses of the planet, places used and touched by humankind that yet retain their own wild untameable quality. His vivid, evocative descriptions summon a haunted world, where success and failure alike evoke the same poignant reaction.

Whether traversing the chill sucking morass of high country moor, crossing a cold sea by kayak, or exploring the drowned devastation of Slate Islands quarries, ‘The Unremembered Places’ is a thoroughly tactile book, summoning up the uncomfortable reality of surviving in places where the natural world sets the limits, and its human denizens can do little more than simply endure.

This book pulls no punches. Wherever people were required to enter into the wilderness, harsh realities had to be faced. From the sad graves in Scotland’s most isolated cemetery (and the grinding misery of itinerant labour) to the phenomenal physical and emotional resilience required to travel Scotland’s drove roads, the reader is immediately confronted with images of hardship that sear themselves into the memory.

I’m trying to avoid the word ‘gritty’, but I can’t. The grit in these tales gets into the subconscious and later, out for a long walk (or ‘tramp’ as I grew up calling it) with the book safely tucked away at home, chill wind or the smell of damp causes an abrasive image or snatch of words to arise in the mind, and provokes a visceral response.

If you enjoyed Robert MacFarlane’s ‘Underland’, or if you’ve ever been fascinated by some trace of human presence found tumbled and lost in a place otherwise utterly wild, you’ll love ‘The Unremembered Places’. But make sure you prepare a warm jersey and a flask of hot tea before you start.

Beathan the Brigante (Celtic Fervour 5)

Thank you, Yvonne, for inviting me today to share a little about Beathan The Brigante, the 5th book in my highly acclaimed Celtic Fervour Saga Series. I’m thrilled to say it officially launched yesterday! It’s now available in e-book and paperback from Amazon, and in paperback format via Ingram Spark for bookstore and library ordering.

Beathan cover pic Aug 2020

Something your readers might be interested in is that the ebook versions of Books 1-4  in the Celtic Fervour Saga series are reduced to only 99p/99c/0.99euros each, for the days close to launch day in a Big Bonanza SALE! The link for my Amazon author page to get access to the ebooks is included below. They just might still be at 99p, depending on when you read this post!

And now about Book 5… it brings themes of the whole series to a full circle. In Book 1, The Beltane Choice, the Druid priestess Swatrega prophesies the birth of a son to Nara of the Selgovae, a son destined to become a famous tribal leader. A baby boy is, indeed, born to Nara and he is named Beathan – which means ‘life’.

Dramatic events happen to Beathan during his early life, some of which are touched on in Books 3 & 4 and are background for Beathan The Brigante.  He grows up while the Garrigill Clan are under threat of domination by the forces of Ancient Rome, which continues to escalate in northern Britannia. Beathan becomes a refugee when Roman occupation moves from Brigantia (present day Yorkshire/ Cumbria/ Northumberland) into Caledonia (present day Scotland). Even more horrifying, readers discover Beathan is captured after the pitched battle at Beinn na Ciche between the northern Caledonian tribal allies and the Roman legions of General Agricola. At that point he is still not quite 13, though already warrior-trained.

Beathan The Brigante is Beathan’s story, spanning his life from the ages of 13 to 17, though it also completes the entanglements Beathan has with General Agricola. During his captivity, Beathan spends time in many different Roman forts. He is held hostage by General Agricola and dragged all the way to Rome. Escaping the clutches of the Ancient Roman army isn’t easy but Beathan takes advantage of every opportunity that comes his way – some of these events being quite surprising!

Bethan endures so much during his youth, but readers will be glad to know that happiness also comes his way. It doesn’t come easily, though, since Torrin is a determined young Brigante warrior-woman.

Many other themes that permeate the series of five books are also explored in Beathan The Brigante. Beathan might well be desperate to make contact again with his long-lost family, but he is equally bent on wreaking vengeance on his Roman tormentors.

I’ve loved bringing all of the themes of the series together again in Book 5. Beathan of Garrigill is my current (still youthful) Brigante hero and I do hope readers appreciate his qualities, too.


AD 85 Roman Empire

How can young Beathan of Garrigill – held hostage by General Agricola and dragged in chains to Rome – escape and wreak vengeance on his enemies?

Torrin is a strong-minded Brigante warrior-woman who forges her own future. She willingly takes care of him in a time of need, but her own plans are paramount.

Agricola’s career is in tatters. Attempts on his life are plentiful, having lost favour with Emperor Domitian. His gods have abandoned him, though assistance comes from a surprising source.

Will Beathan gain his freedom to return to his kin in Caledonia? Will Torrin be by his side? And how will Agricola survive without the emperor’s benevolence?

Beathan the Brigante is the fifth in the bestselling Celtic Fervour series.

Nancy Jardine author pic Aug 2020

Nancy Jardine writes historical fiction, time travel historical adventure and contemporary mysteries. When not writing or researching (a compulsion she can’t give up), she’ll be with her grandchildren, gardening, or reading novels. She loves to interact with her readers when regularly signing/ selling paperback versions of her novels at local Craft Fairs, and at larger event venues. She enjoys presenting author talks and gives formal presentations on her novels, and on Ancient Roman Scotland, to groups large and small.

She’s a member of the Historical Novel Society, the Scottish Association of Writers, the Federation of Writers Scotland, the Romantic Novelists Association and the Alliance of Independent Authors. She’s self-published with Ocelot Press.

You can find her at these places:

Blog:  Website:   Facebook:

email:  Twitter

Amazon Author page

Buy Links:

Beathan The Brigante

Paperback KDP

Location, location, location: the art of landscape painting with words

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One of the first things you hear, as a writer, is ‘write what you know’. This is at best ambiguous advice, as the great joy of writing comes from exercising the imagination, from learning and writing about things you don’t know. And wouldn’t it be tedious, frankly, to only write about your actual experiences? I’d never be able to write a murder mystery, for instance, due to a lack of personal research that I have no intention of remedying.

However, I find real life experience very useful when it comes to creating scenes. The better I know a place in reality—the better I remember not only how it looks, but how it sounds (is there traffic noise? Or just the wind shushing through the dunes?), how it smells (brine? earth? smoke?), how it feels (the coarse rasp of sand, the smooth slick of oil)—the better I can bring it to life for my readers.

One such place for me is the Isle of Mull, in western Scotland. I’ve lived on the island for twenty years, and my first four novels are at least partly set here. In Walking on Wild Air I describe an unnamed island: its white-sand beaches, green fields and heather-clad hills, its views of distant mountains, and its small towns and single-track roads. All my descriptions, from the opening ferocity of a thunderstorm to the peaceful dance of hilltop grasses in a gentle breeze, come direct from my own experience.

The Calgary Chessman is the first in a trilogy of archaeological romances with a contemporary setting, and it opens with a walk along the sands of beautiful Calgary Bay in spring.

The wind was too cold. I was a fool to have come out without my coat: my calendar said it was spring, but no-one had told the wind off the sea. Sand stung my legs as I plodded down the beach, meandering just above the high tide line. Sparse grasses bound the sand around their roots, but much of the fine, white powder was loose, and the sea breeze blew it around my feet…

…I pushed my hands into my pockets and pulled my cardigan more tightly around myself, but the chill air crept in anyway.

Is it working? Do you feel the chill? Later we visit the bay again, busy with visitors on a summer’s day, and Cas Longmore, our heroine, walks around the headland to gaze out over the sea towards the other islands of the Inner and Outer Hebrides.

I climbed steadily for a few minutes and then, as I turned the headland, the hubbub died away and the still clearness of summer air enveloped me. A slight sea breeze sprang up and I tucked my hair behind my ears, although it blew straight out again. I stopped and gazed northwest across the vast, blue ocean, feeling the heat of the sun strike square between my shoulder blades, as palpable as a physical blow.

Calgary Bay is beautiful in any weather, be it a gale off the sea so strong it dents the eyeballs, or a bitter winter trudge in full wet-weather gear, hunching your head between your shoulders against the icy strike of a hailstorm, though it’s at its loveliest on a calm, warm day, when the white sand and turquoise sea are as inviting as any tropical resort. But watch out:

Sam charged into the sea and straight back out again, hardly more than damp above the knee. “It’s freezing,” he shouted. “I thought it was supposed to be summer.”

…”It’s always cold,” I reminded him. “You’ve been here before.”

His face was rueful. “I never remember,” he muttered. “It looks so shiny and blue, and the sun’s so hot, and I always think it’s going to be warm.”

I’ve seen the Bay in all its weathers and I hope I’ll pay many more visits to add to my memory stock. It’s a very different story when I describe the other touchstone location in The Calgary Chessman: hidden Huna Bay in northern South Island, New Zealand. ‘Huna’ is a Maori word meaning ‘secret’, and the hidden secret of the book is that the location is as hidden from me as it is from you. I grew up in New Zealand, and had two notable missed opportunities to visit the glories of Abel Tasman National Park, both trips cancelled at the last minute after a great deal of forward planning. To my disappointment, I’ve never made it back. But Cas Longmore’s grandparents run their family farm on the edge of the National Park, and Huna Bay is the sanctuary Cas’s mind goes back to in times of danger or loneliness.

Here I’m using the full power of my imagination, buoyed up by the descriptions of friends or other writers, and many photos and paintings that I’ve seen over the years. This is the polar opposite of ‘write what you know’. One day I hope to go there, and to walk the Abel Tasman track or kayak the shoreline, to see how accurate I’ve been. Here Cas is dreaming of her favourite place in the world.

At first blinded by the sun striking molten silver off the sea, I could see nothing but the shocking turquoise of the water. Ahead, the warm sand edged away into a sparkling sea. The sun stood high in the vault of the sky and bathed me in its beneficent glow.

I turned a full circle, taking in the crescent of beach backed by a small cliff, itself topped with a green tapestry of leaf, fern, and creeper; a verdant brocade spilling over the cliff and weaving itself over every surface. At the foot of the cliff a tiny creek emerged from a green pool, filled by the constant curtain of drops trickling down the cliff face.

If you’re thinking about taking up the pen (or keyboard) of the serious writer, or if you already write and are looking for ways to extend and improve your work (and we are all, always, doing that) it can be both pleasurable and useful to sit down, close your eyes, and imagine a single location in detail. Get all those senses working: really feel yourself to be there. Then, while it’s still fresh in your mind, write it down. It may never end up in a book, but I guarantee it’ll sharpen your sense of the place you’re trying to describe.

I wrote my first description of Huna Bay as part of a mental health exercise, where I developed an imaginary safe place to which I could retreat in my mind if real life became too difficult or threatening. It remains my sanctuary, just as it is for Cas, and I hope its magic never fades.

The Calgary Chessman is available in e-book and paperback, and if you decide to read it I’d be delighted to hear what you think of it. I hope its locations are evocative, and that one day, when all the present troubles and restrictions are over, you have the opportunity to visit it in person, and not just via my imagination.

You’re all invited to my Facebook event 8am-midnight BST on Sunday 26 July 2020. Drop in any time to join the conversation, with music, competitions, and book-related chat.

VonnieM-300dpi-Calgary pback PAL trimmed 120720

You can follow me at my Facebook page and friendly group, on Twitter, or my blog, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, and I’m always happy to answer questions on Goodreads.

Author pic by Sam Jones at Calgary Bay, Isle of Mull

Authors, Let’s Chat

Today I’m chatting with Ami-May on her blog, about my writing journey and the inspirations for my books.

wowa photofunia photo book 2 pic

The themes of ‘Walking on Wild Air’

I’m going to talk about the themes of Walking on Wild Air. However, I’m going to try and do it in a way that doesn’t spoil the story, for those of you who haven’t read it yet. So please excuse me if I waffle a bit.

WOWA new photofunia frame 1

Walking on Wild Air is a love story with a twist: a Scottish island paranormal romance with an unexpected ending. The plot sees Sushila Mackenzie grieving her dead father, still carrying physical and emotional injuries received during the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami ten years before. She arrives at her father’s old house, at the base of a great hill on a remote Scottish island, and takes refuge there, too distressed to come to any decision about her future.

The island is very beautiful, a calm sanctuary away from the cares of the world. Sushila pushes herself to climb the hill, reliving memories of childhood adventures with her father. She thinks, too, about her mother and grandmother, and her life growing up in their vibrant, colourful, multi-ethnic Sri Lankan community.

On the hill she meets local inhabitant Dougie MacLean, a shepherd who lives alone following the death of his wife. He is kind and cheerful, and Sushila is immediately attracted. But Dougie hides a great and dreadful secret. Learning it will stretch Sushila to her limits. Falling in love with her puts him at terrible risk.

Love and grief are at the heart of life. We are born in anguish, and learn to feel joy. We love and lose, and every loss brings further pain. But without the love we would be empty, and life would be meaningless. Sushila believes she cannot cope with any more pain. For a while, loving Dougie brings her healing: a peace and joy she thought she’d never experience again. But it cannot last. There is a price to pay, and one of them must have the courage to face it.

Dougie’s own grief began long, long before. We get a glimpse of how very old he is through a series of brief stories, ranging across 10, 000 years of Scottish history. The truth implies an extended existence of almost unimaginable loneliness.

The boundless depth of his empathy holds a healing power for Sushila and she rapidly comes to depend on him, to the exclusion of all other relationships. She is willing to set aside her growing friendships with a group of women friends, and all semblance of a normal life, to join Dougie in his strange second life. But slowly they come to realise that their paths are too different.

The themes of Walking on Wild Air are about love, and loss. About family, and a kinship that holds strong down the ages. But the principal theme of the book can be described with a single word: Sacrifice.

Yvonne Marjot is a lost kiwi, now living on a Scottish island. She has been making up stories and poems for as long as she can remember, and once won a case of port in a poetry competition. Her paranormal romance, Walking on Wild Air, is published by Ocelot Press, and her trilogy of archaeological romances, beginning with The Calgary Chessman, will also come out with Ocelot during 2020. Her short story collection, Treacle and Other Twisted Tales, is available from Crooked Cat Publishing.

You can follow her in any of these places:

Goodreads where she welcomes questions.

Facebook and her friendly group



Walking on Wild Air: genius loci and the spirit of place

Walking on Wild Air , Scottish island ghost story/romance, re-published in Kindle e-book/KU and paperback 28 June 2020

Ocelot Press

Genius Loci is a Latin term for the deity that rules over a particular place or location. The Oxford Reference dictionary says “every place has its own unique qualities, not only in terms of its physical makeup, but of how it is perceived”. We humans are fond of personifying inanimate objects and places, and it’s an important part of many mythologies.

Whenever I visit somewhere new I’m keen to find out the local name for it, preferably in the native tongue of the place, which can often give a sense of meaning or history. For instance the Isle of Mull (where Walking on Wild Air is set) derives from a Norse word meaning a high flat plateau viewed from the sea. Seamarks like this were useful to the Norse, who went everywhere on the Sea Roads and could navigate by way of familiar landmarks. ‘Vik’, meaning harbour, and ‘Tarbert’, meaning…

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Fairy Stories, W B Yeats, and the Twisted World

In 1974 I was given a copy of Charles Causley’s Puffin Book of Magic Verse. On the cusp of childhood and adolescence (aged 12) I was already a veteran of Hobbits and Narnians, and had been making up tales and rhymes for as long as I could remember. My mum used to say I wouldn’t know the truth if I fell over it in the street, although come to think of it that *might* not be a compliment.

There are some great classics in this book, including an excerpt from the longest poem I know by heart, Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott, and Causley had a real influence on my writing, not least in his careful assertion (in reference to the magical nature of these poems) that ‘spells don’t work once you’ve written them down’. Understanding this enabled me to write some heart-wrenching poetry after my partner died in 2016, reaching out to him, knowing he could not reply. We’d have ventured across the bourne, torn space and time apart, and destroyed the universe to get back to each other if we could. It’s just as well that wasn’t possible.

Also in the book was William Butler Yeats’ The Stolen Child, and it became one of my favourites. Raised on Andrew Lang and the Brothers Grimm, I thought of changelings as an evil perpetuated on grieving parents. But this poem presents an alternative—the child led into the faerie world as an escape from the grim misery of reality. And right now, with the world torn apart by pandemic illness, blatant and unrepentant racism, and the gender debate convulsed with prejudice and spite, it feels especially tempting to think about escaping into an alternative existence.

Yeats was born on 13 June 1865, 155 years ago, and he was no stranger to the misery of reality. I have no doubt he wrote poetry (felt compelled to write) as an escape from real life, but he knew it is so much more than that. It’s a way of facing reality and coming to terms with it. In The Stolen Child, Yeats paints a picture of a wondrous realm of sweet cherries, rushing waters, dancing and feasting. Who wouldn’t want to foot it with the fae “till the moon has taken flight”? The faeries are stealing the child, but they persuade him with delights and it all sounds wonderful. But in the final verse Yeats brings us home again.

“Away with us he’s going,

The solemn-eyed:

He’ll hear no more the lowing

Of the calves on the warm hillside

Or the kettle on the hob

Sing peace into his breast

Or see the brown mice bob

Round and round the oatmeal-chest.”

Here are the warm, homely pleasures the child will be losing. Wild frolics in the great outdoors are all very well, but he will lose the quiet security of home and the place where he really belongs. And suddenly that tempting vat of cherries has lost its savour.

In 1988 The Waterboys released Fisherman’s Blues, which included their version of The Stolen Child, very sympathetically done, with the verse spoken calmly over a quietly evocative soundtrack.

Telling stories is how we make sense of the world. And poets like Yeats speak to us just as strongly today as in the nineteenth century. Even in a pretty rhyme about fairies, so easily overlooked. My own writing is full of mythical references, and links to the writers and poets I love, perhaps no more so than in my book of short stories, Treacle and Other Twisted Tales, which, along with longer stories, includes a number of Twitter-sized myths and fairy tales.

Y Gwanwyn (Spring)

The girl made of flowers

lay down with the fair-haired boy,

and naught but trouble

came of it,

as you might expect.


I left the sea

for the love of a man;

the joy I have had

is a handful of sand.

Let me lie on the shore

till the sea eats my bones;

though I yearn for the deeps

I can never go home.


Shall the storyteller’s daughter

be found by the river?

No, for she’s awa’

seeking mischief

wi’ the blue-eyed boys.

Treacle and Other Twisted Stories, free for kindle on 13/14 June 2020.

You can find me on Twitter and Facebook, and on my blog, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, and I welcome questions from readers on Goodreads.

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