A couple of posts this week made me think about the wonderful inspiration and friendship that can result from blogging. The Secret DMS Files Of Fairday Morrow featured something along these lines as their weekly theme. Then came the long anticipated news that my dear friend Donna Yates from Believe in Yourself has just e-published her novel Always.
I would love to be able to include all the blog friends here that I have made over the months (you know who you are!) - people I am never likely to meet in person but whose friendship has become important to me in so many ways. (What I always try to do is to promote your blogs whenever I feel an opportunity presents itself, including my own little sunbeam.)
Instead I'm limiting myself to only mentioning a handful of bloggers who are also published writers - besides Donna Yates these include Joleene Naylor at Amaranthine (who together with Donna graciously volunteered to read and comment on my own scribblings), Roger Lawrence at Three Hoodies Save the World and Darlene Foster at Darlene Foster's Blog. As published authors I salute all of you - and you guys have no idea how inspirational you can be to someone like me by showing what self belief, hard work and the love of writing can achieve.
I've always enjoyed writing but I tend to get distracted far too easily. I have a demanding full time career as an IT Systems Analyst, a family who feel increasingly neglected by my many hobbies, a love of the outdoors and a passion for children's fairytale illustrations and paper dolls. But the people I've mentioned have made me feel more and more that I should try to join their ranks and finish at least one of the stories that I have started.
Earlier this year I put together a post called Some More Adventurous Scribbles in which I outlined the plot of a book I had started writing almost 15 years ago when I was on maternity leave. At the time my mother was my most valued critic and I loved the way she had no qualms in letting me know if she thought anything I wrote was clumsy or anyone in the story was behaving out of character. Then a year later (1999) my mom died unexpectedly. One of the last things she said to me when she realised she had little time left was how sad she was that she would never get to see the end of my book. If I do ever manage to finish it the dedication will be to her and I hope where ever she is right now that she will know I finally got there.
What follows is a complete spoiler of the first part of the book, but I thought I'd share a bit more with all my blog friends of what I have managed to achieve so far. In the earlier post I gave the gist of the story and included a link to the first chapter in its entirety. The end is supposed to be a surprise for the reader - we are conditioned to expect fairy tales and folk stories following a certain path where the hero always triumphs and good prevails no matter what the odds.
My story is set in the 7th century. All of the locations are real but the plot and characters are completely fictitious - one of the advantages of writing about the distant past and an era not particularly well documented. The first part of the novel is set in what we now call Dumbarton and the wider area of Strathclyde. Alcluith (the title) means 'Rock of the Clyde' and was an early name for both Dumbarton and the countryside surrounding it. My characters live in Dun Breatann (the fortress of the Britons) - the origins and naming of the fort are therefore obvious. Later events will move to Eryri (Snowdonia) in Wales, Dun Eiden (Edinburgh) and Urbs Coludi (Coldingham) a monastic settlement on the east Scottish coast (in those days monasteries housed both men and women).
The names I've used have all been purposely chosen and bar one are authentic to the period. Each was given because of its meaning:
Saraid (sor+id) Related to sár and implies ‘best, surpassing all.’ According to tradition Saraid is the ancestor of the Gaelic-speaking people who settled in Scotland.
Aleine (a+lane) A form of Helen meaning ‘sunbeam.’
Morag (more+ag) Scottish form of mór meaning ‘great’ plus the ending ag meaning ‘young’.
Bridget Related to the noun brígh meaning ‘power, strength, vigour, virtue.’
Isla (I’ll+a) The name of a Scottish river adopted as a girl’s name. Meaning uncertain but it may be related to aileach, ‘rocky place’.
Ynyra (in+eer+a) Welsh meaning ‘honour’.
Aidan (aid+in) Associated with strength of mind and courage of heart. Thought by some to herald stubbornness.
Ranulf Possible meaning is ‘wolf’s shield’. In its Viking form Ragnvald it means ‘ruler’s advice’.
Cadoc (cad+dock) From the Welsh cathach meaning ‘brave in battle’.
The only exception is Rowallan - central to the story and chosen only because it is my husband's name (and as I mentioned last time is is still unsure whether to take that as a compliment!)
|Print by Sulamith Wulfing|
The extract I've chosen comes right at the end of part 1 (containing 5 chapters) - the point I've reached so far.
Chapter 1 ended with Rowallan's defeat and his death in battle against the Saxons. The life of his pregnant wife Saraid is spared by Raedwald, the new ruler of Alcluith. The survival of their unborn child, however, is subject to a terrible decision - only a girl will be allowed to live. Thanks to the ingenuity of Bridget (Sairaid's maid), the baby boy (when he is born) is smuggled out of Dun Breatann. He is taken in by Garrit and Isla, a young couple (recently bereaved by a stillbirth) who live at the edge of a forest in the foothills of the surrounding mountains. Bridget also convinces Morgag, a young noblewoman whose husband Ranulf has been summoned to Dun Breatann in order to swear fealty to its new ruler, to give up her newborn daughter completing the deception that Saraid's child is female. Morag agrees, seeing this as a noble gesture - it is only when reality sets in and she has to hand over her baby that she faces the enormity of what she has done. The last few paragraphs tie up all of these threads as follows:
In the days that followed Isla carefully cleaned the garments and wrappings the baby had arrived in, folded them neatly and then placed them at the bottom of the chest. From time to time she would take them out and look at them, fingering the soft material with a sense of wonder, admiring the fine needlework and intricate craftsmanship. Then she would gently put them back and cover them with her own work. The baby would never wear them again.
For his part Garrit never asked Isla whether she thought about the child’s origins.
During the first weeks after his arrival Garrit pondered the question of the baby’s identity and the circumstances that compelled a total stranger to bring him to their door. Garrit knew the world was full of indiscretion and that there were any number of feasible alternatives. The infant could have been born to the unmarried daughter of a noble family, a girl who was betrothed to an influential and wealthy suitor. Such a union would be cast in jeopardy should an unwanted child of dubious origin throw doubt upon the suitability of the bride.
More likely though, the babe was the result of a careless dalliance carried out while a lady’s husband was away for a prolonged period, making it impossible that the child could be his own. Garrit knew the lifestyle and values of the high born differed greatly from his own. A helpless infant could be disposed of easily without remorse, his life snuffed out for no other reason than the irresponsibility of those who brought him into the world.
As time passed the reason why the child was brought to them became irrelevant. The overwhelming emotion that filled Garrit’s heart and mind was gratitude. Gratitude that this strange, unexpected turn of events had brought the wife he adored back from the brink and his small family unit could resume a pattern of normality again.
Tentatively at first, Garrit made cautious forays into the forest, lengthening the duration of his working day over a period of time until he had re-established his original routine. Eventually the relief he experienced when he returned to a household of tranquil domesticity was replaced by the expectation that it would always be so.
Ranulf was perplexed. Since their return from Alcluith he had found Morag distant and uncharacteristically distracted. He too mourned the loss of their newborn daughter. The child’s sudden death was a complete surprise as the infant showed every sign of thriving after birth. But these things happened and Ranulf expected the healing properties of time would dull the pain and give them the opportunity to move on.
Ranulf understood Morag needed a period to grieve but he was losing patience. Children died in infancy all the time. It was an accepted albeit unfortunate fact of life. Morag would have known there was every possibility her baby might not win the struggle for survival during those first anxious weeks. The child had also been a girl, not the heir he was hoping for. Her loss was to be regretted, but it was not as though his firstborn had been a son.
What Ranulf could not understand was why Morag was showing no sign at all of recovery. There was a nagging doubt that did not sit easy with him. Try as he might Ranulf could not shake the feeling that something untoward had happened while Morag was kept apart from him in the women’s quarters at Alcluith. It wasn’t just the oath he had been forced to swear, safeguarding his family and their holding. Something about their time at Alcluith had left Ranulf feeling tainted and increasingly unsettled. Morag’s strange behaviour was adding to his sense of unease. There was a persistent sensation of discord hovering at the edge of his reason. An anomaly he knew should be able to detect and understand.
Ranulf shook his head to clear these troubling thoughts and contemplated his sleeping wife as she lay silently in bed beside him. The answer to her problems, he decided, was easy. What she needed was another child to take her mind off the one she had lost. Hopefully the son he longed for who would inherit the lands Ranulf had gone to such pains to protect.
Well, he smiled to himself gleefully - that was one area in which he could make a concerted effort to be part of the solution.
As Ranulf drew Morag into his embrace he wondered how long it would be before she reacted with the same willingness and enthusiasm she had shown before the onset of her pregnancy. Morag did not turn away or spurn him. But neither did she welcome his lovemaking. She lay silent and compliant and it was painfully obvious the essence of her spirit was somewhere else. Something fundamental in their relationship had been quenched and Ranulf found himself hoping that in time the spark of her being would come back to fill the void left in their lives.
Saraid sat before the open window contemplating the stars scattered like diamond fragments across the night sky. Soon she would have to close the shutters against the early winter chill, but for the moment she craved contact with the heavens even if the Almighty no longer felt inclined to acknowledge her existence.
Saraid sat perfectly still. She held Morag’s daughter as she watched the glittering expanse of the heavens. An unwanted tear slid between her lashes and she turned her head to stop it falling on the infant’s upturned face. Brushing away more tears with quiet determination she moved to gently stroke the soft skin of the sleeping infant’s exposed cheek. Warm and content the baby’s peaceful slumber did not falter. Saraid resumed her contemplation of the sky.
‘Rowallan’, she whispered softly to herself. ‘ Sleep well my love, wherever you may be.’ Already Saraid was unsure whether her thoughts went out to father or to son.
Far away, at the edge of the great forest the child who was born to be king lay safe and secure in a humble woodsman’s cottage nestled in the foothills of blue ridged mountains. As he slept the innocent and dreamless sleep of infancy, the baby was completely unaware as yet what fate still had in store for him.
--- oOo ---
In the normal course of events it would be expected that the paths of these children (named Aidan and Aleine by their respective foster parents) would not cross and that they would never meet, living out their lives (so different to what they should have been born into) in obscurity.
But destiny can sometimes have other ideas!