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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Alcluith is Progressing - Slowly!

Of late I have not been the best of Blogger's - either in posting myself or visiting and commenting on other people's blogs.  My free time is so limited at the moment and has to be spread so many ways - blogging, making paper dolls (something that has gained momentum since I joined OPDAG) and trying to write this book.  When the sun shines as it has today there is also no contest - I'm out in the garden making the most of the warm weather.  In Ireland we have such a small window of opportunity for warmth and sunshine - I try to soak up as much as I can, knowing that all too soon we will be facing the long bleak winter.

  Photo above courtesy of Google Maps

Those of you who have known me for a while will remember that I have been trying to write a book for ages - (15 years since I first started!) - it gained a bit of momentum last year after I got to know so many wonderful literary people through this blog.

Recently I had a couple of weeks off from work and began to make some real progress again.  I've tried to carry that on in the time since - so if I disappear for prolonged periods its because I'm working on this.

The last time I posted anything about the book I'd completed the first draft of Part I.  Now I've got to the end of Part II - about 36 000 words.  If as with most Indie authors my target is 100 000 words I'm just over a third there.  Its still very rough and needs a lot of fine tuning but at least I feel as though I'm getting somewhere.

As I did before I'm going to include an extract here from the end of the section I've finished.  I won't recount what has gone before -  the background and characters of the story are included here and more pictures, details and a link to the entire first chapter are given here.

At the end of Part I Saraid's son had been smuggled to safety and she was raising Morag's daughter as her own.  Saraid's husband Rowallan had been defeated and killed and Raedwald was the new ruler of Alcluith.  Part II ends 15 years later.  All of Saraid's plans have gone awry.  Her son (now called Aidan) has turned up at Dun Breatann unexpectedly.  Her 'daughter' Aleine has fallen in love with him and for the moment Saraid alone is aware of the youth's true identity.  Trapped and powerless on the great Rock of Alcluith,  Saraid risks everything by telling Morag's husband Ranulf the truth and enlists his aid.  Angered by Saraid's interference in fortress affairs but ignorant of the reason behind her actions, Raedwald decides to punish Saraid by sending her 'daughter' Aleine to the monastery at urbs Coludi.

All of the places in my story are real.  Alcluith (the Great Rock of the Clyde) and it's fortress Dunn Breatann (fortress of the Briton's) can be found at current day Dumbarton in Strathclyde.  urbs Coludi was also a real monastery, its site at St Abb's Head is currently a nature reserve on the east coast of Scotland.  The photos included here and more information can be found in this Wikipedia entry. 

All of the people and events in my novel are complete fiction and exist purely in my imagination with one exception.  Aebbe was a real person and all references to her are based on historical fact.  So too are some of the events at the monastery that will feature in Part III (in the earliest monastic communities men and women co-existed together).

Kirk Hill - site of the monastery with Abb's Head in the background

Part II ends as Aleine is about to arrive at her new home: ............

On the morning of the third day they reached the coast and the wagon turned north.  The sinuous track was well-worn, hugging the contours of the coastline.  A panorama of unrivalled beauty unfolded before them.  Verdant green slopes ran gently down to peaceful sandy coves or unexpectedly dropped away, revealing jagged cliffs and beaches strewn with rough-hewn boulders.  
            Aleine’s attention was immediately drawn to the great expanse of the Eastern Sea.  It was like nothing she had encountered before, filling the horizon and stretching away as far as the eye could see.  Dazzling flashes of white and the piercing cry of seabirds filled the air.  They swooped and dived, searching for fish in waves that crashed endlessly against the cliffs or eddied in swirling currents, creating foaming pools where water became trapped between sea-drenched shelves of stone.
            Leaning over the side of the wagon as it trundled along Aleine marveled at the vegetation growing here.  Pink and white flowers, dainty and fragile bloomed amidst feathery foliage clinging tenaciously to every nook and cranny.  Pale petals shimmered in the sunlight, mirroring the plumage of the birds and sparkling crests of foam.  Aleine was entranced.  She sniffed the air experimentally, aware of the coarse texture of salt against her skin and sea breeze in her hair.
            By late afternoon the outline of the monastery rose up before them and Aleine was afforded the first glimpse of her new home.  Perched on his seat above her, the driver of the wagon pointed his whip towards the imposing structure and uttered the first words addressed directly to the girl since setting off on their journey:
            ‘urbs Coludi.’
            The monastic settlement was positioned dramatically on an exposed headland jutting out between the waves.  It consisted of an impressive collection of buildings, all in good repair, forming a prosperous and self contained community.
            With their watch almost at an end her accompanying guards became more loquacious as well, entertaining Aleine with some of the establishment’s history.
            The priory, they intoned, was the site of many miracles, its fame and reputation spreading far and wide.  Aleine nodded politely as they imparted this information, her attention flitting elsewhere.  It was only when talk turned to the tale of its founder that Aleine’s interest was genuinely piqued.
            Aebbe, revered Prioress of urbs Coludi was reputed to have been a great beauty in her youth.  As a young princess she soon caught the attention of the dashing Prince Aidan, heir to a neighbouring throne.
             On hearing Aidan’s name Aleine glanced momentarily away.  A flush of colour rose in her cheeks and her thoughts drifted back to Alcluith.  What was Aidan doing now?  Did he know what had befallen her?
              Aleine’s companions did not seem to notice and continued with their narrative:
            Spurning Prince Aidan’s advances Aebbe took the veil and persuaded her brother Oswiu to help her establish a monastery in an effort to evade her suitor’s reach.  Such was Aidan’s determination and fervor to possess Aebbe that he refused to accede to her wish and pursued the young prioress to urbs Coludi.
            Realising her plan had not worked Aebbe cried out to the Lord for help and prayed steadfastly for three days.  The Almighty heard her prayers and caused the tide to rise. Defying the fixed pattern of nature it remained high while Aebbe prayed, cutting her off from the mainland and keeping her protected on the headland. 
            Finally accepting it as God’s wish, Prince Aidan gave up his suit and Aebbe remained in urbs Coludi as prioress of the holy community.  She oversaw all the monastery’s affairs and had ruled fairly and efficiently to this day. 
            Aleine enjoyed the story immensely. Soon she was laughing with the guards and chatting amicably.  She was not sure how much of the tale she believed but it whetted her curiosity.  Before long Aleine would come face to face with this remarkable woman who had managed to achieve the impossible in a man’s world, holding both sovereign power and position in her own right.
            The wagon had almost reached the priory by the time the tale reached its conclusion and twilight was descending on the world.  Aleine noticed as they drew closer to the monastery how well fortified it was. A double palisade and deep trench made the settlement almost impenetrable.
            The wagon was expected and the imposing double gates yawned wide to receive them.  The oxen trudged ponderously over this last stretch of their journey, crossing the trench and passing through the gaping entrance to the settlement within.
            As they trundled into the courtyard the gates swung shut behind them, quickly fixed into place with iron bars.
            The dull thud of their closing brought home a chilling revelation.  The double fortification not only kept invaders out, it also trapped those within, effectively turning them into prisoners behind the walls. 
            The exhilaration Aleine had experienced during her journey, the sense of freedom she enjoyed evaporated in an instant.
            Not only had she merely moved from one confined space to another but once again an empty and futile future yawned before her.  This time, however, there was a significant difference.  At urbs Coludi she faced the future alone in an unfamiliar place, devoid of everyone she loved and everything she had ever known.     

            Three days earlier Saraid had stood at the window of her living quarters and watched the wagon as it set off across the plain.  She imagined rather than saw Aleine huddled amongst the produce.  The distance between them was too great for her to discern any detail.  What had Aleine’s reaction been to this unexpected journey Saraid wondered?  Did the girl also regret the ill feeling and discord that had soured their relationship during the past days?
            Saraid remained motionless, staring sightlessly into the distance long after the wagon disappeared completely from view and the guard Raedwald had ordered to watch her left his post at the door.

            Later Saraid sat with the shutters open as she had done all those years ago, face upturned to the night sky.  The firmament lay glittering before her spanning the vault of the heavens, remote and uncaring.
            Saraid sought out Morag’s image as she scanned the stars.
            ‘Forgive me Morag’, she whispered softly.
            ‘All I had to do was watch over the girl and ensure she came to no harm.  It was a simple enough task but I failed her and in doing so I failed us all.  Forgive me…’ Saraid could do nothing more than repeat the phrase over and over like a mantra.
            Nobody heard her.  There was only emptiness and silence.
            And what of Saraid’s own child?
            ‘Do not believe everything you hear,’ Ranulf had said to her when they met in secret in the chapel.
            ‘I will not betray you or do anything to jeopardize the future of Rowallan’s heir.’
            Could Saraid believe him?  The sketchy news filtering through to her recently of her son’s welfare contained only death and misadventure. 
            Ranulf had also promised:
            ‘Trust me and have faith I will always do what is in the best interest of the kingdom.’
            Whose interest did that statement serve and where did Ranulf’s allegiance really lie – with her or with Raedwald?

            Alone and powerless Saraid succumbed to despair and desolation.  This time no babe lay warm and snug in her arms.  The tears she wept could fall unheeded as there was no tiny form to risk disturbing.  Everything Saraid held dear had been taken away from her.  Once the future she shared with Rowallan had contained so much promise.  Now all was gone, every vestige of hope stripped away, leaving Saraid vulnerable and exposed.

            All that was left were her tears, falling on cold and unrelenting stone.

--- oO0 ---


Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Wonderful World of Princess Marigold

My lovely two weeks of holiday have been followed by two very pressurised weeks at work - and getting used to my commute again was more of a shock to the system than I thought it would be!  As a result I was sure another week would go past without a post - but the sun hasn't shone today as expected so I'm sitting inside doing this instead!

Way back in January 2011 the 2nd post I put on my blog was partly dedicated to Princess Marigold.  I chose it because this comic strip is one of my earliest and most vivid childhood memories.  In those days I was nowhere near as verbose as I am now and I've always wanted to do a follow up on this delightful story.

Princess Marigold lives in the kingdom of Marigoldland.  She is married to Prince Strongbow and most of the stories centre on their children Prince Rupert and Princess Rose.

Marigoldland is ruled by the easy going King Florian and there are a number of regular characters who keep everything ticking over nicely - Mr Munch the palace cook, the Lord High Chief of all Indoor Doings, the Lord High Chief of all Outdoor Doings and Green Fingers all add humour and personality to these delightful tales.

All is not peace and harmony in the kingdom though.  Every story revolves around the evil machinations of Wicked Wizard Weezle.  His attempts to cause mayhem and the children's ingenuity and bravery in foiling him are at the core of each tale.

The first story contains Florian's attempt to find a suitable husband for his only daughter Marigold.  It is during this adventure that Marigold meets and offends Wizard Weezle, turning him into a lifelong enemy.  The later stories are the ones I am more familiar with where the children play the prominent roles.

This comic strip was a collaboration between three different artists.  The earliest are the work of Giorgio Bellavitis (1926-2009)  - born in Venice he became art director of Cosmopolitan Artists after WWII, an agency that dealt with a number of British publications.  Later issues were illustrated by Luis Bermejo b 1931, a Spanish artist born in Madrid who worked on a number of the publications (Once Upon a Time, Look and Learn etc) that I mention regularly in this blog.  Finally Nadir Quinto (1918-1994) produced some full size illustrations.  I'm not sure what they were used for but they have the wonderful vibrancy so characteristic of all his work.  (The last post I dedicated to Nadir Quinto was The Star Maidens.)

The two illustrations on either side of this paragraph are by Giorgio Bellavitis with the one following by Nadir Quinto.

Nadir Quinto - illustration for Princess Marigold

These stories first appeared in a weekly children's publication called Treasure that ran from 1963 to 1971 (or in other words perfectly encompassed my own childhood!)  I discovered Treasure accidentally.  When I was about 5 years old I went with my mother to visit a friend (or relation - I can't remember which now).  What is very vivid in my memory is that we were sitting in their living room and there was a stack of children's magazines next to the fireplace.  They were destined for the flames!  I can still recall as if it was yesterday what an incredible sacrilege I thought this was.  That brightly coloured stack literally represented a treasure trove of untold delight to me - I couldn't believe anyone would want to get rid of them.  I asked if I could have the magazines, and my second vivid recollection of the day is how nonchalantly they were handed over to me - and how thrilled I was to go home with my loot!

Princess Marigold was a regular feature of these magazines.  I immersed myself into this world completely - the people and the place were real to me and I only realised yesterday when I was looking at these stories again for the first time in many years that I have been searching for the landscape these tales were set in all my life.  It is what has brought me to the fairy forests and vales of Ireland and is a world I have never grown out of imagining.

The two stories that resonate with me the most are 'The Magic Broom' and 'The Magic Mirror'.  While I decided I would include a complete story at the end of this post both are quite long and so I settled for a different example instead.  As an adult I really like the strip shown below - the two illustrations go together very nicely and I love the silhouette effect of the one on the left.  I can see the influence of this work on many of the other artists I admire - even the immeasurably great Ron Embleton.

I no longer have my coveted issues of Treasure (my mother had to keep buying issues of the magazine for me until publication ceased.)  Many of my prized possessions (like my Carlotta Edward prints) disappeared after we moved house when I was aged 7.  I've spent the years since I turned 50 trying to gather them all back into my orbit again!

In the early 90's these stories unexpectedly appeared again in a popular South African magazine (for adults although there was a small children's section) called 'You'.  In these pre-internet times I was able (now in my 30's) to enjoy the illustrations all over again.  As I have had requests before to include full stories when I put together posts like this, a complete one follows below (I noticed when scanning them the last page has the title in Afrikaans by mistake - they must have got mixed up with their sister publication!) :

What I thought was quite effective in choosing this one is the combination of monochrome and colour illustrations.  This story includes the characters of the colour fairies who also appeared in 'The Magic Mirror' .

Treasure also produced an annual of Princess Marigold stories.  When the pennies allow I want to treat myself to a copy so I can enjoy these lovely stories all over again!  (Image below borrowed from Amazon.)


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