Yes, that’s me. Never ashamed to use blatant innuendo to trick people into reading about my book.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that, six years after I first scribbled a rough version of a possible plot (after listening to Steeleye’s “John of Ditchford” – beware of spoilers if you listen), The Raven’s Wing has finally seen light of day. Over that time it has grown and evolved, taking on new directions as lively characters became real and dragged me away from my plotted path into wild, unexpected country. Eventually the tale decided it was over after around 140,000 words – twice the length of Fog. On top of that, I included around fifty pages of notes – historical trivia, interesting stories that I’d gathered along the way, and lyrics for all the medieval songs I used.
This became a sprawling, BIG story about little people, and was always going to be a substantial book. The paperback weighs in at 835g. Was there any way I could have made it less likely to break your toe if you dropped it?
I could have squidged up the line spacing a bit, but that would have made it too claustrophobic.
I could have used a smaller font, but I wanted to be able to read it myself, and you know how bad my eyes are.
So, it is what it is – a mighty tome, full to the brim with medieval fun and frolic. Look on it as an exercise for your wrists. No, Dawbes, not like that.
Despite the weight of the paperback, P&P from Amazon costs nothing. And of course, the Kindle version weighs next to nothing. You can buy that here.
First of all, that cover by Michael Cook. Absolutely a work of art. You can’t tell from the picture there, but it shines luxuriously with gold leaf on willow-leaf and moon-crest. You’ll want to have a bit of a fondle, and why not?
When you’ve finished pleasuring yourself that way, you big weirdo, surrender yourself to the music. With the addition of Lee Cuff on cello and Peter Knight – a long-time hero of mine – on fiddle, Ange’s sixth studio outing has an extra, beguiling layer of complex beauty over and above the mesmerising song-writing and rhythmical nous of her preceding albums (the glorious Esteesee is a standout album that everyone should own).
These are songs by a master-songwriter, performed with flair and confidence. I’m not going to bang on about every track individually, but I must single out the album opener, Sisters Three. It’s three minutes and fifty-nine seconds of sheer, bloody, untrammelled joy. It had me leaping and dancing like an eejit, not a sight oft seen in these days of dry age. It also begs to be written as a short story, and I’ll be on that like a tramp on chips, if Ange doesn’t mind. From the haunting, violin-wail strangeness of The Hunter, The Prey (part of Ange’s ‘mother Willow Tree’ sequence of songs) to Chase the Devil Down (a song to give strength to all of us who find our loving hearts pierced occasionally by the steel teeth of the uncaring modern world), every song here is equally strong, equally stirring, and each an instant classic.
More than anything, I love the landscape of Ange’s songs – in her own words, “Willow trees and streams interspersed with dense woodlands, immense trees with tremendous root structures.” It’s a land of wonders. Join me, and let us adventure in that country with a smile on our faces and dance in our steps. The rewards are legion. I love this album so much that my inner editor even forgives the occasional spelling error in the booklet, and so will you. It’s right champion, this music. Makes my old blood sing. Five wombats out of five.
“Ah, you’re awake!” my companion says.
“Yes,” I say. My tongue is dry.
“Here, clean your mouth.” The man sitting opposite hands me a small plastic bottle of water, which at least refreshes my tongue, if not my dream-befogged mind.
“You looked dead to the world when you got on,” he says, “and just collapsed into the corner there. Don’t worry,” he gave me reassuring smile, “you didn’t snore.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t …” I look around. The compartment seems fairly nondescript, though rather old-fashioned. Bench seats face each other, and above them are luggage racks and faded paintings screwed onto the wall. To my right a sliding door gives onto the corridor. To my left, through the sash window, a wide expanse of sunglinted mirrorwater reflects a steel-blue sky. The only other person in the compartment smiles, lines crinkling his periwinkle-blue eyes.
“My name’s Charon,” he says.
“Ah, after Pluto’s largest moon?”
“In a way, yes,” he says, his eyes flashing. “You’re an astronomer?”
“I’m not sure,” I say honestly. I try to think. “I can’t even remember getting on the train.”
“Oh, dear. Mind you, it looks like you came a long way to catch it,” he says, pointing at my feet. They are filthy; bare, blistered and bleeding. “You should clean them.” He passes me a white handkerchief, almost dazzling in the intense sunglare that streams into the compartment. I pour a little water onto the cloth, squinting against the brightness.
“It’s not that bright,” Charon says. “You just have the dust of too many memories in your eyes, refracting the light. You should clean those, too.”
I begin to rub at the grime on my feet, staining the pristine cloth brown and black.
“The handkerchief’s a metaphor, clearly,” Charon says. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. I think it was Chekhov that said that, wasn’t it? Oh look, we’ve arrived.”
I look up. I am alone in the compartment. Outside, a railway station glides into view, all picket fences, milk churns, flowerbeds, waiting rooms and porter’s barrows. As the train slows to a halt, I see Charon standing on the platform in a guard’s uniform, holding a red flag. Behind him an ornate metal sign displays the name of the station, and suddenly I realise where I am. Charon blows a shrill whistle.
“All change!” he shouts. “Purgatorium! This is Purgatorium!”
A major character in The Raven’s Wing (hi, Moss!) occasionally lapses into her native Irish. From a variety of sources I’ve put together the following phrases, but I could do with someone fluent to check them out for me. Please do let me know if you can see any errors, and give me a good translation? There’s a credit in the book for you if you do.
And yes, The Raven’s Wing is set in 1322, but for the sake of readability and my own sanity I won’t be trying to replicate how people really spoke back then, save for the occasional word for ‘flavour’.
|Mo thóin, fear an cheoil.||My arse, music man.|
|Dia trócaire.||God’s mercy.|
|Anraith finéal.||Fennel soup.|
|Gabh transna ort fhéin.||Go fuck yourself sideways.|
|Téigh trasna ort féin, agus an t-asal marcaíocht tú ar.||Go fuck yourself, and the donkey you rode in on.|
|Go raibh maith agat.||Thank you.|
|Dia dhuit ar maidin.||Good morning.|
|Cailleach.||Old hag, witch.|
|Dia a thabhairt duit lá maith.||God give you good day.|
|Bí láidir.||Be strong.|
In case you want to be like Nicola (see right) here are all of 2017’s Twantadors, ready for some Secret Santa fun.
@_inno @_natmo @_polyhymnia @4paris1 @alexbrightsmith @alliterative @ananizapta @anise44 @avensarah @AzzaThePirate @bieredeluxe @bilbobaggins2k @ButMadNNW @bywordandstitch @captain_doodle @cara_erin @carly_whyborn @cdlcreative @cherina82 @chrisridd @ClaireWithAn_I @confusedlinnet @craftsboy @crazyladywriter @cumbrianblondie @davidtims @dawn1968 @dbrereton @debs_brown @doodledawne @dutch_bitch @ekctafc @evermoreanon @fannyingabout @fisher1946 @fizzandnonsense @flylilypad @gemmajoobjoob @ginlington @greythorne @hollieeeejones @hugeshark @iainlj @jamerz3294 @jaxbourne @joraamn @katobell @kernowbeeching @kimnmilward @kirstyhalton @kirstywarner @kizletwiggle @kjcollard @kophoogte @kykaree @landladycheryl @LauraMullan @leontia2001 @lgh95 @lottacraft @louisehector @LucieMR @LydiaMNicola @magentakoru @maggie_dolores @mallrat_uk @marmotbiscuits @mavisdee @mrmoth @mrsashboroscat @mrssimontemplar @NicolaCubes @nikkisinclair64 @ninjaworrier @nyncompoop @owlbird @phantom_blonde @pricklyemu @purplequeennl @rachamuffin @raevynlunatique @saltwateritch @sarahtregear @sarahv1982 @secretstef @smayman @squeakysays @starlitwolf @stickymitts @sumarumi @Sundayhandbag @superblouse @superkrispydj @taffy3rock @Talking_Spheres @teddy_red @theweeyin15 @underbundle @urberwoot @waterworks_nick @woodpeckergreen @xkylet @zipperdidoodah
“A mistress of manipulation, eh?” said Moss. “I’ve met a few of those in the past. Come to think of it, according to Muireann I sodding well am one.”
“Oh, you’re not so bad once a person gets to know your odd ways,” John told her.
“I have ways?”
“More than I could shake a stick at. It’s a wonder I can keep up sometimes. Still, there are compensations.”
“Tell me a compensation, Blondie. Note the subtle way in which I’m asking you to compliment me. That’s one of my ways, isn’t it?”
“Subtlety? Yes, that’s definitely a way. Let’s see, a compensation … well, you have learned to shape both fire and your dancing self into pleasing shapes. The grace with which you move when not dancing is a pleasing side benefit.”
“Are you suggesting that I’m graceful?”
“No, I am declaring it to be so. It is not a subject for debate.”
“I’m not used to being flattered without there being an ulterior motive. It feels odd. I keep expecting you to—”
“Well, I won’t. I can admire you without wanting to touch. Actually, that’s not true. It would be more honest to say that I can want to touch without touching. The admiration is unconditional, the desire suppressible. Were I not married, and were you partial to quail, I would woo you enthusiastically. As it is, I am simply and only delighted to have you as friend.”
“Yes, woo. Shut up.”
“You are an unusual man, Blondie. You’ll do. Did the cunning woman satisfy your curiosity?”
“She said that she could improve my hand. She told me to go back tomorrow, early.”
“And will you?”
“I doubt it. I have better things to do with my time. You and I should rehearse, for one thing. But enough introspection! How was your day, aside from the rabbit hunt?”
Jingly balls, jingly balls, jingly up your tree. It’s time for #TWANTA2017 to shove another tree up another fairy’s frock and display his shiny balls for the eighth time. For the uninitiated, it was all @captain_doodle’s idea. There he is on the right, with some eejit or other. Those taking part in Twanta send a cheap but fun gift to someone that I nominate, possibly a complete stranger, and in return they receive a similar pressie from someone else. TWitter secret sANTA, see? As usual I’ll link you to the blog post from @davidtims from a few years ago which beautifully sums up the spirit of Twanta.
FOR NOW, JUST TELL ME IF YOU WANT TO TAKE PART so that I can add you to the Master Wallchart here at Twanta Towers.
I’ll give people a few weeks to join, and you’ll receive the name of your Twantee shortly after that, around the end of October. Old hands of Twanta will know all the following already, but for any newcomers here’s a summary of how the whole thing works.
You must have specifically asked me, and I must have confirmed that you’re taking part before you can join in. I reserve the right to reject anyone that I suspect of being dodgy. This is due to a slight wobble that happened several years back for two of our lovely twantadors (see below for a glossary of terms).
Make sure you follow @twanta2017 on Twitter. He (it’s me really, but don’t tell the little tweeters. Let’s not spoil the magic, eh?) will follow you back. DM your address to him so that he can pass it on to your own Secret Twanta when everyone is paired up. I do remember some of your addresses from last year, but once #Twanta2017 is over I will always delete the addresses of those who ask. If the Twitter Unfollow Bug causes @twanta2017 to unfollow you, let me know so that I can correct that.
Tell me if there are any mortal enemies that you don’t want to be paired with. We don’t want to be responsible for any “incidents”. You can also make other special requests (e.g. if you’re allergic to chocolate, or perhaps you don’t want to post anything to a different country). We are a benign Twanta, and will accept all reasonable requests.
Very occasionally things go awry, and when that happens Twanta Fairies step in to send a gift at short notice. Please also let us know if you would be happy to be a volunteer Fairy, should any be required (though that’s only rarely necessary).
Once @twanta2017 has everyone’s address, he’ll DM you to let you know to whom you should send a gift (grammar), together with their address. You might want to spend a little while researching their timeline to find out a little bit about them. Yes, that’s a bit stalkery, but you’ll be able to make your gift a bit more personalised that way.
Buy a pressie for your twantee (as the recipients have somehow come to be known) and send it to them. Mark the envelope #TWANTA so they know what it is. Let @twanta2017 know that you’ve posted it (so I can keep track in case anything goes missing). It’s entirely up to you whether you remain anonymous or expose yourself *snigger*.
You do not need to spend a fortune. Small, fun and imaginative is the rule of thumb, but don’t send an actual thumb. That would be hideous. I recommend spending no more than a tenner, though that of course is up to you. The photographs accompanying this post are of some previous gifts, should you need inspiration.
When you receive your #TWANTA pressie, again let @twanta2017 know. Challenge yourself to wait until Christmas Eve or Day to open the thing. Harness your willpower, grasshopper.
When your willpower fails, take a photo of your gift ready to post to Twitter on Christmas Day. Post it including the hashtag #TWANTAPIX2017 so that we can all follow the fun, and I can collect the pics on a special Pinterest board. Here’s last year’s board.
Have fun, and, if it all goes tits up, remember that it was originally all the idea of that @captain_doodle, and castigate him mercilessly. Not me, oh no, leave me alone.
Having trouble separating your twanta from your twantee? Completed your trifecta yet? Got no bloody idea what I’m talking about? Then this section will save you from social embarrassment akin to leaving the Ladies with your skirt tucked into the back of your knickers.
TWANTA – this word has two meanings. Firstly it is the all-encompassing name for the whole cosy event itself, although usually with the relevant year attached to its arse (eg #TWANTA2017). Secondly, the Twanta is the person sending a gift. It is the Twanta’s own choice whether or not to remain secret.
TWANTEE – the person receiving said gift, with a smile and a song and possibly other things beginning with ‘S’.
TWANTADOR – general term for anyone taking part, bless their little cotton reindeer socks.
TRIFECTA – the magic three milestones achieved by a TWANTADOR who has (1) sent a gift, (2) learned that it has arrived, and (3) received their own.
TWUMBUG – a dirty rapscallion who fails to send a gift as promised.
FAIRY – a good-hearted TWANTADOR who volunteers to step in and provide a gift at short notice for anyone who falls victim to a TWUMBUG.
TWANTAVERSE – every bloody thing to do with Twanta. Constantly expanding.
EPISTLETOE – a hand-written letter included with the gift to add a virtual Christmas kiss and a personal touch. Not to be confused with Camel Toe, which is something entirely different.