Drawing on Arthurian Legends

In the afterward to the twentieth anniversary edition of his Fionavar trilogy, Guy Gavriel Kay wrote, “I also set myself the task, quixotic or otherwise, of trying to shape a narrative large enough that the figures of the Arthurian triangle could come in without overwhelming it: that they might be a component of the story but not the story.” He goes on to say that his telling of the Arthur story was influenced by his dissatisfaction with most treatments of Guinevere and an idea that turned the once and future king part of the legend from promise to burden.

Like Kay, I pondered what made Arthur the once and future king. When, as a child, I first encountered the story of King Arthur, I hoped that he was carried from the last battle to the island in the lake to be healed. I dreamed that he was not done yet. Later, I came across stories about the heirs of Arthur in the present day–others carried his dream into the future. This inspired me. When I turned to the Arthur story for the second book of my contemporary fantasy, I imagined that Arthur commissioned a Triad to take up the task of guarding the land.

For Guinevere, I long ago imagined that she became an abbess, sequestered but a leader. Throughout the middle ages, women in these places managed large tracks of land and communities, influenced the movement of the society. In my story, the queen retreated to a community of goddess followers. This circle holds one angle of the Triad of guardians Arthur appointed. Morgan was the first leader of the Circle and welcomed the former queen into her refuge.

More obvious from the existing stories, Gawain took over the Table, the knights who had been the companions, the fighters, the ones who made the dream of protection real.

Who makes up the third angle of the Triad? In a panel at CanCon, the speculative fiction convention in Ottawa, my co-panelist mentioned a story that portrayed Mordred as a freedom fighter. Sparks ignited for me. In some stories, one of Arthur’s flaws is the desire for centralized power. This would have disturbed cheiftains, nobles, other kings such as Lot, Mordred’s foster father. With this influence, Mordred might well have chafed against hegemony. In my story, the third angle is led by Mordred who holds together a loose Fellowship, based in the islands of northern Scotland, a group whose attention is centred on these isolated communities who are often ignored by the cities of the south.


I cannot claim that my trilogy has the vast scope of Kay’s, but the heirs of Arthur hold important strands of the story Riven: When Storms Collide and Shattered: When Winds Blast. The gods and goddesses are quixotic, seeking revenge and power, while the heirs of Arthur, and the young Canadians who seek them out, still work for the dream Camelot embodied.


Riven cover

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The cost of revenge

My novel, Riven: When Storms Collide, begins with the elf Tinachore returning to rivenCeridwen the cup that had been stolen from her. In the years it was lost, her anger festered. Now it will erupt. This is how the prologue ends and the trouble begins:
Tinachore looked down, away from a fury so fire-bright it frightened him.
“What can I give you to show my gratitude?” Ceridwen asked.
Tinachore swallowed. He had not dared to dream for more than freedom. “It is enough that the wrong has been righted.”A sound like the snarl of a wild cat escaped the goddess. “No. Not enough. The wrong is not yet righted. Those two must pay. You have my blessing. They will receive my revenge.” 
In the novel, we quickly see the shape her anger takes.  You can pick it up from the usual online locations, but it is also available as an audio book on Audible.
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The ancient urban rural divide

“The Goddess frowned at the way houses had sprouted like mushrooms around the base of the hill, taking up land that should be farmed. The king seemed to forget that his wealth came from the produce of the land.”

In this scene from Moon of the Goddess, my first published novel, we get a hint of the conflict that drives the story and connects the modern reader to it. The issue is urbanization and the disconnect between city and farm that was real in Ancient Greece and is present in our day.cropped-hpim0263-copy-2.jpg

When we think of Greece, we are drawn to the classical age, to the people who built the stunning monuments we visit. But, beside and beneath the temples to Olympians, are the pottery with snaking spirals, the images of fertile women, and the shrines to the older goddesses who gave life to people and the land.

In my story, I call this earth-goddess “Eurynome,” and she is in a fight to keep the allegiance of the valley she has nourished from the domination of Poseidon. She seeks to keep the people of the growing city connected to the land, while the Olympian is recruiting new worshipers to strengthen his position.

The king is caught. He needs the produce of barley and olives from the land, but Poseidon’s earthquakes endanger the city. It feels to him as if the gods of Olympus are stronger than the old goddess who is tied to the river and the valley. The goddess has to prove that her power and gifts are essential to life.

I won’t spoil the progress of the conflict or tell you who wins out in my book. In Greek history, the cities dominated. They needed fertile land and rivers, but the stories got the shape we know from poets who lived in the cities and reinforced the values that structured urban life.

The hints of a primarily agricultural and rural culture are still there if we look.  Many of the stories are set in rural contexts. Herakles is fighting beasts on the hills. Orpheus is playing his harp and singing under the trees by a meadow. Logically, as a huntress, Artemis is pictured in the woods, but Aphrodite is often in the countryside, such as the time she was drawn to a Trojan shepherd on Mount Ida.

The classical stories are focused on the fortunes of the various cities, but in the background is the reminder that the countryside matters. And this was a conversation I had often this past summer as drought hit the land hard and urban folks relished days off without rain.

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Review of A Wild and Unremarkable Thing

The last while I have taken advantage of the opportunity to review the work of other YA fantasy writers offered through YA Bound. This gives me a chance to keep up with the genre I write novels in, and I always learn when I attend to the writing in other people’s work. This is the latest review I did.


Dragon-fire destroys a town sending its people into poverty and shifting a young girl’s destiny. Hoping for a chance to change their family fortunes, the girl’s father chops off her hair, dresses her as a boy, and renames her ‘Cody.’ Then, he trains her to fight and begins a regimen to strengthen her body. His plan: she will kill a dragon and earn the reward.

In A Wild and Unremarkable thing, Jen Castleberry builds a world where everyday life is punctuated by the appearance of dragons once in fifteen years. Called “firescales” in her world, she gives them a careful, intricate life. Crafting a culture around these creatures, Castleberry sets a path for Cody both dangerous and potentially life-changing. The girl in a boy’s role takes on the quest with hope and with courage. Cody shifts her destiny and the fortune of her family, though in the end things do not go quite as planned.

After a slow and rambling prologue, Castleberry’s plot runs fast, carrying the reader. The characters are well crafted, and we root for Cody. The texture of the towns and the road is complex and intriguing, with mysteries around the corner in many places.

A few of the twists in the plot do not quite follow, and some of Castleberry’s metaphors distract from the story. But Cody’s determination carries the story, even though her destiny is not quite what she, or I as a reader, hoped for. I give the story four stars. YA Bound Tour Button


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As we drove to Ottawa last week, crossing that finger of the Canadian Shield that reaches down toward Kingston, we passed through deep rock cuts. Those who carved the route for the highway opened the rock so we can see the layers of granite. In places, the surface of the bedrock is bare, smooth and round. In others, a thin layer of soil supports grass and small shrubs. Where the bedrock retreats and the soil is deeper, forests of pine and spruce, birch and aspen thrive.

On still pools, a layer of yellow leaves covered the water. On larger lakes where the water is always in motion, those leaves had already been pulled beneath the surface, adding rock in water 3to the layer of muck at the base of the lake. Beneath those leaves, amphibians will soon dig themselves shelter from the cold of winter.


In downtown Ottawa, we found a mix of high rises and old two and four-story buildings. Passing the office towers, the street is glass and metal. The surface is a mirror that in daylight reflects nearby buildings, giving no clue what is happening inside. After dark, the lights inside open up the view, as if the mirror is pulled away and a window put in its place.


The older buildings are brick or stone with the ornamentation popular at the time they were built. Some have the name of the business carved in a lintel above the door. To build the high-rises, many of these had to be torn down, but in places, the older buildings are incorporated into the new structure. The street level tells the older story while the modern building rises above it.


I was in the city for a writing convention, and in one of the panels about building history into our stories, we talked about the layers of story the land holds. We were talking about speculative fiction and invented worlds, but still insisted that for a story to have texture and depth, the writer had to develop a history for the place. Not everyone ne


eds to provide the kind of back-story Tolkien did, but some pieces of history need to peek through. Otherwise the people seem to exist in a vacuum.


When we forget that we are not the first people to walk this land, we create a vacuum.


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We know descendants of the people who settled our farm, and we hear stories from neighbours about the first settlers. And the land remembers their work. They cleared stones off the fields each time they planted, building up thick rows of rock between the fields. They carefully managed the forest. They built the barn in stages. They built the house in two parts, log first and stone later. The decades they spent farming this place left a story.


But before they came, people had hunted here. Where we live is the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway. Metis crossed through this area, and before them the Huron and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) peoples.


The map of roads settlers created mask their routes. New towns and cities hide the older settlements. Plowed and planted fields cover over hunting grounds. But under the layer of our farms is another story.


And before the human story of this place was a history of forest with trees and plants, birds and deer and small mammals. Fox and wolf hunted here before humans. A few old trees remain where bedrock is near the surface or deep in the woodlots, reminders of a time when these clear spaces were all forest.


We know there was a time before, an age when ice covered this land. We know that granite was pushed from the shield and the shape of the land shifted. The shape of escarpment feels solid, natural, enduring, but there was a different structure here before.


Sometimes, we pick up a stone and find the fossil of an old creature, the remains of a being who lived before that rock was shaped. We can touch the image of a creature who swam or crawled or walked here long ago.


When we look at our face in the mirror, we can trace our story in the lines, the scars, the wrinkles. When we walk the surface of the land, layers of story are there beneath our feet.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister, and writer living near Walters Falls.

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Review of Day Moon by Brett Armstrong

In a day when all books are being entered into a centralized database and then destroyed, Elliot’s grandfather leaves him a copy of Shakespeare’s complete works. When he shares it with the girl he has a crush on, tension enters the story.

Day Moon (Tomorrow's Edge Book 1) by [Armstrong, Brett]

“I guess he knew a good romance when he saw one.” [Elliot’s]  gray eyes leapt to meet hers as he finished speaking, his voice never wavering, surprisingly. A little color flooded Lara’s cheeks and she looked down and said, “Yeah, or an awful tragedy.”

Elliott leaned back chuckling. “True, I never did like how that went down. Romeo should never have jumped to conclusions and killed himself like that. But I guess if the mail service had been more reliable back-”

“Woah, woah, what are you talking about?” Lara asked. “You’ve read the play right? Juliet and Romeo kill each other out of family loyalty.”

Looking on her in confusion, Elliott wanted to question her, to contradict what she was saying. He had to fight to keep his hands from reaching for the book. His eyes could not help but flick to it and Lara noticed. Sighing a little, she flipped to the close of the play and gestured to it, beginning to read silently for the point she searched for.

After a moment her brows raised in surprise and she said, “Huh, you’re right.”

And while Elliot relaxes in relief that the tension between them dissipates, Lara can’t forget. She compares several plays in the book with the database and finds significant differences. When she shares this with Elliot, the mystery and the problems spread. They find themselves in direct conflict with the security forces who support the data entry project as they dig into the clues that Elliot’s grandfather left in this book and in a poem called Day Moon.


Setting his story in a not too distant future, Brett Armstrong updates the theme of social control explored in an early era by classics such a Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. In a world where cars drive themselves, Armstrong sees the potential–for good and for trouble–in the universal access to technology.

With believable and interesting characters, the reader is drawn into a fast-paced jaunt across the modern city and then out into the wilds of the Appalachians. As Elliot tries to figure out who can be trusted, he faces betrayal several times but also learns that some relationships can be recovered. He also learns where he can find strength to confront an increasingly terrifying situation.

While the events of the early part of the story follow the logic Armstrong sets up and carry the reader quickly along, a few incidents do not fit tightly in the story. Later, there are a few too many twists, slowing down the pace considerably. The reader may be tempted to skim through toward the conclusion. However, no reader will want to miss the details of the last two chapters as this part of the story comes to a climax and the steps for book two are set up.

Some of the description is repetitive and a few moments feel like they are included only to illustrate a theme that has surfaced, the premise and the story are good. I give the book 3 and 3/4 stars.

This review is offered for YA Bound Book Tours. YA Bound Tour Button




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Review of The West Wood by Suzy Vadori

As part of Suzy Vadori’s Blog tour with YA Bound, I offer this review of her new book The West Wood. 

Boarding school, with its assorted collection of wealthy kids, has the same tensions as The West Woods Cover Reveal - Suzy Vadori Aug 8 2017any high school, and Vadori deftly describes the daily dilemmas. You can feel why the main character Courtney wants out of there and sympathize with her frustration when her father insists she finish the year. Under her pressure, he agrees that she can go to the local school the next year if she makes an effort to understand what is special about this school.

Courtney makes a list of things she can do to prove she tried, including becoming captain of the swim team. While she schemes to make this happen, she takes a dare to race into the forbidden west wood. Stumbling over an indentation in the ground, she finds a buried key, but there is no clue what it opens.

Although she is not punished for entering the forbidden area, the craziest teacher at the school begins to press her to tell all she knows. Courtney realizes there are mysteries she has not imagined. When her sister gives her a map that their father had stolen from this teacher when he attended the school, the depth and extent of the mysteries begin to appear.

Along with hidden spaces and unusual creatures, the map shows a special well in the west wood. She goes to it and makes a wish. While the wish seems to help her list of goals, it also drives her. She is not herself as the wish becomes more important than anything else.  Complications abound.

In this work, Vadori succeeds in writing the students so that they are believable, vivid and interesting. We can feel Courtney’s frustrations. The teachers are more caricatures than real people, but are portrayed the way a teen might see them. This strengthens the story for young adults, though limits the potential to cross over to an adult audience.

The ending comes quickly with a solution around the corner but not yet in sight. While this is what real life is often like, the finale is more like a snap of the fingers than a satisfying tying up of loose ends.

All in all, the characters are worth meeting, and the premise works. I give it 4 stars.YA Bound Tour Button

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In the bright sun and dry air of Burkina Faso, shadows are sharp.HPIM2735 Looking down, I saw clear images of what was between the sun and the ground.

This was particularly striking when we visited a modern sculpture garden. The stone had been chiseled into enduring shapes while the sun stretched the shadows on the ground.

HPIM2738 - Copy



I was struck by the beautiful carved stone, but also by the shadows these sculptures created. The images that day were both transient and permanent marks of an artist’s dream.


Life is like that. A person takes an action that affects the world. Matching the intention and the consequences is like the form and the shadow, moving, shifting, sometimes clear and sometimes unexpected.

These reflections and images helped to shape the story in my novel, Fractured: When Shadows Arise.

HPIM2707 - Copy

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4In the area where I live, bedrock is fractured limestone. This has the upside of creating amazing escarpment cliffs and the downside of allowing water to flow unfiltered down into the aquafers. Care with what we put into the water system is important in a place like this.

But as I watched water find its way down, I imagined what might come up from the depths….

Put together the modern concern with renewable power sources, the landscape of fractured rock, add a touch of Celtic mythology and you have a potentially explosive mix. The main character of my novel Fractured: When Shadows Arise has to find a way to control the rising trouble that her father, an alchemist, has created.

Sound interesting? The book is available this August.5

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The heroine retreats

When writing a sequel, a useful trope is a main character who retreats from the growth that came in the first adventure. In Before the New Moon Rises, Thalassai leaves the hard work to return to the luxuries of palace life with just a twinge of regret. Tyrant that I am, I do not let her enjoy the benefits of that life for long. This excerpt from the novel does lHPIM1178

Thalassai lounged on a bench cushioned with sheepskins as servants brought jar after jar of heated water to fill the terracotta tub in the bathing room of the palace. When they were done, Mara tested the full tub with her hand. “The water is adequately warm. Will you bathe now, Princess?”

“I will.” She planned to enjoy this luxury of palace life.

“I am prepared to anoint you with scented oil when you are done,” said Mara.

Thalassai cringed at the thought of Mara’s heavy-handed massage. “Dorlas can do what is needed. She has the tool to clean around my nails.” Thalassai was determined to get rid of the grime that weeding had pushed into the skin of her hands. “I am sure there are important tasks that need your attention, Mara.”

Frown lines creased the senior servant’s forehead. “If you are certain, Princess, I will leave you in the girl’s adequate care.”

“Dorlas is quite skilled enough,” said Thalassai. “Her work on my hair drew compliments last night.” Thalassai thought Mara might argue further, but the older woman schooled her face to a smile, and even gave a slight bow as she left the room. Dorlas looked worried, but Thalassai smiled at her. “Now help me into the tub. I plan to enjoy this.”

Thalassai relaxed into the warm water. Dorlas massaged her right hand and carefully cleaned all the grit from under and around her fingernails. Dorlas was gentle but tentative. Thalassai considered how to get the girl to relax. “Tell me about your home, your brothers and sisters.”

Dorlas started to talk. She gained confidence as she described each of the brothers and her one sister, the oldest in the family. Thalassai quickly lost track of the names and who was married or had children, but she let Dorlas talk as she worked. Thalassai leaned back in the water. This was wonderful. Soon, she would wash her hair, and then, when she was thoroughly clean, she would have Dorlas, with her gentle touch, rub scented oil into her skin. After half a moon of adventures, it felt good to be pampered.


Wearing a short linen robe and breathing in the rich scent of the oil that Dorlas had rubbed into her skin, Thalassai closed her eyes and enjoyed the feel of the girl’s hands combing out the tangles in her hair. The door to her room swung open, and Mara charged in.

“The steward needs to speak to you. Now.”

“I am hardly presentable,” said Thalassai, though she was grateful the man had sent Mara to prepare for his entry. The previous steward, conscious of his great power, had barged straight in. “I will attend upon him as soon as Dorlas is done.”

“No.” Mara stepped forward, and this time bowed. “Princess, there is a problem. He would not discuss it with me, but he is extremely agitated.”

Thalassai bit her lip. Whatever was going on, she could not ignore it. “Bring that shawl, please Dorlas.” Thalassai stood, arranged her hair on her shoulders. “Show him in.”

The steward had been waiting just outside the door. “You must come and act in place of the king to finalize an arrangement with the emissary. He waits in the throne room.”

“You want me to give ceremonial approval for the agreement he and the king made?” Thalassai almost laughed. Then, she saw in the steward’s face that he was completely serious.

“The emissary is upset. He planned to leave before the sun reached the zenith and has paced the throne room for a handspan already. He represents an important ally and must not be further angered.”

“This is the king’s agreement, not mine.”

“But we cannot wake him. The doctor has been summoned. You must come.”

Thalassai’s knees buckled, and she sat. The king was ill!

The steward reached out his hands, pleading. “The king’s servants allowed him to sleep late, but finally called me. I could not rouse him. Someone needs to deal with the representative from Paxos.”

Now, she understood the steward’s distress. The emissary would be anxious to depart. Even in well-known waters, the timing of a sea voyage was chosen carefully. She trembled with frustration. She had been relaxing for the first time in half a moon, and now she had to deal with this.

Mara returned with a light woolen robe dyed a bright yellow. For once, the unruffled competence of the senior servant was a relief. “Dorlas, a simple braid, please.” She felt the girl hesitate. “You can begin now.” The girl stepped forward and smoothed her hair. Her fingers worked quickly.

Thalassai thought of her father and how many of these meetings she had attended with him. She could do this. “If you would wait outside the room, Steward, I will dress in a way that honors the emissary.”

“But be quick, Princess,” he said.

Thalassai frowned. Irritation at the command sparked a thought. “And send for Asira.”

“Pardon?” The steward frowned.

“Asira, the priestess of the goddess.” Thalassai turned her head slowly, so that she did not disturb Dorlas’ work. She met the steward’s eyes. “Send for her at my command. If the king is ill, she will be of service to him.” She waited but the steward did not move. “By the time you have found a servant to send for the priestess, I will be ready.” She made a motion with her hand that she had seen her father give many times, and finally the steward bowed and left the room.

“You may suffice after all,” Mara said. “Give me the day robe, and we’ll arrange this one. You do remember our relationship with Paxos is complex. We trade…”

“Mara, please. Give me space to think.” While Mara arranged the fold of the robe and used silver spirals to pin the shoulders, Thalassai’s thoughts raced. She wanted to think about the king’s illness, but she pushed that question aside. She ran through what she remembered of the negotiations the night before. She had not paid attention to the final arrangements, but who could have imagined she would be formalizing the agreement?

Thalassai stopped her wishing. The steward could handle the details. Her part was to acknowledge the honor Ephyra gained through this cooperation. She played over the language of brothers, the way her father liked to refer to their neighbors. If that reference was unusual here, she could smile and speak of the gifts she brought from the distant south.

“You are ready.” Mara said.

 I don’t feel ready. But it is time.

You can get the ebook from the publisher Prizm Books  http://www.prizmbooks.com/zencart/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1&products_id=111

It is also available at the usual places like Smash Words, Google books, Amazon, Barnes and Noble…. Paperbacks are available locally at Forsters Book Garden in Bolton, Great Books in Williamsford, and The Ginger Press in Owen Sound. Or from me and Barnes and Noble.


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