Posts Tagged ‘Irish History’

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The theme of my first book, The Last Princess, boils down to “be yourself.”  12-year-old Cat learns she may be a princess and spends a good part of the book trying to conform to a stereotype — and failing.  Only when she embraces her utterly unprincess-like normal self does she triumph.  And furthermore, she bucks tradition and appoints an ogre-born to her counsel (in this world, many people are descended from ogres or elves or faeries who interbred with humans hundred of years ago).  She trusts this man because he, too, has learned to be himself and not to be like his vile ancestors.

I’m working on the sequel now.  And in this book, The Last Fearie Godmother, Cat is wished back to Ireland around the year 1500.  When ogres where still particularly vile.

So now I’m faced with de-evolving my ogres.  And every other kind of fae I introduced in the first book (as mostly-human hybrids).  It shouldn’t be too difficult — fun, even — because, after all, I adapted my fae-born characters by toning down the original stereotypes in the first place.  I just have to go back to their roots.

Humans are proving to be more difficult.

I mean goblins and ogres in the Middle Ages are basically the goblins and ogres we are familiar with from fairy tales.  Beastial, vicious, and cruel.  Monsters in the true sence of the word.  Ogres with green skin covered in coarse black hair, with claws and sharp teeth, living in caves and cooking children who strayed too far from the path fit right in to 1500 Europe.  And the contrast to the toned-down, mostly human version Cat knows from her own time will be clear and shocking.

But humans were mostly the same as today, at least physically.  However I’m learning that attitudes, beliefs and values were very different 500 years ago.  Obviously life was very different then than the one 21st century Cat is familiar with.  But if I thought writing in the point of view of a 12-year-old girl (while being myself a 50-year-old man) was a challenge, populating a book with people from the late Middle Ages is going to be much more  difficult.  After all, my daughter was a 12-year old girl from the 21st century less than two years ago.  Where are my examples going to come from, now?

I haven’t settled on a theme for the sequel, yet, but it might very well be something like “people change,” and let the stark contrasts speak for themselves. There’s going to be some pretty serious reverse-stereotyping going on when Cat expects ogres to be like her mostly-human friend and they utterly fail to do so.  Nobody will be like she expects, not even the humans.

And the best part will be when she finally returns home after her adventure and is never quite able to look at her ogre-born friend the same way again….

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My first book, The Last Princess, is about a 12-year-old girl who discovers that she’s descended from faeries, and that her mother is really a 500-year-old nymph princess. In the sequel, The Last Faerie Godmother, a botched wish sends the girl back 500 years into the body of her 13-year-old mother, in 1500’s Ireland.

This presents something of a problem. I have never been to either Ireland or the 1500s.

While she’s there, she finds herself caught in the middle of a familiar story she can’t quite place. It will turn out to be the story of Cinderella.

But not quite.

A few weeks ago I shared the story of Fair, Brown and Trembling, a traditional Irish fairy tale. With a few minor differences and the addition of a whole new (and rather brutal, if not unlikely) ending, it is basically the story of Cinderella we are all familiar with. Three sisters, the oldest two eager to marry a prince and both of them jealous of their younger, prettier sister, who they bully and oppress.

The Names

I’ve been taking great pains to learn everything I can about the period so that I can paint a fairly accurate — or at least convincing — picture. One thing I can tell you with certainty is that there were never three Gaelic princesses in the Middle Ages named “Fair,” “Brown” or “Trembling.” So the first thing I did was try to find traditional Irish or Gaelic names with those meanings.

The first two were simple enough. Fiona is derived from Aoife (pronounced ee-fa), meaning “fair or radiant.” Ciara (pronounced ki-ra) means “dark or brown of hair and eyes.”

“Trembling” turns out to be more problematic. Bheith ar crith (veth er crith) is Gaelic for trembling, but there are no names derived from it. Nor does it make a very convincing nickname. Delilah is a biblical name, originally meaning “delicate, weak and languishing.” But I need to work on that nickname.

The Kingdom

The fairy tale takes place in the kingdom of “Tir Conal.” There was, in fact, a territory in ancient Ireland – a kingdom, actually, from 464 to 1607 – called Tyrconnell or Tír Chonaill, which is now part of a larger territory called County Donegal, in Northern Ireland. This was one of the last of the many, many small kingdoms of Ireland, most of which fell to the English well before the 1500s. However there was still a King of Tyrconnell at the time my story takes place.

The king in Fair, Brown and Trembling is King Hugh Cúrucha. My search yields no such king in the historical records. However, to my distinct advantage, there seems to be a gap in the records between King Máel Sechlainn mac Domnaill in 1247, and King Manus Ó Donnell who died in 1564. Although I did learn Manus’ father’s name was Hugh. Again, I’m not trying to tie this story to a particular king, and I doubt Hugh O’Donnell had three daughters named Fiona, Ciara and Delilah. But it’s nice to know I’m not too far from reality.

The Castle

For this story, since Delilah is going to be the primary servant in the household, I imagine a fairly intimate castle.  A number of actual castles used by the kings of Tyrconnell (mostly the O’Donnells) still stand today. But several of note were in use at the time my story takes place. In fact, the story specifies that the king and his girls lived in Ballyshannon, which is a real place that still exists, and there are ruins of a castle known to have been occupied by the O’Donnells there.  The ruins are very minimal — none above ground — so I’m going to have to make my castle up.  But there were over 1,500 medieval castles in and around Europe that still exist in one form or another; I think I can find enough details to create my own.

Caste Ruins

The Fairy Godmother

Trembling’s “fairy godmother” is described as a henwife, which as I understand it is a servant who would have been in the employ of the king to take care of the live poultry. She does seem to have magical powers, however. But her origins, her relation to Trembling and her motives are never revealed. This is where my story will intersect. In my story the henwife will actually be my villain, a high faerie (Sidhe) who wants to rule the pesky humans and put them in their place.  At first she tried to seduce and marry the king (the father of our three princesses), but he jilted her and now she is bent on revenge. Her plan is to destroy the kingdom by manipulating the pliable youngest daughter into marrying a prince she can control (more on this below). So, in the greatest fairy tale tradition, she will have disguised herself as this old woman and pretended to be Delilah’s friend and confidant. Her faerie godmother, to be precise.

The Prince

The prince, in Fair, Brown and Trembling is never named.  He is only ever referred to as “the son of the king of Emania” or “the prince of Emania.”  The only references to Emania I can find is “Emain Macha” (Old Irish), currently called Navan Fort.  According to Irish mythology it was one of the great royal sites of Gaelic Ireland and the capital of modern Ulster.  Emania is mentioned most prominently in the Irish legend of Cú Chulainn, an epic hero similar to Hercules.  This has suggested to me that in my story, the prince will actually be a false prince, invented by the villain and based on this legendary hero.  He will, in fact, be a goblin with a glamour cast over him.

The Story

Instead of the traditional Royal Ball, where all of the single women of the kingdom are invited to meet the prince, in Fair, Brown and Trembling the princesses hunt for husbands at Sunday Mass. The Church was very big in Ireland at the time of my story, and great cathedrals abound. So this fits quite nicely.

Three times the henwife dresses up Trembling in amazing outfits she creates with magic, and sends her to Mass on beautiful horses, to be seen.  But she must not enter the church, and must race home before anyone gets too close.  She even loses a shoe, and everything.

The ending gets tricky, however. In Fair, Brown and Trembling, the young bride is betrayed by her older sister (who had been engaged to the same prince before he met Trembling). She pushes Trembling off a cliff into the sea, where she is swallowed by a whale with dubious magic and odd eating habits. According to the story, the whale comes in on three consecutive tides and throws Trembling up on to the beach, where she can’t leave due to the whale’s “enchantment,” then the whale swallows her up again each evening. She has to convince a young lad who wanders by to tell her husband, the prince, to come kill the whale.

I need to change this  to something more believable, more workable as a plotline, but still something that might be “interpreted” by a storyteller as written.  I also need to incorporate my main character, and I want very much to have them both end up in a castle dungeon together.  If I put the villain’s castle on a cliff (like many actual Irish castles), the dungeon could be at sea-level, and she could escape onto the secluded beach, but be unable to climb to freedom.  She could get the attention of the boy, and make up the story about the whale to explain her presence.

It’s all coming together quite nicely, and I think I’m off to an excellent start. I can weave this narration quite neatly into the major plotline of my novel, which is about a war between the light fae (led by my girl in her mother’s body) and the dark fae, led by my villain with her goblin minions.

Watch this space….

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Yeah, me either. And that’s a problem, because in the sequel to The Last Princess, I’m sending Cat Brökkenwier back there.

Book Two of the series* is tentatively called The Last Faerie Godmother.

 

Last FG Cover

 

The premise I’m building on is that a botched wish sends Cat back 500 years to the rein of the previous princess of the fae, where Cat must take her place. In this time, the fae are still mostly pure, although their numbers are dwindling, and so much of the story will take place in the wilds where the fae dwell.

But I also anticipate that there will be a great deal of interaction and mixing with the local humans, including kings and sheep farmers, and so forth. I’d like to incorporate a traditional Irish fairy tale into the plot, and have Cat get mixed up in that, as well.

What I’m missing is a feeling for what life was like in the late 1400s and early 1500 in Ireland. How did people live? What were their homes like? Are we talking Brave, or something else entirely? What was your daily routine if you weren’t living in the king’s castle? What did people believe?

I’ve been reading Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, and it has been quite instructive, but it gives very little detail about daily life and what things looked like and so forth. If you can recommend some resources I would be most grateful.

I also need to understand the politics and economy and so forth. I understand that Henry the VIII declared himself ruler around 1530, and everything changed. Before that I understand there were lots of local kings who were more like clan chiefs (again, think of Brave), and that’s the period I’m looking for.

Oh … who’s the last faerie godmother, you ask? The picture on the cover mock-up I’ve created is meant to be Cat’s elderly dryad mentor when she was young, coincidentally at the time to which Cat is sent back. But as Mrs. Dalyrimple tells Cat: “A fearie’s about the worst choice for a godmother you could possibly pick.” And in The Last Faerie Godmother you’ll find out exactly why. Think of Cinderella with political intrigue thrown in, and a faerie bent on revenge who meddles in the affairs of kings. And their daughters. Specifically a beautiful young girl named Trembling….**

I will be sending out copies of The Last Princess to those of you who have signed up to be Beta Readers later this week. So if you’re interested there’s still time to sign up! In the meantime, all of your Irish historians out there, your comments and suggestions are most welcome!

 

 

 

* I don’t have a name for the series, yet. I’m aiming for probably 5 books total. Perhaps the “Cat Brökkenwier Series” or the “Fae-Born Series.”

** There’s an Irish version of Cinderalla called Fair, Brown and Trembling, which could very well be the original version from which all later versions evolved.