I’ve been asked several times in recent months, why I never seem to pen anything about my own writing. I suppose my reticence stems from being largely unpublished; what is the point, if nobody ‘out there’ is going to be in a position to read anything that I refer to, should they like the sound of it?
My Irish Tales ought to have been out later this summer. Unfortunately, the editor I hired to help me, took my money, then promptly decamped to China and vanished, leaving work unfinished (I know, I know – I was stupid enough to pay upfront – what did I expect?) – so it’s going to be delayed until spring 2018. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to stick to my original plan and say a little bit about the book now. Keeping the momentum building for nine months or so is going to be interesting.
Surprisingly, Irish Tales will feature several examples of something I never thought I’d ever write – the story written from the animal’s (anthropomorphic) viewpoint. Of course I’d read and enjoyed Jack London’s White Fang as a kid but, with the exception of William Kotzwinkle’s stunning Doctor Rat, I’d never sought out similar books as an adult.
The seeds of change were sown when I came to read Francis Stuart’s Pigeon Irish, as background for one of my Irish speculative fiction blogs. I was surprised that this tale of an alternate Ireland allied with the US and UK, in a war against an unnamed, superior European foe (it was written in 1932), included a sub plot featuring three carrier pigeons: Conquistador, Daphnis and Buttercup.
Stuart never really seemed to know what to do with his birds; they start strong but fizzle out, the longer the book goes on; certainly, the definitive anthropomorphic carrier pigeon novel remains to be written. However, when commemorations for 1916 started to loom large, I decided to write a short hommage to Stuart, positing ‘what if’ the Rising had occurred in this alternate Ireland, sixteen years before the events of Pigeon Irish. The resulting short story, Castles in the Air, was told from the viewpoint of two pigeons observing the events around the Dublin GPO. I submitted it to several publications doing special 1916 issues, for their consideration; I think it’s fair to say that none of them ‘got it.’ But I had broken my anthropomorphic duck.
Next up was my short story Lemon Cakes, in which a Jack Russell dog, Smut, falls foul of some broic sidhe (fairy badgers). The titular cakes feature in how he manages to extricate himself from the fix. Smut, incidentally, was the name of the first pet dog I ever owned, many moons ago, also a Jack Russell as it happens. They say, write what you know! Recently, I was delighted to discover that the name of Allan Quatermain’s pet dog was also Smut. The reference can be found in H. Rider Haggard’s She and Allan.
Lemon Cakes spawned a longer and more ambitious sequel, The Limping Mink, told largely through the viewpoint of a mink Lochincha and concerning the adventures of he and his two brothers, Sangwiss and Kolokok in rural Ireland and in particular the horrors of being caught in a gin. Smut and the broic sidhe also reappear in the tale. As mink are an invasive species from North America, I gave the three brothers a native American belief system, centred on Inktomi the spider-man, trickster god of the Lakota Sioux. Mink feature prominently in several Lakota folktales.
So Castles in the Air, Lemon Cakes and The Limping Mink will all appear in Irish Tales when it comes out. And having travelled this far, I can now see myself writing many more animal stories in the future!