Short Stories, stories

Historical Fantasy & Sagittarius


Very recently I finished writing a story inspired by the Zodiac sign Sagittarius. I was intrigued when learning the the astrological sign, of Sagittarius is representative of prophecy and fate, among other things. The story is a historical fantasy but set in a hypothetical Renaissance-style Italian city similar to Venice. In this world which is similar to the historical version of how our own might have been, some differences do occur. There are Twelve temples to different deities, each with a distinct purpose to fulfil for the citizens of the sprawling city. The Twelve temples are organised in a hierarchical manner with each deity served by religious devotees. The main character is a priestess in the Order Sagittarius where she begins to realise her perception of religious involvement in the functioning and fortune of the city inhabitants is corrupted. I explored these social tensions and realisations from research into ancient Roman religion where the religion was used as a propaganda tool and for social control.

research

Iceland: National History Museum

In September 2019, I visited the National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavik. While in Iceland, I visited many of the wonderful major natural landmarks in the National Parks in the southern Iceland. You can read about my experiences riding Icelandic horses, exploring waterfalls, volcanoes and glaciers, an iceberg lake and black sand beaches.


The National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavik is situated on a slight hill, overlooking pleasant gardens, walking pathways and a feature lake against the city centre. On the opposite hill is the imposing white form of Hallgrímskirkja, the iconic Lutheran parish church of Reykjavik.


One of the most iconic figures of Viking Age and Icelandic archaeology is the tiny bronze statue of Thor known as the Eyrarland Statue recovered from farmland near Akureyri, Iceland in the 1850s. It is believed to depict a scene from the Prose Edda where Thor recovers Mjollnir during a wedding ceremony, seated with the customary Icelandic cross-shaped hammer between his knees.


Items recovered from Viking Age settlements show the lifestyle and intricate artisan work of jewellery makers from the Viking Age. The square-shaped box brooches worn by women to pin dresses, various designs for cloak pins, silver earrings and pendants plus beaded necklaces.


The weapons recovered from archaeological excavations in Iceland were from the Viking Age with weapons including long swords made from iron, spear heads, arrow head and shield boss, and a range of battle axe heads also made from iron. The two Viking Age battle swords are placed diagonally across the display and were recovered from graves in South Iceland.

A Viking Age sword blade with sword hilt inlaid with bronze recovered from excavations along with several spear heads.

A 19th century sword and several Viking Age axe heads, the larger two are 10th century battle axe heads recovered from South Iceland.


The items recovered from archaeological excavations from south Iceland in the Pjorsa Valley, where settlements were buried beneath constant pumice and ash fall after volcanic eruptions and depopulation of the entire was expected to have occurred. The archaeological evidence reveals the Pjorsa Valley was continually inhabited despite volcanic activity with the presence of settlements indicating it remained a key trading route connecting North and South Iceland from settlement until the 17th century. Archaeological finds recovered included trade goods, weapons, jewellery and household items.


The horse was incredibly important to Icelandic culture and archaeological excavations have recovered decorated bronze stirrups, elaborate cheek pieces for horse bridles, bits and items of harness.

An example of a bronze stirrup from a Viking Age saddle and an accurate replica showing the detailed engraving and metalwork.

A burial of a Viking Age warrior from Iceland buried on horseback with a battle long sword across his back, the remnants of wooden scabbard still covering the blade. The burial also includes an axe-head, shield boss, arrows, coins and stones. The requirements of any man travelling into the unknown. The burial is continued into next image which includes the remains the warrior’s horse.

The burial of the mounted warrior was impossible to capture in a single image. The horse burial indicates that this was an Icelandic horse, the same breed as the only native horse in Iceland today. Connections between of the burial and the importance of the horse in Viking Age culture are obvious, everyday life relied on horses for battle, transport and labour. There are also reminders between a warrior’s death in battle and the female spirits of Norse myth, the Valkyries, who collected the worthy dead on the battlefield to feast with Odin in Valhalla.


Another of the burials in the Museum is this one possibly of a missionary with numerous grave items including the clam shells common among religious missionaries and monks that travelled throughout Europe and into Iceland.


One of the strongest themes in Viking lifestyle was the connection of each man and woman to the Fate laid out by the gods. Of course, the gods were answerable to their own pre-determined fate and the Norns were the beings responsible for weaving the futures of men and gods alike. The classic description of the Norns weaving is the loom where entrails are used instead of yarn and the scissors that cut the red thread from the weaving are cutting life from the tapestry. The weavers, the three Norns are the mysterious and revered figures that tend for Yggdrasil and seem answerable to none but themselves.


Weaving was an important part of common Viking Age liftsyle with the necessity to keep protected from the harsh climate and landscape encouraging the herding and shearing of the flocks of sheep. These sheep eventually became native to Iceland like the horse and their sturdy forms provided meat, dairy and wool for the Vikings. It allowed products such as mittens and wool-lined boots to be created on the looms.


The traditional farm and household implements from Viking Age settlements were simple equipment not much different from Iron Age settlements with tools for ploughing fields, constructing turf houses, various grinding stones for preparing grain before baking, bronze house keys and cooking implements.


The classic image of Vikings displays them as uncouth and unclean but there are many examples of the importance good personal appearance and cleanliness had for Viking culture. The stories of the uncivilised Vikings was obviously a matter of perspective from the opposing side and probably also a good deal propaganda. Skilled craftsmanship is clear is the elaborately carved bone drinking horns.


Viking Age bone hair combs, beaded bracelets and arm bands.


Viking Age culture includes the adaptation of many technologies recovered from Viking raids. The influences of the Irish Celtic culture on Iceland are several such indicators where papar appears in connection with the Irish monasteries. Dozens of copies remain of The Old Covenant, a legal document detailing how Iceland was subject to Norwegian rule, the Norwegian Logretta would administer justice for disputes giving its rulings on a regular basis.

A sheet of restored parchment from a copy of Jonsbok, the first written legal code for Iceland dated prior to the 14th century. The code includes segments of the Old Icelandic Commonwealth approved in 1241 and the includes Iceland falling beneath the Norwegian Logretta, the rule and judgement of the law courts and king of Norway.


A copy of the Book of Icelanders dated to 1681. The original was first written by Ari the Wise in 1130 AD and provided the first written history of the Iceland from discovery to settlement.


Trade was an essential part of Viking culture and the Icelanders were no different. The early settlements of Iceland were founded on trade between different settlements and when required, warfare between them. The hoarding of silver and gold was common in times of war or uncertainty to protect valuables from being stolen by the opposing force. The silver hoard includes gold coins and in the upper section of the display, an example of the scales used in trade to price valuable objects against pre-defined weights that many Vikings carried with them.


An example of different small carvings from the Viking Age on the upper left and right images which may have also been used as game pieces.

In 1000 AD King Olaf of Norway began pressuring those settlements under the control of Norway to become Christian. In response, Iceland did so without bloodshed through a meeting of the Alþingi, a gathering of Icelandic chieftains which is recognised today as Icelandic Parliament. The Alþingi decided to adopt Christianity and despite the formal declaration to worship as Christians, only a few Icelandic Chieftains were actually baptised. Many ornaments, jewellery and artwork indicate a combination of pagan and Christian beliefs were retained well into the 18th century in Iceland. The silver 10th century cruciform pendants indicate the blending of Christian and pagan motifs.

Viking Age traders used pre-defined weights to determine the value of trading items. Goods were priced according to weight and these stones with bronze inlay indicate a set of specific weights for trading purposes.

An example of 17th to 18th century crupper bosses from horse harness which were engraved with prayers and charms to protect the horse during battle.

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Gideon the Ninth


I read Gideon the Ninth by New Zealand author Tamsyn Muir after hearing many great reviews for this magic-induced, science-fiction adventure.
Gideon the Ninth focuses on the central character of Gideon from the Ninth House, an orphan raised alongside the ruling heir, the extraordinary necromancer, Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House. Harrowhark is a powerful necromancer but like all those in the ruling Houses, the talent wield such magic has a physical cost. The necromancers are protected by their swordweilding cavaliers.
The Ninth House is the last of the great ruling Houses and when the Emperor Undying calls the representatives forth, Harrowhark Nonagesimus seizes the oppurtunjty to rescue her crumbling House, it’s future bleaker than the skeletons that keep the illusion of a prosperous House alive. But Harrowhark finds herself with a problem. The Ninth have no cavalier and the only swordsman capable of defending Harrowhark is the military trained Gideon. For her own part, Gideon has tried to escape the Ninth House countless times and being indebted to serve Harrowhark and protect her is less than appealing. In the end, to survive, both Harrowhark and Gideon must unite forces and mascquerade before the challenge the Emperor sets forth. The necromancer among the Nine Houses who succeeds and defeats the challenges put before them and their cavalier, becomes an immortal necromancer, capable of wielding the combined powers of necromancer and cavalier, able to stand alongside the Emperor in battle.
It is not unsurprising that Harrowhark and Gideon discover many secrets best left buried and learn the darkest truth about the Empire, each other and themselves. To succeed, both must work together and the uneasy alliance soon becomes a firmer friendship built on the decades in each other’s vicinity. The truth of Harrowhark’s true power remains unknown and the true parentage of Gideon is another mystery which will aid them both in the dangerous battles of wits and lies to outmanoeuvre the necromancers and cavaliers of the other Houses.
I throughly enjoyed the fast-pace of Gideon the Ninth and the witty, refreshing characters. The world-building is solid and intriguing. I can’t wait for the next instalment. A highly recommended read!

Short Stories, stories, Writing

Taurus: A Zodiac-themed Anthology


I am excited to have a work in the upcoming Taurus instalment in the Zodiac Series by Aussie Speculative Fiction. There are a great collection of Australian and New Zealand speculative fiction authors who have contributed works to the fifth instalment in this 12 Zodiac themed Anthologies.

My story “The Bull of Heaven” is modern dystopian tale inspired by my own interest in ancient history and the Mesopotamian mythology featuring the Bull of Heaven in the Epic of Gilgamesh which was originally written on cuneiform tablets. You can read more about the archeology of what cuneiform tablets are here.


Here are some of the other wonderful authors and works featuring in the Taurus anthology.


Taurus will be released in ebook format on April 18 but you can pre-order a copy now from leading ebook retailers. Use this link to your preferred ebook store!

Writing

Latest: Ragnarok Dreaming

I am very pleased to announce my current work-in-progress fantasy novel, Ragnarok Dreaming is very nearing the finishing line. I have just finished writing the third Part of the novel, the draft has already expanded beyond my anticipated length with the new word count expected to be around 130,000 words. Of course, there’s a lot editing to do on later drafts yet! I‘m ready to begin writing Part 4 in the coming week and can’t wait to finish this incredible writing journey that has taken me literally from Australia to Iceland. Keep watch for more updates as the final pieces of this story fall into place!

research, Writing

Loki and Angrboda

A few weeks ago, I finished writing a series of scenes for my work-in-progress Ragnarok Dreaming inspired by events described in the Norse Prose Edda and Poetic Edda. These involve the mysterious character of Angrboda, the “Hag of the Ironwood” who dwells in jotunheim, is alluded to as a witch and mother of many werewolves that hunt the ironwood. It is this horned witch, dwelling in the isolated woods that Loki has an adulterous affair and provides the three offspring who play central roles in the final battle of Ragnarok and the collapse of the Nine Worlds. The giantess Angrboda, who is barely mentioned in either the Prose or Poetic Eddas, is the mother the monstrous Wolf Frenrir, the Midgard Serpent Jormungand, and the unusual half-living, half-corpse ruler of Helheim, the indomitable Hel.
In my own re-imagining of this crucial series of scenes, I needed to decide if Loki was a willing participant in Angrboda’s affair, or if she were the powerful witch alluded to in the Prose and Poetic Eddas that was a deceiver with her own motivations. In the end, I decided Loki’s strange affair with Angrboda was the result of her own machinations and revenge against Odin and Loki caught in another’s schemes for a change. I am now moving closer to the final chapters in Part Three in Ragnarok Dreaming and the events immediately proceeding Ragnarok.

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City of Lies

I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me . . .”

City of Lies, Sam Hawke

One of my belated book reviews is the debut Fantasy novel City of Lies by Australian author Sam Hawke.
The opening line is the best hook for a novel of political intrigue, murder, mystery and the social disquiet that fill the once peaceful city of Silasta. The story revolves around three unusual protagonists, the irresponsible and unprepared heir to the Chancellory, his quiet best friend Jovan, also the master of Poisons whose family duty has been protecting the life of Chancellor by consuming all food and drink intended for the ruler. The last of the group is Jovan’s intelligent but physically frail sister Kalina, damaged by the poisons training her brother withstood, Kalina relies on her education and intellect.
The three friends represent the next generation of Silasta and are not yet initiated into the secrets, policies or threats that are directed at the mighty trade city. When the Chancellor and Jovan’s uncle die prematurely, Silasta is immediately besieged by an unknown military force and rumours of a secret sect within the populous emerge, rebel groups intent on overthrowing the ruling classes. Jovan and Kalina must now uncover the truth behind the murder of their uncle and the Chancellor before the city falls to the outside forces and try to get word to the commander of the army when all routes from the city are closed.
City of Lies is a story of intrigue within the ruling classes, the need to uncover the truth of a history kept hidden and the struggle for Jovan and Kalina to keep their friend, the new and unprepared Chancellor alive long enough for the city to be rescued by their returning army. The siblings uncover many truths that had been deliberately hidden from them and the principles of equality they believed the city stood for seems false and the uprising awakens the angered ancient forces of the land, Silasta must be genuinely united if it is to survive.

research, Writing

Virtual Plotting & Planning


I’ve been investigating new ways to develop my world-building for my novel-in-progress Ragnarok Dreaming, inspired by Norse mythology. I am a highly visual person and my imagination (and writing) has become increasingly taxed by trying to remember my mental images and plans for complex landscapes, cities and worlds in my latest work-in-progress. I was keen to try new ways to visualise my scenes and my characters. I have been writing my draft for Ragnarok Dreaming using Scrivener which is a wonderful software for organising and planning large and small writing endeavours but I wanted something more to visualize world-building.
Enter World Anvil, designed with game builders and role players in mind, it is fantastic for writers and artists alike, including specific features and packages just for creative writers. Then there is FlowScape for map-making and up-close and personal, scene investigation. A wonderful virtual 3D designer for everything from large world maps to smaller regional sections.
I hope you are as excited as I am to see the final outcome of this combined venture using FlowScape and World Anvil to bring the world-building for my novel-in-progress Ragnarok Dreaming to life!


Here’s a quick look at the virtual reality ‘map in progress’ for Midgard.

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Circe

I recently read Circe, a historical fantasy by Madeline Miller, a retelling and exploration of the maligned figure in Ancient Greek mythology, the witch Circe.

Circe follows the unusual female figure of Ancient Greek literature, the witch daughter of the Titan god Helios, exiled to Aiaia by Olyimpium Zeus. The details of Circe’s strangely mortal-like voice, her yellow Titan eyes and seemingly lack of powerful gifts make her unwanted and taunted among the Titans and Olympians alike. Yet Circe raises her brother from infancy and it is he who discovers the hidden powers of the Titan and Nyrad heritage. Aeëtes later becomes the infamous god, creator of the Golden Fleece, father of Medea and challenged by Jason and the Argonauts. Their sister Pasiphaë is wed to King Minos of Crete, the extravagant courts of Knossos later falling to Pasiphaë’s own vengeance when she gives birth to the monstrous Minotaur. Circe’s gifts for witchcraft are later revealed when she transforms mortals into gods and rival nymph Cilla into a monster.

Exiled on the island of Aeaea, Circe enters the legendary heroic tale of Odysseus who, shipwrecked on the Isle, stays for several years on the course of his travels back to Ithaca. Unbeknown to Odysseus, Circe bears him a child and earns the wrath of the powerful Olympian goddess Athena, Odysseus patron and protector. The prophecy of Odysseus death relates to his son and desperate to protect her child, Circe obscures the Isle in a powerful illusion, keeping all the gods away except the trickster Hermes and challenges Trygion, the ancient god of the deep sea for a weapon powerful enough to inflict pain upon the immortals.

Circe was vividly described and detailed, the explanations of Ancient Greek mythology and literature were wonderful. As a former scholar of Ancient Greek and Roman history and mythology, I loved the originality of Miller’s witch Circe while still adhering to the foundations of the broader mythologies. A surprising and exotic storytelling! Definitely well recommended!