I am excited to have a work in the upcoming Taurus Anthology 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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
Gotland Museum contains an amazing variety of prehistoric Swedish and Viking Age archaeology and history. The collections include picture stones from Gotland Island, large collections from establishment of the official seal and recognition of Gotland county, the doomed Battle of Visby and Viking Age silver and gold hoards found on Gotland Island.
The Gotland Museum collections contain some of the oldest picture stones in Sweden with many dating from the prehistoric era of circa 9000 years ago and including the pre-Viking Age era of circa 700 AD. The earliest picture stones feature animal and geometric motifs before the more familiar Celtic styles of decoration are incorporated into the picture stones. Some of the largest picture stones are well over 6 ft and depict themes and motifs mentioned in Norse mythology. There is one famous picture stone that appears to depict common themes and characters from Norse mythology with a warrior riding into battle on an eight-legged horse, a wolf and a woman holding out a drinking horn. Below that scene is a Viking ship and armed warriors and possibly a Valkyrie or similar winged female archer.
There are also prehistoric human skeletal remains recovered from sites on Gotland Island that offer a rare glimpse into the ritualistic behaviour of the early inhabitants on the island.
The burial of a young woman in her early twenties has been called the “Hedgehog Girl” for the many items made from the local Gotland Island hedgehog which were used to decorate her grave. She was buried with five hedgehog jaws placed across her chest and would have originally worn a cap made from hedgehog skin while her dress was edged with beading made from fox and seal teeth. There were many hedgehog spines found beside her head and it was likely the cap was decorated with hedgehog spines while her grave goods also included offerings of hedgehog spines and teeth. The local inhabitants of Visby confirmed that the hedgehog is still an important symbol of Gotland Island and, despite the ram being on the official seal of Gotland Island, the hedgehog continues to be the symbolic animal of Gotland. There is a strong Association between the symbolic role the hedgehog played in the prehistoric communities and that the common animal today was of symbolic and, possibly ritualistic importance, in the past with some archaeologists interpreting the hedgehog girl had a ritualistic or shamanic role in the prehistoric community.
The grave of a young woman has been named the “Girl with the Flutes” for the total 35 of false bone flutes, 23 buried throughout the grave and another 12 placed directly beside her. The grave was also decorated with red ochre and contained fishing tackle, bone fishing hooks, a finely carved bone comb and bone jewellery. A clay figurine at the foot of the grave is difficult to discern but is either a bird or a seal. The grave was located on the cliffs overlooking the sea and combined with the numerous flutes, it has been suggested a literal or symbolic communication between the girl and the birds or the seals. Whatever the case may have been, the burial shows a strong symbolic nature to the burial where the sea and the role of the flutes was clearly important for the woman buried on the sea cliffs. There was likely a close connection between the prehistoric communities of Gotland Island, they were probably reliant on the sea for survival in times when crops or livestock failed.
The Viking Age was also well-known for the silver and gold hoards that were buried throughout Scandinavia and in other parts of Europe. Gotland Museum has an interesting display of the various hoards associated with the island. Many are vast collections of coins from different regions, silver bracelets, gold torques, silver and gold rings, beautifully crafted silver brooches for cloaks and the elaborately engraved square brooch used by women. Most of the items in these hoards have been recovered during excavations at specific archeological sites but in a few occasions, including a hoard of gold coins stored in a clay jar, an industrious rabbit warren disturbed the buried treasure, bringing the hoard once more to the surface.
Gotland Museum contained an interesting collection of archaeological and historical items from the pre-Viking Age era, Viking Age and through to the Middle Ages. Items from the Viking Age included axe blades and swords recovered from local archaeology sites, carved game pieces made from bone and horse teeth. A gilt weather vane for a Viking longship appears an extraordinary extravaganza by modern standards but retains the deep swirling pictographs on the surface. The arrival of Christianity to Gotland Island was ushered in slowly with early wooden churches a solemn, pagan-appearing place, the wooden form of Christ more resembling Odin during his search for knowledge as he hung upon the tree Yggdrasil. Symbolic jewellery like Thor’s hammer was slowly replaced by the crucifix and the combination ancient and “new” religions defined by the crucifix marked by runes scored into its surface. Other unusual items included Wolfs-head endpieces for a row of church pews, near-immaculately preserved leather boots and the old former seal of Gotland Island established in 1280.
The Battle of Visby was fought in 1361 when Danish forces invaded Gotland Island led by King Valdemar IV and the well-trained Danish army, the force numbering around 2000-2500. In contrast, the defending forces of Visby numbered only 2000 and were not trained infantrymen, or were older individuals, those who had survived previous battles and still bore the marks of injury. The result was a massacre, the Danish forces taking Visby and leaving many of the surviving defending forces of Visby so badly injured they later died from their injuries. The grisly remains from the mass graves outside Visby reveal the savage injuries caused by swords and axes, the damage inflicted from the mace and other battle weapons broke bones and shattered skulls. The healing of these injuries was inadequate and health of the individuals was compromised, with the bones badly set, often twisted and likely leaving the limb unusable.
I just discovered the 150th Anniversary edition of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol published by Princeton University Press is an illustrated version by artist Salvador Dali. Absolutely stunning illustrations that are pure magic!
You can buy hardback and paperback copies of this gorgeous edition through most bookstores and online stores at affordable prices.
The tawny frogmouth is a species of nocturnal bird native to much of Australia. It is well known in Australian landscapes for the staring red-gold eyes, the camouflage resembling a branch or broken tree stump and it’s seemingly unworried response to human presence.
I was walking in the early morning at a pine forest near where I live and was fortunate enough to spot a tawny frogmouth camouflaged against a pine tree trunk.
Although the tawny frogmouth is often considered like an owl, it is more related to a nightjar but many Australian nocturnal birds share similar symbolic roles in indigenous fables and folklore.
Among the indigenous cultures of the Noongar from Western Australia, the nocturnal birds like the tawny frogmouth and owls were associated with the shamanic powers of the ‘clever men’ and the opposing dangerous forces of night:
“ Traditionally associated with the dark totem, the owl was believed to be a totemic familiar of the ‘boylya-man’ or sorcerer (”clever man”) and the darkness of night was perceived as a dangerous time when ghosts and supernatural spirits were ever-present.”
The shamanic healers of many different indigenous Australia nations and cultures are sometimes known ‘clever men’ and in the Noongar cultures of Western Australia, the clever men were sometimes associated with the nocturnal birds to protect their tribe:
“ It is not uncommon to hear stories of how certain bulya or ‘clever’ men were believed to have the ability to transform themselves into a night bird such as the owl or mopoke and under this guise were able to watch over and ‘police’ campsites at night time to ensure that the inhabitants were safe from intruders, and also to act as a deterrent against young men becoming involved in sexual transgressions prior to initiation, or breaking the incest taboo. Culturally, the owl may be viewed as an agent of social control in that it is able to fly silently throughout the night, and aided by its powerful, penetrating night vision, is able to watch over people’s night time activities and then report back to the ‘clever man’ to whom it is considered a type of “familiar spirit’ ”
I’m currently reading the second volume in a 12 part series, a Zodiac themed anthology produced by Aussie Speculative Fiction. Each month, a new anthology featuring that month’s zodiac sign will be released. This January-February, I’m reading Aquarius and because it’s also my own star sign. The Aquarius anthology features many unique interpretations of the water-carrier star sign by Australian and New Zealand speculative fiction writers. You can read more about the Aquarius volume here.
I have also contributed a short story to the Taurus Anthology which will be released in a few months. I also wrote a brief post on my inspiration and research behind the short story.
If you’re interested in reading the Aussie Speculative Fiction Zodiac Anthologies, you can find copies the Aquarius and Capricorn Anthologies through Books2Read with direct links to your preferred bookstore.
In early September 2019, I traveled to Uppsala in Sweden to one of the most accessible archaeological sites from the early Viking Age, a series of impressive burial mounds. You can read more about Viking Age history and archaeology from my visit to Stockholm’s Historiska Museum here and Gotland Museum.
The site of Gamla Uppsala has long inspired many generations with the 19th century archaeological investigations uncovering a series of significant burials within the massive Viking Age burial mounds. The discovery of these burials were initially associated with the Norse gods and many the epic poem Beowulf among other Viking Age sagas.
The early archaeological investigations also connected the burial mounds at Gamla Uppsala with a royal houses of Sweden, the Ynglinga Dynasty who ruled the region of Uppsala during the 5th and 6th centuries. Further away from the Royal Mounds, Roman and Iron Age burials have also been found, showing Gamla Uppsala has a long tradition of burial practices. Gamla Uppsala is a UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage site located only 4 kilometers north of Uppsala city, easily accessible from Stockholm by train and a public bus from Uppsala stops outside the Gamla Uppsala Museum and the site. There are three main Royal Mounds within the site complex which dominate the landscape, standing between 9 to 12 meters high.
The Royal Mounds overlook a ploughed field which has revealed many artifacts associated with a horse racing arena, suggesting the largest of the burial mounds which existed before the horse arena, might have been a site for ritualized celebrations involving the horsemanship to honor the royal dynasties.
There are several 19th century reminders at the site where even the ‘romantic’ stylized Odin’s Mead Hall, now a historic restaurant has also been preserved as part of the history at the Gamla Uppsala site.
Visby is a medieval city on the Swedish Island of Gotland. I visited Visby in early September 2019 to see the famous medieval charm of the harbour city and the many prehistoric and early Viking Age artefacts in the Gotland Museum. You can read more about my visits to Stockholm Historiska Museum here, the Viking Age burial mounds at Uppsala here and Gotland Museum here.
The harbour city of Visby is located on the central-western coast of Gotland Island. Gotland Island itself is a popular Swedish holiday destination during the summer months and is the furthest south-eastern island of the coast of ‘mainland’ Sweden, accessible only by a large ferry or plane. There is a very easy public transport option with a transfer from Stockholm to the nearby harbour town of Nynäshamn where the ferry crosses the Baltic Sea directly to Visby in 3.5 hours. The journey itself was very comfortable and the sundeck offers the chance to admire the Baltic Sea and get some relaxation and exercise.
Once I arrived at Visby, I learned it is also known as the City of Roses. A short walk from the main track following the the medieval city walls easily explained why this name may have occurred.
The parkland of Östergravar or East Graves is located outside the medieval town walls on the southeastern side of Visby, the wilderness areas off the main paths overgrown with wild roses. These spectacular rose briars immediately reminded me of many famous poems and paintings inspired by the legends and fairytales of castles covered by rose briars.
Visby is famous for the preserved winding medieval cobblestone streets and the numerous church and cathedral ruins located within the city fortifications.
The church ruins are easily accessible and lie at many main junctions of the streets or down cobblestone laneways.
Exploring these historical ruins was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
The first ruins I visited was the church of Sankt Per (Saint Peter), possibly constructed in 12th century. The ruins were completely open to the sky, operating as a small cafe garden and accessed off a small laneway or two main cobblestone streets.
The second set of ruins on my self-tour was Sankt Drotten (Saint Drotten) dedicated to the Holy Trinity but meaning Lord or King in Old Norse. Construction was approximately the 13th century.
Directly opposite the Drottens ruins is Sankt Lars (Saint Lawrence). Dated to a similar age of construction, Sankt Lars is an unusual cross-shaped formation similar to Byzantine architecture.
Sankt Lars was built by local stonemasons and exploring the passageways through the remaining sections of the ruins was a fascinating experience.
The popular Sankta Katarina (Saint Catharine) is located off the main square, the Stora Torget. Construction of Sankta Katarina began in 1250 as a Franciscan monastery but was never completed after several attempts to renew construction, the building partially collapsed during worship in 1540 with only the ruins remaining.
Outside the city walls is the last church ruins I visited. The Solberga kloster (Solberga Abbey) was a Cistercians nunnery, founded in approximately 1246. The convent remained the only one on Gotland Island but was abandoned before 1469. In the early 13th century, the abbey was presumably destroyed during the lawless decades where Gotland Island was no longer under Swedish control but that of the Teutonic knights in Prussia. In 1404, the Abbess asked the Master of the Teutonic Knights in charge of Gotland for permission to found a new nunnery.
Located outside the town walls, a memorial stone stands near the site of Solberga convent ruins marking the Battle of Visby fought in 1361 when the townspeople of Visby defended the city against the invading Danish army. Although a doomed effort, the slaughter of the Battle of Visby has remained a powerful memory on Gotland Island.