A Poignant Anniversary: the Armistice of World War I

Vanessa Couchman

Every village in France has its war memorial, the lists of names a sad litany of those “morts pour la France”. The longest rollcall by far is that of World War I. Few families were spared the tragedy of deaths, sometimes multiple, injuries and enduring mental scars. More than a century later, the memory still echoes down the years.

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The Book of Lismore: the Past is a Lost Book


Cas and Sam are back, having recovered from their adventures in The Calgary Chessman. Cas is settling into her home on the Isle of Mull. She’s starting to feel more comfortable as a lonely divorcee in the middle of nowhere, and she has friends now. Best friend Bernie is a comfort, even though the roof leaks and Cas can’t find a job. Her budding relationship with Ewan crashed before it had half begun, but she’s determined not to let their friendship suffer. And archaeologist Niall seems as married to his job as ever.

Sam, meanwhile, is preparing for his first year at university. He’s working as a intern at Niall’s dig on the beautiful island of Lismore (Gaelic Lios Mòr, the Great Garden) between Mull and the mainland. Sam’s grand sexuality reveal (in The Calgary Chessman) rocked the boat less than Cas might have expected, but don’t worry. There’s plenty more trouble where that came from.


The Lismore dig is looking for evidence of monastic settlement. Unlike the Isle of Iona (settled by Columba, arguably the most famous of all the Celtic churches’ monks) Lismore was founded by the less well-known Moluag. But physical evidence for his monastery’s location is hard to find, and the team is working hard.

Niall brings Cas to visit, and takes her to a second location, down on the south coast of the island, where he is thinking of opening a new site. There they make a gruesome discovery which will change the story of the island forever.

In the meantime, Sam has finally plucked up the courage to tell his homophobic dad that he’s gay. That goes about as well as you might expect, and at one point Cas and Niall are fearful for Sam’s safety. It’s up to Sam to deal with his father, though – he’s an adult now, as he’s fond of pointing out. How he does so will set the tone for his parental relationships for years to come.

The acclaimed Calgary Chessman trilogy:

The Calgary Chessman mybook.to/TheCalgaryChessman

The Book of Lismore mybook.to/BookofLismore

The Ashentilly Letters (forthcoming in 2021)

Yvonne Marjot is a lost kiwi, now living on a Scottish island. She has been making up stories and poems for as long as she can remember, and once won a case of port in a poetry competition (NZ Listener 1996). Her first collection, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, won the Britwriters Prize for Poetry in 2012. She is fascinated by the interface between human mind and the physical world, and her poems often have a scientific or mythological theme.

Her paranormal romance, Walking on Wild Air mybook.to/WalkingonWildAir, and The Calgary Chessman trilogy of archaeological romances are published with Ocelot Press. Her short story collection, Treacle and Other Twisted Tales mybook.to/treacle , is available from Crooked Cat Publishing.

You can follow her in any of these places:

Goodreads where she welcomes questions.

Facebook and her friendly group


Beathan the Brigante (Celtic Fervour 5)

Delighted to have Nancy Jardine with me today, introducing Book 5 in her Celtic Fervour series, Beathan the Brigante, published yesterday.

The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet

Thank you, Yvonne, for inviting me today to share a little about Beathan The Brigante, the 5th book in my highly acclaimed Celtic Fervour Saga Series. I’m thrilled to say it officially launched yesterday! It’s now available in e-book and paperback from Amazon, and in paperback format via Ingram Spark for bookstore and library ordering.

Beathan cover pic Aug 2020

Something your readers might be interested in is that the ebook versions of Books 1-4  in the Celtic Fervour Saga series are reduced to only 99p/99c/0.99euros each, for the days close to launch day in a Big Bonanza SALE! The link for my Amazon author page to get access to the ebooks is included below. They just might still be at 99p, depending on when you read this post!

And now about Book 5… it brings themes of the whole series to a full circle. In Book 1, The Beltane Choice, the Druid priestess…

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Sebastian Faulks, Charlie Higson and Anthony Horowitz have all done it for James Bond.  Alexandra Ripley did it for Scarlett and Rhett.  Jill Paton Walsh did it for Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and PD James did it for the characters from Pride and Prejudice.  There have been numerous attempts to solve Charles Dickens’ unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood.  And even Thomas the Tank Engine has been given a new lease of life, by the son of his original creator.

So what is it that makes authors want to write new stories centred on existing characters?

In one respect, I think, it’s because once the original author has died, there can be a great sense of regret that there will be no more from the same pen.  So if the authors’ stories and characters are popular, why not give their fans more to enjoy, in the form of sequels, prequels, or simply more adventures?  Or you can even give the original story an alternative ending. More on this later.

You don’t need to be a famous, or even a published, author to take advantage of this very useful literary device.  Using a well-loved character (or set of characters) as the basis for a new story can be an excellent way of dealing with an attack of writer’s block.  Think of a favourite character from a book, a play, or even a poem. Imagine what it might be like to meet that character face to face.  What would you say to them? How do you think they would respond?  Try writing a short dialogue between the two of you, and see where it leads.  You may well find that it gives you a springboard to a whole new story.  No writing is ever wasted, even if it doesn’t end up in the final version.

Or think about how the character behaves in the original work.  If his or her behaviour is unusual, what might have happened in the past to affect actions in the present? Let your imagination run riot – prequels make fascinating stories!

When, more than forty years ago, I saw Franco Zeffirelli’s wonderful film of Romeo & Juliet, I came away thinking:  This is the world’s greatest love story, so why did it all have to go so horribly wrong?  That question has haunted me ever since.

Then, a few years ago, I read one of those lists of Things You Must Do Before You Die. To be honest I found most of them pretty underwhelming, but the one which stood out was Write the book you want to read. And this was what first inspired me to start writing the book I’ve always wanted to read: the version of Romeo & Juliet which has a satisfactory outcome. (I’m not by any means the first person to have attempted to re-write the Bard and reduce the body-count. As far back as 1681, a writer called Nahum Tate produced an alternative version of King Lear, in which Cordelia and Edgar are lovers, the goodies survive, the baddies get their come-uppance, and Lear regains his throne at the end!)

The Ghostly Father

The eventual result was The Ghostly Father – a part-prequel, part-sequel to the original Romeo & Juliet story, told from the point of view of the Friar.  I’ve often wondered why, in Shakespeare’s play, he behaves as he does – and by giving him what I hope is an interesting and thought-provoking backstory, I’ve tried to offer some possible answers.

In addition, the novel explores what might have happened to Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers if events had taken an alternative course. In the play, the lovers fall victims to a sequence of misfortunes which combine to produce a maddeningly avoidable catastrophe. But what if just one of those unfortunate events had not occurred? What difference could this have made?

Read the book and find out…

Walking on Wild Air: genius loci and the spirit of place

Genius Loci is a Latin term for the deity that rules over a particular place or location. The Oxford Reference dictionary says “every place has its own unique qualities, not only in terms of its physical makeup, but of how it is perceived”. We humans are fond of personifying inanimate objects and places, and it’s an important part of many mythologies.

Whenever I visit somewhere new I’m keen to find out the local name for it, preferably in the native tongue of the place, which can often give a sense of meaning or history. For instance the Isle of Mull (where Walking on Wild Air is set) derives from a Norse word meaning a high flat plateau viewed from the sea. Seamarks like this were useful to the Norse, who went everywhere on the Sea Roads and could navigate by way of familiar landmarks. ‘Vik’, meaning harbour, and ‘Tarbert’, meaning a low place where boats can be portaged from one seaway to another, are also common around the west coast of Scotland for much the same reason.

I know that once upon a time every landmark on Mull, from the most significant to the most intimate, was named and known and cherished by its inhabitants, from Duart (Dubh Ard, the High Dark Place, globally important as the home of the MacLean clan chieftains) to the nameless spring that bubbles on the hill above the house where I used to live. When places are cleared wholesale, and the inhabitants bundled off into cities or encouraged to emigrate, much is lost, and the names of places are not the least of it.

I was tramping in the hills near Dervaig back in 2013, looking for rare moths (or at least their food plants) and wondering about the lost names of every hill and vale, every hummock and streamlet I passed. And then I thought to myself: what if there was something here before the Gaels? Before the Irish settled western Scotland and their language began to diverge into what we now know as Scottish Gaelic. Before the Picts, or whoever was living in these parts before the Gaelic speaking kingdom of Dal Riata arose in the Middle Ages. Before the builders of stone circles and chambered tombs got to work here. Before even the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers created trails around and through the valleys of Mull, and its surrounding islands (they are known from several sites here).

What if there was something that came into being in the fiery chaos of the opening of the Atlantic? Something that arose from and was fed by the constant rain of the Hebrides. Something living. Something strange. What would that be like?

And as strange and wonderful a thought as that was: what then, when people arrive, with their passion for possessiveness and ownership and the naming of things?

And so the idea of the spring came to me, as a locus and source of the strangeness that I wanted to write about, and down ten thousand years the people of the land came to me and gave me their names. And Dougie MacLean was born.

My characters’ names are very important to me. Dougie is short for Dougal, in Gaelic Dubh Gall, the Dark Stranger. That seems pretty appropriate for someone who is not entirely of this world, and whose strangeness becomes ever more apparent as the story unfolds. And the main narrator of Walking on Wild Air, Sushila Mackenzie, has her own naming story. The child of Sri Lankan and Scottish parents, she is named after the daughter of a lovely man I worked with long ago. He told me stories of his daughter, away at university, and how she was the sweetest, kindest, cleverest and most wonderful daughter in the world. How could I not channel that deep-rooted stream of love and affection into my character, especially as she was facing so much pain and tragedy in her life?

In ‘Walking on Wild Air’ the spirit of the spring meets the girl with the broken heart, and who will be healed? Who will be loved? Who will be harmed when two such different worlds collide?

Escape to a place forged not by time, but by memories.


Come along to my Facebook event 8am-midnight BST on Sunday 28 June 2020, for competitions, conversation and music. Drop in any time to take part. https://www.facebook.com/events/254480262667365/