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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley




An author’s life and writing process is often misunderstood and when I read the synopsis of The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley, I knew I had to read it. It is about an author that is writing an historical novel about the Jacobite rebellion of 1708. She chooses to write the story through her ancestor’s eyes and much to her surprise she finds that everything she writes turns out to be historically accurate.



When the images and the words are flowing, it is called many things, including “finding your muse” or being “in the zone”. The best way for me to describe it is the outside world falls away as if the author is looking through a portal to another world, another place, another time. The characters there become more real than those in the author’s orbit as the plot, the challenges, the heartbreak and triumphs take over.



Kearsley describes this process flawlessly; the characters that prod at the author in the middle of the night until she arises and writes down their words… Their circumstances looming even in the light of day… And the sadness that creeps in once a book is completed and the characters must be set aside.



Within The Winter Sea is the book the author is writing, which takes us back to 1708 Scotland and King James’ determination to win the English throne, casting the Catholics and sympathetic Protestants against those opposed to a Catholic king. It is a story I delved deep into with the writing of Cloak and Mirrors and the historical book, Checkmate: Clans and Castles. It was hard for me as an American to imagine the wars and conflicts between the Catholic and Protestant faiths, which began in earnest in Scotland and Ireland during the time of Henry VIII and continue even today in parts of Northern Ireland. Yet more wars have been conducted in the name of organized religion than any other cause.



Kearsley’s story unfolds like one told by Daphne du Maurier. It takes the reader back to the early 18th century, to horses and carriages, manor houses, class systems, allegiances and betrayals, and the high price many must pay simply to exist. At its heart is Slains, a manor house set against the sea, and through her expert descriptions, she transports the reader to the cove next to the water, to the rolling waves and cloudy skies, and to the horizon where our heroine watches for the sails of a ship that will bring her love back to her—and herald the beginning of war.



As the author within the story pieces the scenes together, she finds that everything she writes is true, despite believing initially that the fragments and images were simply brought forth by her imagination. It is an intriguing plot twist and based on recent scientific evidence, a theory known as genetic memory or ancestral memory.



There are three types of memories and two, procedural memory and semantic memory, can indeed be inherited. It is even theorized that savants are demonstrating ancestral memories since they often show aptitudes in music, art, mathematics and languages at such an early age that they could not possibly have learned it during their short lifetime.



Far-fetched? Consider this: what is an instinct? When a newborn colt struggles to rise to its feet within moments of birth, what compels it to do so? One theory is the generations of horses before it learned that the ability to run could save them from predators. While breeding angelfish, I learned that fry during their most vulnerable period could literally jump across the tank at any sudden movement or sound. Without that unexpected jump, they would most likely be eaten in the wild. Sea turtles break out of their shells on a beach and know to make their way to the water, braving threats and challenges along the way. Couldn’t each of these instincts be attributed to generations before them that learned these are the ways in which to survive?



The answer is yes, and now science is mapping the genome that allows these memories to be passed down from one generation to the next, ensuring the survival of the species.



Kearsley takes this a step further, with genetic semantic memory. As the author within her story writes the scenes of her ancestor, she knows things she couldn’t have possibly have read or been exposed to otherwise. And though it is left to the reader to determine whether it is coincidence or inherited memory, the argument for the latter is compelling.



When I was writing Songbirds are Free, there were fellow authors and friends that thought I must have been Mary Neely reincarnated, because the scenes I envisioned, the places she was brought, the experiences she had, later were confirmed to be true. While I never believed I was Mary Neely reincarnated, the concept of genetic memory appears to be far more plausible. Since I was very young—in fact, as far back as my earliest memories—I have had a fear of being kept prisoner. It is not a fear of attack or death, but rather held against my will and to this day, I cannot read a book or watch a movie about someone caged or made a slave. It wasn’t until I began writing Mary’s story of her capture by Shawnee warriors and her three years as a slave in which she tried time and again to escape, that the pieces began to come together in my mind. By the time I finished the story, I felt as though I no longer feared capture—perhaps because I knew Mary, in the end, did escape and find her way home. But the question still remains: since I was obviously never captured and held against my will in this lifetime and the fears were there long before I began to read or watch television, where did they come from?



Whatever your beliefs, if you enjoy history, romance and suspense, I strongly recommend Susanna’s Kearsley’s The Winter Sea.






Wednesday, September 13, 2017

An Author's Legacy


As Hurricane Irma bore down on the Florida Keys, unleashing a wrath that devastated many islands prior to its USA landfall, one famous structure loomed large in my mind: The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West and the 54 polydactyl cats that live there.



Ernest Hemingway lived in the home for eight years in the 1930’s, writing To Have and Have Not, later made into a film starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and The Snows of Kilimanjaro, made into a film starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Susan Hayward. The structure was built in 1851, ten years before the start of the American Civil War, and is made of solid limestone 18 inches thick.



Polydactyl cats have as many as eight digits on their front or hind paws. Hemingway’s first polydactyl cat was a gift from a sea captain. He became so enamored of this feline abnormality that he eventually had between 40 and 50 living at his Florida residence. For this reason, polydactyl cats are often referred to as Hemingway Cats.



In 1961, his home became a museum and in 1968, it was declared a national historic landmark. By 2017, it was home to 54 cats, about half of them polydactyl. Though residents of the Keys were ordered to evacuate, several staff members remained behind in order to care for the cats. According to the Los Angeles Times, the felines sensed the storm approaching even before their human caretakers and began to seek shelter inside the house. All 54 were rounded up and they rode out the storm in the well-fortified home. Though the storm knocked out electricity, running water and Internet everyone survived and the house, true to form, remained intact.



Ten miles east of Havana, Cuba in the town of San Francisco de Paula is a second Hemingway residence; Finca Vigía was his home from 1940 until 1960. Meaning “Lookout House”, it was built in 1886 and is on the World Monuments Fund and The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Places. Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea at Finca Vigía as well as For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Moveable Feast. In 1961 after Hemingway’s death, the property was turned over to the Cuban government.



Hurricane Irma’s path took it over the northern coast of Cuba, flooding parts of the island and destroying homes and businesses and toppling trees. Parts of Havana were flooded and while the Hemingway home is only a few miles inland, there have been no reports as of this writing to how the structure and property have fared.





Though Hemingway died more than 55 years ago, his legacy still lives, which is not unusual for authors. Only 61 years old when he killed himself at his residence at Ketchum, Idaho, he left a body of work that encompassed hundreds of newspaper stories and dozens of poems, short stories, novellas and novels. His last book, a memoir, Under Kilimanjaro, was published posthumously in 2005.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Ghosts of Tory Island




Nine miles off the western coast of Ireland lies a tiny island known as Toraigh, better known as Tory Island. Only three miles long and about half a mile wide, winds off the Atlantic buffet the cliffs that extend from the ocean’s surface to more than 245 feet high, creating a natural defense against invaders. This is a land forged from mythology and still connected to distant pagan rites and religions even as it blends into the 21st century.



In Irish mythology, Balor was the king of the Fomorians, an ancient supernatural race that rose from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. He had one eye in the middle of his forehead that was covered by seven cloaks. With each cloak that was removed, increasing levels of destruction were unleashed. He lived on Tory Island in a castle that included a high tower.



One day a seer prophesied that Balor’s own grandson would rise up to kill him. When his beautiful daughter Ethniu married and became pregnant, he imprisoned her in the high tower, where she gave birth to triplets—all sons. He ordered them drowned immediately, their infant bodies cast off the cliffs to the craggy rocks below—but one, Lugh, survived and when he grew to adulthood, he returned to Tory Island and killed Balor, fulfilling the seer’s tale.



Today Balor is known as the God of Death in Celtic mythology. After his death, the Fomorians returned to the waters off the coast of Ireland. It is said on days of gloom when black clouds are roiling and tumbling against unsettled skies and the winds roll in from the Atlantic in fury, the Fomorians rise from their watery depths and prey upon ships off the coast of tiny Tory Island. It is then that mothers herd their children indoors to wait out the storm’s rage lest they fall into the hands of these evil monsters.



From the 11th of January, 1974 and continuing for two months straight, the island was cut off from the mainland by massive Atlantic storms. Perhaps 280 inhabitants huddled in their homes waiting for the storms to pass. When the skies finally cleared, 130 of them left Tory Island never to return and made their homes on the mainland.



In the 6th century, Saint Columba (Colm Cille in Irish) landed on Tory Island in order to spread Christianity. At the time, pirates were descending upon the vulnerable island as it laid cut off from the mainland, plundering and destroying their homes and often abducting the women. Saint Columba built a monastery there and prophesied that when the people, led by a man named Duggan, rose up against the pirates, they would leave and never come back. The inhabitants rose up, the pirates departed, and with the ensuing peace, they converted in droves to Christianity. It is a religion unlike others, however, as they adopted Catholic ways as well as held onto their pagan beliefs.



In 1595, the English under the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I invaded Tory Island, killing many of its inhabitants and almost completely destroying the Catholic monastery.



In my book, Clans and Castles, the first in the Checkmate series, William Neely arrives at Tory Island in 1608 during O’Doherty’s Rebellion. Mulmory MacSweeney, one of the MacSweeney clan leaders, and Shane McManus O’Donnell of the O’Donnell clan, escaped to Tory Island during the rebellion, taking up residence in the ruins of the castle and monastery. The English and Scottish, William among them, surrounded the island in their boats, laying siege to it and cutting off all means of escape. In this scene from the book, several weeks have passed before one man rowed from the island to one of the ships with a note in hand:





It was midafternoon when a rowboat left Tory Island. One man carried it out of the rampart in full view of the ships. It was the first time they had seen movement outside the stockade and a silence fell on the ships as men positioned themselves along the decks to watch.

As the boat was placed into the water in front of Wills’ ship, he watched the parapets once more before moving back to the lone man. Everything grew deadly silent as he approached.

“Bring him aboard,” Wills ordered. He watched as men dropped netting over the side of the ship. One man scurried down to secure the rowboat as their visitor climbed up the netting. He noticed that Stewart, still at anchor in the ship next to his, was preparing to board as well.

“Bring him to the cabin,” Wills instructed Fergus and Tomas. As his friends moved out to offer a somber greeting, they ushered him toward the cabin. He noticed the man’s clothing was so loose he was having some difficulty keeping his breeches from falling and as he moved past the cooking fire, he almost appeared as if he would bolt directly for it.

When Stewart joined him, they made their way into the cabin where they found the man seated at the table, Fergus and Tomas guarding the door. “Back to work,” Wills said to the others gawking. As they cleared out, only Fergus, Tomas, Stewart, Archie and Wills were left in the room with the man.

“I am Captain William Stewart,” Stewart said.

“William Neely,” Wills added.

“James MacDowell,” the man answered. With a trembling hand, he held up a note.

Stewart stepped forward to receive it. He read it silently and then handed it to Wills, who read it through once and then, unable to fathom its contents, read it again. When he was through, he locked eyes with Stewart. Then they both looked at James MacDowell.

“Have you read this note?” Wills asked him.

“I was there when The MacSweeney wrote it.”

“That would be Sir Mulmory MacSweeney?”

The man averted his eyes. “Aye.”

“Is this true?” Stewart asked. “Has MacSweeney begun killing his own men?”

The man’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed hard. “Aye, sir. He is requesting a Pelham’s Pardon, sir.”

Wills glanced at Stewart. “I am not familiar with this Pelham’s Pardon.”

“Sir William Pelham,” Stewart answered. “Ruthless man; he conquered much of Ireland in the mid fifteen hundreds and became Lord Justice of Ireland. A Pelham’s Pardon is the refusal to grant any Irish rebel surrender unless he had killed another rebel of equal or higher rank.”

A chorus of voices sounded on the deck and Wills stepped to the portal to peer toward the island. As he watched, three heads were raised on pikes set along the keep’s pinnacle. He turned back to MacDowell. “Have you seen this?” he asked, stepping away from the window so the man could view the island.

MacDowell remained seated, however, and did not look toward the portal. “I have seen them already,” he answered.





And so it was that MacSweeney continued to murder his men, hoping for a Pelham’s Pardon which never came. His men finally rose against him and murdered their own leader before each of them was killed and his head was delivered in a sack to the English.



Many more true stories that took place during O’Doherty’s Rebellion play out through my ancestor, William Neely, in Clans and Castles.


On September 22, 1884, the English gunboat HMS Wasp sank off the coast of Tory Island and 50 sailors were drowned. Only 6 of the crew survived and were rescued by inhabitants of the island. The ship, along with others, was responsible for bringing officials to the outlying islands to evict the native Irish. This was during the Land Wars in which many absentee owners lived well in other countries off the labor of their tenants in Ireland but did little or nothing to improve their tenants' lot. When crops were spoiled (as in the infamous Potato Famines) and tenants could not pay their rent, the ships brought officials to the islands to evict the tenants and then destroy their homes so they could not come back. During the inquiry into the sinking, there was some speculation that the lighthouse was left dark intentionally in order to draw the ship closer to the rocks where it splintered and sank but no one was ever charged.


Today there are approximately 150 residents still living on Tory Island. During calmer weather, you can catch the ferry to the island where you can still see the ruins of the castle’s high tower and the monastery. The Tau Cross is one of only two in all of Ireland. They speak Irish Gaelic similar to the Scottish Highlands Gaelic, and some speak varying degrees of English. The King of Tory Island, elected by the inhabitants, greets every boat personally.



And if you are there as the sun departs and the winds roll in, you may hear Balor’s daughter Ethniu wailing, her cries and her curses carrying across the island, pleading for the lives of her three infant sons. But if the storm clouds gather over the ocean, the clouds puckering like a fist intent on Tory Island, you’d best flee to the mainland. The channel—your escape route—will begin to churn with rising cross tides while the gale-force winds will set upon you, threatening you with a watery grave amidst the remnants of the race that once called the God of Death their king.




Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Music Inspiring Scenes


A full-length novel often contains a variety of scenes and emotions and to make the transition, I often turn to music for inspiration. For example, Clans and Castles contain adventure, suspense, romance, heartbreak and battle scenes. Here are a few of the songs that have inspired the moods; you’ll notice they are often set against film, which I also turn to for inspiration because I am a very visual person. I will often analyze scenes right down to the colors used and the most detailed props.



Ghostly romance: Song: Wherever You Will Go by Alex Band; Film: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir





Romance: Song: Wings by Birdy; Film: The Musketeers (BBC)





Suspense: Song: Extreme Ways by Moby; Films: The Jason Bourne Series





William Neely’s Irish Adventure: Song: Pilgrim by Enya





Sadness: Song: Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton (written after the accidental death of his four-year-old son, Conor)




Are there songs that mean a lot to you? Please share them and the emotions they evoke!



p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed author of more than 21 books, including the award-winning River Passage, award-winning series Black Swamp Mysteries and award-winning Ryan O’Clery Mystery Series. Her latest, Clans and Castles, has been nominated for four awards. She is the Founder of Book ‘Em North Carolina Writers Conference and Book Fair and the Founder of The Novel Business. She has been a full-time author since 2002. Prior to that, she founded and operated two computer companies in the Washington, DC area with specialties in defense and intelligence. Her clients included the CIA, Secret Service and Department of Defense. For more information, visit www.pmterrell.com.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Ghost of Friar Hegarty




The Inishowen Peninsula rests at the northwestern corner of Ireland, a wild, untamed landscape with craggy rocks upon which the Atlantic Ocean whips and the winds pummel. It lies within County Donegal, one of the nine counties of the ancient Irish province known as Ulster and the location of my historical book, Clans and Castles, the first of the Checkmate series.



Two royal proclamations—one in 1606 and the other in 1611—sought to abolish the Catholic Church of which most native Irish belonged, and ordered that all Mass priests be banished from Ireland. The priests went underground, living in caves or harbored by parishioners; discovery could mean imprisonment or death.



One brave Catholic Friar, Friar Hegarty, remained on the Inishowen Peninsula, tending to parishioners from Fahan—near the site of one of Cahir O’Doherty’s castles at Inch Island—to Desertegney, a combined area of more than 32,000 acres. At one point, he lived in a hut secluded in the heavily wooded area of Lisnakelly on the River Foyle; at other times, he found isolated caves in which to live. His congregation and his family provided him with food and necessities until 1632, when his own brother-in-law is said to have betrayed him to the Protestant authorities, English and Scotsmen that immigrated to Ulster during The Plantation Era of King James I.



As word traveled to Friar Hegarty that arrest was imminent, he was given a white horse to make his escape. If he could make it to Rathmullen by traveling the southern edge of Drongawn Lough before turning northward, a boat was awaiting him there that would take him to safety—perhaps to Scotland or to another Irish province where he could hide. But as he galloped away, the British soldiers spotted him and gave pursuit along the footpath above the craggy rocks. As he was passing over a hill, he was struck down from his horse, where he was quickly captured.



The soldiers dragged him to a nearby rock, forced him to the ground and beheaded him.



On the footpath where his white horse traveled, there lies the image of a horse’s hoof embedded in the rock, and on the rock where Friar Hegarty was beheaded, the sign of the cross formed. It was said that his head bounced nine times after his beheading, and each spot in which it landed remains bare to this day, unable to grow any vegetation, wild or planted. The rock itself is known as Friar Hegarty’s Rock.



Over the centuries, a white horse has been spotted galloping over the footpath, sometimes alone and other times with the ghost of Friar Hegarty atop it. The color of the horse is said to be otherworldly, illuminated even on the darkest of nights.



In the early 1990’s, some 360 years after Friar Hegarty’s murder, four teenage boys were quad biking dangerously close to the cliff’s 40-foot drop to the sea below. As they rounded the wild coastal route in the dark of night, a white horse suddenly appeared in front of them as if out of nowhere, rising high on its hind legs, its forelegs pawing the skies as its ethereal white coat illuminated the path in front of them. It so startled the lads that they pulled their four-wheeled motorcycle to an abrupt stop. And there, as they watched, the white horse leapt off the cliff’s edge but as they rushed to see whether it had landed on the craggy, deadly rocks below, the horse simply vanished into thin air.



Had the boys not stopped, they most certainly would have careened off the cliffs themselves to become impaled on the rocks below as they jutted upward from the sea.



And so it is that the white horse sent to save Friar Hegarty continues its mission today in saving others from certain death; unable to save the Friar, it is forever connected to him on his final day.



 I love ghost stories. They have inspired ghosts in many of my books, including A Thin Slice of Heaven, Vicki's Key, The Pendulum Files and Dylan's Song. The area in which Friar Hegarty lived is the location in which my historical book, Clans and Castles, takes place. Read more about my writing at www.pmterrell.com


p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed author of more than 21 books, including the award-winning River Passage, award-winning series Black Swamp Mysteries and award-winning Ryan O’Clery Mystery Series. She is the Founder of Book ‘Em North Carolina Writers Conference and Book Fair and the Founder of The Novel Business. She has been a full-time author since 2002. Prior to that, she founded and operated two computer companies in the Washington, DC area with specialties in defense and intelligence. Her clients included the CIA, Secret Service and Department of Defense. For more information, visit www.pmterrell.com.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Ghost of Burt Castle




Burt Castle was built during the 16th century in Ulster at the southern edge of the Inishowen Peninsula. Inishowen had been in the hands of the O’Doherty Clan for more than a thousand years and Burt Castle was only one of several castles that dotted the peninsula. It has seen its share of conflicts, intrigue… and murder. And throughout the centuries there have been numerous ghostly sightings, even today among the ruins.



Here is how I describe the castle in Clans and Castles, the first book in the historical Checkmate series—then keep reading for the stories behind the ghostly sightings:




Burt Castle rested at the southern edge of the Inishowen Peninsula like a silent sentinel keeping watch over the O’Doherty landholdings. It was constructed during the reign of Henry VIII and was considered a more contemporary style than earlier Irish castles. Built of the same limestone and rock that was found in abundance throughout Ulster, it rose three stories above the ground and at two of its four corners stood towers that reached another two stories before giving way to parapets that afforded a spectacular view of the Irish countryside—and even Derry, which was a only a few miles away.



Each wall was between four and five feet thick, the towers dotted with perforations for dozens of harkbus, along with larger openings for cannons.



There were two more stories below ground, comprised of dungeons, an armory and soldiers’ barracks and offices, eventually giving way to a stone wall that surrounded the castle and grounds, which was in turn encircled by a mote. With Ireland’s violent history of invasion ranging from the Vikings and Normans to the Spaniards and English—not to mention battles between clans—it was a formidable fortress built to withstand assault.






During the 16th century when Burt Castle one of the O’Doherty men seduced a young girl from the neighboring area—quite possibly Derry, which was only a short distance away. The lovers met as lovers do, and the girl gave up her heart and her body to the nobleman. Soon after, she discovered she was pregnant but when she informed her lover, he absolved himself from all responsibility.



She wanted marriage and all it meant for her unborn child: legitimacy, protection and a place in the O’Doherty clan. When he refused to marry her and turned his back on her, she became increasingly distraught. Over the preceding century, Ireland had turned from its original pagan religions to Catholicism and a bastard child would create a lifetime of hell for both the mother and the child.



So on one night as the moon shone full and bright, she walked along the shore of the Lough Swilly, eventually wading in and drowning herself and her unborn child in its frigid waters.



Her father made a vow to avenge his daughter’s death and her undoing by the O’Doherty kinsman and he discovered through workers at Burt Castle exactly where her lover slept: in the vaulted, mural chamber on the first floor near the southwest tower. On one dark, lonely night when the clouds roiled and tumbled overhead, he tricked his way into the castle at the southwest tower and climbed from the ground floor to the first elevated story by way of the spiraled turnpike staircase and into the lover’s chamber where he slept.



There, the father withdrew his long knife, sharpened for the occasion of avenging his daughter’s death, and stabbed the O’Doherty kinsman repeatedly. To ensure that he was beyond resuscitation, he then dragged his body to the narrow window. Pushing it through, he tried to aim it for the craggy rocks at the base of the castle but it fell instead on a patch of grass close to the cold stone wall.



From that time forward, each time the moon is full, the ghost of a young girl is seen walking the shoreline of the Lough Swilly, her distraught wails caught on the winds and carried for miles, only fading when the figure wades into the water and disappears under the waves.



And on those nights, the swans rise up from their positions along the banks and fly to Burt Castle, where they begin wailing at the base of the old southwest tower where her lover was plunged to his death, a patch that even today grass will not grow…



Burt Castle figures prominently in Clans and Castles, the first book in the Checkmate series, and is haunted by more than one ghost… The book is a three-time award nominee: 2018 International Book Awards, 2017 USA Best Book Awards and 2017 Readers Choice Awards. Click here to read more and purchase the book with a free autograph or buy from amazon. It is also available in all fine bookstores around the world.



 
p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed author of more than 21 books, including the award-winning River Passage, award-winning series Black Swamp Mysteries and award-winning Ryan O’Clery Mystery Series. She is the Founder of Book ‘Em North Carolina Writers Conference and Book Fair and the Founder of The Novel Business. She has been a full-time author since 2002. Prior to that, she founded and operated two computer companies in the Washington, DC area with specialties in defense and intelligence. Her clients included the CIA, Secret Service and Department of Defense. For more information, visit www.pmterrell.com.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

What are you reading this summer?




It’s shaping up to be a summer of escapism. With politics and dysfunction dominating the news, more readers are turning to subjects that take them as far away from Washington government as possible.



One genre very popular this summer is historical, particularly narrative nonfiction. There is something comforting about reading of a past era; even if they had their share of misfortune, war, strife or hardship, we know the world kept revolving and for the most part, things turned out and life went on. It is also a reminder that though things look bleak, there is still hope; that life is often cyclical and though the world has encountered extreme negative forces—such as Nazi Germany’s expansion and takeover of much of Europe—things can turn around and positivity can prevail. There is also something about reading of an historical figure who, faced with few prospects at home, wandered far from where he had ever thought he would be in order to make a better life for himself and future generations.



I encountered such a man in my own family’s genealogy, but he is not uncommon. Anyone who has delved deep into their family history has also uncovered men and women that went through extraordinary hardship and achieved great things through the strength of willpower, determination and faith—faith in themselves, in the world or in a higher power.



William Neely was born at a time in which the Lowlands of Scotland was a desolate, deforested place. The vast majority of holdings were by only a handful of people and even home ownership was considered out of reach of 99% of the population. Those people did not even have time to contemplate their circumstances because they were focused on keeping the roof over their heads (a thatched roof that often belonged to a laird and they were granted permission to live there in exchange for their work and rent) and food on the table. Food was so scarce that by the time spring planting was ready to begin the decimated cows had to be carried into the fields to be hooked up to the plows.



It was in this bleak circumstance that William was given the opportunity to leave Scotland for Ireland. Only 20 miles across the Irish Sea, it was a world removed; King James I was engaged in widespread colonization—even leading to the Americas. He was offering Lowland Scots and Englishmen the opportunity to serve him by granting land in Ireland; in return, the land owners would pledge their loyalty to the King, fight for him if needed (and was it ever), raise sheep to provide them with wool, and raise crops such as potatoes to feed the English people.



When William arrived in Ulster in 1608, he came to know the native Irish and even discovered his own family had lived in Ireland until the 13th century. In a sense, it was a homecoming. But his plans to live peacefully, raising sheep and crops and providing a better future for his children were soon placed in jeopardy. The land given to those loyal to King James was not simply land for the taking; it had belonged to the Irish. With Cahir O’Doherty, the Gaelic King of the Inishowen Peninsula, his family had owned their land and ruled its people for more than a thousand years—which is eight times longer than the independent existence of the United States of America.



As colonization began under Queen Elizabeth I, several powerful clans in Ulster were overrun by English forces, their lands decimated, their people killed, their homes burned. Cahir O’Doherty was determined to spare his people that fate and he joined forces with the English, agreeing to fight for the Queen (and later King James I) in return for maintaining control of the Inishowen Peninsula.



That would all come to an end only months after William arrived in Ulster. Sir George Paulet, the English Governor of Derry, was a vindictive man that despised the native Irish. Derry was situated beside O’Doherty’s green, lush lands and Paulet tried repeatedly to confiscate them, even though the English courts had forbidden it. Finally, Cahir had had enough. If he had been of a lowlier status, he might have set a trap for Paulet and killed him in the dark of night and without witnesses. But he was the last Gaelic King of Ireland. He led hundreds of men into Derry after overrunning and confiscating weapons at Culmore Fort, burning the village to the ground and killing Paulet. It touched off O’Doherty’s Rebellion and William Neely would have to choose between his oath to the king and joining the forces of a people that were likely distant relatives.



The book I wrote of William’s adventures and O’Doherty’s Rebellion, Checkmate: Clans and Castles, is the first of a new historical series that chronicles the lives of the men and women on both sides of the English-Irish conflict. It would eventually lead to Irish independence, the Republic of Ireland as we know it today; but the story is not yet finished. In establishing the Republic, the counties of Ulster with the exception of County Donegal, became known as Northern Ireland and is today part of the United Kingdom. The laws are quite remarkable still: they are not permitted to fly the Irish flag, Catholics are still considered second- or third-class citizens (though that has been changing) and Irish Gaelic is not spoken. For centuries, the native Irish were not permitted to vote, could not own land and did not have a voice in government—or their own futures.



With Brexit, however, decisions will need to be made by both Scotland and Northern Ireland: whether to remain with England or remain in the European Union. Only time will tell, but if Northern Ireland joins with the Republic of Ireland through a vote that the English Parliament has said they will honor, it will result in the first time since the late 1500’s that a united Ireland will be truly independent from the British Empire.



Meanwhile, I am working on the rest of the series, a set of books that take place against the backdrop of wars, famine and political, religious and cultural strife, spanning from 1608 through the 20th century.



What are you reading this summer?




p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed author of more than 21 books, including the award-winning River Passage, award-winning series Black Swamp Mysteries and award-winning Ryan O’Clery Mystery Series. She is the Founder of Book ‘Em North Carolina Writers Conference and Book Fair and the Founder of The Novel Business. She has been a full-time author since 2002. Prior to that, she founded and operated two computer companies in the Washington, DC area with specialties in defense and intelligence. Her clients included the CIA, Secret Service and Department of Defense. For more information, visit www.pmterrell.com.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Most Haunted Castle in Ireland




An Irish friend once told me that any self-respecting castle must have at least one ghost and in Ireland where the veil is thin, ghosts abound. So when I came across a castle that is purported to be the most haunted castle in all of Ireland, I knew I had to explore and Leap Castle does not disappoint.



Leap Castle is located in County Offaly in the Midlands Region of Ireland, almost exactly midway between Dublin to the east and Galway to the west. The main castle—a simple square—was built around 1250 by the O’Bannon Clan, who was a secondary clan under the O’Carroll Clan. It is rumored to have been built on an ancient pagan ceremonial site and the land had been occupied continuously since Neolithic times.



The castle was added onto in subsequent generations, adding wings, a gatehouse and other structures until the castle became a labyrinth. In the chapel there exists a narrow, hidden door with a sudden drop and as the castle owners captured warring clan members, they were tossed several feet into that abyss where a spike awaited them. If they did not land in such a way to perish immediately, they were left to die an agonizing, slow death from their wounds as they starved and were left exposed to the cold and damp and the castle rats. In the late 1900’s when workers discovered the hidden doorway, they found enough skeletons to fill several cart loads.



The chapel itself is known as The Bloody Chapel for it was there in the mid-1500s that one O’Carroll brother warred against another for control of the castle. As one brother, a priest, conducted a service in the chapel, the other rose up and ran him through with a sword, killing him in front of the entire family.



In 1659, the castle passed from Irish hands to the English, who had colonized the island. Several generations of the Darby family lived there, including an arrogant, humorless man by the name of Jonathan Charles Darby. He married Mildred Dill (1867-1932) and fathered five children.



Mildred was a writer and was very much interested in the occult and what better place for the imagination to run wild than a castle haunted by dozens murdered within its cold stone walls. She often conducted séances in attempts to reach the other side of the veil and it is believed her journey across that dark, thin line awakened the most frightening ghost of all: The Elemental.



In 1909, she reported to the Occult Review, “I was standing in the Gallery looking down at the main floor, when I felt somebody put a hand on my shoulder. The thing was about the size of a sheep. Thin, gaunt, shadowy... its face was human, to be more accurate, inhuman. Its lust in its eyes, which seemed half decomposed in black cavities, stared into mine. The horrible smell one hundred times intensified came up into my face, giving me a deadly nausea. It was the smell of a decomposing corpse.”



They called this creature The Elemental and she and a number of her guests saw it several times during the decades she lived there. In 1910, her book The Hunger was published (now sadly out of print), the gothic horror inspired by the ghosts that inhabited her home and no doubt her dreams. As was the custom at the time, her writings were published under male pseudonyms, including Andrew Merry.



In 1922, the castle burned, the cause unknown, though Irish insurgents were suspected as the Darbys had continued elaborate expansions to the castle and raised the rents of tenants in order to pay for them—and in 1922, the Irish Civil War was in full swing. The Darbys left Leap Castle and Jonathan Charles Darby forbade his wife from writing any more novels. It was reported at the time that Mildred Darby had lost several manuscripts in the fire. The castle sat in morbid disrepair for decades as Ireland gained her independence from Great Britain and scores of Irish left for America and other countries around the world.



In 1991, musician Sean Ryan and his wife purchased the castle and since then, they have lived there while they have worked on restoring the castle to its former glory. They often hear voices, doors closing and footsteps when no one else is about, and many a guest has reported the presence of a woman that touches them on the shoulder as if to get their attention.



Sean prefers to call them spirits instead of ghosts, and he and his wife continue to offer private tours of the castle by appointment. (See http://www.visitoffaly.ie/Things-to-do/Culture-Heritage/Leap-Castle-Ireland-s-most-haunted-Castle/ for contact information.) It has been featured on many programs, including Ghost Hunters, Scariest Places on Earth, Most Haunted (see video below or visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IkqcxrZ3mQ) and Ghost Adventures.






Leap Castle and other haunted castles inspired the writing of A Thin Slice of Heaven. In the book, Charleigh has arranged to meet her husband during one of his business trips at the castle for a second honeymoon, but when she arrives she finds the castle deserted except for the couple that maintain it. Stranded by an unusual snowstorm, the castle comes alive with spirits from the past until she is trapped between two worlds. Watch the trailer below or visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7QYLfXSQeo.









p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed author of more than 21 books, including the award-winning River Passage, award-winning series Black Swamp Mysteries and award-winning Ryan O’Clery Mystery Series. She is the Founder of Book ‘Em North Carolina Writers Conference and Book Fair and the Founder of The Novel Business. She has been a full-time author since 2002. Prior to that, she founded and operated two computer companies in the Washington, DC area with specialties in defense and intelligence. Her clients included the CIA, Secret Service and Department of Defense. For more information, visit www.pmterrell.com.


Friday, June 23, 2017

When Fact is Stranger than Fiction




For authors of suspense, the political landscape has posed some interesting challenges. It has always been a popular theme to select an enemy government that our hero must infiltrate and take down, even if it’s done in bits and pieces. Consider Ian Fleming’s James Bond, who during the Cold War came up against the USSR and the KGB time and again. Or Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan whose espionage themes set during and after the Cold War involved enemies such as the USSR and later Russia and China. The USSR/Russia comprised targets that Americans seemed to agree on; to speak out on behalf of communism was tantamount to treason.



So what does an author do when the lines are blurred?



Often books have been written after world-altering events and not during their height; The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck was published in 1939 and though it was set during the Great Depression many Americans were still trying to recover from it—and many never did. When Gone with the Wind was released in 1936, the American Civil War had been over for more than seven decades and only the youngest from that era were still alive. All Quiet on the Western Front was written by a German veteran of World War I, Erich Maria Remarque, published in 1929—11 years after the end of the war, and A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway was also released the same year.



During the height of conflict, the enemy was encountered on posters, in news stories and even in comic books, such as Captain America during World War II. We had common enemies during times fraught with war and conflict, from the British in the Revolutionary War to the Yankees or Rebels in the Civil War (depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon you happened to be on) to the Central Powers of World War I and the Japanese, Germans and Italians of World War II. During the height of the Cold War, scores of books were released that also painted the common enemy against whom Americans and its allies were always victorious.



Today’s political environment poses challenges for the author of fiction very similar to those faced during a civil war. Unlike a common enemy on the other side of a clear dividing line, we may face neighbors, family members or even friends with decidedly different political views. Russia is an enemy to some and trusted ally to others. Conflicts in the Middle East have no clear enemy that Americans have united behind; even those that attacked on 9/11 came from a country that today some prominent Americans embrace. The fingers are pointed in all directions and to choose one path guarantees the author of fiction the loss of 50% of their audience.



The characters in my Black Swamp Mysteries series have hit an interesting dilemma; the latest in the series, Cloak and Mirrors, written before the Russian scandal that plagues our country today, centers around Russia’s new stealth technology. The main characters—Vicki Boyd and Dylan Maguire—are CIA operatives. At one time an employee of the American Intelligence Community was respected; today half the American population trusts the Russians more than our own Intelligence agencies. At the end of Cloak and Mirrors (spoiler alert) Vicki and Dylan must go dark—deep undercover to escape capture by the Russians. Should the next book pick up with the next chapter in their fight against Russia? Or do I play it safe as an author and depict them in a picturesque little village where they get caught up in a local murder investigation? Or perhaps I should simply wait things out and write the next installment after America decides which way she intends to go?



While trying to decide my characters’ fates, I delved into the past—all the way back to 1608, when my ancestor William Neely left Scotland for Ireland (Checkmate: Clans and Castles). There is something comforting about slipping into the past, knowing that things turned out; the world is still spinning and humans somehow survived. It gives us an illusion of progress when we realize that Americans are not ruled by an autocratic monarch that can upend our worlds in a whim. When we read of the formidable odds we faced in times past—the seemingly unstoppable British Empire, Nazi Germany, Japan—we know when all the chips were down, we came out swinging and victorious.



Books of fiction are often a means of escape to our readers. They take us around the world to exotic locations we might otherwise never visit. They place us in someone else’s shoes that we will never actually meet. They give us superpowers; the will to continue, the determination to succeed. They take us out of our present-day news cycle, away from the sadness and hostility of our current politics, away from economic woes and crushing responsibilities. Books are often savored because of their unique ability to transcend time and space and circumstance.



Are you reading now? What are you reading? Chances are your book depicts the world as having some semblance of normalcy despite any odds the hero may face. And it’s precisely that normalcy that we all need right now.

p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed author of more than 21 books, include the award-winning River Passage, award-winning series Black Swamp Mysteries and award-winning Ryan O’Clery Mystery Series. She is the Founder of Book ‘Em North Carolina Writers Conference and Book Fair and the Founder of The Novel Business. For more information, visit www.pmterrell.com.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Challenges of Writing a Series

I'm very happy to introduce my guest today; award winning author Maggie Thom loves the challenge of creating a web of secrets, lies and deceit. She doesn’t want you to figure it out until the end and as someone who loves twists and turns, I can say that she always keeps me on the edge of my seat. She is the author of The Caspian Wine Suspense/Thriller/Mystery SeriesCaptured Lies and Deceitful Truths with Split Seconds about to be published – and her other individual novels Tainted Waters (2013 Suspense/Thriller Book of the Year through Turning the Pages Magazine) and Deadly Ties. Take the roller coaster ride. It’s worth it. Get your free copy of Captured Lies.

Her motto: Read to escape… Escape to read…

"Maggie Thom… proves her strength as a master of words, plots and finely chiseled characters… she weaves a brilliant cloth of the many colors of deceit.”  Dii - TomeTender


Writing a Series – The Challenge

By Maggie Thom


I love reading a series don’t you? I was always fascinated by them but swore I’d never write one because they seemed to be a lot of work. Which I learned they are but I have to say I’ve had a lot of fun writing The Caspian Wine Series.

It’s always interesting to see where an author will take the story and how they will do that. Series can take many different formats.
  1. It’s about one person. The series of books revolves around one person and what’s going on for them. You see a lot of detective stories that do this.
  2. It’s about a place. Sometimes the series will be about a certain town or a place and all that happens there. Often the characters will change but some may stay the same.
  3. It’s about a family or a group of people. The series will follow these group of people and may have each book focus more on one person than another but overall it’s about this group.
  4. It’s around a theme. In this the series can be around some topic – a quest, romance, solving murders, growing old…

There are so many ways to write a series. For my Caspian Wine series, I had struggled with this when I decided to write book 2, Deceitful Truths. As the ideas were coming to me though I realized that the two main characters in Captured Lies had already told their story. So I was stuck with how do I write a sequel, include those from the first book but don’t make it about them?

In Captured Lies, Bailey learns that her life has been a lie. She was raised by a woman she thought was her mother but after her mom dies, she learns that isn’t the truth. Guy, one of the main characters had a Private Investigative business with a partner. He’s the one that tells Bailey she’s not who she thinks she is. They end up on the quest together to unravel her past and stay ahead of those wanting her dead.

But where to go with book 2, Deceitful Truths? It dawned on me that I could tell Guy’s partner, Graham’s story. But as you will see when you read my stories they are about strong, kick-ass women. So I had to figure out who the woman was and what her dilemma would be but most of all how would she come to interacting with Knight’s Associates, Graham and Guy’s PI firm? Tarin soon came to mind. She was in a difficult marriage that she needed out of but I didn’t want it to be about that. I finally came up with her having something awful happen to her, she’d lost a week of her life but didn’t know by who or why. The consequences of it were unmistakable and that was why she’d ended up getting married. But now someone wants her son. So it was a great reason for her to need a PI firm but rather than hire them she decides to use their resources by getting hired by them. Her story is very much intertwined with Bailey’s, who’s story is told in Captured Lies.

Then it came to Book 3, Split Seconds, where was I going to go with it? One of the questions from book 2 had been about Tarin’s mom. Some readers wanted to know more about her and her story. So it got me thinking, ‘how could I use that in book 3?’ Tijan’s story came to life. Her story is very much intertwined with Tarin’s. They are identical twins that were separated as toddlers. Tijan knew about Tarin but believed she had died as a child. Tarin knew nothing about Tijan. Through a fluke of circumstances, Tijan sets out to find her twin. Not only does she find her but also a father she never knew anything about. He is not what she has pictured a father to be – he is cold and heartless and involved with the mob. After their father is shot and they learn that National Security and organized crime are very interested in their father and his dealings, Tijan switches places with Tarin to protect her. She finds herself running their father’s multi-million-dollar hotel chain, something she knows nothing about. And time is running out…

Although each story is part of The Caspian Wine Series, each is really a stand-alone story. Of course reading all of them will help to understand all of the characters in book 3, Split Seconds but I’ve written each in a way that you know what they’ve been through and what has happened.

Writing a series was a challenge. It is very different than writing one story because I had so much more to keep track of. It truly was interesting though to go back to the same characters and see where they were at and what was happening to them in each subsequent story.

There are no plans for book 4, I think the series is finished but… I have already been asked for it. So, we’ll see.




Split Seconds


Twins separated as toddlers, reunited as adults and now switching places in a deadly game to take on organized crime.

Her sister is alive! Excited to discover that her twin didn't die as a toddler, Tijan can’t wait to meet her other half but she struggles to understand why her only sibling hasn’t reached out in almost thirty years. Although the reunion is joyous, not everyone is excited to discover that there are two of them. Using it to her advantage, Tijan is determined to take down the one man, responsible for it all… her father. The secrets and lies that have kept them apart, soon unravel but with deadly consequences.

Pre-Order Split Seconds and get some amazing bonuses: Click here


p.m.terrell's Review



Just when you think Maggie Thom is at the top of her game, she writes another suspense that takes her to yet another pinnacle. In Split Seconds, identical twins separated as toddlers are reunited. Thom tells the story of their separation in chilling detail that brought tears to my eyes, forced the adrenaline to pump and caused my maternal instincts to feel their agonizing pain—and that was only the beginning. Lest you think all falls into place when they meet again years later, you’d better hang onto your seat because you’re in for more twists and turns than a world-class roller coaster. Thom kept me guessing to the very end with her skillful writing, believably flawed and engaging characters and intriguing subplots. I highly recommend this book.


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