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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 for contact information.) It has been featured on many programs, including Ghost Hunters, Scariest Places on Earth, Most Haunted (see video below or visit 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

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

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

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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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Derry or Londonderry?

Londonderry/Derry is the 2nd largest city in Northern Ireland, second only to Belfast yet whether it is called ‘Londonderry’ or ‘Derry’ by residents of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland has a lot to do with politics, religion and heritage.

In my book, Clans and Castles, the first book in the new historical Checkmate series, I refer to the city—then a village—as Derry. The name was originally Daire—pronounced as Derry—and though it was Anglicized, the original Gaelic name meant “grove of oak trees.” Here is an excerpt from the book describing its early history:

For five hundred years, the village had basked in its wild remoteness; while the rest of Europe had been engulfed in the Dark Ages, it had remained the peaceful and picturesque site of a monastery. Saint Colmcille himself had begun it in 521. The son of an Irish princess from Leinster and a father whose family had captured Saint Patrick and brought him to Ireland as a slave, Colmcille was said to have bridged two worlds. He was a member of the O’Neill Clan, one of the largest and most powerful clans in all of Ireland, and also a devout man of God and follower of the Catholic faith yet he somehow managed to achieve respect and reverence by both the Celts and the Gaels as well.

The land had been given to him, and although the O’Neill Clan held vast territory east of Derry, the monastery was situated on the west bank at the junction of the O’Donnell and O’Doherty domains. It was, perhaps, a gift from the O’Donnells to maintain peace between the two clans, which was often a tenuous peace at best, more often than not giving way to treachery and war.

No longer a monastery, Sir Henry Docwra had set out to change its history and was now considered the founder of the spirited village that had sprung up in its place since the English had begun her colonization of Ireland. From all accounts, after a dubious beginning, Docwra had fallen in love with the country and had striven to make Derry the jewel of the island; a lively port village and bustling trading post, it was a routine stop for journeys heading further west.

As the book unfolds, Docwra—having fallen out of favor with the English monarchy—was replaced with Sir George Paulet, a man who despised the Irish and who ruled Derry with hostility and discriminatory practices. He also coveted the land to the west of the village—land that had belonged to the O’Doherty Clan for more than a thousand years and that was ruled by Cahir O’Doherty. Cahir had come to power as a mere teenager when his father passed away and he was only 23 years old at the time my ancestor, William Neely, arrived in Ulster. He had been known as “The Queen’s O’Doherty” for his loyalty to Queen Elizabeth I, and he had married an Englishwoman, Mary Preston.

Paulet was determined to drive O’Doherty off the Inishowen Peninsula and had sent troops many times to O’Doherty castles, where they attempted to establish residency. Cahir had appealed to King James I, who had issued an edict that the Inishowen Peninsula was to remain in the hands of the O’Doherty for his loyalties during the Nine Years War, but Paulet ignored it. Finally, in April of 1608, Cahir had had enough. He had been humiliated in public by Paulet, an occurrence that he considered worse than death, as he was an honored soldier and king and had been knighted in his teens by Queen Elizabeth herself.

Cahir burned all of Derry to the ground, sparing no building, and killed Paulet. It touched off O’Doherty’s Rebellion and would make Cahir the last of the Gaelic Irish Kings.

After the Rebellion, there was no money in Ireland to rebuild Derry so the settlers—English and Scots—appealed to London. Largely funded through private donations as well as the monarchy, Derry was rebuilt and in 1613 was renamed “Londonderry” to honor those in London who had funded its resurrection.

Today those with ancient Irish roots, predominantly Catholics, continue to refer to the city as Derry. Those of English and Scottish descent, predominantly Protestants, refer to the city as Londonderry. On maps, it is frequently shown as Londonderry/Derry and in typical Irish fashion it is also nicknamed “The Slash City”.

It has been the site of much strife between the Unionists (those in favor of Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom) and Loyalists (those loyal to one united Ireland). I am currently writing the second book in the Checkmate series, in which once again Derry is the site of fighting. During the 17th century, my ancestors defended it from attack during the Irish Rebellion of 1641 as well as during the Siege of Derry in 1688.

View the book trailer for the first book, Clans and Castles:

p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed author of more than 21 books, including her bestselling book, Songbirds are Free (the true story of Mary Neely's capture at Fort Nashborough by Shawnee warriors) and the award-winning River Passage (2010 Best Drama Award) about the Neely family's travels westward with John Donelson, as well as two award-winning series: The Black Swamp Mysteries Series and Ryan O'Clery Mysteries. She is the Founder of Book 'Em North Carolina, co-founder of The Book 'Em Foundation and the Founder of The Novel Business. For more information, visit her website at

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

It's a Thin Line

There’s a thin line between accuracy and the loss of credibility and nowhere does it show more dramatically than with an author. Our words are placed into the public realm for better or for worse and once credibility is lost, it can be next to impossible to regain.

This is particularly true when writing narrative nonfiction, the category that my bestselling book, Songbirdsare Free, falls within as well as the award-winning River Passage and my latest release, Checkmate: Clans and Castles. The facts must be correct but the book must also be a page-turner, increasing the suspense from the first to the last page.

With all three of these narrative non-fiction books, the ideas began by speaking to descendants of William Neely or Mary Neely. Mary’s children, grandchildren and minister had all written accounts of her ordeal that had been passed down through the generations and they varied only in minute instances; but these records were a dozen pages at most and I needed several hundred to make a full-length book. I took to the Internet, beginning with the location where she was captured and digressing into the Native American tribes in the area at that time, which ones were responsible for the vast majority of abductions and which were most likely to have brought her to Fort Detroit, where the British were paying for captured settlers. Once I established that her abductors were most likely Shawnee warriors, the places she recorded in her ordeal began to fall into place, such as Shawneetown where she was put through a ceremony and made a slave to the chieftain’s wife.

As my map became fuller with each stop along her route, I began contacting historians, archeologists and museums in each area. I made appointments to meet with each one and then took to the road, following in her footsteps. As I met with experts, they helped to fill in the gaps and often led me to meet with others in neighboring jurisdictions for additional details. By the time I returned from trips that began in Nashville, Tennessee—where a plaque is erected in her honor—through Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Canada, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, I had everything I needed to write the story of her Indian capture, captivity, escape and journey home.

I had so much information, in fact, that I had enough for two books. River Passage was actually easier to write because several of the people who accompanied John Donelson on his river voyage to Fort Nashborough in 1780 had kept journals, including Donelson himself. I knew on any given day where they began, where they ended and what had transpired in between. I took to the road again, following the general course of their trip—the TVA had changed the river substantially since their journey—again, meeting with historians, archeologists, museum curators and college professors to fill in the details.

With Checkmate: Clans and Castles, I thought it would be a more daunting task because all I originally had to go on was a name and a year: William Neely moved from Scotland to Ulster in 1608. How would I turn that into a book? I was to be very pleasantly surprised and in fact, intrigued by the details that came pouring forth. A Scottish friend told me once that in Scotland and Ireland a hundred miles is a great distance but a hundred years is nothing. Fortunately, I discovered a treasure trove of information dating to 1608 and even earlier.

Looking through family tree information (William Neely is my grandfather about ten generations back), I discovered that he had lived in Wigtownshire, Scotland prior to moving. I researched that area’s history in 1608 and what would have transpired that would cause an 18-year-old to leave his home and all he’d ever known to move to a country where he barely spoke their language (Irish Gaelic was a different dialect than Scottish Gaelic, though similar), where the customs were completely different and where he had no idea what to expect.

I then discovered that he had been with Captain William Stewart and that his entire life from the age of 18 until his death was spent in the northwestern corner of Ireland, largely in County Donegal. Captain Stewart was more widely known and I was able to trace his movements.

But things became really interesting when I came upon the reason both Stewart and Neely were in Ulster: O’Doherty’s Rebellion. I became immersed in Cahir O’Doherty, the last Gaelic Irish King, his English wife Mary Preston; their neighbor and sometimes-ally, sometimes-enemy, Niall Garbh O’Donnell; and the sinister, cruel Sir George Paulet, the man the English courts eventually credited with leading the Irish to rebel. I painstakingly researched Paulet as well as Sir Arthur Chichester, Henry Holt and his wife Frances, as well as the MacSweeney Gallowglass, the Inishowen Peninsula (owned entirely by the O’Doherty clan) and other clans in the region. I looked at differences between the Irish and the settlers (Scottish and English), including their religion, their loyalties, their cultures and their discrimination.

In all three of these books, I placed myself in Mary’s or William’s shoes in order to write about their thoughts, their conversations and their motivations—all of which has been lost to history. I have the distinct advantage of knowing the Neely men and Neely women (having been born a Neely) and certain characteristics, beliefs and lifestyles that have been consistent throughout the generations. I hope I have done them justice in these books. (At right, my favorite picture I took in Ireland. It was taken in a cemetery as I looked for my ancestors' graves of a neighboring potato field and a tiny white Irish cottage that had been there for centuries. My ancestors owned 1,000 acres in County Donegal at the base of the Inishowen Peninsula as well as 1,000 acres in County Tyrone, Glencull, Ballygawley.)

I once sat on an author panel with another author that claimed he had never performed one minute of research, stating proudly that every bit of his writing came from his imagination. I would have been horrified. It is in the research, the details, by which an author forms their reputation. When details are wrong or historical events are inaccurately portrayed, the author loses credibility. And when that credibility is lost, they may never get it back.

The victor writes history and in each instance, I straddled a thin line because I sought to depict not only the victor’s version but the other parties as well—the Shawnee in Songbirds are Free, the Chickamauga in River Passage and the Irish in Clans and Castles. But in the end, I believe I told each story from diverging viewpoints and I believe they will indeed stand the test of time.

p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed, award-winning author of more than 21 books. She is the Founder of Book 'Em North Carolina Writer's Conference and Book Fair and the Founder of The Novel Business. Read excerpts from each of her books, watch book trailers and read reviews at