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Of Blood and Honey, And Blue Skies from Pain

Since several commenters have been asking about my books, let's talk about the novels. There are currently two in The Fey and the Fallen series: Of Blood and Honey is the first, and the second is And Blue Skies from Pain. (I'm working on a novella pre-quel right now.) The series is set in the 1970s in Northern Ireland. The main character is Liam Kelly, a Catholic born in Londonderry/Derry. Local rumour has it that his father was a Protestant who left or died (depending upon the source of the gossip) before Liam was born. However, Liam's father is actually a púca named Bran who is one of the Fianna and a nephew of Fionn mac Cumhaill. Liam doesn't understand that he's half shape-shifter. Eventually, he gets involved in The Troubles and becomes a wheelman for an IRA bank-robbing unit and then things go really, really bad. That's the elevator pitch.

In addition to the fey, there's also a group of Catholic priest-assassins who are charged to protect humanity from fallen angels and demons. They don't make a distinction between the fey and the fallen. To them, the fey are fallen angels. Therefore, Liam is caught up in multiple wars.

Now, there are some things that need to be said. First, I wrote these books for Americans. They were sold to an American publisher. The British rights haven't sold. Hence the not so great availability outside the U.S. and certain Americanisms in the text. (I couldn't do otherwise without confusing Americans--my audience.) The reason I wrote about The Troubles was because I saw a lot of similarities between what was going on in the U.S. at that time (George W. Bush was still president when I started writing) and certain elements of The Troubles. In addition, some Americans were using the word 'terrorist' without any idea of what it meant. Personally, I've always believed that it's important to learn from history,* and I didn't want to Americans to repeat the same mistakes others made.** Most Americans haven't a clue about Irish history. History coated with fiction has been my favorite form of storytelling. The history tends to stick in my brain better that way. I thought it might help others understand. Also? My favorite SF takes on the big questions facing humanity. To me, that's what SF is for.

Second, I studied The Troubles for three years before I finished writing Of Blood and Honey. I realised that it was a sensitive subject, and I didn't want to be one of those Americans that blunder into other people's business and make judgements without any consideration or knowledge. I'm very clear that I'm an American.*** When this story came to me I didn't feel I had the right to tell it. In fact, I originally told it to piss off, go away and find an Irish writer to tell it. Needless to say, it didn't. With that, I committed to doing everything in my power to tell the story the best I could. I studied Irish language because I had a hunch that it affected how Irish people used English. (I'm still studying it.) I listened to audiobooks of Irish crime novels written by Irish writers and tried to focus on Northern Irish authors in particular. (Adrian McKinty is my favorite, but Gerard Brennan is a close second.) I actually slept with those audio books playing on my iPod at night, every night for years. I read extensively--thank goodness for the availability of books through the internet--not just non-fiction history books and fiction but memoirs as well. I watched films and collected photographs. I interviewed people who'd lived in West Belfast at the time and others who'd visited Londonderry/Derry. One of them kindly vetted the books. Nicholas Whyte also read both books. (Unfortunately, he wasn't able to read the first before it was published. He did go over the second book with me.) Please understand that the only reason I didn't visit Northern Ireland is because I was unemployed and absolutely couldn't afford it. Also, in spite of all that work I don't view myself an expert. That would be the people who lived it.

Finally, please understand I want to be as respectful as I can. I've been to England. I like British people. A lot. I had no intention of making light of the subject. The books aren't jingoistic either. Subsequently, my novels aren't easy books to read and a lot of readers who come to them with the idea that they've picked up a fluffy Urban Fantasy end up quite upset. There are errors. There will be. I'm a flawed human being, and I can only do so much. However, I did put forth my best effort. It's all a person can do.

Oh, by the way, I'm dyslexic. It's possible some misspellings will slip through on my blog posts. I'm sorry about that. It's 2am here, and I'm tired. I'll catch up on comments as soon as I can.

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* For the record, I believe that mistakes are important. Human beings learn via trial and error. We need to make mistakes and learn from them. They say that mistakes bring experience. Experience brings wisdom. Therefore, I'm all for making mistakes--ideally, not the same mistakes over and over. It's even better if you can learn from mistakes that others have made. Make sense?

** No one is perfect, by the way. We're all human beings. America has made its own set of terrible mistakes. I'm reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown right now.

*** I'm not of Irish descent either--not that I believe that is one in the same as being Irish. It isn't. Anyway, I'm not American Irish. There's a lone MacGowan way back on my mother's side of the family, but he hardly counts as that was in the 1740s. My mother's side of the family is mainly English with some German. My father's is German with some French and American Indian. All of that is meaningless since my family has been in the states since the 1700s on my mother's side and World War 1 on my father's.

111 Comments

1:

You probably are aware, but just in case, the whole Derry/LondonDerry thing is at least potentially a Political Statement, particularly in Ireland (meaning the entire island).

2:

So this is a fantasy, but you went to great pains for historical authenticity? How strange. Being a fantasy gives you a free pass.

How long is it?

And do you have any thoughts on Lord Dunsany?

3:

Comments by droid removed. Please do not throw the term 'genocide' around.
Also: Greg and others - I do not want this thread declining into a flamewar about the rights and wrongs of the Empire (British or other).

4:

Dear god Alan. Can you please point out where I have breached the moderation policy?

Also, are all historical crimes off limits, or just the ones the English have perpetrated?

You get a minuscule credit for deleting the first comment, despite the fact that you had to be prompted.

Im well aware of the hassles of moderation, so Im not going to bore you with a free speech spiel, but if this is the kind of nonsense that happens around here I was obviously right not to bother commenting before now.

For shame.

5:

"However, Liam's father is actually a púca named Bran who is one of the Fianna and a nephew of Fionn mac Cumhail"
. I
Genuine LOL. If it's played for laughs this series could be the best thing, and I say that as someone whose great-grandfather left Derry/Londonderry in the 1890s (we're smart like that in our family).

Droid - it may surprise you to learn that former denizens of this board have dealt with this subject in the past, in ways that may have led to a certain amount of bad feeling in some quarters. I myself was not blameless in that matter, and I largely concur with the moderator's stance.

If the 'genocide' label is being applied to the Irish famine of 1845 - 50, then I have to say that in my opinion while that disaster was avoidable, and although the British government of that time is guilty of failing to even try to avoid it, and is therefore criminally responsible for the death of a huge percentage of the Irish population, it was certainly not a deliberate attempt to commit genocide. I trust this clarifies the matter.

6:

Forgive me if I dont agree that your single paragraph 'clarifies the matter', and Im happy to abide by the wishes of the moderator and not continue the discussion, but just to point out, that I used the term 'pseudo-genocide', not 'genocide' and it is not a term I throw around lightly, but rather is based on the history of the repeated use of famine as a weapon by the British in both India and Ireland.

7:

Droid - the reason I'm dropping your (two) original comments is not that I think you're wrong and Greg is right. Nor do I think that the British Empire was blameless in its dealings with its citizens and subjects.

The reason is that this is an issue which is sufficiently emotive to the residents of these islands that flame wars will erupt. Your qualifier of 'pseudo' is all too likely to be overlooked.

Were Charlie not travelling, I would have left it to him — he might well have come to a different decision. For now, since Stina is probably still asleep, it's up to me.

8:

Alan, that is reasonable, I wasn't aware of the history here, and Im sorry to have caused you trouble first thing in the morning. I'm not really interested in a flame war, but, as I said, I found Greg's comment to be quite offensive and felt compelled to reply.

And yes, I agree, though important, the 'pseudo' may be easily missed - as you did so yourself in your warning to me!

9:

I tell you what Stina. I'll dig up a copy of the first book at my local library and give it a go. I was a bit put off by this review:

http://www.strangehorizons.com/reviews/2012/07/of_blood_and_ho-comments.shtml#comments

and the one it links to:

http://www.mmcgrath.co.uk/?p=2210

But you seem like a decent enough person, and if Charlie likes you then that's a plus point to my way of thinking. If nothing else I can plunder the books for RPG fodder (I'm running a contemporary setting Werewolf game as & when I get players for it).

10:

For what it's worth, recommendations (including Charlie saying "here's $guest_blogger whilst I'm away") on here score about 7/10 for introducing me to new authors that I prove to enjoy.

Also, I checked Amazon, and even with self-selection bias B&H... scores better than 4/5* on 20 US reviews.

11:

I don't normally go for 'fantasy' novels, but must admit your books sound intriguing and I'll give the first one a go. As paws4thot also commented, I've enjoyed a number of books by Charlie's guest bloggers, and it's always good to find new authors.

'Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee' is a superb book, if a rather depressing read in terms of how the indigenous tribes were repeatedly betrayed, had treaties broken, and we all know how it ended. It was great though to read what really happened, rather than the normal white man propaganda/re-writing history.

12:

Para 2 - Seconded.

13:

The problem from a mainland UK POV of "The Troubles" is that it seemed utterly alien to kill over what was perceived as religious tribalism dating back centuries. The fact that both sides had genuine historical and contemporary grievances just made the whole mess seem intractable. Eventually Eire entered the modern world, became a lot wealthier and dropped a lot of its theocratic baggage, helped along by buggered choirboys. The Unionists lost a lot of their fear of Eire, the Nationalists could sense a demographic victory somewhere in the future, got their civil rights and everyone got tired of the killing and bombing. The PIRA was offered anything they wanted except a united Ireland and accepted.

14:

I read Of Blood and Honey as part of the Campbell Award packet this year, and had to stop all my Hugo packet reading for And Blue Skies from Pain as soon as I finished. Parts of it are hard to read, parts fo it are painful, and while many reviewers have pointed out that it's not a perfect representation of The Troubles, it is, IMHO, bloody good.

(And that was before I met Stina and got to hang with her at Worldcon and the Hugos. Stina is awesome, and I'm really glad she's got the guest gig here. *grin*)

15:

Add to that how there was a complete failure to actually teach the history properly (at least in Scotland)...

16:

I wonder how many people, esp Americans, know that initially the Catholic minority welcomed the British troops into their communities. Of course, the subsequent immense mistake was putting them under local (Unionist) control. It all went downhill very rapidly after that, because the mainland government did not actually understand the situation. Like the US in Iraq.

17:

Hi Stiina,
For the record, you also know me as MeSaare on Twitter.

I found the recounting of your preparation for these books fascinating as I also write historically based fantasy fiction.

I think you have to do as much as you can but at the time of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, you are left with your imagination and good intentions.

The Tim Powers interview in the Slovenian fanzine that Cheryl linked to is an excellent exposition of the challenge by an author who has become successful in this area of our genre.

I'm enjoying your posts very much so don't let the pedants and ax-grinders get you down.

18:

Greg:- I've dropped your second comment too. Really, don't try to go there, no matter how right and fair you think you are.

19:

Not so much pedants and axe-grinders, but NI is still a hot button issue in the UK and this is a UK blog.

I'm not sure what an analogy might be but the Israeli/Palestinian conflict comes to mind. Imagine this were an Israeli blog and I had written a fantasy book about the Djinn and it was set in the Intifada, complete with bus bombings and children being shot dead for throwing stones. It is so close to home that whatever I had to say about the Djinn plotlines would be obscured by visceral reaction to murderously real events on ones doorstep.

20:

As several people have mentioned this is much more than a UK blog. I think that all commentators can afford to be more sensitive when insisting on the rightness of their position.

21:

The "rightness" of my position is that when I think NI I don't think Faeries, but something a lot more real and unpleasant. This is probably not true even for most Brits, but it does colour things. The Troubles is not yet history that can be easily set aside or ignored. We can now do that with WW2 Nazi zombies, for example, because the number of people alive with direct memories of the situational events of such stories is negligible - the emotional personal reality no longer exists. The sides are no longer fighting (which they still are at a low level in NI)

This issue might make for a blog topic of its own ie "When does history start" with reference to works of fiction.

22:

Oh, yes. I'm aware. This is why I used Londonderry/Derry in my post here and exclusively use Derry in my novels. (They are told from Catholic characters's points of view.) Me, personally, I don't believe that either side is free of blame. It's a complex issue--very complex and confusing. There is no definitively 'correct' answer because it's a difficult issue. One of humanity's toughest.

23:

It's generally understood that fantasy authors get a 'free pass' as you say. However, the reality is that we don't. A fantasy author who doesn't do their homework doesn't just do themselves a disservice, but their readers as well. World-building, no matter the form in which it takes, is not for the lazy or the faint of heart. Mind you, people read for all sorts of reasons, bless 'em. So, fluffy fantasy is valid. However, fluffy fantasy requires work too.

Of Blood and Honey is 296 pages long. And Blue Skies from Pain is 363.

I actually haven't read Lord Dunsany. However, The King of Elfland's Daughter is on my gi-normous to be read book pile.

24:

Thanks. I'm aware of those reviews. Thanks for giving the books a try anyway. I deeply appreciate it.

25:

I'm very glad to be reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Although, I admit that it's giving me nightmares. However, I look at it as a necessary price to understand the truth.

26:

At least you are spared getting the pronunciation correct. I listen to several SFF podcasts and it's really jarring to hear an English word, and especially name, mispronounced. The one that really sticks in my mind was the name "Hereward". The voice actor said it like it is written, "here, ward" whereas the name sounds more like "herry, wood". It's Saxon/Old English and the name of some guy we learned about in history:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hereward_the_Wake

Still, not as bad as some BBC radio DJ once saying the name "Persephone" as "percy, phone".

27:

Awww. Thanks, Kevin! It was great meeting you too. Hopefully, you'll come to the World Con in San Antonio and we can chat again. (I'm thrilled you enjoyed the books so much, by the way.)

28:

Most Americans understand very little about The Troubles, Dirk. They certainly don't understand how confusing and complex it was.

29:

Not a free pass, but doing the best you can is all you can do.

The research you have put into the Troubles and talked to people who were caught in them was as much as any reader could expect you to do.

Any complicated history that isn't forgotten or even past are fraught with peril, but I think you did well. As I recall, your original idea was set in the present, with these events in flashback.

30:

Thank you, MeSaare! It's nice to see you here, by the way. :)

31:

Exactly. This is why the first book is more of a *magical realism* work than a mainstream fantasy one. I wanted to give the conflict the respect it was due.

32:

"Still, not as bad as some BBC radio DJ once saying the name "Persephone" as "percy, phone"."

LOL. Wow. That's just funny.

33:

Yes, all around, Paul. Thanks so much for the support. :)

34:

The last 4 novels I've read have been fantasy, of that particular sub-genre London Police Procedural/Horror. As a variety, it requires believable policemen to set against the strangeness of the supernatural.

(For those wondering, the books are books 2 and 3 of Sarah Pinborough's Dog Faced Gods trilogy - which has a slight dystopian alternative history touch as well - Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London, and Paul Cornell's London Falling - whose launch party is tonight, despite the fact Amazon have been shipping copies for days.)

In this particular case, these are stories set in the real world, and the protagonists start off no more believing in the supernatural than the reader does. The suspension of disbelief requires that stuff that the reader might know is correct. There's a contract between writer and reader that goes something like "Let's pretend that X is the case, even though you and I know it's not really". So long as both agree, fine. But the writer can't suddenly slide Y in if it's something the reader can actually check - for example, in the London Police Procedural/Horror subgenre, the police don't carry guns, because the savvy reader knows that London police don't do that.

(Well, Pinborough's hero may actually get hold of a gun. But he's definitely doing so against all regulations, and he's not carrying in his role as a copper.)

35:

"When does history start" with reference to works of fiction?"

Yesterday?
Earlier today?

38:

Exactly. This. IMHO, it's particularly important to do your research when dove-tailing current events with the fantastic. None of it is as easy as it looks.

39:

The link from Stina's book at the top doesn't seem to work for purchases in the UK, the Baen link on the Nightshade site fails and the other links are to US sellers. By connecting directly to the Baen site and searching for Stina Leicht under authors I was able to buy Blood and Honey as an ebook.

40:

Thanks so much for going to all that trouble. As I said above, *officially* my books are unavailable in the U.K. since I don't have a British book deal. That's why the link I provided won't work. So again... I mean this sincerely: thank you.

41:

Just been looking at casualty figures for NI and Israeli Palestinian one over the past 40 years.

NI - pop 2m, dead 3500
Israel/Palestinians - pop 12m, dead 9500

It seems the NI "Troubles" were about twice as lethal on a per capita basis

42:

Hi, Stina!
With my historian hat on, I was pretty impressed by your books, and in particular by your ear for the rhythms of speech and thought. It's a deep, deep problem whose origins go way back -- further than most modern Britons and even many modern Irish realise (I can make a case for some aspects going back into the ninth century, indeed).
Good to see you here
Kari

43:

Thanks so much, Kari! That means a great deal, coming from you. It really does.

44:

Yes this was brought home to me on a small private discussion board for ex BT people of the 5/6 from NI 2 where going through the truth and reconciliation process ie they had had a close family member killed.

The phone company was considered a target as part of the "crown" forces.

45:

Do you think forbidden planet in "that lunun" would have any imports? I will have a look tomorrow any way and report back.

46:

Going back even 100 years various British dialects were much stronger. Here's Star Trek done in modern Scottish (Tayside?) accents:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Khrpy4V0-U4

47:

Interesting back in the day I worked up a Shadowrun character based on ex PIRA member - the black leather coat, berets and and mirror shades really suits a CP vibe.

I also had his ex as elf from the other "tradition"

and yay for another dyslexic!

48:

What is it about that particular place and time that inspired you to set your book there? I understand the value of conflict for drama, but to outsiders like me Northern Ireland looks like an intractable mess. Why there, as opposed to present day Texas?

49:

Hi Stina -- I'd just like to say that I've bought both your novels as ebooks and I am currently about 80 pages into "Of Blood And Honey". I'm enjoying it a lot!

I should also point out that I grew up in England during the times of the troubles so I do have some small familiarity with what was happening then. I think you've done an excellent job in terms of both the mood of the times and the language. I have spotted some Americanisms, but I've not found anything I can't live with. I really don't think you need to worry too much about that point.

I confess that I'd never heard your name until Charlie introduced you. But I followed the link he provided, saw a discussion of your novels there, decided that they looked interesting and went ahead and bought them. I urge everybody else to do the same!

See what blogging does for you? It gets you readers...

Enjoy the royalties you get from the sales you have made to me. I know they'll be small, but nevertheless they are well deserved.

best wishes

--
-Alan Robson

50:

"What is it about that particular place and time that inspired you to set your book there?"

I read a non-fiction book written by two British reporters who witnessed Bloody Sunday titled "Those Are Real Bullets." Not long after that I saw what was going on in the U.S. (Minnesota, I believe) and noticed some terrifying similarities. This was before Obama was to be elected president. A (American) Republican National Convention was to be held and a group of liberal students decided to protest the convention. At that time George W. Bush had established "freedom of speach" areas -- fenced areas far from the intended location. (Which if you ask me is bad enough.) The students never made it to the protest. They were arrested. There is youtube footage of police kicking in their front door and then digging underneath their kitchen sink for 'evidence of terrorism.' Those kids weren't terrorists. Their only crime was being deemed 'liberal hippies' while living in a conservative area. That footage gave me chills.

"I understand the value of conflict for drama, but to outsiders like me Northern Ireland looks like an intractable mess."

That's because it is a confusing, awful, horrific mess.

"Why there, as opposed to present day Texas?"

If the above doesn't explain why, I'm not sure what else would. That said, SF authors deal in extremes. The story is in extremes. I didn't think Americans would take the subject nearly as seriously if I'd used talking bunnies in Texas to tell the story. [shrug] Also, I have to confess that while I've lived in Texas for most of my life... I'm not a huge fan of Texas in general. Sorry about that.

51:

Wow. Alan, thanks so very much. Really.

52:

Hi Stina. There is a peculiarly visceral and negative reaction of a NI resident to the news that someone not from here has written about the Troubles -- I think it stems from so many writers and other tellers of stories getting things so wrong over the years (don't get me started on Hollywood!) -- and I hate to say that, as a lifelong resident of Belfast encompassing some of the worst years of the Troubles, that was my first reaction too. But now having read this blog entry, I am truly fascinated and intend to seek out your books as soon as I can -- I am genuinely impressed (not, I'm sure, that my good opinion does or should carry much weight for you!) with the dedication you've put in to avoid the cookie cutter version of recent Irish history.

Some other quick pointers on "the Troubles" and Irish history:
1) if it happened in the last 800 years, there's a good chance that someone in Ireland is going to consider it recent history and, well, flame-on, so to speak.
2) The problems in Northern Ireland are not intractable, although they are complex, many-layered and many-faceted. Part of the issue is that in this day and age we all want sound-bite sized answers; those just don't exist for NI's problems.
3) Vast numbers of people in Northern Ireland have as little understanding of the history that led to the Troubles as most people outside of Ireland. Irish history is barely taught at all in many schools, and tends to be a little one sided in any that do teach it (mostly because it stops at Partitioning in the 20's, just as things got really complex). For a good understanding of the Troubles you probably need to know a fair amount of detail about the last 1600 years of Irish history (since Christianity got here), a detailed knowledge of the last 800 years (since the English really got involved), and an almost day-by-day knowledge of what went on in the 20th century. There are understandably very few genuine *experts* on the Troubles (but plenty who will claim to be).

Looking forward to more of Stina's posts.

Dave.

53:

When this story came to me I didn't feel I had the right to tell it. In fact, I originally told it to piss off, go away and find an Irish writer to tell it.

I know how that feels. My first serious attempt at novel writing came after a story idea hit me while reading a book review. It had to do with the Japanese American Internment during WWII (totally non-SF/F). Not being Japanese I needed an excuse to be writing the story, and already knew a bit about the history--that there were a few non-Japanese women married to Nisei men, who went with them to the camps. Being Jewish I decided that it wasn't entirely impossible for a young Jewish woman to be married a Japanese man. And of course, I was thinking about the parallels of what was going on at the time, in America and in Europe. But then I got stuck on research about the camp, here in Colorado, and it got put aside.

Then another idea came and forced its way out over the last few years, until it was finally finished a few months ago. I have every intention to finish that novel, but first I have this other idea I'm working on...


I'll have to look for your books. They sound more the type of Fantasy that I'd read, based on folklore and history (definitely not into the Sword & Sorcery variety). And if there are plenty of 70s music references--particularly Bowie-- that'd really sell 'em to me.

54:

Dave, actually your reaction means a great deal to me. Thanks for this, really. Authors aren't as thick-skinned as we have to pretend to be. (One has to be close to one's emotions in order to create moving art.) I knew this would be a tough journey when I started. I had no idea at the time that it'd get me this far, however. I really didn't. I thought my family and a handful of friends would ever read Of Blood and Honey when I wrote it. Ha!

I'm aware that more current Irish history wasn't taught at all until very recently. (That information just stuns me.) My research was complicated by the fact that there were often conflicting reports of what happened at various events. Also, there are few Irish non-fiction writers writing about that time period. I did a lot of piecing things together via multiple sources and reading between the lines. It wasn't easy, but it was certainly rewarding and utterly fascinating.

Again, thank you.

55:

Having Of Blood and Honey available as an ebook at Baen was the final push I needed to purchase. I did want to mention that the link to Baen from the Night Shade Books page (linked above) doesn't work.

It uses the ISBN of the ebook - 9781597802994 - while Baen is using the ISBN of the trade paperback - 9781597802130.

56:

Thank you for your detailed description of how you gave yourself to that story so that you could write it properly. I am inspired and trying to figure out some way to apply it to the books I am writing. Since they are set partly in the future that we are so far not living (the one in which we made the necessary step up in the 60s and 70s, instead of falling back) and partly in another civilization which has lost track of its own origins (but which even so is living the future that we are not). But even if I don't find a way right now, I have filed away in my wetware your description of how you did it.
I would also be curious what learning Gaeilge has taught you about how Irish use English and the culture in general.
I actually am an Irish-American (my grandfather could have been a character in "The Wind That Shakes the Barley"). I agree that being Irish-American and being Irish are not the same. In particular, as I had the chance to get to know Irish people, those fund raisers for the IRA in bars in Albany, NY seemed increasingly problematic to me.
That issue has some similarities with American supporters of Israel and Saudi and other Arab supporters of Palestine.
I would add that based on my experiences with Irish people in psychotherapy groups at an ashram in India, the Roman Catholic church and school system of my girlhood (in New York) was extremely similar to the one they were raised in in Ireland. So even my Italian-American and Polish-American (and mixed-European Catholic American) fellow students were given a fair dose of Irish (Jensenist) Catholicism.

57:

Thanks for letting me know. I'll email my publisher with that information and see what they can do about it.

58:

That's a tough subject too. But honestly it can be done, provided you're super careful and respectful. All you can do is your best. Good luck with it!

59:

It's no secret that I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school as a child. Heh.

"I would also be curious what learning Gaeilge has taught you about how Irish use English and the culture in general."

First, let me say that Irish is not an easy language to learn. Also, I'm particularly hindered due to being dyslexic and being so far away from most native Irish speakers. There are no less than four officially *recognized* dialects. (there are many, many dialects beyond those four, however.) That said, Irish language uses specific sentence structures that English does not. For example, we're taught in beginning Irish that the verb comes first: Tá Brian ag siúl. (Literally translated is: 'Is Brian walking.')* The 'ag' in 'ag siúl' is pronounced 'egg' and when people speak fast can come out as 'uh.' So, you can end up with 'Brian is uh walking.' There are certain areas within the United States in which you'll here this kind of usage.

I hope I didn't just bore the living snot out of you. :)

------
* This information is from the "Progress in Irish" lesson book.

60:

I have to confess that while I've lived in Texas for most of my life... I'm not a huge fan of Texas in general. Sorry about that.

No worries. Many people aren't. There's a petition with over 100,000 signatures to have Texas secede from the Union. The funny part is that most of the signatories don't live in Texas.

61:

"There's a petition with over 100,000 signatures to have Texas secede from the Union. The funny part is that most of the signatories don't live in Texas."

I suddenly have an urge to quote The Princess Bride, "I don't think that means what you think it means." Hehehehehehe.

62:

If you're enjoying Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, you might be interested in a just-published book by Thomas King: The Inconvenient Indian. It's been getting good reviews in Canada. It's on my 'to read' list.

63:

What about modern Irish orthography/pronunciation?

Is it as bad as I've read?

I used to think that among European languages English was the worst ever in its lack of correspondence between the written word and the spoken word. Then French (my mother tongue) came close second.

And of course Spanish, German, Danish, Swedish (I took courses in all of them) were in contrast easy to pronounce once you learned a few simple rules. Heck, even an incredibly hard, case-filled language like Finnish was easy to pronounce (while I was visiting Helsinki) using a few simple rules and a phrase book: There was a beautiful, logical correspondence between the letters and the sounds.

But one day I read a blog comment from a pro linguist saying there is absolutely zero predictability in modern Irish. It was supposed to be even worse than English. In English you could see that there were some common pronunciations (as in the Dr Seuss phrase: "The tough coughs as he ploughs the dough") sometimes, in a relatively unpredictable way. In contrast (the commenter said) moden Irish was absolutely unpredictable all the time, when it came to pronounce the written word.

64:

You're welcome Stina! I know that difficult line a good writer must tread between being their own greatest fan and simultaneously their own worst critic.

Apologies for going a bit condescending in the middle bit of my post -- I re-read it this morning and realised it sounded like I was lecturing you, when really I was hoping to answer some of the points raised by other posters.

I also hope that your success means that you will at some point be able to travel to NI and visit the places you've written about. It's a beautiful, fascinating, confusing, contradictory, infuriating and lovely place (and so are the people, mostly).

You also have to go visit some of the Gaeltacht areas in the west of Ireland, and hear the language spoken fluently and natively -- it is beautiful (sadly I understand very little of what's said!).

In response to @63, I just want to post my favourite quote about Gaelic: "It was designed by two committees: One was in charge of spelling and one was in charge of pronunciation, and neither talked to the other."

65:

#22 - That wasn't post #1 until "Moderator Alan" deleted some markedly politically charged posts whilst you were in the arms of Morpheus!

Still, kudos on using the names correctly, and note that I'm deliberately not using either one.

66:

#42 - Hi Kari, my amateur, dilletante and self-admittedly biassed study makes me wonder if you're thinking of events at and around the Synod of Whitby?

67:

Unfortunately, using post numbers rather than the reply link is a little unreliable, since posts may end up being dropped (duplicates usually get trimmed out if they've not both been replied to) and restored (back when the filters used to catch large numbers of innocent posts).

While I'm here - Greg, arguing with the ref doesn't get you anywhere.

68:

#63 Para 5 - This makes me wonder how professional this linguist actually was. Pretty much anyone who's studied Gaelic will or at least should talk about the pronunciation rules. What this means in practice is that as many as 3 letters in 4 in a Gaelic word can be there to tell you exactly how to pronounce the one that you actually sound,

69:

I know that about the post numbers thanks; I was trying to explain that the specific post was intended less personally than Stina may have taken it because it was made after some actually politically charged (and possibly sweating; Greg, you I think and I all know enough about explosives to understand that one!) references that you'd since sensibly deleted, and if you note I've actually used both post-link and #$post_number as references. Okay?

70:

Safer to call it Stroke City, I guess.

71:

I'm not sure I agree; that could just get it confused with Glasgow in Scotland!!

72:

I tend to ironically refer to it as the "Sunny North-West" -- of course that only works if you actually live in NI.

73:

It's not so much bad as unexpected: it's very different to English and French (the other languages I have experience reading).
The alphabet Irish is currently written in (this one) is not the one it was written in 100 years ago, and that one had a lot more accent marks. Most of them were changed into added letters instead (the number of 'h's in Irish that aren't actually letters, but séimhiú accents is rather high). So there's letters and letter combinations that you pronounce by changing how you pronounce the letter that precedes or follows them.

74:

"The Town Luke Kelly Loved so Well" is a little over-specific, too... (",)

75:

It was a pro linguist with vast experience in Asian languages and ouralo-altaic (Finno-ugric) languages and a few European languages. Nearly no experience in Celtic languages though!

I guess that all those pronunciation-oriented letters must mean that written Irish is extremely phonetic!

So, does it mean that it is as easy to pronounce (if you have a good ear and practice with making novel sounds with your mouth) or even perhaps even more easy to pronounce than nearly perfectly phonetic written languages like Spanish or most Germanic languages?

76:

I thought as much about his knowledge of Celtic languages, which is why I wondered about his professionalism. Once you know the rules, Gaelic is easy to pronounce, well, except for the Scots "ch" as in "Loch", which scarcely anyone except the Irish and Scots can get right. It is not, even remotely, pronounced like "lock" or as in "church".

77:

It's knowing the rules that's tricky, because sometimes the letter combinations in Gaelic bear no resemblence to the letter sound in any other roman-alphabet using language -- the first example that springs to mind is the Gaelic "bh" combination being pronounced as "v".

As has been pointed out though, the roman-alphabet has been forced on Gaelic, or perhaps the other way around. I also often wonder how long Gaelic was evolving before anyone started to write it down, and how much that contributes the the frankly weird spellings.

A fun game (if you like that kind of thing) is to get a contemporary road map of Ireland with the place names in English and Gaelic, and try to work out what the Gaelic pronuniciation might be from the anglicised version -- I almost feel sorry for the poor cartographer a few centuries ago, trying to make sense of the apparent gibberish that some Celtic nutcase mumbled at him.

78:

I've had the distinction of receiving 12 years of (terrible*) education in Irish: I can pronounce Murchadh an Chapail Ua Flaithbheartaigh with confidence. The rules are straightforward once you know them. ("Flaithbheartaigh" is pronounced/Anglicized "Flaherty.")

*Irish education in the standard school system is so bad even the successful students of the language - which I was most definitely not - emerge with Irish native Gaelgoirs would call "pidgin".

79:

Ah, here, placenames aren't fair: some of those were originally in Norse! I mean, how are you supposed to get to "Wexford" from "Loch Garman"?
(hint: if it's got an 'x' in it, the Vikings are responsible.)

80:

And 'Kingston' from 'Dún Laoghaire'?

(Oh wait, that's one of the many cases where my ancestors gave up and gave it all a new name, though I do vaguely recall a halfway point years ago where it called itself 'Dunleary'.)

81:

There's also an odd phenomenon in parts of NI (Belfast specifically, but I'm sure I've seen it in other towns too): The Gaelicisation of street names in particularly nationalist neighbourhoods, where the original street name has been translated, sometimes phonetically, into Gaelic.

82:

You may be surprised to learn that the Scots "ch" sound is identical to a similar one in Hebrew. (Not sure what the technical term for that kind of phoneme is -- sounds as if you're expectorating from the back of your throat :)

83:

Yiddish? German?

84:

Yes, Yiddish also, it is essentially Medieval German as written with the Hebrew alephbet, with a lot of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Slavic words. Because it's written with Hebrew script there are some pronunciation differences; like the German Auf is Oyf (אויף) in Yiddish.

According to Wikipedia the 'Ch' sound is a Voiceless uvular fricative, which in Hebrew is the letter Ḥet (ח). I've an Old English Sheepdog named Chaim, I've just about given up on telling people how to pronounce it, and go with Hayim.

85:

"If you're enjoying Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, you might be interested in a just-published book by Thomas King: The Inconvenient Indian."

I'm not sure 'enjoying' is the right word. I had to stop reading it before bed as it's been giving me nightmares. So... more like very, very glad I'm reading it. Anyway, thanks so much for the recommendation! I'll add that to the research list. I do like getting book recommendations. I worked six years as a bookseller.

86:

"What about modern Irish orthography/pronunciation? Is it as bad as I've read?"

Understand, I've only been studying Irish for a little over three years. I'm also dyslexic. That said, I still get my pronunciation wrong. There are certain rules for 'official' Irish. And then there's how native speakers say words. It can be very confusing. My teachers keep telling me that it's okay. People will understand you. And yet, I tried to use what little Irish I had with an Irish person who asked me a super easy question in Irish... and she had no idea what I said. Also, I wanted to use some Irish in the books. So, I asked for help from my teachers. I still get email about how awful my Irish is. [shrug]

I'm not giving up, however. I'm stubborn that way.

87:

Sorry if that came off a little pedantic. It's a favorite subject--I spent too much time teaching myself Hebrew & Yiddish not to use it, so i could have been worse. Also learned a little bit of Gàidhlig (Scottish Gaelic), but not enough to join that discussion.

88:

"Apologies for going a bit condescending in the middle bit of my post --"

Seriously, no worries. I wasn't offended. I only wanted to demonstrate that my research was thorough enough that I understood. (Yeah. Yeah. I'm a show-off sometimes. :) )

"I also hope that your success means that you will at some point be able to travel to NI and visit the places you've written about."

Actually since I'm a full-time writer, I'd owe my future ability to travel more to my husband's success than I do to the success of my books at this point. Nonetheless, I desperately want to visit NI and have for years. It seems silly to like a place so much and never have been there. It's like falling in love on the internet. You never really know if the other person is going to match up to your image of them in real life or not. :)

"You also have to go visit some of the Gaeltacht areas in the west of Ireland, and hear the language spoken fluently and natively -- it is beautiful (sadly I understand very little of what's said!)."

That is so very on my list of things to do while in Ireland.

"In response to @63, I just want to post my favourite quote about Gaelic: "It was designed by two committees: One was in charge of spelling and one was in charge of pronunciation, and neither talked to the other.""

That is too funny. And too right.

89:

Thank you! I have to say that one of the coolest things that has happened to me happened at my local SF literary convention (Armadillocon.) I walked into the con suite and heard a booming Irish voice ask, "Are you the author that wrote that Irish book?" The experience of having a 'coded' conversation in front of witnesses who had no clue what was really being asked was utterly priceless. It was then that I understood how well I'd done my homework. Mind you, I'll never be finished with that. I'm an outsider. But there you are.

90:

Don't worry. I'm not taking anything personally.

91:

"Safer to call it Stroke City, I guess."

Oh, I would have. Except in America the word 'stroke' has certain pornographic associations. Ahem.

92:

"The alphabet Irish is currently written in (this one) is not the one it was written in 100 years ago, and that one had a lot more accent marks."

Thanks for this. That helps. Why oh why didn't my irish teachers explain that? Sheesh!

93:

"*Irish education in the standard school system is so bad even the successful students of the language - which I was most definitely not - emerge with Irish native Gaelgoirs would call "pidgin"."

That makes me feel sooo much better.

94:

I added Of Blood and Honey to my wish list a while back, but mainly because of your first name. I've enjoyed your posts here, though, especially about your research process, so I'm going to have to bump up the priority on your book. :-) I am working on an alternate history at the moment, and at first I was more than a little surprised at how much real history I had to research. But you can't really mess with something until you understand it first, I've found.

Cheers!
Stina

95:

#92: Hell if I know. My Irish teachers didn't tell me, either - my mother, who was in school during the change and learned both alphabets, did.

#93: And because the curriculum is so terrible (it refuses to admit that Irish needs to be taught as a foreign language, basically), people leave school after fourteen years of instruction in the language unable to speak it, unable to write it, and RESENTING it. Follow the adventures of a Gaelgoir travelling around Ireland refusing to speak English here.

96:

"I added Of Blood and Honey to my wish list a while back, but mainly because of your first name."

Well, we Stinas do need to stick together. There aren't that many of us. :)

"I've enjoyed your posts here, though, especially about your research process, so I'm going to have to bump up the priority on your book. :-)"

Thanks! I hope you enjoy it.

"But you can't really mess with something until you understand it first, I've found."

You sure can't, can you! I've found you have to know it better than if you were just going to set it in that time and place and not mess with it. You have to find the cracks and corners to sneak in the fantasy. Get sloppy and the whole house of cards falls down.

97:

"#92: Hell if I know. My Irish teachers didn't tell me, either - my mother, who was in school during the change and learned both alphabets, did.

Well, thank goodness for her, then.

#93: And because the curriculum is so terrible (it refuses to admit that Irish needs to be taught as a foreign language, basically), people leave school after fourteen years of instruction in the language unable to speak it, unable to write it, and RESENTING it.

Yeah. It makes me wonder how the norwegians did it. Irish isn't the only language that's had to fight its way back into use, after all.

Ohhhh, that's a great link. Thanks!

98:

I suspect that part of the problem with the way that Irish is taught in schools north and south of the border, is that it is (like so many other things in Ireland) more about a political and cultural statement than it is about instilling any kind of interest in or even real working knowledge of the language.

99:

#77 et seq on Gaelic - Pretty much all true and agreed. Particularly in the Hebrides, you get the same thing with Norse roots as well as Erse ones, oh and we also get some English placenames; for instance the Gaelic name for "Fort William" is "Am Gearasdean", which actually translates into English as "The Garrison". Given that the fort and settlement were established during the Jacobite risings, there's a real political statement in itself.

One sidenote for Charlie; whist I'm not religious I do do "comparative religion and theology" but more as it affects World history and politics than anything else, so I'm not overly surprised to find a Yiddish sounds that is a "ch"!

100:

Waaay cool; The fact that you'd used the correct place name for the character's politics was one of the things that sold me a copy of the book.

#90 - I'd rather say to not take stuff personally explicitly when I'm getting to know people, because I've met some who're horribly touchy, mostly on DeviantArt.

101:

Hi again Stina. I had some thoughts apropos of something you said in your "Geek" blog post, but I thought they were a bit off topic and belonged under this thread instead.

You mentioned about people in NI being able to recognise a Protestant or Catholic from a distance, and I thought of a couple of things you might be interested in (you probably have come across some of this in your research already):
1) The almost immediately hostile reaction from sectarian individuals when they *can't* tell which religious background people come from.
2) The clannish-ness of people in NI that results in hostility towards almost anyone that doesn't come from the same neighbourhood/town, regardless of religious or political affiliation.
3) The fact that 1 & 2 don't usually apply to people not from NI -- the most sectarian people are often completely accepting and welcoming to non-Irish visitors.

I won't have he chance to pick up your books for a few weeks, so I don't know if you've already got these details, or if they're of any use to you in the future; but hopefully they're of some interest if nothing else!

Dave.

102:

Dave, I suspect you are correct, but I don't live there, I haven't been, and I don't know. Although, while watching anonemouse's youtube video I feared for the documentary actor--particularly when he mentioned he was heading over the border. (Again, I'm an outsider. It's hugely possible that I got the wrong impression.)

That said, surely the resurrection of any national language is going to have political associations? Mind you, violent history is going to create a raw wound that will not heal completely for years and years.* It certainly won't as long as key events are within living memory. I don't know anything of other country's situations when they revived their languages. I only know that it's been done before and successfully.

-----------------------------
* OMG, don't talk about the American Civil War in the south. I used to get so much crap as a kid for being born up north. I didn't matter that I came from Missouri** and not a New England "aggressor" state. Nor did it matter that the war in question ended in 1865 for fuck's sake. Mind you, all that ridiculous crap about Texas secession? That's residual bullshit left over from--you guessed it--the American Civil War.

** Missouri was a 'fence straddler' state. That is, it received statehood on the grounds that it did not officially pick a side in the war. Thus, my mother's family had relatives on both sides.

103:

"Waaay cool; The fact that you'd used the correct place name for the character's politics was one of the things that sold me a copy of the book."

Thanks so much! Like I said, I did try very hard. And besides, it was a terrific lesson in worldbuilding as a writer. It had me thinking how these details might play in a secondary world fantasy.

"#90 - I'd rather say to not take stuff personally explicitly when I'm getting to know people, because I've met some who're horribly touchy, mostly on DeviantArt."

I understand.

104:

"Hi again Stina. I had some thoughts apropos of something you said in your "Geek" blog post, but I thought they were a bit off topic and belonged under this thread instead."

Cool! Since I'm going back over the posts every morning, it works out. The really lovely thing about all this is that y'all have inspired me for future posts. And here I was all frightened of having nothing interesting to say. Y'all are kind of doing that work for me.

"You mentioned about people in NI being able to recognise a Protestant or Catholic from a distance, and I thought of a couple of things you might be interested in."

Cool! Bring it! I'm very interested in NI, obviously, and not just because I wrote those books.

"1) The almost immediately hostile reaction from sectarian individuals when they *can't* tell which religious background people come from."

Interesting. Since Liam comes from the non-power side, I made him uneasy and frightened in those situations. Although, he does employ aggression when frightened. That's a reaction that I hadn't quite connected up in my brain. Thanks!

"2) The clannish-ness of people in NI that results in hostility towards almost anyone that doesn't come from the same neighbourhood/town, regardless of religious or political affiliation."

Wow. Even more detail. I hadn't picked up on that. Although, I'm reminded of an email filled with my first set of interview questions that was forwarded to a NI neighbourhood list serve. That was a terrifying--because I was afraid someone would take offence at how I'd phrased a question--and wonderful experience too. You've just pointed out a distinction I hadn't made. Again, thanks!

"3) The fact that 1 & 2 don't usually apply to people not from NI -- the most sectarian people are often completely accepting and welcoming to non-Irish visitors."

Now, that's one I have noticed.

...or if they're of any use to you in the future; but hopefully they're of some interest if nothing else!

Oh, I'm only human. There are going to be all sorts of things I missed. I promise you. Nonetheless, whether or not the information is useful at this moment (and it is since there will be Protestant characters in the future books) it's all food for writer-brain. Thank you so much!!!

105:

Hilariously, Mossad has taught Irish.
(See, it's like this: because of the whole Irish-is-the-primary-language-of-the-state thing in the Republic, all members of the Irish Defence Forces have at least enough Irish to drill to. They were deployed as part of the UN peacekeeping mission to Lebanon. Using codes properly is hard, but each and every Irish soldier could speak and understand one of the most minority languages in Europe, so an unofficial policy in radio communication arose. And Mossad aren't dumb.)

106:

I didn't actually know this, but I'm not surprised. After all, the US Army used (I think) Navajo as radio operators because translating English-Navajo, sending in clear, and re-translating was both faster and more secure than encoding and decoding was!

107:

I don't know if that was widely known enough at the time (pre Nicholas Cage in Windtalkers) to be an influence, but quite possibly. The key differences between the two, though, are that it was unlikely any Najavo speakers emigrated to Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan, and WWII only lasted ~6 years - there've been Irish troops in the Lebanon since 1978.

108:

It's interesting to note that Chaim Herzog, sixth President of Israel and an officer in the British Army and then the IDF, may have been an Irish speaker. He was the Belfast-born son of a Irish rabbi who was fluent in the language.

(And indeed, that father also emigrated to Israel, it appears.)

109:

You do still see the old marks now and again - really old street signs and the (apparently out of date now) UCD motto. I don't think I was taught about them in school either, but have no idea where I picked it up.

I think part of the problem with Irish spelling is the fact that there are also the different dialects which all use the same spelling for different pronunciations. E.g. I've come across different teachers pronouncing the future tense ending spelled "-f(a)idh" as "-fee", "-fig" and "-hig", depending on what variety of Irish they learned. (This is really confusing when you change teacher every year particularly when you are just learning to read in English.)

I think the end result for me is that if I were to try and use Irish, it would be some sort of weird mixture of dialects. (That's leaving aside the high probability of French and German being mixed in.)

110:

Para 3 - To make matters worse, in Scots Gaelic the same spelling can be pronounced "fay".

111:

"I've come across different teachers pronouncing the future tense ending spelled "-f(a)idh" as "-fee", "-fig" and "-hig", depending on what variety of Irish they learned. (This is really confusing when you change teacher every year particularly when you are just learning to read in English.)"

OMG, THIS. I think it's been one of the toughest aspects of learning the language.

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