“That’s it?” Taika looked at the six old men and shook her head, “There’s supposed to be hundreds of you.”
“Tales for children and peasants. There hasn’t been a new battlemage in… What is it now, Frank?” Julien asked.
“Twenty-three years,” the oldest said.
“What happens if we hear from the towers?” Taika had grown up with stories of the battlemages protecting their world from the demons that came from the portals inside the wall.
“We tell the nice indigenous children not to play with the towers have a nice lunch with the village elders and come home.” Julien smiled and looked at her like he pitied her. “There hasn’t been an incursion in over a hundred years. Since we’ve declared peace with our neighbours, we’ve been glorified illusionists for parades.”
* * *
“There are only six of them!” she bellowed at Adrix not caring that his wife and small council were in the room. He smirked and she yelled, “You knew?”
Giving her a laugh that was too much like her father’s for it to be natural, he said, “Yes. Over the past three decades, father has cut their budget and prevented recruitment.”
“Why do the official papers say eight hundred?”
Rachel, Queen consort, replied almost bashfully, “That’s my fault. I didn’t want the other kingdoms realizing how under prepared we are to deal with magical attacks.”
It made sense and that made Taika all the more angry. “So I have six battlemages and no money to recruit more? You realize the youngest is seventy?”
“Sister. The wall accords have been broken. We can ignore our oath and let the rest of the world burn or we can ensure it stays safe. I refuse to be the king that forsakes our world. You’ll have your budget.”
Recruitment was harder than she expected. Everyone wanted to be a battlemage but most didn’t have the magical ability or the discipline. Instead of battle plans and training regiments, she and the other battlemages spent their days sifting through the recruits. By the end of the six months they had accepted three hundred, none of which were even close to the old standards of the battlemages. A fact that Julien reminded her of daily.
After a bad day of training, just under a year since she’d been appointed Knight Commander, she sat in a meeting with the six senior, in every sense, battlemages.
“How are they doing?” Each of them had been given a specialty to train. Each battle specialty needed a particular style and the six of them covered the five main specialties; Attack, Defence, Physical Enhancement, Healing, and Counter-Magic.
“They rely too much on the ambient energy of the ancestor crystals. When we’re out in the wilds there won’t be as much and they’ll find themselves unable to cast.” Julien followed his statement with a tisking sound.
“Then teach them.” She lifted her hand to stop his witty retort. They were insubordinate, rude, and questioned everything she said, but they only did it in private. They were exactly what she’d want as commanders. “I want each of you to pick the best ten of your classes and start giving them extra training. I want a fighting force by the end of the month. I want two groups of Defence mages. Until we can train a full battalion, we’ll be working with the fourth knight’s legion.”
“Those ninnies wouldn’t know a demon from a Panos.”
“Well, it’s a good thing you outrank them, then, and that they can follow orders.” Their faces fell as she said it. battlemages were taken from every class while knights were always nobles. To have the battlemages outrank knights was unheard of. “You six are now honorary lords and commanders. You’ll each have five hundred men under your command while in the field. You’ll also have a knight commander to advise you.”
After a month of preparations, the fourth legion and their battlemage commanders were ready for battle, or so they thought.
The Panos towers lit up and the legion prepared. They were slow to teleport and when they transported to the towers they were already surrounded by an enemy in strange armour, who was much better prepared for battle.
Taika was knighted and everyone in the Maneean military was relieved to see her go. Despite being a capable knight she was too smart and stubborn for her own good. If she’d been a regular recruit they would have given her a frontier outpost to command.
The battlemages paraded in all the major parades and occasionally did demonstrations of combat for foreign dignitaries. They hadn’t seen combat since her grandfather’s time. There were fewer and fewer mages capable of casting anything beyond basic spells away from the power of the ancestors.
Before meeting the mages, she’d been given all the official papers about the battlemages. The papers said there was a full regiment of eight hundred. That was less than one percent of what they’d had in the last great war. Before they’d built the wall to keep out the demons.
She’d been given command a month before the coronation and her brother had asked that she appoint an honour guard of ten battlemages to protect him. She was thinking about that while she traveled to the official battlemage barracks. It was the only building in the capital that was against the wall.
Unfortunately, like the wall, it was old and crumbling. The wall was still a priority but the barracks were not and it showed. Walking into the crumbling building, she was challenged by a young soldier, maybe sixteen, “Stop. Who goes there?”
“Taika of Maneea, Knight Commander of the battlemages.”
To the boy’s credit, he didn’t flinch, simply replying, “You may pass.”
“What’s your name Private?”
“Continue the good work Alex.” The boy’s chest puffed out and he seemed to be paying better attention. Her words and their reaction gave her the reassurance that she could do this.
Walking into the command office she found it empty. They must have been running drills, she thought. She checked the practice yards and found them not only empty but barren.
She found the banquet hall in the same state and most of the first two floors. She was going to give up and use a locater spell when she heard voices coming from the officer’s mess.
“You should have seen her Frank. They don’t make women like that anymore,” an old man was telling his tale to a group of five other old men. Each had a full glass of beer in front of them and several empty ones.
She stood at the door shocked and what she was seeing. None of them were in uniform, they were drunk and it wasn’t even eight in the morning. She let the old man finish his story and then said, “Is this what a battlemage does in the morning?”
The old man who was telling the story, swung around and threw a line of pure force at her. It was weak but well crafted; she deflected it easily, converting he energy to harmless wind.
“Hmm that normally works. Okay boys, let’s teach this pup some respect.” The six of them stood up and she could feel magical energy coalescing around them.
Raising her shields, she said, “Gentlemen, this is not the welcome I expected as your new knight commander.”
The entire group burst into laughter. The man who’d been telling the lewd story, between guffaws, said, “New is right. What are you, twelve? And what moron appointed a knight commander to us. We haven’t needed one of those in sixty years.”
“I’m twenty-two, and the moron who appointed me was the king. May his soul find rest.”
“A dying man’s wish for his what? Niece? Mistress?”
They all nodded sagely. The oldest of them squinted at her and said, “You’re the youngest one aren’t you. The troublemaker.”
One of the others said, “That’s why she’s been assigned to us.”
Since they seemed to have released their offensive magic, she dropped her shields and nodded, “Yes. That’s me. Now that we’ve decided not to try and kill each other I’d like to address the entire group.”
“Go ahead. We’re all here,” the storyteller said. “My name is Julien and here are your mighty troops. Impressive shield by the way.”
These six old men were all that was left of the mighty battlemages.
“No Adrix, you’re wrong!” Taika turned her head away to not let her older brother see her cry.
“I’m sorry Tai, he’s dying.” Adrix had the height and rust coloured beard of their father, but had yet to gain the girth of the king.
Running towards the royal chambers, still in her practice armour, she fought back the tears that would have most of the other knights in training laughing at her. Sir Vastra was fond of telling her that knights don’t cry. As if the older woman could ever dredge up tears from her cold crystalized heart.
The castle guard didn’t stop her running through the halls. Her amber hair, bright pink eyes, matched with her improbable height, marked her as one of the thirteen Maneean royal heirs.
The royal surgeon stopped her at the door of her father’s rooms. “He only has a few minutes left. He’s asked to see you.”
A wave of indecision rolled over her. She wanted to remember him as the vibrant happy man he’d always been and part of her thought if she didn’t go in he couldn’t die. After a breath she decided she was being silly and walked into his rooms.
The large bed that he’d always looked so comfortable in now made him look small and frail. He gestured for her to come closer and she kneeled at his bedside. “Father, I… she trailed off, unsure what she wanted to say other than “Don’t Die”.
“Little Dagger.” His voice was raspy and distant. “I’ve always had a special place in my heart for you.” He was once again the lithe frame of his youth, but it was due to illness not training. “You’ve always been my favourite.”
Smiling despite her tears, she laughed, “You tell us all that.”
“Perhaps, but it doesn’t make it any less true.”
“Don’t go, Father.” She knew it was an unfair request but she didn’t care.
Taking her hand, he looked at her and said, “You have always been most like me and I’m sorry for that. The traits that served me well as king are not well suited to a life as the fourth daughter and thirteenth heir.”
“It’s okay, Father. I’ll make a good knight.”
“You hate taking orders.”
“If they weren’t so stupid, I’d follow them.” He patted her hand.
“Adrix will be a good King but he will need someone with your sharp tongue and mind to keep him grounded. I want you to finish your knight training and then take over command of the battlemages.”
She assumed he was starting to slip and just smiled and nodded.
Giving her the cutting glare that had him nicknamed Dagger he said, “I have not lost my mind. They might be few but they’re powerful and they’re necessary. You are the most powerful, magically, of the heirs and I fear they’ll be needed now that the other kingdoms have pulled out of the Wall Accords.”
“Are you expecting war?”
Nodding he replied, “I’m expecting far worse my daughter, far worse.” He took a deep breath and released it slowly. He closed his eyes and his entire body started to glow. She called for the surgeon who called in her siblings, all but Adrianna who had been married to the prince of the kingdom on the opposite side of the circular wall.
The twelve of them stood around his bed and chanted the death song as his body converted itself to crystal. When it had finished, most of them were crying.
Taking the crystal, Addison who was the Keeper of the Crystals and first born, said, “And so in his death our father gives his power to his people and will rest in the hall of crystals.” The magical power of all Maneean’s came from their ancestors. It made the capital one of the most powerful places on the planet.
When a king dies, the kingdom goes into mourning for a year. In that year nothing happens but essential events and festivals. On the one year anniversary of the King’s death, the heir is coronated. It’s the most dangerous time for an heir, historically those below them in succession would try to assassinate them. This year was different; Adrix was the only heir that had ever cared about ruling, and both Adeena and Addison had abdicated in favour of service to the Temple of Ancestors.
The year passed with no assassinations, no scandals; nothing but sombre events.
I’ve decided to do NaNoWriMo again. If you haven’t come across the term it stands for National Novel Writing Month. In short, during November a whole lot of writers and aspiring writers try to write 50,000 words in a brand new novel.
This will be my fifth attempt. A Study in Aether and The Sign of Faust were both started with NaNoWriMo. It’s a wonderful (if stressful) way to jump start a book.
What Am I Writing
I was listening to a particularly sad song by Ed Sheeran called Supermarket Flowers.
The song reminded me of an old book idea I had about taking a roadtrip with my Mom in an alternate universe where there were dinosaurs roaming around.
The original idea was an apocalypse story, but listening to this song I realized how much I miss talking with my Mom. It’s been 9 years since her death and this book will give me the chance, in an odd way, to spend one last roadtrip with her.
It will be one long conversation between me and my mom. A memoir, love letter, with dinosaurs.
When I wake up in the hospital where I was born, I find my Mother waiting for me. Instead of going home, she decides that we should go on a roadtrip. “Let’s get lost,” she says with a mischievous look.
Over the trip we’ll reminisce, laugh, and tell each other things we never had the chance.
But why are we on this trip? Why was I in the hospital? And why are we being followed by dinosaurs?
I can already tell that this will be the hardest book I’ve ever written, but I think I’m at the point in my life that I can write it properly.
I apologize in advance if I’m not overly active online or if I’m a little sad over the month of November.
Follow my progress on my NaNoWriMo page. Add me as a buddy if you’re also diving into the pool of imagination.
A lot of work goes into a book cover, especially if the author has input and is picky. This cover took a lot of work from the wonderful Caro at Renaissance Press and I think it looks great.
At the Aux-Anges Institute, nestled in the woods outside of North Bay, they study and treat parasomnias, or sleep disorders. Ashley suffers from night terrors, Terrance sleepwalks, Kiri sleep-eats, and Paul sets fires; they are there for treatment. Adelaide took the job as a counselor to discover why she still has an imaginary friend.
When they discover the secret hideout of an old club called the Dreamers, they are shocked to find that the five of them are connected through more than just the Institute.
On Monday I’ll be turning 34. It’s not old for our modern world but it’s kinda terrifying for someone who has had both parents die before they reached sixty. I’m considering a midlife crisis… maybe buying a couple of DVD boxsets or some more books.
Since I’m turning 34, I’d like you all to give me a gift. Please!
When I started to write Lust and Lemonade, I didn’t intend to write a book that dealt with gender.
Before writing Lust and Lemonade, I was primarily a romance and erotica writer. I delved into the lives of men and the ones that loved them, set in mythical worlds with otherworldly beings. The men fought for each other with every fibre of their being, using their magic to save the day and save the man they loved.
When I started writing Lust and Lemonade, I only intended to write about what I knew. I knew gay men being one myself. But as I continued to write, other characters wanted to come onto the page, too. One of them was a woman named Poppy and she was pregnant. She was also a lesbian.
I didn’t know anything about pregnancy and what women went through with having a child. I relied on my beta reader for info on the female gender and about what is involved with having a lesbian relationship. I was in uncharted waters and Google would only take me so far. I had written women characters before, but the focus was always on the men and the relationships they were having. The women were only secondary and hadn’t taken centre stage. Lust and Lemonade was the first of my novels to feature strong women in lesbian relationships.
As I kept writing, I began to realise something. Two of my characters were transgender. One of them is a transgender woman and the other is a transgender man. If I had no concept of lesbian relationships, I had absolutely zero idea about the transgender population.
This uncharted territory was rather frightening for me as a writer, but it was also freeing in a way. I have never researched a novel before Lust and Lemonade. I delved into the lives of transgender people and what they went through to become who they always were, who they were meant to be.
I also wrote about straight characters finding love. It seemed right that if I was going to write about all kinds of other genders, that I included them too. The characters demanded it, really. It was only fair, they said, that if I was going to have gay, lesbian, and transgender characters in my novel, that the straight people get fair representation, too.
So, when I started writing Lust and Lemonade, I didn’t intend to write a book about gender. The book let me know where it wanted to go and the characters that peopled its pages. I also knew that, even though I’ve written many romances, that there would be no sex on the page. It would all take place off stage.
A friend of mine asked me how I could have lust in the title and not include sex scenes? It’s simple. The lust that is in the title is about the lust of getting to know someone, of becoming enraptured and enthralled with them. Much as I became enthralled with all the people in Lust and Lemonade.
I may not have set out to write about gender, but I’m so glad I did. I learned something about others that I didn’t know before, learned about their battles to be who they were and who they were meant to be. Writing Lust and Lemonade made me a better writer and, quite possibly, a better person.
Find out what happens to Blaine, Nancy, Mike, Chuck, and company in Lust and Lemonade, available now from Renaissance Press! You can get your copy here:
Jasmine Murray-Bergquist is a costume designer, bookworm, amateur archer and all-around geek. Her body lives in Ottawa while her mind is consistently elsewhere. Her website can be found here, and you can follow her on Twitter!
April 21st, 2016. The 200th birthday of one of Haworth’s most famous residents. The eldest of her siblings who survived into adulthood, Charlotte Brontë lived at the Haworth parsonage with her family. She and her sisters Emily and Anne first published their poetry under the names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, but they are best known for their novels Jane Eyre (by Charlotte), Wuthering Heights (by Emily), and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (by Anne). As a family of three girls, my sisters and I always felt a connection with the Brontës, so to be in Haworth for Charlotte’s birthday party made Karin and I absolutely giddy.
The walk into the village in the bright morning light was amazing. They had gone all out, with bunting strung across the street and people streaming up the main cobbled road to the parsonage where the festivities would take place. We were interviewed by the BBC (and the Ilkley Gazette) on our way in which added an extra level of excitement to the day – to be from a family of three girls as well as to have come all the way from Canada for this party made us rather interesting to the locals!
There was so much to see and do that day. There were performers reading poetry, a young class from the local school performed scenes from Jane Eyre, songs honouring the Brontës were performed, stories were read. The current local curate said a prayer, and Tracy Chevalier (novelist, co-curator of the events, and editor of Reader, I Married Him, a collection of stories inspired by Jane Eyre) laid a wreath at the front door of the house.
As things wound down, Karin and I went for a walk out over the moors behind the parsonage. As we took our first steps out onto the land, it made instant sense. We were breathing the inspiration for the books. It was in the wind, in the land, in the sky, in the rocks. We were walking with Jane and Catherine and Agnes Grey and Mr. Lockwood. The stubbled grass, cropped short by sheep, formed a patchwork of changing colour over the hills and crags.
We walked for miles, over the stone bridge crossing the stream, up to a quiet spot with stunning views down into a steep valley. Further west, silhouetted against the sinking sun, sat Top Withins. Dark and ominous even in ruin, the house that inspired Wuthering Heights was a sombre sight. I sat down on a nearby rock as Karin pulled out her fiddle to play. Her quick notes were carried on the wind back towards the village. Even after she lifted her bow, the wind carried on, being strong enough to vibrate the strings of the fiddle and make its own eerie song.
We walked back to the village in the gathering dark to find a pub for supper. As we waited for our food, Karin proposed something that John Keats had done with his friends: a poetry race. I felt somewhat out of my element, as I never write poetry while Karin writes some of the most wonderful poems I’ve ever read, but there was something about those moors that made me feel up for the challenge. Karin suggested the theme of Top Withins and with our drinks at our elbows, we set about writing.
The result surprised me in that we were both happy with our poems. I finished first, but I think Karin won for quality, hands down. After the trip, Karin submitted both our poems to the Brontë Society Gazette and they were accepted for publication, which is both exciting and confidence-inducing. I never considered myself much of a writer, but this trip spurred both my imagination and my faith in myself.
The next day got us to Sevenoaks, the hometown of our aunt, uncle, and cousins. Our aunt and one of said cousins accompanied us into London the next morning where our first goal was Keats House. It is a truly lovely museum in Hampstead. I thought I knew a fair amount about Keats through conversations with Karin, but I still learned a lot. The museum is very well designed, still looking as it did when Keats lived there, and leads you through his life from the time he moved in until his departure for Italy in an unsuccessful attempt to salvage his health and his untimely death at age 25.
Leaving Keats House and heading back into central London, we took a walk along the Thames past the Globe Theatre. Here’s the thing about me: I’m a geek about a good many things, and one of my biggest loves is Shakespeare. I read Shakespeare for fun. I read about Shakespeare. I watch movies of his plays and in which he is a character. I attended Shakespeare camp for years, performing in the plays, making my sisters and cousins put on the plays with me, and as an adult designing costumes for the plays. I’m a little obsessed, to say the least. So to be there during a week of Shakespeare celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of his death was an awe-inspiring experience. The gates of the Globe were entwined with roses and all along the embankment were a series of screens playing scenes from film adaptations of his plays.
We ended our London day with supper at the historic Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. The pub was built in 1667, replacing the pub that was built in 1538 but destroyed in the fire of 1666. A winding warren of stone stairwells going deep underground, with low ceilings and gloomy corners, the place is simply dripping with atmosphere. It’s not surprise that so many authors frequented it. P. G. Wodehouse, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Mark Twain, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Charles Dickens were all regulars – Dickens even references it in A Tale of Two Cities. The food was delicious, the setting was fantastic, and the ghosts made for excellent company.
It was in London that Karin and I parted ways as she had to get back to school for exams, so I carried on west alone to Tintagel. Legendary site of King Arthur’s conception, Tintagel is a tiny village on the Atlantic coast of Cornwall. Craggy, windswept, wild, and stunningly gorgeous, I think I took more pictures there than anywhere else. I know I’m sounding repetitive but the whole place pulses with legend and folklore. The ruined castle on the headland, the caves beneath, the blending of history and myth, and the ever shifting weather create a level of mystique that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. If you ever can, you must go. Stand on the peak looking over the ocean. Let the wind sing in your ears and whip your hair. Let the voices of the past rise up from the sea and tell you their stories. There is no feeling like it.
I had one final stop on my literary tour of the UK – Stratford-Upon-Avon. Shakespeare’s birthplace. I arrived late at my bed and breakfast, but they directed me to The King’s Head, the inn where Shakespeare’s parents had their wedding supper.
The next morning, I woke up to the early morning sun filtering through crawling vines. The birds were singing boldly, a soft breeze was whispering through the leaves of the old oak tree outside, and the rooster out back was crowing in annoyance that people weren’t up and doing things yet. All the elements combined in such a way that I wrote a few more lines of poetry over breakfast, sending me off to Shakespeare’s birthplace museum with a spring in my step.
I thought my heart was going to explode when I saw the house itself. It felt like a homecoming. I felt like I knew Will Shakespeare, and he was welcoming me to his house. It was wonderful, and more emotional than it should’ve been. I spent a long time exploring the museum and grounds as well as the town itself. Walking in his footsteps gave me such a thrill.
I travelled home a few days later, but have thought about that trip every day since. Jen handling all the travel bookings took off so much stress so I could really enjoy myself. Travelling with my sister was so much fun it should be illegal. I was overseas for two and a half weeks and I feel as though I barely scratched the surface, but I came home so inspired, energized, and creatively renewed by everything I experienced, and I am forever grateful that I had such an incredible opportunity.
If you are interested in booking a trip like this. You can contact Jennifer Desmarais through Orleans Travel. firstname.lastname@example.org
My first novel A Study in Aether, and Jen’s game Blush will be launched this Saturday the 29th of October at a Monster Launch (We’re launching books not monsters, but feel free to come dressed as a monster.)
Come by and say hello and get a signed copy and meet lots of amazing Authors.
The celebration will be held at the 3 Brewers pub (240 Sparks St., Ottawa)
Saturday October 29th, 2015, from 5:00 – 7:00 PM.
There will be readings by the authors, prizes to win, special prices and of course, the opportunity to get your books signed. The authors will be wearing costumes, so please feel free to dress up as well!
With 250 questions (and their answers!) this trivia game is the perfect tool to initiate important discussions about all aspects of sexuality. With subjects like reproduction, general health, gender identity, and sexual orientation, Blush aims to help parents and teachers approach the topic of sexual health with their teens and pre-teens, and to give kids the opportunity to ask the questions they have in an atmosphere of fun and comfort.
A spy thriller which delves into the dark spaces we have within our own souls, all the while taking us on a thrilling adventure which follows an unusual girl trying to solve the murder of the only person she ever really cared for.
Chased by wraiths of dark smoke, without knowledge of the land in which I found myself or memory of my life and purpose, I became embroiled in a perilous quest to restore the throne of a fading Empire. Little did I know how dangerous a task that would prove to be.
This is my story; the tale of the Sky Road Walker.
Sky Road Walker is the first of the democratically created Your Very Own Adventure books by author S.M. Carrière.
Wolf ice disinhibits werewolf brains: it makes them act like animals. Lusty, angry, hungry animals. Wolf ice drives Leila straight into the arms (and on to other anatomical parts) of her ex-boyfriend.Wolf ice could slay all Montreal wers–in fact, all wers around the world–unless Leila stops him. Will she fight past the lust in order to save her species?
ISBN 978-1927341520 – Available now!
For more information, please contact Renaissance Press:
Jasmine Murray-Bergquist is a costume designer, bookworm, amateur archer and all-around geek. Her body lives in Ottawa while her mind is consistently elsewhere. Her website can be found here, and you can follow her on Twitter!
My sisters and I have always been big dreamers. I wouldn’t say any of our dreams are too big, but as we have more dreams than are possible to fulfil in one lifetime, some of our childhood plans and ambitions got shelved indefinitely at a young age.
That changed this spring. When my sister Karin was invited to present a paper she wrote at an academic conference in Kirkwall, Orkney, we jumped at the chance to make one of those long lost ideas a reality. As voracious readers and lovers of a good road trip, we decided that after the conference we would rent a car and tour around England, making pilgrimages to the homes of some of our most beloved authors. With the expert help of Jen, before I knew it, everything was booked and we were ready to go.
Even after talking about doing a trip like this for years, the reality far surpassed anything I’d ever imagined.
I arrived in Edinburgh on a cool, rainy, April morning. With 13 hours to kill before Karin arrived (and three days before my luggage arrived, but that’s a different story!), I went exploring. My destination was a place that is truly somewhat of a holy site for me. A place that would be the perfect spot to start the Author Tour. A place where a young single mother unknowingly created the foundation of my childhood, changing my life forever.
The Elephant House is an unassuming place tucked neatly into a historic street front in Edinburgh’s Old Town. Many authors have frequented the cafe over the years including Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith, but it’s best known for being the place where J. K. Rowling sat and wrote Harry Potter. I got goosebumps as I walked in, although that could’ve been the chill of the Scottish fog sinking through to my bones. With a pot of Earl Grey tea and an elephant shaped shortbread cookie, I settled into an empty seat by the front window. The cafe was crowded with people trying to find relief from the rain and wind. The hubbub of conversation, the clinking of teacups in saucers, the tinkle of the bell above the door as people came and went, all the sounds, smells, and sights wound their way into my consciousness, and it was a few minutes before I was even aware that I was writing.
I sat for a minute, staring down at my notebook and the paragraphs I’d just written, and suddenly I understood why Edinburgh is known for being a city for writers and artists. It immediately gets inside you, filling you with inspiration. It forces you to create. There is magic lurking under every cobblestone, stories whispering at you from every doorway. It doesn’t just give you the desire to write, it gives you the need.
The next morning Karin and I started our journey north by train. The next few days were very focused on the conference, although we did find a couple of author moments amidst all the learning. In Inverness, we found a plaque commemorating William Topaz McGonagall. If you haven’t read the poem “The Tay Bridge Disaster”…well, just go read it, and it will become very clear why McGonagall is known as the worst poet ever. Luckily for him he was rich, and able to pay people to put up with his readings. When we reached beautiful, mystical, magical Orkney, we discovered the world of George Mackay Brown. A famed poet, novelist, and dramatist, he also wrote many short stories and essays. His work is everywhere, especially in Stromness, his hometown.
From Orkney, we took the train back south to Glasgow, where we picked up the car and hit the open road. Karin was a fantastic co-pilot (her Chewbacca impression is second to none) and navigated us perfectly out of Edinburgh and along the winding country roads to the small western Scottish town of Ayr. That was where we stayed that night, but our goal in Ayrshire was the nearby village of Alloway, birthplace of poet, lyricist, whiskey advocate, and great seducer – the Bard of Ayrshire, Robert Burns.
If you ever have the chance, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum is so very much worth the visit. It’s fantastically laid out and a veritable wealth of information on the life and times of Burns and his family. Interactive and educational, there was so much to do and so many ways to immerse yourself in the times and ways of late 1800s Scotland. The panels are all peppered with Scots words (the language Burns wrote in and fought to keep alive), which is a really fun way of learning the language along with the details of Burns’ life.
Outside the museum there is a path that winds through a field marked by metal artwork depicting the story of Tam O’Shanter, one of Burns’ most famous poems, as well as a giant mouse (a nod to Burns’ To A Mouse). The path takes you to the small cottage where Burns was born, kept as it was when he was a child there. As you walk back to the museum, if you take the road instead of the path, you pass by the Alloway kirk (church), which is where poor unfortunate Tam sees all manner of horrible supernatural creatures whooping it up as he tries to get home from the pub one night. Even it broad daylight, our skin prickled imaging the witches, goblins, and tortured ghosts as we peeked into the ruins.
We spent far, far too much time there, but it was so wonderful. From Ayr we turned south, driving down the ruggedly stunning west coast of Scotland, before turning east and working out way into the Lakes District. This stunning region was the inspiration for one of my father’s favourite books from childhood, “Swallows and Amazons” by Arthur Ransome. My dad read it to my sisters and I when I was probably 8 or so and we immediately fell in love with it. Written and set in the 30s, it’s the story of the four Walker children who spend their summers sailing their borrowed boat the Swallow around an unnamed lake in the Lakes District, where they meet the two Blackett children, who have a boat of their own – the Amazon – and are pirates. We used to sail all around the lake where my grandparents live when we were kids, so both the sailing and the imaginations of the kids utterly captivated us.
While the lake in the books is never explicitly named, people believe that it’s based on Coniston Water, so that was where we went after a beautiful night in the nearby town of Grasmere (where we took a quick wander around the grounds of Dove Cottage, where the Wordsworths lived and wrote). Coniston Water is the third largest lake in England, at five miles long but only a half mile wide. A kiosk down by the shore rents out all manner of boats, and soon we were zipping down the lake in our very own Swallow. The feeling was glorious. The boat hummed as we skipped along under the watchful eye of the Old Man of Coniston, the mountain that looms large over the water. The energy of the experience and the powerful beauty of our surroundings soon put us in a creative mood again, and we sailed for miles while developing a very complex story (which I’m very grateful to Karin for writing down the details of in the car as we drove after). In theory we had the boat for two hours, in reality, we ended up staying out there for more like three and a half. The thing about a skinny lake is as easy as it is to sail down, when you have to tack short tacks back and forth all the way back, it takes a hell of a lot longer!
The common theme we had through the trip was getting so caught up in what we were doing that we took too long at our stops, meaning we arrived later at our final destinations. Especially on our way out of Cumbria, we had to stop to see Hill Top, which is where Beatrix Potter lived and wrote. But despite the detours and the late hour, driving through Yorkshire at sunset was nothing short of breathtaking. It was like driving through a James Herriot story: the farmers in their tweed caps, the sheep wandering unsupervised beside the country road, the moon hanging low in the purple twilight as the lights of the village in the valley come on, it was too perfect for words.
That night, we arrived in Haworth. I could feel my heart rate quickening as soon as we arrived. Our hostel was a Gothic mansion on a hill outside the village and it was the perfect setting to get us in the mood for the part of the trip that we were possibly the most excited for.
Stay tuned for Part 2 on November 9th!
If you are interested in booking a trip to like this. You can contact Jennifer Desmarais through Orleans Travel. email@example.com