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Category Archives: Tory Island

Real Versus Fictional Settings

           Many writers question whether it is best to set their story in a real location or a fictional one.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each.  In the end it really boils down to preference, but here are a few of the pros and cons I have weighed in my writing:

Real Setting Pros:

1.  The setting is already laid out for you, so site maps are readily available.  In writing my novel, Island of Tory, I used a variety of online maps to get an accurate feel for the location of key points of interest.

2.  People who are familiar with your setting may be intrigued by a story set in a place they know well and are fond of.  This could increase your readership.

3.  The history, folklore, and local stories of a real setting can be woven into your fictional story, giving it authenticity.

Real Setting Cons:

1.  In choosing a real setting for your novel, you risk being inaccurate in your description if not careful, and this could invoke the wrath of readers who demand precision.

2.  There is no room for deviation in a real setting.  If you put a coffee shop or church in the setting, for the sake of your story, where in reality there is none, you chance confusing or even turning off readers who are familiar with what the real setting looks like.

Fictional Setting Pros:

1.  Your imagination is the limit with a fictional setting.  You can put any buildings, landmarks, or points of interest you choose in a fictional setting to accomplish your plot goals.

2.  No one can dispute the location of items in a fictional setting as long as you are consistent in where things are.

3.  You can add any back story to the history, lore, or culture of your fictional setting without being wrong.

Fictional Setting Cons:

1.  You have to make up the location, history, culture, and anything else associated with your setting.  You can get ideas from real settings, but you have to be careful not to be too obvious in copying everything about a real location, or your readers will see through a simple name change and think you are being unimaginative.

  2.  You have to map out where everything is located in your fictional setting and be consistent in distance and timing throughout your story to make it believable.

            Before starting to write my ya novel, Island of Tory, I was perusing the internet trying to get ideas for the basic plot for my next book.  I hadn’t decided on a real or fictional setting, and I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to write about yet.  The one thing I did know was my story had to have elements of the paranormal in it.  Immediately, I thought of Ireland. 

            Ireland has always been, for me, synonymous with all things magical, supernatural, and mysterious.  The land and its people embrace their myths and legends as part of their history and culture like no other.  And because of this, Ireland is the one place on earth that seems to keep a precarious balance between reality and fantasy.

            In my internet searches, I began looking for remote Irish islands.  Just as Ireland evokes a sense of mystery for me, so too, do islands.  With being cut off from the mainland, island inhabitants evolve their own set of beliefs and lore, making their cultures unique from that of their motherlands.  My searches brought up a variety of Irish islands, all of which had their own distinctive folklore to boast of.  Upon reading the stories and traditions of Tory Island, I knew it was the perfect setting for my novel.

            The lore of Tory Island is uniquely rich, full of tales of fairies, wishes, curses, and ancient rituals.  As I read deeper into Tory’s folklore, I realized the hard part of developing my story was already done for me.  All I had to do was weave the different pieces of island lore into a single plot line, and after eleven months of twisting, turning, and adjusting, the puzzle was complete.

            No, I have never been to Tory Island, and no, I have never been to Ireland.  But, with the help of Google Earth, Facebook, and Shutterstock, I feel like I’ve gotten pretty close.  In writing Island of Tory, I spent untold hours researching the island and its history.  I studied island maps, questioned residents and tourists of Tory via Facebook, scrutinized pictures of the sites to the point of feeling like I had lived on Tory. 

            In writing, Island of Tory, I could have created an imaginary setting, but as Tory Island proves, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.  Everything I needed for a mysterious island setting was already there.  Why reinvent the wheel when one is just waiting for you to roll with it?  And in using a real place in which to set my novel, along with real events and folklore to plot my story, I place the question in the reader’s head of where to draw the line between reality and fiction.  It’s this blurring of the lines between truth and perception that adds to the story’s air of mystery that brings the reader back for more.

Collaging: Finding Your Writing Muse

            I’m often asked where I get my ideas for writing. I wish I could say, “Off the top of my head,” but that’s not true at all. I’ll admit that I am creative, but I need a little inspiration to get the artistic juices flowing. Being a very visual person, I find my muse in pictures.

            I never considered my brainstorming methods to be collaging, until I looked to see what other writers did to come up with their story ideas. When I saw that many of them used a collection of pictures, maps, scraps of fabric, and key words or phrases gathered together in a visually appealing arrangement called collage, I suddenly realized I had been unwittingly using the same writing technique.

            There is no right or wrong way to collage. Talk to ten different writers who use collage to inspire their writing, and you will get ten variations on the “correct” method. But there are some basic components all effective collages have in common. So…here is the Geither recipe for a successful writing collage:

Canvas

            First, you need a base upon which to glue your collection of images. Poster board, tri-fold display boards, cork boards, shoeboxes, manila folders, or even spiral notebooks will work. There is no right or wrong choice. You need to decide which base works best for you.

            I prefer a tri-fold display board due to the fact that it is large, freestanding, and can be folded up and tucked under the bed when not in use. I have, however, also taken the manila folder route on occasion.

Images

            Next, start collecting images. Use magazines, greeting cards, photos, old maps, clipart, or images from the internet. Gather images of people, places, and things. Try to find a variety of pictures that represent setting, characters, and mood.

            When writing my novel, Island of Tory, I visited every Tory Island website I could find. I printed copies of maps, pictures of the points of interest, and photos of local people and animals. These images gave me a good visual feel for the island and its inhabitants.  I also printed pictures of Celtic art and symbols.  This helped me develop the mysterious and foreboding mood felt throughout the book. 

Arrange

            Finally, organize your images into categories–characters, setting, and plot. This is where a tri-fold display board comes in handy, because each section can be used to display pictures relating to one of the particular categories.

            Personally, I like to keep each category separate, but some writers like to mix it up. Again, the choice is yours. Just remember, whether you fasten your images with pushpins, staples, tape, or glue, your collage is not set in stone. Change it when you need to. Add, subtract, or start over as the need arises. Remember that your collage is a tool, not a ball and chain.

Utilize

            Look at your collage before, during, and after you write. Jot notes on it. Add comments and captions. Utilize your collage as a springboard, but never feel tied to it. The purpose of a collage is to stimulate and inspire creativity and help you focus on your story.

            Though I begin every writing project with a complete collage, the collage is rarely finished before my story is done. I constantly add new pictures and words as my story develops. I was still adding pictures to my Island of Tory collage even after I signed the publishing contract. And I even sent portions of the collage to my publisher to hand on to the illustrator, so I could make sure he had a good feel for the mood of my novel.

Muse It!

            With practice, collaging can help you develop, organize, and complete any writing project. Whether it’s a short story, essay, poem, or novel, a well developed collage can be just the muse you are looking for.

Collage used for CURSING STONE

The Voices in Your Head

            Ghosts, spirit guides, mental illness?  There is any number of explanations for hearing voices.  Gift or curse, the phenomenon is very real for some, and most cultures do not consider it normal.  In his song Voices in My Head, Bruno Mars expresses the question “Is it strange I believe them again?  Voices in my head.”

            The most widely accepted theory for the cause of disembodied voices is mental illness.  Whenever someone experiences sensory perceptions outside of the norm, society chooses to label them with any number of mental disorders.  At first, the individual may be diagnosed with excessive stress.  Post-traumatic stress syndrome is a condition attributed to individuals having an adverse psychological reaction to a highly stressful event.  It is characterized by depression, anxiety, flashbacks, recurrent nightmares, and hearing or seeing things that aren’t there.  Schizophrenia is another mental illness associated with hearing voices.  A schizophrenic individual may experience hallucinations or delusions.  Schizophrenics are characterized by a loss of contact with their environment and a disintegration of personality.  For many, hearing voices equals mental incompetence.

            There are, however, those of the thought that hearing voices is the special ability to tune into beings from another plane of existence.  Some people, referred to as sensitives, claim the ability to communicate with the deceased as well as inhuman spirits such as ghosts, guides, angels, and dark entities.  The voices may sound like an echo or emerge as sudden and unexpected thoughts.  Cases have even been noted where the voices appear as block print inside an individual’s head.  Some individuals can have conversations with the voices, while others can only listen.  Electronic voice phenomenon or EVP’s are sited by many as further proof of the existence of disembodied voices.  EVP’s are said to be at a frequency unintelligible to the human ear, but may be audible to some sensitives.

            “I knew the words couldn’t be real, but the sound of their voices still rang in my ears.  I clasped my fist to my ears, blocking out the insanity trying to move in,” from the young adult fantasy novel Island of Tory.  In the book, Arella Cline is haunted by the voices of her deceased parents after she is the sole survivor of a fatal car crash.  Island of Tory is due for release by Loconeal Publishing in March 2012.

The Cursing of the HMS Wasp

            The Irish are known for their superstitious nature.  They believe in blessings as well as curses.  From avoiding black cats and ladders to making the sign of the cross to ward off evil, the Irish have a long history of believing in the power of the supernatural.  The people of Tory Island are no exception.

            Tory’s history is full of mystical stories of blessed clay, magic water fonts, secret charms, and enchanted stones.  But most people believe the tales to be nothing more than folk legends, told to explain the inexplicable and amuse the masses.  However, one tragic incident is still rumored to be the result of a true Irish curse:  the sinking of the HMS Wasp.

            In September 1884, the HMS Wasp set sail from Westport, County Mayo to collect taxes and deliver eviction notices to Inishtrahull Island off Malin Head.  She was on course between Tory and the mainland when disaster struck.  Around 3:45 am, the Wasp hit the rocks directly beneath Tory’s lighthouse and sank to the bottom of the ocean in less than half an hour.  There were only six survivors of the fifty men onboard.

            Was the lighthouse lit?  Reports are mixed.  Some say the light was on, but was purposely turned off at the critical moment the Wasp passed by Tory’s shore.  Others claim the light was never dimmed.  A Royal Navy Court Martial concluded that the HMS Wasp was lost due to a lack of care and attention (her boilers were down, she was taking a quicker but more dangerous course around the island, and junior men were at the helm while senior officers slept.)  No one was singled out for blame, and the case was closed.

            However, rumors soon began to surface, and stories of Tory’s inhabitants invoking a curse against the vessel started to circulate.  Tory was known to have a Cursing Stone called Cloch na Mallacht or Cloch Thorai.  It was believed to be linked to St. Colmcille and the pilgrimage route around the island called An Turas Mor.  On the pilgrimage, islanders would visit various holy sites on Tory.  At the conclusion of their walk, they would turn the stone upside down, a quite benevolent act.  However, a curse was said to be invoked if the walk was done in a counterclockwise direction.  Many believe the islanders used the Cursing Stone to doom the HMS Wasp for fear that Tory would be its next destination for tax collection and eviction.

            Fuel was added to the fire when the Cursing Stone went missing shortly after the night of the Wasp tragedy.  Many theories abound as to the Cursing Stone’s whereabouts.  It may have been buried locally or thrown into the sea, but all that remains today is its pedestal, Cloch Arclai, and the mystery of the sinking of the HMS Wasp.

            In my young adult fantasy novel, Island of Tory, the legend of the Cursing Stone and the sinking of the HMS Wasp are the foundation stones of the plot.  Arella Cline, an American teenager, finds herself trapped on Tory Island.  The island and its inhabitants are stuck in time because the Cursing Stone was used against the Wasp and its crew.  Arella needs to journey An Turas Mor to reverse the curse.

            Island of Tory is set to be released March 2012 by Loconeal Publishing.  Like Island of Tory on Facebook or subscribe to this site for updates.

The Magic of Irish Stones

            Since man’s earliest time, he has relied on rocks for his very existence.  Humans fashioned their first tools from stone.  They learned how to build fires for cooking, warmth, and protection by striking sparks from stone.  Stone walls were the early artists’ first canvases.  Later, great buildings and cities were constructed of stone.

            Given man’s continued dependence on rock, it is little wonder that stones would evolve into man’s earliest symbol of divinity.  At first, stones were worshipped as a manifestation of God himself.  Later, stones were considered God’s dwelling place.  Megalithic monuments were erected for sacred ceremonies all over the world.

            These ancient stone shrines remain standing as a testament to man’s belief that there is power in rock.  In Chile, massive stone statues keep watch over Easter Island.  The pyramids in Egypt tower above the sands.  At Carnac in France, rows of monoliths stand at attention over grassy fields.  And most famously, Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England reminds us that early man was industrious and clever as well as spiritual.

            But stones from Ireland have long held a mystique of their own.  Myths abound of the supernatural power of Irish rocks.  One reason for Ireland’s strong belief in stone magic could be attributed to the Celts and their religious devotion to rocks.  Ireland boasts of the greatest collection of wishing and cursing stones anywhere in the world.  The famous Blarney Stone near Cork, Ireland is a perfect example.  The legend says that those who kiss the rock will be granted the gift of gab.  Many visitors to Blarney Castle risk bending over backwards to reach the stone with their lips in the hopes that a little luck will rub off.

            Tory Island is no exception to the Irish rule.  As small as this island is, it boasts two magical stones–the Leac na Leannán or Wishing Stone and the Cloch na Mallacht or Cursing Stone.  The Wishing Stone sits at the top of Balor’s Fort.  It juts out on a cliff 100m above the Atlantic Ocean.  A wish is granted to anyone who is brave enough to climb on top of it.  Anyone lacking such courage may also be granted a wish by successively throwing three stones onto its crest.  The Cursing Stone was located at the west end of the island, but it is now mysteriously missing.  It was part of a holy pilgrimage called the An Turas Mór.  The last time the stone was seen was in 1884 when it was allegedly used to curse the English tax ship the HMS WASP and cause it to wreck on the rocks of Tory.  Now all that remains is the Cloch Arclai, the cursing stone’s pedestal.

            In my novel, Island of Tory, I use the legends of these magical rocks to weave a tale of the possible consequences of the curse on the island and its inhabitants.  I imagine that the islanders are stuck in time because of their malevolent behavior.  Because they cursed, they shall be cursed, an Irish version of karma.

            Island of Tory is due to be released by Loconeal Publishing in March 2012.

Tory Island's Wishing Stone

Tory Island Folklore: Du’n Bhaloir, Balor’s Fort

     From its craggy cliffs to its wind-beaten shores, Ireland has long exuded an aura of mystery and magic. Its culture and traditions have been forged from a unique mixture of warrior ballads, clan sagas, fairy tales, and bardic narratives. A magnificent combination of myth, legend, and historic fact embroiders the very fabric of Irish culture.

     The mystique begins with Ireland’s ancient inhabitants. The Tuatha de Danann, one of the earliest tribes of Ireland, were rumored to be a magical people. They were believed to be sorcerers of astonishing power, but their bronze weapons were no match for the iron swords of the invading Milasians. After a great battle, the Danann were driven into hiding. They fled underground and into the depths of the forests to escape all sense of time and place. Defeated but not destroyed, the Danann became known as the Daoine Sidhe Fairies and are said to secretly inhabit the Emerald Isle still to this day.

     Tory Island is one of the few places left in Ireland where the myths and legends of the Irish people are still held close. In fact, the island has quite a few of its own tales. Nemedian settlers from Scythia in modern-day Turkey are believed to have been the first people to occupy Tory. The Formorians, a tribe of sea pirates from Cartage, invaded Tory and removed the Nemedians. Conan, the conquering Formorian king, built a tower, Tu’r Ri (tower of the king) giving Tory its name.

     In the apocryphal history of Ireland, Lebor Gaba’la E’renn, the Fomorian king Balor of the Evil Eye, was a formidable ruler of Tory. A fearsome Cyclops who could kill a man dead with a single glance of his evil eye, Balor was a warlord to be reckoned with. It is said that as long as his eye remained open, no army could defeat him. And to ensure Balor’s success in battle, his men fixed ropes and pulleys to his eyelid to keep it from closing when he tired. No one could defeat Balor, no one except his own flesh and blood.

     An ancient druidic prophecy foretold that Balor would be defeated by his own grandson. In an attempt to defy destiny, Balor imprisoned his only daughter Eithne in a crystal tower high atop To’r Mo’r, the island’s highest point. He forbade all men to approach her prison.

     Three brothers of the Tuatha de Danann lived on the mainland opposite the island: Cian the chieftain, Mac Samhthann the sailor, and Gaibhadin Gabha the swordsmith. Gaibhadin owned a special cow that Balor desired for his own. Tempting fate, Balor raided the Danann settlement and stole the cow back to Tory. Pride sent Cian after Balor for revenge.

     As fortune would have it, Cian caught a glimpse of the beautiful Eithne during the raid. He fell in love instantly. With the help of Birog the Druidess, Cian disguised himself as a woman to fool Balor so that he could be with Eithne. Nine months later, Eithne gave birth to triplets. Balor was enraged. When he discovered that Cian was the father, Balor hunted him down and cut off his head. He then wrapped his three grandsons in a cloth, secured it with a thorn, and tossed the bundle into the sea. Loch Deilg, Lake Thorn, on the east end of Tory is named after the event.

     Balor’s eldest grandchild, Lu’gh was saved by Birog the Druidess, however, and grew to be a man with a vengeful heart. As chance would have it, Lu’gh happened upon Balor while he was visiting Gaibhadin’s forge. Balor was bragging about killing Cian and his sons. Not knowing that Balor was his grandfather, Lu’gh drew a burning rod of iron from his brother’s furnace and drove it through the back of Balor’s head and out through his evil eye. Balor’s blood spilled over the land, turning the hills red.

     Du’n Bhaloir, Balor’s Fort, is located on Tory Island’s eastern side, and is the highest part of the island. The fort is only accessible by crossing a long, narrow isthmus, surrounded by 90-meter high cliffs.

     The story of Balor of the Evil Eye is only one example of Tory Island’s rich collection of folklore. There are many more stories surrounding the various points of interest on the island. When writing my young adult fantasy novel, Island of Tory, I used Tory’s existing legends to create a modern day story of magic and intrigue. Balor’s Fort plays an integral part in the novel. Arella Cline, the main character, must carry a cursing stone across the isthmus to the fort as part of her quest to undo a hundred-year-old curse placed on the island and its inhabitants. In using this well known folktale as part of my story, I have given validity to the island myths while weaving a bit of magic into my own narrative.

Island of Tory is due to be released by Loconeal Publishing in March 2012.

Balor's Fort

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