Part 8: This conversation is in ten parts.
EH: It sounds like you have worked out the time line for the five books in a thoughtful and logical manner.
OD: That remains to be seen. Stories tend to have a life of their own and can sometimes take the oddest twists and turns that the writer might not have planned. But, I think a good writer will let the story reveal itself as it is told. It just works most of the time.
Now, in addition to Cael’s story—he is the bear’s son, remember, there are numerous other stories taking place or being told at the same time. As Cael has adventures with his companions he will learn other stories, background stories you might say, that will reveal more the islands’ story as well as that of other important inhabitants/characters.
These five books tell a complex and richly layered narrative. Everything is connected; nothing is really random. The characters’ decisions at any given point in the story has a direct consequence and propels the story to its logical conclusion. Or, as I am fond of saying, for every action there must be a reaction.
EH: I am dying to ask about more of the details of the story and the characters that you think are the most interesting. Any chance of getting a glimpse of these?
OD: Hmmm… Eric, that is a tough request because you’d have to know a bit of background information in order to understand why some characters are so important to the story.
I can tell you that what interests me in writing this story is the idea that most people never venture very far from where they live (for the most part). Therefore, the actual distances in Moel Eyris is fairly compact, but the terrain and the sea makes getting around difficult. Remember, too, that essentially the world of Moel Eyris is a medieval world, and on some islands downright primitive (on purpose). It can take much longer to travel a short distance than you might imagine in these islands.
The main islands are: Skrael, Noord Eyr(is), Eyr (with twelve skeelings), Hylde, the Isle of Mey, and Peedie Eyr(is) and Eynhallow—which is an ‘island within an island’. Originally, I had only wanted there to be five islands—five Initiations, five dragon eggs, five Atecotti, five companions. But, it turned out that I needed seven islands in order to make sense of the narrative and some of the islanders’ background history.
Being as obsessive-compulsive as I am, each island has its own distinct architectural style, crafts or trades that it is most famous for, and most importantly home to a specific type of islander.
Skrael, for example, is where the trows live. Their story is a sad one and this is the bleakest and most desolate island that they were driven too (over the long course of the islands’ history). Noord Eyr(is) is its closest neighbor and the inhabitants of this island are a bit different from other islanders and more accepting of the trows. The architecture on these two islands is all stone and on Skrael some of the most primitive.
Eyr is the largest island, the main island, and the locale where most of the action over the course of the story takes place. It is rugged and difficult terrain and has specific regions where particular islanders live. The best example is Mowdie; this is the Realm of the Island Bears and is separated from the Ooterlands by the Northwoods. The Ooterlands is the Realm of the Yule Bear (see Bear Noel). The Noorderlands is the domain of the skeely-wifes and Moel Weorpe is the Realm of Owlers. The four skeelings make up the far northern reaches of Eyr.
The architecture of these skeelings is primarily stone and in the case of the Island Bears, stone and wood and sometimes turf roofs.
The skeeling of Thorne is the gateway between the northern skeelings and the southern skeelings. Eynhallow and the The Fens are significant features in this midland region. Moudiewart, Moel Terre, Moolland and Moel Breeks are found in this area. The two smaller woods—The Toad and The Woad are found in this region as well.
The architecture style is stone and wood with a number of variations.
The southern skeelings are The Nedderlands, Moel Faulds, and Moel Gearde. Moolstery is, of course, located off the southern tip of Moel Gearde. Moel Faulds is the Realm of Scuppers, the mole messengers that play an important role in the story.
That leaves the three islands of Hylde (Realm of Dwarves); the Isle of Mey (Realm of Mossies and lies closest to the Realm of Faërie); and Peedie Eyr(is) (Realm of Bees).
Hylde is the least accessible and known island. The dwarves keep to themselves and are the most secretive of the islanders. Peedie Eyr(is) is famous for its bees, honey, beeswax, and thatched roofed houses. The houses are made of stone, but the roofs are whimsically thatched in tall pointed peaks.
Each island, too, has a distinctive colour about it. Peedie Eyr(is) for example is fond of and dominated by yellow. The Isle of Mey is green. Skrael and Noord Eyris are grey.
EH: You really have thought of everything in terms of these islands, haven’t you? It really is your Middle Earth with its own unique features and history.
OD: I hope so! I would have to say again that it is my twenty years of traveling in Scotland and its islands that really shaped my island world and its histories and architecture.
Now, I know you’re dying to hear about some of the characters. I’m only going to give you a quick outline with the briefest of descriptions. It’s all going to get very confusing, I’m afraid.
Let’s see, where should I start.
The first inhabitants of the islands were the dragons. And of these, three were the most important. And of the three is Cymrodorian that was the most powerful. It was this dragon that lends its name to the Cymry of Maols and the Cymrood of Skeely-wifes.
The five Atecotti came next and learned the magic and mystery from the dragons. They are the Oldest Old Ones; the Ancient Ones; they are most closely connected to the standing stones and stone circles in the islands. They give breath to the standing stones. The Atecotti are the ancestors of the trows and are living mummies, kept secret and protected by the trows. Trows are based on Neanderthals in physical appearance and strength. They speak a more archaic dialect and have their own distinctive words. I like playing with words and inventing colourful words. Trows provide the perfect opportunity to introduce an entire host of words and humor in ways that I can’t think of any other way to do.
The Cymry of Maols (Brotherhood of Mythographers) has twenty-four maols; the Penkyrdd, Maol Rudha, is the head of the order. The Cymrood of Skeely-wifes (Sisterhood of Healers and Charmers) has only nine skeely-wifes; Hennock Pyn is the Pynwyn, the head of the order at the time the story takes place. Hennock Pyn, by the way, is a trow-wife who speaks in the distinctive dialect of trows.
There are twelve moermaols and twelve maermaols. Each maol has two maolts.
Moolstery is all male. No females are ever allowed into the isolated rock settlement.
It was Maol Rudha and Skar Crombie that founded Moolstery. I even wrote their background story in a short story titled ‘The Kidnapping of the Boy with Red Hair’. Maol Rudha means ‘Red Maol’.
I suppose a lot of readers will think of maols as wizards. Maol Rudha, then, is my Merlin.
Maol Rudha and Skar Crombie (a shapeshifter) are life partners, even in death (of Skar Crombie). Skar Crombie is a bear that was granted the power of shape-shifting by the Atecotti in order to bring Maol Rudha to the islands.
Maols can be men, bears, trows, and dwarves.
Skeely-wifes can be women, bears, trow-wifes, dwarf-wifes.
There are trows and sea-trows.
There are ‘magical’ creatures that play important roles in the story: Grunka Blue Scudda is one of the most interesting sea-trows. He guards the Soul Cages that hold the souls of drowned islanders, fisherman, and sailors; The Errius, a magical diminutive fish; Murdaugh, the Protector of the Sea, a giant sea turtle (that was in Hanne’s Quest); and the Storm Hags that stir the Swelkie (giant maelstrom or whirlpool).
Throughout the story there are lively and interesting characters that Cael encounters. Two of my favorites are Miss Euphemia MacCrimmon and Miss Gertie Pines. They are Watchers who live off-island.
Watchers, Guardians, and Scuppers all play important roles. Scuppers are messengers and are most often moles, but can also be ravens, crows, or owls.
The Yule Bear is the most magical benevolent inhabitant. He brings the gifts at Yuletide to all the animals and islanders.
Eric, I have lists and lists of major and minor characters that come into the story. It would only be too confusing to try and mention them all here.