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  1. painting - kes_by_ruth_coulson

    This is amusing, said the dog when asked to guard a container of cheese - Oromo proverb.

    This is Kes, my bitza. I'm sure she is smiling, and thinking of cheese.

    It’s four-thirty am GMT. Sleep? What’s sleep? My mind is bursting with thoughts that strain at my heavily-pregnant imagination. My novel is getting swollen ankles, and feeling bloated, as if the ending will never come. All  manner of perceived problems lie ahead before I can deliver my story to a waiting midwife.

    I spent most of yesterday producing a book trailer for The Silence of the Stones. It’s my first attempt at anything of this nature, so I’m quite pleased with the result, though I expect it could be better. Anyway, for what it’s worth, you can see it at Maybe you’ll let me know what you think, and how I could improve it. I did rather like the ‘spooky’ music, though.

    I imagined re-writing Destiny would be a faster process than starting a new story from scratch, but it isn’t proving so, at least not in these early stages. Kiya and Raphel are very different from my original characters and, having researched the religion and culture of the Berber and Oromo peoples, even though the story is fictional and not set in the present time or the present geographical homelands of the Oromo, the history of these separate peoples must be researched, and merged and blended believably.

    Take religion, for example: the Berber are mainly Muslim and the Oromo have been influenced by Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Greek orthodoxy and other religions preached by various ‘invading’ cultures, not that that has stopped a re-emergence of their beliefs in their own god Waqqa, who lives in the sky. The Berber lay their dead to face Mecca. In Oromo culture, grass is spread on the graves so, when Raphel is faced with laying out the dead at Saanqaa Riqicha, he adopts both practices, he being an amalgam of those cultures.

    It’s this attention to detail that takes time, two lines of writing can take hours of research, but ultimately creates a believable fictional culture and scenario with rounded, believable characters.

    Alaric’s culture will prove even more difficult, in some respects, as it is a wholly fictional culture, imagined from a throwing together of a wide range of different races from the Northern hemisphere. I suppose I was partly influenced by the accepted image of the Vikings as a warlike people: fair, tall, broad, strong, argumentative but loyal to their leader. Certainly, I imagine Alaric as being of Scandinavian descent, and I mean no disrespect to Scandinavians here, but he had to come from somewhere. He is a man with no conscience and little imagination.

    Velik, the Northmen’s leader, oddly, I see as tall, slim and dark, apart from his people and yet wielding a power over them. Only now, do I realise he’s a kind of Hitler figure, and every generation has one. Someone who is no greater than any other man, but is a ‘come the moment, come the man’ figure: someone who inspires his people, ultimately not necessarily in a good way, and is supported by them, but a Genghis Khan figure rather than a Martin Luther King one. We should never forget that it is the people who allow these monsters to run riot, but that taking the first stand against a figure who is powerful in the people’s imagination takes more courage than the average person contains. Velik trusting Alaric with Kiya was like trusting a dog to guard cheese but that is his mistake, and Alaric’s, not mine.

    If you can imagine the peoples of the north moving south looking for new territory, and the peoples of the south moving north… the immovable and the irresistible... the ensuing conflict over land becomes easier to understand. Anyway, here beginneth Chapter Two and, again, apologies for the delay.


    This is amusing, said the dog, when asked to guard a container of cheese. – Oromo proverb.


    Chapter Two


    The stench of burning filled Kiya’s lungs. Her arm clutched in Alaric’s huge hand, she stumbled after him across the flat space in the centre of the village. Bodies littered the ground and the number of dead Northmen attested to the fight the men of the village had put up. Every male body was Raphel. Every dead woman was Genet or their mother. Every tiny body was Jalene. Too many, she recognized as much-loved friends. Wind-dried tears stiffened her cheeks: she was numb with grief.

    Some of the stone-roofed houses built higher into the hillside, still stood undamaged, but Alaric dragged her towards one of the only thatched houses left standing. It was the home she’d built with Raphel from stone and sun-dried mud… they’d cut branches for the roof timbers and gathered reeds from the lake lower down the valley. Her heart hammered in her chest as she entered the low room. Jalene’s cot was empty. Raphel was not here.

    She swung to face him. ‘Where are my husband and child?’

    ‘Dead.’ He flung her onto the bed and ripped open the fastenings of her traveling clothes. He hesitated, as if considering her fate, and she clutched her clothing around her, watching his face. If she could reach the gutting knife, she’d slit him from throat to belly like a fish. As her muscles tensed to move, he threw her back again. ‘Velik gave no orders other than to bring you with us, safe and well. If you are The Gift… or if you are not…’ He appeared to come to a decision. ‘You may die on the way, being so small and weakly, and it would be a shame to waste the spoils of war. I am The Chosen. You are mine by right. I shall enjoy breaking you.’

    She had no chance of escape, no hope of reasoning with him: no hope. Why give him the pleasure of a conquest? ‘If you leave me alive, I promise I will kill you. You’ll be forever watching your back.’

    He took her in her and Raphel’s bed, the bed where they had loved and where Jalene had been born. His manhood ripped her small body, his weight crushed her, and the stench of his rancid skin made her retch, but she uttered no sound and made no movement. He’d wanted a conquest to brag about, to massage his male ego: although he shook her and hit her, all she gave him was the passion and fight of a limp, dead fish. He stared at her, as if he didn’t understand her, and then got up and went outside.

    She rolled onto her side and carefully, holding onto chairs, made it across the room to the rack where the knives hung. She took down the gutting knife with her good hand and returned to her bed. Hiding the knife beneath the bedclothes, she curled into a ball, held her stomach with her hands and let her tears fall. Everyone she loved was gone. ‘Atete, take me. Waqqa take me. Make me spirit. Give me back to those I love.’ She lay awake for a long time, waiting for Alaric to return and take her again, or kill her, but he didn’t come. Finally, the pain subsided and she fell into an exhausted sleep where Jalene was roasted on a spit and eaten, while Alaric laughed.

  2. blog image rise early

    Image courtesy of satit_srihin at

    It is said that to rise early will not help escape God. - Oromo proverb.

    I knew what I was going to write about until I sat down to type. Pregnancy, in the literary sense, has addled my brian. I think I mean brain.  I suspect it had to do with realising what’s important in life. I had a brain scan a couple of weeks ago and have been waiting for the results somewhat nervously: life on hold. I had the all clear, which is a huge relief and feel life beginning again. It isn’t the first time I’ve been in this position, and I’m sure many of you have faced, or are facing, the same thing… staring death in face, or the death of someone close.

    It does focus you on what is not important in life. Things you may have quibbled over, or moaned about, when you were happily well are not given a thought. One aspect my novels have in common is that they’ve helped me see what is important. The Silence of the Stones deals with the loss of a child, missing and never found. I can’t think of anything worse than that, so why would I even think of complaining about toothache?

    Touching the Wire deals with the holocaust and two medics trying to save women and children, the old and sick, from being herded to their deaths like cattle to an abattoir: having to make life and death choices. My mind frequently refuses to even think about it, and yet I forced it to, to bring Walt and Miriam’s story, the story of every man, woman and child sent to Nazi death camps, to a wider audience and a new generation. Did I say I couldn’t think of anything worse than losing a child? Living with the guilt of being responsible for its death?

    Destiny also has its horrors. It’s a story that makes me realise how small and insignificant I and my worries are, and how sorely we under-estimate the power of nature, to rid itself of the scourge that is man. I’m not religious, but ancient man worshipped sun gods or the god of thunder, and goddesses of water, tree and moon. It seems to me that we can’t rise early enough to escape God.

    Excerpt 5

    Moti wagged a cautionary finger. ‘It is said that to rise early will not help escape God.

    ‘Our persecutors waged war upon us, and Waqqa stopped sending them rain, and the lands around our homeland burned to dust under the hot sun, and their cattle died and man went hungry. And Waqqa sent them pestilence, and floods from the sea to drown their fertile plains, and then he sent famine.

    ‘So they coveted our land and our cattle and our water, and wanted it for themselves, and in their arrogance they took what they wanted and the people of Boorana, who held nagaa Boorana, the peace of the Boorana, above all else, were pushed closer and closer to the vast desert that bordered these lands.

    ‘It is said most of mankind was on the move at that time, trying to escape the rising water. Many of our people travelled west in search of new homes and vanished from our knowledge. And some went south and almost certainly perished. And some, our forefathers amongst them, travelled north driving their herds of goats and their huge Boran cattle before them. They followed the great river looking for somewhere to settle, but always they were turned away for every acre of fertile land was fiercely defended, and they were pushed ever closer to the Great Sahara.’

    The tallow lamp guttered: dark fingers fled from the crevices and the ring of light faded. Moti paused and indicated that he should light fresh candles. He forced aching bones to fetch some from the rock shelf and lit them. The ring of light grew again steadily, throwing the fingers of shadow dancing across the walls as Moti continued.

    ‘Many died on that journey of hunger and thirst, for there was no rain for forty days and forty nights. The old and the very young suffered first. Then the Boran cattle began dying and then the goats. Some of our people turned back and took their cattle and goats with them, but most fell by the wayside and their bleached bones lie scattered in the Great Sahara. A small knot of our men and women pushed on, skirting the great desert for some two thousand miles. When the last of the nanny goats and cows had suckled their young for the final time, our forefathers carried two fine bull calves and two heifer calves, and two nanny kids and two billy kids on their backs. And the meat and blood of their faithful cattle and goats sustained them, and for this we give thanks. This way they came finally to the foothills of Idraren Draren, which is Berber for Mountains of Mountains, and came at last to the high place we now call Guddaa Mana.

    ‘The people who lived here greeted our people warily. It is told that Birmajii, who had been Abbaa Seera, the memoriser of the laws of his village, put down the two fine bull calves in front of the strangers, and indicated that the other men should also give up the two nanny-goat kids, while he kept the two heifer calves and the billy kids. In this way he showed the strangers that we had something to share with them, and that without co-operation none would benefit.

    ‘Seeing that we came in peace and brought a fine strain of cattle and goats that we gave readily, and that we were not many, we were given a small piece of land, by the river that falls down from the mountains, where we could build our houses. And we lived in peace with ourselves, and the animals, and the land, for that is to have the blessings of Waqqa. But that was many fathers of fathers ago, and now our cultures and our bloods have merged and we speak a common language native to none, but which all can understand, though we keep some of our Oromo words and our god and our stories, for to remember the past is to remember the future.’

    Moti looked at Abe and raised a brief smile. The children were asleep.

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