What’s In A Meme?

I’m up to my eyeballs just now in essays, articles and all kinds of things. But here’s a bit of fun I couldn’t resist. My blogger friend Suzie Speaks gave me this idea with a post of hers. You type your first name and the word ‘meme’ into Google, and see what comes up. So for a laugh, I tried it. And what came up? Mainly Ryan Gosling! Result! ;)

Hey, Ryan

Hey, Ryan

Ryan then elaborates further:

Well thank you, handsome

Well thank you, handsome

Oh, and now Sean Bean’s turned up, too:

Well, quite. I make the jokes, thank you very much. Lord help you if you steal my punchline. Anyway, Ryan and Sean, what shall we do now? I have a few ideas…

Go away, hubby. I'm busy with Ryan and Sean here!

Go away, hubby. I’m busy with Ryan and Sean here!

Damn, hubby’s turned up. Better shove Ryan and Sean into the wardrobe. :D

There were a few others, but I liked these the best. Oh well, better get back to my essay now. As for the other stuff I’ve been writing, more on that soon. Have a great week everyone!

Robert Burns, Tam o’ Shanter, and Other Things…

Since today is the birthday of our famous bard, here’s a post I wrote originally for Mari Wells‘s blog. It was part of a series on Scottish Witches (read the others here), so of course Tam o’ Shanter had to feature…

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I can’t believe we’ve come to the end of this series of guest posts already. I couldn’t go without mentioning that famous son of Scotland, Robert Burns, and his epic poem, ‘Tam o’ Shanter’, written in 1791.

‘Tam o’ Shanter’ is set in Ayrshire, the area of Scotland where Burns was born and brought up. Tam is a hapless (okay, drunk) young man who comes across a coven of witches in Auld Kirk Alloway (an old kirk – surely not?), while riding home from Ayr one night. These witches are having a ceilidh, which basically means a party with music, dancing, and usually, fighting. One of them in particular catches Tam’s eye, being young and pretty – and because she’s dancing in her ‘cutty sark’, ie: short petticoat. Tam shouts words of encouragement at her from his spying place at the kirk’s window. He then gets his just desserts for this foolishness, and is chased by the witches to the bridge over the river Doon (Brig o’ Doon). As witches cannot cross running water, he escapes, but ‘Cutty Sark’ manages to pull the tail off his horse Maggie, just as she leaps across the bridge!

Moral of this tale: don’t get drunk and get distracted by ladies in short skirts. You may get more than you bargained for.

Auld Kirk Alloway

Auld Kirk Alloway

The poem is written in Scots, so can be a little hard to read for those not familiar with that language. It’s well worth a go, though. In it, Burns describes some extra-grisly trappings of a Black Mass: coffins standing open showing the dead within, and gruesome artefacts on the altar: murder weapons, and bodies of unchristened children. The Devil is also described as being present in the shape of a large black dog (he must like appearing in this form). Although at this gathering, ‘Auld Nick’ is providing the music by playing the bagpipes – a very talented dog indeed!

If you want to have a go at reading the poem, it can be found here: http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry/poems/tam-o-shanter-tale It might be handy to have a Scots dictionary open as well!

The places described in the poem are real. I’ve visited all of them. Auld Kirk Alloway is a little bit spooky. My husband has seen me cross Brig o’ Doon, so he thinks I’m not a witch (ha!) But unlike the stories in my previous posts, I can’t find any evidence that a coven did meet at this kirk, or chase any drunken young men to the bridge. It seems Burns did that writerly thing of taking facts from other places, and weaving them into a fantastic story set in his home. I’m glad he did, as it’s one of my favourite poems.

Brig o' Doon

Brig o’ Doon

In my last post, I mentioned the fact that most of the ‘witches’ executed in Scotland in the 16th and 17th centuries were probably not performing black masses and summoning the devil at all. Many of them would be what are now generally referred to as ‘Pagans’ – worshippers of the old, pre-Christian gods. I’m not going to go into Paganism and its many branches here – that would be a whole other series of posts! Suffice it to say that many of these women and men would know how to heal wounds and treat the sick using natural remedies, and possibly a chant or two – all things the authorities were very suspicious of. Others may have been gifted with ‘second sight’ – a talent particularly prevalent in the Highlands of Scotland.

Seers had to be careful in the 15 and 1600s, as their gift could be denounced by the church as being from the devil, although Highlanders generally believed second sight to be unconnected with witchcraft. This belief, however, did not help the most famous of all, the Brahan Seer. He naively told the Countess of Seaforth what her husband was really doing on a trip to Paris, ie: entertaining other ladies. If you don’t like the message, shoot the messenger. Although not tried and executed as a warlock, this did not stop the poor man being thrown into a barrel of burning tar. As his fiery end approached he accurately prophesied the fall of the house of Seaforth, and told the Countess that he would go to heaven, but she never would. So the Brahan Seer had the last word, although I don’t imagine this was much comfort as he went up in flames. Don’t tell people the truth; tell them what they want to hear – a trick most seaside clairvoyants have cottoned onto today!

I’ve really enjoyed doing this series of posts for the Witching Hour. Most of the stories have been from Central and Lowland Scotland. Talking about the Brahan Seer has made me realise how many tales of the supernatural there are from the North. So I may be back one day, with more spooky stuff from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland…

My Random Camera

I was recently asked to supply some photographs for a magazine. I was very flattered and started trawling through my collection for suitable pics (there was a theme). I was flabbergasted to discover I have over 4000 photos on my phone alone! For the more professional photographers among you, I’m sure that’s a mere drop in the ocean, but I was astounded. I was also surprised by the wide variety of things I take pics of. Basically, if I like it, I snap it.

I always use pics on my blog posts, and where possible I like to use my own. So you’ve seen images from my holidays, gigs I’ve been to, my cats (duh), spooky locations around my home…you name it. Here are a few random ones that haven’t fitted with any particular theme so far, but I found them when trawling and thought ‘I like these, let’s share them.’

I’ve also been practising using a programme that puts a watermark on photos. Thanks to my good friend Coral McCallum for reminding me of the name of the programme again. ;) (Fotor, if anyone wants to know.) And check out Coral’s blog too, for some great photos from her part of Scotland. As I don’t make my living from my pics, I haven’t put my name across the image so it can’t be used. I just thought I should start putting my name on them somewhere, as they’re going out into the big wide internet world. I respectfully ask that if you use a photograph of mine, please don’t crop my name out of it. :)

The pics are all from Scotland, taken on random walks around the places featured.

Bank Street, Stirling. Too lovely a building not to photograph.

Bank Street, Stirling. Too lovely a building not to photograph.

Stirling chimneys, taken from Stirling Castle esplanade.

Stirling chimneys, taken from Stirling Castle esplanade.

These two photos were taken during the summer, when I was waiting for a tyre to be changed on my car. I walked up the steep hill to Stirling Castle, and then promptly ruined my calorie-burning efforts by having an enormous ice-cream!

I’m amazed I actually took the above photos, as the aforementioned Coral will testify to the fact that I was suffering horribly with a cold that day.

Edinburgh Moon

Edinburgh Moon

Scott Monument, Edinburgh

Scott Monument, Edinburgh

Taken in December when hubby and I were visiting Edinburgh for the Christmas Market in Princes Street Gardens. The eerie light is actually coming from the Funfair.

Playing around with black and white for these last two. Airth is my home village, with lots of lovely walks and old markers, such as the Headless Cross. This is said to have been the Mercat Cross of High Airth, an older version of the village which was built on a slightly different site.

Hope you enjoyed this photographic wander with me! I’m sure we’ll be going on some more in future…

Hmmf, Didn’t Get A Dragon For Christmas

Pic courtesy of stuffpoint.com

Pic courtesy of stuffpoint.com

I did get lots of lovely presents for Christmas this year, but sadly still no dragon, unicorn, or even winged horse. Oh well. I’ll just have to continue writing about the ones in my head. ;)

This story featured on the BBBGals blog a few months ago, so now it gets to appear on mine. The tale follows on from my flash fiction Don’t Cheek Witches (Even If You’re A Dragon). Arith and Ellie have already acquired a few fans, who will be pleased to know that I’ve written another story about them (well, about Arith), and I have yet another partly done. So they’ll be back in the future sometime, too.

I had the song ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ as a prompt to write this story. It’s a beautiful song and Judy Garland’s voice is amazing, but funnily enough The Wizard Of Oz was never a favourite of mine – too cutesy. (I prefer the darker tone of Wicked.) It got me thinking: what if going over the rainbow wasn’t so nice? I wanted to portray the rainbow as something sinister. I’ve channelled a bit of Oz, Harry Potter, and Terry Pratchett in this fantasy piece. Its tone is quite light, but I’ve hinted that what’s on the other side of the rainbow isn’t…

Through The Rainbow

‘So,’ Arith grumbled as his tail swished out the last embers of the fire, ‘Can we go up the castle, or not?’

Ellie hid a smile behind her sleeve. ‘Yes. I promised, didn’t I? A witch doesn’t break her promises.’

Arith snorted, promptly starting another small blaze. ‘Oops!’ he said, and stamped on that to put it out.

‘I’m not sure a majestic dragon should be saying “Oops”‘, remarked Ellie. ‘Have you been playing with my little sister again?’

‘No,’ muttered Arith. He flexed his claws, to show what a majestic dragon he really was.

‘Come on, idiot,’ Ellie said affectionately. ‘We’re done with spell casting for today. Let’s go and make some mischief.’

The young witch climbed onto Arith’s back, her bare toes gripping the rough armour plating, fingers clasped round the spines on his neck. With another snort, this time of joy, the dragon took off. Their camp at the water’s edge shrunk to the size of a match head as Arith caught an updraft. Ellie looked down, her eyes squinting against the red-gold sparkle of the dragon’s scales.

The river became a silver snake winding below them, leading the way to the castle. The rainy morning had given way to a bright afternoon, and Ellie unclipped her ponytail, letting her fair hair dry in the breeze.

‘Did you cast your invisibility spell?’ Arith shouted above the whoosh of his wing beats.

‘Of course,’ Ellie replied primly. Dragons were invisible to those who didn’t have magic, but witches lived in the everyday world as well. They could be seen unless they spelled it otherwise. It wouldn’t do to be spotted whizzing through the air on the back of – nothing. In fact, it wouldn’t do to be spotted whizzing through the air full stop.

The dragons who guarded the castle – unseen by the general public, of course – were a stuck-up lot, proud of their duty and forever letting everyone know how important they were. Arith (and secretly, Ellie as well) liked to take them down a peg; challenging them to duels, reminding them that they weren’t free to roam where they wished, and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

Today, however, as they approached, all was not as it should be. At first, it appeared to be an ordinary rainbow, arching above the turrets and keep. Then, Ellie noticed that it was dropping in height, enveloping the highest towers – which shimmered, then vanished.

‘What the heck…’ began Arith, as he too saw this strange occurrence, just as Ellie shouted ‘Faster, Arith! The castle’ll be gone in a minute!’

Arith often described his witch as bossy, but this time he heard the genuine urgency in her tone, and beat his wings as fast as he could. ‘What do you mean, gone?’ he yelled.

‘That’s a doorway to another world!’ Ellie was muttering incantations between her explanations. ‘A parasite world, come to steal from ours. We have to stop it!’

‘Oh great.’ muttered Arith. ‘What about the castle warlocks? Can’t they do anything?’

‘If they haven’t already, they’re probably trapped.’ Ellie was now rolling a ball of magical energy between her palms. ‘Besides, you were the one who called them a bunch of doddering old fools.’

Arith grinned, but then frowned. Much as the castle spellcasters and their snobbish dragons annoyed him, he didn’t like the thought of anything bad happening to them.

‘Get as close as you can, but don’t touch it!’ Ellie jumped to a crouch on Arith’s back.

The dragon realised she was about to throw her spell. ‘Don’t you fall off, either,’ he warned, banking smoothly.

The rainbow had now engulfed most of the castle. It had dropped so low, Arith realised, that he could get higher than it. He glided up until he was safely above the last arc of colour, then looked down.

There was no sign of the castle. A black-edged hole in the swirling colours revealed a confused impression of fields of wild flowers and – cabbages? There was a forest, and a strange red and yellow road.

Ellie yelled ‘Keep still!’ and hurled her spell.

The ball exploded with a bewildering roar of noise. Ellie dropped flat on Arith’s back, and he didn’t need to be told twice. He rolled away from the disintegrating colours and shot off as fast as possible. Looking back, he was just in time to see the rainbow twinkle out of existence and the castle take its place, seeming none the worse for wear for its ordeal.

‘Did we do it?’ he asked, as Ellie struggled to a sitting position. He circled so they were facing the right direction.

‘Yes, thank the Goddess.’ Ellie patted his neck. ‘Great flying, gorgeous.’

Arith snorted a small flame, but Ellie knew he was pleased.

‘I suppose we better go and see if everyone’s all right,’ he said, ‘Now that we’ve saved the day.’

They landed on the roof of the Great Hall, out of the way of the tourists milling below. The general public seemed unaware that anything momentous had happened, although a few were muttering about how dark it had got for a while.

‘I wonder what they’d have done if they stepped out of the castle into a different world?’ Arith mused. ‘It looked – weird…’

Ellie shuddered. ‘Don’t even ask. I know the non-magicals are annoying, but no-one deserves to live there.’

Arith resolved to ask Ellie more about parasite worlds. It sounded like she knew the one he had seen. His little witch was a mystery to him much of the time.

An elderly warlock was hurrying toward them, followed by others, streaming like ants from the door to the roof. Robes flapped around the skinnier ones, while the fatter gentlemen puffed and panted at the rear, not accustomed to so many stairs.

‘Ellie!’ The old man exclaimed. ‘Was that you? By the time we realised what was happening, we were stuck in the dungeons!’ No longer needed to house prisoners, the dungeons were the warlocks’ usual abode.

Arith growled. ‘Where were the dragons? They’re supposed to guard the castle. Where are they now?’

‘Look!’ Ellie pointed to the nearest tower. A stone dragon sat atop it, snarling, a front paw raised with claws unsheathed.

Everyone gasped.

‘Over there!’ another warlock exclaimed. ‘And there!’ All four of the castle dragons sat atop a tower, ready to defend their abode, and each one had been turned to stone.

‘We can undo it!’ The warlocks huddled together, discussing the best way to change the dragons back. Ellie looked on, amused.

Arith head-butted her. To her surprise, he looked as though he was about to cry.

‘Is that what would have happened to me if I touched the rainbow?’ he asked.

‘Maybe. Or maybe it was some magic sent ahead to neutralise the castle’s first line of defence.’ Ellie scowled. ‘I hate parasite worlds.’

‘They’ll be able to change them back, right?’

‘Oh yes. They may be a bunch of crazy old men, but they can unpetrify someone like that.’ Ellie snapped her fingers. ‘Why, Arith,’ she teased, ‘Don’t tell me you’d miss those stuck up, snobbish…’

‘All right, all right!’ Arith glared at her, after sneakily wiping a paw over his eyes. ‘I’d have no-one to – annoy, that’s all.’

‘Come on,’ said Ellie. ‘I think we’d better come back another day.’ Sparks were beginning to fly from the warlocks’ fingertips. A few of them landed dangerously close to Arith’s tail.

‘When they set the castle on fire, we’ll come back and rescue them again,’ Arith agreed. ‘I always thought it would be one of those idiot reptiles who would do that.’ He crouched a little to make it easier for Ellie to climb onto his back once more.

‘Ellie!’ The warlock who had been first on the scene was hurrying towards them. His face, indeed his whole bald head, was rather pink. Arith paused.

‘Um…I just realised we didn’t say thank you. For dealing with the parasite world. So, thank you.’ The old man gave a beaming smile which Arith recognised at once.

Ellie beamed back.

‘You’re welcome, Grandpa.’

Goodbye To 2015

Hi folks! Hope you all survived the festive season, however you chose to celebrate it (or not celebrate it). Mine was quite low key, which suited me (and long-suffering hubby) just fine, as the second half of 2015 was rather manic. We are partying at New Year, though, so I’m gearing up for that, and trying to decide if I can brave the shops to buy a new sparkly top in the sales.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, as I think it’s just a way to put pressure on yourself and then feel extra bad when things don’t go as planned. One thing I’ve realised over the past few years is that life loves to throw curve balls at you, and sometimes you just have to go with the flow. Take 2015. Nothing much happened in the first half, apart from helping my mum move into her new bungalow, and a fun mini break to Liverpool in May. Then: bam! All at once, our plan for major house renovations came together, and we took a holiday to Turkey, including a trip to Istanbul, right in the middle of it all. When we got back, it was full steam ahead to get the renovations finished – and then my mum had a stroke and spent four weeks in hospital. She has made a pretty full recovery and is back in her wee bungalow, but that gave everyone a bit of a fright. No sooner had the house been put back together, than I started my Open University degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. I’d also joined the local Writers’ Circle in September, which I’m very much enjoying. And to cap it off, early in December I heard I’d got a promotion at work, so I’m going to be even busier in 2016. Eek!

Me studying... ;)

Me studying… ;)

I fully admit I’ve struggled a bit to keep up this blog during 2015, simply due to lack of time – and with my OU degree, the Writers’ Circle, and more of the day job in 2016, I’m certainly not going to have any extra time next year! But I DO want to keep blogging – I love the community of readers, writers and all kinds of people I’ve met through doing it. So I’m telling myself here not to mentally beat myself up, and if my blog is a little less regular than weekly or even fortnightly, that’s okay. Some of the stuff I write for the Circle or for my OU course may end up as a blog post as well, killing the proverbial two birds with one stone. ;)

In spite of my lack of time, when I look back I’m pretty pleased with my writing achievements for 2015. I’ve had short stories and articles in two magazines and one newspaper. I’ve featured on a flash fiction podcast. I’ve read some of my work at my Writers’ Circle and I think the latter has improved my skills at reading a story out loud. And I have blogged quite a bit (most of you will have noticed my shameless links to some of my posts in the second paragraph). As well as those, my top posts for 2015 were:

What Is A Kelpie, Anyway?

What Goes On Tour (WARNING: this is naughty!)

Is That Really..? Yes, it is. The Pineapple.

There you go, shameless plugging of own work over. :D How about you? What did you achieve in 2015 that you’re proud of? Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? Whatever you’re doing, have a great last few days of 2015 and a super 2016!

The Kelpies At Night

The Kelpies in silver

The Kelpies in silver

Hubby recently took part in a 5K run around Helix Park and The Kelpies. While obviously being there to support him *snort*, I mostly busied myself taking photos of these guys. I hadn’t yet visited at night, and they were every bit as spectacular as I’d imagined. While there are far more professional photos around, here are a selection of mine.

(My post Two Huge Horses And A Walk In The Park shows some daytime views of the area, and What Is A Kelpie, Anyway? explains the origin of these sculptures’ unusual name.)

Note: Duke and Baron are the names of the Clydesdale horses who were the models for the Kelpie sculptures.

I love the way Duke and the man are looking at each other!

I love the way Duke and the man are looking at each other!

The runners fly past. Duke wonders what they are doing. ;)

The runners fly past. Duke wonders what they are doing. ;)

Beautiful in blue. Goodnight, Kelpies.

Beautiful in blue. Goodnight, Kelpies.

On Recent Events: Thinking Too Much (Can Lead To Not Blogging)

Hi there folks, a friend commented the other day that I’d been very quiet recently. Online, she meant. I guess, like many others, I’ve been suffering a bit from not knowing what to say about recent events in Paris and other parts of the world. Should I say anything? Do I have something to say that others haven’t already said? I came to the conclusion that the answer to that last question was no. But it seemed frivolous to be waffling on about writing stories and what my cats were up to and all that stuff, when such terrible things were going on. So I kind of stopped saying anything about anything.

And that’s exactly playing into the hands of the terrorists. Yes, in a very small way, and I’m only one little person – but I stopped doing what I normally do. I thought it seemed wrong to keep having fun – and to be talking about it. Well, SOD THAT!

Hubby and I have always said that we won’t be put off from travelling or doing things. Hell, we were all set to still visit Tunisia in August until the tour operators stopped going altogether. We stand by that. And I’ll keep posting about cats and dragons, because that’s what I do. Others have made tributes and statements far better than I could.

So, here is a contented cat to cheer us all up. I’m off to write something spooky or sexy or scary…or maybe all three, who knows? ;)

Love to my friends all over the world.

Karen xx

Frodo reminding me of the little but important things in life

Frodo reminding me of the little but important things in life