Writer's retreat

Writer's retreat

Thursday, 9 June 2011


It can be difficult to come up with an original idea when you're writing to a given theme. The subject of storm seemed to bring out everyone's darkest fears of death and destruction. I count mine as a true story from 1995, when my Oregonian friend and I were playing with the story of a Celtic healer. While Chris held a meeting in our front room, I sat in the lounge and imagined the story's finale as the thunder rolled around the garden in front of me. It was a very surreal experience.


“Come in, come in. Looks like you made it just in time.” David welcomed his two fellow Beaver leaders into the house and took them through to the front room.

“Would you like some tea?” Janet hovered in the doorway, trying to be hospitable, but wanting to keep her distance from this planning meeting for the next term. Her suggestions for ten weeks of tree projects had not gone down well. Five year old boys were not interested in trees, she was told. They needed more interesting topics to hold their attention.

David took the drinks through into the front room from the kitchen leaving Janet to occupy herself in the lounge. The children were upstairs asleep. Normally she would sit and watch television but the large screen was blank and she felt no desire to pick up her knitting needles and concentrate on yet another Thomas pattern.

Janet stared out into the darkening garden. Even with the French window wide open, there seemed to be no air. Black clouds hung low, hugging the top of the apple tree while thunder rolled in the distance. A single blackbird called an alarm from the top of the neighbour’s fir tree, but there was no sight of the other garden dwellers.

“They must all be hiding in the hedges,” Janet thought, as she caught sight of a slender forsythia branch swaying in the stillness. A robin or bluetit must have landed on it briefly before seeking shelter amongst the green hawthorn.

Sheet lightning danced across the clouds, the flashes mesmerising her. She waited, counting silently for the thunder to crash overhead. Nine seconds before the sky cracked. It was almost overhead. Sudden sounds on the concrete slabs heralded raindrops as the storm arrived, bringing with it swirling air currents which ruffled the curtains.

“Should I shut the French window?” Janet wondered, but she was tied to her chair by her terror of the storm. Her fingers gripped the armrests as her mind took her back to another time, another storm where summer rain lashed the bracken around a large stone dwelling.

It had been a disastrous year. Savage frosts burned the fruit blossom. Spring planting was difficult with many fields of seeds rotting where they were sown because of incessant rain.

“The God is angry with us,” people muttered. “No sun will shine until the land is nourished with blood. No crops and we’ll all die this winter.”

“Have you seen the Laird?” Ygraine asked, passing through the kitchen in search of her aged husband. Many decades had passed since they accepted the clan leader’s torcs. Ygraine’s once raven tresses were streaked with grey and Angus’ gleaming golden mane was now as white as snow on winter hillsides.

“I saw him walking down towards the stones before the storm broke. He took the knife with him.”

Ygraine whirled towards the speaker, a dour man with grizzled hair who was hanging pots and pans on their hooks in the wide oak beams. “What do you mean he took the knife?”

“He said it was time and you were not to worry.”

An anguished scream tore from her throat as she flung open the thick wooden door and ran out into windswept moorland.

“Angus, Angus, where are you?” but her words were lost to the thunder as she ran along the narrow track leading to the ancient stone circle. She stumbled many times in the darkness, but as she reached the brow of the hill a sudden flash of lightning lit up the fateful scene below her.

Angus was kneeling behind the altar stone, the sacrificial knife held high in front of him. His long white hair stuck to his clothes, drenched by pouring rain.

“No!” screamed Ygraine, but even as her cry echoed around the glen, she saw Angus plunge the knife into his chest and a tell-tale stain began to seep across his white shirt as he slumped forward onto the ground.

She flew down the track, throwing herself to her knees and cradling his body in her arms.

“Why you?” she sobbed, wiping the rain from his face.

“The king must give himself for the land,” he whispered. “I’m old and tired, Grainne. I want to go home. Better now, herein this sacred space, than a living death inside stone walls.”

Her sobs gave way to heart-wrenching cries as his body went limp and the spark died within his eyes. It was there they found her, their children and the rest of the clan. Tenderly they took him from her, laying his body on a horse drawn bier, their sons supporting her, their daughters arms wrapped around each other as they slowly followed along the track.

As the Laird’s blood seeped into the soil, the wind dropped. Against a departing wall of clouds the emerging sun threw a double arc of rainbows across the sky. The man leading the horse stopped at the top of the hill, the bier suddenly alive with colours.

“You’ve done enough,” he spoke to the corpse. “We’ve hope again.”

The front door slammed, dragging Janet back from her reverie.

“Storm’s gone now,” David said, closing the French window and drawing the curtains. “We managed to get everything sorted. Do you want some tea?”

Janet looked at him, wondering if the tears she felt running down her face were really there or just stray raindrops blown in through the open window. How could she tell him what she’d witnessed?

“I’ll make it,” she said getting up from her chair just as he put the light on. “It was an amazing storm.”


  1. You really are a wonderful storyteller, I enjoyed reading both this and the previous one. I love the way you weave the strands of modern life and the Otherworld together.

  2. Thanks Rowan, I'm glad you enjoyed them! I really just write about what I see, whether it's in front of me or in my head. In some ways they are both as real as each other, but thankfully the plants keep me firmly grounded in this world!

  3. Lovely combination of temporal spaces. Thank you.