The Queen of Mastakara – Chapter 1

Posted in Unpublished Works in Progress with tags , , , , on April 14, 2008 by craigherbertson

In which are introduced the Land of Leath, the Lady Leath and her three sons

The village of Leath was located on the wide plain of Great Leath. In summer, the plain was a golden meadow. Its unique yellow flowers spread like a vast blanket to the foothills in the north and to the south, where the flowers gave place to coarse sea-grass near the white sands of the Mouth of Leath.

The River Leath, known to the local folk as ‘The Golden River’ because of the peculiar stones of the riverbed, was cool and lazy at these seasons, but in the autumn and the spring, it would often break its banks and inundate the great plain of Leath. For that reason, and incidental defence, the houses of the scattered small villages and the small farm holds were built either on short but broad oak stilts or raised hummocks.

In winter the river was frozen. Folk would come a long way from the Manor then to compete with the staff or play curling on the broad expanse of frozen water that spread out like a sleeping mirror at the mouth of Leath. The farmers and smallholders would complain that the tourists from Manor ‘borrowed’ too much firewood from the Greater Leath forest that shrouded the Eastern bank of the Golden River all the way from the mouth to the foothills. Worse, the younger men were apt to disfigure the best oaks in search of good branches for the following winter’s weapons. Then the tourists from Manor were quick to point out that they brought business, news and gossip, small trading, poached keefer, rabbits and other game from their eastern land.

The rivalry was mainly friendly but of course, the young lads who competed in the hurling and the roustabout contest of the winter sports would occasionally lose their heads in open violence, more often than not over a pretty lass. The older folk of the rival communities were apt to criticize the violence as barbaric and then reflect with humour on the golden days of their youth and their superiority to today’s champions in both violence and vigour. What with the barbecues, the night fires and the glamour of contest the winter was made all the more bearable.

Folk often said that most of the babies born in the following summer were the result of a hurling contest or a staff fight that continued a little later into the night than the young folk expected and in that folk were mostly correct.

They could not however attribute the birth of Lady Leath’s children to a staff fight. The doings of the White Castle were above farmers’ brawls and Lady Leath herself was beyond any vulgar criticism. She had ruled the Leath estate with a hand not of iron but of lace and such fine filigree that it breathed an innocence and humility that could only command respect.

The white walls of Castle Leath were small, built as it was on the sweeping western hill just at the spur where the white cliffs began and the plain ended; but the walls were strong, compact and had never been breached by foe since the building of the White castle in the year of the Raven. In a similar vein, some of the more vulgar Leathites, those who frequented Black’s tavern, were wont to say that Lady Leath had never been breached since the disappearance of her husband, the lamented Baron Leath, who had not returned after the failed Canope expedition of the Pack war.

Lady Leath had remained inviolate, charming but distant, almost queen-like, never unfriendly but clearly touched by a great sadness. It was not a question of honour. The story of his disappearance was never fully broadcast and Baron Leath was simply never mentioned. His portraits were taken down from the cold hallways and his name, doubtful but not disgraced was buried with his spare armour and weapons in the lumber-rooms and attics. Suitors came and went but Lady Leath, a great beauty – who had once caught the eye of the king but had thrown it back unrepentant – remained as unobtainable as a portrait of Baron Leath. Eventually, it became accepted fact that she would never remarry and the local villagers ever independent in their will, became proudly defensive of the great lady. She became a myth in her own lifetime. Folk were content enough.

The baron, prior to the Pak war, was a powerful if not well liked man. It was partly under his auspices that the Canope expedition had been organised. It was no small undertaking and the part might have made him high amongst the great and wise. He might too have been completely forgotten under the indomitable chill of Lady Leath if he had not left his presence, a constant reminder in the three boys, his sons the last of whom was born without seeing his luckless father.

These boys were the great hope of Leath.

The oldest, Granville had been ten when Baron Leath had ridden out to join the young Prince at Manor. Now at the age of twenty-eight he was in the prime of life, a slim but strong young man who had eyes older than his face. He was known as a shrewd man, a man who knew the forms of life but not its content, a gambler and a drinker and a womanizer but not ruled by any of these vices which were common in any case to the Leathites, and something to respect rather than condemn. He was fond of curling and at the age of sixteen had fought a good bout or so with the staff in the winter competition. He would have won his way through to the later rounds if Lady Leath had not discovered his youthful escapade and had him recalled. The incident was remembered with fondness by local folk and he was forever known as the people’s man.

Granville’s boyhood and youth were times of great promise. There was a certain wildness and keenness about him. He was a great wanderer; forever taking trips as a boy to the Mouth of Leath, hitching rides on the fishermen’s boats to the islands, helping with the long rods, collecting birds’ eggs and hunting the fox and the hare with his favourite dog. Folk said you could hear his whistle from the strand to the Cuff, which was the farthermost island in the chain that swept out to the Southern Sea. He was a likeable young boy, lithe, fleet of foot, and full of fun. His favourite trick was to put a pin in the map and take his knife, his dog and his rod to the water nearest the pin. By the age of ten, he knew the lands of Leath as good as any poacher and the lands beyond as much as any of the traders or hunters. He knew the newts and the frogs, the songbirds and the bright fish, the deer and the red fox.

But when the Baron left, a darkness fell on him.

Granville’s youth saw a changed temperament. He was still well liked but he saw folks’ pity and his hatred of it began to dominate his open character. He smiled less, was wont to fight to prove himself. Instead of looking out beyond the Leath, he looked in to the dark places in his heart. His eyes betrayed emptiness. Lady Leath expected him to become the baron of the household and at the age of ten, he began to take on these unexpected responsibilities. It cost him his youth. He gained in power but lost in heart.

Still, some echoes of the man he might have become remained in his nature.

He loved horses, became a competent rider; he was accomplished with the sword if not brilliant and had an aptitude for the mace, a difficult and unsubtle instrument in the hands of a fool but a deadly weapon in his strong hands. In the battle of the Manor when the Pak marines had landed on the western shores of the manor under cover of darkness it was Granville and his companion, Arnot who had seen the invading forces first. They were both only thirteen but Granville had the presence of mind to wake the soldiery of the great Castle of Manor while sending Arnot to Leath. In the ensuing night battle, Granville by some chance killed the Lord Compesta with his mace when that tyrant had been edged off his horse by Arnot. The rout had been complete and the slaughter on the beach was terrible. Lord Manor had personally offered the freedom of his household to the two boys.

They never took up his offer. Arnot was wild and lawless and hated any form of authority. Granville remained in his gradually darkening world. Liked but not liking. For some reason, which only Granville knew and maybe not even he, his hatred extended mostly to his younger brother, Barrister. It was the most unlikely hatred of all.

Barrister was unlike Granville in that he was quiet and academic but like him in his physical form. He was of the same stature, middling height unlike their giant of a father. The same jet-black hair and deep blue eyes, but he was stockier and stronger, broader in the face and more powerful of leg and arm. He could never run as fast as his older brother or follow him to the hills at a perpetual trot but he had stamina and strength for wrestling and the Staff. He was less skilful though and less sure. He spent his time buried in the many volumes in the Baron’s library. Folks said he looked for the Baron there although he was less like the Baron in temperament and looks than his brothers. For himself he was content with philosophy and learned occult texts. It was the inner self he sought and that perhaps was the key to it all. His brother hated the inner self because it was a mirror of his own betrayal and maybe he hated his brother because he had the courage to look.

The youngest brother, Macool, had never seen his father. He was well beloved by the whole family but perhaps because they had seen his father, he was left more alone than anyone in the household. Macool was born a dreamer and he was allowed to dream. His dreams he kept to himself but folk noted that his deep blue eyes were looking not at the fields or the hills, the sea or the sand.

They always watched something else.

Fantasy Writing. A Set of Tips and Admonitions to the Unwise. No2/ Spelling

Posted in Fantasy Writing on April 14, 2008 by craigherbertson

Don’t give a tuppeny toss about spelling. The main thing is to write. Shakepsere couldn’t even spell his name and neither can I unless the prestidigitator hidden in my computer comes out with a suggestion. Some times the suggestion is wrong – the little magic fellow wants to change my ‘tuppeny’ to ‘tuppence’ here, but is it really worth bothering about?

Get the words on the paper as fast as you can. Just write. Spell later, after the tenth edit. Write! Write! Write!

Fantasy Writing. A Set of Tips and Admonitions to the Unwise. No 1/ Time and Place

Posted in Fantasy Writing with tags , , , , on April 14, 2008 by craigherbertson

I don’t assume to be a great writer. I thought though that I might share some of the experiences I’ve had in writing as it might be of help to others. The most help you are likely to get from me is motivation. I am only writing this short piece to motivate myself to write something more edible. What follows is mostly a series of don’ts learned through bitter experience and a couple of ‘wow, that workeds’.

Everyone says set aside time. I’ve read this myself so many times I keep thinking if I stopped reading it I’d have time to write. Ideally, if you are busy, you should plan to get up that extra hour early. Try to write for two hours straight before breakfast. Or set aside an hour in the evening when the kids have gone to bed. Protect it like a favourite child. Don’t plead; boss everyone around. ‘This is my writing time! Didn’t you listen yesterday. We can do that later. Leave me alone’.

Now comes the confession. I never do any of this, I write on the spur of the moment in between making more coffee, staring out of the window, wishing I’d won the lottery. I’m even writing this because I can’t face the next chapter of the novel.

Don’t despair. There is hope. I discovered a cure: Change of setting.

Easiest thing is to take your laptop – or better still your pen and paper and go to a cafe. If the weather is nice sit outside on a bench. You are stuck there. No way out. In the middle of nowhere. No excuse to make coffee, no family bothering you. The air invigorates your lungs. Writing starts.

Make sure you don’t take a novel with you. The essence is utter boredom with no escape. The beauty of this method is that if you are stopped at some point – say an old friend passes and starts to talk. You put the pen down with an indulgent smile. He twigs –

‘What’s that?’ he says, feigning interest.

‘Oh nothing,’ you reply with a cerebral glance at the four inarticulate sentences you have spilled on to the page.

‘Oh, that!’ Look of wry humility. ‘Well…the new novel.’

See, already you are a writer.

Second Black Book of Horror

Posted in Tales of Horror with tags , , , , , , , on April 11, 2008 by craigherbertson

Charles Black unleashes some more late night reading for those who prefer nightmares to dreams. This collection includes my first story in a paperback horror anthology since 1989.

I have a story in this collection but I’m happy to admit that in all honesty mine felt like the runt of the litter.

I haven’t read any horror book in a while that gripped me so much from the start. The stories seem to have an uncanny balance with each other while being very different.

Rog Pile’s ‘The Pit’ was a special favourite, evoking something sinister and deep, with an almost indescribable overtone of pathos. I was profoundly stuck by David Sutton’s ‘Amygdala’, which offers an image that will rest for a long and uneasy time in my head.

Having said this I have a strong feeling that I am going to immediately reread The Second Black Book of Horror and reveal that the preceding stories were not quite up to the ones I left out.

This little gem puts paid to the ‘their first album was great but the second one was duff’ theory.

‘The sheer quality of the writings within stand on their own merit, with nothing but the gloriously nasty Pan-style back cover blurbs to distract one from the true pleasure of the anthology – the stories.’


The Second Black Book of Horror – Charles Black (editor) Mortbury Press 2008

Black Glass – Gary McMahon
Amygdala – David A. Sutton
Now and Forever More – David A. Riley
The Cold Harvest – Steve Goodwin
On the Couch – Craig Herbertson
All Under Hatches Stow\’d – Mike Chinn
The Crimson Picture -Daniel McGachey
Squabble – D. F. Lewis
The Eye in the Mirror – Eddy C. Bertin
The Meal – Julia Lufford
In Sickness And… – John L. Probert
Onion – L. H. Maynard & M. P. N. Sims
The Pit – Rog Pile

The Second Black Book of Horror edited by Charles Black. Mortbury Press paperback, 200 pages. Retail price is £7-00. Available from various online outlets, including Amazon UK

The Black Book of Horror

Posted in Tales of Horror with tags , , , , , on April 4, 2008 by craigherbertson

Horrified there are not more collections like this.

If you remember the old Pan Books of Horror and you liked them you will like this more. The reason: there are echoes of the old masters, (in fact there are some old masters, notabley David A. Riley with his chilling LOCK-IN – told with all the macabre inuendo of P.K. Dick.) – But also horror has moved in time, become more surreal and fuller in metaphor and image. At times these stories move with a Daliesque brush stroke, chilling, overlit and very scary.

Difficult to pick a favourite from this bunch. I might go for “Regina vs. Zoskia” which seems Ballardian in its style but more menacing. Gary Fry’s creepy zombie-love tale “The Older Man” still gives me the shivers or perhaps “Cords” by Roger B. Pile…but it would be churlish to pick a best amongst so much good stuff.

If you like your nights dark, buy it.The Black Book of Horror – Charles Black (editor) Mortbury Press 2007

CROWS – Frank Nicholas
REGINA vs. ZOSKIA – Mark Samuels
POWER – Steve Goodwin
CORDS – Roger B. Pile
SIZE MATTERS – John L. Probert
SPARE RIB: A ROMANCE – John Kenneth Dunham
LOCK-IN – David A. Riley
“SHALT THOU KNOW MY NAME?” – Daniel McGachey

Cover by Paul Mudie

ISBN 978-0-9556061-0-6

Sonne, One of a Dying Breed

Posted in Good Places to go on April 2, 2008 by craigherbertson

Two rooms. The first with a small bar, kicker (table football) darts and a wooden floor. The second, an old out-of-tune piano, a ceiling with signatures and a small dilapidated stage. Go to the toilets and on the way there are posters on the wall advertising music, mostly Irish folk.

This club has seen many of the great names of Scottish and Irish Folk and will hopefully see many more. It’s going to see me on Friday and I will be looking up at the ceiling at some of the crabbed signatures and quips from the legends.

Still runs a session, now quite hard to find in Germany.

Cherish these places.


Shamrockstr. 121
44623 Herne, Germany
+49 2323 52673

Murphie’s Law, Savannah, GA

Posted in USA Tour 2008 with tags , , on March 20, 2008 by craigherbertson

As the music festival begins in earnest the Savannah Morning News reveals that Murphies Law, scene of our musical endevours was tipped as the bar of the week.It’s pleasant to think we contributed to that atmosphere and will again on Friday as we play our last gig.

Next morning its up for a last visit to Randy Wood’s place to ogle at the guitars. I can’t touch any of them as they kind of itch at the soul for years afterwards. Then its goodbye Savannah. …

The word oggle is probably related to the German word äugeln, which means ‘to eye,’ from Auge or ‘eye’

Storm in a Beer Glass

Posted in USA Tour 2008 with tags , , , on March 17, 2008 by craigherbertson

Murphy’s Law 5-00 o’ clock; we arrived with some Martin guitars and a dobro. Shelley is outside chatting to the customers about the storm. 

The storm occured late on in the evening when everyone was in bed. On Wilmington Island we heard its effects, at first advertised by a siren. Miles got up and we headed off in the car to both pick up the radio news and see if they intended to evacuate. The automated news reader revealed that the eye of the storm was ten miles off and that it would be over in about 20 minutes. Thank God for beer which can get you through most national disasters.

The stage in Murphy’s is large enough to accomodate two flea circuses (is it circi, circuminem?) Fortunately, three musicians are used to making do and to be fair, Chris had left us with a good mixer and some in house speakers, which saved a lot of back breaking work. When first looking at a stage, it always appears larger than you need. That’s because the mind can’t visualise the leads, wires monitor boxes, microphone stands, drunks and pint glasses that are going to be up there with you.

Americans are keen about music. They offer a lot of encouragement and will wait for you to start playing  before they request ’The Unicorn’ written by Shel Silverstein and popularised by the Irish Rovers n the 1960’s. Although the song doesn’t mention leprechauns, or Ireland, or indeed Guinness, it does have a unicorn, which is both a magical creation and ends in the sound,’ orn’. It also has references to God, and the band has ’Irish’ in the name of the band.

I have come through these somewhat bewildering perambulations to explain why Americans will confront a band playing traditional music on Pat’s Night, with the request ‘can you play ’The Unicorn?’

We managed to avoid it last night. Instead we stuck to a set from ’Bonnie Ship the Diamond’ to ‘The Irish Rover’ (Any irony there?)

The evening was progressing nicely. Shelley would have been pleased to see the place fill up. Perhaps more pleased when a bunch of Irish men came in and turned out to be the nicest fellows. They sang loudly and in tune, drank several beer wagons and generally enjoyed and created the craic.

At one point we persuaded Donal from Galway (the kind of man who buys you a drink before being persuaded to get on stage) to sing Caledonia by Dougie Mclean. This was a fair exchange, an Irish man singing a Scots song in opposition to two Americans and a Scot singing Galway Shawl for him.

Sand Gnats. Evidence, perhaps not of God but certainly the Devil.

Posted in USA Tour 2008 with tags , , , on March 15, 2008 by craigherbertson

Mosquitoes or Midges. Evidence, perhaps not of God but certainly the Devil.

Many Scotsmen came to Savannah. Life must have been very different for them except in one respect. The local sand gnat is the only thing that comes close to approaching the terror induced, like stories of the bogeyman to children: The terror of the midge.

For a creature not much bigger than a pinhead, the midge’s sheer contribution to the volume of humanity’s suffering would exceed a couple of eternities in Dante’s inferno. In small Scottish pubs, large muscular men will stare darkly at their pints and shake their heads before embarking on harrowing descriptions of ‘the night they camped out and found a hole in the tent’ or ‘The time I walked shirtless by the burn.’

As one American remarked ‘come prepared to do battle’

Once, on the isle of South Uist, I asked a local man if the islanders had an effective remedy for midges. He replied. ‘Yes, we stay indoors’. Savannah is the only place where I would consider applying the same remedy

Wiley’s, Savannah, Georgia

Posted in USA Tour 2008 with tags , on March 13, 2008 by craigherbertson

It’s one in the morning. Flushed with bourbon, buds, Guinness and music we take the big American truck back through the Savannah swamplands. The great thing about being a musician is the opportunity to meet other musicians.

For over five years Wiley’s place has been offering the kind of oasis in the desert that a thirsty musician yearns for. Here instruments line the walls, next to Wiley’s paintings, the history books and the vast workshop where among other things, Wiley seems to have constructed a house that Aristotle would have bent the head to in approval.

Morgan switched between Bass and guitar, Miles injured on his band-saw (where he was touching up his own self made house) gave a try on the dobro (Originally coined by the Dopyera brothers) while Wiley moved between bodrhan and guitar. Everyone here can produce a fair noise on a number of instruments; everyone is capable of producing these magical moments that spin across the universe. One hopes the universe is listening.

The big kick this time was the discovery that Miles injury produces a Dobro sound that seems to belong to ‘celtic’ music. We have to record that sound.