My book, Beyond the Door, features characters from Celtic legends that invade the lives of three quirky middle school students. The coming-of- age quest is the first installment in the Time Out of Time series and will be followed by The Telling Stone in May 2015.
Twelve-year-old Timothy Maxwell, his thirteen-year-old sister Sarah, and twelve-year-old Jessica, a school bully, are pulled into an ancient mythological battle between the Light and the Dark in which they must save themselves, each other, and the world. When a strange man collecting light and most frightening of all, a man with antlers on his head and his pack of red-eyed hounds show up in the Maxwell’s living room, the children are drawn into a quest that involves cracking a secret Ogham code, escaping the wild hunt, and attempting to outwit Balor the personification of evil from legend. When Timothy is imprisoned in Balor’s workshop, it’s his quick mind, a mechanical pencil, and Sarah’s courage that saves him. While Jessica finds that even the worst choices can be redeemed, and that we are all more than meets the eye. Characters from myth help and hinder them on their quest to defeat the Dark, find the lost treasures of the Market and claim Timothy’s true destiny as Filidh, keeper of the wisdom and the word.
The story began with a trip to Oxford England in 2009 when I discovered ancient carvings of the Greenman, a foliate head with leaves for hair and vines sprouting from his nose and mouth, in many of the churches. As I imagined the process of turning from human to tree, skin splitting to bark, vines pushing up my throat, I scribbled in my notebook. The initial scribblings became a poem which was later published in a several literary journals and anthologized. I was hooked. I needed to know more about the origin of Greenmen and more about Celtic mythology, a subject that echoed from childhood stories from my Irish ancestors. The Greenman spans cultures from India to Ireland and appears in medieval poetry. I spent months reading stories of the Wild Hunt, Taliesin and the famous Battle of the Trees.
Students are often exposed to Greek myths in middle school curriculum, but rarely learn about other mythologies. This book became a chance to tell some of those stories. I tried to stay close to the essential characteristics of the mythic characters, but I also took liberties to make them fit my story. The Telling Stone includes a mythic glossary in the back so readers can learn more.
When I discovered the ancient Ogham writing system based on the tree alphabet, I was fascinated to learn you can still find Ogham carved on stones today in the British Isles. I wanted young readers to share my fascination. Timothy discovers Ogham on an ancient map and readers can experience the discovery as they read. An Ogham font runs along the bottom pages of the book and can be decoded, giving more information about the myths.
One of my favorite moments came when I was researching Dunisnane Hill for The Telling Stone. Some sources say the famous Stone of Destiny may still be buried there. I wanted Timothy, Jessica and Sarah, to climb that mountain on their quest, but I had never been there. Google Earth was a help, but I wanted to see the trail. I wanted views from specific directions. I was searching for pictures of Dunsinane when I discovered photos taken by an avid mountain biker who lived near the hill! Andy Sweet and his site Stravaiging around Scotland came to my rescue. I emailed Andy and explained my dilemma. He biked Dunsinane and took photos of the exact views I needed. Since then, his site has expanded and become a great resource for people wanting to tour Scotland.
Code breaking doesn’t end with book I. Book II, The Telling Stone, contains an illuminated map with a hidden code for readers to solve along with Timothy, Jessica and Sarah.