21.11.11 | By: Megan Langham

Seasong

So, some time ago, Rachel suggested that I commemorate Mairead's birthday by posting a novel-excerpt written from her point of view. Mairead is the protagonist of my NaNoWriMo novel Days of Entwining, if you haven't gathered that yet, and the seventeenth of November was her birthday. Was, because I missed it. Bother my treacherous memory.

I still like this idea, however, and I've decided to go through with it even though it is a bit late. This excerpt was written about a week ago, and though it's not typical of the rest of the manuscript (being noticeably deficient in dialogue, for one thing, and rather dramatically o'erwrought for another) it is the most self-contained and reasonably sized Mairead excerpt I could find. Also it shouldn't require any extra context. And it wasn't edited, because during NaNoWriMo editing temporarily becomes the eighth deadly sin.

Have at thee.

le excerpt

Mairead had risen even earlier that morning than was her wont; earlier certainly than Rowan, who would gladly have slept until the noonday meal if he had been given a choice in the matter. Her sleep had been restful, her dreams pleasant, and now all she needed to prepare herself for the day was a sunrise walk along the shores of the sea. This walk was something of a tradition for herno, more than that, a ritualand though it was only a short way it was unutterably refreshing. Even in the winter mornings, when the winds pierced like cold knives and the very sunlight seemed frozen, Mairead merely wrapped up warmer, walked somewhat more briskly, and returned to her home in the highest of spirits.

She had never understood her fascination with the sea. It called to her like a living thing, sang to her with a voice of its own, melodious and mysterious, enchanting. She loved it in all of its moods: storm-tossed and angry, gentle and melancholy, cavorting and sunlit. Almost, too, she feared it, with a dread beyond the natural fear of a drowning death caught unawares.

"You came to us from the sea," Emma had told her from earliest childhood. When she was very young, she had imagined herself rising from the sea-foam in a oarless boat, her tiny form wrapped warm in a blanket and Rowan beside her, holding her hand. Later, of course, she knew better. She could still remember the moment when Father Aethelwald had taken her apart with Rowan and told them about their mother.

Eagerly Mairead drank in the story of a young woman, alone in the ungentle arms of the ocean, tossed by the cruel fortunes of fate who had doomed her to die with her child's first breath. It hurt with a good, tender ache. Afterwards she had tried to imagine what her mother must have been like: how her laugh must have sounded, how her touch must have felt. She had resembled Rowan in colouring, that much Mairead knewbut black hair, blue eyes, and pale skin went only so far to describe a person. Perhaps sheMaireadhad looked like her father. Like her brother she was pale, but her eyes were more often grey than blue and her hair was a rich brown tinged with redthe colour of ale in the autumn, Brother Eosa had called it, waxing poetic.

Mairead was content enough to imagine her mother and father, but the same could not be said for Rowan. Ever since the first moment of discovery he had asked question after question ("What age was my mother? Did she say what my father looked like? Did she say where they came from? In all the time before she died did she ever laugh?"); and when he had exhausted the monastery's small store of relevant knowledge he took to brooding in odd places and saying his mother's name aloud at intervals. As the years passed he gave this up, but Mairead knew him well enough to sense that he still wondered, and the wonder still hurt him.

All the same, the life Rowan led was a remarkably contented one; and though Mairead could not always say as much for herself she had to admit that she was happy. Lindisfarne did not perhaps grant her everything she longed for, but it gave her everything she needed. Sometimes she wondered what had kept Cynewulf away from the island for eight years entire before he came back. When I leave, she thought, if I leave, I will not stay in another place for long. Lindisfarne will always beckon me back.

But deep in her heart, where the foreboding rested, she knew that she would never be content with her life until she had lost it, given it up of her own accord, traded it in for a different and harder existence. And the sea called to her, restless and fevered, and the premonition of pain ached again in her soul...

8.11.11 | By: Megan Langham

Cast of Characters: Days of Entwining

Of course it's a post about Days of Entwining. What else did you expect from me during this mad month of November?

For those who are interested, the novel is coming along swimmingly (there may be a pun there, though I shall not take the trouble to discern it). In spite of on-and-off sickness, as well as sundry other time-stealers, I've managed to keep a decent word-count cushion. Of course, what really matters is that I finish the thing--but deadlines are just so incontestably helpful.

Since I am not behind, and since it has been at least a week since I last made a Post, I thought I would give you a proper introduction to my mainest characters. It isn't much, but at least you'll have an inkling of them. (Because they really are quite lovely. Even the ones who aren't.)


Mairead

Days of Entwining is Mairead's story, the both of them sea-born and wind-tossed and bright-eyed with far-fetched imaginings. Perhaps the surest thing to be said about Mairead is that she is contradictory. She has an old soul and a naive spirit, strong sensibilities and a horror of sappiness, a nature both deeply critical and painfully empathetic. Though she longs to leave the island that has sheltered her all her life, she is afraid of losing the stability it brings. Despite the love that has always surrounded her, she is too afraid of betrayal to easily give away her trust.



Cynewulf

Long years of lonely suffering have made Cynewulf what he is now: wise, wary, and fiercely protective of the people he loves. A leatherworker by trade and a poet by nature, he has given his whole heart to Lindisfarne and his life to the work of the monastery. He is Mairead's closest friend, though she does not know it yet, and it is for love of her that he makes his greatest sacrifices.

Rowan

Twins are not always alike. This is definitely the case where Rowan and Mairead are concerned: all they share (besides parents and a common birthday) is stubbornness and a similar sensitivity to the feelings of others. Rowan is kinder than Mairead and more easily led, at least before his mind is made. His propensity to trust others will one day prove dangerous to him--but for most of his life it has brought about more good than evil, because his heart is true.




Eanwin

Sweet-souled and sensible, Eanwin has repeatedly proven herself a steadying influence in Mairead's life and an all-round darling--though those who touch a tender place find fire beneath the gentleness. She is talented at quietly manipulating the people around her, deeply attuned to the beauty of nature, and slow to give her love but tenaciously loyal when once she has given it. Like Mairead she has lived all of her life in the same place, but unlike Mairead she is perfectly content to remain there. For her adventure holds no appeal.



Cathal Finn

The average person, on first meeting Cathal, would never guess at the depth hidden beneath his superficial exterior. Handsome and charming and conscious of it, he unfailingly attracts women's admiration and men's grudging jealousy. But to the eyes who look deeper (and there are few enough of these) he is both much more than the light-hearted ladies' man and much less. It is his innocent-seeming arrival at Lindisfarne that changes the course of many lives for good and for ill... and reveals to Mairead where her heart truly lies.



Abrecan

Abrecan is not merely a puffin, but an amalgamation of several puffins. (This is due to the close resemblance he shares with all of his friends and relations.) But he belongs to Mairead, such as he is, and this dubious ownership brings her great pleasure. Because she found him on a stormy evening in early autumn, she calls him after the Old English word for "storm". He appears rather vain of his good looks, but amiable when he wishes to be, and his waddling strut is perhaps the most endearing thing about him.
1.11.11 | By: Megan Langham

Beautiful People: Mairead of Lindisfarne

There will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears
Get over your hill and see what you find there
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair

—Mumford & Sons, “After The Storm”

This is a special set of Beautiful People questions: special because it is for NaNoWriMo, because it is about Mairead (who is close to my heart), and not least because it is absurdly long. All the same, it was a delight to fill out, and I hope it gives you a clearer picture of the place my heart and mind will be during the whole of November. 

1. What is your character's full name? Mairead. That’s all. Nobody living near her shares the same name, so there has never been a need to differentiate. 

2. Does her name have a special meaning? None that is apparent. In some instances “Mairead” means “child of light”, which could be significant. 

3. Does your character have a methodical or disorganised personality? Both, in a way. She thinks things through in quite an orderly fashion, but it’s the sort of orderly fashion that would look confused to anyone else. Often in her mind there’s a war going on between reason and intuition. 

4. Does she think inside herself more than she talks out loud to her friends? (More importantly, does she actually have friends?) Oh, Mairead has friends. But she’s never learned to open herself completely to them, and even when she does reveal something about herself it’s only after much deliberation. Her mind is much more divided than is good for her. 

5. Is there something she is afraid of? There are many things she is afraid of, both rational and highly unlikely. Among them are her brother’s death, trouble coming to Lindisfarne, and rats.

6. Does she write, dream, dance, sing, or photograph? She doesn’t really write—that’s more Cynewulf’s area. Dreaming, however, is as good a description of her day-to-day life as you could find. Sometimes when her spirits are unusually high she dances; and she has a lovely singing voice that she’s often called upon to use. As for photography, however, I’m afraid that’s quite out of the question. It’s difficult, you see, when cameras haven’t been invented yet. 

7. What is her favourite book (or genre of books)? Honestly, the book she loves the most would have to be the Psalms. Even if she had not been taught from a young age to revere them as part of the Scriptures, she would still have been drawn to their inexplicable combination of grinding agony and giddy mirth; the elegant phrasing of even the most heartbroken would still have touched her soul.

8. Who is her favourite author and/or someone that inspires her? Though I don’t believe she would ever admit to this, it’s Cynewulf’s writing which most moves and inspires her. 

9. Favourite flavour of ice cream? Mairead has never had ice-cream, so this question doesn’t exactly apply. If through some time-traveling anomaly she were to try it out, I expect she would like Vanilla Pecan. But that’s only a guess. 
 
10. Favourite season of the year? Each season has special charms for her, but in the end it’s spring she loves the most; early spring with misty mornings and budding blossoms and pale green grass-shoots. 
 
11. How old is she? Seventeen. 
 
13. What does she do with her spare time? When her time isn’t taken up with learning or housekeeping, she is usually to be found deep in conversation with someone, taking a walk along the seashore, or visiting Eanwin’s family at the mainland village. 
 
14. Does she see the big picture or live in the moment? Nobody lives further from the moment than Mairead; whatever is happening, at least a part of her mind is always elsewhere. 
 
15. Is she a perfectionist? Actually she’s more of an idealist, which is basically a way of saying that she’s a perfectionist who focuses on the grand scheme of things rather than the mere details. The niggling and unimportant things she can ignore, but only if they don’t have a lasting effect on the way it all looks from the sky.
 
16. What does her handwriting look like? It is slanted, narrowly spaced, and adorned with many blots. 
 
17. Favourite animal? She is quite fond of both sea otters and red squirrels, though Cynewulf dislikes them (the squirrels, not the sea otters). 

18. Does she have any pets? Not as such. She has adopted a puffin, but she generally gets him mixed up with the rest of his family, as they all look very much alike. 
 
19. Does she have any siblings? How many? Where does she fit in? She has a twin brother, Rowan. And that’s it. 
 
20. Does she have a 'life verse' and if so what is it? Not specifically, but she has always taken a special joy in the sixteenth Psalm. 
 
21. Favourite writing utensil? When she does write, which is seldom, she uses a quill pen. There really aren’t that many other options, you know!
 
22. What type of laugh does she have? A ready laugh, for sure. It’s more of a giggle unless the thing is extraordinarily funny, in which case her mirth is deep, loud, and well-nigh unstoppable.
 
23. Who is her best friend? Her closest affections are divided between her brother, her friend Eanwin from the village across the causeway, and Cynewulf. 
 
24. What is her family like? Rowan, Mairead’s twin brother, is her only natural family. He is quite a good brother as brothers go: kind, considerate, amiable. Though his stubbornness often annoys Mairead and his indecisiveness tries her patience, she loves him dearly. 
 
25. Is she a Christian, or will she eventually find Jesus? Mairead is a follower of Christ, though her faith needs much strengthening. 
 
26. Does she believe in fairies? In a manner of speaking. She believes in the Fair Folk, or the aes sidhe, who are quite different from the common conception of fairies—not nearly as nice, for one thing, and much more mysterious. 
 
27. Does she like hedgehogs? She finds their round prickliness adorable, though she rather resents the way they boldly steal grapes. 
 
28. Favourite kind of weather? Stormy weather, wind and rain. She’s not particularly fond of sunshine—a useful preference, as Northumbria doesn’t see much of it. 
 
29. Does she have a good sense of humour? Yes. Her laugh is ready, but not too much so, and her own attempts at humor are often sarcastic (not meant to sting, however, unless she is angry). 
 
30. How did she do in school, or any kind of education she might have had? At the monastery she was taught reading, writing, Latin, and ecclesiastical literature; she performed fairly well in each of these subjects, though her penmanship was never excellent (much to the dismay of the brothers who taught her). 
 
31. Any strange hobbies? That depends on one’s definition of strange. She isn’t fond of sewing or spinning; to her they’re duties rather than hobbies, less enjoyable than her studies. Gardening, however, is one of her greatest pleasures, and she likes to help Cynewulf with his leather-working. 
 
32. What kind of music does she like? The short answer to this is “every kind”. She loves the bard-songs Cynewulf plays on his harp, the ditties Eanwin sings for fun, and the shrill tones of Rowan’s piping. 
 
33. Does she like to go outside? Outside is where she spends most of her time. At any given moment she’s most likely to be either lying on the meadow outside the monastery, walking the causeway towards the village (if the tide allows), or standing on the seashore watching the waves.
 
34. Is she naturally curious? Yes. Yes, she is. 
 
35. Right, or left handed? She is right-handed. 

36. Favourite colour? Crimson and midnight blue.
 
37. Where is she from? Well, that is the question. Her mother had an Irish name and accent, but other than that there’s no clue to her birthplace. (Naturally, the answer will be revealed in due course—but I’m not going to give away everything here.)
 
38. Any enemies? Nobody of Mairead’s acquaintance hates her for herself, though naturally she doesn’t get on with some people as well as others (and even her closest friends fall out on occasion). There is one man who causes her a great deal of pain, but he bears her no personal animosity; the reasoning behind his actions is more rational than cruel.
 
39. What are her quirks? As aforementioned, she doesn’t much like sunshine—at least, not when it is prolonged—and she likes to stand in the pouring rain despite Emma’s dire predictions that she’ll catch her death. Also she stays up very late at night and wakes up early in the morning; since she does need a fair amount of sleep, though, she tends to doze off at odd times and places. 
 
40. What kinds of things get on her nerves? Insensitivity. Days that are damp but not rainy. Sudden noises. Hypocrisy. Badly-played music. Betrayal of any kind. 
 
41. Is she independent, or needs others to help out? Mairead is in the uncomfortable position of both needing people desperately and doubting them constantly. 
 
42. What is her biggest secret? That every night she dreams of a fair-haired man who says he is her lover and promises to one day meet her. She hasn’t mentioned it to Cynewulf or any of the brothers because she doesn’t think they would approve, and she’s afraid to tell Rowan because she thinks he would laugh (she’s right). The one person she has told is Eanwin, who believed her but also admitted that the idea made her feel uneasy. 
 
43. Has she ever been in love? No, she hasn’t, but she sometimes dreams of being. (Interpret that answer how you will.)
 
44. What is her comfort food? Strawberries. Even when Mairead is most upset, the promise of strawberries seldom fails to cheer her up. 
 
45. Does she play a musical instrument? She doesn’t play, no, but she can sing quite passably. 
 
46. What colour are her eyes? Hair? Her eyes are grey, darkening to blue in certain lights or moods; her hair is a rich chestnut colour, long and tangled. 
 
47. What is her favourite place to be? On the rocks at the ocean’s edge, gazing out into the pearly gray distance. 
 
48. What are some of her dreams or goals? Her dreams are simple: to marry well, to raise a family, and one day to take a ship across the sea. 
 
49. Does she enjoy sports? There aren’t any sports beside swimming and rock-climbing at Lindisfarne; Mairead mostly gets her exercise by walking around the island and racing Rowan to the village. 
 
50. What is her favourite flower or plant? The dog violet comes close to being Mairead’s favourite, but it is somewhat too pallid and gentle for her taste. It’s the rock-rose that she loves best, since it balances strength and sweetness as perfectly as possible for a flower. 
 
51. What is her biggest accomplishment? She herself would probably choose the time when she made a sturdy pair of leather boots for Rowan with scarcely any help from Cynewulf. 
 
52. What is one of her strongest childhood memories? Her earliest memory, which is also among her strongest, was of the time Rowan got swept out to sea and nearly drowned. She was four. Several times since then she has dreamed of his death; it is one of her greatest fears.
 
53. What is her favourite food? Strawberries, as aforementioned. She is also quite fond of salmon and of porridge properly salted. 
 
54. Does she believe in love at first sight? Though she’s never experienced it herself, she expects it could happen. 
 
55. What kind of home does she live in? She lives with her brother and Emma in a thatched wooden hut: all one room, divided by a fire-pit down the middle. It is large as huts go, but very difficult to keep tidy. 
 
56. What does she like to wear? During the warmer months of the year she wears a thin dress with a short over-tunic; when the winds turn sharp she adds a fur-trimmed cloak for comfort.
 
57. What would she do if she discovered she were dying? It would take some time for the truth to sink in, and then she would be devastated. 
 
58. What kind of holidays or traditions does she celebrate? She observes the traditional feast days of the Church, as well as the Christian replacements for pagan festivals, such as Easter and Twelfth Night. 
 
59. What do your other characters have to say about her? Rowan says she is moody and stubborn and hot-tempered—but she is his sister, and she is a good sister to him, and he loves her. Eanwin says she is a true friend, which is most important, and though she can be easily deceived and angered, she always means well. Cathal says she is a very pretty girl with a tongue like a whip dipped in honey and eyes you could sink a ship in. Bishop Aethelwald says she is a devout child and a clever learner, though he fears she does not apply herself as she might. Emma says she is young and good-hearted and foolish and as beloved as a daughter. Cynewulf says she is sweet in spite of her stubbornness, loyal in spite of her fears, and unutterably dear to him.
 
60. If she could change one thing in her world, what would it be? This is difficult because, though Mairead loves life, there is much about it that she would change—and no matter how many wishes she’s granted, she will never be satisfied. Paradoxical though it sounds, I think she would be all the more miserable if she had nothing to be miserable about. 
 
61. Does she have any habits, annoying or otherwise? When she’s impatient she paces, usually in circles tight enough to make whoever’s watching her dizzy. When she’s nervous she rips up whatever happens to be in her hand at the moment (this is a tic which has caused her some trouble in times past). When she’s excited she talks at a fever pitch, letting the words spill out like a waterfall and constantly interrupting herself. 
 
62. What is her backstory and how does it affect her now? To begin with, she has no idea who her true family is: her mother died after giving birth to her and her brother, in too much pain and confusion to tell the monks her story. Since then she has lived on Lindisfarne under the care of the Bishop’s wife, Emma, and the watchful guidance of the entire monastery. Sometimes she wishes she had known her parents, but she doesn’t let her lack of this knowledge haunt her unduly. Her brother is another matter, but that’s another story. 
 
63. How does she show love? When Mairead truly loves someone, she will always be there for them—no matter how inconvenient it may be for her. She takes time to listen, to encourage, and to appreciate her friends. 
 
64. How competitive is she? Not very. If she’s arguing over something that’s important to her, then she’ll do everything she can to win the argument—but it would be for the sake of her principles, not for the joy of winning. 
 
65. What does she think about when nothing else is going on? That all depends on her mood at the moment. Often she finds herself analysing her own moods, or the actions of the people she’s interacted with. Usually she finds herself worrying. Every once in a while, she stills her thoughts and lets herself take pleasure in peace. 
 
66. Does she have an accent? Well, of course. Everybody has an accent. Hers just isn’t particularly noticeable among the similar-sounding denizens of Lindisfarne. 
 
67. What is her station in life? Technically she would fall into the middle class, between the nobility and the thralls. As a member of the monastery, however, her standing is somewhat different than it would have been if she had been born on the mainland. 
 
68. What do others expect from her? From day to day she’s expected to keep up her studies at the monastery, help Emma with the running of the house, and do her share of the gardening. 
 
69. Where was she born, and when? She was born on November 17th, 721 on Lindisfarne Island. 
 
70. How does she feel about people in general? Oddly enough, she feels much more kindly towards people as an ill-defined group than towards individuals. Perhaps it is because of her fascination with ideals or merely her introverted nature that prefers to observe people from a distance before deciding whether or not to accept them. 


...so that is Mairead. I expect to learn much more about her during the course of this novel; but even these questions have taught me a good deal. 

I am thoroughly looking forward to writing this story.