Creating To Sleep with Stones

After I wrote To Charm a Killer, I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters. Michael and Estrada haunt me–they’re always whispering in my ear–and Dylan is such a sweetheart. I wanted to do a book that featured him. The Hollystone witches solve murders, so I needed a murder. And I needed a compelling reason for Estrada, the series protagonist, to want to investigate it. I’d have to go back through all my journals to see how this evolved. When I’m in the creation stage, I journal as bits and pieces emerge.

When I released To Sleep with Stones at Spring Equinox 2017, I did an online Facebook Launch. These are some of the posts, and they will explain a little more about the creation and research involved. If you’re on Facebook, you can explore my Author Page to see the original posts and commentary.

From the Facebook Launch:

To Sleep with Stones revolves around Dylan McBride. He’s an archaeology student and one of the Hollystone witches. Dylan is in Scotland when the story begins, working on a dig at Kilmartin Glen in Argyll, which is in the Inner Hebrides.Dylan has a unique gift. When he touches a stone, it reveals its secrets. Sometimes he hears voices; sometimes he sees visions.

He’d discovered this ability just up the road, in the cemetery at Kilmartin Glen, when he was thirteen years old, and laid his hand on a medieval stone slab carved with the effigy of a dead knight. The experience of that moment shocked and changed him.

Gravestones absorb aspects of a person’s soul—vivid details of their life and death. If a man was religious, the stone revealed that; similarly, if a man was sadistic or mad or cold-hearted, the stone revealed that too. Though iron plates had saved the knight from being skewered, he’d tumbled from his horse. That day in Kilmartin Glen, Dylan felt the final shudder of the man’s body as his neck broke, and it nearly knocked him senseless.

Do you think the natural landscape holds memories? Have you ever visited a place and felt something positive or negative? How do you feel at the scene of a historical disaster? In a battlefield?  In a cemetery?

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Dylan means “of the sea” in Gaelic; something that will be significant later in the story. Though he’s twenty years old, Dylan is an innocent young man who plays bagpipes with the university band. If you’ve read To Charm a Killer, you’ve met Dylan before and have some idea of his power and his innocence. In the beginning of this story, he gets into a pub scuffle with a Glasgow journalist named Alastair Steele over a very personal experience.

Dylan was born in Nova Scotia, Canada, but moved to Tarbert, Scotland to live with his grandfather when he was twelve years ago. He spent his teenage years in this quaint village in Argyll. I visited Tarbert with my friend Jackie, and just loved it. Have you visited Scotland? Do you have a favourite place there? Is it on your bucket list?

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I wanted a tangible treasure in this book. I’ve always enjoyed the Indiana Jones movies because of the artifacts he wrestles with. Then I found an old paperback by Egyptologist, Lorraine Evans called Kingdom of the Ark: The Startling Story of how the Ancient British Race is Descended from the Pharaohs. True or not; it was fascinating and stuck with me. The archaeological story in To Sleep with Stones is inspired by this book.

The night the story begins Dylan McBride is in the pub celebrating with the team. That morning, he was working with a radical Irish archaeologist named Sorcha O’Hallorhan, when she unearthed an artifact from the muddy bottom of a holy well. Turns out, it’s the broad collar of an Egyptian princess from 1350B.C., the Golden Age of the Pharoahs. It looks like the beaded collar below. To see others, check out the Met museum at http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/549199

“Aye lads.” She fondled the turquoise beads. Faience. Just like the beads that adorned the golden collar of King Tut. “I knew we’d find her.” She was Meritaten, eldest daughter of Egyptian King Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti. It was the stuff of story, and to prove it true would change the way the world viewed prehistory.

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 After they return to the camp at Kilmartin Glen, Dylan goes off alone to honour Summer Solstice by the Ballymeanoch stones. These enormous stones are visible from the A816. I was driving and almost missed them; fortunately, my friend, Jackie noticed them off in the field to our left. The stones emit energy. Have you ever seen the megaliths? Have you felt their power?

Drawn to one of the central stones in the parallel line of four, he sat on the earth, and leaned back against the cool three-thousand-year old rock. Feeling the indented cup marks against his ribs, he wondered at their significance. For thousands of years, humans had worshipped, as he did now, on this sacred landscape. Would the sun rise above a particular stone in this henge, if it was astronomically aligned as some scholars believed?

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Dylan’s endured a long exhausting day, so he decides to sleep with the stones for a wee while before sunrise. The next thing he knows, he’s being dragged from the field and the stones around Duncraigaig Cairn are weeping. Arrested and charged with murder, Dylan summons his friend in Canada, the Wicca high priest, known as Estrada.

 When they reached Dunchraigaig Cairn, Dylan saw that it was sealed off with crime scene tape and swarming with police, and he knew something dreadful had happened. The stones were weeping, tearing the air with mournful cries. Still, Craddock refused to talk, to explain what had happened, or why he was cuffed.

 An inspector appeared at last, and said it: “Dylan McBride. You are under arrest for suspicion of murder in the death of Alastair Steele.” Murder? Alastair Steele? That bastard journalist from Oban? Christ.

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One of the Hollystone witches, Estrada celebrated the solstice too. The coven employs theatrics in rituals which they perform in natural settings. Bunzten Lake, just east of Vancouver, is one of their favourite places. Estrada is a free-spirited magician by trade, who performs at Pegasus, a Vancouver goth club. At the Solstice ceremony, he plays the part of twin gods: one related to plants, the other animals.

Naked, but for a kilt of ferns, a scarf of hanging ivy, and a crown of oak leaves, he stood before the bonfire; the front of his body toasted by flames, his back prickling in the cool night air.

 

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The Green Man is a nature entity associated with the Celts. Plants are sentient beings necessary to our survival—without them we would perish. In this excellent post, Esmerelda Weatherwax discusses the history of the Green Man in the UK and offers several photographs. The Green Man also appears in literature. Have you ever read Robin Hood or Sir Gawain and the Greene Knight?

The other entity Estrada portrays is the horned god, Cernunnos. Where the Green Man symbolizes the plant world, Cernunnos symbolizes the animal world. He is the lusty hunter, who takes down meat to feed the tribe and impregnates the goddess to ensure the continuation of the tribe. Cernunnos appears as a character in this story and Sorcha develops a passion for him.

She’d traced the appearance of the horned god through a myriad of cultures, times, and locales: beginning with Pashupati from the Indus Valley, into Minoan Crete and what was once Thrace; through the Danube Valley, Northern Italy, and into Gaul; where his name and image was etched on a pillar beneath Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

 She’d even travelled to the British Museum to see the original Gundestrup Cauldron. Crafted by multiple silversmiths and gilded in gold during the Iron Age, this ritual cauldron depicts the horned god seated as a yogi. He holds a Celtic torque and a serpent in each hand, and is surrounded by lions, deer, and gryphons.

 I’m somewhat obsessed with Cernunnos myself. These things happen. You can learn more about the Gundestop Cauldron here.

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Michael Stryker manages Club Pegasus, the Vancouver goth club where Estrada performs his magic show. The two are best friends…well, more than friends. Their relationship is solid and indefinable. Michael thinks he’s the reincarnation of Lord Byron, and, though he doesn’t believe vampires exist, he’s into cosplay. He likes to dress up and pretend he’s a vampire named Mandragora.

As Michael, he was just a man, but as Mandragora, he was liberated, coveted, celebrated—a shadowy character who revelled in pleasure.

When Estrada flies off to Scotland to free Dylan from prison, Michael feels abandoned and creates his own adventure. His journey parallels Estrada’s in Scotland. This image on Deviant Art by Lee-chan (an amazing artist from Vietnam) reminds me of what Michael might have looked like had he lived in the 17th Century as a Byronic vampire.

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I hope you enjoy reading To Sleep with Stones as much as I did writing it. The research and writing took me on a wild ride. I laughed and cried with the characters, and they often did unexpected things.

Please email me with comments or questions: bluehavenpress@gmail.com

Blessings ~Wendy