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Martin Farrell by Janni Howker (YA)

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Joined: August 2008

Martin Farrell by Janni Howker (YA)

Post by annis » Tue June 28th, 2011, 12:23 am


The Fiddler draws dark magic from his bow, wild music screeling through the night to lift the hair at the back of the neck as he calls up the ghosts of the Borders, those ancient blood-soaked lands haunted by the hoofbeats of hard-ridden horses bringing fire and death by moonlight. Listen; this is his tale, the story of Martin Farrell. And who is Martin Farrell? The starveling, motherless stepson of a “bare-shanked” Irish peat-cutter? Yes, but more, he's the unknowing seed of vengeance sown during a bitter clan feud fifteen years earlier. In her lonely tower the Widow Graham scries in her mirror, waiting with deadly patience until the last piece in her game of revenge against Old Man Armstrong grows old enough to be put into play.

Most folktales end with a wedding, Martin Farrell begins with one; an alliance between the Armstrongs and the Eliots, two of the great reiver clans - cattle and sheep raiders - of the Anglo-Scottish Borderlands. “So then. It was a fine grand ceremonious roast-swan-and-venison on the table affair, this wedding of Anne Eliot and Will Armstrong. And all the guests’ weapons stacked like a briar hedge in the rack by the door. Which isn’t to say each man didn’t have a slim knife concealed some place up his sleeve or in a boot top, even in nosegays, among the fair ladies.” Even celebration must be treated with caution in the Debateable Lands during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Just one look or word taken awry can bring down the wrath of the fearsome tyrant chieftain, Old Man Armstrong. “His beard was cinders, smoke, grey ash, like a burning of fields across a river – the sky drizzle, the mists choking. And his eyes, Old Man Armstrong’s, they were stone eyes. No colour. Maybe a bit yellow, a bit milk blue. They only ever opened one eye at a time, like the moon between clouds. He did all his watching across the Border like that.”

Lucky then that there was only one murder that wedding night; the insignificant Irishman, Farrell, tossed into the black boar’s pen, his tongue cut out as the price of offending the bride’s cousin with his loose, drunken talk. No great loss you’d think, but that it threw out Old Man Armstrong’s plans and set young Martin Farrell’s destiny into motion. Between the might of Old Man Armstrong and the schemes of the uncanny Widow Graham, what chance has an untried lad? Yet Martin has unforeseen allies, two men whose otherwordly powers make them more than they seem. With their help, maybe he can forge his own fate, one not shaped for him by the black deeds of the past.

Echoing the rhythms of the northern dialect, Janni Howker draws on the poetic tradition of the Border ballad to create an unforgettable dark ballad of her own.

She says, “It is the north, its peoples and places, which is reflected in my writing and is the source of my inspiration. There is something about the rugged beauty of the northern uplands, and the often harsh lives that have been led there, that affects me deeply.

I often work very late at night when the cottage is silent. Sometimes I feel that I am not making up the story I'm working on but listening, quietly; listening for it to be told to me. When I wrote Martin Farrell, I felt exactly as if I were taking a dictation from a ghost. I still get goose pimples when I read it”.

Illustration by Angus McBride

Some info about the Border Reivers:
Last edited by annis on Tue December 4th, 2012, 7:21 pm, edited 24 times in total.

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