Writing from the Oral Tradition: Guest Post with Clayton Callahan

There’s something special about seeing another writer hit his stride with a really great book. A couple weeks ago I finished The Spirit of Cahir Mullach by Clayton Callahan.  I loved the “voice” of this book and though I rarely (never) read books aloud, I couldn’t resist the occasional urge to don my improbable Irish accent and enjoy the sound of this tale.

Why did I “hear” this tale in my head…?

Clayton is a natural storyteller from the oral tradition. I’ll let him tell you about the inspiration for his book:

I have always had a deep fascination with history, culture, and people in general. It was that interest that led me to join a peculiar organization called the Society for Creative Anachronism when I was but a lad of seventeen. While other high school guys were perfecting their mullet (it was the 80’s), I was finishing work on my leather and chainmail armor for the upcoming tournament.

The SCA was a medieval extravaganza, complete with dancing, sword fighting, food, brews, music, and storytelling. Truth be told…I wasn’t too good at the dancing or the sword fighting. However, at storytelling, I can boast some talent. I’d pour through the public library for folk tales, mythology, and legends suitable for a fireside performance and worked hard to bring them to life before an audience of inebriated Vikings/college students.

One of the marvelous tales I discovered was The Great Mr. Berry of Cahir Tyrone. The traditional folktale is much the same as the book. However, since it blatantly takes place after the Middle Ages ended, I never was able to use it in the SCA.

Fortunately, a good tale is never forgotten, and now twenty-odd years later, I’ve given it another crack.

The Story:

The story starts in the Irish town of Baile with a fireside recounting of the time Lord Oisin defended the village against Viking raiders who attempted to abscond with his cows. As the legend goes, Oisin’s spirit still dwells within the ruins of his great castle, Cahir Mullach.

It’s now the end of the Revolutionary War in America, and thousands of redcoats return to Ireland in defeat, Michael Snodgrass among them. He marches across Ireland, a trek that takes him through Baile, where Mr. Terry plans to sell his cows, evict his tenants, and raise sheep.

Mr. Terry’s also the billetmaster, and he sends poor Michael to be quartered in the ruins of Cahir Mullach. The king’s law is clear that any subject must make welcome a soldier who holds an official billet in hand… and that includes a subject now eight hundred years dead.

My Review:

I thoroughly enjoyed this book for a whole bunch of reasons. Despite being a work of fiction, it’s well-researched and sprinkled with details that bring authenticity to both of the book’s settings – America at the end of the Revolutionary War and the rural Irish village of Baile.

The point of view is shared by a number of wonderfully rounded characters with distinct voices and personalities. Relationships feel genuine and are recognizable to anyone living in a small community where differences are dealt with peaceably and according to custom. The story has a load of warm humor amongst some darker moments. Beyond the tragedy of war, there’s minimal violence, just ordinary villagers going about their day and experiencing extraordinary events.

The main character Michael Snodgrass carries most of the story. It was interesting reading about the Revolutionary War from the point of view of an Irish redcoat who had no stake in the conflict other than to stay alive. Michael has a true heart and guileless nature that’s endearing.

What I loved best about the story, and where Callahan truly shines, is in the authentic voices of the narration and characters. I read many parts of this story aloud just to bask in the lilt of the language.

The souls of his shoes were so worn that every chunk of gravel in the road seemed to take time out of its busy day to introduce itself personally to the feet of one Corporal Snodgrass.

Granny Collins had been laying out gifts of buttered leeks, biscuits, and milk by a hole in the old castle wall for the “good folk” of the hill. And kind as the father was, she’d no intention of abusing his good graces with her less than Catholic ways. But Christian or no, it was always best to be on the good side of fairies, lest children start coming up missing in the town.

The first chapter of the book is a long one and recounts the tale of Cahir Mullach in a more stylized voice. After that, the book transitions to the “modern” 18th century and the pace picks up. The book suffered from poor editing, but that appears to have been corrected by the author.

A delightful read that I recommend to all ages, and particularly to those who love myths, legends, and tales full of personality.

***

A final note: Clayton has written across several genres. Though he writes primarily space opera, he also has a historical spy novel and non-fiction book: Armed Professions: A Writer’s Guide that I’ve referred to many times.

95 thoughts on “Writing from the Oral Tradition: Guest Post with Clayton Callahan

  1. Pleased to “meet” you, Clayton! More often than not, it was those of us playing D&D (and the like) back in the eighties — before geek culture went mainstream — that went on to be the storytellers of the new millennium! It just took thirty years for the social ostracism we endured to pay off!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the visit, Sean. I agree that gaming is connected to storytelling in a big way. Clayton is also a (I can’t remember the name for it) a RPG designer and game “master.” Writing was a natural next step combining his gaming and oral storytelling skills. Thanks for the visit, and Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good review, Diana. Clayton’s book sounds like an interesting and entertaining read. 🙂 — Suzanne

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sheron says:

    I really enjoyed this story. The characters are so vivid and the tale magical. Nice job, Clayton.

    If I have an off colored remark, it would be Puce.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post, Diana! Love that Clayton has cultivated his storytelling; there’s something so magical about listening to a good storyteller. And reading that lilt in print–yes, reading it out loud is almost a requirement just to hear the rhythm of the piece. Good luck with the book, Clayton!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Jennie says:

    Ah! Good storytelling is the best beginning to putting paper to pen. Great post, Diana

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Voice is so important for all writing . Nice share.💕

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Tina Frisco says:

    Diana, your review is so intriguing that I added the book to my TBR without giving it a second thought! Well… that I fancy myself a medieval knight might have exerted a little influence 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  8. As always, amazing post, Diana! As I mentioned many times, this type of getting-inside-an-author’s-head really fascinates me and each one is so different and unique it never feels like a repeat.
    Your intro made me laugh too, because I do that on occasion. Certain characters/passages just ask to be read aloud!
    Glad you loved it so much and that the editing was fixed 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Sophie. I wouldn’t be able to do this if I posted more reviews, but for my occasional reviews, I do enjoy having a “conversation” with the author. I love browsing around in their brains. Ha ha. I’m so glad you enjoyed this. Have a wonderful weekend. 🙂

      Like

  9. Another brilliant feature and review, Diana! I enjoyed the excerpt you shared. The book certainly promises to be a fascinating read with historical and cultural elements, and the use of language. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Greedyeats -Neha says:

    Since my very childhood I have a fascination for mythological legends. This book sounds like my cup of tea. Thanks for the recommendation! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Teri Polen says:

    After reading the excerpts, I see what you mean about needing to read it out loud. But if I tried it with an Irish accent, I’d first make sure no one was home to hear it.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I love the way you describe Clayton’s book. There’s a big difference between telling a story and being a storyteller. I often read the former and rarely the latter. This book sounds excellent BUT I have never read a space opera. I’m going to check that out. Is there one you’d recommend, Clayton, that I start with?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve read Clayton’s space operas too, Jacqui, and they’re fun. I’ll let him recommend one, but I can’t help adding my two cents. I think Crazy Liddy is a fun one. 🙂

      Like

    • claytonjcallahan says:

      Well, if you’d like to read a work by a master of science fiction, I recommend The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. The man was a master of language and it flows like sundrops across a guided sky. As for my stuff, if you like strong interpersonal tales I wrote a book called Tales of The Screaming Eagle you might enjoy.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. […] Writing from the Oral Tradition: Guest Post with Clayton Callahan […]

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Your recommendation is compelling, Diana. It is not an easy task to create characters with distinct personalities. Sounds like Clayton has done a stellar job of that, along with spinning a good tale. Loved the passage in this post. The humor came through and I’m always up for that.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. balroop2013 says:

    Sounds like a book worth reading…I trust your recommendations Diana. Thanks for sharing. Wishing great success to Clayton.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Well, I’ll definitely be reading a book of Clayton Callahan! He had me at ‘Society for Creative Anachronism’ I have been to many a revel and feast myself. Lol! But, I will also always read a book by anyone who seems passionate about their subject!

    Liked by 2 people

  17. arlene says:

    Lovely feature Diana. I love historical novels too.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. I can hear you reading it Diana! xx

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Carrie Rubin says:

    It’s always nice to learn new things while reading historical fiction. This sounds like a good one.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I don’t know why, but I have a fascination with long-ago Ireland. I think it was an old movie I saw as a child, with a beautiful young woman making friends with the fairy folk. Your review of this book brought me back to that fascination. I’m so glad you included some of the author’s writing here too, which helped me understand your love of his use of the language, and why you wanted to read it out loud. Lastly, being from USA, I always hear the stories of the American soldiers during the Revolution – it would be interesting to read an entirely different perspective.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It was a quick read and the lilt of the language was so fun, Pam. Not many fairy folk in this, but a number of ghosts. The account of Snodgrass in the American Revolution was great – poignant and pointless in terms of his impact on the war. And great details without getting bogged down. Thanks so much for stopping by to read. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • claytonjcallahan says:

      Thank you, I also have always been fascinated with my Irish ancestry. I suppose if I’d been born of Japanese descent I’d write a different book altogether. Perhaps I’ll give that a stab…after some research.

      Liked by 2 people

  21. Silent Hour says:

    It sounds interesting. I love traditional story telling.
    I think I’d also love to be in a creative anachronist group. Medieval, please!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ha ha. Me too – on both counts. I think I’d want to be an old fortune teller with a handful of knuckle bones, and a long staff with a crow perched on top. 🙂 I’ll skip getting hammered on by wooden swords. Care to share your character?

      Liked by 1 person

      • claytonjcallahan says:

        You would make a great “wise woman,” Diana. I portrayed an Irish sailor of the late middle ages. It was my excuse for being able to tell tales from other cultures.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Silent Hour says:

        I’d like to be the village’s wise woman/witch. I’d have a little cottage with a hearth where I’d brew potions. I’d know everything about plants and what they do. Of course there is always the danger of getting burned, ha ha. But if I was a village witch in Greece, there would be no such danger. I’d be needed, respected – and feared. Who needs more?
        I’d also like to be an archer. I’ll definitely try archery given the chance.
        And, finally, I’d try hawking. I read once in an article that there is a place somewhere in Germany (can’t remember where exactly) where they train hawks and people can go learn. I wouldn’t like to go actually hunting, though. But I’d love to see what it’s like to bond with this beautiful bird.

        I’m not asking for much, am I?

        Oh, and I wouldn’t mind being a lady in a royal court, and having poetry composed on my beauty and unattainability.

        Liked by 1 person

    • claytonjcallahan says:

      The Society for Creative Anachronism has chapters worldwide. If you’re into medieval culture, I highly recommend checking ’em out. After all, it’s where I met my wife!

      Liked by 2 people

  22. Mae Clair says:

    This sounds very intriguing. The story sounds great and the snippet you chose to share, coupled with your review, has me wanting to read more. I’m off to check out the Amazon link now. Best wishes to Clayton with his release!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Diana, I got a kick out of the way you described our reactions to this book. You and Clayton made this a fun joint post. Best to him with the book. Hugs all around.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Once again Diana you review in such a way that I had to hit the Amazon link to take a look. To be honest I nearly didn’t bother as the review comments on lack of editing put me off; but I took a ‘look inside’ and simply couldn’t stop reading until the words ran out … timeless story telling … and so, another book to read!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Happy New Year to you, Diana. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Lovely to meet Clayton, Diana, and learn about his book. Your review is excellent, I love historical novels.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Sounds like an awesome read! And I love it when a book makes you want to read it aloud, I do it quite often myself. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  28. claytonjcallahan says:

    Hello, Clayton Callahan here. If anybody has any questions comments or off-color remarks, I’m happy to hear them.

    Liked by 1 person

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