Monday, June 6, 2011

Guest Post + Giveaway: Bending the Boyne by J.S. Dunn

Today I have the pleasure of having J. S. Dunn here at ATHF to discuss his latest novel Bending the Boyne, which won first place in the historical fiction, 2011 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. The author is graciously offering up a copy of Bending the Boyne to one lucky winner at the end of this post.

...And now for something completely different
By J. S. Dunn

            Anyone familiar with old Monty Python episodes will recognize the phrase above, and it applies to the novel you’ll hear about in this guest post. Bending The Boyne, set in ancient Eire at 2200 BCE, is in the vein of Jean Auel’s series. This work has no druid/esses, no time travel, no fluffy royals. What could possibly inspire a first-time author to spend ten years researching and writing such a work? The answer lies in western Europe’s oldest mythology and largest concentration of prehistoric rock art. 

       The Boyne mounds, older than the pyramids and Stonehenge, fell out of use around the end of the third millennium BCE as did megaliths along much of the north Atlantic coasts, from the Pyrenees to Brittany and into the Isles. This had nothing to do with “Celts” as that culture didn’t appear for over a thousand years in the Isles. But 21st century archaeology reveals a compelling story of change.  This is the first novel of Bronze Age Ireland to explore what may have happened. The passage mounds and their carved rocks are now acknowledged to be intricately engineered observatories for movements of sun, moon, and constellations. The challenge was, what character should center the story of the great Boyne passage mounds and how they came to be abandoned?
    Boann, a figure now described as a goddess to fit modern concepts, is associated with the river Boyne and with the white river in the sky, the Milky Way. She appears briefly in the earliest myths and then she literally disappears. Her life is sketchily set forth in fragments. She is said to have a number of husbands, and a little dog named Dabilla. Her son Aengus is strongly associated with the passage mound now called Newgrange, but in a prehistoric version of Who’s Your Daddy? The myths are not clear on just who is his father. It is clear that Boann is the mother of Aengus. In this novel she is also an apprentice learning her people’s astronomy.
    Boann’s impassioned struggle to hold on to her people’s astronomy and their values forms the central conflict in Bending The Boyne, when marauders seeking gold reach the Boyne to plunder it. She faces the choice of duty as against personal desires. Boann’s lover Cian, another sketchy figure from the earliest mythology, is banished overseas. From there he figures out how to help Boann and his people survive the incoming warriors in a profound way.
           The discord surrounding Aengus’ paternity haunts him into adulthood and leads to the shocking result when Aengus finally confronts Elcmar, the invader who married Boann for his own purposes.
          Aengus knows that “all of time is made up of night and day.” He intends to hold onto the Boyne forever, newcomers or not. Truth is stranger than fiction. To our era, the great passage inside Newgrange, over 60 feet in length, still welcomes the rays of winter solstice sunrise after more than 4,000 years. So it is that Aengus, the young son of Boann, returns at solstice to shine upon Eire. The Boyne complex in Ireland is now a UN World Heritage site that has tens of thousands of visitors annually. Perhaps the builders knew this structure could last forever.
       The huge mounds faded from the myths and were later described as elfmounds, dismissed in later centuries by those who had ample reason to act as spin doctors. The gold hidden in those mounds is not metal, it is the myths themselves and the rich heritage of Irish literature inspired by Boann and Aengus from the likes of Yeats, Synge, Joyce, Flann O’Brien, and others. The astute reader will catch echoes of these in Bending The Boyne. In addition to deconstructing the myth of Boann and her son Aengus, this novel is studded with modern celebrities, glimpses of Van Morrison, Gerry Adams, and others. The subtext is a mirror held up to notions of myth and celebrity, to beliefs and how they arise.

            This novel can be read as “archaeofiction”, a tale of a largely forgotten culture. It can also be read as political allegory, the origin of Troubles once boatloads of invaders could reach the fair isle of Eire. For readers familiar with the Irish/Welsh mythology, it brings those gods and goddesses—more human than the ephemeral Greco-Roman deities—to life, and with a wry humor. Where else could one find a healer whose name means pain, and a brawny hero who is either seasick or suffering from allergies?

            One last thing, about the precise location of gold in Ireland: that is still a secret.

[BIO info follows below]

Bending The Boyne received first place, historical fiction, 2011 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

The author resided in Ireland during the past decade to research Bending The Boyne. J.S. Dunn can be found on: or . The author has a second novel underway, set later in the Atlantic Bronze Age during another period of great change.

Book Synopsis:
Circa 2200 BCE: Changes rocking the Continent reach Eire with the dawning Bronze Age. Well before any Celts, marauders invade the island seeking copper and gold. The young astronomer Boann and the enigmatic Cian need all their wits and courage to save their people and their great Boyne mounds, when long bronze knives challenge the peaceful native starwatchers. Banished to far coasts, Cian discovers how to outwit the invaders at their own game. Tensions on Eire between new and old cultures and between Boann, Elcmar, and her son Aengus, ultimately explode. What emerges from the rubble of battle are the legends of Ireland’s beginnings in a totally new light.
Larger than myth, this tale echoes with medieval texts, and cult heroes modern and ancient. As ever, the victors will spin the myths.
This story appeals to fans of solid historical fiction, myth and fantasy, archaeo-astronomy, and Bronze Age Europe.

On to the Giveaway:
This giveaway is open to US residents only and it ends June 20th. Please follow the guidelines listed below to enter.
-Please leave a comment below stating what you enjoyed most about J.S. Dunn's guest post.
-You must be a Follower of this blog through the GFC follower in order to be entered into this giveaway.
-Please leave your name and email address in order for me to contact you if you are the winner. If an email is not listed then unfortunately you will not be entered.
+1 extra entryfor being a new follower of this blog. 
+1 extra entry each time you post this giveaway on twitter, facebook and/or on your blog leave a link in the comment section somewhere to count please.


  1. Umm, I may have already posted a comment but I am not sure if it went through because my computer glitched. If it did, sorry for the double commenting.

    I love historical fiction, escecially Celtic. Thank you for the giveaway!



  2. I am a follower on GFC. I am in awe of the author spending ten years to research this book.


  3. Oooo, this sounds great! I tweeted @teralynpilgrim

    teralynpilgrim at yahoo dot com

  4. This sounds amazing -- I'm a student of Irish archaeology and I'm overwhelmed that someone's written a research-based book on Irish history, instead of something all vaguely Celtic. (I'll definitely be reading this whether I win the giveaway or not!)

    New follower of this lovely blog, also tweeted @jenemoore - jen.e.moore(at)gmail(dot)com.