The Lyre Dancers is the third and final volume of the Stone Stories, my historical novel trilogy from the Iron Age, published by Saraband books. Get your signed copy here.
Set in 320 BC, the Stone Stories trilogy takes as its trigger the journey of a real explorer and scientist, Pytheas of Massalia, who made an epic voyage of discovery from the Greek empire: he was the first Mediterranean person to circumnavigate and map the island of Alba (Britain). The trilogy imagines the world that he encountered as he travelled up into what is now Scotland, particularly through the eyes of a young woman whose life becomes embroiled with Pytheas' journey when she is enslaved by a trader with whom Pytheas is travelling.
The new, final volume begins 15 years after the second volume ends and it brings back many of the characters familiar from the first volume. Rian is now a mother and after many years living in the south of Alba she has decided to return to Assynt with Soyea, the daughter she had by Pytheas. The broch at Clachtoll, the home she grew up in, is the only place she can go to find out who she really is, but Bael lives there now and from the obnoxious child he was, he has grown into a dangerous man. Ussa, the trader who enslaved her, is also still a threat. But Rian is a survivor, and she needs to achieve freedom from slavery, which can only happen if she can find out the story of her own origins.
Some comments from readers:
- ‘Such a wonderful tale. I love the way you paint the characters and it is so good to watch them grow in the books. It was a very hopeful ending, lovely for these times, thank you so much.’
- ‘How much I enjoyed it! Thank you.’
- ‘Excellent writing and an engrossing and believable story.’
- ‘I loved The Lyre Dancers. It has such a strong resonance of place, history and myth.’
- ‘It gave me goosebumps.’
- ‘I loved it and the whole trilogy.’
- ‘Absolutely loved it. Was completely immersed in the time and folklore and loved Rian's character.’
- ‘I am bereft having finished The Lyre Dancers yesterday. I loved it and the whole trilogy. I easily immerse myself into the landscape and seascape of the trilogy.’
- ‘Your trilogy is a portal for me. It has re-ignited my curiosity regarding that time in our world.’
- ‘The setting of this iron age community is described with such authenticity...the food, the customs, the sea travel. I felt I was in this world.’
- ‘I would say this is my favourite out of the three books. The development of the characters is outstanding as is the relationship interplay between them. I especially enjoyed the delicate way that the different personalities of Rian and her daughters emerged often through their conversations and thoughts.’
- ‘Writing which lingers, which (in my book) is the highest compliment I can give.
The Amber Seeker is the second volume of the Stone Stories. The Amber Seeker explores the great journey from Pytheas' own point of view, from his departure from Massalia, through his adventures around the west and north of Britain, up into the Arctic and across to the Baltic. It takes the form of a letter that Pytheas is writing. He thinks 'the epistle of Pytheas' has a ring to it, but in fact it is a kind of confessional statement that gives both a blow-by-blow account of his adventures and also his own thoughts, feelings and explanations for his actions.
There can be no doubt that there were great differences between the culture Pytheas came from - the patriarchal Greek empire - and the cultures he encountered on the shores of the Atlantic ocean and the Baltic sea, and therefore his interpretation differs of some of the events presented from a different perspective in the first volume.
The reviewers have been enjoying it. Alan Massie said in the Scotsman, ‘Marries great storytelling and convincing research … enthralling.’ Alastair Mabbott in the Sunday Herald, said, ‘Haggith’s woman’s-eye view of the Iron Age feels fresh and distinctive.’ The Dundee Courier review said, ‘Compelling … The story is visceral and visual, crafted with a lyrical prose.’
It was the Editor’s Choice in the Historical Novels Review: ‘A gripping, haunting and, at times, visceral novel… Lyrical and poetic prose, the author has created a convincing and entirely believable world… One of the best books I have read so far this
year,’ said Penny Ingham,
I hope those who enjoyed The Walrus Mutterer will find much to interest them in Pytheas' own account of events. If you would like a signed copy, you can order a copy here.
The first volume of the trilogy was called The Walrus Mutterer. The novel begins as Pytheas makes landfall on the Scottish coast, here in what is now Assynt, Sutherland. From this starting point, I have woven a tale that delves deep into the little-known Celtic world of that era, through the eyes of a young woman, Rian.
The novel was inspired by the archaeological excavation of the Iron Age broch at Clachtoll, which has revealed that when Pytheas travelled here, more than two thousand years ago, he would have found a sophisticated maritime society. I have had great fun picking the brains of archaeologists and museum curators and using what I have discovered to imagine that world and create an adventure story that I hope will bring the Iron Age to life for readers.
I was delighted that it was longlisted for the Highland Prize. ‘Utterly compelling … beautifully crafted … paints an exquisite pen picture,’ said Undiscovered Scotland, while Scots Whay Hae said, ‘The language and imagery are rich, poetic, visceral, and often moving … as strange and beautiful as anything science-fiction or fantasy has to offer.’ The Scottish Field said, ‘An immersive evocation of ancient folklore and ritual, this novel’s characterisation and fast pace make it a real page-turner which will keep you hooked.’
Margaret Elphinstone said of it: 'We see what the world was like for the Iron Age peoples... Rian is a compelling heroine. Life for her is often harsh, uncompromising and dangerous, and yet she has insights and wisdom that we moderns may well envy,' while Helen Sedgwick said it's 'vivid, memorable, and utterly compelling.'
You can, of course, buy a signed copy direct from me here.
My first novel, The Last Bear, was published by Two Ravens Press in 2008. It won the Robin Jenkins Literary Award in 2009 and it was Historical Novels Review Editor’s Choice in May 2008. The first edition of the book is now out of print but I'm working on getting it back out there in paper. Watch this space. It is available as an ebook on Amazon.
What reviewers said about The Last Bear:
- 'Beautifully written, this is a wonderful mix of legend and historical romance: a moving and exciting first novel from a fine writer.' – Ann Oughton, Historical Novels Review
- 'With subtlety, Mandy Haggith has captured a society in the midst of turbulent change.. The prose is elegant and evocative with strong descriptive passages of the Scottish landscape, especially of the forests.' - Vulpes Libres
- 'In this multi-layered work there are many themes of direct relevance to 21st century Scotland... Mandy has previously had two fine collections of poetry published. In this beautiful and poetical novel, she demonstrates an equal skill at writing fiction.' – Kevin Crowe, Am Bratach
- 'The author is primarily a poet, particularly experienced in descriptions of landscapes and their inhabitants. She uses that experience well... Her knowledge of the properties of plants, types of trees and the uses their wood can be put to, and of the foods that can be gleaned, hunter-gatherwise, from the land is considerable.' - Northwords Now
- 'The book draws you in as the story unfolds .. a strong sense of realism.' - James Boddy
- 'A poetic, lyrical, haunting and spiritual tale ...This is a great read, and has an unusual and unique feel to it... I raced through it and was compelled by it. Highly recommended.’ - Amazon reviewer
- 'A fascinating tale, one that I found incredibly hard to put down.' - Amazon reviewer
My second novel, Bear Witness, is published by Saraband. Bear Witness is available from all good bookshops (or if you would like a signed copy, you can buy it with paypal here), and as an ebook or audio book from Amazon and most other ebook sites.
Here's what people said about it:
- 'Moving, intelligent and quietly passionate.' A.L.Kennedy.
- 'Lyrical and tight'. Scotsman review here.
- 'A passionate and subversive book, written with a poet's touch.' Jason Donald, author of Choke Chain.
- 'Since reading it .. I see lynx tracks along the forest paths, hear wolves in the distance and catch glimpses of bear cubs whenever I am out in the hills. It is a fine thing for a novel to change your perception, especially your physical perception of the natural world.' Northwords Now review.
- 'Mandy Haggith is a wonderful storyteller. Science, politics, romance and nature observation all combine as she explores re-wilding of both individual and land. This is a book with bite, relevant to contemporary debate about large predators but also a source of many other pleasures and surprises. I know I’ll re-read it many times.' Kenny Taylor, writer and naturalist
- 'Activists challenge the parliament of a newly independent Scotland with a campaign to celebrate the new dawn through a symbolic reintroduction of bears into the wildest Highlands. There have been moments throughout the history of nature writing when a writer slips through the electrified fences that keep nature and society apart, and liberates not just a biological truth but also a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mandy Haggith’s daring and at times beautifully worked novel is one such moment. This IS what will happen. Read and learn.' Jim Crumley, author of The Last Wolf
- 'A passionate and authoritative novel. In Bear Witness, her rich and complex second novel, Mandy Haggith has written an ecological page-turner set in Norway and Scotland in the not too distant future. Callis MacArthur, a troubled scientist who counts pollen grains, is driven by her passionate desire to change the big picture by returning bears to the wilds of Scotland. Haggith’s moving novel explores different kinds of loss as Callis’ vision is challenged by disaster in her personal and professional life. Haggith’s evocation of landscape and wildlife is lyrical and vivid, written with a poet’s eye for detail. Her characters convince and entertain. (One of her male characters surely deserves a novel of his own and left me hoping for a sequel.) This ambitious, visionary novel belongs to no single genre but encompasses romance, drama, comedy and literary fiction. BEAR WITNESS is a big-hearted book and deserves to find a wide readership. It will make a significant contribution to the debate about the future of Scotland’s wilderness.' Linda Gillard, author of Star Gazing .
The launch of Bear Witness at Glencanisp Lodge, on Earth Day, 22 April 2013, had lots of media coverage, including this piece on the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-22280586