In this installment of Page 69,
we put Tony Halker's The Learn to the test.
Page 69 appears early in this story of The Learn; a young Celtic boy, Owayne, travels outside his immediate homeland for the first time. In company with a Druid priest he is exposed to new things: blasphemy, tribal conflict, abuses of power and an opportunity to see his own world through a new eye. His mind has begun to grow as it crystallises questions that he did not consider before the events of The Learn.
The scene is set on the south coast of Anglesey in North Wales where the land reaches out and almost touches the mainland of Snowdonia, where you can look South on a clear day and see up towards the high mountains which we now call the Carneddi. It is early morning, with the first sounds, smells and sights of the day.
What is The Learn about?
The story takes us along the path of developing Druid Priests showing us their world and values. It is set in bronze age places that exist now in North Wales and draws on what we know of their way of life through folklore and the artefacts they bequeathed to us. The story is about manipulating power through technology and trade and the use of religion and tribal loyalty to take that power. The Learn is a cumulative process of endurance and adding to knowledge for the benefit of Celts. It is about being sworn to The Learn above family, regulated by Chant and belief. The life involves denying comforts while valuing beauty because Nature allows it to be created.
Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what The Learn is about? Does it align itself with the books overall theme?
The scene gives us hints about technology, religion, nature and the sword, all of which are key elements of The Learn. It does not evoke the richness of Celtic festivals, for example, celebrating the moment when summer begins, these are an important part of the tale. It is not a page of dramatic events which include murder, love, fertility, psychology in warfare, the calling of charcoal from wood and metal from stone. There are no women in the scene, yet The Learn describes a society where women share power being tribal leaders and priests, where they are revered for fertility as well as what they contribute to The Learn.
Emerging technologies are extremely important; without writing Celts are able to pass on technologies accurately so that others can continue to develop them. Fine bronzes are made repeatedly, involving subtle amounts of tin and copper. Technology takes on religious significance; when new things threaten to displace established technology and the rites and ways that support it. Those who want power seek to control the emerging technologies for their own tribal gains, citing religion and blood loyalty to achieve them.
The landscape of The Learn plays a prominent, active part in the story. I really want the hills, valleys, sea and weather to be a person, certainly a character. Page 69 helpfully is very much about the start of a day when the first things that are important are sounds, weather, birds and sea noises. The Druid Merle is described after he has been gifted food for the day, he is clattering about on rocks in tree bark sandals to protect his feet, so Nature, the Goddess is giving things for her people to take and use. The portents for the day are good. These ancestors of ours lived close to nature leading insecure lives; the signs and sounds at the start of each day must have been a focus for everyone as to what the day may give or threaten.
I know all of the places in which the book is set, they are beautiful, ever changing; fascinating because they lift the mind's eye. These places are scattered with bronze and stone age structures, footprints and fingerprints that make one wonder and think about people who not only lived here before writing could record their activities, they also prospered. There is enough evidence in mounds, observatories and burial chambers to be in awe of what they our ancestors achieved; The Learn seeks to weave a tale of those places and people.
I hope the descriptions of place in page 69 give a positive and lifting feel; it was places like that which in part motivated me to create the characters and the story they led me in to.
Return to the Frame and the Henge
Noise of white gulls wakes me, not the light of the sun or its warmth, birds are diving arguing over fish; pointing squabbling faces above water in a seething wing mass.
I cannot see Merle, he is likely in sword and staff trance, in a quiet spot; he soon returns heralded by wooden sandals clapping on a rock below. He carries crabs, small wild apples and a grey shiny scaly fish which he says a gull had dropped as it flew up from the sea. He says this is a gift to us a good omen for our journey. We break the grey oily fish between us, scraping away scales that mirror the clouds in the sky on summer days as the sun’s warmth drives them off. The flesh is grey blue dull, oily to taste and touch, filling our bellies we wrap the head and tail in skin, keeping bones and scales, later the scales can shine drying and dulling in the sun to be eaten with fish or berries.
There are more clouds than yesterday, the Carneddii less visible are shrouded at the top. We hear then see people as we approach the narrows, they are heading to the Menai crossings aiming for the mainland paths and passes, there are people, priests, animals. It is low tide, there are coracles being pulled across from the jutting lands, then we see small islets where priests and coraclers labour to get people across, some coraclers putting small nets into the water to trap fish as they carry out their other tasks.
We continue along the coast, on and off a rocky shore, with cliffs and tree covered slopes looking down, the
Born in London, Tony Halker studied geology at Leeds University after which he worked as a geologist, travelling extensively overseas. Following an MBA at Cranfield School of Management, he became a manager in hi-tec business and later a businessman and entrepreneur. His writing is inspired by powerful natural landscapes and his interest in the people and technologies emerging from those hard places. His two daughters were born in North Wales. He lives with his wife there and in Hertfordshire.
Website - http://www.tonyhalker.com/
The Learn by Tony Halker
Blending reality, history and legend, about a time when women were considered as important as men, taking power in an oral society that worships the Goddess. A whole Celtic Druid world is laid out before us, incorporating beliefs, technology and the natural environment.
A Celtic boy, a beach scavenger, is pledged to the Learn, a life of endurance, a path to become sworn Druid: scholar and warrior. Young women and men progress, becoming Priests and Druidii. Friendship, affection, passion and care develop as novices mature, confidence emerging.
Seasonal battles of winter and summer bring rich festivals when seeds of men are taken by women in pleasure to prove fertility. Small damaged, hurt peoples on the margins of Celtic society blend in and out of vision.
At frontiers with Nature, dependent for everything on what the earth gives or takes, an emotional response to the natural environment defines who people are and the values they live by.
A lyrical novel resonating with modern readers through portrayal of character, language and history; arising from a landscape of today, yet centred in the Celtic Bronze Age of North Wales.