Monday, 29 July 2013
Tuy is one of the important female characters in The Aten Sequence Books, efficiently looking after the practical side of Aten's life at the villa, while at the same time being a sarcastic thorn in his side. But she too has her story and her dreams, and being stuck on Earth with Aten had very definitely never been part of her plans.
‘I was really going places you know,’ Tuy gulped, as two fat teardrops formed in the corner of her eyes and slowly tracked their way down her flushed cheeks.
‘I had plans, I had dreams, I was really going places. And now look at me? Stuck here in this hot, dusty hellhole that doesn’t even have a proper power supply.’
The guard cat broke off from his morning ablutions to fix her with his enigmatic feline stare.
‘Don’t look at me like that. It’s not my fault that the only thing I’ve got to talk to is a cat. At least you don’t answer back, which is more than I can say for some of them round here.’
Tuy flung the onions she had been peeling into the bowl with unnecessary vigour and turned around to fetch the goose that was hanging on the wall behind her.
‘And don’t think that I don’t know what you are up to? If you put so much as one paw on this goose carcass, you’ll be going into the pot with it. Don’t think I don’t know where that stuffed carp went last week.’
The guard cat looked mildly offended at this insinuation and returned to lovingly licking his front leg.
‘See, even you don’t take me seriously,’ Tuy wailed, as fresh tears started tumbling down her face.
‘But you don’t know; none of you know. I was really going someplace, someplace special. I was the only one out of my clutch to even make it external processing and do you know how many get through and are given an exit permit? Only 2%! I was in the top 2% of my clutch and look at me now? A single mother stuck on a backward planet I don’t even know the name of. Motherhood was never what I wanted, especially not at my age. And what am I going to do with him? There aren’t any opportunities for a young Galasian here and it’s no life for him stuck in that shed all day.’
The guard cat switched to cleaning his other front leg without even looking up to acknowledge Tuy’s distress.
‘He needs to be out in the fresh air, running and playing with the other youngsters. Not shunned for being different and locked away as if he were a monster.’
These words did cause the guard cat to temporarily interrupt his washing and look up at Tuy with an air of disbelief. His sensitive nose could detect the rank odour of Piy locked up in his shed, even this far away in the kitchen, despite the strong tang of onions that was in the air and the gamey scent of a goose that had been hanging for a long time.
‘And it wasn’t just the exit permit I got. I was one of only seven hundred and twenty females to be admitted into the Galactic Cocktail Shaking School on Mildorium 27. Can you even begin to imagine what an achievement that was?’
The guard cat yawned delicately and turned around to lick his nether regions. When would the tedious woman shut up? At this rate she would never turn her back, so he could get at that goose. She might think she had a hard life down here, but really she had no clue as to what he had to go through just to get the odd mouthful of food occasionally. And cocktails? Really? She would have been better off going to a good mousing academy, though god knows how many small rodents she would have to kill every day to keep that malodorous turnling of hers fed.
‘It’s bad enough that you ignore me when I’m trying to talk to you, but do you have to wash your private parts on my kitchen table?” she asked him irritably. ‘And how come you can’t talk like those royal cats can?’
If the guard cat had eyebrows he would have raised them in disbelief. Why on earth did the woman think he would talk to her? Having to listen to her rants as he was waiting for food was bad enough.
‘I was great at the cocktail shaking school; one of their fastest learners ever. By the time I graduated I could mix over fifteen hundred cocktails from fourteen different planetary systems. And did you know that I was one of only eight thousand graduates ever licensed to use slieppel juice from Grandorminian 75? That stuff can fell a Lotkair Sloth with just two drops. I had my pick of jobs. I really thought that bar in the mining belt was going to be the first step in a glittering career. It was just oozing with rich miners and droids, all with plenty of cash in their pockets and out for a good time. The tips were fabulous. Did I tell you the story of the night that tulsphate miner dropped a 560 carat diamond in my cleavage?
The cat elegantly stretched and then curled up into a ball of mackerel striped fur. Was the woman going to rant all night? What he really wanted was to have a quick nap, but he could almost guarantee that as soon as his eyes were closed that goose would be put in the baking pot and he would have lost his chance. But it couldn’t hurt to let the woman think he was asleep.
He could hear that Tuy had started plucking the large bird. Time was running out and, in the mood she was in, he wasn’t sure he wanted to be around when she started to chop it up with her cleaver.
‘You can ignore me if you want, but I’ve still got my story. That tulsphate miner loved me you know. Said he’d take me on his next prospecting trip and buy me anything I wanted. Oh why did Aten have to come into my bar that night? There were seventy five others on that strip. I mean it’s not like I ever fancied him or anything, but I’d never met one of the immortal ones before. It’s not often a girl gets a chance to party with a member of the First Families. He offered to show me his space ship and the next thing you know we’ve run out of fuel in the middle of nowhere. ‘
The guard cat curled up even tighter in the hope the woman would take the hint and stop talking. Tuy, however, was just getting into her stride.
‘I mean how does one of the immortal ones do something that stupid? They’re supposed to be role models for us, right? People we can look up to, not incompetent idiots who run out of fuel and then don’t know how to fix the problem. If I’d known that I was going to be stuck sweeping and cooking in a scratchy linen robe and too much eye make-up I would have just stayed on the home planet. I could have raised several clutches by now, not just one turnling.’
The guard cat could feel himself gradually dozing off. His was so sleepy he felt like his head had been stuffed with cotton wool. The woman’s voice now just sounded like a constant drone in his head and she wasn’t showing any signs of stopping any time soon. If he wanted that goose he would have to do something drastic.
There was only one thing he could think of that was guaranteed to get her out of the kitchen in a hurry, leaving his coveted prize unattended. So he slowly reached out his mind, probing until he found the wooden door of the shed Piy was locked in. He could sense the Galasian turnling impotently hammering at the rough wooden slats trying to get out, so he pulsed some energy into the stout piece of rope that was holding the door closed. After a few seconds it ignited in a blaze of hot, blue flames that rapidly burned through the rope. The next time Piy’s fist hit the door it swung abruptly open.
Any time now thought the guard cat smugly, as he started counting down from ten. Ten, nine, eight, seven ....... Suddenly, a loud female scream, followed by the guttural roar of a Galasian turnling shattered the late afternoon silence that had been hanging over the villa. More screaming and the sound of running feet followed.
Tuy, her tearful rant rudely interrupted by the commotion, angrily slammed the half-plucked goose back down on the table in a cloud of grey and white feathers.
‘Not again,’ she screamed. ‘How did he get out this time? And why are those stupid girls screaming, it’s not like he’s anything to be scared of. I suppose I’m going to have to go and sort it out. Not like anyone else is going to.’
She quickly wiped her hands clean on the scrap of linen she used as a towel and ran out of the room in the direction of the screaming.
The guard cat waited until he could hear her footsteps pounding down the verandah, before he lifted his head and looked at where the goose was now lying on the kitchen table.
Sunday, 21 July 2013
In the second book of the Aten Sequence ‘Hall of the Crocodiles’ we are introduced to Prince Dhutmose’s cat Ta-miu. In the book Ta-miu is a very special royal talking cat who has a very important role to play in the unfolding of the story. We do know that the real, historical Prince Dhutmose did have a beloved pet called Ta-miu because her carved limestone coffin was discovered and is now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. What we don’t know is whether she could talk to her prince, but even if the Egyptian cats couldn’t talk or do magic they were revered by the Ancient Egyptians and they had an important cat goddess they called Bast.
|Ancient Egyptian Bronze Cat|
Cats were regarded very highly by the Ancient Egyptians, so it is perhaps not too surprising that they worshipped a powerful cat goddess called Bast or Bastet. She is depicted as a cat or as a woman with the head of a feline. She was a daughter of the sun god Ra and her name means ‘warmth of the sun’. In the pharaonic period she was worshipped as a sun deity but, after their arrival, the Greeks associated her with one of their lunar goddesses Artemis and she became known as a moon goddess.
Like most Ancient Egyptian deities Bast had many attributes. In some guises she was an angry, vengeful goddess, one of her father Ra’s avenging deities sent to punish wrong doers and Egypt’s enemies. At other times she was a kind, protective goddess who would shower you with blessings if you gained her favour. She was also a goddess of fertility and love, with the cat being her sacred animal. It was considered to be a great sin to harm a cat, one certain way of bringing Bast’s wrath down on your head.
It is thought that cats were first domesticated in the Middle East in around 10,000 BC. They probably became so important to the Ancient Egyptians because they were so useful at killing vermin. They would have hunted and killed the rats, mice and venomous snakes that lurked in the granaries, houses and also in the fields surrounding the ancient settlements. They were also valued as domestic pets and there are tomb paintings that show these domesticated felines out hunting with their masters.
Bast was a very important, powerful goddess and her cult was spread the length of the Nile Valley, but the centre of her worship was at the city named after her in the Nile Delta. During pharaonic times the city was called Per-Bast or ‘House of Bast’ and it then became known as Bubastis. It reached the peak of its importance during the 22nd dynasty when Pharaoh Shoshenq I created it as his capital. The city remained the capital of Egypt for over 230 years until the Persian invasion led by Cambyses II in 525 BC.
What is left of the ancient remains of the city lies on the outskirts of the modern industrial city of Zagazig, some 80 kms north of Cairo. The great temple of Bast, which the historian Herodotus described as a building of great splendour and beauty, has been excavated. The building of this temple commenced in the 4th dynasty in the reign of the Pharaoh Khufu, who was the king who also constructed the Great Pyramid at Giza, and was extended and embellished by many successive pharaohs over the course of the next 1700 years. The temple of Bast was built from blocks of valuable red granite that had to be transported all the way from the distant quarries at Aswan.
The temple attracted many worshippers and Herodotus also recorded that a great annual festival was held to venerate the goddess. He noted that as many as 700,000 pilgrims would arrive in the town to celebrate, make votive offerings and join in the great procession. There was also a famous oracle of Bast located in the city.
|Egyptian Cat Mummy|
One of the most common offerings made to gain favour and blessings from Bast was a mummified cat. Thousands upon thousands of these cat mummies have been discovered and there is a huge cat cemetery situated in Bubastis itself. This extensive cat necropolis was started in the Third Intermediate Period, and grew into a network of subterranean passages and tomb chambers made from mud brick some 200 metres north of the temple. The cat mummies were placed in niches and on shelves along the walls. Some of these cat mummies had been carefully wrapped in fine linen and placed in finely decorated coffins; others are much simpler, probably reflecting the wealth and status of the pilgrim. Because so many of these cat mummies have been discovered in Egypt, in the recent past many of them were ground up to use as fertiliser or burned for fuel.
Egyptian cat mummy image Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Ancient Egyptian bronze cat image Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Tuesday, 16 July 2013
‘Ghosts and Other Really Big Surprises’ has been available as an ebook on Kindle for almost a year, so I decided the time was right to create it as a print book in CreateSpace. Somehow, even though I wrote these short stories, it felt that having a printed book of them, something I could hold in my hands and turn the pages, would make them seem more real somehow.
Now there are these amazing Indie authors out there who seem to just know how to do absolutely everything, but unfortunately I am not one of them. Formatting large documents is not one of my favourite tasks, but I had managed it OK for the digital file, so surely I could create one for the print version? Well six upload attempts and several different error messages later I was beginning to wonder. I had downloaded the template, pasted all the text in, read notes on ideal margins and stuff, but every time I uploaded it again, bingo there was another error message. So I made some more adjustments (fiddled around a bit hoping I would get it right by default!), crossed my fingers and uploaded it for what I hoped would be the final time.
Hallelujah! This time there were no errors noted. I clapped, shrieked with happiness and generally carried on like a crazy woman. I was full of that wonderful feeling of accomplishment on a job well done, an obstacle overcome, reaching the finishing tape after running a long race. Then I proofed the formatted documented. You guessed it; I had crowed way too soon. The one thing that I hadn’t taken into consideration was that by changing the margins, I was also changing where the text was sitting on the page. So I had to go back to the document, move the text back to where it was supposed to be and then upload it again. Thankfully, this time I got it right and all was well.
I used the CreateSpace resource to design the cover, which was another adventure and learning experience, and with some trepidation pressed the finish button. So now you can buy a printed version of these spooky short stories. Read about Harold’s sinister adventures with vegetables that grow much bigger than they should, the mysterious plague that sweeps through Britain bringing economic and social devastation in its wake, or the tale of an evil ancient Egyptian who may not be resting easily in her coffin. If you like ghosts, there is the story of a little girl who was saved by a ghost one snowy Christmas and the tragic tale of the mother who was trying to protect her young son from a malevolent presence from beyond the grave. There is even romance as Gemma goes on a first date that doesn’t quite go to plan and Hazel finds that there is more to bird watching than she previously thought.
Definitely stories to read hiding under the duvet, with a torch held in your trembling hand. Make sure that you have some hot cocoa and plenty of chocolate for comfort and don’t forget to lock the back door. Because those weren’t footsteps you heard in the kitchen were they? Someone making their way slowly up the stairs?
Sunday, 14 July 2013
‘The Aten Sequence Books’ are science fantasy fiction novels, but I have used some real historical characters and locations in Ancient Egypt to create my stories. One place that gets mentioned is an ancient city called Akhmim, as it was where Princess Merytamen’s wicked stepmother Queen Tiye came from. So where is the town of Akhmim and what was its importance in antiquity?
In the 16th century the author and diplomat Leo Africanus claimed that Akhmim was the oldest city in Egypt. So is it true? How old is Akhmim and what was its importance to the mighty ancient Egyptian civilisation? It is situated on the east bank of the River Nile in Upper Egypt, a few miles from the more bustling town of Sohag. Its earliest beginnings are more than probably lost in the shifting sands of the desert, but clues of human habitation start to appear with artefacts from the Badarian culture in the 5th century BC. It is from the remains of these very early settlements and cemeteries that we see the first evidence of the development of agriculture in the Nile valley. They also made very distinctive pottery, which included polished red vessels with black rims. Early artwork has also been discovered in the form of carved ivory figurines.
|Statue of Merytamun at Akhmim|
In pharaonic times the city was known as Ipu or Khent-Menu and was a centre of worship for the fertility god Min. In the late period the Greeks knew the city as Panopolis. The cult of Min stretched back into predynastic times and he was usually shown as a man with black skin, holding his erect phallus in his left hand and holding a flail in his outstretched right hand. Min was depicted with black skin to show that he is a fertility deity and great festivals would be held every year to celebrate his ‘coming forth’, where worshippers would carry his statue in procession and present him with votive offerings. He was the god Egyptians would pray to for a successful annual inundation of the Nile followed by a bountiful harvest. Oddly enough, lettuce was one of the key features of his festivals, possibly because when the leaves are ripped apart they secrete a milky substance that resembles semen, which is also an opiate and aphrodisiac. The Greeks associated him with their god Pan, another fertility god who was often shown with the head and torso of a man and the lower limbs of a goat.
Tiye was the wife of the Pharaoh Amenophis III and Queen of Egypt towards the end of the 18th dynasty in the period known as the New Kingdom. Unusually, we know who her parents were as Amenophis III produced a series of commemorative ‘marriage scarabs’ stating that ‘the name of her father is Yuya, the name of her mother is Thuya; she is married to the great king whose southern border is at Karoy and whose northern is Naharin’. These scarabs make it very clear that Queen Tiye was not of royal birth and it is believed that her parents came from the town of Akhmim. The intact tomb of Yuya and Thuya was discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 1905 by James Quibell. The mummy of her father Yuya shows that he was unusually tall for an Egyptian of that period, had a beard and facial features that differed from those of a typical Egyptian. A theory has been put forward that he was a foreigner or at least of foreign descent, with some scholars pointing to the unusual spelling of his name as further evidence.
|Mummy Mask of Yuya, Cairo Museum|
Yuya was a courtier of Pharaoh Thutmosis IV and was a commander of the chariotry and then went on to serve his successor and son-in-law Amenophis III. His titles included ‘Master of the Horse’, ‘King’s Lieutenant’ and ‘Father of the God.’ In his home town he held the titles ‘Priest of Min’, ‘Overseer of the Cattle of Min’ and ‘Lord of Akhmim.’ His wife Thuya also held a string of impressive, high status titles that included ‘Priestess of Amen’, ‘Chief of the Harem of Min’, ‘Chief of the Harem of Amen’ and ‘Chantress of Hathor’. Their burial was robbed during antiquity, but much of the impressive, elegant furniture remained and both the mummies were discovered intact in their coffins. They were known to have a son called Anen, who became known as the ‘Divine Father’ and also held the titles of ‘Chancellor of Lower Egypt’, ‘Second Prophet of Amun’, and ‘Priest of Heliopolis.’ Many scholars also believe that Ay, a prominent courtier in the reigns of Amenophis III, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun who then took the throne and ruled as Pharaoh for around four years, was also a son of Yuya and Thuya. So although we have no evidence that Queen Tiye had royal blood, her family were obviously powerful and influential at the Egyptian court.
There is very little left of the pharaonic town of Ipu to be seen as many of the carved and dressed blocks of stone from the temples were taken away and used in later building projects. In 1981 a temple dedicated to Min and his local consort Triphis, also known as Repyt, thought to have been built during the Graeco-Roman period was excavated to reveal remains of a monumental gate. Fragments of statues of Ramesses II were discovered as well as a colossal statue of his daughter, and later great royal wife, Queen Merytamun. This beautiful statue has been restored and now stands as the centrepiece of a small open-air museum. Interestingly there are also some carved blocks from Akhetaten (Amarna) that had probably been scavenged to build the later structure. More recently another temple dating to the time of Ramesses the Great has been found and the fragments of a broken colossal statue of this pharaoh lies partially buried by what used to be the gate.
There is a necropolis at Akhmim dating from pharaonic times, which has never been systematically excavated although some more recent discoveries include five tombs dating to the Old Kingdom. There is also a necropolis at nearby el-Hawawish that is notable for its rock-cut tombs of the governors of the Nome who were buried there from the 4th to the 11th dynasties. Also at nearby el-Salamuni there are more rock-cut tombs dating from the Graeco-Roman period and a chapel that was dedicated to Min. This rock chapel was thought to have been carved during the reign of Thutmosis III and decorated during the reign of Ay by Nakhtmin, who was the ‘First Prophet of Min’, with reliefs of Ay and his wife Tey worshipping local deities. The chapel was known to the Greeks as the ‘Grotto of Pan’ and more reliefs were added depicting Ptolemy II Philadelphus during this period.
|Bust of Queen Tiye|
Magic is a very important part of the story in ‘The Aten Sequence Books’ and Akhmim is also known as a place where alchemy and Egyptian magic were very important. Indeed the town was known by the name Khemmis or Chemmis, which may have been the basis for our modern word chemistry. In ancient times the land of Egypt was called ‘Khem’ meaning ‘black earth’. Some of the oldest known books on alchemy were written at the end of the 3rd century AD by a famous alchemist called Zosimos of Panopolis, whose writings were among those of around forty alchemists that were placed in a compendium put together in Byzantium in the 7th or 8th centuries AD. Alchemists concerned themselves with the transformation of base metals such as copper or lead into precious metals such as gold or silver. They also acknowledged that a process of transformation and purification within themselves was as important as the outward changes in the metal and they worked more for the gaining of spiritual knowledge and development than they did for the material gains. The greatest magician and alchemist of legend, Hermes Trismegistus, who was a composite of the Egyptian god of writing Thoth and the Greek Hermes, was also supposed to have lived for some time in the town. So Aten’s attempts to turn gold into the fuel he needs for ship were perhaps an echo of the experiments these alchemists undertook.
These links between Akhmim and alchemy were to last for many centuries as in the 9th century AD the celebrated Sufi Dhu’l al-Misri was born in Akhmim. He thought to have been an alchemist and been able to perform miracles. He was a great scholar and travelled large distances across the Arabian Peninsula and through Syria in order to learn from the great teachers of the day and also to teach himself. He died in 859 AD and is buried in Cairo’s City of the Dead.
So although Akhmim might now be a relatively unknown regional town in Middle Egypt, in antiquity it was a prosperous, bustling regional centre. Queen Tiye is said to have owned vast estates in the area, which would have produced a vast array of agricultural produce. It still has a thriving weaving industry that produces fine silk and Egyptian cotton that is said to date back to the time of the pharaohs. It became a centre for magic and alchemy during the Greek period, melding the ancient Egyptian traditions and knowledge with the philosophies the Greeks had brought with them.
Statue of Merytamun image Kurohito Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Mummy Mask of Yuya Wikimedia Commons Any Purpose
Bust of Queen Tiye image Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Monday, 8 July 2013
I guess I was pretty naive when I started writing the first Aten Sequence book back in 2007. I just sat down at my laptop one Sunday and started typing. After typing five whole pages I was pretty impressed with myself. Who knew that I could string so many words of fiction together? Perhaps not surprisingly, not a single one of those first words actually made it into the final draft, but they will always be important as the first steps in my writing journey. I even have them saved somewhere on my laptop.
|Cynthia Marsh - Author of The Aten Sequence Books|
But what I did not know then was how much other stuff I would need to learn in order to get my books written, produced and sold. Because I chose to go down the self-publishing route, I quickly worked out that being an indie author means you either have to do everything yourself or pay someone else to do it for you. Oh, the lucky writers who just happen to be partnered up with a cover designer, editor or file formatter that will do freebies for them!
Like many authors, I have done a lot of things myself and paid to have some other things done for me. My first foray into self publishing, which was a bit of a test really, was my collection of spooky short stories ‘Ghosts and Other Really Big Surprises.’ This was a totally DIY project and I put the cover together myself, formatted the file for Kindle Direct Publishing and uploaded it. I have recently been wrestling with it in CreateSpace, so that I can have a printed version for sale and not just an ebook.
For The Aten Sequence Books, I wanted to have professional book covers designed. I also wanted them to be available on more online book retailing sites. So I chose to use BookBaby and have been very impressed with them so far, as they took my somewhat sketchy brief for the book covers and produced something very close to what I had envisaged in my mind’s eye.
But it is the book marketing and promotion that I have found the most challenging so far. Write it and they will not necessarily come! Now that self-publishing is so accessible and can be done for free, there are thousands upon thousands of indie books out there. Some are amazing, some are good and some are ....., well just are. But the challenge is how do I make my Aten Sequence Books stand out among so many others clamouring to be downloaded onto the e-readers across the globe? How do I persuade a potential reader to take a punt and spend some of their hard earned cash on a book written by an unknown author?
I was so focussed on the writing and editing side of things, that I neglected to read the advice on starting to promote your book at least a year before its release. So I am already a late starter in the promotion game. But impatience doesn’t help anything. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and I have set my goal as doing one thing a day, however small, to market my books and get them out there. So you can imagine how excited I was when I saw that standoutbooks were looking to interview indie authors and they agreed to interview me.
Being a typical introvert writer, my first concern was what was I going to tell them? I mean I write stories about other people, not about me. How was I going to make me interesting? There is a myth that writing is a glamorous profession. Well maybe it is when you get to the level of success enjoyed by J K Rowling and others, but for us relative newbies writing means hours hunched over your laptop at home, quite often still in your pyjamas and picking cornflakes out of your hair. So I had to put on my big girl pants and open up about myself, my writing and my books. Not easy at the start, but as I started answering the questions it started to flow and I amazed myself at how much came out.
I have to give standoutbooks a big thank you, as I think they have done an amazing job in putting the interview together online. It looks really professional and I am very proud of it. I’d also really like to thank them for giving a few of us indie authors the chance to talk about our books. We are all looking for a break, that first elusive whiff of a winning streak and I don’t think people realise how much it means to us when you tweet about our books, share our posts on Facebook , comment on our blogs or write a review on sites like Amazon or Goodreads. So thank you to everyone who has ever shown their support for The Aten Sequence Books. So make an indie author happy today and tweet this post or share it on Facebook – go on, you know you want to!
In case you missed this awesome interview you can catch it here - Author Interview: Cynthia Marsh