Some of my readers have asked me for the inspiration behind Rookskill Castle. Is it real? Can I go there? Where is Rookskill Castle??
I’m going to admit to you: I made it up.
However, I did have a castle in mind when I wrote both books, and I did visit Scotland, and I did take pictures of the castle and its grounds. Unfortunately, we were there off-season and the castle tour was closed. But perhaps that made it easier for me to envision what I wanted the castle to look and feel like. Those haunted hallways that seemed to move. The strange inhabitants. The shifty portraits and the hidden armory, they were all figments of my imagination.
This is the true inspiration for Rookskill Castle.
Scotland is a magical place and there are lots of castles and ruins to visit. I hope one day to go back, and I wish for you a visit there, too!
Ok, it’s 2020 and i have just finished “The CHARMED CHILDREN of ROOKSKILL CASTLE” and I am trying to find out about the second book. I have read the other questions and your replies about it coming out in 2018. Can you tell me what it’s called please? This book is my FAVORITE book (besides the Michael Vey series). This book has all the stuff I like in a book!!!!!! Thank you soo much for writing it!
Hi Peyton! Your comment made my day! It took a little longer than I thought it would but the sequel is out now. It’s called The Artifact Hunters, and you can find it at any bookstore.
Thanks for your comment and for loving The Charmed Children!
The Artifact Hunters is a story about magic and is set in Scotland so naturally I wanted to include aspects of Celtic mythology and history.
The Faerie Courts
In Scottish mythology, the Realm of Faerie is inhabited by two types of fae: the “good” and the “wicked”. The good faeries are members of the Seelie Court, and generally get along with humans, playing pranks but also acting in helpful fashion. The Seelie behave in a fun-loving or “silly” way (the word silly is derived from the same root as Seelie).
Mystical Scottish Highland view.
But the Unseelie Court is made up of malevolent fae who are also known as the sluagh, or the Host. The Unseelie fae are cruel, and at their worst they steal the souls of unwary humans. Humans are cautioned against speaking their true name (sluagh) aloud, especially in the dark, lest the creatures think they are being summoned.
The Celtic regions are rich with tales of magical creatures, who can be either benign or wicked, and who inhabit every glen, burn, croft, or cave. In Scotland, many of the supernatural beings are associated with water, which makes sense given Scotland’s many streams (burns), lakes (lochs), and its rugged coastline and rough seas.
The Ring of Brodgar
Skara Brae, an ancient village
The Orkney Islands lie off the northern edge of Scotland, between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. Windswept and barren but fertile, they were inhabited as long as 5000 years ago by a people capable of building complex structures for both housing and worship. Sophisticated stone houses in a village inside massive stone walls lie near ritual sites of standing stones that are similar to the more well-known Stonehenge in England.
A testament to the astonishing craft skills of these early peoples is that the standing stones, as well as residential and ceremonial structures like Maes Howe and Skara Brae, remain today. The Ring of Brodgar is only one of these sites, with a ring of stones that stand as tall as 15 feet. Nearby, the Stones of Stenness rise to a height of 19 feet. The culture and civilization – and their disappearance – remain a mystery, but active excavations reveal more every year.
I was lucky to visit Prague just as I was editing The Artifact Hunters, and we spent four days researching for Isaac’s backstory and childhood experiences. Prague is a beautiful city, occupied by the Nazis, who turned the country into a “Protectorate”.
The Old-New Synagogue and Josefov
Terezin in morning fog. An eerie sight of the graveyard of prisoners next to the camp.
Isaac Wolf, my main character in The Artifact Hunters, is a secular Jewish boy growing up in the Josefov sector of Prague, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). Before the Nazis occupied the country in 1939 Isaac would have been very familiar with the Old-New Synagogue, but the Nazis closed it during the occupation. Built in 1270, it is the oldest surviving synagogue in Europe. I don’t have a picture good enough to share – it is a small old building.
Of course, the Nazis dealt harshly with the Jewish people of Czechoslovakia. We also visited the concentration camp of Terezin outside of Prague, a haunting experience. The book by Michael Gruenbaum in my Resources, below, is set in Terezin.
Stumbling stones in Prague.
One of the things that caught my attention while we toured the Josefov sector was something called “stumbling stones”. The streets of Prague are still largely paved with rough ancient cobbles. The stumbling stones were made to commemorate those who were victims of the Nazi regime, and are brass replacements for the cobbles, and inscribed with the names of the dead.
The Golem of Prague
A view of the cemetery in Josefov, which frightened Isaac in my story. It is odd – people were interred over the centuries on top of previous generations.
The Synagogue also contains a mystery of sorts. Legend has it that in 1580 Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel made a creature out of clay and brought it to life by placing the sacred name of God, written on parchment, in the mouth of the creature which he called the Golem (other stories say that he inscribed a word on the creature’s forehead, but the result was the same). He made the Golem to protect the Jewish people of his time from persecution.
But the Golem became an out-of-control monster, killing at random, so the Rabbi tricked his creation, removed the parchment, and the Golem fell to pieces. It is said that Rabbi Loew placed those pieces of the Golem in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue, where it remains today.
Somewhere There Is Still A Sun, by Michael Gruenbaum with Todd Hasak-Lowy, Aladdin, 2017.
“A Legendary Protector Formed From a Lump of Clay and a Mound of Terror”, by Edward Rothstein, The New York Times, September 11, 2006.
Because the Death’s Head Watch and time travel play such an important role in The Artifact Hunters, I used other time pieces in the story.
The Antikythera Mechanism
In 1901, in the Mediterranean Sea off the Greek island of Antikythera, an artifact was retrieved from an ancient wreck. It is a complex clockwork from ancient Greece capable of predicting astronomical events, and is now known as the Antikythera mechanism*. It is also one of the magical artifacts depicted in The Artifact Hunters, as time plays a huge role in the story.
Derek J. de Solla Price(1922–1983) with a model of the Antikythera mechanism
This mechanism, which may date as far back as 60 BCE, has 37 gears that track the movements of the sun and moon, allowing ancient astronomers to predict eclipses. Some have even called it an “analogue computer.” X-ray imaging has allowed a reconstruction of the device, whose history is lost in time.
The Prague Astronomical Clock
Naturally, in this story that features time travel, an Antikythera mechanism, a Death’s Head Watch, and a boy from Prague, I felt it was important to include the fascinating Prague Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square.
One of Prague’s most well-known and arresting attractions, it is more than a timepiece, and because it dates from 1410, is also the world’s oldest operating clock. In addition to an astronomical dial, which follows the cycles of sun and moon, there is, on the hour, the “walk of the Apostles”, and figures flanking the clock that also move. You can find videos of the clock as the Apostles move through the chiming of the hour. I was lucky enough to watch it in action one morning a few years ago.
In this image that I took while watching the clock you’ll see four figures flanking the clock. The skeleton, representing, naturally, Death, is a figure that also is featured in The Artifact Hunters.
The astronomical dial is an astrolabe (an astronomical clock) that includes a moving zodiacal ring. There are numerous stories about the clock and its importance to the Czech people, including the significance of the skeleton of Death which nods its head as the clock strikes. The clock is silent between the hours of 11 PM and 9AM. Try to watch the clock in action on one of the many videos available – there is one in the detailed article below that also explains the mechanism.
“The Jewel of Prague: The Oldest Astronomical Clock in Use”, by Stefan Andrews, The Vintage News, March 8, 2018.
*Fun fact: A replica of the Antikythera mechanism can be seen in the American Computer and Robotics Museum in my own hometown of Bozeman, Montana.
And a Reminder!
Authors in the time of Covid need all the help we can get. If you enjoyed The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, and think you’d enjoy The Artifact Hunters, please consider pre-ordering from one of these fine book sellers, with my thanks.
One of the more popular science fiction tropes is that of time travel. Is it possible? What would happen if it were? How, in fact, does time work? The idea of time travel is exactly what I wanted to explore with the Death’s Head Watch in The Artifact Hunters.
Einstein’s Theories of Time
Physics professor, and genius, Stephen Hawking
Albert Einstein, in his theories of General and Special Relativity, has a lot to say about time. Specifically, Einstein suggests that all time is relative, looking from one fixed point
in time or space to another. In addition, gravity affects time by bending space so that objects move on a curved path, causing what physicists refer to as “time dilation”.
These two concepts – relative time and time dilation – explain why an astronaut returns to Earth a tiny bit younger than if she’d remained on the planet. This is a concept that’s been explored frequently in science fiction, for example in movies like the 2014 film Interstellar in which an astronaut returns to find his daughter an old woman near death after he encounters time dilation.
Is Time Travel Possible?
Is it possible to travel through time? Theoretically yes, but no actual method of travel has been shown to exist, and those that may be possible (like worm holes that intersect bent space) are likely to end in a bad way for the fragile human body.
Time travel paradoxes, like the law of unintended consequences, are also science fiction staples. For example, if you go back in time and accidentally kill your grandfather, how will you exist in the future? And if time travel is shown to be possible sometime in the future by some means we have yet to identify, where are the time travelers from the future right now – are they sitting next to you on the bus?
As much fun as it is to speculate, that’s all we can do with time travel for the moment – play with it in fantasy and science fiction.
A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, by Stephen Hawking, Bantam Dell Publishing, 1988
How To Build a Time Machine, by Paul Davies, Penguin, 2001
I had a lot of fun writing The Artifact Hunters, partly because, well…artifacts! I could use real items from history, and things from legends, and things from fairy tales, because just about anything could become a magical artifact – an item that could be endowed with magical properties.
The very first of these is something I discovered by accident.
A Creepy Skull
Scary-looking but also fascinating, a Death’s Head Watch that happened to pop up in my research immediately inspired the story of The Artifact Hunters, because I wanted my story to have something to do with time.
And, mind you, this watch is a real thing.
Watches were invented in the seventeenth century, and word as pendants, what we would call today “pocket watches.” In the 17th and 18th centuries, certain of these pocket watches were housed in a silver case that resembled a human skull. Yes, a skull.
These watches are creepy, but that was the point – they were meant to remind the user that death is always on the horizon. Hence some were inscribed with the words memento mori (“remember that you will die”, in Latin). About the size of a small apple, they are also often elaborately decorated with engravings that made the message even more plain: images of Adam and Eve, images of Death with his sickle, images of castles next to huts to remind the user that wealth doesn’t prevent one’s eventual demise. The skull encased the watch face and movement and the watch is viewed by opening the jaw.
Mary, Queen of Scots
Legend has it that Mary Queen of Scots carried a Death’s Head watch. Upon her execution it was reportedly given to her favorite lady-in-waiting, but the watch disappeared for centuries. Recently a London museum has tried to verify the identity of a Death’s Head watch as the one owned by Queen Mary. The mystery and history of this watch gave rise to my idea that it was a Witch’s Watch, and was cursed.
To find out more about the particular watch in The Artifact Hunters you’ll have to wait for the story!
Many of you already know that I have another book coming out August 25. It’s called The Artifact Hunters. Now, my publisher wanted me to write a “stand-alone” novel. Although Artifact Hunters is mostly set in Rookskill Castle (home of The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle), and although some of the characters from Charmed Children appear in Artifact Hunters, my publisher is calling it a “companion novel.”
But I’ll let you in on a little secret.
I’m calling it a sequel.
What’s It About?
There are some differences between the two books. For one thing, Artifact Hunters takes place two years after Charmed Children, though World War 2 is still raging. For another, this new story is told from the point of view of a Jewish boy named Isaac Wolf, who has escaped Nazi-occupied Prague, and arrived at Rookskill Castle carrying a box containing…something magical. Mysterious. Scary.
And Isaac is being pursued by…well. It’s kind of creepy, as you’ll find out.
And here’s the coolest part. Time travel. Yup – there is time travel in The Artifact Hunters, so you’ll see some really neat places in the past.
If you’ve read Charmed Children, you’ll also see familiar characters, like Kat Bateson. And you’ll find some answers to what happened to others, like the magister, and even Lady Eleanor.
And what about that weird castle itself? Are there other creatures about, ghosts and such? Hmm.
You may wonder about artifacts, about what they are. Here’s what Amelie (remember her? She’s Kat’s sister in Charmed Children) has to say:
Amelie said, “Kat saved everyone in Rookskill from a monster who was using a magical artifact.”
“What does this mean, a magical artifact?” Isaac asked.
“An artifact is an old object, of any kind,” Amelie said. “Jewelry. A sword. A mirror. A potion. But a magical artifact is infused with power. Some of the stuff of legends, like, you know, Excalibur. Or Aladdin’s lamp with the genie inside or the Chinese emperor’s nightingale. Other objects may have magic but no stories about them. Yet.” She paused. “A magical artifact can be just about anything.”
I’m going to be discussing some of these artifacts and some of the historical aspects of World War 2 and such over the next few weeks. I made fascinating discoveries during the writing of this book, and I really can’t wait to share.
Because I believe there is magic in this world.
Please stay tuned, and check out The Artifact Hunters, available for preorder now – thanks!! – at any of these fine booksellers: