BuskAid – What’s It All About, Alfie?

If you follow me on social media, you may have seen me mentioning something called “BuskAid” over the past few weeks. So what is “BuskAid”?

“BuskAid” was the brainchild of Tadhg Williams – musician, activist, and – yes – busker. The problem of homelessness reached crisis point in Ireland in 2016. The most recent figures show that 6,985 people are homeless in Ireland at the moment. Tadhg had just attended a fundraiser for homeless charities in a local Waterford bar and, afterwards, he wondered what more the musicians of Waterford could do.


The response was – as they say – overwhelming. Tadhg enlisted my help along with three other poor misfortunates – Anna Jordan, Alan Daly Mulligan, and Meg Walsh – and together we set about organising Ireland’s first citywide busk for charity.

In three weeks!

But we needn’t have worried. The people and businesses of Waterford quickly rowed in behind us. A huge amount of volunteers and buskers signed up, and numerous local businesses offered their support – everything from sponsorship and designing posters, to offering free coffee to everyone involved on the day.

The day itself started out wet and miserable, but nonetheless, the buskers and volunteers got stuck in straight away. And then – around noon – the rain stopped and blue skies appeared. From there on in, more and more buskers and volunteers in yellow sweatshirts popped up in various spots around the city.

The day was hectic, glorious and inspirational. We had set an initial target of €3,000. Even that might have been an optimistic figure, given that this was a makeshift organisation with just three weeks to organise. As it turned out, we exceeded that, raising €4,000. We can’t thank enough our wonderful buskers, volunteers, and the people of Waterford who – once again – showed their generosity.

We’re not kidding ourselves. BuskAid won’t solve the homeless crisis. But, at a time when the Irish Government seems unwilling to do what needs to be done, it is up to the Irish people to take matters into their own hands. A group called “Home Sweet Home” did that in Dublin recently when they occupied a vacant building owned by the State and turned it into a homeless shelter. And #BuskAid did it in Waterford on Friday Dec 23.

And we’ll be doing it again in 2017. Bigger and better. Stay tuned!


Sending the Elevator Back Down


I teach guitar in a music club.

This isn’t a subject that I’ve written about a lot before, which is odd, considering that it’s been a major part of my life for the last few years. I suppose it’s something I’ve sometimes taken for granted.

But there are times when something happens that you stop and realise – actually this is a wonderful thing. A few nights ago, the club where I teach guitar (Klub Muzik in Tramore, Co. Waterford) won a Waterford Community & Voluntary Award, which is a great honour.

This set me thinking about what a wonderful thing it is for me – and for my fellow tutors – to pass on the gift of something we love to the next generation. Kevin Spacey has this great quote: “If you’re lucky enough to do well, it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down.” And while I’m not appearing on “House of Cards”, or onstage at the Old Vic, I think the same applies to anyone who has mastered their craft (to whatever extent).

I had a conversation to that effect on Twitter with YA novelist Dave Rudden recently, and I hope he won’t mind me quoting him here. As Dave put it, you’re “facilitating other people getting to experience something you love. You’re literally re-experiencing your own introduction to an artform you love. It’s amazing.”

And Dave’s not wrong – it really is. I teach guitar to kids ranging in age from 9 or 10 to teenagers. The common denominator with all is a love of playing music. And there is nothing like it.

And yes, as I’ve said, sometimes you take it for granted. Until that is, you teach a song to a young kid and you can see the excitement in their eyes and they say, “I’m gonna go home and play this song all night.” Or you hear a parent say how much their child is loving their guitar class. Or you watch a student of yours get up on stage with their first band and belt it out. And it may not sound perfect but it doesn’t matter because they’re doing something creative, something that they love, and they’ll eventually get there. And, after all (cliché alert!) it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. (And that’s one cliché that’s actually true.)

One of the many things that the club where I teach does is to bring together various students of different instruments to form bands. Recently, I was lucky enough to be responsible for forming one of these bands. They don’t have a name yet (and we still need a bass player) but we have two guitarists, a drummer, and a male and female vocalist. And they sound great. And they are loving it. It’s such a buzz for me to stand in that room and watch them give their all – singing and playing their hearts out. Because I remember when I was their age, listening to Springsteen or U2 in my bedroom, trying to play along on my crappy electric guitar, and dreaming of getting up on stage or recording an album like them.

But the thing is – and here’s the kicker – I never had a music club like ours. I never had a place that could teach me guitar, and then, when I was confident enough, could offer me a practice room to play in with my band where all the amps and drums, etc. were provided. That would have been like Nirvana for us! (The state of mind, not the band. Although, I’m sure the band would have appreciated it too.) And that’s why we need to see more of these kinds of music clubs. Every county, every parish has their GAA club. And that’s a wonderful thing. But not every kid wants to play sports. There needs to be an outlet for the ones who just want to sing, or play their guitar, or bang their drums.

I’ve been lucky enough to get up on a few stages, and record a few albums, and I want to send the elevator back down. But the elevator’s not going down without me on board. Because I want to see their faces when they figure out how to play that song they love, and they think “Yes. This is what I’ve been waiting for.”

No, Obama Didn’t Create Isis, But He Did Create Trump


Before I get crucified for that headline, hear me out.

It wasn’t his fault.

Obama didn’t create Trump willingly, but his presidency did create the conditions to enable the election of Trump. This is the main issue that we have to take from this election, and the thorny one that America – and the world – is going to have to tackle. That the mere fact of an African-American family occupying the White House could lead to such an outpouring of vitriol and hatred from many Americans – and, indeed, ultimately lead to the election of a quasi-fascist demagogue – is probably the most terrifying consequence of the Obama presidency.

When Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, the United States – and the world – it seemed, were united in elation at the election of the first black President. Except they weren’t. There were many people in America who still viewed Obama as a “Negro”. Sixty years after desegregation, there were still many people in America who found the idea of a black President abhorrent.

And there were quite a few white gentlemen in the House and Senate who shared the same views. And those gentlemen decided they would do whatever it took to stop any kind of change that this new President suggested. And in doing so, they started a movement. They started a movement that put paid to any kind of rational debate. Anything that the left – or Obama – suggested was wrong. Full stop.

The movement first emerged as a loose affiliation of gun advocates, Christians, and right-wing conservatives that became known as the Tea Party. After that movement started to wane, its members were left looking for political leaders.

Enter Trump.

The remnants of the Tea Party were a natural fit for Trump. These people are the ones America rarely even acknowledges exist. This is the ugly detritus left over from the Civil War, from the Jim Crow laws, and from desegregation, that has been bubbling under the surface of American society. Trump just gave them a face.

I heard a phrase recently which resonated with me: “The left thought they had won the cultural war.” And this is true. The left in America thought they had achieved “relative” equality for women, for the LGBT community, for minorities. So much so that they thought they could delve into the details and parse some of the more nuanced issues, such as, transgender bathrooms, the conversation around the issue of consent, safe spaces in colleges, etc. But it appears they were wrong. It would seem that they put the horse before the cart. They started to parse the nuanced issues without realising a large percentage of the population still weren’t on their side for even the larger issues.

For the past eight years, a large swathe of the population (white, conservative, Christian) felt that their voices weren’t being heard, that the only people Barack Obama and the “liberal” media cared about were minorities and LGBT folk. I’ve personally heard Americans complain that they’re sick of hearing about rights for transgender people, about the plight of refugees, and so on. (What they seem to ignore, of course, is the fact that issues such as transgender bathrooms only became hot button issues because Conservatives chose to fight against them.)

And, of course, we all know that not everyone who voted for Trump was a racist and a homophobe. There was another demographic that he appealed to: the millions of disenfranchised Americans who were having trouble paying their mortgage, paying their healthcare, and putting their kids through college. These weren’t necessarily the types of people who would ordinarily have found themselves on the side of homophobic, guns rights conservatives. But Trump started talking about immigrants coming and taking jobs, companies fleeing to offshore tax havens, and suddenly he started making sense to these people.

But there’s no denying that there are amongst Trump supporters, many who are racist and homophobic and xenophobic. One only has to look at his rallies: at the violence perpetuated against minorities, the anti-Semitic slurs shouted at the media, and the threats of taking up arms if the result did not go their way.

Now, this very vocal, very angry contingent – emboldened by Trump’s victory – is going to try to turn the tide of the past eight years. They are going to “Make America Great Again” by going back to a time before those eight years. Already, “Pink News” reports that the Trump-Pence administration is ready to “repeal Barack Obama’s landmark LGBT discrimination protections”. And this will have the support of many in the Congress and the Senate and many millions of Americans on the ground.

That is probably the most terrifying aspect of this election. And it’s something that America – and the world – must be ready to tackle head on. And, most importantly, they will have to appeal to those millions of disenfranchised Americans who don’t support repealing gay marriage, or deporting illegal immigrants, but who also have no faith in the system of politics as usual.

How do they do this? By starting at a grass roots level. By spending the next two years finding progressive candidates who can retake the House and the Senate, and the next four years finding a progressive candidate to run for president.

And to those who think “people power” doesn’t work, look at what Trump’s people achieved in this campaign.  Look at what Bernie Sanders achieved. Remember that a few years before he became president, Barack Obama was a little-known Senator for Illinois.

It’s going to be a tough battle, but the left must try to hold onto every hard-won piece of legislation protecting women’s right over their bodies, protecting the LGBT community, and protecting minorities. The left must appeal to what Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature” lest we succumb to the demons that are surely already pounding at the door.

NEW RELEASE Ciara Ballintyne’s Epic Fantasy ‘In the Company of the Dead’

Only a fool crosses a god, but Ellaeva and Lyram will do anything to get what they want.


InTheCompanyOfTheDead_300dpi_1842x2763 FINAL 

Title: In the Company of the Dead
Author: Ciara Ballintyne
Series: The Sundered Oath #1
Genre: Epic Fantasy/Fantasy Romance


Chosen as a five-year-old orphan to be the Left Hand of Death, Ellaeva has nothing to call her own—nothing except a desire to avenge her murdered parents. Her duties leave her no time to pursue the man responsible, until both her work and revenge lead to the same place—the lonely castle where Lyram Aharris is serving out his exile for striking his prince.

Lyram is third in line for the throne, and when the castle is unexpectedly besieged, he fears his prince means to remove him from contention for the crown permanently. Ellaeva’s arrival brings hope, until she reveals she has not come for the siege, but instead she hunts the castle for a hidden necromancer dedicated to the dark god of decay.

Within their stone prison, Ellaeva and Lyram must fight to save themselves from political machinations and clashing gods. But as the siege lengthens, the greatest threat comes from an unexpected quarter.


Amazon | Kobo | iBooks | Other

Chapter 1
Only a fool would split hairs with a god, least of all the goddess of death, but Ellaeva would count herself such a fool and consider it worth it—if she could get away with it.

She leaned across the knife-scarred timber of the tavern table.

“Are you sure?” she asked, her tone even and barely loud enough to be audible over the noise of the flute and the zither. Her work on behalf of the goddess Ahura, adjudicating the small war here in Dayhl, could only be abandoned in favour of a greater threat. If she was going to chase off after the man who killed her parents, she needed to be sure her arguments stacked up. The pursuit of personal justice wouldn’t be enough.

Is it justice or revenge?

No time to worry about that now. She tugged her black hood farther down over her infamous face, even though deep shadows blanketed the common room corner. She’d chosen a table far from the tallow candles mounted in their stag-horn chandeliers. There was no point taking chances; the black hair and porcelain skin of a Tembran would be remarked here among the platinum-haired Dayhlish. Besides, someone might recognise her.

“In Ahlleyn, sure as the spring comes after winter, Holiness.” The narrow-faced man across from her grinned, baring teeth more brown than yellow. The acrid smoke from the candles didn’t cover his pungent breath.

She half-stood, making an urgent, negating gesture as she glanced around, but the hubbub of chatter from the patrons and the music covered his slip. No one even glanced their way. On the far side of the room, away from the two blazing hearths, tables were pushed aside for dancing. She dropped back into her seat, her black robes fluttering around her booted feet.

Ahlleyn lay on the other side of the continent, months of travel by horse. If her informant was right and a Rahmyrrim priest had been dispatched there, he would likely be gone long before she arrived—unless she begged a favour, but she’d not do that for a lark of her own. However, if it meant catching the man who killed her parents, well then maybe she could come up with an argument that would hold water for a god. Old grief and anger, stale from a decade or more, stirred in her gut, and her fingers curled around the edge of the table.

Releasing her grip, she reached to the inner pocket in her robes where rested the smudged charcoal drawing of a man. Hard work and luck had helped her obtain that picture of the man she believed killed her parents—a man she knew to be a priest of Rahmyr. If she decided to act against her standing orders, then she needed to be sure it was the man she was after, and that he was involved in some act heinous enough to attract her goddess’s attention.

“Did you get the name of this priest? Or his description?” An unknown number of priests served Rahmyr, but she knew six by sight—six still alive anyway.

The thin man shook his head. “Nobody mentioned. I got the impression he’s already there, or on his way leastways.”

She scowled. No way to be sure then that this was the man she wanted. Begging favours of Ahura for her personal satisfaction was a risky business, especially if she neglected her duties, and perhaps it would all be for nothing.

With one hand, she flattened the map that curled on the table between them. The patrons behind them exploded with laughter at something unheard. Ignoring the noise, she stabbed her finger at an unmarked portion of the map in the foothills of the Ahlleyn mountains. If he didn’t know who, maybe he knew the what. “There, you say? What possible interest could Rahmyr have there? There’s nothing of interest at all.”

She lowered her voice even further as she uttered the name of the goddess of decay, and glanced around again. That name spoken too loudly would bring unwanted attention. But nearly all the tavern patrons were busy whirling on the impromptu dance floor or lined up to watch the dancers, their backs to her.

The nameless man leaned forward, treating her to another stomach-clenching blast of foul breath, and touched a spot perhaps half an inch away from her finger. A tiny, unlabelled picture marked something there.

“Here, Holiness.”

She squinted at the picture, letting his lapse slide. The image represented a holy place. There was an old shrine to Ahura somewhere in the Ahlleyn Borders, wasn’t there? And a castle built over it. “Caisteal Aingeal an Bhais.”

“That sounds like the name,” he agreed. “Never could get my mouth around them Ahlleyn words. Pink castle, I heard.”

She grunted. That was the one. “There’s still nothing there.”

Nothing of interest to Rahmyr anyway. The shrine wasn’t particularly important, and the castle held no political significance.

“What’s there,” the man said, “is Lyram Aharris.”

The premonition went through her like a blast of icy wind, stiffening her in her chair as the hand of the goddess brushed against her mind. A light caress, but from a giant, and so it sent her mind reeling. She clutched the table for support. Lyram Aharris’s reputation preceded him the length of the continent: eight years ago, at the age of twenty-seven, he’d brought an end to the centuries-long conflict between Ahlleyn and Velena through a series of brilliant military manoeuvres. He’d survived the Siege of Invergahr against near-impossible odds, brought the crown prince safely clear of the conflict, and fought the Velenese to a standstill using their own guerrilla warfare tactics against them. As a novice, she’d covered the tactics thoroughly as part of her studies. The man was a military genius. That he was third in line for the throne of Ahlleyn was the least there was to know about him—at least it was, until his king dismissed him from court. The rumours on everyone’s lips said he murdered his wife, even if no one could prove it.

What did Rahmyr want with him?

Ciara Ballintyne grew up on a steady diet of adult epic fantasy from the age of nine, leaving her with a rather confused outlook on life – she believes the good guys should always win, but knows they often don’t. She is an oxymoron; an idealistic cynic.

She began her first attempts at the craft of writing in 1992, culminating in the publication of her debut work, Confronting the Demon, in 2013. Her first book to be published with Evolved Publishing is In the Company of the Dead. She holds degrees in law and accounting, and is a practising financial services lawyer. In her spare time, she speculates about taking over the world – how hard can it really be?

If she could be anything, she’d choose a dragon, but if she is honest she shares more in common with Dr. Gregory House of House M.D. – both the good and the bad. She is a browncoat, a saltgunner, a Whedonite, a Sherlockian, a Ringer and a Whovian… OK, most major geek fandoms. Her alignment is chaotic good. She is an INTJ.

Ciara lives in Sydney, Australia, with her husband, her two daughters, and a growing menagerie of animals that unfortunately includes no dragons.

Ten Signs That YOU Could Be Dating a Psychopath


Ladies, we all know how hard the dating game can be. How do you read the signs? How can you tell if he’s *really* a nice guy? What’s he hiding in the trunk of his car?

It’s tough. So, to help you out – and in the tradition of those very helpful lists that we all see posted every day – I’ve put together a few things to look out for.

You’re welcome.

  1. He never picks up the check.
  1. He says things like, “I think I might be a psychopath.”
  1. He wears dresses made from human skin.
  1. His dog’s name is Ted Bundy.
  1. His “dog” is actually a stuffed fur coat with a squirrel’s head glued on top.
  1. He leaves the toilet seat up.
  1. When you ask what he’s thinking, he sheepishly says, “Nothing”, while surreptitiously hiding the masking tape and rope behind his back.
  1. He never holds the door for you.
  1. You saw him on “America’s Most Wanted” but he claims it’s a guy that just looks like him.

And has the same name.

And who also killed his entire family in a bloody rampage.

  1. He thinks Donald Trump makes some interesting points.

*New Music Monday* My Version of the Beach Boy’s “I Can Hear Music”

257. I Can Hear Music

This week’s new music is a Beach Boy’s song that’s not a Beach Boy’s song. It’s their cover of The Ronette’s “I Can Hear Music”. But the Beach Boy’s version is my favourite. And this is my version of it:

I Can Hear Music

This is the way
I always dreamed it would be
The way that it is, oh oh
When you are holding me
I never had a love of my own
Maybe that’s why when we’re all alone

I can hear music
I can hear music
The sound of the city baby seems to disappear
I can hear music
Sweet sweet music
Whenever you touch me baby
Whenever you’re near

Lovin’ you
It keeps me satisfied
And I can’t explain, oh no
The way I’m feeling inside
You look at me we kiss and then
I close my eyes and here it comes again

I can hear music
I can hear music
The sound of the city baby seems to disappear
I can hear music
Sweet sweet music
Whenever you hold me baby
Whenever you’re near

I hear the music all the time,
I hear the music all the time, now baby
I hear the music all the time
I hear the music all the time, now baby

I can hear music
I can hear music
The sound of the city baby seems to disappear
I can hear music
Sweet sweet music
Whenever you hold me baby
Whenever you’re near

Written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector