Cycling to Dun Aengus in Western Ireland

Years ago, my mother was ill in the hospital before she passed away. One day I visited her and read aloud a short story I had written about Ireland – and which had been accepted for publication. The book publisher (Travelers’ Tales, of San Francisco) had sent their formatted galleys in case I wanted to make any last minute revisions. I read the piece aloud. She listened for cadence and substance, then suggested one or two modifications before nodding her head that it was good to go. I still appreciate her input and attention to rhythm.

This true story is about riding a bicycle in western Ireland to an amazing old stone fort named Dun Aengus. It’s also about how landscapes alter our perception of time, and how time can enhance how we appreciate the places we visit.

The book includes stories by Frank McCourt, Nuala O’Faolain, Colm Tóibín, Maeve Binchy, and Rosemary Mahoney. I still feel proud to be included in this anthology.

Still, times have changed. Now there is a visitor center at Dun Aengus, and you have to pay a few Euros to enter the site. Apparently there are lots of visitors, though when we visited we were alone. Mmmm…did this piece written decades ago help encourage even a few more visitors? From now on, think I’ll keep news about exploring these jewels quiet…

Traveler's Tales - Ireland

Copyright Travelers’ Tales


This bicycle trip in western Ireland helped inspire me to write – years later – a book that weaves historical fact with fiction to produce a tale spanning five millennia of Irish history. Titled River of Ireland, the book tells of Viking raiders, warring chiefs, crafty politicians, romantic musicians, and a brave Spanish Armada captain – all who helped  shape the character of Ireland’s culture.

Read the short piece titled – Cycling to Dun Aengus. 

Read about the book Traveler’s Tales – Ireland.

Read more about the book River of Ireland.

As the Gaelic saying goes, An té a bhíónn siúlach, bíonn scéalach. Or – who travels has stories to tell.

Check out this recent New York Times article about another desolate, windswept sanctuary for worship off the west coast of Ireland, called Skellig Michael.

Or check out this YouTube video of Dun Aengus. There’s not much of a structure left – but you can imagine looking out from a fortress toward a wild ocean view.







New Fiction Book from Tom Mullen – Dreams, Murder, History

Happy November, all.

Hope that weather and life go well for you.

I’ve just published a new book, titled River of Dreams.

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Cover art by sister Trisha Ray

This easy read tells how three characters in a young man’s dreams – from three different periods of history – provide clues as to who committed a murder. The story is set in the ancient and mesmerizing city of Durham in northeast England.

I began writing this while living in Durham. Although the first draft was completed a few years ago, I recently got around to final editing and formatting. The video below tells a little about the book.

The cover art was produced by my sister, Trisha Ray, who also recently produced a beautiful book about travel.

You can also learn more here about the magic of Durham Cathedral.

Durham Cathedral: ancient, moonlit, gorgeous

After a thousand years, Durham Cathedral keeps its magic

The blurb (included on the Books tab of this website) tells more:

In the wake of murder, three characters within a young man’s dreams identify the culprit. But putting the criminal behind bars creates another challenge. Set within England’s beautiful and ancient university town of Durham, River of Dreams braids together stories of a medieval battle, construction of a Norman cathedral, and a failed French rebellion – to help solve a murder mystery. A soldier, a milkmaid, and a rebel transform to unusual allies in this fresh storyline that oscillates between centuries and flicks between nations. 

I do hope that you enjoy this book.

Learn more about River of Dreams.

For three months, the book will only be available on Amazon.  After that it will be available on other ereader platforms. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download a free Kindle app to your computer, phone, iPad, or other electronic media reader.

Also – you can now have an electronic signature for any ebook from Roundwood Press. The ‘Author’ tab of this website shows how. Or, just click on the icon below.

Get your e-book signed by T. Mullen

New Paul Theroux Book about Africa

Desert Beauty

Desert beauty of rural Namibia

Forty years ago, author Paul Theroux landed in the country of Malawi to work as a Peace Corps volunteer. Not only did he teach English in a rural setting, he wrote what he thought were magazine articles for a European publisher, until finding out that his written assessments about Malawi’s dictator were being paid for by a German espionage agency. This unpredictability about writing and travel hooked him.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has just published Theroux’s latest book: The Last Train to Zona Verde – My Ultimate African Safari.

This is another non-fiction travel book, the same genre Theroux began mastering when his assembled his book The Great Railway Bazaar, published in 1975.

This time, Theroux explores South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola. This time, he uncharacteristically turns down the offer of riding a train twice. The word ‘ultimate’ in the title does not refer to this African excursion as being the best; it refers to it as being his last.

Theroux’s travel writing captivates an audience because it is fresh, honest, and eclectic – typically including interviews with random locals, philosophical ramblings, and brazen candor about nasty locales we’d prefer to read about than actually visit.

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Local transport in the Damara region of northern Namibia

Many years ago I was inspired to join the Peace Corps by Theroux’s writings, and coincidentally served in the same country where he did – Malawi. After that, my next two work stints took me to live in Namibia, and then Angola. Partially inspired by Theroux, I wrote three individual books about these countries (the photos on this page come from those books). Obviously, this book by Theroux appeals to me.

Theroux begins by highlighting what inspired him to hit the trail again, quoting a piece from an essay by Henry David Thoreau: “I believe the mind can be permanently profaned by the habit of attending to trivial things.” Theroux also enjoys the simple pleasures of being able to do whatever he pleases when he travels solo: “All solitary travel offers a sort of special license allowing you to be anyone you want to be.”

During his wanderings and encounters with Ju/’hoansi people in rural locales, as well as slum dwellers outside of Cape Town, he reflects on a truth that occurred after he began writing his travel books: that half of the population of the world now lives in urban settings. He writes, “…as Elias Canetti points out in Crowds and Power, people feel more secure in a crowd; so they flee the emptiness and insecurity of the countryside to seek consolation in an urban slum crowd, even a futureless and filthy one…”

Governors ex house, Maquela

The bombed out governor’s mansion in Maquela do Zombo, northern Angola

His glowing description of Windhoek, capital of Namibia, is as accurate as his disparaging portrait of Luanda – Angola’s capital. His insights into the obvious disparity between rich and poor also pepper a hefty percentage of his observations.

“Namibia is a land of extremes…While Namibia has one of the highest literacy rates and per capita incomes in Africa, it ranks near the bottom in land and income distribution.”

Regarding this iniquity, Theroux saves his heftiest criticism for Angola, a country where it is deserved because of the billions of dollars in oil revenue the government takes in, and does little to redistribute. “But, this being Angola, it was the rich, and only the rich, who appeared to me sluttish and criminal. In the bush there existed the possibility of renewal: a new season, a new crop, a new water source.”


The lush, fertile, and land-mine infested countryside of Angola

Theroux comments at least twice about his retirement age (he is in his seventies). The vitriol of much of the writing that characterizes many of his travel pieces has mellowed considerably in this book, the mark of an author who has written many of the books he has wanted to, taken a fair share of the trips he has yearned for, and has not the slightest compunction of admitting when he knows that it is time for a trip to end. Theroux makes his decision not to continue the trip based on unstable and dangerous geopolitics within the next countries he had planned to visit. But it’s obvious that – this time – he has no regret in ending the journey. Like Steinbeck wrote about his drive around the United States in the book Travels with Charley – In Search of America, there comes a time when you know the trip is over, and it is simply time to go home.

But while this book lasts, you’ll enjoy the journey.


Video Preview of the Book – Trailing Tara

Here’s a quick video preview about the fictional book Trailing Tara.

Click here to read more about this book.

The plot unravels from the beaches of Malibu…



…to the sands of Namibia.



And from the Swiss Alps,

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…to the Badlands of New Mexico.


Check out Trailing Tara at








How Wonderful is Malawi – Warm Heart of Africa?

Before being accepted to join the Peace Corps years ago, I momentarily imagined being sent to some small, beautiful, unique country no one (or very few people) had heard of.

As they say, be careful what you wish for. When the recruiter told me via telephone that I was being sent to Malawi, I mumbled ‘sure,’ hung up, then drove to the library to find out which continent Malawi was on.

I spent three joyful years living there.

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Malawi maize tossed in wind

What is unique and attractive about this small, landlocked African nation?

Here’s  a list.

1. Cichlids.

Lake Malawi is over 550 kilometers long and more than 70 kilometers at its widest. When you sit at the shore, it’s like sitting by the ocean. There are hundreds of cichlid fish that evolved in the lake. Some live hundreds of feet deep. Some consider cave roofs as their home, so swim upside down. Different species occupy various vertical layers of water, having evolved in a wide range of ecological niches. This means the diversity is huge. Lack of industries along the shoreline and little pollution means the lake has excellent snorkeling and diving in relatively warm water.

Check out this trailer, one of several films about these cichlids, from Earth Touch.

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Usisya shoreline and Mphandi Hill along Lake Malawi, north of Nkhata Bay


2. The Jet.

Finally, some clear political thinking about prioritizing health versus well-being appears to be glimmering in this portion of Africa. Read this Daily Telegraph article. The bottom line: President Joyce Banda is selling a presidential jet, valued at $15 million, to raise funds to help provide food for Malawians during a drought. She also cut her own salary and is selling dozens of Mercedes-Benz vehicles used by government cabinet members. Go girl.

3. Geography.

Malawi’s diverse geography is generously mountainous. The Mount Mulanje massif, flanked by gorgeous tea fields, is a place where can you spend days hiking along different trails crisscrossing a plateau, and staying at basic cabins or camping out.

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Gorgeous and massive Mount Mulanje in the south

Massive and tranquil Lake Malawi fills part of Africa’s north-south running Great Rift Valley, and has spectacular snorkeling for an inland lake.

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A Jewel by the Lakeshore

In northern Malawi, much of the Vipya Plateau highlands are covered by an enormous pine tree plantation. The trees and cool high altitude make staying at a cabin there like being in Scotland or Bavaria. Another little known geographical jewel in the far north is challenging to get to because of remoteness: the Misuku Hills. A friend and I once motorcycled here and stayed at a guest house belonging to a coffee plantation. Here, school children peer off the edges of soccer fields into deep valleys more reminiscent of Nepal than Central Africa.

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Watching a waterfall from Livingstonia, in the north

4. Wildlife.

Malawi has five national parks and four wildlife preserves. Lions stalk prey in Liwonde National Park a few hours south of the capital city, zebras, sable and roan antelope cruise across highland Nyika National Park in the far north, and you can sit with binoculars in an elevated ‘hide’ at Vwaza Marsh watching hippos wallow along mucky shores.

Below are a photos I took using Kodachrome film while living there (as with all photos on this post).

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Vwaza Marsh hippo



Elephants Liwonde 89







5. Music.

Check out Peter Mawanga music.

6. The People.

Malawian people are the country’s primary attraction. The country was established as a British Protectorate, but never colonized by a European nation. This meant that Malawians have enjoyed living life according to their own cultural norms (except at the whims of one long running dictatorship). Soils are fertile, the lake has abundant fish, and high altitude grazing has kept cattle clear of flies that transmit sleeping sickness. These factors historically helped keep Malawi’s people agriculturally self-sustaining and exposed to little stress, which appears is reflected in their warm hearted and generous attitude, even to foreigners.

In conclusion, Malawi is quite wonderful…


Radiant landscape, warm smiles

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Reading list:

Brazenly, I recommend my own book – which includes hundreds of photographs as well as tales of life as a volunteer working throughout Malawi.

Water and Witchcraft – Three Years in Malawi, by T. Mullen.

Cover Water and Witchcraft



Last night, I began reading Vuto by A.J. Walkley. The author spent time in Malawi as a volunteer. Vuto, in the Chichewa language, means ‘problem.’ and this fictional work describes the hardships of a Malawian mother coping with an intriguing circumstances.

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Also – you might want to check out this classic from the 1950s, when the renowned author explored both Mount Mulanje and Nyika Plateau in Malawi.

Venture to the Interior, by Laurens van der Post

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And this book is an inspiring true story – The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Cover - Boy Who Harnessed Wind

You should also check out the TED video of the author speaking. This may well make you shake your head in amazement.





Book Reviews – Volcano, Bliss, Travel

Three books are reviewed below. One fictional book revolves around a catastrophe that changed ancient history. One non-fiction book tells of roaming the globe to evaluate happiness. The third book includes drawings and anecdotes that highlight the benefits of travel.

Pompeii by Robert Harris tells of days before and during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Italy, when spewing boulders and magma coated the landscape and entombed the city of Pompeii for centuries. This book is about a water engineer (an aquarius) name Attilus, who investigates why the Aqua Agusta – longest aqueduct in the world – has stopped functioning. This is a simple tale where engineering runs into politics and corruption, where a natural disaster challenges victims to break their habits to survive, and where a man’s determination to find his love will keep you turning pages.


The legacy of clever Roman aqueduct builders lives on

Harris draws us into the story by coloring an engineer’s quest with historical details that capture our curiosity. The book will make readers want to veer back in time to Pompeii to see how the gears of civilization spun before this volcano erupted.

“A man could buy anything he needed in the harbour of Pompeii.  Indian parrots, Nubian slaves, nitrum salt from the pools near Cairo, Chinese cinnamon, African monkeys, Oriental slave-girls famed for their sexual tricks…”

The book operates at three levels – providing admiration for Roman ingenuity, clueing us into colorful daily life in an ancient era around the Bay of Naples we likely knew nothing about, and keeping us focused on the story of an engineer trying to solve a technical problem while also trying to spare lives from a natural catastrophe. Genuine characters, including Pliny, enter the story. Harris writes:

“A sickle of luminous cloud – that was how Pliny described it…sweeping down the western slope of Vesuvius leaving in its wake a patchwork of fires. Some were winking, isolated pinpricks – farmhouses and villas that had been set alight. But elsewhere whole swathes of the forest were blazing.”

This is a captivating, easy read. It will increase your respect for how Roman society functioned, and how Roman engineering was a powerful factor in transforming that society.

Meanwhile, Back in Los Ranchos: An Illustrated Chronicle of Travel, Art, and Finding Home is an illustrated book written my sister, Patricia Ray. Below is the write up I provided on Amazon.  It’s truly a visual treat.

The book is a superbly illustrated collection of short stories and vignettes that tell not only about living and working throughout the world, but of finding joy in simplicity. Whether the author is piloting a single engine plane over the Sahara Desert (“In a single engine?” the control tower operator called by radio, “Damn girl, you’ve got more balls than I have”) or eating ‘Undercooked Goat in Lemon’ or ‘Roasted Skunk with Fruit Wine’ in Vietnam, the overall emphasis is on finding fun and laughs in life’s everyday bizarre occurrences. The book lassoes tales of travels in the 70s (including buying a used car for ten dollars in Scotland, or showing up for dinner in Germany where everyone is polite, but completely naked) as well as working for an airline and cruising around the world, with comparisons to living at a quiet home in New Mexico – where joy comes from peaking at tadpoles or drinking wine while watching a thunderstorm.


Alluring New Mexico landscape

This is an easy and fun read – enlightening and inspiring – and illustrated with watercolors saturated with vibrant colors, as well as photographs taken in Ireland, Iran, and Liberia in the 1970s and 80s. These include an old Irish farmer who rides his donkey because he never learned how to master a bicycle, a traffic cop with sunglasses who gives tickets for ‘reckless parking’ in West Africa, and hippies working as lumberjacks in Bavaria. This is the type of book you read either with a good mug or tea or pint of brew but also with a real paper map – because you will want to plan out your next travel adventure. Full marks on this book! It’s an excellent read and visually gorgeous.

1. Meanwhile Cover

In The Geography of Bliss – One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World, Eric Weiner learns about the World Database of Happiness, and sets off across the planet to field check whether the data may be true. The book is filled with insight and wit. In Switzerland, he writes: “I’m reunited with my love. I’m back on a Swiss train. My next stop of Zurich, a city so clean it makes Geneva look like a slum.”

Weiner finds that the collective happiness of people depends at times on how much they are provided for, versus how much they are left alone, and how much choice they are afforded. But the more he seeks answers, the less the definition of happiness appears fixed.

“We need a new word to describe Swiss happiness. Something more than mere contentment but less than full-on joy.”





Great Britain…






United States…





In Bhutan he finds that factors leading to overall contentment of the population include low crime and splendid geography, and explores the concept of how Gross Domestic Product (GDP) relates, or doesn’t, to happiness. He is surprised when sudden and unexpected bliss envelopes him after time spent in the country.

“Yet sitting here in this airport terminal that looks like a Buddhist temple, watching an archery match on a small TV screen and drinking bad instant coffee, I am overwhelmed with a feeling that is alien to me: calm.”

In Iceland he realizes that a ‘pinch of self-delusion’ may be important for the happiness of locals, but laments that so many artists in the country – unrestrained and uncriticized – ‘produce a lot of crap.’


Happy Icelanders – is it the…



…ale, or…



…good food?

Onward he travels, through Qatar and Moldova and Thailand and Great Britain and India and America. Especially memorable is his criticism of Moldova and the subsequent criticism of him by Moldovans. Weiner writes, “All around me, I see misery….is this place really so miserable, or have I fallen prey to what social scientists call confirmation bias?” At the book’s conclusion he mentions how Moldovans who read his book wrote and suggested that he kill himself, to which he reminds us that it was the Moldovan people themselves who reported being so unhappy when queried in a survey.

The entire concept of happiness often confuses Weiner. About Thailand and its people, he writes, “Thais, even those who don’t actively practice Buddhism, maintain a certain equilibrium that I find infuriating. They just don’t get flustered, even when life hurls awfulness their way.”

This is essentially a travelogue with the premise of happiness as a focal point. It’s a smooth and entertaining read that provides fresh insights on what we really value and cherish in life. It also provides decent laughs.


Book Review: Wave – A Memoir of Life After the Tsunami

On the 26th of December, 2004, Sonali Deraniyagala’s friend named Orlantha stood in the doorway of a hotel room in the Yala National Park on the southeastern coast of Sri Lanka. She praised Sonali’s two children and her marriage and said, “What you guys have is a dream.”

She then looked out the window and saw a tsunami wave flushing toward the hotel.

Minutes later Sonali’s ‘dream life’ vanished when her husband, children, parents and friend Orlantha were all killed by the tidal wave that ripped thousands of lives apart in Sri Lanka.


Calm before disaster

Wave is a quick, unsentimental read. Sonali first recalls strange memories of being swept up in water. Her mind recalls unexpected imagery while this nightmare unfolded, while she was temporarily trapped in a car, then swept away. At one point she looked up to the sky. “Painted storks, I thought.  A flight of painted storks across a Yala sky…”

After finding out that her family has been killed, she stays with other family members who live in Sri Lanka. At first, she is resigned to end her own life. She writes, “The next morning my aunt called doctor. A bit pointless, I thought, I will kill myself soon.” And, “I kept Googling ways of killing myself.  I needed to know how to do it successfully, I couldn’t mess it up.” The result of her mindset was that “An army of family and friends guarded me night and day.”

The story describes time in Sri Lanka, and then Sonali’s return to her London home years later. It was there where she had lived with her children, as well as the husband she  had met while studying at Cambridge. For years, Sonali oscillates between depression, denial, and drug abuse.

“This could not have happened to me. This is not me. I teetered endlessly. Look at me, powerless, a plastic bag in a gale.” And, “After my evening of drinking I’d pop two pills, then another two, another four, four more, and two more again, in quick succession. Then a mug of gin.”

She blames herself for the death of their family, though there is no reason to do so.

“How I have fallen. When I had them, they were my pride, and now that I’ve lost them, I am full of shame. I was doomed all along, I am marked, there must be something very wrong with me. These were my constant thoughts in those early months.”


Tranquil, and powerful

The years pass and her ability to handle the loss increases. There are also glimmers of the inexplicable and the synchronous that she, a professor of economics, does not question. One event regarded the sister of her deceased husband.

“Steve’s sister Beverly sat on my bead wiping her tears. On the morning of the twenty-sixth of December, she had woken up in London, weeping. At the time she hadn’t been able to imagine a reason for this….before someone phoned her with news of a tidal wave in Sri Lanka, she had been crying.”

Another occurs when she visits the site of the demolished hotel in Sri Lanka with her deceased husband’s parents. They wander around the wreckage.

“When I came back to my father-in-law, he was holding a sheet of paper, peering at it. He showed it to me. He told me he’d stood in that wind and spoke a few words into the air, to Steve and the boys. That’s when something fluttered by his foot…..just a scrap of paper…It was the back cover of a research report written by Steve…”

With time, her ability to cope increases – not by blocking out the past years with her family, but by embracing them.

“I can recover myself better when I dare let in their light.”

As she re-establishes her life and works not only in London but also in New York, Sonali faces a recurring problem when people she meets ask if she is married or has children, or where her parents live. Mostly, she shrugs off these questions and ignores them. This book, however, is her answer.  It is Sonali’s way of admitting that the past with her family was not a dream, but a beautiful reality, where she learned – as any of us may – how all we cherish can be lost within minutes.


Wave – A Memoir of Life After the Tsunami

by Sonali Deraniyagala

Published by Virago Press, a division of Little, Brown Book Group, London.

Epic Brian Boru Movie in the Making

Check out the websites listed below that hint of an epic upcoming movie.


Inland from the site of Ireland’s most epic battle

In 2005 I traveled to Beal Boru in Ireland to research Brian Boru – Ireland’s greatest chieftain – to write my book River of Ireland.  I was hoping someone would make the movie to celebrate the thousand year anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf – which took place on Easter Day, 1014.  Apparently they are.  Click on any of the following:

Irish Independent Article

RTE article

Cork Independent Article

Raised as a shepherd boy, Boru became Ireland’s greatest chieftain…

During that trip I spent a week traveling alongside the Shannon River. I visited sites to research chapters regarding Boru, as well as other stories based on Irish history – including the Spanish Armada ships that wrecked off Ireland’s coast.  When the trip ended, I still needed another week to finish gathering information. Fortunately, I soon unexpectedly ended up with a few months off between work contracts and returned to Ireland to finish the ‘field research.’  This included interviewing a genetic archaeologist at Dublin’s Trinity College to learn what animals roamed across Ireland a few thousand years BC – the point where my book begins. I also hiked the Shannon callows – low floodplains – with a biologist to find out more about local endangered birds for another chapter.  And though it was still winter and the Brian Boru center was closed, the manager drove down and opened the doors for me so I could do more research.

The Irish Sea – less bloody than one thousand years ago…

River of Ireland is a fictional book based on multiple real key events that shaped the history of Ireland.  One chapter is about the uncanny, inspiring story of Brian Boru.  I’m looking forward to a movie coming out that does justice to this chieftain who united Ireland, and drove out Viking invaders.

If you want to read another fictional book woven around the story of this great chieftain of Ireland, try Lion of Ireland, by Llywelyn Morgan.  She writes some excellent and acclaimed fiction about Ireland.











The Synchronous Trail

Catharsis, coincidence, and death at a splendid spot in Colorado

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This story begins in Boulder, Colorado, and moves through…

Completed years ago, The Synchronous Trail – Enlightened Travels has been updated and is now available as an e-book. It’s available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Here’s a little history about the book.

I finished a draft fifteen years ago, then edited and updated the text several times. The book explores powerful coincidences, and how they can have a major impact on our lives. It’s about a search throughout the world for why and how ‘synchronous events’ – as psychoanalyst Carl Jung called them – occur.

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…northeast England…

This was a tough book to write. Why? Delays and uncertainty. At the beginning I had no idea why some events can knock life off its trajectory or open our minds to view reality in a different way. This meant that writing the book was like making a movie before the screenplay is finished, or constructing a building before the blueprints are ready. There was also the added complication of not knowing if I would ever conclude why these ‘synchronous’ situations impact us. In other words – why start a book if there might be no ending?


…the highlands of Guatemala…


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…Africa’s Great Rift Valley…

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…the Persian Gulf…

I originally wanted the structure to resemble that of Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig – to provide an engaging, entertaining, simple story. Originally, this ‘story’ was going to revolve around my experience of building rural water pipelines in Malawi. But after beginning to write in Africa, I realized that synchronous events were still a mystery. In other words, I could start the story, but not finish.  So I scrapped the idea and instead wrote Water and Witchcraft -Three Years in Malawi – a memoir about colorful years spent in that country.

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…New Mexico…

Eventually the puzzle unraveled. I learned powerful reasons why synchronous events can impact our lives. When I was finally ready to assemble this book, an excruciating task lay ahead: gathering and dissecting past writings and journal entries and weaving these into something that resembled a coherent whole (not as coherent as I would like). This involved paring down often intricate and complex events into simple scenes to provide a clear and simple narrative. The years rolled by as this came together. Finally, I assembled the story as a travelogue – where colors, scents, sounds, and imagery from multiple geographies help ground the context of each chapter.

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…and the Namib Desert

The resulting book is a journey of discovery about how life is far more pliable than most of us realize. Incidentally – my other book titled Synchronicity as Signpost is just the distillate of lessons learned while writing The Synchronous Trail. The difference between these two books – Trail and Signpost – is that between writing the two, I realized that sometimes you just have to relax, and listen to what life is trying to tell you.

I hope you enjoy.

Click here to read more about The Synchronous Trail.

Click here to learn more about Roundwood Press.

Click here to read about other books from Roundwood Press.



Book Review – Inferno by Dan Brown

On a recent trip to Italy I brought a hefty hardcover copy of the new book Inferno by Dan Brown.

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The plot moves from Tuscany…

The first half is entertaining, engaging, and filled with promise. Brown also educates us about historical happenings in a way that is seamlessly entertaining. Then, in trying to manufacture surprise, the plot tries to back out of its entire premise. This doesn’t work. Readers want plots to move forward, not to circle around like a dog chasing its tail. The plot plummets as credibility disappears, consistency vanishes, and Brown offers us a personal, editorial polemic as an ending. Readers want entertainment. For morals or for preaching we can read Aesop’s Fables or editorials from a newspaper.

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…to Turkey

It’s also disquieting that the publisher of a guaranteed best-seller refused to shell out enough money to hire an editor who knows the difference between the words ‘enormous’ and ‘enormity.’ Not once, but twice. Coming from a supposedly ‘reputable’ New York publishing house, this insult to the English language is egregious. The inside of a cathedral may be enormous, while a cruel punishment would constitute an enormity. Enormous refers to size. Enormity refers to something morally wrong.

The word ‘deplane’ is also used twice. It’s not a word. A noun is not a verb. It’s an airline company’s display that they are linguistically incompetent. Would we ‘decar’ after driving, or ‘desleep’ in the morning or ‘deoffice’ after work? Mmmm…it may be time to ‘deread’ Dan Brown’s books.

Perhaps the movie will be better. It would be difficult not to be.

Click here to read about my own book titled River of Tuscany.

Click here to read about other books from Roundwood Press.

Watchful in a War Zone

On a forgotten and rutted dirt road in Angola, our Land Cruiser got stuck in mud. The nearest town was a four hour drive away. I got out and sat on a log and realized I had malaria. We ate mangoes and sweated and waited five hours before the first random vehicle approached.

Check out our happy rescue tow-truck:

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An unexpected tow truck

This scene epitomizes Angola – where tragedy mixes with joy, beautiful landscapes are sprinkled with land mines, and sweetness is never far from sorrow.

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A questionable bridge

But here is the strange thing: after living through decades of bombings, machine gun attacks and watching the slaughter of friends and compatriots – these people still laugh. A lot. They smile. A lot. They sing and joke and flirt with open abandon. They think that helping strangers stuck in mud is nothing short of a grand adventure. That’s an eye opener. Talk about resilience.

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Buying black market gasoline

Angola is beautiful. There are lush green highlands, horseshoe shaped waterfalls, gorgeous glens and tranquil beaches. It was clobbered by civil war after Portuguese settlers pulled out. The war lasted decades. Roads decayed, telephone lines disintegrated, and buildings were punctured by aerial bombs. The scenario grew ugly.

These are a few photos from my e-book Water after War – Seasons in Angola.


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A rainbow of hope

I had the fortune to spend a few months in northern Angola in the late 1990s. Later, after leaving the country to work in a cushy job with a poolside apartment in Dubai, I ended up returning to Angola for a few months. Why? The landscape is seducing, and addictive. The cease fire between wily rebels and a Marxist government lasted for over a year before guns rattled again and bullets flew and rocket launchers downed United Nations helicopters delivering food to internal refugees.

The rolling hills of Uige

With beauty…



…lurks danger

When peace arrived and the war – which was more about egos than ideology – ended, Angolans were happy to leave the memory of those decades behind. Now they have roads to improve, bridges to repair, mine fields to clear, crops to grow and inflation to reign in. They’re still smiling as they go to it. They are a proud people looking ahead, not behind.

Click here to read more about the book Water after War – Seasons in Angola. [Click, then scroll down the new page.]




Namibian Magic

Thanks for the recent show of interest in the book – The Deep Sand of Damarland – A Journal of Namibia.

Below are a few photos of Namibia from the book.


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The massive sand dunes of Sossflei, Namibia

This book is a simple tale about living and working in an African country – it’s also about the power of shifting how we think.

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Within days of arriving to work in Namibia, I was flustered, semi-despondent and ready to resign.  My girlfriend lived on a different continent, the project I was assigned to manage was a mess, the boss skipped out to another country and told me to deal with visitors to the project, and I lived in a hot remote town in an alien land.

But I stayed.  After all, there was nothing to lose.  That realization was relaxing.  When I regarded the job and situation as a playful challenge, reality seemed to bend itself to accommodate desires.

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94 Alice Rob Swakopmund - a - psRebecca and Marie PCVs - psAlso – after a few drives across a harsh, barren, desolate desert – the landscape itself turned beautiful.

During these months I met intriguing characters – a German bicyclist who recalled – with joy – the adventure of getting mugged in a distant city, or cowboy contractors who could have been plucked from a storybook.

(“…he told me how as a boy, he lived rough and wild and used to ride out to the bush on horseback to lasso giraffes.”)


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The sands of time

The more I relaxed, the more the entire scenario became like a dream.  Desired friends and situations began appearing from nowhere.  By throwing away the notion of an ‘ideal’ life and embracing free time, open space, and  a mesmerizing landscape (plus the odd and random sighting of elephants or giraffes), living off the beaten track turned magical.

You can click here to read more about The Deep Sand of Damarland.



Leadership Lessons from an Irish Chieftain

Today – Roundwood Press releases a new ebook.

Okay, it’s a pamphlet.

Irish Chieftain Cover NEW Updated Cropped

How powerful are these lessons?

Nine hundred and ninety-nine years, one month, ten days and give or take about an hour ago (as of this posting), Ireland’s greatest ever chieftain – Brian Boru – wielded these lessons to change the destiny of an island, and crack the power of Viking invaders.

On Easter Day in the year 1014, these lessons powered the man who grew up as a shepherd boy to galvanize a thousand tribes, summon enemy longboats from as far away as Iceland to do battle, coalesce the energies of vibrant but disheveled island people, and smash the raging armies of arrogant foreign plunderers. Boru’s greatest battle – at Clontarf along the Irish Sea – raged all day, but the outcome was clear by mid-afternoon.

This pamphlet summarizes challenges faced, and victories won, by Brian Boru, and highlights lessons he mastered to change the fate of Ireland.

Today, these lessons are still potent – whether to gain personal victory, or to reshape the course of life.

This is the first publication from the new Dreaming Leader series. It kicks off a series of concise, inexpensive lessons that are clear, simple, and practical.  Upcoming titles will include lessons from a Carthaginian general who invaded and defeated the Romans, as well as lessons from Eleanor of Aquitaine, a powerful but unconventional female ruler in France.

The main Roundwood Press website page will soon be updated to include this new series.  In the meantime, click on the cover image above for information from Amazon, or click here for details from Barnes and Noble.

You don’t need an ereader – you can download the Kindle app or Nook app to your phone, computer, or Ipad.  We realize and understand how you love printed books.  So do we.  And they are not going away.  But the time has come to also enjoy another format for reading – that of ebooks.

We appreciate your visit to Roundwood Press.

As the Irish say – Go raibh míle maith agat.  

Let a thousand thanks be upon you.

Click here to read more about Leaderships Lessons of an Irish Chieftain.

Video from Roundwood Country

Images of misty, magical terrain in Ireland are included in this short video.  These shots were taken this past April in County Wicklow.

They include Roundwood reservoir, the ancient monastery and lake at Glendalough, a waterfall near Sally Gap, and the Irish Sea.

Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 9.14.11 PMTo enjoy the best quality viewing, after clicking the YouTube video to begin, click on the toothed gear wheel at the bottom right.

Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 1.47.39 PMNext, click the top option (“1080p HD”). This will provide the best quality viewing. You may have to wait for it to load, or ‘buffer.’  Be patient – the images of tranquility will be worth it.


Read all web log posts about Roundwood Press here.  Or visit the Home Page.

Wandering Italy with Hermann Hesse

(This is the first of occasional posts about authors whose words and thoughts reshaped the thinking of generations.)


Looking down from San Vigilio village toward upper Bergamo


ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO, German author Hermann Hesse visited the upper and lower cities of Bergamo in Italy, fifty kilometers northeast of Milan.


The Orobie, or Bergamo Alps

Hesse was in his mid-30’s. He had recently fathered a third child and had yet to write Siddhartha or The Glass Bead Game. But this trip came before a brave, pivotal moment in his life.

Hesse paced over curving, cobbled alleyways between stone clock towers, ancient cathedrals, and red tile roof homes inside the walled upper city – Città alta – before climbing to the higher village of San Vigilio. From here he looked out toward plains, alps, and lush hillsides that inspired his remark of this being one of Italy’s more beautiful corners.

Hesse visited three years after publishing his novel Gertrude, in 1910.

At the opening of this book the narrator declares “Even if, as it is decreed by the gods, fate has inexorably trod over my external existence as it does with everyone, my inner life has been of my own making. I desire its sweetness and bitterness and accept full responsibility for it.”

Sage words from a wanderer.

How much did Hesse adhere to what he wrote about individual responsibility? In 1914, the year after he visited Bergamo and the year in which the First World War broke out, Hesse was assigned a military duty of guarding prisoners. He then wrote an essay that advocated this his fellow citizens stay wary of zealous nationalism. The result was such a backlash that he eventually forfeited his citizenship and took a Swiss passport instead. In retrospect, his bold words appear prophetic.

Only after purchasing my ticket to Bergamo did I learn of Hesse’s visit to the village just above that city – San Vigilio.


A sweet patch of earth to call home


DSC_7253After traveling from the Città alta via a funicolare cable tram to San Vigilio village, I found an outdoor cafe where a half dozen people sat. The waiter refused to serve me, saying I had to wait an hour before lunch time. Mystified and frustrated, I paced instead to the neighboring San Vigilio Ristorante Pizzeria, with a magnificent view down valley.

The unexpected snub from the previous waiter delivered good fortune. I sat and read a restaurant pamphlet, which told how this eatery opened in 1913 with the name Isola Bella (Beautiful Island). Hesse had visited this location that same year, where he had a ‘quick glimpse at the glass doors’ of this same restaurant and was inspired to enter because of the view.

DSC_7281In a show of happy solidarity with this wandering writer, I ordered casoncelli, Bergamese pasta rolled to resemble the winged hat of a nun, topped with bacon. I then drank a glass of Valcalepio rosso local red wine.

Hesse won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946, but his book sales plummeted before being revived again by the 1960s ‘counterculture’ movement in the US and Europe. Hesse often wrote about unexpected twists of journeys that shape us.

Casconceli pasta

Casoncelli pasta

Years after this visit to Italy, Hesse moved to live in the Swiss hillside village of Montagnola, high above Lake Lugano. This enclave shares much in common with San Vigilio – being a small and sparsely populated hillside community with access to stunning views, crisp air, and no sense of rush. Were I a betting man, I’d guess that his first visit to Montagnola reminded him of his happy visit to San Vigilio. Regardless, this wandering author who inspired generations to seek personal enlightenment before monetary gain knew the value not only of beautiful countrysides, but of courage.


Simple headstone for a powerful thinker – in Certenago, Switzerland

Learn more about Roundwood Press, or the author, or the books.

Bubbles, Bocce Ball, and Book Launch

This Roundwood Press website launched earlier this month. Considering this took place in south Asia in a relatively restrictive environment regarding alcohol – celebrations were low key. Still – champagne and beer flowed, and dinner included homeade dishes made by several people. This food related to geography included in books sold by Roundwood Press.

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This included Irish soda bread, Tuscan tortellini (challenging – considering the Chinese pasta maker handle cranks backward), Panamanian marinated and barbecued snapper with lime and chile, Middle Eastern tabouli, banoffy pie concocted out of a recipe from Malawi, and American brownies.  Guests included folks from France, Norway, Colombia, Pakistan, Australia and the US. We even linked in a friend from Karachi via Video Skype.


IMG_9044 - aBetween glasses of Carlsberg and Domaine de La Janasse Côtes du Rhône red wine, we played games of rootop bocce ball – or boules.

Thanks to those of you who could not attend – but followed us online. And thanks for showing interest in the books!

I hope you’re interested in follow ups, and suggest you sign on for updates to this web log on the Home page.

16 Writing Tips


Here are a few writing tips.  They include lessons learned over time, as well as insights harvested from writers who shaped the tastes of generations.

"There is no friend as loyal as a book" - Hemingway

“There is no friend as loyal as a book” – Hemingway

1.  Make your writing active, not passive. “The Visigoths defended Carcassonne” instead of “Carcassonne was defended by Visigoths.”  Your subject should perform the action, rather than be the receiver of action.

Read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.  Read it every year.

2. Use short words and short sentences.

Why?  Read The Art of Readable Writing by Rudolf Flesch.

3. Minimize adverbs.  He ran.  Not: He ran quickly.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez (author of One Hundred Years of Solitude) tries to eliminate every adverb from his writings.  This makes the text tighter and easier to read.

4. Spice up your writing with smells, sights, and specifics – she stuffed six pairs of dirty Levis in a green cotton laundry sack before breakfast. Or this from The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd: “Moments later shadows moved like spatter paint along the walls, catching the light when they passed the window so I could see the outline of wings.” Got it? Spatter paint. Wings.

5. Ground your scenes in some physical space. Don’t float. Whether a castle, a cast iron bed, or a mosquito ridden swamp – people have to be somewhere.

6. Dialog. Use plenty.

7. Outline, outline, outline. James Patterson (the highest earning author of 2012) described this as the key to writing when he spoke at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books years ago.

"I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil" - Truman Capote

“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil” – Truman Capote

8. My mother’s advice – when it gets too serious, crack it open with levity.

9. Surprise. Now and then. Ken Follet writes that, “There is a rule which says that the story should turn about every four to six pages. A story turn is anything that changes the basic dramatic situation.”

10. Write first, then get it right. Write it down. Edit afterwards.

11. Show, don’t tell.  In Moby Dick, Melville writes,  “What of it, if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me to get a broom and sweep down the decks?” instead of, “I had concerns about the trip.”

12. Break the rules – judiciously. But first earn that priveledge by learning when the literary police take off for a lunch break.

13. Write about what turns you on. Need inspiration? Read Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury.

14. Here’s potent advice from Ernest Hemingway: Finish What You Begin.

15. This is odd, but essential advice I once read about writing:  be a likable person. Otherwise, become one.

16. Read. Novels, cookbooks, comics, newspapers, blogs, laundry machine instructions, magazines, dentist office Monster Truck magazines….whatever.

Most importantly – enjoy!

Read more about Roundwood, and this website.





Roundwood Press is Live!

Welcome to Roundwood Press.  Millennia of battles, raids, subjugation and victory forged the character of Irish people, while years of writing shaped these books.  I hope you find a topic you enjoy.


These books were written over a span of decades. Whether you like fiction or non-fiction, or history, adventure, romance, philosophy or self-help – something here should suit your tastes. Some reads are quick and easy, while others are longer and more intricate.

Click on the Home tab – there are a dozen books available.  Here are suggestions about what to choose from any series:

IMG_8808Water and Wine Series –

Wine and Work – is an easy read that includes words, stories, and insights told by more than 50 people from around the world.


Chitipa easterAfrican Raindrop Series – 

The Deep Sand of Damaraland – is a simple read about quirky people working in a stunning land.


DSC_6756Curving Trail Series – 

Synchronicity as Signpost – is a fast, easy read that may open your mind to fresh possibilities.


DSC_6536Rivers of Time Series 

River of Tuscany – includes tales of battle, genius, and even cookery based on real events.


LivingstoniaVagabond Series –

Trailing Tara – skips around the world with unusual surprises, determined characters, and a hunt that can change the course of civilization.

Thanks for visiting Roundwood Press.


Roundwood Press is Live!

Welcome to Roundwood Press.  Millennia of battles, raids, subjugation and victory forged the character of Irish people, while years of writing shaped these books.  I hope you find a topic you enjoy.


These books were written over a span of decades. Whether you like fiction or non-fiction, or history, adventure, romance, philosophy or self-help – something here should suit your tastes. Some reads are quick and easy, while others are longer and more intricate.

Click on the Home tab – there are a dozen books available.  Here are suggestions about what to choose from any series:

IMG_8808Water and Wine Series –

Wine and Work – is an easy read that includes words, stories, and insights told by more than 50 people from around the world.


Chitipa easterAfrican Raindrop Series – 

The Deep Sand of Damaraland – is a simple read about quirky people working in a stunning land.


DSC_6756Curving Trail Series – 

Synchronicity as Signpost – is a fast, easy read that may open your mind to fresh possibilities.


DSC_6536Rivers of Time Series 

River of Tuscany – includes tales of battle, genius, and even cookery based on real events.


LivingstoniaVagabond Series –

Trailing Tara – skips around the world with unusual surprises, determined characters, and a hunt that can change the course of civilization.

Thanks for visiting Roundwood Press.