Monthly Archives: May 2015

Moyra Caldecott – a personal tribute

The writer Moyra Caldecott, passed away peacefully on 23 May, a week shy of her 88th birthday, in Bath, a city she wrote about in two of her novels, The Winged Man and The Waters of Sul.  Meeting her soon after moving to the city in 1996, she became a dear friend and enthusiastic supporter of my writing. She gave me advice that has served me well ever since: ‘Write the book you want to read’. Following this, I went on to write my first novel, The Long Woman (Awen, 2004). A series followed, The Windsmith Elegy, and Moyra dutifully read and praised every one, alongside my poetry and non-fiction. Having an experienced, well-published writer encourage me in this was very affirming and motivational.

Moyra was born in Pretoria, Transvaal, South Africa, in 1927. She received a good education at Natal University and was awarded a degree in English and Philosophy, and an MA in English Literature. In 1950 she moved to Cape Town, where she met her husband, Oliver Caldecott, a key anti-Apartheid campaigner. When the crack down on the anti-Apartheid movement made it too dangerous for the Caldecotts to stay, they moved to England in 1951. They married and were to be blessed with 3 intelligent, talented children, a daughter and two sons, who matured in an artist, scientist and writer, respectively. Oliver worked as in publishing, as Chief Editor for Penguin Fiction, in the 1960s, before starting his own publishing house in the 70s, Wildwood House, but Moyra, who started to write in her late 40s, got published by her own merits. Her first novel was published in her early 50s, and she went on to have over 30 novels and non-fiction books published. Her best known work is the Guardians of the Tall Stones trilogy, inspired by the Avebury World Heritage site. She was fascinated by Prehistory, by Celtic Tradition, but was also very knowledgeable about other traditions and faith systems, as her non-fiction collections illustrated (Crystal Legends; Myths of the Sacred Tree; Mythical Journeys, Legendary Quests).

Another well-received trilogy about ancient Egypt, focusing on Akhenaten and Hatshepsut (The Son of the Sun; The Daughter of Ra; The Ghost of Akhenaten) led to Moyra being contacted by the pop star Tina Turner, who paid for her to accompany her to Egypt, acting as a personal guide to the ancient sites – an experience which Moyra spoke of with fondness and delight.

In the Spring of 1989, with Oliver’s health failing, they moved to Bath. He had become an artist in his later years, creating pictures which Moyra treasured. In November of that year Oliver passed away.  They had been married for nearly 40 years.

Moyra was a founder member of the (now dormant) Bladud Society, dedicated to raising awareness about Bath’s Celtic heritage. In my time as Bard of Bath (1998-9), I organised monthly gatherings at the Bladud’s Head in Larkhall. In the first Bardic Festival of Bath, in 1998, Moyra gave an excellent talk on Bladud and Sulis, and the healing springs of the city (Aquae Sulis). She was an eloquent and engaging speaker. She said of her novels: ‘Some people have asked me if they are memories. I certainly believe life, and our experience of it, is complex and multi-dimensional, and the borders of time and space have no relevance to our consciousness, of which the imagination is an important and integral part.’

In her later years she liked to perform her visionary poetry at local open mics until she lost the power of speech. Then friends were to step in and offer to read poems on her behalf at various events, some of which I organised at local bookshops and pubs.

Moyra was made an Honorary Bard of Caer Badon (Bath) in 2005, in recognition of her works and continuing inspiration.

A memoir of her life, Multi-dimensional Life, was published on her 80th birthday by Bath-based Mushroom Books. She is survived by her 2 of her 3 children, her daughter, the glass artist Rachel, and son, the biologist Julian Caldecott.

Kevan Manwaring

30 May 2015

Wonderlands

Yesterday I attended an inspiring conference at the University of Chichester, hosted by the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairytales and Fantasy (an initiative set up by Professor Bill Gray). The theme related to the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland, but the papers were wide-ranging, covering Scottish folklore, ecopoetics, film adaptations of Narnia, an Alice tarot, storytelling, and much more. I gave a paper on the late great Graham Joyce – The Kingdom of Dreams. It was good to honour this superb author who sadly died in September 2014.

The day kicked off with an excellent keynote speech by Professor Diane Purkiss on an obscure Scottish witch, Andrew Mann. As it looked into much familiar folklore of the Borders, dear to my heart (or should I say hart, as she focused on the witch’s stag-lord, who Mann called rather euphemistically, Christ Sunday) it fascinated me. Purkiss is an engaging speaker.

Then the panels got under way on the topics of: Material Wonder: Fantasy, Ecology and Language; Re-Imagining the Fantastic: Contemporary Adaptations of Fairy Tales; Gossip from the Forest: Spirits of Place in Fantastical Fiction; Crossing the Borders: Creative and Critical Explorations of Wonder (where my talk ended up); Aspects of Alice and Narnia: Adventures on Screen, Page, and Pack; The World’s Fantastic: Stories Global, Local and Fantastical. After lunch there was an excellent talk by master illustrator, John Vernon Lord on his versions of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. This was followed by a fantastic story by Steven O’brien. After the afternoon panels we were treated to an hour of excellent storytelling hosted by Jo Blake Cave, with Joanne Coleman, Abbi Palache and Michael O’Leary. The day ended with a lovely dinner and some animated conversations. The delegates were diverse, intelligent and friendly. The atmosphere was warm, collegiate – there was a sense of kindred spirits connecting through their passions and expertise. A superb stimulating day, well organised and well attended. A real success, and a pleasure to have been part of.

http://www.sussexfolktalecentre.org/

Deep Time, Deep Love

Saturday 9th May: Deep Time launch, Stroud

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Saturday saw the culmination of a lifetime’s obsession – the publication of my friend Anthony Nanson’s first novel, Deep Time. This 300 thousand plus word magnum opus Nanson has been plotting and planning consciously since the mid-Eighties, but as a charming childhood booklet, The Lost World, revealed read out by Anthony’s father, the author had been haunted by dinosaurs and the depths of time for a long time (in human terms). Many friends and family gathered at the ‘British School’, behind the popular Star Anise Café at the bottom of town, to celebrate Anthony’s 50th birthday on – and what a way to celebrate: with the launch of the handsome trade paperback edition of Deep Time by innovative Stroud-based publisher, Hawthorn Press. The dress code was ‘tropical’ and some guests had made a real effort with the costumes. We were invited from 7pm although things didn’t really kick off officially until nearly 9pm – Anthony wanted people to have plenty of time to mingle and browse the book, or rather books, as it was a double book launch – the other title, Ecozoa, published by Permanent Publications, is the new collection by radical Frome-based eco-poet, Helen Moore (another dear friend from my Bath days). Anthony, in his typically gracious way, shared the limelight with Helen – their work was thematically simpatico, and she also celebrated her birthday – as well as with other bardic friends. David Metcalfe, long-time host of the Bath Storytelling Circle MC ed the evening with his usual gravitas, starting with the crowd-pleasing Big Yellow Taxi (setting the ecobardic tone of the evening). Local poet singer Jehanne Mehta – another birthday girl (on the actual day itself – Helen and Anthony’s straddle either side of it) recited a couple of stirring poems about Albion (another Blakean nod) and Wales. Poet and psychotherapist Jay Ramsay introduced Helen most eloquently and passionately. Helen performed 4 poems from the collection, one from each ‘zoa’ (the collection is structured on the 4 Zoas of Blake) with her trademark sincerity and clarity.

Some of the glamorous inhabitants of the Ecozoic - poet Helen Moore (centre) with friends. By Kevan Manwaring

Join the Party! Some of the glamorous inhabitants of the Ecozoic – poet Helen Moore (centre) with friends. By Kevan Manwaring

Then fellow Bath Spa lecturer Mimi Thebo introduced Anthony, singing his praises, before Anthony introduced the book and the long journey of its evolution. Jay was invited back up to recite his epigraphic poem, before Anthony regaled us with an extract recited, impressively, from memory. Holding the book like some peripatetic preacher wielding his bible for authority (as John Wesley probably did, preaching from a butcher’s block in the Shambles, when he used to pass through Stroud), Anthony conjured up his vision of deep time with conviction and storytelling brio. He held the audience spell-bound. Some earlier drumming by Jay and local artist Herewood Gabriel evoke some kind of tribal aesthetic, and Anthony’s word-sparks now conjured up the story fire of the rainforest, the textual simulacrum of such now brought to life with his living breath. Afterwards, glasses were charged for some heartfelt toasts – to his publishers and to his parents, most poignantly his mother, whose ill health prevented her from attending. Anthony’s father took to the stage to share the embryo text from Anthony’s childhood palaeome. Finally, David finished off with his stirring version of ‘She Moves Through the Fair’. And then the revels continued for a little while longer – dinosaur cupcakes were to be imbibed (raising money for a children’s’ cancer charity) and hearty Adnams ale from Southwold, courtesy of Kirsty’s generous stepfather, Dave. There was much clearing up but many hands made light work. The babies’ respective heads had been wetted, and guests departed heart-warmed by this double-birth spectacle, but more from the quality of love that poured towards the man at the heart of it all, enjoying the harvest of half a century.

Deep Time is available from Hawthorn Press: http://www.hawthornpress.com/books/art-and-science/deep-time/

Read Anthony’s blog (with guest poet from Helen) here: https://nansondeeptime.wordpress.com/

Ecozoa Cover

Ecozoa is available from Permanent Publications: http://permanentpublications.co.uk/port/ecozoa-by-helen-moore/

Bard of Hawkwood announced

Dominic James, Bard of Hawkwood 2015 by Kevan Manwaring

Dominic James, Bard of Hawkwood 2015 by Kevan Manwaring

After a thrilling Battle of the Bards the winner of the Bard of Hawkwood 2015 contest was announced at Hawkwood College’s Open Day. The crowds gathered on the lawn for the Adult Education college’s annual fete, May Day Bank Holiday Monday, 4th May.

·         The spoken word contest was announced last May Day – for the tradition is it must be publicly declared a year in advance in the space it is to be held in. The contest was created by local writer and storyteller, Kevan Manwaring, a former winner of the Bard of Bath contest (1998-9) and author of The Bardic Handbook. He moved to Bath 5 years ago and has founded the Cotswold Word Centre: a platform for language, literacy and literature at Hawkwood College. The Bard of Hawkwood contest is one of its initiatives to promote the local literary scene.

·         ‘Stroud has such a buzzing creative scene that it seemed the natural place to start a Bardic Chair. Its literary heritage, inspiring landscape, and vibrant artistic community all help to make the conditions ideal,’ said Kevan Manwaring, founder of the Bard of Hawkwood.

·         Kevan set the theme for the competition: Flood, and helped choose the judges. He arranged a series of events leading up to the contest, including an Imbolc Bardic Showcase at Hawkwood in early February, and the monthly Story Supper and Stroud Out Loud! Sessions.

·         3 judges were selected – Anthony Nanson (storyteller/author), Jehanne Mehta (singer/poet) and Deborah Leah (trustee of Hawkwood College).

·         The 5 criteria they had to make their decision upon were: 1. Literary Merit and relevance to theme. 2. Poetry/Storytelling/Singing skill, 3. Audience awareness, participation and response, 4. Overall performance, stage presence or ‘awen’ (inspiration), and 5. Bardic Statement. Each entrant performed their entry in turn, and then they read out their Bardic Statements, explaining what they would do if they won the Chair.

·         After the performances and statements the judges showed their own skills – Anthony Nanson performed his story of Simonides and the Palace of Memory; and Jehanne was joined by her partner, Rob Mehta to perform their song ‘Green Jack’, which got everybody singing along.

·         While the judges deliberated there were performances by Kevan Manwaring and Richard Maisey, who have kindly lent the Chair for the contest. It is from the 1882 Denbighshire Eisteddfod, and, until this contest, has remained unclaimed.

·         When the judges returned they announced the winner, Dominic James, a Chalford resident, who won the contest with his impressive suite of poems, ‘Athelney’. All agreed the standard was very high and the decision a difficult one, although in the end, it was unanimous.

·         Dominic’s first official engagement will be at the Seed Festival at Hawkwood College on Saturday, July 18th.

·         The winner will choose the theme for the next year’s contest. All residents aged 18 or over (by May Day 2016) of GL5, GL6, and GL10 may enter. Details will be announced in the Autumn. Anybody interested in being involved in helping out are invited to get in touch via Hawkwood College.