Category Archives: Myths

Meltdown

traffic jam file new delhi

BBC WORLD SERVICE

Icelandic volcano eruption causes major disruption across Europe.

A recent spectacular eruption in Iceland, predicted for sometime by experts, has closed down European air space yet again. In 2010 the volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted, grounding 100,000 flights in the largest commercial air-traffic shutdown since World War Two. And now Katla, a neighbour in the Katla Geopark, has erupted – causing an earthquake 6.4 on the Richter scale, which created shockwaves that reached the north of England. Since late on Saturday night vast amounts of toxic material have been thrown up into the jet-stream, where it is causing a major hazard to aircraft. Aeronautical engineer, Helen Macdonald said: ‘When ash is sucked into a jet engine, it is heated to such a high temperature it turns into molten glass. When it reaches the back of the engine, it cools, solidifies on the turbine blades, jamming the engine and causing the plane to plunge out of the sky.’ Vulcanologist, Sten Olafsson, said: ‘This has been a long time coming. The last time Katla erupted was in 1918. It threw up five times as much ash as Eyjafjallajökull and extended Iceland’s south-coast by three miles. The glacial melt released was similar in volume to the Amazon river. There was major destruction, although amazingly no one was killed that time. Unlike when Laki went up in 1783. That explosion killed a fifth of Iceland’s population, and created an ash cloud that covered the northern hemisphere for months, reducing temperatures to three degrees. Winds brought tonnes of lethal sulphur dioxide and sulphuric acid to your Britain, where an estimated 23,000 people died from poisoning and extreme cold. The poisonous ash created a fog that closed ports. The sun turned the colour of blood. Crops and farmworkers died in the fields. Some believe it triggered the French revolution.’ Europe’s travel systems are in meltdown as millions of travellers attempt to get to their destinations by other means. Train stations are experiencing chaos and major roads are gridlocked. Jeremiad Hopkins, controversial social media ‘influencer’ tweeted: “We are finally paying the price for the cholesterol of capitalism. The blood clots of a corrupt system. Europe’s infrastructure is having deep vein thrombosis.” Leader of the GB-Homefront party, Roger Fandango, said: ‘This is exactly why we need to get out of Europe. If we go down, we go down with them.’

Chapter 1: Meltdown

The young man on the Ducati motorcycle filtered through the gridlocked traffic. Eddy Redcrow had been riding all night. From Italy, through Switzerland, and now, at first light, into Germany. He’d travelled further down any of these poor souls would for some time, but with the endless jams he hadn’t been able to get up to speed and had barely covered three hundred and sixty miles in twelve hours. Yet, slowly, he was making progress. Up ahead, the traffic message boards weren’t boding well. Serious delays ahead. What, worse than this? Time to find another route.

Looking down, he checked updates on his satnav. His phone was playing up; the signal fracturing. He gave it a frustrated tap. No good. On a whim he turned off the autobahn as soon as he could – a junction to somewhere obscure – and pulled over on the slip road. He flipped up his tinted visor – showing fierce blue eyes, an angry brow, red skin. A ponytail of long black hair poked out from the base of his lid like dark tail-feathers. His appearance seemed apt for his name, so his friends joked. He pulled out the atlas from his tankbag and followed his intended route with his finger, from Pisa to Calais: fourteen hours, fourteen hundred clicks. He spotted a straight-ish country road, going north-by-north west, and nodded. Looked promising. He was tired and rubbed his eyes. He would need some coffee soon. The new day was about to start, though you would barely tell it.

The sky was dark again. Traffic jams stretched into the smoggy distance of the autobahn – an endless stream of red and white lights. Nothing was moving. As dawn broke over the land to a chorus of car-horns and road-rage, it could have been a scene from an apocalyptic movie.

Tired of the babble of rolling news, which seemed to be stuck on a Moebius loop of clueless politicians, failing to quell the rising panic, vox pops and punditry – Eddy Redcrow changed from radio tuner to music – selecting shuffle and revved the bike into action as a blistering rock track kicked in. He felt the tension of the autobahn melt away as he accelerated to a hundred along a blissfully empty country road. He would use his own navigational skills (‘your blood’s sat-nav’, Grandpa Running Bear called it) to cross this benighted land.

As he lost himself in the rhythm of the ride and the hard chords of the rock music, his mind flipped back to Pisa.

‘What do you mean, it’s over?’

Eddy held his arms out in disbelief. He wore a faded AC-DC t-shirt, Levis and shades. His girlfriend, a light summer dress which revealed more than it concealed. They had parked up in a view of the famous leaning tower. Tourists snapped away around them, the digital cameras making artificial shutter sounds. Despite the early summer crowds, it should have been perfect. The Italian sun caressed them, made everything stand out like a Surrealist painting. Their body language was a tableau, classic ‘arguing couple’.

‘I can’t go on, Edward.’

She always used the formal version of his name when she was upset. He hated it. He wanted to correct, but gritted his teeth.

‘We’ve only just started the tour! You wait until we’re all the way out here to tell me … this! You know how long it took to save for this trip. How many crummy shifts!’ He let his hands drop, shook his head. ‘I just don’t believe it!’

‘It’s hard to stop you, once you get started. It’s like when you ride that damned bike. I swear you have a death wish.’

‘Ah, that’s the real problem here. You hate the wheels. But you knew the deal. You chose to go out with a biker, for crissakes! When I suggested a bike tour of Europe, you leapt at the idea.’

‘I know. It sounded totally wild. But I didn’t realise it would … take so long to get around. And we’d have to wear all that gear. Uh. And hardly take any luggage. My butt aches after being on that thing all day.’

‘You seemed to like it at first – enjoying the views. It was a buzz, you said.’

‘Yes, we saw Naples; nearly died. But the thrill has … worn off. I want to travel in style and … comfort.’

‘Listen to you – you sound like someone whose retired! I thought you wanted some rock ‘n’ roll?’

‘Sure. But I like to change the station as well. That rock is deafening – after a while, it all sounds the same. Planet Rock, pluh– lease. Give me a break!’

Eddy looked over the glittering waters, scanning it for some meaning in all of this. ‘I thought you were different. Not just another Lake girl. You were so spontaneous. Now I see you just wanted a bit of excitement – to liven up your life.’

‘Oh, because it was so dull before you came along! Get real! Some of us grow up, get real jobs, want a real life. Not to keep riding…’

‘What are you getting at?’

A group of Japanese tourists stood watching them, filming it all. Eddy gave them the finger.

‘You can’t keep running forever, Edward.’

He gripped the rail, knuckles whitening.

‘A girl can’t pin her hopes on some … tumbleweed, blowing through life. Maybe one day you’ll realise that.’ She turned on heels and walked off.

Eddy watched her go.

Numb, he walked absentmindedly until he ended up by the bay. The black holes of his shades mirrored the beautiful vista. The seagulls harsh call seemed to mock him. Letting out a roar, he kicked the spare helmet onto the beach, to the alarm of Italian sunbathers who gesticulated their annoyance with verve. Sighing, he went to collect it. He picked it up, dusted it down, and walked along the beach, scanning the breakers. Their boom and hiss said it all.

The Ducati roared along the straight country road – an old Roman road, surely, Eddy pondered –  the needle pushing a ton. The rock track reached its feedback crescendo as he shot over some train tracks just before the barriers came down. A train rumbled past as he sped ahead. Suddenly, beneath a line of poplars he spotted a figure. A woman, with her thumb out.  As he approached he slowed down a little. She had a good figure. A very good figure accentuated by tight jeans, high boots and a leather jacket unzipped to reveal a figure hugging top. Designer shades. Spiky ash-blonde hair.

Eddy dropped gears and tugged on his front brake, sending the bike into a semi-circular skid, leaving a crescent of burning rubber. He rumbled to a stop, just a few yards passed the crossroads. He turned to look back, as she flicked away a cigarette, picking up a small bag, which she slung over her shoulder and walked towards him. ‘Walked’ doesn’t do it justice – the movement her lower body seemed to make, independent of the upper half. He took off his helmet and found himself beaming. ‘Want a lift?’

‘Sure,’ she said, with a faint Nordic accent, lifting up her shades, revealing eyes the colour of glacier melt. ‘Nice bike.’

‘Wish it were mine.’

The woman looked at him steadily.

‘Not that. Hired, for the grand tour that never was.’ He shrugged. ‘Where you heading?’ He was mesmerised by her face – and the rest of her he tried not to think about.

‘To the coast. I need to get to Britain.’

‘You’re in luck. So do I. I hear they’re still letting flights out of Aberdeen. Hop on.’

She appraised him and the bike coolly. ‘Can I trust you – on this?’

‘Lady, I’ve been riding bikes since I was a boy. Have a hog, but I wanted to check out a European bike. Belong to a gang back home.’ He anticipated her response. ‘No patches –  just for kicks. But you’re safer with me than some of the clowns on the road.’

‘I have your word of honour?’

Eddy laughed. ‘Not a word you hear very often these days, but, of course.’ He placed his hand on his heart. ‘By the code of the Runestone Cowboys – share the road, but not your woman!’

She took his hand and held it very firmly, nails white as teeth. ‘A man who does not live with honour is no man at all.’

‘Phew, I bet you’re one helluva ball-breaker when you wanna be, huh?’ He got off and unlocked the tail box. ‘Here, you’ll need this.’ He handed her the spare helmet, shaking out the remains of the sand.

She laughed, showing bright teeth.

‘Eddy Redcrow.’

‘Pleasure. I’m Fenja … Bergrisar.’

‘Pardon, mam?’

‘It’s an old name. Fenja with a ‘j’ but you pronounce it with a ‘y’.’ Eddy looked confused. ‘You can call me Fen if you like.’

‘Whereabouts you from, Fen?’ asked Eddy.

‘Guess.’

‘Somewhere Scandinavian, clearly..?’

She shook her head.

‘Mm, Icelandic?’

She smiled inscrutably. Nodded. ‘That’ll do.’

‘Icelandic? Cool. Can you go tell your freakin’ volcano – enough already!’

Fenja looked puzzled at this.

‘Never mind.’ There was an awkward pause. ‘Now you’re meant to say: And you?’

‘And you?’

‘Gee, thanks for asking. Well, a butt-hole called Gimli, Manitoba. New Iceland, they call it – lot of puffin-eaters. Sorry, that’s what we call your fellow countrymen – you might feel at home there!’

He watched the woman struggle with the helmet. ‘Here, let me show you…’ The strap clicked into place. He adjusted it so it sat true. Fenja said something, muffled. Laughing, he flipped the visor up. She gasped.

‘Is it meant to feel like you can’t breath?’

‘You’ll get used to it.’

‘It smells of … another woman.’

‘A long story. Listen, I don’t know about you but I’m dying for a coffee. Shall we find somewhere for breakfast? We can talk more then?’

Fenja scried him with piercing pale grey eyes. ‘Okay.’

‘Ridden a bike before?’

She smiled innocently.

‘Sit still, don’t lean. No funny hand signals. Hold on.’

Eddy mounted the bike, sitting between her thighs, which felt hot – even through his leathers.

Fenja placed her arms around him.

Smiling, he flicked his visor down and fired the 1200 into life.

It growled down the lane, leaving a tail of dust.

A new track kicked in.

***

Thunder Road – coming soon

Extract from Thunder Road copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

Previous

Next

The Bardic Path

Kevan at Silbury Handfasting

Follow the Way of Awen

The skills and wisdom of the Bard are as relevant today as they have ever been, in fact, in a world of communication breakdown and collective amnesia – where we fail to honour our geo-cultural heritage, and forget again and again the lessons of the past – possibly more so. The Bard was far more than ‘just’ a teller of tales or singer of songs: he or she was the remembrancer and chronicler for the tribe – of ancient lore, bloodlines, land rites, battles, geasa, great events, important details… In short, their living memory. And furthermore, a celebrant, in an official or unofficial capacity – whose tales and tunes would mark the cycles of life within the circle of the community: the wooings, the weddings, the nativities, comings-of-age, and other thresholds of change. With their words they could bless or blight. Warriors would vie for the honour of being immortalised through their elegies, kings and chiefs would take care to avoid their satire, lords and enemies feared their curses. The system of patronage may no longer be viable, but that also means the Bard is no longer at the behest of a liege. In a world where most forms of communication are monitored, perhaps only the Bard is truly free to speak his or her mind without having to kowtow to so-called ‘political correctness’, corporate values or media fads. In the age of spin, we need more than ever a re-enchantment of language, where people actually mean what they say, free of Post-Modern irony, and a man is as good as his word. It is not a return to spurious ‘old values’ but a re-imagining and renewing of what those values are, by learning from the lessons of the past and acknowledging the perspective which history affords. The wisdom of the past is ever-present, if we but listen. It is an insult to our collective ancestors to do otherwise, for it is their countless sacrifices which have enabled us to have come thus far: to be in this relatively privileged, but precarious, position on the cusp of a new millennia.

In an age of Climate Change and global turmoil, the importance of community, of common people helping one another, having a voice, being heard, validating personal ‘narratives’ outside the hegemony of a grander one, drawing upon their own resources and talents, wealth of experience and motherwit, could never be more imperative. The Bard’s ability to express the inexpressible, to celebrate the lives of all that live and have lived, and preserve for posterity the little epiphanies, personal triumphs and tragedies, heroics and hard-won wisdom from extinction, or from being drowned out in the white noise of endless trivia, enables excellence of expression and freedom of information at a grassroots level beyond webs and nets, dishes and boxes. It offers a folk democracy of the tongue and the limitless possibilities of the imagination.The Bard helps us to celebrate being human and enables us to appreciate other cultures, other perspectives, at the same time as being more fully in our own. It praises the universal through the particular: the local and microcosmic, the parts that make up the whole, which make something bigger than their sum – the biodiversity of humanity.

So, I have devised a 3 year training programme in the belief that everyone can benefit from Bardic skills: either as a listener or performer, whether you only wish to improve your public speaking, entertain your family and friends, or aspire to be a fully-fledged professional Bard, with ‘harp on back’, fire in the head and hundreds of stories at your fingertips. I can claim with complete conviction that you will benefit, however far down the path of the Bard you wish to go, because I certainly have. It has transformed my life: improving not just my communication skills (I never had the ‘gift of the gab’, although I always had a good imagination), but social ones as well (at school I was the introvert wallflower and now, it seems, I can keep most audiences entertained, although everyone has bad days). Becoming a Bard has given me, and is still giving me, so much: it has given me a community and a role to play in it and, perhaps most importantly of all, it has given me a way to live – a true and reliable guide for life.

To summarise: the overall aim of the Silver Branch Bardic Training programme is to empower people to find and use their true voice for the good of all. Its objectives are to:

  • offer initiation for the budding Bard
  • provide a practical 36 month training programme
  • teach the art of storytelling
  • teach techniques of poetic inspiration, composition and performance
  • develop the power of the memory
  • widen understanding of Awen
  • develop awareness of the Bardic Tradition
  • explore what it means to be a Bard in the 21st Century
  • provide resources, such as a reading list, contacts, etc.
  • connect with the wider community
  • encourage respect for diverse global traditions and cultures
  • foster ‘mythic literacy’ and an understanding of mythic levels in modern life
  • act as a catalyst for new Bardic circles and the re-establishing of Bardic Chairs
  • facilitate deep study on a myth, legend, fairy tale, or song cycle of one’s choice with critical support & appraisal.
  • provide critical and creative support for a final project – performance, publication, public event.

An edited extract of the introduction to The Bardic Handbook: the complete manual for the 21st Century bard (Gothic Image, 2006).

Bardic Books Banner

The Bardic Study series

Silver Branch Bardic Training

A 3 Year Bardic Development Programme

with Dr Kevan Manwaring, (aka the ‘Bardic Academic’), lecturer, author of The Bardic Handbook, and founder of the Silver Branch Bardic Network.

Awaken the Bard within on this intensive 3 year training programme. Each module can be taken individually, at one’s own speed, and is customised to your unique Bardic path. Silver Branch Bardic Training is not a one-size-fits-all course that is set in stone, but is ‘bespoke’: tailor-made to your individual needs and interests. It is delivered by one-to-one mentoring with an experienced, published Bard.

Learn directly from an acknowledged expert in the field: ‘Kevan is a senior Bard in the UK and world landscape and author of the famous Bardic Handbook.‘ (Dr Thomas Daffern)

Kevan, Bard at Swallowhead Spring

Dr Kevan Manwaring, the ‘Bardic Academic’

Programme of Study

Year 1 – Anruth to Bard (for beginners – no experience necessary)

During this year you shall work through the Bardic Handbook, which sets out a 12 month study programme that will take you from Anruth (apprentice stage) to declaring yourself as a Bard in a dedication and naming ceremony – with direct mentoring from the author himself. Your growing bardic skills will be honed through private study and participation in an online bardic circle.

Year 2 – Bardic Deep Study (Intermediate – for students who have completed Year 1)

With a theoretical focus, this year you will use The Way of Awen: journey of a bard as a guide – which explores the Welsh legend of Taliesin in great detail – but you will be asked to self-select a myth, legend, or song-circle to work on intensively. The fruits of this deep study will be manifold, but will include an extended non-fiction essay reflecting upon the themes of the selected tale/s in a critical way.

Year 3 – Bardic Practical Project (Advanced – for students who have completed Years 1 and 2)

With a practical focus, this final year the Silver Branch: bardic poems will be used as a guide as an example of an approach to an original creative project with a community/ecological aspect. You will conceive and complete a Bardic project of your choice: a spoken word performance, a collection of poems or short stories, an audio recording, a film, a stage play, etc. This final project will be the culmination of your study, which will be launched during an end-of-study celebration, which you will design and organise. This is when you fully step into your role as public Bard, serving your community. Your project will be assessed on not only its originality, skill, and vision, but also how it responds to the challenges of modern life, engages with multimodality or emergent technology, and serves and celebrates community and biodiversity.

 What’s included:

  • Weekly online bardic circle: a chance to raise the awen, connect with fellow bards, and share one’s latest poem, song, or story.
  • Fortnightly lecture: a talk and connected activity designed to get the awen flowing.
  • Monthly mentoring session: a chance to ask questions, receive feedback and advice, set one’s goals, reflect upon the previous month, and plan future activities.
  • Quarterly review: an indepth review to assess progress and plan the next phase of study.
  • Bardic declaration ceremony: when you received your bardic name and dedicate yourself to the path of the Bard.
  • Critiques: of your creative and critical projects.
  • Celebration: for the launch of your graduation project.

In addition:

Year 2: Intensive support and feedback on one’s special study project. Critical appraisal on completion.

Year 3: Editorial support and feedback on one’s special bardic project. Launch celebration.

 

Fees:

Monthly instalments of £250, or quarterly of £750 by standing order, BACS, or paypal. A discount for full-time students, Senior Citizens, or those in receipt of other benefits is available on application.

Applications open. New term starts in September.

For enquiries: contact Kevan – kevanmanwaring@yahoo.co.uk

21 June 2020

Gatherer of Souls – a review

Gatherer of Souls by Lorna Smithers

a review by Kevan Manwaring

Gatherer of Souls FC Med

This extraordinary collection from self-defining ‘awenydd’ (a spirit worker and inspired poet) Lorna Smithers is the culmination of a full-blooded dedication to the Brythonic god, Gwyn ap Nudd. It charts a contemporary Underworld initiation, a journey to Annwn (the Celtic Hades) and back, with Gwyn as the poet’s psychopompic muse. A figure neglected, or even redacted from the spiritual tradition of the Britannic Isles, Lorna has sought to re-instate Gwyn as ‘warrior-protector of Britain’, a position she feels was usurped by King Arthur. As Lorna herself puts it: ‘After centuries of soul-loss Gwyn re-opened those doors and challenged me to ride with him through war-torn centuries to recover his forgotten mythos.’ Her collection of poetry and prose is a ‘record of [that] journey’.  In its six ‘acts’ or ‘books’ Gatherer of Souls charts a mythopoeiac counter-history of Britain, from the end of the Ice Age, through Roman occupation, into the so-called Dark Ages and the fall of the kingdom of Rheged, right up to the present day. In such a vast sweep of time it is inevitably highly selective – a personalised, subjective travelogue, as Lorna journeys with her dark muse. With its alternating poetry and prose (and sometimes prose-poems) the form is like a Celtic variant of the Japanese haibun (a form which reached its zenith in Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, or Travels of a Weather-Exposed Skeleton). And yet in its dense content, a mythic mulch of lore, it is perhaps closer to the long poems of David Jones (e.g. The Sleeping Lord), the psychogeography of Jeremy Hooker, or Geoffrey Hill’s ‘Mercian Hymns’. And yet the uncompromising voice is uniquely Lorna’s own. She doesn’t take prisoners. There is a fierce energy driving these soundings from Annwn as relentless as Ceridwen’s. They are permeated with a quintessentially northern melancholy, a sense of loss, of grief. This permanent penumbra is perhaps overly gloomy at times, but there are flashes of brightness, as in ‘Missing God’: ‘You showed me silver spaceships, three shining gateways…’ Yet even these ‘pathways to the stars … always led back down.’  This is deep dive into the fathomless fastness of Gwyn’s realm and the subconscious of the land, as well as the poet’s own shadow. Arthur, as a legendary figure is reinvented by everyone who comes to him, projecting their own light and darkness – and in Lorna’s case the Pendragon becomes the antagonist, the False King, guilty of terrible war crimes. As the ultimate, flawed authority figure, Lorna sticks it to the Man. This tubthumping revisionism is certainly novel, and it shows the poet’s committed approach. She takes the myths and legends of this land personally, and sees them as continuing. This approach leads to the most original pieces in the collection, the remarkable prose-poem sequence, ‘The Oldest Animals 21st C’, which recasts the sequence from ‘Culhwch and Olwen’ (Y Mabinogi) about the search for Mabon ap Modron, in the Age of Anthropocene. In ‘The Once and Future King has Returned’ Arthur is back as a warmongering demagogue, his ship Prydwen heading a fleet of warhead-laden submarines. And in ‘Time’ the poet shatters the artificial clock of temporality: ‘Timelines snapped like rulers bent too many times’. This simultaneity of the mythic past and the time-torn present permeates her work. For Lorna, much like Ivor Gurney, there is no separation. In its authenticity and whole-hearted commitment Gatherer of Souls offers a refreshing counter-blast to the Postmodern posturing of so many poets with their ironic word-games. For those who like their poetic fix pagan, dark and strong, this is for you.

Available from:

https://lornasmithers.wordpress.com/publications/gatherer-of-souls/

Hare

The Taliesin Soliloquies: Hare

AbyssinianHare

Crazy-eyed,

I high-tail it

away from Ceridwen’s lair,

jink-jinking to

avoid my pursuer

snapping at my heels –

relentless as death,

inescapable as my shadow.

Heart beating its tattoo of flight,

legs thrum, a drummer boy’s sticks.

Through cwm, over bryn, cefn, coed,

the gaps between the awkward spaces,

through a hedge backwards, this-way-that –

a mad man’s mind.

Method to my erratic path,

yet always, her hot breath at my back.

Driven by the fire in my

stream-lined head, an arrow of fur,

Long ears swept back,

best paws forward. Rabbit foot, bring me luck.

Ablaze with awen,

The world transformed

into a landscape of scent and sound,

predator and prey. Forage, territory and fate.

Moon-boxer,

I must turn and face my foe –

run through the fire and be transformed.

Let the fith-fath change me.

 

Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 2017

way of awen by me

From ‘The Taliesin Soliloquies’, originally published in The Way of Awen: journey of a bard, O Books 2010; to be included in the forthcoming Silver Branch: bardic poems by Kevan Manwaring, Awen, 2017 https://www.awenpublications.co.uk/

Walking the Southern Upland Way: Days 10-12

 

WP_20170710_013.jpg

The ‘dappled vale of Heaven…’ The sublime Loch of the Lowes, K. Manwaring 10 July 2017

Day 10: Tibbie Shiels Inn to Traquair

A mercifully shorter walk today. Just as well as I was starting to feel the culminative effects of fatigue – forcing every mile out of my legs and poor, battered feet. After a pleasant drive along the Yarrow valley to St Mary’s Loch, I was dropped off by my balladeer and went to pay my respects at the James Hogg memorial, a handsome statue overlooking Tibbie Shiels Inn and the two lochs, which looked sublime in the soft morning light, mirroring the epitaph beneath Hogg’s feet:

Oft had he viewed as morning rose
the bosom of the lonely Lowes:
oft thrilled his heart at close of even
to see the dappled vales of heaven,
with many a mountain moon and tree
asleep upon saint Mary.

WP_20170710_002.jpg

The handsome James Hogg memorial, K. Manwaring, 10 July 2017

The midges were out in force at the Hogg memorial, making it hard to linger, but I did stop at the loch side to savour the view – which inspired me to have a go at some watercolours when I got home.  It was soothing to be in a purely visual space. After an academic year of teaching, marking and PhD research my brain needed a reboot. Walking long-distances makes me drop down into a zen-like state, my ‘mind in my feet’. I focus upon my breath, on my temperature, my dryness or wetness, energy levels and mood. I have a clear goal for the day – the tangible reward for my efforts – a hill, a view, a landmark. If I get hungry, I eat. If I thirst, I drink. If I tire, I stop. Simple core needs, very little stress, and a whole sky of head-space. Blessed solitude (which makes it possible for me to appreciate people when I see them). Today, as I crossed Blake Muir, I stopped to savour the silence – a peace so deep, so profound, that it was almost a presence. I tried to capture it in my poem, ‘Deep Peace’:

Deep Peace by Kevan Manwaring July 2017.jpg

Deep Peace, by Kevan Manwaring 10 July 2017

It made me realize how content I could be, living somewhere rural and remote, far away from the chattering world – dropping down into a place of spiritual quietude, finding my centre and hearing clearly the inner voice that would guide my pen, the inner vision that would guide my brush. Perhaps one day. For now, I was simply content to be walking in the footsteps of Sir Walter Scott and Thomas Carlyle, who visited Hogg (fêted for a while by Edinburgh society, whose fripperies he rejected, for ‘He held worldly pomp in high derision’) at the isolated farm of Blackhouse, with its ruinous 14th Century Reivers tower. The Shepherd Ettrick dwelled here between 1790 and 1800, and I can imagine it being conducive to his muse, as it was to mine.

WP_20170710_023.jpg

Blackhouse Tower, former residence of James Hogg, K. Manwaring, 10 July 2017

Day 11: Traquair to Melrose (17.3)

A tiring day. I did pretty fine up to Yair Bridge, the 10 mile point, but seemed to hit a wall after then – slogging up Gala hill and down into the town. I certainly didn’t appreciate the SUW’s reroute into the urban nastiness of Galashiels, a shock to the senses after days and miles of rural quietude. The walk planners clearly wanted us to savour it’s, ahem, delights, but I’d wish they’d given it a wide berth – for those needing facilities and accommodation, lovely Melrose was only a couple of miles up the river. Signs were vandalised, making it unpleasant to navigate through. Losing my patience, I just headed to the Tweed and followed it along. Crazily though, the SUW insists you walk along the side of a housing estate at one point, instead of the sparkling waters of the Tweed. Nevertheless, the last stretch into Melrose along its bonny banks was lovely. The highlight of the day was coming across the Three Brethren cairns (1522 ft), expertly made in a dry-stone wall way (another Goldsworthy?), rhyming with the Trimontium of the Eildon Hills, which now excitingly swing into view: Thomas the Rhymer country! Mythopoetically, I felt like I was coming home – the distinctive three peaks of the Eildons (the remains of a volcanic activity) was the first place I made pilgrimage to, as a young poet, visiting Scotland for the first time back in the early 90s. I had spent a night on them, hoping to meet the Queen of Elfland – instead, my tent nearly blew away. Perhaps she was giving me the brush-off. Today, by the Brethrens I thought of my brothers though – my male friends, who I was beginning to miss. Whenever I spend time in cis-gendered company (male or female) I find I end up craving the opposite after a while. Of course, if you are fortunate enough to have bi/trans/fill-in-the-blanks-yourself company then that shouldn’t be a problem!

WP_20170711_028.jpg

The Three Brethren with the 3 peaks of the Eildon Hills in the distance, K. Manwaring 11 July 2017

Day 12: Melrose to Lauder (10)

WP_20170712_011.jpg

‘The Meetings’ – confluence of the Yarrow and the Ettrick, K. Manwaring 12 July 2017

A mercifully short walk today – a morning’s ramble really. I was able to walk straight from the campsite (one of those ‘Camping & Caravanning Club’ type places, where campers are marginalized – in a sports field, furthest away from the toilet block), crossing over the Chain Bridge, where, the previous night I had sung ‘Both Sides o’ Tweed’, Dick Gaughan’s classic song calling for equality:

Let the love of the lands sacred rites
to the love of the people succeed,
let honour and friendship unite,
and flourish on both sides o’ Tweed.

I had learnt this from my friend Marko Gallaidhe, and I singing it makes me think of that man you don’t meet every day!

For the first time on the SUW today, I bumped into a (day) walker, whom I ended up walking and chatting with for a pleasant half hour – a retired northerner, now living in the Borders, the chap was agreeable company. Perhaps the Three Brethren had heard me after all. I also found time to stop and write an eco-poem, inspired by the news that a massive part of the Carson C ice-shelf had split off. It might seem strange to be composing a poem about climate change in such an idyllic spot, but of course such apparent environmental harmony is an illusion – the world is out of kilter.

 

WP_20170712_015.jpg

Tam Lane’s Well, K. Manwaring, 12 July 2017

Meeting up with Chantelle after lunch, we enjoyed an afternoon of ‘folkloring’. We drove to the Rhymer’s Stone, at the foot of the Eildons, where I performed my version of ‘Thomas the Rhymer’. Then I guided us onto The Meetings, the confluence of the Yarrow and the Ettrick – where a small river island is thought to have been the site of Carterhaugh, dwelling of Tam Lin. Here, at this numinous spot I had first discovered in 2014, I recorded an extract of my novel, The Knowing – a Fantasy, my PhD novel based upon my research into the folk traditions of the Scottish Lowlands and Southern Appalachians. It was special to read out a relevant section in situ. The next day, Chantelle returned to record herself singing the ballad of ‘Tam Lin’ – all 40 verses of it by heart! We then went on to find ‘Tam Lane’s Well’ by Carterhaugh Farm. Here I had set a picnic scene, which I read out before the camera died. A couple of years ago we had created a show inspired by the ballads of Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer – ‘The Bonnie Road’, so it felt special to be experiencing this inspiring, ensouled landscape together.

Where wild waters weave
their plaid of shade and light
and ballads tangles in the brier,
two worlds meet, of clay and fey
and passion collides with desire.

Copyright ©Kevan Manwaring 2017

 

Lighting Bríghíd’s Flame

 

WP_20170624_006

In the Old Chapel, St Briavel’s, Midsummer 2017. Photography by 2017

The inspiration for our new show – Bríghíd’s Flame (we pronounce it ‘breed’) – came when Chantelle and I explored Ireland back in the summer of 2015. Our 2500 mile road trip (much of it on the back of my Triumph Legend motorcycle) took us to many places associated with Irish myths and legends: Croagh-patrick, Tara, Knocknarea, Carrowmore, Uisneach, Newgrange and Kildare. The latter inspired the spark of our show – to visit a site associated with the blacksmith goddess Brighid and the sacred flame of St Brigid was thrilling. As was the extra-ordinary ‘Cave of the Cat’, accessed via a small hole beneath a hawthorn tree, this intense, visceral place is associated with the Morrighan and boasts an ogham inscription in its lintel stone claiming it to be the burial place of the son of Medb, the great queen who haunted WB Yeats and whose mighty mound can be found dominating the coastline of his beloved Sligo. By the time we left Ireland we knew we’d create one of our distinctive ‘ballad and tale’ shows around the sites and their mythos. It would take a couple of years and alot of effort (far more than perhaps some realize), but we finally achieved this dream – on Saturday 24th June, 2017, with the premiere of our show at ‘Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder’, a launch event organised by Inkubus Sukkubus for their new album, Belas Knapp, as the atmospheric setting of St Briavel’s, a haunted Norman castle deep in the Forest of Dean.  We started seriously discussing the show around Samhain, but it was at Yuletide that I came up with the post-apocalyptic framing narrative that would provide the ‘spine’ of the show, with its 4 main tales (Finn and the Salmon of Wisdom; Cuchullain and the Warrior Women; Oisín and Niamh; the Children of Lir – told uniquely in my way, with my words); 5 beautiful new songs and arrangements by Chantelle; new poems by yours truly; and incidental music on harp, bodhran and shruti box (once again by the talented Ms Smith). Both of us really pulled out the stops, creatively. Then there were the rehearsals, the costumes, the poster, the promotional copy … and the logistics of getting bookings and so forth. If it was all for one event it would have been too much really – insanity, even – but we have a small tour lined up and hopefully other dates that will materialize. St Briavel’s was the start – but what a start! It was great to finally share the show – and with such a well-informed, attentive, and appreciative audience. The Old Chapel looked fantastic – low lighting, candles, fairy lights draped from ancient beams … Atmosphere like that does half the work in a performance. But midsummer day was hot and there was no real seating in the hall until I gently insisted on some. Benches were brought in from the banquet room, but still it was standing room only for some. Yet the amazing Inkie audience stuck with us (and perhaps literally to each other)! Afterwards we got lots of great comments – such as ‘utterly amazing’; and ‘thank you – your stories unlocked the symbolism and wisdom for me’ – people had clearly ‘got’ the show and lapped up its magickal imagery, music, narrative and verse. We look forward to bringing Bríghíd’s Flame to more audience this Spring and beyond.

***Thank you to Candia and Tony McKormack of Inkubus Sukkubus & our fellow Fire Springs Anthony Nanson and Kirsty Hartsiotis for providing support & a space to glow***

 

WP_20170624_011.jpg

Chantelle ready for action, St Briavel’s Midsummer 2017. Photo by K. Manwaring 2017

 

BRIGHIDS FLAME POSTER new

Forthcoming dates in 2018:

For updates, see website: http://brighidsflame.co.uk/

 

Writing The Knowing

Practice-based research in the creation of a novel

 

WP_20160906_09_36_20_Pro.jpg

A writer’s retreat. View across Gairloch Bay, Wester Ross. K. Manwaring 2016

 

In the creation of my contemporary fantasy novel, The Knowing, the main focus of my Creative Writing PhD at the University of Leicester, I have undertaken extensive experiential research as part of the practice-based research of writing the novel itself. It has to be emphasised that the writing of the novel is the research, for it is as much a scrutinization of the creative process as a dramatisation of that process through the characters, setting and plot.  The PhD began as an examination of the ‘Longing, Liminality and Transgression in the Folk Traditions of the Scottish Lowlands and Southern Appalachians’ (as my initial research question framed), at least when it became ‘conscious’ – in September 2014  when I began my part-time research degree – yet creative aquifers had been at work long before that.

I have long been interested in the folklore, tales and songs of the Scottish Borders, but things crystallized the day that Janey McEttrick, my main protagonist, walked into my head with her mane of red hair, steel-string guitar and second sight. She wanted her story told, and she wouldn’t let me go until I told it. She’s the kind of woman that you simply cannot turn down. And, besides, I fancied spending time in her company, having been hanging out with an Edwardian aviator and the lost of history for over a decade (in the writing of my 5-volume series, The Windsmith Elegy). I felt the need for a change of register, to write something set (mostly) in the present day, and from a different perspective – looking back at the Old World from the perspective of the New.

A Scottish-Native American folksinger, hanging out near Asheville, North Carolina, Janey’s story dramatizes the diasporic translocation I was interested in. Descended (on her mother’s side) from a long line of singer-seers, she epitomizes the cross-fertilisation that took place when waves of Scottish and Scots-Irish migrants upped sticks – through force or choice – and undertook the perilous crossing to the Americas, settling all the way from the taiga of Canada to the swamps of the South, but in particular, in the Appalachians where the mountainous terrain made them feel at home. They brought their songs and tales and folklore with them, in many instances preserving and customizing in fascinating ways. When I heard how Elizabethan ballads were discovered being sung by the early song collectors I was intrigued, and wondered what else might be preserved in these polders – what traces of the Old World could be found in the New? How had they adapted and mutated? And how the so-called Celtic Fringes had extended their borders into the West – to the point that the plaid of the clans became the classic checked shirt of the cowboy, and in a million other peculiar ways Celticity reinvents itself, a restless global meme: a way of seeing and a way of being that transcends genealogy.

20140825_154343

The grave of Robert Kirk, the Fairy Minister, Aberfoyle, K. Manwaring 2014

I have found the most effective way to bring alive the world of my characters is to have analogous experiences. If I cannot go to the actual place where they lived, then I will go to somewhere equivalent and equally as evocative – for it is always in the telling detail, discovered beneath one’s feet, that the location comes alive. And often by walking in the footsteps of your characters – real or imaginary – you gain an insight into them. So I opt for a ‘method-writing’ form of approach, especially as I want to be able channel the voices of my characters (mainly Robert Kirk and 9 generations of McEttrick Women) as convincingly as possible. Note I didn’t say authentically – for authenticity in prose is as much a performance as anything. For genuine authenticity one would only be able to write about oneself, one’s limited world – resulting in mere solipsism – whileas a novelist, with sufficient empathy, research and skill, can and should write about lives for beyond his or her own. To undertake such a creative challenge requires requires an almost fanatical obsession with research. A PhD, in particular, requires nothing less. It is the ultimate anorak. And in the journey of the research one is engaged in a continual feedback loop – gauging one’s ideas against what one finds, discusses, is challenged by, and practices.

And so off I set on my quest, following my wandering star …  Here is a summary of my practice-based research to date:

  • In August 2014, hearing the call of the Borders, I decided to walk Hadrian’s Wall –an 84 mile long path from Newcastle to Carlisle, following the line of the Roman Empire’s northernmost border – with my partner, Chantelle Smith.
  • From here we headed farther north, to the coast of Wester Ross – to a croft I have returned to again and again as a place of inspiration.
  • Heading south I visited key sites associated with the Border Ballads, Thomas the Rhymer, Tam Lin and Tam o’Shanter, as well as climbing Schiehallion, the ‘fairy mountain’ in the Cairngorms.
  • In 2015 I walked the West Highland Way solo, a 100 mile long distance footpath from the Lowlands to the Highlands, camping along the way, and climbing Ben Nevis (4000ft).
  • From these trips emerged my collection of poetry, Lost Border (Chrysalis 2015), which I performed at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival 2016 with Chantelle.
  • In 2015 I also became a Postgraduate Fellow in North American Studies, based at the Eccles Centre, the British Library. This year long fellowship enabled me to undertake research in that amazing research library.
  • I also received a Postgraduate Fund which enabled me to spend time at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, Cecil Sharp House, Camden – as I delved into the archives, researching the field trips undertaken by Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles to Southern Appalachia, 1915-1918.
  • This was augmented by a field trip to North Carolina in late summer 2015, made possible by the generosity and hospitality of my American friend, Debbi McInteer. I joined her and her family on a road trip from Jamestown RI, to Asheville, NC, visiting key locations associated both with Cecil and Maud, and my fictional characters. I got to experience the fabulous music and meet some descendants of tradition-bearer Jane Hicks Gentry and the Ward Family.
  • While in the States I ran a workshop based upon the folkloric motifs of Thomas the Rhymer and Tam Lin (‘The Wheel of Transformation’); try out some wild-writing; and co-host the ‘Crossways Medicine Show’ – a social gathering and sharing of cultural songlines.
  • Out my research into the Scottish Borders, I developed a ballad and tale show with my partner, called ‘The Bonnie Road’ which we performed in 2015 in various venues.
  • I was granted the fantastic opportunity to spend a month at Hawthornden Castle International Writers Retreat in late 2015. Here, in the home of the poet William Drummond, I wrote the second draft of my novel (160,000 words).
  • While at the castle I made several forays into Edinburgh to visit the fabulous archives at the National Library of Scotland and the University of Edinburgh. In their Special Collections I was able to see first-hand the surviving manuscripts and notebooks of Robert Kirk, the 17th Century Presbyterian Minister, and author of the monograph, The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies (a key character in my novel).
  • In 2016 I instigated, commissioned and edited Ballad Tales: an anthology of British ballads retold, to be published by The History Press, June 2017. This features 19 retellings of traditional ballads, pushing the envelope of genre and gender, setting and sexual politics.
  • My practice-based research really began when I first started performing ‘Thomas the Rhymer’ in my early 20s, and visited the Eildon Hills, wild-camping upon them in the hope of inspiration or encounter!
  • And my connection with Kirk began in earnest when i created and performed a monologue in character, with Fire Springs, for ‘Voices of the Past’, Bath Literature Festival 2002.
  • Finally, I really felt I could not write a novel about a musician unless I had some first-hand experience to draw upon, and so my practice-based research has also involved learning the guitar and plunging into ballad-singing. I certainly have found the latter to be something I enjoy both in isolation (e.g. while walking the long-distance footpaths such as Offa’s Dyke) and amongst friends (starting ‘Sunday Song’ with Nimue Brown as a place to share in an informal way). And studying the former has certainly given me more of an insight and appreciation of songcraft.
  • Other activities have included: presenting papers at conferences on aspects of my research; writing a blog (Bardic Academic: crossing the creative/critical divide); tweeting; undertaking commissions which allow me to explore the creative/critical voice in my writing (eg Marginalia; Houdinis of Bewilderland) and entering competitions, eg The Re-imagined Book, winner of the AHRC 10 Essay Prize.

And, until it is all complete, the journey continues…

 

wp_20160914_13_19_14_pro

Field Research. On the road to Applecross, looking towards Skye, K. Manwaring, 2016

 

 

 

 

Crazy Horses: Mari Lwyd

20160116_182907

Crazy Horses! The Battle on the Bridge Chepstow Wassail 2016 by Kevan Manwaring

Out of the mist comes the jagged silhouette of the horse-skull, teeth perpetually bared, bone-clack of jaw, death-rattle of stiff-wooden tongue, draped in a spectral sheet, swaying to the doom-doom beat and the wassailers make their groggy way up the milk-bottle street. It is New Year’s Day in Glamorgan. In the villages and towns of the coal-black valleys the newly ancient custom of the Mari Lwyd is being enacted. It is led by the ostler by umbilical rein:  accompanying him are outlandish characters, Christmas cast-offs, Father Christmas or one of his misbegottens, green men, white ladies, following the Y Fari Lwyd, the Grey Mare, or Grey Mary to some, as it dips and jinks to the threshold. A sharp rap-rapping at the door, a rude awakening. The cold slaps you like a hangover. Curtain-twitch curiousity. The gummy-eyed REM of the street’s dreaming, axe-picking at the coal-faces of their chthonic longings in bedroom blanketed snugness, is disturbed. Which reality is this? Which year? Old year or new? Get up! Grey Mary’s here! And she’s wanting to come in for tea and brith like Lady Muck! Grab a dressing gown. Gather your wits. Pull up your knickers. Speak the pwnco. Call-and-response. Banter for your life. Death must be invited in. Given food and drink. Cold meats and warm cider. And then you’re off the hook, possibly. The Reaper might pass your home by with his big black book, a bony digit scrolling down the lists of surnames. Death’s lotto. It could be you. The fatal thunderball. The terminal jackpot. When your numbers come up, the surprise will kill you. But the guizers stagger groggily onwards to the next house, their next victims. The wild has been let in with its muddy boots, its lack of manners. Lustful intrusions. Rubbing up the girls. A frisky mortis. Dancing our shadow, unbound by the corset of rules and codes which constrict and protect us the rest of the year. But for one day, reality bends, and the Grey Mary arrives like Rhiannon to rock our worlds on her cock-horse, jangling her hells bells. She carries us over the borders, between the worlds, between the years, and we must placate her to survive. And all before bloody breakfast.

20160116_153055

‘Smile’. Mari Lwyd at the Chepstow Wassail. K. Manwaring 2016

This is the New Year custom of the Mari Lwyd which can still be spotted in South Wales, most authentically in Llangynwyd, near Maesteg, but also throughout the Llantrisant area. In Chepstow this custom has reached its apogee with a conscious ‘revival’, which has grown over the last decade from a small number of dedicated wassailers to hundreds of morris, public and this year 9 Mari Lwyds. The Chepstow Wassail takes place on the Saturday nearest to Old Twelfth Night (17th January), the traditional end of Yuletide (in the Julian calendar). The day begins with Morris dancing outside the Three Tuns, each side taking a turn. Then there is a procession, led by the Maris to the new orchard planted at the foot of the castle. There the usual wassail custom takes place: the singing of the Wassail song, the ‘toasting’ of the tree (with triangles of toast) and the scaring away of bad spirits with party poppers (as opposed to shotguns – a concession to health-and-safety). The gathered process three times around the apple trees, singing the wassail song. The Maris linger among the orchard – seeing several together is strange and eerie sight on a chilly winters day, but also wonderfully delightful and eccentric. Suddenly we’re not in Kansas anymore, or Glamorganshire for that matter. It is like being in an episode of Dr Who, one where the monsters get together to have a bit of a knees-up – Daleks and Cybermen getting tipsy at the works do. Children look up at the Maris in awe. Yet the horse-skulls are beautifully decorated with all kinds of foofaraw, outdoing each other in their folk-bling. They prance and preen like glamour queens – a queasy mix of the camp and gothic. This is the Folky Horror Show. The procession rambles back to the pub and everyone tries to squeeze into the Tuns for a singalong. For a while its sardines. Then a space clears and a black-faced pirate burst into chanty, and us land-lubbers chant along. There’s more morris – they breed ‘em round here: Border Morris that is, figures in black clacking sticks lustily, bellowing out like rutting stags. Later, the English make their way to the Gloucestershire side of the Wye to be given hospitality at a friendly natives place overlooking the river. More wassailing takes place, then a rocket is fired and the English contingent process to the bridge pulling a cart with an apple tree on it. On the bridge there is a ‘folk-off’ between the Welsh and the English. But instead of fisticuffs, there are handshakes, Happy New Years and dancing. St George and St David flags are exchanged. The Maris ‘rave’ on the bridge, engaging in a bit of horse-play, and the atmosphere is one of a very British Saturnalia. The English are welcomed in, and everyone makes their way to the museum for more wassailing. Later on there’s a ceilidh and drunken singing late into the evening. This is the folk tradition alive and well on the Borders – blood and cider flowing in its veins. Where else could such a custom take place? Except here at the fringes. There is nothing quite like the Chepstow Wassail.

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 17 January 2016

The Fascination of the Worm

Dracophilia...  My latest book - due from Compass Books soon!

Dracophilia…
My latest book – due from Compass Books soon!

Even today (despite the critics) you may find men not ignorant of tragic legend and history, who have heard of heroes and indeed seen them, who yet have been caught by the fascination of the worm.’ JRR Tolkien6

 

Twentieth Century Professor of English and novelist J.R.R. Tolkien, who perhaps more than any other single author has brought alive worlds of Fantasy in his vast Middle Earth sequence of stories, as a child ‘desired dragons with a profound desire’:

 

Of course, I in my timid body did not wish to have them in my neighbourhood. But the world that contained even the imagination of Fafnir was richer and more beautiful, at whatever the cost of peril.’7

 

If we read this as a yearning for Fantasy, (that is, the experience of such, as opposed to the genre – although we will dignify both with the capital in the hope that one will encourage the other) then I do not think he is alone in this, as the huge popularity of Fantasy in books, films and computer games prove. There seems to be an endless appetite for it: The Lord of the Rings, Dr Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, TheTwilight Saga, Avengers Assemble, and no doubt more ‘franchises’ await to hit the big or little screen. Despite a distinctive post-9/11 trend for ‘real life stories’, gritty realism, and tales of hard luck and ‘winning through adversity’ (spawning shelves of ‘misery lit’; or ‘trauma memoir’) the world, it seems, is hungry for Story, especially of the fantastical kind.

Why is it so many seem to ‘desire dragons’, as Tolkien did? What purpose, if any, is there to Fantasy? Is it just make-believe for grown ups, or does it serve a more profound function? This brief excursion into Fantasyland endeavours to explore, if not answer, these questions, and perhaps the very act of asking questions – curiosity, or the quest for knowledge – is at the root of all this ultimately. The desire to know has led humankind from the cave to the moon. Wishing to know what lay over the next hill, and the next, beyond the borders of the familiar, over the sea, over the horizon – following the journey of the sun, our constant companion of consciousness, throughout the day, into the unconscious of night – this has driven humanity on, and fuelled most of its fantasies. The unknown provides a vacuum for the subconscious, for the Shadow, the Id, the other. We populate the night with our own.

And we probe the shadows with a thrill of fear and a desire to know.

Tolkien, in a witty reply to a letter in The Observer (16 January, 1938) signed by someone calling themselves ‘Habit’, requesting more background about ‘the name and inception of the intriguing hero of his book’, (The Hobbit, published 21 September1937) responded thus:

 

Sir, – I need no persuasion: I am as susceptible as a dragon to flattery, and would gladly show off my diamond waistcoat, and even discuss its sources, since the Habit (more inquisitive than the Hobbit) has not only professed to admire it, but has also asked where I got it from. But would not that be unfair to the research students? To save them trouble is to rob them of any excuse for existing.’8

 

Despite Tolkien’s claiming not to ‘remember anything about the name and inception of the hero’, he gave a typically conscientious and erudite reply. His letters show the fathomless quality of his learning (his scholar’s mind akin to the Mines of Moria) and provide a plethora of portals to explore – enough for a lifetime, and thus he has not robbed research students of their existence, but thrown a gauntlet down to ‘curious Hobbits’, who are intrigued by the mysterious origins of such wonders, in what smithies were they forged, and whether the alchemical secrets of the wordsmiths trade can be gleaned, used, and passed on.

I must disclose my own interest in this realm of the imagination – with my five-volume epic, The Windsmith Elegy9, I could be categorised as an author of Fantasy, although I prefer the term ‘Mythic Reality’ (for that is how it feels to me – more of which we will discuss later). As a writer of ‘Fantastical Fiction’ (as it once used to called) the genre, as a whole, holds an obvious appeal to me, but more so the mysterious impulse that drives us to write and read it, and beyond that, the act of creation itself.

The central thesis I would like to forward here is that the roots of Fantasy go deeper than sometimes the genre suggest – that there is more to it than mere ‘Sword and Sorcery’, and the endless rehashing of Tolkienesque tropes. What if Fantasy is not merely a form of escapism (although that in itself is not ‘wrong’), but a way of exploring imaginative possibilities?

In the purest expression of Fantasy, something more fundamental is at work. Could Imagination serve as a gateway to other realms, other possibilities – a kind of ‘Quantum TV’ – with different bandwidths showing glimpses of ‘that which does not exist, but could’, and sometimes does, in our imagination?

Many beginner writers who attempt to write Fantasy do not seem to understand the genre. They copy the shadows on the cave wall; without having a full gnosis of what drives their creation (as someone who has taught and assessed creative writing since 2003 I can wearily attest to this – although I am occasionally astounded by what my students produce). There is often a gulf between idea and execution, which is frustrating. It feels as though I am receiving a poor signal from a distant land.

The craft provides the Transatlantic cable, but I do not wish to lay it down here – many others have done that. Rather than simply provide a list of techniques, I believe it would be more useful (and better for the writer) to explore the ‘biology’ of Fantasy, and our motives for writing it.

  • Where does the impulse to write Fantasy come from?
  • What takes place in the act of writing, i.e. the creative process – specifically in the creation of works of Fantasy?
  • What benefits are there, if any, for the writer, as well as the reader?

And so I begin this essay with these questions in mind – and a sense of unknowing.

A quester, armed with his question, is a good place to start.

 

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring, 2013

[Extract from Desiring Dragons: Fantasy and the Writer’s Quest, published by Compass Books – contact them and order an advance copy now]

This Fearful Tempest

His noble kinsman: most degenerate king!
But, lords, we hear this fearful tempest sing,
Yet seek no shelter to avoid the storm;
We see the wind sit sore upon our sails,
And yet we strike not, but securely perish.

The Tragedy of King Richard II

William Shakespeare

 

The terrible storms that have hammered Britain today are perhaps a physical manifestation of the Kali-esque tides of this time of year – as we lead up to Samhain, All Hallows and the Day of the Dead. These festivals of death (and, sometimes, rebirth) teach us to not only honour our dead, but also to let go of what we need to (our physical forms, our possessions, and materiality in general) – to practice the Art of Dying. It is a time to take stock, cull what no longer serves us (with compassion) and move, metaphorically, to our ‘winter pasture’. Wintering means cutting the wheat from the chaff, quitting fooling, and being prepared. It is also a delicious time of tending the hearth, warm gatherings, feasting, storytelling, and the inward spiral – as we turn our energies inwards in readiness for the deep dreaming of winter and the wisdom it will bring us – if we work with (rather than run away) from its winnowing tide.

This time last year I was preparing for the launch of ‘This Fearful Tempest’ – the last in my five-volume fantasy series, The Windsmith Elegy. I launched it at Samhain (Oct 31st, the Celtic Festival of the Ancestors) – this seemed appropriate as the bulk of the series is set in the ‘Afterlands’ and seeks to honour the Lost of History, as I call them – the arrested narratives of various figures from myth and history.  The day I launched it, there was a massive storm in America, and, a year on – Britain is hit by a similar one… So it seemed appropriate to share the tempestuous opening here…

This Fearful Tempest by Kevan Manwaring - front cover by Steve Hambidge

This Fearful Tempest by Kevan Manwaring – front cover by Steve Hambidge

Prologue

Through the torn skein of mist and shadow the ghostly threshold appears: a sheer wall of white rising from the furious sea. The grey waves break into light as they dash themselves against its fastness – jagged flanks of chalk. An x-ray of a land. The white cliffs loom closer and closer, filling the field of vision. A head-on collision threatens at any moment. A tide, irresistible, meeting an object, immovable. Then, from over the cliff’s edge trickles one red line. Deep red. A horse-tail of crimson. Then another pours. Another, like liquid bars. Until, the red tide breaks over the cliffs, obliterating the white. Cliffs of blood. And a scream that pierces the land in two.

Chapter One

Landfall

Go by God’s road to the Tower of Cronus
Where the Airs, daughters of Ocean
Blow round the Island of the Blest.

Pindar’s Odes, Pythean Odes, X, II

Kerne struggled to control Llyr as the winds howled around it. He could hardly see – the rain lashed into his face. Amelia was a blurry figure at the helm, bound to the wheel. The windsmith was exhausted beyond any limit he might have thought possible. He had been windsinging for hours, days now it seemed, sustaining their airship aloft by the power of his summoning. A combination of the east and south wind had served them well. The combined forces of Eurus and Notus had propelled them at high speed from the land beyond the south wind towards their destination, which now, presumably, stretched out below – Hyperborea, the Land beyond the North Wind. Albion. Britain, as it appears in the Afterlands of Shadow World.

One step removed from home.

So close, yet so far.

Although it was the wrong side of death Kerne could not help feeling an overwhelming sense of excitement, of relief, of homecoming, in every fibre of his being. He had circumnavigated Shadow World in his quest to master the secrets of the Four Winds and his goal was nearly in sight. If he could learn the mysteries of the North Wind, Boreas, he would have the keys he needed to get home: the windlass that would open the Angel Gates for him. That cursed enchantress, Aveldra, had brought him and Madoc here – alive in the land of the dead, until one of them had to die – but he would cross back by his own cunning art. His white shadow clung to him like a wet ghost, a smudge of chalk against the grey blur of mist.

‘We’re going home, my friend,’ Kerne communicated to his constant companion since Ashalantë, beneath the overtones of his windsinging. His other companion from that doomed city carried her own scars of guilt – stripped of her gramarye for breaking her priestess vow, Amelia had lost her own co-traveller, Noonan. Together they carried the burden of its destruction – the deserts of Hypernotus should have burnt it away, but had only served to increase the pain. A burning glass which had singed them to the quick.

His wind-dogs howled around him, as Llyr creaked and groaned in the maelstrom. She’s barely holding together, thought Kerne. A moth to a flame. It reminded him of his flight in the BE-2 across the battlefield of Mons with Madoc, that fateful morning – the dawn of the Great War. He had not expected to return home in such fashion, on a flying ship that resembled a giant mandolin, powered by his own gramarye. A windsmith of three winds.

Suddenly the airship snagged something and one of the wings snapped off. The craft span around, a stricken bird, and hit another cable suspended in the sky. This time a large bloated object came into sight – revealed momentarily amid the clashing dreadnoughts of clouds by a sigil of lightning – a giant balloon-like creature, its saggy folds of transparent skin half-inflated with luminescent gases swirling within. From it snaked swaying tendrils, barbed and deadly – crackling with a strange light.

And it wasn’t alone.

The sky was mined with them.

They had flown straight into this aerial shoal. If a better defense could have been devised to protect the skies of Hyperborea it would be hard to imagine. They had done their job. One whipcrack of a tendril and they were done.

Winged, their craft was going into a tailspin. They were flung about, screaming out for each other – hands straining in the maelstrom. There was a howling chaos all about them. Through the rags of cloud details of the land below began to appear. It looked like some kind of cove. Cliffs, suddenly white in the arc-light of the storm, loomed up.

Kerne strained with all his awen to soften the craft’s landing with a blast of air. It felt like giant hands caught the stricken vessel, but then drop it at the last minute as the ship smashed into the rocks.

The rain drummed against the broken fuselage, which lay twisted and jagged around them, a toy guitar smashed to pieces by a petulant child. Kerne had been thrown clear and awoke in a stunned heap, half embedded in a dune. He spat wet sand from his lips. His whole body ached. Sometimes he wished he was dead – to avoid the pain of being alive. With a cry of agony and rage he pulled himself from his bunker, and slowly got up, relieved to find his limbs working, although they protested with every movement as he staggered to his feet.

Swaying he looked around him, his head still spinning. Cliffs loomed up, running with water. Waves crashed in, cold and relentless. And the broken craft that had carried them around Shadow World lay in a smouldering heap – its splintered shell hissing with rain.

The first thought that came to him, more of an anguish cry of realisation, was: Amelia.

He stumbled towards the wreckage, slipping on the sand and shingle, and broken bits of craft. His heart drummed louder than the rain.

They had come so far…

Like a mad man Kerne scrambled about the detritus, heedless of his own safety. ‘Amelia!’ he cried out, voice ragged, drowned by the rain.

In his frantic search, his wind dogs scattered the looser wreckage hither and thither.

Suddenly he heard a muffled cry, the one human sound against the dead noise.

Kerne pulled away another part of the airship and was greeted by the sight he had not dared hope for – Amelia alive, protected by a wishbone of fallen masts.

‘Amelia, are you…?’

A cough, then a voice, faint against the squall. ‘I’m alright, I think. Shaken. I’m glad to see you! I feared you were dead!’

Kerne and Earhart embraced, overwhelmed with relief.

‘This bird is well and truly cracked.’

‘Come on, let’s get you out of there.’

Kerne gently helped Amelia up and, suddenly, she nearly collapsed. The aviatrix cried out in pain.

‘Sit here,’ Kerne commanded. He examined the ankle, gently moving it. ‘Can you feel your toes? Wriggle them. Good.’

‘Good!?’

‘They’re still moving. It looks like a bad sprain. We need to find some shelter.’ Kerne looked up at the cliffs, sheer and unscaleable from this angle. ‘There has to be some way up.’ He cast a glance at the angry waves. ‘We can’t stay here, the tide is coming in.’ He pursed his lips. Rest here a mo out of the rain, and I’ll salvage what I can … ‘ Kerne cast an eye over the crash-site and sighed. ‘Don’t worry, darling. We’ve been in worse scrapes and survived, haven’t we?’

Amelia nodded, smiling bravely.

The contents of Llyr were scattered and ruined. He looked in despair. Ollav Fola’s beautiful work, ruined. Yet it had served them well. Kerne set up scavenging what he could – and filled a pack with rations, water, blanket, a change of clothes. Then, just as he turned to go, he spotted his journal, which he gratefully snapped up and placed within the pack, wrapped in its waxy skin.

‘Not much, but it’ll do for now – we could maybe come back for more, once I’ve found us some shelter. Come on. I’ve found you a crutch.’

Kerne helped his companion up, who winced a little. With one arm over his shoulders supporting the majority of her weight, she was able to hobble, using the stick he’d found – a bit of the ship – as leverage.

‘What a pair we make,’ Amelia joked painfully. ‘Behold, Albion, your saviours are here!’

They laughed at this, blinking in the rain, as they slowly picked their way out of the wreckage.

‘Look, there’s a way up there. Some steps.’ Next to a rivulet which cascaded into the cove, they could make out some crude steps hewn into the rock. ‘Do you think you can manage it?’

‘This bird hasn’t given up yet, mister.’

‘Good. We’ll take it at your pace, okay – as you would say?’

‘A-OK.’ Amelia tried to give the thumbs up and failed, making them both laugh.

‘This reminds me of when I made landfall on my first solo Atlantic crossing. I was heading for England, ended up off the coast of Ireland. What strange accents you Brits have, I thought to myself! They probably thought the same. We couldn’t understand each other at first, as I called out to the watchers on the shore. I must have seemed like from another planet. But, boy, was I glad to see them! I was rowed ashore and given the best cup of tea of my life!’

‘Ah, a cup of tea,’ grunted Kerne, helping her up the steps, ‘now you’re talking.’

Up and up they ascended, in slow, painful movements, catching breath and girding loins between each push. At the top, breathless, they looked back at the broken craft below, now being licked by the greedy waves.

‘At least I’m in better shape than your old bird. I don’t think you’ll get her airborne again.’

Kerne glanced down. ‘Sometimes you have to shed your skin. Let go.’

‘Come on, Plato. We’ve got to get out of this infernal weather!’

The new arrivals struggled on upwards, over the lip of the cove, into the rain-darkened land.

 Extract from This Fearful Tempest by Kevan Manwaring Copyright 2013

www.windsmithelegy.com

On Thursday Awen Publications Celebrates its 10th Anniversary in Stroud with a showcase of some of its many talented authors –

Black Book Cafe, 7.15pm. Come and join us!