Tag Archives: book launch

Wetting the Baby’s Head

A Review of the BALLAD TALES launch showcase, Fri 9 June, Open House, Stroud


What is the usual format and purpose of a book launch? The author talks a little bit about her latest work, they read a sample extract, maybe answer a few questions, then sits behind a desk to sign purchased copies and exchange a few niceties with the book-buying public and, perhaps if they’re enjoying some success, fans. So far, so banal. The culmination of a couple (or more) years of effort and the collaborative ‘ecosystem’ of writer/s, commissioning editor, copyeditor, designer, illustrator, indexer, etc, is worth celebrating (and valuing – as those who casually ask for freebies should bear in mind).  And yet the book launch should be about more than just merely ‘pushing ink’. Yes, it’s nice to start generating sales, but those who organize such an event with just that in mind are often disappointed. It’s more about wetting the baby’s head – blessing the new endeavour with good vibes – and giving all those involved a collective pat on the back. If this can be made enjoyable to the general public, then they get something out of it as well – otherwise it’s just a mutual ego massage. And the meaning is definitely not the massage! It is about conjuring up some of the ambience of the book, some of the spirit in which it was born – remember that initial flash of inspiration? The excitement as you scribbled down that idea? The adrenalin rush of getting the proposal accepted and seeing it start to come together?

What all that in mind I put together a launch showcase (one of many I’ve done over the years) for Ballad Tales: an anthology of British ballads retold, published by The History Press. On Friday 9th June I gathered with a dozen of my fellow contributors in what used to be called the ‘British School’, Open House’s hall-for-hire, tucked away behind the arts cafe, Star Anise, the very sanctum sanctorum of Stroudiness. My partner and I, Chantelle Smith, started setting up and were soon joined by other willing hands. The secret of these events is to make it a team effort, to ask for volunteers and not to try and carry it all by yourself. One wants to be able to enjoy the evening after all, and it’s hard to do that if running from pillar to post, sweating buckets, and doing an impression of Roadrunner-meets-Inspector Gadget. Clipboarditis is best avoided. Do your bit and trust everyone else is doing theirs. Try to stop and chat to people, exchange a joke, perhaps have a drink or just simply take a few breaths  – relax and enjoy yourself and others will to.

So, the doors were open and folk started to drift in – in typical tardy Stroud style. Fortunately the room started to fill up, and around half an hour in I began the evening with my introduction. This included the usual housekeeping, which, for some reason, folk found amusing. In such situations I open my mouth and it’s like a trapdoor to my subconscious – all kinds of stuff comes out. I had a ‘plan’ of what I wanted to say (mainly the ‘thank yous’ and toast) but it’s good to be spontaneous and add a bit of levity to the proceedings. The serious stuff is in my written introduction to the anthology for those who want to read it (and maybe they’ll just skip to the stories). Anyway, my intro served to warm the crowd up, and then I went into full MC mode, introducing each of the respective acts as they took their turn.

The showcase got off to a powerful start with Candia and Tony McKormack of Inkubus Sukkubus performing their song ‘Corn King’ from their Heartbeat of the Earth album. Their latest (Belas Knapp, Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder volume 2) is out 24 June, continuing their evocative exploration of ‘Gloucestershire horror folk’. I had invited Candia to write the foreword for the collection after listening to their Barrow Wake album last year. Next up we had Horsley-based storyteller, Fiona Eadie, performing an extract from her iconic version of ‘Tam Lin’. Travelling further north, we then had Chantelle Smith read some of ‘The Storm’s Heart’ followed by her version of ‘The Grey Selkie of Sule Skerry’. Then fellow Fire Spring David Metcalfe performed ‘The Three Ravens’ and ‘The Twa Corbies’ back-to-back, which was fascinating, as the latter seemed to be a satire of the former. Nimue Brown (of Hopeless, Maine fame) offered an impressive blend of story, song and exegesis on her ballad choice ‘Scarborough Fair’ and her prose retelling ‘Shirt for a Shroud’. And Kirsty Hartsiotis (Fire Spring spotting – gotta catch ‘em all) finished the first half with flair, with her spirited 20s retelling of ‘The Famous Flower of Serving Men’, ‘There ain’t no sweet man’. She dressed in Flapper style for the occasion.

After the break, Laura Kinnear continued on the style front, in vintage fashion, as she read out her retelling of ‘The Bristol Bridegroom/The Ship’s Carpenters Love to a Merchant’s Daughter’, ‘The Shop Girl and the Carpenter’, which is set wittily in homefront World War Two.  Then we had Karola Renard’s powerful reimagining of ‘Sovay’, ‘A Testament of Love’ (with the ballad sung magnificently by Chantelle); followed by her husband’s version of ‘Barbaran Allen’, ‘The Grand Gateway’ (with Mark on vocal duties for that).  The final story of the evening was from Anthony Nanson (Fire Spring #5!), who performed an oral version of his ‘King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid’, which felt incredibly resonant after that day’s general election results. Indeed each of the stories had impact, felt engaged with the world and the issues that face us (while avoiding any heavy-handed didacticism or proselytizing). As the evening drew to a close I performed a lively duet of ‘The Twa Magicians/The Coal Black Smith’ (one of the two ballads I adapted for the book) with Nimue – the audience spontaneously joining in the chorus. Then I invited Candia and Tony back on stage for one of their powerful pagan anthems to round things off. The evening had been a great success, and I got all the balladeers up on stage for a final photo opportunity – a lovely souvenir of a splendid gathering of talented folk.

One can usually tell if an evening has gone well by the atmosphere in the room afterwards – there was a lovely buzz as folk lingered to chat and make connections. I heard one person say that it was the best book launch they had been too. This confirmed to me that our creative, collective, bardic approach, paid off.

Let the awen flow and good things will result.


The next Ballad Tales event (hosted by David Metcalfe) will be on Monday 19 June – Bath Storytelling Circle, upstairs at The Raven, Bath, from 8pm. All welcome.


Wetting the Worm’s Head

Kevan launches Desiring Dragons at the Story Supper, 30 May, 2014, Stroud

Kevan launches Desiring Dragons at the Story Supper, 30 May, 2014, Stroud

Friday saw an excellent evening at the Stroud Story Supper, here in Stroud. The Black Book Cafe was filled with a lovely attentive and supportive crowd. We had fine contributions from the floor – many on the dragon-theme of the evening, as this was the launch of my latest book, Desiring Dragons: creativity, imagination and the writer’s quest – published that very day. Chantelle started the proceedings with the ballad of the ‘Laidly Worm’, and then I introduced my book before plunging into the ‘Dragon of Llanrhaedr’. There followed excellent contributions from Kate Hibbert from the Cardiff Circle (who told a meaty version of Ashputtle and the Stoor Wurm), Fiona Eadie, fresh from her National Trust storywalks in Wiltshire, splendid poetry from Robin Collins and Jo Woolley, and others. Jehanne and Rob Mehta finished off the first half with a rousing song about King Arthur (Pendragon!) which got us all singing along.

Adam Horovitz performs his poem, 'The Long Earth' at the Desiring Dragons launch

Adam Horovitz performs his poem, ‘The Long Earth’ at the Desiring Dragons launch


Fiona Eadie - storyteller at the launch

Fiona Eadie – storyteller at the launch

Jim completes his epic saga - with a friend

Jim completes his epic saga – with a friend

After the break, I told ‘The Gurt Wurm of Shervage Wood’. We had a surprise special guest – Adam Horovitz – who stirringly recited his poem ‘The Long Earth’, which features in the new book. We had the final instalment of Jim’s epic tale of the ‘Thousand Year old Woman’ (his spin on an Icelandic saga, complete with puppet), a fantastic telling of the ‘Maid and the Maggot’ by Kirsty Hartsiotis, and a lovely song from Rob and Jehanne to end with. All in all, a successful evening. We well and truly wetted the worm’s head with our awen-filled words!

Fiona’s feedback afterwards sums it up beautifully:

Just wanted to thank you for an excellent Story Supper last night. You held it beautifully and it was very interesting to hear the background to Desiring Dragons.

I thought all the contributions were really engaging – especially your lusty dragon tale and Chantelle’s ballad of the Laidly Worm

Kevan and Chantelle - post launch, by Kate Hibbert

Kevan and Chantelle – post launch, by Kate Hibbert

The next morning Chantelle and I set off for the Sunrise Celebration near Chepstow where we tested out our new show, ‘The Snake and the Rose’, in the fabulous fairy glade. Splitting it over two days was a good idea for this first run-through. It seemed to go down well, going by our feedback… ‘A fantastic duo …’ ; ‘Made my festival’. Bodes well for our up and coming performances at the Rondo Theatre, Bath; the White Horse Camp in Wiltshire; the Green Gathering; and the Castle of the Muses in Scotland. Here’s to a successful tour!

Launching 'The Snake and the Rose' at the Sunrise Celebration 2014

Launching ‘The Snake and the Rose’ at the Sunrise Celebration 2014


Chantelle in the Fairy Glade!

Chantelle in the Fairy Glade!

Kevan the storyteller in the Fairy Glade

Kevan the storyteller in the Fairy Glade

Find out more about the show here: https://taleandsong.wordpress.com/

The Birth of Dragons

Tonight sees the launch of my latest book, Desiring Dragons: creativity, imagination and the writer’s quest, published by Compass Books. I’m hosting a Story Supper Special – with a dragon-flavoured theme (‘scaly tales, serpentines poems and wyrm songs’). It should be fun!

The book is based upon my 13 years of teaching creative writing (10 with the Open University); and arose out of a course I ran on ‘Writing for the Imagination’ at the University of Bath back in 2005. Since I wrote the first draft in 2006, it has taken a while to see the light of day – but I believe in ‘staying the distance’, and the book explores strategies for what I call long-distance writing. As in the fable of the tortoise and the hare, it’s the tortoise who wins in the end!

Here’s a recent review from poet Lorna Smither’s Peneverdant blog

Book Review: Desiring Dragons by Kevan Manwaring

desiring-dragons-compass-books-front-cover Kevan Manwaring is a writer, teacher and storyteller living in Stroud. His publications include seminal works on Bardism, a series of mythic realist novels and collections of Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire folk tales. Desiring Dragons: Fantasy and the Writer’s Quest is unique because in contrast to the plethora of ‘how to’ guides it forms a study of the creative process, examining why we write, the act of writing and its benefits to writer and reader.

The first part, ‘Desiring Dragons’ focuses on the theory of writing fantasy. Kevan says the mistake most beginner writers make is copying other writers without understanding the nature of fantasy or the act of creation. He defines fantasy as ‘the means by which we imagine and enter other worlds,’ and discloses its roots in storytelling as a shamanic tradition. The other worlds of fantasy are presented as sources of imaginative possibilities which can provide alternative perspectives on this world. By seeing this world in a different way we perceive new choices and ways of bringing about change.

I found this to be a powerful argument as all too often fantasy and imagination are equated with unreality and seen as lacking in value. By showing that fantasy fulfils the needs of individuals and society Kevan demonstrates its worth. I think this will be a great source of encouragement to other writers, particularly those doubting the value of their work because they have been told fantasy is a form of escapism or disengagement from society.

The second part, ‘The Writer’s Quest’ covers the practicalities of writing fantasy. In a striking display of originality Kevan uses Beowulf as a ‘mythic template’ for exploring the processes of creativity. Grendel’s assailment of Heorot is seen as a metaphor for the writer being haunted by the demons that drive them to write. The lake symbolizes potential and plunging into its waters the point of no return. The message of the dragon’s lair is that a writer shouldn’t sit on the gold of their word hoard because it contains the life force itself, which demands to be passed on.

What I liked most about this part is that it is enthused with Kevan’s personal experience of the exhilarating yet often nightmarish process of writing a novel. I think any writer would recognise these processes and find relief and encouragement in not being alone.

Each chapter is followed by a series of ‘questings’ prompting the writer to examine their creative processes from a different angle. ‘Summoning the Hero’ explores ways of seeing oneself as a writer. ‘The Bloody Limb’ suggests ways of looking at a first draft. ‘Needful Digressions’ calls the writer to consider whether they are harping on like the scolds do about Finnsburgh. I think these exercises will be effective as rather than telling writers what to do they call for reflection on work, creative processes and motivations.

The final part, ‘The Dragon’s Hoard’ is a collection of essays covering an eclectic range of topics ranging from mythic literacy to cultivating a daily writing practice, which is easy to dip in and out of. An essay which currently resonates with me is ‘Writing Magical Fiction.’ Here Kevan suggests good writing in this genre is rooted in experience of real magic- in the Awen (inspiration), forming living relationships with one’s muses, practicing an existing magical system and connecting with the landscape and changing seasons.

As a poet I found this book immensely valuable because rather than just examining the ‘how’ of writing it examines the ‘why’. Any form of writing is a gruelling task. Whilst the ‘how’ provides the tools, ultimately it’s the ‘why’ – our innermost desires and motivations that see us through to the end. Desiring Dragons provides ways of accessing and understanding them. Therefore I would recommend it highly to writers of all genres.

Turning the Wheel

Turning the Wheel

book launches 25 & 27 November; 1 December

On Friday I launched my latest book, Turning the Wheel: seasonal Britain on two wheels, with a ‘book launch celebration’ at (what was) first ‘the British School’, then the Five Valleys Foyer in Stroud (it changed its name half-way through my publicity campaign to Open House – ah, truly sensei, the nature of reality is impermanence ;0). With the help of my partner, Jenni, dropped off the wineglasses and books and I set up. A good crowd turned up to watch my slideshow and talk. Josie Felce provided some lovely live harp music and Gabriel Millar, a poem about the month of the dead, talking briefly about Thanksgiving – this lead into an interesting discussion on how we celebrate the turning of the wheel. Tired, but happy afterwards I felt like I had well and truly wetted the baby’s head. Thank you to all those who came along (a couple came from Yeovil)!

Friends view the book

On Sunday I travelled down to Totnes to give a talk on the book to the Wessex Research Group. The attendance was very low – but I had an interesting chat with one chap afterwards, who told me about the ‘Wheel-turners’ in Buddhism. I knew about the Buddhist resonance in the title, but the idea of an actual role intrigued me. Called Chakravartin (S); Chakkavatti(P), literally, “Wheel-turner”, it is defined as: the ideal king who practices, supports and spreads Buddhism (“Turning the Wheel of the Dharma”).

The Dharma Wheel is one of the earliest and most important symbols in Buddhism. The symbol refers to the story in which post the Buddha’s enlightenment, Lord Brahma descended from the heaven and asked Him to teach by offering a Dharmachakra.

The Dharma Wheel is a symbol of the Buddha’s teaching of the path to enlightenment. The Buddha is known as the Wheel turner and as per some Buddhist Schools, He turned the Dharma Wheel few times. The first, to which all the Buddhist agree, was when the Buddha preached the five sages at the Deer Park in Sarnath. The later turning of wheel account are not always same. They vary, however what is concluded from this is that the dharma wheel needs to be turned thrice for a student to understand dharma (De La Soul got it right – three really is the magic number).

The Dharma Chakra has eight spokes that stand for Eight Fold Noble Path. These spokes have sharp edges that are believed to ward off ignorance. The shape of the wheel is round which conveys the completeness and faultlessness of the dharma teaching. The spokes stand for wisdom, the hub for discipline and the rim for concentration. Discipline is extremely important in meditation, similarly concentration is of utmost significance to hold everything together.

I love the idea of the spokes standing for wisdom, the hub for discipline, and the rim for concentration – this could easily be a metaphor for riding a motorbike (one is always conscious of where the wheels and the road connect) and for the Middle Way, of course!

By ‘turning the wheel’ one can literally change one’s luck, or wyrd (to use an Anglo-Saxon concept). The very act of travel can become an act of prayer. Whenever I jump on my bike and go for a blat I feel I ‘shift’ something – even if it is just blowing away the cobwebs. More conscious acts of journeying (ie to sacred sites on pilgrimage) can really enhance one’s karma.

So, as I keep turning the wheel, I send out a prayer: May my luck turn also! And bring good fortune to all those I come into contact with.

I caught the train home the next morning – feeling wiped out by my big ‘push’ to launch the book. All this publicity and promotional stuff can be exhausting, but is unfortunately part of the author’s lot these days. No hiding of light’s under bushels!

Earlier in the week I had conducted interviews for BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Gloucester (a great interview with Faye Hatcher). I got to listen to Phil Rickman’s book review programme Phil the Shelf upon my return – the interview seemed to go well, but was predictably butchered to ‘soundbites’: shame he focused on the salacious side (the aphrodisiac qualities of a certain waterfall in North Wales) and kept getting my name wrong. What I thought was a serious book show turned out to be one that focused on the gimmicky and weird – a kind of ‘odd box’ programme. I was lumped with the weirdoes. Oh well!

Perhaps I can take some consolation in Rickman’s response to the book: ‘Inspiring stuff’. And he said of my Pistyll Rhaeadr account: ‘the kind of incident from which folklore is formed.’ which can’t be all bad…

If anything, this week’s media floozing has just reminded me again what a fickle mistress she is! I felt slightly grubby afterwards – tread softly, for you tread upon my dreams!

What should be more down-to-earth and satisfying is the next date on my ‘Turning the Wheel Tour’. For a start, this one I can walk to. On Thursday I give a talk in my fab local, the Crown and Sceptre – literally, the end of my lane – precisely one year on from moving to Daisybank. It feels like I am thoroughly ensconced in my community. It is nice to be made to feel so welcome. The friendly pub is run by a biker, Rodda, and has a lovely community feel – serving the patrons of the Horns Road area and beyond. The town seems to have a concentration of creative types, and most of them seem to live along my street! Is there something in the water (or the ale)? I think I need to investigate further…

More talks are coming up …

Turning theWheel Tour

dates confirmed so far…

25 Nov – Five Valleys Foyer, Stroud
27 Nov – Wessex Research Group, Bogan House, Totnes
1 Dec – Crown & Sceptre, Horns Rd, Stroud
3 Dec – Isbourne Holistic Centre, Cheltenham
9 Dec – The Bear, Holwell
10 Dec – Cat & Cauldron, Glastonbury
15 Dec – Waterstones, Bath
21 Dec – Midnight Sun, Lansdown Hall, Stroud

5 Jan – Bonn Central Library, Germany!
28 Jan – Swindon Brunel Waterstones
1 Mar – George Hotel, Bridport
29 Mar – New Brewery Arts, Cirencester
21 April – PFNE Conference, York
28 April – Trowbridge Waterstones
7 May – Hawkwood Open Day

Hope to see you on the road – turning the wheel together.

Words on Fire

Words on Fire: Book Launch Waterstones 21st May

Words on Fire Tour #1: Ola and I launch our books at Waterstones, Bath 21 May 2011

Last night saw the culmination of two writer’s journeys as Ola (my friend from Germany, now living in Bath) and I launched our books (The Firekeeper’s Daughter; & The Burning Path, respectively) at Waterstones, Bath – the final event of the ‘Awen Spring’ programme, which saw 6 new titles being published over 4 separate events these last 4 months – quite a start to the year! My book began in 2008 – when I wrote the first draft. I worked on the second draft last May, as Writer-in-Residence in El Gouna; and the third in Italy this April. It is the fourth part of my fantasy epic, The Windsmith Elegy, begun in 2002 while a student on the MA in Creative Writing at Cardiff University. With the publication of the final volume next year (touchwood) it’ll be the end of a ten year project – my magnum opus will weigh in at half a million woods. The Burning Path is the slimmest volume of the series, but has taken me the longest to complete – partly due to other commitments (I have written two non-fiction books during 2008-2011: The Way of Awen; & Turning the Wheel, out later this year – as well as a collection of poetry, and contributor to other anthologies). But it has also been a hard book to write because of challenging personal circumstances and a wish to achieve an austere aesthetic inspired in part by a quote from Antoine de St Exupery: ‘Perfection then, is finally achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.’ This is what I aspired to – it’s harder to write a (good) short book than a long one. Quality, not quantity. Moving from my home of 14 years in Bath late last year was very much a physical manifestation of this ethos – about letting go, and only keeping what you really need. My book’s main theme concerns the idea: what are you prepared to lose for that which you love? Well, I have made several sacrifices in the writing of this book – not least the sheer graft of its composition and production (for little or no reward – or guarantee of one). But yesterday this theme took on a tangible aspect as I rushed back from an OU meeting in Milton Keynes in time for the launch at Waterstones, Bath, that evening – I was going so fast on my motorbike that my panniers blew away! I was twenty miles down the road before I realised – like Edward Lear’s man from Bicester (below) – retraced my steps but couldn’t find them. They contained all my camping gear which I was planning to use that night, staying over at my friend Marko’s birthday bash (a legendary gathering of Irish musicians and characters). But I had to cut my losses, and put the ‘pedal to the metal’ to get to the launch on time, rushing down the M4. The gods were with me and I made it – just in time – arriving bang on 7pm. a crowd had gathered – probably wondering where I was. I quickly got changed and introduced the evening and Ola’s book – she took over and did a great talk and reading, answering some interesting questions from the floor afterwards. Then it was my turn – I summoned some energy, some awen, from somewhere – and introduced my novel. I read an extract: ‘The Sandsweepers of Assekrem’ – and fielded some questions. Afterwards, we toasted the books with some Lindisfarne Mead. We did it! It had been quite a journey for both of us – Ola’s first book, my um fifteenth? It doesn’t seem to get any less stressful – no matter how well it is all planned, it always seems to end up ‘hot water and towels’ in the middle of the night. A book launch can be a somewhat fraught affair – exhausting and exhilarating – as the proud parent brings a new creation into the world! This particular ‘labour’ was relatively smooth – thanks to all the midwives! Bidding a farewell to the fellowship heading in different directions, we decamped to the Circus for some galvanising tea and cake before heading off into the dark wilds of Somerset for Marko’s birthday bash – when we finally found it (The King’s Head in Coleford, a pub lost in its own timewarp) the party was in full swing. There was a lively Irish session in process, taking everyone away with the fairies. I gifted Marko a copy of Ola’s book and he orderd me a jar of the dark stuff. Never had a pint of Guinness tasted so good! We toasted the man himself, and our achievement. It had been quite a day. Words on Fire tour had begun!


*There was an old soldier of Bicester,
Was walking one day with his sister,
A bull, with one poke,
Toss’d her into an oak,
Before the old gentleman miss’d her.

Making Hay

Making Hay

11-14 June

Green Scythe Fair - deepest Somerset

Just back from three days in Avalon – Scythe Fair today, book launch yesterday and storytelling show on Friday (which was actually in Taunton, but it was called ‘Otherworlds’ so I’m including it!).

Friday afternoon Richard and I made our way down in the sun to Taunton – where we had a gig at the Brewhouse. We compiled an anthology show called ‘Otherworlds’ – I did a couple of stories from hotter climes (Al-Andalus; Yemen) and an Irish myth. Richard did stories from Scotland,

Ireland and ‘the fifth quarter’ – Romney Marsh. The set seemed to complement and flow well – but we could have done with a few more. We were competing with a squaddie dance company in the main auditorium – clearly more to Tauntonian taste (or perhaps it was the footie and the sun). Still the venue was impressive, felt well-received by our small but appreciative audience (‘absolutely brilliant!’) and had an enjoyable jolly. We sank a couple of well-earned beers (‘Wayland Smithy from the White Horse Brewery) when we got back. It was good to be doing some pro-storytelling again (last time was Italy).

Launching The Way of Awen at Cat & Cauldron, Glastonbury

The next day I prepared for my big book launch at the Cat & Cauldron in Glasto that afternoon. I enjoyed riding down to Avalon on my Triumph Legend with a box of books on the back. It promised to be a special night and it didn’t disappoint. We had a decent turn-out at Trevor and Liz’s shop – the launch had been timed to coincide with the OBOD bash in Town Hall. When I launched the companion volume, The Bardic Handbook, four years ago at Gothic Image we had a great turn out – with the late John Michell; Philip Carr-Gom; Ronald Hutton; and Michael Dames turning up (it turned out they were in town for the OBOD bash which I didn’t know was on – afterwards I was invited along – so I organised this one to synchronise).

The Bard and the Druid - Philip Carr-gom pops in to my book launch

Making it feel like full circle was having the first Bard of Glastonbury, Tim Hall, there who kindly played a mini-set, as he had done at my launch in 2006. It created a lovely atmosphere.

Tim Hall plays at my launch, Cat & Cauldron, Glastonbury - with friends Amber & Phil

I introduced the book and read out a small selection of poems, which were well received. There were some good questions and the vibe was good. I left with only a couple of copies of the book – one of which I gave to Ronald Hutton and Ana Adnoch when I bumped into them at the OBOD gathering. It was great to go there afterwards, as a guest – launching a book 20 years in the making deserves a good knees up! Thanks to Philip I also got my friends, Nigel and Karola, in as well. We got ourselves a plate of food and enjoyed the bardic entertainment. Ended up having a dance with my old Dutch friend Eva – who I met on Glastonbury Tor one solstice twenty years ago! Bid farewell to my friend Nigel and staggered back to Amanda’s yurt, which she had kindly offered me for the night. My friend Karola had the short straw – sharing with me – and having to put up with wine-induced snoring but we’re good friends and she didn’t kick me once!

a Legend by the Tor

The next morning, after a much needed full monty (breakfast) and walk up the Tor, I went to the Green Scythe Fair in deepest Zummerset – riding passed scores of bikers on classic bikes out for a blat heading in the other direction, and hamlets with names like Little Gurning, I finally found the site – a campsite called Thorney Lakes near a village called Mulcheney Ham. It was only a fiver to get in – and you got free tea and cake if you came on a bike – I tried my luck but didn’t convince the lady in the tea tent (who had come down on a Bonnie). I bumped into folk and bimbled about, enjoying the ambience. You felt like you were breathing in carbon credits just walking about. It’s a very positive event with lots of green solutions – alternative fuel, food, housing, clothing, education – as well as being relaxed, picturesque (and picaresque) and just the right size. If it had a theme tune it’d be ‘Heavy Horses’ by Jethro Tull. It was very Hardy-esque and felt like something you’d expect to see Gabriel Oak at. There were scything championships – all very serious stuff (involving plenty of liquid preparation). Competitors carefully whetted their blades and assessed the quality of the grass. There were lots of wonderful craft stalls, info tents and music – including my friends Tim Hall and the Architypes (sic), who performed on Sangers fabulous horse-drawn solar-powered stage. There were bands with names like ‘Bag o’ Rats’ – who played ‘psychedelic folk’ to a good-natured crowd mellow on zider. There was plenty of fresh grass cuttings for kids to play with – and it kept them amused for hours (a Battle Royale grass fight; several grass burials took place). The sky had been darkly ominous all afternoon (a bit Bergman-esque with the reapers hanging around – as though waiting for a game of chess with Max Von Sydow). At one point the heavens opened and I found myself standing under a gazebo in a sandpit to stay dry. A rainbow came out soon after. After a suitably drunken delay (a missing cup) the scything champion was announced (4th year in a row) and the MC said the standard was so high he was confident we were now ‘ready for Europe’ – though the World Cup and Olympics might have to wait. I made my way back soon after – glad to get back after a fine weekend away.

I though the magic would be over with a stack of OU marking facing me Monday morning, but then a call from my friend Helen at midday meant I ended up going on a lovely trip down the river Avon to celebrate her birthday (‘life’s too short,’ she said, and she’s right – carpe deum!). We found a sunny spot to stop for a fabulous picnic. I read out some of my poetry, including ‘Let Love Be Our River’, and on the way back recited some Elizabeth Barratt Browning and Thomas the Rhymer as the ladies rowed (they insisted after us guys had rowed on the way out). It was all very Wind in the Willows. Very relaxing!

picnic by the river - Helen's birthday

Summer’s Wake

on Solsbury Hill - Sunday rideout

on Solsbury Hill - Sunday rideout

21-27 Sep

This week I have been catching up with myself after the week on Iona – there’s been alot to sort out as new terms start, etc, but amidst it all I’ve launched my new novel and been involved with other literary events…

It’s really felt like ‘back to school’ and a shift of emphasis – from the outward to the inward spiral. At the time of the autumn equinox it is perhaps not surprising that it has felt both light and dark/good and bad … my week certainly has reflected that duality.

Monday I spent mainly ploughing through my inbox and replying to messages. In the evening I was due to start my new evening class in creative writing at Chew Valley School but it was aborted due to low enrolment (apparently a fate several of the arts classes suffered, no doubt a byproduct of the tough economic climate). Instead I went to the Bath Storytelling Circle at the Raven, though I didn’t feel very dynamic, still struggling with a cold – numbers were down there so I did force myself to share a story in the second half to help out David, the host – I told a Scottish tale, the Well at the World’s End.

the launch of The Well Under the Sea

the launch of The Well Under the Sea

Tuesday was the launch of my new novel, The Well Under the Sea – the plan was to launch it with a river cruise – but a phone call in the morning kaiboshed that idea, the Pulteney Princess’s lights were on the blink (and the dim-witted staff seemed to be equally in the dark). Suddenly I had to find a new venue. I looked at a couple of boats, but  it was rather late in the day, to say the least. Fortunately, the Rising Sun came to the rescue, which just so happens to have a boat in the beer garden! So, this served as an agreeable substitute – the place has been tastefully done up since the days when the storytelling circle used to be housed there and the staff were friendly and helpful. The skittles alley provided a wet weather option, which turned out useful, as it started to drizzle – talking about raining on my parade! Still, despite the set backs it turned out to be a good night – I gathered guests in the garden to toast the book with a glass of mead as I stood on the prow of the boat, so at least I could say I launched the book on a boat! Then we repaired inside where I did a reading and answered questions. The atmosphere was pleasant – it was nice to see my friends there. It was a small event, but felt like it had served its purpose – The Well was well and truly launched!

Book launch on a boat! (beer garden of the Rising Sun, Grove St, Bath)

Book launch on a boat! (beer garden of the Rising Sun, Grove St, Bath)

Wednesday was a busy day for Bath Writers’ Workshop (David Lassman & me): we both had events in the Jane Austen Festival – I ran a writing workshop (Writing Jane) and David gave a talk (Adapting Austen) – both were very popular events (sold out). Straight after, we had to go and host the 4th Wednesday event at the New Inn – Guest Writers in Conversation, once againt a Bath Writers’ Workshop production – with Jay Ramsay and Anthony Nanson down from Stroud. This was a superb evening – both authors gave excellent readings/performances and talked eloquently and insightfully about their work with each other. A high calibre event that could easily habe  been in the Bath Literature Festival and certainly deserves decent funding (at the moment we don’t get any – sponsorship welcome!)

Friday was my first class of the term with the Community Learning Service, with a lovely group of older learners at Saltford Library. Afterwards, I helped my Finnish friends Mika and Maarit to move (they are moving to Helsinki). Fortunately there were a few of us to shift the many boxes and bits of furniture out of the house and into the carpark, where they piled up, awaiting the men with the van who got lost in Bath’s one-way system (turning up 2hrs late!). In the evening I went down to Glastonbury to do a second launch event for The Well… at the Cat & Cauldron.

Saturday morning I ran one-to-one writer consultations in Bath Central Library. In the evening I went to Amy & Tim’s joint birthday bash – a wild wild west party in Wookey – which was great fun (much needed after a tiring week). On Sunday morning I rode back in the sun, glad to be a bard on a bike!

Mysteries in Cardiff

8 November

Kevan and Chrissy at her big night

Kevan and Chrissy at her big night

Mysteries book launch








Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff


Tonight I travelled over to Cardiff to launch the first book by Chrissy Derbyshire – a rising star if ever there was one. It was the first time I had been back to Cardiff since my graduation in 2004. It felt satisfying to be returning as a publisher – I wouldn’t have conceived it at the time, even though I had launched Awen Publications a year before. But my small press hasn’t really taken off until this year – with a flurry of seven titles! This month has seen a hat-trick of launches – Bath, Stroud and now Cardiff.


I made my way through the rain to Chapter Arts Centre, negotiating the buses and the strange accents. Just getting out of Cardiff Central station was a challenge, as it had all been barricaded off as hordes of rugby fans were being funnelled to their respective coaches and trains. I seemed to be the only one going the other way, and not dressed in colours.


I arrived early and had a pint of Rev. James and a lite bite of Welsh rarebit in the café. Finally, Chrissy’s entourage turned up and, after introductions to her folks, we set to work, setting the place up. Chrissy’s family and friends were very supportive, taking care of refreshments and a generous bar – with lots of mead! I held back as I was due to introduce the evening. I recalled how special my first book launch was – you never forget it. Afterwards, Chrissy said it had been one of the best nights of her life!


After my introduction, which wasn’t as eloquent or as focussed as I wanted to be (guess my bardic energies were flagging) Chrissy impressed everyone with a good talk and a series of readings from her book. She seemed to take to the ‘stage’ naturally and is a good speaker. She also sings, but I haven’t heard her yet – fulfilling the Awen author criteria to be a spoken word performer as well, our USP. You could say we’re a bardic publisher.


It was very satisfying to see people queuing up around the room waiting to get their books signed by Chrissy. Virtually all were family and friends but it was still good to see. Chrissy must have been buzzing. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay and continue celebrating with her and the others as I had a train to catch! I had to dash and luckily a bus came just at the right time to get me to the station. Unfortunately, this ‘last train to England’ was packed with drunken revellers, and there was one or two altercations – one bloke being collared by a policeman for being lippy. Two gay bicyclists standing by me were getting hassled by an odious rugby fan, who objected to their bikes taking up seating space, even though that part of the carriage was dedicated to bikes. He was being far more objectionable, but when other fans piled on, they chatted away to the gay guys without a problem – it was clear who had ‘the problem’ here, and he was marginalised in his loathsome opinions. It was a sour note to end on, after a good note. But the contrast could not have been more striking. I wish I could have stayed and shared Chrissy’s success – but I’d already booked my return. This was an echo of the problem when I was studying at Cardiff. Sometimes I would stay over, but often I came back – and missed out on the social element. Chrissy’s circle, which has largely come out of the Cardiff Uni Pagan Society shows what college life can be like. Lifetime friendships can be forged. Chrissy’s circle of friends showed their support admirably – whilst I felt the ‘lone wolf’, slinking back to my solitary lair. Sometimes a bardic life can be isolated – it is not always possible to share the path we walk with others.