Tag Archives: Books

Flights of Fancy

To date I have written 13 novels over the course of my writing life. It is interesting to look back and consider this harvest of the imagination

The amazing covers by Steve Hambidge for The Windsmith Elegy (vols 1-5) https://www.behance.net/crookedkm/projects

Flights of Fancy: My Novels

To date I have written 13 novels over the course of my writing life. It is interesting to look back and consider this harvest of the imagination – what connects them, if anything? Certainly a strong strain of the Fantastic – most are explicitly within the Fantasy or Science Fiction category, with just a couple of anomalies: my first novel, which could be categorised as Weird or Timeslip; and my latest, which is my most ‘mimetic’ to date – being set entirely in this world, with no element of the Fantastic (except perhaps through the combination of extraordinary characters in an extraordinary place – albeit both within the purview of the possible). From the very first a strong sense of place has been a key element of my fiction. I am also inspired by myths, legends, folk tales, and folk songs, so what I call ‘mythic resonance’ permeates all my work (indeed, I called my Fantasy novels ‘Mythic Reality’). Nature has always been more than a backdrop in my writing – an ecoliteracy informs them all. And increasingly, there is a keen sense of the Climate Emergency – this has manifested most tangibly in Black Box and Thunder Road. Finally, I think I am drawn to hybrid, marginalised voices – characters caught between worlds in different ways. These are the voices that interest me the most.

So far, only 8 have been published (one as an interactive novel), although my SF novel, Black Box, has manifested as an audio drama via Alternative Stories and Fake Realities. Hopefully, the others will see the light of day at some point. Otherwise, to keep writing them without guarantee of publication is a kind of madness – I call it my Obsessive Narrative Disorder. I just can’t stop writing. I have so many ideas, and novels just pounce on me and don’t let me go until I’ve written them. With my current novel, The Bath Circulating Library Society, I have set up what I hope to be a long-running series – I have several plot ideas already sketched out, enough probably to keep me busy until the end of my days. Let’s hope I get a publisher for them soon!

The Ghost Tree (1994 – unpublished)

The Long Woman (2004, Awen) – Arts Council Award winner

Windsmith (2006, Awen)

The Sun Miners (2007, Awen)

The Well Under the Sea (2008, Awen)

The Burning Path (2010, Awen) – El Gouna Writing Residency, Egypt

This Fearful Tempest (2012, Awen)

Black Box (2016) – winner of the One Giant Write competition run by Literature Works; adapted into an audio drama for Alternative Stories and Fake Realities.

The Knowing: a Fantasy (2018) – my PhD novel, published by the University of Leicester, via Open Access, as a hardbound dissertation, and website: www.thesecretcommonwealth.com (2nd draft written as a writer-in-resident at Hawthornden International Writers Retreat, December 2015).

Thunder Road (2020) available to read via this website

Hyperion (2021, available via Tales Writer on App Store and Google Play)

The Bath Circulating Library Society (2021) – long-listed for the Bath Novel Award

The Bath Circulating Library Society is a prequel to an intended novel series, the first volume of which has been written (completed in 2020).

Kevan Manwaring, 17 October 2021

The Bear Moon Licks its Paws of Frost

Turning the Wheel Tour

9-10 December

Back on the road again as my Turning the Wheel tour continues. Riding this time of year can be beautiful … but deadly. The cold sun is blindingly low in the sky, but it illumines the bleak landscape and bare trees in a wonderful way. Our wooden cousins arch over the winding A46 down to Bath like Rackham-esque Ents – waiting to pluck the unwary traveller to their doom! On the way home a couple of days later, they were silhouetted against the full moon – lovely, but not so enjoyable when you’re freezing your butt off!

I hooked up with my old pal Sally (AKA Saravian) to do a combined book talk and gig at the Bear in Holwell – an amazing coaching inn outside Frome. Run by the Reverend Zak Ezelove, Tash and Anita, it is not quite in this world. Decorated with stunning fluorescent Mayan artwork (from Tas Bell – see below), dragons (the landlord’s Chinese astrology sign) and psychedelic foliage, it is a fantastic place to party – and that night, a young man called Fin was celebrating his nineteenth birthday there with an all-night knees up. They were setting up the decks when we arrived – given a lift by Saravian’s fellow musician Paul (after a sunny, but chilly ride down from Stroud on my two wheels it was a relief not to have to ride in the dark – as the temperatures plummeted on the cold, clear night – the moon on the cusp of full). The sign of The Bear echoed this – the pub’s totem portrayed silhouetted against a moonlit background. Saravian and Paul set up, and I put out my little stack of books. Another musician had already set up his PA and it turned out to be my friend, the multi-talented James Hollingsworth – who happened to be performing there, after us. Synchronicity! Saravian and Paul provided some good vibes with their fine tunes, then I gave a brief talk which led into an interesting discussion about ‘turning the wheel’ – no doubt influenced by the far out decor, it was pretty cosmic. Afterwards, James did a fantastic warm-up routine, using his loop machine and pedals to build up a wall of sound. His talent is staggering and he really should be playing stadiums. Yet, as I often find with real stars, his ego doesn’t outstrip his talent, as it sometimes does in those with lesser ability. A modest diva – now there’s an oxymoron to conjure with.

I really hope this place flourishes – it is trying to offer a creative alternative to mainstream monoculture. Beleagured by the forces of commerce and mundanity, they are like endangered species – a polar bear on an ever-diminishing iceberg. Such places stop life being too normal – as with certain eccentric seasonal events, as I said in my talk this evening, it ‘widens the gene pool of the imagination’! Long may it thrive!

Afterwards, we popped to Saravian’s local for one – The Griffin, home of Milk Street Brewery. Similarly decorated with original artwork, with live music, it’s great to see such grassroots creativity. My hostess runs the Frome Live Lounge show on the local radio station – and has plans for other community-focused initiatives. The town reminds me of Stroud – it has a similar feel about it: a creative buzz, a green scene, free-thinking (except for the odd small-minded bookseller), great music and cafes. Another locus of alternative modality – like Totnes, or my next destination (albeit with more sense, and less sparkle).

The next morning I set off across the frost-christened Somerset Levels to Glastonbury – for the next date on my Turning the Wheel tour: a book-signing at the Cat & Cauldron, run by Trevor and Liz Williams (SF author). They’ve kindly hosted several of my book events in town and once again made me feel welcome. There was alot going on it town that day – the Frost Fayre, the OBOD Winter bash and the usual Glastonbury madness! There was a lovely atmosphere on the High Street – stalls of festive goodies; the mayor opening the Frost Fayre (in its second year – and perfectly timed, to coincide with the first frost); the Holly King strode up and down in his Yuletide regalia. I asked him if he had to defeat the Oak King to win his title, but he also plays that part and so he had to ‘wrestle with himself’, he joked. Later I saw an altercation on the doorstep of the Cat & Cauldron that seemed to be an amusingly symbolic re-enactment of that very ritual combat: two local ne’er-do-wells (a barrel-chested warrior-type and a weasel-like opponent – which one was Oak, which Holly, I wouldn’t like to say) were duking it out on the road – chasing each other up and down in comic fashion. It reminded me of gruff walruses snarling and clashing on a wave-lashed islet – something from Frozen Planet perhaps). Father Christmas rode by accompanied by drummers (including a formidable Ice Queen – part of the Narnia-themed event); my old friend the  Green Man hawked his golden bough; Mr Tumnus popped in for some of my mead; the talented Bards of Ynys Witrin performed by the Market Cross; druids and faeries got in some retail therapy. In short, another day in Avalon. Fabulous!

It was lovely to catch up with old friends and made it all worth while. I had to dash to make the most of the fading light and heat. By the time I got home from my long-ish ride I was chilled to the bone and needed a good long soak. After a week of being out and about (Bournemouth, Frome and Glasto) I feel like tending the hearth and getting in touch with my inner bear – time to hibernate (if only the demands of the season would allow it – but I doubt there will be much peace to be had this side of the solstice)!

Lonely is the man...

Mist Over Pendle

Men with Hats!

Men with Hats!

16 November

 

Clitheroe & Pendle

(written in Gloucester Station)

 

Boots still damp from bog-trotting on Pendle Hill today – walked up there with Anthony Nanson, fellow writer and storyteller. He had arranged a joint reading in his old home town of Clitheroe, Lancashire, where he went to Grammar School (‘Like The History Boys, but without the homosexuality!’). We stayed with his parents, Simon (ex-headmaster) and Cynthia (ceramicist and mean cook), who were most hospitable. I even got to sleep in Anthony’s old room. It was really special to let into his past like this.

 

The next morning we dropped some books off at the shop, looking perhaps a little bohemian for a small Northern town with Anthony’s Aslan-ish mane and my devilish hat. Afterwards, as we had a few hours to kill before the gig, Anthony took me up to ‘the Cut’, a notch in Pendle Hill frequented by revellers on Halloween (not a place to hang about, according to Anthony’s schooldays reminiscences, but very much part of the mythic landscape of his childhood). Here, with a dramatic vista either side we rehearsed our stories, slightly apart from one another.

 

Failing to raise Old Nick with our ‘incantations’, (our mythic mumblings would have probably had us burnt two or three centuries earlier) we drove into ‘witch country’ – now clearly sign-posted (as the Pendle Witches have been marketed as local heritage) although we still managed to have a moment of ‘navigational uncertainty’, at a suitably bleak crossroads, where the signs seemed to point all the wrong way (which, as it turned out, they did – having been bent round! It was all getting a bit ‘Blair Witch’…) We found the village, which seemed rather pleasant and harmless, as no doubt the ‘witches’ were – persecuted for political ends or local grudges. With the temperature dropping, we wended our way back to the town. Time to get to work.

 

The ‘reading’  (more a performance, as we didn’t use the texts) took place in Kaydee Bookshop – where Anthony worked for a year. We were co-promoting Anthony’s short story collection Exotic Excursion and my non-fiction tome, Lost Islands – a good combination. We told thirty minutes of material each, alternating ten minute slots. After Anthony’s introduction I started my set with the opening of Oisín and Niamh, including the poem, ‘Delightful is the land beyond all dreams’. In the middle I did The Spirit Bride, an Algonquin tale (which I last performed in Malta last November at Metageum). I ended with two modern stories – a Climate Change one about the ‘discovery’ of a found island, Nymark, in the Arctic, due to melting ice; the other was about how the Onge tribe of Little Andaman survived the Indian Ocean Tsunami thanks to the thirty to fifty thousand years of folklore. Anthony was thoroughly professional and engaging as usual. He hesitated doing his last ‘spoken fiction’ story from Exotic Excursions – because of an incursion by mainly teenage girls halfway through the event, but after apparently listening to Spirit Bride they up sticks and left, so luckily we got to hear Anthony’s movingly subtle rendition of his lakeside epiphany – an experience perhaps you appreciate far more, the older you get. It would be nice to have someone to share such a moment with. Indirectly, I supposed we had…a small but committed audience listened attentively (mostly Anthony’s family and friends, including an old Primary school teacher). We sold three books each, and they took six more of Anthony’s title on sale or return. The long trip certainly wasn’t reciprocated financially – most of it went on petrol and trains – but in other ways it felt worth the effort. It was great to have a break away from Bath after a heavy fortnight of teaching and marking. I hadn’t really been away from Bath properly since late September (OOTO/Long Man). Also, I have had a hard time lately – separating from my partner and, earlier in the week, having a motorcycle crash. I survived (a bruised knee and bank balance) but my beloved Zuki is in the garage awaiting repairs – the last thing I needed in these difficult times. 

          I was appreciative that Anthony was allowing me into his past – as we walked streets ghosted with memory. Later that evening, after the gig, we went into town with Andrew, an old Grammar School friend of his. We holed up in the Castle, by a merry fire. The old friends got caught up in a discussion about economics, while I yearned for some more feminine company. Anthony said I go to a pub to drink, but actually I want to connect with my emotions – not my intellect – after a tiring week’s teaching. I find a political debate not that relaxing, whileas some love to argue the toss (they had both been members of the school’s debating society and you could tell). I wished I’d gone into the other room to watch the musician, but by the time I decided to do this, he had finished. When we got back, I just hit the sack. It had been a tiring day.

 

          Sunday, the weather miraculously cleared up after an overcast start. Togged up, we set off with some basic supplies – from Anthony’s ‘iron rations’. We parked in the pretty village of Barley and followed the line of reservoirs up – the effort warming us up, as it was chilly. We stopped to savour the black lines of bare trees against the silver water, the steep flanks of green hills beyond, the reddish bracken in the foreground. It was cold, clear – with a Celtic clarity about it, like one of those Medieval vignettes, perhaps the Gawain poem – one could have easily imagined the Green Knight dwelling up one of the cloughs, the sound of him sharpening his axe ringing in the brassy air. We carried on up passed the Boar of Wembory Clough, a jagged gulley down which iron knots of water gurgled. We were meant to follow the V of the main beck (?) all the way up but the path seemed to vanish into muddy, rocky slopes – so we struck out across country, hoping to intersect the lost track, but found ourselves bogtrotting over spongy ground riddled with treacherous ‘holes’ of brackish water. It was tiring slog, but at least it was sunny. It would have been grim going in wind and raining. This wasn’t a place to linger in such conditions. It had a wildness about it, an abode of trolls. After a determined yomp we hit the stone slab pathways – what bliss – which led to the top, the ‘Big End’. After ritualistically touching the trig point we went to the brow of the steep side to enjoy the spectacular view over the Ribble Valley. It had been certainly worth the effort. We enjoyed the prospect despite the noisy group of ramblers nearby, stopping for their summit snack like us, before the temperature made them move on. It was a clear day, and the Big End afforded fine views. We scoffed some crisps and chocolate and got moving again, making a small diversion at my request to Robin Hood’s Well, from which we both sipped. It was a romantic place, one could imagine the wolfshead slaking his thirst here as he looked back to his possibly native Yorkshire. I asked for cunning and agility, for it was also known as Fox’s well, but this was probably after George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, who had a vision on Pendle which inspired him to found his new religion. It was easy to see why – this place lent itself easily to noble thoughts, to vision. We now stood on Mount Epiphany, in the footsteps of prophets, and drank from those same waters…Having supped from the source, we gladly descended, body temperature plummeting. Down the steep rock steps passed the hordes of visitors flocking up, some ill-attired for the heights or a sudden turn in the weather. It was good to descend to milder climes now, although the land retained its wonderful rugged quality. We followed a merry beck lined with tangled hawthorns back down to the carpark, and, after purchasing some placatory jam (a token gesture to my kindly hospitable hosts) we wended our way home to Anthony’s parents for a lovely lunch, before hitting the road in earnest – South, a long but agreeable ride down the Welsh Marches. Anthony dropped me off at Gloucester station, where a dull long train ride home awaited (3 hours!). I wearily made it back to the Cauldron, ready to collapse – but first I finished off the stew I’d made earlier in the week, and hit the sack with toddy and bottle. A tiring jaunt, but I was certainly better for it than if I’d stewed at home all weekend. Nature is most certainly the best medicine. I agree with GM Trevelyan, who said: ‘I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.’ I am grateful to have both.