Tag Archives: fantasy

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The Ghost Tree (1994 – unpublished)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

Don’t Lose Your Head

Ready to play ‘The Beheading Game’? David Lowery’s The Green Knight (2021)

The Green Knight – a review

[spoiler alert]

David Lowery’s haunting, hallucinatory re-imagining of the 14th Century Middle English verse romance, ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’, was delayed from its original May 2020 release because of the pandemic. Fended off like the fatal blow of the antagonist several times since, it has been worth the wait. Lowery has adapted the source text in a structurally bold and visually stunning way. It makes striking acknowledgement of textual sources – suggesting through a rapid flickering of fonts the many versions and variants. ‘Gawain’ is a cultural virus that has mutated through the centuries, being re-translated and retold in myriad forms. There have been scholarly and poetic tellings from Tolkien, and the former poet laureate, Simon Armitage; theatrical and operatic versions – most notably Birtwistle’s; adaptations for the small and silver screen (most faithfully in David Rutkind’s lucid 1991 version); and numerous usages of key elements of the story in comic book, computer game, and TTRPG. But Lowery, with his dreamlike, visionary style, has reclaimed ‘Gawain’ for the big screen – but with a storytelling style that has its roots in European art-house cinema more than Hollywood. This feels wilder; riskier: it is hard to predict where it will take you, or what astonishing image will appear next. And yet there is narrative traction, and a thematic coherency about it: the leitmotif of the circle binds the film together – in the Round Table, King Arthur’s crown; the sinister ritual of shadowy priestesses; Gawain’s shield; and the famous ‘green garter’ or belt of protective spells, which is given him by both his mother (a dominating Circe-like presence played by Sarita Choudhury), and ‘The Lady’.

Lead us not into temptation … Alicia Vikander’s The Lady tests Dev Patel’s Gawain

Gawain, played with conviction and charisma by the brilliant Dev Patel (who is carving a name for himself in ‘colour-blind’ literary adaptations, such as Armando Iannucci’s Great Expectations), is an ignoble, compromised figure: a hedonistic, amoral Prince Hal we hope will become our Henry V.  King Arthur is depicted in full Fisher King mode (played intensely by Sean Harris), and yet Gawain is no Parsifal. His sorceress mother appears to set in motion a series of events that will lead to her son’s betterment, either societally or in terms of his maturation. Gawain is a pawn, but a self-aware one, at one point asking is it ‘A game?’ Arthur replies: ‘Perhaps. Yet the Beheading Game that is instigated by the dramatic arrival of the uncanny Green Knight at Arthur’s court is deadly serious – one with inexorable consequences. A moment of valour leads to a year-long countdown to a gruelling journey into the wild north. Here Gawain is tested by tricksters, ghosts, giants, and apparently friendly hosts, along with the more-than-human world of nature itself. Indeed, an ecolinguistic subtext rises to the surface in The Lady’s extraordinary pagan paean. And it is tempting to see the Green Knight himself as the very scion of environmental justice. Yet the mighty antagonist Gawain must face feels less the vengeful face of nature, and more a moral and spiritual catalyst. In a mind-bending dilated alternative timeline, we behold a possible fate for Gawain in true ‘Last Temptation of Christ’ style. This is foreshadowed by the ‘death’ of the protagonist in the forest: the camera panning around the seasons like the rotating backdrop in the puppet show. Gawain is bound to Fortuna’s wheel – a victim of circumstance until he finds his own moral compass, his inner chivalric code. After being tested by the irresistible Lady Bertilak (played with sensuous power by Alicia Vikander) and her husband (played with earthy vigour and sexual ambivalence by Joel Edgerton), Gawain finally arrives at the Green Chapel and reaches a kind of apotheosis, sitting in Buddha-like contemplation beneath the ‘Bodhi tree’ of the sylvan lord. What risks being an anti-climax transforms into the most astonishing sequence in which Lowery – both writer and director – strays fullest from the well-trodden woodland path. To discover what the errant ‘knight’ finds in his personalised heart of darkness, you will have to seek the film out. There is only one misstep in my mind in this otherwise masterful revisioning of the poem – the CGI fox, which feels like a concession to a younger audience, a stray from another kind of ‘fantasy’ movie. Perhaps it only jars because Lowery has otherwise served up a feast of Fantasy of the highest order, one that deftly straddles the medievalist and the modern – in music, costume, and mise-en-scène. It knowingly weaves in its sources, while simultaneously transcending them. This is the best Arthurian movie since John Boorman’s 1982 Excalibur and is a worthy inheritor of the crown. Go on a quest and hunt it down in a cinema: it’ll reward your effort.

Kevan Manwaring, 30 September 2021

David Lowery’s ‘The Green Knight’ – a cinematic triumph

Missionary Impossible

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng – a review

See the source image

There is much to commend in Ng’s ‘novel of the Fae’ about troubled sibling missionaries, Catherine and Laon Helstone, and their strange adventures in Elphane/Arcadia. Ng manages to evoke through her finely-wrought prose the claustrophobic atmosphere of a dense Victorian novel of morality and misadventure; and also the alien, quixotic climate of Faerie. By making her brother and sister protagonists missionaries seeking out to bring the Word of the Lord to the benighted ‘souls’ of this recently revealed Otherworld the novel both aligns with and subverts the colonial project – for the ‘too close’ missionaries are far from without sin, and their mission is futile at worst, at best a metaphysical challenge (do the Fae have souls? what is their place in God’s creation?). Access to the ‘inner lands’ for further proselytising is the main plot McGuffin, but the chief line of desire revolves around Catherine’s unhealthy obsession with her brother – who is a Branwell/Heathcliff/Rochester type. Dark, moody and (to some) irresistible. This is not surprising as Ng clearly riffs upon the Brontë family dynamic and legendarium (which the famous siblings of Haworth created in their younger years). Here, this juvenilia is given the full-bloodied treatment, as Ng feeds it into the mulch of her world-building. The mise-en-scène of each chapter is vividly imagined, but often this seems to be at the expense of narrative traction. Sometimes it is hard to know exactly what is happening – many of the scenes have the feverish intensity and illogic of a dream.  And although the minutiae of Elphane, in particular life in Gethsemane, the Pale Queen’s castle, is exquisitely imagined, the broader brushstrokes of this Secondary World are less convincing: the pendulum sun of the title, the fish of the moon swimming in the sky, and sea whales (which seem to be both made of rickety whicker, yet contain a microcosmic ocean). This no doubt is intended to deliberately subvert the verisimilitude and make the otherworldly realm lack naturalism – and such bold imagery may be original and memorable, it threatens to make the whole edifice a leaky vessel, which I could not fully buy into (rather like CS Lewis’ car-boot Narnia).  Another problem for me was reader-identification. Like a lot of modern fiction I find a lack of relatability – I cannot connect with the main characters, finding it difficult to emotionally invest in them. And narrative traction is missing (for me). I turned the pages out of professional curiosity, not out of urgency. Yet unlike a lot of (modern) fantasy, Ng’s prose aspires to a slightly elevated register, which successfully evokes the music of strangeness (‘a catch of the breath’, as Susan Cooper describes it). Ng’s depiction of Faerie is the best I have seen in contemporary fantasy. She lards each chapter with an epigraph, pastiches written wittily in the style of bombastic Victoriana, or stuffy exegeses. These often evoke the texture of an AS Byatt novel (notably Possession) but are convincingly done. Ng’s academic background and interests (MA in Medieval and Renaissance Studies/medieval and missionary theology) clearly inform these, but I found them rather laborious after a while (one can always choose whether to read them or not). Perhaps too much salt, and not enough meat for my taste. Nevertheless, Ng’s first novel bodes well. She is evidently a talented writer with a vivid, and original imagination. I look forward to seeing what she conjures up next.

Kevan Manwaring 31 July 2018

Step into Faerie

A Contemporary Fantasy based upon PhD research into Fairy Traditions and Folklore of the Scottish Borders  – coming soon…

 

New Version Knowing cover large.jpg

Cover by Tom Brown, photography by James Barke 2017

 

 

Janey McEttrick is a Scottish-American folksinger descended from a long line of female singers. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where she plays in a jobbing rock band, The Jackalopes, and works part-time at a vintage record store. Thirty-something and spinning wheels, she seems doomed to smoke and drink herself into an early grave (since losing her daughter she’s been drowning her sorrows and more besides) until one day she receives a mysterious journal – apparently from a long-lost Scottish ancestor, the Reverend Robert Kirk, a 17th Century Presbyterian minister obsessed with fairy lore. Uncanny things start to happen… She and her loved ones are assailed by supernatural forces, until she is forced to act – to journey to Scotland to lie to rest the ghost of Robert Kirk. Until she accepts who she is, and the gift passed down to her by her ancestors, the gift of the knowing, Janey will never find peace.

Gripping, emotionally affecting, difficult to put down Nimue Brown

Contemporary Fantasy; Scotland; Appalachia; Second Sight; Fairy Tradition; Supernatural Ballads

 

Kevan Manwaring is a writer who lives in Gloucestershire, on the edge of the Cotswolds. The Knowing is the culmination of his Creative Writing PhD at the University of Leicester. To write it he has undertaken extensive research into the folklore of the Scottish lowlands, Robert Kirk, Fairy traditions, ballads, the Scottish diaspora in Southern Appalachia, Cecil Sharp, borders and the Fantasy genre. He has spent many hours in research libraries (The British Library, as an Eccles Centre Postgraduate Fellow in North American Studies; the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, Cecil Sharp House; University of Edinburgh; National Library of Scotland; App. State library & others); he has done extensive fieldwork in the Scottish Lowlands and Highlands and in North Carolina; he has walked the West Highland Way and Hadrian’s Wall; he has co-created and performed a show, ‘The Bonnie Road: tales and ballads of the Borders’, with his partner, the folksinger Chantelle Smith; he has written a collection of poetry inspired by his field-trips, Lost Border (Chrysalis 2015); and he has taught himself guitar and ballad-singing. Other books include The Windsmith Elegy (5 volume Fantasy series), The Bardic Handbook, The Way of Awen, Desiring Dragons, Oxfordshire Folk Tales, Northamptonshire Folk Tales, and Ballad Tales: an anthology of British ballads retold (editor). He blogs and tweets as the Bardic Academic.

 A special preview copy of The Knowing will be released as an e-book on 20th March 2017. If you would like to order a copy or would like to review it, please contact the author: km364@le.ac.uk

 

 

The Puzzle of the Wood

What am I? Nosing here, turning leaves over
Following a faint stain on the air to the river’s edge
I enter water. Who am I to split
The glassy grain of water looking upward I see the bed
Of the river above me upside down very clear
What am I doing here in mid-air?

Ted Hughes, Wodwo

There is something about walking in a wood which stirs something within us. The dappled sun filtering through the canopy, the twisty roots and gnarled boughs, the dripping moss, ferns and fungi, the green silence. It gets the imagination going. We start to see things, or daydream – as though the wood draws out our dreams and give them form.

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This was the late, great novelist Robert Holdstock’s flash of genius – one that came to him in a writing workshop in Milford-on-Sea in 1979, which resulted in an award-winning short story (1981), which led to a multiple prize-winning novel, Mythago Wood (1984), and spawned a series seven connected of novels over the ensuing 25 years. If Holdstock never visited Puzzle Wood in the Forest of Dean (he tragically died of an e-coli infection aged 61, in 2009) then it feels like it visited him – as though it had sprung from his fecund mind.

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The 14 acre stretch of ancient woodland deep in the heart of the Forest of Dean is riddled with pathways which snake their ways amid the rocky outcrops, tangle of trees, creepers, ferns and roots. The result of a collapsed cave system which was mined by the Romans for iron – the mineral yew trees love, as is evidenced by the many mature specimens there, rising from the rock they both cling to and shatter with their tensile roots and long bow limbs. For centuries this curious sylvan labyrinth has drawn visitors to wander and wonder at its origins and denizens. It is easy to imagine it being frequented by all manner of elves, gnomes, goblins, dryads and dwarves. Some believe Tolkien visited it and found inspiration (in fact he visited the nearby Lydney Park, which boasts similar workings – known as ‘Scowles’ – cheek-by-jowl to the ancient temple to Nodens – being surveyed at the time by the archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler. There, hearing of the ‘Lord of the Mines’, as Nodens was called, and seeing the legend-soaked ruins gave him some serious material to conjure with). Yet the magical associations with Puzzle Wood have lingered, enhanced in an interesting way by the many recent TV and film productions shot there: Merlin; Atlantis; Wizards vs Aliens, Dr Who, Jack the Giant Slayer and the latest instalment in the Star Wars franchise: The Force Awakens. Walking amongst the weird tree-scape of Puzzlewood the ‘mythagos’ (to use Holdstock’s term for archetypal forms generated by a human imagination interacting with the wood’s ‘consciousness’) conjured are drawn from the very same pool of myth as his cast (Merlin; King Arthur; Morgana le Fay; time-travelling wizards; Jack the folk hero; dark lords with fiery blades and Force-full maidens) but it is one fed to us from movies and TV series, rather than the oral tradition or literary folk tale. A similar process is occurring as perhaps might have transpired in the Middle Ages, when villagers ventured into the wood, all too aware of the perils to be found there to their souls: demons and witches, wodwoses and wyverns, the Good Folk and Old Scrat himself, evoked by thunderous sermons and stained glass windows – the cinema of its day. The green men and gargoyles that linger in the corners of church architecture were always there to pounce upon the wayward soul.

puzzlewood_82_by_ladyxboleyn-d6cp4ko

Today, a walk in the woods is a lot safer – certainly at the family-friendly Puzzlewood (which offers cute animals, treasure trails, café, picnic areas, and other attractions). But even in such a ‘managed experience’ there is magic to be found. All you have to do is pause and spend a while soaking in the ambience and let your imagination soar. Such a place brings out our natural storyteller, and we start to populate it with our own fanciful musings (for example, a troll beneath a billygoat bridge, as I heard one adult whimsy). A milder form of Holdstock’s mythago-generation occurs. The wood mirrors what we bring into it, but also transforms it – it takes the carbon of our mundane lives and turns it into the oxygen of ideas.

One of the wood’s charming characteristics is the way it has different levels – one moment you are looking down on a Pan’s labyrinth, next thing you know, you’re squeezing through a mossy cleft into a hidden dell. The collapse of the cavern system and the Roman quarry have, in effect, brought the ‘unconscious’ of the landscape into the light. What was hidden in the dark has now been revealed. I think this why it feels so numinous – it feels like a slippage of the waking world into the realm of dream. Suddenly, we’re in the stuff that tales are made of. To explore it is to create your own narrative thread – albeit one that inevitably gets tangled as we get lost, cross the paths of others, double-back, and basically get into a bit of a muddle. Getting lost in a wood, even in a semi-conscious way, makes us all, for a moment, Hansel and Gretel. Yet, the visitor centre is not far away, and the madding world is noisily nearby. It is impossible to forget yourself or your century entirely, but for a little while we almost can. The puzzle is not that it is there, but that we bother to come back at all. For a spell, we can pretend to be babes in the wood, until the cold drives us to the cafe!

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http://www.puzzlewood.net/index.php/puzzlewood-facilties/about-the-wood

Puzzle Wood reminded me of another woodland nearby (Rocks East Woodland, on the borders of Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, and Somerset). Rocks East has it’s own ‘valley of the rocks’ (also probably a Roman quarry), grotto, sculpture trail, turf maze, and peculiar magic. It is a place I have a special connection with – a decade’s worth of stories: http://www.rockseast.org.uk/

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.

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!

 

Bards on the Wing

Cover by Steve HambidgeImage
Spring is sprung
The grass is ris’
I wonder where the birdies is
The bird is on the wing
But that’s absurd
I always thought the wing was on the bird
anon
Spring Equinox – the dawn of the year. Here, in the quarter of the east – associated with air – it is an apt time to consider my bardic series of novels, which are about to take flight ….
After half a million words and a decade of vision and dedication 2012 sees the culmination of my ten year project. The Windsmith Elegy, my five volume ‘mythic reality’ series, reaches its grand finale this winter with the publication of the final volume, The Wounded Kingdom. The series began in autumn 2002 – while studying Creative Writing at Cardiff University I penned the opening to what would become the first volume and my first published novel, The Long Woman. Under the tutelage of a very fine writing mentor, award-winning author Lindsay Clarke, I wrote 60,000 words for my  Masters project. I finished this over the summer of 2003 and in autumn 2004 the book was published with the support of The Arts Council of England – who funded a month-long book tour. In 2006, the second volume, Windsmith, was launched with support from Sulis Underground (who also generously supported a month-long tour). In 2009 The Well Under the Sea was published; and in 2010 I worked on the fourth volume, The Burning Path, while Writer-in-Residence in El Gouna, Egypt. This year, each volume will be reissued with stunning new covers and fully revised text, culminating in the launch of The Wounded Kingdom this winter. A tour is planned – I am delighted to announce that I shall be joining forces with guitar-shaman and sublime songsmith, James Hollingsworth, who has been working on a Song of the Windsmith. Watch this space!
For now, I hope you enjoy the tale of Dru the Windsmith, which started it all one rainy day in Eastbourne…

The Tale of Dru the Windsmith

Picture
‘When the monks of Wilmington had finished building their priory they set about their next task – to construct a windmill. For they had much good land thereabouts, and from it they reaped fine grain – and so they needed a mill to grind it, to make their flour, to bake their bread.   ‘The prior, who was a wise old man, thought it might be as well to invoke the offices of the Wind Smith, the surveyor of windmills. There was one who lived up on the Downs named Dru, who was a curious fellow – tall and thin, wearing a threadbare but clean white smock, a straw hat upon his head, wreathed with an oak garland, he wielded a staff in each hand, his sighting poles, and roamed the Downs, living off of beech-mast, berries and water from dew ponds. He was seldom seen, except when his services were required.‘At this the sub-prior, who was zealous and ambitious, cried out in anger. He condemned that vagabond of the Downs for not attending Mass, calling him idolater and one of the Devil’s own. Now, the old prior practised the tolerance he preached, and thought it best to build bridges with those who walk other ways. But the sub-prior petitioned his fellow monks and with their support persuaded the prior to let him have his way.‘So the monks set about building their mill, sighting it without consulting the Wind Smith, and when it was finished they were pleased with their handiwork. All was in place, and so on the next windy day the prior made the sign of the Holy Cross and with loud cheers from the villagers the miller-monk struck home the striking rod. But the sails did not move, which was odd, for there was a fair breeze blowing. The monks tried to get them going by hand, but still the sails would not turn. The windmill was examined from top to bottom and everything seemed to be in working order. They were baffled and out of breath.

‘Then the prior took matters in hand, sending a monk to find the Wind Smith. The brother returned to say that Dru would come in a week to ten days, which is an old English way of saying that he would come in his own good time! But, Dru had warned the monk there were to be no crucifixes or bells rung. “They upset my ears and eyes,” he said.

‘A fortnight later Dru the Wind Smith came striding down Windover Hill, and without a word set to work. He walked about the windmill, shaking his head, then started to pace back and forth across the hay meadow: plunging a staff into the soft soil here, then another one there – and sighting between the two. He would squint, tilt his head, stand on one leg, lick his finger, test the air, and then start all over again. Dru did this all day long, until the sun was low over the Weald and the shadows were long. Then finally he found the spot – hung his oak garland over the staff marking it, and walked off with the other, back up Windover, not asking for reward.

‘The monks ascertained from this strange behaviour that the new location had been dowsed, and so, with great reluctance, they dismantled their lovely mill, and rebuilt it, brick by brick and beam by beam, on the spot marked by the staff and oak leaves.

‘The mill was finished, and on a windy day the striking pin was struck home – and this time the cogs span and the millstones ground together. Success! Quickly, the hoppers were filled with grain – which rattled down between the stones, coming out as good white flour. The prior ordered for the bells of Wilmington to ring out in thanks, but as soon as their peal was heard over the meadow the windmill ground to a halt. One by one the monks returned to the mill to see what the trouble was – and as soon as the ringing stopped, the sails started to turn once more.

‘This was proof enough for the sub-prior that the windmill was indeed the Devil’s work. But the monks needed their flour, and so a compromise was reached – no milling at High Mass. Thus, this extraordinary situation became the routine – though little it pleased the sub-prior – and so it was for a whole year, until the old prior, ill in health, passed away. The sub-prior took over his mantle, and he hated the sight of the windmill – it mocked him from the meadow, a symbol of Satan on his doorstep.

‘One night as he tossed and turned in vexation he had a vision – of Saint Boniface, or “Bishop Boniface” as he was back then, famed for cutting down the pagan groves. He would send for Boniface, and the next day this is what he did. Seven days later a great ecclesiastical host was seen approaching from the west, and at their head was Bishop Boniface himself, in bishop’s mitre, wielding his golden crozier. The new prior welcomed his esteemed guest, lavishing upon him the best food and wine from the stores. After dinner, the situation was explained in full, and Boniface said, “This shall require only a minor miracle – but first, we need to celebrate High Mass!” The new prior wanted to explain that the windmill would not work if the bells were rung – but he wasn’t going to argue with a saint, was he?

‘As the bells pealed across the meadow Boniface strode to the mill. “Strike home the striking rod!” he commanded, and struck it with his golden crozier. Immediately, the sails began to turn. Rejoicing, the monks poured their grain into the hoppers and out of the millstones came good white flour. They filled sack after sack, until the all the grain was gone. Then the striking rod was pulled out – but to their horror they saw that the windmill would not stop! The sails turned, the cogs span and the millstones ground together – scattering sparks on to the flour-covered floor, threatening to set the whole thing on fire! They had to keep the stones cool, and so a human chain was formed from the well in the Priory, and pails of water were passed along it to douse them. But the monks could not keep that up for ever! What were they to do? For once, Bishop Boniface seemed powerless.

‘Then from down Windover Hill came Dru the Wind Smith. He stood on the edge of the meadow, shaking his head. “Back, Devil’s own!” warned Boniface. Dru just shrugged and watched as the line of water ran out. The well was dry, someone cried out. Red in the face, Boniface knew he had to ask for help. “Remove your curse!” Dru just stood there and smiled. The windmill was beginning to catch fire. “Remove your curse – and ask your price,” Boniface spat in disgust. Dru watched him, impassive. Boniface was desperate now. “Remove your curse and I will make sure you shall be remembered long after we are all dust!” Dru seemed to consider this, but wavered. “You know I am a man of my word. By the cloth I do as I say!” Dru stepped forward, raising his staff – he looked angry in the firelight. Boniface flinched, but Dru ignored him and began walking backwards around the windmill. Three times he circled it, faster and faster, until he stopped dead and struck his staff against the mill. The stick split in two and the sails creaked to a standstill. Then a great gust of wind blew out all of the flames and the monks off their feet. Dru looked pale and shrunken. He gazed at them sadly with his green eyes, then walked off, back up onto the windswept Downs – never to be seen again.

‘After the mill was repaired and working once more, Bishop Boniface honoured his agreement with the Wind Smith. He ordered the monks of Wilmington to cut out his shape on the side of Windover Hill, removing the turf to reveal the chalk beneath. And there he stands to this day – remembered long after Boniface and his kind became ashes and dust.’

FIN

Extract from The Long Woman, by author, Awen, 2004

With thanks to Derek the storyteller for first sharing it with me at ELF, and the late Ronald Millar, its creator.

Release dates 2012:
  • The Long Woman – 1st February
  • Windsmith – 29th February
  • The Well Under the Sea – 31st March
  • The Burning Path – 30th April
  • The Wounded Kingdom – 31st October

Bards on the Wing

 
Image
 
Spring is sprung
The grass is ris’
I wonder where the birdies is
The bird is on the wing
But that’s absurd
I always thought the wing was on the bird
anon
 
Spring Equinox – the dawn of the year. Here, in the quarter of the east – associated with air – it is an apt time to consider my bardic series of novels, which are about to take flight ….
 
After half a million words and a decade of vision and dedication 2012 sees the culmination of my ten year project. The Windsmith Elegy, my five volume ‘mythic reality’ series, reaches its grand finale this winter with the publication of the final volume, The Wounded Kingdom. The series began in autumn 2002 – while studying Creative Writing at Cardiff University I penned the opening to what would become the first volume and my first published novel, The Long Woman. Under the tutelage of a very fine writing mentor, award-winning author Lindsay Clarke, I wrote 60,000 words for my  Masters project. I finished this over the summer of 2003 and in autumn 2004 the book was published with the support of The Arts Council of England – who funded a month-long book tour. In 2006, the second volume, Windsmith, was launched with support from Sulis Underground (who also generously supported a month-long tour). In 2009 The Well Under the Sea was published; and in 2010 I worked on the fourth volume, The Burning Path, while Writer-in-Residence in El Gouna, Egypt. This year, each volume will be reissued with stunning new covers and fully revised text, culminating in the launch of The Wounded Kingdom this winter. A tour is planned – I am delighted to announce that I shall be joining forces with guitar-shaman and sublime songsmith, James Hollingsworth, who has been working on a Song of the Windsmith. Watch this space!
 
For now, I hope you enjoy the tale of Dru the Windsmith, which started it all one rainy day in Eastbourne…

 

The Tale of Dru the Windsmith

Picture
 
‘When the monks of Wilmington had finished building their priory they set about their next task – to construct a windmill. For they had much good land thereabouts, and from it they reaped fine grain – and so they needed a mill to grind it, to make their flour, to bake their bread.

   ‘The prior, who was a wise old man, thought it might be as well to invoke the offices of the Wind Smith, the surveyor of windmills. There was one who lived up on the Downs named Dru, who was a curious fellow – tall and thin, wearing a threadbare but clean white smock, a straw hat upon his head, wreathed with an oak garland, he wielded a staff in each hand, his sighting poles, and roamed the Downs, living off of beech-mast, berries and water from dew ponds. He was seldom seen, except when his services were required.

   ‘At this the sub-prior, who was zealous and ambitious, cried out in anger. He condemned that vagabond of the Downs for not attending Mass, calling him idolater and one of the Devil’s own. Now, the old prior practised the tolerance he preached, and thought it best to build bridges with those who walk other ways. But the sub-prior petitioned his fellow monks and with their support persuaded the prior to let him have his way.

   ‘So the monks set about building their mill, sighting it without consulting the Wind Smith, and when it was finished they were pleased with their handiwork. All was in place, and so on the next windy day the prior made the sign of the Holy Cross and with loud cheers from the villagers the miller-monk struck home the striking rod. But the sails did not move, which was odd, for there was a fair breeze blowing. The monks tried to get them going by hand, but still the sails would not turn. The windmill was examined from top to bottom and everything seemed to be in working order. They were baffled and out of breath.

   ‘Then the prior took matters in hand, sending a monk to find the Wind Smith. The brother returned to say that Dru would come in a week to ten days, which is an old English way of saying that he would come in his own good time! But, Dru had warned the monk there were to be no crucifixes or bells rung. “They upset my ears and eyes,” he said.

   ‘A fortnight later Dru the Wind Smith came striding down Windover Hill, and without a word set to work. He walked about the windmill, shaking his head, then started to pace back and forth across the hay meadow: plunging a staff into the soft soil here, then another one there – and sighting between the two. He would squint, tilt his head, stand on one leg, lick his finger, test the air, and then start all over again. Dru did this all day long, until the sun was low over the Weald and the shadows were long. Then finally he found the spot – hung his oak garland over the staff marking it, and walked off with the other, back up Windover, not asking for reward.

   ‘The monks ascertained from this strange behaviour that the new location had been dowsed, and so, with great reluctance, they dismantled their lovely mill, and rebuilt it, brick by brick and beam by beam, on the spot marked by the staff and oak leaves.

   ‘The mill was finished, and on a windy day the striking pin was struck home – and this time the cogs span and the millstones ground together. Success! Quickly, the hoppers were filled with grain – which rattled down between the stones, coming out as good white flour. The prior ordered for the bells of Wilmington to ring out in thanks, but as soon as their peal was heard over the meadow the windmill ground to a halt. One by one the monks returned to the mill to see what the trouble was – and as soon as the ringing stopped, the sails started to turn once more.

   ‘This was proof enough for the sub-prior that the windmill was indeed the Devil’s work. But the monks needed their flour, and so a compromise was reached – no milling at High Mass. Thus, this extraordinary situation became the routine – though little it pleased the sub-prior – and so it was for a whole year, until the old prior, ill in health, passed away. The sub-prior took over his mantle, and he hated the sight of the windmill – it mocked him from the meadow, a symbol of Satan on his doorstep.

   ‘One night as he tossed and turned in vexation he had a vision – of Saint Boniface, or “Bishop Boniface” as he was back then, famed for cutting down the pagan groves. He would send for Boniface, and the next day this is what he did. Seven days later a great ecclesiastical host was seen approaching from the west, and at their head was Bishop Boniface himself, in bishop’s mitre, wielding his golden crozier. The new prior welcomed his esteemed guest, lavishing upon him the best food and wine from the stores. After dinner, the situation was explained in full, and Boniface said, “This shall require only a minor miracle – but first, we need to celebrate High Mass!” The new prior wanted to explain that the windmill would not work if the bells were rung – but he wasn’t going to argue with a saint, was he?

   ‘As the bells pealed across the meadow Boniface strode to the mill. “Strike home the striking rod!” he commanded, and struck it with his golden crozier. Immediately, the sails began to turn. Rejoicing, the monks poured their grain into the hoppers and out of the millstones came good white flour. They filled sack after sack, until the all the grain was gone. Then the striking rod was pulled out – but to their horror they saw that the windmill would not stop! The sails turned, the cogs span and the millstones ground together – scattering sparks on to the flour-covered floor, threatening to set the whole thing on fire! They had to keep the stones cool, and so a human chain was formed from the well in the Priory, and pails of water were passed along it to douse them. But the monks could not keep that up for ever! What were they to do? For once, Bishop Boniface seemed powerless.

  ‘Then from down Windover Hill came Dru the Wind Smith. He stood on the edge of the meadow, shaking his head. “Back, Devil’s own!” warned Boniface. Dru just shrugged and watched as the line of water ran out. The well was dry, someone cried out. Red in the face, Boniface knew he had to ask for help. “Remove your curse!” Dru just stood there and smiled. The windmill was beginning to catch fire. “Remove your curse – and ask your price,” Boniface spat in disgust. Dru watched him, impassive. Boniface was desperate now. “Remove your curse and I will make sure you shall be remembered long after we are all dust!” Dru seemed to consider this, but wavered. “You know I am a man of my word. By the cloth I do as I say!” Dru stepped forward, raising his staff – he looked angry in the firelight. Boniface flinched, but Dru ignored him and began walking backwards around the windmill. Three times he circled it, faster and faster, until he stopped dead and struck his staff against the mill. The stick split in two and the sails creaked to a standstill. Then a great gust of wind blew out all of the flames and the monks off their feet. Dru looked pale and shrunken. He gazed at them sadly with his green eyes, then walked off, back up onto the windswept Downs – never to be seen again.

  ‘After the mill was repaired and working once more, Bishop Boniface honoured his agreement with the Wind Smith. He ordered the monks of Wilmington to cut out his shape on the side of Windover Hill, removing the turf to reveal the chalk beneath. And there he stands to this day – remembered long after Boniface and his kind became ashes and dust.’

FIN

Extract from The Long Woman, by author, Awen, 2004

With thanks to Derek the storyteller for first sharing it with me at ELF, and the late Ronald Millar, its creator.

 
Release dates 2012:
  • The Long Woman – 1st February
  • Windsmith – 29th February
  • The Well Under the Sea – 31st March
  • The Burning Path – 30th April
  • The Wounded Kingdom – 31st October