Tag Archives: Northampton

The Kingdom of Dreams: the uncanny worlds of Graham Joyce

Here is my paper presented at the Wonderlands Symposium, University of Chichester, 23 May, in memory of the late great Graham Joyce…

The award-winning novelist, Graham Joyce

The award-winning novelist, Graham Joyce

Abstract:

World Fantasy Award-winning author Graham Joyce died of aggessive lymphoma in the late summer of 2014, leaving behind an oeuvre of novels (Some Kind of Fairy Tale; The Limits of Enchantment; The Year of the Ladybird, among others) which explore the liminal spaces between the magical and the mundane. Many are set in his native Midlands – presenting an apparently prosaic context for tales of witchcraft, fairy abduction and ESP. As a modern fantasy author Joyce excelled at framing the Otherworld with psychological ambiguity, so that the reader is left to decide whether the magical elements of his novels ‘actually happened’, or were all created and contained by the characters’ subjective perceptions. This approach refreshes the fantasy genre, circumvents the literalism of Hollywood adaptations, and turns the focus of perception back on the real world and its astonishing actuality – something that Joyce, in his dying year, became highly sensitised too.  This paper will seek to explore Joyce’s depiction of otherworlds and otherness within his fiction. Key questions will include: What are the prevailing themes in his work? What devices does he use for depicting the fantastical and recreating its effect on the reader? What critical and popular responses did his books generate? What were Joyce’s own reflections on his output? And where does his work lay within the Uncanny Valley?

View footage here: http://chi.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=eeb8f19c-3237-4f51-a60a-f324323ac0e4

View Prezi here: https://prezi.com/wflrquqno7-x/the-kingdom-of-dreams/

This will be presented in Literary Leicester, November 2015:

http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/english/creativewriting/centre

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Midsummer Glory

 

Kevan at Avebury stone circle, Solstice Eve, by Chantelle Smith

Kevan at Avebury stone circle, Solstice Eve, by Chantelle Smith

It was an epic solstice weekend which began with me riding on my Triumph Legend motorbike down to Avebury, picking up my partner on the way for a solstice eve picnic on the banks of the mighty henge. Avebury is the largest stone circle in Britain and for my money the most magnificent. Many folk gathered here for the solstice sunrise (but nowhere near the insane numbers of Stonehenge) but it was peaceful enough to enjoy a pleasant picnic in the early evening sunlight. In the distance the obligatory drumming circle had started; and behind us a cricket match was just finishing. You could almost hear the land hold its breath in anticipation of the longest day of the year. For once, it truly felt like summer, and what a glorious place England is to be at such times – the golden green of the rolling hills and trees, the white of the chalk downs and the cricketers, the trilithons of Stonehenge and the cricket stumps, the strawberries and cream, cheese and cider, summer frocks and druid robes.

After I bid farewell to my companion I jumped on a train to London where I was scheduled to pick up a coach-load of sun-worshippers – to take to Stonehenge for the summer solstice sunrise. This meant a 12.30am departure, arriving in the carpark at 3am. It was surreal experience – with me having to articulate about neolithic archaeology in the middle of the night. Still, we got ’em there and we all witnessed the most spectacular sunrise I’ve seen at a stone circle for many years – the full orb rising over the Heel Stone. Truly awesome. A moment that is bigger than all of us (even the 37,000 at Stonehenge) putting everything in perspective. Whatever our faith, or lack of it, we can all worship the sun.

The sun rises over the Heel Stone, Stonehenge, 21 June 2014

The sun rises over the Heel Stone, Stonehenge, 21 June 2014

Bumping into friends at Stonehenge, by the Heel Stone just before sunrise, 21 June 2014

Bumping into friends at Stonehenge, by the Heel Stone just before sunrise, 21 June 2014

The crowds at Stonehenge Summer Solstice sunrise 21 June 2014

The crowds at Stonehenge Summer Solstice sunrise 21 June 2014

After I had dropped off my neolithic pilgrims back in London I jumped on a train to Swindon, where I met my partner for a solstice coffee (the actual solstice was at 10.51am), before heading north to Northampton (my birth town), some 70 miles up the road. There, in the grounds of my beloved Delapre Abbey (where I used to walk my dog as a kid) I snoozed on the lawn until my sister and wee bairn turned up. We enjoyed a cuppa and a cake, while we caught up. I ran through my stories in the glade, fighting off the fatigue. I felt a 1000 years old and could have turned into a tree myself at that point! I reminded myself that the solstice means the ‘sun’s stillness’ and savoured this all too brief hiatus from the heat and dust of the road.

Glade to be alive. Kevan in Delapre Abbey, 21 June 2014

Chillin before the gig. Kevan in Delapre Abbey, 21 June 2014

Then it was off to Rockingham Village Hall, near Corby, for a one-hour storytelling gig. This was a fundraiser for the lovely village hall, and was organised by big-hearted Jim. I was made most welcome by him and his wife in their very picturesque thatched cottage. Jim is an old-school biker himself and showed me the awesome chopper he had built in his garden shed. It was a serious mean machine. I freshened up – somewhat flagging considering I hadn’t had any sleep for 36 hours! This seemed to do the trick as I performed my set without any gaffs. It seemed to go down well, going by the feedback (‘once again many thx for the great stories ,  you have made an impression up  here !!’).

Sadly I wasn’t able to stick around afterwards to enjoy the beer and ceilidh band – I had to get back, even though it meant a 3 hr slog late at night – for my final booking the next morning… And so I said a fond farewell to Jim and his Scottish crew – until next time!

Bard on a Bike and meinhost, Jim of Rockingham, 21 June 2014

Bard on a Bike and meinhost, Jim of Rockingham, 21 June 2014

Although I was exhausted and chilled by the time I made it back at 1am I was glad to be able to flop out in my own bed (41 hrs without proper sleep!). I had 7 blissful hours before I had to get up and get ready to lead a 3 hr literary ramble with 17 people from Hawkwood College – no rest for the bardic!  The weather was glorious as we set off for Slad – and the rest is related in my previous post (‘Walking with Laurie’). By the time I was able to slump down in the garden at Rosebank Cottage with a Pimms, to listen to the poetry and fiddle, I felt as old as the hills, but at one with the land.

The summer solstice is the most expansive, joyous time of year – the time of maximum daylight (and sunlight if we’re lucky) and energy in the northern hemisphere. It feels possible to have such (relatively) epic adventures – because the engine of the year is behind us, the vast CCs of the sun, the ultimate hot-rod, cruising through the cosmos – the Lord of Light in his leathers and shades, long -hair flowing and Hendrix on the headphones, blasting across our skies.

Stone Temple Biker - Kevan at Avebury, by Saravian

Stone Temple Biker – Kevan at Avebury, by Saravian

Mad March Hare

Last week saw me jinking about like a Mad March Hare – clocking up around 900 miles on my Triumph Legend motorbike, as I whizzed from the end of the land to the Midlands.

After a pit-stop at my friends in Totnes to break the journey, on Saturday 8th I gave a paper on ‘Borderlands: fairy and liminality in the Scottish Borders’ at the Haunted Landcapes Symposium, Falmouth University. The paper relates to my current research project – I can say no more than that! The Symposium was very stimulating with some excellent papers – notably Prof. Ronald Hutton’s keynote speech on the ‘Greenwood’. After a late night, very early start and several hours of panels, my mind felt as though it had run the London Marathon, so it was a pleasant contrast to ride over to Plymouth afterwards and hang out with my old school buddy, Lee Auburn, who is now a manager of Waterstones and budding writer himself. The next morning we went for a greasy breakfast down at Cap’n Jaspers on the Hoe, before I hit the road. I caught some rays down at Wembury Point – the sun glinting off the bay – before heading over the lonely roads of Dartmoor, the wide open spaces reminding me of Scotland.

It was good to get back, but I had another big day to prepare for…

On Tuesday I set off early to get to Northampton – for I was booked to run a morning of storytelling workshops in my old Middle School, Delapre. I hadn’t been back since I left, in July 1982 – so it was incredibly special to return there as a visiting author and professional storyteller. The classrooms and corridors were as I remember them – there was even one of the teachers still there! My hostess was Yr 5 teacher Anna Letts, who is the daughter of Mr Letts, the Deputy Head during my time. Her pupils are working on a Robin Hood project at the moment, so she was keen for me to focus on relevant stories. It just so happened there was one in my Northamptonshire Folk Tales book (Robyne Hode of Rockingham). I performed a couple of tales in Assembly (held in my old art room – where my imagination was kindled) before the whole year group, before running my Climbing the Beanstalk workshop in the respective classes. I ran one of these in my actual old classroom – which was a poignant experience. The kids were attentive and enthusiastic – and it was so satisfying to see them stand up at the end of only one hour and perform the story back to me without a text.  The morning went all too quickly. I left on a high – what a precious opportunity. The next day I got this lovely message from Ms Letts:

Hi Kevan

Thanks so much for your visit last week, the children enjoyed it and I certainly learnt a lot, I”ll be using the beanstalking technique in future.

I’ve written a blog post, so have a few of the children:

http://year5l.delapreprimaryschool.org/

http://year5t.delapreprimaryschool.org/

 So, from doctorate research paper to a Primary School workshop (and teaching undergrads and evening classes inbetween) – I love the diversity of my life. Certainly keeps me on my toes!

On Thursday I was on the road again, riding through the morning mist up the Fosseway to Leicester, where I have been commissioned to write a piece of historical narrative non-fiction, having won an AHRC award. I met up with the core team – including Dr Corinne Fowler (Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester) and Gino at the Phoenix, who was co-ordinating the digital side of things (the 8 commissions will be turned into an App, website and projections). I spent the afternoon exploring the Cultural Quarter on foot, taking photographs and making notes. Then in the evening I caught up with my old friend Lesley, who kindly put me up. The next morning I met up with Simon, head of Special Collections, who took me to a ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ type warehouse where the Leicester Mercury archives were stored. We rifled through the stacks and found some relevant files, which I took back to look at in the David Wilson Library – a swish new resource on campus. Finally, I visited HQ on Charles St – a graffiti art store, to connect with the owner, making a useful contact. I left Leicester with plenty of material to kickstart my commission. The ride back down the Fosseway in the afternoon sun was a pleasure.

Yet – no rest for the bardic, I had to prepare for my creative writing dayschool in Devizes the following morning. I put together my workshop plan and handouts and tried to get some rest. The next morning I was up and off early – running my writing class from 10.30-4.30pm. By the end of the day I was running on empty, but fortunately I had a lovely meal waiting for me in Wroughton, and a great evening of entertainment – a charity benefit at the local working mens club (!) with Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull headlining, supported by my partner’s band, Talis Kimberley, and an R’n’B outfit. I kick-back and enjoyed a well-earned pint. What an amazing week! Spring is definitely springing!

The Treasure on our Doorstep

Bardic Banquet  Northampton 18 Dec 2013

Bardic Banquet
Northampton 18 Dec 2013

Sometimes we have to travel far before we discover the treasure on our doorstep, before we appreciate the riches beneath our feet. Many of us over the festive period have been travelling home these last few days to spend time with family, and open presents by that symbolic axis mundi – the Christmas tree, marking the centre of our world, for a while. In the week leading up to Christmas I journeyed back to my birth-town, Northampton, to perform in the Bardic Banquet on Wednesday (a merry knees-up organised by my old friends Justin and Jimtom on 18 Dec at the Labour Club). I performed stories from my new collection, Northamptonshire Folk Tales, which I had researched over the last two summers – travelling the county on my Triumph Legend motorbike, folk tale goggles firmly in place (Google Glass eat your heart out – I have the best apps possible: imagination and curiosity). While in town I popped into WH Smiths and Waterstones, to sign copies of my book – signatures have never been more satisfying (on Tuesday, under the whole of the moon, I went to see my long-time faves The Waterboys in Bristol, at the Colston Hall, and got Mike Scott to sign his autobiography, Adventures of a Waterboy – now I was signing my own books)!

Mike Scott stands behind

A happy fan – and personal hero, Mike Scott stands behind – a real gent

 

Mike Scott and me - backstage after The Waterboys awesome show, Bristol 17 Dec 2013

Later in the week, back in Stroud, I hosted the Story Supper on Solstice Eve (20 Dec) at Black Book Cafe; and then a Winter Solstice Soiree at mine (21 Dec), where my friends gathered to light a wheel of light, making wishes and offering prayers to our loved ones and a better world; before sharing stories, songs and poems around the hearth over a mead-horn (Wassail!). Truly, the real magic of Christmas is found in such heart-warming hearth-gatherings.

A Winter Solstice wheel of light 21 December 2013

A Winter Solstice wheel of light 21 December 2013

Here are a couple of stories from my recent collection which relates how someone discovered the treasure on his doorstep…One is printed below, the other can be viewed via the Youtube link…

http://youtu.be/AeQkRksXEzU

029. Angel and the Cross

The Angel and the Cross

Do you know where the centre of England is? This has been a matter of debate and dispute for centuries, but the matter was finally settled by divine intervention.

It began far from England, in the heat and dust of the Holy Land.

The weary pilgrim placed down his staff and sat down by the side of the rubble-strewn road and rubbed his sore feet. His shoes, made by his own fair hands – like father, like son, he had carried on his family’s trade – had served him well, carrying him across Europe and into the Middle East, along long perilous trails – braving wildwood, bandit, war, tricksters and peddlers of false grails.
Taking off his hat, sporting the scallop-shell of the pilgrim, he fanned himself with it – it was so hot here, so bright. Coming from a softer, damper land, he had still not got used to it. Squinting, he looked up at the city before him – the various temples and spires competing for dominance. Bells rang out over the hustle and bustle of thousands of people coming and going through its gates. It was the 8th Century of Our Lord, and he had made it to Jerusalem. His soul was surely saved by this pious act. And he needed salvation. His soul was in a poorer condition than his poor old feet.

He acted the penniless and penitent pilgrim here, but back home he was a man of power, of influence. He had been cruel, yes, and vain. He had acquired wealth for himself in countless dubious ways. His coffers were full but his heart was empty. All of those glittering coins and trinkets had left him unfulfilled.

There had to be something more.

And that is when, one day, walking amid the noisome stalls of Sheep Street, he had an idea. He would go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to purge himself of his sins.

The pilgrim lined up and entered through one of the gates, under the stern eyes of the guards. And then he was in! Jerusalem, in all its glory, opened up before him. He stopped and stared, only to be elbowed out of the way, making him step in the gutter. Yet, he was so euphoric from the ardours of his journey, he didn’t care. He had made it. He looked around, grinning like a moon-touched loon. The narrow streets were full of noise and colour – the cries of trinket sellers, icon hawkers, fortune tellers, farmers with their produce arrayed before them – such exotic wares the likes of which he had never seen before. With the last of his coins, he purchased a large, succulent looking fruit and held it to his nose, savouring its smell. It was enough to make him salivate. The pilgrim imagined its cool juice, running down his throat, assuaging his burning thirst.

But, just before he sank his teeth into it, a passerby bumped into him, making him drop it. The pilgrim cursed under his breath, casting the stranger an evil stare – but it was too late, the perpetrator was lost in the crowd, and his fruit was rolling away from him.

Quickly, he pursued it as it rolled down the alleyways, away from the main crowds. Soon he was lost in a maze of passageways – perfect for thieves – but he could only think about his fruit.

He would not let it go!

He had come so far, endured such adversity – he would not let such a simple thing thwart him.

The fruit occasionally caught the odd dusty beam of light which penetrated the maze.

Nearly … within … reach.

The pilgrim lunged, just as the fruit rolled down a gap between two tumble-down buildings.

Cursing he knelt down and peered in. Luck! The object of his desire had got stuck against something blocking the narrow gap. The place smelt foetid, but he had to get that fruit. Gingerly, he stuck in his arm and, straining, reached for it. Something scuttled over his naked arm. A large black rat darted out of the gap and along the edge of the buildings! He quickly pulled out his arm, rubbed it vigorously. Then, composing himself, he tried again. Nearly … nearly … there! He had his hand around it – and triumphantly pulled it out. He rubbed it free of filfth and sank his teeth into it with a satisfied sigh. For a while he was lost in the pleasure of the taste – sharp but refreshing. Then, wiping his mouth, he peered into the gap out of curiosity. What was it that had blocked it?

There, he could see it now. An old stone cross – wedged inbetween the buildings. How odd. Perhaps it might be worth something.

Maybe his fortune had changed.

Laughing, he reached in and strained and strained until his fingernails scraped the stone. Slowly, painfully, he worked it towards his grasp – there, he had it! Making sure no one was around, he carefully pulled it out and, dusting it free of cobwebs, he inspected it.

It felt old, very old. Solid and heavy.

As he ran his fingers over it, the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. He felt he was being watched.

A strange light filled the darkened alleyway, and a benign warmth.

The pilgrim slowly turned and beheld before him a dazzling figure, glowing in rainbow colours – overlapping planes of light like a stained glass window in a cathedral.

The being spoke to him – directly, into his heart – in a voice warm and enfolding.

‘Who are you…?’

‘Take this cross and bury it – in the very heart of your homeland.’

‘Where…?

‘The precise centre… Do so, and all will be well.’

The vision faded, and the pilgrim was left shaking. What had he seen? Perhaps there had been something wrong with that fruit. Afeared, he threw the pulpy core away. The stone cross was solid enough in his hand. That felt real.

Heart pounding, he got up.

Wrapping it in a rag, he placed the stone cross in his satchel and made his way quickly along the alleyway – walking with increasing purpose.

The pilgrim beheld his old home town with a sigh of relief. The journey back had been hard. Many a time he had come close to losing his sacred relic, but he had held onto it for dear life – amid the stormy crossings and dark nights. And now he was finally and he wept at the sight of Hamtun. Humble as it was, it was his home … and he was overcome with emotion at seeing it again. There was times when it looked as though he never would. But something had driven him. The words of an angel – yes, that is what it was. He knew that now. He had not told a soul – he did not want to risk the magic leaking away in the cold light of day. This had happened to him for a reason. It was his sacred duty.

He went to St Peters to pray in gratitude for his safe return. As he knelt there, the Holy Spirit descended and told him precisely where he must bury the cross.

A man on fire, he set about his task with a fervour.

In the middle of the night, when not a soul was in sight, he took his spade and dug. The spirit guided him – here, here was the very centre of England.

Who would have thought it? The bottom of Gold Street, at the crossroads with Horsemarket Street. This was the heart of the land. Every day, countless folk cross it unknowing that they tread on sacred soil. The cross was buried deep, the hole filled in, the soil patted down, so that not a mark, not a trace would reveal its whereabouts.

Yet he knew.

The hidden cross in the soil … marking the very centre of England by divine revelation!

Notes: with thanks to my fellow Northamptonian, the now London-based actor Robert Goodman – who first told me about this over a cup of tea in London.

From Northamptonshire Folk Tales by Kevan Manwaring, published by The History Press, 2013

The Automobile Murder

The Automobile Murder

The Automobile Murder, illustration by Kevan Manwaring

The Automobile Murder,
illustration by Kevan Manwaring

Alfred Rouse was a respectable looking chap, with his smart suit and tie, neat, brilliantined hair and short moustache, and that Irish gleam in his eye that the women found strangely alluring. The circumstances which led to his conviction of the murder of an unknown man are curious, and chilling.

In the early hours of November 6th 1930, two young men returning from Northampton town to their home in the nearby village of Hardingstone saw a fire in the distance. A man approaching them from the direction of the fire observed that ‘somebody must be lighting a bonfire’. As it had just been Bonfire Night this was not unusual in itself, but the hour was. Curious, the two men went to investigate and discovered the fire was coming from a motor vehicle that was ablaze – and it looked like there was somebody inside.

In the morning, when the fire had burnt itself out, they returned to discover, amid the blackened shell of the automobile, a body charred beyond recognition.

The authorities were notified, and soon Police Constables were on the scene, taking statements from the witnesses, and holding back the gathering crowd of onlookers. In the days that followed there was endless local speculation about what the disturbing incident had involved. The local newspaper reported on the event, stating that the licence plate identified the car as belonging to an Alfred Arthur Rouse, a travelling salesman from North London.

Yet, an astonishing turn of events followed.

Rouse had appeared in London a day later, a slight limp in his left knee. He had not come back from the grave, but from Wales, where he had fled the scene of the crime to one of his girlfriends (more details of which were to be revealed). He handed himself in.

He was arrested and confessed to the murder.

Sitting on a hard chair in a cold room, looking unshaven and dishevelled in a crumpled suit, Rouse made his statement.

A First World War veteran, convalescing from serious injuries to his head and leg, Rouse received a war pension, until an examiner cut his hard-won entitlement significantly. By this time, in the early Twenties, he had already found work. He became a salesman, and would prove to be an amazingly good one up until the last few months before his crime. At a time when the jobless queued for soup and went on hunger marches, Rouse managed to make enough money for a house with his legal wife, (whom he had married just before going off to training, in 1915), as well as owning a car – his pride and joy it was: a 1929 Morris Minor. He had done exceptionally well for himself – tootling along the lanes of England, singing in his baritone voice, checking his hair and tie in the rear-view mirror, practising his winning smile. An observant person might notice a tell-tale scar on his left temple. He never could wear a hat – it irritated him, and, when annoyed, his hand reached up involuntarily to the old war wound, which sometimes gave him headaches, sometimes even bad dreams.

Because of his war injury, he explained, he suffered from poor memory … but slowly, the ‘facts’ emerged.

Calmly, Rouse explained that the man in the car was responsible for the explosion that killed him. ‘He was to blame – a bloody nobody he was. While look at me, a successful salesman with my harem.’ He laughed loudly.

The person writing the statement, raised an eyebrow at this, briefly pausing. The investigators cast each other a wry smile, and encouraged him to explain.

‘Well, between you and me then…’ Rouse carried on, unaware that everything he said would be reported in the Press. Because he was on the road so much Rouse had plenty of time to go out and meet and entertain various women – ‘his harem?’ Yes. At least two would get pregnant from the experience of knowing him. Rouse had already had a child support order imposed on him (‘I don’t fire blanks!’). He also knew of a second coming up. Also there was another woman expecting him to marry her (they were “engaged”, he laughed, as though the investigators would get the joke). They didn’t smile back.

Rouse ran a finger along the inside of his collar, gulping. He asked for some water.

A glass was placed in front of him. With a shaking hand, he took a sip.

‘Buns in the oven, left right and centre. Harridans baying for my blood. Things were getting a bit too hot for my liking. Don’t you see? I had to disappear.’

Rouse mumbled something about a spy novel he’d read, The “W” Plan or something – a clever little plot involving substituting a corpse in a burning car. Guy Fawkes’ Night seemed like the ideal time. ‘Ingenius, hey? Bloody mastermind, me. One more pyre wouldn’t be noticed. The plan couldn’t go wrong.’ He laughed hard. ‘All a needed was my Guy…’

Rouse had picked up the victim during a ride to Leicester. ‘Some bum, thumbing a lift. A scrounger, expecting handouts from life. Look at me, I said to him. I’m no skiver. I’ve earnt every penny. This car. This suit. A man women like to know. A self-made man, I am. While, you – I thought to myself – you are just somebody who nobody would miss.’

The journey passed amicably enough, Rouse explained. The man was absurdly grateful for a lift. He’d heard about some work. A cousin or some such. But some people are born unlucky, aren’t they? You could see ‘loser’ written all over him.

‘I pulled up in a backlane of Hardingstone. Checked the oil. Said I needed to go for a shit, ‘scuse my French. The cheeky git asked for a ciggie. Sure, I said. Help yourself. I tossed him the packet. And here’s some matches. And off I went. I walked away from the car. Suddenly, there was a flash of light – lit the whole bloody sky up like a night-flare. I turned to see my beloved Morris Minor burst into flame.’

Rouse stood trial in Northampton in January 1931, and was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.

An expert on automobiles who studied the remains of the Morris Minor, and found somebody had forcefully turned a nut and screw to allow petrol to flow into the motor.

On Tuesday, March 10th 1931, Rouse was hanged in Bedford Gaol. He confessed to the crime shortly before the execution, the first automobile murder in Great Britain.

Notes: Hardingstone was the village at the edge of my world, when growing up in Far Cotton. It was over the other side of the ‘spinney’ – the woods that lined the southern edge of the Delapré estate. I recall them carving out the Nene Valley Way, the dual carriageway, between Delapré and Hardingstone – the landscape was severed, and joined – for the pedestrian by only a narrow footbridge. Hardingstone itself is charming, picturesque village – set back from the noisy traffic which streams by it, night and day. In May 2012, it was reported that the family of a long-lost Williams Briggs were seeking to determine if he was Rouse’s victim. Briggs disappeared without a trace in 1930 after leaving his home in London for a doctor’s appointment

Copyright Kevan Manwaring 2013

***Northamptonshire Folk Tales by Kevan Manwaring, The History Press, published October 2013***

Northamptonshire Folk Tales

Take a walk through this county in the heart of England in the entertaining company of a local storyteller. Kevan Manwaring, born and raised in Northampton, regales you with tales ancient and modern. Learn how the farmer outwitted the bogle; how a Queen who lost her head; the Great Fire of Northampton; and the last execution of witches in England. Along the way you will meet incredible characters from history and myth: Boudicca, St Patrick, Robin Hood and Hereward the Wake, Captain Slash, Dionysia the female knight, beasts and angels, cobblers and kings. From fairies to wolves, these illustrated tales are ideal to be read out loud or used as a source book for your own performances.

Northamptonshire Folk Talesis a great companion for any visit to the area, for fascinating days out and for discovering exciting treasures on your doorstep. The ‘Rose of the Shires’ will open before you!

Published: 2013-10-01

ISBN: 9780752467887

£9.99  Order from The History Press

Strange Skies

Earlier this year I completed Northamptonshire Folk Tales – originally it had 40 stories in it, folk tales which I had researched and retold in my own words. The editor took out a couple, saying they weren’t ‘folk tales’…. I have included them here (one below and one in next posting) to let you decide. What do you think?

STRANGE SKIES

The truth is out there, in the skies above Northamptonshire! According the many eye-witness accounts (and who is more reliable than a Northamptonian, the very salt of the earth?) ranging across centuries (although mostly late Twentieth for some reason), there are UFOs, UAVs and ETs swarming about the county’s airspace. Having travelled millions of light-years, or hopped-skipped-and-jumped through the dimensions, the alien invasion fleet has singled out the Rose of the Shires for its masterplan, like so episode of Doctor Who (luckily the eleventh/ incarnation hails from the area).

The truth is out there... above Northamptonshire skies - by author

The truth is out there…
above Northamptonshire skies – by author

The county’s skies have been busy for sometime. The first recorded sighting dates back to 1387, when it was recorded: ‘there was a fire in the sky like a burning wheel, emitting fire from above in the shape of fiery beams’. Yet, we must flit through the centuries to the early Eighties to get the fullest account of ‘first contact’ – and a not very pleasant one at that.

It was near Corby in September 1982. A couple were driving to visit a friend, in good spirits – listening to a new local band called Bauhaus on the cassette player – when a sudden light engulfed their car. Everything began to shake and the song was drowned out by a deep vibrating hum. Something was above them. Alarmed, to say the least, they looked out of the window to see a ‘flying object’ suddenly appear out of thin air, cruising parallel to them – as though a Klingon bird of prey had turned off its cloaking device. What this UFO looked like, they did not recall, but the next thing they knew – the engine had died. The car coasted onto the verge. Then, they blacked out.

They found themselves in their friends’ house – somewhat disorientated. Their friend had grown concerned. Where had they got to? Shaken, they were led inside and made cups of strong, sweet tea – the Englishman’s recourse for all emergencies. They were three hours’ late. What had happened…?

They went home, and slept deeply. It was only weeks later that fragments of the memory came back to them – often in vivid, disturbing dreams. The woman recalled being in unfamiliar surroundings and being confronted by two strange creatures ‘three and a half feet tall, hairless, with large, almond-shaped eyes. They had slits for mouths, their skin was greyish colour, and they had no ears – only two little holes for nostrils.’ The woman had found herself lain on a table while a taller entity – this one was seven feet tall – ‘prodded me with a sinister looking surgical implement, and took samples!’ From its mechanism their extended a long needle. She remembered screaming and struggling as it was inserted into her belly. She couldn’t recall anything else – and probably just as well. On reflection, she speculated that the aliens had taken her ovaries for some sinister experiment. Had she been used to breed alien-human guinea pigs? Are they amongst us, even as we speak?

Another remarkable occurrence took place on the July 22nd 2003 in Daventry – a rum town close to Borough Hill, which bristles with aerials like something from the Quatermass Experiment.

It was ten o’clock in the evening, on a warm summer’s night, and a father and son were standing in the backyard. ‘Look at those birds,’ the man commented, pointing at what appeared, at first, to be two odd-looking birds in the sky. They watched as they drew closer until they were almost above their house – they appeared to be two brown jelly-fish like objects ‘about the size of a coin held at arm’s length’. The extraordinary thing was they swam through the sky, pulsating as they went – as though they were swimming – making a ‘swishing’ noise as they did so.

Jelly-fish from outerspace!

This remarkable sighting was reported in that bastion of provincial journalism – the Daventry Express.

At this point, the sceptical amongst you might scoff – where’s the evidence? Well, about an hour earlier a BBC cameraman in Worcestershire filmed footage of similar objects in the sky – what has happened to this film, nobody knows.

Notes: Robert Goodman, in his article ‘UFOs and visitors from outer space’ observed that: ‘UFO sightings are a regular occurrence in Northampton.’ Under the Freedom of Information Act of 2005 27 credible account of unidentifiable airborne objects have been seen in the county since 1998. As a teenager, in the mid-Eighties I remember spotting a mysterious object floating above Delapr Abbey. It turns out so did many other people – also observing something resembling a giant ‘Chinese lantern’ with different colour lights on its edges had been witnessed swooping very low in the sky as though it were losing altitude, emitting sparks and flashes. Peter Hill, in Mysterious Northamptonshire, commenting on the many sightings reflects: ‘it is clear that UFOs are a form of new folklore.’ Of the famous ‘abduction’ of 1982, he said: ‘in many respects these encounters mirror the fairy abductions of bygone eras.’ Accounts of contact or sightings of dragons or fairies, become spaceships and aliens in the twentieth century. It is clear we frame things with the particular paradigmic goggles of our era. Sightings of ‘flying saucers’ were prevalent from the Fifties onwards – gaining frequency in the Eighties and Nineties, when films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind; and The X-Files, were hugely popular. Now, such techno-scientific sightings have gone off the radar. Who knows how they will manifest next? Maybe alien visitors simply use Google Earth these days?

(c) Kevan Manwaring 2013

***Northamptonshire Folk Tales by Kevan Manwaring, The History Press, published October 2013***

Northamptonshire Folk Tales

Take a walk through this county in the heart of England in the entertaining company of a local storyteller. Kevan Manwaring, born and raised in Northampton, regales you with tales ancient and modern. Learn how the farmer outwitted the bogle; how a Queen who lost her head; the Great Fire of Northampton; and the last execution of witches in England. Along the way you will meet incredible characters from history and myth: Boudicca, St Patrick, Robin Hood and Hereward the Wake, Captain Slash, Dionysia the female knight, beasts and angels, cobblers and kings. From fairies to wolves, these illustrated tales are ideal to be read out loud or used as a source book for your own performances.

Northamptonshire Folk Talesis a great companion for any visit to the area, for fascinating days out and for discovering exciting treasures on your doorstep. The ‘Rose of the Shires’ will open before you!

Published: 2013-10-01

ISBN: 9780752467887
£9.99  Order from The History Press

Song of the Windsmith

‘I am the windsmith … I summon the air…’

Song of the Windsmith Premiere, Castle of the Muses, Scotland, Autumn Equinox 2012

Song of the Windsmith Premiere, Castle of the Muses, Scotland, Autumn Equinox 2012

A year ago, sitting on a cliff overlooking the Severn Bridge with my friend James Hollingsworth, we sketched out a show based upon my series of novels, The Windsmith Elegy. By a bonfire, we watched the sun set over the Welsh hills – it was the Spring Equinox. The awen flowed and ideas fell into place – using nine bones (boiled down from a five volume, half a million word novel series) we blocked out an outline, a story arc, around which songs (from James’ repertoire) would be woven. A year on and we have just come back from the sixth performance of Song of the Windsmith – the multi-media show which resulted in that initial equinoctial brainstorm. As the project developed other artists came on board – Jonathan Hayter, a shadow-puppeteer from Cornwall; Miriam Schafer, a belly-dancer from Munich; and Rob Goodman, actor and director from London. Each artist brought their own talent, experience and ideas; it was exciting seeing how they re-interpreted the Windsmith story in their own way. They took the initial inspiration and danced with it – in from these component parts we fashioned an ‘insane machine’ of Edwardian fantasy. Thus was born The Steampunk Theatre Company – our DIY, Heath Robinsonesque approach mutating my sometimes fey ‘visionary epic’ intp the trendy subgenre of Science Fiction, Steampunk (in brief, the past’s vision of the future). Suddenly we were as cool as Dr Who! Adopting a slightly whimsical approach, our motto became:

‘Backwards into the Future!’

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The Lit’n’Roll show based upon The Windsmith Elegy – Song of the Windsmith – was launched at the Castle of the Muse, Argyle, Scotland, on 22nd September. James Hollingsworth & Kevan Manwaring, co-founders of The Steampunk Theatre Company, took the high road to the wilds of Scotland to perform a special preview of the show to a select audience of international guests. The response was overwhelmingly favourable. Here’s a review by Lilian Helen Brzoska

These guys are BRILLIANT Bardic Performers. James Hollingsworth is on the guitar, a wizard of flying fingers and glorious tones. He also sings spectacularly well. Kevan Manwaring’s ” Song of the Windsmith” is a perfect winged chariot for them both to fly, lifting through many spheres and dropping to the Earth’s Core with adept aplomb and engaged Heart energy. Kevan is a beautiful Being with great acting talent and a wisdom far deeper and wider than his youthful surface might predict, should you be hooked on looks. They are both beautiful to behold and deeply moving as they perform this mythic treat and mystical performance power-sharing to awaken the soul of each listener, each seer, each brother and sister Bard. If you get a chance to experience a performance of ” The Windsmith ” grab the tickets with both hands and take along your whole family. Your will all hear a very fine story told with Light, Love and Honesty. Teenage sons and daughters, will find older brothers with whom to explore the inner reaches of the Human Condition with warmth, political awareness and Eco-Centric Wisdom.

Visit http://www.educationaid.net for information about ongoing events at the International Institute of Peace Studies and Global Philosophy.

Watch some of the actual performance on Youtube here

After the premiere, we soared in our steam airship to the southern ‘hemisphere’ of the United Kingdoms. Anchoring our zeppelin off St Michael’s Mount, we performed at the Acorn, Penzance – this time joined by  ‘Ze Baron’, aka Jonathan Hayter, shadow-puppeteer extraordinaire – who VJed his lightbox puppetry with digital animation. Wunderbar!

Ze Baron joins us at the Acorn gig, Penzance.

Ze Baron joins us at the Acorn gig, Penzance.

A show in my home town of Stroud was essential – at Open House Hall. In the audience was Kim Kenny, from Theatre Gloucestershire, who said afterwards:

‘Surprising and refreshing – something I would like to see more of… I loved the music and how it underscored your powerful storytelling. The visual images too added another dimension.’ (Kim Kenny, Theatre Gloucestershire)

As a result, we took part in a Made in Gloucestershire showcase at the Cheltenham Everyman in early Feb. It was perhaps too much for the nice folk of Cheltenham HQ. We realised it was for a niche audience, ie one with imagination!

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We ended the year with a performance for the Wessex Research Group in Totnes, organised (I use the term loosely) by our friend Jeffrey Gale. We hibernated over the winter, to rejuvernate our bardic batteries, before hitting the road last week for a very special homecoming gig on the Spring Equinox in Northampton – Kevan’s old home town – at a fab monthly bardic night hosted by my old partners in rhyme Justin Thyme and Jimtom. It was most touching to have some old friends in the crowd – folk I hadn’t seen for years. Out of all the audiences we’ve had so far, this lot really got it.

Windsmiths of Equinoxes Past

Windsmiths of Equinoxes Past

Feedback from Raising the Awen, Northampton Labour Club, 20th March

‘music was superb, brilliant voice … was really moved by 2 sections, the love/bit/section made my eyes fill’

‘Brilliant, fantastic storytelling and music, very animated and original’

‘fabulous meandering monologue and mystical marvellous music, more more more!!!’

‘Interesting, and the music was great … when the music started I was happily surprised, so thank you.’

‘I liked the songs reminded me of The Who. Can see the whole thing being made into a bigger production with lots of visual. A very professional performance.’

‘Top quality. Excellent music and storyline.’

‘They can come again pleeeeaaaassse!!!???’ twice!

‘Swept away by the the words, music and song.

‘A magical story so perfectly musicated.’

‘Guitar Genius’

Waterstones goes Steampunk!

Waterstones goes Steampunk!

On the Saturday after (23rd March) I did a book-signing in Waterstones, Northampton. This was part of a fabulous Steampunk Season, which involves a month of related author events. The nice in-house events team did do some brilliant posters. Despite the lovely signage, footfall was low – kaiboshed by unexpected cold-snap. Wintry easterlies brought snow and ice – which made the ride home extremely challenging. Nearly got frostbite (I couldn’t move my hands at one point – not good on a bike!). It’s hard being a bard…

The Windsmith Elegy launch, Waterstones Northampton, 23 March 2013

The Windsmith Elegy launch, Waterstones Northampton, 23 March 2013

The Signs are out there...

The Signs are out there…

We have one more show scheduled (so far) in the Bath Fringe, June 9th – at a masonic hall! (Old Theatre Royal, Bath). After this, who knows where the windsmiths will blow next…? There is a plan to record the show for posterity – and create a CD or DVD of it. The O2 Arena gig will have to wait until we have finished making holograms of ourselves. Oo-lllaaaa!!!!

I’ll leave you with the words of our elusive Steampunk propheteer, Bartholomew Copperpipe:

‘Yesterday’s future is ours!’