One step…

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I was going through the files and came across a picture that seemed perfect for Colleen’s Writer’s Quote Wednesday. It is very pertinent at present, as my son opens a new chapter of adventure in his story… which inevitably sets off a chain reaction in my own life too. We never really know where the road is going to lead us as we face the mysteries of tomorrow.

It seemed appropriate too as we approach September and the Silent Eye’s Harvest of Being weekend at Ilkley, where, in what seems like a complete lapse from sanity, I crossed these same stepping stones blindfold. That was an exercise in trust, a very visible one, guided by my two fellow directors, Steve and Stuart.

The trust goes deeper than friendship with these two, but there is a trust deeper still that carries me forward, one foot in front of the other, every day. Even when things get rough.

With my eyes covered, my usual mode of moving through the world was taken with my vision. Strangely enough, the blindfold also took the fear. I no longer had any other options than to trust and move forward or refuse a challenge I, myself, had chosen. I was responsible only for my own actions… all I could do was be aware and respond to the hand and voice that guided.

Some stones are far apart, worn and slippery. The water gushes between them and, even under normal circumstances, the step is a stretch for legs as short as mine. Here I was almost hauled across. My fingers, I recall, crushed and pained by the strength that pulled me to safety. Most gaps were attainable… but only by stretching forward , leaning into the air above the water until my foot touched stone.

As an analogy for the way life can seem to drag us onward over rough ground, or demand a leap of faith into an unknown future, it worked beautifully. As an illustration of how serenely we can travel through such times by trusting that the universe knows what it is doing… even if we cannot see it at all… it was perfect.

If “a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”, then the distance decreases with every step forward… no matter how difficult the terrain. If we walk it with trust in a purpose unknown, but known to be of value, then our feet do not resist and may find a smoother way.

harvest being 2014 214

 

Turn of the wheel

Jetsons

The car pulled out in front of me and stood out from the rest of the traffic like the proverbial sore thumb. I followed it up the long road towards the village, conscious of how different it looked. Neither veteran nor vintage, it was simply an older model Volvo… nothing special, not that old either; but while all the other cars on the road, including my own display all the seductive curves of a beauty contest, the Volvo still sported the angularity of … well, not so very long ago, when I thought about it.

It struck me that it is only over the past decade, really, that cars have moved into this aerodynamic voluptuousness. Even then, the change has been such a gradual shift, with cars of all ages on the roads, that we barely take any notice. It was only seeing this one against the backdrop of so many others that made it stand out from the crowd at all.

I was surprised to realise that I had grown used to the seeing curves. I hadn’t particularly liked the design departure when it had been introduced. The rounded contours didn’t look ‘right’ to someone who had grown up in a world of automotive angles and fins. The only really curvy cars were things like the Morgan… or the E-Type… vehicles whose shape fills me with driverly lust. Most standard family cars were less wanton and more straitlaced in their proportions.

How long, I wondered, had it taken for the change to settle into our minds as ‘normal’? At what point had ‘novel’ become ‘usual’? And isn’t it incredible how adaptable we are as a species? Any one of us who looks back over our lifetime… whatever our age… can see how much the world has changed for us, even in a few brief decades. The lives of men are short, no more than a speck of dust on the evolutionary timescale, yet we handle the rapidity of change with barely a raised eyebrow.

I find that amazing.

I was born before Uri Gagarin went into space… before Armstrong stood on the moon. When most phone calls were made from the red phone box by using a round dial and long before modern computers changed our world. I remember so many changes… yet adapting to them seems to leave no trace in memory. We just do.

It was borne home just how quickly strange becomes normal as I started to set up my new phone. Very different from the last phone… it Does Stuff. I’ll even be able to access the sites my computer won’t let me! And it does it much faster. In fact, it appears to be faster than my PC. And I don’t have clue how to get it set up… except, actually, I do. When did that happen? How come?

I mean, I’ve always kept up with technology as far as my means would allow, ever since I got hooked on the possibilities. But when did being clueless become being competent? And I didn’t even notice…

That is pretty incredible. Not me being able to press a non-existent button on a flat glass screen … the human capacity to adapt to and benefit from change. Perhaps it is that, rather than our famously opposable thumb that has allowed our species such evolutionary success?

On the down-side, it does mean we are probably far quicker than we should be to ‘accept’ the negatives of our world… the political finagling, the socio-economic problems that ought to bother us far more than they tend to in daily life. We’ve got used to violence and to the dumbed down varieties of mass entertainment.

On the other hand, it just shows how quickly humanity could adapt to a better way of living, and how easily peace and equality could slip into the conscious mind as ‘normal’ if we can ever manage to attain it.

Either way… I was just another of those great realisations. Humanity has such potential…. I wonder what we’ll do with it next?

Curried garlic

diana nick ashridge 090

I recoiled as I opened the door. There had, quite apparently, been garlic the night before. Lots of garlic. Evidently in curry. And there can be few things worse than second-hand garlic, except, perhaps, walking, all unsuspecting, into a small, hermetically sealed room where the stuff has been exuded from every pore overnight. My tormentor laughed at the groans that escaped me, in spite of my attempts to hold my breath, as I beat a hasty retreat after diving for the window and throwing it wide open. I wasn’t going back till the miasma had cleared.

Those who say that garlic is good for you have evidently never encountered the phenomenon of the exudation of the stuff overnight. It may indeed have many health benefits, including as an antibacterial. Certainly nothing, even as virulent as a virus, could have survived in that room.

He, of course, had enjoyed the meal and was so habituated to the gradual garlic infestation of his environs that he was unaware of it. I had detected vague precursors to the pollution of his airspace as soon as I had opened the front door to let myself in, of course; but the sheer scale and venomous stench of the stuff was overpowering. Especially so early in the morning. Though I was fairly glad I’d only gulped down a coffee before the taxi arrived to take me to his home. Breakfast and I would otherwise have undoubtedly parted company.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like garlic. Properly used as a condiment it is rather like salt…barely noticeable; enhancing, rather than adding, flavour in a dish. As an ingredient, it adds a wonderful freshness and distinctive character. As a curried-morning-after-the-night-before, it is, however, vile.

The stench, for I cannot call it by a lesser name, holds memories for me. Vague wafts of the Parisian Metro at rush hour, coupled with its own distinctive smell of sulphur, as if the underground train runs through the bowels of Hell instead of beneath the steps of heaven. The doctor whose face was, for hours, inches from mine as he stitched it back together again. The desperation of mint and fresh parsley when a first date came immediately after a garlic and green bean salad… I have memories of garlic. And those that sprang to mind, elicited from the depths, were, it has to be said, none of them good.

My tormentor, however, having thoroughly enjoyed the meal the night before, was blithely unconscious of the effects of his allium indulgence. Until those effects were made abundantly apparent by my reactions to the olfactory assault. His hilarity was not, however, consummate with own state of mind and body by this point, as said body went into flight mode and headed for the open door…

A little garlic, I can cope with. It is easy to simply ignore and you become so accustomed to it, in small quantities, that you soon barely notice its presence. It becomes part of the atmosphere. It is easy too, to fail to notice another person’s memorial garlic, when you have shared the platter with them, or eaten a similar one of your own creation. One’s own level of exudation, however, remains often undetected.

I could, however, see an analogy in that as I breathed the fresh, clean air on his doorstep; wondering how often we can all create situations whose chain-reactions ripple through the lives of those around us, while we ourselves remain unconscious, like the toxic exhalation of curried garlic previously enjoyed… until something snaps, bends or breaks… and metaphorical fresh air is not always so easy to find. We do what we do, without malice, without any intention of causing potential harm or indeed discomfort to others, yet we cannot always foresee the effects of our behaviour until it becomes a cause of regret.

Rather like eating too much curried garlic.

Nice weather for ducks

Hellebore

It has been raining yet again. So much for getting anything done outside today. Walking the dog will be enough. The camera is getting used to it by now. Though not designed as waterproof, it has been out in all weathers, tucked under coats and shawls. It is seldom that I move without it. A road trip, where I know that all I will get to do is drive, still sees it tucked up on the back seat of the car, looking at me as hopefully as Ani when it is time for her walk. You just never know what you will find, or where you may be able to pull over.

magpie strutting

One recent, rainy day saw me drenched and with squelching feet, wandering around a west London park. My son was there on business, and I was there on taxi duty. While he was dealing with the sharp end, I wandered off for a while and was glad I did, in spite of the fact that the little lace slippers were rather less than appropriate. That too, seems to be something of a feature.

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“Nice weather… for ducks!” grunted an elderly gentleman sheltering under a big old tree. The ducks may well have been appreciative. Other birds were less so, though the rain did not appear to have dampened the amorous ardour of at least one determined suitor. It is, after all, spring, and, in spite of the drenching they were getting, or perhaps because of it, the trees and flowers were making the most of the season.

pigeons

I think it is the contrast between freshly washed petals and rain-darkened bark and earth that does it. While sunshine shows the playful gaiety of spring, rain seems to highlight the details on every leaf and petal, throwing textures into relief and marking a sharp contrast in the colours. The sparkling drops add an extra dimension that links earth and sky in a very intimate manner.

blossom

Thinking about it, I realised that our instinct is still to think of the sky as being ‘up’… like the blue strip a child paints across the top of a picture. Yet the sky and the earth embrace, their meeting as close as it can be as every contour of the earth and sea, every grain of sand, every leaf and blade is touched by the sky, without any possible separation. As are we.

wet thrush

Yet we imagine a separateness; simply accepting that the sky is above us. The poets tell us so with their starry heavens… yet those heavens are here on earth too, all around us. How could I have missed that, all these years? What logic knows lacks a soul until understanding illuminates it. We are not children of earth, but creatures of earth and sky.

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I remembered my younger son, drinking the water dripping from a rock face half way up Ben Nevis one day. He had asked where the water came from, so high up… “So, I am drinking clouds, then?” he had said. The child’s logic too was poetry to me and I realised that by extension of the same thought, I was myself poised between heaven and earth, breathing in the sky. I wondered about that; an analogy could be made there… how many other things do we live and breathe and know without Knowing?

magpie

Thinking about that as the rain fell changed the feeling of the day from simply soggy to glorious. The all-pervading damp was no longer a chill imposition but the kiss of the sky upon my brow. The little plumes of steam that rose from both me and the sheltering creatures more than just a drying out… it was a reaching up, an answering embrace, like a child stretching their arms to a father.

water bird with big feet

A little clumsily, still learning to find our feet in the world, unsure of quite who or what we are, we walk through life in unconscious wonder. We may focus our gaze upon the earth and its rewards, or we may look up to a distant sky and reach for diamond stars. Yet perhaps we do not need to strive so hard to reach the apparently unattainable; perhaps the beauty we seek was right here with us all along.

magnolia

Mistletoe

Bare winter fingers Unveil the treasure hidden By summer's mantle

This picture was taken in early spring last year, just as the world began to warm itself in the pale sunlight. The place was Pilton, a little village near Glastonbury with a legendary history as big as a heart. It is here, the stories tell us, that Joseph of Arimathea landed on a trading visit to the Isles of Tin, bringing with him a boy… his nephew, say some… whose name was Jesus.

None know the truth of that story, though historically it is possible. There is ample evidence for the trade and it is not the only such legend in Albion. It gives credence to the other legend of Joseph that says that after the crucifixion, he brought the story of the resurrection to these Isles, landing, once again, in the shadow of the Tor… bringing word and a Vessel to Avalon.

I hover between a natural scepticism and a desire to accept. So many of the most ancient tales were bent to serve Christianity in its early days, turning the sacred knowledge of the old gods into the hagiographies of fictitious saints or tying their miracles to the hills of the Fae and the healing wells of the goddess, robbing them of their true lineage. I am not a Christian in the orthodox sense; I belong to no church but serve what I conceive of being perhaps better termed the Cosmic Christ. Yet I am also a child of these Isles and rooted in the land, and there is a warmth and simplicity in these old tales of the Child whose feet walked these blessed shores that makes me choose to believe that there is something in them; something that speaks to the heart rather than to the logical mind. As such, perhaps subjective truth is a matter of choice or faith.

Looking down the valley in the photograph towards the Tor, you can trace the ancient waterway, now no more than a stream, that once brought ships to safe harbour at Pilton. The channel remains, deep and wide and the eye of the mind can trace the outlines of moorings and see the bustle of a small trading port. Seeing the land open itself in this way somehow permits belief.

The trees were bare of everything but the balls of mistletoe that would soon be hidden by exuberant spring. The brilliant young green would cover them, hiding from view the ancient orbs, sacred to those who walked the earth long before Christianity reached our shores. The mistletoe lives upon the branches, its seeds rooting and drawing sustenance and life from roots other than its own so that it may flower, fruit and set future seeds, colonising the trees. Not unlike the story that was brought to these shores so long ago.

The mistletoe is hidden for most of the year, covered by the leaves of its host. You only get occasional glimpses of its presence… and only if you are looking. Yet, when the world is bleak and cold and the branches raise skeletal fingers to the sun, it is there… a plant that has been sacred since time immemorial, and which has come to be a symbol of peace.

Here too I find an echo of a faith that is seldom broadcast, perhaps, but which is there in the darkest of times. It does not belong to any particular denomination or religion…it may not even have a name… it is the faith of the heart that turns towards something greater when the shadows fall. In those moments seeds are planted in the soul that may find a place to grow. It does not need logic, facts or explanations. It does not need dogma or teachings… those are for the exoteric world. The heart knows no logic and faith is not rooted in religion… it is an unruly and invasive tendril that winds through the soul. And when it is free to grow wild, then it is beautiful.

Eye of the beholder

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The Toilet of Venus, Rubens c.1614

“…item, two lips indifferent red; item, two grey eyes, with lids to them; item, one neck, one chin, and so forth.”

Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare

Let’s be clear… fashions change, in beauty as in all else. Many of the celebrated beauties of history would not cut the mustard by today’s standards. Cleopatra had a big nose. Emma Hamilton, mistress of Lord Nelson, was fat by the time they met. And Rubens’ Venus had cellulite. The list could go on. These women, accounted great beauties in their day, to modern eyes may lack that certain something we are almost indoctrinated to seek. Was it just fashion that gave them their place in history? Or was there more to these women? Charm, grace, laughter and intellect; or did they exude that sensuality that attracts regardless of face?

I was speaking with a woman today, very beautiful to my eyes. Just a chance acquaintance, but so much of her story was poured out in that brief meeting … a tragic one… and all rooted in a simple fact; she felt worthless unless she could feel beautiful. It made me angry and set me thinking about my own journey to being comfortable in my skin. Both men and women are too often made to feel they must live up to an aesthetic ideal, yet what really matters is what is under the skin.

I never felt beautiful. I was born several centuries too late to ever be the life model for a painting of Venus. I feel I would have liked Rubens.

Looking back now at old photos, I was a pretty child at that age when, as a child you really do not notice or care about such things. I was a ‘girlie’ girl, with pale curls and the big brown eyes I now love in my younger son. Though he has always had far more eyelashes than any man should lay claim to…

As a teenager I could ape, but lacked, the confidence of my peers. I never felt I matched up. There was no envy, no sour grapes… it was just the way things were and I admired my friends, envying only their confidence. I stopped growing upwards around the five foot mark and rounded out. The pale curls became an un-tameable mop of mousey brown. The nose, broken by this stage already, had become a family joke; kindly meant, but leaving uncomfortable bruises on the fragile surface of the fledgling woman. The legs were decent, but the ankles not quite as fine as my mother’s… nor the wrists… nor the cheekbones… or the dratted nose. And comparison was inevitable… we looked very much alike.

My mother had lovely hair, rich auburn… and better skin too. My teenage acne had me evicted from the doctor’s waiting room one day. “You can’t bring her in here with measles!” the receptionist had said. Which did wonders for my flagging self-confidence, as you can imagine! Yet the weird thing was, I never lacked a boyfriend back then. It certainly wasn’t beauty that attracted them… I made my own guess at the cause and did my confidence even less good.

I could always see beauty in others and have tried to find ways to have them see in themselves what I could see. Bodies are incredible machines, sculpted by a master in every conceivable shape, size and hue. I have never yet seen a face I find ugly or physically repulsive, only expressions … calculated nastiness, venomous hatred and coldness… have ever seemed ugly. People can be unattractive that way. But most are not. Most have similar issues of self-image to my own and, no matter what you say or do, few can accept their own beauty as it is in the eyes of another. Even my own sons will not accept what is mirrored in my eyes… I am ‘just Mum’… my opinion therefore counts for nothing.

Eventually, I was a wife, and could look in the mirror and acknowledge that the reflection was okay… not beautiful, not by any standard I knew. But okay, and that was good enough. The eyes were nice. The nose wasn’t too bad really and could have been worse. The lips a perfect shape. Even the skin was reasonable at last. Confidence began to build… till a drunk driver rearranged the face a fair bit and it was back to square one through the years it took for the scarring to settle.

That taught me a lot. Youth defines itself often by its appearance, but faces do not define who we are. To ourselves, we are more than just a face. To others, we are more than just a face… and if we are not, then perhaps the problem lies within them, not our appearance. It taught me too that if I looked at myself and saw only the scars, that is all others would be able to see too. If I allowed the scars to be at the forefront of my vision of myself, I would see myself only as a tragedy. And so would others.

But you grow up. Priorities shift. There would be jobs and perhaps children. You did your best with what you had, accepting the self-image, flawed or not. It becomes a habit. Years and a few extra curves will change everything anyway.

Confidence came from other things than face or figure. There were more important things than feeling yourself to be beautiful. Seeing a new life changing your waistline to whale shaped, holding your newborn babe and falling into those eyes… closing the eyes of a loved one for that final time. I did not feel beautiful, but I knew that in such moments I was living within beauty.

Nowadays, I look in the mirror as rarely as possible. Not for fear of what I will see, but because I have better things to do with my life than worry too much about my appearance. There is nothing I could do that is going to make me fit the accepted ideal of tall, slender and youthful beauty. Other than perhaps a strict diet and fitness regime, being voluntarily stretched on some torturer’s rack and wholesale plastic surgery… not to mention a trip back a couple of decades in a time machine…

It doesn’t matter. The face that looks back at me is my own. It carries my experience, my joys and sorrows, old worry tracks my brow and laughter draws stars around my eyes. Our youthful perception of ourselves lacks depth. We see and judge ourselves on our surfaces, the sometimes brittle, sometimes bright reflection of our own image thrown back at us by the world like those fleeting glimpses in shop windows. We lack the experience to see deep enough to go beyond the outer shell and, we were to find a way in, there would still be a void the years had yet to fill.

When we are young we learn from others how to evaluate our world. It is all we have to live by until we can replace their teaching with knowledge of our own. It is easy to become stuck with those acquired filters; the habits that cloud our vision and our understanding with patterns that should have been discarded as obsolete and replaced with the rich texture of experience.

To my own eyes my features still seem coarse… but I know that I judge them by a standard learned long ago. To the cold steel of my only tape measure, my figure is not what it was. But it’s not that bad either. The hair is more unruly than ever and starting to be streaked with white. Which is fine. I have lived in this body for a good while now and done a lot with it. It’s entitled to fray a bit round the edges. I have lived, laughed, wept and more than anything, I have loved and been loved.

Looking back at old photographs, it is as if I am looking at someone I do not know. Were I to have met her, I would undoubtedly have told that young woman she was beautiful. She wouldn’t have believed me; she would have thought I was simply being kind. She would have had to learn to look out through my eyes… and her eyes were still too young and too caught by the vision of beauty she saw in others.

Today, those eyes see things rather differently. Although I can admire the aesthetics of youth, the people I would call truly beautiful are those who have lived a little longer. I see their lives in their eyes, their laughter and tears written in the map of their face, the confidence of experience and the wisdom of having learned from it… and an indefinable light within them that shines with a timeless and ageless beauty. And for myself? I live on the most beautiful planet imaginable, surrounded by wonders. I am part of the marvellous dance of creation that links every atom, every creature, each rock and wave. Why should I need to see a superficial beauty in the mirror when I can feel myself part of such living beauty?

There are too many tragedies happening quietly around us, from eating disorders, to self harm. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say. It isn’t so much about how others see us, but how we are allowed, and able to see ourselves.

How to make a living as a writer

It wasn’t her real name but close enough. An author’s nom de plume. Still, seeing it at the end of the printed article gave her a thrill. Every time. I felt the same way when that first magazine dropped through the letterbox with my name at the end of the article. Like mother, like daughter. There was a pride in that, hard to put into words.

It was, for both of us, so many years apart, a small thing… but to a writer it means the world.

I am not a million-dollar author with a major publishing house, I am not even a respectably sized fish in that particular pond. But I am a writer.

It took me a long time to call myself that, to ‘own’ it, as a friend said the other day. My Mum was a writer…she had things printed all over the place. I just wrote things. Even when ‘The Mystical Hexagram’, written with Gary Vasey came out, published by a publisher, I still didn’t feel right about calling myself an author.

You see, I grew up in a house with an Author… one who actually attained the Holy Grail… she made a living from her work. I knew the system. Long hours hunched over the ancient Imperial typewriter, later succeeded by a more portable affair. Always coffee, occasionally turning the typewriter upside down to shake out the fallen cigarette ash and biscuit crumbs. Pages thrust at me to read… red pen…retype. Long, involved discussions… we’d call it brainstorming today… about how the plot should unfold. My mother, you see, is a storyteller.

011She had always written. Starting with poetry, she had penned her first novel when I was very young, largely because the title came to her and she had to write the book. Two other novels followed. Stories I adored as I grew old enough to appreciate them. Later there were children’s tales. Each manuscript when finished would be placed in a big manila envelope, signed across all the seals and posted back to our home to get the postmarked date… the only way to protect copyright back then. Every so often, when she could afford the postage, she would duly type a letter to a publisher, package up a copy of the MS and post it off in hope with a stamped return envelope. And every time the book came back with a rejection letter.

Meanwhile Mum was writing articles and short stories, trawling through the Writers and Artists Year Book that was renewed every year and sending them off. Sometimes there would be a whoop of excitement as she opened the envelope that held a cheque. Most times she packaged the story back up for its next tentative voyage.

This went on for years… most of my childhood in fact. Over those years Mum wrote several stories in Yorkshire dialect; amusing pieces showing the archetypal character of our home county, entitled ‘Dahn at t’ Pig and Whistle’. One of these pieces landed on a desk and there was a letter… an invitation to write and record a Radio series for the BBC. Those were exciting times for my mother and we all gathered round the radio for each broadcast in shades of an older time.

But the series ended all too soon and she was back to the typewriter once more. More articles were sent out, tons more rejection slips were received. Still her novels had not been published and gradually they were sent out less and less often. She had tried for ten years with no success. But she didn’t give up.

cover ideas

One day, she had a letter. One of her stories, sent to a women’s publication, had ended up, quite by accident, on the wrong desk. The letter was from the occupant of that desk, Ian Forbes. The content of my mother’s article was totally unsuitable for the publications he managed… but he had read it anyway and liked her style. Would she like to try something a bit different?

Mr Forbes… or Uncle Ian as he became affectionately known…ran publications many of my generation may remember. He had sent samples scripts of what he would need. My mother sat down to study them. She didn’t write romance… it wasn’t her thing, but, she decided, she’d give it a go. The fee was too good to refuse.

For the next few years, until I left England for France, we would sit every month batting ideas around like tennis balls, backwards and forwards. Every month a cheque and a copy of the latest Love Story in pictures would be delivered. The author’s names did not appear on these little magazines. I only have one copy now, stored amid the family papers… a supernatural tale set in Egypt which we had written together.

I learned a lot about the writer’s craft back then, some of the stories she wrote were even my idea initially and my first bit of design was featured in one tale called, I believe, Lucky Blue Dress. I learned how to collaborate back then too, I suppose, as well as how to tell a complex story in few words and images… which has served us well lately with the publication of the new graphic novel, Mister Fox.

I learned other things too.

My mother had spent a lifetime following her dream and when it finally arrived, bringing that monthly cheque equivalent to a woman’s wage back then, it did not resemble the dream she thought she had. I learned how little it actually matters whether or not you get public recognition…like your name on the cover… as long as you have put your heart and soul into what you do, because you love what you do. I learned that you could take an unpromising vehicle… for so my mother saw love stories… and incorporate something meaningful; her stories always had a moral and the type of motherly teaching that young people need woven into them. Even a lightweight love story could have depth.

I saw that it wasn’t enough to have talent, nor a gift for the use of words. Nor was it enough to be patient or to be doggedly pursuing something for a decade with single minded dedication. You could do everything right and still not succeed. You also need that single stroke of luck… and the persistence and faith to keep on keeping on so that if it arrives, you are ready to seize the opportunity. Because one thing is certain… had my mother stopped writing the opportunity would never have arisen.

My mother’s novels have not yet been published. But they will be. I’ll do it myself. One of her children’s stories, Monster Magic, is now in print and the phone call I had when she received the first copies in the post was as full of excitement as I can ever remember. It was the very first ‘proper book’ she had held in her hands with her name on the cover. And when I told her she had to send one to the British Library…! She has waited all my life and most of hers for that.

Surfeit cover
All ready for the edited manuscript

My mother stopped writing many years ago. It doesn’t erase a single word of what she has written. Her stories may be from an older, gentler time. They may never sell a copy except to the family. But that really doesn’t matter. She wrote because she loved what she did. She wrote because the words inside her needed to find the page. She wrote from the hidden heart of her even when the vehicle wasn’t what she would have chosen. She made it hers. For some years my mother made a living as a writer. But more importantly perhaps, for a lifetime her writing has made her live.

You see, my mother is a writer.

And so am I…

On ducks and weather…

Bakewell Imbolc 001 (14)

There is a saying here in England, ‘nice weather for ducks’. It is generally used only when it rains, of course. We have it wrong. Summer is nice weather for ducks… they certainly have the best of it, being able to plonk themselves in a nice, cool river and let the water carry away the heat.

We don’t do weather well in England. Which is odd, because, on the whole and barring the disastrous and tragic exceptions of major weather events, we live in a very moderate climate. In winter the country can grind to halt with a few inches of snow. We complain when it rains, then preen ourselves on the beauty of our green and pleasant land… and grumble about hosepipe bans when it doesn’t rain.

north meeting 046

And then there is summer, brief though it may be. Midsummer saw temperatures here lower than the midwinter temperatures in parts of Australia. With some justification, therefore, we complain about still wearing woollies and turning the heating back on. Then we have the ludicrous situation of leaving for work wearing a jumper in the freezing dawn, only to have the sun come out and cook the country. It was borne home on Wednesday when the temperatures soared. Half the population shed clothing and bared tender flesh to the sun, many, with such unaccustomed exposure, rapidly turning a nice shade of scarlet. Others headed for the shade, closed the curtains and like vampires or trolls, fearing the kiss of the sun.

Bakewell Imbolc 001 (18)
I am of the latter bunch… and, let me make this clear once and for all, I am the only person allowed draw comparisons between my person and that of a troll… Others may do so… at least one probably will… but they do so at their peril…

I could, of course, simply complain about the humidity of summer heat in this country. That is a common favourite. I might mention the fact that fair skin burns… except mine doesn’t as a rule. I could fall back on the consequences of the exploding coffee pot, or the misbehaving extremities… which all give me a perfect excuse for staying out of the sun…

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But the truth is, I don’t like it. Not when it gets that hot. I feel as if I’m frying. Melting. And, enrobed in a certain percentage of fat, I find it extremely unfair that in this heat… I don’t.
Put me high on a northern hilltop, however, and I am perfectly happy, no matter what the weather. The exhilaration of a thunderstorm or a windy day, hail, sun, rain or snow… Which is just as well, as that is where I am going for the weekend, and all of those have been forecast apart from the snow. So whatever the weather decides to throw at the hills, I’m guessing the ducks won’t mind. And besides… we have a book to publish 🙂

 

‘Claims to ancient reach’?…

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Throughout the books written with Stuart France there are visions; moments of a past long fled that ‘Wen’ still sees written in the ancient stone of the landscape and within the circles of the Old Ones. They come when they will, flooding her consciousness with something that may be no more than imagination, no more than a waking dream… or perhaps they are shadows that are cast across the face of time…

The stone is warm beneath her back. Above her the clear blue of the sky is powdered with clouds, barely moving. It is sheltered here in the circle, the earthen banks of the henge protecting the centre from the ceaseless assault of the winds in this high place.

She closes her eyes and waits, feet towards the centre, hands crossed on her breast, relaxing each muscle, each limb in turn, breathing deeply of the clear air.

The shift comes. The world falls away. She can see her companion through closed eyes, across the circle, mirroring her. She does not need to look to feel his presence.

On the screen of inner sight a single glowing point of light that seems farther than the farthest star, yet closer than the sun. Between her and the light nothing but the streaks of passage… a stream of movement, as of a million suns caught racing comets in the blackness of space. A wormhole… dragons… serpents aflame with brilliance… a tunnel through which she is rushing faster than the light itself, falling inwards, forwards, upwards… she does not know.

Then a figure blocking the brightness… a dark silhouette against the torchlight and the tang of smoke. A hand extended, smiling eyes unseen but felt. She takes the hand, stiff after the long vigil in the chill of night, accepting assistance to regain her feet.

The grass is cold, frost biting her bare toes. Above, a million stars streak across the heavens. It is done. The old one smiles, raising his hand…

…. Voices call her back. The sunlight casts a pale golden glow … across the circle her companion opens his eyes. There is something she recognises in them…. She knows not what it is.

***

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Atop the mound the grass is chill and damp though the sun shines clear. There is no shelter and the wind ruffles her hair, an ancient grandmother caressing her child.

She closes her eyes, folds her hands on her breast beside him, relaxing into the other sight.

The shift comes. The world falls away. She is glad of his presence as the veins of her eyelids are painted green against the grey light… green and grey he had said of the one he had seen….

On the screen of inner sight a single glowing point of light that seems farther than the farthest star, yet closer than the sun. Between her and the light nothing but the streaks of passage… a stream of movement, as of a million suns caught racing comets in the blackness of space. A wormhole… dragons… serpents aflame with brilliance… a tunnel through which she is rushing faster than the light itself, falling backwards, away from the light. The unexpected sensation is sickening, stomach twisting.

Hands reach up from the earth, dragging, clawing… nightmares and hell… women, children… She refuses their hold and turns. Flesh melts from her bones and she dissolves into earth… She is only the wind…

He moves. She opens her eyes to a world wreathed in fog, ghostly shapes, amorphous and shifting…

It takes a moment before reality returns…

“We need to go to Fin Cop.”

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***

Doomsday:

The Aetheling Thing

Stuart France & Sue Vincent

 ‘Doomsday: The Aetheling Thing’