By Anthony Nanson
It was in the course of a hair-raising and not entirely successful hike along the coast of the Gower Peninsula in search of the Paviland Cave that Kevan Manwaring first told me about his idea for a novel about an eccentric antiquarian by the name of Isambard Kerne. The character was inspired by the likes of William Buckland, who discovered in Paviland Cave the remains of what he believed to have been a Roman prostitute, and Robert Kirk, the Scottish folklorist who’s said to have been spirited away to Fairyland. In fact it was Kerne’s wife, Maud, who turned out to be the eponymous protagonist of The Long Woman. Having vanished from our world during the Battle of Mons in 1914, Isambard is present in the novel primarily through his journals, which Maud reads while revisiting the places in the English – and Breton – landscape which fascinated him.
I read the first draft of The Long Woman during my sojourn in Arcadia in 2003. Like many other readers since then, I loved the novel’s celebration of sacred landscape and its exploration of the boundary between the world we know and the other world we may detect or imagine beyond the veil of mortality. The story includes guest appearances by real historical figures who engaged in different ways with the ways between the worlds: Alfred Watkins, the student of ley lines; Dion Fortune, the occult novelist and denizen of Glastonbury; and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at the time (1923) of his fascination with the Cottingley Fairies. Esoteric also meets literary in Maud’s encounter with the expatriate literary scene centred on the Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris.
Some readers of The Long Woman and its four sequels, which together make up The Windsmith Elegy, have characterised these books as ‘bardic fantasy’. This seems an apt description, since they contain the supernatural dimension that is definitive of fantasy and are at the same time informed by the author’s extensive study of British bardic tradition, not only as a scholar but also as a very active participant in the bardic arts of storytelling and performed poetry. I hope the books will find many new readers as Awen now publishes new editions of them, beginning of course with The Long Woman and dressed once again in Steve Hambidge’s stunning cover designs.
You can find The Long Woman on Amazon