All posts by jananson

Karola Renard’s The Firekeeper’s Daughter

By Anthony Nanson

9781906900465.jpgI’m very pleased to announce that the second edition of Karola Renard’s collection of stories The Firekeeper’s Daughter, originally published in 2011, is now in print. It’s not just a collection, and the stories are not merely short stories. These tales may be described as ‘mythic stories’ in the sense that, though the characters and situations are of Karola’s own invention, at the core of each tale is a potent awareness of mythic archetypes – and, in particular, archetypes of the divine feminine. Karola’s concept of ‘firekeeper’ refers to the notion of a lineage through history of women who have a special calling to carry the flame of spiritual hope. What exactly this means in practice varies between different cultures and different time periods. They may be priestesses, they may be medicine women, they may be shamans, they may be mysterious figures who appear for a time from somewhere else and, having touched other people’s lives, vanish back wherever they came from. Maybe, whether you’re a woman or a man, you’ve been blessed once or twice in your life through encountering a woman of this kind.

So the twelve stories in The Firekeeper’s Daughter are threaded together by this theme, even though each story involves new characters and a new setting. The tales are arranged in roughly chronological order from ‘Daughter of Ice’, which takes place in a Palaeolithic Ice Age setting, to ‘Orchard of Stones’, set in twentieth-century Germany. One of the book’s elegances from a literary point of view is that the style of each story is adapted to the setting. The earlier stories, set in earlier periods, have the more oral intonation of myth, legend, or fairy tale, and Karola performed some of these tales live as a storyteller during the time she was developing them. The later stories converge towards the norms of contemporary prose fiction; that final story, ‘Orchard of Stones’, is structured as a fragmented narrative that jump-cuts back and forth between different decades. The Firekeeper’s Daughter is a book that can be enjoyed simply as a set of evocative, moving, and varied short stories; but for readers who are interested in the continuing importance of myth and archetype in our lives today, and especially of the sacred worth of the divine feminine, there is a deeper level of inspiration to be found here.

 

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A Dance with Hermes, Lindsay Clarke – review by Fiona Tinker

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Book Review:  A Dance with Hermes, Lindsay Clarke    (Stroud: Awen, 2016.)

It is somewhat difficult to know where to begin with this slim volume of poetry: just as a bead of quicksilver will scatter in a thousand different directions, glittering and enticing you to follow their paths, so too will the ideas and images in this deceptively simple collection call you to follow the myriad directions of their dance. Indeed, the patterns of disturbed mercury brings forth  an image of thoughts, ideas and communications flashing through the mesh of neural pathways in the brain, synapses sparking as each new thought is transmitted and grasped. In turn, that image leads to pictures of the electronic interconnection of the world-wide web and a reminder of the Hermetic premise all is one.

Clarke’s collection of forty-nine poems transmits meanings on at least three levels. They begin as a biography of Hermes…

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A Dance with Hermes by Lindsay Clarke – review by Lorna Smithers

Signposts in the Mist

A Dance with HermesA Dance with Hermes is the first full poetry collection by the British novelist Lindsay Clarke. Serving as a messenger for Hermes, the winged-footed messenger god of ancient Greece, Clarke brings his myths to life in the twenty-first century in this series of masterfully crafted verses.

In his introduction, ‘A Note at the Threshold’, Clarke writes about his creative process. As a poet and polytheist I found this fascinating. The book began life as a ‘hermaion’: a ‘windfall’ or ‘god-send’ beginning with a single poem called ‘Koinos Hermes’ based on the presiding presence of Hermes in the life of his friend, John Moat. I was fascinated by this sense of gifting.

Most of the poems consist of four quatrains steering between ‘half-rhymes to suggest the elusive nature of the god’ and ‘full rhymes echoing on his sudden presence.’ Cleverly they shift between ABAB and ABBA rhymes echoing the dancing beat…

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The Windsmith Elegy – Steampunk and Bardic Fantasy

By Anthony Nanson

WE2_RGB72dpi.jpgAs I write (August 2017), Kevan Manwaring is attending Asylum, the huge steampunk jamboree in Lincoln. He’s performing there and also showing off the new editions of three volumes of his epic Windsmith Elegy, a genre-crossing work that Nimue Brown has made a compelling case for regarding as steampunk (among other things). Indeed, back in 2012 Kevan promoted the previous editions of the books with a stage show performed by his Steampunk Theatre Company.

The new edition of Volume 1 – the rather less steampunky The Long Woman – came out last December. The next two volumes – Windsmith and The Well Under the Sea are newly republished and looking very smart in, once again, their Steve Hambidge cover designs.

These are the biggest two volumes of the five-book series. Each is self-contained in its own distinct setting within Shadow World, the realm of the dead. In Windsmith, this is an analogue of Bronze Age Wessex, informed by real archaeological finds in that region,  tales from Celtic mythology, and the images embossed in the Gundestrup Cauldron. The Well Under the Sea is set in and around the luxurious island city-state of Ashalantë, which conflates the mythology of Atlantis and other ‘lost islands’ (see Kevan’s non-fiction book Lost Islands), and adds into this milieu the ‘lost of history’ – individuals who have vanished without explanation during the history of our own world. A particular case in point is the aviatrix Amelia Earhart, with whom the protagonist, Isambard Kerne, becomes romantically involved. In both books, the detail of world-building involves a back-extrapolation of stories behind the piecemeal relics of antiquity that survive in legend and archaeology; the same kind of impulse that drove Tolkien’s mythmaking.WE3_RGB72dpi.jpg

Another thing I love in these novels is their committed exploration, in the course of all the drama and romance, of the pathway of a bard’s development; a theme very close to Kevan’s heart, since, outside his fiction writing, he has himself followed a bardic path for many years. In Windsmith, this has mainly to do with Kerne’s mastery of the Ogham, understood as a system of ‘woodwords’ that can work bardic magic in times of need. In The Well Under the Sea, Kerne learns to train his mind to summon winds, and thence to compose and sing a song that will enable him to fly.

As I’ve already hinted, the Windsmith books defy neat genre categorisation; they have elements of antiquarian fantasy, liminal and portal-quest fantasy, steampunk, mythic fantasy. One reviewer referred to them as ‘bardic fantasy’, and this strikes me as a particularly fitting label, given their bardic concerns, which are embedded even in their protagonist’s name, Isambard. I look forward to announcing, soon, the new editions of the remaining two volumes, The Burning Path and This Fearful Tempest.

‘A Dance with Hermes’: an evening with Lindsay Clarke in Bath on 6 September

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Hermes, the messenger god, will be celebrated in a ‘power-poem’ presentation at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (BRLSI) on Wednesday 6 September 2017 by Whitbread Prize winning novelist Lindsay Clarke. He will read from his 2016 book A Dance with Hermes, examining how the messenger god of the imagination is as relevant to us in the digital age as he was in antiquity.

Lindsay will be looking at how creativity can flourish in a world that constantly bombards us with stimulus of all kinds. Mixing contemporary wit with ancient wisdom, he will explore how language, dreams, travel, tweets, and trading floors are all aspects of Hermes, the archetype of the imagination and the poetic mind. Rather than the modern world being a threat to our creativity, by harnessing our knowledge of these ancient mythical figures, we may in fact enhance it.

Lindsay Clarke is a writer and educator now based in Somerset. He won the Whitbread Prize for his novel The Chymical Wedding in 1989. His novels, poems, plays, and non-fiction have often featured myth, legend, and alchemy.

The presentation will begin at 7.30 p.m. Tickets will be sold on the door: £4 non-members and £2 for BRLSI members and students.

The Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution is an educational charity based in the centre of Bath. The Institution runs a programme of more than 150 public lectures each year, on topics including science, philosophy, art, and literature. It also maintains collections of minerals, fossils, and other items, as well as a library of rare books. BRLSI’s Jenyns Room is one of Bath’s leading gallery spaces with a year-round programme of art and museum exhibitions.

BRLSI, 16–18 Queen Square, Bath, BA1 2HN. 01225 312084. www.brlsi.org

On the Cover: Glossing the Spoils

 

by Kirsty Hartsiotis

b694b1_08f653f8784c44929d43a376cccf6604mv2I’ve always been fascinated by hoards. To me they are deeply poignant and offer a glimpse into a moment in another person’s life. It’s easy to imagine a scenario from the thin thread of evidence – the coins tucked away in a bag or pot – and see a desperate person hastily digging a hole, stuffing in their only treasure, covering it over, staring at it to try to drum the place into their memory, then snatching up a child, the rest of their belongings, tugging away a horse, and running from the chaos they’ve left behind, a raid, a battle, perhaps, but with one thought in mind – I will come back. Implicit in there is the thought, I will come home again, and pick up the reins of my old life, and all will be as it was. But we know that that didn’t happen. For whatever reason, the person who buried the hoard didn’t return, and the little bag of coins remains there until a metal detectorist or archaeologist strays on it one day and the ancient metal is brought to light.

When I first saw the cover image for Charlotte Hussey’s Glossing the Spoils, that’s exactly what I thought we had. The coins on the cover are from the Hallaton Hoard, a massive collection of Iron Age and Roman coins found near Market Harborough in the East Midlands. How fitting, thought I, a coin hoard is the perfect cover for this collection of poems expanding out, glossing, inspired by medieval texts from all over Western Europe. So often, in early medieval writing at least, all we have are the remains, the scraps, and our understanding of the complex meanings behind the poems in the Anglo-Saxon corpus, say, or the Mabinogion, and the lost tales they reference is like our understanding of coin hoards – we can imagine a bigger picture, we can gloss and explain all we like, but to capture that moment of writing, the societal context of the poet, the writer, and their world view, that’s all but impossible.

However. Some coin hoards are not like the one imagined above. Sometimes there’s a whole lot more going on. The coins on this cover are just a few of the 5296 coins found in no less than fourteen coin hoards on the site. They were deposited at some point just before or soon after the Romans came to Britain, but not because people were running away from invaders or civil war; rather, as part of a collective, community ritual. The people who deposited these coins came to the place, feasted, and held a ritual that resulted in the burial of these coins and the bones of the pigs they ate. And a Roman helmet. And, sadly to us today, it seems that the site was important enough to need to be guarded at all times – three dog skeletons have been found, psychopompic guards protecting against all spiritual comers. The coins show the exuberant horses, dots, and symbols of Iron Age coins, mixed in with the artistic inspiration – coins from the Empire across the Channel. What relationship did these people have with Rome? Who were they beyond the name Corieltavi? How did they get the helmet? Why did they stop coming?

Always there are more questions than answers. A quick glance won’t do. That’s what I take from the cover – and from the poems inside the book. There is everything to be gained from looking under the surface. In those deeper places lie discoveries – not just the materially obvious hidden treasure, but an elucidation of hidden lives and, perhaps, a glimpse into ourselves and a chance to have a deeper connection with both ourselves and the the myriad lost lives of the past.

You can find out more about the Hallaton Treasure here, and if you’d like to dig deeper into Hussey’s book, it’s available here.

On the Cover: A Drink with Hermes?

By Kirsty Hartsiotis

dwh-front-coverLindsay Clarke’s new book, A Dance with Hermes, which launches this Thursday 1 December at Black Book Café, Stroud, is all about ‘Hermes, the messenger god of imagination, language, dreams, travel, theft, tweets, and trading floors’ and on the cover is an image showing Hermes flying, dancing, running across the page.

Fittingly, this image is from a kylix, an ancient Greek wine cup, the kind used at Greek symposia, parties where like-minded men would gather to drink and talk, share poetry and enjoy entertainments. Symposia feature in Plato’s writing as places where learned men talk about the nature of life (and where other, drunker men gate-crash the party, sparking more chat!). In real life they may have been a bit more ‘lively’, with games such as kottabos, where the wine lees were flicked across the room to a target that would ring like a bell if it were it in the right way, and dancing and boys provided all kinds of entertainment.

Kylixes were made to be fun objects as well. They are usually decorated around the outside. The one from which the image on the cover of A Dance with Hermes is taken has athletes and trainers running around it. But with the wine brimming in the cup, you wouldn’t be able to see that there was an image on the bottom – a surprise when you had finished your drink! The surprise image was often of someone dancing or running, and our Hermes is no exception. He dances over the sea, clasping his lyre (complete with plectrum in red) and his caduceus – his staff with two intertwined snakes – as he goes.

The kylix is part of the British Museum’s collection, and dates from the 5th century BC – the cup type is much older, though, going back at least to Mycenaean times, decorated then with boggle-eyed octopuses. You can find out more about the cup here.

Join us for our very own symposium to share a drink and hear Lindsay Clarke talk about his book and share poems from it alongside Stroud’s own Jay Ramsay at 7.30pm (for 8pm) on Thursday 1 December at Black Book Café, Stroud. Tickets £5 on the door, redeemable against the cost of a book.