Category Archives: Book News

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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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.

Charlotte Hussey’s Glossing the Spoils

by Anthony Nanson

Charlotte Hussey’s Glossing the Spoils is rather more than a collection of poems. It will have a particular interest, not only to admirers of edgy and crisply constructed verse, but to anyone engaged with medieval romance, legend, and epic, especially in Celtic, Old English, and Arthurian traditions.

Awen have now published a new edition of this book, first published in 2012, with an expanded introduction by the author in which she goes into more detail about her fascinating method. The ‘Glossing’ in the title refers to the ‘glosa’, a poetic form that functions as a gloss, or commentary, upon a pre-existing text. Each of the poems in Glossing the Spoils takes a short extract selected from a medieval source – such as Beowulf, Mabinogion, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Parzival, and many others – and expands this into an expertly metred poem that imaginatively both unpacks that moment in the source story and evokes resonances with the modern world. This nuanced relationship between ancient and modern is then neatly reinforced by concluding each stanza with one line from the source extract.

Let me show you what I mean with an example. Charlotte’s poem ‘Tree’ is based on this extract from the Arthurian tale ‘Peredur Son Evrawg’ from Mabinogion:

 

On the bank of the river,

he sees a tall tree:

from roots to crown one half is aflame

and the other green with leaves.

 

The first stanza of ‘Tree’ goes like this:

 

She passes through a skeletal wall,

door blown off, its skeletal

frame leaning inwards. The drone

of the bombing squad begins to fade

as an eerie music like wind through the ribs

of something large grows louder,

rising over the rubble, stirring her

to cry and laugh and wish to sleep,

not knowing whether, like a dreamer

on the bank of the river,

 

— and so the narrative continues into the next stanza …

An encyclopaedic knowledge of medieval literature lies behind these poems. Charlotte Hussey is a scholar in this field and teaches courses on Breton, Irish, and Arthurian literature at Dawson College in Montreal. The poet Lorna Smithers has described Glossing the Spoils ‘as exemplary in re-envisioning the oldest myths of Western European tradition with formal mastery’. This is truly bardic poetry and I hope you will enjoy it.

Buy directly from Awen – awenpublications.co.uk/

Buy from Amazon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1906900523

Different Continents

by Gabriel Bradford Millar

On Thursday 9 March @ Star Anise in Stroud a roomful of poetry aficionados were treated to a double book launch: Jay Ramsay’s Dreams Down Under (published by Knives Forks and Spoons Press) and Will Thomas’s Soul Candy. Will’s first book came out under the Chrysalis imprint.

Dreams Down Under was prompted by a 1000-mile road trip through New South Wales in Australia. Jay’s close, almost affectionate descriptions of the flora and fauna he saw were arresting, especially his empathy with things so other.

 

 

Soul Candy deals with the end of a long-term relationship and the hazards of online dating. Basically upbeat, it ends with the joy of a new love.

Both books are the immaculately articulated responses to life of two open-hearted men.

Here is the blurb from the back of Dreams Down Under:

‘These dynamic and vivid poems explore being “turned upside down” in different ways, geographically, emotionally, spiritually—the familiar becomes strange: seen for the first time. Based on a thousand mile road trip through New South Wales, Jay Ramsay fuses his ability to write in the moment with a deep ecological perception and concern where place is also metaphor, and our capacity for relationship and celebration is the invitation of Life itself. This is poetry of the natural world suffused in Eros, in love and sexuality, but also in memory: both ancestral (his maternal grandfather tendered for the building of Sydney Harbour Bridge) and aboriginal, inviting us to connect with what it means to return to a place of primordial connection, both for ourselves and for the planet.’

Pilgrim Station

by Dominic James

I am grateful to Anthony Nanson for inviting me to contribute a few lines on my poetry collection, Pilgrim Station, recently brought out by SPM Publications. Anthony, who offered me some comfort over waiting periods on poems and stories last year, kindly re-confirmed my ecobardic credentials in a lightly worded rejection slip for some other wild project of mine only the other month. And it comes to mind that I have bumped into and worked beside several members of the Awen and Fire Springs pantheon over the last couple of years. Our sympathies overlap.

Pilgrim Station is my first collection, made up of poems I have written since taking up poetry seriously, about eight years ago. A writer of short stories with a bookish background, I always kept a watchful eye on poetry. It has been the advent of middle age, that downhill-sloping, happy time, that has brought me to concentrate on poetry, the subject at hand. The attraction is that it has the spiritual/philosophical edge that is always present but generally unobserved, or unsummoned, in our day-to-day communication. We express these things quietly to ourselves, in our thoughts – but if we could speak as nimbly, poetry would be the result. Or the aim.

For these poems I have gone back and forward through my life from my twenties to the recent tales of more contented, if occasionally troubled times. And as this is a first collection, raw in places, sometimes vulgar and sometimes, I have allowed, a shade opaque, I have tried out styles, followed and broken forms, played the sedulous ape (thank you Robert Louis Stephenson). In short, I have drawn a line under my time of life with a shaping of my past into my present and so arrived at my future direction. I think at some point we should all establish that we can say so much. Making this stop, at this station, or at this time of life, has been one of the pleasures, and the more poetry I write the deeper I go into the common journey and, I hope, the better the poetry gets. Reader, Pilgrim, I hope you treat the world so kindly yourself.

Awen.

‘James is indeed a traveller in an ancient and modern land. A true European, he risks loss of identity in his quest to establish it and in a remarkable series of anecdotes and vignettes we share his struggle in this muscular and fragile collection.’ Peter Pegnall

Pilgrim Station by Dominic James (SPM Publications, 2016) is available from Stroud Bookshop, the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Nailsworth, and amazon.co.uk

http://djamespoetic.blogspot.co.uk/

Alchemy with Jay Ramsay

Archive Publishing are proud to announce the re-publishing of Jay Ramsay’s luminous work on the Art of Transformation.
Alchemy is best known as the age-old science of turning base metal into gold. But it is much more: essentially, it is a path of self-knowledge, unique in the Western tradition, with vital relevance for the modern world. The symbols of Alchemy lie deep in the collective unconscious, in the world of dreams and imagery: the practices of alchemy are rooted in an understanding of the oneness of spirit and matter through which we celebrate our sexuality and spirituality.
Jay Ramsay takes us step by step through the stages of the alchemical process using a wide range of original exercises to create a memorable journey that challenges, inspires and transforms us at every stage. We too can be kings and queens: we too, once we leave our dross behind, are gold.
Buy the book here – archivepublishing.co.uk/

Jay Ramsay has two books with Awen –   Places of Truth: journeys into sacred wilderness

and    Soul of the Earth: the Awen anthology of eco-spiritual poetry (editor and contributor)

New releases from Awen

New for December 2016, A Dance with Hermes by Lindsay Clarke.

In a verse sequence that swoops between wit and ancient wisdom, between the mystical and the mischievous, award-winning novelist Lindsay Clarke elucidates the trickster nature of Hermes, the messenger god of imagination, language, dreams, travel, theft, tweets, and trading floors, who is also the presiding deity of alchemy and the guide of souls into the otherworld. Taking a fresh look at some classical myths, this vivacious dance with Hermes choreographs ways in which, as an archetype of the poetic basis of mind, the sometimes disreputable god remains as provocative as ever in a world that worries – among other things – about losing its iPhone, what happens after death, online scams, and the perplexing condition of its soul.

You can read about the book launch here and the book can be bought from Amazon

Awen Publications is also in the process of re-releasing the back catalouge. This December saw the re-release of Kevan Manwaring’s The Long Woman.

An antiquarian’s widow discovers her husband’s lost journals and sets out on a journey of remembrance across 1920s England and France, retracing his steps in search of healing and independence. Along alignments of place and memory she meets mystic Dion Fortune, ley-line pioneer Alfred Watkins, and a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle obsessed with the Cottingley Fairies. From Glastonbury to Carnac, she visits the ancient sites that obsessed her husband and, tested by both earthly and unearthly forces, she discovers a power within herself.

This is the first in a five book series and opens the door onto a fantastic, speculative world rooted in myth and folklore.

You can buy The Long Woman on Amazon.