Category Archives: Fiction

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.

Ballads, Fire Springs and Awen

Ballad Tales, while published by The History Press features a number of Awen authors and Fire Springs members, so we’re giving it a shout out here on the blog.

The contributors are…

Fiona Eadie, Kevan Manwaring (Awen and Fire Springs), David Phelps,  Chantelle Smith (Fire Springs), Richard Selby (Awen and Fire Springs), Pete Castle, Malcolm Green, Simon Heywood, Alan M. Kent, Eric Maddern, Laura Kinnear, Karola Renard (Awen), Kirsty Hartsiotis (Fire Springs, and Awen, backstage) Nimue Brown (Awen backstage), Mark Hassall,  Chrissy Derbyshire (Awen)  David Metcalfe (Fire Springs), Anthony Nanson (Awen and Fire Springs). the book has a forward from Candia McKormack and the cover art is by Andy Kinnear.

Kevan Manwaring said “This fantastic launch event was the culmination of two years’ work – from my initial vision to publication by The History Press. It was great to celebrate the mutual achievement of all those involved with such high calibre performances from our ‘bardic dozen’ present. To see their respective contributions brought alive through storytelling, singing and exegesis was exciting. Any who didn’t make it really missed out on an excellent evening. We hope this will be the first of several such Ballad Tales revue shows.”

You can read a longer post from Kevan about the journey elading to the book – It Takes A Village To Raise A Story.

The next one will be:
Bath Storytelling Circle Ballad Tales special
Monday 19 June
8pm, free entry
upstairs at The Raven, Quiet St, Bath

Here’s a photo from the book launch…

Left to right… Candia McKormack, David Metcalfe, Mark Hassall, Karola Renard, Andy Kinnear, Laura Kinnear, Kevan Manwaring, Chantelle Smith, Kirsty Hartsiotis, Anthony Nanson, Fiona Eadie, Nimue Brown.

Steampunk literature

By Nimue Brown

Isambard Kerne may be an Edwardian gentleman rather than a Victorian, but there are many reasons the Windsmith series ticks the boxes as Steampunk literature. It’s not just the goggles on the hat. Dieselpunk, a significant sub-culture within Steampunk (as I see it, others may see it differently!) covers this era anyway.

We’re in the early stages of flying when Isambard makes the ill fated journey that marks the beginning of his otherwordly adventures. A later title in the series – The Well Under The Sea brings together historical figures who are influences on modern Steampunk. Willful anachronism and playing with history abound, all manner of things get airborne for purposes of adventure and discovery. Magic and technology meet and co-operate… if you love the things that underpin Steampunk, then this is a series to relish.

 

I’ve been actively involved with Steampunk for years now, it’s been a great joy luring Kevan Manwaring out to events and introducing Steampunk folk to his writing. Photos in this blog were taken at the Steampunk market in Chepstow, April 2017.

The merry crew – author and windsmith Kevan Manwaring left, James Colvin 2nd from left, (explorer and reprobate), Tom Brown (illustrator and tea pirate, spoons at the ready) Nimue Brown on the right, (blogger, author, somewhat threatened by this new fangled photographic technology).

Start the Windsmith series here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Long-Woman-Windsmith-Elegy/dp/1906900442

Books by Anthony Nanson

Anthony Nanson is the author of both fiction and non-fiction titles. Awen has published one of each.

Exotic Excursions is a collection of short stories  charting the territory between travel writing and magic realism to confront the exotic and the enigmatic. Here are epiphanies of solitude, twilight and initiation.

Order the book here or buy it from Amazon.

 

 

 

 

Words of Re-enchantment: Writings on Storytelling, Myth, and Ecological Desire is a collection of essays exploring the role of the modern storyteller. This book brings together the best of Anthony Nanson’s incisive writings about the ways that story can re-enchant our lives and the world we live in.

Order the book here or buy it from Amazon.

 

In addition to his Awen titles, Anthony is the author of Gloucestershire Folk Tales – part of a county by county series on local folklore published by The History Press.

From the intrigue and romance of town and abbey to the faery magic of the wild, here are thirty of the county’s most enchanting tales, brought imaginatively to life by a dynamic local storyteller.
Order the book here or buy if from Amazon.
Anthony’s epic novel Deep Time is published by Hawthorn Press.
Zoologist Dr Brendan Merlie has wasted his best years in futile pursuit of imaginary creatures. He’s now leading a survey of an ecological hotspot in a forgotten corner of Central Africa.
Buy Deep Time from Amazon
Anthony is also the author of Storytelling and Ecology, one of the editors and contributors to Storytelling for a Greener World, a contributor to An Ecobardic Manifesto and co-author of Gloucestershire Ghost Tales.

Reviews for The Long Woman

The Long Woman is a re-release, which means many of its older reviews haven’t followed it into this new incarnation. So, here’s a round-up – snippets from things reviewers have said about the book in its former incarnation on Amazon.

L Phillips said: “I thoroughly loved reading this book. The author blended the mystical elements of the story into the plot in a way that supported the story, without taking over. The melancholy mood of the book was lovely and comfortable to read.”

MS: “A delightful book and one which defies simple description: Is it a love-story; an historical novel; a fantasy; a ghost story; an ode to the English countryside; a patchwork of literary references; a challenge to staid values? Yes, it is all this and more besides but, most importantly, it is a narrative that fully and skilfully engages and transports the reader to a different time and many different places, including some that are not on this corporeal plane.”

Lorna: “Plumbing the highs and lows of human experience, ‘The Long Woman’ is full of surprise. In a lively and engaging manner it puts into question our modern presuppositions about our relationship to the natural world and life after death. I’d recommend this to everybody.”

Nimue: “Beautiful, imaginative, poignant, magical writing. A great story with memorable characters.”

Ola Yemaya: “Skilfully crafted and brimming with knowledge about the period and its esoteric renaissance, the author offers a convincingly ordinary and genuine heroine as travel companion that might prove to be inspiration to explore one’s own places of loss and denial in relation to the deep healing that can be retrieved in nature. Combining a gentle yet evocative language with deep spiritual insight, “The long woman” is an inspiring journey into the heart of “all things” and a delightful read for anybody who explores the ways we are inseparably interwoven with each other and creation in order to face and master our own life’s lessons.”

Lyn Wiltshire: “I could not put this book down and found it both entertaining and educational.”

Ian Davidson “It takes a magical look at a woman’s journey of discovery through her trying to understand her dead husband.”

Buy the new edition of Kevan Manwaring’s The Long Woman here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Long-Woman

Return of the Long Woman

 

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