Category Archives: Fiction

Fiction and Reality: The Ambiguous Writings of Alain Robbe-Grillet and Campbell McCluskie

by Alistair McNaught, The Tragicall History of Campbell McCluskie

Some contemporary scientists give the impression (whether deliberately or not) that the gap between what is known and what is yet to be discovered about life and the universe is too small to accommodate the existence of a deity. And yet, that gap remains and, to my mind, always will remain infinite.

From El Pensador Solitario by Alejandro Hijo de Nada

The Tragicall History of Campbell McCluskie

Alain Robbe-Grillet and Campbell McCluskie began their writing careers at roughly the same time, in the years immediately following the Second World War. Alain Robbe-Grillet started work on his first novel, Un Régicide, at the end of the 1940s, but it was not published until 1978. During the 1950s, he went on to write the four novels upon which his reputation rests: Les Gommes (The Erasers), Le Voyeur, La Jalousie, and Dans le Labyrinthe. His international reputation grew with the release of L’Année Dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad), a film for which he wrote the screenplay and which was directed by Alain Resnais. Although little read in the United Kingdom, Alain Robbe-Grillet became highly regarded in the United States, where he taught in various universities. There is no evidence that he ever knew the work of Campbell McCluskie, although an obscure French writer, Edouard Charogne, who was briefly associated with the authors of the Nouveau Roman, did write an essay on McCluskie’s play Deeds and the Crow. It appeared in the journal Tel Quel in 1962, with an introduction by Philippe Sollers, so loaded with irony that it made both Charogne and McCluskie appear like figments of his imagination. Ian Alexander McDuffy, writing about Deeds and the Crow in his biography of McCluskie, rather overstated the impact the playwright had made on the writers of the Nouveau Roman.

McCluskie’s brief period of fame ended with his murder in 1954. In the following years, he was virtually forgotten. The revival of The Irresistible Rise of Tam McLean in the Glasgow Citizen’s Theatre in 1968 did little to restore his reputation, and for most people the playwright remains a rather spectral figure, akin to a character in an unpopular novel.

Outside the United Kingdom, Alain Robbe-Grillet never became as marginalised as Campbell McCluskie, but he fell under increasing criticism for the prominence in his films and novels of troubling scenes of sexual sadism. Some literary critics almost wrote him off. John Fletcher, for example, though recognising his importance in literary history, considered that his work in the 1970s had led him into a blind alley; that younger authors, like Ian McEwan, were taking the novel in fresh new directions. But even John Fletcher found promise in an autobiographical fragment written by Alain Robbe-Grillet in the late 1970s, which was later expanded into the book Le Miroir Qui Revient, translated as Ghosts in the Mirror. It is this unusual work of autobiography which I am going to consider now, and to compare with Ian Alexander McDuffy’s equally unusual biography, The Tragicall History of Campbell McCluskie; a book that remains sadly, for most people, the only way to experience McCluskie’s ground-breaking literary works.

“I have never spoken of anything but myself. From within and so this had hardly been noticed.” Such was how Alain Robbe-Grillet opened the short autobiographical fragment that was originally published in the late 1970s; a perfectly reasonable opening for an autobiography, but it appeared to the group of writers and intellectuals with whom he was linked at the time to be a flagrant betrayal of their orthodoxies. Radical literary theorists had argued that Robbe-Grillet’s work represented a complete break with the humanist concerns of conventional realist fiction. He was famous for his objective descriptions of objects. His characters were often reduced to mere cyphers indicated by the initial letters of names that were never given. They seldom had the invented pasts that readers traditionally demanded of literary characters. His novels were filled with repetitions of scenes, apparently unfolding in the present, with no indication of chronology, and none of the techniques used in conventional fiction to differentiate imagined or remembered scenes.

In his most famous novel, La Jalousie, the reader gradually comes to understand that the entire narrative, such as it is, is given from the point of view of the absent husband; the whole work being nothing more than the unfolding of his obsessive, jealous suspicion that his wife, A, is having or has had an affair with Franck, the owner of a neighbouring plantation. The husband repeatedly observes his wife through the venetian blind (in French, ‘jalousie’ – a pun lost in the English translation) covering her bedroom window, or he continually goes over the few occasions he has seen Franck with his wife, seeking any indications of her infidelity.

Robbe-Grillet’s work in the late 1960s and 1970s represented an even more radical break with traditional realism. The novels Topologie d’une Cité Fantôme (Topology of a Phantom City) and Souvenirs du Triangle D’or (Recollections of the Golden Triangle), published in 1976 and 1978, respectively, were assembled from various collaborations with visual artists which had been published earlier in that decade. Scenes and events seem to arise from nothing, unfold in a series of extraordinarily precise descriptions, and then shift abruptly to other scenes, to which they are only tenuously linked. There are human figures whose appearance and gestures are exactly described. They are given names, but they have no histories or character traits. They perform sometimes violent and sadistic acts, but without motive or passion. Scenes are repeated, with variations or expansions. There is no attempt at verisimilitude. There are no coherent plots, no single story moving towards a denouement; just a series of meticulously assembled and vividly evoked episodes; and yet for me these novels still have a haunting, hallucinatory and suggestive quality that is impossible to describe without repeating them word for word.

Alain Robbe-Grillet began Le Miroir qui Revient (Ghosts in the Mirror) by pointing out that everything had changed dramatically in the seven-year interval since the opening words of that autobiographical fragment were written. It was 1984. Clearly, in France, as in the UK, there had been a shift in society away from the radicalism of art, literature, music, and politics which had characterised the previous two decades. Conventional realism once again became the dominant form in literature and cinema, if not in art. Although it seems to me that this had more to do with the kind of capitalism that was being ushered in during the 1980s by people like Margaret Thatcher; in which the accumulation of wealth began to be seen as an admirable pursuit in and of itself, and in which monetary value was to become the sole measure of success in any field. Consequently, in 1984, Alain Robbe-Grillet thought his decision to write an autobiography would be welcomed by the new orthodoxy that was then coming into being. In his opening paragraph he hinted at these changes, but nevertheless he concluded that he should persevere in his project, because ‘the same questions still come up, perennial, haunting, maybe pointless’. He then wrote the words, ‘Who was Henri de Corinthe?’ – just as a puzzled reader might well ask, ‘Who was Campbell McCluskie?’

The English title, Ghosts in the Mirror, rather gives the game away, as is the case with some translations, when the publisher wants something more commercial for a title, or the translator wants to give the reader a clue as to what the book is about. The French title, Le Miroir qui Revient, could more accurately have been translated as ‘The Returning Mirror’.

Robbe-Grillet introduces Henri de Corinthe as a friend of his father, whose erratic, eagerly awaited visits would always occur in the evening. For a reason that was never made clear to the young Alain, his father did not want him to meet Corinthe, and so, despite having earlier written a very clear description of Corinthe warming himself at the fire, he later confesses that he is not sure that he has ever even seen him. He even questions his description of the house, which is much grander than Robbe-Grillet’s childhood home. Chronological discrepancies are also introduced, which gradually cast doubt on Corinthe’s very existence, while he is yet evoked in a series of beautifully described scenes that on the contrary make him appear as real as Robbe-Grillet’s mother, as his grandfather, as the wild Breton coast near which Robbe-Grillet grew up, as the sea that used to terrify him as a child, as the fearful legends of sea monsters that used to haunt his dreams.

The key episode of the book occurs when Corinthe is riding his white horse near the coast on a calm moonlit night. As he comes close to the shore he hears a rhythmic noise coming from the direction of the sea. Robbe-Grillet uses all the virtuosity of his writing to describe Corinthe riding down on to the beach. his realisation that the noise is coming from an oval mirror floating on the waves, and his tribulations with his frightened horse. When he finally struggles out into the increasingly rough sea, and against all the odds drags the heavy mirror back to the shore, he sees by the moonlight in its ‘cloudy depths’ the reflected face of ‘his lost fiancée, Marie-Ange, who was drowned on a beach in the Atlantic near Montevideo and whose body has never been found’.

Elsewhere the book reads like a traditional autobiography. He recounts the history of his mother’s family, provides anecdotes from his childhood, describes his father, who was badly injured in the First World War, in which he served as a sapper, battling the enemy in nightmarish makeshift tunnels under No Man’s Land. Often these are sentimental scenes of the kind abjured by his literary followers. However, he constantly undermines his descriptions of these scenes by pointing out how far they stray from the reality of lived experience. At the same time, he shows how these remembered scenes have cropped up in his writing, and films. Controversially, he openly discusses his parents’ extreme right-wing sympathies and his own sadistic sexual fantasies which started in his early childhood. These fantasies and his terrors about the sea and its imagined monsters represent for Robbe-Grillet the ghosts that haunt his writing, like the ghost haunting the mirror.

During the Second World War, he was conscripted by the German government to work for a year in a tank factory in Nuremburg. This experience was to be the defining one in determining the kind of writer he was to become, much as Campbell’s wartime experience in Normandy would offer him the stimulus to write his first play.

As a French foreign worker, Robbe-Grillet was treated relatively well by the Germans. Initially he saw nothing to clash with his parent’s admiration of the orderly German nation, which they felt showed up the manifold failures of the French Third Republic. But Alain soon saw evidence of the horror lurking behind the façade: the shop signs forbidding Polish workers and Jews from buying cakes, or the brutal treatment of a Russian prisoner in the hospital attached to the factory. However, it was only the revelations of the concentration camps after the war that disclosed the full extent of the madness underlying the Third Reich, and it was then that Robbe-Grillet ceased to share his parents’ views. Henceforth, he began to distrust order and the psychological, philosophical, and political systems that seek to uphold it. That is not to say that he completely relinquished his need for order, but he considered that the struggle between this need and the opposing attraction to disorder are present in different proportions in every human being. He concluded that writing experimental fiction was the best way to explore this conflict.

In editing The Tragicall History of Campbell McCluskie, I very soon realised that Campbell’s plays reveal in their ambiguity a similar distrust of order to that expressed by Alain Robbe-Grillet, although the plays are not in any obvious way like Robbe-Grillet’s novels. There are strong characters, most notably the central male characters in the plays, who pursue their various ambitions and desires in clearly delineated settings. There is none of the chronological and spatial dislocations of Robbe-Grillet’s novels, and yet there are odd, unsettling details (like the presence of diamonds in The Irresistible Rise of Tam McLean, which seem to predict future events in the play, or the details of stage design in The Massacre which suggest a possible order underlying the chaotic city, or the way the character’s madness is expressed in Deeds and the Crow through lighting effects clearly visible to the audience but not to most of the characters on stage) which I would argue create small gaps in the narratives as profound as the more overt dislocations created by Alain Robbe-Grillet. Moreover, in one very evocative paragraph Robbe-Grillet describes the sensations he experienced at nightfall in the winter city, which he says impelled him to write in the first place and which seem to parallel the epiphanies Campbell experienced in his youth at the sight of Clydebank and the Clyde valley as seen from the hills to the north, or when his Aunt Dorothy arrived at his house for the first time.

Then there are the more obvious links between Robbe-Grillet’s autobiographical project and Ian Alexander McDuffy’s biography of the playwright. In The Tragicall History of Campbell McCluskie, the descriptions of Campbell’s plays are set against the narrative of Campbell’s life, in the same way as Robbe-Grillet sets his own work against the autobiographical sections of Le Miroir qui Revient. And so we are shown the brutal misogyny of Campbell’s maternal grandfather and its impact on his daughters; the troubled relationship of Campbell’s parents; Campbell’s haunting experiences during the Second World War; Campbell’s complete split with his father, which remained unresolved at the time of the playwright’s death. Unlike, Robbe-Grillet, however, McDuffy is not seeking to question the relationship between his descriptions and the reality of Campbell’s life. On the contrary, he is seeking a meaning in the playwright’s life which will explain why his mother died giving birth to him, and he doesn’t always appear to notice the numerous contradictions and ambiguities arising from his sources. Nor does he seem to have any awareness that he shares his mania for meaning with Inspector Grieg, whose investigation of McCluskie’s murder has such dire consequences.

In editing McDuffy’s biography, however, I found something that I have not been able to discern among the contradictions, gaps, and erasures in Robbe-Grillet’s work. It seemed to me that I was constantly catching glimmers in The Tragicall History of Campbell McCluskie of a kind of underlying meaning; like a watermark running through the text. This was not the irrefutable meaning offered by the totalitarian systems of the Nazis and the Communists. Robbe-Grillet argued that these were closed systems that brooked no opposition, and were therefore like a kind of death, if death is viewed as an absence of possibility. He also argued that Freud’s ideas represented a similar closed system, in that Freud would overcome any opposing argument by reducing the individual who made the argument to a category of his own system of thought. It would seem to me that such systems are currently offered by extreme religious groups, who offer one fixed meaning of holy books that are often ad hoc assemblages of contradictory and ambiguous texts, or even by scientists, who create unsubstantiated theories, such as the existence of dark energy, in order to iron out observations that contradict the Big Bang.

In Le Miroir qui Revient, Alain Robbe-Grillet makes clear that he is not advocating one approach to writing. He is merely setting out the ambiguous and changing approach he has taken to writing over the years, to prevent his ideas from becoming dogmatic, and to carry out the impossible task of overcoming his own ambiguous and ill-defined nature. At one point, he compares characters in novels to ‘the unquiet dead forced by some evil spell or divine vengeance to live the same scenes from their tragic destiny over and over again’. Just as Campbell McCluskie is doomed repeatedly to follow the same sequence of events from his birth to his violent death, in minutely described scenes that seem at the same time chaotic and inevitable. And yet, if you reread The Tragicall History of Campbell McCluskie several times, as I have had to do in the course of my work as editor, you too may find, in its odd repetitions and inconsistencies, tiny gaps (like that mentioned by Hijo de Nada in the above quotation translated from his ineffable and only published work, El Pensador Solitario) that open on to the infinite wonders and possibilities that are our only consolation, and where a God or a void might equally exist.


Anthony speaking in Trowbridge, 2 May

Picture6Lyrical: Open Mic & More

Thursday 2 May

6pm. Trowbridge Town Hall Arts, Trowbridge, Wiltshire

Writer, story-teller, editor and translator Anthony Nanson will be speaking at Diana Durham’s new Lyrical event in Trowbridge about his new translation of a collection of short stories, By the Edge of the Sea, by Nicolas Kurtovitch, one of the leading literary lights of New Caledonia in the Pacific.

Anthony met Nicolas Kurtovitch during a research trip to the islands in 2016. Kurtovitch’s stories were published originally in French as Forêt, terre et tabac and Anthony found it ‘a great privilege to translate Nicolas’ gorgeous lyrical prose into English.’

Anthony has a background in natural sciences, education, and publishing. A love of nature, authenticity, and the spirit of place informs all his work. His books include Deep Time – a prehistoric lost-world romance; Words of Re-enchantment: Writings on Storytelling, Myth, and Ecological Desire and three collections of stories. Anthony has worked widely as a storyteller both on his own and with the group Fire Springs. He lectures in creative writing at Bath Spa University; serves on the editorial board of Logos: Journal of the World Publishing Community; and blogs on Anthony Nanson’s Deep Time.

Optional theme for Open Mic: The Exotic and the Other

More info: Lyrical Series – Diana Durham, Writer & Poet

& Town Hall Arts:  Lyrical: Open Mic & More


Oxford launch of The Tragicall History of Campbell McCluskie

9781906900557.jpgAwen are thrilled to announce the launch, on 17 January 2019 at Blackwell’s Bookshop, Alistair McNaught’s long-awaited novel The Tragicall History of Campbell McCluskie.

7.00–8.45 p.m.

48–51 Broad Street, Oxford OX1. Free admission.

The book is adorned with stunning cover art by the printmaker Andy Kinnear, which marvellously captures the likeness of the eponymous Glaswegian playwright. The Tragicall History of Campbell McCluskie can be ordered directly from Awen’s website or via the other usual channels. Here’s what it says on the back of the book:

The question that haunts Ian Alexander MacDuffy is why the playwright Campbell McCluskie was murdered at 10.30 p.m. on Wednesday 16 June 1954, for that was the very moment that Ian’s mother died giving birth to him. The coincidence suggests that some universal meaning may lie behind that gratuitous and painful event. Ian tries to uncover every detail of Campbell’s short but colourful life: the guilt-ridden hypocrisy of his grandfather; his father’s success as a shoe manufacturer; his childhood in Clydebank; the death of his favourite aunt; his bewildering role in the D-Day landings; his post-war success as a playwright; his passionate and eventful love life; his ambiguous relations with the criminal underworld; his violent death – because as Campbell himself wrote, in his inimitable style, ‘It’s all down tae patterns and figures; if you can decipher them, then Auld Nickie-Ben’ll dance tae your tune.’

‘Alistair McNaught’s ingenious fictional biography brings to life not only slain playwright McCluskie but also the mid-twentieth-century Glasgow he inhabited. McCluskie’s literary career, social life and erotic escapades are vividly evoked against a backdrop of smoke-filled bars, sombre tenements, and back streets haunted by prostitutes and razor gangs.’  Andrew Crumey

The launch of Green Man Dreaming and By the Edge of the Sea, 5 December 2018

On Wednesday 5 December Awen was delighted to host the launch in Stroud at the ever-wonderful Black Book Café of two of our newest books. These were Green Man Dreaming: Reflections on Imagination, Myth and Memory, Lindsay Clarke’s selected essays; and By the Edge of the Sea, a short story collection by acclaimed New Caledonian author Nicolas Kurtovitch, translated into English for the first time by Anthony Nanson. Lindsay travelled up from Somerset to join us – and Nicolas beamed in from what was for him the following morning in New Caledonia, which is 11 hours ahead of Great Britain.

Last minute hook up with Nicolas as Richard starts the event! Thank you, Glenn!

There was a nervous few minutes while we waited for Nicolas to appear on the skype call that our good friend Glenn Smith had set up for us – after all, when we called Nicolas it was only 6.30am! But, bang on the dot of 8pm our time he appeared, ready to share a virtual coffee with us. Anthony then interviewed Nicolas about New Caledonia and its situation in the world – poised between Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea – Nicolas’ inspirations for his long writing career, and particular for this writing collection. He spoke about how he had gone to live on Lifou, an island off the main island of New Caledonia, among the Kanak, the indigenous people, and how the landscapes and people he knew came into his stories – and how he wanted to share his relationships and personal experiences with the world, to bring the lives of the Kanak into a wider view. At that time in the 1990s, New Caledonia was just emerging from a period unrest following a failed bid for independence from France – ironically, just weeks before the launch of this collection in 2018, there had been a referendum on whether to stay part of France or become an independent nation. This time, the New Caledonians voted to stay – but not as many did as was assumed. Here’s a clip of Nicolas talking about inspiration from Australian travels – apologies for the sound quality, he’s coming from a long way away!

Anthony and Nicolas then read part of one of the stories from the book, ‘Desert Dreaming’, Nicolas starting it off in the original French, and then Anthony picking it up in English. Here’s a taster:

Then it was time for Lindsay, ably introduced by our emcee for the evening, Richard Selby, who runs the story, song and poetry night, What a Performance!, in Bath.

It’s probably best to leave Lindsay to speak for himself on the reasons for pulling together this collection of his essays, lectures and personal anecdotes of the many other literary figures he has known. Here, he talks about some of his thinking and philosophy towards the raising of consciousness that he feels is so desperately needed in both the individual, in society as a whole and beyond:

He then went on to read from the book, exploring, first, the concept that we all have our own, personal, daimon – and what that means for us:

More readings followed, going into dreams, and back out again, via the I Ching, and into his novels, The Chymical Wedding and The Water Theatre, and back to the personal. We’ll be sharing some of this on the blog at a later date. Then there was time for a question and answer session – and the all important book signings!

Putting on a launch event is always very much a collective effort, so we’d like to say our thank yous! Of course, big thanks are due to Lindsay and Nicolas for joining us and sharing their thoughts to create a meaningful, warm, fascinating evening. Thanks also go to our hosts Black Book Café for providing such a warm and welcoming atmosphere … as well as coffee and cake! Thank you to Richard for the excellent emceeing, big thanks to Glenn for coming down and making the tech happen for us, thanks to Kirsty for managing the book stall – and, of course, to the audience!

We’ll see you at the next event!


Translating Nicolas Kurtovitch

by Anthony Nanson

9781906900533The second book, besides Lindsay Clarke’s Green Man Dreaming, that Awen will launch this Wednesday 5 December (Black Book Café, Nelson Street, Stroud, doors 7.30 p.m., talks 8 p.m.) is By the Edge of the Sea – an English translation of Nicolas Kurtovitich’s short story collection Forêt, terre et tabac.  

I first read Forêt, terre et tabac, and another of Nicolas’ collections, Totem, about three years ago, in the course of my research for a novel in progress that’s set in Nicolas’ homeland, New Caledonia. I loved the way his stories conjure an enchantment of place and also an enchantment of moments of being, inviting the reader to contemplate how there’s more going on within and around us than we may readily perceive or understand. Part of the way he does that is through his wonderfully lyrical yet varied style; he is very much a stylist writer, and indeed the greater part of his oeuvre is poetry.

I was so impressed by his style that I was inspired – just for fun – to start translating one of the stories in Forêt, terre et tabac into English. When, a year later, I travelled to New Caledonia to do field research for my novel, I was lucky enough – quite unexpectedly – to meet Nicolas. From this meeting arose the project of translating the whole book and of Awen publishing it. The experience of translating Nicolas’ stories felt at the same time an immense privilege of trust and a compelling intellectual challenge, unlike anything else I’d done as a writer or editor, since this was the first time I’d translated a book. No doubt the experience will be familiar to other translators of literary writing: the need to immerse your sensibility in the (French) text and then carry the feeling of that as you craft English sentences that may be structurally very different and yet aim to impart a similar effect. In reviewing my translations, Nicolas repeatedly referred to the importance of rhythm and I was hugely gratified by his affirmation of the rhythms of my English.

I’ll finish this blog with the two comments from the back cover of By the Edge of the Sea the first by another prominent New Caledonian writer, the second by a scholar and translator of francophone Pacific literature:

‘Charm of expression, restraint in tone, precision of line, nuance, and rhythm – these are the prime qualities of the writing of Nicolas Kurtovitch, a gifted poet and story writer. But beware – the innocuous advance from one line to the next leads us inexorably into profound existential questions, and though his texts may be set in the Pacific this geographical precision can swiftly vanish to evoke the Universal. By the Edge of the Sea – twelve fascinating short stories that compel us to look at ourselves anew.’ Claudine Jacques

‘Nicolas Kurtovitch has been at the forefront of French-language Pacific literature for four decades. He has explored many different genres, but remains a poet at heart as this work in prose attests. This fine collection of short stories, the author’s first, takes us from the lagoon of his native New Caledonia to the ocean, from the mainland to the islands, from Kanak fields to Australian desert, from suburbia to the bush. Yet whilst the author always has a keen eye for place and space, the narrator does not always specify locality. These stories of beguiling simplicity take us on a complex inward journey, if we are prepared to read across the blurring of borders. By the Edge of the Sea, full of inter-cultural dialogue with self and others, remains relevant not only to New Caledonian society, striving to find its multicultural future out of its socially and racially divided past, but also to wider humanity, in the Pacific and beyond. There is, too, an abiding ecological sensitivity in this writing that conjoins human and physical geography. In short, this collection of stories retains its appeal and importance, its freshness, a quarter-century after it first appeared, and that can now be appreciated for the first time by an English-speaking public thanks to Anthony Nanson’s careful and sensitive translation.’ Peter Brown, Université de la Polynésie française / Australian National University

Book Launch in Stroud: Lindsay Clarke and Nicolas Kurtovitch

by Anthony Nanson

9781906900564.jpgOn Wednesday 5 December, Awen has a launch party in Stroud for two new books – at the Black Book Café, Nelson Street. It’s a free event; doors open at 7.30 p.m. and the talks start at 8.00 p.m.

Green Man Dreaming: Reflections on Imagination, Myth, and Memory is a definitive gathering of Lindsay Clarke’s inspiring essays and talks. Those of his essays which had come my way in past years had a big impact on my life, and I think the same has been true for many other people, so I’m really thrilled that Awen is able to make this amazing body of work available in book form. Lindsay is as inspiring a speaker as he is a writer, so if you’re in reach of Stroud do seize this opportunity to come and hear him.

9781906900533.jpgWe’re also launching By the Edge of the Sea, a collection of short stories by Nicolas Kurtovitich, one of the leading literary lights of New Caledonia, whom I had the pleasure to meet during a research trip there in 2016. The book was originally published in French as Forêt, terre et tabac. It was a tremendous privilege to translate Nicolas’ gorgeous lyrical prose into English. I will read from one of the stories at the event, but we also intend that Nicolas will be present via skype from New Caledonia and have chance to speak to us.

The evening will be emceed by the irrepressible Richard Selby. Please come if you can.

Below is some information about Green Man Dreaming. I’ll say more about By the Edge of the Sea in a subsequent blog post.

The transformative power of imagination, the elusive dream world of the unconscious, our changing relationship to nature, and the enduring presence of myth – these subjects have preoccupied Lindsay Clarke throughout the thirty years since he emerged as the award-winning author of The Chymical Wedding. Assembled in this definitive collection are the major essays, talks, and personal reflections that he has written, with characteristic verve and insight, on these and other themes relating to the evolution of consciousness in these transitional times.

Speculative, exploratory, salty with wit, and interwoven with poems, this book brings the Green Man and the Daimon into conversation with alchemists, psychologists, gods, and Plains Indians, along with various poets and novelists the author has loved as good friends or as figures in the pantheon of his imagination. This lively adventure of the spiritual intellect will take you through shipwreck and spring-water into the fury of ancient warfare, before dropping you into the dark descent of the Hades journey and urging you on to the fabled land beyond the Peach Blossom Cave. Through a reverie of images and ideas, Green Man Dreaming puts us closely in touch with the myths and mysteries that embrace our lives.

‘Among the many things we need right now is a voice as sane, wise and affectionate as the one deployed so compellingly in these pages. Lindsay Clarke is the original northern powerhouse. Green Man Dreaming is an important book.’ Andrew Miller

‘Lindsay Clarke’s magical prose elucidates the deep wisdom held at the depth of our soul. Green Man Dreaming brings together some of the gems of Lindsay Clarke’s inspiring and imaginative writings. This is truly gold dust.’ Satish Kumar 

‘There is something simultaneously elated and searching about Lindsay Clarke’s writing which makes it quite distinctive and immensely attractive. He is an inspiring teacher and talker and a gathering of his occasional pieces is to be heartily welcomed.’ Adam Thorpe

Mysteries – Stories and Poems of Faerie by Chrissy Derbyshire


9781906900458.jpgBy Anthony Nanson

Chrissy Derbyshire is a master of style – lyrical and accessible, archly ironic, and yet at the same time charged with the sensual feyness of Faerie. The eight stories in Mysteries take tropes from myth and fairy tale and animate them, through the alembic of lived experience, with a potent contemporary spark. The ten poems also included in this collection do the same,  in a more focused epiphanic way. In the literary cosmos, Chrissy’s work fits somewhere between Tanith Lee, only with more sense of humour, and Storm Constantine, only more lyrical. Ten years after this book’s first publication, Awen is pleased to release a second edition, including an additional story and three extra poems, with a foreword by fantasy author Kim Huggens and stunning cover art by Tom Brown. You can order Mysteries, like all our books, from the website.

Here’s the information from the back of the book:

This enchanting and exquisitely crafted collection by Chrissy Derbyshire will whet your appetite for more from this superbly talented wordsmith. Her short stories interlaced with poems depict chimeras, femmes fatales, mountebanks, absinthe addicts, changelings, derelict warlocks, and persons foolhardy enough to stray into the beguiling world of Faerie. Let the sirens’ song seduce you into the Underworld.

‘All of the pieces in Mysteries are entertaining. But they also speak twice. Each one has layers of meaning that touch on the ultimate that cannot be put into words and speak to our inner landscapes that are so full of desire for meaning. Chrissy’s journey, elaborately retold in the arena of mythology, is our own journey.’  Kim Huggens

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.


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.