Tag Archives: The Long Woman

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.

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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