The trip to Cumbria was long and emotional but also beautiful and inspiring. We stayed in a small house at the foot of Blencathra and watched the mountain turn from green to white in a short-lived but furious snowstorm. From the back were sweeping views over St John’s in the Vale and more mountains than I could count, plus a bat that flitted around the garden one evening. Our visit to Castlerigg stone circle was marred by an arrogant pair of men who had camped inside the stones, and who stared and commented at us as we approached as if we had no right to be there. What was it someone said recently about some people and their sense of absolute entitlement? I nearly spoke to them, as I wanted to explain how disrespectful they were being (and that they were giving wild campers a bad name) but my instinct was to keep away. We returned later in the week and they were gone, replaced by visitors who treated the place – and us – with respect.
It was with great relief that we found the hawthorn tree where Jhonn Balance’s ashes were scattered, and the nearby Church Plantation, the location of his memorial woodland, entirely undamaged from the terrible flooding of December 2015. In the lane approaching St Bega church T found the body of a young deer (as you will see from the new ‘banner’ photo on this site). Ian had a fondness for photographing dead animals, and the deer was one of his favourite creatures, so I photographed it in his honour.
The story I’m currently working on, Dark Fire, finishes at Bassenthwaite Lake, and I took some time, sitting on a boulder on the shore, to note the details of the area. The story is near completion of its first draft and the trip has provided the motivation to finish it sooner rather than later. I also made some notes for what will be my next story (as yet untitled); perhaps it’s impossible to be in such a landscape and not stumble upon new story ideas.
I’m close to completing a first draft of new story Dark Fire. I’ve decided to stick with this title; it’s an alchemical term that describes an intense fire which consumes itself. The title of a painting by Ithell Colquhoun, I thought it perfect for the story. Or, perhaps, for the way I’m feeling at the moment. Either way, it works. David Bowie’s Blackstar and Coil’s Astral Disaster have been played repeatedly while I’ve been writing this story. Both albums have an otherworldly air to them and have induced some profoundly altered states of mind, which will be clear to anyone reading the story! It did at one point become too strange/frightening to continue with, but I want to explore this kind of thing further.
It’s possible I’ll finish the draft before I head off to Cumbria in around ten days – it’d be a good place to leave the work for the time I’m away. The trip is in part a sad pilgrimage in memory of Ian Johnstone, to visit some of the places he loved, including of course, Jhonn Balance’s memorial at Bassenthwaite Lake. There is still a lot of storm damage in the county, but hopefully life is getting back to normal for most of the residents there. For me, the whole world has changed since I was last there eighteen months ago but I still hope to find some beauty there.
The title of this piece was inspired by a walk I did yesterday, along quiet lanes and bridleways overlooking ancient field systems. It made me think I could be in an M R James story.
New story Dark Fire (working title) is progressing well. I can’t see where it could possibly be placed – any Occult magazines I’ve seen have been very academic, and the story just won’t fit into any other category or genre. Of course ‘slipstream’ is supposed to cover a lot of the uncoverable, but that just doesn’t seem to extend to what I write these days. The one chink of light has been reading Sleep Has His House by Anna Kavan; her utter belief in the power and reality of her dreams makes me feel somewhat vindicated in what I do.
A beautiful and moving sight in the pre-dawn sky this week: Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter, in an arc from the south-east to the south-west. A week of amazing things, then. The Ithell Colquhoun exhibition has opened in Penlee Gallery. I’ve had a look around, noting how Death of a Vampire in a Magic Mirror resembled in part a dream I’d had the previous night, and will return to take it in more fully.
My thanks to Whollybooks, who published a piece on Surrealist writer Anna Kavan recently, which stirred me to get hold of Sleep Has His House. How is it possible to be so influenced by a writer I’d never heard of until a few months ago? What I’ve read of her work feels like a continuance of the influence of Colquhoun and Dion Fortune on my writing, despite my not having knowledge of them for so much of my life. Kavan’s belief in dream-life echoes my own lifelong thoughts and experiences.
I’ve started work on a new, as yet untitled, short story, after finishing all the preliminary work and research on the Rebel Dykes article. Two recent apocalyptic dreams are perfect for this story and will be included.
2016 begins in interesting fashion – Penlee Gallery in Penzance is about to host a new exhibition – Ithell Colquhoun: Image and Imagination, the first in a public gallery since the Occultist/Surrealist’s death in 1988. Colquhoun lived locally, in Lamorna Valley, but little seems to be spoken about her. Having read one of her books (The Goose of Hermogenes) and seen some of her art, I’m extremely keen to see the exhibition. The café’s a friendly place, too!
Andy Martin has accepted A Fairy Ring for his (as yet untitled) anthology with much enthusiasm, which is some relief. And I’ve begun work on a feature about a forthcoming film, Rebel Dykes, (about the lesbian punk/activist squat scene in London in the 1980s) which will hopefully appear in print somewhat later in the year. As usual, these things can never be guaranteed, but I had a very inspiring phone conversation with one of the producers yesterday and I’m hopeful about it all working out.
The title of this piece is something which appeared in a recent dream. It’ll be worked into a story, no doubt, and describes an ancient burial ground in the side of a huge mountain, possibly the Himalayas.
The Winter Solstice is upon us again and yesterday’s Montol celebration in Penzance was overflowing with wonderful weirdness. We walked up Chapel Street to the sound of the darkest Samba drumming I’ve ever heard and were face to face with fire dancers. I laughed at the complete failure of the powers that be who have done their damnedest to sanitise this festival and purge it of any Pagan elements – the crowd were wearing antlers, goat horns, fox masks, ivy. Best of all was the massive female energy of the dancers and much of the audience. It was incredibly powerful, emotional and positive. Once again I don’t recollect seeing any children sacrificed during the proceedings.
A Fairy Ring is finished now, I think – or, rather, it’s in a place where I can’t add any more to it; it’s been emotionally gruelling to write. I hope it will be similar to read. I’m about to send it to Andy Martin, who as editor has the final say as to whether he includes it in the anthology.
In a statement of the blindingly obvious – but it must be said due to a recent incident where someone chose to use a photograph of mine on their blog without crediting it to me or even bothering to ask if it was okay to do so – please assume that ALL photographs are taken by myself unless credited otherwise and are NOT available to use without permission. Drop me an email if you want to use something and as long as it’s credited to me and your site isn’t objectionable, then I’m very likely to say ‘yes’. Had this person done so, all would have been well. As it was, he refused to either apologise or take any responsibility, instead stating it was my own fault that he stole a photograph because I hadn’t expressly credited it as my own work. It should also go without saying that any written material cannot be used without permission but sadly I need to make this clear. I had hoped never to have to write this kind of thing – having credited anyone who reads blog this with the intelligence to have worked all this out for themselves. Such is the world we live in.