She calls to the king of fishes

Lindisfarne by T Knight

Lindisfarne by T Knight

To begin, a distinctly Lovecraftian dream from a few weeks ago that I can’t forget, even though I can only remember it in flashes: set at night in a large room with a bay window in a grand house, the gentleman sitting opposite me – white, well-groomed hair, big sideburns, 19th Century dress – widens his eyes and says in a sinister voice, “Dark forces!”. Whether he has conjured something up himself or is warning me, I can’t tell, but there is a terrifying but unseen Thing in the room.

As you can see, just a section remains, and this might be for the best. I certainly woke up – not sitting up, in a sweat, like they do in films – too afraid to move. Given its style and setting I can’t even use this one in a story. However, Widdershins is making decent progress. Over 3,000 words in, which is good going, bearing in mind I began with virtually nothing other than a saying of my partner’s, which she uses when she’s busy but which has always made me shiver slightly: I’ll meet myself coming back in a minute. The story, as the title would suggest, involves the supernatural and folklore. I’ve just finished reading Goose of Hermogenes by Ithell Colquhoun, artist, writer, occultist (with thanks to Matthew Shaw for pointing me in her direction and providing the music, via Fougou’s Further From The Centre of Disturbance, that has accompanied much of the writing and note-making so far) and no doubt the surreal, dream-like nature of the novel will influence the story in some way, even though Widdershins bears no relation to the book. And perhaps this is all an escape from a life that right now is more about dire poverty, illness and bereavement than the things that I would prefer to connect with. Saying that, I don’t intend the story to be either escapist or irrelevant.

The picture above is one of the few available from my trip around the north of England; due to two cameras becoming faulty simultaneously, I found that instead of having a detailed document of the trip, I have two reels of blank negatives and a digital camera that’s now completely useless. The 35mm SLR may be fixable but that just isn’t an option at this point in time. All I have is one shot of Jhonn Balance’s memorial; the close-ups I took of the plaque, the shots around the woodland and by Bassenthwaite Lake, the magical island of Lindisfarne – all have been lost.

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At the beginning good fortune, at the end disorder

I recently saw the galley proofs of Storylandia issue 7, (and a sample of the issue is now available from the website) so all appears to be on schedule as far as publication goes (which may still be up to two months away). I’ve been very impressed with the professionalism of the magazine and am really looking forward to getting hold of a copy. As the autumn storms rage here in Mount’s Bay, early but no less fierce for it, I’ve been tidying up Theophany/Darkworlds Part Two. For a 14,300 odd word opus that practically fell out of my head and onto the page, it’s appearing to need a lot of tidying up but remarkably little rewriting. Thanks are due to Peter Tennant, writer and Black Static reviewer/columnist, who publicly encouraged me to write a sequel to the original Darkworlds. Ten years down the line, living a very different life to when the original was penned, it’s been amazingly easy to get close to the same headspace, although I think my change in environment and “born-again Paganism” (to quote a wise man) is clear in the second instalment (which is possible to read without having to be familiar with the original, I think) I’m at a bit of a loss as to where to send it: I’m not arrogant enough to assume Pigasus Press (who published the original in their Premonitions: Causes For Alarm anthology) would be interested, if they’re even still publishing new work. However, that’s a minor concern. The work is what really matters. With Pieces awaiting consideration for another anthology and The Ferocious Night hopefully appearing towards the end of September, the question is: what next? Perhaps a re-write of a very old story called Angel Wing, which I had a read through recently. The general story is good enough although it needs some work, but it was the last paragraph that made me sit up and want to see the piece realise its full potential.

Three pieces of music(k) have been accompanying my every written word and nearly my every move over the last months: King Creosote/Jon Hopkins’ John Taylor’s Month Away (a melancholic Scottish folk song), Fougou’s Further From The Centre of Disturbance (a very dark, otherworldly, ambient album somewhat reminiscent of Lustmord and Coil, very emotional in places, in a beautiful art package with the field recordings made at sacred sites in West Cornwall) and Cyclobe’s Wounded Galaxies Tap At The Window (more dark ambience; Cyclobe’s claim to be drawing water from the same well as Coil is well justified).

From inside the beehive hut

Inside looking out, Carn Euny

Two days ago I revisited Carn Euny iron age village near Sancreed and managed to spend some time completely alone in the fogou. We (T and I, in celebration of T’s birthday) had approached the ancient village via the old trackway from the bottom of Chapel Carn Brea, around the bottom of Bartinney Hill, between the two Holy Wells and past the dell that has its own strong energy – all sacred sites; as T said it felt like a pilgrimage – to find the village almost deserted (rare, as it is reasonably easy to access from a nearby layby). When we had the place to ourselves I made my way through the fogou entrance and into the older beehive hut. It is a strange place indeed. There are spiders’ webs over various stones but arachnophobia never rears its head. It has a hole at its centre, like a chimney (now grated) so is open to the outside world but is nevertheless absolutely silent. An other-world. The most peaceful place I have been (on the British mainland at least). There is much argument about what purpose fogous served. Possibly storage and hiding places, but a visit to one will leave you in no doubt that they also had ritual purposes. The energy at Carn Euny is undeniable and I will use the experience in future writing.

A little after we arrived home there was the sound of horns blowing: outside was the May Horns procession, five days late from its traditional Beltane date, but still a welcome sight. Amongst the Green Men and Women danced a huge Crow, a recent addition to the procession. It reminded me why I stay here and, along with experiences like the one at Carn Euny, is more than consolation for missing the odd cultural event in the big smoke.

I have just finished doing another read-through of The Ferocious Night for the Penzance Literary Festival. The theme this year is ‘journeys’ and TFN is about Death, the biggest journey of all, so seems even more appropriate now. I had an idea of looking as conservative as possible for the event, so as to appear almost at odds with the subject matter but I’m incapable of looking straight (in any sense of the word), so will go the other way – the brightest, flame red coloured hair and perhaps (it taking place in July) a vest top that will show off my tattoos. But the hope is that the writing will attract more attention that however I look on the day.

Finally, Fougou (Matthew Shaw and Brian Lavelle) have a new album out, titled Further From The Centre of Disturbance. The initial copies come beautifully packaged and the track I’ve heard sounds fantastic, as dark and wonderful as its name would suggest.

Time is a physical property

Old Town Churchyard, Isles of Scilly

Ellen Datlow, editor of the Best Horror of the Year anthologies, has expressed quite some frustration regarding all the stories she doesn’t get to see. This suprised me somewhat, as I assumed all magazine editors would send her every copy of their publications; stories that get picked or shortlisted must be as good for editors as it is for authors. She does encourage writers to nag editors of magazine’s they’ve appeared in. This makes sense, but grates against my British reserve and enforced modesty. I did contact an editor late last year to ask if they sent their magazine to Datlow, but all I got back was a confused reply. It was as if it had never occurred to them to do so. Something else that I’ve noticed is that, despite being fairly prolific last year, not one of the publications I appeared in seems to have been reviewed anywhere. Kzine got a couple of reviews on Amazon, but the sf/speculative fiction press appears to have ignored it. I’m well out of the loop on this, being so far from a city and having no access to the kind of bookshops that would stock the small press, so I might have missed them, but there’s no links on any of the magazines’ websites to reviews, good or bad. Not that reviews are the be all and end all, it just feels as if many magazines are operating in a void.

I’m working quite obsessively now on Darkworlds pt. 2. Some of the characters from the original story are appearing. It feels as if it’s not really down to me. Like the first part, it’s almost writing itself and I’m just trying to keep up. Unlike the first part, I think the story will be less cynical, less harsh, some (essential) horror interwoven into the dark fantasy. I’m in a different place both geographically and spiritually to where part 1 was written (east London) although it’s necessary for the story to remain based in London. While Horse Rotorvator, Lustmord’s The Monstrous Soul and, as I recall, a bit of Kate Bush  provided the backdrop to the Darkworlds that was began nearly exactly ten years ago, the soundtrack to the writing of this part is almost exclusively down to two albums; Matthew Shaw’s Lanreath and Coil’s The Ape of Naples, which inevitably has a slightly incomplete feel to it but is acutely moving, even – perhaps especially – after all this Time.

A bird or a shooting star*

A chest infection has prevented me from doing more or less anything (apart from watching the Montol procession, a hearteningly strange event) for around a month, including no more than a few lines of writing. However, the chance of a week’s recuperation on Dartmoor and illness finally loosening its grip has pushed me to type up a new draft of my latest short story, Pieces. It’s now in a fit state to take away and do further work on. There’s plenty still to do before I’ll let anyone see it; the ending, for instance, has the right words but they’re not necessarily in the right order. It’s quite clunky in places but the meaning is there and it’ll flow in time. It’s nice to write about more unconventional characters than I have for a while, too. Not that many of the people I create are ‘normal’ (whatever that is) but I’m mindful of Sarah Waters’ advice and am happy to have a tattooed lesbian couple in the centre of the tale. They’re right for the story, too which of course is the most important thing.

I haven’t been entirely out of the loop, though – thanks to the Acorn Arts Centre in Penzance, I now have a couple of notices on the Dance and Theatre Cornwall website advertising for an actress to do the reading at the Penzance Literary Festival. I’ve also been assured by event organiser Rosanne Rabinowitz that part of a story will be acceptable. Therefore I’m considering Cross Bound for the event, as I ideally want to do a fairly recently written piece that’s been published. And a review of Kzine on Amazon.com describes my contribution (Blue) as “a dark piece of surreal fiction, the kind of thing Thomas Ligotti would write if he was pretending to be David Lynch for the day”. I’m not as familiar with Ligotti’s work as perhaps I should be (I remember reading some of his work many years ago) and this is not my first comparison with him, but he’s undoubtedly a writer with a nicely twisted view of the world, so this is a great compliment. David Lynch, of course, will be known to anyone who might read this blog. It goes without saying that I’m pleased with the review although it’s perfectly possible that the comparisons were not actually meant as a compliment!

And I’ve discovered, via Spectral Press, that congratulations are due to dark fiction writer Alison J Littlewood, whose first novel has been picked for Richard and Judy’s Book Club. Never mind the inanity of R&J, the exposure for her and for some decent dark fiction will be amazing.

I’ve finally been able to listen to Matthew Shaw’s Lanreath album. It’s a good ambient piece, a little lighter than most of the ambient pieces I have – it doesn’t have the sinister quality of the likes of Coil and Nurse With Wound, but playing it had a quite amazing effect. It took me to Duloe stone circle (where some of it was recorded); I had an insect’s view of the stones, from way down in the grass. I also ‘saw’ the fogou at Carn Euny. I think I’d call it life-affirming. As opposed to Coil, who were life-after-death-affirming. Both have their place. I would love to hear it performed at a sacred site. But why choose Lanreath? There’s nothing on the cd cover or the website to say why. The village’s own website mentions local hauntings, but isn’t everywhere haunted by something? He doesn’t give much away and it would be interesting to know of his spiritual beliefs, if any. Perhaps that’s something I’ll question him on at some point.

*from Daughters of Fire by Barbara Erskine

A frozen waterfall

Brentor graveyard

A week on Dartmoor has proved restful and inspiring in equal measure. The first draft of Pieces is now finished. And it’s going to be a two-parter. Most of my stories end in a certain place and there’s no need to return, but Pieces has turned out to be different, (Darkworlds will eventually have at least another part to it, but that has only become necessary long after the story was written). It started as a simple horror story but has become far more complex, although it still has the gruesome elements I began with. And the setting is back in London and the tattoo/piercing/body modification counter-culture that still exists despite the current fashion for meaningless tattoos.

Merrivale stone rows

Most inspiring in my week away was being in close proximity to Brentor and my first visit to Wistman’s Wood. Brentor is on the major ley line that appears near Land’s End and cuts through much of Southern Britain and Wistman’s Wood is a bizarre area of gnarled, skinny oak trees surrounded by moss covered boulders. It sounds like the kind of place that could be quite frightening, and it has legends of Hell hounds bounding around it at night, but I found it beautiful and peaceful. Brentor pushed my energy levels up, as it, and other places like it always do and hopefully this will all be reflected in the story. Dowser Hamish Miller got me interested in Brentor and I thought of him as T and I walked around the church. The lava tor sits on the far Western edge of Dartmoor and we could see back into Cornwall and out across Dartmoor on the clear, cold morning. Earthworks in the fields below are also visible from the top. I don’t know how old they are or what their purpose was, but the spirit of the place is almost touchable.

Wistman's Wood. Photo: Teresa Knight

Now home, I’m continuing to look for a female actor to do a reading for me; Rosanne Rabinowitz is possibly organising an event for the 2012 Penzance Literary Festival on the subject of women and weird/speculative fiction and has asked if I want to be involved. It’s a great idea and I’m excited about it, but I know that me reading one of my stories would not work. When Katy Darby (of Eine Kleine Theatre) read Perpetual Motion at the Poetry Café in London, it really showed the story at its best, so I’m emailing local drama groups and companies in the hope that someone will go for it.

Music: I’ve been hearing some excellent modern dark ambient/experimental music, namely Matthew Shaw, Fougou and Susan Matthews. Shaw’s latest cd, Lanreath, was recorded in the Cornish village of the same name, which is close to Duloe stone circle. It brings on the right frame of mind for writing.