Twenty-three and a half degrees

Photo: Julie Travis

Photo: Julie Travis

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.

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Low Winter sun

Castlerigg Plaque

As 2014ce edges towards a close, it seems a good time to do a bit of an update on various writings and projects:

New Zealand based fantasy writer Lynne Jamneck is editing a collection of Lovecraftian stories written by women, to be published as Dreams From The Witch House by Dark Regions Press in 2015, with a clear emphasis on diversity as regards sexual orientation and ethnicity of the authors. This is the kind of thing I really want to be involved in, so I sent her The Man Who Builds The Ruins – probably the closest to ‘Lovecraftian’ writing I’ve done. This weekend I heard that the story passed the first reading round. Still a long way to go, I know, and a couple/few months of awaiting news, but I’m much cheered by this, and reading a bit about Jamneck, who has a huge interest in science and magick/the occult, has made me even more keen to be involved. Writing is solitary – which is partly why it suits me so much – but the isolation, the sense of operating in a complete vacuum, can become overwhelming at times. One shouldn’t write/create to please others, and I don’t, but if someone else is sympathetic or gets what I’m doing, it’s a huge bonus.

The running order for my short story collection in Storylandia #15 has now been set. Coincidentally (or not), the order I put them in turned out to be alphabetical, and also the same as editor Ginger Mayerson had listed them. At her request, I sent her some photographs I took many years ago, and it is quite possible that one of them will be used for the journal’s cover. If so, it’ll be the first photography I’ve had published since some shots (from Highgate Cemetery and a Swiss forest) appeared in Night Mail art fanzine in the early 1990s.

More stories are on the way: In Holes And Corners needs some more adjustments, more in the way of place names than anything else. The story is set in Camborne but I may invent a town name, one that’s a little more lyrical. Pig Iron has now been (very sketchily) sketched out and is progressing well and I have notes on two more stories to work on next year, which don’t have working titles yet, but both ideas are promising. Completion, a story began earlier this year, is on the back burner for now, until the way forward with it becomes more apparent. Ironically, it may never be completed!

Meanwhile, I look forward to the Montol celebration in Penzance on the Winter Solstice. As one of the masked participants gleefully said last year, “All the oddballs come out for this one.” I need to connect, even at a distance, with the more strange elements of the area. It’s reassuring.

Death is the beginning of something

Brentor Church Sign

The Ferocious Night: In January of 2011, I was walking on the beach at Marazion in West Cornwall and came across the body of a decapitated seal pup. After I’d got over the initial gruesomeness of the find, I was interested to see how, in death, the body appeared to be transforming into something else entirely. It was a strange time: two friends were diagnosed with cancer. Death seemed to be hovering nearby. I listened to Coil’s Horse Rotorvator album and paid particular attention to the track The Golden Section. How would a person approach Death? And how would Death approach a person? A local procession band – the Montol or Turkey Rhubarb Band – would appear at Penzance’s Winter Solstice celebration, dressed in black rags and masks, playing a dirge of a tune. They were perfect for the story and so were included (although, sadly, their musicianship has improved since I first saw them – it takes the edge off their performance). The story was originally called The Moth And The Flame, but The Ferocious Night seemed more suitable. After all, I don’t believe that Death is a passive Nothingness. And we don’t all die quietly.

The two stories published in Storylandia both begin with a question. These are (probably) the only stories I’ve ever begun in this way, and as far as I’m aware it’s purely coincidental (if such a thing exists) that this has occurred; the JT issue due for publication next year should have four or five new stories/novellas in it and none of them begin in this way. Perhaps I should edit them so that they do!

 

The Ferocious Night is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Molly Marie Haynes (1940 – 2013).

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

Balance: Penzance’s Winter Solstice festival

Penglaz in all her glory. Photo: http://www.cornishwitchcraft.co.uk

This from the Montol 2011 website:

“This Winter Solstice event is 5 years old and involves the revival of recorded traditions in Cornwall but in particular, West Penwith. It originated as an idea to have an event in PZ to ‘balance’ with the Midsummer’s Golowan Festival.

Reflecting the ‘death’ and ‘rebirth’ of the sun, Rivers of Fire are created, lantern-lit processions from different areas of the town, meeting at the highest point, Lescudjack Hillfort, an ancient fortress site. Here, the community gathers to watch The Lord of Misrule light the beacon, fireplay, dancing, drumming and the magical, mischievous Turkey Rhubarb Band. The site is lit by natural light from numerous lanterns and torches, crafted in the previous week at community workshops.

All return to Chapel Street in one ‘River of Fire’ where the guising, music, acrobatics, singing and mayhem begins, masked and dressed in tattered or ‘mock posh’ attire, as recorded in the history books. Later, another band-led torch lit procession begins from the top of Chapel Street, leading to a lower beacon behind the Barbican for community dancing, music and the Chalking of the Mock ceremony.

Visually spectacular, you will not be sorry if you pay a visit to Penzance on this mid winter night. Make a mask, dress up (or down!) and come along!

Montol 2011 Schedule of Events
(as at 14/11/11)

Friday 9th December, 8pm

Montol Fund Raising Ceilidh at the Magpies Football Club. Penzance. Callers and folk group ‘Smash The Window’.  Entry £5

Thursday 15th December. From 7.30pm.

Guising Tour of a Mummer’s Play around the pubs of Penzance.

Saturday 17th December. 10am to 4pm.

Exchange Gallery Penzance. Community Lantern/Mask Making Workshops. FREE!

Sunday 18th December. 7.30pm

St Mary’s Church Penzance. Montol Carol Concert. A rare chance to sing these Cornish Carols and watch a Cornish Candle Dance.

Tuesday 20th December from 8.30pm.

The Pirate Inn. Alverton. Another chance to watch the Guise Mummer’s Play during our regular Folk Night.

Wednesday 21st December. Montol Eve.

6pm.

Rivers of Fire Lantern Procession leaves St John’s Hall Penzance. Other ‘Rivers’ from various areas around the town.

6.30pm.

Lescudjack Hillfort Performance including the Lighting of the Beacon by the Lord of Misrule, fire-play, drumming, dancing and the Turkey Rhubarb Guise Band. Procession returns to Chapel Street.

8pm to 10pm.

Chapel Street Party. Guising, music, plays, fire/circus acts, Cornish dance and festive food stalls.

10pm.

Torchlit Procession led by the Turkey Rhubarb Guise Band from New Street to the car park between PZ Gallery and the Barbican. There, another Beacon will be lit, the ‘Mock’ will be ‘Chalked’ and more dancing will commence!!”

As yet there seems to be no attempt to further ‘de-Pagan’ the event. Last year the local press was full of outrage and horror and two of the people involved in the event – who happened to be witches – were treated abysmally and not allowed to participate. As a result it all felt a bit flat, although the Pagan elements were still very much in evidence. Cast a spell to encourage a bit more open mindedness and respect!