Author Archives: Nimue Brown

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings.

Away with the Druids

I’m not really here. Posts this week were set up a while ago, in a fit of being organised. I am in a field in the Forest of Dean, doing Druid stuff, and next week will no doubt have a veritable ton of things to reflect upon and enough inspiration to keep me blogging for weeks.

In the meantime, here is a flier. It’s not a really real Druid camp flier, even if it is on the website, because in no sane reality would I be the headline at an event like this. It was very kindly made, I think because I’d said that one day, I hope to reach a point in my life and work where I’ve done enough to be worth someone putting on a flier. To be thought warmly of by a friend, and honoured in this way is no small thing, and it was a humbling sort of experience to see this.

In reality, I will be helping out with bits and pieces as needed and generally trying to make myself useful. Just once in a while though, it is nice to be able to pretend, and the fragile ego and hunger for recognition are just things that I have to learn to work with.


Desiring Dragons, author stories

It would be fair to say that this is all a bit complicated. I love Kevan Manwaring’s work – I discovered him about the time Windsmith came out, and have picked up his fiction and non-fiction titles ever since. His wide ranging writing, interest in folklore, mythology, storytelling and the eco-bardic vision he expresses are things that I have enthused about before.

The tragedy is that we just rub each other up the wrong way in person. Finding, after years of adoring his work, that we just tend to push each other’s buttons when in the same space, was tragic. These things happen, and sometimes the only choices are to compromise who you are, or step away. It’s not something I’ve talked about publically much.

Then the opportunity came along to review Kevan’s latest book – Desiring Dragons, for Pagan Dawn. I’ve also put some perspectives on the writing side on the JHP blog, but saved the more personal thoughts for here. I still love the writing, the passion and insight, the willingness to push the edges and resist the conforming pressures of the market. Desiring Dragons is a good book. I think it’s his strongest non-fiction to date. It’s not a ‘how to’ – but a reflection on what fantasy is and could be, an exploration of the writing process, and a lot of good sense and insight about the industry. There’s a lot of good stuff, and a lot about Tolkien, for those of you who get excited about that sort of thing!

It’ all too easy to read a person’s words and think we know them. It’s very easy as a writer to sound other than we are, or to have a writer identity that just plain isn’t how we come over in person. There need be no dubious intent to result in the written self being different from the actual self. Of the two of us, I’m probably the one with the more deliberately constructed author voice. Actually, author voices. It depends on what I’m writing.  In person, I can be awkward – especially if I’m not feeling too confident or my body is sore. My body language can be odd, and I’ve had more than one difficult conversation with people about how I handle physical contact. The writer self is not always the actual self. I don’t think I’m as evil in person as I am on the page, for a start.

Then there’s the issue of what we bring with us when we read someone else’s work. All the baggage and emotion, the expectation, and how we plug our own stories and beliefs into the gaps the author leaves. We can read each other, and construct each other like characters in a story, and sometimes that goes wrong. Many authors are not very glamorous in person – quiet introverts who don’t want to socialise with strangers. Kevan has a very strong story telling persona, but that’s not ‘the real him’ either. I suspect that some of us don’t have a single, coherent ‘real me’ anyway, and those of us who spend our working lives imagining and pretending to be other people can be especially tricksy, Many performers are not the same people offstage and I’ve heard the same said about some politicians when out of the public gaze.

How authentic is my writing voice as an expression of self? It might be more open and honest than what you get in person. The pace of writing and the ease of not having to see your eyes when I share can make it easier. I don’t really know how the writer self and the in person self compare. I suppose none of us ever do get to know how we seem to others, in our various hats, masks, identities and selves.

 


Beyond the fields we know

Most life happens at the edges, most growth is at the margins. They are often fertile places where the interplay between different environments creates maximum possibility. Something similar happens in the inner landscapes when we move to the edges.

There are three different things at work here, and they are all equally essential. The comfort zone, the unknown and the boundary. Having space – physical and psychological – where we feel safe and relaxed, is essential. I’ve tried doing this the other way, (not deliberately, it’s just what I got) and it turns life into a perpetual, exhausting battle ground. Without much of a comfort zone, there is no rest, nor peace, and if everything is allowed to become a bit other, a bit threatening and untrustworthy it’s a form of insanity as likely to paralyse a person as anything else. These are all things we learn how to construct, but might not notice ourselves making. The comfort zone, the otherness and the borders are largely of our own devising.

The author Lord Dunsany used the refrain ‘beyond the fields we know’ to allude to Faerie. I find it a very helpful thought form.  The fields we know are familiar, close to home, part of our landscape. Things can happen there that are interesting and engaging, but they fall within a predictable framework. Beyond the fields we know, all bets are off. Nothing can be relied on to function in the same way. For Dunsany, the border between the two is shifting and unpredictable as well, and that’s an important point. Where we feel familiar, and comfortable, where we feel uneasy and exposed can change and it’s not always obvious why. Our own borders and edges shift, sometimes they are easily crossed, sometimes painfully difficult.

As a walker, I have learned the enchantment of going beyond the fields we know. Even a short detour on an unfamiliar track brings a sense of magical potential. To see a familiar landmark from an unfamiliar angle is to see it anew. Going into the unknown, we can look back and get a whole other perspective on the things we thought we knew.

Going too far into the unknown, without maps or references, can result in an overwhelming, overload of experience that we can’t always make much sense of. Too much of the unfamiliar at once can be hard to take. At the point where we are lost, confused and exhausted, the adventure sours into something miserable. We have to cross back over into the place we understand. And here’s another lesson from Dunsany, because if you start out in Faerie, with that as your comfort zone, then the fields you know are other fields entirely, and Faerie becomes the safe space to retreat back to. It is not the landscape that is inherently strange or mundane, it is our experience that makes it so. In several Dunsany tales, otherworldly things return to their otherworldly places because this world is just too much for them. We who live here all the time do not notice the things that might make it wonderful to someone else.


Lessons from walking

One of the big issues around social interaction, for me, has always been how much compromise is required in order to fit. How much of me will it be necessary to hide? How much will I have to tolerate that I find difficult, uncomfortable, even painful? How much humiliation will I have to endure? How is the trade off going to work here and what’s the cost going to be, and can I sustain it?

As illustration, I love walking and there have along the way been opportunities to walk with various people. However, there are a few things that make me a less than perfect walker – poor depth perception and lack of physical confidence mean I struggle on rough terrain. Some days I am stiff and achy such that walking is hard work. Other people are a lot fitter than me. So in some situations, walking with people has required me to hide what I was struggling with, face terrain I found alarming, hold paces I found uncomfortable and endure being humiliated over anything I found difficult. Forever embarrassed, struggling to keep up and not even feeling it was ok to name the problem for fear of further ridicule, or outright rejection. If you won’t compromise to fit in, they might not take you with them.

Then there are the other walking experiences, with people who are happy to take things gently, and if I struggle, offer help. That’s a whole other world, and one I did not grasp even existed until these last few years. That it is possible to find people who like having me around such that some compromise can flow the other way, is a revelation. If I struggle, the pace can drop to help me manage. My shortcomings cease to be a source of embarrassment. Rather than feeling like a barely tolerated extra, I get to feel like part of the tribe.

From as far back as I can remember, my impression was that in all situations I would have to obfuscate my inadequacies and try very hard in order to fit. I would have to quietly accept whatever was asked of me, or done to me, while trying not to ask for anything or cause anyone else any discomfort whatsoever. I never had any sense that there was a place that belonged to me, just that with enough effort, it might be possible to be tolerated. It’s a belief that has coloured all of my relationships and left me vulnerable. With that belief set, it has been very easy to be at the mercy of people who were less than kind, while feeling grateful that they bothered with me at all.

There are plenty of people for whom I am not good enough. I get to hear about it, when I seem too… difficult. Inconvenient. Attention seeking drama queen, melodramatic, unreasonable, demanding… I’ve had plenty of that along the way. I’ve come to the simple conclusion that this is fine – other people are entitled to feel that way, and anyone who dislikes how I am is not obliged to interact with me. (I wonder what it says about the ones who dislike and yet want me to stay around?) I don’t need everyone to like me. So long as there are people to walk with who do not mind my downhill pace on uneven paths, I do not have to walk with people who find me too difficult.


Climate Change

The last two nights have brought two thunderstorms on an epic scale. Today the amount of water falling from the sky caused localised flooding. Some paths were impassable. Just a freak weather event. A one off. No big deal. Like all the other freak weather events this year. And last year. And the year before. I’m not taking detailed measurements, but in the last few years I’ve seen my coldest winter ever, several contenders for wettest winter ever, more frequent storms than ever, more high winds, and we’ve had some stinkingly hot days too.

Climate change seems bloody obvious to me. And yet there are people in positions of power who are adamant that this is just normal climate variation and we can all carry on as usual. Business as usual, to be precise, in which we should all carry on increasing the amount we consume so that profits can be made. Never mind that the planet cannot conceivably support our greed. Never mind the flooded path, or the lightning. Buy another thing and forget about all the rest of it.

Why aren’t we angry?

Why aren’t we worried enough about the future to be demanding radical change?

Why aren’t we conscious enough of what’s going on to be trying to make all the differences we can in our own lives? Yes, I know some people are, and that heroic efforts to protest and transition are under way, but for most people, business as usual seems to be where its at.

Why?

Do we imagine our voices wouldn’t count or that our actions don’t contribute? Do we imagine it doesn’t matter? Or are we in fact doing our damndest to avoid imagining anything in favour of that sinister ‘keep calm and carry on’ meme?

All it takes to change the world is everyone individually deciding to do things in a different way. It’s not difficult, really. If we all got up tomorrow and started doing our level best to live more sustainable lifestyles and help other people do the same… we’d have most of this licked by the end of the week and be well on the way to world peace, as well.

All the big issues are made out of small actions, tiny details, single people doing or not doing things, multiplied by millions and by billions. Individual people. So, regardless of whether anyone else is playing, undertake to change the world. Do it. Make a change. Speak up more. Be more sustainable. We have nothing to lose for trying, and everything to lose by not stepping up.


End of days

We are all of course only heading in one direction, and as Jim Morrison put it ‘no one here gets out alive’. However, there’s a lot of difference between that less immediate sense of mortality, and dealing with a much more imminent prospect.

There comes a point when people and creatures alike either realise they have run out of options, or just lose the will to keep going. People who have had enough and have little to live for often do not continue long. Animals are more obvious about it, going off to some quiet, dark corner where they can get on with the business of leaving, uninterrupted.

It’s a tough one for those who will stay. The desire to keep a loved one with us does not always make for good choices. With pets and people alike, we can fight to extend life without much consideration of what that life is worth to the one who must continue. We can force life to continue even when really everything that made a person is gone. Leading to complex decisions about what really constitutes death and when to turn off the machines and let go.

“Saving lives” sounds all very noble and heroic, but sometimes those lives do not want to be saved. This is not terribly visible in our human populations, because we tidy our elderly, fragile and infirm people up and hide them in care homes and hospitals. I remember visiting my Nan in her last years. A place full of lost, unsmiling people and the background noise of television to drown out the absence of human interactions. Life at any cost is perhaps not worth having.

All this is on my mind because a few feet away from where I type this, an elderly cat is winding down. He’s in no obvious discomfort, but his body isn’t working very well and he can’t do much. He still purrs when stroked – and that strikes me as being very important. He grooms a bit when he can, and likes when this is done for him. He’s still eating a bit. Every day there’s a process of checking with him, to see how he’s doing, and if it’s getting too much. I’ve watched animals dying before, and watched people unable to take the decision for them. I think there comes a point when you can see it in their eyes, when there is too much pain and not enough to live for. We aren’t there yet.

The cat in question could continue, comfortable enough but rather limited, for months to come. Or he could slip away quietly – and I would wish that for him because I think that’s the best sort of death. To go gently in a familiar place, without anxiety or distress would be ideal. I do not relish the idea of taking him to an unfamiliar place and the company of strangers, to die frightened. I feel much the same about people. For myself, I would rather a shorter life, and a death on my own terms, than to be extended indefinitely by medical procedures. Like the cat, I think I could be happy enough with small things for a while if winding down at my own speed, and I suppose I will not know until I get there, at exactly what point I would decide to quit.


Druid cover: Contains trees

I love the process of getting a cover on a book. I know it’s something authors generally get excited about, but being married to a brilliant artist makes the whole thing so much more fun. I’m not a very visual person, but I figured out years ago that the answer to covers is not to be too prescriptive. I’ve spent time at the publisher end of the book industry and a surprising number of authors are very clear about what they want whilst having no clue that it won’t work. I figure, your cover artist is the art expert, and also the expert on what works. Book covers these days have to also be viable as tiny thumbnail images online, as well as working on paper versions – its’ tricky

I’m lucky in that I can sit down and have a conversation about the kind of thing I might want, and whether that would work. I have learned to keep it vague. It helps to talk about mood, and to pick one or two key features for the artist to focus on. Then, if you trust your artist (and I trust mine utterly) its often a better bet to just sit back and let them do their thing, playing to their strengths to give you the very best they’ve got.

On this one, I wanted a sense of shrine, or altar as being a way of conveying the notion of prayer. We poured over images of Celtic deity figures online, and then Tom imagined me this strange and lovely figure, inspired by existing figures, but not anything already out there. As I’m a Druid, I pretty much have to have some kind of plant or tree imagery in the mix (it’s almost a law!). We went out looking for one, because that’s worked before (The tree on Druidry and the Ancestors is near where we used to live on the canal). What you can see on this cover, is a hawthorn perched on the side of a common – it’s not a precise take of a real tree, in its exact situation – mostly because the angles on those slopes aren’t quite suitable, but it is very much a gist of how things are on the hills round here. The grass is briefly lush, but in summer becomes a golden yellow, like a sheen of fuzzy hair that stays into the winter. The hills themselves have been quarried over long time frames, which contributes to the shape.

So this cover is very much an invocation of place. There isn’t an actual shrine around here like this one, but as there have been people living here for as long as there have been people… I like to think there was something.

 

When a Pagan Prays;

  • eBook £6.99 || $9.99
  • Jul 25, 2014. 978-1-78279-632-9.
  • BUY | AMAZON US | AMAZON UK
  • Paperback £11.99 || $19.95
  • Jul 25, 2014. 978-1-78279-633-6.
  • BUY | AMAZON US | AMAZON UK

Love

It may have a lot to do with the shortcomings of the English language, but love remains an unspeakably tricky subject to talk about, in fiction and non-fiction alike. Sex is fairly easy to write about, because there’s plenty of describable stuff going on there – your main risk is that it will get dull. Sex described on a page can be startlingly un-erotic. The emotional side is a lot more awkward. Rare is the occasion when you can get away with ‘and then they fell in love with each other and that was all good’. Where love features in fiction, you end up trying to convey what it’s like, and here commences the problem.

Pretty much the only way to talk about love, is to talk about what it’s like. There’s very little direct language available for that heady rush of sentiment and the cocktail of chemicals underpinning it. In non-fiction you can talk about oxytocin, endorphins, bonding processes and other sensible sounding things. Readers of romance tend not to be impressed by this, not that I write romance very often…  So we talk about what love is like, borrowing the language of any activity that makes sense to us. “Your passion’s the furnace, her body’s the coal, and love is the steel to be tempered and pressed,” is a favourite of mine, from an Archie Fisher song. Mostly we talk about love only by talking about something else entirely. When talk about divine love depends on reference to human sexual love, that can all get decidedly weird…

With the non-fiction hat on, it’s possible to talk about what love does – how it affects our choices, interacts with compassion, inspiration and ethics. With this approach we don’t talk about love as an experience, but we may think about what it means in terms of what we do.

Poetry can get interesting, not least because it invites certain assumptions. A poem about love always looks like a poem about a person you are in love with, not an expression of the experience. I’ve had a few rounds of people assuming I’d written things about Tom that are much more about me. It is all too easy to mistake the inspiration of love for the experience of love. Whatever is inspired within me, is mine, and I have learned not to lay that on other people too much. At the same time, without someone inspiring me, certain kinds of inspiration do not happen at all. Inspiration and love run close together for me, and on the whole inspiration is much easier to talk about.

Our capacity for love underpins our capacity for co-operation, which in turn makes much of what we do possible. It’s allegedly an almost universal experience, and yet we have no easy way of talking about it.


A sense of perspective

We spent yesterday in Slimbridge – somewhere we lived for several years. Going back into that landscape brought a rush of all the emotions associated with living there – the fear and anxiety, the pressure we were under, the hideous uncertainties. Those were tough times. I was surprised by how bodily my response was and how it was a response simply to location. We aren’t there any more, in any sense, but the perspective that creates is decidedly interesting.

I can’t say this last year has been easy, either. There’s been much to do, some demanding challenges, steep learning curves, vast amounts of work. There have been scary bits, too, but that’s worked out for the greater part. Much of this stems from being more in demand, having more to do, and playing at a higher level than we were.

Success creates challenges and pressures, but they are nothing compared to the challenges of failure. Working hard to get a job done is a whole other game from working hard to try and stretch a small amount of money far enough. The anxieties around house buying are nothing compared to the anxieties caused by fearing homelessness. (The Canal and River Trust routinely threaten liveaboard boaters with homelessness. Apparently they can square this with being a charity.) The stresses of deadlines and a packed schedule are as nothing compared to the stresses of not being able to see how you’re going to make it all work. We fought our way out of the one and into the other.

One of the things the ‘hard working’ can easily be persuaded to feel about the ‘scroungers’ (to borrow the divisive language of politics) is that to be unemployed is an easy life, just dossing around with everything paid for.  Much of the benefits money in the UK actually goes to working people who just aren’t earning enough to live on. The minimum wage is not a living wage, and part time jobs won’t reliably keep a roof over your head. When you don’t have much money, and have to think about every penny, thing are stressful.

If a sudden request for funding a school trip could compromise your food budget, or means you can’t replace worn out shoes yet… the jugging is intense and unending. What can we cut back on? What can we do without? And so you end up with one in five mothers skipping meals to feed their children. As the government sets up ever more bizarre and pointless hoops for the unemployed and ill to try and jump through, the pressures of poverty become dire.

We were in some ways, just plain lucky. We have privileges on our side – skills and education that enables us to get some brilliant opportunities. I had the time and space to get depression and anxiety under control so that I can work, rather than sinking entirely as so many other people do.  We never stopped believing it was possible (sometimes by dint of taking it in turns), where many people are defeated. It is possible, but that’s a hard thing to hang onto. Once we no longer had to pay solicitors on a regular basis, things became a lot easier. Not everyone’s pressures and problems go away.

To be poor and dependent on the state to any degree, is to live with uncertainty and vulnerability, especially with this current, compassion-free political culture. The stresses of getting somewhere can be huge, but when you feel like you have some control over your life, some scope for hope, that’s really not as bad as the stresses that come from being slowly crushed by life. I have, to a degree, done both. Powerlessness and hopelessness are hellish things to face on a daily basis. We could be a lot kinder to people who are in that situation rather than demonising them.


Wild water

I am deeply attracted to natural water. Given the slightest chance and I’ll get in it, even if just to paddle my toes. I’ve swum in the sea and in lakes. In recent weeks I’ve pottered in a stream, looking for archaeology, and swum in an outside pool. The last one was an interesting mix – the predictable man-made surfaces and absence of currents, coupled with the very real cold of swimming outside, and some totally unpredictable weather.

I can’t say it’s really a sensual attraction to water, because wild water in the UK is simply bloody cold and rare are the days hot enough for that to seem pleasant. Arguments may be made about whether I am just slightly masochistic, but for those of you beyond England’s murky shores, this is pretty much how you have to be round here if you want to do stuff outside more than three days in a year. My impression is that Wales and Scotland are, if anything, worse.

It’s an emotional attraction to water. I suppose that makes sense if you consider water to be the element of emotion in the first place. I have strong emotional associations with all of the elements, because this is how I relate to the world. I get some of that emotional impact from showers, bath tubs and indoor pools. Some days having running water from the tap over my hands is enough to do it. Water does something to me, something healing, releasing, liberating, reassuring.

As a child this was a particularly interesting dynamic for me, because I couldn’t swim. I was afraid of water, and of getting into situations that could kill me. I learned caution, but alongside that, the attraction was just as powerful then as it is now. I would go right up to the edge, dangle fingers, and if possible, dabble feet. We tended to do family holidays early in the year, and if all else failed I would get in the sea in my wellies, while trying to make sure the sea did not get in my wellies, because that was at least closer.

Being a confident swimmer now, and much more certain of my ability to make safety judgments around water, I am perhaps more of a child than I was when a child. I get in.

 

 


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