More than pen on paper

Creativity and professionalism… it’s a dynamic I struggle with.

It’s been a long time since I could just designate some hours each day to sit down and produce fiction. I know a number of professional authors who are able to do this, but it defeats me. I ran out of things from my own life and psyche to mine long ago, I ran out of personal fantasies and daydreams to turn into books, and as I favour the kinds of books that have a lot of ideas in them, I need to find the ideas in order to be able to write.

For there to be stories, I need time when my head isn’t busy with more important things. I need time to reflect and wonder, and I need things to reflect on and wonder about. I benefit (when I can manage it) from being able to access a creative community and benefit from the inspiration of others.

I think this is true of most creative forms. If you aren’t intent on producing the same thing over and over, something has to come in. The flow can’t be forever outwards. Creative people also need the time to find out what other creative people are doing – not just to be inspired and influenced, but to be part of something that is more than a lonely self chipping away at it in a garret with no idea whether there’s an audience at the end.

Too much attention to the audience and you’ll lose your individuality, your vision and your dreams. Too little attention to what the audience wants and you won’t be able to pay the bills. Dedicate yourself, heart and soul to being the best artist you possibly can, and you might not be able to pay the bills. Dedicate yourself to being commercial and your inspiration can dry up, and it still doesn’t guarantee that you can pay the bills.

When inspiration is shared, it flows. The romantic image of the lone genius doesn’t work well as a practical reality. It doesn’t work for most of us as a creative reality, either.

The whole setup is mad. At the top end, creators and performers can earn outrageous amounts of money. People at the bottom end and just starting out tend to earn nothing. The majority of creators are closer to ‘nothing’ than wild success. Most of us rely on other people’s creativity for our leisure time, but compare what we pay for an app with what we pay for a computer game, and compare that to a book, or the likelihood of spending the same money on a piece of art. The internet is full of free music, but it isn’t full of people asking how musicians are supposed to keep creating on those terms.

We have a culture structured around work and pay. How different it would be if we had a culture structured around making sure we all had enough, and that we all had access to inspiring, enriching things, and we all had time and space to be creative in whatever form appeals to us.

The Upside Down Mountain

A guest blog by Mags MacKean

Mountains have always inspired me – for their lofty heights and exhilaration in scaling them. I’ve immersed in Andean shamanic practice that venerates the mountain as wisdom, home to the Gods. Their earthier grandeur used to compel me upwards into new vista and weather – exposed to Nature’s surprises, her hidden habitats and unruly expressions as wind, rain, sun, snow and everything in between. Weeks at a time in remote hilly places reset my sense of scale. Geological history pulped all clock time, which could run me ragged back home.

Off the mountain, as a journalist, I faced another kind of ascension – a career ladder. Newsworthy stories and their deadlines could also hold the thrill of sport. Still, my restless nature that drove me to climb, scramble and roam rarely let up at sea level. My sights would be set on the only thing that mattered: the next escape upwards, the promise of adventure. After years of seesawing between the worlds of up and down, I finally quit my job for a mountaineering life. Chasing the seasons from one hemisphere to the next, I practiced skills to set me up for the rigours of altitude. The unimaginable happened: I discovered a crippling fear of heights, and was as burnt out as I’d ever been. There were always more routes to tackle and summits to attain. There was no neat finishing line when the effort and struggle stopped. Mountain – as unconquerable force – had something to teach me – and took me to the brink of endurance ‘til I got the medicine…

It was bitterly cold and the ice glistened in glaring sun. The silence felt full and charged, a weight of sound – cracks of melt ricocheted across the glaciated terrain like a shotgun. My arms were aching and trembling, clenching two ice axes for dear life, the blades of my crampons the only other connection to dubious solidity. I was scared – so much so, I was frozen into inaction, my arse protruding over a two hundred foot fall to where my friend waited for me to join him. Gavin resembled a drop of blood in all the white. I could feel his impatience in every hollered encouragement, “Keep going Mags. Nearly half way!”

Mount Cook National Park was no ordinary alpine destination. Within a lick of the Southern Ocean, storms were a continual threat. Exposure was part of the package – laying out time-consuming protection had to be weighed against volatile weather which could erupt without much warning. This was serious climbing – rope too heavy to carry and too short to protect the descent of large ice walls. And to compound my distress, I remembered the helicopter that could have picked us up to take us back to civilization within minutes. Instead we opted for the adventure of a lifetime – relying on stamina and skill to climb and traverse our way out of the Park. There was no plan B.

Time slows in the hell of fear. I had wrestled with this demon time and again, knowing it as part of the thrilling deal. Only this time, alone and with no chance of rescue, fear rose unchecked, overwhelming all instincts to hack and kick my way down the ice. Inertia is dangerous. One move. Breath. Then another. Breath. One more. And again.

This slow staccato rhythm, never natural, willed me down eventually to Gavin. The relief was a reprieve. Nightfall close, we had to navigate the crevassed glacier to the refuge of the valley. We had also run out of water, hours from the snow-melt. Battling with exhaustion, the soft glow of lights taunted us from the closest settlement – still miles away. In the end, it took twenty-two hours to reach Gavin’s front door. That walkout was to prove my last ever ice climb. It was the turning point when my dream crashed: the pursuit of high-altitude trials and rewards for overcoming them. I was safe – but at what cost?

At last I began to see how I’d traded the office commute for the climb uphill: those values, my values, were the same: invested in outcome, driven by achievement – the satisfaction hard won and short-lived. Lasting change meant transformation – and that could never be external. Changed circumstances – a new peak, relationship or job – were spiritual fast food. I would remain the famished denominator in all the disappointments, triumphs and fatigue.

The initiation came later in France. Exploring Mount Bugarach, ‘the upside down mountain’, its wisdom radiated as a force-field. I felt its instruction, the way up is down. Bad weather forced me to retreat from Bugarach. But the message went deeper. If ascent represented ideal, dream, eventual arrival – then descent, I was to discover, meant shifting my focus to the present, to embrace my own body’s here-and-now sensuous intelligence. The first step was to address the restlessness that trailed me as a psychic twinge. That unrest was persistent and lurking, whatever the distraction. Exploring its cause was a gateway. And I could choose to really meet it, by descending into it, to discover what the ‘twinge’ itself would teach me, and what inner terrain it might reveal. I had to stop moving. Struggle and fear playing out on an external stage no longer had to be an exchange for the freedom I craved. Accepting my restlessness allowed it to be felt fully, until it transformed. What would such an earth-bound voyage mean for a fulfilling life – consciously swapping the summit for the opposite direction?

The Upside Down Mountain tells the story of my descent – to find out why no manner of thriving prospects inspired the happiness I yearned. Among the wild landscapes of the Pyrenees, the Amazon swamps, Tibet and Egypt, I chose to penetrate the depths of darkness so long avoided. The journey not destination was what then mattered. I no longer wanted to be cut off from the neck down – but to welcome my full-blooded sensuous humanity, however uncomfortable. Experience made life meaningful –not the ideas, thoughts or beliefs about it, including the story of ‘tomorrow’. A new map guides me now, in, down and through – to embody the change I seek. I don’t have to climb a mountain or travel anywhere to remember that. And when I forget – again – there is a map to reset my inner compass, feeling my way ever onwards: the way up is down.
And more about the book here.

Reviewing challenges and reader implications

In the last couple of weeks I’ve read two review books that were not written to have someone read them flat out cover to cover. Sing me the Creation, and Penny Billington’s The Wisdom of Birch, Oak and Yew. I’m in the useful position of having been able to talk with Penny about her intentions with this text – she calls it a workbook and envisages people dipping in and out at need. “A book of ideas for workshopping as and when it seems appropriate: a reference book that, having read through for basic info, you can then pull off the shelf and dip into when it’s relevant.”  Undoubtedly, using the book in this way would result in a very different experience to reading the whole thing in three days.

I’ve read a number of books that were designed to be courses and worked through over extended time frames. Jane Meredith’s Journey to the Dark Goddess and Aphrodite’s Magic spring to mind as recent examples, but there have been plenty of others. In all these cases, the aim is not to have people learn by just reading your ideas, but to send them off to have experiences of their own, on their own terms, so as to be able to learn something more direct and personal.

Throughout her book, Penny talks about going out to where trees are, observing them, developing a sense of relationship with them. As it happens, I have a longstanding personal practice where paying close attention to trees is part of the mix. I have some sense of what a person would get from following Penny’s suggestions. But here’s the thing – I’ve not spent a year or so actively seeking out birches, oaks and yews. There is a vast and mighty oak on one of my regular walks. I don’t know of any birches or yews that I see regularly – I know they’re around, but I haven’t built those relationships. The experience of doing what Penny suggests is bound to be very different from reading it and thinking about it. As a reviewer, what I can offer is a best guess, not proper insight.

Those of us who take up spiritual exploration do so (often) with the desire to be changed by it. The odds are that facing the same material, we won’t be changed in the same ways, and the more the material encourages us to innovate, the more individual the experience will be. Where my birch trees grow is going to affect how I experience them. I’ve seen tenacious birches on old railways sites. I’ve seen them on the edge of commons, and struggling in over-damp Cotswold woods where the conditions tend to bring them down. There’s a lot of difference between a springy young sapling and a dying older tree, and what we find shapes what we do and what we therefore come to know.

I read how-to books out of interest, seldom intending to do the work as described. Sometimes I do bits of it – picking up what appeals to me. One of the great strengths of working with a book is that no one is directing your work and you have the freedom to do as you will with it. It’s also a weakness because some of us do better with guidance, and with the scope to have a response to our unique experiences.

If you’re interested in working with trees, Wisdom of Birch, Oak and Yew may be well worth your time. Can I tell you what will happen if you get in there and do the work? Not at all, but I think that would be also true if I’d worked intensely with the book for months. I can say with confidence that it is very well written and accessible, it is Druidic – although aimed at a wider audience, it offers signposts to a meaningful journey, but how and if you take that journey is yours to decide.

Healing the broken

(If you are struggling, bear with me, where this post starts is not where it’s going.)

I suffer in ongoing ways with depression, I have a body that frequently hurts and less energy than I need to do the things that need doing. It’s not a great combination. I regularly run into books, blogs and people who tell me that it would all be better if I just made the time to do the magic thing. What the magic thing is varies, although yoga, and meditating for at least half an hour a day come up regularly. I do meditate when I can. It does not stop me getting depressed.

I never cease to be amazed by people who magically know what’s going to magically sort my life out, with no reference to my history, the state of my body, the options I have, or how I feel. Faced with a ‘your life would be great if you just made the effort and did this thing’ what I feel, invariably, is despair. I don’t feel inspired, or encouraged or uplifted, it feels like a swift kicking.

Depression is all about not having anything more to give. It catches us all differently, but exhaustion is a part of it, as a cause, as a symptom, as both. Facing physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, about the last thing you want to hear is that if you just made a bit of effort with this thing over here, you would get better. It’s worse if you have tried other people’s magic solutions and they’ve not produced a miracle. You ask yourself why you’re such a failure that the sure fire thing won’t work for you. You ask what you’re doing wrong, and you feel worse.

There are some very dodgy ‘facts’ floating around about the usefulness of meditation in ‘curing’ depression. Without getting bogged down in the details, the short answer is that the evidence has been spun somewhat, but meditation is cheap and your Doctor has no resources to send you for counselling and would rather not put you on costly anti-depressants if they can avoid it. For all the people who benefit from meditation, this has seemed like a thwacking great validation, so the idea that meditation can save you is doing the rounds in earnest. It might, or might not help.

There are no easy magic cures for long term mental and physical health problems. However, if having something shoved your way leaves you feeling even more defeated and demoralised, you can rest assured that it isn’t The Answer and that it wouldn’t have saved you if only you’d been able to do it properly. Also, positive thinking and positive affirmations will not save you from serious issues either. They may help, they may not.

It’s always worth trying things to see if they help, assuming you have the time and energy. If you don’t have the time and energy, the priority must always be getting to a place where you do. Rest and sleep are the most reliable restoratives there are. Sleep is the nearest we ever get to a magical cure for all ills. It’s a much better use of your time than anything that you feel pressured into doing because someone else has put pressure on you. People who are deeply involved in a practice can be evangelical, and can crave the affirmation of other people finding it very useful too. You don’t owe them anything.

You don’t have to validate their yoga practice by appearing to be saved. You do not have to squander your precious resources of time and energy on anything that does not work for you. It doesn’t matter how much someone else thinks it ought to help. It doesn’t matter how much someone insists that this one special thing saved them and will save you. What works for you, works for you, and what doesn’t, doesn’t. No one has the right to add to your discomfort by insisting you be magically cured by something that does not work for you in the slightest.

Visualisation for non-visual people

Visualisation takes a number of forms in Pagan practice – it comes up in certain forms of magic, it can be key to developing the tools for shamanic journeying, and the more creative forms of meditation depend on it. Visualising a sacred inner grove is a key piece of Druidic meditation. What happens if that isn’t available to you? Not everyone is born sighted, and sight impairments can’t always be an easy match with instructions to visualise the beautiful, intricate details. I have no firsthand experience of this and cannot therefore comment with any great confidence, although I think there’s a good chance what I’m poised to suggest could be helpful.

I have a very poor visual memory and a weak visual imagination. I cannot hold the shape, and look of a clearing surrounded by trees, in my head coherently for more than a few seconds at a time. I can’t see it. I’ve been trying on and off for over a decade on this particular exercise, and I still can’t see it. My visual thinking skills have improved very slightly over that time frame, but it’s taken a lot of effort and I still can’t do what many seem to do easily.

I have a good memory for words and sounds. I can remember smells, and I really remember touch. I have a recall capacity for physical sensation which I didn’t really explore for years, while I was struggling away with what I could not see inside my own head. I also have good emotional recall, which works well alongside the touch memories. I can recall cats I knew thirty years ago, and remember the shape of their bodies and the texture of their fur. I can do the same with people I have touched.  I can remember a number of actual clearings in the woods as bodily experiences of being in a space.

I think the only reason we have ‘visualisation’ and not some wider ‘sensing’ is because most people are primarily visual. Some of us aren’t, especially not when it comes to memory and the mind. What happens if we take the idea of visualisation, and stop being so visual about it? In my case the short answer is, success!

If visualising doesn’t work for you, let it go, in whole or in part, to explore other forms of sensing. Work with the senses that most involve you in the world and that your mind can most readily conjure up. I work increasingly with my felt responses. I don’t know what a grove of trees looks like beyond a most general sense. If I imagine what it’s like to sit with my eyes closed, in a place surrounded by trees, then the smells, sounds and bodily feelings of that are quite available to me, and I can blend memory and imagination to productive effect.

Time off in hopes of sanity

For the last six months or so, we’re been trying to make a point of taking one day off every week. Before that it wasn’t unusual for me to go two week and more between days off, and between August and December of last year, Tom mostly didn’t have any time off at all. Sometimes, with deadlines, this will be unavoidable, but we made the commitment to not live like it all the time.

It’s really hard, with a low income to feel entitled to time off. There is always more work that could be done – speculative, paid and unpaid. There are always more people who want me to just do a small thing for them. In practice ‘day off’ for me often means having some free hours to catch up on cleaning, tidying, laundry and so forth – which is not exactly like a day off, but is at least a rest for the brain. As a self-employed person, if I don’t work, I don’t earn. There is no paid leave, to get a day off each week I have to earn enough on the other six to cover it.

Holidays are even harder, having to earn enough to pay for the holiday and to pay for the time not working. This autumn we managed to take three consecutive days off to go and visit friends in Shrewsbury. It’s the most time off in one go I’ve had in years.

There are consequences to never getting a proper break – mental and physical exhaustion, never having time to re-charge batteries or seek inspiration, never having respite. Being on the go and run down all the time makes me more susceptible to illness and to depression. People are just not designed to run flat out all the time. It doesn’t do much for self esteem, either. The sense of poverty that comes with not feeling able to rest, the sense of being so much lesser than all the people who can have a week off, more than once in a year.

I’m able to feel like I can afford a day off each week because my economic situation has improved a bit, and Tom isn’t under a tough deadline at the moment. At first, I felt absolutely guilt ridden trying to take that day each week. I was uncomfortably aware of all the things I should be doing, and I felt there was no decent justification for me having this time off. I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I know how readily low income is ascribed to laziness and lack of effort, and I fear those judgements from other people. There have been times when people with considerable power of me were making those judgements. And of course being an author, the regular refrain of ‘you have a hobby, not a job’ makes it hard to say ‘but this is really tough’.

I’ve never been a full time author. I’ve always taken whatever paying work I could get alongside that, which has mostly been writing based, but not the kinds of things anyone would make a hobby of. People are quick to judge, and to assume, and to imagine they know. In reality what’s happened is that to get time off this year, I’ve really cut back on my writing. I’m much less creative than I was and I don’t give it priority. I have to be responsible and put the paying work first. I also have to be responsible and put my mental health further up the priority list – time off is necessary to stay functional and being functional is necessary for doing the paid work.

There’s a sense of loss in all of this, a loss of self, and of purpose. I don’t really know who I am at the moment. I can’t sustain the way I had been living, and because I can’t sustain it, writing books is getting to be very difficult. I’ve got about 2 hours each week with space and time earmarked for creative writing. That’s not a lot, but it is sustainable.

Creative people are judged by others in terms of what we earn – those of us who cannot make a living purely out of our creativity are routinely told it’s just a hobby and not taken seriously. Most creative people cannot afford to do it full time. There will be some people who will feel smug over the choice I’ve made when/if they find out. I certainly don’t have what it takes to be a commercial success, and in the absence of that, what I have is a hobby that I don’t have the energy to sustain and a calling I can barely answer most of the time.

A soft animal body

“You only have to let the soft animal of your body

Love what it loves.”

A favourite quote, taken from Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese. I like the acceptance, and the allowance in the idea of ‘the soft animal of your body’. I like the permission to love, and the sense that this, and only this, is truly important.

I love this quote because it challenges me, because it is at odds with everything I am, everything I do, because I can see the beauty in it, but I’m a long way from living there.

What would it mean to accept my body as a soft animal? I’m kinder to soft animals than I am to myself. I’m not tolerant of my own bodily softness, seeing is as excess, as inherently unacceptable. The softness that is innately female I have a very complex relationship with, to say the least. To see the honest animal of myself, to see the mammal – accepting that mammals are furry, and they wrinkle over time, they hurt, and break and bleed if you aren’t careful with them. To see that mammal and honour it, would be a thing. As someone who honours nature, I’m pretty useless at doing that insofar as nature manifests in my own skin.

Love what it loves. Of course I love, and I’ve never tried to stop myself doing that, but I hide it. I try not to bother anyone with it, because I expect it to be an affront, something unwelcome. Rounds of seeing the disappointment in the faces of people when I’ve said ‘I love you’. Dealing with rejections from people who wanted me for sex but did not want anything of my heart, and felt pressured by the giving of it. Unreasonable, excessive, too much. I haven’t learned not to say it, but I’ve learned to be afraid of saying it.

The soft animal of my body, if it were some other animal body would turn up warm and friendly, to curl around legs, snuggle upon laps, offering warmth and its soft furry presence to comfort and soothe. I would be a cat, to purr soft affirmations into the bodies of others. This body doesn’t really lend itself to doing that.

I wonder what it would feel like to consider myself acceptable as a soft animal that loves what it loves.

Humans are not reliably kind to soft animal bodies – human or otherwise. Not to our own, not to each other’s not to the other soft animals we share this world with. How often do we treat things as though we expect them to be stone, and then claim to be surprised when they bleed and cry?

Fighting for love

One of my longstanding assertions is that I would never fight someone to try and get them to stay with me. Not friends, and not lovers. Anyone who wants to go, I would let go. If I’m put in a situation where I need to compete to get someone’s attention, I don’t compete, I step back. If someone pushes me away, I go. If someone has something better to do with their time than spend it with me, why would I want to get in their way?

Sometimes it’s probably a good idea. This summer a person I’d thought was a friend blocked me on Facebook, after a few months of odd behaviour. I could have fought over it, emailed, phoned, said ‘why are you doing this to me?’ or ‘what did I do to cause this and how can I fix it?’ I didn’t do anything. I let go, and a few months on I don’t regret letting go.

Like any simplistic response, it’s too simplistic. It held up well enough in the situations from my teens. It held up with the kinds of lovers who play manipulative games and wanted me to ‘earn’ their attention. It works in the face of asshattery of all shapes and sizes. It doesn’t work when dealing with depressed people.

When depressed people go away, it’s not an act of rejection. I know this, because I do it. I retreat when I feel like I’m no good to be around and have nothing to offer. I quietly hide when I’m too difficult to deal with. People I trust to be there for me when I’m a mess, I can count on the fingers of one hand. When other people are depressed and hide, I infer that they wish to be left alone. I’ve done a passable job of mentioning that I can probably cope, but even so I don’t get this stuff right in any reliable kind of way.

I need to change some of how I think about this. I’m easily persuaded to go away, and that people have better things to do than spend time on me. I’m easily persuaded that I’m a nuisance and/or imposing, and the reasons for this run deep. I tend to focus on whether I’m being useful, and that can distort how I see things.

I’ve had close calls with giving up on several people this year. Feeling that I didn’t have much to offer, and that I wasn’t needed anyway have been a big part of that. I’ve been letting assumptions about myself colour my entire understanding of quite a few things. I’m trying to put down my beliefs about how other people may see me, which is not easy. I’m thinking there are times when I need to stand and fight, rather than quietly slipping away.

At the Magical Crossroads in Scotland, 1979

A guest post by Suzanne d’Corsey

When Nimue Brown kindly invited me to offer a guest blog to her site, spurred by the publication of my novel The Bonnie Road, the topic of witchcraft in the book was the obvious choice to explore.

The Bonnie Road takes place at a pivotal time in the history of our Western neo-Paganism, in Scotland, 1979. This was when the secretive followers of the Auld Ways existed in a relatively static state; when a quiet movement was underway to uncover and make meaningful a pre-Christian legacy; when many strands twined together in the New Age movement, of passionate explorers of lay lines, earth mysteries, of UFO sightings, of Findhorn finding its feet, all these trends rising against the backdrop of Margaret Thatcher’s new government. Add to the mixture the encroachment from England of a relatively new style of witchcraft that came to be known as Wicca, and it was a swirling, heady, occult, confusing and exciting time for seekers. The face of neo-Paganism- and Scotland- was about to change forever.

When I began writing the novel, many years ago, the magical maelstrom was not my primary focus, at all. It was a by-product of simply setting this novel in a time and place I knew well, populated with eccentric characters which included the witches. (Not that ‘witch’ was used as a positive reference back then.)

The people I knew in Fife and further afield, who actually practiced the old customs and kept a sort of country wisdom, may or may not have been influenced by various other movements through the previous couple of centuries, including the Celtic Revival, Spiritualism and all. While the wonderful Silver Bough by F Marian McNeill was available, it was a description of what the people were doing at the time, not a research tool to discover Scotland’s pagan remnants, unless one were drawn to the study of folklore. Rather, the last major player to dramatically affect the expression and beliefs of the magical ways in Scotland was the Reformation and Calvinism. How curious then, that the next huge change would come from “The Wica,” as it gradually made its way north, till it caught fire and blazed across the world. But back then, this was the farthest thing from anyone’s mind, including those few Wiccan pioneers in Scotland, for whom secrecy was the norm.

I include a good few scenes in the novel of the uneasy alliance between Morag the Scottish town ‘witch’ and the secret coven in a neighboring village. To whet your appetite, here is a scene from the novel, part of Morag’s musings as she is in process of seducing one of the young coven initiates. I chose it because it draws in all the magical threads, of Scottish witchcraft, of Alastair Crowley, of the new Wiccans:

There was a new style of witchcraft migrating north from the Sassenachs. Morag had been tipped off a few years past when rumors circulated about “the Strathkinness coven.” The wee village already boasted a resident witch from a century past, who could gang aboot invisibly, and did all the usual folkish mischief. Her specialty was transferring her neighbor’s butter to her own churn. Caught in the act of cantrips on the last night of the year, she was overheard to make a charm by spinning a cow’s hide tether about her head and singing “Hare’s milk and Mare’s milk, an’ a’ the beas’ that bears milk, come tae me!” She must have been a lazy besum that she couldn’t churn her own butter, though Morag would never begrudge the use of spellwork to effect changes. The witch would also gang into a hare, a popular game among the auld Scots witches, emerging with the inevitable gunshot wound from a confused farmer, thus proving the witch’s credentials. Considering that Morag often enough flew on the raven’s wing, she knew this talent to be entirely feasible.

The magical group was very different, insofar as Morag could ascertain. Secretive coven- formed, a hierarchical High Priest and Priestess requiring initiation, magic which seemed to be codified in a process in the context of ritual. She knew how Alastair Crowley did things well enough. Her grandmother Morag had visited him in his house on Loch Ness, called Boleskine, and enjoyed some “parties’ there. There was a similar structure to their ritual, what with protective circles and invoking this and banishing that with much brandishing of swords and sticks and all, and being joyfully out of their minds with drugs and trance. Young and beautiful grandmother Morag had been made welcome, right enough, by the Master of Boleskine, who was curious to uncover the auld Scots magic, indeed to test whether it legitimately worked for his own purposes. Which were not at all the same purposes as that of a Scottish witch; the one a clever magus, the other kin to the wild. And so they came together like a hunter and a wild deer, enjoyed the exchange, kissed in kindness, and departed back to their own kind.
But this English group was quite different from Crowley’s Boleskine frolics. Staid. Proper. Genteel. At last she might be able to uncover the truth of their existence. Far as spying went, what could possibly be more enjoyable, and effective, than seducing the lovely young initiates of the so-called secret coven? That made everybody happy. A little magic of her own, and the lover, lost in a blissful trance, would barely recall any of his pillow talk. (Pgs. 103-4, The Bonnie Road)

Needless to say, things escalate, as they will when personal agendas are played out, in this instance through practical jokes, seduction, alliances and unexpected twists and turns leading to a horrific episode at Samhuinn in the Highlands. Depending on your viewpoint, of course.
I have taken great pleasure in layering descriptions of how things really were in the late 70s in Scotland among the followers of the Auld Ways, throughout the novel. It is only now, in hindsight, I come to find I’ve described a time that is slipping away from memory, or worse, being revised and often misinterpreted. If The Bonnie Road helps to shine a light on this dark time of Scottish witchcraft, and does so in an entertaining and enlightening way, no one will be more pleased than I.

“Let us open our eyes to the great mysteries that surround us…. for in them is our only solace in this fleeting world.” – Quote by Morag Gilbride, The Bonnie Road

How to write and whether to read

I’m not a great fan of how-to instructions for writers. I’ve read a few, of varying length, and often what happens is that the process is reduced to its mechanical components. Many could be better described as ‘how to write what’s fashionable right now and therefore easier to pitch to a publisher’ and of course fashions change, it is in their nature to do so. This year’s hot, sure fire thing is next year’s damp squib. Authors who seek a career being quite like that big popular thing, may well make a living, in fact may well be a lot more successful than I am, but it’s still not a path I’d choose.

If my primary interest was money, I would not be trying to write books. There are easier, more reliable ways to make a living. So much of the book world is about how to sell. I work in marketing some of the time, and I understand how the selling side is essential to make publishing work, but books designed for marketing are just entertainment products, and for me that’s missing something.

Reading Paul Matthews ‘Sing Me The Creation’ brought home to me what it is that I don’t like in books about writing, and in the industry as a whole. This is a book of re-enchantment, seeking magic and wonder in language. It’s a book of soul and art. Writing for the love of it, and for the love of the world, sharing stories and poems because it is good to do so. There’s not a marketing tip in there, and no consideration of whether you can cough up a best seller. On the cover is an image of a heart shaped book – and this is a book all about bringing heart and words together.

It’s full of ideas and creative exercises. If you do all the exercises, you will not have written a book. You won’t have a model for a book. You won’t have a marketing plan. What you will have, very likely, is a fire in your head and a joyful sense of the possibilities of language. You’ll have an urge to play with words and concepts, and perhaps a returning sense of why you wanted to write in the first place.

This is a book for people who need to fall in love (again) with the idea of writing. This is for people who are feeling a bit lost, a bit jaded in their craft. This is the book for writers who are no longer sure why they write, or what it achieves or whether there is any point. There is a point.

I’ve struggled with all of this for years, with the demands and nature of the industry pulling one way and my inspiration pulling the other. I’ve struggled with the idea that to be a successful professional, I have to write what’s wanted, not what I feel needs putting into the world. This is a book that has helped me reclaim my inspiration, my sense of wonder and possibility.

I’ll keep the marketing hat and I’ll use it to help other people get their work noticed. I’ll keep the marketing hat for after books are written, but I won’t wear it when I’m writing. It tends to constrict the flow of blood to the brain, the flow of words to the pen.

This book, Sing me the Creation, I will keep, and any time the world of publishing gets me down, I will pick a random page and open it, and remind myself of what I’m doing and why. If it sounds like a book you would enjoy, then I very much recommended it to you, if re-enchantment calls to you, this book is well worth your time.

More book information here – Hawthorn Press.


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