Friday, October 30, 2015

A Harsh Mistress

October 30th 2015

The moon floats in that region where music and poetry lie, almost more a presence than a physical entity. No matter that our generation casts the umbrella of science over it and deems it just a piece of earth thrown into the abyss but caught in our planet's gravity. In fact, perhaps that's why we identify with it so much - it's the same force of attraction anchoring our feet to the surface of this spinning ball we call home.  Most definitely female this mystical orb in the night sky, unless you're german, for which Der Mond stays resolutely masculine and creates a whole different mentality with it. La Luna. What else could she be? In English, we took the German word and gave it a sex change. The moon is she, a harsh mistress, as the song goes.

And she floats through the world's literature in the same eerie way she moves through the heavens.
King David of the Psalms called the moon "the faithful witness in the sky." In ancient Hindu literature, Shiva and his consort Parvati wear the moon on their foreheads because they are beyond the sphere of time. In Europe, the moon was almost always equated with the goddess (even the Germans had Frigga of the Full Moon) until she got kicked out of the sky by the old man...

And so it goes into modern literature. Yeats was rather obssessed by it (Blood and the Moon, Cat and the moon.) And this from Sylvia Plath's poem "The Moon and the Yew Tree":  

This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary. 
The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.

Our bodies are sixty percent water - seventy-three percent in the case of the brain and the heart. The moon affects the tides, so how could it do otherwise than exert itself on our watery lives? Of course, women already know this. Men have to learn it. We are creatures of the moon. Lunatics, all.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Isle of the Druids

October 23rd 2015

In my research for book three of my Veil Of Time series, I have been looking into the island of Iona.  Iona is much closer to where I grew up in Argyll than the Isle of St. Kilda I was talking about last week. In fact, I have been to Iona several times. Not only is it a beautiful little island built on some of oldest rock on the planet, but it has a very long history and, with its impressive monastery, might even be considered to be a sort of centre of Christianity. For it was from here that St. Columba, who had come over from Ireland, built the first monastery and started sending out monks to convert the heathen land of Scotland and beyond.

Apparently, he even converted the heathen Loch Ness monster. (No wonder the poor animal has been in hiding ever since!)
But if you scratch a little beneath the surface, a different island of Iona emerges. This is one that goes back to the original meaning of the name Iona, Ioua, which means Yew tree. Now the yew tree was a significant symbol of pre-Christian religion, namely Celtic paganism. Yew groves were highly sacred, because the yew tree can last for thousands of years and must have seemed to possess a certain eternal quality. Many grave yards in Scotland today are still surrounded by the ancient yew trees that marked these spots in the long centuries before the church staked a claim on them.

Iona was in fact a sacred site to the pagans long before it came under the aegis of the Roman church. In fact, another name it went by is Innis nam Druidneach, Island of the Druids. It was here that kings and queens and notable people of Scotland were buried facing the setting sun which for the Pagans symbolised death and resurrection. Another such island was the Holy Isle off Anglesey in Wales, to which the Romans chased the druids and druidesses of early Briton and slaughtered them to a man/woman.
There are no yew trees on Iona now. There are no Pagans either. Christianity, at least Roman Christianity has had an irrational fear of the pagan from the start, and has done enormous damage to the human psyche in the process.
Some New-Age pagans believe that Iona is a geomantic power site - a vortex. I don't know about that. All I know is that Iona is a powerful place in my imagination and a vortex around which, one way or another, my story called Dark Matter is going to revolve.

Friday, October 16, 2015

At Sea - The Island of Hirta

16th October 2015

For an author, the process of being drawn into a story can be creeping and creepy. Ever since I heard of the island of Saint Kilda, or Hirta as it was known to the natives, I have had a growing pull towards the place.

To sail out to Hirta, first you have to get out to the island of Harris, which is already forty miles from the mainland of north western Scotland. And then you have to sort of hang about the port of Leverburgh, hoping that in your two-day window for sailing, the weather is going to behave enough that you can board the small ferry to cross another sixty miles of sea and disembark into a dinghy with the swell around these far-flung islands threatening to add you to its list of casualties.
From pre-history until 1930 Hirta was occupied by a hardy bunch of Gaelic speakers. The island was  cut off for nine months of the year, and the islanders spent the only fair months hunting seabirds on the treacherous cliffs. Hirta was owned by the MacLeod toffs, who would show up once a year and demand reels of tweed, feathers, fulmar oil for the privilege of living on MacLeod land.  No wonder that the population declined until the community couldn't support itself (besides, the Royal Navy had its eye on the place.)

In 1930 Hirta was evacuated.

These people in 1930 look like they hail from centuries earlier. They had never seen a tree and they kept pieces of drift wood as treasure. This story of Hirta is treasure itself for any author, and I want to go there in the worst way.  I did get the island into my first published novel Veil Of Time by positing my protagonist's childhood care-giver as the last bride to be married there.
But I want to set foot on the island with its shells of houses along the one semi-circle of a street by the shore. I want to stand still and listen, and then perhaps they will talk to me, those voices that somehow get caught in moments, the voices of a sea people who lived out their solitary lives in concert with the waves and the cry of sea birds.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Platform 9 3/4

9th October 2015

I often read and watch interviews with other writers, and one question that is always asked, and which readers (including myself) seem to want to know is: what does your day as a writer look like? The vast majority of writers seem to spend their days very much like I do. So, here's how it goes:
I think, like other creative people, my mind does not switch off so easily, so my nights tend to be a bit of a struggle just trying to get enough zzz's that my mind functions at all. On the other hand, a fuzzy brain doesn't have so far to go to reach a state of "dreamy" which is often a good place to be when composing. It's a bad place for editing, but not for actually going into "the zone."

                                                 Robert Graham

My creative window is open in the morning (by the time 2 o'clock comes around, I'm heading back into sleepy zone and need a nap.)  As Thoreau says, "All poets and heroes...are the children of Aurora and emit their music at sunrise." So, the sooner I can get in front of my computer the better. But first I need my cup of tea! I need this like a nictotine-addict needs an early morning smoke. Pathetic, I know, but we all have our little things. It comes from having grown up in freezing Scottish houses and needing to get your hands around a warm cup. These days I live in Colorado, and, even in the hot summers, I still love that feel of a cup of tea. It's a ritual, too, a little portal that I walk through from night into day.
And then I turn to work, but first there's one more thing:  I've heard actors talk about seemingly meaningless rituals they go through before they walk out on stage: little rhymes or a series of gestures. And I have the same. It's calling in the muse, I suppose: walking around your office, picking things off your desk, getting into a sort of sideways mode so that you can take a run --like Harry Potter on platform 9 3/4, waiting for the right moment to run through the wall.

And then you're lost in the zone and a few hours have disappeared down the black hole before you look up and it's time to walk the dogs. Time to step back off the platform as life crowds back in and the muse scurries off back to wherever she came from. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Interview Link and Levitating

October 1st 2015

Here's the link to my recent interview with Books Go Social:

If you as a writer are embarking on a novel, where do you draw the line between believable and unbelievable?  Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez says it's possible to get away with ANYTHING as long as you make it believable.  He took his own advice and gave us babies born with the tail of a pig and levitating priests.

So, I marvel at how the literary establishment carves up this territory of "ANYTHING." It seems as though if you're Latin American or Native American, they call this magical realism. If not, then you're just really stretching the reader's imagination. In the case of my own book, I am asking the reader to think of time displacement in the context of an epileptic fit (a phenomenon already well documented.) There are people in my community who have been giving me a sort of withering look since my book hit the shelves. My daughter's teacher said, "So, I hear you write romance novels." He was pretty impressed at that, but then he is among the minority, and I was very happy to set him straight.
Romance novel? What about Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice? If any one of  these had been published for the first time this year you would no doubt find them on the shelves of Barnes and Noble next to 50 Shades of Grey and Mr. Sexy.
It all comes down to the establishment and how it applies the scalpel. If you look for Pat Conroy,  you'll find him in the paperback section on the popular fiction shelves. No matter that he writes far more beautiful prose than some of the "edgy" writers who are lauded and wreathed by the bigwigs.
You have to be really really careful of opinion sanctioned by the establishment in no matter what area of life. You have to think for yourself, as a consumer, as part of the body politic, as a member of the literary community.

Veil Of Time has a romance in it. It has time travel. But, as reviewers have pointed out, the book does not really conform to the Time Travel Romance genre. It is its own beast. As the series goes on, it starts asking important questions, perhaps pivital questions. New Testament scholar Bart Ehrmann raises a similar set of questions about the way the early Christians shaped our world. He is the go-to voice of reason in the face of fundamentalist hysteria. It's just that I am asking them in terms of story.
I tried my hand at academic writing. I did. I wrote my post-graduate thesis on Friedrich Nietzsche, for God's sake. But I'm not much good at dry-bone stuff.  I have a brain, but I am given to flights of fancy, so I turned to writing novels. For the record, I neither read nor write Romance fiction.
Perhaps I should change my name to Clara Hija De Dougall. Then the establishment would be able to sanction my forays into the realm of the unbelievable.