Wednesday 22th February 2017
The raven is very much a family bird and very loyal. The mother raven will meticulously clean any mess out of the nest which her chicks have dropped and fly some distance to deposit it in order to keep the nest clean. The male bird is no absent parent either.
If you want to find out a great deal more about either, I urge you to read any of Bernd Heinrich’s wonderful books, particularly ‘Mind of a Raven’. The ‘Three Ravens’ poem I wrote for The Raven’s Call was partly inspired by Bernd Heinrich’s work but also by both the scavenger and trickster images of raven. Whatever you may feel about Corvus Corax, one thing is undeniable and that is that he or she is a born opportunist, forever looking, as pulp detective writers used to say – for the main chance.
At this time of year, any raven with any sense is not just looking for the main chance but for anything which happens to come into land or cross his path. Sometimes these juicy bits can turn into quite unexpected jewels.
The Raven’s Call first existed as a book dealing with loss and challenging change and using the natural cycle of the year to illustrate this. The book itself will shortly be reissued, but that’s only the beginning. I have been counting the little chicks which our nurturing mother has given birth to and kept the nest clear of and at this moment in time there are already five.
First in June last year the book inspired the storytelling programme that I produced, based on several of the stories in the book. 'From Raven’s Call to Swallows Flight' was first performed at Carrog Village Hall and included a unique opportunity to ask death questions. One of my favourites of these came from someone who was clearly a Terry Pratchett fan, because it was ‘How’s Susan?’
In September came the news that the overall premise would be used again in two further book collaborations with Slippery Jacks Press in the form of ‘Swallow Tales’(for junior/primary) and ‘Shape-shifters’, (Secondary)
The end of November gave birth to probably the book’s most important chick yet with the setting up of a workshop for Powys Mental Health Service staff and volunteers using the cycle of the year/cycle of recovery, used in the book. This work is on-going.
Next week I visit Welshpool High School to talk to staff about the school’s involvement in ‘Shape-shifter’ and particularly in helping me to devise a workshops section for the book. There is also talk of similar work with Young Carers later on in the year,(two of the stories in the book concern a young carer) around the stories and themes.
So like both the meticulous mother and the risk taking father I can only watch in satisfaction while our chicks fledge and I wait in anticipation to see what delights they can bring back with from their travels in this world and beyond.
Saturday 7th January 2017
Sometime between Christmas and the New Year, I realised with a slightly beating heart that ‘The Enchanting of Mr Williams’, my ‘novel of English Faerie’ was complete. It was something which I had worked on and through and being obsessed with for about four years. It ended up both reawakening my love of a great English composer and re-invigorating my love of the great English pastoral and folk tradition.
My story of 150, 000 words plus, tells how the great composer Ralph Vaughan Williams in the spring time of his career meets a beautiful lady of faerie, who gives him a singular gift of music. He is so besotted by the lady that he fails to truly appreciate what she has given him. It is music as gentle and simple as birdsong but – as it turns out – by no means frivolous. R.V.W. hardly needs to even write it down, because he has it there in his head. Instead, over the years, he lets out bits of it in the form of other pieces. However he also writes it down in its complete form as part of an unfinished serenade, and that’s how over a hundred years later, the problems really begin for the gradual emergence of this and all the other pieces have an effect a little like a mouse in Swiss cheese.
There’s a great deal more to the book than that of course, but how fascinating it has been that of all people I chose to be part of this rather unlikely, (if romantic) premise, it’s Vaughan Williams music that, due to the emergence of a positive shelf full of early or neglected pieces and Albion Music in particular, makes such a idea increasingly plausible.
Just imagine how anyone composing at the very end of the nineteenth century would have felt if they’d known that an un-favoured piece of theirs might not just have found eventual exposure through the performing of it by a professional orchestra, or on a gramophone record, but right through the ages of cassette and CD until it is available for the whole world to listen to anytime they want.
And imagine – of you will – the effect on our world and the world of faerie.
Tuesday 1st November 2016
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that were the case? We are however happy to announce the next best thing with the arrival of ‘Swallow Tales’ in the near future.
Swallow Tales was inspired by both the ideas and the animals used in the recent Raven’s Call. Again eight stories take us through the eightfold cycle of the year from November to the autumn equinox the following September. Again themes dealt with involve both loss and change, and again there are visualisations where you can encounter that particular animal and work with that particular loss. The difference with Swallow Tales, is that it is a much simpler book for younger readers – targeted at years 5 and 6 and as a family book.
You have to hope that by the time children become teenagers, they have encountered few serious changes or losses in their lives, but some of those they might have to negotiate – the loss of a pet or grandparent, parents separating, friend moving away, an illness in the family etc – are included in this very special little book. Look out for details of how to obtain your copy in future postings.
Monday 10th October 2016
What better time is there for the raven to call than at Samhuin, (which people know better of course as Halloween). If you can’t tell tales of the dead and the ‘should be dead’ then, when can you? My contribution to the spooky festivities this year will be on Monday October 31st at Ponthafren drop-in centre in Welshpool in Powys, (6pm). I will be telling tales from The Raven’s Call and other dark favourites, beginning with the first tale from the book, ‘The Company of the Raven’. Here’s a wee taster.
"You gentlemen wish to discuss death! Miss Bertram’s voice seemed both fierce and reverential enough to quieten any further interruption."
"Pray then, allow me to tell you about it."
Sitting back on the straight backed chair, she unbuttoned and removed her black gloves. All in the room gasped, for the skin of her hands was white, almost translucent. The mask of her veil betrayed no hint of the emotions behind it.
It was again the choleric major who reacted first. Rising to bend down over the roaring fire, he picked up the poker, brandishing it as if against some invisible enemy.
"The very devil,’ he muttered, and that was when they all heard the first croak."
Wednesday 28th September 2016
I have already got excited about this on my blog page. Here’s what the original book’s author John Matthews has to say about the original release and this reissue.
"It's one of the truly great privileges to hear words one has written spoken, chanted, or sung by a master storyteller. Thus when I first heard the recording of Song of Taliesin I literally got goosebumps! It still has that effect on me several years on. A terrific recording that opens out the soundscape of meaning in my text in ways I could not have hoped for"
Well whether you’re hearing the CD for the first time, or planning a revisit, the result is an incredible auditory experience where inspired flights of fancy juggle with the hallucinatory, and the power of the stage often collides - as well as blends - with the power of the written word.
Nor is it a recording just about the spoken word, whether it’s the bard himself, his little monk amanuensis, the increasingly insane King Maelgwn, or half a dozen sycophantic bards! No, this recording of The Song of Taliesin is also a place where monsters are created on the bone of a swan or deer, and the journey into Ceridwen’s cauldron truly possesses the sound and feel of stone and earth.
Again you can find the details on the shop page.
Wednesday 21th September 2016
Now did you see what I did there?
Yes we are lucky at the moment – even in this warm October – if we see even a smattering of our late departing African friends, but now a year which begins with the raven, will end with the swallow.
Our latest project Swallow Tales, is a series of tales about change for middle grade readers, (9-11 years roughly). Swallow Tales is a simple and unfussy way of introducing children of that age to a few of the changes they might have to undergo in their young lives. It may be the death of a pet, or the illness of a family member, the departure of a best friend or parents deciding to separate.
Each tale is accompanied by a workshop section and a short visualisation where you get the chance to meet the animal guide which accompanies the tale.
Whether it’s a raven warning you from a tree or the wisdom of a wolf in the firelight, children will find a book full of simple messages and the opportunity for a family to open up the sort of questions which aren’t always easy to approach, and for which there may not always be the time.
Friday 16th September 2016
Here’s a future project to get excited about. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the sacred circle or on to the lofty mountain peak, they’re back. Well of course they never really left, did they? They just made us think they did!
So imagine a world if you will where Loki dispenses mistletoe as if it were Paracetamol, and Merlin is in an old folks home, where young Cupid haunts the set of High Noon with an unrequited love for Grace Kelly and Oberon and Titania fight over their Indian boy as warring breakfast TV anchors.
If you can conjure up such things then you might need either serious therapy, or simply be ready for the combination of the fanciful and the outrageous, the scabrous and the revenge fuelled which is ‘Gods and Sods.’