28 October 2017

31st October is Halloween. Er, Not Exactly

This year, Halloween in its purest form probably falls on 4th November so as to align with the full moon, but then we should, perhaps, call it Samhain. But don’t let that distract you from your ‘trick or treating’.

Though if you are in the UK you really should be bobbing for apples, and if you are in Mexico perhaps you should be honouring recently deceased family members in Día de Muertos, probably because the government tells you to. It certainly wasn’t a country-wide observance back in the 19th century. Only the indigenous peoples of southern Mexico had a similar festival, except that was held at the start of summer.

This is the problem with Halloween – the vigil of All Hallows Eve – marked for the Feast of All Saints the day after, and the day after that, the Feast of All Souls. It has always been a movable feast. Back in the day, when Christianity was intent on becoming the dominant religious force, the Church moved or invented festivals to coincide with deeply-ingrained pagan observances, most of which were Nature-aligned. Think Christmas and Easter.

For Celtic peoples, Samhain celebrated the agricultural year’s end during which divinations were undertaken to glimpse the impending fortune of the people. How many of those divinations were water-based no one truly knows – but it seems a very high percentage going by the number of extant medieval stone churches named All Saints, or All Saints & All Souls, doubtless built on the foundations of previous Saxon churches often built of wood but carrying the same dedication.

If you are living in the UK you’ll have one within a reasonable distance. A bit of detection should locate the water source close by. Yes, that quaint hand-pump wasn’t always attached to a spring source. Or how about that picturesque brook which never runs dry even during the driest of summers? 
Like all PR, repeat the message often enough, ridicule, or in this case demonise, past beliefs, and at first the ‘folklore’ is questioned; eventually it is forgotten. When it is resurrected – a sort of neo-Samhain – 'trick or treating' is what you get. Especially when there’s a good helping of PR behind it to make cash registers ring.

Ever thrown coins into a “wishing well”? Who are you expecting to respond?

For a time-spanning fictional insight, check out the Torc of Moonlight trilogy. Book 1 is currently on offer. (Think PR.)

21 October 2017

Filling the Creative Well with Unexpected Poignancy

Replica of Amy Johnson's Gypsy Moth in Paragon Station
Writers need their creative wells replenishing now and again, actually a lot more than we allow. As I am between novels now is the time to smell the flowers. Or in this case, view the Art.

I was born in Kingston upon Hull and it remains my nearest city. This year good ol’ ’ull carries resplendent the title ‘UK City of Culture’ and, despite the inherent pessimism of its population, what a year it has become.

The 3,000 orange barriers littering the city centre during renovations in the run-up to the New Year, which became an artwork in their own right after the local paper ran a tongue-in-cheek competition for readers to guess how many were in use, soon made way for Blade, the first hand-made turbine blade coming off production at a nearby green energy site. Viewing these blades turning at a distance is one thing; it’s quite another to see one arcing across Queen Victoria Square so double-decker buses could travel beneath one end while pedestrians could touch the other. With that and the light show portraying Hull’s 20th century history across its iconic buildings, 'Culture' soon became a word of optimism to be burnished by everyone.

Apart from the Freedom Festival, part of which was held in Queen’s Gardens on the weekend I attended FantastiCon, I’ve not attended many of the myriad events which have been on offer over the intervening months. So when the shortlisted artworks for The Turner Prize took over several rooms at Feren’s Art Gallery at the same time the Maritime Museum opposite hosted a clutch of the actual JMW Turner’s paintings in Turner and the Whale, a date was set for a visit.

Vote with your feet, the saying goes. We did, right down to exhaustion setting in. The Turner Prize is vaunted, or derided, for being very left field, but the exhibits of the four artists chosen proved thought-provoking. Turner’s paintings of the whaling industry of his day were no romantic renditions, either, despite his impressionistic use of colour. Alongside scrimshaw work, and the cold, hard colours of the Arctic in paintings by working mariners, it carried the same thoughtful pull at my subconscious. We finished the triad at the nearby shopping centre to view The Elephant in the Room, a life-size Bowhead whale suspended from the roof in a confetti of 12,000 fragments of paper. Beneath it, to my surprise, was an exhibition of the most fantastic travel photographs taken by Under 16s.

'A Hall For Hull', outside Hull Minster in Trinity Square
From there it was hot-foot to Holy Trinity Church, now Hull Minster, to view the A Hall For Hull installation - aka ‘the bird feeders’ - though lining up the six metre tall metal cylinders to create the three visual effects proved harder than time allowed.

Then it was down to the Central Library to point and smile over The Tool Appreciation Society, an exhibition of 20th century hand tools, most of which my family seems to be storing in our garage, even down to the ubiquitous St Bruno baccy tin used by men of earlier generations to store bits and pieces. Somehow I can’t see modern electric tools being handed down with the same love and care.
'Fly to Freedom' mosaic birds, and the "glass cases"

It was a short walk to Paragon Railway Station to view both Fly to Freedom, locally made mosaic birds soaring across the walls, and The Train Track and the Basket, images on the arched windows, both of which remember the two million people who, between 1848 and 1914, arrived in Hull by ship and left by rail to continue their journeys to ‘the promised land’ - mostly America via Liverpool. This includes ancestors of my father – who arrived by ship but, for reasons unknown, never left the city.

While I was taking photographs of these exhibits that my eye was drawn to the many varnished glass cases fastened at eye level to the walls. What did they commemorate? Ah, the many who left by train for World War 1 and never returned. And there he was, my grandfather, JA Kammerer, Private, Middlesex Regiment.

There are 21 cases fastened to the entrance walls between the windows of Paragon Station. Each case carries 4 lists; each list 52 names. That’s 4,368 named people who left Hull by train and never returned. My grandfather among them.

Art is never just art. Plaques are never just plaques. I should take time to stand and stare more often.
We all should.

Note: the full-size replica of the Gypsy Moth flown by local woman Amy Johnson in her record-breaking 19-day flight from London to Darwin, Australia, in 1930, and the plaques commemorating those who left Paragon Station for WW1 and did not return, were created by inmates of Hull Prison.

7 October 2017

FantasyCon 2017: Thoughts On The Peterborough Gig

The "Women in Horror" panel
Last weekend I was missing from the blog because I was in Peterborough attending the three-day extravaganza that is FantasyCon - a writer's and reader's delight of panels, readings and book launches. And the odd bit of imbibing at the bar. It's not a place to see a Star Trek outfit being paraded, though there were an awful lot of black t-shirts. It is a place where the written and spoken word is ALL.

Fantasy is one of those huge umbrella terms which covers everything from pre-teen cuddly yomps, through Historical and Epic Fantasy, to Slipstream and Myths, to Dystopia, Grimdark, and Horror, and it includes poetry.

The choice was amazing: 38 panels and 12 reading 'hours' on the Saturday alone. Finding time to eat became a tad problematic. The Women in Horror panel was a bit of an eye-opener and I may well stretch my limbs a bit more in that direction now the Torc of Moonlight trilogy is completed. Likewise, Small Press Publishing and Writing for Audio brought a pause for thought and a few websites to investigate.
[Women in Horror photo, LtoR: Laura Mauro, ??, Nancy KilPatrick (Canadian Guest of Honour), Tracy Fahey, and Theresa Derwin holding "friend"]

My own reading, on the Saturday at noon with three others under the banner of Contemporary Fantasy, went well enough, if to a small audience. But at least we had one. There was such a choice not every reading did. But that's the luck of the draw. I would have loved to have attended the Horror reading at 10pm Friday, but alas the alarm going off at 4.45am for the train south took its toll. I should drink stronger coffee.

The Book Haul
Many thanks to everyone who attended and offered their time and expertise. Especially to all the red-jacket volunteers who gave up much of their own time to keep everyone heading in the right direction, and to Peter Flannery, author of Battle Mage, who sponsored the goody bags. I certainly over-filled mine with purchases, freebies and swops, enough reading material to keep me going for months.

Now there's just the teeny problem of lack of bookcase space.

FantasyCon 2018 will be held in Chester.