I was reminded recently that Nine Inch Nails' album The Fragile was 20 years old.
When it was released, I had just arrived in London from Cornwall and hadn't even started my "career" as a music journalist. I just wanted to go to gigs, write and, well, have a life. London was still the "old" London, where everything was possible for anyone, even if you didn't have any money (I didn't).
Nine Inch Nails has been one of the most important bands ever in my life and I regularly come back to Trent Reznor's early works - I am not enamoured of his most recent output and acceptance by the mainstream. I remember when you could just go and see NIN at the Astoria...
My own copy of The Fragile (which I personally consider a masterpiece) is very bashed but still playing. It has survived over 16 moves, most of those around North London - and a series of dilapidated flat shares and tiny single-occupation studio flats...
The Fragile has been part of the soundtrack to my new life in the capital and for many reasons, it still resonates today as I haven't really changed and hold the same values and goals as 20 years ago.
The track We're In This Together is especially important for me - this is a song that is about to become even more relevant in 2020...
I am not one for birthdays and anniversaries, but as everyone is talking about the past decade and as my 2020 plans include further developing my Arcane Publishing venture, I thought I'd go back over one of the most important moments of the past decade for me as a writer and book lover...
Exactly ten years ago, I starting working on my first novel, I Am a Muse. As stated in the FIRST EVER BLOG I wrote on this website back in the summer of 2010, the plot for I Am a Muse came to me almost overnight and perfectly formed, and I remember explaining it for the very first time to my partner whilst sitting in a cafe somewhere on the Essex coast overlooking a very grey sea...
In December 2009, I had resigned my full-time publishing job in Oxford and left the tiny London flat I had been living in for two years or so (extreme commuting anyone?) - I was moving to Southend-on-Sea and starting a self-employed "career" (not a career, a stint at freedom!). This was a momentous move: I was leaving London after ten years of crazy metropolitan living, with all its elating ups and crushing downs...
I had been writing for a long time (actually since I was a child, but in London, I had been a music journalist for a decade by then) but I had decided that enough was enough - reviewing other people's work was indeed exciting and rewarding (free gigs and CDs!) but I was going to have a go at what I thought was the best (non-paying) job in the world: being a fiction writer!
First came I Am a Muse. I wrote it then spent a whole year editing it and sending it to agents...
Which led to nothing.
And then, in 2013, Arcane Publishing was created - I registered Arcane as a proper publishing imprint and published my first novel!
When Arcane was officially created, I had already started working on my second novel, The Book of Thoth, which was published by Arcane in early 2015.
And since then?
Since then, I have found it difficult to work on my third novel, The Right Place. "Real Life" has a knack of taking over and distracting you on your path to publication... Unfortunately, writing and publishing books doesn't bring in any money - indeed, Arcane Publishing's budget is very, very tiny indeed, and I use my own money to get the books published... Therefore, other - mostly boring - things have taken priority over writing.
In January 2017, I moved Arcane Publishing's towers even further from my beloved London: to Dorset, for its inspiring landscape (and the opportunity to acquire a much bigger-sized HQ!).
It's been quite a ride, and in 2020, I hope to make things change a bit: the second-hand books side of the Arcane Publishing business will hopefully develop further with an online presence by the end of the year, and I am determined to finish the first draft of The Right Place - which will demand some sacrifices along the way, but I feel that I cannot wait any longer to finish this project, especially as I have two more really exciting books planned already - I genuinely cannot wait to get started on Hell Lane: A Barton Stacey Mystery.
I will be posting both on here and on the Arcane Publishing website more regularly in 2020...
Watch this space!
Here's my reading shelf for the next few weeks... It includes a few non-fiction books, as I carry on my love affair with nature writing. Before that, I never read non-fiction books (I read a lot of articles in magazines and newspapers if I want non-fiction).
I have already started Wild Places, The Outrun, Notes from Walnut Tree Farm and Wildwood, and pick them up whenever the mood takes me... They are all enchanting and thought-provoking - and of course a massive source of inspiration for my own writing.
My early 2020 list of "to buy" books is VERY, VERY long. After four months during which I haven't been able to read at all, this is paradise on earth...
I am taking a break to find my writing feet again and then will resume writing The Right Place. I hope to finish it by 2021. Wish me luck...
I am really looking forward to seeing Knives Out next week. It's all purely for research purposes, you see...
My fourth novel, Hell Lane, will be a (hopefully) fun "Rural Noir" detective story written as an homage to two of my favourite authors: Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes).
Hell lane will have a charismatic London detective, a gloomy vicarage and an ensemble of characters that will include a creepy butler, an airhead actress and a writer fighting writer's block - and many more... All stuck in a Dorset village by the coast in the 1940s with nothing to do!
What can possibly go wrong...
I haven't read a book since September, which is unheard of, but today, I have started Joanne Harris's Sleep, Pale Sister, a dark Victorian Gothic tale - just what I like.
I will be going back to The Right Place, my third novel, at the end of the month, once I am free again. My intention is to publish by the end of 2021 and to crack on with my Agatha Christie/Sherlock Holmes-inspired rural noir detective novel Hell Lane.
Oh dear, I haven't been on here since September! This is probably the longest I have been away from my websites since I launched them a few years back...
The truth is, I need to raise some much-needed funds for Arcane Publishing and Arcane towers, and in order to do this, I went and got myself a "proper" job, only it's not really the 9 to 5 kind (more the 60-hour a week kind) and basically, it's taken over my life... Unfortunately for my creative pursuits and luckily for my bank account, it's a one-year contract and I won't be free from it until July 2020... I hope that this will enable me to complete The Right Place next year and publish towards late 2021; it is also my intention to develop my second-hand books venture, and go back to organising events... Watch this space!
In the meantime, I'm afraid I will only be able to come on here sporadically to post a blog from time to time...
This week, I would like to tell you about some lovely books I found in late August - I just had to buy all four of them as I felt I couldn't leave them behind...
They led me to discover an artist I had never heard about before, Helen Bradley.
Hers is the extraordinary story of a girl born in 1900 in the north of England whose thwarted artistic ambition was finally achieved when she picked up her brushes at the age of 65 and became an internationally renowned artist. Some people have called her the female Lowry!
For a student of English history and society like myself (Victorian to early 20th century), her narrative paintings of Edwardian childhood are intriguing and fascinating. Her paintings are populated with many characters taken from real life - humans and animals - and the colourful scenes are incredibly evocative. They describe the artist's Edwardian childhood through the eyes of a curious and happy child who observed the world around her with innocent and eager eyes. The paintings themselves could be described as naïve art and are accompanied by an autobiographical narrative written by Helen herself reminiscing about her life as a child in Northern England, a time of societal conventions, god-fearing family members, frequent funerals, amiable servants and pleasure derived from all the small things in life... Helen Bradley's four published books are a delight and have been a real discovery for me... They are now part of my own personal collection!
You can enjoy some examples of her work below...
I am an incorrigible collector of illustrated books. I have shelves full of vintage volumes from various countries dating from the 19th Century to the 80s full of gorgeous illustrations... Obviously, my budget is minuscule and I have often had to put back on the shelf/stall the books I was dying to buy but couldn't afford...
I have now ran out of shelf space and am thinking hard about what to do about it... If I had the money to commission a carpenter to install built-in shelving all around the house, I would... Alas, it is not to be!
One of my favourite illustrators is Norman Thelwell, and I am in love with all the animals he has drawn - especially the plump "Thelwell ponies". I do have quite a few books full of them, and intend on acquiring more in the future! His illustrations, if often hilarious, do make serious points about society and human (as well as animal) behaviour.
Last week, though, I came across "The Effluent Society". As I flicked through the pages, I was struck by how modern it all felt; the book was published in 1971 and it is really shocking - and sad - to see that with all our talk of beach cleaning, river pollution, overcrowding and overbuilding, we cannot pretend that we didn't know: it was already happening 50 years ago!
As the weather improves and returns to its summery feel, hordes of people come to our coast to spend the day on the beaches of our beautiful Jurassic coast. For us seaside dwellers, it’s therefore time to run for the hills!
This time, we decided to return to the infamous Cerne Abbas and explore the place properly…
I have to admit that it is always hard to pick which hill to run to as there are so many, each with their own fascinating story and atmosphere. Indeed, Dorset is the ideal home for a writer, its landscape full of everything one needs to find inspiration; it also provides the welcome peace and isolation one craves when writing.
The Dorset coast gives us adventure, magnificence and tales of human endeavour…
The sea is always full of drama, action, promise and openness to the world beyond the waves.
As you move further inland, though, you start immersing yourself in ancestral Dorset; you are invited to go back in time and to look into your own mind and that of the people who have populated the place for millennia… You perceive the shadows and ghosts of the past wandering along the deep lanes, wooded hills and rolling fields.
On a hot, sunny summer day, the countryside is truly idyllic and genuinely healing for the body and mind – a kaleidoscope of colours and smells, a rich explosion of natural life. But when you find yourself walking along a small track in deep, deep countryside away from all marks of civilisation bar a few fences and coppiced woodlands, you cannot prevent your mind from conjuring up some unsettling thoughts and images.
You imagine the place in the darkest days of winter, in fog, in heavy rain, in the snow. You start plotting crime thrillers, gothic tales and horror narratives in your head: anyone could be doing anything down there, in this deep valley, and really, who would know?
St Magdalene Church in Batcombe conjures up images of the perfect English countryside, nestled in "the lee of the chalk downs and is an old settlement with an interesting history." (Louise Hodgson, More Secret Places of West Dorset). The local family, the Minternes, had one member named Conjuring Minterne" who was "a cunning man [...] and a practitioner of the magical arts." The church is reached via a very steep, deep and narrow road.
On the edges of a field on Batcombe Down, before you walk down to the church, stands a lonely pillar locally known as the Cross and Hand... Many different stories exist as to why it had been erected on this spot!
One of them has been immortalised by local author Thomas Hardy in his poem "The Lost Pyx: A Medieval Legend".
The marks and scars of old superstitions, beliefs, myths and legends are present all around you, dotted around the countryside and human settlements; they are weaved into the landscape and the structures of towns, villages and buildings… This country’s Pagan heritage, covered up in a thin veneer of Christianity, bursts into the open for everyone to see. You just need to pay attention and know where to look; since discovering Dorset in 2011, my favourite go-to guides are the books by Louise Hodgson, Secrets Places of West Dorset and More Secret Places of West Dorset. They reveal the mysterious and fascinating natural, supernatural and/or historical narratives of the county. Without them, we wouldn’t have known about the intriguing tombstones or the wishing well in the Cerne Abbas burial ground…
Another excellent source of Dorset folklore, myths and legends is the Dark Dorset website HERE.
One place I am planning on exploring further this year is Marshwood Vale and its surrounding area.
Yesterday, we did a reccie at Pilsdon Pen; the splendid views are breathtaking, and no picture of mine will ever do them justice.
This is the ultimate rural area, with narrow, winding lanes and beautiful villages... But also an eerie, mysterious atmosphere that is hard to define; it's teeming with myths, legends and interesting stories, and yes, you bet I am interested on knowing more about these!
I think therefore I write.
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