Archive for November, 2019

man writing - gustave caillebot - 1885

The material life is what it is. We are born into certain circumstances – an ethnicity, a religion, a family, a nationality, a moment in time – and we make of our circumstances what we can. We do this within the limitations of our personality, intelligence, and energy, also the limitations placed on us by history, culture, and by prejudice – our own prejudice directed at others, and theirs directed back at us.

Thus constrained we make way as best we can, always striving for personal happiness. But for all our hopes to the contrary, life is messy, impermanent, beset by tragedy, and there is nothing to suggest what we make of our material lives, whether we find our balance, or we thrive or are utterly crushed, is actually of any importance at all.

For proof we need only observe those among the rich and powerful, people who are the most materially successful and surely want for nothing, yet whose ignorance and cruelty suggests they are operating at a very low level of self awareness, that indeed as human beings, not only have they a long way to travel, that wealth or power or popularity is not the real measure of success at all. But then we all know this, don’t we?

Without a certain level of self awareness, we are like automata, we are as lacking in the essence of life as the material things we crave. Self awareness is standing beneath a starry sky and feeling one’s smallness while also awakening to a deep connection with the mystery of all before us; it is the realisation that without our eyes to see and hearts to feel, there is no beauty, that our exquisitely fragile presence is the only thing that grants the universe meaning. Thus the soul in man awakens.

Many confuse this soul-life with religion, and though it is indeed a spiritual matter, it is not about “getting” religion. Religion is easy. Spiritual matters are more difficult. They develop, not supernaturally, but from the psyche and they grow from enquiry into one’s self. Religions can provide a path to self awareness, but one that is too often subverted by the tendency of all hierarchical structures towards corruption.

As unlikely as it sounds, writing – or indeed any form of art – provides another path. There is in all of us a transcendent function that enquires of life and seeks wholeness, seeks oneness with “something”. We can ignore it, or we can grant it creative expression. It’s not a path for everyone, and really rather depends upon one’s psychological type. But it suits me, so I write.

When we write, we are dealing with the unconscious and its unknown contents. Through writing, we invite these contents to become known through the imagination. Once known, or at least hinted at, they become our life’s work, our life’s story. We work then at a pace in partnership between the forces that support us and our natural ability to assimilate them.

My own story thus far is contained in twelve novels, beginning with the Singing Loch, first penned in my twenties, and ending with my most recent, the Inn at the Edge of Light. It begins with the natural world, with the sublime nature of the hills and mountains of the British Isles, and the realisation that the sublime isn’t “out there” at all, but is actually a thing we project from within, like an archetype, a pattern of psychical energy, that the sublime is an abstract impression of the divine ground of being. We were separated from it at birth and we crave reconnection.

The paradox however is that, once awakened and craving reconnection, we realise the river of unconscious contents emanating from this inner universe we are seeking to re-enter, is flowing against us, striving ever more towards an awareness of itself in the physical world, a world that, to a human life, seems curtailed to the point of frustration and despair. It is as if timelessness seeks the ephemeral, a phenomenon as strange as the thought of a free man seeking imprisonment. This is a hard one to crack, but in writing we state the problem, and we invite the answer.

Sometimes the answers come directly from the unconscious, revealing themselves on the page, often trivial details in themselves but which form, over time, a greater structure of understanding. And sometimes it comes serendipitiously, the unconscious guiding us towards the works of others, works we may have perused many times and seen nothing in them, but through our continuing enquiry we awaken sufficiently to return and take what meaning is meant for us, at the time when we are ready to grasp it.

And finally, with the Inn at the Edge of Light I take my seat at the bar and the landlord pours me out a glass of the water of life and I begin to understand through all this mythologising the role of a man with one foot in the camps of both his conscious and his unconscious life. Either that or I fall victim to my own delusions, and what I have achieved is no more than a voyage of Romantic speculation – take your pick.

But if I can close by paraphrasing Carl Jung,…

To the intellect, mythologising is futile speculation. To the emotions, however, it is a healing and valid activity; it gives existence a certain glamour which we would not like to do without.

Nor is there any reason why we should.

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man strolling in a wooded landscape - detail - A A Mills

I lost my friend. He did not die,
He just forgot my name
And now I’m sorry
I let slide so many days.

And then I telephoned, you see?
Brim full of news and guilt,
And thinking to snatch back
Full tilt, those sacks of missing time,
Only then to find old age’s stealth
And the mind’s fragility,
Had of a sudden robbed him
Of both himself, and me.

And falling thus into the void
Was all we’d said and done,
And all we’d seen,
And all the places that we’d been,
And the laughter,… oh the jolliness,
It was gone,
And I was just this stranger,
Cold-calling, on the telephone.


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Mosaic (1)In light of the upcoming UK election, I’ve been poking around the Internet absorbing political discourse outside of the mainstream. But whether you’re skimming the pithy, potty-mouthed missives of the social-media comment boxes, or the more long-form partisan essaying (like this one) on WordPress, it’s apparent there are crackpots at all levels, and on both sides of the political divide. And worse, once we enter the online world, all we end up doing is living in a bubble of our own prejudice.

So who do we listen to for a balanced view when so much of the mainstream print media is unashamedly right wing? Can we even trust the BBC, when their flagship current affairs programmes make a point of “reviewing” those unashamedly right leaning print headlines? Do we go with our brains, or our gut? Is our vote not swung more by the cut of the candidate’s suit, regardless of what they actually say? Is it worth voting at all?

On the one hand, politics is a dirty business, where what is right and proper is often sacrificed on the dubious altar of Realpolitik, where monumental complexities are brushed aside by fatuous slogans like, “Get BREXIT done”. So perhaps we are wise to keep our distance. But on the other hand politics determines the course of all our lives, so is it not as well to at least keep a weather eye on which way the wind is blowing? And anyway, we can’t help but be involved; that gold-plated super-car purring around Knightsbridge, and the homeless man begging in the boarded up doorway of a once prosperous provincial town? both are the consequences of political decisions taken over the last decade, and we have all played our part in that, either by the votes we cast, or by our apathy in not bothering to turn out and vote at all.

Is politics just too complicated to analyse intellectually? Admittedly my own views are partisan and simplistic. In any nominal democracy I see there is a party of the poor and a party of the rich, and then there’s the money. The party of the poor implement policies that direct the flow of money towards the poor and the services that support them, while the party of the rich do the opposite. Since there aren’t that many rich people, the genius of the party of the rich is to convince the poor to vote for it, and to blame their resulting impoverishment, the decay of their public services, and the wasteland of opportunity for themselves and their children on immigration and the scourge of the “foreigner”.

I’ve noticed when my left-of-centre colours are revealed, and particularly in recent times when people have become less reticent about giving offence, I tend to hear the same words: communist, terrorist-sympathiser and anti-semite, all within about ten seconds. The first two of these I find ridiculous and quite shallow, while the latter I find hurtful. But any attempt to deepen discourse and explore what might lie behind these vexed issues is met only by a hardened dogmatism.

It seems that once we have chosen our colours, we tend to stick to them. I have no doubt the party of the rich will do well in this coming election, even though they offer only more of the same. The message of the party of the poor offers far less suffering, but, incredible as it might seem after this lost decade, I fear not enough of us have suffered deeply enough to be receptive to their message, or the boldness of their vision.

Of the party leaders, I am told Boris Johnson is charismatic and affable, and I’m sure he is. But when I point out his widely reported shortcomings, to say nothing of his colourful and often outrageous pork-pies, they are celebrated as merely Boris being Boris. Of Jeremy Corbyn, I am told: “I could never vote for him”. Why? Because he’s useless and scruffy, and not sufficiently “prime-ministerial”. True, his suit, like mine, is more M+S than Jermyn Street, but he seems perfectly well turned out to me, and no one who has held his own fractious party together under three prime ministers while demolishing the majority of the latter administration in the 2017 election can be dismissed as entirely useless either. As for not being prime-ministerial enough, well,… its clearly a matter of opinion, but opinion – ill informed or not – does seem rather set against him.

As for the actual policies proposed by Corbyn’s Labour party – things like free superfast broadband for all, a national education service, re-nationalisation of privatised utilities – I’m told by armchair economists, we could never afford such utopian marvels, that the country would be ruined, that there is no “magic money tree”, which is all to suggest that staggering levels of poverty and the ruin of our national institutions are inevitable and a normal consequence of world affairs, all of which to my eyes suggests we are already bankrupt, both morally and fiscally.

When I ask, did the Conservative party not find the fabled “magic money tree” and shake it down for a billion pounds to purchase the support of the Ulster Unionist Party in 2017, that staggering sums of money can in fact be found under certain circumstances – and all this after denying the health service much needed investment – I find the discussion once again runs foul of entrenched dogmatism. It’s just too complicated. Instead we hear: “Get Brexit done”, “Delay and dither”, “Oven ready solution”. Such slogans solve nothing, but like all slogans they are effective in drowning out intelligent discussion.

The lesson in all of this, of course, is that the majority of voting in this coming December’s election will proceed along the usual entrenched lines, that the outcome – be it another hung parliament or a landslide – will be decided by a handful of floating voters in marginal constituencies who are seduced down from the fence to support one side or the other.

In spite of the late season, and the reported apathy among business leaders and voters in general, the coming election is an important one, both for the UK and, indirectly, for Europe. It’s like a boxing match into round-fifteen when we’re so punch drunk and weary we’re barely on our feet any more, capable of only one last shot, so we’d better make it count. It will determine whether the majority of us continue to limp along the same old lines of interminable declinism, or we try another way. At this stage, I am by no means optimistic. Still, we should vote as we see fit. Indeed, come rain snow or shine, we must all turn out on the 12th and vote or, whatever the outcome, we will have only ourselves to blame.

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bootsThe last pair of Scarpas* I bought came from a walking shop in Keswick in 1993. I had kids on the way and I was thinking if I left it any longer the budget would be shredded and a pair of Scarpas would be off the menu for the foreseeable future. They’re a decent boot, made in Italy and tend to suit a narrow foot like mine. I think I paid £80 for them, quite a lot at that time, at least relative to my mortgage-denuded salary. The shop’s gone now, an old-world place of the kind that existed in the days before outdoor gear became fashionable, high-tech, and lucrative. I remember the guy who served me wore Dalesman britches, a flat cap, and smelled strongly of Condor pipe-tobacco. He also knew his stuff and I often wonder at what point in our near-past such people became extinct, and why.

It used to be that only scouts and ramblers took an interest in rain-proofs and boots and Dubbin, climbers too of course, but they were always a special breed who got their gear from places where fussing over the colour of your pants would get you thrown out. My, how times have changed!

boots2I had twenty years out of those Scarpas, walked much of the Lakes and the Dales in them. I recall they took a bit of breaking in but proved reliable and surefooted thereafter and in all kinds of weather. When they finally succumbed to the ravages of time, I bought a different, well known brand, not a cheap boot by any means but, whilst robust and comfy from the word go, they proved alarmingly slippery on rock. I persevered with them off and on at the expense of some confidence in the fells and in the end felt more secure in cheaper boots, though they tend to last only a few years, before opening up to the elements. And since my current pair of budget boots succumbed and let water in as I was fording Malham Beck, last weekend,… well,…

It was perhaps a touch of both nostalgia for those surer times that sent me out in search of another pair of Scarpas. I found them on the high-street, in what I prefer to call a hiker’s boutique. The guy selling them had no idea what they were, but when I slid my feet into them, the boots smiled and said, “Oh yes, we’re the ones for you.” So I paid the man – double what I paid in ’93.

The shop was replete with fantastically patterned high-tech fabrics, stuff I could never have for shame worn in the hills, including jackets costing £300 I’d be frightened of getting grubby, also bit and bobs of superfluous hardware I struggled to find the point of lugging. Conversely, of the more pragmatic and essential maps and compasses there were none. (we should never rely on a smartphone for map and compass).

The man offered me a discount if I signed up to a card that would have cost me £5 a year. This is a new concept  – they hook into your bank account, harvest your spending habits so they might target you with sinisterly apposite marketing, and charge you for the privilege. I declined their generosity then left with my Scarpas, feeling I had rescued them from perdition. I hope we get on well and they’re kind to me. Indeed, if I get twenty years out of them, like I did the last pair, I’ll be eighty and well pleased on account of both the boots and me having made it that far. I’ll be sure to report back here if we make it.

Oh, I know,… I have the sense of spending my whole life living out of time, and I’m never sure if it’s me who needs to catch up with the world or the other way around. But what really matters is that when we tie our boots on, we forget what the world’s up to for a while. They carry us into the hills and provide for us a secure footing so we might return safely and feeling all the better for the experience of having seen the world from a transcendent perspective, one far removed from the everyday where the nitty-gritty simply gets in your eye and stops you from seeing things as clearly as you otherwise might.

*Other boot brands are available, and Scarpa didn’t pay me to write this, though I am open to offers.

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It’s November, a bitterly cold Friday afternoon at the little war memorial at Grinstead, and like every year I’m looking for my great uncle’s name: Charles W. Munroe. But the names have faded, softened so much now you only need a bit of rain and they dissolve into the blurry background, a list of just twenty lads, fading back into the dirt of a hundred years as the weather turns foul on all of us.

I don’t know how many of them are remembered – their names I mean – and by people who carry them still in their hearts. Sure, like all villages with a modicum of religious faith remaining, there’ll be a ceremony on Sunday: Remembrance Day. There’ll be cubs and scouts and maybe some old soldiers from the British Legion in their white gloves, blazers and berets. But the names themselves are fading into something more symbolic and less personal: at the going down of the sun, and in the morning,… and all that.

But it’s still personal for me. Uncle Charlie was still spoken of by my mother’s family, though not really known by any of them, other than as an empty place at the table. He was my grandmother’s brother, dead at 25, lost in the war, the great war, that is, the war to end all wars. I remember my mother’s tone in particular, whenever she spoke of him, how that word “lost” carried with it a sense of mystery at a life arrested, a curiosity at the “lost” years, at the potential for a life, for who knows what he might have made of it, what he might have become.

Anyway, I take the plain wooden cross from my pocket, on which I’ve penned his name, and I press it into the soil of the little planter at the memorial’s base – heathers and winter pansies – very neat, colourful, well kept, always respectful. I do this every year and for reasons too complex to get into here. I’m usually alone but this afternoon, in spite of the pouring rain and the cold, there’s this scruffy guy sitting to one side quaffing a can of beer, and his presence is making me want to hurry, to turn my collar to the rain and get back to the car.

“Oh, I know what you’re thinking,” he says.

Really? I doubt that. I don’t want to speak to him. I feel intimidated  actually, this big bloke, unshaven, a mischievous twinkle in his eye, or just drunk. I don’t know Grinstead any more, but I’ve no doubt there’ll be drugs and other bad things here, like everywhere else now, bad characters proliferating since my mother’s day, since this street rang to the sound of her heels on a Saturday night, off down to the station, and the train to Middleton for the dancing. It was always my mother’s village, a place she pined for all her married life and never returned to, changed beyond her knowing, and now there’s this drunk guy sitting at the war memorial in the pouring rain with a carrier bag full of beer.

Me? I just want to do this thing alone like I always do, this private act of remembrance, and something more, something for my mother and her sisters, all gone now; something about the past, her past and by association my own past and, to an extent, the possibly misguided sense of my own squandered potential.  Then I want to get back to my own life as it is now, which I fear is looking rather,… spent, actually, that as I approach my sixtieth year, Great Uncle Charlie might have made better use of the time I was given, and have so blithely wasted. So maybe it’s a little twist of bitterness, a little bit of guilt that makes me momentarily defiant, and I turn to him, this beery slob and I say: “So what’s that then? What do you think I’m thinking?”

“Ignorant bastard,” he says. “That’s what you’re thinking. Remembrance Sunday coming up and you there with your respectful little poppy pinned to your jacket and your cross there and wanting a quiet moment with your fallen, and me sitting here, this hairy cretin with no poppy, quaffin’ a tin of beer.”

“I wasn’t thinking that.”

“Well, ‘appen you should be. So, which one’s yours then?”

I point him out.

“France?” he asks.

“No,… Mesopotamia, 1918, a week before the Armistice. All the others died in France.”

“How do you know about the others?”

“I’ve looked them up over the years. Why? Is one of them yours?”

He shakes his head, drains the tin, crushes it flat in his bear-like paw. “Nah, none of mine’s up there, at least so far as I know.” He’s quiet for a moment, and I’m thinking he’s finished, that I might escape now, thank goodness, but then he says: “Aiden. Falklands. Belfast. That’s where mine fell. Nearly got me too. Belfast, that is. Roadside bomb. Mate lost his legs. I got blown clean across the street, otherwise not a scratch on me. Never can tell, can you? Ears rang for fuckin’ months after that though.”

“You were a soldier?”

He nods. “Invalided out.”

“You were wounded? But I thought you said,…”

“Nah. Survived all that. It weren’t the Provos that got me. In the end I were shot in the arse by one of me own. Accident, like. Live firin’ exercise. Not much glory in that, is there?”

“Not much glory in death either. Just,… well,… death.”

“True,” he says, then pulls another tin from his carrier bag. “It was a good life. The army. Enjoyed it. Not everyone does. Doesn’t suit everyone. You know? But it suited me. Had some good mates. The best. All dead now. You ever served?”

“Me?… no. The army would have made mince-meat out of me, most like.”

“Then you wouldn’t know, maybe, and no disrespect. Hard to describe,… but you’d die for your mates and, make no mistake, peaceable though you think you are, you’d kill for ’em too. Nowadays I work in a fuckin’ shop for this evil, penny-pinching bastard who, incidentally, all your lads up there died for, that he might live, so to speak.” He sighs. “Anyway,… I like to share a drink with ’em now and then, even if I don’t know ’em. Or how, or why they died.”

Okay, I’m ashamed to admit he was right, earlier; that’s exactly what I was thinking: Ignorant bastard. But you never can tell, can you? He offers me a tin and I feel privileged to sit down with him for a while, in the rain and the cold, and to share a sip of beer.

After all, no great story ever began with someone eating salad!




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high angle photography of people in ground

Photo by sl wong on Pexels.com

The study of personality helps explain why people behave the way they do. Likewise, it can help us understand our own idiosyncrasies and guide us over the occasional bumpy road. We’re all different, but these differences can be categorised as differing blends of a finite number of basic psychical patterns.

Though there are numerous models of the psyche now, it was Carl Jung who first developed a psychoanalytical theory of personality, defining a primary pair: the introverted and the extroverted types. Then each of these is further characterised by two pairs of opposites: Sensing and Intuiting, which determine how we perceive the world around us, and Thinking and Feeling, which determine how we decide how to act in any given situation.

Although we each possess characteristics of all the types, we have a dominant type, a mode of being we tend to favour under all circumstances. But when the dominant type fails to make headway against life’s ever-changing demands, we get stuck and lose our energy – what Jung called the libido. It’s this progression and regression of the libido that marks how well we are adapting, and in turn how happy and motivated we feel. The personality needs some flexibility. The more rigid we are, the more we suffer and struggle.

The mother and daughter team, Myers-Briggs, built on Jung’s work, adding in another pair of opposing functions: Judging and Perceiving. These determine whether we relate to the world in a structured (Judging) way – always making plans and striving for control of events, or unstructured (Perceiving) – more spontaneous and always keeping our options open. It’s the Myers Briggs type-test you’re most likely to come across in business and human resource studies today, and defines a total of sixteen possible types.

I map closely to the Introverted, iNtuitive Thinking and Perceiving type (INTP), which means I undervalue the feeling approach, can come across in person as a bit of a cold fish, and I can be wilfully blind to the evidence of my senses. I’m also evasive of schedules, only ever making plans at the last minute and I’m impatient of pushy, outgoing people who never seem to know when to stop talking.

If we’re unable to recognise our flaws, if we think we’re perfect, we cast a strong shadow over our potential for growth. Our shadow is our type’s opposite and it’s there we find the solution to whatever ails us. But it’s one thing knowing our faults, quite another to know how to go about correcting them.

I’m writing a weird, semi-mystical novel at the moment, relying heavily on the dominant intuitive side of my nature to draw a mind-picture of this world I’m creating, and then the thinking side of me decides what makes sense, what to keep, and what direction to head off in. But having your head in the clouds all day, counting fairy dust doesn’t help much when things are literally falling apart all around you in the real world.

An intuitive imbalance can be countered by getting to grips with some hard facts. As unlikely as it sounds, when you’ve run your dreamy ship aground on the sandbars of improbability, fixing that leaky garage roof can get the energy moving again. There’s a burst of satisfaction, and a confidence that comes on completion, allowing us to return to the dreamy stuff feeling refreshed. But sometimes it’s not so easy; we find there’s an irrational reluctance to engage with the very thing we most need, so when I’m in deepest intuitive thinking mode, the sight of a dripping tap can tip me over into a foul mood, have me cursing the numpties who fitted it, and endlessly procrastinating rather than simply reaching for the spanners and getting to grips with it myself.

Sometimes this imbalance of function can lead to deep seated neuroses, things we try to avoid all our lives because they make us anxious and depressed, and since our dominant type is what we’re stuck with, it’s not so easy to get to the root of things. But if we’re fishing for solutions, it’s at least useful to know where to cast our net. Indeed freeing up our inferior functions might take the whole of our lives, but it’s also one the most useful and liberating things in life we can do.

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iateol cover third small

Amazon and Smashwords allow the independent author to easily self-publish online for money. You upload your file, your cover artwork, set a price and that’s it. I’ve self-published on Smashwords for years but have kept my books free. Downloads are in the region of 1000 per year, initially, tailing off gradually to a few hundred, all of which I’m more than happy with. As for Amazon though I refuse to deal with them as they regularly feature pirated copies of my books and have made the process for getting them taken down so opaque I no longer bother. It’s just easier to tell everyone I don’t publish on Amazon, that any book appearing on there under my name is in breach of copyright. If you’re a pirate on the other hand I highly recommend the platform as it’s more than likely you’ll get away with it. But that’s another story.

The lesson thus far then, in so far as my own experience goes, is that if you want to self-publish, and you’re happy to make your book free, you are guaranteed to find readers, and plenty of them, and that’s a truly liberating experience, both for you and for your story. However, the same is not true if you set a price.

According to Smashwords’ own analysis, some authors do sell very well indeed, while others don’t sell at all. What they don’t say however, is what proportion of writers don’t sell, but I suspect it’s most of them. By far the most popular price point is free but some books, especially those priced modestly at $0.99 or $2.99 do sell, sometimes, but that doesn’t automatically mean yours will. As with conventional publishing the reasons why one book sells and another doesn’t aren’t clear. Good marketing helps of course, but there’s only so much an independent author can do to get their name and “brand” out there without breaking the bank, and my philosophy has always been that since it’s unlikely you’re going to make much money anyway, you’re better giving your books away and going for a readership. Better for a writer to be read and make nothing at it, than to aim for gold and not be read at all.

I’ve got eleven novels on Smashwords now, coming up on twelve, all free. But what would happen if I set a price for them – say $2.99? Surely I’d sell at least a few copies? Well, as an experiment, I tried it with “Between the Tides” and it killed my readership entirely. Not a single download. So I lowered the price to $0.99. Same thing. Not a single sale.

The lesson then does indeed seem to be “keep it free”, but in the end it’s up to you and there’s no harm in trying. Someone always wins the lottery. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that, so go for it and see what happens.

Which brings me to the shameless self-publicity bit about my latest novel which, as of this evening, is now complete. As is my habit I’ve been serialising it for free on Wattpad first, even though Wattpad is a simply dreadful platform for downloads, but I still find it useful as part of the drafting process, even if that only means getting the chapter numbers right. But how’s this: once it’s done, I’m going to pull it from Wattpad, then publish the final draft exclusively on Smashwords for $0.99. I’ve even filled in a US tax form and everything in anticipation of making a killing. After all, this book’s been a year in the writing and I’ve burned some serious midnight oil on it. Why should I give it away?

Well, for one thing, I’ve already had my money’s worth from it. It may be fresh to the reader but I’ve lived and breathed it for a long time and, even though no one else may be able to decipher what it is I’m trying to say in it, I do, and I’ve already moved on, psychologically, to thinking about the next project.

Still,… it’s tempting. So perhaps you should catch up with it on Wattpad, just in case I change my mind. Go on, I’ll give you until midnight December 31’st. Then, come January 2020, I’m turning over a new leaf, becoming a paid author no one will ever read again. And then like all New Year resolutions, once I’ve sobered up, normal service will probably be resumed, and the Inn at the Edge of Light will finally,… be set free.


Or not.

As the case may be.


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Human cultures the world over traditionally revolve around a defining myth. Myths are stories explaining the nature of being, and they change as society evolves, because what does not change to serve the times cannot be true, so myths that do not evolve inevitably die.

In the west we have lost our ability to mythologise. Also, with the decline in religious observance we are losing touch with that canon of mythology recorded in the old and the new testaments of the Christian tradition. This is a sophisticated system, though rendered opaque by the corruptions of piousness, demagoguery, and our enslavement to guilt. So the myth dies and nothing rises to take its place, leaving only an oppressive void in the western soul.

We might argue that, since we live in an age of reason, there is no need for stories to comfort us, that science explains everything we need to know. Science has, after all, vastly improved our material lives but it hasn’t made us any happier, or any less inclined to cruelty and war. True, there are still some myths kicking about, but they have shrunk, become fractured, taken shelter in a million “New Age” ideas, as people cluster around any fragment that gives warmth.

It was Carl Jung who said:

To the intellect, mythologising is futile speculation. To the emotions, however, it is a healing and valid activity; it gives existence a certain glamour which we would not like to do without. Nor is there any reason why we should.

(Memories, Dreams, Reflections)

Myths are not histories to be proven. In trying to prove the historical provenance of myths, we miss the point and rob them of their power. We do not have to believe in them, but there is something in the instinct that requires we maintain at least some degree of supernatural observance.

Nor do we invent myths. They are not fictions created merely for our entertainment or to frighten our children into obedience. They take shape by a process of cooperation between the imagination and the unconscious realms. Beyond waking awareness, the mind is an unknown country. It is unconscious, and only some of what is unconscious is personal. The rest is shared. It is a sea of psychical energies from which common patterns arise.

So, the myths take shape, and it falls to us to birth them into reality. In the past we have called these patterns Gods, and in more recent secular language, Archetypes. They have an autonomous nature, are rich in both personal and worldly meaning and they seek expression through us, for there is something special about us they do not themselves possess, this being the fact of our existence in a realm defined by limitation, number one of which is our mortality which lends a sharp and urgent focus to our thoughts. And it is this, our exquisitely fragile jewel of being, which causes the Archetypes or the Gods to seek relationship with the world, through us.

But the thing about the Gods is they will have at the world, whether we prepare the way or not, and I speak of Gods here in the classical sense, where they manifest as a pantheon of sometimes benign, sometimes mischievous, sometimes blood-hungry energies. Preparing the way, we negotiate with them our defining myths through dreams and visions. This contains the Gods within certain parameters, allows them a presence in the world and a useful function, but without the risk of overwhelming us. Our ultimate reward is death of course, but we trust also, a smoother passage through the underworld. However, when the Gods arrive to find no myths prepared, they act out their excesses without restraint, drive us to madness and despair. And what follows then are the hell realms of our own most terrible imaginings.

I recognise now a negotiation with my own daemons has been played out across the pages of my more speculative novels, allowing a personal mythology to evolve and to give shape to a thing that is otherwise unknowable. Thus a myth becomes symbolic, a totem for the ineffable – if you like the best of a bad job – yet which, as Jung said, heals the emotions and, by its seeming validity, grants a certain glamour to existence we would not like to do without.

Such personal myths are unlikely to appeal to anyone else, so I won’t go into mine in any detail, though you’ll find the threads of it coming together in my various stories. These are perhaps best viewed as an entertainment, aimed at a certain resonance in the hearts of others by virtue of their collective archetypal nature. But personal myths are important all the same, at least to the individual intent on saving his own soul in the absence of any other trusted option. To do otherwise, would be to ignore the very human imperative to mythologise, tempting madness, to say nothing of ignoring a crucial part of our reason for being in the first place.

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