Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Booker Longlist: Harvest by Jim Crace

I have long been a fan of Jim Crace's writing, so I'm starting the Booker longlist marginally ahead of the game, having read Harvest earlier this year. In all his previous novels Crace has revealed himself to be a fan of the Dark Age and this novel is no exception, and here too the dark Age becomes a political metaphor for the age we live in. Harvest tells the story of the erosion of belonging, the dismantling of community, the autocratic ease of disenfranchisement: we reap what we sow – this is a tale of environmental profligacy of Biblical proportions.
The central narrator of Harvest is Walter Thirsk, a man who is himself an outsider, never quite present in the events he describes. The arrival of the mapmaker, Mr Quill is an early indicator of unease. He arrives to chart the landscape, parcel it, shape it, mark out its boundaries. Suddenly the boundaries are not natural but negotiable. Suddenly belonging becomes that bit more uncertain, that bit more contested. And with that uncertainty, Walter Thirsk's alliances are thrown into sharp relief, as though the starkness of the stubble-cut land has just revealed him in an unfamiliar way. 
Community is important to Crace. It is one of the ways in which his character's inhabit their identities. The Village, a small enclosure of fewer than 60 homes, is never named, and yet is fully differentiated and authentic. We believe in the Village, we recognise it, it is almost our own. But the Village is a community in transition, and its characters all have their identities winnowed in the cropping that is the central event of the novel. It behoves us to be alert. To attend our own fields. The harvest, Crace suggests, takes place everywhere and nowhere. This is a novel which is both mythical and topical. 
Crace's prose is extraordinary and mesmerising. His evocations of the English pastoral are nostalgically bucolic, giving the novel the timeless quality of a fable, something both familiar and urgent. Harvest is an elegantly structured novel and one which is deeply satisfying.  If this doesn't make its way onto the shortlist, in my view the shortlist will be very much the poorer. 

the copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

A Horse called Blessing

Ignite my tired wings, Senestra, my horse falters on this outcrop. The cliffs are pierced by the winds and the salt into a tracery of stone, as though the sea's answer to any question is to throw water on it. Rains scatter the ashes of yesterday's hearth, and there are no fortunes to be told except in mud. Even the lees of the beaujolais only point to half-truths and blunt endings.
I hope the escape is worth the wait Senestra. I clung to my perch for so long, I felt the coldness of Andromeda chill me. I was cast among the lesser stars of the universe, trailing a silver track behind me. The fruits of the day were dark. Still the rain drifts in shifts. Drench is one inside the other.
Have mercy upon me Senestra, prophetess. For what more profit can there be than to come together, to sing, to pray, to ignite the lights of companionship. Ignite me. Let us flow together.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Songs and Books

The journey begins when love takes over. You walked into the room, weighing inspiration and patience, one in each hand, and I was lost. These are the missing moments in our lives, perfect, unblemished by memory. Come with me: you bent your mouth to my ear. Come with me. A cough of dust floated down a blade of sun. Come. You held the door ajar and out I stepped into a shoal of light, shimmering with possibilities.
We moved through landscapes rich in tristesse. You carried lilies, of course, and I held the Liars Gospel close to my heart. We lay upon the raft you fashioned out of sheer enthusiasm and an entire antique forest, and watched the stars rearrange themselves into constellations we baptised Thrush and the Punch Bowl. You, pilgrim, with your cockeyed sense of direction and your disregard of maps. Did you think I would follow you forever. Did you really think you could lead me to a place of greater safety? You took me to the jilted city where the angels wept for my despond. We did not restrict ourselves to a single tear. Our crying was operatic, histrionic, gold-plated. I always believed in your soul.
Love me do, I begged in my silent movie, but your heart was a flint stone and I could not move you.
So, here we are. You in your lipstick and your flowered dress, just like in all the family photographs. And me, dreaming of a house rich in oranges, wondering after all our inward-outward journeyings where on earth we ended up.

The Prodigal: Electra's Blues

Burden's birdcages swing in the memory's empty windows. I make myself lie down on the surface of the lake, where the heads of the chrysanthemums are floating like burnt golden globes. The lake house ripples in indigo: so many bedrooms, so many doorways. Somewhere he is practising his saxophone, adjusting the feather flock of his wings and blowing each low note of his heart. I feel the disturbances on the air, a crumpling, as though I were recovering from one of my tantrums.
Is he there in his gaudy get-ups? his lime and peacock waistcoats? His bruises of purple and canary yellow? Do you see him?
I am composing a novel for you. Yes. I thought that would make you jump. It is a work of incomparable complexity. Venetian in its dark waterways and arches. It staggers towards becoming robust. I am writing it all in my own blood.
I want to step away now. I'm ready to turn my back. If you care to, you can touch me.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

New facebook page for Magical Journeys

I have opened a new facebook page for the creative writing workshops and retreats: Magical Journeys. The page will advertise the retreats and workshops, post albums from previous retreats and generally encourage anyone curious about their creative lives to come and explore something amazing. Weekly workshops will also be posted on the site. Please come and like the page. Many thanks x

Monday, 1 July 2013

The House

Our house is plumbed with darkness, its windows curtained with cow parsley's old lace. We improvise where we can, and in general we are pleased with the way the light percolates in and lays itself in shifting patterns across the furniture and floors. Bananas soften on the side and turn dark and sweet. Ghosts slip in on an angled breeze, doors bang behind them. They leave their sincere fragrances, deep as beeswax, sharp as gorgonzola.
Delirium lives here with us, in her crinoline dresses, her perfect cheekbones and her crinkled lavender corsets. She is big on treason and on theft but  she cannot keep a secret. Her throat is so translucent each mouthful of swallowed wine shows through. There are tell-tale tissues in every bin. She invites us to her burlesque parties, throwing grand gestures in our direction. I suppose in every house there is room for improvement.
We ransack the house looking for clues. Open her drawers: here is the French handkerchief, a relic from the last war, here is the lost key. Here are the three wedding rings. When I see them I crack the full length of my heart, and the house turns, folds in upon itself, with all the inscrutable origami of a dream. Now it is castle, horror, love. When I look up there is Delirium's face flickering in the mirror. The word adultery settles on my heart like a piece of corroded metal, but she didn't say that. She said 'Stop shivering or I might have to kill you.' And the house whispers in response: 'I am sorry. Here are my lupins, my red hot pokers, my roses. Let there always be bouquets from now on.' And I wave to her, as I turn and see the whole thing again, from a different angle.