stephenpalmersf

Notes from sf author Stephen Palmer

The Sacred Bee by Hilda Ransome

This (quite old) book collates much folklore, rural wisdom, legend and myth about bees, beekeeping and honey. Beginning with prehistorical times (a very short section), the book travels chronologically through history, comparing and contrasting the attitude our cultures have taken to bees and honey. Particularly interesting were the sections on the belief that bees emerge from the rotting carcasses of cows, sheep etc – which explains the image I used to see in my childhood printed onto cans of Lyle’s golden syrup… Anyway, this is a really interesting book with many a curious fable to tell.

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Hilda Ransome, The Sacred Bee

Beltane Solarcy

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Beltane Solarcy

I shall cast down all the churches that have caught me in their stone webs. I shall be free to live again. You need me, so you call me.

No place of XP will be safe from me. I shall break down all churches. I shall burn all wood in every church and I shall set the roofs to flame. All books with words shall be burned with fire, all scrolls will crumble to ash, all parchments change from yellow to black to ashen.

All metals shall be melted in the forge, all plastic shredded for green bins. All cloth shall be ripped to pieces and burned. All stones with writing on shall be smashed. All other stone shall be used to build good houses. All bells shall be melted in the forge, their Roman voices forever silenced. All ropes shall be untwisted. All glass shall be melted and made into bottles for the keeping of fresh liquids.

All bread shall be chopped into slices and made into sandwiches, all wine tainted with good local soil, then drunk in memory of the horned ones.

And it will be good.

And then the arbourity shall begin as Sheela and I walk this land from top to toe, from west side to east, and ever into its heart, destroying XP wherever. No oak or ivy branch grows out of me, for they creep in, reifying in my mind the ancient forest that stood long ago. No fingers pull wide Sheela’s vulva, for they slip in, authenticating her gift of birth, which in my mouth is the gift of word.

We begin in Kernow, heading east in the light of the moon, such lunarcy, as the sun rises and changes all to solarcy. Now wind-sculpted bushes point black fingers across the moors as we walk ancient ways, across rocks the eldest in Britain, through sea-scoured grass where the choughs sing and the butterflies fly.

Cross Dartmoor, cross bogs and plains, along stone lanes, where music and laughter can be heard, past wind-smoothed rocks laid as lithic bubbles upon one another, where the grass is green and the streams subtle loud.

Eastward into the lee of the land, where the sun is warm and the sea blue, behind us a hint of the ancient forest spreading so that Kernow and company are clothed in green, as was, and as should be to the detriment of XP forever.

In Exeter to the place of XP at the centre of the city, to smash it to pieces, to burn, to melt, to make illegible all writing. And me to speak, and Sheela to bring forth children, as the ancient forest grows behind us, arbourity an impressionist’s shadow of vivid olive green. Walking up and down this Roman place until all is green, and all places of XP ruined beyond hope of repair.

Heading east to car’s black ribbon and making it green. Following the Greenway 5 north, with ancient forest following; great puddles of dank earth where our feet tread, creaking with Beltane energy until miniature forests begin at their edges.

The oak and the ivy, and the Holly King’s victory just a month and one half away. But my victory is the greater, for I shall have my head severed at the neck until I am dead, if the people of Britain will offer in kind their courage.

XP is naught. My eyes are the eyes of owls, my ears the cups of lynxes, my nose the pointer of the wolf, my tongue is hot, my breath a stink, my spume the froth of waterfalls. I am bearded with moss, I am muscled with oaken wood, and my bones are stone. My blood is rain and my sperm a billion seeds of trees. Fungi are my stomach and loam my dung.

XP is naught. Sheela’s eyes are the eyes of falcons, her ears the cups of Scottish wild cats, her nose the pointer of the fox, her tongue warm, her breath hot, her spume the flight of seeds come Samhain. She is covered with algae, muscles lithe like silver birch, bones as hard as granite. Her blood is rain and her juice the ooze of rockpools by ocean. Fungi are her stomach and peat is her dung.

And so into Dorset, forsaking the Greenway 5. “Free games for May,” as was and ever shall be. No wodewose wild shall represent me, nor Marian Sheela. A crown of leaves for hair, a furry body, a staff of deadwood – not livewood. Though the wild wose man inherits my force, calls across this land, his voice so much louder than the screaming of XP bells as they are thrown into the furnace, he does not take my place. For I walk this land from top to toe, from west side to east, and ever into its heart, destroying XP wherever.

Into Wiltshire, the land of the dead. Black-faced mummers sink into the darkness beneath sod, then return. A head separated from a neck.

As Avebury twirls on a world axis made of wooden shaft, what is life? Is it what we imagine it to be, or is it its own thing? Do we imagine life, or does a true Britain wait for us, with its own customs and mores and laws? You called me – now accept my life as it is.

The Heart of England receive me! I shall destroy your complacent XP communities. I shall restore the web of life that must drag you from your airy eyries and plunge your fingers, toes, noses and tongues into rich soil. Your dogs shall be confused, your horses set free, your meat factories destroyed until the ancient forest that springs up in my every step covers your green and pleasant counties.

No black ribbon shall survive my presence, all of them sent to ruin. The Greenway 40, the Greenway 4, the Greenway 42: twisting, narrow, unique pathways shall criss-cross the land – this new emerald cursus, this oak-lined route of slow horses, this way of local games not played elsewhere, this hill-climbing avenue of chalk set white against dewy sparkle, this path of local gossip, this legend lane of long memory.

Sheela, bathe your face in dew again and leap the Beltane fire. Your complexion is as wet seaweed, your eyes azure, your hair a-shine, your lips all red and puffy. I am the Lord of the Greenwood, whose logos is magic, whose mythos defies XP, who can smash the Roman word with a single utterance: “The Earth!” Send children to the woods for garlands multicoloured, for flowers bright white and yellow, then return to decorate. The May Song shall not be denied.

Now into Wales, up mountain, alone coast, where the trees are tall and verdant, where the rock is blue and the skies blue, where there water is pure and the milk pure, where the first fascists tried to kill our men in white. But the speech of those men survived, and the rumour of them, and their skill, and all the ploys of those bundle-carrying boys were for nothing.

Beltane! Ring out your horns made of cow horns, your reeds made of grass reeds, your flutes made of hollow sticks, your percussion of stones, your shouts, your chattering, your fire and flame. Shout out your joy, your weather, your vital noise, as warming sun makes dew depart the grass. Your deadwood branches are covered with flowers, your women beautiful, your men beautiful, your music the life of your communities. And as arbourity covers Wales your churches shall be high annihilated. Cry for the delight of it all. There’s no shame in human rain.

The Maypole set up, the dancing akimbo, the food good, the water pure, the streets all bright and fuzzy. The wicker man shall come today, all with his bonny kin.

The sacred marriage is duality, lord and lady, man and marian. Summer overtakes winter; rivals struggling on the eternal wheel. Creiddylad the daughter of Llud, betrothed to Gwythr, is carried away by Gwyn ap Nudd, and all are outraged in Wales. But she is not freed. A settlement arrives, a bargain: the two men will compete for her hand. So Gwythr and Gwyn fight on, and never, ever stop.

Cross Cheshire gap, to spine-long hills, where trees are tough and dark. The moors are bare, but shall they be, when all is green gifted from me.

To Nottingham and ancient wood, lore long in broadened way, with Lincoln green the stuff of fields, on backs and thighs and arms. With setting sun the cool of eve, and twilight promised long, in leaf on tree, in shivering twigs, the ethics of the trunk rise up! But wait good fellows and Marians, for in your hour your homes are sundered, a time lapse etiquette, make longer paths and more green, less grey, more distance. Roads now are rivers, bright paths between forest arms, as arbourity swathes hills and vales mysterious green. You wear Lincoln green – “Turn your cloaks, for Faerie folk are in old oaks.”

And never lose your hoods. The hooded man is man potent, the hooded woman is woman potent.

Twilight settles across the arbourish forest, and I look back over southern reaches. With you all scattered to new glades and clearings, with greenwood your girdle and your puzzle, with trees your guide and your obstacles, with leaves your solar panels and your future loam, what will you harvest?

To York. I smash the minster and every XP house, and pile stone blocks in stacks, the wood to flame and energy, all bells made dumb, all written word defaced or turned to ash. All Roman wine augmented with soil, all Roman bread taken and turned to toast.

All fields planted with arbourish trees and changed to small holdings, with levels three – high, middle, low. With good vegetables and fruits at low, with good fruits at middle and high, with animals kept proportionate to served community. With very little work. With very little effort. With ten days harvest at the time of the year opposite to mine; run up Samhain, fill the void in Britain. Thus do I balance what lay unbalanced.

Now night casts cloaks over British lives and Sheela runs naked wild in the forest. Die, XP fear of flesh, die fake “spirit” which you falsified from imagined breath, which you placed into body as a separate thing, which you lied about, misrepresented and distorted. Die, fear of the senses, die foolish partisan ways, die limited mind constricted by inaccurate word, die false values, die pyramids of people, die Rome, die Rome, die.

A green gown is a good gown, one suited to a woman and suited to a man. A-maying couples everywhere, living Sheela’s vivescity, give kiss some, give kisses many: one night, one year, eternity. Whitethorn forever.

Don’t be gloomy, Britain. No tree is born into sin. No tree is told lies about the forest, no tree is forced to be. No tree is fed a fantasy, no tree is saved, no tree sinks as one beneath the earth, no tree ascends as one to sky. A tree is a tree, a shard of my arbourity, of nature, of life, of unimaginable history.

There can be no scandal in a forest. Now sing the May Song: get on with it! “Married in May and kirked in green, both bride and bridegroom won’t long be seen.”

On Scottish border I run loch edges as mountains peak to clouds white grey. XP schisms are gone. XP strict is gone. I bounce through conifer stands, my hand in Sheela’s, as moonlight flickers between the needled trunks and owls screeching. You watch me, your mouths open but your faces shining with joy, see mists whirling with my rumour, see clouds roil above, sense cool breeze on your night-ruddied cheeks.

Beltane night is fire, lucky fires a pair. The summer’s start with merriment: fortunate fire, bright fire. Light two sacred fires but use deadwood only felled from the trees of arbourity. That grey, column-swirling smoke is food for other trees at times of greened day.

In multitude of wombs is now life, emerging Imbolc next. Retake the ovine symbol from Rome, add milk and music for next year’s birth. Kill and eat the XP lamb, and bake its blood to sausages.

Send out a threefold call of love – to self, to spouse, to children.

“O’ marriages in May, bairns die in decay,”

A universal conflagration flickers over this land, this May Day Night, as celebrated and celebrant vie for heights of happiness. Flame is safety, flame cauterises, flames kill germs and fear, banish sickness and misery. Even an arbourish forest is rejuvenated by flame. I leap over your biggest bon with Sheela’s hand in mine, and we are energised. You wanted me – you got me!

My horns are Sheela’s crescent moon. I am the hunter and the hunted, one year is my life. I go back to the cave art of the Continent, to the walls of shaman art. I am the force of nature, part human, part imaginary, all power, all potency, all here. I am the son of nature. As the glaciers melted and the climate changed I called myself forth from the deepest human minds, to live on as an idea, a cult, a force, a symbol, a meme. I embody the fertility of the soil, the smell of earth, the potential of humus, born from a womb of new plants, to live, to die, as you do. Yet I am son and lover.

“But how many merry months be in the year? There are thirteen, I say. The midsummer moon is the merriest of all, next to the merry month of May.” Beltane in the month of Saille, the willow, whose drooping fronds burst from trunk set on water-sucking roots, which quench my lustful thirst. A year and a day: thirteen plus one.

May is Maia, is Maya, is Spring, is my love, ah, my love! Is Maj, is Maiden, is Sproutkale, is Tri-milchi, is May. Opposite Samhain on the wheel of the year.

Now night fire comes to scorch the Scottish cake. From nine trees, by nine men, with nine sticks, set the flame, dance deiseil around the fire, and if you get the black crumb then you are carline, offered up as sacrifice. Throw them in the fire! Make them leap over it thrice! For they are dead to you.

The arbourity is near complete. Sheela shows herself to all who can see, and I lower my horns, exhausted. The night is almost done, and sun approaches horizon.

Britain is tree covered, Britain is greened, XP gone forever. The millions lie in their cots, apprehending summer, then easy harvest in autumn from permanent agriculture of trees. Of ecosocieties. Of men and women no longer bereft of land, no longer sleeping that cool, grey, antiseptic sleep of tarmac street and urb of artifice. Arboreal pheromones make your noses twitch.

But now it is time for me to die. A man hunts me in my own greenwood, a man I do not know, have never seen, but fear, fear, as I have all my day. My eternal successor, who shall in turn be succeeded.

I lie in a bower of branches with oak leaves all around, my eyelids drooping, my breath coming quiet, my muscles aching, my feet sore, my hands rough with bark-graze. A hint of morning is brushed against the sky by runnels of mist, and my breath plumes white in the air. The glens are quiet, near silent.

A weapon is raised.

Goodbye Sheela, whom I knew. Goodbye forever, yet we shall meet again. We are at once symbols and real, made manifest by the springs of culture, fuelled by verdancy, alive, magic, half soaked in dew, half drenched in wonder. May, and meant to be here.

If I take a bath in my thoughts will I return the same? Will I be of old, or will I be new? Will you, Sheela, will you present yourself to me, or will we find a new love?

A weapon falls and my head is separated from my neck.

All bread of my body shall be made into food, all water flavoured with good local soil, then drunk in memory of this horned one.

Glass shall be melted and made into sculptures of me. Ropes shall be twisted for the securing of trees. Metal shall be taken from the forge, Roman voices forever silenced, to make images of me. Worthy stone shall be used to build houses. Stones that can take writing shall carry my solartic poem. My cloth shall be Lincoln green. Metal shall be formed in the forge, all plastic shredded for green bins.

Scrolls shall carry my poem. Books shall carry my poem. The wood in every church has been burned, the roofs set to flame. No place of XP was be safe from me; I broke down all churches.

In death I am free to live again. You called me in your hour of need.

I cast down all the churches that caught me in their stone webs.

Come summer, come Samhain, come Yule, come Beltane Solarcy, when I shall walk again. You called me, and now you have me.

Ask!

C’mon, tha’ scurvy knaves, ask me a question!

sp

Stephen Palmer

On GoodReads…

Some of my books on Goodreads

Memory Seed
Memory Seed

reviews: 3

ratings: 11 (avg rating 3.82)


Urbis Morpheos
Urbis Morpheos

reviews: 4

ratings: 8 (avg rating 3.62)


Glass
Glass

ratings: 8 (avg rating 2.62)


Muezzinland
Muezzinland

reviews: 2

ratings: 5 (avg rating 3.20)


Hallucinating
Hallucinating

ratings: 3 (avg rating 3.67)


Owls by Virginia Holmgren

Slightly old-fashioned but very enjoyable book collecting science, culture and myth about owls. US-centred approach (the author is American) but lots of applicability to Europe and beyond.

owls

Owls, by Virginia Holmgren

Beautiful Intelligence publication

Beautiful Intelligence is to be published by Infinity Plus Books in July.

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Infinity Plus Books

The Time Traveller’s Guide To Medieval England by Ian Mortimer

Very good book indeed! Written as a “travel guide” as if to a foreign country, the book discusses all the main aspects of life in medieval times. Fascinating, superbly written, full of detail and incident. Really enjoyed this one.

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Author board at SFF Chronicles

I’m very pleased to say that those nice people at the excellent forum SFF Chronicles have told me I’m to have my own author board. Do feel free to sign up to SFF Chrons (if you haven’t already) and join in…

sffchron

New review of Memory Seed

Delighted to be informed this morning of a new review of Memory Seed. It’s twenty years since it was accepted by Tim Holman at Orbit for publication!

Memory Seed

Memory Seed

A guest blog by Jo Zebedee: Changing Voices

I’m delighted to post here a guest blog by Tickety Boo author Jo Zebedee, whose new book Abendau’s Heir is almost published. I asked Jo to write about the topic of prose voice, and so, with no further ado, here she is…

CHANGING VOICES

I have a writing voice, right. Of course I do. It’s zippy and Northern Irish, and my sentences are short and have more than a few swear words (I did say it was Norn Irish, after all.)

Hold on, though. Not everything I write is quite that way. The heir to a distant space empire doesn’t tend to call people eejits. He doesn’t, actually, swear that much. He’s prone to thinking, too. To musing. And to using long sentences with colons and semi-colons and dashes, of the M and N variety.

It always surprises me, when I shift from work to work, how much my writing changes. It’s on a subtle level. The books all still feel like me, but each has a different cadence: Abendau has long, flowing sentences. It’s more reflective. Inish Carraig is fast and pacey, with pithy asides. Waters decided to become descriptive and almost poetic in places (which is what I get for stealing my title off the genius that is WB Yeats.)

The contrast is even more marked in short stories. I write young people, and not-so-young. Sometimes they want to talk like an American, which I hate because I can’t nail the idiom just as easily. Sometimes they’re from down the road. In one notable instance they spoke with a nice old-fashioned BBC-best English accent. Quite sexy, that one.

I’m now embarking on something new (in between edits andd submissions and queries and many, many blogs not to mention life,) which has already decided to have its own voice (somewhere between the flowing Abendau and the poetic Waters, with little regard for descriptive prose to date). Which made it timely to think about the thorny subject of voice a little further. I suppose what I wondered was which came first – the setting or the voice?

Sometimes it’s easy. In Inish I wanted a Belfast setting, with hard voices and black humour. We Norn Irish talk fast. Very fast. (Anyone ever googled The Wee Man From Strabane? Do it. Give yourself a giggle. And then try to imagine capturing that in a sci fi book for mass appeal and still make sense…) So the people I was depicting led to the voice I used. (Did I mention that I actually hear my characters’ voices? I’m not sure what, exactly, that says about me except, possibly, I need to get out more.)

But why then did I end up with a pacy space opera with long flowing sentences? Surely that makes no sense? Except that the characters are deep thinkers, by and large. They juggle a lot to think about – big themes, an epic scale, much angst. Here, the characters shaped the language to capture the feel of the book. And once captured it filtered into pretty much every aspect of the book.

I’m not the type of writer who sits and deconstructs what I write. I write, and read, for flow. I’m as likely to enjoy a literary classic as a nice shoot-em-up. I like a range of voices. So for me finding a definitive answer is hard. Except, perhaps, this: If the voice is wrong for the book, it stands out. If your characters have the wrong sentence style, a drawl where it should be quick and pithy, your inner critic will nag and nag until you fix it.

When you find the book flowing when you read it back, when you don’t second guess if it sounds right, then you know you have the voice in place. Even if it’s not the one you expected, and it’s different from the one in the book edited last week.

But watch for bleeding between voices – I’ve said it once, and I will again – a space emperor with a Norn Irish accent is just plain wrong. Unless it’s Liam Neeson, of course. But he makes everything right.

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Abendau’s Heir

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