Notes from genre author Stephen Palmer

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Holiday photos (so far)

Beyond Fear by Dorothy Rowe

In my twenties I spent a lot of time in second hand bookshops, where I hoovered up works by Nicholas Humphrey and Erich Fromm, amongst many others. Dorothy Rowe’s books were placed in the same section, and so it was inevitable that I discovered her in the end…

An Australian by birth, Dorothy Rowe first worked as a teacher and child psychologist before arriving in Britain in her forties, working at Sheffield University and later as the head of Lincolnshire Department of Clinical Psychology. She spent much of her time working with depressed patients, and came to reject the medical model of mental illness, instead working within personal construct theory. Rowe believes that depression is a result of beliefs which do not enable a person to live comfortably with themselves or the world, notably the belief in a “just world” – that the bad are punished and the good rewarded – which exacerbates feelings of fear and anxiety should disaster strike. Part of recovering, Rowe says, is accepting that the external world is unpredictable and that we control relatively little of it.

Beyond Fear, the first Rowe book I bought, was published in 1987. It comprehensively sets out the various reasons why fear – whether consciously felt or not – affects our lives, and what the behavioural consequences are.

The opening sections deal with fear, how it is denied, and how we use our bodies as both reasons for fear and explanations of it. This chapter in particular had resonance for me, as I strongly think Western patriarchal society refuses to acknowledge thoughts and feelings in favour of the more obvious, more “present” physical explanations – thus, men are deemed to be violent in the main because they have a lot of testosterone, not in the main because they are taught by society to follow a particular gender identity.

The second section deals with how fear changes us mentally: turning fear into anxiety and phobias, into obsessions and compulsive behaviour, into depression, into mania and into schizophrenia.

The final section shows how fear can be turned into courage. All three sections use case studies to illustrate the main points Rowe makes.

I’ve read many of Dorothy Rowe’s works, but this one had the most to offer when I was a younger man. Its sheer clarity and insight regarding the human condition was an eye-opener to me. I read many of her other books afterwards. As Fay Weldon pointed out in the cover comment, “Dorothy Rowe shows us the path to personal and political, if only we would take it.” For compassionate humanity too, Rowe is exceptional; her compassion shines out of every sentence.

Readers of the Factory Girl trilogy will note that my three books are dedicated to Nicholas Humphrey, Dorothy Rowe, and Erich Fromm in memoriam. These three thinkers were my main influences as, many years ago, I began to ponder the world around me.




I’m presently enjoying a summer holiday.

Work continues in due course! And the autumn will be busy…

teign pier

Beltane Solarcy

b s

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.

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…


Beautiful Pulp!

Another fun cover, this time for the not-quite-yet-published Beautiful Intelligence. Created with the fabulous Pulp-o-Mizer. The real novel, incidentally, is due for publication in June or July; from Infinity Plus.

Beautiful Intelligence pulp style...

Beautiful Intelligence pulp style…

20 Years On…

Twenty years ago this weekend I received the phone call that changed my life. Tim Holman at Orbit called to tell me I was going to be published… my debut novel, Memory Seed, would appear. This photo shows what happened in the two decades that followed.

20 yrs

20 Years Of Novels & Short Stories

punkPunk! giveaway

Goodreads are doing a free copy giveaway for Andrew hook’s punkPunk! anthology. Five copies up for grabs until the end of the month. Includes stories by various interesting authors, all with that ’77 vibe…

While I’m on the topic… here is the link to the launch event in London.


punkPunk! anthology

Blanknoir & The Stranglers

Thoughts on my story in Andrew Hook’s new anthology punkPunk!

Black & White… there is something about this album – some combination of grit and sweat, of synthesizer and melody and rumbling bass, of scratchy fuzz-loaded guitars and metronomic drumming – that makes it special. Released at the back end of the punk explosion, the three decades and more since its appearance have done nothing to reduce its impact. It seems to be from no particular time, have no particular set of references. It amazes and enthrals in equal measure.

I remember listening to the album under the bed sheets – John Peel played it in its entirety on his radio show. He was great at doing things like that.

The Stranglers were swept along by the punk phenomenon, but they were hardly punks. The first two albums, culled from their live repertoire, were edgy, science-fictional songs with lashings of Doors-style organ and twitchy guitars – and of course Jean-Jacques Burnel’s rumbling bass (which acquired its distinctive sound because of a faulty amplifier speaker). But nothing in those two albums prepared the listener for the third album, Black And White. The album to this day stands alone as a brilliant work of gothic futurism, like some hellish report from a dark, alternate future.

The opener, Tank, is a full-blooded meditation on the possibilities of owning this item of warfare. Nice’n’ Sleazy follows – it was the first single – with its bizarre, bubbling keyboard solo. Outside Tokyo is one of many Stranglers’ waltzes, and then we are into the stark Sweden with its images of Cold War borders and interesting skies. The production of these two tracks are marvellous; tender and brooding at the same time.

Hey! Rise Of The Robots is a strange little tune, and then we are into the majesty of Toiler On The Sea, surely one of this band’s most remarkable songs. Musically it allows them to shine – no punk band, not even The Damned, could be this good – as a series of riffs and melodies whirl around the listener’s mind. The lyrics – all fog and lost ships – are the stuff of science-fictional nightmare. A unique track that to this day sends shivers down my spine.

So much for the white side of the album. Yet this side is dark. What of the black side?

Curfew, with its 7/4 time signature, is a freakish evocation of future social meltdown: governments falling, population shifting away from England. The brutal Threatened is as twisted as a David Lynch film – perhaps Eraserhead – with a fantastic vocal from Jean-Jacques Burnel. Great keyboards, too.

Then we are into Do You Wanna and Death And Night And Blood, which show once again the musical genius of these four men (and their producers, Martin Rushent and Alan Winstanley, who must have some compelling tales to tell) as these tracks segue into each other. In The Shadows is almost dubby in its nightmare sonic landscape, while the simultaneously hopeful and hopeless Enough Time closes the album.

I know of very few albums so unique, so out of their time, so brooding and so masterful as Black And White. It’s almost a concept album. The combination of Hugh Cornwell’s guitar sound and Jean-Jacques Burnel’s bass give the music a tourniquet-tight intensity unmatched by similar bands. Jet Black’s drumming is a perfect foundation, while Dave Greenfield’s weird synths make the album shine with malevolent light. This album will stand forever as the masterpiece of the band. As my favourite album from this era, I treasure it.


punkPunk! anthology

The punkPunk! anthology is available now from various outlets…

The VAT Apocalypse

Changes in how VAT is charged could destroy the livelihoods of many small presses. If you’ve not heard of this, please support the cause. Here is a particularly good overview of the problem from David Rix at the Eibonvale Press.