Memories, musing and mischief

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Time is fluid at Halloween.  It is the old Celtic new year, when past, present and future merge.  On this night, all borders dissolve and we can commune with our ancestors or see our future.  Summer has ended and the sun will slumber until spring.  It is the time of Hecate, the crone goddess who both guides us to the land of the dead and is ready to act as midwife to the rebirth of the sun at the winter solstice.   This is the gateway between the old and the new year, when the wheel turns and the cycle begins again.

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It is appropriate that the world is unsettled leading up to Halloween.  Rain, gales and thunder have assailed us in the past week.  A storm is making its way across the country and the sky is full of a luminous darkness.  Now and then, I hear the squawks of geese, as they pass over on their migration from the arctic.  The trees have begun to turn: the small sycamores and the horse chestnuts are the first to show their colours and the ground already crackles with leaves.  There is a hint of smoke in the air and the clatter of fireworks leading up to Bonfire Night.  Fittingly, it is the crows that now seem to colonise the green spaces, tricksters and harbingers of death and magic that they are.

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This is a time to celebrate the wisdom of age and experience.  On Halloween night, our ancestors may choose to visit us, so we might set a place at the dinner table for them or leave offerings of food outside or on their graves.  The pumpkin lanterns now traditional at Halloween have evolved from the candles that were left in the window all night to guide the dead home.  It is a tradition at Halloween to create an altar to your ancestors, containing photos and mementoes that honour them and trigger memories.  It is a good time to consider the gifts your ancestors have given you, both genetically and through the lives they lived.  But you might also recognise the strangers that have gone before – the writers and artists that have inspired you and stoked your creativity.

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Halloween signals the death of summer and the old year, for which we mourn, but we also look into the future.  This is the best time of year for divination, when we use the old arts, such as scrying and Tarot, to gain guidance about what is to come.  Winter is the still, dark time of the year, when the earth retreats and we have space to delve into the hidden places within us.  This is where the cycle of our creativity begins.  Time to ponder our dreams and hopes for the year to come.  The hushed repose of winter is when our vision for what this year could be is dreamed into being.  That spark of creativity is always there, though it may not seem so in the dark, cold months, until the winter solstice, when it will be symbolically reborn.

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Halloween is a time of deep thinking and remembrance, but it is, of course, also the season of mischief.  The chaos and unpredictability of winter will last for many months.  For our ancestors, it was a time of great tension as they worried if the harvest would help them survive the winter.  The mischief of Halloween is both a challenge to and a light-hearted acceptance of the uncertainty to come.  The costumes are disguises to protect us against malevolent influences.  The traditions, such as bobbing for apples, an affirmation of life.  Creativity is often kindled out of chaos. So before the introspection of winter, why not indulge in a little mischief and see where it leads you?

The life of a novel

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The stories we write travel with us, becoming part of who we are.  We live in many worlds and as many people, creating lives that are ours and yet not ours.  These stories accompany us on our journeys, changing as we change, and altering us in turn.

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I’ve finished my novel for the second time.  I don’t remember when I first started writing it exactly, but it must have been almost twenty years ago.  It was born out of the sea, forged out of the history and atmosphere of a small island just off the coast.  This is the place I feel most myself, where my mind is free to drift and dream. And it was born out of my love for myth and magic, based as it is on the legends of the selkies.  If I didn’t love this place, hadn’t spent so much time here over the years, learned about it and absorbed it, the novel wouldn’t exist.

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This book is redolent with all of my memories of the island: picnics on the rocks with my parents, climbing the steps of the lighthouse, long walks along the coast as a teenager, ending up here, full of angst and tears.  And within it too, are memories that are not mine, but those of the characters I’ve populated it with.  The place is evocative enough on its own not to need romanticising, so I had only to write what I saw. Yet the island I describe in the novel is not the island you would see.  I view it through the eyes of my experience, as you would your own.

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But the life of my novel doesn’t begin and end here on this island.  It followed me, half-formed, to the city, where I began my career.  The ambiguity I felt about that and being so far from my beloved sea, is traced in the arc of one of the characters, who finds herself exiled from the island.

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The novel lived with me, changing and evolving over the years I was writing it.  It accompanied me as I fell in love and set up home with my partner.  It followed as we moved back to the town of my birth, close, once more, to the place it began.  It showed me that I could finish a novel, that I had what it took to be a writer.

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This was the first piece of writing I submitted for professional feedback.  I did it when my mother was dying.  It gave me something to hope for at a time when I was at my most vulnerable and a purpose that wasn’t all about preparing for my mother’s death.  The feedback made me cry, because after years of wondering whether or not I could write, here was some kind of proof that I could.  By this time, all my energy was consumed by my mother, so the novel lay dormant as life took over.  But life influenced fiction once more, as my experiences added richness to the mother daughter relationship that is at the heart of the story.

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On returning to writing, I won prizes in two competitions within months of each another.  I began to blog, which gave me discipline, stoked my inspiration and connected me to other creative people.  It seemed it was time to take my writing seriously.  But still, though I made the decision to finally revise the novel, I found it surprisingly difficult to do so.  In the end, I decided to enter it in a competition, so that the deadline would force me to get it done.  And so I’ve finished my novel for the second time.  Although I would love to win the competition, it doesn’t matter if I don’t, because it’s served its purpose.

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When I began this novel, I was starting out in life.  Now, I’m older, with an abundance of experiences and memories in between.  This novel is inextricably linked to who I am and where I’ve been.  It will always be the novel that lived my life with me.  So I send it out into the world and hope that somewhere it will find a life of its own.