The Echoing Green and Other Stories

So, the time has come to announce the imminent release of my new short story collection, The Echoing Green and Other Stories.

What can I say about it?

Well, the stories are stronger than my previous efforts. They are more focused and thematic and have the confidence of a writer who has found his voice. Although mythological beings are still present in the stories, there are more creatures of pure imagination. The plots are as ingenious and inventive as The Chronicles but, again, there is more focus and less rambling. Because they are more thematic, the stories are, I hope, more thought provoking. There is also more of a social conscience present, especially in the stories, ‘John Frost and the Angel’ and ‘Home’. This is something that was missing from The Chronicles.

The Echoing Green and Other Stories was written in a very short period of time. I always write fast as the stories seem to flow through me. The process was the same as for the other books: I’d cook up a few ideas in my imagination before sitting down at the computer and getting to work. I never have trouble coming up with ideas. It seems like I can turn them on and off like a tap. It’s a very deliberate process: there is thinking time and there is writing time. I’ve never had writer’s block.

So, altogether a more mature, confident and controlled effort that will, hopefully, satisfy most readers.

I should also mention the cover art. This time, instead of the easy option of finding a design on Shutterstock, I’ve gone with an original work of art by the very talented Diana Muller. ‘A Head Full of Hills’ is most fitting for both the title and content of the book. The cover is classier than the previous books, and I hope the content lives up to it.

In what way is the collection similar to the previous books?

Well, the influences are the same: the early work of Yeats, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker and Stephen King. And the strangeness and originality of the ideas is still there. As in previous books, the dialogue is probably the strongest aspect of the work. There is the same playfulness and humour about the stories.

So, altogether, I’m very pleased and proud of the way the stories in the collection turned out.

I hope you enjoy reading them.

The Echoing Green and Other Stories will be available to download or order as a hard copy, right here, next week.

Literature as Play

As far as I can make out there is only one rule to the game of literature that we can say with any degree of certainty. That rule is play.

Play consists of saying much without really saying anything. It is not the job of poetry to clarify. Poetry should suggest and ambiguate. To play with words, to juggle with concepts and ideas is the business of the poet. And freedom is the condition necessary for this kind of activity to flourish.

This is not to say that literature can’t have a message. Only that the message be conveyed in a way that isn’t direct or obvious. And that that message not be the only message.

All good literature is an interplay of light and dark.

Play is omnipresent in our language, in the way we communicate on a daily basis. We don’t always talk in a clear, transparent way. We suggest, allude and insinuate. They say this notion of play is at the heart of our Post-Modern society and culture, but the truth is it has been with us since the beginning of language and certainly since the beginning of literature.

Probably the best examples of literary play are in dramatic works, hence the name ‘play’. The best plays are those that don’t have a direct message. This is the difference between literature and propaganda. It is fascinating to witness how the drama works itself out. The dramatic work of Samuel Beckett is probably the best example of pure play there is. Waiting for Godot is an astonishing achievement of pure dramatic play: a play without any message at all.

Why is drama the best literary form for playing in? It is because drama mimics our own everyday speech. Our monologues and dialogues. And, as we have already pointed out, play is inherent in our language and the way we communicate. It is part of the human condition and the human condition is every poet’s concern.

There are rules to every game. These rules change over time. All except that one essential governing principle: to play. Once you start playing, you are on the road to making good poetry.

Descent, Retrieval and Return: An Archetype for Writers

Many of you would be familiar with the Greek myth concerning Orpheus and his journey to the underworld to bring back his recently deceased wife, Eurydice. A similar journey is undertaken by Odysseus in an episode of the Odyssey. Instead of searching for a person, he is on a quest to find information about how he is going to get home to Ithica. In 14th cent. Ireland an anonymous author committed to paper a story about a ship that appears in the air over a church in Clonmacnoise. An anchor is lowered to the ground amidst a group of monks. Then a man leaps from the air ship and, swimming in the air as if it were water, he retrieves the anchor. In JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Gandalf goes down into a chasm in the mines of Moria to fight the Balrog. He returns later in the book, transformed into a new, more powerful Gandalf: Gandalf the White.

Noticing a pattern?

Yes, all the stories are about descent, retrieval and return. They are all versions of the same archetypal idea. There is much we can learn from this archetype, especially us authors if we draw a correlation with the process of creative writing.

To write convincingly, writers must dig deep. We try to access the sub consciousness and retrieve something. What is this something? Of course, it is truth. The truth about ourselves. The truth about the universe. Whoever said that writers are liars was wrong. Or at least they were wrong about genuine writers who try to give their readers something real. The ego lies but the sub conscious id never does.

Let’s take a closer look at one of the stories I outlined earlier: the voyage of Odysseus to the underworld. Odysseus visits Hades as he is trying to get home and needs directions from the seer, Tiresias. Before he meets Tiresias, he must confront the ghosts of his past. Someone once said that all writing is autobiographical. This insight supports the analogy I am trying to make. When we write, what else are we doing but confronting our own past? But Odysseus’ quest is to find out how he will get home. He needs Tiresias’ prophecy to discover this knowledge. How does this fit into our analogy? We’ve made the point that the writer confronts his own past but there is a huge chunk of the creative process we haven’t mentioned yet: the imagination. To see into the future, we need imagination. To get home, we need imagination. And the writer is lost without it just as Odysseus is lost without the prophet Tiresias. The fact that Tiresias is blind is significant. As is the tradition that Homer, the author of the Odyssey, himself was blind.

So, the two major resources of the creative writer are memory and imagination, ghost and prophecy. And these things bring truth. I won’t force this analogy any more.

Again, we learn from the ancient Greeks. Mythology and archetypes are there to help us achieve self-awareness and self-knowledge. One of the guiding maxims of the ancients was to ‘know thyself’. This is also the goal of psychoanalysis – to make the sub-conscious conscious.

The next time you put pen to paper, remember Odysseus and the underworld or the crewman from the air ship or Gandalf fighting the Balrog. If you want to write powerfully and convincingly you must take a journey into the unknown. There is no way around it. No detours.

The Two Travellers

By David Jordan

Two tramps stopped on a country road,

Holding a conversation.

Shoulders back, chests proud,

Their heads adorned with caps,

Holding themselves like kings.

 

One has a bottle in his hand, paper bagged.

The weight of it: it keeps them grounded

And nonchalant.

For their bodies seem to merge

And they are animated and full

Of the joy of their art.

 

And all around them everything is animated

And singing: the sky, the mountains,

The flowers, the path.

Everything is numinous.

Everything is in concert.

Everything is alive for that one single ecstatic ‘Yes’!

 

Two tramps stopped on a country road,

Holding a conversation.

Both knowing the nobility of being free.

Watchmen

The first and most important thing to be said about Alan Moore’s Watchmen is that it’s a great read. If you’re looking for a dark, realistic and sophisticated adult comic then look no further. If you are new to comics yes, it is a good place to start as it is a compelling story with fascinating characters told in an ingenious way. However, it is not the ideal place to start.

Watchmen is a great story but there is so much more to it than this. If you want to appreciate the impact it had on mainstream comics you really should get your hands on a history of the medium and some comics that typify the way things were before Watchmen arrived. Ironically, Moore himself has written many ‘reconstructed’ super hero comics in order to repair the damage which he believed Watchmen caused: a flood of dark, pessimistic ‘adult’ comics which came in the late 80s and 90s. 1963 is one mini-series that Moore wrote with this intention in mind. So, the pleasure of reading Watchmen can be enhanced by knowing the historical context in which it was released back in 1987.

It should also be noted that Watchmen rewards serious study. There are so many different philosophical angles with which to approach the work. It is a very stimulating read. Notions of power, responsibility, morality and freewill are all explored. History is also a major preoccupation be it on a personal level or a remote impersonal level – the bigger picture, as it were. These are just a handful of approaches to this truly multi-faceted work.

Watchmen is also known for its connections. There are so many connections made between the narrative, dialogue and panel artwork that the work is like one great, self-contained watch.

Yes, studying the book is deeply rewarding but it is not essential. Watchmen works perfectly as a whodunnit with super heroes. It is the triumph of the book that it can be enjoyed in this way. That it is so accessible. Most of what I’ve written so far in this review has been said elsewhere, many times. To take a more personal approach, I really responded to the unique ambience of the book and its self-contained nature which is rare for a U.S. comic. For me, Rorshach is the hero of the book, for his moral integrity and insistence that the truth be told. Many people would argue that the book has no hero but I think most readers would have the same sympathies as me.

Watchmen is such a complex work that you will never tire of reading it. That is why everyone should own a copy. It is a true masterpiece of popular fiction in any medium. Of course, this doesn’t mean it has no flaws. Many people feel that the climax is a bit disappointing. Personally, I think the connections are over played. But there is no such thing as a flawless work of art and a work of art Watchmen certainly is.

Essential. Buy it now!

 

 

Writing A Bhikku’s Tale

A Bhikku’s Tale is steeped not just in mythology but story. Anyone who enjoys a good tale well told will find it satisfying, I hope.

Every day we encounter many stories: newspaper stories, TV and film stories, stories we hear from family and friends. We need stories to shape and understand both ourselves and the world in which we live. Stories take us on a journey, even if it is just a song heard on the car radio or a joke. Like all good journeys, the getting there is more important than the destination. Those are just some of the reasons why I am a fan of stories and mythology.

In writing A Bhikku’s Tale I wanted to play around with elements of Irish myth and ideas from my own imagination. The notion of play is often associated with the term Postmodernism but I wouldn’t hold it down to just this. In my book, all art comes from play. Always has and always will. There is plenty of work involved too but, essentially, it’s about play. I had such fun writing A Bhikku’s Tale! I hope that the reader will have just as much fun.

Two writers who have had a strong influence on my work are Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker. Both are master fabulists and both are Brits. I wanted to write a book about fantastic and mythological creatures, putting them into a modern context. A modern Irish context. I am 100% honest when I say that I have never heard of such a book being written in mainstream Irish fiction. Irish mythology is an absolute treasure trove of stories, ideas and characters that appeal to the imagination. Some people might frown on the way I use Irish myth and legend. They might see Irish mythology as sacred and not to be touched in any way. I believe that, like all other mythologies, Irish myth and legends have survived and grown through people retelling and rewriting them. Mythology is something that should be shared by everyone and all artists and writers should be free to use them in any way they want, in order to say what they want to say.

As mentioned earlier, I put quite a few original ideas and characters into the book. I’m a big fan of imagination. I believe that it is important not just for art but also for solving social and environmental problems, amongst others. I strongly believe the imagination can change the world or, at least, change the way we see it. But, getting back to the book, although there is lots of Irish and other mythology in there, you really don’t need to know much about it to enjoy the work. All you need is imagination and a love of story, two things we are all blessed with, even if you don’t know it.