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relics

Relics

relics

 

Spring 2018 sees Raven’s Wand published as a deck of oracle cards, lavishly illustrated with characters from the book and with exclusively written meanings. Today – a closer look at ‘Relics’

If you could have sailed around Britain’s coast two centuries ago, there’s a chance you’d have seen large, flightless, black & white seabirds known as Great Auks. They effectively lived an identical lifestyle to penguins, but by 1844 (according to records) the last one was clubbed to death and eaten. This crime was committed in Iceland – but wait, there is a challenge for the killing of the last Great Auk from the nearby Faroe Islands. Think about it – what kind of accolade is genocide? What person or nation would argue that credit for a certain genocide belongs to them? And here I’m not singling out Iceland or The Faroes, all nations have exterminated one spices or another, and often, many species. The true madness of this is its banality: a species was exterminated – so what – it happens – next. The same sort of thing happened to Britain’s wolves, with the last one being killed in the 17th century according to most sources. ‘Relics’ was drawn with these facts in mind. Look closely and you’ll see not just flesh and blood wolves, but wolves hidden amongst the rocks and trees. Witches hid them there to save the last of them, and to me this is what witchcraft is truly about – respect for living things. I say ‘to me’ because there are many interpretations of what witchcraft is, but one thing’s for sure – it wasn’t a witch that battered that lone Great Auk to death in 1844, but hey – so what – it happens – next.

hooks-final-fall

For the love of crocodiles

hooks-final-fall

When I illustrated the story of Peter Pan a few years ago, I spent the best part of 10 months working solidly on Peter’s world: Neverland. Day after day I’d get out of bed and face hours of intensive work at the drawing board bringing J M Barrie’s famous story alive.

I must be one of the very few people who’s never seen the Disney version of Pan, and my first real introduction to the story was reading it in readiness for illustrating it. Immediately it struck me that Peter wasn’t the youthful hero I’d always imagined, but rather a spoiled and distinctly selfish brat. As the weeks and months dragged by and the portfolio of images grew, I came to dislike Peter more and more, and instead find a growing sympathy with his nemesis – Captain Hook. Hook is the far more interesting and complex character. Peter is often obnoxious because he ‘feels like it’, while with Hook we glimpse a reason for his fall from grace. And before anyone berates me for my harsh comments about Peter, remember – amongst other things – he tries to shut the window and prevent Wendy and Co returning home so he can keep her forever, and it’s only the look of despair on the sleeping Mrs Darling’s face that softens his heart. Hook’s bitterness stems from his resentment of Peter’s bravery (or recklessness to be more accurate – he faces off against a pride of lions just to impress his new friends) and more importantly, his ‘cockiness’. That’s when Hook and I became partners – I can’t stand our new age of arrogance that’s replaced modesty, and where those who shout loudest simply must be the best because, well. . . they’re the loudest. When Hook attempts to poison Peter’s drink, he relents and the better part of him thinks twice, but it’s the ‘cocky’ smile on the sleeping Peter’s lips that inflames him again, and so in goes the poison! Sadly – Tinkerbell came along and ruined it all by drinking the poison draught to save Peter’s life. (And remember how Tinkerbell encouraged the Lost Boys to shoot Wendy down with an arrow – to kill her and ensure she didn’t have a rival for Peter’s attention? Twisted, eh?)

When it came to drawing Hook falling into the crocodile’s waiting mouth I felt the story had lost its most intriguing character, and to some extent its heart. If my nemesis had been a selfish and arrogant little boy who infuriatingly always got the better of me, I’d have become a twisted villain like Hook too. And so – Captain James Hook, scourge of the cocky everywhere – I salute you!

Happily Evil

 

knight-superior-krast

Something the Dalai Lama said long ago stays with me – that every human soul, regardless of nationality, culture or gender, seeks to live a life of happiness, free of suffering. And he’s right. What people define as ‘happiness’ is wildly variable, however. Some find their ‘happiness’ only through material riches or domination of others. When this is the case it’s easy to see that what they’re seeking isn’t really happiness at all, but the alleviation of their own fears, jealousies or insecurities – which in turn makes them feel better – which in turn conveys a twisted sense of ‘contentment’. See how easy it is to cause mayhem in the name of happiness? This doesn’t undermine the Dalai Lama’s wisdom but it does give a startling insight into human behaviour.

When I write my characters I ask myself, ‘what’s this character after – how do they find their contentment, and what lengths are they prepared to go to?’ With characters of high morality it’s easy. Kolfinnia’s happiness is knowing Wildwood-coven will always be her home. Valonia’s happiness is seeing her witches thrive. Moral characters have the shortest and most direct routes to happiness. Then there are ‘grey’ characters such as Hathwell, whose ‘happiness’ is the challenge to find his courage and make amends for serving an organization he doesn’t fully believe in, but having aided their crimes.

Beyond ‘grey’ characters we have the true villains, usually surrounded by a host of ‘greys’ who excuse their actions as merely ‘following orders’. True villains require perhaps the most sensitive writing of all. Their route to happiness is often very convoluted and troubled, although this won’t show on the surface.

Of the three chief villains of The Dark Raven Chronicles – Samuel Krast, Victor Thorpe, and Sef – each of them is plainly destructive and immoral, but look closely and you’ll see the real tragedy; there is redemption waiting below the surface. These villains might be immoral, but not amoral. They know that their actions destroy the sacred quest for happiness in others – and very rarely the reader will see them struggle with this. It might be just one sentence amongst hundreds of pages, such as Victor Thorpe’s brief twinge of conscience in Flowers of Fate, but it is there . . . and for those readers who’ve enjoyed Victor’s company and wonder where this devil’s moral moment went to, look carefully at his initial reaction to the terrible choice laid before him by his bullying grandfather, Barlow . . .

When the pitch-black of a villainy is garnished with a speck of white or grey, it provides the reader a toehold – something that they can identify with in an otherwise alien and opposing mindset. If done right, we might end up actually developing some empathy with our villain (I only say some empathy, not a whole lorry-load!).

Lion of Evermore will be published later this year, in the autumn. Sef takes the role of chief villain, and although the pages and strewn with his depravities, always remember that all he is seeking is a state of ‘happiness’ – just as we all are.

Soul sign

Sunday soul II

Fairies don’t see the world as we do, at least not those fairies that dwell in The Dark Raven Chronicles. When frost-fairy Neet, meets witch Sunday Flowers for the first time, he’s entranced by her soul sign. This mystical representation of the soul takes the form of a tree, and floats above the crown of the head. Some of the branches might be bare, while others are in bud, or laden with fruit or flowers, and these branches might sit right beside others that are twisted and diseased. The branches represent all that’s good and bad about a person. Neet can see this, but Sunday, for all her skills as a witch, can’t.

Neet’s seen many soul-signs down the years, and although he understands little of the symbolism he instantly recognises that Sunday’s soul is unique – terrifyingly so. All other trees he’s seen are complete, yet Sunday’s tree has been cut clean through the trunk. Somehow she has defied the first and oldest universal law – she has died, and returned to life.

Flowers of Fate is the second novel in The Dark Raven Chronicles, and aside from being what I hope is an exciting story, it explores deep issues such as freewill versus fate, atonement and self-sacrifice. I look forward to sharing Flowers of Fate with readers later this year.

Polite pagans

witch picnic

As I write, it’s coming around to that tedious time of the year again, when millions of innocent squashes will be sacrificed in the name of ‘trick or treat.’

Forget for a moment the galling fact that until the 70’s this tradition was unknown in Britain, (I blame John Carpenter’s film ‘Halloween’ for the spread of this begging bonanza) and put aside the sheer irritation of strange children banging on the door demanding bagfuls of boiled offal laced with E numbers masquerading as ‘sweets’. No. For me the most depressing and infuriating aspect of Halloween is the barefaced hypocrisy.

The issue of race has become something of a minefield, but rather than keeping the enemy of prejudice out and fostering respect, this minefield just creates more tension. Say the wrong word, in all innocence even, and you might find yourself looking for a new job. Prejudice doesn’t go away – it just retreats into the shadows. And yet what do we see in our high street shops in the weeks running up to October 31st each and every year?

I’ll give you a clue – they fall into two distinct types. One has green skin, tombstone teeth, weeping boils, hair dripping with chip fat and a fishhook nose. The other kind is a temptress sitting on a pantomime broom in such a way that her fishnet stockings are showing and the tiny hammock that is her bra is struggling to restrain its load, and chances are she’ll be wearing six-inch stilettos, black and nothing but black.

As a recognised belief-system like any other, it’s an enormous credit to modern day pagans and Wiccans that they tolerate this abuse. As far as I know, witches aren’t famed for murdering their critics or demanding Tescos remove their racist, Halloween propaganda . . . and don’t get me started on ‘Christmas’.

So a big ‘thanks!’ to all those happy-go-lucky pagans and witches out there for shrugging it off with dignity and a smile, we could all learn a lot from you. To quote Homer Simpson – ‘God bless those pagans!’