Thursday, November 29, 2007

Richard Leigh 1943-2007

Sad news: Richard Leigh, co-author of The Holy Blood & the Holy Grail and all-round Dan Brown nemesis, has passed away. Apparently he had been suffering from diabetes, and resolutely refused to have anything to do with doctors (given the greed of the pharmaceutical industry, I can't say I blame him). Richard was good enough to meet me when I was writing The Knights Templar and offer me sage advice on some of the more arcane elements in the Templar story; it was a meeting I have fond memories of, and had even hoped to interview Richard in a documentary about the Templars that never quite happened. (He was enthusiastic about the idea of the film, and agreed at once to the interview.)

You can read The Independent's obituary here.

I'm sure Richard would want well-wishers to donate to the Vancouver Institute for Lycanthropic Children. Or, failing that, the Pushkin Trust, of which he was a trustee.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gnostics Interview

I have just recorded a second interview for the US radio show Coffee Cigarettes and Gnosis, discussing The Gnostics: The First Christian Heretics, which has just been published in the States. The show goes live this Saturday, 17 November. For anyone who missed the first interview, on the Cathars, you can purchase a download of the show here.

I am currently not writing a novel, no surprises there, perhaps, as we approach the third anniversary of this blog, but am writing a book on new wave cinema for Kamera Books and editing the text of The Cathars down for an illustrated edition, which is due out next summer. I am also struggling to get a feature film completed before men in white coats come and take me to the nearest funny farm. As excuses go for not completing Elias, I think that's a pretty good one. Or a pretty bad one, depending on your point of view.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

In the Virtual Alexandria

The US radio show Coffee, Cigarettes and Gnosis interviews me this week on the Cathars. Go here, scroll down to the eye, and click on the musical note to hear the show.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

US Radio Interview

Yesterday I recorded an interview for the US Radio show, Coffee, Cigarettes and Gnosis. The original intention was for me to talk about two of my books, The Cathars and The Gnostics (the latter of which has just been published in the States). However, I talked for so long about the Cathars that they've decided to do a separate interview in a few weeks' time about Gnosticism. The Cathar interview should be online next weekend. Failing that, the weekend after. I hope it's been possible to make something coherent out of my ramblings... At any rate, I landed a few punches in favour of the Good Christians against what they called the Church of Satan.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Unconscious Novel

Yesterday Lindsay's group met again. This is only the second time I've been there this year, but I think I've only missed one or two meets, as our regular schedule has been interrupted by various factors, one of which is Lindsay's struggle to complete his new novel, Sun at Midnight. Well, I say 'new', but he's been working on it since about the time Alice's Masque came out (and that was 1994). He told us that, when he'd begun the book, he'd had a dream where he was told that the book was already written, and all he had to do was write it down. He then proceeded to do this, while at the same time working on other projects (radio plays, the Celtic Stories, the Troy novels and of course the marvellous Parzival and the Stone from Heaven). However, he became stuck on one important aspect of the back story, and only this summer did the answer present itself. In relating this to us, he reminded us that we should never underestimate the power or the role of the unconscious in our work; it always knows best, and we should listen to it. If something doesn't feel right, it must be addressed, it must be worked on.

This is precisely the problem I'm having with Elias, especially since asking a close friend for advice over the summer. Her advice was to make the character of the new housekeeper - in what may or may not become the Prologue - a more interesting character, perhaps a dyer. I thought this was a great idea, as it would mean that this character becomes at once much more interesting and dynamic. But I also felt that it would entail a major rethink of the Prologue, and had a bit of a meltdown. On the way up the M4 to see Lindsay and the gang yesterday, I realised that these supposed big changes were not so big at all. In fact, I really can't see what I was so mortified about to start with.

Despite this, the gut feeling remains that Elias is worth doing; moreover, it's something I have to do. Even in the last month, when I've been working on the fairy novel, thoughts about Elias have been popping up here and there. On a recent trip to New York City, for instance, I suddenly felt that NYC would have to appear in the book, from its earliest incarnation as New Amsterdam (which will make an appearance in the Starkey narrative) to its ceding to the British and change of name in 1667 (towards the end of the novel, when Helvetius is about to publish his account of meeting Elias and the subsequent attempt at performing a transmutation).

So: trust your gut (even if it's slightly larger than one would presently like!). That reminds me, the gut has been called 'the second brain'... but perhaps that's something I'll leave for another time.

As a postscript to this one, however, I can report that the fairy novel got the thumbs up - with a few caveats. Also, we discussed Patrick Harpur, whom Lindsay knows. The tremendously exciting news is that Patrick's long out-of-print masterpiece on alchemy, Mercurius, is finally being re-issued next month. All hail.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Fairies (Not Pink)

This time last week I woke up with the overwhelming urge to turn an old screenplay of mine into a novel. The script is called The Fortune, and came close a few years ago to getting produced. It's about a property developer who falls in love with a fairy.... with disastrous consequences. I've always been able to see this story very cleary - the bright neon of London vs. the twilight of the countryside - plus it's also a very tight plot (featuring magic, madness, murder and ritual masturbation, no less). That, and conversations with my sister, who has had some amazing insights into what the story is actually about, has convinced me that I may need to divert my alchemical intentions and get on with The Fortune for the time being. Given that the script is 20,000 words long, I've already got a third/quarter already written, plus I think it would work well as a fantasty novel - hence eminently marketable. And, of course, there's the famous wanking-in-the-woods scene... (Not based on the author's own experience, I hasten to add, actually being inspired from something I read in Barbara G. Walker's Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Or possibly it's sequel, I forget.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I have four poems in the latest issue of Fires (issue 28, June 2007). On another note, I make a fleeting appearance in Adam Thorpe's new novel. Not actually in the novel itself, but in the acknowledgments at the end. (Guess why!)

On far less exciting fronts, my next book will be New Waves in Cinema, due out next June from Kamera Books. I'm still doing the reading for it, and wondering what to leave out, as there have been rather a lot of new waves, and only 40,000 words to tell the story in.

And the news for parrotts: no work on Elias has been done of late. No parrots were involved. The Parrot Society of the UK cannot say for sure when Mr Martin will complete all or even part of his novel. They recommend Between Each Breath and Is This the Way You Said? by Mr Thorpe instead.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Medicine Show #2

Just back - well, a few weeks have elapsed in real time, but in inner time, it's only a few days ago - from my second boot camp with Lindsay and Adam. The first was of course 18 months ago at Lumb Bank, whereas this one was at Tŷ Newydd in North Wales, AKA 'the Welsh Arvon.' (It's actually Lloyd George's last house, and he's buried down the lane in a tomb overlooking the river. A very peaceful spot.)

Unlike the legendary 'Slash & Burn' tactics of Lumb Bank, I actually wrote several thousand words at Tŷ Newydd. This was partially deliberate: I thought that if I cut any more of the novel, I'd become a permanent fixture on Michael Bentine's Potty Time. So I skipped a few classes - with teachers' approval - and, lashing myself to my desk in best Turner-on-deck-in-a-storm fashion, proceeded to labour away at the Beast.

The great thing about working with Adam and Lindsay is that they are perfect foils for one another, both in terms of teaching and also in their respective critical perspectives. Adam gave me some great broad-stroke comments about the piece (i.e. most of the first half of Part I), while Lindsay, as ever, had to split hairs. But, to his eternal credit, they were the right hairs to split, my homework for the last night being to cut the opening section down by 2/3.

I then spent an hour reworking the opening paragraph, hoping I could walk down the lane to the river via Lloyd George, paying my respects en route of course (it would be quite nice to have a Liberal PM again, methinks...) and then commune with the water in the way I did at Lumb Bank. However, I spent so long on that paragraph, and then reworking the following section, that I had no time to get down to the river, and had to hotfoot it to the evening meal. What was interesting, though, about this bit of slave labour, was that I'd never before spent so long on one paragraph, and somehow wrote it by feeling. Another way of saying that was that I was trying to make the language as vital as possible, using as few words as possible. Everything passive had to go: this had to be concrete images, feelings; a sense of place and forward movement; a sense of magic and wonder latent behind the ordinary.

Other highlights of the week included the drive there and back, through Snowdonia, which I' never seen before (fucking spectacular, if you'll pardon mon Français); the great pub in the village, to which Steve and I repaired nightly, joined on the Thursday by the Minor Wizard and Harry Potter themselves. (These two latter reprobates being Lindsay's and Adam's alter egos, as determined for them by students: one evening over supper, Adam admitted that former students had dubbed him Harry Potter, whom they thought he looked like, at which point one of our group thought that Lindsay looked liked 'a minor wizard.' Lindsay didn't think much of being thought minor!)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

On BBC Radio Bristol on Sunday

I'm appearing on the Trevor Fry show, Sunday Starts, on BBC Radio Bristol this coming Sunday 29 April, between the ungodly hours of 0730 and 0800. (This means I will have to wait until 0900 for breakfast, but at least means I will be up in time to take my Mother and her flower arranging gang to the airport for 1130.) I will be discussing The Gnostics along with Trevor Fry and a local vicar, who is apparently sympathetic to the cause, which is a relief, as I was expecting the Enemy. You can listen online here.

On another note, The Gnostics has had a good review in the May issue of the FT. (That's the Fortean, not Financial, Times. A far worthier publication, in my opinion.)

And finally, something alchemical: today is the 625th annivesary of Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel's second successful transmutation, which happened in Paris on this day in 1382, at five in the afternoon. So, as the cocktail hour approaches, raise a glass of elixir in their direction.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Review of The Gnostics

My new book, The Gnostics: The First Christian Heretics, has just had a good review in the UK Independent here.

On another note, today is the 70th anniversary of H.P. Lovecraft's death. Here's hoping the Old Ones return soon to clean up town...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Journal of the Plague Year

It's back to my old ways, I'm afraid, in that this is another post not about the novel. Or at least partially so. I'm currently being distracted from the great work by revising an old tome on the Black Death, originally published in November 2001. (Note that Amazon still show an early version of the cover that was never used, showing part of Bruegel's Triumph of Death. It was my suggestion that this image be used, which was later overruled by the forces of Middle England and New Labour etc etc.) The revised edition is due to be delivered at the end of this month, with it being published in Jesusland in May, and over here in Old Blighty in June. The current version of the cover can be seen here. Note that they have again ignored my wish for the Bruegel image to be used. (I suspect the hand of religious fundamentalism, or possibly the Leader of the Opposition...)

However, there is some connection between the plague and Elias, in that one of the main characters dies of it during the Great Plague of 1665. It also appears, offstage, in the first part, where it breaks out in Amsterdam during the winter of 1601/2, one of the series of harbingers that starts the novel. So, a nice little overlapping of paid hackery and Mein Verk!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

And the scores on the doors...

On Saturday the group met at Sue's new flat in Canonbury (very nice! the sort of London district familiar to Arthur Machen, I believe), as our local haunts in Fitzrovia were double-booked with the usual problem of salsa classes etc.

I unveiled the new beginning I wrote in early January in Inverie and got a largely good response. Absolutely no-one liked the first two (lengthy!) paragraphs describing our hero Jacob's walk through his home town of Enkhuizen, and I was subjected to a Comfy Chair experience in which Lindsay asked me to remind him of his 6 golden rules of How to Begin a Novel. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember any except for pace (which I failed at) and a hook (which came far too late).

He was good enough in his wisdom to remind me of the other four points that I forgot: have a strong image; show human interest; indicate the style of the whole thing and also hint at the overall themes. In fact, come to think of it, I did more or less make it on the style and themes front, but I did indeed fall down on the image and human interest elements, which only kicked in after the first two paragraphs were history.

So... I cut the opening paras, and it's a lot better. Thank the Divine Powers for writing groups, supportive feedback, and Sages from Frome.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Incipit Vita Nova

Or at the very least, Here Begins a New Beginning (if not New Life, to bastardize Dante). The meaning for such cryptic statements on the 32nd anniversary of Keith Jarrett's Cologne Concert
refers to my own experiences over the New Year, not in Cologne, but on Lewis, Harris, and then Knoydart in Bonnie Scotland. Especially in the latter place, where it rained a lot, but was still idyllic (great pub!) I managed to rethink the beginning of the novel and generally go back to a very basic approach that is hopefully unselfconscious and hopefully also oblivious to the whole idea of 'good writing'; I'd rather just try and get on and tell the story. Bugger good writing, if not Bognor!

It was rejuventating just to look at the part of the book that bugged me - the beginning - and realized that I just had to murder my darlings. It was a darling -the scene with the beached whale - that just didn't work. So it had to go. Once I had murdered said darling, I felt free to just write what had to be written - which is now a totally different beginning, but hopefully one that is much stronger, and one that gets the story going much quicker. More anon.