Monday 25 March 2013

Songs Without Words - New Work in Progress.

West Britain 381 AD

' ... Lleu unpacks his harp in the sunlit door space of his mother's weaving hall. The women look up and smile, then duck their heads back down over their shuttles. His mother smiles to herself but keeps her eye on her own warp and weft. One woman winks at him and asks him if he wants her to weave her yarn through his harp strings.   

 He grins at her,  cradles his harp in his arm, and begins with  the first song of a repertoire acquired in the school across the water – always plucked and never voiced. As these songs without words float over them the weavers begin to feel in their bones the stories of the sun riding through the heavens by day and the moon quietly waxing and waning by night.  They celebrate the grace of the star goddesses who can tell the past, the present and the future. And they feel the world around them swirling and dissolving, then remaking itself in the magic power of water.
Lleu plays on and the plucked notes of his harp fall into rhythm with the clicking of the weights and the swinging of the shuttles. Soon the women start to hum along in sweet unison and the hall becomes a bee-hive, buzzing with voices that thicken and rise above the click and swish of  their weaving frames.
When the light fades and the women return to their own houses and families Lleu brings his harp closer to his mother and, now in words, he  sings the story  of her sister  Branwen the dark menace of  the great Arawn, who grasped her one day and towed her into his Underworld.'
Lleu’s words float up into the smoke blackened roof beams . His mother  joins her humming voice to his, her own song without words keening and full of sadness.
There is no doubt that Lleu is her favourite child: she sang to him from the day he was born and soon after gave him his first harp, strung with a single string for his little fingers to pluck...'

Note for you: Lleu is the son of a Welsh King and the brother of Elen who is at the centre of  my new novel.  For a writer this is a fine adventure - bringing people to life from seventeen hundred years ago. .. 

Saturday 16 March 2013

A Drive on the Wild Side

Last Thursday - in good company - I drove over the tops between Weardale and Teesdale, defying the weather which had of late been threatening and snow-laden. Up there, un-fogged by people and a crowd of concerns it is possible to clear oneself of the present feel the deep past

The Lumpy Land

Here are some lines from my notebook

Passing through this lumpy land,
rumpled hard by men who, in ancient times,
quarried marble to build cathedrals
and dug coals to heat the hearths
 of the great and the good

Up here I encounter the wild places
under my own skin: the layers of self
embedded in my genetic structure;
the honeycombs in my head filled with 
un-worded memory, originating
in the prickly wake of my conception

Icing sugar snowflakes sprinkle the tops
and lie like silk ribbons
in the creases of the brown land
celebrating the wedding of ancient and modern:
between ourselves and people who - like us -
led lives imbued with purpose
and thought with equivalent care
of their children and tomorrow’s dinner -
the millennia between us melting
like snow in Spring sunshine  
Like silk ribbons in the creases ...


Saturday 9 March 2013

The Eternal String of Pearls

One of the wonders of writing this idiosyncratic blog is the range of equally idiosyncratic responses that come to me across the ether, as comments on the page or by emails from everywhere - recently from as far away as the the very wise ‘60 going on 16’ in the West Country (I think) and the poet Ann Grenier in Rhode Island USA to John Haggerty in Glasgow.  

For me these connections with their inspired references are like an eternal string of pearls rippling down to me through time and across space.
This week, in his comment, the very informed John Haggerty from Glasgow tells me that the song  She Moves Through The Fair  reminds him of RL Stevenson’s poem   'Bright is the ring of words/ When the right man rings them/ Fair is the fall of songs/ When the singer sings them.'

I've copied the whole poem* below for your delight. It has been sent to music but I can’t find a version of it. I love the phrase Fair is the fall of songs and recognise the connection which John sees between these songs.

John also tells me that his brother who lived in Los Angeles for 35 years, would say of someone whose style he admires, 'She moves through the fair.'  Then he goes on to mention the autobiography of Rosamund Lehmann who took her title, 'The Swan in the Evening', from the ballad. In it she writes of her   daughter Sally, who died at the age of twenty three.

I love the work of Rosamund Lehman but have never read this one, so I have ordered it and will read it. A pearl on my string.

John also says that Sally’s husband, the distinguished poet and novelist PJ Kavanagh, describes her reaction in his extraordinary memoir 'The Perfect Stranger'  that title being  from a poem by Louis MacNeice.  Another pearl for my string.

And now my friend Sharon Griffiths, after commenting to me on She Moved Through The Fair , and knowing I'm currently researching a novel set in 382 AD (set in British Wales and the British North)  has sent me a uTube  link to   Rhydian and Dafydd Iwan singing what has become the anthem We Are Still Here.

 I have to tell you that their rendering of this modern anthem - referring back 1500 years to the place, time and people in my story - made my quarter-Welsh reddish hair stand on end; it also reassured me about the old truths embedded in the world I am imagining.  Two more pearls for my string. 

Thank you John and Sharon for these pearls of great price.   I hope some of them become pearls for other people's lifetime strings.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) ,
 no title, from Songs of Travel and other verses,
 no. 14, published 1896

Bright is the ring of words
When the right man rings them,
Fair the fall of songs
When the singer sings them,
Still are they carolled and said -
On wings they are carried -
After the singer is dead
And the maker buried.
Low as the singer lies
In the field of heather,
Songs of his fashion bring
The swains together.
And when the west is red
With the sunset embers,
The lover lingers and sings
And the maid remembers.


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