Ugh. Sorry, all, and especially to Toni, whose question I was due to answer on the blog tonight. I hate breaking commitments/letting people down. Been trying to persuade myself for the last hour that I don’t have a migraine, but I’m losing the argument. Next week, Toni, and please accept my apologies.
It’s the eve of our Referendum. I know that so many of us are battered half to death with exhaustion over this issue. The debate has been acrimonious and terrifyingly costly. It’s claimed a life – indirectly if you please, very directly indeed if you hold the right-wing press properly accountable for its relentless scaremongering. In the course of this campaign, I’ve seen good friends with genuine reasons to vote Leave called racists. I’ve seen good friends with genuine reasons to vote Remain called idiots. This has been horrendous to watch. I’m glad that we’ve reached the end of this part of our road, and no matter what happens tomorrow, I hope we will be able to heal the breaches torn between us during the campaign and pull forward together.
If you’re voting tomorrow, I’m fairly certain you’ll know which way by now, and one more opinion is the last thing you need to see on your timeline. Normally I wouldn’t give it. I’m not extrovertedly political (though inwardly and in the expression of my life’s basic principles, extremely so). Having said all that, this is my statement that I will be voting REMAIN. I very much doubt that this will influence a single vote anywhere, but I gather from people I respect that it may be important to vocalise my intentions in order to help balance vociferous outpourings from the LEAVE camp. I’m not so sure. I think maybe enough of us are yelling already. That’s partly why I’ve put this post on my WordPress rather than my timeline: easier for the weary to ignore, this way, and I don’t intend to start or engage in further wrangling. I don’t do well in political debate. I am a slow thinker and can’t marshal facts quickly enough in order to acquit myself honourably.
But here are my reasons, put simply. Every humanitarian and environmental-protection group to which I belong is asking its members to vote Remain. The brightest, kindest, most rational intellectual lights of our country are hoping we will Remain. Jeremy Corbyn, the sole political leader I have been able to respect in this country for decades, is asking us to Remain. Sadly, so is David Cameron, but there is always one duck in the bucket, as my gran used to say. (No, I don’t know what it meant either, but you get the idea.) Scientists and economic experts of unimpeachable credentials want us to Remain. I have stayed on the sidelines of the campaign, but I have been watching, and I’ve been unable to find convincing arguments to refute the views of these organisations and individuals. For purely negative reasons, I can’t bear to stay in the same duck-bucket with Farage: those waters are fouled beyond cleansing.
Those are my logical influences. I doubt the referendum will be decided on logic, though, and all I can trust is that the outpouring of emotion that carries the decision one way or another will be of a good kind. Will be hope and optimism, not hate and fear. The European Union to which we currently belong is deeply flawed and needs reform. The advantages that accrue to us from belonging to this flawed organisation, however, vastly outweigh the advantages of leaving it – and we certainly can’t reform it from the outside. Tomorrow I will be voting on real, specific issues such as the protection of human rights and the best chances of protection for our environment, but also in a broader spirit of trust in the future. Quite simply, I cannot believe that any political steps of retreat, wall-building, isolationism and segregation can possibly be good for us in these hate-filled, rage-filled times. Tomorrow – rationally, emotionally, logically, illogically, in sincere truth of spirit and determined hope – I will be holding out my hands (I do have unnaturally long arms) across the Channel and the North Sea (both of ’em very recent innovations, if that kind of geological perspective helps), and voting Remain.
Amazon caught me well short last night by unleashing Priddy on the world about eight hours sooner than expected. No complaints – the more mermen, the merrier, and sooner is better than later – but I then had to scramble to get the versions for All Romance eBooks and Smashwords uploaded. All done now, and here you are. $3.99 across the board for a tale which has already attracted the following fabulous review:-
This is a beautiful book and the story flows with power, excitement, joy, emotional recovery and a truly extraordinary use of language. It reads like an updated (and slightly naughty) mythical saga or folk tale and has that timeless quality I love. (Thank you very much to the reviewer!)
Welcome to the Sunday blog! This week Fenrir is answering Juliana’s question. Juliana said…
I would love to talk to Fenrir! What would I ask him? Hmm… maybe I would ask if there was anything from his old life that he missed and what he is happy to be rid of!
Ah, I miss the raiding! Blóð ok sorg, and down we’d rush like a hot wind from hell upon our unsuspecting neighbours. I mean our internecine battles, not the shore raids over the sea: those were too easy, at any rate until we ran into the warrior monks of Fara.
No, winters were for viking around on our own unforgiving soil, expanding our Torleik territory and filling it with sheep, cattle and women by our glorious birthright of pure, unthinking savagery. Up would leap the neighbours, and then we’d all set to, hewing, smiting and slaying, left, right and centre. Grand times!
Or so I tell my Caius, on high summer nights like this, when the lights of sunset never quite fade from the sky, and only migrate slowly northeast until they become the lights of dawn. I tell him because I love to see the disapproving little crease slowly appear between his eyebrows, and the corners of his mouth – far too sensuous, even after forty summers (yes, we’re both old men now), to suit a Christian abbot – turn reprovingly down. “Fen-rir,” he’ll say eventually, if I keep up the tease long enough, as if giving me my full name, second syllable a reproachful growl, should be enough to tame the wolf (ah, which it was, long ago and a thousand times over since then), “Fen-rir! All your learning, all your long years of civilisation! Can it be that you really regret such barbarity?”
And, “No, indeed,” I will say to him, putting an arm around his shoulders by the remains of our hilltop fire, looking out over the land – Broccus’s land, which he inherited, and which we visit now and again to make sure that the half-brother princes aren’t quarrelling too ferociously over the huts and the mud. “No, indeed, just as you, my fine abbot, never regret your rollicking days here with old Broc, dashing about on his puddle-hopping war-ponies. Just as you never regret the day you first hitched up your cassock and led your so-called men of God into wild-eyed battle against the Vikingr. Yes, heaven forfend we ever look back!”
What a gift I have, even now, for making him flare up! It’s as good as a trip back to old days indeed, to make him leap up, stalk around the fire, grab whatever dusty great tome he’s managed to barter our good Dun Abbey lambs, calves or mead to obtain, and recite for me chapter and verse on the virtues of gentleness. Scratch the surface of my noble lord of Dun, and there’s the guttersnipe still, Broc’s firstborn, sparks in his eyes, blissfully unaware of the irony of teaching me Christian submission at the top of his lungs, calling as he does so on a whole savage pantheon of Broc’s old gods to strike him down if it isn’t all true. He keeps it up until I start to laugh, and then he drops the book (oh, so carefully, no matter how far I’ve incensed him), and then I have my work cut out to get away from him fast enough to give him the run he needs off down the slope, out of sight, sound and the range of prying village eyes, down to the brakes of ferny, moss-carpeted willows where he can catch me, tackle me down, and show me for himself just what a bloody gentle, civilised soul he is these days.
But when we’re done, how glad I am to take him back to his fireside and his book. How willingly I listen to him reading through the night, puzzling out, one thorny ethical knot at a time, the thread of our new days and ways. Dun is a beacon, an island, and from its defensible heights (own well, rocky ramparts in three directions), we shine what light we can into a dark world. Abbot Aelfric and his kind won in the end, you see. The Christianity of lonely shores, of singing seals and beloved old hermits who were saints in their own lifetime – all that’s gone now, dried up by the dogma and scorching moral torches of Rome. So, what Cai and I miss most from our old days – unthinking violence, the hunt, the chase, the kill – has to be, has to be the very thing we’re most glad to leave behind. Unless we can master ourselves, how shall we dare seek to teach other men? How shall we dare say, “You must learn, learn all you can about yourself, your soul, the ways of other souls around you, the workings of the world you live on as it dances round its sun – yes, that is the dance, and let no Roman Churchman tell you otherwise, tell you that you and you alone occupy the centre of God’s creation – or you and all other bright souls like you will fall into a black, appalling ignorance whose consequences may be eternal, and whose bitter message that you and you alone are right in your beliefs will prove a deadly harvest to those who come after you”?
No chance of that, in Abbot Cai’s ministry.
Harper: mind if I put in a word, gentlemen? I had no idea that Fen had quite so much to say, but he, like many of us, finds himself compelled to speak out firmly and stand his ground these days. Thank you for that great question, Juliana, even if it did set him off.
Next week we’re back off to Cornwall, where Toni will be meeting up with Lee and Gid. Toni says…
I would love to talk with Lee and Gideon. I don’t think I could pick one or the other, since I love them both and I love them together. Not sure what I would ask them. Maybe just how they are, how they’re doing with all the changes in their lives, how Tamsyn is, what’s next for them.
The regular Sunday blog is taking a break this week in favour of my next publication, Priddy’s Tale, which I’m excited to announce will release on Monday, 20th June, and will be available on Amazon, All Romance eBooks and Smashwords (no pre-order, I’m afraid – I wasn’t organised enough this time!). Here’s the blurb and an excerpt. Would you like a win a free copy? I’m giving three away. Just leave a comment here or on Facebook, and I’ll pop your name into a hat.
What doesn’t kill you sometimes makes you wish it had…
Priddy’s a lost soul in a part of Cornwall the tourists don’t get to see. He’s young, sweet-natured and gorgeous, but that’s not enough to achieve escape velocity from his deadbeat village and rotten family life.
He’s a drifter and a dreamer, and self-preservation isn’t his strong suit. An accidental overdose of a nightclub high leaves him fractured, hallucinating, too many vital circuits fried to function in a tough world. When a friend offers him winter work in a lighthouse – nothing to do but press the occasional button and keep the windows clean – he gratefully accepts.
His plans to live quietly and stay out of trouble don’t last very long. A ferocious Atlantic storm washes a stranger to Priddy’s lonely shore. For a shipwrecked sailor, the new arrival seems very composed. He’s also handsome as hell, debonair, and completely unconcerned by Priddy’s dreadful past.
Priddy has almost given up on the prospect of any kind of friendship, and a new boyfriend – let alone a six-foot beauty with eerily good swimming skills – out of the question entirely. But Merou seems to see undreamed-of promise in Priddy, and when they hit the water together, Priddy has to adapt to Merou’s potentials too, and fast. His lover from the sea might be a mere mortal from the waist up, but south of that line…
Far-flung west Cornwall has a hundred mermaid tales. Priddy’s loved the stories all his life. Now he has to face up to a wildly impossible truth. Merou’s life depends upon his courage and strength, and if Priddy can only find his way in the extraordinary world opening up all around him, all the ocean and a human lifetime needn’t be enough to contain the love between merman and mortal.
His arms were empty, the rippling surface vacant. He whipped round, losing his footing, submerging under the weight of his soaked jeans. That was all right – he needed some ballast, something to keep him down here while he searched, because he was damned if he was going to let the sea snatch Merou now. He kicked off his shoes and dived.
The water was so dark! He lost his bearings instantly. Something was swirling around him, a heavy current or one of the vortices that occasionally formed as the tide combed the ocean back through the Hell’s Teeth barricade. Priddy tumbled through it, blind, casting hopelessly around him for a floating limb, a handful of hair. “Merou,” he yelled, wasting his last breath on the cry. Silver bubbles, soundless, shimmering away into the abyss…
Something bumped against him. He had a DNA-deep west Cornishman’s terror of sharks, and he lashed out wildly. If it was a mako or a white, you stood a chance – a very remote one – if you could catch the bastard a hard enough thump on the nose. Christ, though – this felt more like a serpent, one of the giant eels that got caught in the nets and passed into infamy as grandfather stories, tales around a beach fire on Golowan night. A coil of it slipped around Priddy’s waist and clamped tight. Bubbles and foam rushed past him and he broke surface with a breaching dolphin’s force. Whatever had caught him just as suddenly let him go. On reflex he started to swim, coughing and trying to clear his vision. There were the stars and the bright heavens, bisected like Merou’s unmarred belly with the silvery brush of the galactic rim.
Merou was swimming beside him. Priddy sucked an astonished breath and went under again. Again something caught him – coiled around him – raised him with supple, irresistible force. Not Merou, who was calmly swimming still, smiling incandescently. “All right there, then, blue-eyes?”
“Merou!” Priddy threw his arms around him, not caring if he drowned them both. Merou burst into laughter, not a bit inconvenienced by the attack: seized him joyously in return. Priddy’s world turned upside-down once more, the Milky Way swooping down into the depths and the glitter-filled water soaring to the zenith. The eel, the serpent, was rolling him over and over, laughing all the time, and Priddy couldn’t be afraid, because… “It’s you,” he cried out, the next time he could breathe. “You’re back. You’re alive. It’s you holding me, isn’t it, with your… with your…”
“With my tail,” Merou finished for him, taking pity. “Keep still, wriggly landling, or I’ll scratch you up. The scales are very sharp when they first grow back.”
“Oh, man, what the fuck are you talking about? I’ve lost it, haven’t I? This is a fucking dream.”
“Feeling is believing, my handsome. Let go your stranglehold on my neck. Go on! I won’t bite.”
Heaving great lungfuls of air, Priddy forced himself to unlock one hand and slide it down Merou’s back. The skin was warm as sin and toast, normal enough if normal meant bloody perfect, all the way down the groove of his spine to his waist, and then to the opening crease of his arse, which began right on time but then… “Shit!” Priddy snatched his hand back. “You’ve got scales. You really have got a tail.”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. And you’re sitting on part of it, so don’t freak out too far.”
Priddy gave a barking caw of laughter. Keeping one arm hooked safely around Merou’s neck – the top end of him, the part that still made sense – he tried again, and this time dared to feel the great muscled curve that had swept behind the back of his thighs and was supporting him there. “How are you… How are you holding us still in the water like this?”
“Great big fluke on the end. Whale-style, not fish-style, perpendicular to my tailbone and totally flexible. Treading water, you could call it, only…”
“Only you don’t have feet. Oh, God. Oh, God.”
“Calm down, you infant. Even Jacques Cousteau wasn’t as overwrought as this.”
“You really did know him? So – wait…” Priddy tried to catch his breath and bring his voice down an octave or so. “What does that make you – immortal, as well as a mermaid?”
“Not immortal, no. I’d have died tonight if not for you. A change on land is one of the few ways to kill us. And… there’s nothing maidenly about me, as you’ll find out soon enough.”
Priddy shivered hotly. “Sorry. I scarcely dare ask what’s become of John Thomas.”
“Oh, he’s in there. Just tucked away behind an armoured wall of muscle and scales, like any sensible penis ought to be. Can you please pay attention? This has to be done in the proper, formal way.”
“Just a short ceremony. Landlings can’t be allowed to know about us, you see, not unless they’ve done us a great service.”
“But… doesn’t my dad know about you now?”
“Not at all. I’m just a drunken vision that will haunt him the rest of his life. But you, Jem Priddy… Wait. What’s Jem short for, when it’s a boy?”
“Yes, it is. You’d better tell me, or you’ll go down in the annals as Jemima.”
“Jeremy, then,” Priddy growled. “And don’t ever call me that. What annals?”
“Never mind now.” Merou cleared his throat and raised his voice, as if something in the water or the diamond-blazing sky was bearing witness. “Jeremy Priddy, you have done a favour for a spirit of the sea. In consideration of such, I can now, by the powers of the Mer in Lyonesse, grant you a wish.”
Priddy settled more comfortably on the great coil of tail. He’d been cold for a while, but now he too was sin-toasty warm. Maybe he was drowning, or in end-stage hypothermia, and somebody else’s life was flashing in front of him. “An actual wish?”
“Yes. Just like in a fairytale, or…” The tail gave a teasing jounce beneath him. “…or when you were a little lad on Santa’s knee in Trago. Come on – make it a good one. You saved my life.”
“Technically I saved it twice. Once just now, and the other day – ”
“Crikey, did you bargain with Santa like this? That one doesn’t count. I only needed saving then because you turned me into a biped.”
“I did? How is that supposed to have happened?”
“I tried to tell you at the time. You touched me. If a landling lays a hand on us, and if we like the hand enough, we can change. Sometimes,” he said ruefully, tightening his grasp round Priddy’s waist, “we like it so much, we don’t get any choice.”
“I’m sorry.” Priddy didn’t mean it: he was overwhelmed with pride, to have been the catalyst for such a transformation. “It didn’t seem to hurt you then, though. Not much, anyway.”
“It’s fine if happens in the sea. It just feels like being… unzipped, or zipped up again, if I’m going the other way. Did you think of your wish yet? Would you like a speedboat? Your father’s heart, liver and lungs served up to you on a silver plate?”
“Jesus, Merou.” Priddy pulled a face, but the thought of old Vigo’s entrails didn’t really disturb him. What scared him was the power of his wish. I wish you’d stay with me forever, with your magic and your laughter, and your sweetness that makes everything else I’ve discovered in this world so far seem hollow and bitter and dry. But that wish wasn’t fair. It involved someone else, and what if Merou didn’t want to stay? If by some insane chance all of this was real, and the wish had binding force, he’d be trapped.
Priddy could only ask for something for himself. “I wish,” he said faintly, leaning his brow against Merou’s, “that I’d never taken those damn pills.”
Merou became very still. Somewhere in the waters below, the great fluke was sculling, place-holding them against the tide, but he stopped stroking Priddy’s hair and tipped his head a little, as if listening. “Ah,” he said regretfully after a moment. “Can’t be done. Would involve swimming in time with an unqualified person, and the inevitable paradox. If you hadn’t taken the pills, you’d never have ended up here, so we’d never have met, and I couldn’t be here granting your wish, or trying to. You see?”
“I do, but so far you’re a pretty crap Santa, if you don’t mind my saying so.”
Welcome to the Sunday blog! Gideon is answering Helena’s question this week, and it’s a good one:-
Because I’ve just re-read the Tyack & Frayne series, I’d choose one of them. I’d ask Gideon how he feels about his increasing extra-sensory powers; he was always very understanding about Lee’s but regarded him as exceptional, so is he able to be as calm about his own?
Gideon: That’s a good, tough one to answer. The short answer is no.
No, not at all. Lee’s were part and parcel of the man he is, once I got past my initial prejudices. You can’t look into those silver-green eyes and not realise he’s seeing worlds and layers of time and event wrapped around and interweaving through our day-to-day. Even when he’s at his most switched off, sharing a pint with me after work or falling asleep with Tamsyn on the sofa, I’ll sometimes see a twitch run through him, and I’ll know that something’s tugged his sleeve – some stray thought from a kid in the street, an echo or a shadow from what he calls the spiritual traffic of our home, by which he means our ordinary ghosts. Not hauntings, he says, just reverb from the countless lives that have passed here before ours. His gifts are inborn, though it took a monster to bring them online. He’s a good deckhand, a talented barkeep, an outstanding husband and father, and a psychic: plain as that. And all of it was there when I met him (the husband-and-father bit latent, of course, and how lucky are Tamsyn and I to have brought those gifts online?), so I guess that, after the astonishment an ordinary village copper would feel when faced with the unexplained, I was able to be calm about him, yes.
Anyway, I hope you won’t mind that I’ve brought you out over the fields to sit on the steps of Zeke’s chapel! It probably seems an odd venue, but this was where I got Lee back after old man Fisher tried to dislodge his soul. In a way it’s where I began to get my brother back, too. I was scared and repelled by his methods, but I realise now that Zeke’s gifts as an exorcist – or, more accurately, I think, as a retriever of souls – are less to do with Christianity, with Methodism, than they are to do with Zeke himself. Zeke commanded Lee to fight off old man Fisher and come home, and Lee did. In fact, now I look back, these steps are where Lee first told me he loved me, and we sat in the snow, holding on to each other. I suppose I feel safe here. Sarah Kemp has kidnapped Tamsie for the afternoon, and Lee’s taking Isolde for a proper walk, on vet’s orders to try and work a pound or two off her increasing middle. I told Lee I wanted to talk to Zeke, but I don’t. I just want to hear him rattling round in there, making sure the pews are mathematically aligned and knocking dust off the pulpit, or whatever the hell he gets up to between services on Sunday afternoons.
He’d pull my soul back if he had to. He wouldn’t be pleased. He’d rant and rave about the powers of the occult, and the ineptitude of clueless, Godless men who mess around with it. Then he and Lee would put their shoulders to the harness like two great big beautiful shire horses, and they would drag me home.
Why would I ever need that? To be honest, I don’t think I ever will. The things that I’ve seen – Beasts, ghosts, the projected mirage of poor little Kitto, caught in between life and death – they were all good things in their way. They meant good, at any rate: they helped me get my man. (In the way the Canadian Mounties mean it, not in the sense of persuading Lee to the registry office, although that happened too.) I could see why I had to see all those things. With a big stretch of the boundaries, they were almost in the line of duty.
When I stood in the garden of the farmhouse at Drift and watched the ghost – the echo, the reverb, whatever – of Sergeant Pendower’s girlfriend, just standing there in the sunset light with her brown hair blowing and her tulip skirt rippling around her knees, I was frightened. She wasn’t anything to do with me. If we hadn’t just got Tamsyn back, if Jago and Mrs Ivy and Zeke and my ma hadn’t been waiting for us inside, I’d have grabbed Lee and hustled him upstairs, because he has a great line in settling my perspective between the sheets. As it was, he knew I was freaked: cornered me in the kitchen while we were washing up and told me not to worry, that I’d bonded with Pendower more than I’d realised during the Dev Bowe case, that Amber had been powerfully real during her life and to see her now was natural and good.
I know that was true. The trouble is, for me, that one vision marked the beginning of what you’ve rightly called my extra-sensory powers. From then on I couldn’t explain them away or rationalise them. I don’t know what it means or why I’m waking up in this way now. I feel as if sometime in the future, very soon, I’m going to need to use these new gifts, and I don’t want to – I only want my ordinary life, because who could need more than that? Lee is teaching me the rudiments of how to shield myself, so I won’t be distracted at work, or jump up in the middle of a meeting because he’s scalded his thumb on the kettle and inadvertently shot the signal halfway across Bodmin Moor. He sits with me for hours, showing me the breathing, the meditative techniques. I’m not a good student. If I hear him breathing deeply, reaching up that lovely graceful sturdy frame of his into a big stretch, our sessions tend to end in a grunty, sweaty mess on the floor.
So I like to come here, especially now the weather’s so nice, and proximity to Zeke is great for quelling any thoughts of sex, magic or the twilight world of Lee’s gifts. I feel as if Zeke is going to become tremendously important to us all – to me, Lee and Tamsyn – very soon, and the thought makes me uneasy as well as grateful. What monsters are waiting in the wings, needing to be scared off by that grim, starchy face?
Well, enough of such thoughts. It’s good for me to define them to myself, and it’s been good for me to sit here and talk. I can see Lee making his way over the field to me now, giving a wide berth to that hawthorn tree where Zeke and I found him, curled up around the hole old man Fisher had punched in him. I can’t say that Isolde looks any slimmer for her walk, but Lee looks just about perfect: sun-burnished, intact for now in body and soul. For now I’m a man who has everything, and all I ask on top is the privilege – taken for granted by most of the rest of the world, but not by Lee, lengthening his stride anxiously as he gets close enough to see me, trying not to look as if he’s hurrying – of taking one day at a time…
Thank you, Helena, for that great question. Gideon has a lot to think about, and so do I. Interesting times ahead in Dark, and I’m looking forward to chronicling them in due course. Next week we have an intriguing query for Fenrir from Brothers of the Wild North Sea. Juliana says…
I would love to talk to Fenrir! What would I ask him? Hmm… maybe I would ask if there was anything from his old life that he missed and what he is happy to be rid of!