Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Observations of similarities with Terry Pratchett are to be discouraged

The life of a writer isn’t always full of glamour. I’ve spent the last two months writing a manual for a laboratory machine that incubates water and tests for pathogens. I had the summer free because there weren’t any photocopier manuals to be written. Apparently Terry Pratchett used to be a technical author working for the Central Electricity Generating Board and he used to write press releases about how there hadn’t been a radiation leak. Really, there hadn’t! And I get the impression that he would have been about the same age as I am. So if the similarities don’t end there then perhaps there’s hope for me.

I’m currently rushing home each night in the hope that I’ll have enough energy to edit the next chapter of the first Hidden Masters novel. I’m hoping to tighten it up a bit and put it out as a second edition with a new ISBN. That way hopefully Amazon won’t list it as out of print. It’s not out print even now; if Amazon tells you that the Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil is out of print they are lying to you! Let them have me for defamation or whatever they want. I bet Terry didn’t have this trouble. Apparently he used to rush home to work on the next Discworld novel. This was before he was really famous and he still had a day job. But he didn’t have to deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous small press publishing.

What’s the point of all this? Not much really. Blogging about the publishing life means you have to post something and sometimes it’s not all that glamorous. But why should it be any more entertaining for you than me? Well okay you are the reader and I have an obligation to entertain you. So here’s a poem I once wrote about a spoon:

How I wish
I had some tea
for my spoon
so sad to me

Oh God
can’t you see
that my spoon
would wish to be
a greater spoon
a boon to me

If you could grant
just a little tea
but please quite soon
or I might swoon

So please grant
my wish so humble
treat my spoon
and I’ll not grumble

So much happier
I will be
if my spoon
could stir my tea

Inspired by Nick Harrison (who is not a spoon)

Monday, 22 November 2010

Extract from the Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil

From Chapter 2 - The Hidden Masters on Astral Travel

The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil contains many mysteries, mostly relating to how three middle aged pauncy blokes can drink that much and still manage to save the universe. However, occasionally the book contains insights into the world of paganism and the occult. One such pearl of wisdom, from Chapter 2, covers the subject of Astral Travel.

* * *

For some years now The Three Hidden Masters, two from Hemel Hempstead and one from Bricket Wood, had cherished a theory about astral travel which goes a bit like this.

Many people say that it is possible to leave one’s body and travel on the astral plane to visit other places while the practitioner’s body stays put. There is also an idea that there is a silver astral cord which connects the astrally projected presence back to their body. However, there are differing ideas of how this works, and about whether it is possible to visit places that exist in reality. The question is always one of verification.

If you choose to examine the issue, the point is this. Let’s say you travel, or project, onto the astral plane and go around to the chip shop in Queen’s Square, which is a short hop from where two of our heroes live. There you see your friend Pete buying a chicken and mushroom pie and a portion of chips with a can of Coke. Quickly you return to your body and phone Pete up (assuming they haven’t yet invented mobile phones that work on the astral plane). Would it turn out that he had really been at the chip shop buying pie and chips once with a side order of Coke? In other words, do the things you witness while travelling on the astral plane really correspond with what, for the sake of argument, we have to call the real world? Furthermore, if this is the case, can horny single male magicians visit the bedrooms of women they fancy and… well, let’s not get into all that just now. (Try to stop shivering, girls, it’s never worked so far.)

This is a philosophical debate, which is a bit odd in itself because the old pie and chips experiment is probably quite easy to set up, so it ought to have been resolved by now. However, none of our heroes had ever met anyone who had successfully identified someone buying pie and chips once, with or without a side order of Coke. On the few occasions when they had heard of someone who had tried this sort of experiment the results had been less than clear. For example it turned out that the character Pete, who I have just made up for the purposes of this illustration, was in the habit of buying pie and chips on most nights. Thus it would have been a good guess that he was going to be in the chip shop anyway.

Of course, a specialist in the philosophy of science such as the Grumpy Wizard of the West might suggest that this is all nonsense. You see, his perspective would suggest that the fictitious character, Pete, is likely to be so fat, having undoubtedly eaten all the pies, that he is the first person anyone would see when approaching the chip shop from either the astral plane or anywhere else. Actually he wouldn’t say that, but what he might say is far less likely to be amusing.

What is really needed is something so unlikely and easily verifiable that there can be no mistake. So imagine you astrally projected around to Queen’s Square—apparently so named because she opened it in her coronation year of 1952, though I don’t suppose she remembers—and found Fat Pete being arrested for having broken into the Post Office to get some money to buy pie and chips. During your astral vision, there was a reporter photographing the event for the local paper which came out the following Thursday, with Fat Pete the Post Office burglar all over the front page. Then you might say that this was all so unlikely that it had to be verifiable. In this case, you could go up to the Grumpy Wizard of the West and say “Ahhhaaaaaaaa!” But then again, he’s not known as the Grumpy Wizard of the West for nothing, and even then he might try to wriggle out of it. You see, the Grumpy Wizard of the West is one of those magicians who does not actually believe in magic.

Anyway, that’s the sort of argument you will hear in the debate on astral travel when you talk to many magicians, witches, scholars of the mysteries and the like. On the other hand, there will be those who will resist all attempts at debate on such matters, and will never examine an issue in case they discover something they don’t like.

However, our heroes saw the old astral travel debate in a completely different way, for they had come up with another explanation. They had noticed that amongst their magician friends there was often an unbreakable bond to the place where they lived. Usually this bond would go deeper, attaching them to a particular location in their home, namely a favourite chair—often with a good view of the TV—known as the ‘god spot’.

The concept of the god spot, or more pointedly the concept of godhood, comes from the idea that magicians are considered to be the centre of their universe, surrounded by an ever-shifting sea of possibilities. The magus commands the universe and those who inhabit it, in a similar way to that in which the Christian God is said to command us. (Of course, all this talk of magic is okay but I’m sorry, I just can’t bring myself to believe in God!)

Now, The Three Hidden Masters, two from Hemel Hempstead and one from Bricket Wood, had this theory that the bond attaching the magician to his god spot was where the idea of the astral cord had come from, and any idea of astral travel was just a development of that concept. On the occasions when they had observed magicians abroad in the world, such as visiting friends far away, they had noticed that there seemed to be some sort of pull on the magician which tugged him back towards home at the earliest possible opportunity.

After all this philosophising, and the odd bottle of dark rum, our heroes had concluded that the much-debated practice of astral travel, along with the idea of the silver cord, had come from this truth that they had observed. The travelling magician is attached by a length of silver elastic, which connects him to his god spot and, inevitably, returns him there before too much time has passed.

Taken from The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil

Read another extract

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Among those recently deified:

Duke of Edinburgh: worshiped in the South Pacific by a cargo cult
Elvis: shrines all over the show for years
Princess Diana: Apparently there are churches to her now
I’ve heard of similar things happening with Michael Jackson

And on Monday morning Claire Rayner: The Patients Association on the BBC Today programme declared themselves as her representatives on Earth.

Friday, 29 October 2010


Last weekend was Halloween. Okay, so it wasn’t but for our local pagan community we made it Halloween as certain people couldn’t make it the following weekend. Halloween, or Samhain as it’s known by most modern pagans, is seen as the time of the year when the veil between the worlds is at it’s thinnest. It’s seen as a time for divinations and the like as the spirits that communicate with us at the time find it easiest to get through.

You can see this how you like. As a philosophical rather than a theological pagan I tend to see all forms of divination as being the same. Whether by Tarot cards, astrology or contact with the dead the result is the same, that we manage to gain information or insight that we wouldn’t otherwise have. All these divination systems free up our intuition and seem to enable these insights and the source becomes irrelevant.

The actual date of Halloween is also a bit of a moot point as it’s more a factor of the time of year. We are finally saying goodbye to the summer, autumn is no longer in doubt and to an agrarian dweller the world seem to be dying. So the date, give or take a week is somewhat irrelevant.

However, Halloween isn’t only about Tarot cards and apple bobbing. It’s a time for remembering our dead. Many pagans have a respect for their ancestors, but remembering some amorphous people who’s names we hardly know and certainly never met seems a little distorted when each of us most surely have been to a funeral or two. So when we come to remember our ancestors let’s pay homage to those recently departed, Aunty Jane or Uncle Bob, or even Mum or Dad. It matters not that they may not have shared our path because despite the fact that they may be different to us, may have opposed our pagan perspective or may never have known who we really are, these people are our ancestors. These recent ancestors are our flesh and blood we should remember them for, perhaps, nobody else will. And if we do then, perhaps also, those that come after us will remember us.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

I am an arse - well partially at least

It seems publishers are beginning to look to self published authors for their next talent. This is great news for self published authors waiting to be discovered. But look just below the surface of these claims and you discover that publishers are looking for self publishers who have achieved good sales of their self published books. So they seem to be using successful self published authors as a way of reducing their exposure to risk.

Read Alan Rinzler's blog about this here

I’m a pretty incompetent publisher. I’m a fairly incompetent marketer. I’m a completely incompetent publicist. When it comes to being a self publicist I’m a total arse! I am a self publisher.

I can’t phone up a venue to say I’d like to do a book promotion for my own book because I feel like they will think I’m a wannabe, unable to find a publisher because I’m crap. I know that’s not the case but it’s what’s going through my mind. During the brief time when I had a publicist I did readings, signings, all sorts, and I had a great time. Having somebody else to represent you gives you credibility. I can do all the web promotion, social networking, all that’s easy. When I started I chose a pen name so I could pretend to be a second person when I was acting as my publisher. That way I might disguise the fact that I was self published. It didn’t really help much because what I really needed was another team member.

I’m a writer, I’ve been writing for twenty years, mostly corporate or technical content with some copywriting and a bit of journalism thrown in for good measure. Now I’m trying to break into a new field, writing popular mass market comic fiction.

Saying that publishers are going to judge the potential of a self published book on sales seems ludicrous. I know these are businesses but, surely, when a manuscript lands on their desk they judge it on the manuscript. It’s got potential or it hasn’t. Expecting self published books to show fantastic sales is just saying that they only what to publish books by business gurus. I write deeply absurd comic fiction with philosophical themes that make people laugh out loud on the train. I know that’s true, my readers have told me so. But I don’t have tens of thousands of readers out there because I have no way of reaching the mass market. Even blogging and tweeting isn't going to  bring you to the level that the industry are looking for as people follow bloggers when they have whiff of success, rarely before. Plus some of the bigger on-line sellers list print on demand books as unavailable or out of print! The industry is actively blocking the one man bands.

Publishing insiders claim that there isn’t a wall around the industry. Saying that self published writers are welcome, then picking up one or two as an example to show how open the industry is, just means they have extended the wall to block a minor breach. The rest of us are still on the outside.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Druids are recognised religion - Daily Mail journalist turns out to be mystical seer

The past couple of days we’ve heard that the druids have been recognised as a religion. As I understand it the truth of the matter is that The Druid Network has been granted charity status by the Charity Commission and this was because they needed some sort of legal status due to the fact that they are collecting money from their membership. The fact of the matter is that they applied for charitable staus, presumably because their organisations isn’t set up to make a profit and one might imagine that there are no shareholders. We might imagine that the Charity Commission have had to have a box to put them in and the only box available was religion. The alternatives might have been anything from a sports foundation an animal welfare organisation. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are recognised as a religion by the state but apart from the relationship between the Monarchy and the Church of England I’m not sure that the UK recognises any religions anyway.

Today there was a wonderfully disapproving article in the Daily Mail by Melanie Philips complaining that the whole world is going to rat shit and no doubt Christianity should be the one true faith and all that.

Ironically I think Melanie Philips (see Daily Mail article) has a surprisingly good grasp of the changing times we are living through. She's just raging against the new reality. She recognises the weakening of heavily structured top down faiths and its partner, heavily structured rational perception. She understands how there is a continuing upsurge of bottom up, grass roots religions where people gain some autonomy but also have to have a sense of responsibility rather than externalise all their experiences both positive and negative. What she fails to understand is that there are other established faiths and practices, such as Buddhism, which don't have this top down structure and they are stable if not growing.

So apart from that last little oversight I reckon Melanie Philips, bless her undoubtedly Tory cotton socks, should be revered as a prophet and a seer. ;o)

Read my book about this very subject here

Friday, 24 September 2010

Extract from the Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil

Chapter 3 – Ritual Mechanicians

Having broken down on their way to Blackpool, to save the place from becoming a seedy, tacky and depraved town, our magickal heroes are wondering how they will be able to continue their journey.

Inside the crowded motorway services at Knutsford, The Three Hidden Masters, two from Hemel Hempstead and one from Bricket Wood, sat around three cups of coffee and three doughnuts. Nigel’s hair steamed gently as it dried off in the warmth of the café. Around them, the sound of The Girl from Ipanema wafted gently above their heads in a version almost, but not quite, specifically designed to induce madness.
“What do you propose we do now?” asked Wayne.
“Well, I left my tools at home, so I could get all the gear in the boot,” replied Clint.
“That was a spectacular idea,” responded Wayne with a sarcastic tone.
Clint looked at Wayne with an irritated look, but didn’t have time to say anything as Nigel spoke. “I’ve got a multi-tool.”
“‘Scuse me, can I borrow your sugar?” asked a burly caricature of a truck driver. He sat down at the opposite table with a copy of Steven Hawkin’s Brief History of Time and a folded copy of The Sun newspaper.
Wayne passed the sugar to the truck driver who proceeded to pour a long stream of its contents into his steaming mug of tea.
“A multi-tool?” quizzed Clint.
“Oh yes,” replied Wayne enthusiastically, “rather clever, brushed steel devices similar to a Swiss Army Knife, except that they have spanners and scissors and contraptions attached. They are awfully good.”
“I had a Swiss Army Knife once,” said Clint, “it was made in China.”
“That would be a Chinese Swiss Army Knife then,” responded Wayne.
“That’s what I used to call it.”
“Can I look at it?” asked Wayne of Nigel.
“No, that’s a bit personal. Piss off!” replied Nigel.
The truck driver glanced across at them briefly over the rim of his mug.
“I think he means the multi-tool,” said Clint.
“Oh yeah, sorry.” said Nigel in response “It’s in with my stuff for the weekend.”
“Surely not in with your magical equipment?” asked Wayne with a mock tone of shock.
“No, with my spare t-shirts and clean underwear and stuff.”
Clint raised his eyebrows at Nigel. “You brought clean underwear! I bet you won’t use it.”
“There speaks the voice of a true festival goer,” replied Nigel.
“That all depends what we come up against this weekend,” injected Wayne in sympathy. “I remember the last time we saved the universe, I nearly …”
Nigel interrupted before Wayne could say anymore, “Too much information!”
Clearly, Wayne’s grammar school education, which he sometimes claimed was a fee paying education, had only influenced his accent and had not affected his sense of vulgarity, or rather lack of it.
“We could try to suss out what’s wrong with the car,” said Clint bringing the subject back on topic. “The way it happened so suddenly, it sounds like electrics.”
“On the other hand, it could be mechanical,” added Wayne.
“Or fuel,” continued Nigel.
“Well, that would just about cover all the options,” said Clint completely unimpressed, “I suppose, I should check it out.”
Clint was definitely the most mechanical of the trio, not that he did much of that sort of thing these days, preferring to trust to the infinite cycle of the second-hand car. Having been in the Royal Navy as an engineer, he had experience of all sorts of machines from the huge Deltic diesel engines, used in locomotives and ships, right through to some of the first nuclear power plants in submarines. Having left the navy so many years ago, he didn’t do much with engines now. These days he drove a road sweeper for a living, described as having more instruments than the Starship Enterprise.
“I think we should enchant to get it started,” said Nigel hopefully.
Clint looked scornfully at Nigel. “No way, man, you can’t do a ritual to repair a car!”
Nigel continued. “Well, if it’s an electrical fault, and a wire has just come loose, then surely a microscopic or quantum level of change might just be enough to make a contact.” The truck driver raised an eyebrow, glancing up from Stephen Hawkin as he took a longer look at the trio.
“I think you’re a bit out on the edge there,” responded Clint.
“We could draw a sigil in the oil on the top of the engine and perform an enchantment.” added Nigel becoming enthused.
“Let’s have a look at that multi-tool of yours,” replied Clint, trying to ignore Nigel’s madness, “and who said there’s oil on my engine?”
Nigel was, by now, scrawling a phrase on the back of the till receipt that read ‘Get us to Blackpool’. He crossed out all the letters that occurred a second or third time in the phrase and was quickly left with ‘GETUSOBLACKP’.
“Look dudes,” continued Clint, “you two are weirding me out! I can’t believe you are even thinking about this!” Clint’s complaint was tempered by an attempt to avoid raising his voice. Looking about, he checked that there was nobody paying any attention to them.
Wayne looked on silently for a moment then added, “Perhaps it would be a good idea to add something pertaining to getting us home again?”
Nigel stopped and gazed into the distance for a moment, as he is inclined to do. Some think that at these times he is consulting his inner oracle while others suggest he is listening to the voices, others believe it’s down to indigestion. “No I don’t think so. Once we’re there we’ll be fine. We’ll get back okay,” he replied with confidence.
“I think, perhaps, I can detect a Ten-inch Pianist coming on,” said Wayne with a note of concern, but without any care for people who might overhear the statement.
The truck driver glanced up briefly from his book and frowned.
* * *
The Ten-inch Pianist is a term The Three Hidden Masters use for any magical working which could go awry. The idea came from the joke about the man who walked into a pub and put a tiny man and a piano on the bar. When the barman asked for some explanation the customer explained how he met a Genie who gave him his wish for a ten-inch penis, but he happened to spell his request wrong. It’s an old joke, but it serves a purpose.  So the Ten Inch Pianist is used for acts of magic where the magician gets exactly what is asked for, rather than what is desired.
The fact that the truck driver and a couple of other people in the café thought they heard Wayne say ten-inch penis was completely missed by our three heroes.
* * *
Nigel tore off and discarded the part of the till receipt with the original phrase, so he had just the string of letters remaining. Then, on a separate scrap of paper, he started to draw a diagram made up of each of the letters in the string. This left him with a jumble of letters, some large, some small, some upright, some inverted, which people in the know will recognise as a sigil. Those of you not yet in the know can think of this as a magickal symbol. The original piece of receipt, with the string of letters, was discarded into the ashtray and he held up the finished sigil.
“Okay, orrff we jolly well go,” he declared.
As The Three Hidden Masters, two from Hemel Hempstead and one from Bricket Wood, got up, they nearly bumped into the truck driver as he stood up to make his way towards the toilets. Stepping back carefully, the truck driver let them go in front of him making a mental note to avoid any contact with them again.
* * *
Out in the drizzly car park, now with more wind than rain, they stood in front of the slightly descript Japanese car. The bonnet was up as Wayne held a torch for Clint as he looked at the engine, gently tugging wires and leads to see if any had come loose.
“Here it is,” said Nigel emerging from the boot as he squeezed from between Clint’s car and an elderly Volkswagen Beetle which had parked close behind them. He proudly held aloft a small elongated leather pouch with a press stud closure.
“That is nice,” declared Wayne taking the pouch from Nigel. He was fascinated by the quality of the workmanship as he looked at the fine stitching and smooth hardened leather. “This looks like one of those devices available from Sunday supplement catalogues for executive toys.” He popped the press-stud and removed the smart brushed steel multi-tool from inside.
The folded device was about ten centimetres long and perhaps two or three centimetres across. The ends were pleasantly rounded with a pair of rivets through each end. The rivets at one end were connected by a hidden hinge between the two sides and each side had a small elliptical cut out, which Wayne grasped as he pulled the two sides apart.
Unfolding the device, he pulled the two sides outwards and back on themselves as they rotated around the rivets at the connected end. This left Wayne with a pair of pliers about 15 centimetres long and a series of other tools now revealed where they had been hidden in the handles.
“Where did you obtain this delightful device?” asked Wayne as he passed the tool to Clint.
“Oh, I treated myself to it when I left my last job,” replied Nigel as Clint examined the various penknives, screwdrivers and things for getting boy scouts out of horses’ hooves. “It was in the shop at work where you can buy all sorts of executive stuff like in those Sunday supplement catalogues.”
* * *
What none of our heroes knew was that Nigel’s multi-tool was an imitation of a device known to many as a Leatherman. Quite where Nigel’s multi-tool originated they knew not, but it may very well have been from China. Of course this would be another example of synchronicity and the interconnectedness of all things. Perhaps then, all multi tool copies—whether they be Chinese Swiss Army Knives, imitation Leathermans (Leathermen?) or other such cheap versions of useful camping equipment—are connected in some way by a sort of symbolic representation of handy screwdriver and boy scout removing essence. There may even be a demi-god of imitation multi-tools, subordinate to the god of genuine branded multi-tools, all paying homage to the greater god, Grand Old Penknife himself who leads the pantheon from his palace in the shape of a neat little pouch hanging on the belt of the supreme deity of all campers, Ray Mears … or something.
* * *
As Clint tried the various options offered by the multi-tool, tightening screws, fiddling here and there, Nigel leant forward to look at the top of the engine.
“Has it cooled?” Nigel asked.
“Sure, it’s okay,” replied Clint “Try turning it over,” he said looking up at Wayne.
Wayne climbed into the driver’s seat and tried the ignition…
Clint continued to fiddle under the bonnet, but he knew it was really just for show.
“I don’t think this is really doing any good.” Clint was growing a little frustrated by the situation. “We’re hung up without my full tool kit.”
Nigel leant forward over the engine and brushed his finger across the edge of the air filter cover. Looking at his finger tip, he observed a thin film of blackened oily grime. “Hmmm.”
Clint looked up at Nigel but said nothing. His silence, however, was enough to show his disapproval at what Nigel was clearly suggesting.
Wayne stepped out of the car and stood with the other two staring at the engine.
“I think we should put our robes on,” declared Nigel.
“This is rubbish!” replied Clint.
“Well, we have to do it properly, if we’re gonna do it at all,” responded Nigel to Clint’s complaint.
“What sort of magical weapons would you recommend?” asked Wayne.
“Not you as well!” said Clint increasingly irritated as he tried crimping a wire as a last ditch attempt at rationality. “I suppose you’ll suggest you want to use the sacred soldering iron of the art!”
Nigel was not at all fazed by Clint’s sarcasm. “Well, there is an argument to suggest that in this sort of circumstance the mediaeval elements and weapons would be inappropriate.” As he spoke, he was already carefully copying the sigil from the scrap of paper onto the flat circular space on the air filter. “Grab my robe from my box, will you Wayne.”
Wayne opened the boot and pulled his robe from his violin case and then rummaged around for Nigel’s from the tarot chest.
“All right then dude! Just what sort of magical weapons would you suggest?” Clint spoke in a defiant tone.
“I’ve got a multi-tool!” exclaimed Nigel smiling. He was clearly gleeful at having got the better of Clint.
Wayne handed Nigel an unkempt bundle of grey fabric as he struggled to pull his own black robe over his head.
As Wayne and Nigel climbed into their robes, Clint looked on in some disbelief. The large car park was quite dark with cars peppered here and there but mostly away from where they were parked. Their robes were of different designs, but they were similar in that they were both hooded and very flowing. Nigel’s hood was detachable where it was attached to a diamond shaped tabard the width of his shoulders. Once in place, the matching grey tabard came to a point at Nigel’s waist both at the front and back.
Wayne and Nigel tied knotted white cords around their paunches, leaving the loose ends hanging down to one side. They pulled the hoods up, giving them some protection from the wind and rain, but also obscuring their view as the deep cowls were blown across their faces.
“I’m getting in the car,” said Clint. “You two are going to get us busted!”
“Ready?” enquired Wayne. Nigel nodded in response.
Unnoticed by the two magicians, a figure came out of the building and started walking towards them.
“The abbreviated version I think?” asked Nigel of Wayne in a deliberately overacted voice with more than a touch of pretension.
Wayne nodded in response as the wind blew their robes flat against their bodies causing the rolls of fabric to outline their contours as they billowed like sails.
Holding up the multi-tool, Nigel began his magic with the standard incantation that he used in most of their rituals. This was the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram. There is a Greater Ritual of the Pentagram, but they tended to use the lesser as it was easier to remember and they couldn’t be bothered with the extra complications of the full version. It was adapted from the works of Aleister Crowley, who undoubtedly got it from someone else, probably McGregor Mathers who, in turn, had probably got it from someone further back in history, in much the same way that second-hand cars change hands.
The Greater Pentagram ritual can be used for both banishing or invoking, but The Three Hidden Masters, two from Hemel Hempstead and one from Bricket Wood, tended to use the lesser ritual, just for banishing at the beginning and end of their ceremonies. Effectively, it was like a magical air freshener, which banished the mundane world at the beginning and banished any unwanted magical influences at the end. (The Grumpy Wizard of the West might have interpreted this with the idea that it primed the mind for magical practice and made you feel like a magician.) This time, because of the circumstances, Nigel shortened the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram even further to its most basic elements.
Bringing the multi-tool to his forehead, he spoke with a deep, vibrant, serious tone, “Ateh.” Touching the tool to his chest, “Malkuth.” Touching his right shoulder, “ve-Geburah.” Touching his left shoulder, “ve-Gedulah.” Clasping both hands to his chest with the multi-tool between them, “le-Olahm.”
As the truck driver approached he stopped dead for a moment, almost dropping the collection of chocolate bars, CDs and other stuff he had just bought in the shop along with his copy of A Brief History of Time and The Sun newspaper. As he stood there, he felt the wind gusting, blowing the rain into his face.
Holding the multi-tool in his right hand, Nigel drew a five-pointed star in the air above the engine and chanted, now in a more guttural tone, “Ye-ho-wau, Adonai, Eheieh, Agla.” When delivered, each word was almost reduced to a single syllable, forcing the words out with a punch on each breath.
Extending his hands out to either-side, he spoke again, his voice now strong and clear, the bat-wing sleeves of his robe blowing dramatically. “Before me, Raphael; Behind me, Gabriel; On my right hand, Michael; On my left hand, Auriel. For about me flames The Pentagram, and in The Column stands The Six-rayed Star.”
Dropping his left hand to his side, he raised the multi-tool to his forehead again and repeated the first sequence of movements, only this time with greater resonance. “Ateh, Malkuth, ve-Geburah, ve-Gedulah, le-Olahm…”
The wind seemed to blow stronger, his voice trailing off on the wind and rain as he paused, standing before the car in silence save for the sound of the weather. Clint looked on in continued disbelief from his position in the driving seat.
Looking around to see if anyone else was taking any notice, the truck driver continued to walk towards his car. Apparently he wasn’t a truck driver at all, or if he was it was his day off. He ducked his head down to escape the worst of the rain in his face.
Nigel stepped back, his work complete for a moment, as Wayne took his place and began to enchant with his face raised to the heavens and the wind and rain lashing his thick black beard.
Nearly all of Wayne’s words were lost to the lorry driver as he neared them. He did hear something sounding like ‘give us the swiftness of the beasts that we might run’ as he skirted round the back of the Volkswagen Beetle, fumbled for his keys and quickly climbed inside. He never took his eyes off the two robed figures standing in front of the Japanese car, dripping with rain by the time he sat behind the wheel.
Wayne finished his incantation and stepped back from the engine of the still silent car.
Clint sat in the drivers seat with the door partly open, not daring to look at the figure whom he had seen climbing into the car directly behind. He called out to the two magicians. “I told you man! You can’t start a car by magic!” The others seemed oblivious to the off duty lorry driver behind.
The lorry driver sat and stared at the antics, as he watched Wayne lowered the bonnet while Nigel approached Clint’s door.
“Do you feel better having tried that?” enquired Clint.
Thinking it was time to leave, the lorry driver, grasped the gear leaver of the Volkswagen Beetle, depressed the clutch and turned the ignition key. The engine of the Beetle burst into life, his wet foot slid off of the worn clutch pedal and the car shot forward at as much speed as an ancient Beetle might muster under such circumstances, perhaps even more!
There was a crunch, as the front of the Beetle pushed forward into the slightly descript Japanese car, denting the rear—so making it that little bit more descript—causing its boot lid to close as the whole car rolled forward. Having been left in gear, with the ignition on and the handbrake off, something microscopic took place deep within the mysteries of the engine, and the Japanese car burst into life continuing to roll across the car park, towards the exit.
Wayne, still standing in front, leapt out of the vehicle’s path as Nigel looked on in amazement. Their hooded faces looked at each other across the space where the car had been, stunned for a moment, as it started to move away from them, the engine revving as it receded. Then, taking to their heels they chased after Clint as he wound the window down shouting for them to get in.
The driver of the Beetle–now half sitting, half standing in the open door of his car—called out to the disappearing magicians, shouting after them.
“Sorry … my foot slipped!”
Wayne and Nigel clambered into the back of the increasingly descript Japanese car amongst a flurry and tangle of hoods, batwing sleeves and general hanging out robes. At the same time, music started to emerge from the tape player, something appropriate about leaving.
“Who left it in gear then?” asked Clint of Wayne.
“You must have left the handbrake off,” replied Wayne.
“And you left the ignition on,” continued Clint.
“I would have sworn that bloke was a lorry driver when he sat down next to us in the café,” said Nigel, “it just goes to show how you can never tell people by their appearance.”
Meanwhile, back in the car park at Knutsford Services the driver of the elderly Volkswagen Beetle thought exactly the opposite as he spoke to himself.
“You can always tell a bunch of weirdoes when you see them!”

Taken from The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil

Read another extract

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Have we reached the peak of the scientific model of reality?

Radio 4’s Today programme, today, had a short feature on the thoughts of a physicist named Russell Stannard. In his new book he suggests that we may be coming to a point where science has made the majority of its major advances and that we may not be able to learn a great deal more about the universe.

This is very interesting as this concept is the absolute core of the subject of my first (non fiction) book written back in 1989. In Satanic Viruses I suggested that by observing astrological events I could predict that the Age of Aquarius, that people thought had been a flash in the pan, would really begin to take off in the last decade of the twentieth century and continue to accelerate into the new millennium. People may not remember how the seventies and eighties really were but many of the ideas that have come to be acceptable in our culture simply would not have been given air time or a place in people’s thoughts before the turn of the nineties. We can easily see the flavour of the change in that we have gone from a culture that asks ‘where do we live?’ and ‘how shiny is my Porsche?’, to one that also includes concepts of ‘how are we going to survive as a community, or even as a species?’

Without repeating the whole book my thesis was that we were moving from an age that was characterised by heavily structured modes of thinking into one that would be more fluid. Religion, for two thousand years, has been characterised by hierarchical, top down, structures but those religions would soon be faced with the prospect of people seeking more personal bottom up solutions to their philosophical and theological dilemmas. People would seek answers from within rather than from a god that lies without or above.

Over the same two thousand year period, hence the subtitle of the book ‘The fall of the Roman Empire and how to bring it about’, science has developed hand in hand with the dominant religions of the world. However, science, as we know it, is also greatly dependant on those heavily structured models of thinking. So my thesis was that we might be about to witness the end of science as the dominant world view.

Now it seems some scientists are beginning to say something strikingly similar. Russell Stannard, described in the Observer as a high energy nuclear physicist at the Open University, has written a book titled The End of Discovery. He seems to be suggesting that humanity may soon reach a time when the peak of scientific discovery may be behind us.

Much of what science now investigates, particularly in his field of physics, now requires such massive experiments, such as the Large Hadron Collider, that we will soon no longer be able to investigate the next level down. Apparently Stephen Hawkings cherished M-theory, associated with string theory which few people really understand, would require a collider the size of a galaxy to perform the required experiments. It seems some physicists are so attached to M-theory, despite its lack of an equation to define it, that they are saying it must be right because it is elegant. Elegance is often a feature of that which is described as truth in science but it’s hardly the only test. This is beginning to sound like faith and may be evidence of the change taking place before our eyes.

It strikes me that we have been faced with other apparently insoluble problems in science for some time. One example is complexity theory, where our models have to be so complex that we can no more predict their behaviour than we can that which they model. Weather forecasting improves with the increase in computing power but there may be a scale of diminishing returns as the models become more complex. Another field that may suffer from the complexity problem is the study of consciousness which has been promising results just over the horizon for as long as I can remember. However the brain is so complex that we can’t model it for the same reasons as we can’t model the weather.

Obviously Stannard, and I, may be wrong as this sort of end of science has been predicted before. The Observer article describes how, in the 19th century, it was predicted that science had discovered everything that there was to discover. I remember an old issue of the Fortean Times that quoted a Victorian gentleman who said that transatlantic communication would be impossible because the flag would have to be as big as Ireland. Clearly there are some developments that we can’t predict but this time things may be different. Science has become massive and expensive. Some research can only be performed by nation states or even conglomerates of nation states and many companies are unwilling to fund blue skies research because they want a return within a reasonable period.

It may turn out to be the case that there is research to be done but who will want to fund or perform it? If, as Stannard suggests, new developments start to become less frequent over a longer time scale, people may just decide to do other things with their lives.

However it comes about, either by us feeling we have learned as much as we need, or finding that’s its just too much trouble to learn any more, the result will be the same; a diminishing of the influence of science and, perhaps, a consolidation of the benefits we can glean from what we already know. It seems then, the end of the road might be within sight. Of course with a two thousand year time scale the end may not be any time soon but it looks as though it may be on the way.

Link: Satanic Viruses - The fall of the Roman Empire and how to bring it about 

Link: Observer interview with Russell Stannard on his new book The End of Discovery

Just remember I said this in 1989.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Barrow's Law

Social media promotion expands to fill the time allocated for the creation of that which is being promoted.

Has anybody said this before I wonder?

The importance of feedback from readers

I was talking with a reader of mine on-line earlier. He was asking about my next novel and I mentioned that the Knights Templar will feature significantly.I've edited the conversation slightly but it went something like this.

Jack Barrow:
The Templars are due to be a major theme of my next novel if I can ever get around to writing it.

A Reader:
That sounds right up my alley! I may have to get a copy when you are done with it. I'm nearly done with Hidden Masters, some of the humour in it is brilliant - "You breathe it in. You've got a cold, not constipation!" What area of the Templars will you cover? A comical quest for the Holy Grail?

Jack Barrow:
The Templars are involved on the Welsh borders in the modern world. I can’t say too much until it’s written.
I don't recognise that quote. Are you sure you're reading my book?

A Reader:
The scene where Clint is making a herbal remedy for Wayne’s cold. p.131 Templars story sounds good, how far along are you with it?

Jack Barrow:
Okay I remember, the infusion scene. That scene is one of the ones that might get chopped in the second edition. It doesn't do much for the story but I suppose it does help develop Clint as a character. The new book is about two chapters done, but has been stuck at that for about 198 months.

A Reader:  
That's a shame, I do like the side scenes. I feel it gives an insight into their relationships with one another and the one liners are brilliant.
Ah, good luck with it. Lets hope it doesn't take another 198 more.

Jack Barrow:
Oh, sorry, typo, it was meant to say 18 months but it does feel like 198. Interestingly though if the side scenes help to develop the characters then perhaps they should stay. Feedback like that is always useful. I might blog that.

So here I am thinking now that the bits of the story that don’t add much are more important that I thought. What can you do without feedback?

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Stuck on viral marketing

Coming soon to a viral marketing campaign near you
So here’s the thing. I’ve talked in the past about doing an animation to promote my first novel. (I’ve only written one novel so far but there are plans for a further three in the series, honest!) The book was published a few years ago but since then I’ve decided it needs more polish and would have a better chance in the pagan community if I corrected a few mistakes that some people can get a bit indignant about. (Interestingly these issues don't apply to my non-pagan readers who just take it at face value and laugh out loud on the train, apparently.) I’ve not been deliberately offensive, well not much anyway and those aren’t the bits they complain about; more that some people don’t like to be miscategorised. So the second edition is in the pipeline.

So here’s the other thing. I really, really ought to use viral marketing to promote my work. Back in 1989 I had some ideas that I put together into my first book. Satanic Viruses was a non fiction essay about how I thought the years ahead would see a change in society. The thesis suggested that the purely scientific perception of reality that had been taking hold of the world throughout the twentieth century would weaken and a more holistic perception would take its place. That holistic perception would have space for philosophical perspectives such as is evidenced in modern neo-paganism and there would be a weakening of more structured theological traditions. To this day I am convinced that the rise in religious fundamentalism that we have witnessed is a part of the death throes of the major religions. In the future religion will be much more bottom-up rather than hierarchical and structured.

Just add figures and darken the surrounding background
Anywho, at the same time I had another idea that, for the want of a better way of getting it out there, I tagged onto the end of the book. That idea was the information virus. Back in those days there was no Internet to speak of, only academics and a chosen few had email and there was no world wide web. However, it struck me that, if presented in the right form, easily copied and with a reward to pass it on, an idea could spread like a virus. Richard Dawkins had written about memes about ten years before but it wasn’t his idea and he hadn’t suggested a formalised mechanism. My solution was cumbersome and unworkable, involving photocopiers and chain letters, but the theory was there. About six years later Tim Berners-Lee came up with the web and viral communication became a real possibility. Satanic Viruses was republished in 2008 with considerable additions to the original text. I’ve looked and I can’t find anything published on viral marketing that predates the nineties and the whole idea may not have been written about other than on web sites until some time after the millennium.

There is a very real possibility that I came up with the idea that led to viral marketing, so it sort of makes sense that I use viral marketing to promote my work. But how do you make a viral about a book? After discussing this with a few people, including some people who work in the new field of viral marketing (I don’t remember getting a thank you for creating their jobs), the idea arose for an animation of a part of the Hidden Masters story. A scene from Chapter 7 was chosen as it shows the nature of the characters and contains good examples of the humour and magic.

Minor artefacts of construction, such as seams, will be removed in Photoshop
To cut a long story long I’ve built a 3D model of the location that I can move into any position to present the characters in front of. I’m currently trying to create a storyboard so that I can either continue with the project or hand it on to an animator to complete. An experience with an animator last year, while I was committed to other things, has taught me that I need a storyboard at least to be able to communicate my vision so I have to do that myself.

I’m currently trying to figure out if I can develop the skills to draw the characters onto the backgrounds. (Actually, at the moment, I’m writing this and not getting on with it.) I’m using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to sketch some characters in. Or should I just try to figure out why my scanner hasn’t worked for years and draw the figures on by hand and scan the whole lot in?

So ultimately, I’ve been stuck here for months. I need to produce a viral video to go with the second edition now I’ve learned that I have a potential readership. I know that if I can just reach enough people they will make comparisons to Dan Brown, Douglas Adams, Robert Rankin and even Terry Pratchett, though the last one is a bit of a stretch. I know they will make the comparisons because those comparisons have been made already. Should I be making these claims? No, my agent should be making them but I can’t seem to get the attention of anyone in the publishing industry. (A smart middle class woman at the Hay Festival once asked me who I was with when I handed her a flyer a few years ago. I fumbled my response and undoubtedly missed an opportunity.)

The camera can be put anywhere as in a virtual film set
This all has to be ready to run a campaign on Facebook, Twitter, the blog, and generally around the web.

Now I don’t really know why I started writing all this, probably to avoid trying to learn how to draw in Illustrator. So if you know an animator, graphic artist, agent or even a publisher, you could save me a whole load of crap because the second novel is there, ready to go with a couple of chapters written and I’d really rather be doing that.

Oh and I’m told that publishers these days are looking for writers with more than a single book and with the web and IT skills to take on some promotion. If that’s the case, see above!

In case you missed the link about here's the finished video

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Glue sniffing out of fashion, what is the world coming to?

This isn't the image on the BBC site, but it's much funnier
The BBC today are carrying a report on how protesters are now gluing themselves to things to make their protests.

Apparently campaigners have been following in the footsteps of the suffragettes and have glued themselves to structures in Edinburgh, Bristol and the House of Commons over recent months. A particularly good example was when a protester from Plane Stupid, who campaign against airport expansion, glued himself to Gordon Brown’s sleeve a couple of years ago. Still I suppose he’s lucky enough to have more than one suit.

Reading the report I find myself wondering, are we witnessing a hidden example of the general level of ignorance of adhesives, despite the wealth of DIY programmes on Channel 4? For the glue used by protesters is super glue, a fast acting adhesive that bonds instantly when the surfaces make contact and air is excluded. It works particularly well on skin as it is water tolerant and has been used to close wounds in surgery. The BBC, however, has clearly used an image of a two part epoxy resin which, while very strong and quite goopy when mixed, takes hours to set and would have required considerable cooperation from Gordon Brown or from the police outside the Royal Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Is it the fact that we don’t hear so much about glue sniffing these days that means picture editors in the media don’t know their cyanoacrylate based fast-acting adhesives from their two part epoxy resin?

I recently read a blog that said that one of the five things that is expected of a man to attract a mate is to be able to fix things, along with being physically strong, a high earner, etc. Obviously this image was chosen by a woman or a wanker.

BBC story

Monday, 23 August 2010

There was no need for you to say anything

At the weekend I went to a party with some friends and I met the most amazing couple. Strangely I thought I’d met the woman before but she swore we had never met.

She turned out to be with her husband and within a moment I registered that there was something unusual about them. He first appeared completely normal, in his fifties I’d say, she perhaps ten years younger, both of them quite attractive. However, when he spoke he sounded drunk, slurring his words slightly. Not too much but enough to be noticeable.

I’ve had a lot of contact with people with learning disabilities over the years as my sister has cerebral palsy. Not all the conditions I’ve encountered are the same and most of them are whole life conditions rather than acquired later in life. However, I can tell the difference between someone who is drunk and someone who has a disability.

It was fairly obvious that he didn’t have learning disabilities and I figured out quite quickly that he had some sort of brain injury, a stroke perhaps. Her manner towards him was very caring and patient and she was obviously thinking of his needs as well as her own; she ensured he had a drink, that they both had food, etc, rather than just fending for herself. She might have exhibited a very occasional indication of slight impatience which was a shame.

They must have been around for an hour or so, mixing and circulating, when she mentioned in passing, that he had an injury from an accident. A quite bad accident she added, before quickly moving on in the general chit chat. I read this to mean that she was explaining his speech impediment and making sure that we didn’t think that he was drunk. Now bear in mind that at all times he was completely alert, awake and lively and the only thing you might notice was when he spoke. But at this moment he bowed his head for a few seconds sitting there as he looked at the ground.

The comment seemed totally unnecessary. Perhaps some people might misinterpret his speech impediment negatively but fuck em! Here was a couple that had obviously gone through the most horrendous experience. Their relationship must have been tested to destruction however, they are still together.

I felt like saying, ‘That’s okay, you don’t have to explain, life can be really shit, for some people much more than others, but you don’t have to explain.’ Of course I didn’t say anything.

We only have one life, at least I believe so, and in a more secular world that view has implications that often play out in the form of selfishness. It’s just great to see two people that, despite the challenges, have stuck to each other (her in particular) when they might have split up hoping for something better. I don’t know what I would have done.

I’d like to believe that they were so in love before his accident that their love has sustained them. A more cynical perspective might wonder if he has an enormous amount of money or that his injury has not affected his ability to be the world’s greatest lover or the world’s greatest chef. On the other hand it may be the case that despite his injury the only affect on him is his speech and that he is undamaged apart from that, but from the way she took him by the had and led him away when they left, I suspect not.

Hopefully they still have enough between them to keep it going.

Templates for Blogs

I'm thinking about dumping this blog template. I can't find a way to put an opaque background on the side bar so it's difficult to read the bio and the archive.

Any suggestions?

Oh and if nobody says anything it's really going to look like nobody reads this blog so speak up at the back there!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Uproar over maintenance of Dovedale stepping stones

It’s been reported that there is an uproar about the maintenance of the famous stepping stones over the river Dove at Dovedale in Derbyshire.


I would have thought that reasonable maintenance is appropriate. We look after our cathedrals to stop them falling down (Yorkminster has been massively underpinned). Were Stonehenge in a more complete condition we might consider maintaining it. It's only because it's frozen in time that leave it as it is and I'm sure that there is subtle maintenance that many of us aren't aware of. (Isn't one of the uprights of one of the triathlons underpinned with a concrete support to stop it collapsing? Or is that one of the stones at Avebury that I'm thinking of?)

Surely, if the stepping stones are worn and people are in danger of falling then the thing to do is to sensitively replace them with new stones here and there rather than top them off. The idea that they are 'a part of the natural landscape' is just fantasy.

Some people seem to believe that anything old is good and that anything new is bad. In that case don't drive or use a computer. The past was never preserved in aspic and it's probably only since the Victorian era that we have had this idea that the past in an unchanging era of romantic loveliness.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Dan Brown meets Douglas Adams

Radio 4 (Open Book) just said it so it must be true? Apparently one in every 49 books sold is a Dan Brown title. He must be rolling in it. What really galls is that I’m writing in the same paranormal adventure genre (with a strong touch of Douglas Adams).

I used to say my work was Harry Potter meets Men Behaving Badly, I think I’m now going to describe it as Dan Brown meets Douglas Adams, which is probably a better description.

So, if I could capture one percent of his readership, and I know I could, I could make a publisher rich and make lots of people very happy. I just need to find a way of reaching them.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Revisionist history

Denying the original pronunciation of 'Nestle', it seems the You Tube videos of old Milky Bar Kid adverts have been edited so that nobody can say that it was ever any different. This is rebranding taken to extremes as they try to cause us to doubt our memories. Didn’t this happen in a sinister sci-fi movie? They'll be denying the holocaust next!

After all Cesar dog food don't deny the Mr Dog era nor does Snickers deny Marathon.

After posting this as a thread on Facebook I was asked to comment the original pronunciation but I'd rather not lest the brand police kick my door down in the night!

Monday, 9 August 2010

Sweat Lodge - don’t try this at home kids

It’s a little over a week since I returned from the well known pagan camp in North Yorkshire for Lammas so I think I had better post the rest of my experiences before I forget.

I’ve not done a sweat lodge before, apart from a brief attempt about 15 years ago where I came out after the first round and decided not to go back in. Since then I’ve done a few saunas and have a better idea of my tolerance so last weekend I felt more confident to try it.

Perhaps by synchronicity or just by the interrelated nature of everything in the universe, the past few days have included a news story of a guy killed in the International Sauna Championships in Finland. (I wasn’t aware that doing a sauna is a competition.) There was also the story a year or so ago of someone dying after a sweat lodge in Sedona, Arizona; a town renowned for new age and pagan activities. Therefore my reticence towards sweat lodges is probably well founded.

However, last weekend I decided to bite the bullet and get sweaty. I must say that this was a really good experience. Of course there’s the initial stuff to consider such as do you go in naked and can you stand the heat and all that, but if you can get over these sort of issues then the sweat lodge experience is to be recommended.

I’d really got no idea what goes on inside, despite knowing quite a few people who have run lodges over the years.

To the uninitiated a sweat lodge is like a sauna except built in the form of a bender with wooden poles (in this case willow) tied together, covered with blankets and a tarpaulin to keep the heat in and the light out. A hole is dug in the centre, in which rocks are placed, which have been heated in a fire for some hours before. Some of the rocks are so hot as to glow red in the darkness inside the lodge. The participants sit around the edge, safely away from the rocks as water is poured onto the rocks by the lodge leader. The process is something that needs to be done by someone with some experience because there are considerable safety issues involved but, with a little common sense and responsible behaviour on the part of the participants, Messrs Health and Safety need have nothing to do with it.

The process is designed to create a space where the participants can have a transporting experience so that the heat, humidity and darkness allows an altered state and further experiences might follow.

No doubt there are as many ways or running a lodge as there are people running them, but on this occasion there was a series of ‘rounds’ where each person was invited to speak to a given subject. During each round water was added to the stones to create steam which rose up the centre of the lodge and descended along the roof line to engulf the participants. As the participants spoke in turn the lodge became progressively hotter. At the end of each round the door would be opened to allow the temperature to drop and people could escape to douse themselves in cold water or just lie on the cool ground if they so chose. Amazingly I think there were some people who stayed in the lodge throughout which is no mean feat considering the whole process took somewhere between two and three hours.

Each person’s turn at speaking was punctuated with a series of addresses based on Native American cultural references to ancestors, the great mystery and creation, etc., becoming like a mantra before each person spoke.

Obviously it’s not for me to reveal what was said by the people there but it’s betraying no confidences to say that each round was directed towards a particular subject in general. So there was a round for general introduction, one calling for healing for people not present, one for healing of those in the lodge, and others that I really cannot remember. Some were designated to be hotter than others with more water poured on the stones. Often when the door was opened between rounds I found myself bolting for the cool of the air outside.

On the whole it was a challenging but positive experience and I can recommend it. It struck me as highly authentic, though not necessarily in the obvious sense. The Native American aspects may or may not have been authentic and to be honest that’s fairly irrelevant. The references to ancestors, Great Mystery and Great Spirit merely add flavour to the experience and you could make references to whatever culture you choose with similar results.

The real authenticity, I feel, comes from the nature of the ordeal. A sweat lodge is something you don’t take on lightly as evidenced by the recent deaths, although those may be more as a result of machismo rather than any spiritual challenge. Any act of magic or enlightenment, however you chose to frame it, should take some effort for without effort there is no energy. I often refer to this as oomph, others call it gnosis. Without oomph you are merely trotting out hollow words and actions.

Elements of the modern pagan movement suffer from the same ailments as the rest of the modern world. People want quick fixes, simple solutions and easy answers; and some so called pagans seek their enlightenment this way. But they are unlikely to find it. A dissatisfied but successful professional who pays what we think of as a month’s wages for a weekend course on how to become enlightened might return to work on Monday feeling transformed. However, this is probably the result of having some boundaries pushed very briefly or the excitement of daring to break a taboo or two. But these benefits are short lived because real transformation is a lifelong process.

The song Mythical Kings and Iguanas, sung by Dory Previn in the early seventies, tells of those that are sure that ‘everything of worth is in the sky and not the earth’. Deciding that you want a life change and bringing it about by collecting together some crystals and candles with a tarot card or two and reading a rhyme taken from a book on healing or some web site is not going to get you a result.

Tackling a personal issue, however, by facing up to the honest truths, perhaps revealing those to a group of strangers who are also putting themselves out there while putting yourself through a considerable ordeal might just shake you up enough to get a result. The sweat lodge is just such an ordeal and the serious nature of the event gives it oomph. The fallout from such experiences can take enough time to percolate through your unconscious to have a long lasting effect. Of course experiencing even a sweat lodge in isolation with no other commitment isn’t going to change you.

Back in the old days, before we started using the term pagan, we called ourselves occultists and practiced a style of magic that was described as running barefoot in the head; what we were doing was once referred to as amateur brain-surgery. Perhaps a better term might be amateur psychotherapy.

The balls of the sweat lodge, with the inherent physical risks, along with the transporting nature of the heat, humidity, darkness and discomfort, make it a practice that counts. No matter what the symbolism, be it Native American, Scandinavian, Siberian or something cobbled together from your own preferences, it’s authentic. It’s not an easy option leading to a quick ego massage. If you get it wrong it’ll fuck you up but you might just find that is stirs things up enough to wreak real change, you just might not know what sort of change to expect.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Lammas Camp 2010

Yesterday I got back from a well known pagan camp in North Yorkshire for Lammas and I’m still not caught up on sleep.

It’s a three day event but I help out by running the trader’s field, laying it out and getting everybody to the right pitch etc. It gets me to camp a day earlier and I get to know everybody which I like.

I’ve always been responsible for the building of the wicca man on a Sunday too. I say wicca man, that’s a bit of a misnomer as the wicca man is more often made of wood and willow withies stuffed with straw but we’ve all seen the movie and that’s the name he was given the first year. I saw a similar straw and withy man at a camp back in the late nineties so the following year when a friend and I went to this well known pagan camp in North Yorkshire I suggested we have a go at creating our own. I’ve been in charge of it ever since.

We build a larger than life effigy of a man on a pentagram made of bound together lengths of firewood that the farm gets as off-cuts from a saw mill. Often the figure is in the region of eight feet tall. After processing him around the camp site we prop him up against the fire and burn him.

The effigy is known as John Barleycorn which is a second misnomer as the legend of John Barleycorn doesn’t describe him as being burned. Instead he is cut down, harrowed in, boiled up and generally brewed into beer. In our case we are using the name to represent the grain crop in general.

The ritual has gained in sophistication over the years and we now have a standardized ritual (the beginnings of a tradition) where someone steps forward from the crowd and complains that the figure is golden, fit and healthy at our expense of toil in the field. The crowd are invited to decide what we should do about this and, in an acknowledgement of our animal nature, the crowd demands he be burned. As representatives step forward to take up torches the crowd shout burn him, burn him. As master of ceremonies I egg them on. Finally he burns in a glorious pyre.

As the figure burns someone else steps forward from the crowd and asks 'what have we just done?' This represents our remorse at our actions. After a short discourse the crowd are invited to decide what should be done and they call for the return of John Barleycorn.

Shortly, after long enough for the shouting to reach a peak, a man dressed in straw and very little else springs into the circle and proceeds to dance around as the returned John Barleycorn. Soon everybody is inside the circle, singing and dancing with pipes and drums and the party continues until after dark.

It’s great fun, we get two or three hundred people baying for the burning and then turn them into a compassionate population again. I get to lead the whole affair and this year I lost my voice what with all the calling for burning and compassion. It’s a cross between ritual and participatory theatre.

I'll post more about the weekend when I've had a bit more sleep.

I'm a bit dissapointed with Blogger.com

Hi all

New post to come shortly, hopefully today, but I want to quickly express my frustration with Blogger.com. I've found it a bit awkward to use and the search facility seems to be pretty rubbish too. Something which amazes me when you consider it's part of Google.

I chose Blogger.com because I imagined that it would come up in Google searches very easily. So I was completely amazed that I had to register it with Google and all the other search engines. I might be able to understand that with other engines but you would imagine that Google would know of a new blog on it's servers from the start. When I posted the G20/Ian Tomlinson post I was very disappointed that nobody would be able to find it. (I believe this discussion should be as wide as possible. See my post of July 22.) Of course I understand that people will chose weather or not to read my blog but if they never know of it's existence then how can people make that decision.

Lately it's been asking me to give my log in details each time and when that doesn't work it puts me through a lengthy password reset process that just drains all my enthusiasm to write when I want to. If they don't sort that out I'll be off.

I had been thinking that if it comes to the crunch, i.e. I have more instances of difficulty logging in, then I would move my full archive over to another blog service. However, my preference would have been Blogspot.com but checking that out I find that Blogger and Blogspot are part of the same service so I suppose that means that Google owns my arse now.

That's all a bit unfortunate because up until today I have always had fairly positive emotions towards Google. Please don't mess it up guys.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Storyboarding an animation

I’ve been trying to do a storyboard for a promotional animation for my novel (a scene from the end of Chapter seven). It’s taking ages because I’m really fussing over the dialogue. I tried cutting it down to make it fit a two minute time slot and I just became depressed that it removed all the humour. Now I’ve restored the original dialogue and I’m trying to storyboard it again.

I’ve been at this for months and I continually meet people who have animator friends (they come out of the woodwork) but I find them so frustrating because they offer to help or simply offer advice but without the storyboard they can’t see my vision. Then they ask why I've not made any progress with it.

I’m going around in circles. Trouble is I'm a writer not an animator.


This post was a couple of years ago. I've made more progress now. I decided not to animate it and did it in a graphic novel style so the storyboard really is the finished article, only with speech bubbles. It's just gone up on You Tube here.

If anybody want to take it further and actually animate it fell free. The Wayne character (the guy with the beard) should have a received pronunciation voice so should sound like an upper middle class Englishman or an old fashioned BBC presenter. The Clint character is less specific except that he's an old hippy from just north of London.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Back from camp in a daze

It’s Tuesday, the day after returning from Drum Camp and I’m in a bit of a haze. The camp was completely dry throughout and incredibly hot. I didn’t do a single workshop, which is fine because they can be hard work and going to camp is about being on holiday. The evenings were great though with some amazing music in the café after the stage performances. Oh and it pissed it down while we were packing up so my tent was saturated when I put it away. After drying my tent in the garden yesterday evening I think I’m now recovering.

I’ve got to get my head together because I’m meeting with a client for some writing work that actually pays money tomorrow, unlike this fiction stuff that I’d rather be doing. So I’m trying to get it together but after all the lack of sleep and sun baked mornings in the tent it’s not easy.

I’ll keep you posted if anything interesting happens.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Drum Camp tomorrow

So I'm going to drum camp tomorrow. Four days of excellent African percussion, music and dance from around the world. I've been going to this for a little over ten years now and every year I'm amazed at the truly world class talent that appears in a marquee in a field in Suffolk. Musicians come from all over and they put Drum Camp on their tour itinerary just to be there.

There's workshops on drum, dance and song from all sorts of cultures. I don't tend to do many workshops as they are often waaay too early in the morning and I really there go to chill. The evenings are where its at, that and the drinking and the occasional falling over.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Am I stupid or something?

So I’ve set this up, well nearly, but how the hell do you set the formatting for the about me section? I’ve tried putting in ‘para’ tags but they aren’t accepted and a ‘break’ tag doesn’t give you any spacing between paragraphs. Why does it have to be so awkward? What on earth happens to people who don’t know any HTML? I only know the basics. Surely the world of blogging isn’t restricted to the technically literate because that’s going to filter out all sorts of people and leave us with geek hell.

I guess this gives a flavour of this blog, there’s going to be a certain amount of irritation about issues of stupidity.

Actually I know bloggs aren't all geek hell so there must be something I'm missing.

Oh and as far as I can see it’s 1175 characters which last time I looked is less than 1200 characters.