Clockwork Heart

Last weekend was the first ever Incredible, Indelible, Festival of Curiosities and Wonders: Eastbourne Steampunk Festival!

There was a great atmosphere at the event all weekend, and some superb entertainment on offer throughout both days and at the Masquerade Ball on Saturday night at the Wintergardens.

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Steampunk is a subgenre that takes as its departure point the idea of Victorian-styled Science Fiction.   Imagine the world had continued without electricity, everything being powered by steam and clockwork mechanisms.  But throw into that world the Sci-fi imagination of airship pirates, cyborgs, automatons, machines gone wrong, experiments in time travel and bringing the dead back to life as just a few examples of the possibilities at play.  Early Victorian science fiction literature, such as H.G Wells’ The Time Machine and War of the Worlds, and Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth and The Steam House are cited as ‘steampunk’s forefathers’ in Henry Winchester’s book Steampunk (Flame Tree Publishing, 2014).  And its roots reach right back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published in 1818.

Opportunities for storytelling abound in the steampunk world.

In designing and creating my own costume, I really found myself getting to grips with characterisation – building a steampunk character who would become my alter-ego throughout the event.  She’s a Madame Blavatsky type figure – a gothic, Victorian-occult-underworld travelling storyteller.  She’s an illusionist who can be found on both sides of the mirror: she slinks in the shadows and glitters in the moonlight.  As yet, she doesn’t have a fully developed name or story, but I’ll be developing the idea further for a steampunk story I’m writing called Sisters of the Moon.

Here’s a picture taken by event photographer Wil Wardle:

Galadriel

I had the opportunity to tell a selection of my stories that seemed to fit with the event.  Specifically, The Girl With the Clockwork Heart, which was written especially for it.  It’s my own steampunk version of Sleeping Beauty, and I’ve been getting some good feedback on it.  There were others too, Tom Tick-Tock and Slippers – crazy versions of Rumpelstiltskin and Cinderella which also worked with the steampunk theme.

My comfort zone was stretched to its limit as I had to share stories I’d never shared before, in ways that I wasn’t used to working.  But it was a good learning experience and it’s fueled me with ideas for the future.  So watch this space for news and developments on those and other stories :-)

For a real taste of what the weekend had in store, there’s a short film by the Eastbourne Herald here and one at Eastbourne Live here.

Enjoy.

And I hope to see you there again next year!

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Spirit of the Dance

Congress Theatre, Eastbourne: Tuesday 19th – Saturday 23rd August

Spirit of the Dance

It took me a while to get my head round the fact that this show was purely about the dancing and singing – there was no narrative thread holding things together. But the Spirit of the Dance is exactly what it says! From the start, the audience was wowed with dazzling lights, glitzy costumes and top-quality dances.

The performance was packed with high-energy, precision-perfect dances from a wide range of styles and traditions; this gave it variety and spice aplenty, with some stunning and jaw-dropping set-pieces.

This is a real feel-good show. By the end, people were on their feet, clapping and shouting for more. It’s a great way to spend a summer evening that leaves you buzzing with joy.

Homecoming

Uncaged
I step
into
my full
moonlight:

glittering
starbright
on this
mountain top.

My roots,
diving
into
You,
grow
like
trees -
stronger,
deeper,
surer.

Alive.
So truly
my own
Self:
I spread
my
butterfly
wings…
And
fly.

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‘The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation
Ps.118:14

Illustration by QuirkyJoe

Roots, Shanties & Parsley-Girl

Moving from the cradle of the Downs to the shifting sands of the seaside is proving to be a huge culture-shock for me. Although the distance I’ve actually moved is only a matter of about two miles, the difference in landscape and environment has left me feeling entirely uprooted.

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My roots are in the belly of the earth: in the chalk and flint, the soil and streams, the grass and flowers, the oak beams exhaling their memories of ancient times; in the song of the blackbird and the robin, the colours of the finch and magpie, the flash of the dragonfly and butterfly…

All the stories I know – whether folk tales, fairy tales or mythologies – speak to me of woods and forests, mountains and glens. My psyche is infused with greens and browns and musty, dank, leaf-litter smells.

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I loved the beach too, and would walk there often. But nothing in my experience so far has prepared me for actually living here. I have been uprooted and exposed: dangling in the open air from the second floor flat where I now live; finding nothing to cling to in the shifting sands and rolling tides of the sea below.

So this morning I started making a list of the kinds of stories I need to discover now, which will help me to settle into this strange and alien landscape and to begin to lay down roots in this wild and windswept culture.

Here’s a few things I think might help:
* Sea Shanties – to connect me to the ancient bones of seaside life
* The story of Sedna – to ground me in the mythology of the seascape
* Local fishy-folk tales – to give me a sense of the place and people I now live amongst

Seeking first the comfort of the familiar, I turned to read the story Parsley-Girl. And Bam! There it was.

The realisation that my True Roots lie in The One who is always with me, no matter where I am or where I go. There is nowhere I can be that is not rooted in that Eternal Rock of Love. With my foundations in Christ, I can never be lost or alone. Wherever I am, I am Home.

“Be strong and of good courage,
do not fear nor be afraid of them;
for The Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you.
He will not leave you nor forsake you.”
Deuteronomy 31:6.

The Widow

Devonshire Park Theatre: 22-26 July 2014

Playwright Merlin Ward’s chiller The Widow premiered at Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park Theatre last night. The Widow is a brand new play in the gothic genre, set in contemporary Britain. It has a classic blend of the occult, the dark, the haunting and the sinister, which are brought up to date by the modern characters and setting.

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It’s not easy to present this kind of occult thriller on stage, as we’ve become so used to the technical wizardry of film – and I feel this story could make a good film, similar to the way The Blair Witch Project brought the genre up to date several years ago.

But with the help of a striking gothic set, spooky sound effects and excellent use of lighting, the play pulled it off. Anita Dobson plays a characteristically underhand house maid with dead-pan accuracy amid strong acting from all the cast.

One of the play’s greatest successes was in playing to the strengths of what theatre is all about, and what the Devonshire Park can offer in particular: the thrill of live performance in front if an audience inside a real Victorian theatre. Darkness was used to great effect in the play, and it was in those unnerving edges of blackness that the theatre itself seemed to lend its own long-accumulated eeriness, swallowing everything up and beckoning you to wonder, what if..?

The Cross and The Serpent

Magic, myth and mystery in the ancient world…

I’m reading William Haslam’s deeply insightful and thoroughly-researched exploration from 1849: The Cross and The Serpent. From the outset, it reminded me of the 1998 book, Heaven’s Mirror, by Graham Hancock and Santha Faiia. This apparently had an accompanying Channel 4 television series, but unfortunately I didn’t see it.

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I did, however, read the book from cover to cover with growing enthusiasm and excitement as it explored the tangible links between the world’s ancient cultures – the distances between which geographically, temporally and socially would have made communication between them pretty unlikely, if not absolutely impossible in many cases.

What they asserted was that the same patterns of language roots, architecture (specifically temple-building), and mythological motifs could be found in pretty well every ancient culture that ever inhabited the earth at any place and in every time. They made exciting links between the temple at Angkor Wat, Cambodia, and the Temples of the Sun and Moon in Mexico City; these were linked to Hindu temples and mythologies, Egyptian, Pacific and ancient Western traditions.

One of the major connecting factors was the symbol of the serpent – others included The Word, and the overwhelming presence of the Great Flood narrative across every culture, with all evidence seeming to point towards the civilisation that existed before the flood as being holders of wise and sacred knowledge from God that was later imparted to the varying cultures as they dispersed across the globe after the flood.

The study explores a wealth and wide range of sacred texts and scriptures from around the world to underpin its findings, and includes some references to the Gnostic Gospels which point towards a vaguely Christian understanding, although the Bible itself seems to have been largely overlooked as an important source of scriptural knowledge.

The rift between biblical and non-biblical cultures seems to be deep and strong.

And yet. In 1849, William Haslam was setting out the exact same argument – with one key difference: grounded in Biblical theology, Haslam shows how all these mythologies share the same Original Root as the Christian Gospel – namely, the Word of God. His theory is based on a deep reading of Biblical Scripture, not just for what is written, but also for what is implied. And his argument is partly based on reinterpreting the history of what happened after the Flood. He sets out to prove through scripture that the scattering and dissemination of peoples across the globe following the flood is directly responsible for the arising of so many symbolically connected mythologies across the ancient world.

By examining the exact same arguments and evidence, Halsam shows how the esoteric knowledge and sacred mystical understanding of the symbolic Cross and Serpent wove their way into every sacred mythology across the world, and still hold potency in our imagination and rituals today.

He explores language etymology, temple architecture and mythological symbolism to demonstrate how the world’s seemingly diverse cultures have One Root in God’s Word, and that they all find their culmination in the salvation of mankind at the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Stories bearing the same or similar motifs abound across the ancient world and in every mythology that we have inherited.

For me, one of the most personally relevant – and seasonally topical – of these stories is the Celtic/British story of John Barleycorn, which is symbolically enacted every year at the Eastbourne Lammas Festival (Western Lawns, 26-27 July 2014). In this story, the god (Lughnasa/”Light”) is present on earth in the form of an ordinary man – John Barleycorn. At harvest time, John Barleycorn must die – his blood must be shed to give life for the people in the following year. With his death, bread and ale are produced from the crop of his body (the barleycorn), and are ceremonially partaken to ensure the success of next year’s harvest.

In a corresponding ancient Mexican symbolic rite, a maize cross was constructed, venerated and shared among the people, in a ritual that was linked to the giving of blood in sacrifice.

The echoes of the Gospel are so striking they hardly need explaining. John Barleycorn’s story itself has resonances across the ancient world – for example the Greek story of Demeter and Persephone, the Roman Ceres, and particularly the Egyptian story of Osiris, whose body was broken on the threshing room floor each year at the harvest, and who would judge the dead in the underworld.

Haslam argues that the symbol of the Cross can be seen in the Egyptian ankh – designating immortality and eternal life; the symbols of the five major planets in the solar system, each relating to ancient god and goddess figures; the architecture and construction of ancient Hindu temples in India; and is traced in China, South America, Europe, Celtic imagery and many more.

The serpent shows itself in the temple structures and mythology of Hinduism, Buddhism, Mayan culture, and so many more – especially when we consider it in its form as the dragon: barely a cultural mythology excludes this nemesis.

Haslam gives specific examples from across the ancient world of the recurring symbolic motifs of the Cross and the Serpent, similar to those put forward in Heaven’s Mirror.

The thing that both books do brilliantly is highlight the need for integration, rather than obliteration, when it comes to understanding our ancient history and our relationship with the Divine.

To me, early British churches are a kind of hopeful symbol of this. There are a number of Saxon churches (pre-1066) near where I live in Sussex, and among the striking features of these and other Mediaeval churches and churchyards you would be quite likely to find the following: a pair of ancient yew trees, often marking the entrance to the church or graveyard; sacred geometrical symbolism in the architecture and design; ‘pagan’ images carved into the cornices and ceilings – such as oak leaves and even some Green Man faces. It is often said that the church came along and pushed out the local Druidic religions – but I feel this is a little unjust in the face of the evidence, in these particular cases at least.

People who want to obliterate would perhaps take over the original sacred site (clearly marked by the yew trees, which were sacred gathering places) and destroy everything that marked it out as pagan – including the trees themselves. They certainly wouldn’t glorify the old ideas in stonework and architectural design. And yet they did. They preserved the trees and the imagery.

I like to think this is suggestive of the implicit understanding that the great mysteries require investigation, co-operation and integration, much rather than obliteration.

With the Church of England’s recent decision to allow women bishops for the first time in its history, I wonder what the process of mutual learning and shared understanding would uncover for us all.

Haslam is clear – as were Tolkien and Lewis a century later: the thematic recurrence of shared sacred symbolism across the mythologies of the ancient world is both derived from and pointing to the Truth of the One God, whose Word was made flesh in the actual historical person of Jesus Christ; the willing sacrifice of whose blood for our sins is both our salvation and the culmination of all ancient prophecy.

Once we were divided and scattered. Once again we will be reunited in the glory of our God.