Category Archives: Britain

This

This

I hope when they arrive they see this first.
The red-and-white lighthouse
tied to the cliff-top,
the Channel slipping away to reveal
a ribbed parchment of sand
weed-streaked rocks
and space for three men,
an arching fishing rod.

They will not see a horizon.
Rather sea, sky, morning in union,
a relaxing of green and grey,
suffused with childhood blue.

It is beautiful and warm.
I hope this is where they come.
I hope this is what they see.

 

Eastbourne, April 2017

Polesden Lacey – English Country House inspiration for my next book

The Lady in the Moon Moth Mask, the forthcoming book in The Secret of the Tirthas, takes place in a fabulous country house based on Polesden Lacey, a property near Dorking that was almost bequeathed to the Queen but ended up in the hands of the National Trust.

My wife and I take our boys there on a regular basis, as they love amongst other things getting their hands on old stuff, grandfather clocks, the chickens when they’re not away on holidays, and, appropriately, the stone griffins. Plus the grounds are huge, and beautiful, so there’s plenty of space to run around.

I always wanted the series to be very diverse, with equal parts mystery and action, and a strong contrast between the exotic and well-known. After Lizzie’s harrowing ordeal in the Cameroonian jungle in The Dreamer Falls, I decided to revert to a gentler setting, with the emphasis once again on mystery and intriguing characters.

After watching an excellent BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (and then reading the no-less-brilliant book) I knew Lizzie’s story leant itself to the same kind of set-up. So I did some research and took a lot of photos of the building, uncovering more of the absorbing story of Margaret Greville, who bought the house with her McEwan’s inheritance (‘I’d rather be a beeress than an heiress’), and who held regular country parties for socialites from London and the wider Empire.

Portrait of Margaret Greville, Polesden Lacey

Margaret Greville collected ‘people with the unerring eye of a stamp-collector’ according to the Evening Standard, and her guests included European Ambassadors, Earls and Countesses, writers and poets – and Maharajahs. A perfect mix for an intense and suspenseful story, in which Lizzie is left wondering whether guests are who they say they are – or whether they are demons in disguise, come searching for a lost Artefact of Power.

The Lady in the Moon Moth Mask will be out in the early summer. The final book in the series (currently with numerous working titles!) will be out early next year.

Margaret loved her dogs, all of whom ended up in Polesden’s famous pet cemetery.

The Old Man

I used to do a lot of hill walking when I lived in the right places, principally Stirling, where I went up into the Highlands, and Cardiff, where I used to drive to the Brecon Beacons. The Surrey Hills, where I live now, are good – but they’re not quite the same. There’s nothing like proper mountains for a sense of freedom.

The old man in this short poem is the the Old Man of Coniston. Those who know that fine mountain in the English Lake District will also know that this photo is not taken there, as I don’t have any digital photos from that walk, which was done a long time ago. (It’s in the Brecon Beacons, near Pen y Fan).

The Old Man first appeared in Orbis poetry magazine, no.88.

The Old Man

In stride pale valleys grow before us,
smoothed between slumbering beasts,
and exciting strange pools of thoughts;
after roaming the Old Man and returning
like water we fall together
by a crumbling river and you sing,
a silly song, into my ear
as I rest my thoughtless head in your lap.

Who are you to me?
Dreaming child, self-absorbed,
before eroded thoughtways
you sing the possibility of freedom.

Rise

Rise

The vegetation, air is damp.
Branches move slightly
and the sky is grey.
Christmas is coming,
feel the mind rise.

A blackbird silhouette
jumping under the laurel.
The cut log stained black
with age and rain.
The robin around,
quick with his feathers.
Christmas is…
…the mind rise.

The river swells, gloomy grey,
and a fox, ears high,
lopes to a sibling,
fidgeting in a daytime dream.
Christmas…
…rise.

Hedgelayer

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This poem was written during a time when I did a lot of volunteering for wildlife trusts and other environmental groups. Amongst other things, I learned how to build a drystone wall, coppice woodland, and lay hedges, in some beautiful parts of the country. There was always something magical about being outside, working with a group of like-minded people, whatever the weather.

Hedgelayer

A man, a man I could have loved
starts to shade, to shade the morning mist.

He is beating stakes, stakes into the clay
forcing them past stones, stones and steady roots,
the things weak within the earth
and the things that hate to move.

As I approach he takes his shape assuredly
from the frail and wet white air,
a seamster weaving hazel whips through the hedge,
outwitting the final challenge of scratch and rip.

In defeat the hawthorn rests its useless claws
uneasily against itself, uncertain how to act.
Then feels the sap rise, rise again in its veins,
and knows that it is elect.

The real “Garden of Rooms”

I have already posted about the amazing ‘garden of rooms’ in Herefordshire that inspired The Secret of the Tirthas here. Now there are two more books out, I thought I’d share a few more photos of the garden, including some of the rooms that feature in those books.

22_DSC0010ABOVE: The Wedding Cake Tree in the real Miss Day’s Garden. I’ve no idea who the real Miss Day was though – there’s no clues on the Garden’s original map, so she remains a mystery. In The Book of Life this garden is overgrown, abandoned by Evelyn Hartley when her cowardly brother fled the World War One draft through the tirtha to Louisiana.

P1010172ABOVE: The view that inspired the scene when Lizzie looks out of her bedroom window on her first night in Rowan Cottage and sees the criss-crossing hedges in the moonlight. The garden right below her is the Sun Garden.

P1010078ABOVE: Two South American gods who haven’t (as yet) featured in the stories. And BELOW a photo of them as they are now in a different garden – always pretty glum, but now somehow glummer!

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BELOW: The Rill looking up towards The Tower – this place is going to get a lot more important later on.

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BELOW: Excerpt from the original list of the Garden Rooms. The Edwardian Path features at the start of the forthcoming book, The Lady in the Moon Moth Mask. The Gothic Garden will come into its own soon, too.

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BELOW: The plan of the whole garden is on the first post I mentioned above, but here’s a detail of the Sun Garden and area beyond. It includes the Gothic Garden, and the site where I imagined the Indian Garden.

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BELOW: As I wrote in my previous post, the garden has sadly now been mostly grubbed up. Here’s one of the rescued Easter Island heads (the middle one, I think, that Lizzie jumped on to on her way to activating the tirtha…)

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BELOW: Some of the garden’s lovely flowers and trees

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P1010060And finally me, working on the first draft of The City of Light in the garden.

 

 

The Welsh Marches – Photoblog

Rowan Cottage, the house that Lizzie inherits in The City of Light, is set near the fictional village of Hebley, loosely based on the black-and-white village of Weobley. I’ve already posted about the real garden of rooms that The Secret of the Tirthas is based on here, but here’s a few photos of the remote, beautiful, and occasionally austere area known as the Welsh Marches, which serves as a backdrop to the books:

Looking towards Hay Bluff and Twmpa, at the western edge of the Black Mountains

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The Golden Valley

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Across the border in Wales: Herefordshire bull, Vale of Ewyas

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Ruins of Llanthony Priory, Vale of Ewyas

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Pen y Fan, the highest of the Black Mountains

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Regeneration, Colliers Wood

Flowing
like the river
going home
and crushed up
like the river

in between
High Path
and the Savacentre

half my eye
snaps a bolt of blue –

did a kingfisher
release the river
just for one moment?

And, if
it wasn’t the kingfisher
how come the river
is here with me
in my living room

flowing

on the other side of now?

 
First published in Magma no. 24

Weather Map

Weather Map

I love the blue and green weather map, its spindly augur.

She stands beside it, what we know is not
really there – broad Britain, so much rock, trees
villages and towns
teeming beneath its battered outline. I am ready
for the quickening.

Tell me about Britain’s weather,
the pressure we are about to bear.
Tell me of squalls on moorlands in the night,
soaking into huddled sheep.
Tell me of the summer sun
warming zigzags
on adders’ backs.
Tell me
how hot it is in Manchester.

Her fingers reach up, stroke two hundred miles of Wales.
There will be snow on frosted hills.
Some atmospheric fog
will go on loan to Scottish lochs.

That night we sleep against a storm in the eaves,
wake in London, on the banks of the Wandle.
You get up, throw back the curtains
to show me the weather –

full sunlight,
slipping on the spittle of webs

blinking
on the morning river.

 

First published in ‘Cool and Quirky’, Farringdon Poetry Competition 2008