Posts

Witch or Saint? A Fine Line

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  Today, I visited two famous caves in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire: St Robert’s Cave and the much more famous Mother Shipton’s Cave. Both are located by the banks of the River Nidd in the remains of Royal Forest of Knaresborough. Both once housed figures who were considered capable of working (or speaking) wonders. Both spoke truth to power in their day. So why is Ursula Shipton (neé Sontheil) remembered as a witch, while Robert Flower is remembered as a saint? I had been wanting to revisit both caves for some time. And to me, both felt like sacred sites. The cave where Ursula Shipton was allegedly born during a storm, is next to the mystical petrifying or dropping well. Water from a stream pools on top of a cave, then drops into a pool beneath, gradually turning anything in its path to stone. It’s an enchanting spot!  And round the side of that is the entrance to the “wishing well”, a cleft in the rock where the magical water pools, and into which you can dip your hand. This really

Swanwick in the Time of COVID.

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  My 2021 Swanwick programme and notebook. Normally, my week at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in Derbyshire is the highlight of my summer. But normality is something none of us has seen for the best part of two years. This year, I had my head in the sand, pretending it wasn’t happening until almost the last moment, afraid to either cancel or not cancel. So let’s just say that when I arrived at The Hayes Conference Centre, my anxiety levels were back to the way they used to be in my earlier Swanwick years. In those days, I spent most of my time lurking around the edges and retreating to my room. This year, I did much the same, for different reasons. Thankfully, the Hayes had wonderful precautions in place (numerous sanitising stations, picnic lunches etc.) Sadly, none of my particular friends were able to attend, which combined with my increased need for distancing to make it a little lonelier than usual. But there were still many happy moments and useful pieces of learning - especial

The Anne Lister Pilgrimage

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A few weeks ago, I walked the Anne Lister Pilgrimage in Halifax . This is a self-guided walk, going from Halifax Minster to Shibden Hall and back, with “pauses for thought” along the way, relating to Anne’s life and faith. This is my first pilgrimage since becoming a member of the Community of Aidan & Hilda , and I did it on the last day of Pride Month, wearing my Gentleman Jack T-shirt.  I quite like the idea of a pilgrimage devoted to someone not known for being a saint. We’re aware of her faults. (All those seductions! Acting like a typical Tory landowner.) But we can also see her trying to genuinely engage with the Divine, as the person she was. Here are a few pictures: Someone left this encouraging message along the way. The Halifax Beacon. The thought below goes with it. I love that there is more than one Permissive Path. Destination reached! I’m not sweaty, I’m not sweaty…

Unconscious Bias: A Conscious Confession

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  “The Origin of Love”, Anna Hopkinson 2019. Yesterday, something happened to me that has not happened before. I had to part ways with an editor on moral grounds. The person in question objected to my explicit reveal that the protagonist and his nemesis were conjoined twins in a former life. The reason? Apparently, two pairs of conjoined twins in one story “stretched credulity” and raised distracting questions about “who gets to move the limbs etc.” Couldn’t they just be normal twins or best friends? No, they couldn’t. I felt honour bound to say these comments sounded prejudiced, and I couldn’t accept the edits. I’m sure this editor did not intend to be prejudiced. It was unconscious bias. * This morning, I watched David Harewood’s documentary for the BBC, “Why is Covid Killing People of Colour?” It contained some shocking statistics; not least the grossly disproportionate number of Pakistani people living in deprived areas (something particularly relevant to my home town of Bradford).

Beauty and the Beast Revisited

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  “This is where the wealthy and the powerful rule...” The words that put a shiver down my teenage spine.  Last Christmas I was given a full box set of the 1980s TV drama Beauty and the Beast. And surprisingly given the lack of activities available in 2020, I’m still working my way through it. For those not in the know, the series followed the story of Catherine, a wealthy lawyer in New York, and Vincent, a sensitive and troubled man-beast who was part of a secret colony below the city streets. It absolutely rocked my world in the 80s and early 90s. I still have the novelisation, cassette of poetry and music from the show, and unwatchable VHS tapes of four selected episodes. But mainly, I hadn’t watched it since my teens. These are my thoughts on revisiting it as a 40-something in the year 2020. 1. So many episodes! I remember going to the USA as an au pair in 1994 and discovering episodes of Beauty and the Beast I had never seen before. Well, here’s some news for myself: there are eve

St Theresa and Zellandine: The Agony and the Ecstasy

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"Zellandine and Troylus" by Anna Hopkinson, 2019 [Warning: contains sexual content] As Asexual Myths & Tales comes out this week, I would like to return to one of the most controversial stories from Asexual Fairy Tales , “Zellandine and Troylus”. The reaction of some readers to this story almost caused me to abandon writing the second volume of tales. Opinions were raised about the "lack of consent" in the story and how offensive it was. (Yes, yes, I know. Never read your own reviews). Be assured, I take this kind of thing very seriously. I've tried very hard to put trigger warnings into Myths & Tales . And there is also a story - "The True Love Knot" which could be considered the antithesis of "Zellandine". I won't give any spoilers here. As I wrote in Asexual Fairy Tales : “Zellandine and Troylus” is one of the earliest known versions of “Sleeping Beauty” and comes from the medieval French romance Perceforest (c.1330-44). It als

Susanna Clarke: A True Narnia Fan

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  Warning: contains spoilers A while back, I wrote a blog entitled Let’s Talk About Narnia  in which I bemoaned the fact that many authors seem to express disappointment with Narnia because of its “Christian allegory”. I’ve always felt that to say so is to not really “get” Narnia. For a start, it’s not even an allegory! And it has so many hidden depths, so many influences. If you want to truly understand Narnia, you must understand C.S. Lewis as an academic, an intellectual, apologist and medievalist, who debated with his fellow intellectuals, JRR Tolkien, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams a.k.a. The Inklings, and absorbed their ideas into his own.  Or you could read Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi . It’s a strange tale of a man called Piranesi (although he’s sure that’s not his name) who lives in a House of Gormenghast-like proportions, filled with statues, birds and tides. Twice a week, he meets with “The Other”, a surprisingly well-dressed and well-equipped man, whom Piranesi assists with h