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June 2016

Going to ground

Hillside 1

Hillside 2

Here in Chagford, surrounded by woodland and moorland, by rain-soaked hills and fields full of flowers and sheep, we tend to live half-a-step removed from the pace and preoccupations of modern life. Time itself moves differently. The lanes to the village are winding and narrow, slowing cars down as they make the approach, or stopping them altogether when sheep, cows or ponies are crowding the road. Village shops are small, service leisurely as neighbors chitchat over the counters (while city folk check their watches impatiently). Internet and mobile phone services don't always work here, and the rest of the world can seem very far away....

Hillside 3

But it's not, of course. And when bad news comes relentlessly, as it has this past month, it reaches us here in Brigadoon too. And it has been relentless. The mass shooting of gay citizens in Orlando. The assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox in Yorkshire. The bombing in Turkey. The EU Refendum. The smoldering racism encouraged by self-serving figures like Trump, Farage, and Le Pen. So many people shouting. So few people listening. And the polar ice caps quietly melting away all the while.

I keep "going to ground," and I mean that literally: going out to the woods to find solace and strength, to find calm and clarity. In such times, I believe, we need art more than ever. So I turn to nature, and I turn to stories, for guidance. For insight. For healing.

Hillside 4

Hillside 5

"A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves," says Ben Okri. "Sick storytellers can make nations sick. Without stories we would go mad. Life would lose it’s moorings or orientation....Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart larger."

"Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines," Jeanette Winterson concurs. "What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination."

Hillside 6

Earlier this month, before the world went crazy, I posted these words by Ursula K. Le Guin:

"Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom -- poets, visionaries -- realists of a larger reality.''

I didn't realize those hard times would be quite so soon.


The late, great Lloyd Alexander also spoke about truths best conveyed through magical modes of storytelling. " 'True to life' may not always be true enough," he said. "The difficulty is perhaps in confusing truth with objectivity. By its very nature, art can never be objective. Try as we might, we can't 'tell it like it is.' We can only tell it the way it seems to us. And this, of course, is what we must do -- in realism or in fantasy -- if we hope to create anything of durable value. We have always needed good art to sustain us, to strengthen us, even to console us for being born human. Where better can we learn to see through the eyes of others, to gain compassion, to try to make sense of the world outside ourselves and the world within ourselves?"

"To open our eyes, to see with our inner fire and light, is what saves us," says Chickasaw poet & novelist Linda Hogan. "Even if it makes us vulnerable. Opening the eyes is the job of storytellers, witnesses, and the keepers of accounts. The stories we know and tell are reservoirs of light and fire that brighten and illuminate the darkness of human night, the unseen."

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Hillside 8

If you, too, are struggling with your creative work during this unsettled time, this is what I advise:

First, do whatever you need to right now to find hózhó (balance), stillness, center ground. Once you've found it, or even a whisper of it, then take a deep breath. Let it out. And begin. No matter what medium you are using to weave new stories, remember that this is good work to be doing. The world needs more light, more beauty, more wonder. More compassion for the Other. More understanding of the darkness.

Together, we'll light a path for those coming after. Breathe deep. And again.

And begin.

Hillside 9The Ben Okri quote is from his essay collection A Way of Being Free (Phoenix, 1998). The Jeanette Winterson quote is from her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (Vintage, 2012). The Ursula Le Guin quote is from her National Book Award acceptance speech (November, 2014). The Lloyd Alexander quote is from Innocence & Experience: Essays & Conversations on Children's Literature, edited by Barbara Harrison & Gregory Maguire (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1987). The Linda Hogan quote is from her memoir The Woman Who Watches Over the World (WW Norton, 2001). The poem in the picture captions is from Anam Cara by John O'Donohue (Harper Perennial, 1998). All rights reserved by the authors.

Recommended Reading

Reading in the studio garden

A round-up of recent reading, magpie gleanings from hither and yon....

"Beatrix Potter, Enyd Byton, and the 'pictureskew' " by China Miéville (The Guardian)

"John Masefield and British Fantasy of the 1920s" by Rob Maslen (The City of Lost Books)

"Irish Fantasy Writers and the Easter Uprising" by Rob Maslen (The City of Lost Books)

"Synchrony in Howl's Moving Castle" by Rob Maslen (The City of Lost Books)

"Maps of Fantasy Worlds" by Annalee Newitz (Io9)

"Why Do Adults Read YA Fiction?" by Austen Hackney (AH blog)

"Malefice" by Leslie Wilson (Seven Miles of Steel Thistles)

"Tiny Fairies" by Katherine Langrish (Seven Miles of Steel Thistles)

"Victorian Fairies and the Early Work of J.R.R. Tolkien" by Dimitra Fimi (Working With English)

"Fairies, Demons, and Ghosts in Shakespeare" by Dimtra Fimi (Oxford University Press blog)

"Wonders of the Northland: Hamlet and Macbeth" by Rob Maslen (The City of Lost Books)

"Estella Canziani: Piper of Dreams" by Christina Ruth Johnson (Enchanted Conversations)

"The Frog-King, or Iron Henry" by Mari Ness (

"A Field Guide to Mythic Monsters," reviewed by Maria Popova (Brain Pickings)

"Irish Bards Could Kill Rats with Poetry" by John Kelly (Slate)

"Word Obsessive" by Susan Price (Nennius)

"A’ghailleann: On Language-Learning" by Iona Sharma (The Toast)

June idyll

"What the Green Man can teach us" by Paul Kingsnorth (The New Statesman)

"The Nature of Britain" by Elizabeth Yale (Aeon)

"The Palm Trees and the Poetry of W.S. Merwin" by Casey N. Cep (The New Yorker)

"The Lost Gardens of Emily Dickinson" by Ferris Jabr (The New York Times)

"The Politics of Place: Terry Tempest Williams" (Scott London Interviews)

"Who Owns the Earth?" by Antonia Malchik (Aeon)

"The Songs of the Wolves" by Holly Root-Gutteridge (Aeon)

"A New Origin Story for Dogs" by Ed Yong (The Atlantic)

"The Metamorphosis: What's It Like to Be an Animal?" by Joshua Rothman (The New Yorker)

"Rewilding Human Nature" by Lucy Purdy (Positive News)

"Schooled in Nature" by Jay Griffiths (Aeon)

"Opening Our Eyes to Beauty" by Fiona Reynolds (The Guardian)

"Heartwood," story and art by Jackie Morris (The Tree Charter)

Sunbathing hound

"An Open Letter to the Hat-Wearing Dog from Go Dog, Go" by Raquel D'Apice (Ugly Volvo)

"On the Invisibility of Middle-Aged Women" by Dorthe Nors (Literary Hub)

"Women and Water" by Victoria Leslie (The Dangerous Women Project)

Marina Warner on Angela Carter (Discovering Literature: 20th Century)

"Georgia O'Keefe and Juan Hamilton" by Charlotte Cowles (Harpers Bazaar)

"Borges and $" by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens (Longreads)

"Ray Bradbury: Between Dystopia and Hope" by Patrick West (Spiked Review)

"The Thing With Fathers: The New Poetry of Fatherhood" by Stephen Burt (Boston Review)

"Louise Erdrich: By the Book" (The New York Times)

"Jenny Diski's In Gratitude" by Heidi Julavits (The New York Times)

"Fictional Homes in New York City" by Michelle Colman (CityRealty)

On Laurie Anderson's new film Heart of a Dog by Ryan Gilbey (The New Statesman)

Laurie Anderson on childhood, storytelling and hiding by Paul Holdengraber (Literary Hub)

Maira Kalman on mistakes, optimism, dogs and art by Jessa Gross (Longreads)

First Light A Celebration of Alan Garner

Katherine Langrish on Alan Garner and First Light (Seven Miles of Steel Thistles)

A conversation with Philip Pullman by Katy Waldman (Slade)

A conversation with Max Porter by Carmen Maria Machado (Electric Literature)

Rebecca Solnit on social change and hope (

Rima Staines calls for a roots revolution (The Hermitage)

Sarah Smarsh on why art is more necessary than ever (On Being)

Samira Thomas in praise of patience (Aeon)

Lin-Manual Miranda's commencement speech at U Penn (Heatstreet)

Stories for creating a more hopeful world by Sita Brahmachari (Guardian Children's Books)

And now a bit of shade

 And some recommended viewing...

"Six Forgotten Female Pioneers of Photography" by Sara Crompton (The Guardian)

"Everday Life in 19th Century Cornwall," photographs (The Guardian)

"Indian's Disappearing Musicians," a photo essay by Souvid Datta (The Guardian)

"The Shinto Onbashira matsuri in Japan," video (Aeon)

Widdershins 2016: Pathways to the Faerie Realm

Rima Staines, Widdershins

Into the Path's Embrace by Virginia LeeThe second Widdershins exhibition of moorland mythic art has opened at Green Hill Arts in Moretonhampstead, running until August 27th. A sign by the gallery door explains the exhibition's premise:

"Dartmoor is a landscape rich in legend, full of ghostly white Whist Hounds, shapeshifting Witch Hares, trolls who lurk under clapper bridge and piskies who dance among standing stones. Ancient carvings of the Green Man can be found all over Devon, symbolizing the wild green mysteries of nature. Old country folk still put bowls of milk out for the faeries, to seek their blessing...and to ward off their mischief! 

"All of the artists in this show are local to Dartmoor (or have strong local connections), inspired by the timeless magic of the land. Their art explores myth, folklore, hedge-magic and faery tales in diverse ways -- ranging from earthy to ethereal, spiritual to whimsical, and dark to light. Walking widdershins (counter-clockwise) is a pathway into Faerie. Come with us. There are wonders ahead."

The photographs below come from the show's opening night (last Friday), accompanied by a transcript of Alan Lee's eloquent introductory speech. I haven't photographed every piece of art however, or transcribed all of the quotes written on the walls, as that would lessen the sense of discovery for those who are planning to come and see it. But here's a peek....

Alan LeeGeorgiana Lingard (of Green Hill Arts) and Alan Lee open the exhibition

An Introduction to Widdershins 2016

by Alan Lee

I don’t know if we are in a fairy hot-spot here in Devon, but we definitely seem to be in a fairy hot-spot. Dartmoor, and the South West in general, have generated a rich history of fairy-lore, folk tales, and mysterious legends, and have inspired writers, story-tellers, and artists for a long time. Perhaps it is something in the water (the salt waters of the shoreline, the murmuring streams, the mist, the rain, the moorland bogs), or something in the shifting, transitory quality of the weather (the slow seasonal changes, the long summer dusks) that lends itself to fey thoughts and to an immersion in stories.

Faery drawing and painting by Alan Lee

A wall of faeries by Alan Lee & Brian FroudA wall of faery drawings & paintings by Alan Lee & Brian Froud

And if you can edit out the cacophony of our road traffic and our post-industrial times, there is a soft soundscape that is every bit as alluring...

In the Word Wood by David WyattBe not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

Ok, it’s a bit escapist; but when you think about it, many (if not most) of the landmarks in our cultural history were small steps forward while looking back over our shoulder at an ancient and often illusory past: a golden age, an age of wonders and lost civilizations. Of learning. Of giants.

Examing art by Alan LeeArtist Alexandra Dawe & her partner examining JRR Tolkien illustrations by Alan Lee

Medieval monks collected and transcribed legends set in the mythological past. Mallory and Chaucer wove romances and folk-tales into great works of art. Shakespeare, Spenser and Michael Drayon drew deeply from the British fairy tradition.

Works by David Wyatt, Marja Lee & Virginia Lee

Paintings and prints by Danielle BarlowMythic art by David Wyatt, Marja Lee, Virginia Lee, & Danielle Barlow

Then there are the Gothic and Romantic movements, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Neo Romantics, all reviving past modes of thought, techniques, and aesthetics. It’s in the poetry of Shelley, Keats, Christina Rossetti, and W.B. Yeats. It’s in children’s literature, and in the cinema, right from the beginning.

Painting by Virginia Lee

Works by Virginia Lee and David Wyatt

Faery boxes by Hazel Brown

Faery books written and hand-bound by Hazel BrownMythic paintings, sculptures, & objects by Virginia Lee, David Wyatt, Hazel Brown, & Wendy Froud

A number of the artists in this exhibition work as illustrators, putting their skills at the service of writers who have brought a new vigour to this type of storytelling, such as Terry Prachet, Geraldine McCaughrean and Phillip Reeve. Others make objects which bring that magic, and those stories, into a fascinating physical form. Forget Brexit for an hour or two, and enjoy exploring them.

Faery sculpture by Wendy FroudOver hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moon's sphere;
And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be:
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their savours:
I must go seek some dewdrops here
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear.
Farewell, thou lob of spirits; I'll be gone:
Our queen and all our elves come here anon.

Faery Godmothers by Wendy FroudFaery sculptures by Wendy Froud

Faery paintings by Hazel BrownFaery paintings by Hazel Brown

"The job of a storyteller is to speak the truth; but what we feel most deeply cannot be spoken in words. At this level only images connect. And so story becomes symbol; and symbol is myth."   - Alan Garner

Brian & MarjaMarja Lee & Brian Froud in front of Marja's paintings

Baba Yaga by Rima Staines and Imbolc by Marja LeeMythic paintings by Rima Staines and Marja Lee

"Humans are storytelling creatures. We need story, we need deep mythic happenings, as much as we need food and sun: to set us in our place in the family of things, in a world that lives and breathes and throws us wild tests, to show us the wildernesses and the lakes, the transforming swans, of our own minds."  - Sylvia Linsteadt

Artists Suzi Crockford, Rima Staines, and Hazel BrownArtists Suzi Crockford, Rima Staines, & Hazel Brown

Virginia Lee, Pauline Lee, and Angharad BarlowMythic arts by Virginia Lee, Pauline Lee, & Angharad Barlow

"Dealing with the impossible, fantasy can show us what may really be possible. If there is grief, there is the possibility of consolation; if hurt, the possibility of healing; and above all, the curative power of hope. If fantasy speaks to us as we are, it also speaks to us as we might be."   - Lloyd Alexander

Angharad, Virginia & DavidArtists Angharad Barlow, Virginia Lee, & David Wyatt

Hares by Paul Kidby and Danielle BarlowMythic hares by Paul Kidby & Danielle Barlow

Victoria & meVictoria Windling-Gayton (our daughter) and me in front of my fairy tale collages

Two of my hand-stitched collagesTwo of my six hand-stitched collages: "A Luminosity of Birds" & "Once Upon a Time"

"Magic lies in between things, between the day and the night, between yellow and blue, between any two things."  - Charles de Lint

HowardDramatist & puppeteer Howard Gayton (my husband), with faery art by Brian Froud & Alan Lee

"Storytellers ought not to be too tame. They ought to be wild creatures who function adequately in society.  They are best in disguise.  If they lose all their wildness, they cannot give us the truest joys." - Ben Okri

JennyTheatrical costume designer Jenny Gayton (my mother-in-law)

Tom Poet  and Storyteller Tom Hirons

Rima & WendyArtists Rima Staines & Wendy Froud

"What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied. It is. Unmistakeable, unforgettable, unshamable, elemental as earth and ice, water, fire and air, a quitessence, pure spirit, resolving into no contituents. Don't waste your wildness: it is precious and necessary.”  - Jay Griffiths

Painting on wood by Rima StainesMythic art by Rima Staines

For more information on the show, go here. For a schedule of related events (workshops, talks, films, etc.), visit the calendar section of the Green Hill Arts website. For pictures from the first Widdershins exhibition in 2013, go here or here.

"Touch magic, pass it on."  - Jane Yolen

Green Hill Arts

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Ludovico Einaudi performs in the Arctic Ocean

Today, something breath-takingly beautiful:

In the video above, Italian pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi performs "Elegy for the Arctic" on a platform floating in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, in support of the Greenpeace campaign for the region. Greenpeace has urged the OSPAR Commission not to miss the opportunity to protect international Arctic waters under its mandate at their meeting this month in Tenerife. In this piece, Einaudi has turned into music the voices of the eight million people asking for Arctic protection, accompanied by the sound of birds, wind, waves, and the crashing of icebergs.

"Being here has been a great experience,” says Einaudi. “I can see the purity and fragility of this area with my own eyes and interpret a song I wrote to be played upon the best stage in the world. It is important that we understand the importance of the Arctic, stop the process of destruction and protect it." More information on the Save the Arctic initiative can be found here.

Below: In the first short video, the director and musicians of the Seattle Symphony discuss "Become Ocean" by American composer John Luther Adams. In the second video, you can hear the piece itself. Adams, based in Alaska, often find his inspiration in the natural world. "Life on earth first emerged from the sea," he says. "And as the polar ice melts and sea level rises, we humans find ourself facing the prospect that, once again, we might literally become ocean."

"My composing is all to do with finding a way of being in the world that’s not separate from the world." - John Luther Adams

And to end with:

"This Place Was Shelter" by Ólafur Arnalds, a composer of neoclassical electronica from Mosfellsbær, Iceland, from his third album, For Now I am Winter. It's a beautiful video, but also incredibly sad, be warned. There's quite a lot of sadness in Arnalds' music, but also moments of lightness and redemption. "Life always goes on," he says. "There's always darkness after light and then after darkness there'll be light again -- it's a circle."

"How do people imagine the landscapes they find themselves in?" Barry Lopez mused in his classic book on the far north, Arctic Dreams. "How does the land shape the imaginations of the people who dwell in it? How does desire itself, the desire to comprehend, shape knowledge?''

These are all good questions to ask. I turn to art to find the answers.

Arctic Dreams

On the eve of the EU Referendum

Tilly at the window

The EU Referendum is tomorrow, and I'm terribly worried about the outcome. Tilly & I want to stay IN the European community of writers, artists & scholars. Don't shut us out! We support Remain.

Since this is pet-loving Britain, there is of course a Mutts4Remain hashtag...and the wonderful goofiness of it is one of the many reasons I love my adopted country. (There are CatsAgainstBrexit too.) I don't want it to turn into anti-Europe, anti-immigrant Fortress Britain. Building walls out of fear is a terrible idea, whether it's Trump in America or Johnson, Gove, and Farage over here.

I am an immigrant. And like so many immigrants, I give to the UK much, much more than I've ever taken.