Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Writing about Ghosts

Writing books is a strange thing to do. Inventing worlds of one’s own to live in. My very first novel at the age of 16 was called My Little World and that happened to be in Camden Town for some reason. Maybe because a lot of Greek people lived there and one of my characters was a Greek girl. Maybe because I'm half-Greek myself . Some people live in very strange worlds if their books are anything to go by. Don’t tell me anyone invents the characters from thin air or mere observation of others. That may play a part but then one has to ask…what is it about a particular person that intrigues, interests, captures your imagination? Is it not a resonance with something in yourself? These people reside inside the psyche and are like voices or like ghostly presences that float around in the mind all one’s life. Writing is actually a form of exorcism…the ghosts have to be given life and form, they have to speak out.

I once went to a past life workshop run by a Jungian therapist called Roger Woolger.
(see This took place at Runnings Park, a beautiful venue that once existed in West Malvern. It was my very first visit to Malvern and I fell in love with the hills and the quaint Victorian town, once a healing spa, still famed for its pure springs and waters. Little did I know I would come to live here one day but I suppose deep down the pull began at that very first view of the ancient Malverns from the train. The sight of them actually made me weep with some sort of soul yearning. It seemed the only place to be at peace.
Now I look out from my window and see them every day. They never fail to soothe my spirit.

At the past life workshop, I encountered a lot of strange people, some inside my own soul, some around me in physical forms. I do believe in reincarnation but to this day don’t know if what I experienced so deeply was memories of past lives or bits of my psyche telling their story. Writing is just like this. One writes almost in a trance state sometimes and the characters begin to speak. They know exactly what to say to one another and where they are going. The conscious "I " hasn’t a clue half the time. The plots take their own twists and turns and refuse to follow any pre-ordained notions of what is going to happen.
I still keep re-writing My Little World and it changes plot every time. It’s all summed up in my favourite quote from Ignazio Silone

‘ I would willingly pass my life writing and re-writing the same book…that one book every writer carries within him…the image of his own soul’

If you are interested in writing tips take a look at Neil Whiteland’s blog.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

God or the Devil? .....His Dark Materials

Although I couldn’t put Northern Lights down, something about this trilogy was strangely annoying. Lyra lives up to her charismatic name as the constellation of The Harp that lures and enchants everything. Apparently Lyra, the harp, was the one given to Orpheus by the Sun God, Apollo. Orpheus was the one human being besides Psyche to be allowed down into the Hades, the Greek Underworld where the dead went and lived as ghosts. Pullman's young heroine, Lyra, unlike Orpheus, manages to return again and even to free the ghosts and allow them to escape their terrible limbo world. They become part of the conscious atoms and particles of the Universe. There’s some really deep stuff here.
The concept of the daemon was brilliant. I suspect most of us do intuit another person’s “animal” inner being. It’s a kind of gut feeling. Someone looks ‘horsey’, is a ‘pig’ or a ‘bear’, behaves like a ‘mouse’. But in Lyra’s world they are real, separate birds and animals who can talk with you and accompany you. How lovely a concept! We would never feel lonely if we could be in contact with this inner being, would we? I like to imagine mine sitting here with me now. I think my daemon is a Snowy Owl. I have pictures of Snowy Owls by the computer. The picture shows a strange dream I had once of a beautiful owl with one white wing and one black wing against a pitch black sky. It felt a very important dream then and now. Was this my daemon?

Pullman’s second volume, The Subtle Knife, was also enthralling. A knife that, like reason, cuts through everything and opens the mind to other worlds and ideas yet is broken and destroyed as soon as emotion and indecision take hold. Total concentration and one-pointedness are necessary to use the tool of the mind. This weapon belongs to thoughtful, clever Will, Lyra’s male counterpart. The story begins to get very adult and more complex now. It certainly isn’t childlike. But I really struggled with The Amber Spyglass, the last of the trilogy. It was sci-fi and weird, the ideas too complicated and confused and the peculiar entities Pullman invented just didn’t have the sense of reality and loveableness that Tolkien gave his imaginary beings. The Mulefa just never did it for me; they were too unlikely.

Pullman is the son of a vicar. No surprise there. Often the most anti-church people are. It’s called rebelling against authority and God the Father is, I suppose the supreme authority. And when Pullman banishes him forever, we end up with a Republic of Heaven. Hmmm…

It’s a great book for all its flaws. A brilliant concept and remains in my mind and still makes me puzzle and think about it as a truly great book should.

Lorri (

Friday, May 19, 2006

Heavenly Vaults and wonderful Spaces

I visited the British Library the other day to do some research on my next novel, The Crimson Bed. This is to be set in Victorian London with a Pre-Raphaelite background. So I spent a wonderful few hours reading the letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti to Jane Morris and Fanny Cornforth, two of his great friends and loves as well as the inspiration for many of his later pictures in oils of sensuous, lushly beautiful women. The British Library at Euston is a very modern, spacious building and well worth a visit for the exhibitions and the shop where great goodies are for sale for the book lover.
But oh, how I do miss the Round Room of the old Library that used to be at the very heart and centre of the British Museum at Bloomsbury! There was nothing to compare with the sensation of climbing up the steps of the Museum as if entering a great temple. Then passing through the milling, excited, noisy throng in the hallway and through the barriers and into a peaceful, quiet, spacious room that took one’s breath away. It was totally round, a glorious eggshell-blue in colour, and above one rose the high, gold-decorated dome like some heavenly vault. One sat in a leather chair at a leather covered desk with one’s precious books and the thought was always there…did Dickens sit here, or Karl Marx or any other great writer who has used this hallowed room? It made me think of my author acquaintance, Colin Wilson, who used to spend his time there as a penniless young man, sheltering from the elements and writing The Outsider, his famous book of the 1960’s which earned him the dubious title of “Angry Young Man”.
To be amongst these men and women was to be among the great and surely this would rub off even on me?
Speaking of heavenly vaults makes me remember a dear friend called Bill Bendon whom I knew in my early teens. He was then in his fifties, a real father figure whom I loved very much. One night I dreamt a vivid dream. He came to me in this dream and taking my hand we rose upwards into a beautiful golden vault full of light and beauty. I felt so incredibly happy there. A few days later a friend rang to say Bill had died.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

John Grisham moments

With nothing to read one day I thought I would tackle a John Grisham. My husband has collected the lot and loves them, so I thought... let’s see what the attraction is for him in these books? The first one I picked out was The Testament. I was immediately hooked.
The story is about a dying millionaire who alters his will at the last moment, cutting out all his greedy scheming wives and children and leaves it all to an unknown daughter. All that is known is that she is a missionary somewhere in the Brazilian jungle. A young, rather down-and-out lawyer, with a drink and depression problem
is sent off to find her. He has nothing to lose and the dangerous mission could prove lucrative and save his bacon. After much detective work and many adventures, he finds the girl. Meeting her changes his life and alleviates his sense of despair.

It is a wonderful story with tense and dramatic descriptions of navigating the Brazilian waterways and of the tribes of the jungle with their Stone Age, almost meaningless, half-human existence. The character of the girl is truly inspiring and the whole story upbeat and spiritual, a tale of hope and love. I felt deeply moved by it. Grisham writes in simple, succinct prose and has no un-necessary sex or violence yet the story is by no means prissy. I was so impressed I went into a John Grisham binge and read virtually all the others. The general theme that runs throughout his body of work is about the individual little man or woman up against the impersonal, ponderous, manipulative machinery of finance, law, politics, drug companies etc. There is always a legal or court case involved and these can be skippable, but are necessary to give credibility. The pace of the books is good without being frantic, the characters believable and the tone moral without being patronising. Grisham is a committed Christian and this comes over in his stories which favour the underdog and have sympathy for the hard life that turns some people to crime. Go out and get a Grisham won't be able to put it down.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Books and Other Things

This is a book family. Everywhere I look I see books, big ones, small ones, old ones, new ones. Some quite arcane ones too full of mystery and magic. I had a Celtic spell some years back and King Arthur and Merlin smile at me from my Arthurian shelf. But since I moved here to the West Midlands, I am surrounded by magic and beauty and the longing for distant realms which I had in London has been assuaged. So I don't look at those books anymore. All the same, I won't part with them. They are filled with such beautiful pictures. Images and books should go together in my opinion. That's why modern books are such a bore. They have no pictures.
The Victorians got it right. That was a period of some of the loveliest book illustration there ever was.
Back in the late forties, my Dad, who had an eye for books himself and collected them avidly, bought me an illustrated Arabian Nights. I loved this book so much. It was a large one and the pictures were uncoloured etchings. I coloured some in myself and gazed and copied and dreamed with this book so much that the covers fell off. We were always on the move in my youth and eventually during one move or another the book was lost. (Or Ma threw it away, which is more like it) Now I really regret that I misused this beautiful Victorian book so badly. It's worth a bomb now. I saw it in an Antiquarian bookshop and had a hell of a shock.
But I loved it so much. And in the end what are books for but to give joy and pleasure and use? Not to sit unread on shelves surely?

If you want to read about my own book The Long Shadow and The Crimson Bed see

Favourite Quotes

  • My home is my retreat and resting place from the wars: I try to keep this corner as a haven against the tempest outside, as I do another corner of my soul. Michelle de Montaigne
  • Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony: Mahatma Gandhi
  • Friends are people you can be quiet with. Anon.