Tonight is Midsummer’s Night. The midpoint of the year, the longest day when summer reigns supreme and the countryside is lush and fecund. The hedgerows are full of singing birds, heavy with overhanging elderflower heads and honesuckle. Tiny nuts are growing on the hazel and the rowan has exchanged its pink confetti for little green berries that are already turning red.
There are dog roses peeping out of the undergrowth and hemlock umbels stand proud and defiant in the back field. In the short moments between downpours there is heat of such glorious intensity that I strip off my outer layer and sight deeply, inhaling the delicious scent of lavendar, sage, elderflower and mint.
The farmers are making the most of the weather and I can hear tractors in all directions; cutting, mowing, baling and collecting hay and grass for silage. The surrounding fields are a patchwork of glossy green, striped or faded yellow. My own grass is in need of attention but the bees aren’t complaining about the plentiful supply of clover, buttercups and hyssop on the lawn.
Last year I spent Midsummer’s Night sitting on a beach in Estepona, Andalucia, watching effigies burn in the many little bonfires dotted about the sand, and fire lanterns being launched across the sea, whilst sipping beer. The year before, I celebrated in Glastonbury, listening to music beneath the stars on Pilton Farm.
This year we’re spending Midsummer’s Night at home and tonight we shall light the bonfire in the back field, a mound of old hedge cuttings; limbs and smaller branches that have dried for over a year. My daughters and I will watch the wood crisp and burn, the flames dancing against the darkening evening. A fitting fire ritual in celebration of Litha, the Summer Solstice, of Summer reaching her peak and gratitude for the long days of sunlight.
It is said that as the Oak King beat the Holly King at Yule, the Holly King takes back his reign at Litha. An Irish custom is to ‘tell it to the stone’, carry a pebble in your pocket as you circle the fire and chant your wish, once you have circled three times cast your stone into the fire.
At Midsummer, magic abounds; it feels as if a veil has been lifted, as if all the spirits of the natural world are celebrating with us. Perhaps if we turn our gaze slowly and deliberately we might catch a glimpse of tiny gossamer wings, or small furred beings as they move with purpose amongst the long grass in procession, to and fro from the hedge into the fields beyond and passages unseen below ground.
The deck is covered in confetti – miniscule petals of pink and white are scattered across the boards and the corner seat where I sit sipping my first coffee of the morning.
A pigeon coos from the large nest in the willow tree and birdsong reverberates all around me. Bank holiday weekend and all is green and vibrant after last night’s rain. the newly cut lawn has started to grow again, already re-carpeted with buttercups and dandelions.
May has slipped away – the beautiful turning of the blackthorn flowers from creamy white to light and dark pink heralded her imminent passing. She has happily handed over the reins to June, in whose competent arms nature is thriving. Beneath the grey skies is the hint of cobalt blue. A sunny day is waiting to break forth, hesitant but growing in confidence.
The air is heavy, although there is a slight breeze rolling down the hill behind the house carrying the mayflowers down onto myy deck, I can feel the heat rising, I came back from my walk this morning already perspiring.
Summer is here. Gone is the joyful promise, the playful sunshine and early preparations of May. June is summer, proper summer. Everywhere is in bloom, from the elderflower to the purple sage flower, the tips of the lavender in the shrubbery, hemlock towers over the queen anne’s lace and yarrow in the hedgerow and I even spied tiny hazelnuts growing this morning. It’s a time of burgeoning growth, of letting go, letting nature take over, of getting caught in rainshowers and being dry minutes later, of thunder and lightning and late evening walks when bat’s fly overhead and beatles click loudly against the patio doors.
It’s also a time to allow your nature to be as full and free as the world around you, a time to sing, to dance, to create and dream, to just sit on a petal-filled deck with a notebook and pen as the warm summer’s breeze blows the curls in your hair.
The first day of May was heralded with birdsong and bright, bright sunshine. After a month of heat and cold, scorching days and downpours, April had left the building. She slipped away with her dappled raincoat under her arm without a backwards glance.
The swallows were waiting for her passage before once more taking up residency in the large shed out the back and Demelza, the black-furred beauty sat on the ancient seat of the old lawnmower and watched their every swoop and dive.
May’s arrival was overshadowed by the hint of flower on the
blackthorn, the half-opened apple blossom in the back field and the hemlock and
queen’s lace now surging forward out of the roadside ditches.
I walked the field to the washing line, feeling optimistic, the sky was bright blue, the type of cerulean that screamed eternal sunshine. As I hung out the towels I paused to look around, to take in what felt like the first day of Summer. The long grass had already dampened the bottom hems of my jeans. Through the bright clumps of clover and dandelion leaves the cat picked her way, dark amongst the rich greens. She paused for a rub, giving a small miaow of thanks before continuing past on her little cat path through to next door’s field.
Flies buzzed about my head, I heard the drone of worker bees, the raucous chatter of a pair of crows flying overhead and the cooing of pigeons nesting in the large ash growing amongst the hazel in the hedge. Somewhere a tractor started up in the distance, if I closed my eyes I could hear the quiet tick of the watch on my arm like a heartbeat.
I finished hanging the washing and took the empty basket inside, the cat bounding back to slip between my legs at the back door. When I entered the kitchen she was already curled on her favourite cushion, her eyes tightly shut against the sunshine that flowed through the patio window. I joined her minutes later with my first coffee of the morning and my notebook and each in our different ways, we acknowledged the beauty of the first day of May.
Time travel has always been a source of fascination to me. I grew up on Dr Who and of course, just by mentioning my Doctors; Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee, I realize I’m giving a nod to my advancing years.
Saturday nights meant eating buttered crumpets in pyjamas, glued to the television screen watching rubber sea monsters and early cardboard-like daleks. It was the highlight of the week and we waited eagerly for the electronic and slightly techno soundtrack to kick in; the five of us rooted to the spot, ready to angrily hush the poor soul who dared make a noise during this golden hour.
The whole concept of a timelord, and a wisecracking one at that was devoured by our hungry imaginations. Dr Who was scary, exciting and adventurous all at once. In each episode we watched the Doctor in the grip of a horrible death and yet he always managed to outwit and elude the dark extra terrestrial entity at the last moment. It held us captive on the couch, our pyjama-clad figures stiff with tension.
I firmly blame this wonderful program for fuelling my subsequent love of Sci-Fi and horror. Many years later and I’m still obsessed with the concept of time travel. Books such as the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, Timeline by Michael Crichton and The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier are firm favourites and are my go to reads between book hangovers. Timeline has probably been read the most because the protagonists travel back to Medieval times and the concept of being thrown into a time period fraught with such personal danger hits just the right amount of terror and intrique.
Time travel of course is synonymous with quantum physics and the idea of parallel universes. I like to imagine myself living out my days as a scribe in Medieval Britain, or a merchant in Renaissance Italy. I quite fancy myself as a warlord in the Dark Ages, mastering a broadsword.
I feel a strange affinity to the past, to the person I could or would have been had I been born hundreds of years earlier. It’s a fascinating thought that there may have been a character such as myself who lived his or her life without the benefits of electric light or running water, when life was simpler but also more challenging; when people had to be skilled to survive.
And referring back to quantum physics, and the concept of parallel universes; it is possible that there may be many different universes (multiverses) existing at the same time, in different time periods. If so, would you take the quantum leap? Now that’s food for thought and fodder for the imagination.
Today I’m talking about falling down and getting up again. Multiple times.
Life’s a bitch and then you die, they say. Life really can be the most obnoxious, foul-mouthed party guest you never invited, she can abuse you and talk about you behind your back and knock you off your shaky pedestal before slamming the door on her way out.
But, here’s the good part, it’s not over. It might feel as if it is but this will pass. I know, because I’ve got t-shirt. I’ve pulled myself up from the floor more times than I care to remember. My knees are still grazed.
Life is meant to fuck us up. To challenge us. I guess it’s what makes it the more worthwhile when we succeed, especially after we have failed so spectactularly.
Failure, failing, falling. It can become one and the same. When we fail, it seems we fall from grace. Sometimes there is a warning, in my case it was subliminal, a little voice in my ear niggling with whispered malice. I, of course, didn’t listen. Because it seemed I was doing everything right but I took the tumble all the same.
Sometimes there is no warning and everything implodes. And we fall, in our own ways. Into despair, depression, fear and anxiety.
But we do get up. We get to crawl out from beneath the covers like re-animated corpses. It’s alright to wear the same clothes for three days, to pull your hair into a loose knot because you can’t face washing it. And self-care can be Netflix and coffee, chocolate and the welcoming arms of a book until you are ready to introduce your freshly washed, more alert self to the world again.
I am currently at the ‘just made it to the shower‘ stage. But there is hope, and if I’m honest, a little relief because what I had been expecting finally happened. My failure was a plan, a dream I had for my future, and that of my family. It seemed ill conceived from the outset but it was a dream nonetheless.
But from failure springs determination and new plans, better plans, and in our journey of failing we are blessed with many meetings, new ideas and ways to tweak our next venture.
So, in a nutshell, failure is also growth. Like the seedlings that spring up after a forest fire. We need to fail to succeed.
I sat out out on the deck for the first time this year. There was sun, there was warmth. I opened the patio door and wandered out in my socks. A coffee in one hand, a notebook in the other.
I can’t remember the last time I sat on the bench, looking out at the hazel hedge. It seemed almost dreamlike to be sitting outside after months of darkness and cold.
The deck was littered with the detritus of winter – tiny, curled up leaves, pieces of twigs, broken branches. A few stray shoots of grass poked up between the boards as nature tried to take over. There was work to be done here, but not today.
There was a little heat in the sun, and I raised my face in worship. Funny how far a little sunshine could go to lifting the bleakness that had taken hold in the last few weeks. How the absence of grey clouds resulted in the dispelling of my own dark skies.
Sun was a welcome change and I relished each warming moment, sipping coffee and filling the pages of my notebook with paragraphs of a story I was working on.
It felt like turning a corner, as if winter was finally behind us, the months of ice and sleet, of howling winds and torrential rain were to become just a bleak memory.
I had yearned for sunny days,
Country walks in bluebell-filled forests,
Trips to the beach and cold sea swimming.
To exchange greyness for blues skies.
To send the rain packing to drier climes
But most of all to stretch like a cat and soak up the heat.
So, I remained outside until the sun slid behind the clouds and the air grew chill before gathering my belongings and making my way indoors.
Today is Release Day for Psychonaut, the second book in Carmilla Voiez’s Starblood series and I’m delighted to be involved in the blog buzz for this special event.
Psychonaut is the second book in Carmilla
Voiez’s Starblood series. It’s a relaunch of the novel by American indie
Vamptasy Publishing. The series contains four books and follows the lives of a
group of friends: Star, Satori, Freya. Donna, Raven and Ivan, who are young
Goths living in Bristol, England.
In the first book, Starblood, Star breaks up with her lover, Satori, but he is unwilling to let her go. Satori is an adept Chaos magician and decides to cast a spell to keep Star by his side, but because of competing forces Lilith, mother of demons, uses this moment to come to Earth and enter their lives. The result is a tangled web of murder, madness and betrayal.
Satori is caught between two worlds. There is something he needs in one, but the other keeps drawing him back. However, he is in love and he isn’t going to let a little thing like death get in his way. To reach his goal, he must face unimaginable horrors, not least of which is his true self. Star’s tortured and broken body awaits Satori, but does she really need him to save her? His rival, a rage-filled young woman, grows more powerful and becomes as twisted as the ribbons in her hair while the demon, Lilith, draws each of them inexorably towards her. Who will survive the coming battle?
Full of sex and magic, “Psychonaut” is an exploration into the human psyche and the second book in Voiez’s “Starblood” trilogy.
“Carmilla Voiez is more of a singer than a writer. She tells her compelling story in a hypnotic, distinctive voice that brings her eerie world vividly to life.” Graham Masterton
“Psychonaut is a book of mad impulses, inner vision, sadism, escape and belief. You feel uncomfortable reading it, like Alex strapped to the chair in Clockwork Orange being taught to feel sick at atrocity. Rather than leave us crippled by response, though, Psychonaut bears you through the hurt towards the only paradise we can be assured of…a love past fault.” Jef Withonef, Houston Press.
‘What do you need me to do?’ Freya asks.
need someone to guide me through the planes. I thought Ivan would help me, but
I think you probably know more about it than he does,’ Satori answers.
been up there though.’
Freya nods. ‘Yes.’
Satori blushes. ‘It was my first trip today. That’s where I was when
you rang the doorbell. I’ve found where to start. But I have no clue where to
go from here.’
it like?’ she asks.
sacred space, at least that’s what Ivan calls it. What’s yours like?’
you’re embarrassed. What, does it have some huge tower like you’re compensating
for something … oh shit, it does doesn’t it?’
Satori shuffles in his seat. ‘No. What have you got in yours then?’
tree,’ Freya says.
kind of tree?’ Satori asks.
weeping willow,’ she answers.
okay yes I have a tower.’ He laughs. ‘But I’m not compensating. I like …
towers. So your willow tree …’
as beautiful as your hair?’
the fuck, Satori? Where did that come from?’
I’m just saying …’
I’m just saying, forget it. There’s no way that’s ever gonna happen. The people
you seduce have a habit of ending up dead.’
Satori looks away. His mouth moves as if he’s about to speak, but
thinks better of it.
Freya watches the colour rise in his cheeks and feels embarrassed for
him, embarrassed and awkward because she rejected him. Maybe he was simply
being friendly, paying me a compliment? Did I misunderstand? Something
clicks inside her and the awkwardness grows into nervousness, which morphs into
anger. Why would he say that? Is sex all he wants from women? Perhaps he
looks at me and all he can see is a pretty thing for him to pet? Am I not his
equal? Of course I am. What then? Confused, she shakes her head and decides
to change the subject. ‘So are we going to try to find your way tonight?’
you got somewhere else to be?’ he asks.
right then,’ Satori says, refilling the glasses. ‘But I haven’t left my … tower
yet. Where should we meet?’
haven’t left my Gothic tree. Shall we follow our paths and think of each other?
Maybe our feet will lead us there.’
a better plan than any I’ve come up with,’ Satori says.
will be home soon. Is … my bedroom okay?’
I don’t actually need to be here, do I?’ Freya asks.
thought it might help,’ he says.
probably won’t. Not with the mood you’re in tonight,’ she answers.
Satori sighs. ‘I guess so. Ten o’clock then. That gives you an hour to
get home and get ready. Will Ivan pick you up or shall I walk you home?’
many fucking times? I don’t need your protection.’
Psychonaut is a story of redemption. In it
the main characters learn their flaws and find ways to rise above them. Star,
Satori, Lilith and Donna are all changed in profound and positive ways during
the narrative. In this way Psychonaut is an uplifting book, especially after
the desperate pain and suffering of Starblood.
Starblood was written during a difficult
period of my life. I had given birth to my second daughter and was struggling
to bond with her while keeping some sense of my own identity at the same time.
In addition the business I had been running (with my then husband) for over a
decade was failing, and my marriage was on the rocks.
Star’s struggle to discover who she is,
when all the layers of what others want her to be are stripped away, was very
much my struggle. I was in a state of depression and suicidal. I honestly
believe that writing the Starblood Trilogy helped me answer the questions that
haunted me at the time and saved my life (although not my marriage).
I was shocked and surprised by the
overwhelming positive reception the first three Starblood books received. It is
a frequently painful read and more than a little “out there”, that it resonated
with others amazes me. What I have realised over the years is that my story is
far more common than people would like to admit.
Since writing Starblood I have read work by
people like Thomas Ligotti, which has taught me that part of the appeal of
Starblood is that many of us never feel as though we fit comfortably in this
world. We all flounder about at times trying to find a way to fit in without
compromising what makes us who we are. I realise that my instinctive feeling
that the world is both cruel and insane is far from uniquely mine.
On the flip side the message, I hope, that
people get from the stories is one of self acceptance. So what if we don’t fit
in? We are still important. We have value. Our dreams mean something, and as
Lilith says in the first book, “There is no shame in love, only completion.” I
hope people can see that Lilith is not only talking about romantic love at this
point, but also love and acceptance of self and the multi-faceted, unique and
marvellous people we have in our lives.
The Starblood Series books 1 and 2 are also
available as graphic novels with art by Anna Prashkovich.