Writing Greenwood Tree – and more

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Return of the Green Man …

This stone carving of a Green Man from Dore Ab...

From Dore Abbey, Herefordshire, England(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Is there a cathedral where you live? If so, chances are it will be an old one … just how old, would you say? And when you crane your head up to look at the ceiling, its arches lost in shadows, what else do you see? You might need binoculars, though – but the older the cathedral, the more likely you are to find, nestling atop of corbels and capitals, a singular face with leaves and branches climbing out of its mouth; sometimes fierce, sometimes cheerful, mostly a trifle wild … this sculpted entity has been with us far longer than the cathedrals, and long before the Normans who built them, with a name that has only regained resonance in quite recent times: The Green Man.

Theories abound concerning his origins, both etymological and geographical; he turns up in a variety of guises, from Rome(Bacchus and Dionysius) to Mesopotamia and Egypt, (green-faced Osiris); he is Jack in the Green, Cernunnos, Pan, Silvanus, he can be found in Sumerian, Hindu, Aztec cultures – he exists  everywhere, a source of life and natural force . Occasionally neglected, his image however has survived in nooks and crannies, a constant reminder of man’s reliance on his natural environment and of man’s constant struggle with the elements. Another of his many names is Robin – but is he Robin Goodfellow, the mischievous imp – or Robin Hood, woodlander and defender of the poor? Apparently both and more: a guardian, a powerful god, an impish spirit, a playful invoker of spring and sprouting seedlings; at once venerated and feared:  for crops can fail too if you cause him displeasure … the corn dollies and harvest festivals are vestiges of something more than a ritual – they entreat the return of sun after winter, of growth after hibernation, they are offerings of supplication and penitence brought by children to their volatile father.

How has he fared with time, this father, this god of fertility and vitality? I mentioned he has gone through periods of comparative neglect, as when the Industrial Revolution stampeded across the countryside, bringing steam, iron roads and coal, blinding the people with its smoke, weakening his memory and perhaps also his strength and yet, something has struggled through, some collective memory perhaps, clinging onto the notion of one protective entity that will defend the very source of our food and means of survival. It is this protective aspect and this comparative neglect that I have focussed on in my mystery novel, Greenwood Tree. Here, the presence of the Green Man is hovering on the outer edges of dreams, occasionally manifesting himself (in more than one form) to warn and defend, his strength weakened by the frail memory of humanity. In addition he acts as the main linking figure in a multi-genre mystery, where detection meets mythology, in that foreign country called the past. In my mystery he has retreated, and his home is under threat, perhaps an indirect comment on his rather tenuous place in the cultural and social upheaval of the 1920s. I also tend to think of him as one of many Green Men, for to my mind there is something in the Ancient Greek idea that every tree contained its Dryad, every river and stream its Naiad : together unstoppable – but individually, vulnerable. In a similar way, the countryside from the time of the railway has been under constant, if gradual, threat, mirrored by England’s own very uncertain, susceptible condition in the aftermath of World War One. When Nature is attacked however, she has a way of fighting back, sometimes in unexpected ways.

The Green Man, in my treatment of him, thus becomes a metaphor for this vulnerable, while green and pleasant land. Disturb him at your peril.

Image

 

 

 (First posted as the Green Man Cometh on Dean’s Den)

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Greenwood Tree Giveaway

I may have mentioned this before (like, nearly every day for the past few weeks or so) – Greenwood Tree is on Tour – a Mystery Tour, no less. Guess whodunnit, win a prize or two (full description here).

As part of the Tour, we have craftily devised a new giveaway, which is on its way (the 20th), via Grey Cells Press : you can enter by visiting the Tour, liking a couple of pages, following some grog-swilling, Remington-bashing characters on Twitter …. easy.  That is, if you’re looking for a chance to win some free mystery cozy reading (i.e. Greenwood Tree).

GWT book cover

If you’re not looking  for anything of the kind, then forget I spoke. I’ll just sit in the corner, drawing bears and minding my own business.  Kind of dusty in here – who took my crayons?  Hello ?


The Green Man Cometh

The Green Man Cometh.

via The Green Man Cometh.

I am a guest this week – what a novel experience that was!  Many thanks to Dean Lombardo for inviting me  – here is the opening :

“The next time you visit a cathedral, crane your head up to look at the ceiling, where the building’s arches lurk in shadow. What else do you see? You might need binoculars—but the older the cathedral, the more likely you are to find, nestling atop corbels and capitals, a singular face with leaves and branches climbing out of its mouth. Sometimes fierce, sometimes cheerful, mostly a trifle wild … this often-sculpted entity has been with us far longer than the cathedrals, and long before the Normans who built them, with a name that has regained resonance only recently: the Green Man…”

Post continues  here …


The Sounds of London …

Couldn’t resist this, another little foundling for the old scrap-book (it’s 1915, so a much younger  Julia Warren was perhaps still learning her craft as a fledgling  journalist, but already with dreams of becoming a writer…)

“Night-time sounds of Kingsland Road:

My first night was the same as every other. My window looked out on a church tower which still further preyed on the wan light of the street, and, as I lay in bed, its swart height, pierced by the lit clock face, gloated stiffly over me. From back of beyond a furry voice came dolefully—
Goo bay to sum-mer, goo bay, goo baaaaay!

That song has thrilled and chilled me ever since. Next door an Easy Payments piano was being tortured by wicked fingers that sought after the wild grace of Weber’s “Invitation to the Valse.” From the street the usual London night sounds floated up until well after midnight. There was the dull, pessimistic tramp of the constable, and the long rumble of the Southwark-bound omnibus. Sometimes a stray motor-car would hoot and jangle in the distance, swelling to a clatter as it passed, and falling away in a pathetic diminuendo. A traction-engine grumbled its way along, shaking foundations and setting bed and ornaments a-trembling. Then came the blustering excitement of chucking-out at the “Galloping Horses.” Half a dozen wanted to fight; half a dozen others wanted to kiss; everybody wanted to live in amity and be jollyolpal. A woman’s voice cried for her husband, and abused a certain Long Charlie; and Long Charlie demanded with piteous reiteration: “Why don’t I wanter fight? Eh? Tell me that. Why don’t I wanter fight? Did you ‘ear what he called me? Did you ‘ear? He called me a—a—what was it he called me?”

Then came police, disbandment, and dark peace, as the strayed revellers melted into the night. Sometimes there would sound the faint tinkle of a belated hansom, chiming solitarily, as though weary of frivolity. And then a final stillness of which the constable’s step seemed but a part.”

by Thomas Burke, from A Lonely Night, 1915.

 

An excellent site for sounds of London, past and (fairly) present : The London Sound Survey

Now, something a little closer to Julia’s time in Greenwood Tree…. :

 


Acorns: visiting cards or reminders?

Was sitting outside, attempting to scribble, when a stonking great acorn thudded, or rather, thwacked onto the page before me, missing my nut by inches. Smack bang in the middle of me notebook. The cheeky beggar. I came that close to nursing a minor bump on the old cranium ….

A cheeky beggar

“… The buns were finished, and Julia had jotted down a few ideas for a character into her notebook. Time now for the bookshop. Surely once there, something in her sluggish brain would be jogged into action.

She didn’t have the exact amount, so paid her shilling and doodled some more while waiting for the waitress to bring back the change. The doodle turned into another of her dancing tree-men. When the waitress had been and gone with the change, she began to gather up her goods and noticed something extra on the plate, rolling around between the coins. She frowned briefly at it and peered closer. It was an acorn, still green in its shell. She took the change, and went with the plate (in a spirit of inquiry)  to the waitress, who was extremely surprised and quite sure that no such thing as an acorn had ever been seen inside a Lyon’s Corner House before – and certainly not on any item of crockery.

‘Oh well, I’ll take it then, for good luck,’ said Julia cheerfully, to cover her puzzlement.

‘Very good, miss,’ replied the waitress politely, evidently well-trained in how to deal with eccentric authoresses who went around absently scattering acorns about. …”

(GreenWood Tree excerpt)

Acorns pop up here and there in Greenwood Tree, on window sills and pillows, in saucers and baskets  – like visiting cards, or reminders … perhaps this was a visiting card to jog my memory, my own reminder of the fact I have pretty much finished the illustrations for it, and should really get on with sticking them into the old MS, instead of hovering in limbo; I am tempted, y’see, to do some Rowlandson/Gilray style colour ‘plates’ as it were  … we shall see …

In the meantime, something to be going on with: Mrs Glass and Mrs Rawnlsey gossiping over their outsize pots of tea  …

Mrs Glass: More tea, Mrs Rawnsley?

 


Gin, Julia and Mary Pickford

The clock in the corridor outside chimed seven. Drinks. And then dinner.  Julia snatched a dress out of the wardrobe.

‘. . . so Dawton’s bought it up, lock stock and barrel . . .’

‘. . . make it a going concern. . . .’

‘. . . I thought it in particularly bad taste, and then she said . . .’

‘ . . . last of the Gorgons, that woman, don’t you think, Isobel ?’

‘. . . I have never actually had a conversation with

her myself. . .’

‘. . . pass the potatoes will you, old bean ?. . .’

‘ . . . more gravy, sir ? . . .’

‘Now then Julia, stop hiding behind your glass, old girl, and tell me about the plot. How many murders are in it this time?’ Cousin Richard was sitting next to her, so she could not very well evade his cheeriness with social deafness; not that she wasn’t fond of him, but any talk about a book of hers, especially one she had not yet written, was apt to be a little wearing. Perhaps other writers suffered the same. She had never asked. Talking to other writers was even more wearing than talking about one’s own unwritten novel.  ‘I don’t know yet.’ She turned impish. ‘Do you feel like being murdered ? I’m sure I could find a nice spot for you in there somewhere.’

‘Oh, why not. Who does me in, then – the butler ?’

‘Shuush, you’ll upset him. He’s trying to serve the duck.’

‘Nonsense, Haughton’s always ready to oblige, aren’t you Haughton ?’

‘Sir ?’

‘I mean, for the purposes of Miss Julia’s next best-selling novel -’

‘Don’t talk nonsense, Richard  . . .’

‘  . . . would you be prepared to do me in, and thus supply her with the plot ?’

‘As you wish, sir.’

‘There you are.’ Richard turned to Julia. ‘Now you can get started.’

‘I fear Miss Julia might find your suggestion less acceptable, however, sir.’

‘Yes, I certainly would.’

‘Oh ? How so ?’

‘Lack of motive, sir. Gravy, miss ?’

‘Hah! That’s you dealt with.’ Julia hit Richard with her napkin.

‘Ouch. I hope, little cousin, you will not come to regret this, in years to come, when people come up and say “Have you read ‘What the Butler Did’ by Richard Crewe? Stunning stuff, isn’t it ?” and you are obliged to reply “Yes. I wish I’d thought of it first. But you see, he offered me the plot, and I turned it down – silly, wa-” ’ He interrupted himself with a squeak as Julia gave him a hard pinch. ‘Now I really wish I was sitting next to Anne,’ she commented.

‘The writer’s secret. Always sit next to your fan to keep your spirits up.’

‘Swine.’

‘Well, at least I don’t deluge you with flattery and requests for autographs. You’d really detest that.’

‘That reminds me – somebody on the train -ۥ

‘Don’t tell me – he asked you for a signature, and was most put out when you turned out not to be Mary Pickford.’

From Greenwood Tree, chapter 10

Mary Pickford as photographed by Alfred Cheney Johnston in 1920

After re-blogging the previous post from the Gin Club, it occurred to me that a post on cocktails and flappers might be apposite . . .

Nellie Melba and Pavlova  inspired desserts, Garibaldi a biscuit, Wellington a sturdy piece of beef in pastry and . . . Mary Pickford, – a cocktail : rum, pinapple juice, grenadine and maraschino liqueur. Which noxious combination may well have done the rounds in the London night clubs of the time, but I fear would have left Julia unmoved. Her tastes are I believe of a simpler nature, and where others might be rushing to the bar for novelty to refresh their jaded appetites, Julia is more likely to be seen sitting  behind a palm sipping occasionally at a plain, simple G&T. If she is feeling particularly adventurous, she might allow some Angostura Bitters to be added . . and I could add she might well be interested in perusing the Gin Club’s Newsletter now and then . . .

“Where there’s smoke there’s fire” by American artist Russell Patterson 1920s

And yes, she does have a dress or two in her wardrobe  like the one above – although she might wear a more toned-down version for a country house. But the one pictured above would do for cocktails and the odd formal dinner. The Flappers meanwhile appear soon after in GreenWood Tree. Loud, cheerful, rumbustious, probably rather noisome. Certainly Aunt Iz felt the strain after a little while and sent them off on long walks across the countryside . .  well, after watching the following, what would you do with them ?

A few links of possible interest to the curious :

http://thelondonginclub.wordpress.com

http://lupecboston.com/2009/04/08/birthday-shout-out-to-mary-pickford/

(includes several cocktail recipes associated with Miss Pickford . . .)

http://www.angostura.com/Brands/AngosturaBitters (the main page asks date of birth to establish that you are of drinking age – both impertinent and pointless; anybody could type in anything . . .;))

And this looks rather fun if you have a Singer machine to hand and are of a couturier-like turn : http://www.1920-30.com/publications/fashion/?hop=pagecat


A touch of the old WHR…mad inventivity from the 20s…

Not quite W.H.Robinson, although one or two of the transport ones could qualify… in fact I think I recognise one of them.

I could almost envisage Charlie driving Julia home from the station in the very first ‘machine’ shown in the film below; it is the sort of insane contraption that she would, I believe, relish getting to grips with.

They went through the station to the other side. A sleek primrose vehicle sat purring and spluttering almost in the middle of the road, apparently devoid of family chauffeur.  ‘Where’s Brenton ?’ inquired Julia apprehensively.  ‘Brenton ? Don’t need him I can drive he taught me says I’m getting on fairly more comfy in the front in you go there you are – all right ?’

Julia’s worst fears were realised as Charlie slithered into the front seat and looked about briefly for the gears. Julia’s hand moved discreetly to the strap and held on to it in a vice-like grip. Charlie’s foot came firmly down on the pedal.

Charlie’s method of driving, like her ability to communicate, put Julia in mind once more of nursery days and trolleys, to which only two rules had ever seemed to apply; one, never to go round an obstacle if you could go through it or over it, and two, never to control the speed at which you hurtled across the ground. As a result, by the time they arrived at Frobisher Hall, Julia’s right foot had lifted off the car floor in a state akin to rigor mortis, causing her shin to ache, while her left was stuck down onto the boards as if with insoluble glue. Her jaw relaxed in relief as the engine coughed to a halt and she saw Uncle Rex the Colonel on the steps with Haughton. ‘Well well,’ said the Colonel, as Haughton heaved the cases out. ‘Well, well. Comfortable journey, then ? Good, good. I think Miss Isobel wants tea or something in the conservatory, Haughton. Ask Cork to deal with the er, the er, those.’ “

(GreenWood Tree, chapter 9)