‘My family were in this city before it was even a city. Pre-Industrial Revolution, you know? Manchester was just another backwater then – just a church, a couple of pubs and some houses by a river. My dad always says we can trace our family back to some bigshot from the 1500s, some important astrologer, used to talk to the angels and work out when all the lords and ladies should have their weddings. Then Queen Elizabeth died and talking to angels got him in trouble, so he got sent to Manchester as a kind of punishment.’
I have a new ghost story, titled ‘Lodestones’, coming out in This Dreaming Isle, a brand new collection of stories each of which takes a piece of British folklore and its location as its starting point.
At present, it often feels as though we’re all locked into a collective crisis of identity, with what it means to live in this country endlessly contested and squabbled over. What does it mean to be British? Does someone who happens on have been born here have more of a claim to the land they walk on than someone who happens to have been born elsewhere? Whose history is Britain’s history, whose values, whose culture? While the skirmish plays out – tilting further daily into ugliness and racism – the land itself remains, a repository for stories older than those who tell them, stories which survive via their telling, passed on from imagination to imagination, even while the lights begin to go out.
‘Lodestones’ pertains to Manchester, to its endless redevelopment and, dimly, to John Dee, the courtier, alchemist, scientist, theologian, alleged black magician and astrologer to the Queen, who moved to the city in 1596 and, by all accounts, had a bit of a shit time here. It also takes its title and some of its inspiration from ‘Loadstones’, a 2013 song by The Fall which I was listening to a lot while writing it. I was also learning to drive, and as such the story features quite a few descriptions of cars, roads and the correct use of gears. I am nothing if not a complex, mysterious writer.
This Dreaming Isle features 'Lodestones' along with fourteen other stories by Alison Moore, Andrew Michael Hurley and the great Ramsey Campbell among others, all of which draw on history and landscape, touch on myth and legend, and look to the past, but also question who we are and what constitutes this ‘we’.
The stories for the book are all written and the cover art is ready, but your help is still required. The authors, the artists, editors and the printers all deserve a fair wage. You can get yourself a copy of This Dreaming Isle while also doing your bit to support an independent publisher, Unsung Stories, via its Kickstarter. Here you will find various rewards, including the chance to pick up some of their 2018 titles, including Aliya Whiteley's new novella, The Loosening Skin, at a special price.
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