Archive for February, 2015

The number of authors fascinated by metaphysics and the supernatural never ceases to make me wonder about the relationship between the creative psyche and that vast realm of the imagination.

There are those who immerse themselves in mythical and symbolic riches and create complex fantasy landscapes. I’m not a huge reader of fantasy and can only mention Ursula le Guin’s The Earthsea Trilogy, which I have read and thought amazing.

Others tackle the metaphysical side of reality in more direct ways, taking journeys into the supernatural and occult. Bram Stoker’s Dracula seems a good early example.

There are the magical realists from Jorge Luis Borges on, who include the paranormal in their stories as if it were a given. Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits is just one example.

Then there are those who embed their insights to give shape to themes. I think of how Doris Lessing’s interest in Sufism inspired her Canopus in Argos Archives.

And it seems that down the ages many writers, along with artists, composers and scientists have had more than a passing interest in the occult. I found a list on a website of Rosicrucians and was astonished to find Bram Stoker, Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo, Yeats, Satie, Edith Piaf and Walt Disney on the list, along with more obvious suspects, such as Jacob Boehme and Francis Bacon. I have no idea how accurate the list is or how immersed in Rosicrucianism each person listed may have been.

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I do know a fair bit about the occult though, or western esotericism as it is more properly called. Which is why I found Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery such a compelling read.

The Prague Cemetery might seem at first like a cook’s tour of the upheavals and power struggles of Europe at the time, written from the perspective of a fierce anti-semite. The basic plot is very simple, the reader uncertain as to whether the protagonist, the repugnant Simonini, has a split personality.

Following Freud’s thinking on the matter, Simonini, who seems to have no idea himself, decides to write a diary to find out. What ensues is a journey through the latter part of he nineteenth century, as Simonini, a master forger of documents, becomes immersed in a web of lies, misinformation, and elaborate inventions of truth designed to discredit the Freemasons and the Jews. Simonini is an unscrupulous psychopath, who works for the secret service of first Italy, then France. What is remarkable is that every other character in The Prague Cemetery existed in reality and all the historical events and those involved are verifiable.

While much has been made of Eco’s fictional depiction of the notorious The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a complete invention that inspired Hitler decades later, in my view a subtler and more general point is being made.

That behind the scenes of history there are those hard at work creating one conspiracy theory after another, whether in fiction or as apparent fact, in other words conspiring to accuse others of a conspiracy in order to fulfil their own agenda, an agenda as simple as personal greed.

I salute the author for hammering this point. For it is my contention that the ultimate coup of the propagandists today is the discrediting of the very conspiracy theories they themselves have created in order to cement in the zeitgeist the view that all conspiracy thinking is rubbish, thus allowing them a huge freedom to continue to conspire.

Umberto Eco’s interest in western esotericism is well known. Through his fiction he explores this world within the world while keeping himself distant from it. An observer, not a practitioner. A thinker who questions and probes, not an adherent who adopts without question. It is this distance that allows him to write works like The Prague Cemetery.

 

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I used to teach Religious Studies at a high school in the UK. Best subject ever, from trawling through world faiths in the lower years, getting hot under the collar following the GCSE curriculum where moral issues such as Wealth and Poverty were explored, all the way to A Level, when it morphed into Philosophy of Religion.

I was teaching in 2001. The day the twin towers fell I’d just come out of a class on Islam. I was teaching Islam to four classes of Year Eights at the time.

 

In those classes we explored some core beliefs such as the five pillars of Islam. We did a historical cook’s tour and we thought about what we as white non-believers could learn from the faith.

Bang! A light bulb switched off.

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It was the day the Dark Age began.

I’m not getting into the whodunnit side of things. All I know is the pudding was already cooked and ready to serve.

Bang!

Welcome to the era of the terror monger.

Before the dust had settled on the towers, ‘war or terror’ and ‘axis of evil’ were rolled out. War in Afghanistan and then, to the horror of the world at large, the invasion of Iraq. A sorry recent history full of bloodshed and fomenting hatreds.

Our New Dark Age has the stamp of terror all over it. A stamp of indelible ink wielded on soft skin by the anti-terrorists.

The New Dark Age is an age of Security and Surveillance.

The hordes of bloodthirsty nutters with guns are doing nothing but serving this agenda. I wish they could see their own complicity. I wish they could see that they are empowering the very beast they fight.

As for the rest of us, while we sit around hoping we don’t get caught in the crossfire, we’re already ensnared. Our freedoms constricted by a raft of new laws. Our journalists gagged.

Islam is a fine faith and I, as a non-believer, will always defend it. Islam teaches that within each of us is a divine spark, something pure and sacred and connected to God.

My wish is for that spark to flame and light this darkening world, light up the hearts of those consumed by hatred.

And as for the greedy who are behind everything that is wrong with this world, I have yet to figure out what’s to be done about them…

I’m about 20,000 words into my latest novel and it’s giving me the creeps. I now know why many horror writers choose the short story form. What extraordinarily resilient constitutions authors like Edgar Allen Poe and H P Lovecraft must have had!

Ostara by Johannes Gehrts

For months and months I have to live inside the fictional reality I’ve created and I’m not sure what it’s doing to my psyche.

And things just keep getting worse. My inner scribe is have a devilish ball throwing up all kinds of disturbing twists and there are days when I feel like putting a very large distance between me and her.

I’ve known for some years that she’s a bit wild. I’ve found it best to give her free reign of any new literary landscape and come along afterwards with my editorial eye.

Only this time I’m finding she needs restraining while I assimilate her latest missive.

Thank heaven’s my cat Psyche is white. Otherwise, I’m sure I’d feel a jolt every time she crossed my path.

The chainsaw is still at it next door which means today I can’t write another thing. Luckily I woke at 4.30 am and did most of the day’s scribing before sunrise. Those hours are truly special.

Asylum Cover 2

So rather than just sit here, idle, I thought I’d give away a copy of Asylum (either epub or Kindle) to my 600th facebook page liker. My page is currently standing at 559 likes.

To win this freebie click here. And good luck!!

Asylum is my first novel. It began life as a story with a number of enticing elements bound together in truth. Like protagonist Yvette Grimm, I was an English-born visa overstayer and I really did invest my hopes in a palm reader’s prophecy that I would meet the father of my children before I was thirty!

Asylum Cover 2

In about six months I produced a first draft. I was pleased with the achievement, producing 80,000 words of fiction is no easy thing, yet the story seemed to meander on, reaching a conclusion that felt flat. So I set aside the draft, reasonably happy never to look at it again.

Yet the title nagged me. ‘Asylum,’ with its double meaning, seemed well worth exploring, but how?

Months later a friend and blogger, Colin Penter,  posted on facebook a link to a book. It was Profits of Doom by Antony Loewenstein. I borrowed a copy from the library and read it from cover to cover in two days. Profits of Doom led me to explore the plight of asylum seekers and I soon found a plethora of online commentary, and much activism around the country. I began to wonder how I could contribute.

It was a gnawing sense of injustice that caused me to return to that draft of Asylum. I axed over half the text, ripping into the narrative scene upon scene until the barest bones were left. I set about making visa overstayer Yvette Grimm an artist because I wanted her to be as different from me as possible and I can only paint walls. I managed to work Profits of Doom into a scene. Things were progressing well but towards the end the narrative still lacked intensity.

That was when a friend, Georgia Matthey, came round for dinner and after I had outlined how things were in the fictional land of Asylum, she began to describe a recent event in her life. Seeing the potential straight away, I grabbed paper and pen and wrote down her vignette and with her permission used it to shape the climax of Asylum.

I could now call Asylum a manuscript and I needed a reader. I was thrilled when writer, feminist and activist Jasmina Brankovich put up her hand. I had to wait weeks for her feedback and when she told me she loved it I knew I could publish with some confidence.

At first I serialised the story in weekly parts on my blog but demand grew for a whole book, so I took the indie path and with the help of Cohesion Press converted Asylum into epub and Kindle editions.

Asylum explores the theme of seeking asylum, Yvette juxtaposing her experiences with those of asylum seekers being held in detention. It is my sincerest wish that Asylum both entertains and contributes to the larger dialogue on the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia.

You can read my non-fiction writing on asylum seekers in On Line Opinion or here on my blog.

For me, writing fiction is all about trusting the imagination. Out of that darkness emerge all sorts of surprises and happy accidents. It’s as if hidden in the depths the story is already complete, and it’s up to me to bring it into the light of day. Whoever it is in me who creates these stories knows far more than I do.

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Creative people are often required to appear humble and self-effacing, receiving all praise with bowed head, when really such praise isn’t humbling at all, it’s gratifying. What is humbling is the relationship we have with this other creative entity within, one that eclipses the ego entirely and makes us slaves to our craft.

I believe this is where the ideas of automatic writing and channelling come from. If I were to give my creative self a name and claim a special relationship with this superior being, claim that she was somehow extraneous to me, ironically I would have fallen foul of my own ego. I would have attached special importance to something that exists in all of us and is owned by none of us. It’s simply a question of gaining access and to do that is hard work as any artist will tell you, for many skills must be acquired, an artistic trade learned.

All I know is this relationship is the most precious thing on earth. This is what makes us fully human. I pay homage every time I pick up the pen.

I might have written more but my neighbour has someone in felling a tree in her garden. There’s something about the sound of a chain saw…

I woke this morning at about five o’clock to the sound of cock crows and magpie chortles, knowing that my third piece, Welcome to Australia, would appear in On Line Opinion  today.

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It’s a controversial piece and in the pre-dawn darkness I feared some would misread it and accuse me of being anti-Australian. Then I thought that if they did, it would only serve to strengthen one of the themes.

My thoughts wandered on to all the different sorts of people who are against our treatment of asylum seekers. From human rights lawyers such as Julian Burnside, to doctors, actors, musicians, writers, teachers, religious groups and social advocates, Liberal voters, Labor voters, Greens voters, all sorts of people motivated by all sorts of factors.

The bottom line for all of us is that we care.

Why do I care? What motivates me? Before the break of dawn I recalled my relatively late entry into the asylum-seeker cause. It was entirely the result of investigative journalist Antony Loewenstein’s book, Profits of DoomA fast-paced read taking the reader from Curtin to Christmas Island, then on to PNG and beyond. Of concern to Loewenstein is the role that transnational corporations such as Serco and G4S and Transfield play in the detention of asylum seekers. He calls them vulture capitalists. I think that’s an apt description.

And such corporations don’t restrict themselves to running detention centres. They run our railways, our hospitals, our courts, our prisons, our defence services, anything in fact that governments outsource. Even, if our government has its way, Medicare.

I can only conclude that asylum seekers held in indefinite detention are profiting these vulture corps in exactly the same way as we profit the very same corporations the moment we hop on a train. Corporations who also profit from our taxes, which our governments hand over in payment for their services.

Asylum seekers are the ultimate victims of this system. Like prisoners, the longer they are there, and the more of them there are, the greater the corporate profit.

Yet there is no separation here. We are all victims of the same system.

I think that is why I am so passionate about the mandatory detention of asylum seekers. They are lambs, sacrificed in the name of a dollar god.

If you are interested, you can check out my other writing by following this link to Asylum. Or poke around my blog. Cheers, Isobel