Recent Publications

Hi. How are you? I’m having a gentle day, easing myself back into work after Worldcon 2019 in Dublin.

This was my first Worldcon, and was enjoyable, inspiring and a lot of fun. Most of this was down to the people, especially the friends I got to spend time with. More of that in a dedicated post.

The past few weeks have been busy for publications.

I wrote an article for Folklore Thursday about how Mad Max within the films can be interpreted as a mythic figure. You can read the piece here and see what you think.

https://folklorethursday.com/creative-corner/mad-max-the-mythic-hero-of-the-wasteland/

Look at this artwork. Isn’t it beautiful?

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This is the cover for the Earth: Giants, Golems, and Gargoyles anthology, the latest in a series of elemental themed collections from editor Rhonda Parrish. I’m very happy that Earth contains my story Kiln Fired. You can pick it up at the usual outlets, such as Amazon (UK/DE/US)

My first article for Kerrang.com is now available to read, looking at the influence of poetry on the bands lyrics.

(www.kerrang.com/features/the-unsung-influence-of-poetry-on-iron-maiden/)

Once the band shared the article it got a lot of traction (I took the screenshot below when it hit the most appropriate number of shares). What surprised me was seeing it shared by both The Poetry Foundation in the US, and The Poetry Society in the UK.

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My latest published piece is for Daily Grail. A couple of weeks ago I watched Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, and started thinking about the parallels with dance in Weimar Germany. Here’s the article if you’d like to read more about my thoughts on the subject.

www.dailygrail.com/2019/08/dances-of-vice-horror-and-ecstasy-suspiria-and-dance-as-a-magical-act-in-weimar-germany/

And that’s me up to date. I have some stuff coming out soon, but can’t say where just yet. More when I can

HWS Fantasycon Schedule

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Earlier on in the year I attended Follycon in Harrogate, and enjoyed it so much I booked to attend Fantasycon in Chester this coming weekend.

In the intervening period I decided that I wanted to step out of my comfort zone a bit and put myself forward for a couple of panels.

If you’re attending I’ll be on the Micro Fiction/Flash Fiction at 12:30 in Panel Room 3.

“In a changing world where consumption of texts is constant and attention spans appear to be shrinking, is the flash or micro fiction story the way forward for writers looking to attract a new young readership? Our panel discusses the craft of writing the ultra short.”

On Sunday I’ll be in Panel Room 3 on the Dead Bodies panel at 12:30.

“Many good stories involve a mystery. Whether the case at hand has remained unsolved for hundreds of years, or happened in the first chapter of the book, a good puzzle provides the writer with an opportunity to engage the reader’s brain iin finding the answer. Our panelists discuss unsolved conundrums, consider the role of accurate research, and look at a range of tools that are at the writer’s disposal to create intriigue for the curious reader.”

I’ll have some copies of Ruby Red and Snowflake Cold with me, so if you would like one come and have a chat.

Cover reveal

Now we’re not living in the U.K. these events are a great chance to catch up with people, surrounded by books and stories.

See you there!

More Publication News and Cover Reveal

May is a busy month.

My new article for Folklore Thursday is now up and available to read. #folklorethursday is a hugely popular hashtag, covering the vast scope of folklore. The website collates articles about various subjects that fall into the subject. This article is about the Maibaum and Kindsbaum throughout Bavaria.

You can read the article here. May Day, Weddings and Births: Folklore Trees and Traditions

I’ve also just signed the contract on my first pro fiction story sale. Third Flatiron Anthologies will be publishing my story The Kromlau Gambit in their upcoming Galileo’s Theme Park.

To finish the publication news for the moment, check out this fantastic cover for the Lackington’s Gothics issue. If you glance at the left of Richard Wagner’s illustration you might be able to spy a vase of flowers. That’s important. Remember that.

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Runs on the Board Flash Fiction Part 4

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These are the last of the stories in the Runs on the Board book. Tomorrow I’ll share other pieces of flash fiction written for the project. Out of all the pieces I wrote inspired by the cricket matches we watched, I think that 53.71704 N  is my favourite. It combines cricket, myth, and landscape. It also influenced the way I frame my newsletters.

 

Beating the Bounds

Law 20.1-Wisden 1963

“If flags or posts are used to mark a boundary, the real or imaginary line joining such points shall be regarded as the boundary”

 

These men from across the county, wearing white knit mummer’s guize, are of the travelling parish of the three trees. This is a fragile ward able to be dissolved by rain, or worn through by the fading of dusk.

Sometimes, the parish is found below chiselled stone moors or pressed against the inside of a walled garden. On other summer days it weighs down on the corrugated earth of a thousand years. The boundary is vulnerable, soft and porous and must be walked to remember its course.

Like Yeoman Warders, in Pathé’s newsreel gaze, these men step out in ones and twos with willow under their arms. Pausing, they let linseed soaked wood rest between white flags. Each second motionless pins the boundary to the grass before the walkers set off once again.

Moving anti-clockwise they pass the black faced house, whose sightless windows flicker with white numbers, while one man faces eleven. By the ground tethered sail they wait while pace plays out and the grove at the centre is defended. On the far side of this smallest of parishes they walk tight between fence and flags. Not once do they cross the stuttered line, all the time marking the circuit with spiked steps. The men in white knit mummer’s guize return to the lime-washed hall, where they wait for their turn to stand in front of the three trees.

END

Distracted by Shadows

Law 41.6-2000 Code

“While the ball is in play and until the ball has made contact with the striker’s bat or person, or has passed the striker’s bat, no fielder, other than the bowler, may have any part of his person grounded on or extended over the pitch”

 

Waiting by the pavilion the shadows attached themselves to the spikes of players walking out to take the field. Each time the sun emerged from behind strands of cloud the shadows became young once again.

They played their own game, leeward of these men whose height did not change with the lengthening of the day. The players ignored their tissue paper companions. Except when the shadows lay across the footworn pitch and the unchanging men turned to statues, as if waiting to catch the shadows moving on their own.

Staying still the shadows wove themselves into the grass. They kept their arms solid and their legs planted, even as the afternoon stretched them across the cracked ground. Then, when they heard the snick, the shadows ran for the ball, elongated by the shifting sky.

END

53.71704 N

Law 9-Wisden 1963

“The popping crease shall be marked 4 feet in front of and parallel with the Bowling crease. Both the Return and Popping crease shall be deemed unlimited in length.”

 

Kneeling on the worn turf he brushed thin whitewash onto the ghosts of old popping creases and reincarnated the line once again.

Reaching the return crease the line became too faint to see, picking up speed as it headed toward the boundary. Outside the ground it coasted across the moors, drawn on by the scent of the sea. Listening to the songs of fallen rocks before slipping under the water.

The crease continued. It could have floated on the waves, or plunged through the water where nets and lines draped from boats. Instead it sank to the sea floor. Drawing itself through Doggerland the crease marked across long drowned valleys and long forgotten forests, now only remembered as archaeologist’s survey data.

Making landfall on the island of Nordeney it passed to the north of the hospital. None of the ambulances noticed the fine, thin, mark under their wheels.

Travelling across North Germany the crease continued east, passing through the heart of forests so dense only trees whisper folktales about them.

In Belarus it touched the northern shore of a small lake, watched from under the surface by three reed dressed sisters with sand coloured eyes.

Making harbour at Portage Bay on Wislow Island the crease mixed its flecks of whitewash with the cooled, grey dust of Makushin Volcano.

Through Canada the crease stayed in open country, to the north of Hwy. 37. The road markings whispered to stay with them. To press itself to the tarmac where they hid when the season of darkness came, but the crease paid them no heed and carried on its route.

Outside Edmonton dawn turned the sky rust and corroded through to the day behind.

From the western side of Lake Michikamu the Toad Man whispered,

“You will always stay here in the Lake.”

The crease shuddered fit to blur its edges, but kept on moving.

Avoiding the  grasp of fish jaws and blind ocean dwellers the crease made landfall in Ireland. In Muckloon it saw the shell of George Moore’s house and heard from deep inside the hill the song of Drithliu, a sound like trees burning in autumn.

Crossing the Irish Sea the crease found itself at the junction between the M65 and M6, where it nearly ended up heading toward Lancaster. Realising its mistake in time it continued on, back across the county border.

Passing through Luddenden Foot, where there is a full moon every night, the crease felt on safer ground and accelerated on.

Breaching the ground’s boundary the unseen line came to rest against the return crease, where the groundsman applied the last brush of whitewash onto the ghosts of old popping creases, reincarnated once again.

END

 

Corridor

Law 31-Wisden 1963

 

A light flickers in the panelled ceiling above me. No, not one. Two. Three maybe. The rhythm is syncopated, slightly uneven. Just when I think I’ve nailed down a pattern it throws in an offbeat. The candle dim glow doesn’t quite reach the walls. I know there is no entrance behind me in this corridor, nor an exit in front.

I can just make out three doors in the long wall to my right and, if I squint, one to my left. I walk along, running my hand over the frames and the doors themselves. All feel in need of sanding and several thick coats of varnish. No-one takes care of this narrow ginnel.

An inquiring mind gets the better of me and I open the first door, by my right shoulder. The scene is warm, not the height of summer, the sun dressing the field in a fine webbing of heat. The grass is empty apart from the echo of footsteps crossing the outfield toward the pavilion. I follow the sound. The scene changes. Now the view is from inside the changing room. Outside I can see my team-mate (at that moment I can’t remember his name). Next in the batting order he takes his position and taps his bat against the popping crease. I try to close the door, but the wood is warped, or the frame has shrunk. A little pool of light leaks through onto the corridor floor and I step to avoid it.

Though doubt sets in I open the second. There is nothing to see. The view is scrubbed out. The emptiness of a scoreboard waiting for the white to appear. There is only noise, the repetitive echo of the fielder’s appeal. I was wrong. There are no options left through this door. I lift it closed, preparing for this one too to be warped against my efforts, but it shuts easily. Moments later, as I step away, it swings open once again and I can hear that appeal looping on itself.

The third doesn’t wait for me to turn the handle, instead drifting open. The scene is from my perspective. I am unbuckling my leg pad as if all the games ills are stitched into its gambeson-like surface. Once undone I drop it into the kitbag and rub my shin before leaning on the window frame to watch the rest of the game I will no longer take part in.

My curiosity is depleted. Little is left, yet there is a little. With a pause to take a breath I open the single door on the left. The view is toward the boundary. The flattened patch of grass beyond the line of flags tells me all I need to know. The scene through the door pivots and is now staring at the white coated umpire whose arms grow vertical as if hydraulic. I have no intention of closing this door.

Turning, I stare deep into the gloom at the end of the corridor. A single red pixel appears in a sea of between-station noise. With four doors open around me I wait.

END

Flash Fiction Month Week 4

Day 22

(Every year I write a story for my wife’s birthday. This year it was Speckled Stars)

Speckled Stars

Stars grew under the hill. Not the vast balls of gas that hung in the sky, holding planets in their rapture, but tiny speckled glowing ones you could hold in your hand. Their scent drifted across the fields. Apples and nectarines. Nutmeg, ice-cream and elderberries.

The girl climbed the hill, though it tired her and she stopped often to drink tea. At the top she laid out a circle of summer flowers. Using a paper blade she sliced through the soil and reached her hand into the hollow below the turf.

With cold fingers she lifted out each star, clasping it in her right hand until all were uncovered and freed. Balancing them in two toppling towers, she climbed down the hill, again stopping regularly for cups of tea, cake and occasionally sandwiches, because sometimes climbing down is more tiring than climbing up.

#

On the path leading away from the hill a man sat in the road dirt, hands in pockets and face toward the ground.

“Are you OK?” Said the girl.

“I’m lost and don’t know where I should be going,” he said.

“We all feel like that sometimes,” the girl said. “Hold my hand and you can come with me.”

“But your hands are full of stars.”

“Nonsense,” the girl said, which was one of her favourite words when she heard nonsense being spoken.

“They are small and fit in one hand,” she said, and held them in one palm. The man placed his fingers in the other.

#

The child was at the edge of the road, looking lost. When the girl saw them, she asked, “What is the matter?”

“I don’t know how to make my way,” the child said, looking at the girl’s boots, because the girl’s boots were fabulous and warm looking with blue fleece and several buckles.

“Where are you going?” She said.

“To the next place,” the child said.

“Hold my hand, and I’ll help you get there,” the girl said.

“But you already have the man’s hand in yours, and in your other hand many stars. I’ll just wait here.”

Taking the stars in turn the girl slid them into her eyes where they sparkled and shone. She held out her hand, which the child took.

And the stars still shine in her eyes, and she still holds the hands of the child and the man as they travel along the path.

Day 23

Germinate

Dead wood started growing again.

Tables and chairs unfurled branches, carved legs sending roots deep into the soil. Front doors fluttered with fresh leaves. Fridges shattered by vegetable trays sprouting and cupboards became coverts.

Forests grew from window frames, pushing bricks apart from each other.

Inside people, in the churn of their stomachs, vegetation germinated in the darkness, until ribs and skin burst from the pressure of the green world finding life in death.

 

Day 24

Tethered

They hauled Marianne into the village square and chained the anchor to her feet. Said it was for straying, though they never told her what she had strayed from. Her duty? Their expectations? A husband she did not have?

Night and day she stayed on the cobbles, that vast hook of iron shackled to her ankles as her clothes got more ragged in the gales they did not protect her from. Eating the scraps she could reach, though the metal links were few and her reach was limited.

The magic was hidden in a rhyme told to her by a grandmother, scented by fire ash and the steam of tea.

“Come sail, come sail, come sail with me.
Transform and we can crest the sea.
Skin to cloth and bone to plank,
Past the pubs where sailors drank.
Come sail, come sail, come sail with me.
Transform and we can crest the sea.”

The nightwatchman took the bribe, though she knew he would pocket more valuables from her house than they agreed. He brought her the box of salves leaving it just within reach. The top layer for scalds, the middle layer for burns. The lowest, hidden, layer for transformations.

The mast grew from her spine, pushing her skull forward as the vertebrae extended to the main boom, her skin stretched as sails. Ribs stayed as ribs, but softened to wood, then hardened once more as they coated with tar. Arms and legs filled between as planks, nerves caulking the gaps between. By midnight she was fully ship, and still woman, her face, wood carved, where the figurehead would normally hang.

With chains of her own she raised the anchor onto the deck and let the breeze carry her through the village. To the harbour where she would sail away from these people and their shame that they made others wear.

 

Day 25

Bees of the Battlefield

The first thing the scavengers noticed was the lack of flies over the battlefields. The lack of stench that came from skin and muscle turning to rotted meat. Rusting limbs littered plough furrows. Circuit boards snapped in two. No life thrived on the battlefield at first.

Frayed wiring exposed to the air became anchors for spider webs. Meadow flowers thrived through the gaps between metallic jaws and shattered fingers. Then the bees came.
Upturned robotic heads became hives, swarms finding paths in through corrugated necks and the shattered glass of blind eyes.

They festooned the lifeless heads of never living metallic men, building up their wax to host their young and their food.

Soon, beekeepers shaped their hives in forms , carving in eyes and unspeaking mouths. The bees strayed from the robotic dead to the timber replicas.

The honey did not taste much different, a slight metallic tang hidden in the sweetness. No-one paid any attention to their lack of exhaustion, and the improvement in vision. The hardening of skin. The bees noticed, and they found new homes in skulls and tissue turned steel. In the ribcages of the people who would harvest their food. In the mouths of those who would eat their honey, and soon, very soon, all the bees lived in echoes of those who were themselves echoes of the living.

 

Day 26

The Sea of Eyes

The chains they bound him in were embroidered with the words he inflicted on others, the venom of those sentences branded into his skin.

On a pallet of bones they carried him to the Sea of Eyes and lowered him under the vitreous surface. In the gloom the stares of his victims pivoted as he dropped lower and lower, pressed against him, slick and damp.

As he slid toward the seabed they showed him. In those irises and pupils they reflected back the fear and anger. Hundreds of eyes in turn returning his gaze unflinching. The press pinned his own eyes open so he could not glance away. By the time he lay still breathing on the sea bed his skin hung in grey tatters from the wet friction of unblinked tears, and still those stares did not look away.

Day 27

Seeds

May came with a rush of weather. The villagers walked into the fields to replace the scarecrows. After a winter of breath stripping frost they knew each field guardian would be flensed and frayed.

At the foot of each cross of brooms sat a child, not dirtied by the mud or blue lipped by the spring winds. Forty in total, all identical from eyeteeth to eyelash.

They fed the children grass and ash because the food of the table bloated their stomachs and made them cry in pain. They drank only rain collected in barrels below the eaves, and they thrived.

Soon the babies were not babies but children, though little more than a month had passed. They did not speak to the villagers, only amongst themselves. What they said the villagers did not understand, but they cared for them anyway.

Winter came with frostbite winds and lung splitting cold. The children hibernated, curling up in season long sleep that they could not be roused from. The villagers rested them by hearths and nesting them in haystacks, but nothing woke them from their slumber. Until snowdrops cracked the crust of soil.

The children of the field hatched into scarecrows with the first thaws, the now abandoned shells lying around the villagers’ floors like broken dolls. The scarecrows were bare, and crept upstairs on limbs of mildewed crop, surrounding the villagers in their beds. First, the scarecrows emptied the villagers’ skins to fill their empty stomachs, then they emptied the villagers’
wardrobes to clothe their mould spotted bodies. Dressed and fed they dragged themselves to the plough furrows. In the fields crows and gulls flocked, ready to be feasted upon.

 

Day 28

Written

When they first rose from the pages of abandoned books, the owls were novelties, far tamer than their wild cousins. With eyes of marbled endpages and wings feathered from spine stitching, they capered on desks and sat calm and quiet on the arms of the curious.

Everyone knew their cardboard talons left ink words upon their perches and the paper they bedded down in at night. Those sentences were a curiosity, though no-one took the time to read them. The warnings hidden in the scratched letters.

When the pools of ink flooded out of the pages of abandoned books people were unprepared. They did not hide themselves away as the owls had tried to warn them, instead stepping across the tepid blackness, unable to escape when the hooked teeth that grasped their ankles. Dragged them under, to be coated in words human throats could not form.

The owls tried to save them, but were not strong enough with their spine stitching wings, and could do nothing but watch with eyes of marbled endpages.

 

Haunting Harrogate – Article from The Author

In Summer 2017 The Society of Authors kindly published my article about Haunt in their journal, The Author. With their kind permission I’m reproducing the article here.

Haunting Harrogate

 

‘Then the lapwing sang, and it sang of eloquences and springs. It sang of the genteel and the waters. It sang of tulips and tea blends, and when Kenny went to speak the lapwing had taken all his words, leaving him no voice for his own story.’ From Haunt.

 

Harrogate. The English Spa with an air of opulence. Entertainments available include afternoon tea at Betty’s or walks through the elegant valley gardens. Yet there is another side to this most genteel town – for five years voted one of the happiest places to live. This side is rarely acknowledged or discussed; many people in Harrogate experience homelessness or vulnerable housing – far more than might be expected for a town with such an enviable reputation.

I know this personally. At 16 (just before my GCSEs) I was kicked out of home, spending three years either with no fixed abode or in bedsits. In Harrogate, bedsits tend to be in large town houses associated with the Spa’s opulent past. In cheap, vulnerable, accommodation you are haunted by Harrogate’s other wealthier identity in the fixtures, fittings and very walls of the building. Many sleeping rough bed down in woods or fields on the edge of town, so they too are not visible. A study by Harrogate Homeless Project (HHP) found over 60% of residents surveyed believed there was no homelessness in the town, or very little. These stories are hidden from most of Harrogate’s population, in houses whose multiple-occupancy can only be recognised by the cluster of doorbells on the outside wall. In these bedsits the town is a spectral presence that can appear suddenly, as all ghosts do, in the form of an evicting landlord, or a hungry and expensive electrical meter causing lights to cut out, like a manifesting poltergeist. People living in a town known for healing are not healed.

 

The idea for Haunt, the collaborative writing and performance project that started in late 2014 and ran in Harrogate until July 2016, grew out of my own experiences, and my realisation of how homelessness is hidden in the town. The name Haunt reflects three aspects of being homeless or vulnerably housed in a place like Harrogate. Firstly, it encapsulates the idea of being haunted by the identity of the town. The name also reflects being haunted by our own experiences, as well as haunts as somewhere people gather.

Haunt was developed with Imove Arts, an arts company with a focus on human movement in specific spaces, a perfect fit for Haunt, a project exploring how people move in and out of accommodation. My fellow author Becky Cherriman, who experienced homelessness in Harrogate whilst a teenager, was involved in creating Haunt. From the start Haunt was seen as having three stages. We would start by running writing workshops for people experiencing homelessness, then publish their work in an anthology alongside stories and poems by myself and Becky. The final stage was to use all the work created throughout the project to develop a site specific theatre performance, bringing the audience through a different Harrogate, into a bedsit space.

 

Our core principle was that people experiencing homelessness should have space to tell their own stories in their own words. Working with Harrogate Homeless Project, the local homelessness charity, and Foundation UK, who support young people at risk of homelessness in Harrogate, Becky and I visited drop-in centres and hostels. We had conversations there, and these were the key to the project. Firstly, they allowed people to speak for themselves –  to say what they wanted to say in places they felt comfortable. Secondly, it allowed us to talk about our own experiences, share our common ground, and show we were not imposing a preconceived view.

The workshops ran over six weeks. Sessions varied from free writing about Harrogate to a ‘Hauntological’ walk around the town. The walk used disruptive ways of seeing the town (for example imagining a ship docking at Harrogate pier,  choosing a distant building to pick up and put in a pocket, and discussing the fires that have affected the Majestic Hotel, (a major symbol of Harrogate’s past opulence). In another session we asked participants to think of Harrogate as a person. What would they eat? How would they speak? What would their hair be like? What shoes would they wear?

Life for people in precarious accommodation can be chaotic, so at the end of each session we secured permission to use work in later stages of Haunt.

The sessions were very positive. One (anonymous) participant wrote a beautiful poem, his first creative writing since school:

The river runs through the woods,

past the old oak trees,

a place to reflect.

Another participant, Nathan, delivered a visceral spoken word performance:

You sit there looking at me through the glass like I’m something off the bottom of your shoe which you probably got from Primark but you still think you’re better than me.  Harrogate is beautiful but you make it ugly.

 

Combining the stories with work by myself and Becky, we next published an anthology with very specific design requirements. The book was pocket-sized, so participants who were rough-sleeping could carry a copy. The font chosen was from a 1920s brochure promoting Harrogate, embedding participants’ words in the town’s history.

 

Harrogate Museums invited us to contribute Haunt work to the Royal Pump Room Museum’s Harrogate Stories exhibition, as well as hold our anthology launch there. This was significant in that it recognised the importance of these experiences, and moved them into the core narrative of the town. We held pop-up readings at the cafés Bean & Bud and Corrina’s, and held an exhibition of photographs by Paul Floyd Blake, portrait photographer and winner of the 2009 NPG/Taylor Wessing National Portrait Prize. With these events, we attempted to disrupt the single narrative of Harrogate as a wealthy spa town.

 

The final stage was a site-specific theatre piece, involving projection artists, physical performers, sound designers and, most importantly, project participants’ words. This took the form of a ghost walk through Harrogate. The performances happened three times a day over three days in late June, early July. The events were ticketed and part of the Two’s Company programme of site specific theatre run by Harrogate Theatre. The event was advertised nationally and selected by The Guardian as one of the top five theatre tickets for the week.

The audience wore headphones to hear the soundtrack, and to separate them from the wider public. The walk started at the Royal Pump Room Museum, surrounded by the scent of sulphur water, with historical voices who could be part of a normal ghost walk.  Partway through these voices became disrupted: first by stories of homelessness from the 1960s (this was the story of a contributor’s sister), then by modern stories of those experiencing homelessness. The walk concluded at an installation of a bedsit set up in a room in the basement of the Carnegie Library building, a strong central symbol of Harrogate and feet away from a small park where people experiencing homelessness congregate. In the claustrophobic bedsit setting, inspired by some of my own teenage accommodation (with mattress on the floor, empty cans and full ashtrays), the audience members realised that they were playing the role of the ghosts of Harrogate, haunting the performers.

I was pregnant

Homeless

Often drunk

This was the Sixties

Meant to be swinging

Sandie Shaw and Petula Clark

Did not live like me. (Richard H.)

 

Haunt had two clear aims. The first was to give people whose voices are not often heard in Harrogate a chance to write about their own experiences and have those stories, poems and experiences brought to a wider audience. With the anthology, inclusion in the Harrogate Stories exhibition, and shortlisting for the Saboteur Awards, we achieved this goal.

The second aim was to use the disruptive methods of pop up readings, exhibitions and site specific performances to jar peoples’ attention toward the homeless and vulnerably housed part of their community they might not be paying attention to. Again we succeeded, and set off several conversations and shifted perceptions.

On a personal level, Haunt was a chance to explore a town that had a huge impact on me, even when I was living no fixed abode and didn’t necessarily feel part of the wider community. Through the project we met many people. I met my 16 year old self and saw how much things can change.

Haunt shows the impact writing projects can have by allowing participants who are not writers to find their own voices, and by including their stories in the narrative of a town. Stories build empathy. An audience can learn to see homeless people in these situations not as an unknowable other, but as parents, plasterers, gardeners, pet-owners – as fellow residents. As people like them.

 

Our Sundays were the opened-up

dog ends of rollies, bedsit gravel

and guitar – even Leeds was forever just out of

reach. This town has ways

of paralysing its young. (Becky Cherriman, Our Harrogate from Haunt)

 

To generate interest in the project amongst people experiencing homelessness or vulnerable housing, we ‘strewed’ envelopes containing quotes about Harrogate (“…a wild common, bare and bleak, without tree or shrub or the least signs of cultivation.” Tobias Smollett 1771) and old photos about Harrogate, (for example about the Bower Road Bridge collapse In 1862), pencils and blank paper, so people could start writing about the town as they experienced it.

We left origami dragons (To echo Dragon Road and Dragon Parade in the town) and birds (paper ghosts of the pigeons and jackdaws that congregate in the centre every sunrise) with questions written on such as “If you could fly away, where would you fly to?” to kickstart conversations. We used large A0 sized maps to collect quotes and stories about places important to people. The origami, maps and quotes were later displayed in the Royal Pump Room Museum as part of the Harrogate Stories exhibition.

 

Why the Sea Tastes of Salt and Why the Moon Always Looks Toward Us

Story by Steve Toase Art by Calliope Den Ouden Twitter/Website/Instagram

 

calliope

Why the Sea Tastes of Salt and Why the Moon Always Looks Toward Us

The Witch of the Red House fell in love with the moon. With no wings to lift her through the sky, she went to the marsh and asked the stagnant waters for advice.

The drowning pools spoke in the voices of the hurdle crushed and the slit throats.

“You must slip off your skin. Lay it by the north wall of your house at the new moon. Until the full moon scrape the fat from the inside of your hide, the hair from the outside, and shape both into a candle. When the full moon rises, light the candle, and your skin will become a carpet of honeysuckle and magnolia to carry you to your beloved.”

When the new moon came, the Witch of the Red House peeled off her skin, stemming her blood with salt, the agony making her choke out the names of all Five Dead Gods.

For one month she scraped fat from the inside of her own hide, and hair from the outside, shaping both into a single candle.

When the full moon rose, and the light fell on the Red House, the Witch lit the candle. She stepped onto her cracked skin, hooking her feet into the eyeholes and grasping the now limp scalp to steady her balance. The skin rose into the air, fissures becoming petals of honeysuckle and magnolia.

Skitter-footed beetles and gnaw-toothed mites fell in mists to the garden below. The platform of flowers climbed through the clouds to orbit her beloved, the moon.

And the moon saw The Witch of the Red House without her skin. He saw her as a thing of tendons and tissue, of muscles and marrow. He saw her as a thing of gristle and gore, and slowly he turned his vast face from her.

In fury the Witch of the Red House tore out her ribs, turning the moon with the broken shards, and pinning him to look forever at the Earth.

With nothing else for her on land, and nothing else for her in the sky, the Witch of the Red House threw herself into the sea. The currents dragged her to the ocean floor. To the hidden land of scavenged whales and the pressure of one hundred fathoms. As she fell, the salt crusting her wounds spread through the sea, so all who sipped it would remember her pain.

Every month the moon tries dragging the Witch to him, begging her to snatch out the slivers of bone, but she is too deep, feasting in the dark on sailors whose lungs hold cold oceans of their own.