Wednesday, 30 October 2013

When the Veil is thin

On October, 31st at Halloween the veil is thin between our world and the place of the dead. Ghouls, ghosts and spirits can whisper in our ears, appear as an outline, a fleeting shadow or transient scent worn by someone who has gone before but can still reach out to us in thought.

Samhain, the old name by which it's known, is the time for many to honour the spirits. The Pagan New Year which traditionally marks the end of summer and start of winter. An occasion to consider the past, and the future. Christianity also commemorates it's Saints at the end of October in a similar thought.

It's a great time of year to be a writer! I've read Michelle Paver's Dark Matter; Susan Hill's The Small Hand and Woman in Black; Helen Dunsmore's The Greatcoat and I've just dipped into Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger as I'm ready again to be persuaded to be afraid.

You can feel Hecate's dark power in words, and I like reading  Shakespeare's Macbeth at Halloween:

"Second witch:  Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worms' sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble;
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

All witches: Double, double toil and trouble,
Fire, burn; and cauldron, bubble."

Why not write in this genre when you think you are alone, at night with the wind creaking the floorboards? Your back is to the door and it's more than likely you're wrong. Look into the shadows at the corner of the room furthest from the light. 

Why not choose a cold, sepulchral setting for a story or poem like Newstead Abbey, the Bryon ancestral home in winter when the candlelight flickers and extinguishes easily from a draught? Cold and darkness draw on something buried deep within us, the primeval creates atmosphere. Dark Matter wouldn't have worked nearly so well had it been set in the desert as was originally envisaged by the author. The tension builds in this novel as the plot moves from an artic summer to winter and the protagonist is alone, almost.

And what of Magic, the part it plays in all of this? The Oxford dictionary defines magic as "the pretended art of influencing a course of events by occult control of nature or of spirits, witchcraft." Whether you believe in it's power or superstition, the distant cousin, I see magic in the everyday not just at Halloween. The shimmer of sunlight in the trees on a hot summer day and the patterns in the clouds during a rainstorm. There's much in nature that lends itself to this. The beautiful sensation of falling in love and feeling the other person's heart beat next to yours. How can that not be magical too?

On October, 31st to trick or treat is part of the magic of life, the fun we can have. Open that door if you dare, but be safe and enjoy this year's celebration of life, and death.