Friday, 27 November 2015

Coping With Rejection

Nina Milton is guesting at the Open College of the Arts blogsite again, this week, with a blog about coping with rejection. Lots of intersting comments coming through on this subject, which is close to every writer's heart.

I can clearly remember my first rejection. It was as if someone had released a little valve on me. The sort of little valve that beach balls have so you can blow them up. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to write again...

Go to 

to read the entire article. 

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Naxalites: fictions about the Indian uprising

Talk about buses, coming along in pairs. 

Two books, published recently, both examined the Maoist uprising in India. Now, I didn’t even know that there had been a Maoist uprising in India, so two novels in close succession felt like more than coincidence. But it's probably no more than a good example of Jung's collective consciousness at work. 

In both books, a young man is drawn into a radical far-left movement called Naxalism, its name derived from Naxalbari, a tiny village to the north of Calcutta where impoverished peasants rose up against the police and landlords in 1967, sparking off dreams of a nationwide insurgency that would replicate Mao’s earlier revolution in China.

I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s Lowland first, and this was my introduction the the Naxalites, a movement I’d never heard of  before. I love learning new things from the fiction I read, however, at the end of the book, I still didn’t know anything about the uprising. That story is skirted and what is examined instead is disappearance, the not knowing. 

Subhash’s younger brother, Udayan, has gone without trace, and he’s missed by all the people who care for very much for him in a multitude of different ways  Lahiri explores these lives – lives lived with a blankness where a person should be. What Lahari is saying, it seems to me, is that disappearance is more poignant than death, for there is no closure when someone vanishes off the face of the earth. Udayan's family are trapped in the unkowning. How differently would have been their lives if that disappearance hadn’t happened? How different are their lives  because of that mysterious gap appearing in the centre of the family.

As I was reading Lowlands, I fell in love, once again, with Lahari’s  erratic, dancing prose and the power of her characters, who feel and believe and with such passion and depth. But her short stories are more lucid than this longer book. The writer is far better at getting under the skin of characters 
 like this, exploring their dreams, fears, failures and secrets,  than she is describing settings or actions. Rather than demonstrating any overarching narrative drive, Lahari’s Indian family seem to live in the clouds, if not in the Cloud. But at the end of the book, I could truly say I'd loved it, because the ending is exqusiite. It both explains the beginning and takes us in a circle back to it. It’s because of this one little device, which I had to wait  432 pages for, that Lowlands stays with me,

In direct contrast, The Lives of Others, by Neel Mukherjee does not try to 
skirt around the issue of the Naxal 
uprising. We learn how punishing was the regime the idealistic students set for themselves, in their attempts to emulate Chinese Communism, and we also see in graphic detail the way the police and state dealt with their beliefs. 

The structure Muckherjee has chosen takes us alternately from the Ghosh Family (and their long-standing business empire) and their teenage son, Supratik. The family - or at least Supratik's mother - is struggling, as in Lowland, to come to terms with the disappearance. Their lives, in contrast to the starving peasants Supratik is now starving alongside, are rich and charmed, to the point they simply cannot imagine any other life. As with Lowlands, we watch several generations, this time mostly in flashback back from the starting point of 1967, to learn how much the family members truly hate each other. 

While Lowlands had a problem with getting to grips with setting, this book seems to not bother with properly introducing characters. Constantly I got lost and frequently I was grateful for both the glossary and the Ghosh family tree, printed at the front of the book.

I found the chapters focused on Supratik grueling but easy to read. It was the Ghosh chapter I found troublesome. I seemed to constantly be waiting for characters and their situations to be introduced and explained, while trying to figure out what was happening and what had happened to this unpleasant family. I almost gave up several times, as I wondered where this book was going. But when the writer gets to grips with a scene, he's wonderfully colourful and imaginative.

The Lives of Others seemed to be telling and showing me far less than I thought I'd need to understand the story, yet, when when I’d finished it, and pondered upon it, I realized that somehow I’d gained a complete picture and could see the romance and direction of its narrative perfectly. 
If you like to discover new information while reading fiction, or love books that tackle large issues, you'd probably enjoy either of these. Lowland was short-listed last year: The Lives of Others won the prize the year after. Why not read both and decide for yourself if the Booker judges made the right choices.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Paper Cuts by Nicci Rae

…If you divide a still image into a series of small coloured dots, the human brain will reassemble the dots into a picture that makes sense. This is the principle on which television is based… Nicci Rae, Paper Cuts

This week, I'm featuring the work of fellow crime author Nicci Rey. She's a full time writer and editor and she also co-presents a weekly show on Radio Harrow.

She's published three novels: LEAVE ME COLD, MAD BESS WOOD and her most recent work, PAPER CUTS. Like me, she's currently working on a fourth novel, with the working title BADGERS & JAM. 

Tiffany Wilson is the nation's TV darling, host of Talking with Tiffany, favourite viewing on  morning television, but Tiffany wants so much more – she wants to be thought of as a serious journalist, and she's just finished a documentary, Our World. This is a hard-hitting piece of broadcasting, which has followed the journey of Ayo and Masika Akiloye as they are brought from Moucha Island off the coast of Africa to the UK. The couple have been filmed for six months, shown discovering all the Western World has to offer. 

Now, Tiffany is dreaming of being crowned TV queen and winning BAFTA glory for her work. She brings the Akiloyes into the studio before they are shipped back  to Africa, at the end of this experiment, and interviews them on her morning show for a final time. 

Tiffany's dreams twists into nightmares as the Akiloyes drop the bombshell, live on air, that they plan to flaunt the  the law  and stay in England.

Very quickly, the Nation's Sweetheart has become Enemy Of The State.

 Events begin to spiral out of control as as the country - and the press - support the Akiloyes, vilifying Tiffany and the TV company for using the Akiloyes as an experiment in the name of entertainment and, as Tiffany fights to restore her reputation she discovers that there's more at stake than her ratings…

PAPER CUTS comes out this week in paperback and is already available for download from Amazon. It's a fast and furious read perfect for crime-fiction lovers who like their books short, sweet and spicy. If you're hea

ding on a long plane journey, this would be a compulsive companion. I loved the way Rae opens up the interior of news journalism and criss-crosses the world as she unfolds her story. 

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Winter Poems by Nina Milton


They are matchless,
My trees in winter. 
While I watch telly and eat carbs, 
Put the fire on, the heating up, 
They stand naked to the battle;
Steady for storm, ready for gale. 

Winter trees communicate in semaphore
Black flags against the half-day’s light.
They are gallows for bats,
Rigging for gulls,
Blue cages for robins 
Steeples for stormcocks.

In the cold sun, 
The oaks glow emerald with moss;
The planes strike piebald patterns;
Birch trunks shimmer like a high moon. 
I pull on gloves, hat, scarves,
Brave the cold to watch 
As they wait secure, 
Dreaming sap dreams,
Expectant for spring.


                                                                                   Scrag End,
                                                                                   Hag wending
                                                                                   Her cackling flight
                                                                                   Over the mushroom yews.
                                                                                   The Samhuin night holds her,
                                                                                    Unfolds her soaring cloak
                                                                                    As she rides her birch broom high.


Storm Eye
Borne higher 
Than Circling wind,
A vortex for a throne.
Below, as we run for cover
She shrieks a laugh and spins
Stridng the tides.

Boughs creak
Clouds flapping
Seas flooding, seeing blood.
She shakes the earth 
Till fire spews.
Life’s elemental horrors are hers
As she beats out the storm

Misshapen crone, 
Winter harpy - time for home,
Let late winter snows gentle 
Lambs and snowdrops into life,
I implore, beseech you, hag,
It’s Bridget’s time, so pack your bag.

(the Cailliach is a Scottish Goddess, whose legend states she epitomizes hard winter)


The train flies; 
Rails roar in terror of looming night
Miles shudder on
Into a dimmed future.
Sky is ashen with a splash of paint,
Tree, pole, nudging horse in silhouette against it.

The colour drains; 
Green frowns into grey, 
Brown slides towards black,
Your eyes get dim
In this darkening world, dotted  
With small square stars of windows.

Willows as fluffed as candyfloss;
Oaks flash past like lollipops, poplars are batons 
Directing the chugging wheels.
Settling cows hunch in the loaming.
Look away – don’t guess the shapeless things out there.

When you look back, day’s death is fulfilled
And all that can be seen is the sound of the train.


Photograph of Stanton Drew
 by the late Carni Tipton
Suppose the dolmen that squats high on the track
Are three petrified shepherds who never sleep – 
Moonbeam white, resting as they watch their sheep
Leaning to rest each on the other’s back?

While down in the valley, three circles lie,
Earth-rooted like old men’s molars, they stare
Past the earth’s harried timekeeping to where 
Stars wheel backwards and the moon’s phases fly

To the beat of these sandstone hearts. One ring
Lies fallow, resting in the weedy grass, 
The grandest circle is spaced wide and fast
The third stays tight, upright; I hear it sing.

It breaths the pulse notes of a well-tuned harp
It holds the secrets of a trusted chart.


My feet stand deep by your heel in the gloom
Of your towering wilds.
Storm wave, Wailing Wall,
They named you Black Hill,
The back end of Brecon’s
Mountain range where, disconsolate, you loom.

Ceridwen loves to feel the dusk enslave,
Wrap wild anguish round
A heart. Black Mountain must
Belong to her,
Stirring an iron-cast pot
Inside a hollow crag, some dark-eyed cave

Murky shadows move me; what you are, Ker –  

Goddess, hag, or just a tale 
From old-folk years? No answer.
Only the wind, steep with dread
Flap of umbrella bat, bleak caw of crow,
As they soar into the desolate air.

From the break of dawn to moon-slivered night,
Herbs lie in curling steam.
Cauldron-sour on the tongue,
Perilous to steal, it will devour,
Turn you mad or
Offer transformation into light.

I turn upon my heel, can’t hold my place.
The barren cliffside sucks
At hope, drags away cheer.
My shoulders shudder 
At the goddess glowering in her crag
And want to weep at your heartbreaking face.

Winter Poems by Nina Milton

Monday, 2 November 2015

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

There are books that draw the emotion out of you. Historical romances that leave you in a heap of tears. Thrillers that sheer your nails down to the quick. These are good books – I hope my Shaman Mysteries can cause such reactions in people.

Connected  by Kasey McMahon 
fabricates a networked goddess 
out of Ethernet cables.
But there are also books – rarities – that draw emotion into you. Such books often leave you feeling as you never have before and words cannot aways express such emotions, but feel like the bundles of cables inside telecommunication boxes. Not only are these books rare, they are usually destined to become classics.

I’ve come to reading Marilynne Robinson a little late in the day. She has already been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Orange Prize and was long-listed for the Booker with Lila, her fourth book, which I’ve just finished.  By the end of this intense ride into her work, I realized it might have enjoyed it even more if I’d started at the beginning.

Robinson’s last three books has become a trilogy set in the fifties, focused on the Iowan town of Gilead, where John Ames, the preacher, has lived all his life. The first book is a posthumous letter from the elderly John Ames to his young son. The second book is an account of Ames’ friend and godson. We meet all these characters in book three, Lila, which tells the story of Lila, Ames’ wife. 

Lila, perhaps in her thirties, blows into town when Ames is 67 and widowed. She has spent her entire life so far on the road and has no idea even who her father is. There’s a knife hidden down her garter which has its own gruesome story, and she’s living in a little den by the river, where she’s hidden the few pounds in her possession. Ames becomes alive in Lila’s presence and marries her
“I felt as though I recognised you somehow,” he tells Lila. “It was a remarkable experience. It was.” She says: “But you don’t really know nothing about me.” 

 Marilynne Robinson 
Photo: Ulf Andersen
Looking into the photo of Marilynn Robinson, I can see in her face how it is possible that she can write with such a heightened intensity, with the elegance of a poet and the understanding of a philosopher. She has a regal look, which feels both humble and full of humour. That face promises great writing, of depth and breadth, and Lila answers that promise, filling me, as I’ve said, with feelings I could not express in words. Something like longing, perhaps. Something like death and birth. As a Christian, Robinson is a sophisticated thinker. Although this is the story of a fallen woman saved by a minister of the church, there is nothing pious about it. Instead, it is open and subtle and passionate. I can’t guess what the writer meant Lila to be ‘about’, but to me it looks at how we exist in the world for just such a short time, and how our spirits respond to that. 

Anatole Broyard wrote of Robinson in The New York Times: “It’s as if, in writing…she broke through the ordinary human condition with all its dissatisfactions, and achieved a kind of transfiguration.”

Lila is not a book with a complex plot, although its structure is elaborately folded into Lila's past, which Ames does not know about, and the present, which builds a surprising amount of tension out of Lila’s restlessness, now pregnant with her husband’s child. All her life she has survived by keeping society at bay, and still considers running away. “I don’t trust nobody,” Lila says, and Ames replies: “No wonder you’re tired.”

I have been missing something from my life, and that thing is reading Marilynne Robinson. I’m so glad I spotted her on the long list for the Man Booker. How Lila failed to make the transfer to the short list is a puzzle  – the Guardian described it as ‘the biggest surprise’. But I doubt Robinson is unduly worried. For a start, she’s recently been presented with a National Humanities Medal by Barack Obama. For another, she doesn’t look the sort.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Beneath the Tor: A Shaman Mystery

 Thank you, Publisher's Weekly, for the great review of my new book!
Nina Milton. Midnight Ink (, $14.99 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-0-7387-4382-0
At the start of British author Milton’s unsettling third Shaman mystery (after 2014’s Unraveled Visions), a group of 10 people, all “keen to explore shamanism,” climb to the top of Glastonbury Tor to celebrate Midsummer Eve. When Alys Hollingberry, who has been dancing nonstop, suddenly collapses, Sabbie Dare phones emergency services. Another participant says it’s too late (“I saw her spirit go”). On the day of the inquest, Alys’s grieving husband, Brice, receives a strange email (“The Tor needs no sacrifice. The utter waste of blessed life signals doomsday”). It’s signed Morgan le Fay. Since Brice doesn’t want the police involved, he asks Sabbie’s help in identifying Morgan le Fay and figuring out this person’s connection to Alys. Meanwhile, a priest alleges that Alys took drugs during the celebration on the tor that may have led to her death.
 Milton puts an intriguing New Age spin on the traditional English mystery. 
Beneath the Tor is out in December if you live in the US; if you live in the UK you will have to wait until January 2016. But you can order your copy from Amazon now at the pre-order price.
And if you'd like to hear me read from all three of the trilogy, be at The Cellar Bar next Friday the 30th October at 8pm for Cellar Bards

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Diana Cambridge…Secrets of a Writer in Residence

What to wear? 
That shouldn’t be my first concern. But as I pack for my week as Writer In Residence to Sherborne Literary festival – that’s from Wednesday 14 to Sunday 18 October – it’s what I’m thinking. 

Diana Cambridge
The answer? Black! With yellow as an alternative.
Comfortable shoes are a must. So I put my heels in my bag and wear flats up the hill to the Digby Hall in Sherborne. I used to do this as a teenager, as I couldn’t totter to a pub but could nip into the Ladies before anyone saw me and change shoes there.

Princess Michael is one of the speakers at this prestige Litfest: also Victoria Hislop. I plan to squeeze into both of these – one of the lovely elements of WIR is that you can get into events free. The other fantastic bonus is choosing anything you like from their gorgeous café. Last year I’d eaten three hand made chocolate eclairs by 11.a.m most days. The café  - yes, they do wine - is run by Sue Adams, sister of the late author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

My drop-in writing clinic is open each day. You can email work ahead- up to 2000 words – for a critique and make a booking if you want. The festival charge £5 for the one-to-one clinic consultations. It’s money well spent! Several of my previous clinic students have been published. Already I’m working my way through ten pieces of work already submitted. Topics range from spy thrillers to sci-fi to playscripts to nature writing and more.

 I try to avoid dealing with poetry, as I can never think of anything to say about it.

I’m always in awe of the gifted beginners, the talented writers who have never had any training, yet are intuitive about skilful management of words. Also the many writers who complete a whole work without any promise of publication; just relying on their own faith in their work and their market research.  This is one of the signals that mark out the real writer, I think – the discipline to keep going. To finish.

Many good writers succeed on the words side, but haven’t quite worked out the plot or the structure of their material. It’s structure which counts. Your words can be perectly fluent, your descriptive abilities exemplary – but if you haven’t a story, you’re clobbered.

Also basic “holes” in plots can trip you up. Like a daily newspaper journalist, you have to check every fact, ensure that situations are credible. I find that writers often don’t care for this bit. Some fall down on targeting their reader. Writing a novel that has no reader or niche is a bit like creating a product – let’s say edible bow ties at £50 - for a market that doesn’t exist. Maybe that’s not the best example.

My first task as WIR is to set up my room. Most Litfests are run by volunteers, and the more you can do to help them, the better. This includes setting up chairs, clearing space, putting up your posters, meeting and greeting. Although the clinic is billed at 15 minutes per person, most chats go on much longer – if there’s no one waiting I’m happy to do that.

I may have seen students work ahead – or they may really drop in, with ideas. Often what I do is confidence boosting. It’s so easy to lose heart when you’re a writer! Plus, it’s a lonely job and family aren’t often sincere about their interest. 

Dianna with Sue Adams
 sister of the late Doug ( Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
Go to  sherborne literary society for more details
I prepare handouts, booklists and critiques ahead ready for the students. I think it’s essential to have something “to take away” – if they’ve been nice enough to come to see me, I want to give them as much as I can in return.

The atmosphere at Sherborne is energetic (Director is the amazing Judith Spelman) and the talks inspiring. Most events are booked solid: the stage, IT and acoustics are very well organized, which isn’t always the case at some Litfests. 

Some of my drop-ins are returning students, many have achieved some success and need advice on the next step – or they may have hit a roadblock. Winning a big award and then not winning anything for ages can be hard, even lead to depression. It’s a bit like going from MD to office junior. All I can say is to keep trying – if you’ve been successful once, you will be again. That question “What am I doing wrong?” haunts all one-time winners whose success is followed by a long period of rejection. The answer is – you’re not doing anything wrong! “They” are!

Why do we always think it’s us?

I work right through the day and never turn anyone down – if I can’t fit them in instantly, I’ll make a slot for them later. It would be so depressing to drop in at a writing clinic and find there’s no room for you. The advice I give tends to be practical: I can’t bear writing advice that’s too precious. For example, the question: what IS a short story? followed by an hour of heavy academic theory. I sat through one of these once, longing for a Haribo.  

In the evening I may go to Litfest events, and do some work for the next day – I now have an Android. I absolutely love being invited out for a drink. And it’s wonderful not to have to put out the bin bags. Though I often forget anyway.

It's not to late to visit the Sherborne Literary festival
Wednesday 14 to Sunday 18 October.
And there's still time to mail Diana for an appointment.

Friday, 9 October 2015

The Secret Life of Characters…from the weareOCA blogpost

More writing advice from Nina Milton, tutor at the Open College of Arts, about characterization. If you're thinking about doing a writing course, do have a look at this writing blog:

 You want your readers to be driven by emotion as they read, and in fiction it’s the characters who engage that emotion. For this to happen, the reader has to be trapped in a sort of magic…temporarily, he must believe the character is real.

To read more, click on the link; weareoca - the-secret-life-of-characters

Monday, 5 October 2015

The UK Shamanic Gathering
I've been away from my desk. I've been away from my everyday life. I've been on a journey…to Somerset, to the spirit world, to an altered reality of love and light and fun...  

In Dundon, a small village on the Somerset Moors – regular readers will already know how I love those moors – there is a place called Earth Spirit, where an original long barn and farm outbuildings have been turned into a centre for spiritual growth. 
Doris (Rachel) and Nick Breeze Wood

Almost seventy shamans gathered here, to share their love of shamanism. They came from all corners of the UK and beyond, and from many shamanic cultures. Some were young and fresh-faced – some were grey-haired but still keen-witted.

The first thing I was asked to do, as I arrived on Monday afternoon, was sign a glittery homemade 80th birthday card for Leo Rutherford, one of the grand elders of shamanic practice in Britain, and founder of The Eagle’s Wing Centre.  Leo led us in drumming and chanting later on that week, and I had trouble keeping up with his energy levels.

Leo wasn't the only fit, active grizzle-bearded elder. John is still building and re-erecting stone circles (although he admitted he mostly gave directions nowadays), and offers labyrinth workshops too.

And so to our opening ceremony, which set the feel of the gathering wonderfully. First Nick Breeze Wood, the Welsh-based shaman who edits Sacred Hoop magazine, lit Grandfather Fire, calling down the spirits to protect and guide us through our gathering. This fire was kept alight, despite downpours, throughout the four days, and each morning, I’d go across the damp grass to give offerings to it. Grandfather Fire particularly like tobacco, chocolate and leaves soaked in vodka, but seemed also happy to accept scented herbs. We retuned to the barn, and Sika, a musician and artist, took us directly into an altered state of consciousness with the primordial sounds from his range of didjeridoos and other indigenous musical instruments. He played for what must have been hours, seemingly without breath, but it felt like no time…all time. By then it was late at night (for me, anyway!) and I fell into my bed and slept deeply, forgetting all my dreams as they passed by me.

The barn, with Sika
(background of the picture)
At breakfast, the long tables were full of chattering people. You might wonder what shamans talk about over cereal and boiled eggs, and the truth is…everything, of course. Although the shamans are well known for changing their conscious states so that they can enter ‘non ordinary’ reality, most believe it’s important to also keep their feet on the ground. Everyone wanted to communicate with everyone else, sharing and learning and laughing. Something struck me as I chatted to people – the confirmation that there are as many ways to approach this spiritual pathway as there are shaman. I mostly use my shamanic practice to dip into a trance state to find story and character for my writing. Others use it to heal themselves of difficult traumas, or to make sense of  life. Many at the gathering were practitioners; seeking healing and advice from compassionate spirits, on behalf of other people. Spiritual healing is complementary to modern medicine and other therapies and can be the answer to things in our lives that trouble us the most, but which would never respond to prescription pills. And some at the gathering were teachers of shamanic practice, including the organizers, Howard and Elsa, who I’d previously worked under.

Each person at the gathering will have their own favourite moments and memories, and for me, there are three – morning drumming, the Medicine Wheel Workshop and the Storytelling Evening. 

We’d most of us brought our drums, and right throughout the gathering, there was drumming, stomping, chanting and singing. What else would you expect from a bunch of shamans? When Nick Breeze Wood opened the start of that first full day with a burst of communal drumming, instantly, I found myself on a journey. As I drummed in the Earth Spirit Barn, I was also in my grove of trees, with my guardian, Esmeralda. She is an elder, a crone with wrinkled skin, but she is also a mother, who, in the 15 years I’ve worked with her, has constantly suckled a baby to her breast – a tiny, naked boy with golden skin. As I drummed, she plucked the baby from her breast and handed it to me. I was shocked – I didn’t know if I wanted responsibility for a spirit baby, but I guess after 15 years, she might have been a bit tired herself! Over the course of the four days, the Golden Boy grew, until he was, indeed, fifteen, and has become a spirit guide to me in his own right.

I had always wanted to learn more about the medicine wheel. I had a Celtic apprenticeship in shamanism with Caitlan Matthews, so most of the imagery and symbolism I encounter on my shamanic journeys is based around the beliefs of the Ancient Britons, and I wanted to know more about this Native American way of working. Carrie Jost is a healer who uses the medicine wheel in her work. She showed us how it can shift energy – ridding us of bad and shoring up good. She got us all working with these invisible but strongly felt energies. Carrie had created a circle on the barn floor, showing the 8 compass points. We were asked to walk around the outside of the circle, to find a comfortable place in the room. Everyone seemed to find that easy to do, but then we had to find a place of discomfort. I was dubious, but when I reached the south-east, I instantly felt shivery, that sensation one gets when one is about to incubate a cold. I hadn’t believed I would find such a place, but I was standing in it, and despite the fact that there were over 30 people in the group, I was the only person standing at this compass point. Carrie held us in these ‘uncomfortable places’, asking us to send energy around the circle in an 8-pointed star. When the people of the East sent their energy to me, I felt it as the colour of a carnelian crystal, with filled me with courage, and heard a low humming sound that vibrated right at the base of my spine. It warmed me wonderfully. 
Carrie Thomas, a horticulturist and speaker,
 with her crystals and flower essences

The other huge delight for me was the storytelling evening with Andrew Steed. I love myth, legend and fairy tales, and Andrew’s retelling of the story of Tuireann (Tyren), who was magically transformed by a jealous fairy-woman into a wolf-hound held us all spellbound. But it was his ‘reclaimed’ stories that hit the spot with me. No, these ‘reclaimed’ stories aren’t, as I expected, stories found in cobwebbed libraries, or scratched in pictures on the wall of ancient tombs, they are the stories of ourselves, that we hate other people retelling, because they make us blush and duck behind the sofa. To boost our self esteem, Andrew recommends we turn these ‘you’ll never guess what he did’ stories into something that can make our friends laugh with us, instead of at us. I have several reclaimed stories brewing, believe me!

It was a sad moment, on Thursday, when we scraped the ash from the still burning Grandfather Fire, and let him die. But, just as we were getting all pumped up with our grand closing ceremony, Doris arrived in our midst. Doris is a sacred clown. She’s got a bit of a lady-beard, and forgot to take the curlers out of her hair that morning, and was carrying a gaily painted watering can and a microphone that didn’t work (an ongoing joke during the gathering). She read us her rhyming account of the gathering. Sixty-plus shamans doubled up with laughter.Thank you Rachel; Doris successfully pricked our high-flying bubbles and brought us down to earth with a chuckle.

Churchyard Yew, Dundon
To quote Leo Rutherford from his book, Your Shamanic Path (2001, Piaktus)…The struggle to make sense of life in the third-dimensional spacesuit we call a body is as important today as at anytime. One could almost say even more so now that in the ‘developed’ part of the world we are polluting our home planet and upsetting the balance of nature and our atmosphere as never before. We desperately need a path that can bring us back into contact and communion with the primal elemental forces of life...

If you ever go to Dundon, do drop in on the churchyard, as I did, to see the magnificent yew, or walk the surrounding hills and find the iron-age hill-fort. And maybe spend a quiet hour in a nature reserve, listening to and watching the beauty that is our natural world.