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9 December 2005
The speaker opened by saying he wanted to write a fictional journey through the mythic landscape of England and never intended to write a novel set in the 1920s. His intention was to write an ‘Earth Mystery - my initial inspiration being the grandfather of modern geomancy Alfred Watkins’. He was fascinated by the fluctuation between fact and fiction. This uncertainty in reality was to be his territory. He set out to navigate the interface between the mythic and the mundane, with the intention of underlying the narrative with mythic structure. In this case the Egyptian Myth of ‘Isis and Osiris. Maud’s journeys through memory, and associations in search of ‘Pieces ‘of her lost husband were in fact pieces of her own lost soul. Isambard her husband becomes ‘Lord of the Dead’, the Wind Smith. Anubis in the guise of Nubi the dog is Maud’s totemic guide through the underworld she must go through to find meaning in her life once more.
The speaker then gave a research list, which included his mother and father’s past, and visits and walks to the following:
The Long Man of Wilmington.
The White Horse of Uffington.
The Glastonbury Tor.
Meeting an eccentric ‘shaman’ with two staves at Stanton Drew stone circle.
A day walk, along the Wansdyke.
A four-day walk, along the Ridgeway.
He also visited ‘Anthem For a Doomed Youth’ exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.
He showed us his own drawings of these sites. After a visit to Glastonbury Tor he wrote the chapter entitled ‘Hollow Hill.’
Explaining the origins of the title, the speaker said it was inspired by ‘The Long Man Of Wilmington’ on the Sussex downs, ‘The Long Woman’ being the Eve figure who once graced the Downs providing a partner for ‘The Long Man’.
The ongoing revelation of Maud’s memories reveal the imperfections of their marriage, Isambard’s learning to love, and relegate his obsession with the mythology of landscape second to his relationship with Maud. The Long woman was also a metaphor for the Suffragette movement. This was not about women’s phallic envy, but about the fructifying energy of the chymical wedding of feminine and masculine balance within all of us. Kevan chose to write in the third person rather than the first to create a ghostly observer, or absence of God in the wake of WW2. Although he found it comfortable writing from Isambard’s point of view, as his alter ego, Maud initially just a counterpart, began to take over and it became her bereavement and struggle. The chapter quotes emphasise Maud as an English teacher and helped set the scene of each chapter.
The speaker studied his mother as the long woman, having seen her crippled by agoraphobia and depression mourning for a lost brother, mother and husband. He wanted to explore this underworld journey of the dark night of the soul. Like the visual artist, Kevan was interested in the spaces in between, and to him this was perfectly symbolised by the chalk giant of the ‘Long Man of Wilmington’ who stands between two poles, or holds open the doorway to the unknown. The Reverend Burrows explained the tale of the Wind Smith and his folk origin thus:
The Monks of Wilmington, having built their Priory needed a windmill to grind the corn. Because, their first windmill would not function they reluctantly summoned the elusive Windsmith named Drew who carried a sighting staff in each hand. Using these staffs he found a site for the relocation of the windmill, where it would work effectively. The New Prior hated the Windmill and saw it and the Windsmith as symbolic of the devil. He therefore turned to Bishop Boniface to expel the evil spirit of Drew. Boniface activated the sales of the new windmill with his golden crozier but the sales would not stop when the striking rod was pulled out, for the curse of Drew was still on them, and the mill was in danger of burning down. Then Drew appeared from Windover Hill. Boniface was now driven to bargain with the windsmith and said,‘ remove your curse and I will make sure you are remembered long after we are all dust’. The Windsmith stopped the windmill and put out the fire, then disappeared over the Downs never to be seen again. When the Windmill had been repaired, Boniface ordered the monks to cut out of the turf of Windover Hill the shape of the Windsmith with his two staves, which was then outlined in the chalk beneath, and there it stands to this day.
Maud’s space, in between, is the emptiness of a husband-less, child-less depression where God has died, leaving her on Matthew Arnold’s ‘naked shingles of the world’. The speaker compared this to the aftermath of the WW2, and the lost generation of poets, artists and writers. He quoted Robert Graves’ reported death and how he came back from oblivion when so many did not. His death and resurrection was a classic shamanic initiation. He becomes the Wind Smith who can walk between the worlds. Isambard’s fate mirrors this.
The speaker sees Isambard’s death not as the end but as a new journey. So Isambard lives on as the ‘walking dead’, a zombie, trapped in limbo by Maud’s inability to grieve or release him.
When dealing with the fantastical and particularly the supernatural the speaker said he used real people and places he had experienced, to give ‘verisimilitude’ to the text.
If the novelist starts as the ‘blind watchmaker’ creating his world intuitively, by the end of the process he has regained his sight, and nothing can be done by chance anymore. Small details at the beginning of the novel can gain great significance by the end.
‘The Long Woman (Awen, 2004) was funded by the Arts Council, England
The discussion was very productive, and it was also instructive to compare the attitude of Kevan Manwaring with other writers who have spoken here.
The convenor opened the discussion by asking the speaker which road he would take in his next book. At the end of Long Woman the writer and we are left with two alternatives either to follow Maud into her new lesbian relationship with Rose, a very modern theme about women but of interest to men, or to pursue Isambard into the Orphean Underworld of phantasy. Interestingly, Kevan made it quite clear that although his next book was to be about the man and masculinity it would not be a man’s book but would follow the path of Isambard into phantasy leaving Maud to write her script from the ‘tabula rasa of her own journal’, as he put it. Isambard’s course would be in limbo at the interface between the Orphean and the real, as Maud’s had been between a real empty Godless world and a mythical prehistoric landscape. What was for him the space between the staves of the Long Man of Wilmington was also the interstice between all apparent paradoxes. This included sexuality, which far from being polarised, was a duality present in all. For man, the muse was his anima, usually the beautiful woman devoted to his creative needs in all respects. But for the woman who required an animus her need was less clear and less gender specific, by some seen as the shadowy demon lover or impaired Byronic hero. The speaker saw WW2 as an impasse of destructive masculinity in contrast to the feminised world of dreams and spirituality. Such an interface also existed between Art & Science. The speaker said he was interested in multiple worlds as in Pullman’s Northern Lights. The conflict was between reality and imagination, between the right brain and the left.