Welcome to Steampunk’d Lancaster my dears! I am Mrs Baker, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. My soup kitchen is rather quiet now for the summer, Max and Collin and all the little street urchins are out selling Lemonade, everyone else seems to be off on their holidays and things are overly quiet around the bakery. Nevermind, it gives me a chance to go through all the lovely postcards I have been receiving – although some appear to be mis-directed and others seem to be from dimensions I have never even heard of! Still, it is very nice to have mail, let us see now what have we got in the letter box today… oh it’s from my dear friend Elen Sentier…
Well, here I am, two hundred and fifty feet above the sea, on the edge of a vertical cliff. Gulls and jackdaws call overhead, a few kittiwakes perched on the cliff opposite, a seal playing down in the water below. Oh how inviting that water looks, all I have to do is step off the edge and I’d been down there, in the water, swimming with her. Well, actually, no – I’d bounce off a whole bunch of scary-looking pointy rocks on the way down, minced nicely for shark food, expect the basking sharks hereabouts are plankton-eaters. Hmmm! Perhaps I won’t do that then!
I adore this place up on the cliffs of North Cornwall. I love that it’s hidden too, you can’t see it as you come up the path and in fact the path goes right on past, you have to deliberately turn off, go a different way, when you get to Firebeacon Hill. I did and sat awhile on the bench at the top, then slithered and skidded my way down the steep slope on the baked earth and slippery dry grass. Breathless, I sat in the cool shadow of the cliff for a few moments, it always gets my heart going doing that skid-walk! Then there’s climbing through the hole …
Lady’s Window is a huge hole in the rockface that stands up at the edge of the cliff. I don’t know enough about geology to tell you why or how it does this, it looks incredible. From the top you think if you climb through you’ll just crash down the rocks and into the sea below, but you don’t. you can climb through the hole onto a path, quite a wide path considering, where you can walk out along the outer side of the cliff for twenty or thirty feet. Ha! Walk! No, I crawl. I have a lousy head for heights but a complete fascination with them.
So I creep through the hole, clutching at the rock, and out crawl onto the path. I go a little way along and sit down with my back to the rock wall. That feels safe, my heart calms down and I begin to be able to take in the views.
Only the sounds of nature out here, birds, the wash and thud of the sea on the cliff below, the wild mewl of a seal. A small sail-boat scuds along the horizon, looks like a little fishing boat, not fancy enough for a holiday-maker’s yacht, maybe he’s out for lobster pots.
The sun is going down, falling down the sky to go to bed in the sea. This is what I came for. Not long now. Down and down he goes until he’s just sat on the edge of the horizon, sending a red-gold pathway back to Lady’s Window and the cliff where I’m sat. It’s so tempting to step out and walk that sun-path.
Later the full moon will rise and, later still, she will set out there in the west following the sun down into the sea. As she goes she too will make a pathway across the water, a moon bridge across to West-Over-the-Sea, our fairy lands and the Isles of the Dead, the lost lands that only emerge out of the sea at certain times. They will be there tonight. Will I walk the moon path? I don’t know but, for now, I pull the quilt over me and stuff myself inside the bivi-bag. It’s good to sleep in the sound of the sea. Wish you were here …
Lady’s Window features in Moon Song, Elen’s 2nd novel. It’s where Isolde, the protagonist, sets out from to find the dead Tristan and bring him back so he can finish his magical songs. It’s a really magical place where Elen spends some time every year.
Moon Song is a magical-realism mystery novel set in modern-day Cornwall. Isolde must find folk singer Tristan who killed himself before he finished a set of magical songs that help people heal. She succeeds but when she takes him back to the Isles of the Dead, where he can now rest in peace, she gets trapped there herself. Only courage and the willingness to literally jump of a cliff will save her.
How delightful! Well we’re coming to the end of summer now my dears, I hope you’ve had a wonderful holiday yourselves and enjoyed our series of steampunk summer postcards, as the weather starts to turn again and the Lemonade Trade begins to fizzle out for another year Max and Collin will be found fending off Liver Birds and Landlords in their subterranean parlour once more so do pop in and join them for their monday morning cuppa and tuesday elevenses, I will be opening up my soup kitchen again and looking out for some marvelous steampunk authors to help me dish up tasty soup and share their new books with our little Lancastrian street urchins, and of course our grumpy ghost Perilous Wight will be back in his lovely library with some splendid steampunk fiction to share with you all so, until then
Blessings on your brew my dears!
Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!
Helping me this morning is author and Awenydd (or Spirit-Keeper) Elen Sentier. Good morning Elen, thank you so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today! Can I offer you a cup of tea?
Lapsang Souchong, please, straight, no milk. Unless you happen to have Bruichladdich single malt ???
I’m afraid I don’t touch alcohol Elen, it’s my husband Albert who is the drinker. Now here is your tea my dear…
Thankyou Mrs Baker, I wonder if we’re related? My aunt was Ida Baker who kept the sacred well in the village on the edge of Exmoor where I grew up; it was in the wall between her garden and ours, still there and still revered. She was a darling, and so was her magical gardener-husband, Uncle Perce, she gave me seedy cake and strawberries when I got in trouble at home when I was a wee kiddie J, and Uncle Perce taught me about talking with plants and bees.
They both sound marvellous Elen, you know I do think it’s possible we could be connected in some way, although I have never been to Exmore I’m afraid, it was my Mother’s job to guard Pendle before me, and I had never set foot outside it until the pirates came and kidnapped me…
BTW, I’m really sorry to hear about the treacle (and the sprats!). Just down the road from me is, I think, the only pub in the country called The Treacle Mine. Wish they could have done that with you, a much better idea z|a.
Oh we do have treacle mines at Sabden and Chobham, but you’re right it was a dreadful waste of confectionary, I do wish they had used some of the dreadful ‘standard issue tinned soup’ the government forces upon us all instead…
Oh yes, the soup for the orphans! … well, goodness me, there’s so many. When it’s the season, I just love tomato soup and it’s so simple to do. You need a good wallop of ripe tomatoes, the ones with that fabulous smell, a big bunch of fresh basil, and you can either use olive oil or good butter, butter gives it an extra sweetness. You need a good, heavy-bottomed pot to make it in.
Chop the basil really fine so all its scented oils are released. Chop the tomatoes small, and heat up the oil or butter, not boiling but good and hot. Take the pot off the heat, put half the chopped basil into it and swish it about to scent up the oil/butter, then add all the tomatoes and put back on the heat. Don’t have the heat up high or you’ll burn rather than cook. Keep stirring the mix as this helps the flavours to seep through. When the tomatoes look/taste/feel ready take the pot off the heat and allow it to sit for at at least an hour to steep further.
When you want to eat, heat up the pot again but don’t boil, keep stirring and watching, as soon as it’s ready pour it into heated bowls and Bob’s your uncle J. I like to eat it with some fresh sourdough bread and good unsalted butter, and maybe a bit of grated cheese … Yummmm !
Oh how delicious, there is nothing better than good homemade tomato soup (it knocks the socks of the tinned variety every time!) Now while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t you have a seat here by the fire. I hope your journey to our dimension was a good one?
Not too bad at all, got a bit bumpy flying over the M6, the turbulence there can be frightful, damned near fell off me broom and the cat got sick! But we’re all fine now, that cuppa you gave me sorted things.
Oh dear, the poor cat, I’m glad he is feeling better now though. Elen it is so lovely to meet another woman who deals in spiritual matters, here in Ire it is absolutely forbidden and I have to do all my work in secret which is a dreadful strain. Now why don’t I put the kettle on and you can tell me a little more about the work that you do ?
Another cuppa would go down grand, and the cat would love a saucer of milk now, says his stomach can handle it. We, he and me, don’t have quite the same problems you seem to have up here, not down in the Welsh Marches. It’s a lovely twilight land, between two countries and between two worlds, where the Faer folk are very happy to come and play with me and the students. I always have some students to pass on the work to, the old ways, and it’s such a lovely spot for writing too.
It sounds wonderful. I have had the very great pleasure of reading some of your books, including your newest release; Merlin – past and future Wizard, oh is that a copy you have with you there?
Yes, indeed, would you like it? I thought you might so I brought one along. Hmm … Merlin … well he and I’ve been friends all my life. Dad it was who introduced us, Dad’d known him too, when I was nought but a baby, and I began to find out about him through the stories. Where I live now is one of the places he was born and lived, we have our own Merlin-story but here we call him Dyfrig (you say it Duvrigg) which means water-baby because of how he got born.
I had heard a little about this Merlin figure from your world and thought him to be a fascinating mythical character but your book goes beyond these myths to show us a Merlin who we can engage with within the context of our daily lives doesn’t it?
Well yes, he’s not an academic construct and certainly doesn’t fit into those boxes. He really does want to get known again, to make friends with as many people as want to know him because he really can, and will, help us through this enormous crisis the Earth is going through.
He wants to know people – when they want to know him. He comes as a friend, an older and more experienced friend who has walked the path far longer than any of us humans. But he comes as a guide not someone who expects either worship or rule-book following. He works with each of us in ways we can do best. All we need to do is ask him. I say “all” but I do know how hard that can be, because we’re no longer encouraged to believe and work with our intuition, nor are we taught how to know it from our personal wants and desires. That’s part of what we learn with Merlin.
It seems that Merlin is a figure who can guide and influence us no matter what age we are living in but are the old stories as important as the new?
Yes, indeed. Merlin is just what the book-title says – the once and future wizard. He has been with us here on Earth since time out of mind, and he will be as long as the Earth still orbits the Sun. And, it seems to me from my lifelong experience with him, that he was around in the universe long before the Earth was formed and will be still after she’s gone. That makes him always here, always available to help … whenever we ask. And the old stories are still as important as the new. Our old ways are what I call “and/and” rather than “either/or”, they’re inclusive not exclusive. We are our personal selves and, at the same time, we are our spirit selves, the two are not exclusive, they happen at the same time – we call it walking between worlds.
Everyone’s spirit-life is always evolving. Nothing is ever set in tablets of stone, it’s always growing and adapting to where and when we are at this instant, so new stories are needed to fit with who we are now. But the old stories still fit too – if you read them properly and don’t try to dumb them down into whatever your “normal-box” is. Stories are one of the very basic ways humans learn and pass on wisdom to each other, and always have. Recent research has shown that our stories – the ones they’ve worked with – go back at least to the Bronze Age, that’s maybe 5,000 years ago! The old stories show us how to be, how to behave, how things really are, and how to relate with otherworld, as well as how to travel there. But we, and our stories, are as riddling and contrary as Zen, if not more so. To get the point, understand them, you need to spend time with the stories learning how to feel into them rather than trying to translate them into what you already know. After all, what’s the point of doing that? !!!
Throughout the book this dynamic, engaging (at times quite seductive) spirit of Merlin urges us to take up that liminal space between past and present and truly live ‘in the moment’… that is a very big challenge isn’t it, especially with all the pressures and insecurities of modern life?
Chuckle! Yes, he can be very seductive! That way of living, engaging all the time with the liminal, is very challenging for many modern folk. We’re so heavily caught up in the shibboleths of how we should be, according to the adverts on TV, politics, political correctness and all that crap! And it’s so scary for most people to dare to break out. This is the first hurdle my students have to get themselves over, and they do it too but it can be like ripping your skin off, like a snake shedding its skin. And getting used to the fact (yes, fact!) that otherworld completely permeates your everyday world is a huge step, but it does, and the students discover this for themselves with my help. That’s really important too, I do Merlin’s job in little, at my own small level, because I’ve walked the path a bit longer than my students. You always need that, someone you can really get on with who’s been doing it longer than you. That’s what being apprentice is about.
The Merlin I felt as I read your book, Elen, seemed to be firmly planted in the modern man-made world, but at the same time you show us his continuing rootedness in nature and the history of the land, do you think it is important that Merlin is able to straddle these, sometimes so opposing, spaces?
Oh yes, he’s the threshold, the doorway, the place between that connects us across the worlds. And he’s in the here-n-now with us just as much as in the “past”. An example – he called one of my students on her mobile phone last autumn on the workshop! LOL, it was hairy for her but she got it, worked with it and grew herself enormously as a result. And it made me smile. We too often want to get into the cutesy fantasy-stuff rather than reality, and Merlin’s all about reality. He’s in every particle of our Earth’s body as well as being with us in our everyday modern world – and/and again. Try this ancient picture of the goddess/god, it’s on a gold brooch from the La Teine culture …
Do you get it? The one head is the other but turned upside-down! And/and yet again J. One interpretation of this is Vivien and Merlin as lady and lord, the pairs of opposites which make the whole. We’ve forgotten that. We’re taught to think that things are “opposing” when in reality they’re two sides of one coin. We need to change this attitude and Merlin will help us with that. Being a threshold is how he does it. Come to me he says, step through me, now look back and I’m still here but different, the same but different. It’s a bit like light which is both particles and waves at the same time!
Your book was such an enlightening read, Elen, and I really feel I could pick your brains all day about this subject but I know you must be off soon, you have a talk to prepare for in London is that correct?
I do indeed. I’m doing an illustrated talk for Earthstars Sacred Space, at Steiner House in London on 24th Feb, and need to get on it J. It’s about Merlin and his relevance for us today too. If you want to come here’s the link https://www.facebook.com/events/1839244072988715/
Oh marvellous, I shall certainly try to come along, even if I cannot do the dimension hop in person I will try to tune in with Max and Collin’s Spirit Radio, it picks up most things from your world. Well thank you so much for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, Elen, it’s been wonderful to chat with you and I must say that soup smells delicious. I think it must be about ready and the little urchins have their rosy noses pushed up against the glass in anticipation so shall we start dishing it up?
Yummm! Let me give you a hand …
Wonderful, thankyou. I hope you will all join me in the kitchen next week when Steampunk author Liz Hennessy will be dropping in to give me a hand and talk about her book Grogory’s Gadget. Until then,
Blessings on your brew my dears!