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Fiction Guernsey Guernsey Literature Prose Short Stories

Supernatural Tales 41, Autumn 2019

As a horror and weird fiction newbie, I’m delighted to have my first story The Inheritor in Supernatural Tales, edited tirelessly by David Longhorn. My tale is set in Guernsey, and draws on my childhood experiences of living in my Grandparent’s haunted 16th century granite cottage.

The story concerns the return of an exile, a burial and a the return to a haunted house (see above). You’ll be pleased to learn it all ends horrifically. I preface The Inheritor with a quote by Victor Hugo, who lived on the island.

‘Houses resemble those who dwell in them, and can, as it were, die…  These weird looking abodes are not rare in the Channel Islands; all agricultural and seafaring classes have a strong faith in the active agency of Satan.’

Victor Hugo, The Toilers of the Sea

The table of contents has some heavy hitting horror and weird fiction writers. Chuffed to be among them.

  • That the Sea Shall Be Calm by David Surface
  • Pertrichor by Sam Dawson
  • Old Habits by Stephen Cashmore
  • The Sea Man by James Machin
  • Sorrow is the Mother of the World by Jeremy Schiliewe
  • The Inheritor by Peter Kenny
  • No Passage Landward by Steve Duffy.

You can buy your copy of Supernatural Tales here.

Categories
Charity Guernsey Marketing Poetry Travel

Ready for Chad and missing writing poetry

Chad

Final stage of prep seems now to be done. Passport renewed, visa obtained, jabs jabbed (although inconveniently I had a fever when I went for my yellow fever jab so I had to return a few days later) anti-malarial Malerone tablets bought, while my wife has armed me with lots of practical things like wet wipes, hand sanitisers and so on. Final thing to buy is a mosquito net, and I need to locate and deploy my inner hairy-chested man of action.

My inner h-c man of action especially required after a day of compulsory security training. Essentially the training gave you an idea of what to do in every conceivable worst case scenario, delivered by a man who has spent much of his life working in the most hostile environments, bless his white-rimmed eyes. Lots of advice from what to do if you are being robbed (simply give them everything) right up to the best position to take on the floor if someone throws a live grenade into the room. Rather melodramatically a dummy grenade was thrown into our room, prompting us to flatten ourselves on the floor, heads pointed away from the blast. Hardly soothing stuff.

Nevertheless, the script I wrote which we are filming seems to have been approved by everyone, and next week we see how reality matches our expectation. I am hoping we can edge beyond the normal tropes of DRTV and see if we can get something exceptional. Fundraising DRTV advertisements have some rigid but proven conventions so it is definitely about striking a balance between abiding by conventions and managing to surprise people.

Poetry

I’ve not had much chance to engage with poetry over the last few weeks, due being very busy in my Peter Kenny The Writer Ltd mode. This is making me itch to write poems again.

I particularly enjoyed being on the Telltale Stand for the Poetry Book Fair. More than anything I value the chance to get a snapshot of what is going on in poetry in the UK, and also to drift about chatting to some old friends and putting some names to faces. I bought books too. One simply because I liked its name: Infragreen by Kate Bingham, and another because it was connected with Guernsey: Timothy Adès translation of How to be a Grandfather, by Victor Hugo. I spoke with Timothy who had just returned from the Guernsey Literary Festival, and had bumped into Edward Chaney there. I also bought a Carcanet New Poetries IV anthology. I love these Carcanet anthologies. They invite a kind of personal statement of its poets, which is a potential minefield. Some are illuminating while others make me hoot with laughter at their portentous vacuity. All adds to the fun.

Me, Robin Houghton, Siegfried Baber, Sarah Barnsley
Me, Robin Houghton, Siegfried Baber, Sarah Barnsley

My favourite moment on the Telltale stand was when a woman looked at the four free poem postcards we were giving away. Silently she picked up one after another, read the first line or two through her magnifying glass, and replaced the card on its pile with a visible shudder. She came to Sarah Barnsley’s card last, and lo! She regally retained it before moving on. Praise indeed.

In fact Sarah Barnsley’s new pamphlet is just out from TelltaleThe Fire Station contains some truly exceptional poems.When I get back from Chad I will write more about them.

cover-image-FireStation

Categories
Guernsey Guernsey Literature Novels

Victor Hugo and Guernsey

A windblown Victor Hugo in Candie Gardens, Guernsey
A windblown Victor Hugo in Candie Gardens, Guernsey

Having fallen down a flight of stairs two days ago, I have spent a good deal of time on my back applying icepacks to a torn thigh muscle. While trying to write in a horizontal position, I realise that I am feeling homesick for Guernsey.

I’ve been glancing at a translation of Victor Hugo poems by Harry Guest called (fittingly enough) The distance, The Shadows I bought in a second-hand book store recently.  Victor Hugo (1802-85) was exiled on Guernsey between October 1855 and 1870. There is little or nothing explicitly about the island in the Harry Guest translation, but it has made me think about the novel  The Toilers on the Sea (Les Travailleurs de la mer pub. 1866 and set in Guernsey). It is very gothic tale, features a titanic struggle with a giant octopus, stormy seas, and has the temerity to suggesting that Guernsey is a rather spooky place.

Gilliat lived in Saint Sampson, where he was far from popular. For this there was a reason. In the first place, he lived in a ‘haunted house’. In the country parts of Jersey and Guernsey – sometimes in the towns—you find a house the entrance to which is quite blocked up. Holly-bushes choke the door, whilst ugly planks are nailed across the windows. The glass in the window-frames of the upper storeys has been broken, and the frames look gaunt and hideous. In the back yard, the grass has sprouted up between the stones, and the wall is broken down in many places. If there be a garden, it is overgrown with nettles, and thornbushes; whilst insects of strange appearances about in it. The chimneys are ready to fall, and in palces the roof has given way. The rooms through the shattered casements show a scene of ruin and desolation; the woodwork is worm eaten, and the stone decayed. The paper hangs fromt he wall in strips, one overlapping the other, and disclosing the various periods at which they have been affixed. Long cobwebs, choked with innumerable flies, show the undisturbed empire of generations of spiders. Fragments of broken crockery can be noticed on the shelves. It is not unreasonable to suppose such houses to be haunted; and it is believed that the Prince of Darkness pays them nocturnal visits.

Houses resemble those who dwell in them, and can, as it were, die. The breath of superstition is the destruction of the dwelling; then it has a terrible aspect. These weird-looking abodes are not rare in the Channel Islands; all agricultural and seafaring classes have strong faith in the active agency of Satan.

Victor_Hugo-Octopus
Victor Hugo’s octopus with his ‘VH’ initials in its tentacles.

While my personal experience of several spooky things on the island, means I will happily suspend my disbelief and enjoy such passages, this sort of thing is played down on the island. Typical is David Shayer in Victor Hugo in Guernsey (Guernsey Historical Monograph No 21. Published by the Toucan Press, Guernsey, C.I. 1987), objects from a Guernsey perspective:

Hugo’s depiction of the islanders generally has not been all that enthusiastically endorsed by their descendants. One wonders how close he came to ordinary life. Certainly he amassed a wealth of detail concerning island customs and sea matters by talking to knowledgeable individuals, but this was of the nature of research rather than of first-hand experience. Some of the Guernsey surnames are correct—Tostevin, Mauger, Brouard – but the islanders tend to appear as French Frenchmen rather than as Guernsey Frenchmen, and the unusual combination of French ancestry and English loyalty seems to have baffled him somewhat…. While it can be said with certainty that there was no small degree of superstition in Guernsey at the beginning of the 19th century, it is unfortunate that Hugo gives the impression in his opening chapters that the island was universally riddled with it to the exclusion of every other attitude.

It is the opening chapters that I most like, however, and make me feel most homesick. David Shayer was right in that Hugo’s characters are definitely Frenchmen in Guernsey jumpers.

If you happen to find yourself in Guernsey, Hauteville House, where Hugo lived, is a fascinating place to visit.

Victor Hugo arrives at Guernsey

The Expulsion of Victor Hugo, by Jean Le Pelley, which originally appeared in the Transactions of La Society Guernesaise for 1970. Contains this glimpse into Victor Hugo’s arrival on Guernsey during a storm. I love this portrayal of the great man’s trunk with all his writings being in such jeopardy. In this description Le Pelly quotes Victor Hugo’s son, François-Victor Hugo (known as Tòto) who wrote an account called Normandie Inconnue.

We looked back to where Jersey must be. Indeed we could just see under the cloud the line of the coast floating on the waters. It slid away and disappeared. We saw another line glowing in the darkness ahead… It was Guernsey! … against the raging sea our steamer forged ahead, and an hour or so later slowed up, and then halted, in front of a faery like town, picturesquely staged up steep hill slopes… With its old Norman Roofs, with the proud Gallic cock on its church spire, Saint Pierre Port has indeed an air of home for us French refugees, which is indeed irresistible. The very name is a Welcome; remember that Saint Peter keeps the doors of Paradise!

Now all my father’s precious manuscripts were in one huge trunk which he could not bear to let out of his sight. In the kind of weather we were suffering it was a terrible decision, that of entrusting all these unpublished masterpieces to a little cockle shell of a boat… Father had to decide to gamble twenty years of work and hand it over to the caprice of the waves. He took that chance.

And we climbed down to the boat that waited at the foot of the gangway, swinging ten foot up to us and ten foot away from us with each wave. Two burly matlows slung the trunk carelessly down, and perched it on the bows of the boat, with no more concern that they would have done with a bale of cotton or a basket of cod.

It was dreadful–for some minutes the trunk wobbled on the breakers… I could see the Contemplations disappearing under ten foot of water. But luckily there is a Providence which watches over Poets. Though the storm raged fiercely, more fiercely than ever, we landed safely on the quay.

Categories
Guernsey Literature

Literature in Guernsey – an untold story

I have been working towards creating an Anthology of literature about Guernsey, as I believe the island’s best kept secret is its literary tradition.

I think there are three sources of this literature. The first that written by Guernsey people about their own island (such as G.B. Edwards The Book of Ebenezer Le Page). The second would be derived from those who have discovered Guernsey (such as Victor Hugo) and the third would be literature of the Guernsey diaspora – the work of exiles.

Literature about the island has never been collected with imagination and authority. Thankfully there have been heartening artistic initiatives on the island in the last year or so, which have begun to offer more stimulus to Guernsey’s cultural life.

The current wider economic uncertainty means that Guernsey’s tourism industry may become even more important. I’ve proposed to Guernsey Arts that an imaginative and professional anthology of Guernsey literature could be a real asset to the island, and have long term benefits for Guernsey as a whole.

Here’s why:

  • Guernsey already captures the imaginations of people around the world. For I have been using Twitter in the last few weeks to search for mentions of Guernsey on the Internet. More than half of what is being said about Guernsey, in this planet-wide snapshot, was about the recent novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. Literature is a window on the world for the island.
  • Literature about Guernsey is a great untapped natural resource. To visit a place, you first have to visit it in your imagination. If successful, an anthology of Guernsey literature could stimulate tourism and support the local economy. As this anthology aims to include material from people of the Guernsey diaspora, which makes it a book stuffed with reasons to visit or revisit the island.
  • Literature about Guernsey is an uncharted region. This anthology should contribute both arts and education in Guernsey. Having an idea of what got us to this point culturally will help the Island move forward with a clearer sense of its own identity.
  • There’s never been a better time to express Guernsey’s vitality and culture. At a time of globalisation, it is vital to retain Guernsey’s unique selling points. Until now its literature is a tool which has not been employed.

Signs thus far have been positive. Watch this space.

Literature in Guernsey – an untold story

I have been working towards creating an Anthology of literature about Guernsey, as I believe the island’s best kept secret is its literary tradition.

I think there are three sources of this literature. The first that written by Guernsey people about their own island (such as G.B. Edwards The Book of Ebenezer Le Page). The second would be derived from those who have discovered Guernsey (such as Victor Hugo) and the third would be literature of the Guernsey diaspora – the work of exiles.

Literature about the island has never been collected with imagination and authority. Thankfully there have been heartening artistic initiatives on the island in the last year or so, which have begun to offer more stimulus to Guernsey’s cultural life.

The current wider economic uncertainty means that Guernsey’s tourism industry may become even more important. I’ve proposed to Guernsey Arts that an imaginative and professional anthology of Guernsey literature could be a real asset to the island, and have long term benefits for Guernsey as a whole.

Here’s why:

  • Guernsey already captures the imaginations of people around the world. For I have been using Twitter in the last few weeks to search for mentions of Guernsey on the Internet. More than half of what is being said about Guernsey, in this planet-wide snapshot, was about the recent novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. Literature is a window on the world for the island.
  • Literature about Guernsey is a great untapped natural resource. To visit a place, you first have to visit it in your imagination. If successful, an anthology of Guernsey literature could stimulate tourism and support the local economy. As this anthology aims to include material from people of the Guernsey diaspora, which makes it a book stuffed with reasons to visit or revisit the island.
  • Literature about Guernsey is an uncharted region. This anthology should contribute both arts and education in Guernsey. Having an idea of what got us to this point culturally will help the Island move forward with a clearer sense of its own identity.
  • There’s never been a better time to express Guernsey’s vitality and culture. At a time of globalisation, it is vital to retain Guernsey’s unique selling points. Until now its literature is a tool which has not been employed.

Signs thus far have been positive. Watch this space.