Sometimes we don't realise we've forgotten who we are until the wind calls our oldest name.
It deposits a certain taste under our tongue, a phantom smell makes our synapses fire wildly. Our feet begin a quest without our brain knowing their intent or destination. The feeling leads us up old paths, to a book, a person, a letter, a relic and within that message, that happening, we find the next step upon the road that takes us back to our most authentic self, who we discover we lost somewhere down the forest roads long ago.
This, what I have said above, is the essential assumption of narrative. That we happen in a world that happens back, that happens to us sometimes and a story is formed when we learn to happen together with both that which seems to oppose and that which seems to co-incide with our will. The sorcery of meaning is performed, magic happens when we learn to perceive the narrative shape in our own unfolding days.
This is what The Haunted Books are. An externalisation of that process. A message in a bottle. A love letter, sent out into the void, seeking a return echo. They got started as a magical experiment. Or perhaps that word is too cold? They got started as an involuntary magical reflex that eventually became less of a wail and found a harmonious note, a voice in which to write a biography of longing.
But also an experiment. In that way that the mind can in part detach from process and intent and observe, in certain moments of lucid grace. An experiment to see if it was possible to 'story' certain events into being, but as with all strong egregores they acquired a life of their own, manifesting in the real world in unpredictable ways.
These books have become a tissue of inter-connective dreams, that set out with their own feet, looking for certain places, certain people, certain half-forgotten connective tissues. Once found those people in turn influenced the work. The story is no longer mine but ours...
In the sense of which they occupy space in the imaginal realm the Haunted Books are a criss-crossing narrative consisting of three series of novels about the lives of three different people, living in three very different eras and situations. Christopher, a middle-class young man from Wiltshire, England in the 21st century. Lux the daughter of a land-owning petty nobleman of the early 12th century. And Henry, son of Irish immigrants living in 19th century Van Diemens Land.
At first it appears their stories have little in common beyond some themes. Their lives are all faerie-touched, in contact with witchcraft. The Haunted Books are about how threads of one narrative extends into another between eras, nations, lives... In a way (in the partially detached whilst passionately involved way I've mentioned above) they are also a puzzle. A riddle of sorts. A question that the right person has an answer to, or indeed, is the answer.
The Haunted Books are about how we Find The Others, even at great odds, even across time and distance and on the other side of the unsurmountable mountains of loss which we somehow surmount... The Haunted Books are a cry into the darkness, a wolf's howl across an empty tundra, looking for its fellows...
Join our story, enter anywhere, all doors lead to the same labyrinth filled with mirrors, but beware, things that happen in The Haunted Books reverberate off the page at times, and you may discover you're no longer just an observer. That you have become a participant in a grand working of a kind you only partially know. As yet.
Or maybe it will just be a good old tale, a yarn around the campfire. Either way, you are invited to join us.
Each morning Henry watches the rag and bone man move with the fog up Macquarie Street. As he does, he tries to place what kind of fairytale he’s living in and what character is he? As an Irish Catholic in Tasmania, believed to be a changeling, there are no pre-fabricated answers for him. Through his synesthetic senses tumble a 1860’s rioting with superstition, laced thick with the specters and thought-jetsam of Old Hobart Town.
The barrister’s son Arthur appears one day while Henry’s watches for the rag and bone man. When they are together Henry learns the air tastes like ozone. Life is dandelion yellow, mortar-cracking its way through the cobbled paths of gossip and hypocrisy. A dance of swords begins around their transformative and effulgent friendship. Through this arterial-deep connection Henry will learn he is the rag and bone man, a collector of thought rags, a player upon hollow bones.
Henry and Arthur find themselves at the door of Martha, former flash mob girl and convict. They learn that ‘witch’ is what powerful men call a woman who scares them, and devil is the name for their discomfort. Her ribald tutelage takes Henry to the crossroads to play the devil for no lesser prize than his sanity. Along this crooked path they meet the spiritualist Clara. The stakes become ever greater, as the straitjacket of public opinion switches to a chokehold. How far outside the boundaries of town, church and law dare they walk together?
Henry’s fairytale, at times a monstertale, is about the outliers, the unfinished business, the people who get lost behind the suspension dots, the silenced ones whose stories all have times that come. If you choose to walk with the rag and bone man into the belly of Hobart’s dreaming life, strange is a place and we’re headed to it.
The Rag and Bone Man represents my first Australian novel and could be considered my first contribution to the Tasmanian Gothic genre, but also a homage to the New Sincerity. Whilst containing a certain supernatural flavour there is an open question around this work whether the events described represent actual objective reality, or the workings of the protagonists enflamed psyche. For this reason I consider this my first literary book, one that seeks to grapple with what the Tasmanian author Christopher Koch called the 'invisible race who are part of that hidden life: people who are different from those in the ordinary world.'
'Everything must happen when the rag and bone man comes back to town. Bring out your bones! Bring out your dead! Bring out your momento mori’s and your dolls with missing eyes! Bring out the abortions of your life history! The bits that didn’t fit together properly. The essential parts of yourself you put up for sale when desperate, but have never stopped trying to buy back...'
In The Rag and Bone Man this other, hidden life, of the city of Hobart in the 1850's walks dizzily along the lines between vision and metaphor, madness and magic, sincerity and self-consciousness.
'The goblin man had crept up into my hideout, dragging me up the stairs of the cheap guesthouse and through the complicity of my human flesh, already partly of the goblin nature, injected me with his venom. Now as I sweated and twitched my dreams were absinthe fumed, murky green and venal. My spirit did combat inside every cell in my body, fighting for my life against the smallpox spirit and the yellow cholora mist. I fought for the right to the inviolate light I carried in my heart, sparked from a pure source in the land far across the Westward seas… In my body I must convert this poison, the diseases of my age, and make them work for me, or I would be consumed by the spreading nothing of modernity.
Sometimes while I fought for dominion over myself I would wake soaked in dank sweat and scrawl words that came up from the dreg places. The words crawled out of the laudanum bottles and the wet tunnels of the city that dripped with chthonian echoes. I was down near the stews, you see. Near the tailend of the rivulet in Wapping, just above where the abattoirs voided the blood and shit-tubes of animals straight into the life-vein of the town.
The words were my rudder among the echoing cobblestones, dog carcasses and fetid dreams of poverty. When I was conscious I stared at the words as if they could nail down reality. As if the shifting threads, the code behind the universe’s apparent outward form, were being nailed into place by my words at a nowl point.
But my words are running together with those of others now. That’s what happens when you start to die, all the hard edges of your individuality wear away like the hole through a hag stone. With it what was unique about your voice is sucked up into a vortex of rushing sound that clammers with the static force of the unspoken words of millions.'
Wooing the Echo and the Christopher Penrose Novels
This book and the subsequent series that has followed me ever since,was conceived during a trip back to the UK when I was twenty-one years of age, not much older than the protagonist, Christopher. What this has meant is that, as the other books of the series have been written, Christopher and I have grown up together, both as people and occultists. Looking back at that time from over a decade later I realise that what I still find so powerful about this book, even though I've grown so much as a writer since then, is it addresses those questions and discontents that have echoes throughout life. Those same nagging feelings of wanting more, of yearning for a life more majestic, finer, more intense... These are longings that reverberate, that come and go like waves of the sea throughout the human life cycle, just as prevalent at middle age and beyond as they were at the tender age of twenty-one.
The cover art that has gone into giving the Christopher Penrose series its distinctive appearance, each one featuring items from folk and grimoire tradition magic relevant to the plot of each book was photographed by Rebecca Flynn, with photoshop and fonts by Brett Morgan.
Lily sighed. Maybe she just didn’t really believe it yet? There was a kind of provisional belief in Lily, as if she was playing a game she really enjoyed and didn’t bother to think too much about the truth. “You really fully believe in this, don’t you? The whole thing? Life after life, prophesised children and saviours…”
Seth sighed. He sounded tired again. It was why she couldn’t help starting to believe him, the feeling of age he had about him. “There’s a process of belief you walk with magic. Step one is disbelief with a lurking sensation behind it that the thing requires further investigation. Step two is you investigate and see some of the most beautiful things you’ve ever felt or seen and you no longer care whether it’s true or not, because you don’t want to live in a world where what you just saw isn’t true. You’d have the illusion of magic over the reality of non magic if you had to, so truth becomes a non question.”
Lily nodded to herself. She recognised this as where she was at.
“Around step three you pass into a hazy kind of provisional truth, where you accept the possibility that it’s all real, like really, really real. But it’s step four that’s the real kicker…”
“What happens during step four?”
“That’s when something happens to you for the first time, something so miraculous and unfuckingpossible that you know it’s real as well as you know you’re sitting here in front of the fire with me. Step five, that’s when shit gets serious.”
“What happens during step five?”
Seth chuckled. “Everything, just like being around him,” he said poking the coals with a stick. “Everyfuckingthing.”
They say a lot of things about Robin Goodfellow, but Lux's situation doesn't leave many avenues open to her. Her home life is abusive, even by the standards of a typical Norman household, her mother is dead and she faces forced marriage. That's when he appears... Like all those who are called away into the Greenwood, to the sabbat, or to follow the caravan of the faerie people, Lux must make a decision. But if she jumps that hedge into the feral wastes that lie beyond the walled life she has known her life will fly out of control in a wild free-fall of possibilities.
Join Lux on her journey of self-discovery, at times horrific at others erotic, as her books reveal some of the roots that underpin the fates of the characters in the Christopher Penrose novels far into the future.