The Return of Medieval Afterlives, director’s cut

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At last. Medieval Afterlives in Contemporary Culture is finally out in a much more affordable paperback edition. The official release date is 24 August 2017 but I’ve just seen a fabulous advance copy and I’m very happy. So, all those who said they’d like a copy but not at that price, then now’s your chance. Do please spread the word and maybe even recommend it to your students? That way I might even get round to the Volume II I’ve been talking about and a chance to include all the amazing afterlives we missed last time, starting with The Last Kingdom, my fave TV in years.

In the meantime, don’t forget to listen in to me talking about the book  to Carl Nellis late last year: http://newbooksnetwork.com/gail-ashton-ed-medieval-afterlives-in-contemporary-culture-bloomsbury-academic-20152017

And here’s a sneaky peek at who and what’s inside:

Jeff Massey and Brian Cogan talking about Spamalot; Bob Sturges on medievalisms in opera; Margaret Rogerson on performing medieval mysteries; Sarah Peverley on staging Chaucer; Meriem Pages tells us why we can’t do this to Disney; Elizabeth Emery on tournaments and jousting;

Stewie Brookes on Beowulf in film; Dan Kline’s digital gaming; Lesley Coote surveys film; Phillippa Semper on the TV Merlin; Carol Robinson’s electronic Tolkien; Kathleen Coyne Kelly’s BBC Canterbury Tales;

Candy Barrington and Jonathan Hsy on global Chaucers; Gail Ashton on contemporary medieval poetry; Angela Weisl’s quests in Y/A fiction; Louise D’Arcens on Australian medievalism; Fiona Tolhurst’s pilgrimage to Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe; Laurie Finke and Susan Aronstein visit Tintagel;

Ann Howey on heroism in Y/A Arthurian literature; Karloyn Kinane’s neopagan medievalisms; Cory Rushton’s 21st century Templars; Raluca Radulescu on Malory; Rob Gossedge  on Robin Hood; Renee Ward on Harry Potter;

Amanda Allen’s Harry Potter fandom; Jason Tondro and Dan Nastali both on comics (Dante and French Arthurian respectively); Wendy Scase’s medieval manuscripts; Maggie Williams and Lauren Razzore’s medieval memes

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What next?

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Why don’t you use more of your medieval background in your creative work?

Just a chance comment from a writing colleague but enough to get me thinking.

So, in addition to my usual madcap non-stop enthusiasm, a recent visit to stay with my lovely editors at Cinnamon Press saw them bombarded with plans for the next collection. Okay I’ve said it. So now I have to do it (:

And as a taster, here’s one I wrote earlier. Find it in What rain taught us, out now from Cinnamon Press under the liquorice fish imprint and with fabulous visuals from Adam Craig with whom I’ll be collaborating on the above.

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For more buy What rain taught us: http://www.cinnamonpress.com

If you’d like to comment on this post I’d be delighted to hear from you

whatever happened to medieval afterlives?

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Maybe you recall the book that sparked this blog, my Medieval Afterlives in Contemporary Culture (Bloomsbury, 2015)?  At last, in paperback this year! Also, listen to me and Carl Nellis here: And please share:
http://newbooksnetwork.com/gail-ashton-ed-medieval-afterlives-in-contemporary-culture-bloomsbury-academic-20152017/
 
It can also be downloaded through iTunes, Google Play, and most other podcast platforms.

Still standing

Last post February 2016? Why it’s almost medieval. Where have I been? Under an ympe tree, dreaming, walking, writing  But now  I am returned to myself And ready to go

Watch this space for extracts from Kevin Harty’s review of Medieval Afterlives in Contemporary Culture, forthcoming reprint of that same volume in paperback, and my forthcoming interview with Carl Nellis

 

 

 

What’s it worth? – the Lady of Farthingloe, spider orchids, and a housing estate

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Here – or so the story goes – Sir Gawain fell in love with the beautiful Lady of Farthingloe. After promising her his heart, Gawain left for France and didn’t return for seven years. When he came back he found her disfigured by smallpox, and, despite his reputation as a ladies’ man, Gawain married her. His wife was probably part of the DeFfarninglo family whose claim on these ancient meadows and woods stretched back to Saxon times. For a while at least, Gawain settled here in this astonishing valley with his bride. Later, legend tells how Gawain is killed fighting for King Arthur at Barham Downs, not far from his new home. The Lady of Farthingloe brings his severed head to monks who carry it to a monastery in Dover, and then hide it inside the church within the walls of Dover Castle.

Not so many people care for such tales these days. Or it seems, for the landscape to which these legends are inextricably tied.

Farthingloe sits in the glorious Kent Downs, one of 46 AONBs (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) in England and Wales. It’s home not just to Arthurian stories but to early spider orchids, and Adonis blue and small butterflies. This rural hinterland is an important conservation site, protected by law and defended by the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Much good may it do it.

In the New Year that same organization failed to secure a review of the decision by a recent local planning committee to approve an upmarket housing development in the valley. Over 600 houses, a hotel, and a leisure centre will soon bury part of the Arthurian cycle and destroy the habitat of rare species.

You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to count the cost of that.

Did you hear the one about a Holy Well, carbolic soap and three writers?

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Is it my hand cream? Isabelle asks. She peels back her leather-gloved hand and offers her skin for me to sniff.

I shake my head. No, I say, definitely not that. She pauses, then bends down to the balustrade in front of the tiny altar right by where we are standing. Furniture polish, she says, inhaling wood and dust. Perhaps that’s it.

It’s hard to imagine anyone cleaning or dusting in this ancient chapel. St Celynnin’s church sits high in the call of buzzards up above Conwy valley, nestled into rock and scree and fields stark in the call of wind and rain.  It has stood for 800 years and more, tucked off the steep and craggy Pilgrims’ Path in this beautiful part of North Wales, its head deep into the hillside and its slate gravestones broken, forbidding. And no, it isn’t polish either. Or anything but an overwhelming aroma of something sharp, almost antiseptic.

I can’t place it, I say. But I can only smell it right here.

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Then, from somewhere near the old broken-down organ with its dust and wheezing pipes, a voice. Is it carbolic? J says, and yes, that’s it, that forgotten scent of grandfather’s neck and a bathroom full of wet washing. It’s okay, J says, as though it’s the most natural thing in the world to experience sensory hallucinations of this kind. I caught the exact scent in that same place last time I was here.

We almost hadn’t made it. Caught up in the busyness of our residential writing course, we spent days workshopping, reading, cooking, eating, getting to know one another and dreading our one-to-one tutorials. Outside a storm raged at the stone cottages, rattling doors and windows and looking to blow off the roof. We hunkered down against Welsh rain driving in sideways on  mountain air and peered out of windows into ever darkening days. But on Wednesday afternoon some of us found ourselves free just as sky beckoned a blue outside.

The medieval chapel had been high on my list of must-sees. Somewhere in the sixth century the Celtic saint Celynnin established a llan (enclosure) here on this hill to preach to the crowds of pilgrims, travellers and herdsmen who thronged these mountains and valleys, tracking the steps of long-gone forebears seen only in the remains of standing stones, forts and an ancient Roman pathway. Once there had been an inn, a watering-hole. And today still its footings just beyond the churchyard.

There was another reason why folk came to St Celynnin’s and that was its healing Holy Well. Families brought their sick children. They threw items of clothing into the well waters. If the child’s garment floated, the child would live. If it sank, then the outlook was bleak. Sometimes people placed their sick child in the water, desperate for a miracle cure.

We talk about this as we scramble up from our cottage, careful to keep our footing on this sharp incline with its loose rocks and running water gouging small streams and torrents from mud and earth. Anne and Liz are sorry not to accompany us, and we’re sorry not have them with us. Say a prayer for me, Liz says in her Welsh lilt, and we will once we get our breath and huddle into the chapel’s cold dank stone. We duck into the door, laughing at its inscription: THIS IS A HOUSE OF GOD. VISITORS ARE REQUESTED NOT TO SCRIBBLE ANYWHERE. Did they know writers were coming? Did they fear words, the people who once dwelled here? Or are they merely anxious to avoid a repetition of what’s happened to the altar wall which is disconcerting however many times anyone warns you what to expect?

We tuck into the freezing place, me and J in our mud-spattered walking gear and Isabelle still clean and Parisian-chic in her distressed leather boots and Russian fur hut. We tuck in and at once stop talking. It’s as if a cold hand stoppers our mouths. I wander a bit. Gaze at the altar wall with its faint, almost runic, markings and indecipherable words. At the bottom is a small skull and crossbones. It’s not what I was expecting to read. We sit, alone, silent. That’s when I encounter the smell.

In no time at all we are swapping strange encounters. J and I share ours, including the fact that as we’d crossed the graveyard I’d conjured a forbidding hand which deflected me from taking a closer look at the headstones. Isabelle listens then tells us that if there’s one thing stranger than our nation’ s fabled politeness it’s our fascination with other-wordly apparitions. The French don’t tell ghost stories, she says. She’s huddled deep into a pew, face shrouded in shadow. It’s getting dark, and I’m getting scared. She laughs. Is it maybe time we went home?

We tease all the way back down the trail, sorry for subjecting her to an afternoon with two mad English women. I don’t tell her that J and I both placed our hands in the holy well. Or that J declared the water freezing and I experienced it as warm.

 

St Celynnin’s Church is one of the oldest churches in Wales. It’s part of Conwy’s Sacred Doorways Project, an initiative to improve access to churches and chapels across this part of rural North Wales. See the chapel’s 15th century porch with its even earlier hinges and stoop, its medieval font and nave, 14th century chancel, 15th century east window and Capel Meibion (Men’s Chapel), plus its 14th century rood screen. Approach via the Pilgrims Path from Rowen, Conwy. Or from the path above the village. Exact location: Llangelynnin Church, nr Henryd

Game of Thrones: where is Westeros?

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You would be forgiven for thinking the seven feuding kingdoms of Game of Thrones (based on George R.R. Martin’s famous novels) are fictional. But what if I said you can visit them any time you like?

game-of-thrones-logo1Take a trip to Northern Ireland and follow in the steps of Game of Thrones Supervising Location manager Robbie Boake. Robbie started scouting for the mega TV series eight years ago and was quickly drawn to the unspoilt beaches, wild sand dunes and fabulous scenery of Northern Ireland’s countryside. The area’s topography so suited the places described in Martin’s fiction that Sky Atlantic decided to collaborate with the UK’s National Trust and film the series across a number of the Trust’s amazing locations.

Since then, visitor numbers have shot through the roof. In series I, a  Georgian farmyard at Castle Ward, County Down was transformed into the courtyard at Winterfell, home to the Starks. In the fictional Thrones world the castle was burnt to the ground in the following series, yet visitor numbers at the actual location  peak at around 2,500 a month. Castle Ward offers several Game of Thrones experiences such as archery at ‘Winterfell’ and a ten-location cycle tour of other places on the estate which found their way into Thrones world.

Likewise the protected dunes of Portstewart Strand, Co. Londonderry, appear throughout series 5; these 30 metre high sand dunes feature as Jaime Lannister and Bronn make their way to the Dorne. Larrybane Quarry, Co. Antrim, is Renly Baratheon’s camp in series 2. Murlough Bay, also Co. Antrim, is the setting for the Iron Islands, series 3, and where Davos ended up after the Battle of Blackwater. And Dragonstone, series 2, is in reality Downhill Demesne and Beach, Co. Londonderry.

Fans of Game of Thrones can download maps showing all the locations used in the show. See http://discovernorthenireland.com/gameofthrones And for further information go to http://nationaltrust.org.uk/mag/moviemap

Book your trip now just ahead of season six, and get in on the action.

 

York, Jews, old wounds, new beginnings

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Yesterday (800 years ago to be precise) the lights went out for medieval Jews in York. Today we come to the end of Hanukkah (14th December to be precise) and the start of a return to a medieval city.

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March 1190: rioting spreads from Norwich, Stamford and Lincoln to reach medieval York. Around 150 Jews, the entire Jewish population of the city, flee to the protection of York Castle where they are besieged. Amongst them is a man called Jocenus who, together with his friend Benedict, offered gifts to Richard I at his coronation just a year earlier – even though they had been forbidden from attending the ceremony. When they were later mobbed Jocenus managed to get home to York. Benedict got as far as Northampton where he died of injuries sustained in the attack.

Now mob rule has come again. Outside York Castle the militia look to force the last Jews out of the county. No-one is coming to rescue anyone. It falls to Rabbi Yomtob of Joigney to call on those last Jews – including Jocenus – there in the castle beside him to refuse their fate: baptism or murder. Many Jews follow the Rabbi’s exhortations; men slaughter the women and children of their households, then set themselves alight in a wooden keep. Those who surrender and step out of the castle walls are killed by the waiting crowd. There are no survivors.

For more than 800 years the city of York has been the darkest of places for Jews world-wide. That 1190 massacre is notorious in Jewish history, an event commemorated in lamentation – or kinah – recited on the fast day of Tisha B’Av. Last week, on the third day of Hanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, a three-year old boy lit a candle in York’s Guildhall watched by York’s lord mayor and a host of civic leaders. This was the moment when history became today and a new Jewish community marked a symbolic return to a city that had all but seen the last of the Jews a long time ago.

In the 2011 census for York a mere 165 people identified themselves as Jewish. The city had been without a synagogue since 1975. Today, encouraged by the precepts of Liberal Judaism, there are Jews living in York once more. This new fledgling community attracts some 60 or so people to its monthly services at York’s old Quaker hall. One of them was little Tzofiya Stefanov-King, candle in hand, leading us all out of the darkness of a medievalist past, and lighting up a path into a beginning that is also a return.