Three Wise Women

Reviews of Some Kind Of Fairy Tale have been very good – far better than I could have hoped for. Sales too, and of course one would expect to conclude that one thing follows the other. The New York Times in this review describes me as “ravishing” which I think is fair and reasonable and anyone who knows me will agree instantly. The only thing I’m not certain about in that review is the word “effortless”. How I wish.

Good reviews are, of course, good, but the most satisfying thing about publishing this novel has been the quality of the discourse concerning the Fair Folk, much of it engendered on panels and in interviews in the time spent discussing what the book is actually about.

In writing Some Kind Of Fairy Tale I thought I’d pretty much reviewed the subject of the Fair Folk. But I hadn’t even scratched the twilight surface. New dimensions were opened up every time there was some form of public discussion. In particular I encountered three wise women, in the form of Kate Laity, Claire Massey and Maura McHugh. All three of these are very fine writers and each of them had exciting things to report about the secret disposition of the fey. What’s more, each of them deepened my own insight into the elusive but extremely powerful nature of the forces under examination.

Kate Laity interviewed me on stage at an Alt.fiction event. I wish the discussion had been recorded (even if just to see myself trying to cope with her intelligent and forensic line of questioning). It was Kate who first joined in with the (fun but real) spirit of being very careful in the naming of these forces, but who pressed me on some distinctions between myth and folk tale that I hadn’t thought about too much before. We concluded that whereas mythology had become hardened like resinous amber, folklore by contrast had a special fluidity and a capacity to take the shape of the vessel wanting to hold it. It is in this more fluid element that the Fair Folk swim, fly or move about, enjoying very much the putting on and the taking off of masks. Uncertainty, menace and the prickling uncanny were indicators of the presence of the Fair Folk, we said, and that Creativity was usually the gift-reward of a genuine encounter. Heck, I’m paraphrasing; but these were the kind of insights that opened up to me by the line of Kate’s clever questioning. If you go to Kate’s webpage you will find it headed with a quotation from Søren Kierkegaard: “Once you label me, you negate me.” To understand the fey, hearken.

Kate also addressed Some Kind Of Fairy Tale by probing the issue of memory (collective and individual) in the book. She talked about the fact that we reconstruct our memories to make them safe. Thus our memories and our beliefs constructed around those memories will usually be inaccurate but will feel as real and relevant to us as the original event. In fact Kate said she can’t always remember writing parts of her books, and that she doesn’t know where some elements come from. We speculated on the idea of the Fair Folk within, but the important thing lay in the discussion around a writer’s access to these materials. The very access that gives what we need to write in the way we do is mysteriously linked to a respect for the guides who take us through the corridor of amnesia.

Just when I was therefore trying to remember what might have been forgotten was I interviewed by Claire Massey for Twisted Tales. Claire’s knowledge not just of Fairy Tales but the issues and the wisdom behind them is very impressive and she started with the fascinating – and new to me, who likes to pretend to know all things Hellenic – old Greek proverb that “The Fairy Tale has no landlord”. It is so exact, and it makes me want to add that the Fairy Tale has no home because it will take the shape of whichever geographical or psychological landscape it finds itself in.

Claire’s interview was conducted both as a scholar of Fairy-lore and as a writer, and it was something in the combined enquiry that blew me away and made me rethink hard about the nature of Creativity – story making and story telling in my case – and what we mean by inspiration. It was in some ways a companion exploration to what Kate was saying about memory. These are the things that come up when you are interviewed by practitioners of writing who want to get at more than just the engine of the story.

At the time of the interview Clair had been editing a book about the Lancashire Witch trials of 1612 and so we did get on to the subject of belief and of the very real dangers of supernatural fear. You can find this interview at:

More panels, and one at Fantasycon in Brighton last month, along with Mike Carey and Simon Green, and ably steered by Nina Allen. Also on the panel was Maura McHugh. Now Maura lives on the west coast of Ireland and she was one of the judges who did such a great job of restoring credibility to this year’s British Fantasy Awards. A few years back I spent a couple of summer holidays with the Savages on Achill island on the west coast of Ireland and nowhere, apart from some remote parts of Greece, did I feel a greater sense of immanence, where you might feel that the spiritual plane permeates the mundane world. It was thrilling to hear Maura, on the panel, speaking with such passion and eloquence about the matter of the Fair Folk, or indeed the sidh.

Maura’s position – and it’s one I agree with – is that respect for the Fair Folk is the same thing as respect for the land. Whatever they are, they speak for the land. If the land is honoured they will bring gifts. Pollution and exploitation and bad stewardship of the land by contrast are offences for which we all ultimately pay. Bad faith is connected with an inability to remember, and storytelling is a way of remembering. Maura also talked about aligning oneself with this splendid force; or even allying oneself; and she spoke of it in such a way that it made no difference whether you want to apprehend this as a representation of the unconscious mind or as something external. It sounded to me very rational, even scientific, and indeed inspirational. No record of the panel debate, but Maura’s website is to be found at

So, three wise women (no, they are not the Fates) who awakened me to new depths of meaning about these matters. In particular I’d like to do some more thinking about the nature of inspiration, and about the special connection between writers and musicians and the Fair Folk. I feel an essay coming on. Except that I’ve got a novel to finish.

Which is set in the 1970s. I think the late seventies represent a watershed time for the way we live now. In 1976 I was a student and I had a summer job on the East Coast. It was the hottest summer on record and there was an astonishing ladybird swarm. My title is The Year Of The Ladybird and it’s a kind of summer ghost story.

I’ll be in Toronto for the World Fantasy Convention in November. Get your roller skates on & come and say hello.