Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale / A Cathode Ray Séance





Ed. Sukhdev Sandhu
132pp, 209mm x 137mm
pb, £16.99 (UK only)
+ Audio Cassette.

The first collection of critical and artistic responses to Kneale’s work, available only through Strange Attractor. Designed by Rob Carmichael and edited by SS Sandhu, The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale is a limited-edition Risograph book – published by Texte und Töne in collaboration with the Colloquium for Unpopular Culture – to mark A Cathode Ray Séance: The Haunted Worlds of Nigel Kneale, a day-long event held in association with Strange Attractor in New York in November 2012. It’s the first collection of critical and artistic responses to Kneale’s pathfinding body of work ever published. Contributors include: Sophia Al-Maria, Bilge Ebiri, Mark Fisher, William Fowler, Ken Hollings, Paolo Javier, Roger Luckhurst, China Miéville, Drew Mulholland, David Pike, Mark Pilkington, Joanna Ruocco, Sukhdev Sandhu, Dave Tompkins, Michael Vazquez and Evan Calder Williams. The book also comes with Restligeists, a cassette featuring specially-composed pieces by The Asterism, Emma Hammond and Robin The Fog, Hong Kong In The 60s, Listening Centre, Mordant Music, and The Real Tuesday Weld"






Thanks to Rob Carmichael & SS Sandhu.


Wednesday, 20 August 2014

...Artemis..8..1.... A television play by David Rudkin





Again for BBC Pebble Mill, producer David Rose: an ambitious 3-hour venture, originally conceived as a co-production with TV Denmark - hence the Danish dimension to the story.

Gideon, a successful novelist, insulated from reality and emotionally arid, is deeply and ruefully loved by two people: a woman musician, and a man who teaches film. But Gideon flinches from all human contact. From an alien planet, an angel of love descends, to try to unlock Gideon's emotions and save him. But an angel of death comes not far after, seeking to imprison Gideon in his frigidity. At the climax, high within the tower of an abbey, while an organ recital proceeds below, Death's trap is so sprung that, if Gideon succumbs to him now, the whole world will be destroyed.

An existential morality, told in terms of Gothic fable, with powerful organ music (coming from the woman's part in the story) and Hitchcockian allusions (refracted from the film-obsessions of the other man). I can see why some disparage it now as a 'pretensh-fest' by a 'hi-aim author' (okay folks, let's all be happy little epsilons and aim low...); but where people positively respond to it, it's to its prodigality with images, and its mythic charge that flows into parts of us that meaner contemporary tv drama (and cinema for that matter) do not even know are there.





I acknowledge that the piece is uneven - in the writing and in the realizing. I feel also that some of the playing lacks inwardness - in a very tight shoot, technical and budget considerations predominated, thus the director had little time to do the deeper exploring with the actors that is necessary, so that they were working mainly on technique. (By contrast, Sting, nervous and awkward in his first 'legitimate' rôle, is moving in this very nervousness and awkwardness - with no technique as yet to trust to, he has to use his emotions.) For director Alastair Reid, I think the shoot was a Hellish experience - especially during the mere three days we had for the Danish location work. On the North Sea ferry there and back, there were shots that he had only one chance to get right. He needed all his commitment to the piece, and all his formidable technical mastery.

Some of the futuristic design is too close to '70s Doctor Who for comfort - but to be honest so was my own technical imagination somewhat limited there. Another feature that dates this piece is that the author doesn't have a mobile phone or word-processor: he comes from those few years where the technological cutting edge for a successful author was the IBM golf-ball typewriter. Some of the film's visual devices derive from features of this machine: the Gothic inscription that vanishes letter by letter backwards, the conversion of text into a symbols code... It's a lesson for an author to ponder, that where my own imagery is at its most original, that's where it is most thrillingly realized: the dream-sequence with its stained-glass window (and vanishing inscription) looking out over the sea; the nightmare city where the deconstructed Gideon is taken to be reborn (Birmingham and Liverpool skylines disturbingly fused); the terrifying cathedral, and the murderous set piece with the couple hiding in its great bell; the alien planet with twin suns... The glass-shots are beautiful and unafraid: the insolent red telephone kiosk on the wild green headland; the monstrous ocean-liner dwarfing the dockside street (an affectionate filch from Hitchcock's Marnie)... There was a lot of good will behind this production. On the creative side, everyone involved gave it everything they had.





Then came post-production. The producer David Rose left BBC to take up a senior post at the then new Channel Four, and although he kept a watch on things, in effect we lacked his controlling presence. I nurse a particular grievance about the editing. The up-and-coming young editor I thought right for Artemis, and who wanted to do it, was not even considered: this was a 'big' project, and so was allocated to the Senior Editor - with whom I was never granted so much as a discussion. On Penda, I had been given reasonable access to the edit and the dub, and my responses had been sought and sometimes acted on. On Artemis I was allowed to see no rushes, no rough assembly, no rough-cut; my first invitation to a sighting was together with members of the publicity department. I protested, and was granted a viewing before that; but it was a formality. As I feared, much had been done to Artemis in the cutting-room and dubbing-suite that I could never have endorsed.

But it had been an extraordinary enterprise, and in its making some beautiful things had happened for me. Among the giants I was privileged to work with here, was one of Hollywood's great actors, Dan O'Herlihy, who had been in Carol Reed's classic 1940s IRA film Odd Man Out and later played Robinson Crusoe for the legendary Buñuel. And there was Sting. As an author not celebrated and not glamorous, I was shy of my first meeting with so iconic a being. Sting reversed the situation with a gesture of true grace: the megastar asked me for my autograph - on the script of an old play of mine he had seen years ago in Newcastle, before he was famous.





Then there was the Hitchcock dimension. For the film-lecture sequence, we needed the climactic 360-degree tracking-shot from Vertigo. (An hommage to it is to occur at Gideon's and the loving angel's farewell embrace.) Even if we could have afforded financially to incorporate that sequence, it was not physically accessible: together with several other mid-period Hitchcocks, Vertigo was under some legal embargo at that time, and not even the old British Film Institute black-and-white 16mm print could be hired, even for reference purposes. Alastair Reid's brilliant solution was to have the film-lecturer draw a story-board of the 360 sequence, and use that for his class. But Hitchcock's sequence is optically very complex: as Kim Novak and James Stewart embrace, the camera slowly circles sideways around them; as it does so, the hotel-room background dissolves to the contrasted background of an earlier embrace, then becomes the hotel-room background again as the camera's encircling movement comes to rest. Our story-board would need to represent that circular tracking-shot precisely, stage by stage as it proceeds. I was working from memory of the film, which neither Alastair nor I had seen for over 20 years. To prepare such a story-board, we needed to study the sequence itself, somehow, somewhere. Through the good offices of a friend in Paris, we were granted a private (and clandestine) showing of the film at the Cinémathèque. Afterward, in an editing suite there, Alastair quickly did sketches of the sequence as he passed it through a moviola while I stood guard at the door.

For the organ music, I specified for the Gwen's audition piece a late work by Brahms, elegiac and troubled. For the climactic scene in the abbey (shot in Southwell Minster) I specified, among the recital pieces, works by Buxtehude and Nielsen (the Danish connection). But for organ music at the climax itself, we needed a customized piece that advanced in short regular modules, growing in intensity, specifically composed 'to' the shooting-script for this sequence, and so composed that the montage of images could be edited to fit it. I recommended Gordon Crosse for this, a composer with whom I had worked before. I devised a twelve-note theme for him, a demonic distortion of Brahms' theme heard earlier, and using all semitones of the chromatic scale once each and in such an order that they evoked an onward-moving classical harmony; on this, Gordon built a passacaglia, an ancient form in which increasingly complex variations build up over a recurring 4- or 8-bar bass that never changes. Onscreen, the music is interrupted at its climax by the catastrophe from the tower; Gordon later composed an ending for it, and now it stands as an organ piece in its own right: Passacaglia: Artemis. He's a composer whom producers and directors should use much more: he understands film, and knows what film-music needs to be.





Alastair Reid went on next to direct a technically much less spectacular piece, The Secret Servant, that quietly contains (in Jill Balcon's confession speech) one of the most remarkable long-takes in the business - a living demonstration that control and mastery do not need to be demonstrative. He also, soon after that, directed the first Inspector Morse - on which he lavishes a skill and a precision worthy of his beloved Hitchcock, and demonstrating something that Hitchcock's mere imitators will never understand: it's not a question of copying Hitchcock's effects; it's a moral matter of framing an image with that emotional accuracy that makes its inner meaning visible.

Artemis 81 is now available on a BBC DVD. It's unfortunate that the DVD's producers have issued it under an inaccurate title: the 81 is as in the number of a distant star, not the abbreviated number of a year. The IBM golfball typewriter featured in the film is my own, and is now in the IBM museum at Chandlersford.






© David Rudkin


Thursday, 24 July 2014

Irv Teibel's Environments™ Series: The music of the future isn't music





"Irving Solomon Teibel Oct. 9, 1938 - Oct. 28, 2010 Teibel, Irving S., 72, of Austin, passed away October 28, 2010. Irv is survived by his two daughters, Jennifer and Dara, twin granddaughters, Rebecca and Julia, and his close friend Linda Lloyd. Irv was a dedicated father and devoted friend with a vibrant personality and great sense of humor. Irv is most notably known for his recording series, Environments (TM) which was the first publicly-available psychoacoustic recording series. His company, Syntonic Research, Inc. was the first corporation to use the concept of acoustic noise masking via recorded sound, utilizing the myriad subtle sounds of nature. A memorial service will be held on November 14, 2010 at 2:30 p.m. at the Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home on North Lamar" Obituary




Psychologically Ultimate Seashore



"The initial recording in the series goes back to 1968. Working under the direction of Tony Conrad and Beverly Grant Conrad, Teibel recorded ocean waves at Coney Island for use in their feature film 'Coming Attractions' (1970). Teibel immediately sensed the marketability of this material, noting its effect on improving concentration, enhancing sleep and sex, and imparting a sense of calm to the listener. Conrad, who wished to credit Walter De Maria for his prior usage of ocean recordings, was not willing to become a partner in the Syntonics Research enterprise as envisioned by Teibel, so Teibel parted ways with the 'Coming Attractions' project. Subsequently Teibel himself felt unsatisfied with his results — though his Uher stereo reel-to-reel tape recorder had faithfully captured the sounds of the surf, he felt that they were less convincing on playback. A friend of Teibel's, Louis Gerstman, had access to an IBM 360 computer, and he and Teibel played around with processing the recordings until eventually the two of them hit upon a series of manipulations (basically some rolling filtering and overdubbing) which sounded 'more real than real'"




Tintinnabulation (Low-Frequency Contemplative Sound)



"Alone among the Environments series, Tintinnabulation is not natural sounds at all but a series of computer-generated bell sounds playable at any speed from 16-2/3 to 78 RPM. The CD reissue opted for the 16-2/3 RPM speed"




Dawn At New Hope, PA



Dusk At New Hope, PA



"The quintessential "field recording" with owls, crows, doves, insects, dogs and geese recorded early one morning in June 1969. A warm summer night (recorded August 1970) deep in the backwoods of Eastern Pennsylvania, surrounded by insects and the occasional distant hound"


Text taken from various sources, further thoughts here, here & here. Audio taken from Environments™ CD 1: Ⓟ © 1987 Syntonic Research Inc. All rights reserved. 81764-2, Environments™ CD 2: Ⓟ © 1987 Syntonic Research Inc. All rights reserved. 81765-2 & Environments™ CD 3: Ⓟ © 1987 Syntonic Research Inc. All rights reserved. 81766-2.


Saturday, 24 May 2014

August Strindberg





Johan August Strindberg (22 January 1849 – 14 May 1912) was a Swedish playwright, novelist, poet, essayist and painter. A prolific writer who often drew directly on his personal experience, Strindberg's career spanned four decades, during which time he wrote over 60 plays and more than 30 works of fiction, autobiography, history, cultural analysis, and politics. A bold experimenter and iconoclast throughout, he explored a wide range of dramatic methods and purposes, from naturalistic tragedy, monodrama, and history plays, to his anticipations of expressionist and surrealist dramatic techniques. From his earliest work, Strindberg developed forms of dramatic action, language, and visual composition so innovative that many were to become technically possible to stage only with the advent of film. He is considered the "father" of modern Swedish literature and his The Red Room (1879) has frequently been described as the first modern Swedish novel.


Strindberg’s father, Carl Oskar Strindberg, was a bankrupt aristocrat who worked as a steamship agent, and his mother was a former waitress. His childhood was marred by emotional insecurity, poverty, his grandmother’s religious fanaticism, and neglect, as he relates in his remarkable autobiography Tjänstekvinnans son (1886–87; The Son of a Servant, 1913). He studied intermittently at the University of Uppsala, preparing in turn for the ministry and a career in medicine but never taking a degree. To earn his living, he worked as a free-lance journalist in Stockholm, as well as at other jobs that he almost invariably lost. Meanwhile he struggled to complete his first important work, the historical drama Mäster Olof (published in 1872), on the theme of the Swedish Reformation, influenced by Shakespeare and by Henrik Ibsen’s Brand. The Royal Theatre’s rejection of Mäster Olof deepened his pessimism and sharpened his contempt for official institutions and traditions. For several years he continued revising the play—later recognised as the first modern Swedish drama—thus delaying his development as a dramatist of contemporary problems.



"The world, life and human beings are only an illusion, a phantom, a dream image"

In 1874 he became a librarian at the Royal Library, and in 1875 he met the Finno-Swedish Siri von Essen, then the unhappy wife of an officer of the guards; two years later they married. Their intense but ultimately disastrous relationship ended in divorce in 1891, when Strindberg, to his great grief, lost the custody of their four children. At first, however, marriage stimulated his writing, and in 1879 he published his first novel, The Red Room, a satirical account of abuses and frauds in Stockholm society: this was something new in Swedish fiction and made its author nationally famous.

He also wrote more plays, of which Lucky Peter’s Travels (1881) contains the most biting social criticism. In 1883, the year after he published Det nya riket (“The New Kingdom”), a withering satire on contemporary Sweden, Strindberg left Stockholm with his family and for six years moved restlessly about the Continent. Although he was then approaching a state of complete mental breakdown, he produced a great number of plays, novels, and stories. The publication in 1884 of the first volume of his collected stories, Married, led to a prosecution for blasphemy. He was acquitted, but the case affected his mind, and he imagined himself persecuted, even by Siri.

He returned to drama with new intensity, and the conflict between the sexes inspired some of the outstanding works written at this time, such as The Father, Miss Julie, and The Creditors. All of these were written in total revolt against contemporary social conventions. In these bold and concentrated works, he combined the techniques of dramatic Naturalism—including unaffected dialogue, stark rather than luxurious scenery, and the use of stage props as symbols—with his own conception of psychology, thereby inaugurating a new movement in European drama. The People of Hemsö, a vigorous novel about the Stockholm skerries (rocky islands), always one of Strindberg’s happiest sources of inspiration, was also produced during this intensively creative phase.



The years after his return to Sweden in 1889 were lonely and unhappy. Even though revered as a famous writer who had become the voice of modern Sweden, he was by now an alcoholic unable to find steady employment. In 1892 he went abroad again, to Berlin. His second marriage, to a young Austrian journalist, Frida Uhl, followed in 1893; they finally parted in Paris in 1895.

A period of literary sterility, emotional and physical stress, and considerable mental instability culminated in a kind of religious conversion, the crisis that he described in Inferno. During these years Strindberg devoted considerable time to experiments in alchemy and to the study of theosophy.


Read more of Brita Maud Ellen Mortensen's Biography here.






Extracts from 'The Inferno'.
IV. THE FALL AND PARADISE LOST

Guided into this new world in which no one can follow me, I conceived an aversion to social intercourse, and have an unconquerable desire to free myself from my surroundings. I therefore informed my friends that I wished to go to Meudon to write a book which required solitude and quiet. At the same time insignificant disagreements led to a breach with the circle which met at the Restaurant, so that one day I found myself entirely isolated. The first result was an extraordinary expansion of my inner sense; a spiritual power which longed to realise itself. I believed myself in the possession of unlimited strength, and pride inspired me with the wild idea of seeing whether I could perform a miracle. At an earlier period, in the great crisis of my life, I had observed that I could exercise a telepathic influence on absent friends. In popular legends writers have occupied themselves with the subjects of telepathy and witchcraft. I wish neither to do myself an injustice, nor altogether to acquit myself of wrong-doing, but I believe that my evil will was not so evil as the counterstroke which I received. A devouring curiosity, an outbreak of perverted love, caused by my frightful loneliness, inspired me with an intense longing to be re-united with my wife and child, both of whom I still loved. But how was this to be brought about, as divorce proceedings were already on foot? Some extraordinary event, a common misfortune, a thunderbolt, a conflagration ... in brief, some catastrophe which unites two hearts, just as in novels two persons are reconciled at the sick-bed of a third. Stop! there I have it! A sick-bed! Children are always more or less ill; a mother's fear exaggerates the danger; a telegram follows, and all is said. I had no idea of practising magic, but an unwholesome instinct suggested I must set to work with the picture of my dear little daughter, who later on was to be my only comfort in a cursed existence. Further on in this work I will relate the results of my manoeuvre, in which my evil purpose seemed to work with the help of symbolical operations. Meantime the results had to be waited for, and I continued my work with a feeling of undefined uneasiness and a foreboding of fresh misfortune.

VI. HELL

At length a pause ensues in my sufferings. For hours at a time I sit in the open space before the summer-house, watch the flowers, and think over the recent events. The peace of mind, which I find after my flight, convinces me that I have not been suffering from the delusions of disease, but have been persecuted by real enemies. I work during the day and sleep quietly at night. Delivered from the squalor of my former residence, I feel myself rejuvenated among the roses of this garden—the favourite flower of my youth. The Jardin des Plantes, this wonder of Paris unknown to the Parisians themselves, has become my park. This epitome of creation confined within a narrow circuit, this Noah's Ark, this Paradise Regained in which I wander without danger among wild beasts—it is too much happiness. Beginning with stones, I proceed to the vegetable and animal kingdoms, till I come to man, and behind man I discover the Creator—the great Artist who develops as he creates, sets on fool designs which He rejects later on, resumes plans which have failed, and completes and multiplies primitive forms endlessly. All is the work of His hand. Often in the discovery of methods He makes enormous leaps, and then Science conies and ascertains the extent of the gaps and the missing links, and imagines that it has found the intermediary forms which have disappeared.


Extracts from 'From the Diary of a Damned Soul'.
X. THE ETERNAL HAS SPOKEN

Winter, with its grey-yellow skies is here; no ray of sunlight has lit up the sky for weeks. The muddy roads hinder us from taking walks; the leaves fall from the trees and rot; all nature is dissolving in decay. The usual autumn butchery of dumb animals has begun. All day long the cries of the victims rise against the dark vault of heaven; one steps in blood and among corpses. It is terribly depressing, and I feel sad for the two, good, kind-hearted sisters who tend me like a sick child. Besides this, my poverty, which I must conceal from them, depresses me, together with the futility of my attempts to avert approaching beggary. For my own good they wish for my departure, since such a lonely life is not good for a man; moreover, they believe that I need a doctor. In vain I wait for the necessary money to be sent from Sweden, and prepare to depart, even though I have to tramp the high roads. "I have become like a pelican of the wilderness, and like an owl in the desert." My presence is a trial to my relatives, and but for my love to the child, they would have hurried me away. Now that mud or snow makes walking difficult, I carry the little one along the paths on my arms, climb hills, and clamber up rocks, so that both the old ladies say, "You will make yourself ill, you will get giddy, you will kill yourself". "And a beautiful death that would be!" I reply.

XV. WHITHER?

Six months have passed, and I still go daily walking on the city wall and survey the lunatic asylum, and catch glimpses of the blue sea in the distance. Thence will the new epoch, the new religion, come of which the world is dreaming. Gloomy winter is buried, the meadows are green, the trees are in blossom, the nightingale sings in the garden of the observatory, but a wintry sadness still weighs upon our spirits, for so many weird and inexplicable things have happened, that even the most incredulous waver. The general sleeplessness increases, nervous breakdowns are common, apparitions are matters of every day, and real miracles happen. People are expecting something.



WELCOME TO STRINDBERGSMUSEET


Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Alan Garner's Alderley Edge





"Walk the dramatic red sandstone escarpment of Alderley Edge, with views over the Cheshire Plain to the Peak District. Explore woodland paths or walk to neighbouring Hare Hill Garden. Discover the highest point on the Edge which was originally a Bronze Age burial mound. It was later used as a fire beacon site which would have been lit as a signal to warn of the imminent invasion. For more stunning views over the Cheshire countryside, why not visit one of the following nearby properties: Bickerton Hill and Bulkely Hill Wood; Mow Cop, the Cloud, Helsby Hill and Thurstaston Common"


What follows in an edited extract from a 2010 interview with Alan, by Robert Chalmers, for The Independent online. Read the interview in full, here.

His second death, Alan Garner explains, is the one that he really remembers. "When I was six," the writer says, "I contracted whooping cough and measles, which developed into meningitis. There were two doctors by my bed. I was in that delirious state where things drift in and out of focus, and yet I could hear their conversation clearly. The first one said: 'He's gone.' But the really terrifying bit came next, when the other doctor replied: 'I concur.' A word which – precocious infant that I was – I understood".

At that point, recalls Garner, who is 75, "I exploded emotionally. I screamed but made no sound. I couldn't communicate or give a signal. I remember the anger; I remember the fury. At which point I must have had an adrenaline surge. And that is why I lived – because I was too angry to die".

He was pronounced dead on three separate occasions before he was 10.

"I have been in the tunnel", he says. "There is light at the end. It revolves. You are running. I have been in the tunnel more than once".

If rage hadn't rescued him on that day in 1941, we would have lost one of the most extraordinary writers in the language. Initially acclaimed as a children's author (the date of 10.10.10 will mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of his first book, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen), his voice was distinctive from the start, for its innate capacity to resonate with, and never patronise, his readership.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is set in and around Alderley Edge, the Cheshire village which, on account of its popularity with Premier League footballers, has become a kind of synonym for New Money. The Garners have lived here, as farm labourers, miners and craftsmen, for at least five centuries. "I don't think I am going to get further back than William Garner, sepultus [buried in] 1592", the writer tells me. "Peasants were not recorded earlier than that".

Since 1957, his own home has been a few miles away at Blackden, in the 15th-century timber-framed house he calls "Toad Hall". Even though it's very close to Jodrell Bank radio telescope, the Hall (whose name derives from the local pronunciation of "the old") is, to the delight of this very private man, almost impossible to find. I tell him I'll come with a local cab driver.

"You'll still get lost", Garner says, and he's right. Neither the patience of the driver, the satnav, the map, or the author's sheet of directions are of any help. We pull up at the dead end of a dirt track and phone him for help. Arriving at Blackden feels like crossing a fault line into some other world – a recurring theme in his fiction.

In 1970, noticing, as you do, that a 16th-century apothecary's house was about to be demolished in Staffordshire, Garner had it moved, piece by piece, and joined to the Hall. And it's here, in "The Medicine House", at two seats inside the large central chimney, that he suggests we sit down to talk. The chimney has something of the feel – and, Garner believes, the effect – of the confessional.

"Things are said here," he tells me, "that would not be said elsewhere"

Alan Garner was born, with the umbilical cord wrapped twice around his neck, on 17 October 1934. One of his earliest memories is of being led screaming out of a cinema by his mother, who had taken him to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Afterwards, "She thrashed me, for making her look a fool".

"How old were you?"

"Three".

He recalls his father (Colin), a painter and decorator, as "warm and generous" and his mother (Marjorie), a tailor, as "complex and domineering".

"I was an only son. She had her own failed ambitions to deal with. When I was 18, rummaging in a drawer at home, I came across Approach to Latin Part I in mint condition".

"This was a book you'd used at school?"

"Yes. She had been trying to keep up with me. You cannot teach yourself Latin from that book".

When he first had to leave home to make the daily trip to Manchester Grammar school, says Garner, "I had great difficulty coping. The best view of the Edge is from the railway, between here and Manchester. I remember looking up at it as I left for the first time, thinking, I am letting you down. Until one day I was in the art hall, the highest room in the school. I looked out, and there was the Edge"

"You've described Alderley Edge as a place that is 'physically and emotionally dangerous'. [The most dramatic point is Castle Rock, a precipice with vertiginous views across the valley 400ft below.] There was a widely held belief in Manchester, where I grew up, that Alderley Edge would not be a place you'd want to be at night. People said no bird would sing there"

"The thing about birds is not strictly true, but it is something I grew up with. There is not a lot of birdsong there, considering the number of trees." In 1843, adds Garner, "The Honourable Dorothy S Stanley wrote that locals report seeing 'many wondrous sights' on the Edge. And hearing the sound of music under the ground".

He recalls how, in 1996, his cousin Eric told him that, as a boy, he and two friends had sat on the Edge and heard bagpipes playing, underground.

Garner is a leading authority on the geology, archaeology and every other aspect of the area. In the mid-1990s, he instigated a full-scale scientific survey of Alderley Edge.

"I am proud of that; it is an objective fact that, because of what I did, the Bronze Age was established on Alderley Edge, and it was recognised to be the earliest dated metal- working site in England"

As for the bagpipes, he offers a rational explanation, involving air pressure. "Eric and his friends were sitting on a burial mound, 4,000 years old. He said that the bagpipes came from the right, and travelled under the ground, in front of them. Being a good journalist, I asked, calmly, "What did you do?" Eric said: 'Do? We ran like buggery'".

His English and drama teacher at Manchester Grammar, Bert Parnaby, laid the foundations of a department that would nurture performers such as Alan Garner's close friend Robert Powell (who was married here at the local church), Powell's classmate Krishna Bhanji (now Sir Ben Kingsley), the late opera director Steven Pimlott, and the producer Sir Nicholas Hytner, among others.

The qualities the school seems to have encouraged in him include an irreverent sense of humour, fearlessness in the face of authority and, in terms of his writing, perfectionism: this last quality was one his family had long valued as craftsmen. "My grandfather Joe [a smith] used to say: 'Always take as long as the job tells you, because it'll be here when you're not. And you don't want folk asking what fool made that codge?'".

Which makes it all the more surprising that Alan Garner should have left Magdalen College, Oxford, in his second year, without a degree.

"My tutor said I would have to find a position in life where the only way out was to succeed. He knew me very well".

"I imagine that, when The Weirdstone of Brisingamen appeared, with its wizard and its army of dark elves, people who didn't know 'The Legend of Alderley' claimed that you'd copied The Lord of the Rings".

"Which showed that they hadn't read any middle or old English. Tolkien and I ripped off the same sources. He did it for his reasons. I did it because, at a simple level, I hated made-up names. If I'd used a name that was familiar [in connection with "The Legend of Alderley"] considerable baggage would have come with it".
"A name like King Arthur?"

"Yes. When my archive was given to the Bodleian Library in Oxford six years ago, I heard from somebody connected with the film of The Lord of the Rings. He said that one of the Tolkien family had given him JRR Tolkien's annotated copy of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. And apparently his notes are just vitriolic".

"What bothered him?"

"'Trivial use of language'. I would love to see that book".





Literary Walks. Episode 6 of 6. First broadcast: Saturday 25 June 2011.

Alan Garner spent his early childhood in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, England, and he remains associated with the area. Many of his works, including The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath, are drawn from local legends and locations. Clare Balding walks with him to hear more about the area and how it inspired his writing.



Related: The Owl Service — A book by Alan Garner, The Owl Service (ITV 1969-70), The making of The Owl Service & Alan Garner's The Owl Service.