My second novel Dead but Dreaming has just been published. It’s the story of a young folklorist, who travels into the English countryside in 1970 to collect testimonies about the faeries from people in the rurality. The setting is the Tertiary Research Unit of a psychiatric hospital, where the protagonist soon finds there is much more going on than they had bargained for. It’s a tale about the faeries as metaphysical entities, but also includes many tropes and motifs: the concept of solipsism, Dissociative Identity Disorder (termed Hysterical Neurosis, Dissociative Type in 1970), the grief and guilt over the loss of a sister, the simulated reality of dreams, altered states of consciousness, and a musical ambience of period Prog Rock and Psychedelia. The poetry of Byron is embedded throughout; with suggestions of his chimerical reincarnation. And there is, of course, a love story, albeit an unusual affair.
The book can be ordered in paperback or as an e-book:
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Here is the prologue:
My little sister; I lost her when she was just a child. One moment we were together, the next she was gone. Her physical memory has become blurred into an arbitrary collection of blue-eyed glances, soft tones, touches and laughter. But underneath the dulled remembrance rests the overwhelming loss; at least a loss that has overwhelmed me. She usually comes to me in dreams, but not always.
There was a place at the end of an overgrown garden, down a bank and through some alders to a narrow, dirty brook. I presume it’s still there. We used to spend endless summer days in that gloomy refuge. We read, talked, ruminated, napped. Our secret chatter should have made its mark there. But everything else rests only with me, in my memory. Her memory is gone. It has become something other than memory.
She always saw faeries there. When she was a little girl she’d play games with them, but when she was a bigger girl she just talked with them. I was only allowed peripheral glimpses of them amidst the leaves, and their voices were never more than the drone of the brook made fleetingly real during drifts into and out of sleep. But I believed in her belief. She’d always start with the invocation: We must not look at faerie men; we must not eat their fruits. Who knows upon what soil they fed their hungry, thirsty roots. And then she would laugh and skip down to her special places within the overhanging trees where she would begin her communions.
She was twelve the last time we went there. It was damp and the brook had a musty smell. She came back from one of her spots amid the trees, pale and tearful. The faeries had sung her a requiem. They promised her she would be able to come back to me as a blackbird for a short while, but only for a short while. After her annihilation she would have to disappear from the world. She cried as we made our way through the garden. There were no words, just tears. I cannot think further about what happened after this. It is not something I have learned to contemplate without despair.
It was a month or so after her death that I finally allowed myself to visit her grave in the churchyard. The thought of her lifeless, decomposing corpse only a few feet away from me became too much, and I retreated to a bench by the church porch. I sobbed and clutched the seat beneath me. Through the tear-mist I saw a female blackbird skip from the branch of a yew tree above me to within a pace of my foot, chirping with vigour. She cocked her head and looked at me with one dark eye.
‘I love you,’ I whispered.
She preened her wing, cocked her head once more and then darted away to a low branch.
‘I love you,’ I said again.
I bowed my head and closed my wet eyes. A gust of wind made itself known. It carried within its airy tone the residue of a voice, modulated through the yew tree: I am dead but dreaming. I am dreaming of you.
The cover image of the book is by the supernally talented Ylenia Viola.
And here’s a piece by me about the book on Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo – Guest Author.