The Belly Moon




The Owl King's wife is carrying the moon. It waxes within her, surrounded by a blood-black cosmos that is starred with dreams and hopes. Its bones are made from her blessings. Owl silence guides its shape. The Owl King's wife is pregnant with the old country magic of love.

Come night, sparrows and wild horses take her down to the forest lake. Rose petals, fern fronds, drift on the waters - the Owl King has ordered the birds to do this, for nothing is too beautiful for his wife. He has procured honey and cream soap for her to wash with. She lays in the fragrant dark lake as if it is a sky in which the moon can grow, and she cleanses the day from her skin. Dirt specks, difficult moments, hard-edged words. They float away; she becomes soft again. Every night she does this to prevent cracks in her skin as it stretches; cracks in her soul. She is waxing like the moon, like her child: she is growing to motherhood.

And the Owl King sits on the highest branch in the forest and watches the world. He watches long and watches slow, pretending he has some power over this situation, but feeling as vulnerable as a feather caught in a storm. For no one knows better than he there is no netting the moon.

As night tips tendered into morning, the Owl King's wife goes to sleep water-scented and soft amongst alyssum, with badgers for her guard. She dreams of nebulae full of wonderment as the child stirs. She has the moon beneath her heart, the earth against her skin. She is a universe.





Married to the Owl King




He brings her flowers and the tiny sweet secrets of mice. He takes off his crown of oak-branch and star-bit, sighing as the weight leaves him, and he lays down slow and soft beside her in the moonlight. She has loved him since a morning in May, when the trees were fatly flowered and little birds leapt into his long black gaze. When he turned that gaze on her, she was caught. 

But perhaps she had gone to the forest wanting capture. She does not remember. It does not matter at all. He has her, gold ring and signed register, heart and soul.

She is like a bird herself, quiet and lithely dreaming of sunlight - and knowing at any moment he might swallow her. When she says this to him he agrees, and yet he answers in turn that she could fly away from him, out of his forest, where he can not follow. The words falter as if his heart is breaking at the very thought. Even though his eyes are so dark. His mouth so brittle. Who knows what he might do. Uncertainty is the only sure thing when married to the Owl King. Soft feathers, blood-stained claws.

He says she must be made of wild roses and the evening song of sparrows. He says if they opened his gizzard they would find there all the bones of her words. By this, she thinks he loves her. By his cold smile, she remembers though those claws. 

Her mother calls to offer an escape route - come out of the forest, she pleads; come back to the warm walled world. Her friends shake their heads worriedly - you are going to get eaten up, spit out. Black bryony will grow from your body left scattered amongst tree roots.


But she has seen him in flight. Beneath the soar of moon-white wings, in the deeps of night-black eyes, with the forest singing around her and the owl's sensuous silence, she has wed herself utterly, freely, madly, to the wild in him. 



illustration by susan seddon blouet

The Time of Your Life




I am the nineteen I never got to be. Or at least I have spent my whole life, since nineteen, trying to be. The nineteen that would have come with an old school education, associating with a certain kind of company, not being bullied, not living in the wrong city.

The heart strives to be corrective. Or else maybe it just can't let go. My nana was always nineteen too, but differently from me - her nineteen was some half a century before mine, after all. She seemed to live as if she was holding on to the innocence of the months before the war. Back when my grandfather walked her home from dances under stars; back before he experienced something in Asia that silenced him. For me, nineteen was when I got to university, after two years waitressing to pay the bills, and discovered the Wild Swans of Coole, and French history, and learned that you can read all the books you want but it's the reading them in coffee shops on rainy days that matters; it's the talking poems with like-minded people - it's about you, not your books.

I never sat in coffee shops (impoverished student) or chatted poetry (shy young woman at a university which had no social or hobby clubs). I'm still working on being nineteen, and maybe after that I'll grow up.

Except this idea of growing up, growing old ... maid, mother, the other one ... it's as if we are as linear as we suppose time is. But I don't believe in that. I say we're layered, and the face we are right now isn't necessarily who we are in our heart. I know you've met men who don't seem to be more than twelve. And sixteen year old grandmothers, dancing in the kitchen on a Friday night. And children who are fifty inside.

What age are you? What year of your life mattered that much?






The Quiet Girls




The quiet girls are off somewhere reading. You can find them if you look, they're not actually hiding, it's just that few people look. They are wearing dream-like dresses and their hands smell of old books. And they have tucked the little scratches of the day, the careless words, unkind smiles, too much noise, things going wrong, like flowers between pages, to be drawn out gently later as wild and aching poems.

Whenever you approach them they will be at the most important part of the story and in need of more tea.

And if you shook them, which I hope you wouldn't, they'd shed from their cardigan pockets notes about horses, and leaves of roses (the actual roses are in their hair), and a battered old library card, and tissues. They can do many things with those tissues. They can wipe away tears, wrap small presents, place one into a shoe as a remedy for blisters, use another as a bookmark, tend to the scrapes of anyone fallen from a tree, assess the direction of the breeze, write poems on them, create origami swans.

And if you left them, they would sink deeper into silence. So deep so low that the next time you went past they would be gone - down a sunlit road or over the ocean or into some book. You'd spend the rest of your life wondering if you'd done them a favour or not.

And if you kissed them, they would grow wings. They deserve wings. They are the good souls of this world, which is why of course they spend so much time somewhere else, alone and dreaming, safe with their books.

All they every really want is everything (and another cup of tea please.)



illustration by dollydust on polyvore


The Seasons of Her Life



Once she was a dreamer on the hill without trees. Once another time she taught about old, wicked kings. And she rode through oak valleys, sailed storms, cast spells in smoky darkness, wore bells around her ankles. A tumble of ghosts live in her reminiscent heart. And she's old enough now to look back on them with love.

But she doesn't want to be them still, for all that she misses their days. She wants to have grown older. That feels right. Shedding skins as she goes through life. What she was then, she gave to then. She lived it deep, she loved it wild. It does not belong in now.

And she understands finally it is not about letting go. It is the womanly way of becoming. She is living all of herself, thoroughly.


illustration arthur rackham


reading between wild stars and the sea



When I was eighteen, I lived alone on an island of ghosts and trees. All night I would lie awake within the shelter of candlelight to compose strange, rambling stories about lost children, ensorcelled castles, singing stars like the stars that sang over the forest hunkered all around me. During the day I wandered the lonely stony paths and read in warm shadows. One lot of books I clearly remember from that time was the Isle series by Nancy Springer.


The White Hart, The Silver Sun, The Sable Moon : these titles alone enchanted me. (The series also included The Black Beast and The Golden Swan, but I only read them later.) Nancy's gentle, lyrical language and characters won my heart. Bevan the son of the moon, Hal the troubled prince, Meg and Maeve and the other wild-souled aspects of the goddess. I loved also the small details - plinsets, wolves, haunted swords, unicorns. Really, there are no other books in my collection that are as poetically, freely magical as these.

I have recently been rereading them yet again. (The cover of The Silver Sun finally fell off as I did so.) But I made the mistake of looking them up on Goodreads to see what other people thought of them. Readers these days are so clever, so educated about the fantasy genre, so cynical - the reviews left me downcast. They proclaim the books cliched, unintelligent, too much like Tolkien. (I've noticed that any story containing elves or magic is "like Tolkien", which is ridiculous.) The Isle books are written in a detached style which modern readers dislike, but for me that adds to the sense of them being an old story, told aloud on some moonless night, stirring magic in the hearthfire and the hearts of those who listen. They belong to a different age of storytelling ... or perhaps just a different age in me ... or perhaps they will always have to my mind the eeriness of island nights festooned with wild stars and paced by spirits.

When I read the Isle books I feel like I am reading a memory, a beautiful ghost of what used to be, and no one it seems believes in ghosts these days. We are all too clever.

On the Profit of Storytelling

 

I have had moments over the past couple of months when I've wondered why I post stories here for free instead of collecting them in a book to sell. I don't really wonder for long. There's such a difference between writing a story for a weblog and one for a book. The stories I put here are little wild things. Mostly they take a few minutes to write and I barely edit them. They are roadside flowers rather than roses; they are thoughts spun into tales instead of essays. Because of this, there is a joy in writing them, a freedom that allows me to simply have fun with storytelling, rather than labouring over the craft of it. 

One of the stories has for some reason inexplicable to me become quite popular, and been read in the past couple of weeks by perhaps as many people as would buy a published storybook in a year. That's lovely, but honestly not as lovely receiving letters from people telling me how my stories, books, or poems have affected them. I even had a request from a school to use my work in their senior class. Please, please don't think I tell you this to boast, I only want to explain the fulfillment it brings me, the peace and happiness, the sense of purpose. Some days when I am out in the world and it's all very hard, there are people in suits and high heeled shoes striding past, talking on phones, doing important things, and I'm feeling small and useless and wishing I'd just stayed at home, a quiet voice inside my heart will remind me that a story I wrote meant something to someone, and that gives me such strength.

It's hard sharing all that, especially as a shy person, because it really does sound conceited. I don't meant it to. Obviously, if my writing was really good, I'd be a far bigger name by now. And it's quite rare for one of my blogposts to become very popular. So I have no conceit. Only I thought it would be interesting? honest? helpful? to share a little of how it feels to be a writer whose words are read after a whole lifetime of wishing for that to happen. It seems to me writers seldom talk about these kinds of things. I'm not really in a position where my experience counts as much, but even so, there it is.

I will probably never be famous, or have thousands of followers, or be liked by famous writers, or be in the papers. But none of that is why I write. I write because I am a writer. I think in story. It's never about considering profit or markets or whatever. It's just about being in the world.


illustration by walter crane


Sunshine and Stormheart



It used to be or never was that there lived two sisters in a village at the edge of the tsar's great pine forest. Their names were Sunshine and Stormheart, and each was as unalike to the other as those names suggested - for although both were poor, indeed only barely making ends meet, they minded it very differently.

Sunshine always looked on the bright side. She thought, "I may live in a mud and thatch hut, but at least I have shelter. Thank the god for it! And I may subside on eggs, cabbage, and roots, but at least I have my own little golden hen and a garden to provide for me. What pleasure they bring. And although my body aches, especially when breezes wail through these frail mud walls, I am alive, and the world is beautiful."

Stormheart, on the other hand, felt discontent. She did not like the way her own mud and thatch hut leaked, and how breezes came through gaps in the walls. It was unhealthy, she grumbled. And she was thoroughly sick of eggs, cabbage, and roots. When her body ached, she complained of it. And when the world shone with all its beauty, she sighed because life was so hard and lonely, she could not enjoy it. 

Sunshine pitied her sister. "You ought to be grateful for what you have. I am, and see how happy it makes me."

Stormheart scowled. Sunshine was indeed happy, but Stormheart could not find peace of mind so easily. Whenever she tried, rain dripped on it through the roof. At last, in her discontent, she gathered leafy branches and leftover hay, and she climbed on up to repair that roof. And then she was dry. She smiled.

But still breezes wailed on through the holey old walls. "Put on another shawl and sing with them," said Sunshine. "Be glad you have fresh air circulating, it is good for the lungs."

Stormheart thought that fresh air made her lungs wheeze and cough. So in her discontent she made mud patches until the walls were quite secure and her home became nicely snug. Again, she smiled.

But still she suffered poor health due to her diet. She muttered to her sister, "No one can thrive on only eggs, cabbage, and roots."

"Be of better cheer," answered Sunshine. "You have a little golden hen of your very own. Your cabbage grows well. The moist black earth provides. You are blessed, as am I."

Stormheart did not feel blessed. She felt hungry. So despite feeling shy, she took a basket of eggs and cabbage to the local miller and exchanged them for bread. And indeed her cabbage did grow well - so well, the miller told his friends of its quality, and they came to purchase more from Stormheart. Soon she had butter, cheese, apples, in her pantry. How she smiled!

But although her stomach was now full, her body continued aching. She grumbled to Sunshine, who sighed. "Oh, Stormheart, if only you would have less self-pity. Your back bends you down to your garden, and lifts you up to see the sun. Your limbs carry you about. Your eyes see the wonders of the world around you. Thank the god for your miraculous body."

Stormheart was not inclined to thank the god for pain and discomfort. Instead, she took pity on herself. Filling a bath with warm water and herbs, she soaked all afternoon and had a good old weep. Oh, life was hard sometimes! Oh, how she wished for ease! And her muscles relaxed in the warm water, and her spirit relaxed in the balm of acknowledgement. Afterwards, she felt so improved that she made this a regular habit.

Within a month, she had grown stronger, and was able to walk further in the woods, through the fields, where she found good mushrooms and flowers to add to her meals. With the increased exercise and nutrition, she was even able to walk all the way to town.

"Why would you go so far?" Sunshine asked. "All you need is here in the village."

 "But I want more," Stormheart replied.

"And therefore you make yourself discontent," Sunshine said. "Be glad for what you have."

Nevertheless, Stormheart went. She took her cabbages to market. And there she met a secretary to the tsarevich. He accidentally knocked her basket, sending cabbages rolling through the street, and instead of politely excusing it, she requested compensation. They got to talking, they got to drinking tea, and two months later they got to marrying in the chapel at the tsarevich's palace. Stormheart closed up her hut, gave her little golden hen to Sunshine, and went to live with her husband in his fine townhouse. She laughed, and loved, and was never hungry again.

Sunshine continued to count her blessings every day, mud and roots and all.






illustration by sulamith wulfing


Sharing the Answers

 


My sky is coiling with darkness and thunder. Sometimes these summer dramatics come to nothing, but I am hoping for rain. The garden needs it, my heart needs it.

Thank you to everyone who responded to my little survey. The results have been interesting ...

More than half the respondents would prefer to read a novel over any other form of literature, with short stories and non fiction each taking an equal part of the remaining chart. This wasn't surprising to me. I myself prefer to read novels, although I prefer to write short stories.

Just over half preferred a fairytale setting for a story, as opposed to only 4% wanting an imaginary world. This surprised me as the industry wisdom always used to be that people prefer imaginary worlds like Pern, Ombria, Earthsea, Middle Earth. I love them - I love drawing maps and building languages and cultures - infact, love doing this so much I seldom get past it to the actual writing of a story. (You should see my visual notes for Erland and Celanthwy from the Aftermark story!) About a quarter each wanted an historic setting and a modern one - which, for fantasy, translates as mythic fiction.

Half liked a gentle, dreamy style of writing - what I consider a McKillip style. 23% would rather have something thoughtful and sober, along the lines of modern literary fiction or a Bronte novel. The fact adventurous and engaging/humorous only got a small response is probably just reflective of this particular community, considering the popularity of writers like Terry Pratchett and Connie Willis and dozens of fantasy adventure authors.

I was surprised that almost half considered beautiful writing and setting to be the most important element of a story. Character relationships came a close second. Clever plotting was a distant third. No one cared about action. This was perhaps the most informative section for me as a writer.

Lastly, and predictably, the vast majority wanted to be heart-stirred by a story. Of the remaining options, a small number wanted to be made to think, and hardly anyone cared about being entertained and visually inspired.

When I consider the results as a whole, it seems clear that the readers who answered the poll want most of all to read something truthful. That doesn't mean something literally true; infact, there is a sense that people prefer transcendance of the ordinary, at least in tone. What it means rather is a story which captures some universal experience of the soul.

It seems hopeful to me that in these awful times people want beauty, depth, authenticity. 

And now the rain is here, soaking my world with wild grey magic. I hope your day is magical too in its own way.


illustration hermann vogel


Looking for Answers

 


She walked ways of old roses and broken roads, looking for answers to the weeping of the world. But all she learned was that there were roses, and tiny things with such breakable wings living in the cracks of the roads, and that in the end she could only do what she could do for the world's weeping, and hope it was enough.

* * *

Today is gentle, warm, and calm, as I always think a Sunday ought to be. It is unfortunately not quite peaceful though. The tiny story above was inspired by the fact my absent neighbour's alarm has been sounding for the past three days and nights. I have been listening to a great deal of lovely music to try covering the sound of it.

* * *


And now, I offer you a little survey, because I think they're fun to make and to answer. If you have trouble viewing it here you can follow this link instead. (I'm particularly interested in hearing from people who read my weblog and/or my books.)


The Dreamer in Sunlight Hours



Sometimes I worry that I am not doing enough with my time. I disagree with Mary Oliver that this is my one wild and precious life, for I'm certain something comes afterwards ... but even so. Every day should be full of worthwhile endeavour or adventure, ought it not?

But then I remind myself that my life is not just held in daylight. There is the moonside of it also, the dreamside. We breathe in our waking hours, breathe out our sleep. We live these streets and gardens, and we live our mystical, feral dreams. Who is to say that what we do with the outside of existence is more important than the inside?

Perhaps even the real living is done when we dream, just as the real living for trees happens where we can not see it - beneath the earth, in their roots. And so our days would be just an outward expression of our sleepworld. I certainly believe waking and dreaming are equally real, equally important.

Perhaps the Faeryland we seem to know well enough to tell stories about is right there, before our closed eyes.


illustration Barry Windsor-Smith


Beneath her Forest-Lit Skin



She lived amongst the trees and old wild things, and so her skin had become dappled with oaken light and furred with shed strands of brown and white. She was not even sure what she might look like beneath that. Memories of old cities lined her knuckles. Memories of islands and oceans were half-hidden between her toes. But apparently every seven years you shed all your skin and are new again, so maybe she was ghost upon ghost, held in the substance of borrowed forest.

She loved that wild-populated woodland. But there were times when she wondered if she could love herself too. Perhaps one day she would go gypsing to learn whether mountains lay lovelier on her skin, or farmland painted more beautifully her various scars, or moors could be soft over her heart.




Someone told me recently that it's hard to hold on to happiness and fulfillment when you're an empath, but you can more easily keep a quiet ground of inner contentment. My own sense of fulfillment is like a wild sky, and yesterday in a northerly I decided it was time to change my instagram name (again). But I could not figure anything that would cover all I loved, at least not for long. So I went back to Knitting the Wind. Might as well have it here too, and be consistent across platforms. It's good enough (for now). I can be content with it.

Creative writing is also hard when you are an empath, I find. It's not so much that there are too many enticing stories (there are) but that there are too many writers one could be. I realised lately that it may be better after all to not write from the heart, giving something of it to the world, but to write for the heart, with empathy towards oneself. Perhaps this leads to a truer giving, since one is writing not an echo of the forest and the deer and the sorrowing badger, but the woman who stands amongst them, the song beneath her skin. 



 illustration henry ford

The Dark Castle




It did not begin with a rose. It began as all stories do with a wondering. Before the forest, the castle, the storm, there was a ship that went out with a question - what can I find at the far side of the world? This unanswered question, this lost ship, opened a space for story to tumble in. Other questions followed, guiding the story as possibility guides the laying of a new road ... what do we do now, where can we live, what gift would you like, who are you, will you take the rose, will you marry me, will you come back?

The old merchant took the rose for his youngest daughter because he thought his strand of the story was the only important one. But the world was weaving its own strand right along with him. You can not take without being offered the chance to give in return. You may turn down that offer, and then mystery, potentiality, will die without you ever knowing it. Or you may send your heart into the dark castle, the strange old space of story, and see what becomes of it.

I can tell you now what you will find in that castle. Love, always love. That is the only story ever being told.




Sister of Trees

 


I went to my old stamping ground today - to pale streets softened by oak and elm, skies filled with hills. There, the air is different. Its wind stories are different. I felt like myself again walking through it. And I came away wondering how much of us is inside stuff, and how much outside. In other words, are our selves perhaps a relationship, a conversation we are having not only with our own minds and muscles and memories, but with the breeze and local trees and the land's contours? Who I am in my current neighbourhood beside the sea is very different from who I am in the oak shadows.

When I returned from there, I was greeted at the threshold of my village by a gaping brown space where a beautiful elm had stood only yesterday. They kill so many trees here. I don't understand them. How can anyone thrive when surrounded by soulless concrete and glass? What are they doing to their selves as they converse so contemptuously with the environment?

For a little while I got to whisper away with wild pansies and wonky hedges, grey breezes, old luxuriant trees. It changed how my muscles moved and heart dreamed. Maybe I shall go again next week.



The Moon Hare Carries Away Winter



In the night a hare was leaping like the last white song of winter over darkened hills. It had a smile in its eyes, shining, brightly shining. It had the moon hanging from its long left ear, swinging, slowly swinging. And the moon was shadowed with hare memories of wild grass, warm earth. And the smile was a tale untold. And where the hare leapt, flowers grew - small heirlooms of the winter, given over to the new season.

In a house in quiet darkness, a woman was watching the lyrical turn of the world. She had stars in her tea and honey in her comfortable silence. And the honey stuck to her tongue like old bee dreaming. And the tea tasted wild. In the morning she would go out to gather white flowers, grieving winter, and when she came home she would leave the door open to let summer in.



the beautiful illustration is by karen davis
karen's weblog inspired the mood for the story,
but this picture was found after the story was written.
moonlightandhares.blogspot.com