Thoughts from a writing life…

Manda’s New Novel

I genuinely believed I’d stopped writing novels. I’d become a podcaster instead, a smallholder, a holder-of-courses where people could learn in real time the things that might yet still turn us away from the multi-polar cliff edge to which our dysfunctional culture is hurtling us with such terrifying speed.

Writing books takes a long time and the publishing process is too slow and why would I take years to get an idea into the world when I could put it out in an hour’s podcast on a Monday afternoon? So, because we’re going to need carbon-sparing modes of healing as our culture disintegrates, I started training to be a homeopath and that ate up all my spare bandwidth, which was fine.

And then at the summer solstice of 2021, as Covid was winding down, I taught one of the more advanced shamanic dreaming courses online: the one I said I’d never teach remotely because basic safety dictated that we had to all be in the room together.

But there were students in Germany, and Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland who really didn’t want to spend two weeks in quarantine either side of what amounts to a long weekend in Wales, and they brought their collective persuasion to bear and I caved. So there we were, gathered on Zoom for some fairly exacting journeys, and while it’s not usual for visions to arise while I’m drumming, it’s not entirely unusual either. What’s novel is for those visions to include instructions to arrive more or less in plain text when they’re usually couched more in metaphors and allusions and half-felt sensations that can take a long time to parse out.

But here it was: ‘Take the fossilized horse’s tooth that holds the southern side of the SE/Ancestor gate on the altar. Get some horse skin from someone who works with honour of what has died and bind the tooth to this particular horizontal bough of hawthorn in the ancient hedge on the hill above the farm. Then sit with your back to it every night for an hour as the sun goes down. ‘
I asked, ‘How long do I do this for?’
‘Until further notice.’

Wild pony weathering a rainstorm on a hill where we like to walk

Right. Big deep breath. If I’ve learned one thing in the decades of working this way, it’s that ignoring the gods is not a sensible thing to do. It took me a while to source horse hide from someone with genuine integrity, but that was fine because I had the veterinary homeopathy exams coming up and it’s a while since I sat an exam; this took up a fair bit of bandwidth too, (Huge thanks here to Jenny Howard who made it possible).

But then all was in place, and it was summer and the evenings were grand, and I sat with my back to the Ancestor Horse and watched the crows go to bed in the ash trees that line the river beyond the farm and wondered what it would be like by February, when everything might not be so idyllic.

But really, I wasn’t there for long. Within a week, through a process I cannot begin to unpick, I had the basic premise for a new book: the idea of a woman on the edge of death who makes a binding promise and has to honour it.

With a narrative arc following her after death, as she is shown how to split the timelines and, in the end, can see the one (or perhaps a one) where humanity reaches forward to a flourishing future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that follow us: that set of actions and ideas and ways of being that would leave our grandchildren’s grandchildren saying, Heck, they left it way, way too late, but when it really mattered, enough people pulled together in a direction that changed the whole trajectory of history. And here we are. And here is good.

And this is not something that I could do in an hour’s podcast on a Monday afternoon. Also, the equally clear instruction was, ‘Now go and write the book.’
‘What about the sitting on the hill thing?’
‘You can do that if you want, but writing the book has priority.’
So no need to sit out in the rain on a freezing February evening. I wasn’t entirely unhappy about that.

The book, though…if I hadn’t spent nearly three years hosting the podcast and talking to people about exactly these ideas, I wouldn’t have had a clue where to start. Even so, the journey has taken me to places, and ways of being, I’d never encountered before.

I am not going to pretend that the result is the only way forward. If nothing else, the political landscape became particularly fluid as the writing progressed. I’d originally set the whole narrative in 2024 and it became clear that this wasn’t viable, if only because the changes were too rapid and too great to predict and what mattered more than anything was that this book feel more like ‘this is happening’ than ‘this might have happened in a fantasy future.’

So it’s set at a particular fork in time that was the future when I began to write and is now the past. This exact fork hasn’t happened in any reality I inhabit, but the concepts, the mind-sets, the ways-of-being…these are all still possible. They’re necessary, too. The detail might be different if other people pick up this Thrutopian baton, but there’s a universal core to who and how humanity needs to work for us to flourish. We need to find connection, compassion, clarity and self-coherence. As Jon Alexander says in his outstanding nonfiction work, ‘Citizens’, we need to stop being consumers and start seeing ourselves as part of a different, more connected web. We need to find good faith again and a common truth. Above all, we need ways of arranging local, national and international governance and economics so that each of these is in service to the flourishing future our hearts know is possible.

There will be another book to follow this. I’ll start writing it in the new year and hope there is still a world in which it can be published by the time it’s ready to greet you.

In the meantime, as is the way with publishing cycles, the latest one is hovering over a desk or two, waiting for responses. It’ll grind through the terrifyingly slow process that is publishing, and yes, you’ll definitely get notice of when it’s going to hit the real and virtual shelves. The working title is ‘West of the Sunset, North of Tomorrow’. I’m already dreaming the cover art.

Planning the next book during a windswept break in Cornwall



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