A younger William Blake, self portrait
Works of fiction are derived from many sources. They may be the products of pure imagination; they may be founded upon an author’s real life experiences and encounters; they may imitate other books or they may parody those; the stories may be a form of self-help therapy, working through an author’s life experiences (and I confess that I think this has often applied to me!); lastly, they may be the fruit of considerable research and reflection. Many works of historical fiction fall into this latter category, depending upon hours of dedicated reading around the subject and period by their writers.
My latest novel, Albion awake!, may be a work of fantasy, involving time travel and fairies, but it was also inspired by decades of reading into a variety of subjects. For those inspired to investigate further some of the themes discussed by my characters- for instance, anarchism, Buddhism and the Situationists- I have compiled a list of my recommended books. These are the key texts which have informed and excited me, in the most reasonably priced and accessible versions I can find. Needless to say, Wikipedia will take your studies even further.
- William Blake, Selected poems (Wordsworth Paperbacks)-an excellent and very comprehensive selection of our hero’s work. Blake’s words and thoughts are woven into the text and texture of Albion awake! (and of course supply the title for the book). His imagery (verbal and visual), his independent spirit and his commitment to his vision are all a source of inspiration (see here).
- Ivor Gurney, Selected poems (Oxford Poets)- readers will already be aware of my high regard for Ivor Gurney (see my earlier posting- Great literary ramblers which also mentions Blake). The recommended volume offers a very good selection of the best and most poignant works (see here). Gurney had a troubled life, fighting in Flanders, suffering mental illness and dying young in an asylum. Some context to the poems can be helpful, for which I suggest The ordeal of Ivor Gurney by Michael Hurd (see here).
- The Mabinogion (Oxford World Classics)- the Welsh medieval myths; the root of the Arthurian legends and much more. In my early to mid twenties I was particularly interested in the romances of Arthur’s court and in the early literature of England, Ireland and Wales. They constitute ‘the matter of Britain’ which form the substrate of our national mythology- the Wasteland, the sleeping king, the quest. All these themes have seeped into Albion awake!
- T.S.Eliot,The Four Quartets (Faber Poetry)- I personally prefer the Four Quartets to The Wasteland, perhaps because they are more accessible (less Latin and Greek!) as well as being more English and more lyrical. Eliot of course knew his medieval literature, and drew on the ideas of Chretien de Troyes and Malory.
- Engels, The condition of the English working class, (Penguin Classics)- for anyone with an interest in English urban or social history,or with an interest in the origins of the Labour movement, this is a key text and a source of righteous dismay at the living conditions of Manchester’s poor in Victorian times. A visit to the People’s History Museum on the Left Bank of the river in Manchester is also highly recommended (visit- www.phm.org.uk/)
- The world turned upside down, Christopher Hill (Penguin)- a very compact survey of all the radical movements released by the English Civil War- including the Levellers and the Diggers. I discovered the radicals of the English revolution during my A-level studies; the proto-communism of Gerrard Winstanley and others made a profound impression. See too the 1975 black and white film of Winstanley’s life, available on DVD.
- George Berger,The Story of Crass– musically and politically an inspiration to me: here’s their ‘career’ history, looking at the records, the philosophy and the band’s other activities. Whilst on the subject of anarchism, I should also mention another book sharing the same title was my own, Albion awake- Mystical anarchism and the national quest for an alternative Britain, by Wayne John Sturgeon. Clearly there are related themes in our two titles, albeit handled in very different ways.
The pyramid stage at Polgooth free festival,1979- just down the road from my aunties’ house in St Austell- though I don’t think she went…
- George McKay, Senseless acts of beauty– this is a history of radical and alternative political movements in England since the 1960s, the Albion Free State, free festivals, road protesters and the like. I found it informative and inspiring, as well as bringing back powerful memories of the Stonehenge festival, New Age travellers and the official response.
- George Melly & Roger Perry, The writing on the wall– this is an account of the political (and surreal) graffiti that appeared in London in the 1960s and 70s. A visual treat that is both thought provoking and often very funny!
- Buddhism- a complete introduction (Teach Yourself)- I spent a good deal of my early twenties studying Zen, Daoism and other eastern philosophies (as recounted in a couple of my more autobiographical books: Rewind and edit and The inequity of redemption). They have left an indelible mark on my thinking and my approach to existence. There are stacks of cheap and accessible introductions to Buddhism generally and to Zen specifically. Here’s just a couple: Buddhism- a complete introduction (Teach Yourself) or Buddhism- plain and simple by Steve Hagen.
This list represents some of the essential elements and concepts that went into the brew for Albion awake! I hope, of course, that you can read the story as a stand alone and still enjoy the adventure and the debate, but for a deeper appreciation of the foundations upon which I have built, and of the deep wells upon which I draw, then I hope this guide will be useful. You can purchase the book, either in Kindle or paperback edition, through Amazon. I have also posted separately on britishfairies.wordpress.com on the subject of William Blake and fairies. More generally, you can read about my writing (fiction and non-fiction) in the field of folklore on my website.