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"Now comes FIRST LIGHT, a celebration of the work of Alan Garner, whose books explore the mysterious subterranean links between the present and the past, between psychology and landscape, between the real and the dream. If the rocks, caves, lakes, fens, bogs and dens of the land of Britain had a voice, it would sound like Alan Garner telling a story.” - Philip Pullman
The purpose of the storyteller is to relate the truth in a manner that is simple: to integrate without reduction; for it is rarely possible to declare the truth as it is, because the Universe presents itself as a Mystery. We have to find parables; we have to tell stories to unriddle the world.
ALAN GARNER, The Voice that Thunders (1997)
Described by Philip Pullman as ‘the most important British writer of fantasy since Tolkien’, Alan Garner has enraptured generations of readers with novels like The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath, Elidor, The Owl Service, Red Shift, and The Stone Book Quartet. His huge knowledge and love of folklore have been shared in his collections of fairytales, Alan Garner’s Book of British Fairytales, A Bag of Moonshine and Fairytales of Gold. His later novels, Strandloper, Thursbitch and Boneland continue and deepen his exploration of the language, folklore and history of the particular patch of Cheshire that is his own ‘boneland’. This extraordinary body of work has fascinated and inspired readers and writers alike for more than fifty years.
Alan Garner turned 80 last year, and in celebration, many of the writers, artists, archaeologists and historians he has inspired are contributing pieces to this volume. Whether a literary essay or a personal response to Alan’s work, a memory of the time they first read his work, or a story about the man himself, each piece will be a tribute to his far-reaching influence. Edited by the acclaimed novelist and journalist, Erica Wagner, it will make a beautiful and important book for anyone who cares about the power of story to enrich and transform.
Confirmed contributors include: Margaret Atwood, David Almond, Dr Teresa Anderson (Jodrell Bank), Frank Cottrell Boyce, John Burnside, Susan Cooper, Amanda Craig, Maura Dooley, Helen Dunmore, Stephen Fry, Cornelia Funke, Neil Gaiman, Ben Haggarty, Nick Hennessey, Andrew Hodges, Tom Holland, Elizabeth Garner, Professor Ronald Hutton, Paul Kingsnorth, Olivia Laing, Katherine Langrish, Hugh Lupton, Robert Macfarlane, Helen Macdonald, Gregory Maguire, Bel Mooney, Professor Richard Morris, Neel Mukherjee, Richard Ovenden (Bodleian Library), Neil Philip, Professor John Prag, Philip Pullman, Ali Smith, Ian Thorpe (MGS), Salley Vickers, Rowan Williams, Michael Wood, Elizabeth Wein, Dougald Hine.
What am I pledging for?
As well as the receiving the book and enjoying the rewards listed opposite, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of First Light will be donated to the Blackden Trust, a charitable trust that works to preserve and share the ten thousand years of history, two ancient houses and countless stories that have emerged from the acre of Cheshire land which has sustained Alan Garner for almost sixty years and where all his work has originated.
Erica Wagner is an author and journalist, born in New York City, but resident in London. Her first job was helping her mother open the fan mail for The Muppets, but she came to England in the 1980s, and was educated at Cambridge and the University of East Anglia, where she was taught by Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. She went on to become the Literary Editor of The Times between 1996 and 2013.
Erica is the author of Gravity (1997) a collection of short stories and Ariel’s Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the Story of Birthday Letters (2000). Her first novel Seizure (2007) was described by the writer Claire Messud as ‘lyrical, compelling, profoundly unsettling…a novel like no other’. As well as editing First Light she is working on a new book, The Chief Engineer: A Biography of Washington Roebling, the Man Who Built Brooklyn Bridge.
She has judged many literary prizes including the Orange Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Prize, the Forward Prize for poetry and twice been a judge for the Man Booker Prize.
[THIS INTERVIEW IS NOT AN EXTRACT FROM THE BOOK BUT OFFERS A GOOD INTRODUCTION TO ALAN’S WORK]
VALLEY OF THE LIVING DREAD
The stone is a mile from Thursbitch. A carved stone on the verge of a Cheshire lane, now perpendicular to the road but when Alan Garner first came across it -- bounding over the moor one Saturday in July, a little over 50 years ago -- it was flat against the bank, its back hidden. Garner saw:
HERE JOHN TUR
NER WAS CAST
AWAY IN A HEAVY
SNOW STORM IN
THE NIGHT IN OR
ABOUT THE YEAR
Poor John Turner, but not much more to it. Yet in clearing the grit to read the inscription, Garner realised that the back had been carved as well. As darkness began to fall, his arm hooked behind the stone, his fingers found another inscription:
THE PRINT OF A
WOMANS SHOE WAS
FOUND BY HIS SIDE
IN THE SNOW WERE
HE LAY DEAD
The "h" of "where", having been mistakenly left out by the carver, is neatly added below, as the mason would have been paid by the letter.
John Turner was a local man, a "jagger" or packman, his business in his time to transport goods out of Cheshire and back again. He would have known the road and the weather: why would he have died so close to home? On a grey September morning, as I stood by the stone with Garner's wife, Griselda, this mystery that half a century ago sparked his new novel had lost none of its power. Why this death? Why so memorialised and yet the date uncertain? Only the single print of a woman's shoe? Stone and fiction rang against each other in the air.
- 5th July 2016 Beyond the Border and beyond...
Greetings, friends! I thought you might like a little update on the continuing journey of First Light. Just this past weekend I was at the wondrous Beyond the Border International Storytelling festival in Wales, one of my very favourite places to be in all the wide world. If you've never been, you should go -- in 2018, when the next festival will run. In the meantime, of course, you can follow @BTBStorytelling…1st June 2016 Still shining...
What an exciting time we're having! I'm so thrilled by the reception of First Light -- here's a wonderful blog by Benjamin Myers, and another by Kate Macdonald. Kate's conclusion is one I'm awfully pleased to hear: "Despite all the necessary publicity and puffery needed to get this book off the ground, it’s a great addition to biography. I’m glad I subscribed." See? Sometimes puffery and publicity…6th April 2016 Queen of the Compost
... and so it was that First Light was launched at the Oxford Literary Festival on Monday. As the storytellers say, I wish you all had been there: and yet, of course, you were, because without your support this extraordinary book would never have come into being. And it is an extraordinary book: yes, I'm the editor, but looking down the list of contributors, and seeing so many of them in the Weston…9th February 2016 A special event on March 12...
Team First Light! I’ve got some news for you -- something to while away the time while you wait for our publication in May.
If you’re going to be in or even near Cheshire next month, there’s a real treat available on March 12th. Professor Ronald Hutton, one of our contributors -- and who is an authority on British folklore, pre-Christian religion and contemporary Paganism -- will be giving a…4th February 2016 Down to the wire!
First Light is fully funded and ready to go -- we've known that for a while. Now we have an official publication date -- May -- and I've seen what the (beautiful!) cover will look like. Nope, I'm not going to spoil the surprise -- but I will say I am delighted, as I've been delighted with putting this book together every step of the way. It's remarkable to have been in close touch not only with my…23rd November 2015 A visit to Cheshire...
And so to see the Garners on a frosty weekend. It had been too long since I was by Alan and Griselda's fire -- and now we had plenty to talk about, with the launch of First Light coming next year. I can't say too much about our conversation because I don't wish to spoil the surprise. But photographs which have never been seen were part of our conversation -- our book is going to be rich visually…7th October 2015 When First Light will see the light: an update!
Greetings, fellow Unbounders! Sorry for the long silence, but I have been so preoccupied with reading all the marvelous, marvelous pieces which have been pouring in from our contributors that I have been stunned into radio silence. But here I am with a bit of an update.
So -- as I say, nearly all the pieces are in, but I am going to be mean and not tell you anything about them because I don…30th July 2015 We did it!
Well -- I just wanted to send an enormous thank you to everyone for supporting First Light so generously. You know the deal with Unbound already: there's a big U at the beginning of their name for a reason! And it's wonderful for me to know that even before the book is finished (and the brilliant contributions are now coming in thick and fast) there is a great gathering of eager readers out there…23rd June 2015 Neil Gaiman and David Mitchell -- a bromance...
Just the other night I was lucky enough to chair a wonderful 5x15 event with one of our stellar contributors, the great Neil Gaiman, in conversation with David Mitchell -- who may not be a contributor to First Light but who is a hero all the same! The author of the Sandman comics (and so much more) and the author of Cloud Atlas (and so much more) had never met before; it was a privilege to watch them…19th May 2015 Storytelling in the Medicine House chimney
It's a rare thing to sit in a chimney, these days; but I'm lucky to have had many evenings in the chimney of the Medicine House. "In the chimney" - what does that mean? you might wonder. Even if you are an admirer - of course you are! - of Alan Garner's work, you may not know that the Medicine House is part of his home, and now part of the Blackden Trust. Here is a photograph (by David Heke - thanks…29th April 2015 We're in the news!
Alison Flood's wonderful piece about First Light in the Guardian has helped take the project up to 60% funding -- thanks so much, Alison! Dr Rowan Williams -- former Archbishop of Canterbury -- appeared in the piece, and what he said about Alan's work was wonderful. “I’ve been reading Alan Garner since I was 13,” he told the paper. “The word ‘haunting’ is cheap and overused, but I might say that I…12th April 2015 A walk to Ludchurch, with Alan, Griselda and Sir Gawain
Thirty-six per cent! It's hard to get much work done when you're watching the Unbound wheel roll steadily forward. Thank you all for your support: it means a lot to me, and to the Author we're banding together to celebrate, I know. Of course working on this book has made me reflect upon all the years I've known Alan and Griselda, and some of the adventures I've been lucky enough to share with them…28th March 2015 And we're off!
It seems rather cosmic that I should be laid low by a ghastly flu just as First Light is launched -- I'll think of it as a great shifting of energies, rather than a nasty lurgy, and that will be better medicine than any Lemsip. And I'm energized enormously by the great support we've already got for this exciting project: a real sign of the passion people feel for Alan Garner's work.
As I've said…
These people are helping to fund First Light.
The Blackden Trust The Blackden Trust
An anonymous donor