It is the nature of war to spawn secrets. While the many military bases found in the county would be the obvious breading grounds, evidence of wartime clandestine activities may also be glimpsed in some unlikely places. However, the small cottage tea room of Greenstone on the High Street of Damsel’s Cross, must rank as one of the most improbable locations to find details of a once classified Admiralty operation.
Under oak beams and amid embroidered tablecloths, fresh flowers and tables burdened with apple butter cream teas known in the county as Hookland Delight, are souvenirs of the strange life the establishment’s first owner, Mrs. Lucy Bowman. If you ask politely about the vintage Admiralty charts, photographs of First World War U-boats and Royal Navy ships carrying depth charges that hang incongruously on the walls, the waiting staff will likely call the current proprietor and Mrs. Bowman’s grandson, John Moore to your table. With a charm and energy that surprises in being unbroken despite the number of times the tale has been told, he draws patrons attention to various letters from the Admiralty and objects on the walls while unfolding the most surprising biography of his grandmother.
In January 1917, the recently widowed Lucy Bowman offered her services to her country as dowser. In an impassioned letter to Admiral A.L. Duff, who had known her father when they both served above the cruiser St. George nearly two decades before, she claimed that her skills as a ‘spiritual dowser’ would enable her to pinpoint the location of enemy U-boats if she were provided with accurate Admiralty charts. Duff, who had been appointed Director of the Anti-Submarine Division of the Royal Navy, responded with an invite to a meeting at an Ashcourt naval establishment.
It is not entirely clear why Duff took such an extraordinary measure. It may have been out of desperation to tackle the problem of the German’s unrestricted submarine warfare which was costing losses of up to 500,000 tonnes per month and greatly eroding public morale. It may have been due to the link with Bowman’s to father or an existing belief in the efficacy of dowsing. However, after meeting her, Duff granted Bowman access to Admiralty’s secret submarine tracking room where with the aid of an iron saddlery needle suspended by the tail hair of white horse, she attempted to track U-boat movements in the North Atlantic.
As various letters on wall suggest, she was successful enough in her endeavours, to be invited back to provide assistance to the navy on several occasions right up until the Armistice of 1918. Mrs. Bowman’s part in the war below waves was kept secret right up until her death in 1959, after which her daughter turned the tea room she inherited into an informal museum celebrating her mother’s clandestine contribution to the war. When pressed by the author of The Guide about the reaction this revelation caused at the time, John Moore admitted:
“Mother did have a visit from a commander in naval intelligence when she first put the letters up. He asked to take them down, but she gave him short-shift and they soon gave up making a fuss, in the end just asking for a picture of nanna’s needle for their own archives. I am only sorry I’ve no talent for dowsing as that thing only passes down the female side in my family.”
David Southwell is an author of several published books on true crime and conspiracies, which have been translated into a dozen languages.
However, these days, he mostly writes about place.
Drawing + writing about the territory – Travelling on foot – Field Notes in progress – Psychedelic Geologist
Field Notes will be 128 full colour pages of paintings and words;
a beautifully designed and bound hardback printed on art paper.
What does a Psychedelic Geologist do?
I like to listen to Tago Mago and think about flint very hard.
I gather you had a passion for drawing from an early age –
what were your inspirations?
Asterix – Victor Ambrus – The Bayeaux Tapestry – Ladybird stuff – Commando comics – etc etc anything that was laying around I would absorb – being the youngest of six of a bookish family meant there was no shortage of reference material.
We used to get taken to interesting places a fair bit – prehistoric sites, castles, stately homes – I loved all that stuff – anywhere with a brown sign –
English Heritage gift shops used to have cut out and colour knights – I loved those dearly.
Films too – My brothers were very educational – I saw loads of stuff at a young age – BBC were doing Moviedrome with Alex Cox when I was about 8 – Excalibur ! Seven Samurai ! Mad Max 2 ! – the cultural importance of Moviedrome is huge to me – I still reckon that Mad Max 2 is the greatest piece of pure cinema.
Later I found Herzog movies in the dead of night on Channel 4.
All this stuff brews together – landscape, history, time.
What is it about the history of place that compels you?
History is like having bullet points across time – this happened then, then this happened and so on – I try to feel between the bullet points – a big inky smear of spaces
You’ve described your more recent artistic method as wilder. What prompted this shift, and how has it affected your outlook?
We’d gone away – a little place in the country, an old youth hostel. Family from the four corners, big meals, plenty of beer. Halloween 2016. Maximum autumnal. It was a wake of sorts. My brother Paddy had died earlier in the year, Dad the year before, and before that Mum and aunts and uncles, a business had exploded in there as well – it had been a few years in the trenches. We were sore, battered, but not broken.
I was leaning on the gate – a big V of geese, ploughed earth, the sound of children and dogs capering – another meal being slowly fashioned ( my other brother, Eamonn, and I were on cooking duty – the fat we were using to make the roast potatoes smelt like Christmas, a Christmas from my own past – 1980’s, pudding bowl haircuts, lego castles… )
I’m not saying I was at a low ebb, just empty perhaps – shell shock finally surfacing. Anyway – I was leaning on this gate and something popped into my head – Ken Campbell ! the late shaman ! he said something like “it’s got to be heroic, it’s got to be wilder” he might have said this to Bill Drummond I think. And that was it. Wilder. Heroic. No more wound licking – onwards – forward – no fucks given. And so it was and so it is.
So. from that weekend, 31st of October 2016, I’ve made 1000 + drawings – they are stronger, more direct, riding an attitude. It’s a good place to start from – I’m just warming up, playing the long game – these drawings are the life’s work, I know that.
You keep extensive notebooks, creating your own strata. How does notebooking feed into your art and life?
Well, notebooks are essential – it’s the kind of practice that everyone should had drilled into them from birth – my notebooks are unremarkable enough. Times woken, times slept, who went where, meals had, weather conditions, useful quotes as they occur that sort of thing – because I also work nights, keeping an accurate notebook is essential for not losing track of time, space + place. I can’t tell you much about the night work but it is vital, patience bending, thankless and strange. Kind of suits me.
One thing – I see it on the internet – stunt notebooks. Notebooks for show. They can fuck off.
You live in Louth, on the cusp of the Lincolnshire Wolds and not far from the coast: how would you describe your relationship with the Lincolnshire landscape?
The territory around here is heavy agriculture – massive fields, farmers dominion – not enough footpaths – the towns are small, inward looking, middle class aspirations and grinding poverty – cheese shops and crack.
But – I am, for various reasons and responsibilities, bound to this place – at least for the next ten years or so – That means I have to use that which is in front of me.
I love the coast here dearly – it is vast and remote – flat – spirit level and east – the sun rises out of the North Sea. I have seen it every shade.
Do you have any favourite/interesting moments of Lincolnshire history to share with us?
I’m partial to the really old stuff – early stone age – the land was very different then – no sea to the east – just marshes and deltas until you hit the European side -all that got flooded 6000 odd years ago – the Lincolnshire coast was formed – now, there’s an interesting thing – imagine, mesolithic immigrants heading inland as the lands became waterlogged – now look – the present day – the coastal towns survive because of another kind of migrant population – holiday makers and those who retire there ( who are many ) I really like this. Two differing, nomadic tribes thousands of years apart – all ending up in Skegness or Mablethorpe.
What I’m really interested in at the end of the day, is the space between things. People. Places. Time. I can see the space out of my window – across the road are bushes, then a greenhouse, behind that a washing line, then an apple tree and a wall – beyond that are ash trees on the road to the school my sons go to – livid bright green, it’s a lovely day outside – above that are swifts, they just returned yesterday – beyond them, a jet liner many miles to the south west ( I checked – it’s going from Dubai to New York City ), beyond that – infinite space
Is there a spiritual yearning in your work?
I don’t know.
Have you ever met people who describe themselves as “a very spiritual person”? …. I bet they have a stunt notebook.
What I do know is that I am on the quest – I do not know what for – but I am questing for it none the less. Perhaps the drawings and writing are an aid to my navigation, or at least – evidence that I have attempted to navigate.
Tell ya what I do know – I fear no man and I don’t fear death – that is a good start, I reckon
Sometimes I look at the sun while it rises, while my eyes can focus on it.
Turner was right. The Sun is God.
( a god which serves our microscopic portion of the universe – look to the night sky – other gods are available )
You embody your art and method, and thus have become an avatar of the land. Discuss.
I’m just trying to be the best Maxim Peter Griffin I can. Hopefully my presence on the territory is fleeting – I’m a passing show, nothing more.
It’s a tricky business – I’ve always been wary of people who introduce themselves as an Artist ( note the capital ) and I’m not strictly a writer or a poet or an illustrator.
I’m a firm believer that titles should be given – earned – I’m not allowed to call myself and artist or anything else – that is for other people to bestow upon me.
One time, a fellow said I was “ The Napalm Death of rural experimentalism “ which is perhaps the greatest thing that has been said about my practices – certainly one to go on the headstone..
What is a typical inventory of your walking kitbag?
Minimal. Water. Something to eat.
If I intend to camp then things get heavy – a sleeping bag, a Polish poncho, a tiny stove – I don’t like to be seen as a hiker or a rambler – I try to be inconspicuous. Lighter travel is best. I don’t like waterproofs – too loud – Leather is best.
I get through a pair of boots every six months or so – I buy them second hand – the leather is better broken in – I wore new boots crossing the Wash – they filled with blood.
Do you use anything other than your notebooks to record your experiences when you are out and about?
No. Notebooks and memory – a few photos on the telephone maybe – Memory is best – drawing from memory is a good exercise – Sometimes I paint outside – I’ve long held the opinion that Johnny Nice is one of the great and underrated British landscape artists.
How often do you walk with music or other audio accompaniment?
Does this inform your work in any way?
I never have music when I walk – only the songs that get stuck in my head – usually pop stuff that gets in – once, walking across the Peak District I had George Michael going “JITTERBUG” in my imagination for 3 days.
However – I do draw with music on – most of the drawing happens at home anyway – German stuff, Roedelius and the like, Eno, Fela Kuti, sometimes ancient blues – mainly ambient things – droney stuff – On Land is a biggy and my wife is having a massive Dylan thing. Idiot Wind, ten times a day. Steve Reich in the afternoon, there’s a Flying Saucer Attack bootleg that is just feedback – sounds like hills growing. Or all those Sardinian choirs.
Field recordings of wind turbines. Popol Vuh. Birds.
Is the content of the Field Notes book established, or will you compile the book once it is funded?
Field Notes is nothing until it is funded. An idea only.
However – I’ve a huge archive of stuff to pull from but I don’t want it to be a greatest hits – the guts of the thing will manifest in my attitude during it’s making.
There’s going to be a written piece running all the way through it – 15000 wordsish – I can’t write the end though – that’ll be the last thing – I have the opening quote and first sentence – here – for you:
“When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept,
for there were no more worlds to conquer”
Hans Gruber – Los Angeles, Christmas Eve 1988
When Field Notes is published, will that signal the end of this project
or will it manifest in other ways?
This interview was first published in Wyrd Daze Lvl.2 issue 2, May 2015.
The second book of the Red Queen’s War trilogy was about to be released, and Mark had already begun writing Red Sister, the first of The Book of the Ancestor trilogy.
Mark Lawrence was born in Champagne-Urbanan, Illinois, to British parents but moved to the UK at the age of one. He went back to the US after taking a PhD in mathematics at Imperial College to work on a variety of research projects including the ‘Star Wars’ missile defence programme. Returning to the UK, he has worked mainly on image processing and decision/reasoning theory. He says he never had any ambition to be a writer so was very surprised when a half-hearted attempt to find an agent turned into a global publishing deal overnight. His first trilogy, The Broken Empire, has been universally acclaimed as a ground-breaking work of fantasy. Following The Broken Empire came the bestselling Red Queen’s War trilogy.
TheBook of the Ancestor trilogy has an entirely new world and setting, with the third book Holy Sister released in April this year.
Also released in its entirety in 2019 from Mark is a sci-fi trilogy Impossible Times, which has been described as “Ready Player One meets Stranger Things.”
One Word Kill was released in May, with Limited Wish coming in June, and Dispel Illusion to follow. (Great titles, great covers!) Here’s a little bit about the story:
In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week.
Nick and his Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next. A strange–yet curiously familiar–man is following Nick, with abilities that just shouldn’t exist. And this man bears a cryptic message: Mia’s in grave danger, though she doesn’t know it yet. She needs Nick’s help–now.
He finds himself in a race against time to unravel an impossible mystery and save the girl. And all that stands in his way is a probably terminal disease, a knife-wielding maniac and the laws of physics.
Mark is married, with four children, and lives in Bristol.
An interview with Mark Lawrence
You’ve said that when writing you don’t need much more than a first draft before you have a finished manuscript, and also that you don’t really plan your books but let the story unfold as it will. Did you manage to sustain these methods throughout the whole of The Broken Empire and The Red Queen’s War trilogies?
I did through the first five books. For the last book of The Red Queen’s War I sketched out a rough plan and largely stuck to it. It was less nerve-wracking knowing the book was heading toward an ending – even if the ending was the part that veered away from the plan to the greatest degree.
I understand you wrote the entirety of The Broken Empire before the first book was released? Did your subsequent interaction with readers and the way The Broken Empire was received in any way affect your telling of the story in The Red Queen’s War?
I don’t think so. I was writing a very different story, so there wasn’t anything of relevance to pay attention to, even if I had been minded to.
You are a welcome and genuine presence on social media (By this I mean that you’re not just there to sell your wares, but seem to genuinely enjoy interacting with people). To what extent do you think this has aided the popularity of your books, and do you have any advice for other creators who might want to use their social media accounts to mix business and pleasure?
I really don’t know. How does one measure such things? Many authors have been far more successful than me with minimal use of social media. Others have a far bigger footprint on social media than I do, and sell considerably fewer books than I do.
It can’t hurt to have a presence on social media, but it’s also easy to over-estimate its impact. The really important thing is that you write a book that gets each reader, on average, to get more than one of their friends/acquaintances to read it. Do that and you have a hit.
What comes first for you: plot, character or setting?
A character comes first. After that plot and setting materialise while I write, along with other characters.
Do you have any tips for creating believable characters?
Not really. I’m not even sure what ‘believable’ means in this context. The important thing seems to be to create a character that’s so interesting people don’t want to stop reading about them. It helps if that character is charismatic, and that often involves having a sense of humour… If by ‘believable’ you mean ‘real’ … well, even that’s hard to pin down in a fantasy setting. In literary fiction you often have to capture an attitude and poise and set of habits to convincingly depict a person of a certain age in a society with which the reader is very familiar. That requires a particular skill set. In fantasy the task is somewhat different – there’s overlap, but also new freedoms, and also new constraints.
The core of real in both cases though is that the character be consistent. Not consistent in their behaviour necessarily, because real people are often inconsistent – but consistently the same person.
Although you’re known principally as a fantasy writer, your short stories seem to delve into the realms of wider speculative fiction. Have you had any thoughts towards writing a novel somewhere within this broader category?
Maybe. I never thought I would, or could, be a published fantasy author. I feel confident I could write all sorts of speculative fiction in alternative world settings – my strengths are prose and imagination and those will take you a long way in SFF. I don’t know if I could write a real world novel, or at least a subtle, literary one. I’m not sure I’m a sufficiently keen observer of the people and world around me to do a good job of that.
For anyone who hasn’t read your books yet, would you recommend they start with The Broken Empire or The Red Queen’s War?
Yes. Which one? Depends on your tastes. The Red Queen’s War has a thicker vein of humour and less darkness in it. The Broken Empire perhaps has stronger themes and more emotion.
Has there been anything in your books that you found difficult or uncomfortable to write, or that gave you pause whether or not to include it at all?
Certainly there have been sections that were difficult and uncomfortable to write, but no, nothing that gave me pause about whether or not to include it.
Did you read Steven Erikson’s two-part essay about ‘Authorial Intent’ on /r/fantasy, and have you any thoughts/comments about it?
I didn’t. I did start it but I have to admit that my eyes glazed over and I … stopped.
Do you have a set schedule for writing, and a word count target?
No. Many days I write nothing. Some days I write a lot.
What’s your writing environment like? Do you allow yourself the internet/music/a window?
I write in short bursts normally, allowing myself to be constantly distracted by the internet. I’ll only play music to drown out other noise, usually a piece I’m so familiar with that I don’t hear it. I’ll sit in any one of four rooms to write, on a sofa in three of them, or a bed in the other.
Do you immerse yourself in fantasy fiction or avoid it when working on a novel?
Neither. I read almost exclusively fantasy at the moment (that hasn’t always been the case) and I read it slowly and patchily. Since I’m always working on a novel if I avoided reading while writing … I wouldn’t read.
Can you tell us more about your Gunlaw project?
I wrote a book called Gunlaw. The end.
It’s a weird science-fiction / fantasy mix … with gunslingers and minotaurs and such. It may be additionally unusual in that one of the point-of-view characters is very severely disabled. In any case it proved to be a bit too much of a left turn for my publisher, so I wrote The Red Queen’s War instead.
How good a book it is I’m not sure. I hope to get back to it one day, possibly to re-write it, possibly to drum up interest in it.
Would you consider writing for a different medium, for example comics or a screenplay?
I wouldn’t mind writing for comics (specifically 2000AD) or graphic novels as an adventure. I was asked by the head of a Hollywood studio to write the screenplay for Prince of Thorns, but I didn’t want to. Basically books are where it’s at for me.
Is there anything about your world, characters, or story: a perspective that someone has pointed out or commented upon, that has surprised you?
I guess I’ve been surprised that some people are so politicised about fiction and project their politics onto books and attempted to reverse the process too. I have certainly been surprised by the rather naïve assumptions that some people have made in thinking they can somehow deduce (and then criticise) my personal politics from the actions or attitudes of characters in my books. Or their demographics, come to that. In all such cases, and with a remarkable level of vehement surety, they have been laughably wide of the mark (pun intended).
Now the Red Queen’s War is done, have you any inkling of what your next book might be?
I do. I’ve written 40,000 words of it. It’s fantasy again – the protagonist is a young girl when we first meet her and she spends much of the book in a convent! It’s called Red Sister.
If you could live in any literary fantasy world, which would it be, and why?
I would want to live in a comfortable and enlightened one in which beer is free and doesn’t make you fat… sadly such utopias are boring to write about and I don’t know of any books featuring one. I honestly can’t think of any I would want to live in.
You’ve written a number of Broken Empire short stories. Do you hope for these to be eventually be published as a collection?
I not only hope it, I know it for fact. I will publish them myself in due course. I just need to wait for some of them to appear in various anthologies and for the rights to return to me. Hopefully this time next year!
ft. excerpts from the films Arcadia by Paul Wright (score by Adrian Utley and Will Gregory) and Penda’s Fen by David Rudkin and Alan Clarke.
1 Klaus Morlock and The Tape Circle – Open D 2 United Vibrations – Scion 3 Comus – Out of the Coma 4 Moses Boyd – The Balance 5 Hawthonn – Lady of the Flood 6 Szun Waves – Moon Runes 7 Chvrches – God’s Plan 8 Sproatly smith – Penda’s Fen 9 ASHTORETH & GREY MALKIN – I am the Story 10 Sleaford Mods – Policy Cream 11 Apparat – Dawan 12 Chaz Dolo – I Had Your Job Once 13 Douglas E. Powell & The Rising Spirit – The Battle of Hackney Wick 14 Paper Tiger – Posture Poseurs 15 Sculpture – The Zoetropic Gallery 16 JOHN 3-16 – 200 Million Horsemen 17 Current 93 – The Kettle’s On 18 Wizards Tell Lies – Chemognosis 19 Low – Fly 20 Quimper – I Put It Back Together
The narrative of Bacchus Beltane is best explored with headphones or a good sound system, and full immersion: in a darkened room or on a long walk…
With special thanks to Natasha, Chris, Élie Anne, Aki, and Cat.