Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Genii Loci: Discovering the Spirits of Place

By John Reppion

I was lucky enough to grow up on the borderland of the modern world; the South-West tip of Liverpool where a haunted Tudor mansion house and the grave of a giant were as easily reached as the abandoned synthetic resins factory and boarded up secondary school I spent so many of pre and early teenage days hanging round. All of these places already had their stories but all of us added our own layers of narrative and meaning just by being there. I became fascinated with the idea of being able to physically enter a story at a young age, although I never thought of it quite in that way. I just knew I wanted to be near the enormous grave of The Childe of Hale surrounded by crumbling skull-and-crossboned tombstones, to stand in awe before the mammoth, and to my young mind wholly terrifying, Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. These places were gateways to the trans-mundane; ‘thin places’ where the barrier between the natural and the supernatural, between the now and the past, seemed permeable. In these places I was able to walk on and in and through history, through stories, and to commune with the characters from those narratives.

Since I began my writing career in 2003 this idea of narrative embedded in locations has been a big part of my work whether it be my fiction, or my essay and article writing. To some extent all this culminated in April 2016 when I put on a one day event here in Liverpool entitled Spirits of Place. Myself and eight guest speakers met at Calderstones Mansion house, in the heart of Liverpool’s Calderstones Park, and gave a series of talks on topics ranging from archaeology, to literature, to history, to magick. Every talk took its cue from the location – many delving back as far as the neolithic tomb whose remains lend their name to the park itself. The event was a success and I was asked by Daily Grail Publishing if I’d be interested in turning Spirits of Place into a book. I was, of course, excited by the idea but soon realised that the book would need to be a completely different beast to the event.

I took the core concept and broadened the scope. Instead of pinning down one specific location, I decided it would be more interesting to open the book up completely, allowing contributors to write about anywhere in the world (indeed, in the case of futurist Mark Pesce, about the virtual world). I admit that I am a white, middle-aged Englishman, but even so I felt that it would also be nice to hear from people other than that group which is perhaps somewhat over represented in this particular field. Likewise, I felt that London was a city whose psychogeography has already been tackled amply elsewhere. With these few guidelines in place I drew up a list of writers who I thought could offer some interesting and unique perspectives on the intersection between landscape and narrative.

One of those writers was Kristine Ong Muslim: an author, poet and translator who still lives in the same rural town in Maguindanao, southern Philippines, where she grew up. Her piece in the book is entitled “Agonies and Enchantments” and deals with the spirits – metaphorical and otherwise –
of her childhood as much as anything. Recently I emailed to ask her about her choice of subject matter and the way she handled it. 

“In a remote small town such as the one I’ve been living in for most of my life, the family unit accurately represents the condensed version of an interlocking, often times dysfunctional, aggregated whole. It helps that when Western colonial influence infiltrated an area such as ours, the infiltration was minimal, thus some indigenous practices survived to this day. There was also relatively less bastardization and demonization of certain pagan beliefs. In this little town, almost everyone knows each other. Almost everyone knows whose husband is screwing another person’s wife, who you can turn to if you need ‘magic water’ to make someone stop falling in love, and so on and so forth. So when I wrote about my family and childhood, I am effectively writing about the entire small community in this part of the world.”

Spirits of Place also features essays from: Alan Moore, Maria J. Pérez Cuervo, Warren Ellis, Gazelle Amber Valentine, Iain Sinclair, Bryndís Björgvinsdóttir, Vajra Chandrasekera, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Dr. Joanne Parker, and Damien Williams. It is available to order now from spiritsofplace.com

John Reppion has written articles for the likes of Fortean Times, and dailygrail.com. His day job is scripting comics with his wife and writing partner Leah Moore. John’s prose fiction has been published by the likes of PS Publishing, Ghostwoods Books, and Swan River Press. His website is moorereppion.com and he can be found on Twitter @johnreppion

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