From the dead

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This is amazing: two skeletons have been discovered in Ireland with stones wedged in their mouths. This was supposed to prevent a return from death. In other words, these two were thought to be vampires or revenants. Consider the conviction needed to force a large stone into the mouth of one corpse – and then a second. Imagine the sound of stone on teeth as it was wedged inside. There was no doubt in the minds of whoever buried these bodies that they were coming back.

I wrote a flash story a year or so ago, recalling a lucid dream in which my daughter and I were laid out on slabs with stones in our mouths. I could taste the grain of the stone on my tongue. Reading about these skeletons gave me the shivers. It also, bizarrely, made me hungry for the second series of The Returned…

Full article here, and here’s some Mogwai to keep you sharp. Get your spook on.

Drowned villages

I’m a little ashamed to say that I nearly didn’t post this. It’s probably the most amazing writing competition I’ve ever seen, and I’m so hungry for it that a purely selfish part of me doesn’t want anyone else to know about it. But that’s not how a writing community functions, and I’d rather the prize-winner was the best possible piece of work. So take a look at this: a brand new poetry competition where the top prize is having your work soundtracked by Mogwai.

In case you missed that, I’ll say it again.

THE TOP PRIZE IS HAVING YOUR WORK SOUNDTRACKED BY MOGWAI.

I’ve written about Mogwai before (here and here). They recorded my favourite ever album, Come On Die Young, and they’ve been one of my favourite bands for well over a decade. It’s no exaggeration to say that they have soundtracked around half my writing output. Although I don’t really count myself a poet, this is too good an opportunity to miss. What’s more, the theme is tight and thrilling: the judges are seeking poems about drowned villages, and this is where the competition gets really interesting. There’s a submerged village in Lanarkshire in Scotland; another in Cumbria in England; and a third in Gwynedd in Wales. The competition is only open to library members of those specific regions. By happy coincidence, I’ve been a member of Cumbria Libraries for years.

The judges are Scottish Makar Liz Lochhead, top poet Ian McMillan and Manic Street Preachers bassist Nicky Wire. I’ve never known a catchment so small for such an intriguing competition, such big judges and such an amazing prize. The theme really sings to me; I’ve written before about my love of French mystery drama The Returned (also soundtracked by Mogwai) which features a drowned village, and I’ve often been haunted by the thought of steeples emerging from Haweswater.

By weird coincidence, I also have the makings of a poem that fits the theme. A year or so ago, I started work on a piece about the landscapes of the Lakes. While I was pleased with the language and form, I couldn’t find a hook to hang it on, and abandoned it unfinished. This competition gives me the hook.

I’ve spent most of today working on the poem, writing and redrafting and always reading – reading it to myself, reading it to the cats – trying new forms, new phrases. I’m pleased with it, as far as it goes, but I’m really unsure about my poetry, and I don’t know how it will fare against stiff competition. I’m going to revisit several more times over the rest of the month, and submit only when it’s as tight as possible.

Soundtracked by Mogwai. A man can dream…

UPDATE – If you want to see my thoughts on the winning poems, mosey over here.

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Goussainville ghost town

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I’m such a sucker for ghost towns and abandoned places. This gallery explores the village of Goussainville-Vieux Pays, abandoned after first a plane crash, and then the opening of Charles De Gaulle airport, drove the residents into Paris or the quieter villages nearby.

I think, for me, that silence – or at least natural sound – is an important part of defining a true edgeland, and the incessant roar of aeroplanes would discount Goussainville. But there’s something so sad about the sight of deserted buildings. The energy that comes from their construction – and the energy needed to sustain the life, and love, and relationships inside them – doesn’t dissipate when the people leave.

This comes hot on the heels of Les Revenants, too…

Les Revenants

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I’ve finally caught up with The Returned, which has not just maintained the quality of the first episode, but consistently improved across the series, growing in confidence, becoming ever stranger, madder, sadder. It’s the most exciting thing I’ve watched on television for a very long time: it’s Lynch without the hysteria; it’s Lost without the sensationalist cliffhangers. When a show is this good, eight episodes is not enough, and I’m glad there’s a second series on the way.

That said…

There’s a habit in these long-running ensemble shows – and increasingly in big-budget films, too – of ‘concluding’ with threads left untied – or introducing tantalising new story strands. Sequels and follow-ups have therefore become implicit. The gradual switch from ‘series’ to ‘season’ is an ingenious use of weasel words; season implies annual regularity, and makes the show a fixture, part of an ongoing narrative, integrated into the cycle of the year. New instalments are seen as part of a continuum; rather than stand-alone, self-contained sequences. This has clear drawbacks: I loved Lost, but the final conclusion to the show was incredibly weak. It felt increasingly apparent, as the show expanded, that they had started without knowing how it would end, and that each successive series was created to generate the next, rather than conclude the previous. With such a weight of expectation piled onto the final episodes, it was always going to fall short. The conclusion of Lost was less than the sum of its many, flawed, dazzling parts.

With a little courage, I think The Returned could probably have finished at the end of the first series, even with so many questions still unanswered. It would have been bold, but the last sight of the flooded town would have made the metaphor of the draining dam all the more apparent… but we have expectations of closed narratives, and there’s too much still unsaid. And when it is so incredibly well-made, a second series will be very welcome. Now it’s just a matter of waiting until November next year – and what’s 18 months for the best thing on television?

In the meantime, I’ll console myself with the breathtaking Mogwai soundtrack. I reckon it’s their best work since Come On Die Young. You can listen to some of the songs here, but you’d better get the real thing, just to be on the safe side.

The Returned

Caught up with the first episode of The Returned (Les Revanants) last night – and loved it. In exploring the impact of the dead returning to a small Alpine town, it oozes the same surreal menace as Twin Peaks or Lost – but already feels more cohesive than those stunning, albeit deeply flawed, masterpieces. The story was thrilling and compelling without being sensationalist, the human reactions were as convincing as The Killing, and the cinematography, direction and editing combined into a breathtaking aesthetic. I’m really excited about the next few episodes.

Even better, the show is gloriously soundtracked by one of my favourite bands, Mogwai. (This trailer actually features the Raveonettes, who are also great, but they’re no Mogwai.) Follow this link for an E.P. of the soundtrack; I’ll definitely be tracking down the full album for writing music.