The Year of Ancient Ghosts: haunting stuff

year of ancient ghosts by kim wilkinsThe Year of Ancient Ghosts (Ticonderoga Publications, 2013) is the first collection for Brisbane writer Kim Wilkins, who has more than 20 books to her credit.

Her work spans children’s, YA, adult dark fantasy and horror, and women’s lit, but this collection of five novellas — two previously unpublished — is firmly rooted in fantasy. It’s damned impressive, too.

It opens with the titular story, a touching tale in which a wife and mother takes her young daughter to a remote Scottish locale, there to discover more about her husband’s past and the supernatural traditions of his home.

The other new story in this collection is the final one, ‘The Lark and the River’, a beautifully rendered description, inspired by an actual place, of the collision between Norman monotheism and Celtic paganism, with our heroine caught in the middle.

australian women writers review challenge logoIn the middle, one novella presages a long-awaited and yet-to-arrive traditional fantasy story in which illicit love threatens a realm; another revisits Arthurian myth, again with a focus on the heroine in Bathory-hot water; and the third also happens in the contemporary world, but with Norse gods involved — the Kiwi television show The Almighty Johnsons came to mind when reading this one.

Character is queen in these stories, the fears and ambitions of the heroines pulling us through the realistically rendered worlds. Wilkins’s love of Norse and Celtic history comes to the fore in the small details so unobtrusively but effectively used in the setting, opening a window into the life of her societies and the challenges her characters face.

The two new stories are perhaps the most emotive, dealing as they do with heartfelt loss, and the emotional world as dutifully, smoothly rendered as the physical one.

I can only hope Wilkins gets to that high fantasy novel sooner rather than later.

  • This is my sixth review as part of the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge — the first was Glenda Larke’s Havenstar; the second, Krissy Kneen’s Steeplechase; the third, Christine Bongers’ Dust; the fourth, Alison Croggon’s Black Spring; and the fifth, Courtney Collins’s The Burial.
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  • Sunas on the Celtic Road

    Two bands played at our wedding. One has had their home flushed by the Brisbane floods and been further left out to dry by red tape and fine print — Tycho Brahe soldiers on, though the road must be bloody rough.

    The other, Sunas, are walking a brighter path, with their first label release, Celtic Road, now available from ABC shops and getting a nice dollop of advertising support to boot.

    I had the privilege of launching their self-released debut a bunch of years back. I loved them then, I love them more now. And, naturally, the gorgeous cover of The Cure’s Lovesong will always hold a special place …

    The musician’s road is not the easiest; here’s hoping it rises to meet both of these splendid outfits.

    blues and Woodford

    img_0754Is there anything that cuts to the heart like 12-bar blues?

    I’m thinking this as Jimi Hocking brings down the curtain on my Woodford Folk Festival experience for 2008.

    The day was hot and muggy, clouds building for a cooling gloaming shower that triggered mist to rise from the brown ponds that dot the sprawling site in the green Woodford hills.

    mama kin

    mama kin

    We start the day with Jimi Hocking, former guitarist of Screaming Jets and now blues man with a craving for mandolin, then work our way through the crowded dirt lanes searching for music. The air is filled with tribal drum beats and Gypsy violins, the smell of sate and frying onions.

    doch

    doch

    We enjoy our fix of Brisbane Celtic band Sunas and get all the fiddle we can handle from Fiddlers Feast and Doch, Jigzag and Dev’lish Mary. We get guitar from Jeff Lang, with his band and later in a guest spot with Mama Kin. Katie Noonan’s high notes catch the ear from a lane away. Melodics and Matt Kelly and the Keepers are added to our list of bands to find out more about. Roz Pappalardo, of Women in Docs, is an absolute scream as she leads her Wayward Gentlemen through a country-ish set.

    We weren’t quite sure why Kate Miller-Heidke’s at the folk festival, but we’re glad she is with her quasi Kate Bush act that packs the punters into a nighttime natural amphitheatre on the outskirts of the fest’s bustling village.

    jimi hocking

    jimi hocking

    And finally it’s Jimi Hocking again, his audience sapped by Kate and TaikOz and The Barons of Tang and the burlesque girls of La La Parlour’s Tarnished. He doesn’t seem to mind as he belts out his mandolin blues and then picks up his electric guitar and blasts out the blues into the Queensland night.

    It’s the music of a humid night, all sweat and mosquitoes and sluggish brown river and long, straight dusty roads through cane fields. It’s heartache and loneliness and desperate company lost too soon. It’s the echo of a soul that’s lost its way but still trying to be true. It’s that irresistible beat that convinces you that you can laugh and cry at the same time. And even with Hocking’s antics, his good-time vibe that has the punters up and dancing from the first mandolin note to the last fade-out of the guitar, it cuts to the heart.