Sunday, February 27, 2022

Sunflowers, war and ancient magic


A Ukrainian woman has gone viral on social media after she confronted a heavily armed Russian soldier and offered him sunflower seeds – so that flowers would grow if he died there on Ukraine’s soil. Some are suggesting she was offering a lovely flower with which she hoped to bring peace, not war. In fact her message was one of properly chilling malediction – a curse – with a powerful message.

So what did she actually say?

Who are you?

We have exercises here. Please go this way.

What kind of exercises? Are you Russian?


So what the f*** are you doing here?

Right now our discussions will lead to nothing.

You’re occupants. You’re fascists! What the f*** are you doing on our land with all these guns? Take these seeds and put them in your pockets, so at least sunflowers will grow when you all lie down here.

Let’s not escalate this situation. Please.

What situation? Guys, guys, put the sunflower seeds in your pockets please. You will lie down here with the seeds. You came to my land. Do you understand? You are occupiers, you are enemies. You are cursed. I’m telling you. And from this moment you are cursed.

Now listen to me –

I’ve heard you.

Let’s not escalate this situation. Please go this way.

How can it be further escalated? You f***ing came here uninvited. Pieces of sh**.

The symbolism

The national flower of Ukraine is the glorious yellow sunflower. Although sunflowers are New World natives they found their way to Ukraine during the 17th century where this oil-rich seed formerly unknown to the Church, was able to skirt the prohibitions against butter, fats and oils during Lent.

The potential for this region of sunflowers to become a major oil crop especially during lean times of Lent led to its proliferation.

Final of the 62nd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2017 in Kiev, on May 13, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Genya SAVILOV

The vinok, is a traditional Ukrainian flower crown. These glorious flowered headpieces may bring to mind hippy-style at festivals but in Ukraine, the vinok isn’t merely a pretty accessory. Various flowers are used symbolically in the headdresses, notably the sunflower which is the national symbol of Ukraine. 

The meaning of the wreaths traces back to Ukraine’s early history, when they were associated with virginity, marriage, and womanhood, fertility and connection to the land.

Professor Slavic Literature, Alexander Mihailovic, says, “Ukraine has preserved the original Greek and Byzantine tradition of wedding head wreaths. However, in Ukraine there is yet another tradition, of young unmarried women wearing the wreaths during the spring, which, I suspect, explains why female dancers in Ukrainian folk dances wear floral crowns, whereas their Russian counterparts generally do not.

So what did our lady of the seeds mean by it?

In full Slavic pagan folkloric tradition, she cursed them in defence of her land, protecting it by damning the invaders to an ignominious death which would merely fertilise her soil.

Well said, my lady!

Monday, February 14, 2022

Stock Photography

Photo Servian Stock Images

This post is just a place to note down stock photography sources that seem to offer a useful selection of historical or magical subjects which I might at some point want to include in a book cover or for social media. At this point I'm not recommending any of them - just noting their existence.|

Saturday, October 23, 2021


I’ve just binge listened to the audiobook of Unsettled Ground  by Claire Fuller. I’ve had it on my TBR list since my favourite local bookseller, Emma at Hungerford Bookshop featured it as a local story from a local author. Sadly I didn’t manage attend the ‘do’ – (but can I say the events at Hungerford are fab).

Unsettled Ground is set just down the road from here and references Newbury, Hungerford etc. but while is a story of tight localism, squirming into an almost 19th century Hardyesque village setting that is suffocating,  yet open air and wide, it’s a rural story that could have been played out in an urban tower block. It is a story that is a slow burn – that is literally the point - but oh so compelling. There is no ‘twist, it unfolds with a relentless grind. The outcome is satisfying because it needed to be acknowledged, not because it was surprising.

The weaving of folksongs and music into the fabric of the text is something that I have a particular interest in. There was no music included in the audio, but the verbal delivery of the lyrics (as one would read from the printed page) was well done.

I say I’ve listened rather than read it, which is unusual for me. While I enjoy audiobooks, mostly I find the narration to be intrusive to my interpretation, so that I flick back to the written word and ‘co-read’ in order to progress. But this narrator, Rachel Bavidge, is splendidly self-effacing. She uses accents sparingly and judiciously, even if she slides occasionally from Berkshire / Wiltshire into a sort of Irish-ish, it didn’t spoil it for me. As I say, I binge listened to the whole thing today (and I don’t like to speed up into Pinky and Perky territory), and I was captivated, saddened, and then raised up again.

I liked this book – a lot. I recommend it as a full-on 5 star. I give the narrator 5 stars too.


Thursday, July 01, 2021

Diana Statue


So there has been an erection of a statue to the sainted Diana.

Her stiff likeness has been raised in iconographic superiority over a couple of random ethnically diverse little people who have been represented as small adults in the same way that Empress Victoria was elevated above the teeny tiny subjects of her Colonial Realms.  Ian Rank-Broadley has not depicted these little people as children—their tiny heads render them as little adults—but of lesser status in the same way that we see in the hierarchies in most religious iconography.

OK it's not very good but, why was the hideous message of the icon size superiority not picked up at the maquette stage? Surely, this has got to be an appalling choice by the powers that be?

Over and above that, can we all agree that statues have not really been 'the thing' since General Lee and old Colston got themselves toppled? 

So, why have the Brothers pursued this ghastly course at all?

Monday, September 07, 2020

Echoes of the Runes: A sweeping, epic tale of forbidden love byChristina Courtenay

This is timeslip romance at its best. The story moves along at a brisk pace, elegantly interweaving the old and the new, the researched and the eternal, yet pauses long enough to smell the flowers along the way. Energy suffused in ancient artifacts and their connection to the past afford Mia and Haukr a shared paranormal experience which is plausibly real. The stories of the 9th and 21st century characters parallel each other, yet dovetail together in a way that is extremely satisfying. This is a book I really enjoyed - this is what timeslip is all about! 5 stars.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Ninth Child by Sally Magnusson

I received this pre-publication e-book from John Murray/Two Roads via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

‘The Ninth Child’ tells the story of a massive 19th century engineering project of pipes and aquaducts bringing fresh water from the Highlands into Glasgow’s disease ridden heart.

Isabel Aird’s husband is appointed doctor to the engineering camp, and accompanying him takes her to a world entirely at odds with her prior life of drawing rooms and miscarried babies. There she meets and employs, Kirsty the wife of a navvy, whose back story and the story of the engineering project and life in the camp are quite compelling. Kirsty’s residual fairy faith lends credence to the proposition that a ragged clergyman is in fact Robert Kirke who disappeared into fairy 200 years earlier and has been returned to the mundane world via a pact to deliver up a ninth child in his stead. We also have curious snap shots of the private lives of Victoria and Albert which are diversions from the plot but allow the author to show off some solid research.

The story is told variously from the points of view of Isabel, Kirsty, Prince Albert and Robert Kirke. The distinctions between the voices are poorly drawn and the formatting of the ebook supplied by the publishers offered no assistance in distinguishing them - often one voice continuing on from the next without so much as a paragraph break. Kirsty is the ‘main’ narrator and a fabulous character, yet we don’t hear enough of her and her take on life and events. The multitude of perspectives makes for a disjointed narrative and diverts the reader from investing strongly enough in any of the characters, which is a shame given how interesting they all were individually. It feels as though the author couldn’t decide at the planning stage which of the aspects to prioritise so stuck them all in for good measure, which serves to dissipate rather than strengthen. 

A firm editorial hand might have made this a much better book than it is - as it stands, 3 stars.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley

Published 31st October 2019 this review is based on an e-ARC supplied by the publisher through NetGalley.

Starve Acre is an atmospheric, eerie story in the modern gothic tradition - just up my street. 

In an interesting exploration of grief and dissociation, we witness a couple, Richard and Juliette, grieving for their 5-year-old son, Ewan, searching for closure and spiritual meaning, respectively. The story marshals the key distinguishing components of English folk horror, landscape, isolation, skewed beliefs/perception and offers the obligatory happening/summoning. Traumatised, Juliette is unable to let go of the feeling that her son still inhabits her world. While the story appears to be grounded in rural realism, which distinguishes Richard’s viewpoint from Juliette’s, Richard’s casual acceptance of the regeneration of a skeleton seems a tad off-piste.

While the date of the story is not explicitly set, analogue clues lead us to a time frame redolent of 1970s Folk Horror; an Austin car, a typewriter, a Sony recorder. But this careful stylistic location of the story in the past as a believable setting, is fractured by occasional glaring errors; for example, a twinset does not have a blouse as a component. In any era, an academic historian would never speculate that a man might have been hanged for torching hay bales two hundred years before they were invented (unless it was a time slip plot point).

But there is atmosphere and tension and wonderfully observant lyrical passages,
“…but they’d started talking – in the King’s Head or after mass, where he pictured her altruism being broken and shared round like another round of communion bread.”

The tension mounts splendidly gruesomely to what is ultimately an unsatisfying denouement. I realise Starve Acre is in the folk horror short form or novella tradition, and as such, I was prepared for it to be short, but not for it to fall off a cliff at the end. It was as though an invigilator had said ‘pens down in 5 minutes’ and the story was brought to an all too hasty conclusion. I genuinely wanted more. But hey, wanting more from a story is A Good Thing.