The Book of English Magic, that Richard Heygate and I have been working on for what seems like ages, has just been published by John Murray in London. We held a launch party at Treadwells in Covent Garden last night and it was fantastic to meet so many old friends in the balmy summer air buzzing with theatre-goers, opera lovers and tourists. Stephen Skinner came, expert on Feng Shui and Geomancy, who used to live in a big haunted house in Lewes. He now lives in Malaysia and we hadn’t seen each other for over 30 years. John & Caitlin Matthews were down from Oxford, Chris & Vivianne Crowley from far away Victoria, Penny Billington had slipped free from working with her sleuth Gwion Dubh, Stephanie and I finally met Kit Berry and Mr B of Stonewylde fame….
The book has already had some great reviews. The Times has called it ‘A Magical Mystery Tour’, Duncan Fallowell in the Daily Express started his review by saying the book was about an ‘iffy subject’. Iffiness is a good word! He then went on to say: ‘So they are all here in fabulous array, the quacks and the innocents, the serious nerdy dreamers and the bravura jokers, the drop-out priests and sublimated women, working in that area of our experience where nothing can be scientifically proved – or disproved (very convenient) – and which they call magic and which I prefer to call poetry.’ Yes of course poetry – but as Nuinn once said: ‘Ritual is poetry in the world of acts’ and one could just as easily say ‘Magic is poetry in the world of acts’. And the fabulous array includes not only the eccentrics but also people like Roger Bacon, Francis Bacon, Elias Ashmole, and Isaac Newton.
Regular contributor to this blog, Mark Townsend – mentalist magician and author of ‘The Gospel of Falling Down’ has written a review of the book which I think captures its spirit more effectively:
‘As someone who is both a ‘magician’ and a ‘magicKian’ this book is a profound gift – a magical masterpiece no less! There is often no middle ground between the ‘two magics.’ The former is usually an attempt to imitate real magic, practiced (often) by sceptical folk who are well versed in psychology, linguistics subtleties and other means of ‘pulling the wool over peoples eyes.’ The latter often takes no notice of some of the necessary balances and healthy scepticisms of the former. This book does! It is both mystical and psychological, supernatural and rational, heavenly and humble.
The two authors, who clearly (and wonderfully) represent different approaches, manage to serve up a delightfully well written, intellectually stimulating, un-put-down-able adventure into all things magical (from merry old England’s perspective). No stone of Albion remains unturned. They lead us into magical encounters wonderful and weird, and not only academically but practically too – offering wonderful ‘what to do now’ pointers and exercises into gaining our own magical experience.
This book clearly involved a tremendous amount of research which, I must say, is evident on every page, and not only in terms of scanning wizard’s grimoires, diaries and biographies but face to face interviews with the modern day witches, shamans and alchemists.
Also for those who love a book to look like a book – well, you’re in for a treat. When this arrived in the post I tore off the wrapping paper and, for a while, just sat there in awe. It is a marvelously fine volume which begs to be lovingly lifted off the book shelf – almost in slow motion. One needs to take time with this book, not just skim read. It demands a little preparation before indulging. Find an appropriate period where you won’t be disturbed, make a large pot of coffee and draw near a side table, sit back in a comfy chair and prepare to be taken through Narnia’s wardrobe into an enchanted world where anything is possible.
We need books like this – oh we so need them in our disenchanted modern world of instant everything – not least to remind us older ones that Narnia does in fact exist!’
Here’s a photo of the lovely Kate Parkin, our publisher at John Murray’s, introducing the book and the two authors beside her, to the assembled company…