Claire Obscure by Billie Hinton ~ a novel of polarised contrasts and drama.

Claire Obscure by Billie Hinton ~ a novel of polarised contrasts and drama.


It took me a little while to get round to reading this novel and my enjoyment of it was interrupted by the need to put it down and do some work. For someone like me who enjoys playing with words and word meanings, this was a book of great opportunities to discover hidden depths even beneath the depths the story already shows.

Primarily, for me this was a novel of dramatic contrasts, of almost Yin-Yang proportions and also of reversals, and of exploring light and dark in a remarkably elegant manner. The title itself is a give-away: Claire, meaning light or clear and Obscure, meaning dark or hidden. No one thing or character is so clear cut as to fall fully into either category. The main character Claire Caviness is enamoured of both words and contrasts, seeking to both hide and reveal herself using them. She writes letters to Virginia Woolf, that most impenetrable of early twentieth century novelists wherein she seems to be both supplicant to her writer-deity and also a challenge to her.

Claire becomes involved with two separate men, whose lives are again a mix of the secret and the daylight-plain. Finn, a trainee doctor, has a professional life that is totally open, yet his private life and his thoughts remain alarmingly hidden; in direct contrast is the second man, Raoul. His professional life as a special ops soldier is shrouded not just in secrets but in red tape: he simply is not allowed to share what he does. Yet his emotional life is laid bare, frequently, by either his own words or that of his best friend.

Each chapter starts with a header of an unusual word, that Claire has copied out along with its definition, showing both her love of words and a subtle clue to the content of the chapter. It’s a clever and rather wonderful device that adds to the suspense, because for all its literary chops, this is a suspense novel. Claire’s friend Lucy dies in mysterious circumstances, and Finn, with whom Claire is deeply involved by now in a strange dance that seems at times to be love and at others, something rather more sinister.

As a suspense novel, the layers of both plot and of Claire’s hidden life, and her history, are peeled back in tantalising shreds that often conceal more than they reveal, leaving the reader with the unease characteristic of a suspense story and the enjoyment of the process of revelation, much like an artistic strip tease. Imagine a Dance of the Seven veils, but with words rather than veils. The effect is disconcerting, a literary trompe l’œil that makes you question constantly what you are actually seeing and experiencing.

You can find out more about the book here:

or here :


or more about Billie Hinton here :

Tales of the Wellspring (1)~ where is the wellspring?

Tales of the Wellspring

I’ve said that the Wellspring in “Strangers and Pilgrims” is a real place, which it is indeed, and then refused to say where it is. I know this is frustrating, and possibly annoying. I’m not doing this to annoy; the clues to the location are in the text. When you understand this, you will also understand why I can’t tell anyone directly where the Wellspring is. It simply isn’t right. It’d lead you all wrong. It’s like the mystic’s finger pointing at the moon; the fool sees only the finger.

But what I can do is tell you a bit about the background to how I found the Wellspring. Remember this is the mystic’s finger and not the moon itself. You have to see the moon yourself.

I was ten when I first found a holy spring. I had in some ways an idyllic childhood, filled with fields and flowers and streams, and back then in the mid seventies, there was little of the hysteria that makes parents keep their children locked in houses and glued to the TV. Back then my best friend was a girl called Tina. We spent hours after school and during holidays roaming the countryside for miles round, coming home only for meals. One of our favourite locations was a place known as Topham’s field. There’s probably a housing estate there now; I haven’t been back in twenty years. It was a large area of grazing for cattle, on a fairly steeply sloping valley side, and at the bottom, the little River Kym trundled through the countryside, cutting a deep groove through the land. We spent many afternoons fishing and wading and generally messing about in the water. In the spring we used to lie flat in the grass and creep on our elbows and bellies to get close to watch the hares boxing. In the summer we played endless games using the massive felled corpses of elms as spaceships and dens. In the autumn we collected nuts and conkers and hid from rain showers under the trees. Winter time made the mud so thick that even the cattle were taken elsewhere and we’d come along in February, ever hopeful that the wind might have dried the mud enough the make entry possible, but it was usually late March before we could claim our kingdom back.

That summer was the drought year of 1976 and everything was dry and burned by the sun. We drank from cattle troughs when our water bottles were empty. The heat was relentless, and we sought shade beneath anything that stayed still, but then so did the cattle and these areas were peppered with cow-pats. This made sitting anywhere risky, not to mention the smell and the flies. Tina was smaller than me and generally more adventurous and while we were seeking a cool spot away from the cows, she crawled through a rabbit run in some brambles and vanished.

I was a bit alarmed until she crawled back and told me she’d found the perfect place. With more difficulty I followed her back down the rabbit run and when we emerged we found ourselves in another world. That’s what it felt like anyway. We were in a deep bowl of green, the walls of which were mixed bramble and saplings that leaned in and almost cut out the sky. The bowl was almost perfectly circular and the floor was the lushest, greenest grass you can imagine. All the grass in the fields was burned to dry beige so this was amazing. The sound of the summer meadow vanished also; I couldn’t hear the swish of cattle moving through the dry grass, or their contented chewing. I couldn’t even hear the endless song of the million grasshoppers. It was almost silent.

We stood without speaking for a minute or two. A faint sound did begin to register; a soft bubbling noise that came from one side of the dell. The dell was only maybe twenty feet across, and as I went to go and sit on the grass, my sandalled feet discovered it was wet. Not just wet, but boggy. My feet sank into the soft wet grass and into mud below.

That was when I realised we’d found a spring. You’d never know it was there; you couldn’t see into the dell from the outside. We talked for a minute or two about building a proper den here; no other kids would ever be able to find us and we could leave our stuff there all the time.

Suddenly Tina’s face froze and she went white. Before I could ask her what was wrong, she bolted back up the rabbit run and was gone. I shouted but she didn’t answer me. I was cross. I sat down on the bank where the dell curved upwards and then realised I’d found at least one of the points where water reached the surface. In the friable soil of the bank there was a little hollow that kept filling with water that then trickled over and disappeared in the grass below. It wasn’t enough to form a stream as such; it trickled like it had all the time in the world. I leaned in close and I could see the water fleas dancing in the bubbling water.

I felt very happy and I couldn’t understand why Tina had run away. Then I felt as if a shadow had crossed the sun. But the sunshine was as unrelenting as ever beyond the walls of the dell. I felt very cold and suddenly very scared. I could feel someone watching me. The feelings grew rapidly until I too was scrabbling back up the rabbit run, certain to my bones that I simply must get away and never, NEVER go back.

I caught Tina up at the gate to the field, half a mile away.

What happened?” I asked her.

I don’t want to talk about it,” she said.

And we never did.

We drifted apart after that; another friend claimed more and more of Tina’s time and affections, and the year after that we went to secondary school and were in different classes and made different friends. The gap got bigger and from being inseparable, we lost touch steadily. She still lives in my home-town; I last saw her about twenty years ago. My mum sometimes sees her mum. But we never, ever discussed what happened. I wish we had, but too much time has passed now. She probably doesn’t even remember what occurred that hot sunny day during the heat wave of ’76.

It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I ever began to get to grips with what I experienced that day and even now I’m not certain. When I was reading Latin at university I came across a description of the god Pan terrifying mortals by menacing them or jumping out at them; the feelings were pretty much what I remember. So for a long while I wondered if Pan had been playing silly buggers and having fun scaring the life out of us. But it doesn’t really add up; why would Pan bother with two pre-teen girls? And it does seem presumptuous to imagine such a deity being even remotely interested in us. I might be a Christian but I do believe such entities exist. Usually they’re not much interested in humans; they only tend to interact with us when we enter their territory.

In my late twenties I began to explore a lot of interesting areas and I discovered that there were more beings that I’d sensed but hadn’t until now understood what they were. Nature spirits is a poor name but it maybe conveys enough: non-human entities that are connected deeply with places like springs, special trees, rivers, mountains and so on. Like humans, they are variable in terms of good and bad, but their primary goal is the protection of whatever natural feature they are tied to. So a tree spirit is to help protect the tree and so on. Sadly they don’t have as much power as they need, or this world would not be in the state it is.

With the wisdom of over thirty years passing, I think now we were warned off. We were on holy ground and we were trespassing. The spirit of that sacred spring didn’t want us there, messing about, making a den and using it like any other place. So, since children are still quite psychically receptive, the spirit scared us away. So much so that even as a young adult I never dared go back. I don’t dare go back now either, in case the whole place has been destroyed. I’d rather keep it as a memory.

I encountered another similar experience when I was sixteen, but that was in the centre of a city and that’s another story….

To be continued….

For all links to Strangers and Pilgrims go to my Strangers and Pilgrims page

“Remember, anywhere there is beauty, the predator shows up” ~ Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes

 Today’s offering is not my words but those of someone whom I have immense respect for, whose books and words have inspired millions. I wish I could say Dr Estes sent this to me personally, but as I “like” her on Facebook, her words landed right on my page, right when I needed them. I believe in synchronicity, and so I am sharing her words with you in the belief that someone out there needs to hear this as much as I did.

“Dear Brave Souls:

When faced with uninvited intrusions, aggression or/and attempts to put down, destroy, ridicule or harm, rebuke anywhere in the world… this is my advice to your soul from mine: Be not afraid, and proceed in love…. and clear boundaries.

Just because a person appears desperate to spar with, correct, rebuke, provoke in words or deeds… you are not required to respond just because they set up a tottery ring, ill-woven ropes and have dressed themselves up  in their satin shorts … hoping to snag someone, anyone, who will enter into ‘fight arousal’ with them… via their trying to provoke a fight by complaining, criticising, condemning, attacking, cursing others without  respect for other souls’ humanity and desires for peace.

Draw a bright white line when necessary, for you have calling and work to do in the world and be not detoured by those who want to engage you in a circular firing range in order to fill their own lives up with animus. Your blood and intentions are to be kept for yourself. Be not hesitant. Be clear.

Go on with your work, undivided. Remember that the world is in such need of your kind touch; there is already an overage of pointless debate that transforms no one. Turn toward the transformative, and decline the gaggle that goes nowhere, but only brightens the aggressive one and makes all others pale as though drained by a hungry ghost.

As I’ve written to you before, as you follow your callings: Question unkindness, but be kind if/as you can. Question cruelty, but be not cruel without necessity. Question hatefulness, but be not hateful. Question condemnation, but do not condemn, only note the differences in tone and timbre and which you prefer. Do not engage to try to shame or change another who is cruel, rather only make a statement of your light, so that others who come, others who see, others who overhear, will be able to find their way through a bit more… because you lit the way through a darkness.

Remember, anywhere there is beauty, the predator shows up. That this occurs is not remarkable, rather that this occurs means all the more reason for your light to be brought forward in love and insight… and clear boundaries to shelter your gift(s). Your precious one of a kind light… for a moment, for a time, for a while, or for forever is the center, and That Which stands behind in Goodness… you will be guided.

Attend to the fact that all the creatures of the forest have their ways of not only surviving, but of thriving. Choose the latter way whenever possible. The creatures of the forest, the veldt, the desert, the mountain, the rivers, do not linger with those who prefer being ‘right’ over letting live and let live. There is enough territory for all to inhabit in peace… It is a choice.”

Across the Ages ~ a story for All Souls’ Day

Across the ages ~ a story for All Souls’ Day

I waited for you, lurking in the shadows of the agora, hoping to share what I had stolen from listening to philosophers, shawl covering my face and the food in my basket emitting glorious fragrance of ripe fruit and warm bread. They don’t like women, most of them, but they don’t throw things at me to drive me away any more. I have to lie to cover why I am so long but that day you didn’t come to find out what I had learned, so I risked another beating to see where you were. You were drunk, your mother told me and she told me not to ever come back; there was talk about that Socrates being a danger to our gilded youth. She could not have made it plainer that she feared what would happen if you continued to explore these things, even debated second-hand with a slave like me.

Of course they made him drink hemlock for the sake of our gilded youth, and I saw you in the crowd. You would not meet my eyes, and when I sought to speak with you, you shoved me away and called me whore. I think now the whole crowd heard my heart break, though perhaps all they heard was the crack of the flask I carried as it hit the stone. I died inside but it was a few years before a sickness the doctors could not treat carried the rest of me away. I did not fight it. I had become too attached to you to continue my journey without the meaning my task with you had given me.

I floated for many years, between worlds. I passed a few more lifetimes without catching more than a glimpse of you. There are others I dance this millennia old dance with, stepping the measure round through the passage of centuries. Each time I meet a familiar soul, I know that I know them somehow but when I am incarnate I seldom remember what ties me to them and sometimes we pass, without speaking or connecting, with only that electric spark, as eyes meet and for a millisecond, we know each other.

Some lives it takes me years or decades to remember who I am, others, I know from childhood that I have been here before, and I start to seek others as soon as I can be independent.

The Roman Empire in decline was a hard place to live, and I died a few times in ways I prefer not to recall. I saw you there, a soldier “just following orders” and doing things I hope you never remember.

The Dark Ages…well, what can I say? They have the name for a reason. Yet, I lived out one life in peace, a farmer in a remote spot, at one with the land and with God. I cherish that life. I have had so few where everything fell into place and I had peace and inner vision without conflict. I saw you at a distance, when you came to our village with your peddlar’s pack, and your eyes met mine and turned away. I think you knew me and chose not to speak, to renew our acquaintance. We go back tens of thousands of years, you and I, to times when people first tried to make sense of this baffling world we live in. And yet every time, you turn away, deciding it is too hard and that a happy life is one without thought. Believe me, the few happy lives I have lived have been as full of thought as the desperate hopeless pain-filled ones. It is not thought that creates misery, nor is questioning.

I wonder now if there is something lacking in me, in my ancient soul, that means you turn ever away, disappointed that I cannot be what you wish me to be. Perhaps one life we may find out why that is not to be; or whether even after all these centuries you are still not ready to face the truths. Each life I live, I learn more and as I learn, I realise that the intricate patterning of my existence is as much a part of the universe as the long slow march of the stars in the heavens, that my soul grows and changes and becomes yet richer and stronger each time I pass those blink-of-an-eye years wearing my human masks.

I am old now, beyond measure of most and still you seem young and untried to me, like a child who forgets his lessons when the sun goes down and has to relearn them every day for eternity. There’s a Greek myth about something similar, I think I even remember when that was new. A rock being rolled to the top of the hill and rolling back down. And one like us pushing it forever. Of course, so much real history is wound up and woven into myths and fairy tales; that’s why they survive, you see. To remind us, from aeon to aeon, who we truly are.

But I, like so few, remember from life to life, snippets and snatches of memories and some have sunk deep into my bones (so to speak) and I watch out for those who recur from life to life and try to reconnect so that we may understand the better why we are here and do what we are sent to do.

And one day, perhaps, while I float between worlds, waiting to be reborn, I will choose to go on, beyond this world and having served faithfully for so long, I will be allowed to rest and be at peace forever.

Until then, I shall dance the measure round and if you choose to turn away, again, then so be it. We will meet again, you know.

(This story and others of the same ilk are available in a collection called The Moth’s Kiss available here and at all Amazon stores.)