IDRISTAN

by

Nick Weldon

 

the novel idristan cover

ISBN no: 9780956112903

Available in paperback and ebook from Amazon

Wholesale enquiries in the UK via Bertram Books and Gardners Books

and in the US via Ingram Books

Comic, moving, sexy, poetic and philosophical, Idristan is a novel about jazz, love, squash and our experience of time.
Meet some of the characters:

Myfanwy Muff Maboob, muse of Idristan
Spiff Abrahams, cutting edge musician
Cornelius Brewster, anglophile
The Royal Family, jazz hounds

Chaplet 7

Old Bones

Myfanwy followed the two men down the service corridor and into a cupboard. Narrow stone stairs led down into the darkness; Myfanwy could hear the men chatting as they descended below her. She took off her clackety high-heeled shoes and padded down after them.
"Well, Principal, I'm intrigued. I never knew any of this existed. Where are we going, exactly?"
"This web of stairs and tunnels has been in existence for hundreds of years. It is our private route to the Palace."
"To the Palace?!" exclaimed Spiff. "You mean?...Is that where we are going now?"
"Yes indeed, my boy", replied Cornelius Brewster, portentously. "Finally you have been called. In this hour, if you only conduct yourself well, you will receive the blessing of your Sovereign."
Myfanwy heard a curse followed by a rattling noise as objects scattered across the stone.
"Bloody Taffs!" shouted Cornelius. The men were no longer moving, and Myfanwy crept round a succession of corners until she could hear the Principal's murmured explanation.
"All this, stairs, tunnels, passages, the whole caboodle, is the work of the Welsh miners. Oh, back in the 1300s, I should imagine. When the Welsh were so Welsh they were almost Jewish. They were given the Royal Decree for their pathetic little Music School in return, but it wasn't enough. They wanted Palace Rights, like the rest of us, and Guild Membership, yes and all the High Teas and Holidays. That was never going to happen. They were only ever a bunch of burrowers, after all. But there was a hunger strike, and an ugly confrontation here in the passageways, and the miners perished. Here, below ground, in their finest digging! The bones are everywhere. Bloody Taffs!"
Myfanwy trembled all over to hear the fate of her ancestors so coldly described. She vomited quietly into one of her shoes. The men were on the move again. In passing, Myfanwy swiftly gathered together the bones of her forebear and fashioned them into the semblance of a human shape. On an impulse she then removed a femur from the skeleton and tucked it inside her neat shiny red leather handbag.
Suddenly, with her hand round the human bone, Myfanwy lost all desire to carry on with the mission she had agreed to, and which was now starting to feel dangerous. She wanted to be at home, in her cosy little caravan in Chigwell.
"Let them have their stupid meeting", she told herself defiantly. Then she heard footsteps above her, two sets, coming in her direction. One set, she surmised, belonged to the short Asian woman who followed Spiff everywhere, the other, heavier, more deliberate, and further back, to Victor, the brutal and intimidating Nigerian Head of Security.
Muff knew she had no choice but to continue her descent. In front of her, Cornelius was dispensing advice.
"Above all, old boy", said the Principal, "keep banging on about Englishness. And don't mention the Welsh at all, if you can help it. They have some sort of weird obsession with the Welsh, especially the Nutter Prince. They will speak Welsh among themselves, you'll notice, even though they'll address us in English. Just pretend you think it's normal! You won't be on your own, anyway."
As he spoke he indicated the small groups of people who were now joining them in the great stone passageway leading underground to the heart of Buckingham Palace.
Spiff recognised Principals and Heads of Jazz from the other Royal Music Colleges of the City. He suddenly visualized the cutting contest to come, and saw his exhausted competitors lay down their instruments while he completed his marathon solo serenade of the Sovereign; with this beautiful thought his penis, symbol of his self-belief, twitched into life and uncurled, warm and throbbing along his inner thigh.

Chaplet 8

The Baptism

Spiff held forth about his vision while the Queen poured tea.
"My new department is completely cutting edge. We have devised a new fusion music that combines the very best of the old bebop with the best of the new hiphop, but with an unmistakeable stamp of Englishness. We call it Bip-Bop, Ma'am."
Cornelius Brewster nodded approvingly. The Prince was munching some ginger cake.
"Sort of hey nonny nonny John Coltrane. What a splendid idea." His tone was playful. He began to sing in a lovely bass baritone.
"On yonder hill there stands a jazzman. Who he is I do not know. Will he ever end his solo? Is the answer yes or no?"
He gestured around him, and the Queen, King, and various little Royal people, all joined in for the chorus,
"Oh no John, no John, no John, no!"
Spiff blushed, sensing he had been the butt of a joke that
he didn't quite understand. He picked up his horn and began to play, determined to reestablish his creative credentials. The other Heads of Jazz joined him and soon the cutting contest was under way.
The Royal Hosts chattered continuously among themselves during the performance, but it was only during the bass solo that Myfanwy could make out their words from her hiding place behind the immense heavy red curtains in the corner of the hall. To her astonishment they were speaking in Welsh.
"Who are these lame tossers?", said the Queen.
"They couldn't swing from the gallows!", said her husband.
"How they could take the joy of Louis Armstrong, the fire of Ornette Coleman, the passion of John Coltrane, the humour of Roland Kirk...." said the Queen,
"...and turn it into this anodyne pap!", continued her husband.
"This one scale per chord stuff is doing my pretty little head in", said one of the Royal nieces.
The Prince's glorious bass baritone cut in with authority, sending a shiver of sexual allegiance jolting through Muff's body.
"It's only what they've done with the country", he said.
"Now don't start that again, dear", said his mother, "you'll only get over excited and be sick."
"N'empêche, chère maman", replied the Nutter Prince, "they despoil the memory of the Ancient Briton, whose blood courses through our veins; their notion of English Heritage is fake and lame, with as much true history about it as the Great English Ploughman's Lunch! It is a monstrous deceit, foisted upon a gullible populace to ensure their continued complaisance, and to bleed them dry of their money, and of
their true birthright."
The bass solo transmogrified into a loud drum solo; the Prince continued his declamation in time with the drums.
"Yet we are the Ancient Britons; we have never gone away, and one day we will rise again and lead our people from the dark tunnels of English Heritage into the light of Idristan!"
Muff was nearly fainting with excitement. Never had she imagined that she would hear her destiny in this place and in this way.
The drums subsided and the horns took up their bleating refrain again; Spiff, aiming for late Coltrane sheets of sound, seemed to be playing the melody of 'All Things Bright And Beautiful'.
Myfanwy felt a strong hand on her shoulder. A large man towered over her and spoke to her of her destiny. She durst not raise her eyes, but she recognised the commanding and loving bass baritone of the Nutter Prince.
"At last you have come among us", he said. He bent and sniffed her skin, savouring its spiced perfume.
"You are she whom we have awaited so patiently", he announced.
"Yes, my liege", Muff murmured, her voice charged with excitement. She heard a zip coming undone, raised her lips to accept with gratitude the member of her Lord, but saw only her open handbag and the Welsh femur now resting between the gnarled but lissom fingers of the Prince.
"How could he possibly have known to look for it there?", she asked herself in silent wonderment.
He touched her lightly on each shoulder with the yellowed bone.
"Arise, I name thee Muse of Idristan, and charge you now to begin your work to save this kingdom. The realm of the Ancient Briton is in your fair hands."
He kissed her forehead and was gone.

 

I hope you enjoyed this brief excerpt!

Idristan is available in print and digital formats from many different outlets both in the UK and internationally. You can find it at Amazon in paperback (£9.99) or ebook (£2.56); why not pick up your copy now?

 

About the Author

Nick Weldon is the author of a number of songs, poems and translations. His play `Laura-Mae and the Olivardies' was broadcast on BBC Radio Four. He also works as a professional musician, and is the eldest son of the writer Fay Weldon. Idristan is his first novel. Here are his answers to some interesting questions about the book:

Questions and Answers about Idristan:

Q: Some of the settings and characters ring very true. Are they based on real people and places?

Nick: It's a work of fiction, and everything and everyone therein comes entirely from my hot imagination. However, I was recently approached by a celebrity saxophone player. "Spiff Abrahams - is it me, Nick? Is it me?", he asked, anxious in manner. "I don't know, mate, do you balance your horn on the end of your penis?", I replied. For a moment he seemed unable to speak, so I continued, "no it's not you, and it's not me, but on the other hand it's all of us, all us males caught up in the web of our own imagined prowess". Alan seemed relieved. "That's all right, then", he sighed, and went away towards his next gig.

Q: Why the fascination with Wales?

Nick: It's in the blood! My father was half Welsh, his name being Colyn Davies. I've been working down in Cardiff a lot recently, and must be rediscovering my roots.

Q: It's a very funny book, but the humour increasingly gives way to other, darker elements. Is it a comic or a serious work?

Nick: Both. I use humour as an end in itself, and also as a device to intensify darkness.

Q: What authors do you admire, who have influenced your writing?

Nick: Obviously my mother Fay, who trained me from an early age in the economy of words. And in one sense I see Idristan as a collection of the things Fay forgot to write down while she was being a woman. Otherwise, Samuel Butler, Voltaire, Gore Vidal and Gabriel Garcia Marquez are the writers who gave me the framework for Idristan.

Q: Do you see your writing as having any political dimension, then?

Nick: I'd say a socio-cultural dimension rather than an overtly political one. I believe that there is a creative act at the heart of human perception, that as human beings we organise experience by an act of metaphor, and that our alienation from this creativity in modern society leaves us sick and despairing. Hence the symbolic flight of the artists to the Utopia of Idristan!

Q: Why has it taken you so long to produce a novel?

Nick: I'd tried several times before, but always failed, despite meticulous planning! This time, I started writing while ill, without any intention of producing a novel, and with no preconceptions about plot, character or structure. I wrote as in improvising music, in some sort of strange dream, and at the end of six months I had a novel.

Q: Yet the narrative structure is very complex. Did you not at least plan this out?

Nick: Not really. I just described where the people were and what they were doing as accurately as I could. It turned out that small parts of the main contemporary narrative were rolling themselves out, expanding into larger more detailed sequences that were happening in the future; these long future events then rolled on to form the beginning of the contemporary narrative. This meant that certain events in the novel (such as the puncturing of the squash ball) have a value in all and any time, past, present or future. This was as close as I was able to get to the feeling that being alive is the experience of one long 'now', and I got there instinctively, by an act of transcription, rather than of intelligence. (more on time below!)

Q: Was there anything in particular that triggered the novel in your mind?

Nick: Two things. Firstly, last year I wrote down all my stale old stories about myself in a memoir. Suddenly, finally, I was able to envisage other people. Secondly, I've started to play and learn the orchestral repertoire, and this has really helped me to understand about writing in larger and more complex forms.

Q: What writing plans do you have for the future?

Nick: I'll knock the memoir into shape, and perhaps start thinking about a book on improvisation, as well. And it's obvious to me that Idristan is really a trilogy, so I'll make a start on the next volume soon!

Q: I raced through Idristan and enjoyed it hugely. Tell me, is there emerging here a realisation of the movement you invented years ago called ‘Men Before Metal’?

One thing I’m curious about: I know magical realism gives you licence in a sense to play around with time, space, etc., but internal consistency is usually maintained for the most part, and Idristan does this, sometimes, I have to say, ingeniously and skilfully. I was puzzled at the end, though, by Jamal’s chronology; perhaps I missed something, but it seemed as though he was two different people. (Paul Milnes)

Nick: Hi Paul, I am so pleased that you read and enjoyed Idristan. I'd forgotten about 'men before metal', but of course you're right, the novel is almost exactly that, although I'm trying to get even further back, into a world of primordial being (rather similar to jazz experience!) where the cultural layers of space and time don't yet exist. This is the world that Quintus begins to describe to Myfanwy on the houseboat, a world which is 'one big now'.
There are several time frames within the novel. There is firstly the normal run of events from the present into the future, in which Myfanwy loses music, becomes a secretary, leads the artists to Idristan, gives birth, mourns, cooks and dies. But all these events are also contained within, and expressed through, a shorter time frame, which is the time in Myfanwy's life between her losing music, loving and losing Quintus, and finally becoming a secretary. The two stories, the two times, longer and shorter, are one and the same. The short story is both a small part of the long story, and also its complete expression.
In this world (to me strange, but alarmingly real), each character has its own pair of time frames. All the events in the first book, for example, occur within the space of Len's fever!
Therefore the normal laws of chronology are, as you rightly say, abused, and Jamal can be a young man both early and late in Myfanwy's story, and still be the same person. Here's a thought - is Heidi one person, or two?

Here is an article by Nick Weldon on the process of writing Idristan. It was first published in the online writing magazine The View From Here

Getting Over Me

Having been writing novels on and off for over twenty years, I celebrate today the fact that I've finally managed to finish one. With this success comes insight into failure, which I now share with you. Perhaps it will save you time.

I've never found writing difficult. I seized at an early age the first principles of the art, and received strict training in the details of the craft from my mother, the writer Fay Weldon. As I progressed through school, sentences once long, clumsy and saturated with vague and emotive adjectives became lean, precise and finely balanced. My teachers, puzzled and envious, said I was cheating. At University my Tutor in Philosophy sighed as he awarded me my First.
"You don't know much more than them", he said. "But you can write".

But I chose jazz as a profession, over writing, and happily or otherwise improvised my way through my twenties, thirties and forties at the piano. The occasional song or poem popped up, and I once managed to get a Radio Play 'Laura-Mae and the Olivardies' past the committees of Radio Four and out onto air. By some miracle. But the novels I kept starting kept stopping. Twenty, thirty, sometimes forty thousand words, all going well, then suddenly a dead end, or rather, a sheer drop and then beyond, the afterimage of the ending I had so meticulously planned, fading away into the horizon.
"Mum", I whinged, "I'm stuck".
"No you're not", she replied. "You're finished. Wait for the next one".
So helpful. What was I waiting for? What needed to change for my writing energy to complete itself in a novel?
Fay was diffident on questions of technique."Start writing", she would say, "and carry on until you stop". But she once confided that she would never have been able to find her own novel form but for her intensive spells in Freudian analysis. "I could see my characters", she said. "But I couldn't get to them. I had to get past myself". Her words now resonated uncomfortably with me. Perhaps the change I sought was in the realm of emotion rather than of technique. It turned out to be in both.

There were several reasons why I hadn't gone into analysis, or any other form of therapy. Firstly, the emotional confusion I felt wasn't severe enough to interfere with my day to day interaction with the outside world, even if it spavined my artistic progress. Secondly, I no longer trusted psychoanalysis, since it was itself in turmoil, having being submerged in a tide of gooey amateurs. Thirdly, I was already working hard on my own to illuminate my conscious and unconscious motives, not least at the piano, where I found, over hours of improvising, sounds that seemed to reach down into the cavernous depths of my inner self, and melodies that were in one sense maps of my mind.
Then I hit fifty, and many things changed. I was hit by a wall of grief about my father, who had died ten years before; I had what people often call a breakdown. (How strange are our ideas about mental health. The opportunity, even out of necessity, to work through the confusion and conflict of childhood and emerge as a balanced and positive adult is surely not a breakdown, but a breakthrough!) Then, gradually, I began to find less touch at the piano and to fall in love with another instrument, the double bass. Also, perhaps because of the real emotional work I had recently had to do, I was finding the act of improvising less interesting, and also less necessary.
I joined an orchestra, becoming fascinated by the long, complex forms of the symphonic repertoire. It was music, but not as I knew it; my own sound was right down in the mix, and though itself essential in the music, could only succeed if other, higher voices were allowed full expression. Jazz musicians are obsessed with their own voice; this is surely why the jazz novel is so scarce. As I learned to understand the interplay of many voices in orchestral writing, and the subtle ways in which they combine into a single narrative, I was, unknowingly, getting past myself, and learning to write a novel.

It finally happened last year, quite by accident, while I was in the fever of a bad flu, and writing only because I was too ill to sleep. But there was something else in between that I must mention. The year before, I sat down to write a brief biog for a web page, and didn't stop for three months. In the resulting memoir ('Joanna', still in manuscript) I set down as much of my life as I chose to remember, and in so doing rid myself of all the useless scripts I had accumulated in my mind, of all the monomaniac clutter I had generated in my constant retelling to myself of the story of my life. What a beautiful moment this was! Now, as I raised my eyes up out of my own boots, there was space again in front of me, but it was not as before, a gulf of ego, but just clean, fresh, open air, filled with interesting new scents and breezes, new ideas, new places, new feelings, new people. Finally I was over me, and able to envisage someone else.

So, last year, I started to write, without even intending to, and, just as I had been advised, went on until I stopped, and this is how I came to finish my first novel.

Nick Weldon May 2009