It is a common notion that Africa has, and indeed ought to have, learned much from the west. This is not wrong; all cultures rightly learn from each other. But less is said of what there is to learn from Africa: from her stories, myths, music, proverbs, insights – and more. Here an acclaimed African scholar steps into the gap by uncovering for us something of the great legacy of African thought and practice in ways that will astonish many. Written with verve and authority and directed above all to students and sixth formers, this book will also delight and often surprise those who know something of Africa as well as those hitherto ignorant. Ruth Finnegan OBE FBA is Emeritus Professor The Open University, Foreign Associate of the Finnish Literature Bureau, and International Fellow of the American Folklore Society. An anthropologist and multi-award author, she has published extensively, chiefly on Africa, musical practice, and English urban life. Recent books include How is Language?, Fiji’s Music: Where Did It Come From?, her edited Entrancement: The Consciousness of Dreaming, Music and The World, and two prize-winning Africa-influenced novels Black Inked Pearl and Voyage of Pearl of the Seas.
Grass Miracle from the Earth is a well informed and interesting book about grass. What intrigued you about this project?
Well I was just so astounded that something so humble and unnoticede had all these qualities! I kept finding more and more and more (the ‘miracle’ in the title cropped up pretty soon) – and then just couldn’t stop!
Actually having finished it I see it’s pretty typical of my work as an anthropologist: to look deep into the ordinary – whatever, wherever – and find the extraordinary and the magical. So mine, I feel, is really a pretty good calling and one that suits me ( and my family inheritance) exactly.
You are the editor along with Maria Teresa Agozzino and author David Campbell Callender. What was the collaboration like on this book?
I have, er, to confess that I wrote the book myself, well almost all of it – Maria, the meticulous and inspired Welsh Mabli, whom I found by enormous good luck, corrected my mistakes and omissions and added some super fokloric and other bits as well as some great pictures of her gorgeous cats making the most of her grass. It’s been a wonderfully happy collaboration with multiple emails flying back and forward each day at crucial points. No, we have never actually met (except in mind) but will CERTAINLY continue to collaborate – soon it’ll be on the history of horses (an amazing adventure that ) then, we hope, on birds, magic of the sky and trees.
But otherwise, yes , I have to confess I basically thought of, and wrote it, a miraculous ( yes) journey of discovery. ‘Ruth Finnegan’ is known for rather different kinds of publications, so that was one reason I used a penname. But chiefly it was to remember and honour my inspired and gentle and modest maternal grandfather from Derry, my native city, himself a naturalist.
Starting this book I certainly didn’t think grass could so fascinating. Was there anything new you learned about grass when working on this book?
YES, EVERYTHING! I had no idea. Basically that, mostly forgotten, it’s just – THERE! And there all the time almost whatever you do to it. But honest, there’s just far far too much to even begin on, you’ll just have to read the book!
What is the next project you plan to work on and when will it be available?
I have two nearly finished academic books (one on ‘The shared mind’ – ESP and all that, a highly p topical subject – one on taxidruvers’ lives, again the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary and though, like grass, near ubiquitous so often unnoticed and unesteemed. Also a couple of ( dream-inspired) novels and experimenting with a few filmscriots (hopefully some at least will appear this year, not certain: why aren’t there more hours in the day …). Chiefly I am working as general commissioning editor on what I think an exceedingly important and innovative series of books for young adults (‘Grass … ‘ is one example, my recent ‘Time for the world to learn from Africa’ another), you can see more on this at https://www.balestier.com/category/hearing-others-voices/ with LOTS more super titles to come during 2020.
We see grass everyday, tread on it, maybe handle, smell, or plant it.But how many of us noticed it – let alone appreciated its amazing presence and resilience and the way it someway holds our planet together? It’s everywhere.
This beautifully illustrated book, engaging and readable, gives us the full,picture. It tells of the marvellously complex evolution of grass, the incredible number of species (did you know that bamboo and sugar-cane are forms of grass, and that three kinds of grass make up the major food of humans and the grazing (‘grass’-eating) of innumerable animals?), leading us on into some appreciation of the abiding necessity of grass for humanity, for nature and for the arts. It has a place in folklore too, and in poetry
A book to give and to treasure.
David Campbell Callender, a name taken (adapted) from, and in memory of, her gifted Irish grandfather, is the penname of the British anthropologist Ruth Finnegan.
You may never really give much thought to the ground you walk on. To you, it is simply earth. You may not think about the grass covering it. However, there is a lot to that grass. That grass’ origin, history and even etymology are interesting. You might be wondering, what is there to be intrigued about. Grass plays a significant role in human life. Grass Miracle from the Earth presents a compelling bank of information about grass and everything related to it.
For a book about grass, this one is surprisingly interesting. Most people’s extent of knowledge about grass ends with the green color. Not many know that there are 10,000 grass species on earth. You will even find out that cats use grass for digestive reasons. Therefore this book, if nothing else, is incredibly informative.
After I started reading this book I found myself enjoying it more than expected and even looked forward to the next bit of information. The title evokes this sense of excitement and wonder as well as a tinge of curiosity. The information is engaging accompanied by pictures that support the content and make it wonderfully gripping. The author terms grass as ‘clothes for the earth’ right at the beginning, which is adorable, apt, and is an example of how this book is colored with quirk. Thoughtful information is conveyed in a friendly and informal tone. The language is simple with mild refrain from scientific jargon. The print is well structured with special attention to relevance thus keeping it short.
Ideally, this book is for educational purposes, and is written in a way that suggests that it is aimed at children. However, as an adult, you will find the information interesting enough to hold your interest. However, at times it breaks from the easy flow of information and reads more like a textbook. For example, page 28 discusses seed maturation and vasculature. The reader is directed to research these word, but I hoped this was presented in a simpler way. Understandably, this part is paramount to understanding the essence of grass.
Grass Miracle from the Earth is a brief but informative book that delivers a comprehensive overview of grass and inspires you to learn more about the thing many of us take for granted. This is an unassuming book that is informative and surprisingly absorbing.
Pages: 111 | ASIN: B082KYD8W9
Author Ruth Finnegan is a finalist in the Authors show 2017/18 ’50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading’. Show your support by casting your vote.
2017 Contest for the 2018 Edition of
“50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading”
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A wonderful prize winning inspirational story and now a prize winning screenplay – who will leap to produce into film for the world? But ah how can they without the funds? The world will surely help …
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Black Inked Pearl follows Kate, a young Irish girl, as she searches for her lost lover. What was the initial idea behind this story and how did that transform as you were writing the novel?
It began in a dream when I was in New Zealand visiting my daughter and granddaughter who live there. This was, essentially, the first page (and chapter) of the novel when Kate, panicked and feeling she was too young for love runs away desperately as her best childhood friend (I never learn his name) tries for the first time, a teenager to kiss her. That scene, that act, is the foundation for the story as she years later discovers that she as frantically and desperately loves him as she had frantically fled from him years before
I say ‘dream’ as that is the nearest word I can get, vision perhaps they would have called in in the middle Ages. But that word’s a bit misleading. In two ways.
First, it wasn’t exactly a dream in the sense of being, asleep more an experience in that liminal in-between state of being neither awake nor asleep but somehow fully both – the whole novel came in that somehow enchanted enspelled state ( I suppose you might call it ‘inspiration’). I planned nothing, but it was still a chapter a night, written down effortlessly (I don’t even remember doing it! or, by now, what the words were. it surprises me every time – so many times – I reread the book now).
Second, ‘dream’ suggests something visual, But it was more a kind of very intense node of emotion, something very personal to me (in a metaphorical sort of way the whole book is kind of autobiographical – what serious novel is not? – and the second chapter about a small girl experiencing the magical world of Donegal – is directly so.
Then the novel – and Kate – just grew. I came to know the hero well, but wish that my ‘dreams’ had given me his name
Black Inked Pearl is told in a dreamlike, almost stream of consciousness, style of writing. Why did you want to tell the story in this style and what were the challenges?
Well, it arose in dreams and the writing essential came from, and took place in, my unconscious – at least that is the only way I can understand and it. So the style is scarcely surprising, it was little under my deliberate control and almost not at all revised later.
I didn’t know in what style I was writing – the process was almost unconscious – but when it was finished I saw (or rather heard when I read it aloud ih my inner ear as I always do with my writing)that it had the rhythms and sonorities of African and Irish story-telling (my mother was a wondrous story-binder) and that some literary giants (Joyce, Fulkner, Hopkins … many others) had written in similar styles. Poetry is mixed with prose – well in a way, as with its oral resonances (a subject on which I have written in academic contexts, in Oral Poetry for example), it is all poetry, some fully, some ore in a kind of blank verse: all unexpected by me!
Also, the content. Part of what I learned as the story revealed itself to me was that the division between dream and reality is an elusive and perhaps non–existent one.
Problems – well some of my readers have problems with it! Some object because they cannot abide what they see as ‘incorrect’ grammar orthography words, not what they learned in the first form at school – I appreciate that they have tried but think they miss the point (how do they cope with Shakespeare?).
Others including my deeply wise best friend, get a bit lost in the plot from time to time, too full of Celtic mists said one. It’s too late now to amend that (and maybe it is just a necessary feature of the novel – mystic, mysterious – anyway) but I have tried to make things clearer, while not abandoning what has now has now become my signature style, in the related ‘Pearl of the Seas’ and, on the way, The helix pearl’ (the latter the same story but this time as told by the garrulouos ever-sprarklng laughing sea (a very different perspective but equally born in dreams). I wonder what is coming next ..
Oh yes, the unusual spellings were loved by the Garn Press, the lovely publishers, but at the same time gave the copy-editor real problems. Microsoft, can yoy believe it (the cheeky thing) kept automatically ‘correcting’ the ‘wrong’ spellings. In the end they got me to send a special list to add to their ‘glossary’ of all my new spellings and word and abbreviations etc. I thought that would be quick and easy – about fifty cases? Whew, no! They tell me, incredibly, that it was nearly two thousand! Don’t believe it! Ut they ear that’s true. Anyway, hey did a great job whatever.
Kate is an enthralling and curious character. What were the driving ideals behind her characters development throughout the story?
As I say it wasn’t conscious since it all came in dreams. So in a way no ‘driving ideas’.
Still I have noticed some abiding themes , detected, later, in the text, as if looking at someone else’s writing (well in way it’s NOT exactly mine, not t=in the normal way anyway – not of the deliberate, conscious careful academically trained me). /tow especially, the ones `I swoudl like to think readers will take form the novel (and from the movie if it gets made a I hope it one day will)
First as I said earlier is the understanding , that we may pretend or think we do, but that actually we do not really know the difference between reality and dreams. Given the way we have been brought up as children of the scientific revolution, this is an exceedingly difficult idea, is it not – but so important to try to accept, specially now as we become more aware of the lives, and, in a way, precious value of those with dementia. Perhaps it is only through literature and metaphor that we can eventually begin to grasp this.
Second is the thought, revealed near the end, that it is and was indeed right as Kate did, to search for others and try to help them carry their burdens. But that in the end it isourselves we are responsible for, it is our own souls for which we have to answer before (whatever metaphor we prefer here) the last judgement throne. As Kate in the final chapters had to do.
Also, after I had finished the book, I was inspired by the little butterfly that, unknown to me, the publishers had put, with the pearl and the jagged black, on the beautiful cover. ‘Butterfly’ in Greek –elsewhere too I think – is the same word and concept as for the soul, breath, spiritus, life: psyche (as in ‘psychology’, ‘psychiatry’). So the soul – figured as Kate, as every man – flies through the black ink print of the story and at the end settles down on the back cover, life fulfilled story told, with her wings folded.
Kate’s discovery of herself at the end was also, I now see, a kind of discovery of myself as person, as soul.
What are some of your inspirations as a writer that helped shape Black Inked Pearl?
Again, ‘dreams’, my unconscious I suppose. But, as one perceptive reviewer put it, only someone with my background and personality would have had those dreams. So – my life, my loves, my experiences of the resonances and styles and images of great literature, above all Shakespeare, Rumi, Homer and the Bible.
An epic romance about the naive Irish girl Kate and her mysterious lover, whom she rejects in panic and then spends her life seeking. After the opening rejection, Kate recalls her Irish upbringing, her convent education, and her coolly-controlled professional success, before her tsunami-like realisation beside an African river of the emotions she had concealed from herself and that she passionately and consumingly loved the man she had rejected.
Searching for him she visits the kingdom of beasts, a London restaurant, an old people’s home, back to the misty Donegal Sea, the heavenly archives, Eden, and hell, where at agonising cost she saves her dying love. They walk together toward heaven, but at the gates he walks past leaving her behind in the dust. The gates close behind him. He in turn searches for her and at last finds her in the dust, but to his fury (and renewed hurt) he is not ecstatically recognised and thanked. And the gates are still shut.
On a secret back way to heaven guided by a little beetle, Kate repeatedly saves her still scornful love, but at the very last, despite Kate’s fatal inability with numbers and through an ultimate sacrifice, he saves her from the precipice and they reach heaven. Kate finally realises that although her quest for her love was not in vain, in the end she had to find herself – the unexpected pearl.
The novel, born in dreams, is interlaced with the ambiguity between this world and another, and increasingly becomes more poetic, riddling and dreamlike as the story unfolds. The epilogue alludes to the key themes of the novel – the eternity of love and the ambiguity between dream and reality.
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Entrancement is a collection of essays from educated professionals with different viewpoints on the topics of dreaming, trancing and the collective unconscious. What inspired you to write this book and bring all these different fields together?
Two things I suppose.
First of all, my own extended experiences over several years of a kind of heightened consciousness in dreaming, ‘musicking’ and of, somehow, communicating with others both near and far away outside time and space. This is described in the first chapter (my own) of the book: ‘There’ (an essay which earned an award from New Millennium writing).
Second I was further inspired by following this up in wider reading and discovering that not only in anthropology (my own discipline) are such things starting to be seriously studied as something of here and now, not just of supposedly strange folk far away or long ago, but also in innovative, if as yet unconventional, scientific thinking. Remarkable. There are now huge numbers of best-selling books by hard-nosed scientists inspired by Einsteinian thinking and, for example, quark theory on, for example, telepathy, dreaming, the consciousness of the universe, life after death and communication – long known and accepted – between dead and living.
The book begins with your own experience on trancing. What is ‘trancing’ and how did that experience happen?
Too long to answer properly here – read the account in the first chapter.
‘Trancing’ is a good concept and nearest to what I and others have experienced. It does however give a somewhat too explicit and, as it were, contrived and deliberate impression. Better to say the experience of somehow being outside time and space and seeing more clearly than in ordinary life’ (though it is there too, hidden).
One major problem indeed (discussed in the concluding chapter) is the absence of an accepted terminology to describe such things.
You bring together experts from many different fields in this book. Were they as enthusiastic about this book as you are?
YES. Both in taking up my initial invitation, in responding to it in their own terms, in the writing and, now, in receiving the finished volume.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Look for the hidden in your own everyday life, find the extraordinary in the ordinary and vice versa: in music, in dreaming, in the miraculous workings of the great world around us. Open your mind – so easily closed by the undoubted but limited insights of the scientific revolution – to what is beyond.
This powerful, ground-breaking study of dreaming, death, music, and shared consciousness brings together a staggering number of fields to explore what we know about dreaming and its interactions with other forms of consciousness. Setting a humanistic, evidence-based context, Ruth Finnegan engages with anthropology, ethnomusicology, sociology, psychology, parapsychology, cognitive science, and more, building a strikingly diverse base of evidence and analysis with which to treat a subject that is all too often taken lightly. Entrancement will quickly prove indispensable for anyone studying these altered states of consciousness and what we can know about how they work and what they do for our minds, bodies, and selves.
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