Thursday, 16 May 2013

Guest Post - Vivienne Tuffnell

"Kissing Moths Not Frogs"

I'm delighted to be hosting friend and wonderful writer Vivienne Tuffnell on the occasion of her latest book, a collection of short stories called "The Moth's Kiss", several of which I had the privilege of reading as they were being written.

Viv and I share the imperative to interrogate life and our surroundings, to really dig deeper under surface appearances, although we take different stylistic approaches in our writing. But while I content myself with sitting at home and processing everything as thought experiments, Viv has a huge wealth of knowledge and experience in many different fields which she brings to her writing and being. Deeply spiritual, she has a wonderful blog about all things to do with the human psyche, both the things that damage it and the things that help heal such assaults.

Viv never veers away from dealing with deep, deep emotions and she doesn't sugarcoat the darker things in life whenever she happens to be discussing them in her writing. I can't recommend her writing enough.

Over to Viv-

Folklore fascinates me, and it's younger sibling, the urban myth comes a close second. Once you start looking at them both, you realise there is a hoard of inspiration for writing but also they're something that thread through much of modern consciousness. When it comes to superstitions, most people claim to be above it all, but there are things that seem to undermine that.

The tear-drinking moth is one of those things.

I thought it was a myth and I casually asked my brother to confirm this. His area of expertise is lepidoptera, and I grew up with bugs of all sorts so I'm deeply grateful that he stuck largely to butterflies and moths as his primary interest. He's had a room full of tarantulas since I left home, and would like to breed scorpions too. When I mentioned the moth that drinks tears he surprised me. It exists, and he sent me links to some photos of it. It looks harmless enough until you realise that this moth does not merely wait patiently for tears to spill from sleeping eyes, but rather it provokes them. It uses its sharp proboscis to poke the eye and make it water, causing serious irritation and spreads various disgusting diseases. Creepier still is the evolution of a moth that drinks not tears but blood:

I'd be lying if I said I set out to write a story about the tear-drinking moth. I didn't. I'd got to a part in a novel I was writing where I needed to step back and look at the narrative from the outside. The novel in question is the third in a series, the first of which is The Bet, and I was trying to create a penetrating sense of menace, of that creeping sense of being watched. So I stepped outside and in a number of pieces, I became the observer, watching and waiting and plotting. Most of it is liable to sit on my hard-drive, unseen but the short story I named The Moth's Kiss for its reference to the tear-drinking moth was obviously capable of standing alone as a story in its own right.

I enjoy writing short stories; it's a very different discipline to that of writing a novel. As a result I write a few in bursts and often do nothing more with them. I've published one collection of shorts, with a theme of ancient deities interacting with the modern world, and I wondered if among the many stories stuffed onto my computer I had sufficient to produce another collection with a theme.

That's when I had the idea of The Moth's Kiss as first tale in a sequence of stories with related themes. Initially I thought of it as scary stories, but on reflection I realised that each of the selected tales dips into some well-embedded folklore and urban legends. A Devil's Pet visits the abiding belief that cats are uncanny and evil. Black Hole is entwined with some quite new beliefs, made widespread by such books as The Secret, that we can draw to ourselves what we need or deserve by merely focusing our thoughts on our goals with sufficient confidence; I took this so-called Law of Attraction and had a little fun with it. Both Green Willow and Bitter Withy  incorporate both ancient folklore of the willow tree being the champion of the discarded lover and other more recent legends, such as the oracle of iPods on shuffle.

Each of the ten stories links to some abiding belief whether ancient or modern or a combination of the two. I have heard that Einstein is said to have recommended that for intelligent children you should read them fairy-tales and for more intelligent children, read them MORE fairy-tales. I'm not convinced about the intelligence bit but fairy-tales, folklore, urban legends all emerge from various strata of the collective unconscious and point not just to our primal needs but also our collective primal fears. This is why we can be transported back millennia by a good story well told; it takes us back to a time when that prickling feeling of being watched was worth heeding for it may have meant that Smilodon or other ambush predator was lurking in the long grass licking its lips. Such a tale reminds us of our fragility even in our technological bubble and there's really nothing like being shocked by a brush with death (even fictional) to make us feel vibrantly alive again.   

The Moth's Kiss is available from Amazon UK:  USA: 

I tweet as @guineapig66


Anonymous said...

Many thanks for hosting this; hope folks enjoyed it.

Andy said...

A lovely post the two of you. A wonderful introduction, Marc. Viv, I wondered if you would mention collective unconscious and there it was. As un-spiritual as I am Jung's idea of a collective unconscious fascinates me and I like how you see it resonating in fairy tales. I agree a close shave with death brings about a desire to live with desire.

I especially like the sound of A Devil's Pet!

Sulci Collective said...

I've always been a bit of a skeptic about the collective unconsciousness - not that we don't as a species hold a remarkable consistency of images and archetypes, but it doesn't seem to me to add anything by saying that we do. Other than our imaginative creative brains have a finite point in what connections it can make in order to create these myths. If we lived on a planet with 6 moons for example, we would still have a collective unconsciousness, but I suspect its myths would be very different in scope.


Anonymous said...

It's because I see that the collective unconscious has endless potential for exploration, like it is a series of tunnels, which one can go down and like a shamanic journey it may take you places you never even dreamed existed.
Accessing those hidden layers appeals to the archaeologist in me, that need to peel back, excavate, discover, trace things back to ancient roots.

Larry Kollar said...

I'm not sure about collective unconscious so much as a common sub-conscious. But there are similar myths across ancient cultures—a great flood, dragons, magic, higher/more advanced beings (aka gods)… all fertile ground for storytelling!

Ashen said...

I look forward to your stories. Your brother's passion must have sparked many images for you.
I have no doubt that bringing light to the deeper and higher layers of our psyche, layers we are not ordinarily conscious of, also brings us into contact with a collective universal sphere beyond time, where all experience and the whole cosmic story are recorded.
In that way we are all involved in the expansion of consciousness.

Anonymous said...

I also ought to add that my brother used to torment the life out of me; on one occasion he put a set mousetrap in my bed!
Didn't so much as expand my consciousness as make me habitually cautious about people and places. I still check a new bed before getting in to it.
had he fulfilled his wish to breed scorpions, I'd be checking my slippers to this day.
Needless to say, he's a writer too.

Dan Holloway said...

great stuff, Marc and Viv. Urban myths have an endless fascination that draw us like, um, moths around a light