As my conversation with Gareth Knight was so well received last month I decided to try and have a similar confab with his friend and somewhat younger colleague, Alan Richardson. Alan has written extensively on Paganism, Celtic and Faery lore, the Arthuriad, the Qabala, Ancient Egypt, British mystery traditions, as well as producing a series of delightful novels. He has given us important biographies on occult luminaries such as William G. Gray, Dion Fortune, Aleister Crowley, Christine Hartley and Charles Seymour. A couple of hermits, we conducted our conversation on the digital plane, as Alan no doubt kept one eye on the footy scores in hopes that Newcastle United would stave off relegation from the premier league. Readers of Alan’s work will have come to know his razor wit and unassuming charm… always laced with a healthy dose of honesty…
DS: Given that you write in various styles and genres – from serious esoterica to wild polyglot fiction – can you tell us what sort of writing comes most naturally to you? Are you the sort of ‘modal’ writer that works on one thing at a time or are you able to bounce between these extremes at will?
AR: Well, I dunno what a ‘modal writer’ is. But I wish I could bounce between extremes at will. When I’ve tried it’s been disastrous. Usually I wake in the middle of the night with a title or a first line for a new project and the whole thing is suddenly glowing and complete in my head like a a big, tangled piece of cosmic string, if that’s an apt analogy. The title or first line is a means of grasping one end and unravelling it. Somehow, rhythm comes into it too. If I can ‘hear’ the rhythm I’m looking for in the prose, the rest of it comes along. ‘On Winsley Hill’ had a very marked sense of rhythm. I kept trying to change it, the whole style, but somehow it wouldn’t let me. I suppose ‘it’ was the spirit of the hill itself. (Where, with the encircling Limpley Stoke valley, Dion Fortune’s parents met, courted and married, incidentally.)
DS: You have written about inner Egypt, Inner Celtia, Inner Megaliths, Inner Gateways, as well as displaying an ever-inventive imagination in strange and exotic novels like The Fat Git. Where does this come from? What can you tell us about the private Alan Richardson that produces this magic?
AR: Oh gosh I don’t know where it all comes from. Y’see I wish in my early days I’d chosen a pen-name for myself to help define and cope with this ‘other’ self of mine. The Alan Richardson who writes these odd books is somewhat different to the lower case alan richardson answering these questions. And I can’t switch into him. Wish I could – I think. It’s one of the reasons I try to avoid contact with the outer world of this strange business: people want to bang on to the upper case AR about all sorts of recondite and esoteric things, but lower case ar hasn’t got the slightest interest in talking about them, and is distinctly, cheerfully and determinedly low-brow. I suppose I’m a bit of a freak in that I can genuinely believe in two completely opposite things at the same time. If it was scientifically proved that the whole magical realm was bollocks it would not bother me in the slightest.
The ‘private’ me isn’t really private at all. I’ve never been able to make a living writing, though lord knows I’ve tried for almost 50 years now. So I’ve had a vast variety of jobs: a teacher; wastrel; actor; general labourer in a brickyard; nursing auxiliary bum-wiping for the NHS; care worker in an OAP home; Instructor for the RNID, teaching deaf and deaf-blind adults using sign language and braille; Instructor in a day centre fo adults with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour. And many more. Now, in my last working years, I’ve got the best job in England managing a specialist Mobile Library which takes Large Print books and Talking books to the elderly in remote communities right across my beloved Wiltshire. Perhaps all these have given me a sense of whimsy. Plus I would add that I’ve gone into these jobs not because I’m caring, but out of the sheer necessity of supporting my family.
DS: I was particularly struck by On Winsley Hill, and The Giftie before it, both of which show elegant literary craftsmanship with wit, voice, pacing, characterisation, setting, etc,. As someone with a natural flair for fiction are there authors that particularly inspire you or do you just follow your own writerly impulses?
AR: Well, thanks for those comments Daniel, but I don’t think I’ve got a flair for fiction. To my shame I never read novels unless they are very thin. Perhaps because I’m out of touch with mainstream fiction this is why I’ve never been able to appeal to the mass market. So I only read non-fiction, though voraciously, on all sorts of topics, none of them very learned.
In a sense I was cursed in the early years of my writing by a resonance or echo of D.H. Lawrence. There was a time when I was younger and bit loopy that I thought I might have been DHL reborn. I don’t think that now. But whenever I tried to write a simple tale the ‘tone’ of DHL would come floating in and turn it all into an unreadable pastiche of his style. I eventually exorcised him by writing (and re-writing and re-re-re-rewriting) ‘Shimmying Hips’ which was a parody and piss-take. The main character Godwin Jelph is DHL. Fritha was Freida etc. Every image, every place, is a warped version of his, although only a Lawrencian scholar might notice and appreciate. I put it out on Kindle, and although I’m told it’s largely unreadable at least it got rid of the bugger.
DS: There is a telling line on one of your Amazon pages: “He does not belong to any occult group or society, does not take pupils, and does not give lectures on any kind of initiation. He insists on holding down a full-time job in the real world like any other mortal. That, after all, is part and parcel of the real magical path.” You seem to have a very humble and down-to-earth approach to an occult world that has harboured no small number of egomaniacs – is this an important ingredient to your success?
AR: What success is that Daniel? Humble? Me? 40 odd years ago I stuck on the side of my old portable typewriter the letters HSW. The stood for: Humility – because when I was younger I was an arrogant bastard, though I had no achievements which might justify this; Simplicity – because I was uncomfortably aware that all this psuedo-intellectual study of dark and deep things (especially the Kabbalibosh) could well cause me to disappear up my own fundament; Work – because although I do work hard, it doesn’t come naturally to me, and I’d far rather lounge on a couch having adoring but mute servants feed me grapes while I watch ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’.
Plus there is an extent to which I’m a bit of a phoney, magically speaking. Except on rare occasions I can’t ‘see’ a thing. Nor do I have any of the powers you might expect magicians to have, and which I’ve witnessed in a few others of the real kind. So how can I teach anyone? So here is a secret which the little ar has observed in the capital AR: sometimes the latter uses literary style to hide the fact that he hasn’t a bloody clue. But don’t tell anyone, eh?
DS: If I may extend that last question somewhat – you have been involved with the biographies of some celebrated occultists – Dion Fortune, Aleister Crowley and W.G. Gray – and now find yourself becoming a bit of an elder statesman in the Western Mystery Tradition in your own right. Where do consider your work in relation with these pioneers?
AR: Elder statesman! And here was me thinking I was still a Bright Young Thing. Where did all the years go… I just write down what comes along. I’ve often said that the story of how I came to write about Dion Fortune would take a book itself, involving staggering levels of coincidence and serendipity, but I didn’t go looking for any of it. Perhaps I’m just a kind of scribe, with no real axe of my own to grind. In football terms those characters you mentioned are the Real Madrids and Arsenals and Chelseas of this world. Me, I’m probably level with Plymouth Argylle – though I do have the odd FA Cup run in which I can surprise myself.
DS: A couple of years ago you wrote Sex and Light: How to Google your Way to the Godhead. Is this an example of one of your “dodgy books on Magick” as per your words in your bio statement? What about other recent projects – what’s this new romp with the Templars?
AR: Sex and Light… Well that was orginally called ‘The Google Tantra – How I Became the First Geordie to Raise the Kundalini’. It was a tongue-in-cheek and rude sort of semi-autobiography in part, but mainly a love letter to Margaret. A couple of big publishers were interested in the concept but wanted me to do it without the personal stuff, yet that would have killed it. Tiny little ignotus press took a chance, and then Twin Eagles took it on with its new title. In fact, as I learned only last year, my oldest and wildest friend Maxwell who never showed the slightest interest in the ‘occult’ when we were lads together, actually had experiences of his own which showed he raised the kundalini quite naturally long before me. So he ruined the whole damned book.
The Templars? Oh you mean the recent ‘Dark Light’ published by Mutus Liber. Well, it’s just a romp, based on my magnificent Mobile Libary. A number of the characters in it are described ‘as is’, being fellow workers in the library service. I thought that was one way to get some sales. But the Templars, like DHL, have floated in and out of my psyche for years and although I’ve asked them what they wanted from me I never got any sort of sign or answer. I suspect ‘Dark Light’ will do to them what ‘Shimmying Hips’ did to DHL – drive them away in a huff. It is the greatest novel ever written about the Wiltshire Mobile Library Service – if only because…etc etc
Then again I’ve got the non-fiction ‘Geordie’s War’ coming out in the autumn which is the one project I’m really proud of. It’s about what my grandad did in the Great War, and how it affected my Dad and then me. It’s a strange little book, I think. Actually, forget the Humility thing – it’s bloody brilliant. I had the Northumberland Fusiliers in my psyche for several months of convalescence after a serious op, and I think I’ve done them proud. Oddly, Sting appeared as if my magick and it turns out he’s as obsessed by the Great War as I had become, so has done me an excellent Foreword.
DS: Finally, do you feel that we are at the end of a golden age or are there up and coming thinkers and writers that give you hope for the future? What advice do you have for aspiring neophytes in your field?
AR: I don’t read many books on magick, but those recent ones by Wendy Berg, Josephine McCarthy, Mike Harris, R.J. Stewart, Normandi Ellis and Gareth Knight are in classes of their own. They know what they are talking about, and make me hugely jealous.
Advice for aspiring neophytes? First, do no harm. Then work hard, don’t give up, don’t worry if you make an absolute dick of yourself at times – and DON’T DO DRUGS.
Interview conducted on Monday, May 13, 2013
Photograph – Alan Richardson in Australia
For more information about Alan Richardson visit his Amazon Author page.
Skylight Press has published two novels, On Winsley Hill and The Fat Git, as well as two edited works, The Old Sod: The Odd Life & Inner Work of William G. Gray (with Marcus Claridge) and Working with Inner Light: The Magical Journal of William G. Gray (with Jo Clark). We will be publishing his non-fiction memoir, Geordie’s War, later this year.