What do you do when two of your best friends put you in gaol for a crime the three of you carried out… and leave you there?
The characters of Wen, Don and Ben in the Doomsday
series by Stuart France and Sue Vincent are not-so-loosely based on the three people who run the Silent Eye School. Imagine, in real life, joining the other two one day for lunch and being told that you were being thrown behind bars… well, not you, exactly, but your character, Ben…
Not being the author of said books, you have little say over this, other than to object and take your proverbial bat home…
But, when the ‘terrible twins’, as Sue and Stuart have come to be known, then buy you a carefully engraved pocket watch and a copy of Oscar Wilde’s ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’ for your birthday, the plot thickens. The gifts come with a request: to create a three-part poem in classic ballad style, as used by Wilde in what is considered his greatest work. Each segment to be used as the opener for their next three books in the new series Lands of Exile… the cheek of it!
Soon, though, the creative possibilities begin to emerge. Take a modern, if relatively trivial crime – the relocation of an ancient saxon monument to where it originally stood. Add the incarceration of one of the three guilty parties (Ben – me); the other two having successfully fled the scene of Ben’s arrest. Then mix in the spectrum of emotions that a ‘successful businessman’ (Ben) would feel at his imprisonment, awaiting trial… it’s a heady mix and not for the faint-hearted.
So, after several, sulkily-extracted pints of Guinness, I agreed to do it.
The result is Ben’s Bit: The Ballad of Bakewell Gaol, with apologies to Oscar Wilde, of whom I am a big fan. In the creation of it I tried to stay as true to the pathos and horror of Wilde’s own incarceration as Ben searches for spiritual meaning in his lengthening imprisonment.
But Ben is not a passive character – he would not have been a ‘successful businessman’ in the first place, had he been so. He quickly passes through the first stage of the poem, entitled “Rage” and begins to explore the potential to create divisive polarity between those who control his fate. Soon, it becomes obvious that his harsh treatment has been engineered to make an example of him, to have him ‘pilloried’ in the local press as well as in the town which is the scene of his symbolic denial of liberty.
His new life, denied expression in the free world, can be seen as symbolic of the journey of the soul, ‘imprisoned’ in the world of matter.
‘So maggot – former pillar tall
Of their community
Examined, tried, and now your kind
Demand they end your liberty
A pillory they have prepared
For public’s careful scrutiny’
Ben moves from the impotent early state of ‘Rage’ to the discovery that there are powerful forces at work in the local community, forces that vie for alternative exploitation of the prisoner. One, the authoritarian force, seeks to lengthen his imprisonment by implication of insanity; the other wants to use his knowledge of the esoteric and ancient nature of the relocated stone to further it’s own questionable purposes… Stage two of the poem begins the consideration of the latter, under the heading, ‘Mage’.
“The second force is subtly bred
As wealth and stealth extend their leach”
By stage three, ‘Sage’, Ben has run out of options, and the psychological darkness is closing in on him. Like the often referred to ‘Dark night of the soul’, Ben must face the potential of the loss of everything; seemingly abandoned by his friends, and facing a dark future, having refused the implied help of the questionable forces operating in his dreams and visions.
And then… from the most unlikely source, something wonderful happens; something that lifts his state of mind. The flickering candle of his life grows stronger, though his body is still a prisoner in the Victorian cell of Bakewell Gaol.
“With single candle lit and says,
“It is The Will, this dark descent,”
A modern story set in the conditions of long ago, The Ballad of Bakewell Gaol sets the scene for a gripping and tense tale of a man with no alternative but to face the truth about himself… and the new shape of his life.
The three of us were pleased with the result. Part one of their new series ‘Lands of Exiles – But ‘n’ Ben’
is now published and includes the first segment of the above ballad. I had not expected anything further in terms of publication. We met last week in the Derbyshire hills, in our regular monthly location not too far from where poor Ben languishes… and Sue and Stuart presented me with a lovely early Christmas present: they had – a total surprise to me – published my Ballad in the form of a graphic novel – a format the Silent Eye Press has had success with in the form of Mr Fox
, a graphical story of the Langsett Fire Dancers.
Ben’s Bit: The Ballad of Bakewell Gaol is a graphic novel, in poetic style, of 38 pages, written by me, Steve Tanham and designed and produced, in colour, by Sue Vincent and Stuart France. It is available in both Amazon paperback and Kindle formats.
The only thing that could make me happier is if a few folks bought a copy… all proceeds to the ‘Bakewell Gaol abandoned and lost souls’ Christmas fund, of course…
Thank you to Stuart, Sue, the much-abused and lovely town of Bakewell …. and anyone else who buys the Ballad of it’s gaol.
The full novel of Ben’s Bits – A Journey though Darkness, will continue to be serialised in this blog in the new year and released as a Kindle and Paperback book in the Spring.
All images and quoted text ©Copyright Stephen Tanham, 2015.