Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Ice Apples, Darkness and Firelight by Susan Price.


Artwork: copyright Andrew Price.

All life is sorrowful - but very, very sweet.

[The wolf-witch] said, “You have seen wolves hunt deer. The racing shapes against the snow, darting, turning— for the watcher, so beautiful. And it’s so good to run and feel your own strength! But for wolves, the hunt is hunger. For the deer, it is terror, and death. The hunt ends in pain and blood, with the wolves choking the deer and eating it while it still lives— Oh, did you not think of that? But now you know, and will never forget. Do you think wolves cruel now? But wolves must live, and have cubs to feed— and wolves cannot use arrows, or spears, or traps. To be happy in the den with their cubs, wolves must kill.

            “Listen to the wolves sing when the hunting and feeding are done. So beautiful, their song, it will freeze you; and so sad it will pain you. The wolves know what they do. They know all life is sorrowful.

            “Men lie to themselves,” said the wolf-witch. “They tell themselves that, if they are good, they will be happy. They tell themselves that they can run away from sorrow, or hide from it, or pay it to go away. They say wolves are cruel, and hate them, and all the while pretend they don’t see their own hands making spears and snares. The truth is, all  life is cruel, and beautiful, and sad, and hateful and very, very sweet. You must know this.”                              Ghost Spell

Drover's Dogs
I've been self-publishing since 2011, but Ghost Spell is only my second entirely original  selfie. (The first was The Drover's Dogs.) All my other self-published books have been previously published conventionally.

Ghost Spell is the fourth in a sequence, all set in the same imaginary world of long dark winters and short summers, snow, firelight, wolves and ice-apples.

Only Ghost Drum and Ghost Song have a character in common but ice-apples are mentioned in all four of them. Vulchanok, in Andrew's cover-art above, is offering an ice-apple.

Carnegie medal winner
I didn't entirely invent ice-apples. When I wrote  The Ghost Drum, (which won the Carnegie medal) I researched 16th Century Russia. I read of how ingeniously the Czar's gardeners grew fruit and vegetables, even in the far north, even in winter, using glass-houses heated by stoves and pipes. They also bred hardier varieties.

One variety of apple was known as 'the ice-apple.' A few moments on Google tells me that the official name for this variety is the 'White Astrakhan.' It was known in England as the 'transparent Moscow crab.' You can buy a tree which is close to it here. (And I very well may.)

Not only was the apple grown in the far north, but its flesh was said to be so transparent that the seeds at its core could be seen through it. Bernwode Fruit Trees, the supplier I link to above, says this about it on their fascinating website:  

The apocryphal White Astrakhan
First recorded in Britain in 1810, if it is the same as Forsyth’s Transparent Apple, or 1826 if not. It came from Russia or the Baltic States and has been confused with White Astrachan and other Transparent apples but this one is probably distinct. Wisley now makes White Astrachan a synonym of this, but Scott has both described, and differently. Forsyth said ‘The Transparent Apple, was introduced from St. Petersburg; but is more curious than useful: a tree or two, therefore, will be sufficient for a garden. It ripens in September and October’. Scott described it as a small, top quality August apple, conical, tapering rapidly to the point at which it is much plaited. The skin is pale golden yellow covered with silvery grey dots. When thoroughly ripe the transparent flesh is melting, the juice plentiful with somewhat of an astringent flavour. The tree is an early and great bearer. Bunyard also describes it as a July/August apple, so Forsyth’s Transparent Apple, ripe in September/October, might be another variety.

I like  'a tree or two will be sufficient for a garden'!

When I read of the 'ice-apple' it set my imagination working: a transparent apple, flowering in a cold spring, pollinated in an endless summer of white days and nights, setting fruit in an ever darkening autumn and ripening in arctic winter.

            Ice apples are a rare fruit, found only in the far north. They blossom in the summer of white days and white nights: their flowers never know a moment of darkness. Their fruit sets and swells in the year’s other half, when the light fades into endless darkness by night and day. It takes a witch to coax them to ripeness. When they are ripe, the apples seem made of purest ice, clear and transparent as glass, except for the flower of dark seeds floating at their heart. They hang on a bare, black branch, in darkness and snow. They draw what little light there is to themselves and glow like cold, dim stars.

            They are not grown for eating. To eat one would be to swallow winter. They are grown for magic.                             Ghost Spell
There is a lot of magic in all four books. The characters are witches and shamans, travelling the road to the Ghost World. Like the other books, Ghost Spell draws on Norse Myth and Russian and Nordic folk-tale but, I think, has a more romantic feel than the other books.

There are connections between the books. Ghost Spell and Ghost Drum both have characters who are prisoners, but escape. Both Ghost Spell and Ghost Dance move from the wilderness to the Czar's great, reeking wooden city. All four move between the living world and the Ghost World. All four are told by the cat who walks round the tree.
            And that is end of the story. I know it to be true, because I was the cat who slept with paws tucked in at Vulchanok’s hearth...

The cat lies down among the links of its golden chain, tucks her forepaws beneath her breast, and closes her eyes.  Head up, ears pricked, she falls asleep under the oak-tree, and neither sings nor tells stories.

 Other members of PriceClan have been busy too.

The Teeny, Tiny Tiger Tot

The teeny tiny tiger tot is full of curiosity and adventure but doesn't understand that the world can be a dangerous place...

 
And so it's lucky that Mum and Dad are always on guard.
Ghost Spell by Susan Price
      
Ghost Drum by Susan Price

             
Ghost Song                                             Ghost Dance
by Susan Price                                        by Susan Price

4 comments:

sandra horn said...

Oh, shiver! Not only for the evocations of cold, darkness, wolves, but the sheer beauty of the writing. Thank you, Sue!

madwippitt said...

Brilliant that this is now finally out - it is my favourite of all of them, and although I love all the Ghost World books, I think it is also the best - certainly it is at the very least, easily the equal of the first Carnegie-winning one. And it ties into the first one, pulling the whole sequence together nicely.
Well worth reading - and then going back and reading the whole lot again one after the other!

Susan Price said...

Thank you, both of you!

Katherine Roberts said...

The Ghost World stories are beautifully atmospheric - I have a much-cherished signed copy of the first book. Congratulations on completing the series, the power of indie!