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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Fit of Panic – inspiration behind Necropolis




Necropolis is probably the most “paranormal” chapters of my novel Felixitations (2012), although the whole theme of the book is, in many senses, beyond the normal. However, Necropolis works as a stand-alone short story as well, and acts as a good excerpt for Felixitations.

Necropolis was inspired by the extraordinary beauty of Highgate’s West Cemetery and the memory of reading E.M. Forster’s The Story of a Panic (1902) in which young idle Eustace, travelling in Italy with his English companions, encounters a mystery which changes him forever. At the point in Forster’s story when one of the men is declaiming about the “death of Pan” as the party strolls though a sylvan landscape, Eustace cuts a piece of wood and makes a Pan pipe. When he blows it a wind instantly springs up and overwhelms them in “brutal, overmastering, physical fear, stopping up the ears, and dropping clouds before the eyes, and filling the mouth with foul tastes.” They flee and later find Eustace lying in the grass near the hoof prints of a goat, smiling beatifically. In short, Eustace becomes increasingly unbalanced as far as his companions are concerned and also takes to embracing young men in a less than proper manner.

For me, Highgate’s West cemetery stood in for the sylvan Italian landscape. It is a strange, haunted place, overgrown with trees tangled up with the monumental Victorian tombs, crypts, and mausoleums, which house the remains of many famous dead. Highgate is a magical suburb of north London, which still retains its village character. Before the city grew to surround it in the late Victorian period, Highgate straddled the Great North Road, exacted tolls of travellers arriving and leaving, and housed the highwayman Dick Turpin. On Highgate Hill Dick Whittington, heard the bells of Bow and turned again to make his fortune and become mayor of London. The list of the great and famous who have lived and still live there reads like an A list of cultural celebrities. Wikipedia has an introductory entry on Highgate: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highgate

At the centre of the village stands venerable Highgate School, founded in 1565 by letters patent of Queen Elizabeth I, and which features in the story. I attended Highgate School and while studying art, used to go to the cemetery to draw and read, among others, E. M. Forster. Some years after, I wrote a story about an angel on one of the tombs in the cemetery that came to life and made love to a schoolboy during a fit of Forsterean panic. The typescript and the copy of the magazine (HIM) in which it was published vanished long ago. But the story remained in my mind and I reworked it as a part of my novel Felixitations (2012).


In the story, which is set in 1964, two friends in their last term at the boarding school are in the cemetery, ostensibly drawing, but really lounging about and smoking. One, Mike, makes a startling confession to the other, which is the beginning of a life change for his companion Oliver. I wanted to incorporate the idea of panic – a state of mental chaos induced by the god Pan, and the notion that this state may be a physical, material but paranormal one or it may be one purely of an overactive imagination – the reader’s choice. Goaded by Mike, Oliver’s unspoken need wakes up a beautiful angel, who steps down from his cenotaph and in a wild afternoon of physical passion, makes the boy into a man.

Necropolis, like Forster’s The Story of a Panic, is about a young man’s sexual awakening, but it is not a coming-of-age tale in the usual sense at all. In the story, the angel’s name is Felix, and in numerous different guises, Felix is the main character in Felixitations. Facilitator and felicitator, to have winsome young Felix step into a man's life is a transforming event: the course of destiny is altered. Emotions are unlocked, hidden longings are revealed, luck changes for the better… and sometimes for the worse. When Felix appears pleasurable fun and deserved pure, dreamed-of felicity or punishment ensue.

Over a span of thousands of years this enigmatic being’s random odyssey affects the lives of men attracted to his mesmerizing persona… yet Felix bears no hidden agenda, does not choose when or where he materializes – all happens by felicitous chance… or does it?

More detail and books by Roger M. Kean at:  Goodreads

Felixitations is available at Amazon UK Kindle:   Amazon UK Paperback  Amazon US Kindle:  Amazon US Paperback in all eBook formats at  Smashwords and  Goodreads Reviews


2 comments:

  1. Roger keen wrote, "...yet Felix bears no hidden agenda, does not choose when or where he materializes – all happens by felicitous chance…" Readers and reviewers keep wanting to define the book. Is it a novel or a book of short stories? It is this "felicitous chance" or serendipity that defines the book. The serendipitous happenstances that occur throughout Feixitations changes the destinies of the lives of the gay men Felix touches. Felix is very good at one thing: sex. He uses his seductiveness as a tool to change destinies and it is this factor which unifies the book. The universal nature of serendipity or life changing luck is emphasized by the stories taking place throughout history from the period B.C. to modern times and on into the future. I got the impression that the author might have experienced a fleeting encounter that altered the course of his life and he was showing us how this may be so in many if not all our lives so lets examine them. And examine them he did with great mastery of language and storytelling all tied together by a universal element of destiny (or doom) in our lives that he has personified by creating Felix. I didn't read this book as simply sexy short stories but as the workings of a universal power of fortune, karma, kismet in our lives as gay men. It is an irresistible force just as Felix is an irresistible character and Felixitations is an irresistible book.

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  2. Thank you for your insights, Zeke. Some times, oft times… perhaps most times, in the midst of writing it's hard to know precisely what the purpose of a book—if it has one—might be. At least, that's my experience; I'm sure there are authors who know precisely the direction and intent of their book. But I work more from instinct than design, and I hope that leaves much in the text open to interpretation, that the reader can insert their own imagination into the circumstances described.

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