Magick in the West End is the follow-up to the award-winning collection of short-stories, The Magick Bookshop. Several of the characters from the first book reappear, but this time the esoteric action is set in London.
In real life, I’d been working at Watkins Bookshop in the city centre for about six months when the stories began to form themselves. All I had to do was be the scribe. After all, I was working in an establishment founded in 1897 at the request of Helena Blavatsky, under the aegis of Thoth (the shop’s logo), in a premises on which the early Golden Dawn used to meet. And what was I doing there, but reading Tarot? So, I’m sure you can imagine that the experiences and inspiration came pretty thick and fast. The stories wrote themselves.
Like Oxford, London is replete with mystical history, plus some pretty grisly scenarios impressed upon the ether. From Highgate with its famous necropolis (featured in the book), down through what used to be a series of sacred wells at places as unlikely-seeming as King’s Cross, into the arms of Old Father Thames, the ley-lines run thick and fast between sacred locations, ancient and modern. Looked at aurically, London is simultaneously as bright and as blazing as the sun at midday, and as dark as the stinking sewers that run beneath the city, polluting the once-crystal waters of the Thames’ tributaries. Through these ley-lines and energy nexi, down streets that have seen so much history and horror, my clients come to have their fortunes read. They are Asians, Africans, Americans, Britons, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and Occultists. They represent the infinite variety of life upon this planet. I would be a very sorry excuse for an author if I failed to write a book with so much superb material to hand.
And I had to mention New Orleans. Having spent several months in that glorious city discovering some of my own relatives lodged in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, the link between England and New Orleans became too obvious to pass up. Benjamin Latrobe, architect of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., died of yellow fever in 1820 while trying to finish the Louisiana Waterworks started by his son Henry, who also died of that vile disease. So, there’s a story about that, too—a mostly-true one, like all of the scenarios in my magickal fiction (I prefer to call it "Magickal Realism"). The tale is entitled "The Mandatory New Orleans Story," as "Everyone who's ever been to New Orleans falls into a moist passion and writes about it—it's as natural as boy meets succubus."
But back in London around our wondrous magickal bookshop, fictionally the main premises of Mr. Malynowsky: London's West End is characterised by the art of illusion; namely, theatrical illusion, the realm of the Tarot Magician. Couture and masquerade meet here, and who can tell who is hidden beneath the mercurial masks, beneath the guises and styles as enchanting and fleeting as butterflies?
The frock-faced baroque façades of Charing Cross exhibit posters of the shows—Hugo’s Les Misérables, the Abba story Mama Mia!, a variety of literary plays. The highest-kicking advertisements with the glossiest smiles solicit the biggest crowds. For such is the art of Hermes, stage illusionist, vendor of ephemera, celestial salesman who presides over all cities. Hermes whose quicksilver whim rules London, Paris, and New York. Hermes is one of several gods to make an appearance in Magick in the West End. His half-brother Dionysus is hot on his heels in "Le Feu Clair," a story of addiction to alcohol. London has a long and troubled history with the demon drink; in 1750 there were seventeen thousand “palaces” in central London alone. William Hogarth's etching Gin Lane sums it up with the slogan "Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for two pence, clean straw for nothing." I had to have a story that was as alcohol-drenched as the city still is today. Believe me, Britannia has beer on her breath.
However, this is a metaphysical tract, not a history book, so the issue of excess and moderation is argued in spiritual terms by Mr. Malynowsky while he gets me trashed on Polish vodka. The theme is connected with the Dark Night of the Soul—as is any such weakness. Both psychological and physical addiction are explored in this story. (The title comes from Baudelaire’s poem "Élévation." Le feu clair is an ambivalent “spirituous liquor!”)
Many other issues are explored in this collection of short stories, from the impact of traditional Islam on Western Muslims in the story “Shahlia” (which has become particularly topical since I wrote the book), to the effect of Internet romance on a magickally-minded teen in the story “The Etheric Hitch.”
But then, it would be difficult not to find a lot to write about, sitting as I do at a Tarot-reading table in London’s West End.
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