Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Author Interview ~ Philippa A. Rees

I usually take challenges in stride, whether in my writing or my reading. Involution: An Odyssey Reconciling Science to God

In fact my all-time favorite fiction author, C. J. Cherryh, has die-hard fans who admit they still find her writing challenging—challenging enough to let them reap wonderful rewards from reading her books.

The woman in today’s interview also gives her readers unique challenges and surprises

Let’s get this interview rolling.


Philippa, when did you decide you were a writer?

I am far from sure I ever made the decision. Unlike most writers asked this question (who seem driven from childhood to write poems or stories) Life seemed determined to force it upon me. After graduating, at the point I might have made any decisions, life deprived me of all human company by exile to an island off the coast of Mozambique where there were no books, no communications, and left me with nothing to do but collect shells and search for food (which was abundant). I craved the sound of a human voice. That deprivation suddenly focussed.

How? What happened?

On the five mile walk in hope of a post in the fishing boat that called once weekly, I discovered an abandoned campsite. A boat had moored for a few days: a family who I never met except through the tattered remains of their torn up letters, snagged on branches. Every time I walked past, I found more blown by the wind. So I collected and then pieced together these pages, like a jigsaw, and read what turned to tragedy.  They were en route to their eldest daughter’s wedding in Durban. Having discovered this family, I promptly lost them. The story was completed by a newspaper article saying they had all drowned in a storm.

I think it was then I felt that only writing left some evidence of the individual life, and the unique vision of every person. A sort of living grave stone. Other incidents all reinforced this first one: the most devastating followed four years later and took away every thing, not just human company.

Now you have me extremely interested. Would you elaborate?

I’ll try but not easily. May I quote from a few verses in the book?

Absolutely, go ahead…

Well, that eye, that lucid green gold lens
Appeared, quite uninvited. I cannot account for how
It found me waiting on a beach, sideways seated with a man.
It came to me much later that the Eye
Was both a hinge and trapdoor. The first
Pinched out my life before, the second sealed return.

Before its birth, it drew aside the curtain of the ‘real’
By an incision in the landscape; shattered spikes of surface glass
Slid on lasers sideways, and completely disappeared.
It was as though the waxwing had been stunned and as it fell
It pulled the painted cheesecloth down. The landscape was no more.

Gone were four dimensions with all newly dissolved walls.
Leaving the loom unoccupied by either thread or time
Into which that all-seeing Eye swelled slowly into sight…
To gaze behind and forward, clear and compassionate.
Steady and unblinking it remained, while we perused
Its green-gold iris ringed and flecked… Nor quivered
While we spoke. From either side of nothing… remained impervious…

What was critical about this experience was it being shared with someone else, remaining while two disembodied voices without sight of one another discussed its attributes and only after that, did the eye disappear and into the light that remained, the material world slid back.

From the periphery, the wings of stage, the landscape now returned,
The spicules of the curtain rent, moved back to reconnect…
A face with stricken swimming eyes, a freshly pearling sky…
Plato’s surface of that peerless cave, of false persuasive sense.

So my entire world view, of the external reality of matter, was replaced by Plato’s cave, a shadow projected on a wall by Mankind’s collective heads.

Since that experience my entire life has been in search of two things: first how Mankind had created this mistaken understanding (of the separation between mind and matter- which involved studying the history of science) and then a language in which to communicate it- what has been perceptively christened ‘symphonic prose’ by a recent supporter.

Do you think this was what might be called a “showing”? If it was, why did it choose you?

I have had to think about that forever. It certainly cost everything, my husband decided I was mad and divorced me. That meant I had to leave the U.S. with two small children and no means of support, no work, no home, no family. I literally had to start from scratch, in a country where I knew nobody, and no means of earning a living, except to turn to teaching, which I did. I ended up lecturing at Bristol University to mature students.

So, why do you think this happened you?

I think everything in my background perhaps made me a suitable candidate. I was an only child, of a single mother (my father abandoned her before I was two). My wonderful grandparents looked after me in the holidays, and they were most unusual idealistic people: my grandfather who was British spoke Swahili and Zulu fluently and took me on safaris, camping and shooting for the pot, while he inspected African schools for weeks on end. My grandmother was a Barrett ( related to Elizabeth Barrett Browning) but also half Boer, so crossing every racial and cultural divide in apartheid South Africa. Her aunt received letters from George Eliot and was Godmother to GE’s stepsons but that’s another story. When I was nine I was given a horse (not a pony!) and the freedom of Lesotho. I had to be independent from very early, and make my own decisions about literally everything.

I can only think it was my emotional independence that made me a candidate to accept being out on a limb. Being rejected by my father gave me the strength to be rejected by everyone else! The intellectual understanding (and rejection) came later.

Has the concept of Involution, from your book, been rejected as a hypothesis?

My first draft was written in 1970 in the hope it might lead to some kind of academic recognition, access to libraries, and the means of supporting my children. Although I did receive great self-belief through the support of Arthur Koestler (who endorsed “most of what you say”) and Konrad Lorenz, the Nobel Prize winning Laureate, “I find your thesis most exciting…”. I was completely ridiculed at Cambridge—“Oh for God’s sake woman is this Tuesday or Leicester Square”—and that has pretty well remained the case until recently. It was born much too early! I think I was meant to refine it.

Now the underlying thesis is supported by science which has caught up in the work of Laszlo, Sheldrake, Wilber, et al. Yet I believe it is the divisive intellect that has been responsible for the incremental division, and these writers still address the intellect in their alternatives.

That is why I wrote in poetry, to address the deeper seat of intelligence—the heart.

You have published two fairly unique books, both in poetic narrative (although I see you call Involution  “symphonic prose”). What made poetic narrative appealing to you?

I have always loved words. That stemmed from encounters with two particular teachers, one I idolised because she wrote Greek on the blackboard, which in South Africa seemed the apogee of culture, but she translated the subtleties of Greek influences in English word derivations and fine distinctions. Words have magic and bring with them previous usage so they connect us to the past, intrinsically. That’s why all my daughters have Shakespearean names and ended up very like the characters they were named after! That’s why my Greek name is one I would have chosen myself, Philippa—lover of horses.

When it came to writing I wanted the words to shine with inner light, and by setting them in the spare line of poetic economy I attempted to do that. I also love the suggestive economy of images that spread out like pebbles thrown into still water. Writing narrative poetry gives a story in such images, makes it more than itself—if you see what I mean. What I wanted to convey was through the story, not the story itself, or not limited to it. I wanted to recapture the power of language and the respect it used to enjoy.

Turning to your subject matter, Philippa… A Shadow In Yucatan is an evocation of the sixties and only 11,000 words. Involution covers all of Western Science. How, if at all, are they related?

Since the original thesis came to me, I was subconsciously aware of the hope (if not the realistic intention) to re-write Involution all my life. Yucatan was a sort of limbering up for that magnum opus, and written in a sort of fever. It wasn’t until recently that I was indebted to two readers (who have read both) who recognised the germ of Involution already present in Yucatan. One, who has written a joint review of both, called it “Answering the call” and likened the character Stephanie (in Yucatan, answering the call of an unwanted pregnancy) to me answering the demands of spiritual experience. The forced labour required by both, and the sacrifices were not dissimilar! Pain and a duty to something bigger than oneself was present in both. I found that a very profound observation and a wonderful example of what readers give back to authors.

What do you hope Involution will achieve? What message do you want people to take from it?

Ultimately it shows there is only consciousness, and matter is merely one form of seemingly “solidified” consciousness, but only when viewed relatively from another collective perception. Relativity refers to different states of consciousness measured against each other, the only singularity is the mystical experience of Union. I was lucky enough to be given that as my starting point.

I think mostly I hope the restoration of meaningful, purposeful Evolution, one in which emerging and refining consciousness moves towards greater integration. The necessary expulsion from Unity ( Eden) in order to recover Eden, but knowingly. Unity makes every individual part of the adventure of consciousness, not an accidental by-product of competitive strife. This, if deeply understood, restores the meaning of every individual life, and also the responsibility to live life more consciously because nothing that is thought is lost. Everything affects everything, so a new discrimination about every aspect and every moment is implied, but without any external injunctions or forbidding virtue. There is a lot of humour in both the book and in Creation: the one thing that “spiritual seeking for ascendance” often inhibits is humour. It talks about joy a great deal, but humour is joy’s lesser brother. He tends to be ignored as though unworthy.

What are your plans for the future, Philippa?

Being realistic there is not a long future to plan for. I am publishing some short stories that illuminate the gulf between the New and Old World characters and situations, and I suppose that means my life is starting to pass before my eyes. (Perhaps I am already drowning?) I have a novella in process, a fantasy love story, and I suppose I slog on hoping my work will find readers, which task I admit I am not very skilled at; but, like domestic cleaning, it has to be done. I have made some very loyal friends on-line and they certainly help fill out a very solitary life. I feel I have accomplished what I wanted to; and, at the moment, I am searching for new purpose for my remaining days.

May those days be bright and productive, Philippa; and, I really can’t thank you enough for telling your story to my readers :-)


Philippa’s website

Philippa’s Blog

Philippa’s Amazon Author Page

Involution on Amazon

Philippa on Facebook

Philippa on Twitter

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10 responses to “Author Interview ~ Philippa A. Rees

  1. libraryassociate January 19, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    “A sort of living grave stone.” What an amazing purpose for a writer and beautiful way of putting it. I also admire that your journey involved teaching mature students. As a prison librarian I find my experience with the adult learner brings more power to my writing. I can’t wait to purchase your book.


  2. Jane Watson January 20, 2015 at 1:04 am

    Philippa, thank you for your interview. I have just bought your e-book :-) I was intrigued by your description of your life in Mozambique and I was deeply moved by your account of the abandoned campsite…. both these stories pulled me in so deeply — any reader hearing them would surely want to explore them further, by reading your book :-)


  3. philipparees January 20, 2015 at 5:43 am

    What a warming response from both of you. I quite agree with Library Associate that mature students are the most rewarding to teach. They value learning they once missed for its own sake. I taught a course called ‘Saints and Scientists’ which was the underpinning substance of Involution and these very moderately well off students all offered to club together to help me publish. But in the 80’s self publishing was still considered ‘vanity’. I still think of all of them and wonder whether they might find their way to what they helped secure! Their enthusiasm being ‘lit up’ helped keep my faith.

    Yes Jane, Mozambique was an extreme experience of the essential solitude that has to be bridged by books. My first book was about the Mozambique civil war and the atrocities committed on herds of elephants shot from helicopters by the army! It was never published but that is where writing began.

    Thank you both for commenting. I hope the book rewards your generosity.


  4. Susan Scott January 20, 2015 at 6:51 am

    Even the interview was poetry – thank you so much. So inspiring to imagine/think/feel/believe that consciousness and unity are alive and well …

    Liked by 1 person

  5. courseofmirrors January 20, 2015 at 8:47 am

    A wonderful window on a unique person and writer, thanks Alexander.

    Philippa, every time you contextualise your life and work – the perspective becomes more lucid. It’s near impossible to explain ‘Involution,’ for example, but you manage to describe the context in such a way it make the premise of the heart message irresistable – daring people to plunge into your poetry as it were.
    The core of the Adam & Eve myth … the necessary expulsion from Unity (Eden) in order to recover Eden, but knowingly … is how I understand the process of the expansion of consciousness. It’s how I connected with your story from the start.

    Through endless new births and expulsions there is no knowing where this expansion will lead and what a conscious union will look like. Like enjoyable teamwork maybe :) as I remember from being part of filmcrews before hollywood productions kicked in. Creating worlds, each time a totally absorbing, meaningful and unforgetable experience.

    I love the image in your last post, of your nine year old self with the horse Noel at your side.

    Liked by 3 people

    • philipparees January 20, 2015 at 8:56 am

      After your last post I increasingly believe in the disappointments and deprivations of life the search for meaning is focussed , like a lens concentrating the sun more acutely. One just needs a lot of fortitude to go on believing in that! Thank you for all help in clarifying, and yes you have helped introduce me to the generosity of teamwork. Constancy and assistance and un-self-seeking.

      Liked by 2 people

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