Across Great Divides

I recently put a hand up to be more involved in blog tours because it’s a good way of encountering new, less prominent fiction. With its themes of fascism and struggle, Across Great Divides seemed like a timely story. It begins as fascism rises in 20th Century Germany and tracks one Jewish family, and their friends, as they attempt to escape persecution. The family in question have the money and the connections to get out – so it’s not as harrowing a tale as it might have been, which on the plus side makes it considerably more readable. The tales of the less fortunate are there in the background – we see a little of concentration camps, disappearances, cattle trucks… Issues of class and wealth are there to be considered.

There were a number of things I found especially interesting about this book. Firstly is the way in which it tackles hypocrisy as an issue. The young man of the family is, from his teens involved with groups resisting Hitler. His family feel threatened by this, but it is the work he does, and the contacts he makes that gets them out. In the escape, we see plenty of ordinary people willing to risk their lives to help Jewish people flee to safety. When our Jewish family find themselves in South America, faced with the hideous poverty there, they see it, but do little. When finally they move to South Africa, young Max (very much the hero of the tale for me) gets straight into protesting against Apartheid, much to the horror of his parents, who seem to have forgotten that their lives were saved by his courage, and by the courage of others prepared to stand up for them. We see the daughters of the family pull out from beneath parental disapproval to make their own, more domestic stand for racial equality.

It’s a book that makes the important point that being oppressed doesn’t automatically make you more enlightened than those around you when it comes to responding to the oppression of others. Fear makes us cautious, and fear is a great enabler of oppressors. The courage to put what’s right ahead of what’s personally safe is a rare trait. We might think we’d all be heroes, but a look around at our current situation shows us that we’re still not standing up to Nazis, still turning a blind eye to oppression, all too often. This book is a call to stop and look at our own fear and complicity.

The author writes from a place of family insight, and has a keen sense of location – the writing about places I found the most engaging aspect of the book. Monique Roy’s own family background has something of the fictionalised experience in it – how much is hard to say, but from the notes at the end, this is clearly a tale rooted in lived history. The narratorial voice is quite naive – mostly this worked for me because much of the story follows the young female characters. The author has the charming and unusual habit of including footnotes in the text – translations and historical details the reader probably won’t know are dropped in, held by brackets. It does break the flow of the fiction, while shedding light on it, and is a constant reminder that you’re reading fictionalised history, which I found a really interesting experience as a reader. Some may find it a bit of a jolt. There are sections that read more like non-fiction – I found that helpful but it may not suit everyone.

I think the ideal readership for this book is the YA audience, and people who really don’t know much about 20th century history and need a palatable crash course in what fascism looks like in practice.

Find the book here – https://www.amazon.com/Across-Great-Divides-Monique-Roy/dp/0615846688


Frankenstein clothes

I tend to wear clothes until they die. Faded, stained, ripped, or going threadbare it’s often the case that by the time I want to retire an item, it has no re-use value to anyone else. This is what brought me to the joys of Frankenstein clothing. Sometimes, when an item is very dead, the answer is to cut it up for rag rugging. However, as fans of The Princess Bride know only too well, there’s a big difference between mostly dead, and all dead.

I’ve a number of skirts and tops that are a consequence of taking things that were mostly dead, and seeing what could be rescued. At time of writing, I’m doing my most overt take on this to date – Frankenstein’s T-Shirt. I have three t-shirts that my son has mostly killed, and have been removing bits of them and reassembling them into a single, undead t-shirt. There will be no attempt on this occasion to make it look anything other than like a fiendish cobbling together, and all being well, that will be a key part of its charm.

A lot of energy and resources go into the production of clothes, which we tend to treat as disposable. Anything that can be passed on, should be. For the rest, there are crafting options, and people like me who will take in mostly dead things and breathe uncanny new life into them. Also, if you’re learning to craft, the fabric from dead clothes is free of cost, and it doesn’t matter if you cock it up while learning. There are a number of traditional crafts – quilting, rag rugging, appliqué, that can happily turn your mostly dead things into lovely new things. So rather than throwing away a dead t-shirt, you get a no cost crafting opportunity and a whole new something.


A poem about poets

The Poets have Gone Out

 

The Poets have gone to the hills

Free from domestic nuisance and noise

They can speak of deeper, manly things:

Literature, philosophy, their own most recent work.

 

Later, in letters they will reflect on

Each other’s excellent, worthwhile thoughts.

Later again, academics will delve,

Ponder these exchanges, write papers on

The insights, teach students, build careers.

 

All the while, the wives of The Poets

Feed mouths, clean, mend, sew and tend.

Darn the socks of Poets

Make the breakfast of Poets

Raise the offspring of Poets

 

No record remaining of what they say

Once The Poets have gone out for the day.

 

(I was thinking very much about Victorian and early twentieth century writers when I wrote this. And a line from T.S. Eliot’s literary criticism that haunts me about how poetry should be dry, hard and manly, and Robert Graves’ obsession with the idea that men are poets and women are to embody the Goddess and be muses, and an array of other such annoyances in that vein.)


Questioning free speech

Too often over the last year I’ve seen ‘free speech’ used to silence argument. Most problematically, those of us who defend human rights are told we have to be inclusive and tolerant of hate speech, or we aren’t really tolerant at all and the left is one big hypocritical lie. Or we’re told that by being inclusive we’re supporting Muslim fundamentalists, as though there is no scope for nuance in any of this.

“I may not like what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

Now, when it comes down to ‘like’ I’m fine with this. I don’t need to like anyone else’s ideas or agree with them. You may favour a different actor to play Batman. You may hate a book I loved, support a different political party, etc etc. But there is a line, and on the other side of that line is speech that isn’t ok. Not matters of taste and preference, but talk aimed to destroy the rights, freedoms and lives of people. You don’t like gay porn? Fine, by all means say so and don’t watch it. You don’t like gay people? I find that weird and prejudiced, but there we go. I won’t like you, and we’re still at the ‘like’ level. You announce that gay people should be punished for being gay? We now have an issue over your ‘right’ to free speech. Feel free to swap in any minority group, women, any pro-abuse or pro-exploitation talk, and any talk of eco-suicide being somehow desirable, or other living things being expendable for human profit, and I’ll take issue.

What we’re talking about here isn’t just hot air. ‘I don’t like’ is free speech – it may be vile and uncivilized, but it is just speech and personal opinion. As it happens, I don’t like right wing supporters. As soon as that speech becomes a call for action, it changes. I don’t want to see people lose their rights, dehumanised, made more vulnerable. There’s a lot of other hateful outcomes I don’t want either. If someone is calling for an action I would fight against, I’d rather fight it at the talking stage – it’s better that way. Human rights do not award a select few the ‘right’ to diminish others. Refusing the idea that some should have the right to dominate and punish others over matters of difference is not an attack on the ‘rights’ of a would-be oppressor and I’m tired of seeing it suggested otherwise.

Free speech doesn’t mean a right to be listened to, taken seriously or supported. It does in fact mean that anyone else who wants to challenge what is said has the right to speak it. However, I think we need to deal with the idea that speech is somehow safe, that it’s ok to say things that would lead to destroying lives. Speech that calls for action needs treating in line with the action called for. This is why we already have laws about inciting violence and hate speech.

Free speech may be a key part of democracy, but it doesn’t work without responsibility. Use that freedom to express ideas and intentions that would damage democracy – crushing the opposition, denying rights to specific groups and the such – and as far as I’m concerned, the person doing it has lost any right to hide behind the ideas of democracy to protect their toxic thinking. Use free speech to undermine freedom and equality, and there has to be a robust response. Democracy is a collection of values and ideas, using one to undermine the others is not legitimate.

Faced with haters who want to harm others, we will not have the luxury of being able to uphold every last good principle we possess about peace and inclusion. I’d rather we try to head this off while it’s more a question of hate speech than violent action, because that is the road to least harm. And on reflection, I don’t think we should allow hate speech to qualify as free speech, and should challenge and reject it accordingly.


Things I’m doing

Aside from this blog, I have a number of projects on the go at the moment…

I review Pagan and spiritual books for Spiral Nature – http://www.spiralnature.com/author/nimuebrown/

You can find my Pagan books here and this is my Amazon page which has the fiction on it, and here’s the graphic novel.

I write a monthly column at Sage woman blogs exploring alternative ideas for the wheel of the year.  You can read that here –witchesandpagans.com/sagewoman-blogs/nimue-s-wheel.html  I also do a monthly post at The Pagan and The Pen listing new Pagan titles.

Back when Hopeless Maine first came out as a webcomic, we used to do a weekly newspaper for the island. It was a project that got a lot of reader involvement, so, this year after having had a bit of a break from it, we re-launched as a community project. People who want to write stories, or song or poems, share 3d creations, artwork, photoshoots in the style of Hopeless Maine are welcome to do so. You can find that at www.hopelessmaine.com

I’ve got a few videos up on youtube, you can find those here – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2iAnLZ1JJzOfltGrnS0P8Q

I’m @Nimue_B on Twitter and my facebook is https://www.facebook.com/nimue.brown You can also find me on Pinterest, Ello and Linkedin if you’re really determined. I tend to accept friends requests.


Fake News and Poetic License

Poetry and fiction are creative with the truth – it is part of what these forms of expression are for. At the same time, both have a significant capacity for reflecting on the world as it is, and changing how we think about what’s going on. We can and do re-imagine history to suit modern needs. We tweak stories to give them a shape that suits our purposes. We make stuff up. Further muddying the water is the fine art of satire, which will often present itself as the truth and as actual news in order to undermine, poke fun, make political comments and so forth. So, what is the difference between a bit of poetic license, and fake news?

For me, the answer is about intent and effect. The aim, and usually the outcome of anything requiring a poetic license, is that it adds to the sum of human experience. It helps us go deeper, further, to see from other perspectives, take a long view, see the absurd, or the human where before perhaps we couldn’t. A poetic license might lead to a story that is not factually true, but which nonetheless contains valuable truth.

The intention and often the effect of fake news is to diminish and confuse. It exists to shut down conversations, reduce diversity, limit perspective and close minds. When it works, we become less than we were because of it. We know and understand less. We have fewer productive ideas. We are smaller, and less able.


Review: The Shadow Crucible

I was approached to review this book because the author – T.M. Lakomy –  found me online and thought I would like it! I love it when people do that, especially when they’re right – as in this case.

When I started reading The Shadow Crucible, I thought I knew what I’d got. The set-up looked like a straightforward Christian fantasy with angels, demons, Templars, and the such. I was reminded of Constantine, and Tom Sniegoski’s Fallen, only with a mediaeval setting. The male lead is cold, remote, firm. The female lead is wild, beautiful, dangerous and seems a bit petty – A Scarlet O’Hara with a retinue of orphans. And for a little while there I was afraid that this would be one of those romances where the cool controlling guy breaks and tames the wild woman. But, the fascinating world building and the writing style kept me reading, and I’m very glad I stayed with it.

Then, around page 57, the plot shape started to change, and I realised I was not reading some kind of historical romance. Page 73 pulled the rug out from underneath everything I thought I knew about this book. No one, it turned out, was as they seemed in those opening pages. What I thought was going on was not happening. I had been fooled, misled, overconfident… and I was very excited by this!

Thereafter, what the story keeps doing, is taking a step back every now and then to let you see a bigger picture than you could before. In the context of the bigger picture, what you thought you knew looks rather different, each time. With each step back, the world expands, the implications of the story get bigger, the stakes rise, the magic becomes even more wild and wonderful, the philosophy becomes even more persuasive…

Whilst trying to avoid spoilers, this is a book that is very much in opposition to dogma and blind faith. It’s a story to challenge organised religion and question the motives of anyone who uses religion as a power base. All of the characters go through radical changes. One way or another, they are peeled of their surface pretences and small selves to reveal the larger presence beneath. I came to love characters who, in the opening pages, I felt no attraction to. I came to feel sympathy for other characters I’d not really liked at the start. And some, when peeled back, where entirely horrifying. There’s not a vast amount of horror in the book but when it comes… it really is very dark indeed.

I think for most people, the writing style will make or break this book. This is an author relishing their deliberately archaic language. It is wordy, with turns of phrase that sound profoundly un-contemporary. If you’re the sort of person who only likes stark, pared down language, considers ‘said’ the only acceptable speech tag, and skims paragraphs of description, this is not for you. If you enjoy wilfully wordy books, I fully expect you’ll enjoy this. I found it difficult to put down, and was enchanted by the unconventional story-shape.

Buy the book here (or pre-order it, it’s not out at time of posting the blog) https://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Crucible-Blind-God/dp/1590794141


All Acts of Love and Pleasure

“All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals’ is a line from Doreen Valiente’s Charge of the Goddess (read the whole piece here – http://www.doreenvaliente.com/Doreen-Valiente-Doreen_Valiente_Poetry-11.php) It’s an interesting phrase to ponder.

Up until fairly recently, if I thought about the line at all, I interpreted it in sexual terms. However, over the last few months I’ve been on a journey and have been changing my relationship with my body. A wider idea about acts of love and pleasure has taken root, and has brought me back to this phrase with much greater interest in the idea of sacredness in the physical.

All acts of love of course has to mean more than shagging. I’m not always good with touch, I can still be panicked by unexpected contact, but on the whole I’ve learned to trust, to soften, to be more open to affection from friends. I’m starting to see my own love for the physical world in this line, too. Putting my body into water, or into soft grasses, or out in the sun or under a wide sky is also an act of love, and of sacred connection.

The scope for pleasure is vast. Our physical bodies have the capacity to relish many sensations. Our senses are rich with opportunity. Yet I’ve spent most of my life with a utilitarian approach to my body, seeing it in terms of what it can usefully get done, and as a means of getting my brain places. There’s been a puritan streak in my thinking since childhood – I have no idea where it came from, but it created the feeling that to enjoy anything too much with my body was unseemly, inappropriate, greedy… that the pleasures of a body were not to be trusted or invested in.

To take pleasure in food, and rest, in skin contact, a hot shower, a cool drink… every day offers so many opportunities to delight in small, bodily experiences. And if all acts of pleasure can be sacred, that really turns the tables on the life-denying puritan who took up residence in my head very early on in life. I think much of it for me comes from a feeling that I am not entitled to enjoy or to feel good, that I do not deserve to relax into things, or delight in them – I am meant to work, to strive, and to suffer. Well, sod that! It’s a miserable way to be that has kept me in some lousy places and contributed to poor mental and physical health, so I’m learning to head the other way and to enjoy what I have and make the most of it.

So many spiritual practices treat the experience of the body as something to control, and be ashamed of. I’ve lived with a lot of body shame, one way and another. Working to change that has made a huge difference already, and I feel I have quite some way to go along this path.


Knowing the Land

I love visiting new places and exploring unfamiliar landscapes. It’s very easy to get excited about the unfamiliar, and the rush of discovery and encounter. The new view, the unfolding of a landscape that surprises at every turn – there are adventures to be had.

It’s all too easy (and I say this because I’ve done it) to come in for the first time, get caught on the wave of excitement and feel that you’ve got a deep and meaningful insight into a place. It’s possible (again, I’ve done it) to psyche yourself up into an especially magical Pagan mindset so that every part of the experience is charged with symbolic resonance and a sense of the divine. It’s easier to do this with an unknown landscape than a familiar one, because the unfamiliarity makes us pay more attention and tends to leave us more open to being awed.

It’s possible (yes, yes I have…) to come away from a very superficial encounter with a new landscape feeling powerful, charged up, spoken to… or whatever else it was that you wanted to feel.

Walking in a familiar landscape won’t give you that rush. When your feet know the shape of the land, and you’ve been there season after season, and you know what’s normal, and the land going about its own things and not therefore any kind of sign meant just for you… it takes effort to go out into the familiar and really see it. Seeing the familiar as magical is much harder work, because you have all the baggage of your everyday life and self in the mix.

What comes from a slower, deeper relationship with the land is less likely to make you feel big and important, and more likely to make you feel part of what’s around you (and thankfully yes, I’ve done that too).


Poem: Encounter

Eye contact.

Shy cautious checking

Each other out.

Checking for danger,

For interest.

We’re very still.

I offer; you gaze.

When you move

It is sudden.

Fluttering, hovering close.

I do not breathe.

You do not stay.

We try again,

The same dance.

I offer, you assess.

This time you move in

Bold, certain, landing.

Into my waiting hand.

Onto my skin.

Eye contact.

Still cautious, checking,

Your feet so small,

Your tiny weight,

A miracle on my fingers.

I do not breathe,

And when you

Have taken grain enough,

You fly away.