Author Archives: Nimue Brown

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things.

What some people think I do

Ah, the arts life, just swanning about doing nothing while people give me vast sums of money to support my decadent lifestyle.

I find it really curious how some people think the arts work, and all the recent commentary around AI has made it obvious just how many people out there think that creative people are elitist and lazy and don’t deserve to be paid for their work, or even allowed to work.

I wish with all my heart that the people who feel this way would sit down and write a novel, or an opera, or paint someone’s portrait, or go on stage and perform a play. It would be obvious to them fairly quickly at that point that there would be effort, skills and knowledge involved.

Whether a book is fiction or non-fiction there’s usually research involved, as well as planning and structuring. I prefer to make novels up as I go, but I do a lot of world building ahead of that, and I spend time on themes. I prefer character-driven stories, and it takes a while to create complex characters who can make that work. Then there’s the writing, the redrafting, the editing and the promoting. These days even big publishing houses expect authors to do most of the marketing. 

If all I did on this blog was try and sell people books, many of you would not show up to read anything – and rightly so. Relentless sales pitches aren’t interesting, and this is also true for social media. And so, in order to engage people, I end up creating and giving away a lot of content. This has worked as a strategy for me, but it does take time and energy, and not everyone can afford that. My fabulous co-writer David has massive health problems, leaving him with the option of writing or promoting, but no scope to do both. For those many creative people working full or part time jobs, the way marketing your own work also needs to be a full time job makes this whole industry really challenging.

We (The Hopeless, Maine team) do a lot of events because selling books directly works for us and because it’s a way of raising the profile of what we’re doing. Events are also work, performing at events requires rehearsing, being at events means promoting the event. I wish I could spend more time at events just being glamorous and floating about, but in practice, you’ll also find the better known musicians at events working their merch tables when they aren’t on stage, and putting in a lot of effort engaging with people.

Developing ideas takes time. I don’t want to write the kind of obvious, derivative fiction that could easily be replaced by an AI. So there are limits on how fast I can churn things out (5k words a day is my upper limit) , and how much time I need to spend just thinking about things. Unfortunately we have a culture that prizes looking busy, and is much less keen on people thinking about things. What you can do by rushing around trying very hard to look busy as a kind of performance art is not the same as what you can do with focused thought, but one of these things looks more convincing than the other, for a lot of people.

Music takes time, too. It takes hours of work to learn a piece and get it up to performance standards. It takes a lot of time to learn a script and to be able to perform it on stage. Art also takes time and isn’t created in a brief flurry of being magically talented. The image I’ve put at the top of this post is a Hopeless, Maine take on The Death of Chatterton. Drawing that image took Tom at least a day – which he can only do because he’s spent years honing his skills as a visual artist. Colouring it will have taken at least four hours, and that’s four hours of intense focus. 

Being creative is an excellent thing, and I want everyone to have time and resources to create whatever they want. Being a professional creator is actually quite a lot of work, and has a lot of the same work aspects of other jobs – we have admin, and tedious stuff that just has to be slogged through, and all the rest of it. The vast majority of people working in creative industries are paid poorly, no matter what their economic approach to the work is.


Honouring The Wild – review

Earth Spirit: Honoring the Wild

Honouring The Wild explores the relationship between the Reclaiming witchcraft tradition, and activism. In this small book we hear from a range of voices and perspectives from around the world.

My guess is that if you’re on the Reclaiming path, this is going to be a valuable book for connecting with the wider movement and seeing how you might develop your own approaches.

As someone outside of that tradition, I found it first and foremost to be an interesting read. I like getting an insight into what other people are doing. I wasn’t previously aware of the role of activism within Reclaiming – it’s not a path or a community I know very much about.

There were things I learned about the ways in which people struggle, and ways of approaching that. These are relevant to me on my Druid path, and I’ll be taking those insights onboard and seeing how best to work with them. I think anyone interested in activism is similarly likely to find things here that will enrich what they do.

Most importantly this is a book in which people tell stories about what they’ve done. Reading other people’s stories, it’s easier to imagine how we might act, and to see that as possible. The actions of others show the many ways forward. It’s easy to feel too small, too insignificant, too powerless for it to matter what you do, and this book offers many antidotes to those feelings. These are good stories, likely to inspire and encourage. It’s also not all about high risk front line activism, because not everyone can do that. It’s an inclusive book, with room for people whose resources are limited, whose bodies are not able to withstand police aggression, and people whose souls are not shaped for the front lines. There are many ways to be an activist, and all of those ways are valid.

I think this book is particularly suited for people who do not see themselves as activists and who feel uncomfortable about that, and want to do more. 

More on the publisher’s website – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/earth-spirit-honoring-wild


New musical adventures

With our first gig planned for May, I can now say with confidence, this is a thing that is happening!

Robin Burton is a bit of a one man folk industry locally. He started the Stroud Wassail, runs Swing Rioters – I’ve sung with them a few times, and an outfit called The Jovial Crew. He’s involved with The Folk of Gloucester – a space I’ve also been involved with as a steampunk. Last year he asked me to write a mumming play full of Gloucester characters and I had the pleasure of seeing that performed back in November.

In the autumn, I posted online some photos of me with the viola as I pushed my way back into playing. I find the accountability of sharing things helpful, often. Robin is not the reason I started playing again, but on seeing the photos he asked if I’d be interested in getting some folk music going with him. Since then we’ve been exploring that whenever time has permitted.

There’s been an interesting process of comparing repertoires, discussing what we’re interested in doing musically, and starting to pick songs and put arrangements together. The current set we’re developing is based on the traditional music we both already knew, as that seemed like a sensible way in. When collaborating, there are always processes around figuring out how to work with someone, and that’s been good and interesting, too.

This isn’t a priority project for either of us, and probably it’s going to be for local gigs or if we happen to both be further afield at the same time with our other projects. Swing Rioters is Robin’s first priority, and The Ominous Folk is mine. Nonetheless, it’s really nice to have someone to play with and to be able to get together with regularly for music, and that’s really important for me. I’ve missed being an instrumentalist, and it’s good to have more room for that in my life.

I am blessed in the people I get to work with, and play with and hang out with.


Druidry and quiet justice

Going in guns blazing to right wrongs can feel exciting. I’ve seen people doing this when it was obvious that they were getting a real thrill out of it, and quite an ego boost. There can also be a strong sense of involvement, group belonging and team affiliation that comes from going on a crusade against the ‘bad guy’. This can all be easily harnessed to enable bullying. 

Abusers don’t just work on their victims. Most abusers will groom all of the people around them, because this facilitates the abuse. It’s the half a dozen people you’ve been really nice to who are most likely to help you deal with the awful person in your life, after all. However nasty it gets, no one wants to believe they were duped into assisting a bully, so there are incentives to keep blaming the victim and keep asserting that everything is ok.

Justice often requires a quieter, more thoughtful approach. The invitation to go in and righteously smite someone is always worth questioning. I advocate for taking the time to look carefully at the power dynamics in a situation. Bullying depends on power imbalances. I don’t have much sympathy for people who write articles in national newspapers to complain about how they’ve been cancelled.

Perhaps the hardest thing to square up to, is how to act when you start to think you’ve been on the wrong side of something. This is a consideration around political allegiances, social movements, and personal relationships. If you’re interested in honour, then owning the mistake is an essential first move.

I think it’s incredibly important to give people the chance to do better at the point when they know better. If someone admits a mistake, there has to be room for them to move forwards. There has to be a willingness to fix things, and the focus here should be on restorative justice. 

If someone has been harmed, then it should not be on the harmed person to facilitate whatever is restorative. Forgiveness is a blessing, not a right and no one should feel under pressure to forgive someone who has harmed them. Sometimes, rehabilitation requires more of a community approach. There are times when justice means holding space and including someone who has previously messed up so that they have the scope to do better.

Anger shows us where the problems are – or it can. Anger can help us hold boundaries and to protect ourselves. It’s also an emotion that is easily manipulated, especially when you are to be angry as part of a group and affirm your group membership through the expression of anger. This can all too easily lead to bullying and violence. If being angry is making you feel good, it’s worth treating that with some suspicion.

If your interest is in justice, rather than self protection, then it’s often better handled quietly and over time. Restorative justice isn’t usually achieved by quick fixes. I’m not even slightly convinced that punishment is a form of justice – except perhaps around poetic justice where people bring it upon themselves through their own actions. Punishment is all about power imbalance, and tends to entrench power imbalances, and it is more often the case that those imbalances are actually unjust of themselves.


Doing something, doing nothing

Sometimes, self care looks like getting stuff done. There’s relief in tackling challenges and getting problems under control. Sometimes, self care means doing the terrifying things, booking the appointment, squaring up to the problems.

At other times, doing nothing can be a really good choice. Bodies need time to rest and heal. Our minds need time to process complex experiences. When things are intense and emotional, we can need more rest and sometimes even more sleep just to deal with it. It’s important to note that this isn’t just about ‘negative’ feelings. Big happy feelings, especially ones leading to radical life changes, also need processing. Letting your body work through the excitement so that you can incorporate it rather than just jangling about, is a really good idea.

I find I often do my emotional processing more effectively if I’m also doing something with my body. I’ve used walking, dancing, crafting and cleaning this way. How much it helps to be doing something is really personal, and definitely worth exploring.

Sometimes the answer is to distract yourself. When it comes to massive emotional upheavals, it can be better to not try and focus on it too much, and let at least some of it happen in the background.

When you aren’t able to deal with your own emotions, sometimes it helps to dig in with a book or film that goes into similar territory. I’ve found this helpful around unprocessed grief, although it can be an invitation to sobbing. But, on the plus side, you do get to pick your timing with those rather than just being ambushed by it, and feeling more in control of things can also be a good self care choice.

On the day of writing this, self care for me looks like getting things done so that I can feel more in control, alongside throwing myself at things that aren’t the real issues, for reasons of distraction and comfort. On another day, faced with the same issues, I might make entirely different choices. It’s all good.


Celebrating childishness

“Supreme childishness in the name of “creativity”. The mind boggles.” I had this come in as a comment over on the Hopeless, Maine blog recently, and I’ve been reflecting both on the sorrowful nature of the remark, and what to do in face of it. Obviously I agreed, because silliness, playfulness and joy are very much what that site is for and I didn’t feel inclined to respond as though I was being criticised.

It grieves me that childishness is so often used as a criticism. To see the world through a child’s eyes is a wonderful thing. To want to play and explore, to feel curious and excited – these are qualities that enrich our lives. Often as adults, under pressure to be serious about everything all the time, we lose our sense of wonder. 

Then there’s the awful misunderstanding of what creativity means. What is creativity without play, without a spark of childish delight? Perhaps we should be thinking of the creativity of designing a more efficient production line or a better excuse to cover for political corruption? There are many ways of being creative, but where there is no childish innocence, no joy in the world, no desire to delight, what are we left with? Creative accounting, propaganda machines, marketing strategies… 

I’d like to be more childlike. Children can be incredibly trusting, and willing to think the best of others. Especially if they’re allowed to express themselves and feel secure and comfortable. Children are incredibly imaginative, and will be fearless about exploring ideas and expressing themselves right up until adults and older children start knocking that out of them. Childish creativity comes from places of joy and wonder, from heartfelt and unfiltered responses to the world. We can teach children and help them be wiser without having to turn them into joyless adults.

For those of us who have been pressured into sacrificing our silliness, joy and wonder… it’s not a one way ticket. Delight in the world is something we can create together, and we can support each other in doing that. Encourage people in their joy, even if what they do makes no sense to you – so long as it doesn’t harm anyone, why not? Don’t tear people down, don’t mock them for their delight – this stuff is all pretty obvious.

The more challenging question is what to do with people like the poor soul who left the comment. How do we give each other permission to put down the grim burden of having to act like a grown up all the time? How do we free each other from the idea that we have to give up on the things we used to love in order to be proper adults? One of the many good things about being silly, is that I can be silly enough to care about people who are intent on hurting themselves, rather than doing the sensible, self-protective thing of just shrugging and leaving them to it.


Publishers, books and sorcery

About ten years ago, I took some of Tom Brown’s ideas for a comic that never happened, and turned them into a novel called Fast Food at the Centre of the World – which you can find on bandcamp and can listen to for free if you don’t download it.

I’m delighted to announce that there’s going to be a print version, with Tenebrous Texts. This was the fastest and most entertaining experience I’ve ever had around pitching a book to someone. One of the upshots is that the publisher suggested I should consider writing a sequel, which I’m now exploring.

The core idea of Fast Food at the Centre of the World is that a sorcerer who has identified the magical centre of the world opens a cafe there. The fast food in question is about good quality, quickly available food, which is more feasible when you live where food is grown. 

I think the sequel is going to be Fast Fashion at the Centre of the World. I’m also thinking about corruption and overly complex systems that dehumanise workers. My aim is to end up with something funny, because it’s often easier to think about difficult topics while also having a laugh.

Since the first novel, I’ve had considerable experience of the Transition Towns movement. While the first novel clearly aligns with that movement, this was largely just a happy accident. I will be taking more knowledge and insight into this second novel. I also think I’m going to repurpose ideas I’d been collecting for a different project, that I now think won’t be happening. I’d been world building for a novel that was intended to be a joint project, but I don’t think I’ll be working with that collaborator now, and I’m not inclined to waste what I’ve already done. I think I can use ideas I’d been exploring to flesh out the curious city at the centre of the world.

One of the more pernicious writing myths is that a person has an idea for a book. I often hear from people at events who tell me they had an idea for a book. If you’re lucky, an idea will give you a short story. It takes a lot of ideas to tell a story that lasts for sixty thousand words or more. Those ideas need to connect with each other so that themes, setting and character combine into something that makes some kind of sense. Even when books are set in the real world, there’s a lot to know and understand before that can be possible.

A significant chunk of the time it takes to write a novel goes on figuring out how everything works. For me, that involves time spent learning, reading and ideally, experiencing things first hand. The more I know, the more raw material I have to work with. I also reject the image of the author alone and separate from the world, dreaming their book into existence. I do a great deal of imagining, but I also try to root that in things that are substantial.

My main aim with this project is to write something that will make people think about how preposterous modern life is and how much better our lives could be. There will be silliness, because I’ve found that I often do my best and deepest thinking when I’m trying to be funny, and because there’s comfort and relief in laughter and I think we could all do with more of that at the moment.


Happiness is a skill

I had a recent discussion with a friend, who framed the notion with recognition that this isn’t relevant in all circumstances. In overwhelmingly terrible situations, the problem is the situation, not someone’s happiness skills. From there, the scale slides, and the fewer sources of misery there are, the more scope there is to apply happiness skills.

There is a knack to finding joy in things. You have to be looking, and alert to the small moments of beauty, wonder and loveliness that are around us all the time. Those things still exist, even in awful circumstances. However, if you’re having to make your happiness out of tiny things while surrounded by significant sources of distress, that’s a lot of work, and it feels like starving while eating crumbs. No one can sustain themselves that way forever, but at the same time, any small comfort is well worth having.

Not all problems can be fixed by the person afflicted by them. Many of the reasons for unhappiness in the world are systemic and cultural and it takes a team effort to challenge it and to change things. 

Happiness is a skill best shared. When we make our small joys available to each other, we increase each other’s scope for delight. I greatly appreciate the many friends who use social media in this way, simply putting things into online spaces that might improve someone else’s day. When I’ve not been well enough to go outside, those thoughts and images have helped me a lot.

Seeking out small good things to share will in turn help you be more alert to the little joy sources around you. Putting things out there that will lift and cheer others is an affirming process in its own right. I know that when I’m able to cheer other people, I feel better about myself and that can in turn help me overcome depression at least a bit. Laughter is medicinal, making someone else laugh also works. When your own depression weighs heavy, it can be hard to think about what would help with that. It’s a lot easier to think about comforting and cheering other people, often. By heading that way, we can build ladders to get each other out of whatever holes we may have fallen into.

Approaching happiness as a skill is a way of feeling more in control of your life. Rather than being at the mercy of events, it gives you something to push back with, and that’s also empowering. This is not about the kind of toxic positivity that insists it’s all about having the right attitude. Shit happens. Awful shit happens that can put you on your knees. You won’t be able to magically turn everything around. But when you seek to cultivate happiness as a skill, you can at least make the best of anything halfway decent that comes along, and that helps.

Being human isn’t easy at the moment. Any joy that isn’t a form of cruelty is well worth seeking.


Nurturing Inspiration

Inspiration can seem like something that happens by magic. However, if you’re not acting because you don’t have that rush of inspiration, you may also find that it doesn’t show up. Inspiration often has to be courted and invited, and it helps a lot of you do that deliberately.

Find out what kinds of things inspire you, and then seek that out.  Live music does a lot for me, and so does reading. I read a lot of non-fiction so that I know things that can become the clay my inspiration turns into forms.

Decide what kinds of things you want to create, and learn about them. Learn the technical stuff, the skills, the forms. Again, this means that if inspiration strikes, you’re ready for it. Nothing is going to happen if I get a really good idea for an opera because I don’t really understand opera and don’t have the technical skills to write one.

Make time for doing the things, you have more chance of being inspired when you’ve got your guitar in your hands, or a notebook in front of you, or whatever it is you work with.

Also make time when you aren’t doing anything too deliberate with your brain. You can pair this with any gentle activity that doesn’t demand your concentration. Walking, gardening, domestic stuff, gazing at the sky, doing some unchallenging crafting… it all works for making the space where you can have those flashes of inspiration and develop ideas.

When you have a flash of inspiration, hang on to it and make time to develop it. It’s not enough to be inspired, you also have to act.

I think this is true, broadly speaking, for anything that looks like magic. There are elements of many things we do that can feel like a flash of lightning out of nowhere. However, in practice if you’re putting in the time – prayer, rituals, spells, conversations, research, etc then there’s nothing random or inexplicable about the inspiration that comes to you, because you have invited it into your life.


Falling in love

Playing music featured heavily in my twenties and was the basis of most of my social life. What drove me at that point was a love of music, and an absolute love affair with the violin.

There’s something about improvising that brings me into an intense state of relationship with both the music and the instrument. Which in turn can create an unusual kind of intimacy with whoever I’m sharing music with. To improvise, you have to be entirely present to the music, the exact way everyone else is playing, the needs of the music, and what it is, exactly that your instrument can do. When music emerges between people in this way it can be incredibly magical.

I really was in love with the violin. It was the voice of my soul, and often the primary way in which I expressed myself emotionally. And then there was no one to play with, and I damaged my shoulder, and the back came away from my beloved violin and despite repeated attempts by various clever professionals to fix it, nothing worked.

This week I realised that I could fall in love with the viola. I could have all those same feelings about it, and throw myself wholeheartedly into playing in the same way. I might still have it in me to give unreservedly, like I used to. I might be able to meet a musical collaborator in a fearless, present, open hearted sort of way, and be able to trust that, and reclaim the magic I used to feel around playing.

Being open hearted is a risky, exposed sort of thing. But, I want to go back to playing the way I used to play. This feels so much more like the person I should be, and want to be.