Category Archives: adventures

Online Festivities

One of the good things to happen around covid lockdowns was the development of online events. While I very much like getting to do things in person, that tends to exclude a lot of people. Cost, transport, illness, disability, work, caring responsibilities and more make it hard for many people to go to events. Real world events also leave far bigger carbon footprints than online gatherings.

In 2021, a few of us decided to do an online festival based around Hopeless, Maine. That happened in January 2022 and you can still watch it on youtube 

That event was inspired by a previous Steampunk Over Ether event – also still available online

At this point, I’m keen to keep doing the online events. I’m hoping we can be more regularly active as The Eldritch Broadcasting Corporation. Doing online events makes it possible to include creators who otherwise aren’t able to participate more physically in events – for all kinds of reasons. 

Everyone involved in Anomaly was known to me, and that’s mostly how people got involved. I realise that from the outside, that might look cliquey. I also know it isn’t easy asking for space. So, if you’re reading this, you’re always welcome to ask. If you see me doing something and you want to get involved with it, just say and I’ll see what’s feasible. I’m always keen to open up space for others where I can.

I was heavily involved with this event, I participated live on the night, contributed a poem, and short story, and some of my ideas and text made its way into other people’s pieces. I’m also there singing with The Ominous Folk for a couple of videos. It was very much a team effort, and I feel very blessed about the people I get to work with. The creativity, imagination, skill and awesomeness that went into this means I’m proud to have been part of it. Most of us were very low tech, there was no budget. 

All of these online events were possible because Keith Errington was willing to make his skills, experience and tech available to all the rest of us, and to hold it all together on the night. Keith is also responsible for the monthly SteamPaper for the steampunk community  which you can support via Patreon if you feel so moved. 

You can find Anomaly over here, in sensible, snack sized chunks –

Busking on the internet

I used to busk in the street a lot, many years ago. I figured as I needed to play regularly to keep my playing at a good standard, I might as well do some of it while standing in the street. People threw coins in the hat and in terms of hourly rates, I sometimes did better than minimum wage.

Of course standing in the street with an instrument meant that every now and then someone would assume I was homeless, and there were a few conversations about that. Which brings me to the question of how desperate you need to be for it to be ok to put the hat out in the first place. To what extent is it ok to ask for support in return for what you’re doing, if you aren’t struggling to afford food? To what extent do we see busking – in person and online – as glorified begging, or are we giving money because we appreciate what’s being offered?

When someone is paid a wage, we don’t tend to question what they spend it on if it’s legal. However, when people are on benefits, there’s a section of the public that gets really angry if those people look like anything other than starving Victorian paupers. We’re much more concerned about how people spend their money when those people are experiencing poverty, and there are people who definitely feel entitled to dictate how money given freely should be spent.

Where do I fit in with all of that? I have a secure home, but it’s small. I’ve been so ill over the last couple of years that conventional paid employment isn’t currently possible. I can afford to eat. I am not getting any funding from the state. I give a lot of stuff away online – which I feel is a lot like busking. I’m doing things because I want to do them, no one is even slightly obliged to chuck pennies in the hat, but some people generously do. Would it be different if I owned a house, or a car? Does it matter if I spend some of my money on things that might seem frivolous to others? 

I have given money to people I know when they’ve needed help. I buy things. If I give money I don’t ask what it’s going to be spent on. I bought a piece of art recently and I did not ask if the creator desperately needed the money. I give money to buskers. 

While I‘m very keen on gift economy, I don’t think we should be asking each other to give things away. Whether I think someone else can afford to give away their time and work is about my opinion, not their reality. Anyone who wants to should feel ok about putting out the busking hat, if that works for them. No one should have to justify the presence or absence of a busking hat, or a price ticket on things. Buy or not as you see fit, but don’t imagine you should be able to dictate what anyone else does or asks for.

I have books in my ko-fi store that you can have for free –

And currently ko-fi is my internet busking hat.

I’m also on Patreon, which is great if you want to feel a bit like one of those historical noblemen or wealthy merchants who funded the art of the past, but you only have a modest budget. Or you’d like to create an automatic hand for throwing money regularly into busking hats.

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.

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.

The sound of a space

The photos on this post were taken at The Folk of Gloucester in a beautiful space we’ve been using to record as The Ominous Folk. I love this building – it’s where we do the Gloucester steampunk events and there are increasing numbers of folk events, too. It’s an honour and a joy to be able to do things there.

Between these two photos, you can see the space we were using, which is part of a much bigger room. We did our usual thing of coming in and singing to the space to find out how it works, listening to how sound behaves. From that, we were able to quickly make some decisions about where to put the people, and the recording device. Working with the space is, I think, a very important bardic skill.

The third of the room nearest the window quickly checked out as having the best sound. Then came the surprise. I assumed that singing to the fairly flat wall (the one behind me in the top photo) would be ideal, but on testing, it turned out to be more effective singing to the wall behind Keith in the bottom photo. Always best to test things! The way sound behaves in a space can be really unpredictable, with both the shape of the space and the materials in it impacting on the sound.

We had to be really careful with the floor so as not to have any sound from people moving. This was not a quiet floor! We also had to keep out from under the beam, which also impacted on the sound. It was just about possible to do that with four of us in a row and a little bit squeezy with five of us, when Keith sang in on a track.

We had terrific support from the team at The Folk, and it’s apparent that this process of being in the building to record has changed our relationship with the space. And so it is that more plotting is under way! It’s also really good recording with someone who entirely understands what we’re doing and who is, therefore, able to work with us easily on capturing the music in exactly the right way. I’m very glad we’ve not gone a more conventional route with this, because this whole process has become something really interesting in its own right.

Spells for the Second Sister

I have a new free novel up on my ko-fi store. This is a novel mostly set in Gloucestershire, and in parallel words, and it gets increasingly bonkers as it goes along. This is an overtly queer book, there’s a nonbinary character and the main character is both bisexual and polyamorous. It’s not graphic on the sexual side, or in terms of violence but it does get decidedly peculiar at times.

We follow the main character – Kathleen – from the age of 14 onwards, checking in at seven year intervals. This structure enabled me to have a first person narrator who does not know the whole story for most of the book. It also allowed me to explore a person growing and changing over a much longer timeframe than I’ve previously tried in a novel. Without giving away too much of the plot, Kathleen ends up finding out what it means to become a sorcerer, and for this book, what that means is not what it usually means. This is a speculative story, heavy on the magic and poking around in ideas of identity and how we change over time. It’s urban-ish fantasy in that much of it is set in a reality akin to our own, but it doesn’t really follow the habits of that genre.

Here’s a video of me talking about the book and reading the introduction – 

You can pick up a free ebook version here –

There are no consequences to picking it up as a free ebook, the site does not add you to anything or add you to a mailing list or anything like that, so far as I know. So, it is genuinely free. If you want to pay for it, there’s the option to pick your own amount. If you read it and like it enough to want to pay for it in retrospect, ko-fi donations are also an option. If you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford to buy books, please just take a free copy, along with anything else in my ko-fi store that appeals to you.

I’m able to do this sort of thing because people who can afford to buy books do so, and because there are some wonderfully generous people who support me on Patreon

There is also a paperback version available from Amazon, for anyone who feels really keen.

Eldritch body positivity

I’m not sure when I last wore lipstick, but it was years ago. I’m generally not very good at anything that feels like performing femininity, or trying to be attractive. By nature I am a scruffy goblin.

However, here I am in this photo, wearing actual proper lipstick, and trying to do something a bit deliberately sexy with my mouth. It turns out that if I set out to be a slightly seductive eldritch abomination, I’m much more comfortable with where that takes me. Sexy swamp goblin might be thinkable.

I’ve been in a kind of non-space with a lot of things for some time now. I’m trying to figure out how to be, and how to express myself around how I present. I’m questioning how I relate to my body. There are ongoing explorations around being embodied as a person who experiences a lot of pain, and whether there’s anything I can do about said pain. 

The context for this photo was making a video for an online event that’s going to happen in February. Last January we did an online Hopeless, Maine event – hosted online by SteamMedia . For this year we have the same core team, and some new contributors, and we’re working under the broader banner of The Eldritch Broadcasting Corporation. While I was messing about with the lighting for the video, I took a few photos, and I rather like this one.

Modern beauty standards are narrow and demanding, and mostly about trying to sell us more stuff. Being an eldritch abomination is cheap – just a few smears of face paint required. It doesn’t matter about age, or gender or body shape. Being an eldritch abomination is much more inclusive and accommodating. It turns out that for me that also feels a lot more powerful.

Looking back

These brief days and long nights lend themselves to introspection. If you aren’t overwhelmed by the practical realities of winter, it can be a good time to turn inwards, to reflect and contemplate. With the changing of the calendar year it is an especially good time to consider where we are in our lives, where we’ve been and where we might be going. For me, contemplation has always been an important part of the Druid path, and is part of how I undertake to live consciously and deliberately.

The first half of 2022 was a series of disasters and setbacks for me. I was bodily ill to the point of not being able to function at all, some of the time. The physical unwellness certainly contributed to the abysmal state of my mental health. I had some personal things go badly awry that altered what had been two relationships I was previously really invested in. I’ve had to do some serious thinking about how to deploy my time, who to invest my energy in and how I want to proceed with my life. One of these experiences really dented my confidence, especially around being humorous or playful, and that’s taken a lot of rebuilding.

The first half of the year also brought an enormous blessing in the form of David Bridger. He sent me some of his books when I was ill, and I was instantly smitten with his ideas. I sent him something of mine, and this led him to ask if I’d like to write with him. Hell yes! Thanks to David’s gentle support and guidance I was able to keep writing during a period of deep depression.

Many things changed for me during the summer. I started getting on top of the anaemia that had been making me desperately ill. My periods settled down a bit so that I wasn’t losing as much blood in the first place. Other things shifted that are still a bit too much like fledglings for me to talk about, but this autumn brought considerable riches of heart and mind, and I found myself inspired again, hopeful again and creating. We had a lot of good gigs with The Ominous Folk, my son wrote his first song for the band. This flurry of gig activity also brought Robin Burton into my life, and while it’s early days on that score, we’re shaping up well as a folk duo and I’m looking forward to seeing where that goes.

Taken as a whole, the challenges and hard times are already fading into the background. Memories of 2022 will be dominated by gigs and events, and the delight that is the rapidly growing Gloucestershire steampunk community. This was the year I became a musician again, getting back to the viola and pushing to be able to play. This was the year I made sense of parts of myself, my body, my mind that had been challenging to me in the past. I will look back at this year and remember time spent with the people I love most.

Body positivity

I’ve discovered something curious about myself in the last few years, and it has everything to do with what makes me feel more positive about my body.

If I try to modify myself to look attractive, or even acceptable, I tend to get very stressed. Anything resembling performative femininity makes me more self conscious and uncomfortable, not less so. I’m less confident when I wear makeup in a conventional way. I’m less confident if I’m wearing clothes that are supposed to be sexy.

However, it’s very different if I set out to be deliberately weird, grotesque, peculiar or otherwise odd. If I dress like a goblin I feel better about myself. If I paint my face as though I am a piece of boro embroidery, or mark myself with little black lines to be the Queen of Crows, I am more at ease. I become more comfortable in my own skin when I’m actively trying not to be attractive to anyone.

I suspect there’s also a thing around who responds to me if I’m not trying to perform attractiveness for them. I’m overall much more invested in engaging with people who find me interesting, and not keen to deal with anyone who simply finds my body appealing with no reference to who and how I am.

Fortunately for me, I’m married to someone who understands that and who prefers me feeling comfortable. And who on this occasion, painted my skin for me in a way that helps me feel more comfortable with myself. Body positivity on my terms.

My somewhat preposterous life

I thought I’d do a quick run-through of what I have going on at the moment, and what I’m plotting. It is fairly preposterous, but I hate being bored. At the moment I have enough creative energy for this to feel plausible, which has a lot to do with how excited I feel about the people I get to work with.

Having written a novel with David Bridger this year, we’re starting on the second book in the series now. It’s a mixture of different kinds of mysteries – murders, and the more magical sort. I’m really enjoying it.

I’m writing a Hopeless, Maine novel for my Patreon readers, and I’m in a conversation about how to get that out once it’s finished. There’s also a Hopeless, Maine Book of Beaten, co-written with Keith Errington and hopefully emerging into the world next year. 

Also for Patreon I am writing a chapter a month of a book on Pagan Pilgrimage.

I’m chipping away at a new poetry collection for next year. This is the most deliberate approach I’ve ever taken to writing a collection and I’m being startlingly productive at the moment. Its central themes are nature and sexuality and also deity, so a lot of overtly Pagan content there.

I’ve just committed to an Arthurian project – I have a collaborator for this one, but I’m not going to out them just yet. It’s not the sort of thing they are usually known for and I’m going to enjoy startling people with this.

I’m pouring a lot of energy into my band – The Ominous Folk. We’ve had a lot of very successful gigs this year. At the moment we’re putting together a set of more wintery songs, and we’re looking at recording an album. We also have an ambitious project for next year which I’m already working on. We’re going to be using instruments for that. James is learning the bouzouki – he’s very clever so I have no doubt he can do this. Tom and I are dusting off tin whistle and viola, respectively. Susie is going to be wielding percussion. I think there’s a very real chance we’re going up to being five people, because we really do need a guitar for this project, and I think we have an extra person getting involved.

I urgently need to be fitter and stronger to support the performance work. I’ve been ill a lot this year and it has set me back, but I’m doing my best to rebuild. Being on stage is quite physically demanding, and I need to improve my energy levels as well. It all feels possible. I’m doing better with both mental and physical health, and I can see ways forward. So long as the inspiration keeps flowing, I should be motivated enough to keep all of this moving. My creative collaborators give me that, and I want to bring them the best of myself that I possibly can.