Category Archives: Bardic

Story news

Much to my delight, I have been selected to read at the spring 2021 occurrence of Stroud Short Stories. This short story competition runs twice a year and I have quite a long history with it. This will be my third time reading. Last time I managed to smuggle in a Hopeless Maine story and you can watch that here!

I was involved in putting together an anthology of stories from the event some years ago – an epic task that very happily lead to other people doing a second one some time later. I’ve also judged on the event, alongside John Holland – the man who makes the whole thing go.

There’s a lot to like about Stroud Short Stories – it is free to enter. It picks ten winners who get to read their work to an audience – which is a really excellent thing to get to do. It’s a community project run for love of it, and the audience often has a lot of former winners in it. And probably some future ones as well. It’s something that exists simply to be a good thing, and we could all use more of those.

This year will be a recorded event, so I’ll share the video from that when the time comes. Supporters on Patreon have already read my winning entry – I put it up last month, assuming it probably wouldn’t win and that I should get some sort of use out of it. The story is a bit on the wicked side in that I have managed to make something funny out of combining various personal experiences of sexism. But then, satire is what bards and druids are supposed to do, and I would rather do my politics by making laughable the things I find abhorrent.

https://stroudshortstories.blogspot.com/


Writing about nature

When I first initiated as a bard, I pledged to use my creativity for the good of the land and for the good of my tribe. (Use of the word ‘tribe’ by white western Pagans is problematic to say the least, but that was the pledge nearly 20 years ago). The principle of making your art as an act of service is a good one, but how does that translate into action?

Writing about nature can be a way of engaging people with the natural world and inspiring them to notice it more and care about it more. If you’ve grown up urban, and never been taught the names of trees or butterflies or wild plants, then it can all be a bit of a mystery, and not in a good way. There’s quite a journey from seeing trees to seeing specific, individual trees with unique characteristics. Equally, it’s quite a journey from seeing some birds, to knowing a bit about those birds and how they live.

One of the things I try to do with poetry is to talk about nature specifically. Bandying the word ‘nature’ about doesn’t get much done – as this blog post already illustrates. It’s not a word that creates engagement. What seems to work best, is precision. A specific tree, an actual encounter, something personal, something experienced.

It can be tempting to make nature into a metaphor for personal experience, but that doesn’t do much to help the land. It fuels the idea of nature as a resource for humans to use if we deploy it in poetry as a way of talking about ourselves all the time. Equally, if the landscape is just a background framing human actors, it is still mostly scenery and mostly something we consume.

If you’d like any of my poetry, there are pdfs (pay what you like) on my ko-fi store – https://ko-fi.com/O4O3AI4T/shop

I was also a finalist in a recent competition to write poetry about urban trees – you can read that here – https://www.treesforcities.org/stories/our-poetree-winners


Flows of inspiration

Creativity is often represented as a sudden flash of inspiration, followed by a rush of activity, leading to a finished product. It’s misleading to say the least – it might make for good drama, but it won’t help you on your own creative path.

Even for a short poem, one idea won’t be enough. One flash of inspiration may give you the shape of a thing or get you started. Creating isn’t one action – when you’re writing, every word is a moment in the process. When you’re drawing or painting, everything you put down on the paper, one move at a time, is a process. It’s the same in all creative endeavours and applies as much to how you cook a meal or design a garden as it does to writing a symphony or building a house.

Inspiration isn’t just the starting idea, it needs to be present for much of the time. Not all inspiration is dramatic and self announcing. The eureka moment, the fire in the head experience will really get your attention. However, the inspiration to decide how to deploy details from your research may be more understated. Feeling moved to practice that piece of music one more time, or to dig in to studying the history of your chosen form, is also inspiration. It needs to be there in those small editing decisions, if the editing and revision process is going to make the original work stronger.

It can be easy to get distracted by the power of big inspiration moments, and to prioritise the rush of creativity that comes from those. It’s a great feeling, making something when there is a fire burning inside you and you feel compelled. But, it’s not the only way. The slow, gentle flow of inspiration is just as valuable – maybe more so. Big rushes may leave you exhausted, and if you depend on them you may get really stuck if they don’t show up. It’s hard to court that kind of big inspiration and it may only turn up infrequently.

Courting the small flow of inspiration is much easier. You can invite it simply by trying. If you’re having a go at your chosen form of creativity, you are making room for some inspiration to happen. Seeking your inspiration by engaging in this way opens the possibility of stepping into a flow. Any kind of engagement will do this – study, learn, practice. Look at work other people have done, listen to music, read a book, watch a video… make room for something to inspire you and those small pings of idea can find their way in. By this means it is possible to spend much of your time feeling a little bit inspired.

The things to avoid are the things that make you feel numb. Boredom is ok, because that can push you towards action. It’s only a problem in an environment where you aren’t allowed to be anything other than bored – this can certainly be a workplace issue. Escapism is fine, and you may bring back riches from those adventures. Killing time is going to rob you of inspiration.

The other trap to watch out for around inspiration, is daydreaming about the outcome rather than investing that energy in your work. If all of your creative energy goes into imagining what happens after you write the book, or the song, or do the painting you can end up emotionally rewarding yourself for things you haven’t even done. The fantasy of creative success can mean you never get round to making anything. Inspiration that might have created something can easily be lost to indulgent fantasy. While daydreaming is generally a good thing, daydreaming about success can become a substitute for action, and takes you further from your creative potential.


Beginning a creative process

There are some things I create in the heat of inspiration and purely because I want to. This is a perfectly reasonable way of working, especially for small pieces like poems and short stories. It’s not such a good idea for a longer project. It’s not realistic to expect to be able to write an entire book while in a state of creative fever. Granted, Jack Kerouac managed it with On The Road, but it isn’t how larger bodies of work normally happen.

To create something more than a heat of the moment outpouring, takes planning. There’s a process in moving from the initial rush of inspiration, towards a larger and finished piece.

One of the first questions I ask when considering a project is, who am I making this for? There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, it’s a helpful focus. Secondly, if you mean to put a piece out into the world, knowing who it is for is really important. You can’t pitch to a publisher without knowing that. You’ll have a hard time finding readers if you don’t know who your readers might be. It may be tempting to imagine you are making something for ‘everyone’ but that’s not focused enough so either it will be bland, or it will be self indulgent. Maybe both.

Being self indulgent is fine. It is important to know whether you are primarily creating for yourself or for other people because it has implications. I think it’s usually a mistake to imagine you can create something purely for your own pleasure and that this will automatically translate into something lots of other people will want.

I usually identify some larger, broader groups of people – I write non-fiction books for Pagans and Druids, for example. I write fiction for Goths and steampunks, and also for Pagans and animists. I usually also have some specific people in mind. I find that really helps. If I’m writing for just one person, the odds are it will appeal to more people than just that one person. It helps me avoid being too self involved and it helps me focus on what kinds of things those other people might enjoy.

This is also where my bar is set in terms of success. If I write a poem for someone and they like it, I have succeeded. The same is true of a blog post, or even a book. If one person finds it helpful, it’s done its job. This protects me from the inevitable bruises of an industry where the average book sells a few hundred copies, and all the focus is on the people who can sell hundreds of thousands of copies.


Writing fantasies

A while ago, back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth and you could sit in a pub garden and be mansplained… A man sat near me in a pub garden and told me how he was going to make his fortune writing short stories. Not a living, a fortune. He was going to put some short stories online and there they would be found by someone important at Netflix, or Amazon. Films would naturally follow, and that would be his life all sorted.

I tried to explain to him that this is not how things work. He was having none of it. I mentioned twenty years of writing and publishing industry experience, and he was still confident that not even having written a short story yet, he knew more than me – but then, he was the one who had brought the penis to the conversation, and that’s always proof of superior insight for some people.

I hit him with some industry stats – that only about 10% of authors make anything from their work and that a good income from writing is about £10k a year and most of us will never even get close to that. He was unpersuaded that The Society of Authors might have meaningful industry stats in the first place, and certainly did not imagine any of that doom and gloom stuff applied to him.

I’ve had similar conversations before. I’ve heard from people who were new to writing, there was one, memorably, who thought her NaNoWriMo fantasy trilogy was bound for fame and fortune. After all, Water for Elephants started on NaNoWriMo so clearly she was going to have the same experience.

As is often the way of it in many aspects of life, we only really hear from the authors who succeed. We hear about the best sellers, the international hits. Most of publishing does not look like JK Rowling. 90% of writers earn little or nothing from their work. For the rest of us, £10k a year is hitting the big time. There are lots of factors – timing, luck, gatekeeping, who you know, how you come across, whether you have a following already. It’s much easier to get published if you’re already famous – it’s not a meritocracy out there. Most of my favourite authors aren’t famous and many of them are a good deal better, in my opinion, then many of the published mainstream authors. There’s more diversity, originality and surprise out at the margins.

I think it’s very normal to come to writing imagining that your originality, and skill and whatnot will shine through and lead to results. People will notice you. I was like that with my first published piece, many years ago. Only it turned out that the publisher didn’t really mean to promote it beyond putting it on their website, and there wasn’t much word of mouth advertising, and I started to see why other authors in ebookland were trying so hard to sell their work.  It’s ok not to know, especially when the stories you hear are only ever the success stories. It’s important to tell those other sorts of stories, too, so that we all have our feet on the ground and aren’t going to be unreasonably hurt by this dysfunctional industry.

I don’t know if the man from the pub garden ever got as far as writing stories and putting them online – he might have done, but I do know he hasn’t landed at Netflix deal yet.


Unromantic poetry

I have a small, ongoing project around writing deliberately unromantic poetry. I’m on a mission to debunk things that are presented as romance, but are really toxic, or bullshit. Here’s the latest.

Refusing to die of a broken heart

I will not drink poison for you

I do not offer my last breath

Nor the blood in my veins.

I will not crawl over broken glass

For you. there will be no proof

Of faith in a death from grief

I will not cut out my heart

To place it in a box for you.

No slashing back of soul and self

To make offerings of wounds.

I will not become smaller for you

There is no romantic splendour

In the fatal cup, the ravaged life

The early death.

This is not romance.

I will not die for you.

I did not promise to suffer.

Tell me to live for you, to endure

To flourish for your sake also.

Love is measured not in torment

But in the co-creating

Of better days.


Singing the wheel of the year

Singing the wheel of the year has been an important part of my path. I’ve done it in folk spaces, rituals and with groups I’ve been singing with. It’s a simple process of bringing along songs that are in some way seasonally relevant. I’ve got something for every month, and for some months, more than one song. It’s an important part of how I celebrate, but it’s something I’ve not done much of during the last six months or so.

I’ve decided to go back to singing the wheel of the year as something I can do for supporters on Patreon.  There will be a monthly post with a recorded song, and some notes on my history with it, where I got it and whatever else seems relevant. This will be available to anyone who supports me, regardless of level. There are other level-specific things, involving fiction, a Druid book in progress and things in the post, for anyone who is really keen.

Patreon helps me afford the time to write a blog post every day. It means I can afford to spend time on projects like Wherefore  – which I am also giving away. It means there’s a space where I can plan a project like singing the wheel of the year.

At the moment, my energy levels are really poor. I’m often only good for a few hours each day before exhaustion wipes me out. Being both economically active and creative is difficult to balance in this context and I’ve had to think hard about what I can do based on what I can currently sustain.  It helps to do something I can feel good about, that lifts me as I work on it, rather than stuff that just grinds me down.

So from next week, I’ll be singing once a month. Which means making the time to practice and polish up songs – I’ve hardly sung at all in the last six months, so my voice isn’t what it could be. I’ll have that sorted out by the time I’m recording. The prompt t do this came from asking Patreon supporters what they’d like more of, and one person saying they were mostly interested in the Druidry and another asking for more songs – I have put a few up there in the past. These two things combine rather well, and it is good to have the inspiration.

I’m very glad of Patreon as a space. If you’d like to join me over there, it’s https://www.patreon.com/NimueB


Free Books

For some time now, I’ve been giving away pdfs of my self-published work. As many of you have followed the blog since I started doing that, you may not have seen all of these and you might want to get in for them.

At present I have 4 pdfs in my ko-fi store. They’re ‘pay what you like’ and it is totally fine not to pay anything if you are short of money. if you want to drop something in the hat that’s lovely and it helps me stay viable while giving work away, which is a win all round I think.

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Mapping the Contours – poetry with strong landscape themes. https://ko-fi.com/s/8e7caa2cfc

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Druidry and the future – non-fiction https://ko-fi.com/s/6f6d37772a

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How to Unpeel a monster -poetry with themes of identity and being unacceptable https://ko-fi.com/s/6c04e1cb8c

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Wherefore series 1 – daftness, animism, magic, https://ko-fi.com/s/2241a51430


I will build a house – a poem

I will build a house

I will build a house at the forest’s edge

For the wild girls who loathe hunters

Live by shadow and moonlight, escape artists

Surviving at the margins if they can.

A house with generous windows, secret doors

Many rooms of respite and sanctuary

Places to sleep soundly for the girls

Who will not be tamed or trained

Who come and go at all hours by whim

As sexual or chaste as they desire

And at no man’s bidding.

I will build a house for the girls

Other stories like to kill while lamenting

Their being too good for this world

The girls whose unkempt beauty reads

As a debt to those who would tidy

Them up to screw them over and crush

The lush, untarnished splendour of their souls.

A house for girls with blood on their hands

For witches and sirens. For those who howl

At the moon, and those who root

In the earth, the ephemeral, and filthy alike

Welcome under this roof.

I will grow an orchard, a herb garden

Keep chickens and not become too fond

Of them, just in case.

I will build a house for the unrepentant

Unacceptable girls who neither kneel nor beg

Whose proud, flashing eyes are glorious wild

And I will build a house to shelter

Every woman whose spirit still holds

Some part of the wild girl who was

Punished into hiding deep inside her

And I will build a house.


The writing life

Like many writers, I knew from as soon as I could clutch a pencil that writing was a thing I wanted to do. As a child, I wrote poetry and short stories. I fantasised about what it would mean to be an author – I think that’s common too. As I sauntered into my teens, I spent more time thinking about what I wanted to write than thinking about wanting to be an author, and I kept writing the poetry and the short stories.

It may be worth mentioning that I wanted to be a musician, too. I wanted to be Batman, I thought teaching might be interesting, I knew from as far back as I could remember that no one thought ‘author’ was a viable and sensible career path and that I’d need to keep my options open. When I was a kid it was far more feasible to be a full time professional author than it is now.

I wrote my first novel in my teens – I knew it wouldn’t be good or publishable, I just wanted the experience of putting down that many words and to get to know what a novel meant from the inside. I studied Literature at Uni, and I kept writing, poetry, short stories, novels. By the time I was in my early twenties I had a rejection slip from every major UK publisher.

At about this time I became bored with writing versions of myself and started paying more attention to other people, and what I could learn about the world. I think this is a really important shift in the life of any fiction author, although it doesn’t happen to everyone. We all start by playing out our personal fantasies, but good books usually require more than that.

I had a lot of fiction published in my twenties – mostly as ebooks in what was then a fledgling industry. I’d have to make an effort to figure out how many novels I’ve written, but, it’s a lot of novels. And of course I had that fantasy that I’d write a novel and it would naturally find its audience and magic things would happen. It isn’t like that, and finding an audience has taken time, and I’m still very small and obscure in the grand scheme of things. Success is a heady blend of luck and persistence, assuming you have something people want to read.

I got into writing non-fiction in my thirties, first with blogging and magazine articles, and then later with Pagan books. That’s been interesting to add to the mix and I enjoy doing it, but fiction remains my main passion. I’ve sauntered into graphic novel writing, game scenarios, and film scripts, and have no real plan for how any of this is supposed to develop.

Like most writers, I don’t earn anything like enough to live in. A reasonably successful author – full time, professional and with a mid-tier contract at a large publishing house, can aspire to make £10k a year. This is not generally considered to be good money in any other context. So I write poetry, and short stories, novels, graphic novels, scripts, and all the rest of it, and I work alongside that to stay afloat. I’m greatly helped by Patreon support (https://www.patreon.com/NimueB ). I’m ok with not being affluent, I’ve never been affluent, I have infamously low standards and limited interest in material culture. But, it makes me cross and unhappy that arts industries are increasingly structured so that only people who are funded by other means can participate – people with good pensions, supportive spouses, inheritance, and the like. It keeps the poorer folk out, it makes it hard for anyone not well enough to work a day job and create as well.  I don’t want creativity to be a hobby for the rich, I want it to be a viable line of work for those with talent and passion.