Category Archives: Bardic

Videos I am implicated in

Recently, Tom and I did an interview with Wendy Steele and Sheena Cundy for the Witch Lit Podcast. We mostly talked about Hopeless Maine, there are some moments about how the Paganism and the comics relate to each other.

 

And in this one I’m singing with Tom (he’s the one with the beard) and my son James and the resident Tiggy.

 


Deliberately unattractive

I find it really interesting going out to perform in public as a deliberately unattractive character. I used to play monsters a lot in a mumming side. At the moment, I’m taking Hopeless Maine’s Mrs Beaten out to events.

I created Mrs Beaten for the Hopeless Maine blog – www.hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com She’s a complicated, conflicted creature. It is entirely possible that she is part machine, and whether the departed Mr Beaten was her husband, creator or jailer, or combinations thereof is hard to tell. It seems likely that she killed him in self defence. And although she hates him, she also misses him which isn’t unusual for abused people. But, she’s not sympathetic – she’s judgmental and unkind. Through her judging others I can get her to say things that nicer characters wouldn’t say, but that tend to need saying.

Going out to perform as Mrs Beaten I do not look my best. An austere hair arrangement. Little exposed skin. I might powder my face if there are going to be stage lights. I don’t smile much. I glower. I use a voice that is sanctimonious and/or harsh. She’s a figure who can both get laughs and make people uncomfortable and I enjoy playing with that.

At the same time, there’s something liberating in going out dressed not to be attractive. We all tend to make a lot of judgements on how people look. The pressure on women to be attractive, in professional life, in workplaces, in leisure, is a serious thing. I’m female appearing even though I don’t really feel that way, but people judge what they see. And Mrs Beaten judges back. I enjoy going out with no invitation to find me visually appealing. I enjoy not conforming to those pressures, and putting on a face that does not appeal.

Any man telling my Mrs Beaten character to smile, would, I promise, end up wishing he hadn’t said that.

Here’s me glowering for the camera at a recent Stroud Short Stories event where I read in first person as Mrs Beaten. I’m rather pleased with how this unflattering photo came out!

Photo by Tim Byford.

If you hop over to the page you can compare my presentation with the things other women reading have done with their faces. Although Kate Keogan also presented fierce, which is cool.

http://stroudshortstories.blogspot.com/


Re-learning to play

I played the violin for about 25 years – once I got out of the exam treadmill, I played folk, and acoustic rock and was much happier. During my twenties, it was a big part of my life, and music was central to how I communicated with people, and to a number of my most cherished relationships.

Some years ago, an elderly and much loved cat decided he wanted to spend the winter (his last winter, it turned out) sat on my left shoulder. He was not a small cat. He’d get up there and I’d let him stay until my left hand went numb – which it invariably did. The result of this, after some months, was some kind of compression injury, and my shoulder joint locked down. I lost a great deal of mobility. I couldn’t swim, I could barely get my hands round the bouzouki and I could not get my left arm to a place where I could play the violin. At its worst, I couldn’t reliably dress myself.

It took me a long time to rebuild strength and flexibility. I’ve been able to swim for the last few years and I can do most everyday things with no trouble. I don’t have full movement and most specifically, I cannot get my hand into a position that would allow me to play the violin. I’ve come to a point of accepting that I might never get that back.

I do have enough flexibility to get my hands round the viola – which is bigger, and doesn’t require getting my hand as close to my shoulder. For some time now, I’ve been relearning my violin repertoire on this instrument instead. Given that most of what I know is in terms of muscle memory, and the physical shape of tunes is different on a bigger instrument, this has been a bit of a thing. I’m nowhere like as good as I used to be and I have a lot of work to do.

On the plus side, the viola is the better instrument to sing with. I have ventured a thing…


Notes on my killing rampage

I have to kill a hundred people. It’s an author issue, and one that is going to occupy a good deal of my time in the coming months.

I wrote a blog post about it for fellow steampunk author Mark Hayes. Which was good of him, as he’s also one of the people I killed… https://markhayesblog.com/2019/10/03/how-to-kill-a-hundred-people-a-indie-october-guest-post-by-nimue-brown/

I had meant to do a cunning reblog this morning, but the technology has thwarted me, so, here’s the opening as a teaser…

“Let me begin by explaining Hopeless Maine. It started life as a graphic novel series set on an imaginary island off the coast of Maine. There’s now a role play game, prose books in the offing and other things in planning! For people who want to get involved, there’s www.hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com which is currently full of dead people…

Back in August, when we were figuring out the details for Hopeless Maine kickstarter, I suggested I could do obituaries for people as though they had died in the setting. Those became early bird bonuses, and “yes,” I blithely said, of course I can write a hundred of them.

Of course I didn’t think for a moment that 100 people would get in fast enough that I’d have to do it.”

And for the rest, hop over to Mark’s blog.

 

 


Please stop trying to save me – a poem

Please stop trying to save me

 

What if I am not wrong, just different?

What if I do not need changing, fixing,

Healing, rescuing, improving, sorting out,

Toughening up?

In just the way that spiderwebs and flower petals

Do not need to be other than they are.

I might be fragile, but it is a quality valued in glassware

And butterflies.

I may be sensitive down to my nerve endings

Like the fine tips of roots and shoots

Or a wolf’s sense of smell.

I have been wounded, my body a fracked landscape

But you don’t mend that by demanding

I learn to better tolerate being fracked.

You don’t make me more well if you tell me

I am not good enough right now, if you

Have to tinker with me, recreate me in the way

You think I should be, over-writing the truth of me

With some story that suits you better.

Some way of being in the world that may

Tidy me into other people’s convenience, but makes me

Less myself, smaller than before so that

The next person can come along to see the damage

And decide what should be cut off now

In order to save me from myself.

What if I would never have been damaged at all

Without the people who wanted to repair me

In the manner of their choosing?

What if all I ever needed was kindness

And the space to live out my own difference?


Anti-romantic poetry

All those heart metaphors

 

I wore my heart on my sleeve for you.

I spilled my guts.

 

I put my spleen on my shoulder

Was that helpful?

I draped my lungs over my ears,

Put my liver in the upturned cuff

Of my trousers,

Wore my pancreas on my wrist.

 

Do I make sense now?

Can you read my entrails?

Is the hollow place under my ribs

Understandable? Clearer?

Do you need to see all my bones?

 

Is honesty the exposed inner workings

Or was it the mysterious whole?

Where’s the true layer?

What should we dig down to?

 

I put my heart on my sleeve for you.

Just offal and mess, it turns out

And not much good at all.

 

(I may be going to do a run of these, exploring ideas around romance and dismantling them in whatever way occurs to me at the time. Especially what we’re supposed to do with hearts – which discernibly work better on the inside.)


A little bit of gothic fiction

This is a recording of me reading the first chapter of New England Gothic. It’s a prose novella set on Hopeless Maine.

I come from Gloucestershire in the UK, and in terms of accents, I can sound more, or less like I come from Gloucestershire. I have thus made zero attempts to capture the speaking voices of people living off the coast of Maine at time unspecified, in a slightly uncertain reality. I have no idea what they should sound like!

We’ve been doing a kickstarter to publish this one, and two weeks in, are fully funded, which is wonderful. The support has been amazing – in terms of people pledging, pledging more than we asked for, and sharing the project to get more people onboard. It’s been a really affirming experience. I’ve not written much fiction in recent years because there didn’t seem to be much point – getting novels in front of people isn’t easy. I’m moving away from novels anyway, and clearly there are ways of getting books into people’s hands, so, forwards!

The kickstarter is over here, should you feel moved to check it out  – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/countrostov/tales-of-hopeless-maine

 


Sharing a world

I like collaborating with people. Making stuff up is fun, but making stuff up when that process is shared, is a greater joy. I think this is a big part of what motivates people to engage with both fan fiction and folklore – that it puts you in a community with people who love what you love and who want to play with it. With folklore of course there’s no sense that any one person can own the material. With fan fiction, the tension between original creator and people who want to play can be a thing. Where does celebration end and exploitation begin?

Hopeless Maine has always been a kind of ‘open source’ project with room for people to get involved. How the money works is an interesting question, but there’s not so much money floating about around the project to make is worth ripping off, and the people who want to play with us tend to be inclined to play nicely. Which technically makes it some sort of unofficial anarchic co-operative.

Thus far, co-operation has included people making creatures and objects for the island, writing for the island’s newspaper, performing with us at events, composing music inspired by the island, creating a role play game, and now, prose books. I enjoy this process immensely. The island is a big enough place to really benefit from having more people exploring it. Hopeless Maine feels more like a world in its own right because it has so many real people involved with it.

I do my best work when I’m writing for someone, or because of someone. Left to my own devices I’m not reliably creative. Give me a co-creator who is expecting content, and content turns up in my head. Give me people asking questions and wanting to read stuff, and my output improves. I’ve never been the lone creator in the high tower, my work has always had everything to do with the people in my life. And I like it when some of those people are involved in making things with me.

At the moment, I’m doing a kickstarter to launch one illustrated prose book of mine, and a second by Keith Errington. Both are set on Hopeless, both are illustrated by Tom Brown. Keith’s story also owes something to fellow Hopeless Maine collaborator Meredith Debonnaire. We’re simply raising enough money to print books (in case anyone wonders about the financial implications of this sort of thing.) Get in for both books by the end of the week and you might get an obituary – at time of writing there are 38 slots left for obituaries. You can read the first obituary here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2019/08/26/bertram-fiddles-death-mystery/

And here’s the kickstarter link – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/countrostov/tales-of-hopeless-maine


Creatively doing nothing

One of the trickier things around being creative is the issue of time spent apparently doing little or nothing. It can be awkward in terms of how you see yourself. It can be very awkward around how other people relate to you. Ideas require time and space – and this isn’t just a creative issue, either. This is an issue for living well.

Time to think gives us room to explore what we want and how we feel. We can digest experiences and reflect on them and decide what to do next. For anyone who wants to be creative, in any sense, there needs to be this process of input, assimilation and then making something new.

There are of course important balances to strike. Being creative doesn’t mean you are entitled to take time other people in your household don’t have. Make sure the time to productively do nothing is shared about. If one person gets to sit around contemplating only because another person is working themselves to the bone, that’s not acceptable. It is all too easy to use the need for creative non-productivity to justify doing very little.

How do you tell, from the outside, if someone is doing the needful inner work to keep their life and/or their art in order? How much space do you give someone to stare dreamily into the middle distance? The odds are it will depend a lot on what they do the rest of the time, and how much you value that. None of us are under any obligation to find anyone else’s processes acceptable – it’s all about negotiation in the end. How we make space for each other is an important question in all relationships.

Appearing to be busy is of course not a measure of worth, either. If you’ve just knuckled down to spending every spare hour on revision twenty four of the three hundred thousand word long novel you’ve been working on for the last ten years and still aren’t happy with… that business may not be any measure of the worth of the work.

It’s also important to remember that being productive and being economically viable aren’t the same issue, either. You can create the most beautiful, inspired and worthwhile things and not be able to make a living from it.

Even so, it is good to gather wool. It is good to sit and let your mind wander, considering anything and nothing that floats through. It is good to make time and space for your own reflections. Without this, it is difficult to sustain any kind of creativity. It’s in the quiet, unstructured spaces that we come to know ourselves and can figure out something about who we are and where we might be going.


Doing it from memory

We know that the ancient Druids had an oral tradition, and that the bards of old memorised vast amounts of material. However, when it comes to the modern bard path, I think it’s really important not to be dogmatic about doing things from memory.

Firstly, not everyone can. Not all brains are good at storing great swathes of text and music. Brain injuries, cognitive differences, and learning difficulties can all make memorising impossible, or excessively difficult. No one should be excluded from bardic performance for these reasons. If you’re holding a bardic space, it is important not to discriminate and not to demand that people perform from memory. Don’t challenge people who can’t and don’t ask why they can’t – it isn’t your business.

There can also be class, life stage and economic issues around performance from memory as well. Learning takes time. That time may not be available – work, illness, family, and other pressures may mean a person does not have the luxury of time to learn content by heart. It is kinder and more inclusive not to put people under pressure or to exclude them based on how overwhelming their lives are. And again, we do not need to know the details of why a person cannot commit to learning the words.

For someone who is anxious, or inexperienced, doing it without the words can simply be too daunting the first few times. People who could be great may never get started if the entry bar is set to high. None of us benefit from that.

The quality of a performance does not depend on whether you are holding a piece of paper. Certainly a piece of paper can be a barrier between performer and audience, but it doesn’t have to be. No one complains about classical musicians reading from the sheet music. Authors are allowed to read from their books at events, too. It is entirely possible to perform very badly from memory. The best thing to do is focus on quality of performance – in your own work and when you are making space for other people.

If you need the words, or notes, to make that possible, go with whatever allows you to do the best performance you can. Don’t penalise other people for needing to rely on paper or phones for content. You can encourage excellence without making specific demands on what people do. It takes time to develop as a performer and most people start out far less able than they will be with practice. Experience of performing is part of what takes a person towards being a really great performer – most of us don’t get up for the first time at anything like the level of performance we might be capable of.

(And thank you to Clive Oseman for the prompt)