Tag Archives: books

Getting beyond myself

Recently when I wrote about finding a voice for performance, Lorna Smithers raised the issue of finding voices that are not your own. I think this is a really important developmental stage for anyone working with words, and that it merited a follow up.

I’ve worked in publishing for about twenty years now, which has given me a broad perspective on what authors do. New authors tend to write autobiographically. This is one of the reasons first novels are often best left in a drawer! Write what you know is perfectly good advice for getting started, but it’s rarely enough to give you a great book. New authors will dramatise their own hopes and fears, revisit their own experiences and cast themselves as the unlikely hero.

Some authors never move past the autobiography stage. Some find they can’t, and drift away from writing as a consequence. The authors who will go on to do really good work will start to find things other than themselves interesting. They’ll wonder and ask questions, and start writing about things they did not know. Research and experimentation may replace casual experience. They may visit locations, swot up on subjects, observe others, and use this to fuel their imaginations.

In fairness, I have read some really good semi-autobiographical first novels. They tend to come about because the author has learned something from personal experience that they want to share. It’s not a form of wish fulfilment, but a desire to express something significant.

These days when I’m developing ideas for a novel, I spend time exploring the first person voices of many of the main characters. I try to get in their skin and see it all from their perspective. I’ll usually put that down to write in third person, but it helps to individualise characters and establish what makes them tick. It’s a bit like sketching.

Making art is often a curious balance of things. Imagination coming from within, inspiration coming from without. Working with what we know and feel, and with what is unknown and can only be speculated about. Grounding in known things and letting fly into realms of speculation. It’s in the tensions between these things that it becomes possible to create something original and exciting.


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.


The lies we tell ourselves

I’ve recently finished reading The Wheel of Osheim – the third book in Mark Lawrence’s trilogy The Red Queen’s War, and while anything published by Harper Voyager is normally too famous for my book hipster standards, I like Mark. And, I knew him before he was famous. I liked him before he was cool.

Mark Lawrence is an author who can write tales that work on a lot of levels. A fast paced adventure trilogy, with witty dialogue, action, shagging, demons, magic and all the things you’d expect from a popular fantasy series. But alongside that, there are themes and concepts to chew on, and that’s why I find these books so engaging. It’s not just surface amusement.

For me, the major theme of the Red Queen’s War trilogy, is the impact of the stories and lies we tell ourselves, and each other. The central character, Jalan, has a big story about how he’s a coward and a man with no morals worth mentioning. But he gets caught up in other people’s stories, other people’s ideas about who and what he’s supposed to be and ends up doing all sorts of heroically out of character things.

We all assemble our lives out of stories. We tell ourselves things about who we are, and what we’re doing and why. We do that to justify actions that maybe aren’t justified at all. We do it to excuse shortcomings, to explain poor choices and mistakes. We tell stories about how other people impacted on us, the ones who saved us, the ones who are our enemies… and we tell these stories so well and so often and with such conviction that we often forget they are stories, and that other versions of events exist.

At the same time, we can talk ourselves into other roles and story-shapes, if we want to. We can talk each other into being braver and honest, into trusting instincts and following our inspiration. We can tell each other stories that help us get through the day, or get things done.

So, if you’d like a story that will entertain you, but that may also give you a bit of an existential crisis, do check out Mark Lawrence. And while you’re doing it, ask yourself what story you are telling about your own life and nature.

Find Mark here – http://mark—lawrence.blogspot.co.uk/


Visiting other worlds

Imaginary worlds can play such a big role in our lives. So many people have been moved by Middle Earth, many of us know which Hogwarts House we should be in. As adults we can invest a surprising amount of passion and energy in things that do not, in any tangible sense, exist. And those investments can have huge, real world consequences. How many people get into physics because they secretly hope to invent warp drive, or the light sabre? We have to imagine something before we can make it real.

Creating a world is an incredible process. Creating a setting that is not exactly the world you inhabit is plenty enough of a job. Living between the world that is seen, and a world that is only seen by you is a strange sort of thing to engage in. Those more drawn to shamanistic world views might be inclined to wonder how much the world a creator ‘sees’ was there already, just waiting to be found…

When a speculative book comes into the world, we get to interact with each other’s imaginary places. One of the great joys for me, in helping Tom create Hopeless Maine, has been watching people get involved and make parts of the story their own. It’s a roomy reality, it’s always been open to collaborators, and back when we were running The Hopeless Vendetta regularly – the island’s newspaper, people really did get involved in the stories. (Do, do read the comments).

Hopeless Maine is back out – volumes one and two in a single edition, plus The Blind Fisherman (previously on the webcomic but not previously on paper) and a new small story about Reverend Davies.

The Book Depository has been the most reliable place to find a copy, it’s available all over, but keeps selling out! http://www.bookdepository.com/Hopeless–Maine–Volume-1/9781908830128

At the same time, Kevan Manwaring’s The Long Woman has just re-released. This is book one of a five book series and I know the rest are on their way. The Long Woman has more of this world in it than the other four books, but it opens the door to a fabulous, speculative otherworld. It’s a setting that I very much enjoy and am delighted to be re-reading (plus, I’ve books four and five yet to read!).

The Long Woman is on Amazon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1906900442

There’s something wonderful about being able to share in, engage with, talk about other people’s fictional realities. Worlds made of dream and hope, of nightmare and concern, and everything that goes on inside a person.


When We Are Vanished

As a book reviewer, and also a book promoter, I feel pretty confident about reading a book, working out who would like it, and saying so. Which is as well, because after all that’s the essence of what those two jobs are about! However, for authors talking about their own books, it’s often much harder work – and I know I’m not alone in this. When you write a book, you know what you think you were doing, you maybe even sort of imagined the reader, but it’s a whole other thing to stride forth proclaiming ‘this book is for you!’

 

 

Truth be told, authors don’t always know what they’ve written or who it’s for. The implications of books change over time as well – my case in point for this is Huckleberry Finn – written in part as a protest against slavery, now condemned as racist because of the language it uses.

I never really know how the stuff that falls out of my brain is going to impact on anyone else.

Happily, When We Are Vanished has been picked up by a couple of reviewers recently. They are the sort of people I was really hoping might like it, and they like it for all the reasons I was hoping a person might like it. So, you have a fighting chance of ascertaining, from these reviews, whether you are also the sort of person who might enjoy it. It’s entirely possible, although I’d be the first to say this is not a novel that’s likely to appeal to everyone…

Review from Meredith Debonnaire https://meredithdebonnaire.wordpress.com/2016/11/16/book-review-when-we-are-vanished-by-nimue-brown/

Review from Lorna Smithers – https://lornasmithers.wordpress.com/2016/11/18/review-when-we-are-vanished-by-nimue-brown/


What Druids are supposed to do

Most of the things I’ve done as a Druid, I’ve done in part because someone asked me to. I’ve taught Druidry and meditation, I’ve run ritual groups and undertaken celebrant work. I’ve run workshops and done talks. I’ve written for magazines. There’s also this blog, and the book writing. I need to mention that I never set out to be a Druid author – my ambition was always to write fiction, this is a diversion that happened because the opportunity was there, but it was never part of a grand plan.

These are all the things that you do if you’re going to be a professional Pagan. And if it works, you can add media work, interviews, travelling around the world to events and suchlike to the list. In practice, of the many Pagans I know who are doing all the things, only a handful are jetting off internationally or getting on the telly. For most of us, the lure of The Very Important Druid work means an expense of time, money and energy far more than any kind of personal gain. And trust me, if you’re burned out, the ego trip just isn’t that much of a payoff.

This year has brought me a lot of challenges, and those challenges have caused me to think long and hard about what I’m doing. There is a real and growing tension between what I need for my personal path (solitude, introspection, presence, time, energy) and what I need to function as a ‘public’ Druid (time, energy, travel, ideas, networking). There is often a tension for me between writing about the path and walking it. It doesn’t help that I’m also a lousy self-publicist and would rather spend my time promoting other people than touting my own work about.

I’m in a process of re-thinking who and how I am. I’ve seen what happens to the people who start to believe their own PR, and I do not want to go there. I also don’t want to peddle authority or dogma. To this end, I have given up most of my teaching work. Talks and workshops are still a possibility. I’m not going to put myself forward for celebrant work – if things come up locally, then fine, but mostly this is not a path I want to follow. I’ve stepped away from things that could have given me a platform, in no small part because I don’t want the platform.

I intend to keep doing this blog, keep writing my Quiet Revolution column for Pagan Dawn, and to write other things as and when inspiration strikes. I’m committed to supporting the creativity of others, what form that will take depends on the opportunities that come along.

Beyond that, I don’t know. I may be giving up on writing non-fiction books. At least in the short term so that I can focus more on my own path and journey without getting caught up in how I’m going to turn that into something useful. And also to make more space for creative writing, and for supporting others. I am seriously considering a formal re-dedication to the bardic path. I’m asking what it is that I want, and how I want things to be and making time and space for those answers to resolve.

There are a lot of things I’ve done because I thought it was what you were supposed to do if you’re being a *serious Druid* and because people asked me. What I’ve not done for many years, is asked what I need to do for myself to seriously be a Druid, which is quite a hefty oversight. I’m greatly enjoying the re-thinking process.


Magical Realism: Contradiction in Terms?

A guest post from Laura Perry

I’m a writer, and a portion of what I write is fiction that qualifies as magical realism. My most recent novel, The Bed (http://www.lauraperryauthor.com/the-bed), definitely qualifies. I’ve had a few people question that term, suggesting that it’s a contradiction. After all, according to mainstream society and “common sense,” magic isn’t real.

I’ve written before about Pagans who practice magic but don’t actually believe in it, a habit that can lead to very unpleasant side effects (http://www.lauraperryauthor.com/single-post/2016/02/10/Pagans-who-dont-believe-in-magic-but-use-it-anyway). Mainstream society puts a great deal of pressure on us to conform to the materialist viewpoint that anything that can’t be experienced through our five physical senses or detected via scientific instruments simply doesn’t exist or is, at best, some sort of hallucination. So it’s an uphill battle against cultural pressure just to consider the possibility that magic is a real thing.

There’s a sizeable portion of the Pagan/alternative/New Age community that explains magic as some sort of psychological effect, which is fine as far as it goes. There’s plenty we don’t know about how the psyche works, so chalking magic up to psychological thingamawhatsies is tantamount to invoking a version of Clarke’s Third Law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarke%27s_three_laws) with the human brain in place of some sort of constructed technology. That, too, is just fine, since no one really knows why or how magic works.

The thing is, magic does work. It produces effects—sometimes unexpected or unpleasant ones—in the material world. Whether that’s through the forces of the human mind or the workings of Nature or the intervention of divine beings is up for discussion.

If magic works, then it’s reasonable to write stories about it and say that those stories are examples of magical realism. Bear in mind that fiction, even fiction that’s based on “true life” stories, is still a made-up thing. But good fiction is a believably made-up thing. I’ve seen the results of magic, both good and bad, enough times to be willing to slide it into the underpinnings of my stories. I don’t write about people flying through the air on broomsticks or shooting flames out of their hands. I write about the kinds of magic I’ve experienced myself: dreams and visions, rituals that go well or that get out of hand, customs that are designed to safeguard the practitioner and that can result in disaster if they’re ignored.

These things aren’t fantasy, though not everyone experiences them. And of course, even people who’ve experienced them may choose not to believe in them since mainstream society still says magic isn’t real (I’ve seen that happen—cognitive dissonance is a powerful and frightening thing). That’s another useful bit for my fiction: the conflict with friends and family members who think you’re crazy for even considering the idea that magic actually works. But in real life, it can be less than fun to deal with.

So no, I don’t consider “magical realism” to be a contradiction in terms. I enjoy writing it and I enjoy reading it. But more than that, I enjoy living it.


When we are hard to promote

One of the reasons book genres exist, is they make it easier to sell books. The understanding is that readers read genres, and can be persuaded to pick up things in their niche, and that you have to be able to tell a person what a book is ‘like’ for them to want it.

As a reader, I struggle with this, because what I want above all else is to be surprised, and the more tidily a story fits in a genre, the less likely it is to surprise me. I like to experience wonderful, imaginative, insightful things. I want to be played with, taken on a journey to an unfamiliar place, shown something I would never have thought of. That’s not even slightly a choice-of-genre issue.

As an author, it gets worse. I’ve tried writing genre fiction, for the being sellable, but of course because I don’t enjoy it as a reader, I’m not great at it as an author – I can’t stay inside the boxes, or what I write feels forced and I get miserable, and it all seems a bit pointless anyway.

I’d like to tell you about my new novel. It’s speculative. There are lots of trees in it, and a steam powered car, mad technology, some taking the piss out of New Age self help books, something a bit goddessy, a very curious sort of slow apocalypse in progress, Kafak-esque authority figures, V-esque revolutionaries, and a really arsey goat.

(It is so much easier plugging other people’s books, I never know what to say about my own).

My test readers gave such a mixed response that I still don’t know how to pitch it. My son laughed all the way through – which may just be proof that he inherited my dark and twisted sense of humour. One test reader found it ‘a bit grim’ while a third came back and said ‘how do we make this happen and when do we start?’

If you’ve ever thought that more trees and fewer people would be good, you might like this book.

If you’ve secretly cherished ideas about the one, big, tidy apocalypse that will wipe out the people who annoy you, leaving you and your friends improbably intact, then you may well like this book.

If the idea that a novel with a paradox at its heart is bound to be a bit confusing doesn’t entirely put you off, you may like this book.

And of course if you’ve read any of my other novels, and are still showing up to the blog, there’s a distinct possibility you’ll like this book.

Otherwise, consider it the ideal gift for a relative you don’t especially like!

More about said book over here – snowbooks.co.uk/


Recent reading

Web of Life – Yvonne Ryves

This is a fascinating little book that offers a way of exploring a Pagan path that is both grounded in tradition, and innovative. The Web Yvonne Ryves describes is a flexible tool that any reader could adapt to suit their own needs and practice. You could use it as a focus for meditation, as a form of divination, as a focus for other work, the basis for an art piece… it can become whatever you need it to be.

The book is ideal for someone fairly new to their path who has already figured out that they need to be Pagan on their own terms, but could still do with something to help guide them on their journey.

More about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/shaman-pathways-web-life

 

Worlds Apart, by Jenni Shell.

I can honestly say I’ve never read anything else quite like this. It’s a mix of autobiography (Jenni Shell) and something more like biography (her mother). Jenni’s mother had serious mental health problems that dominated the author’s childhood and shaped many of her life choices. The need to understand, and the longing to help are central to the book. What comes of the quest is a complex spiritual journey that took Jenni towards teaching spiritual things. I found it a fascinating read – knowing nothing about the author. The books throws you in at the deep end repeatedly with life changes and sudden introductions of people, it’s not the smoothest book ever, but that didn’t put me off, just bemused me now and then.

There are two threads I really want to comment on – one is what Jenni has to share about mental health, and the nature of reality, and what happens to those of us who may deviate from consensus reality. Without any spoilers, what happened to her mother really challenges the idea of how and why we label people, and I think that’s very important. When we deny someone their truth and their reality, we may make them more ill than they would otherwise have been.

The other thread is one of ancestry, and how issues, events, stories and skeletons can have an impact for generations to come. Our relationship with our ancestors fascinates me, and what Jenni has written is a clear case study of how we can end up living out the consequences of other people’s lives and stories.

I don’t think this is a book for everyone, but if autobiography, family drama and spiritual questing speak to you subjects, then I recommend checking this out.

More about the book here – http://www.orderofthewhitelion.com/worlds-apart.php

 

Cafe Suada, Jade Sarson

I picked up the first issue of graphic novel Cafe Suada at Asylum in Lincoln as author/artist Jade Sarson was there with a table and it looked like the kind of thing the entire household would go for. It is, so we followed through by reading everything on the webcomic site. This is a charming, funny, silly, warmhearted, human, tea laden bit of loveliness. It is the book equivalent of sitting down with your favourite brew and putting your feet up. Although of course you can get the book and put your feet up with tea, and that would be about perfect.

On the technical side, (excuse me while I geek out about technical comic things) this comic has some inspired layouts, and the visual use of text is brilliant. I’m also a huge fan of the incredibly nuanced facial expressions, which come alongside gloriously overblown and deliberately ridiculous facial expressions. There’s also a lot of whimsy – much of it involving a duck, a koala bear and the little chicken things you can see on the cover. There’s romance, and tea war, preposterous families, improbable business strategies… I could gush pretty much indefinitely. But you don’t have to take my word for it – read the webcomic!

Graphic novels here – http://teahermitcomics.bigcartel.com/product/cafe-suada-teaset-cups-1-5

Webcomic here – https://tapastic.com/series/Cafe-Suada

(gush)


Sheena Cundy

Sheena Cundy is another of the under-sung people of whom I have been a fan for some time. I’ve met her in person – she’s lovely. I’ve heard her band twice (at time of writing this) – Morrigans Path – overtly Pagan and great to dance to. I’ve read her novel – The Madness and The Magic, and greatly enjoyed it (there’s a review here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/friday-reads/ )

Here’s a track from Morrigans Path

 

Find out more about them on their facebook page or on artist trove

Here’s a little flavour from Sheena’s novel

Sheena quote

And you can find out more about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/madness-magic

And this is Sheena’s website – http://www.sheenacundy.com/