Tag Archives: fiction

Woodland Revolution – a review

This may be exactly the right book to read at this point in time. Stephen Palmer’s Woodland Revolution starts out seeming very simple. The main characters are a young wolf, and an older dog who lives feral in the wood. It has a mythic feel, and reads like a classic fairy story.

As a consequence I found it easy to fall into and my tired, troubled mind was soothed by the mythic cadence. The story is set in The Wood which sometimes feels like a specific location, but mostly feels like the spirit of woodland and wildness. The Wood has rules. The two characters we follow are questioning those rules and want to at least understand life in The Wood. As they go along, they become ever more in conflict with the way the rules are interpreted, and the lack of clarity. What starts out as a simple, mythic quest becomes an epic philosophical journey.

The real genius of it is that the book acts on you, it happens to you and you end up being the creature who takes the journey, not simply a reader.

Anyone who has read other fiction by Stephen Palmer will be used to the way he puts stories within stories. The stories we use to inform and guide our lives are re-occurring themes in his work so it’s really interesting to see him take this on as the main thrust of the story, not the underpinning for something else.

A fascinating read, more information here – http://www.stephenpalmer.co.uk/


Wild Spinning Girls – a review

Wild Spinning Girls is the latest novel by Carol Lovekin. It’s contemporary set and I consider it to be witch-lit – there’s magic, ghosts, a witchy character, and a world view Pagan readers will certainly relate to. It’s also a story about grief and loss – the wild spinning girls of the title have both lost their parents and are struggling to make sense of life. Heather is 17, Ida is 29 and they are unexpectedly thrown into each other’s lives as a consequence of that bereavement.

One of the things that really struck me about this book is that it is dominated by women, and none of those women could be called ‘nice’. There’s one female character whose wisdom, compassion and generosity really shines through. Everyone else is, to some degree, a mess. Hurting, flailing, angry, resentful, making bad choices, and otherwise struggling. Women who say what they think, not what they think the other person wants to hear. Women who are trying to sort their own lives out and who are not, for the greater part, focused on trying to save someone else.

It struck me how unusual this is. To have a big cast of female characters who are allowed to be selfish and self involved and living their own lives and doing their own things. By the end of it, none of them have been pressured into becoming more willing to serve others. Several of them have become better at asking for and receiving help, and you can see how this might soften them in the future.

I love the haunted, gothic qualities of this book, the sense of place and landscape and the magic that permeates it. I found the grief arc hard – that’s really a matter of timing I think. If you’re looking for catharsises and a text that gives you opportunities to have a bit of a cry, this could be helpful right now. If you’re already feeling too raw, put it on your to-read list and come back when you’re more resilient. It’s an excellent book and well worth your time.

 

You can get it as an ebook, which is no doubt the safest and quickest way to pick up new books at the moment – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wild-Spinning-Girls-Carol-Lovekin-ebook/dp/B083PZXDQN/ 


Writing my best animism

I’ve made an interesting discovery this week – I write my best animism when I’m not being serious. If I try and write serious spiritual fiction, or for that matter, certain kinds of non-fiction I feel uneasy and don’t reliably do a very good job. There are always those risks around ego and self importance, the fear of accidentally writing in ways that exclude rather than draw in.

I have a particular unease around giving people the impression I’m more spiritually adept than I really am. I’m an animist, but I don’t hear the voices of spirit in all things animate and inanimate around me. I’m not having big, important conversations with anything much.

However, when I stop trying to be sensible and open up to what might be interesting and amusing, I can write my animism in ways that I like. I could get into a deep philosophical wrangle about what this means, but, that would seem to defeat the object, so instead, here is a little bit of happily preposterous, not taking myself too seriously animism from the current Wherefore project – which is mostly fiction.

“There are yeasts who want to teach you the meaning of civilization and culture. Fungi want to talk to you about interconnectedness. The dried garlic wants a conversation with you about how you are mistreating the bacteria on your skin, and it also wants to chat with the people who live in your lower intestines and who are frankly much more spiritually advanced than you are.

The jam in your kitchen is waging a war for your soul against the influence of an edible foodlike substance made by a chemical company. There is something in your fridge that is trying to make contact with the elder race down the back of the cupboard. All of the eggs are dreaming about their past lives and there are a whole selection of magical beans waiting their turn to influence your understanding of reality.

That’s just your kitchen.”

You can follow Wherefore, in all its silliness on my youtube channel – https://www.youtube.com/NimueBrown

 


Broken Skies – a review

Hannah Spencer’s novel Broken Skies is an epic book and unusual in many ways. Although it’s not explicit in the text, the story is set around Gobekli Tepe in Turkey – perhaps the first temple in the world. It’s a really compelling pre-historic site and if you aren’t familiar with it, I recommend looking it up.

The story follows the conflict between the Irin – who built the temple and the Annunaki who want it destroyed. There’s a third people – the clans, who the Irin and Annunaki treat as inferior, but who have a much older relationship with the land. There’s a huge cast of characters with complex relationships between them and a story playing out over a long time frame. This is a complicated read that will require your full attention. Ideal if you want to totally immerse in something, not ideal if your concentration is poor.

This book captures ways of life, modes of thinking, daily activities and perspectives on relationships that seem rooted and realistic. I’m no pre-history expert, but I have a little insight and was totally persuaded of the breadth and depth of the author’s knowledge. The people depicted make sense as individuals, but at the same time are so removed from contemporary experience and thinking as to be surprising. I was impressed by this.

The characters in this book inhabit a shamanic reality. There’s no difference between life and spirituality, no separation of belief from any aspect of life. They live their magic, their reality is an intrinsically magical one. However, while it is a shamanic reality, it doesn’t retrofit modern thinking. These are not familiar approaches – there’s tapping into myth in all kinds of effective ways, but it isn’t a re-writing of myth. Modern Pagan fiction can be prone to projecting modern Pagan thinking onto the past – Hannah doesn’t do this at all. I’ve never encountered anything like it in terms of where she takes us.

There is conflict at the heart of the story. Every single character involved in the conflict thinks that their understanding is right, and everyone else is to some degree, wrong. Every character believes they are the one who really understands the spiritual implications of what they are doing. All of them are persuasive and most of the time it is difficult to decide who, if anyone, is right. This is brilliant. The truth is too big for any one character to grasp. If you’re tired of lazy fights between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ you’re going to love this.

It wasn’t an easy read. I found it emotionally intense. Being dropped into an unfamiliar culture I was sometimes a bit lost and I had to work to stay with it – but that in many ways supports the story. This is not an easy culture, the underlying logic is that you should expect to pay to have anything worthwhile.

More about the book here – https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/historical/broken-skies/ 


Emi, by Craig Hallam

Today I have the happiness of bringing you an excerpt from Craig Hallam’s latest book, Emi.

Emi is a Studio Ghibli-inspired dark fantasy about humanity and morality with Japanese folklore imagery.

 

Meetings

The grass had decided to become everything it could be, growing until only the barn’s roof was visible above the swaying fronds. Slates had slipped, making wounds that exposed wooden ribs beneath. In the eaves, a dried bird’s nest rattled in the breeze.

Christopher stood at the foot of the hill, looking up at the sagging roof. Drifting toward the dilapidated marvel, his progress could be seen as a shifting wake in the tall grass, a shark splitting water.

Skirting the barn’s perimeter, he swept hair the colour of dirty butter from his eyes. Cracks and creases in the stonework grinned and grimaced. The masonry sprouted vibrant mosses and the odd weed-flower. Some stones lay on the ground, some shards of broken slate. He stood at a distance for a while, looking up and down the walls, back the way he’d come, across fields where the wind made eddies in the wild wheat that chased like swallows. He looked to the horizon simply because his eye fell there, made from a spine of hilltops, and saw beyond them to the empty prairies and meadows and clear green rivers he’d already traversed, everything silent and blooming and undisturbed.

He circled back around to the barn’s doors.

They hung askew, holes gaping between mouldered planks. The chain, so badly rusted that its links were immovable, snapped in Christopher’s bare hands. Where it had lain across the door, a deep red grin scarred the wood.

The scent of ancient hay and animal dung still remained inside. Light bled through slats of the boarded window in two glistening shafts. If he still breathed, Christopher would have caught his breath.

One shaft of light came to rest on a pair of mottled legs, curled beneath a summer dress of lemon and white. It was stiff with dirt, torn and frayed at the embroidered hem. A pair of dainty white socks had yellowed with age above pretty, dust-covered shoes. The other beam caressed the crown of a bowed head, blonde locks weaving their way like a golden briar about the child’s head.

Christopher tried to speak but only released a squeak of desiccated vocal chords. His unused tongue made a dry clack between receding gums.

“Ch-h-hello,” he managed, in a dry rasp.

The small legs retreated into the dark. The sound of a chain dragging in dirt as the little dead girl stepped forward, uncertain in what must have been her first steps in an age. Reaching the extent of her chain, wrapped thrice around her tiny waist, the girl jerked backward and almost off balance, waving her arms to stay upright. By the light from the broken doorway Christopher could see she was seven, maybe eight years old, and had been for a long time. Her leather t-bar shoes pointed slightly toward each other at the toes. Her hands hung slack on the apron of her dress. Her right sleeve was a tatter, the thin bicep beneath shredded.

Christopher’s hand strayed to his stomach, a spot on his threadbare dungarees where the rubbing had worn the denim white.

“Your name.” Christopher forced the sounds from his mouth, kneeling to her.

The girl lifted her head, hair plastered across her ashen forehead in some long forgotten fever. Christopher reached out to brush it aside, a reflex he didn’t realise he’d forgotten until it was remembered. Her eyes were the yellow of the Sickness. The colour of his own.

“Your name?” he asked again, his voice becoming softer with the practice, returning to its old disarming whisper.

When she opened her mouth, a moth battered its way from her lips and escaped through the wounded roof.

“Emi,” crackled the girl. “My name is Emi.”

 

Her Mummy and Daddy had put her there to keep her safe, and they were coming back. So, Emi waited. She waited until Christopher came and yanked her chain from the wall as if it were buried in sand, not stone. She waited until the world fell quiet outside, until the Sickness receded, taking most memories that she had with it. Except that Mummy and Daddy were coming back. That, she knew.

With the child free to roam as she liked, Christopher set off once more on his eternal pilgrimage without destination or purpose. The brief wonder of finding her forgotten.

Emi wandered to and fro in his wake, winding across the old track, taking in the colour of the bushes and flowers, watching insects flit and fly. Not much had survived, but the insects had.

“Where are we going?” Emi asked.

Christopher’s spine snapped to attention at the sound of her voice. He spun around.

She was still there.

Christopher had to think about his answer.

“Nowhere in particular,” he said.

“Oh,” said Emi, regarding a wild hedgerow at the roadside. Entangled in the branches were delicate white flowers on thin vines that curled like filigree. Without a thought, she reached out to pluck one.

Christopher’s hand lashed out, gripping her wrist tight.

“Don’t touch that,” he said with little urgency.

Still in his steel grasp, Emi asked why.

“It’ll kill you.”

Looking at the way his white knuckles enveloped the girl’s forearm, a memory surfaced to gather air and then submerged once more, leaving only the flash of a tail. Christopher drew back his hand to stare at it. This was turning into an odd day.

“We’re already dead,” pressed Emi. She shifted the chain that still wrapped her waist, flecks of red drifting down to stain her dress a little more.

Christopher was admiring his hand.

“It’ll kill you more.”

He walked away.

Emi didn’t move. Her little head tipped to the side. The flowers were so pretty, the petals so delicate.

“Christopher?”

The sound of his name on her tiny lips seemed wrong to him. At first, he didn’t respond. But there was something, something he should do, an itch to scratch. He should answer.

“Yes?”

“Is everyone dead?”

Christopher stopped in the track, but didn’t turn.

“Yes.”

“Are Mum and Dad dead?”

“Yes.”

“Oh.”

A small part of him expected tears, or at least another question. He heard the sound of Emi’s tiny shoes in the dirt, and felt her fragile hand slip into his own.

“We should go then,” she said.

 

(Out in April)


Lanny – a review

My first encounter with Lanny, by Max Porter, was at Stroud Book Festival 2019. I was working at a venue, flipping through the program during a quiet bit and realised that in the evening we’d got Max Porter – author of the beautiful, heartbreaking book, Grief Is The Thing With Feathers.

It was a surprising evening – a mix of music, performance and reading that conjured up a strange village with a green man sort of character. I was enchanted.

Lanny is a contemporary set novel, with the action occurring in a village near London. The village has a folkloric figure – Dead Papa Toothwort – and we see quite a lot from his perspective. Lanny is a young boy. His mother is a former actress, his father still works in the city. The tension between the historic village and the money moving into it is one of the many threads.

It turns out that the performance version was an exceedingly effective way to capture a text that isn’t like a normal novel. Some of it is layered, as you encounter multiple voices of villagers. It put me in mind of Under Milkwood, only with the voices crowding each other, talking over each other and seldom to each other. Much of it is better read with your poetry head on rather than being approached like regular prose. Much is ambiguous. Some narrators are really unreliable. It is dreamlike, sometimes terrifying, laced with folk horror and full of real magic.

There was so much here that I felt keenly. I’ve been the mother whose fiction writing is assumed to mean something about her parenting – something Max Porter captures uncomfortably well. I’ve been the mother of the long haired, odd boy and I’ve seen what happens when professional scrutiny is brought to bear on all of that, and when people judge you for difference. I wasn’t a wealthy incomer to the village, I was a pauper with some roots there. There are so many things Max nails here that I’ve experienced even though the overall  story shape is a long way from anything I’ve been through. I find his writing deeply emotive and gripping, and I read the entire book in a day because I had to know what happened.

Anyone worried about triggering based on all of this is welcome to contact me and I’ll spoiler in private if you need me to. If you can read it without any detailed content warnings, it will be more powerful that way, and although I was truly frightened by this book, and it was certainly difficult along the way, it was not, ultimately, a traumatic read.

 

Find out more about Max Porter on his website – https://www.maxporter.co.uk/ 


Latest news from Hopeless Maine

Those of you who have been with me for a while will know that aside from writing about Druidry, I also write fiction and graphic novels. At time of writing, there are three Hopeless Maine graphic novels out there, two prose books, an array of videos from our live performance stuff, a great deal of art, and copious amounts of contributions from other people. This is the project that brought my husband and I together and it remains a big part of our lives.

The latest development is a film project, which we’ve only gone public about in recent weeks. We’re going to make a Hopeless Maine silent film on a period camera, with a soundtrack, and a mix of actors and puppets. We have most of the team to do this in place.

I’ve started charting the journey over on the Hopeless Maine blog, so if you’re curious, there’s going to be posts every Friday, and two are up already as this post goes live. https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/category/hopeless-film/

If you’re super keen and you follow me at any level aside from Moon over on Patreon, you’ll get a monthly update about what’s actually happening right now with the project, not just the back history. https://www.patreon.com/NimueB Sign up as a dustcat and you can read one of the aforementioned Hopeless prose novels as a series. There is also Druid stuff over there – the level called Bards and Dreamers, or combine fiction and non-fiction streams by becoming a Steampunk Druid.

To avoid duplicating too much, I won’t put much film content on this blog, but I may be going to talk about the creative and collaborative processes here as that content won’t be going anywhere else. I’m really excited about the people I’m working with and the creative possibilities in all of this.

And yes, that post I did a bit back about Gregg McNeil is part of all this – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2020/01/04/the-glorious-work-of-gregg-mcneil/


The Crows – a review

Last year, author C.M Rosens approached Tom for internal illustrations for The Crows. Tom is the sort of illustrator who reads the book. And so he read the book, and he kept telling me as he went along that I absolutely had to read it. He was right, of course, and I’ve just had the experience of reading a novel that could have been written for me. This doesn’t happen to me very often.

Carrie is a domestic abuse survivor, recently escaped. She’s bought a gothic ruin and blown all of her money on doing it up. She is in love with the house. It may be mutual. The house is an hour’s walk from Pagham-on-Sea which initially appears to be all of the nightmares of small minded little England combined. Only it turns out to be much worse than that, and much more interesting.

Here’s a little summary from the author herself, which I have stolen from Twitter:

“THE CROWS -sentient house (100% Haunted, probs cursed)

-funny working class women who take no shit

-Gothic tropes oozing from every page

-Emotionally unavailable eldritch monster bois”

Emotionally unavailable eldritch monster bois are so my thing. Monster romances are also so my thing. There was an intensely erotic scene in which one character touched another character’s second mouth. Also, there’s polyamoury, and queer characters, ghosts, magic, zombies, and a story in part about living with the consequences of your ancestors’ enthusiasm for eldritch horrors.

I loved it utterly.

There was a time when I dabbled in writing romance and erotica fiction. The trouble is, that I can’t write girl meets boy, mild setbacks are experienced, everyone lives happily ever after stories. I tried. Girl meets boy. Girl has a severed head in a bag. Girl meets monster. Girl turns out to be even more scary than the aforementioned monster. Monster turns out to be strangely fragile and vulnerable in some way.

Finding someone doing such an awesome job of writing the kind of stories I was trying to write makes me enormously happy. Finding that it’s not just me who craves the twisting together of love and horror, comedy and gore. Hitting those perfect turns of phrase that are both funny and ghastly all at once, and feeling like I’ve come home. This book made me so very happy.

Find out more about C.M Rosens over here – https://cmrosens.com/


The Last Priestess of Malia – a review

Laura Perry is an author of several non-fiction titles about ancient Minoan culture and belief. She’s worked extensively with the imagery of this fascinating culture. Now, Laura has written a novel set at the end of the Minoan civilization and it is a truly remarkable piece of work. There is a powerful sense of place here, rich with details of everyday life and underpinned by a wealth of historical insights.

The central character of the novel is a priestess, so the rituals and beliefs of the Minoans are very much at the centre of the tale. Obviously, much of this had to be invented/discovered/remembered. I was struck by how powerfully this had been done. Too many representations of ancient Pagans just retro-fit contemporary belief or play out modern Pagan fantasies. There’s none of that here. The rituals feel specific, and culturally rooted. Many of them relate to specific locations and seasonal events and while we have no way of knowing exactly what the ancient Minoans did or believed, this all feels utterly plausible and convincing.

This is a story about the end of a civilization, and as such, I felt it speaks to the present in a powerful way. One way or another, we are also approaching the end of an era, and perhaps the end of western capitalist culture. Either the climate crisis will destroy us, or we will have to radically re-think how we do everything.  We aren’t the first people to have stood and the end of their known world and there’s a lot we can learn about resilience by looking to the past.

The Minoan world Laura describes is one of a peaceful culture based on co-operation, sharing, trust and mutual care. During the story, we see this culture brought down by an aggressive, hoarding, greedy, power-hungry culture. We see respect replaced with violence. We see consent replaced with conquest. It’s a tough read, but also a pertinent one. Culture is what people make of it. We all get to make these choices and decide what we support and enable, what we resist, and what we do with ourselves.

What do you do when the Goddesses seem to have abandoned you? What do you do when everything you hold sacred is in peril? What do you do when your power is taken from you by people who decide you have no right to self-determination? What do you do in face of abuse, contempt, violation, sacrilege and cruelty? When there is no magic solution to restore justice or give you back what was rightfully yours? These questions are so very pertinent right now, with international companies killing and displacing indigenous people around the world.

This is a beautifully written tale that will break your heart. There’s no making entertainment out of horrors here, but if it sounds like you could be triggered by the content, approach with caution – there are some very difficult scenes in there. Even though it is a book that will break your heart, it has potent and inspiring messages about how to keep going in face of overwhelming adversity.

 

The book is widely available online, here’s the Amazon link – https://www.amazon.com/Last-Priestess-Malia-Laura-Perry-ebook/dp/B07XGDNFWY


Carved from Stone and Dream – a review

Carved from Stone and Dream is a novel by T Frohock. It is the second book in a series – I’ve not read the first but was told they standalone and I could jump in here. So let me start by saying yes, you can totally do that. This book stands alone. My suspicion is that the emotional impact of it would however be very different for the person who read book 1 (Where Oblivion Lives) first, because being invested in the characters already would turn this already intense story into mercilessly edge of the seat stuff from the first page.

Coming in as a new reader I was trying to figure out who I ought to care about, so when a character I barely knew died, I wasn’t that upset, and when multiple characters were in significant peril at the start of the book, it was interesting but I didn’t think it would break me. I suspect if I’d read book 1 already, I would have been in bits most of the way. It’s a tense, story told almost entirely through action sequences – technically it is quite some feat of writing to get that much character, backstory and insight into a book that never lets up.

The tale revolves around the struggles for power between various different groups of Nefilim. It took me a while to piece together who the Nephilim are and how their magic works – both are fascinating, and I don’t want to spoiler it. It’s rich, complex, original stuff that has a real elegance to it. There’s a pretty much perfect balance between coherence in the magic, and mystery – often if the mechanics are too clear, magic stops feeling magical. Equally if the magic hasn’t been thought through, it can be too convenient and unconvincing. Teresa Frohock has nailed it.

Now, all of this would be more than enough story for most authors… but there’s an added layer in that the book is set during the Spanish Civil War and looks at how that contributed to the Second World War. While that’s all framed by Nefilim activity, it’s an interesting and brutal period that I think often gets left out of WW2 narratives. It’s good to see a story touch on it in this way.

This is a violent story, there are some really uncomfortable sequences, it is definitely a book for adults. It’s also a story that has gay characters without the gay being particularly what the story is about. Gay characters are put under the same pressure in fear for their loved ones and families as straight characters in similar situations are, and that makes me very happy. It’s great to see LGBTQ people included in a story where they’re allowed to be other things as well and the plot isn’t about the gay. For extra points, the gay characters are already in an established relationship – it’s not a romance or a coming out story!

The writing is excellent, so if this all sounds like the sort of stuff you might read, pick up a copy. It’s a satisfying story, that comes to a conclusion while leaving plenty of room for future tales in the same setting. You can read it without having to make a commitment to the whole series (anyone else still got issues from The Wheel of Time?) but if you want to dig in for more, you can do that too.

 

Find out more about the book here – https://www.tfrohock.com/carvedfromstone