Tag Archives: fiction

Creative Osmosis, a guest-blog in two parts

A guest blog from Nils Visser

 

Please don’t get me wrong on this. I receive short book reviews with fierce and joyous exclamations that will startle the cats into a sulk. I’m at the self-publishing Indie stage where reviews, rather than the occasional sale, are the measure of success.

From that perspective, the length and complexity of a review is irrelevant. “I liked this book” is enough. Some of my favourite reviews are thunderous in their brevity. “Insanely well-written” for Escape from Neverland, and – I suspect by the same reviewer – “KICKS ASS” for Dance into the Wyrd. What more do you need to know? Plus, it’s pretty clear to me that the reviewer has read the books. J

I probably risk undermining the message that ‘any sort of review will do’ by gushing over longer and more comprehensive ones, but those longer ones do something entirely different. In their own way they’re as priceless as “KICKS ASS” and “Insanely Well-Written.”

Apart from the sheer magic of realising that there’s someone out there who has demonstrably grasped the essence of a story, and their generous allocation of time in digesting a story comprehensively, it’s also awfully kind of them to formulate that essence in a manner which I could never do myself. I can write a book, but please – OH HORROR – don’t ask me to describe it.

I can get as far as saying, “Look, I did a thing, where before there was nothing, kinda neat, isn’t it?” If you respond, “Yeah, cool, what’s the story about?” (like a normal human being showing interest would), I withdraw back into my shell. “Erm…ah…nothing much…I dunno…you probably shouldn’t bother…”

Every now and then a reviewer manages to phrase what the story is about with such eloquence that it not only leaves me stunned, but also arms me with an answer to that “what’s the story about” question. I can now answer, “Well, so and so says…” Somehow that is easier.

Every now and then, a review is so sirageously awesome, that the aftershocks of sheer jubilation transform into renewed inspiration for stories.

I have been fortunate enough to receive two of these reviews recently, for the novella Rottingdean Rhyme. One by Nimue Brown and one by Mark Hayes. I’m profoundly grateful for these reviews, more than they will ever know, so have no hesitation to gush wildly about these two reviewers, and their skills in unravelling aspects of Rottingdean Rhyme.

Through these reviews, both Nimue and Mark have, unwittingly, made a big mark on the two novellas which complete this mini-series regarding the childhood years of Alice Kittyhawk, protagonist of Time Flight Chronicles Book 1: Amster Damned.

Nimue for Them that Ask No Questions (just published), and Mark for Fair Weather for Foul Folk, still in progress.

I’m not entirely sure they’ll be pleased to have been allocated parental responsibility for the stories, so will have to turn to you, the jury, to demonstrate that their creative DNA, strands of their own writerliness as it were, have been woven into the stories about Alice.  I’ll do this in two parts (sharing this same introduction), covering Them that Ask No Questions on Nimue’s blog Druidlife, and Fair Weather for Foul Folk on Mark’s Passing Place blog.

Creative Osmosis: Indie October Guest Post By Nils Nisse Visser

 

THEM THAT ASK NO QUESTIONS

 

Nimue identifies the novella Rottingdean Rhyme as a story about “smuggling and steam powered aircraft, and community and poetry, written with charm and heart.”

(Her full review can be read here: https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/rottingdean-rhyme-a-review/)

She mentions that she is aware of the darker aspects of the 19th century and believes that any story “pretending the past was a lovely place, is not for me.” She adds: “One of the reasons I appreciate Nils’ work is that he gets an excellent balance of squaring up to issues while creating an engaging adventure.”

That last stuck with me, as well as her analysis of the archetypal common denominator Rottingdean Rhyme shares with traditional smuggler’s lore, which of course forms an inspiration for my re-invention of Sussex smuggling within a Steampunk context.

The reason people can identify with stories about smugglers, pirates or highwaymen, according to Nimue, is that “in so many times and places there have been so few ways of dealing with relentless, grinding poverty. Robin Hood is the poster boy for this sort of thing, but he’s never been alone. These are all figures who, through British history have raised a finger to the ruling classes and pushed back against abject poverty. When you’ve got nothing, the story of someone who pushed back can be worth a great deal.”

That really gets to the heart of the matter, and was immediately relevant to the follow-up novella, Them that Ask No Questions.

In travelling back to Alice Kittyhawk’s past, I was bound by the background information supplied in Amster Damned (in which Alice is in her mid-twenties). In short, Alice was born and partially raised in the small fishing village of Rottingdean, right in the midst of an active smuggling community. That bit was covered in Rottingdean Rhyme, and Alice’s continued association with the Rottingdean Free Traders will be addressed in the third novella, Fair Weather for Foul Folk (more on which in the twin guest blog on the Mark Hayes page).

However, Amster Damned also revealed that the later part of Alice’s childhood was spent in the Brighton slums, and I wanted to use Them that Ask No Questions to expose that experience.

These days, The Lanes quarter of Brighton is a pleasant maze of little courtyards and alleys filled with eateries, pubs, and more boutique shops than you can shake a stick at, usually crowded with tourists. Go back less than a hundred years, and it was strictly a no-go area, reminiscent of Dickensian scenes of abject poverty. Having lived in Africa and Asia, I have visited slums and shantytowns where open sewers running through muddy ditches in the streets add a distinctive odour to the sheer horror of the rampant poverty evident all around you, an experience I could draw on in transforming the picturesque Lanes back into what they used to be.

The trick of course, was to weave this horror into a story as part of the setting, rather than making it the main focus. That included being fairly sparse with details, a long list of every aspect of Victorian poverty would make grim reading indeed. So, what to use, and what to leave to the reader’s imagination?

My regular job, the one that pays the bills, is working in homeless hostels, the most harrowing part of which is when ex-armed service homeless people are visited by their demons late at night. I will not repeat their most tragic memories of Iraq and Afghanistan here. Suffice to say I understand why they are haunted by them, and regularly feel helpless rage that men and women subjected to these experiences are conveniently forgotten by their country when discharged. The associations with the 19th century are easy to make, little has changed it seems. All the more so when some councils in today’s Britain still make use of the Victorian Vagrancy Act to literally punish people for being homeless, and even threaten to arrest grassroots volunteers distributing hot drinks and soup on cold nights.

Homelessness then, features as a theme, specifically that of ex-armed services personnel.

A more difficult theme to tackle was widespread sexual exploitation of children, especially when writing from the perspective of an eleven-year-old girl. To ignore it altogether, when one in five women and girls in Britain was engaged in prostitution simply to keep from starving, wasn’t a realistic portrayal of life in the slums.

But…eleven?

Unfortunately, yes. At the time the legal age of consent was twelve. After years of public campaigning to redress this matter, the government reluctantly raised it to thirteen (a year after this story takes place).

Alice would not only have been confronted by countless scenes of public fornication in the alleys and streets of The Lanes, she would have been eyed as fair game by many of the ‘gentlemen’ at the time. To give this further perspective, reading some contemporary accounts of slum residents, it was clear that slumfolk were seen as sub-human, just as the ‘gentle’ folk viewed the native inhabitants of their sprawling empire as being lesser members of the human race. Having sex with children was generally seen as wrong. Forcing yourself on slumgirls as young as eight or nine, however, was seen as something those sub-human children were pretty much bred for, and all they were good for.

Tragically, this theme is still relevant today. Not a day seems to go by without a hypocritical politician being exposed for sexual exploitation of girls or women. The speed with which women’s rights are being stripped in Red State America is terrifying, and because of my line of work I have seen for myself the County Lines exploitation of vulnerable youngsters currently taking place all over Britain.

I decided to include this ugly theme in Them that Ask No Questions, confronting the reader with this despicable reality in a harrowing scene, but avoiding graphic descriptions and assuming the threat, rather than the deed, would suffice. A bit of a spoiler here, but I had also recently read angry letters of complaint by Victorian men in both Britain and America about the fact that Victorian women, for some strange reason, had taken up the habit of wearing ever longer and sturdier hairpins in their hair. It wasn’t fair, the men complained, that their attentions were potentially rewarded with a jab of cold steel. Hence, Alice is equipped with not one, but two hairpins. Need I say more?

Nimue’s review served as a challenge to write about all this in a manner that avoided these horrors dominating the story entirely, left place for more light-hearted moments good for a smile or a laugh, and most importantly, play on Anglo-Saxon sentiments regarding down-trodden outlaws.

Alice freely admits, at one point, that a gentlemen’s observation of slumgirls being lost to a life of crime is accurate. When she’s apprehended by the Brighton constabulary, she is engaged in three unlawful activities all at once, a regular little criminal, though more in the light of Oliver Twist than the Artful Dodger.  My hope is that you, the reader, not only understand why she is breaking the law, but find yourself actively cheering her on, encouraging a child to be successful in her criminal endeavours. If I managed to achieve that, I’m a happy scribbler.

I inserted a few Easter Eggs into the story as a homage to both Nimue’s review and her own creative endeavours (of which I am an avid fan). The best course of action to have taken would be to wait to see if Nimue (and her partner-in-crime Tom) would pick up on this when reading, supposing they would read Them that Ask No Questions. However, being an impatient fellow, I wasted no time informing them of the fact even as I was writing, so might as well spill some more beans here.

In a wink to the most excellent and bodacious Hopeless, Maine series, by Nimue and Tom, there is a special role for a spoon, and even a spoon joke of sorts. It’s unlikely to be seen as anything remarkable, but I like the little nod to the perpetual spoon crisis on Hopeless.

As for Nimue’s splendiferous review, here is a (redacted) extract from Them that Ask No Questions.

“No buts,” Chief Forty-Guts said gruffly. “I don’t care what Lunnon says, it don’t come right to me. Savvy? Well done, Harding. Now where is this hardened and vicious, but charitable criminal of yours?”

“Miss Gunn,” Harding called out. “The Chief Constable requests your presence.”

“One of the Gunns, is she?” Chief Forty-Guts asked.

“Aye, Sarge. Fancies herself a regular little Robin Hood, robbing the rich, feeding the poor.”

Figuring she had no choice, Alice stepped into view, scowling at the Rozzers. “My name bain’t Gunn nor Robin Hood, and I’m innocent cause I bain’t robbed no one.”

The chief raised his eyebrows. “Innocent?”

“Yarr! I’d like to go home now, Guv. Me mum’ll be worried.”

 

One final touch has been to play on Nimue’s reference to “jolly japes in period costume” by inserting two encounters with followers of the ‘Flight-Funk’ fashion, which involves decorated top hats and goggles. It’s possibly self-destructive to poke fun at the Steampunk audience I’m trying to reach, but I couldn’t help myself. I freely admit that I’ve treated them a bit unfairly and will in future stories make up for this, but perhaps these scenes can be seen as a thought-provoking moment, because as we parade around in our finery, that war veteran still sits outside whatever fine location we’re at, still begging for a penny or a crust of bread just like he did in 1871.

The novellas are set up as stand-alone stories, so can be read in any order you please, but they also form a series. If I’ve whetted your appetite, both Rottingdean Rhyme and Them that Ask No Questions are available as paperback or kindle. By the way, the kindle versions are cheaper than contraband brought ashore on a dark and moonless night. Fair Weather for Foul Folk, the third novella that completes this mini-series, will hopefully be out before Christmas, and is discussed in the twin guest blog on Mark Hayes’s page.

Fair Winds!

Nils

 

http://www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk

 

 

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The Curious Adventures Of Smith And Skarry – a review

Imagine a world in which caffeine and sugar are controlled for being too dangerous. Imagine illicit tiffin dens, land pirates, soup seers, dodgy magicians, and a very quiet gentleman with an octopus friend… and you’re starting to get a feel for the delightfully madcap reality in which Penny Blake’s Curious Adventures are set.

It’s great fun.  This is playful steampunk adventure with lots of LGBTQ characters (so much yay!), and political substance underneath the entertaining surface. It’s a tale that has questions to ask about who holds power and on what terms. It has things to say about gender and identity, and questions to ask of the reader, who will be left to ponder their own answers at their leisure. For me, this book is the perfect balance of entertaining escapist fantasy, and serious stuff to chew on.

The world building is great – it’s such an entertaining setting, and the way in which tea, and sugar and cake function in the lives of the characters is a joy to behold. For me it also says a lot about who gets to decide which of our pleasures are socially acceptable, and which are vices to be punished or made inaccessible. Actual history is full of this and I think it’s no coincidence that the kind of real-life people who would bring back hunting are often also the ones who would criminalise being gay, for example.

The ways in which money and perceived class impact on how legal and acceptable your vices might seem is certainly a concept you’ll find in this book. It’s there in the dynamic between the two eponymous characters – one of whom has the confidence of wealth and one of whom does not and is consequently a lot more anxious about things. Illicit things become playthings for the affluent who can buy their way out of trouble, and dangerous life choices for people too poor to have many options.

Pagan readers should note that there’s some really interesting Goddess stuff going on in the background of the story. There’s also some no-punches-pulled things to be said about invasive, patriarchal upstarts who wish to be worshipped as Gods.

I very much recommend that you check this book out. My only warning is that it is clearly the start of the series and you’ll get to the end of book 1 and have feelings about not having the next one right now.

Pre-order a copy here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Curious-Adventures-Skarry-Ashtons-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B07Y4SYRVX

And I gather there will be a paperback in the fullness of time!


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

 


Toni Morrison

I was 18, give or take, when I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved for the first time. Friends in the year below me at school were studying it for A Level and wanted my input. Having grown up in a very small town on the edge of the Cotswolds, race relations and the history of slavery were not things I had much awareness of. The book was a poetic and brutal wake up into a world of real-life horror that I had known nothing about.

I went on to buy every Toni Morrison book I could in the following years. I studied Beloved while doing a degree in English Literature, and filled in some of the gaps in my understanding, and became increasingly aware that, white and English as I am, some of those gaps are never going to go away. But, I do what I can. Recognising what we don’t know is a useful thing more of us could do.

Toni Morrison has always made me uncomfortable. I go back to her because she makes me uncomfortable, not in spite of it. The most recent books I’ve read were so very difficult in terms of subject matter that I haven’t even tried to review them here. I do not know what to say in face of her work – that’s part of the power of it. I don’t really know what to say in face of her death, either. None of what I could say seems adequate. I am aware that it isn’t really my job to say anything about her work, that shutting up and listening is important. Often it’s the most important thing we can do. But at the same time, she had a big impact on me, and I wanted to write something today.

Without a doubt, Toni Morrison changed me as a writer. It was a comment in an essay about writing – I must have read it at uni and the other details have long since fallen out of my brain. Google has been unable to help me, so I don’t have the exact quote. It was about how the most important thing you do when writing a story is shape the gaps into which the reader puts themselves. That idea transformed how I think about my own work. I became a writer who thinks a lot about the gaps, and what space to leave and what room to make for what people bring. It’s one of the core concepts informing the whole Hopeless Maine arc. It is, to a significant degree, intrinsic to everything fictional thing I have written as an adult.


Out of love with novels

I read novels of course – usually one or more in any given week. I read widely in different genres, historical and contemporary. I’ve read disposable comfort fiction, although most of the time I prefer to be surprised. I’ve read the self-proclaimed literary stuff, although most of the time I prefer the work of thoughtful people who want to entertain their readers. One way and another, I have spent much of my adult life thinking about books, and novels most especially.

Child me wanted to be a novelist and wrote a lot of short stories. Teenage me wanted to be a novelist and started trying to write novels and novellas. Twenty something me got quite a lot of novels written and published as ebooks. Somewhere in my thirties I slowed down. I lost the drive, the passion and the love that had kept me writing and for a long time I wasn’t sure what was wrong. Yes, the industry sucks, and it is nigh on impossible to make enough money to live on. But, suffering for art, and putting your creativity ahead of profitability and doing it for love, and knowing there are at least a few people who appreciate what I write – that should have been enough, surely?

It’s taken me until the last few days to realise a few things. I have not ceased to love books and novels. I have not ceased to love storytelling. I am not out of ideas, and I am not out of creative impulses. I just don’t enjoy writing conventional novels anymore. The form itself no longer speaks to me as a creator. Looking back over my last few projects (stalled and languishing) I can now see what the common thread is. I can see my own resistance to the form, my trying to push for something else and not knowing what it was, much less how to do it.

There is a fledgling form, somewhat akin to the Japanese light novel – a form mixing prose, illustration and sequential art. It’s a young form, there are no hard rules about how it is supposed to work. I’m excited about it. I think it would free me up to find new ways of presenting and exploring stories, worlds and characters. It would allow me to work collaboratively with my husband, and it would mean if we shift to this form, that he isn’t spending 6 months a year full time on graphic novels. We’re going to do the two remaining books in the Hopeless Maine graphic novel arc, and then that may be it for us with big comics projects. We’d have more time, we could tell a story faster and with more depth and breadth than comics allow. We could tell stories with more visual interest and with all the artistic magic a regular novel does not permit. We can have fun with this.

It’s going to be an adventure!

 


Creating a new genre – a guest blog from Laura Perry

Have you ever wondered where genres of literature come from? I’ve watched the birth of a new genre over the past year or two and I’m very excited to see where this one goes. The new genre? Witch Lit.
A lot of the time, a genre of literature comes into being when someone (or more likely several someones) realize there’s a bunch of writing out there that follows a common style, theme, or set of contents. That’s exactly what happened with Witch Lit.
The term started out in casual use, as a sort of witchy-magical version of Chick Lit – fiction with strong female characters and a heavy dose of magic and witchy-ness added in. Sometimes it was magical realism; other times it was fantasy or updated fairy tales. But the magical element and female characters held strong, regardless. I was gratified to realize that my novel The Bed fits nicely into this genre, since I felt a bit off-kilter trying to stuff it into categories like urban fantasy or occult fiction.
As the conversation continued, the term Witch Lit acted like a magnet. What is Witch Lit, exactly? Does it have to be fiction? What about non-fiction that helps us appreciate and encourage the magic in our lives? What about poetry and songs that celebrate that magic and witchy-ness?
Yes to all the above.
It turns out, Witch Lit answers a need/desire a lot of people have to bring some magic into their lives via the stuff they read. Especially when that stuff involves strong, relatable female characters and maybe a touch of humor.
Unfortunately, Witch Lit isn’t an official category you can search for on Amazon or anywhere else that sells books. Not yet, anyway. Those of us who write Witch Lit began to wonder how, exactly, people were supposed to find works in this genre once they heard about it.
So we started a Facebook group for readers and writers of Witch Lit and began tossing ideas around. After a bit of conversation, we settled on the production of an anthology. It would include fiction, non-fiction, and poetry from writers whose styles varied but whose works counted as Witch Lit. It would be in e-book format only to keep the price low, and all proceeds would benefit charity. That way, people could get a taste of the genre and authors could get some exposure to readers who want a little more magic in their TBR pile.
I’m amazed at how fast this genre has built up and how quickly the anthology has come together. With 23 contributors and a total of 26 short stories, essays, and poems, the anthology is quite a substantial read for quite a low price (99p on UK sites, where we started out, which converts to about $1.26 in US currency). All proceeds go to the excellent charity organization Books for Africa. The official release date is 21 June (Summer Solstice here in the northern hemisphere) but it’s available for pre-order now, pretty much anywhere you can buy e-books online. It’s titled Witch Lit: Words from the Cauldron and it is very much a community project.
I hope our daring march into the world of publishing helps get the word out about Witch Lit. It may not be a label on bookstore shelves yet, but it’s a genre full of great reads and plenty of magic. I think the world could use a little more of that these days.
LINKS
Facebook group for readers and writers of Witch Lit: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1055104057875422/
Witch Lit on Twitter: https://twitter.com/WitchLit1
The Anthology:
It should also be available in the Apple iStore and on Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and other online sites that sell e-books. Just search “Witch Lit Words from the Cauldron.”

Draka Raid – a review

 

Draka Raid is a new story from Nils Nisse Visser – there’s a guest blog about it here. It relates to his Wyrdwood novels, which I’ve reviewed here.

This is a small book, somewhere on the border between novel and novella. It’s set in the 800s and involves a myth we see in the background in the Wyrdwood novels. So, if you’ve already read those books, this has some extra layers that you’ll enjoy. However, you certainly don’t need to have read the other titles, you could just jump in here.

This is a book for people who like a bit of creative messing about with folklore and language. There’s magic, and the magic is intrinsically Pagan in a way I have no doubt many modern Pagan readers will enjoy. It’s an action orientated story, all about a community responding to a raid. I read it in an evening and very much enjoyed it.

I think it would be a particularly good book for teens, especially Pagan teens. It’s got a young woman at the heart of the tale and a number of boys who are obliged to step up as well. It is a tale of courage, and of protecting your home from unprovoked attack. Nils strikes an excellent balance in endorsing honour and courage while recognising the cost of violence and depicting violence for the sake of it as something abhorrent.

Heartily recommended. More about the author here – https://blakeandwight.com/2017/09/06/soup-of-the-day-with-steampunk-author-nils-nisse-visser/


The Transformations of Saint Lewinna of Sussex: DRAKA RAID

A Guest Post from Nils Visser

Saint Lewinna, also known as Leofwynn of Bishopstone, is a 7th century female Sussex saint. She was active in Sussex in her early teens, around the time St Wilfrid arrived to bring Christianity to the South Saxons. Lewinna met a rather gruesome Pagan response to her faith. She was martyred sometime around 675 – 690 AD, possible by having her skull struck by an axe. There are different accounts as to who was responsible for the gristly deed. Some say Viking raiders, others South Saxon Pagans.

The accuracy of these records are disputable. One account of St Wilfrid, for example, claims that the South Saxons living in the seaside settlement of Selsey were so dim the Yorkshireman had to teach them how to fish. No doubt this was considered a small miracle, but I have some reservations about coastal residents (settled there for a quarter of a century) not having a single clue that the sea contains fish which can be caught for food.

What can be concluded to be likely is that a young girl named Lewinna/Leofwynn lived around this time, met an untimely, violent death, and became part of the county’s history.  Not only is Lewinna the first named female in Sussex historical records, she is also Sussex’s first and only female saint.

In contrast to St Wilfrid, who has attained some fame, St Lewinna is almost totally unknown and largely forgotten. It’s not inconceivable that this is because of Lewinna’s gender, considering the male-orientated past and present.

There have been attempts to revive interest in St Lewinna in recent years. In 2011, a spokesman of the Society of Saint Lewinna reported in the West Sussex County Times that the response from “some C of E circles was not encouraging. Many would just as soon leave Lewinna where she is – forgotten.”

The spokesman lamented that: “If ever there was a ‘Saint for our times’ it is Lewinna: a young woman prepared to give everything…in the face of a violently aggressive paganism and in a male-dominated world.”

If the “violently aggressive paganism” can be exchanged for “violent aggression,” I wholly agree. Unfortunately, the number of female role models for children is still vastly outnumbered by male heroes, a running theme in my Wyrde Woods books, and also the reason I prefer female protagonists.

For a novelist pursuing this theme in a Sussex context, a historical female character of whom little is known and more has been forgotten, forms a wonderful temptation and I duly appropriated Lewinna for the Wyrde Woods: A young woman prepared to give it her all in a male-dominated world in which disagreements are still settled by the edge of a sword or axe.

In Escape from Neverland and Dance into the Wyrd, Lewinna is presented as one of the Wyrde Wood’s dragon slayers. In a Christianized version of the legend (author’s invention), a mail coated St Lewinna  fights a local Sussex ‘knucker’ (dragon) armed with a sword and her faith in God, the latter of course being what allowed Lewinna to emerge from the fight victoriously.

However, in Forgotten Road, we hear a different version of the story. Local lass Joy Whitfield tells her friend Maisy (a wartime evacuee new to the Wyrde Woods) that the Christians have stolen Lewinna’s story. Joy suggests that Lewinna fought dragons on more than one occasion. She also scoffs at the notion that Lewinna was a Christian, claiming that the nuns of St Dunstan’s Priory tricked Lewinna into baptism when the Saint was on her deathbed. Lewinna was famed as a local hero and Joy claims the nuns hoped to profit from association which would lead to pilgrimages and the income thereof.  There is, of course, no evidence whatsoever for this, as this is one of my retellings, but the appropriation of such local heroes/tales is not unknown, the graves of Arthur and Guinevere at Glastonbury Abbey a prime example.

I was rather pleased by this arrangement of two contrasting renderings, because stories do change over the years, are adapted for various purposes, or simply retold to fit the spirit of whatever age has newly dawned. Everything is usually best taken with a pinch of salt, as well as a bit of faith that there are probably some grains of truth concealed within tales handed down over the generations.

My version of Lewinna now features as the protagonist in a 100-page novelette entitled DRAKA RAID. The story deviates from the versions discussed above, reflecting the reality of story evolution. However, in contrast to the other tales told about Lewinna, this one is written in the present tense on events as they are unfolding, so there should be a sense that this is the real McCoy.

In this version, we discover that the ‘dragon’ fought by Lewinna, is a figurative one, and actually consists of several Danish ‘dragonboats’ appearing on the coast, with the crew intent on creating havoc and plundering local settlements. The Anglo-Saxon word for dragon is ‘draca’ which I changed to ‘draka’ because that looked more menacing somehow.

The story draws on old Sussex folklore about Kingley Vale, in the west of Sussex. Kingley Vale is a deep and narrow valley, much of it covered by yew woodland. It has several yew groves at its centre containing some 40-60 ancient yew trees, all well over 1,000 years old, my guess would be closer to 2,000 years old. It is whispered that the trees come to life at night, and there are occasional Pook sightings. The sense of sanctity is overwhelming, and one poet described the grove as a cathedral of trees.

Local legend has it that Kingley Vale was also the location of a battle between Danish raiders and local Saxons (there’s also talk of buried treasure, in case anyone is in dire need of a chest of silver and gold).

There could be some truth in the folklore, because the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records a battle in this area between the local fyrd (militia) and a Danish raiding party in 894 AD. The Chronicle remains vague on the battle’s location, other than mentioning the vicinity of Chichester. Since that that applies to Kingley Vale, it is a possible source for the legend.

There are various versions of the folklorist tales concerning this violent encounter between Danes and South Saxons. My favourite is the one that claims the Saxons made use of sorcery to…..SPOILER – CENSORED.

I took a lot of liberties in my own retelling of these events in DRAKA RAID.

Firstly, I placed the story in 878 AD, sixteen years earlier than the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s reference. This because that was the year that King Alfred emerged from the Somerset marshes and summoned all the men of the Kingdom of Wessex to fight the Danes at Edington, including the Sussex Lords and their huscarls (personal retainers) and fyrds. This conveniently left the Wyrde Woods bereft of its fighting men, leaving Lewinna to face the Draka with only a few greybeards, a handful of youths, and the women and girls of the Wyrde Woods to help her.

Those sixteen years pale into insignificance compared to the two-hundred-and-some years that I casually moved Lewinna forwards in time. Hey ho, poetic license and all that.

In another feat of distortion for the narrative’s sake, I transferred Kingley Vale from the west of Sussex to the Wyrde Woods, much further to the east of Sussex. By the way, like many in our county, I refuse to use the purely bureaucratic designations of East Sussex and West Sussex. Tis Sussex, and anyone who claims otherwise is a middling chuckle-head who ate the wrong kind of pookstools, unaccountable as that be, surely.

Last-but-not-least, my Lewinna in DRAKA RAID is anything but a Christian Saint. She worships the old gods, and in her behaviour is anything but ladylike, having learned some of her speech from her father’s Huscarls. Be prepared for gleeful use of the words ‘aersling’ and ‘skitte’, for which I don’t provide a translation, assuming the reader will gather the meaning from context, if not vague resemblance to modern English.

When the story opens, we see Lewinna making her way through the male world of her tribe, frustrating for an intelligent and ambitious young woman as I’m sure you can imagine. At this point the reader may be forgiven for assuming that they have accidentally strayed into one of Bernard Cornwell’s swash-buckling tales. I will happily admit to having devoured his Warlord Chronicles and being a fan of The Last Kingdom TV series based on those books, so yes, this was an influence. However, Cornwell’s style and mine soon diverge when Lewinna enters the female domain, in the very heart of the Wyrde Woods where men never venture: The clearing around the Heorttreów tree. At this point it also becomes evident that Lewinna intends to use her people’s magic, the Wyrd, to combat the Draka, as told in the version of the Kingley Vale legend that has my preference.

As for the rest of it, well, you’d have to read the story to find out (he says with an evil smile).

DRAKA RAID is a standalone story and can be read as such without having read any other Wyrde Woods books. For those who have read the other books, you will find many winks and nudges, points of recognition, clues to questions raised in the other books, and perhaps even a familiar face or two. The story is also a short one, being novelette-length, so not requiring a great deal of time investment. Nor financial investment for that matter, the Kindle version will set you back 99p. Both kindle and paperback are available on Amazon COM, Amazon UK, and various other international Amazon pages (enter ‘Draka Raid’ as search).

For more information on the other Wyrde Woods books, please visit my website: www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk

 

 

 


The Myomancer

The Tragic History Of Aisling Ó Rathaille

(Or The Myomancer)

By Aodhagán Ó Rathaille

 

Aisling was never a strange child – not when we considered the very many stranger people that dwell around here. She kept herself to herself but then who could blame her? And as dutifully protective parents we were needless to say delighted that she preferred her own company to that of the unquestionably sinister orphans with which this island is undoubtedly over populated.

When we moved into The House, I confess there were noises ; the wind moved through the pneumanated marrow of the place and the timbers gave it voice. That is what we assumed. And The House was so very beautiful back then, standing proud on a set of impressive rock arches near the cliff edge like a last bastion of sanity and hope erected by some bold and indomitable architect.

So very pretty. So very very sad.

Aisling loved The House. She even asked us to have built for her an ornate replica for her bedroom and she filled it with dolls and spent almost every hour playing happily with it. It was a task to get her to go to bed and even, on occasion, we would wake in the night to find her busy arranging the furniture there ‘just so.’

I say dolls. I think it was late October when we noticed they were puddle rats.

“I’d like you to play a game with me,” Aisling said. We were in the parlour after church, entertaining half the town as usual. Aisling hardly ever invited audience or participant to her private pastimes and so, as doting parents, we were naturally intrigued by this sudden change in temperament.  As were the children in the party for I believe they looked to Aisling as something of a paradigm, you know? Some Poetic Vision of childhood…

“I’m going to tell your fortunes,” Aisling said brightly. Everything about her was bright. Her black curls gleamed in the candleglow and her neat pleat skirts caught the radiance as it blistered over the grain like fire woven into the fabric. The afternoon had promised to be a dull one but now the winged thing’s mantra  thrummed through the heart of the little gathering and we fairly giggled and tweeted our way up the  simple white painted staircase to the nursery.

How I had failed to notice the changes that my daughter had wrought to her beloved dolls house I cannot say. Where she had found the time, the skill, and the mechanical components I am also at a loss to fathom.  Suffice to say each of the tiny intricate replica rooms was now a tiny intricate chamber of death.

We stared.

Parental duty no doubt dictates that if One’s child appears to have constructed a portable torture chamber worthy of the most depraved and fanciful minds of The Inquisition itself, One ought really to put One’s foot down and confiscate the damn thing at once.

Somewhere in the more primal recesses of my mind I am certain I acknowledged this wise course of action. But I did not act upon it. I simply stared. We all stared.

“You, Harriet. You may go first.”

The small child nodded in a small way and shuffled forward.

“Choose a Guide,” Aisling pointed to a birdcage by the window and if our jaws were not already hanging a little slack they now hit the floor in unison. The cage was crammed full of puddle rats, each dressed in a hideous array of silks, satins and lace. Each like a little animate doll. Why had we not noticed them before? Where was the stench that notoriously accompanied these rabid rodents? A faint perfume of heather and primrose hung about the room and as little Harriet cautiously approached the cage, the muttering began.

I have said before that we thought the old house plagued by vocal drafts, but as soon as I heard those lispering, whispering voices I knew these creatures had been living in our walls from the moment of our arrival.

What they were saying I cannot tell you but perhaps Harriet knew for she seemed obviously drawn to one particularly large female rat in a lavender skirt and poke bonnet.

Aisling smiled and withdrew the rat from the cage, sending the others into a wild frenzy of shrieks and howls. Carefully she placed the rat into the centre hallway of the house and then we all watched and waited and felt uncomfortable and hoped that someone else would intervene or voice the ethical objections we knew they must be feeling… but no one spoke or moved except the puddle rat.

It spent a theatrical amount of time sniffing the doors to each of the rooms and pondering the staircase before finally climbing it to the top floor and perishing with dignity in the bath full of acid.

Aisling turned to the traumatised Harriet and beamed “Tomorrow you will go tree climbing. You will fall and break your collar bone but if you dig under the place where you fell you will find a small casket buried there and inside it is an emerald brooch.”

Our guests erupted in ecstasy; the drama, the terror, the excitement … some demon had a clasp on their hearts for sure as they eagerly jostled and shoved to be next in line for The Game – for that was obviously what it was, a game, a fancy, a titillation to alleviate the boredom of another Hopelessly damp October afternoon and at length when each had had their turn we closed the door on the backs of a crowd whose bellies were full of nondescript vegetablish stew and whose souls were elevated by a tasteful mix of revulsion and whimsy.

The next day young Harriet went tree climbing, fell and broke her collar bone and, when her parents dug rabidly beneath the twisted tree she had fallen from, they discovered a casket that contained an emerald brooch.

Our lives were changed forever.

Day in, day out the door rang off its hinges with townsfolk wanting their fortunes told by our little Aisling, until in the end we took the damn thing down completely and let the queue of desperate bodies trail out down the garden path and along the street.

Aisling seemed to thrive on it all at first, at least we thought she did, looking back I suppose we simply failed to see what was happening. I said before she seemed bright that day back in October – everything about her seemed to shine. As the days and weeks and months went by this strange ethereal glow became increasingly intense until it were better likened to an unearthly luminescence. Her eyes no longer captured the gleam of light external but were lit from within by a feverish flame and seemed never to focus upon anything apart from her beloved puddle rats.

The rats kept coming. We never saw them appear but the cage was always full to bursting with them and the people kept on coming too. Everything seemed fine, after a fashion, and we certainly couldn’t complain about the gifts and gratitude lavished upon us by all those who had been assisted by Aisling’s predictions, but fate will notoriously turn …

It had apparently been a long and uncharacteristically clement summer, though we had seen none of it, and it was coming to a close when Aisling suddenly Took Ill. That was the story we put about. The doctor came but we sent him away with a nonchalant wave and a confident smile; she would be fine, just fine in a day or two, nothing to worry about, do call back on Thursday for tea…

Upstairs we drew the shutters as Aisling frothed and raved and foamed and screamed, her pupils like dinner plates and her whole body robed in some vile, pulsing, misamatic aura that reeked of heather and primroses. She didn’t speak, but when she opened her mouth the spittling, spattling voices of the puddle rats spoke through her – they were not happy, they wanted The House for a temple, they wanted the townsfolk for slaves, Aisling was their Oracle, their Priestess, their Queen and they would rule this island through her flesh…

The island of Hopeless was blighted, they said, and overrun with monsters, clergy and demons, but all was not lost if only we would listen to the puddle rats, who only desired to be our benevolent custodians and guides…

If we chose not to embrace our Salvation however, the Hopeless Situation would only become increasingly dire; we would be visited by the Plagues of Egypt, the Plague Of The Black Death, The Plague Of The Red Death, The Plague Of Justinian, The Plague of The Continent and The Common Cold, which of course no man  can endure.

We nodded sagely, we soothed, we simpered, we cringed, we cowered, we begged, we eventually took the matter to the town elders. My wife and I have always been law abiding citizens, when it comes down to it, and we both agreed that, doting parents or not, when we signed the Birth Certificate it said nothing about ‘Duty Of Care In The Event Of Sinister Rodent Possession’.

The overwhelming consensus of our fellow townsfolk was that we did not, really, all things considered, wish to be ruled over by vermin – who does?  And so we did what every other town in human history has done, and I hope will continue to do, when faced with a den of rats attempting to lord power over them ; with no piper in sight, we set flame to our torches, sharpened our pitch forks  and, in the depths of night, we marched upon The House.

I cannot say if the creatures sensed the intention of our Midnight Court or heard our lusty cries of “Tie an anchor of brandy to her, To give a dram to the seals! ” and so forth,  if mayhap the unseen Fates chose to intervene for their own amusement , or if what happened next was mere coincidence …  as we crossed the scrap of heath towards the cliffs, the links between the rock arches on which The House stood, began to crumble into the pulsing waves below.

If you are a Student of Geography , a Celtic Bard or a fanatic of Bostonian Gothic Fiction you will have seen that coming from the outset, but we did not and so the entire town simply stood, impotent  weapons in hand, watching as the bridge between ourselves and our demons came crashing down into the sea.

It is decades now since those events took place. The House still stands upon its rock stack, so covered with lichen, moss and fungi that it seems to have grown up out of the landscape rather than having been built upon it. Whether or not the creature that was once my daughter still resides within I cannot say but every now and then, when a family becomes desperate and no other course of action can be found, a lone rowing boat may be seen, late in the evening or under a shining sliver of yellow moon, making its way across the foam towards the stack.

And this night it is my turn to set oar to rowlock and brave the surf, I am not much longer for this world and my conscience is resolved to make certain the fate of my beautiful daughter before the devils come and claim my soul for good – for how else will I be able to claim the epitaph  ‘Father Of The Aisling’ upon my tombstone?

 

Written by Lou Pulford, set in Hopeless, Maine.


Book excerpt – The Bed

Today, an excerpt from Laura Perry’s Novel, The Bed, which I have previously reviewed on this blog – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/witchlit-and-spiral-nature/

“I don’t know,” Liz said in a tired voice as she ran her fingers along the rim of the trunk. “I guess I was hoping for something more exciting. You know, secret treasure.” She looked around at the mess that filled her small living room. “I guess we should clean up now.”

She hefted a stack of books and rose up into a half-squat to put them back into the trunk, but her fatigued body refused to cooperate. She lost her balance and ended up flinging the pile roughly into the trunk as she fell sideways onto the floor.

“You need food,” Olivia intoned. “We should stop for lunch. It’s past noon.”

Liz nodded in agreement, glad for the opportunity to distance herself from the bizarre books and papers and the uncomfortable feelings that went with them, if only for a few minutes. But as she heaved herself up off the floor to head for the kitchen, she glanced into the trunk and stopped short. The stack of books she had thrown in now sat askew in the container, pressing down on one end of the trunk floor while the other end stuck up at an angle.

“Oh shit, I broke it.” She stooped to examine the damage and saw that the base of the trunk was, in fact, unharmed. When the books slammed into the trunk, they tilted a false floor that revealed a hidden compartment beneath. “Would you look at this!”

Olivia pressed next to her and leaned over the trunk. “And you were complaining that you hadn’t found anything exciting.” She elbowed her friend then began to lift out the tattered volumes Liz had just tossed in, setting them on the floor nearby.

With renewed energy, Liz knelt next to the trunk and pulled the false bottom out. The two women sucked air. Filling the no-longer-hidden compartment was a collection of small items of many different shapes and sizes, all neatly wrapped in white fabric.

Liz reached for the objects then drew her hand back. With narrowed eyes she gazed around the room at the jumbled piles of books and papers, then looked at her friend. “Do you really think this stuff is black magic?”

Olivia folded her arms across her chest. “I can’t believe Liz Summons is scared of a bunch of old crap in a trunk. This thing belonged to a university professor, not some wild Voodoo priest. You’re supposed to be the adventurous one, remember?”

Without thinking, Liz glanced toward her bedroom then back at the trunk, twisting her ring all the while.

“You know,” Olivia said, her voice tense, “you could take that off if you want.”

Liz stiffened, let go of the ring, and turned back to the trunk. “Let’s see what this stuff is.”

It took them just a few moments to lift all the fabric-covered objects out of the trunk and set them side by side on the floor.

More information about the book here – http://www.lauraperryauthor.com/the-bed