Tag Archives: fiction

Witch in a Bottle part 2

A Wyrde Woods Tale

By Nils Visser

Part 2: The Bottle

It was a small, silvered bottle, long-necked and bulbous below. It was sealed with an aging stopper. Joy drew in a sharp breath at the sight of it.

“Nifty, ain’t it?” Maisy asked. “Whoopsie daisy!”

The bottle seemed to slip from her grip, falling down…

“NAUN!” Joy shouted.

…but deftly caught by Maisy’s other hand.

Maisy chuckled at her trick but Joy wasn’t amused at all.

“Bettermost give that to me,” Joy said, her tone causing Maisy to frown but hand over the bottle immediately. Joy held it firmly in both hands.

“What is it?” Will asked.

“Witch bottle,” Joy answered.

“It belonged to a witch?” Maisy’s eyes grew wide. “I may have shook it about some. It ain’t empty, there’s stuff in there, solid stuff I reckon.”

Joy knew well enow what would be in a witch bottle. She had one of her own, carefully concealed in a secret location.

Blood, horn, root, thorn, tooth, bone, wood, and stone.

A witch bottle was an object of great power. Joy shuddered again when she recalled the moment she’d been fooled into thinking it was going to crash on the ground, breaking open mayhap. That…here…in the light of a full moon…would have spelled moil to be sure.

“What does it do?” Will asked. “I’ve never heard of a witch bottle before.”

“It be said,” Joy answered slowly, “that it protects the witch it belongs to from evil spirits and magical attacks.”

“And the witch lived happily ever after,” Will quipped.

“We should open it!” Maisy suggested.

Joy shook her head. “Naun, we dursn’t. There be part of the witch’s soul in there. If we let it out there’ll be a peck of trouble.[1]

“Blimey! We should definitely open it!” Maisy looked at the bottle eagerly.

“How did you find this?” Joy asked, unwilling to believe that a witch bottle could be so ill-concealed that a casual coke at the crumbling remnants of a cottage’s foundations would reveal it.

“Valkerie found it,” Maisy answered. “She started digging in a corner, went down all the way up to the tip of her tail, then pulled it out.”

Valkerie, back on Maisy’s shoulder now, dooked, seemingly proud of her excavation skills.

Ferrets! Regular little thieves.

“I wonder who it belonged to,” Will said.

Only one person in Tuckersham it could have belonged to.

Joy closed her eyes briefly, fighting the urge to impress her friends with her knowledge.

Unfortunately, Maisy had come to know her all too well.

“Joy! You know, dontcha?”

Joy shrugged.

“Oh, do tell!” Maisy urged. “I’d tell you if I knew, wouldn’t I?”

“Well that ain’t hard,” Will said. “You hardly ever stop talking.”

Maisy glared at him, before turning to Joy again. “Mates don’t keep secrets, do they?”

Joy felt guilty, harbouring a great many of them as she did. There’d be no harm in it, she reckoned, though this wasn’t the bettermost place to be telling it.

“I reckon I ken whose bottle it is,” she admitted reluctantly.

“I thought so, didn’t I?” Maisy said with satisfaction.

“Whose?” Will asked.

“When Tuckersham was still full of folk, afore they were struck down by the plague, one of them was a wise woman, a skilled healer. Her name was Nan Malone.”

A Guardian of the Wyrde Woods.

“Go on,” Will encouraged Joy.

“Nan Malone lived here all her life and knew her neighbours well. She treated their hurts, helped birth their children, and eased the passage of those at the end of their life’s journeys.”

“And she battled monsters!” Maisy added. “Casting mighty spells. Abracadabra, ain’t it?”

Joy shook her head. “Nan Malone were a healer. Howsumdever, there were a monster, of sorts.”

“I knew it!” Maisy declared triumphantly.

“A dark shadow of old, naun seen in living memory for so long folk thought twere a storyteller’s fancy. Howsumdever, it returned to the night sky over the Wyrde Woods, swooping down to seize fowl, sheep, even calves. Folk were afeared it might take to their children. Some went to Nan Malone who counselled that it wouldn’t and twere bettermost to leave the creature be…”

“How did she know?” Will asked.

“She were a Wise Woman, weren’t she?” Maisy said.

Joy nodded. “Justly. The Wise Ones pass on the lore of their people, the tales of the Wyrde Woods.”

She was surprised and a little disappointed that neither Maisy or Will connected this with Joy’s own knowledge of the matter. Mostly relieved though, because she had been sworn to secrecy with regard to the lessons she had started to follow. Lessons of the type not taught at the village school.

“What happened next?” Will asked.

“There were folk who refused to believe her. The Stupes, I call them.”

“Stupes?” Maisy asked.

“Folk who don’t see further than the end of their own noses,” Joy explained. “Happy to deny the obvious, happier to preach the unlikely, and happiest to blame others for their own misfortunes.”

“Oh! I know loads of Stupes, don’t I?” Maisy said.

“So do I,” Will added.

“They multiply,” Joy acknowledged.

It was a concern for the Guardians of the Wyrde Woods. Many of them, like Joy’s own mother, continued to live much as they had always done, in sync with the cycle of the seasons. There was a sense though, that the world was changing fast, with an ever-growing number of Stupes whose limited ability to use their own minds was a liability for all. The warring madman in Germany of how easily they could seize control.

She continued, “One of the Stupe leaders decided to hunt the dark shadow and kill it. He took his two sons with him and the three were never seen alive again.”

“Torn into tiny, bloody shreds,” Maisy said. “Weren’t they?”

Joy hesitated. That wasn’t exactly what had happened, but how much should she tell?

And how much do they ken? They’ve already described…

She glanced at the ruined church, acutely aware of the weight of the silvered bottle in her hands, before speaking again, “Other Stupes chose to lay the blame at Nan Malone’s feet. They twisted her words against her. Claimed she had tried to protect the creature…”

“Bastards!” Maisy exclaimed.

“Zackly,” Joy agreed. “Stupe tongues started wagging, gifty blevers that they were. And the lies grew in the telling, as did the number of folk repeating them. Those who dared speak otherwise were mocked and ridiculed. Tmight have been that they didn’t change their minds, but it were certain more and more kept their teeth-traps shut, frit of being the next Stupe target. Afore too long, it were said that Nan Malone had summoned the dark shadow in the first place, that it were her creature. That she were a witch.”

Joy glanced at the bottle before winding up the tragic tale. “It reached a fever point. A mob chased Nan Malone out of her house, then out of Tuckersham. Tossicated on their own power to do such a thing, they set off in pursuit…” Joy’s voice died away and she examined the bottle once more.

Blood, horn, root, thorn…

Maisy said, “They caught her, didn’t they?”

… tooth, bone, wood, and stone.

Joy nodded. “Ere Nan Malone could cross the bridge over the Taunflow. There’s a gurt old chestnut tree there. They hung her by the neck from one of the branches. A few months later Tuckersham was struck by the plague.”

Both Maisy and Will stared at the bottle in silence.

A scritch owl[2] screeched in the distance, and then repeated its call. Joy looked up in the direction of the Taunflow.

She was alarmed to see lights flickering in the distance. Their consistency was impeded by tree trunks but they didn’t have the beguiling quality of Will o’ the Wisps – which Joy knew how to deal with. Instead, the lights were harshly and artificially bright, as well as accompanied by coarse male voices.

Valkerie uttered a warning hiss.

“There’s people coming this way,” Will said.

“Quick, follow me.” Joy led them through the gap in the low wall that separated the path from the churchyard, and then wove a way through the dilapidated headstones and tombs. 

“The dead walk among us![3]” Maisy pronounced in a low voice.

“With these zombie eyes, he rendered her powerless,” Will whispered. “With this zombie grip, he made her perform his every desire![4]

“Ha! You would fancy that, wouldn’t you, Brighton-Blighter?” Maisy said.

“Shut up!” Will responded.

“Hush now, the both of you,” Joy told them. She would have preferred not to enter the graveyard, or rather, not to have come this close to the ruined church, but there was some safety in the particular tomb she led her friends to. It was close by a church wall, larger than most, with a heavy slab of stone as lid. The moonlight revealed the chiselled shape of a dragon on it. Ellette Hornsby, one of the Wyrde Woods dragon-slayers, had been laid to rest here. Like Nan Malone, Ellette was counted as one of the Guardians of the Wyrde Woods. It was the safest place in Tuckersham that Joy could conceive of.

They crouched behind the tomb, the cousins no longer needing reminders to be silent as the torch-bearing men were close enow for the children to overhear their discourse. It was mostly grumbling about being sent to lope around at this time of night on behalf of ‘his Lordship’. Daring a peek, Joy recognised them as gamekeepers from nearby Malheur Hall, three men in all, shotguns slung over their shoulders.

Stupes.

Henchmen sent out by Mordecai Malheur to apprehend poachers no doubt, even though any poacher worth his salt would have easily noted their approach and melted away into the night.

Joy relaxed. They’d wait until the men had passed and then call it a night. She hadn’t been sure as to what she’d find at Tuckersham, but Nan Malone’s bottle was ample reward. It was an object of great power and Joy was keen to dive back into her books to discover possible uses for it.

Will sneezed.


[1] The witch bottle from Sussex kept at the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford has a label that says the old lady in Hove who donated it remarked “…and they do say there be a witch in it and if you let un out there it be a peck o’ trouble.”

[2] Barn owl

[3] White Zombie (1932)

[4]White Zombie (1932)

Read part 1 here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/?p=8186

More about Nils Visser here – https://nilsnissevisser.co.uk/


Witch in a Bottle part 1

A Wyrde Woods Tale

By Nils Visser

Part 1: Setting the Scene

The moonlit ruins radiated menace. Joy Whitfield’s companions Maisy and Will perceived the grim and ghastly projection as well.

“Blimey,” Maisy said. “That’s a proper set for an H-Rated horror flick.”

“Shoot scenes in that corner, there.” Will agreed. “Béla Lugosi and Boris Karloff would feel right at home.”

Shoot who? Joy thought. Why?

Maisy and Will were both silver screen buffs and embarked on a discussion that Joy couldn’t understand. She had known about the moving pictures before her friends had arrived in the Wyrde Woods because folk somewhen talked about the ones they’d seen in nearby Odesby, but Joy had never been herself. Her friends’ enthusiasm wasn’t contagious. It all sounded horribly confusing, like some of the things they insisted on teaching at the village school in Wolfden.

“I betcha there’s a beating heart underneath the floor in them ruins,” Maisy said.

She sounded oddly pleased about the morbid prospect. To Joy’s discomfort, Maisy wasn’t far off the mark.

How does she ken that? Folk say the silver screen has magic. Mayhap they’re right.  

“I can just about see Norman Dryden stalking John Kelt,” Will agreed. He changed his tone to speak melodramatically, “True. Nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I’ve been, and am. But why will you say that I’m mad?[1]

“Or!” Maisy exulted. “Doctor Vollin keeps his homemade torture machines in there!”

“Doctor Vollin?” Joy asked. “He bain’t from round here, sureleye? Torture machines?”

“A very curious hobby,[2]” Maisy confirmed.

Will lowered his voice to deliver an ominous line: “It’s more than a hobby.[3]

Maisy copied his tone. “What a delicious torture. I have done it Bateman![4]

“Shadow of a black-feathered, sharp-beaked bird over his shoulder,” Will said.

“Or Murder Legendre’s pet swooping down,” Maisy suggested. “All feathers and razor-like talons.” She followed that with a set of shrill shrieks.

“MWUAHAHA MWHAHAaaa,” Will tried to utter that in a low and deep manner again, but his voice broke and what had started as an eerie guffaw ended in a high-pitched squeak.

Maisy dissolved in merry peals of laughter.

Joy shivered.

Truly this silver screen is magic, they ken much more than I reckoned.

Joy observed the two briefly. The full moon was fierce enow to stage her friends here at the remnants of what had once been the village of Tuckersham, in the dark depths of the Wyrde Woods.

Maisy, whose diminutive physique in no way demeaned her spirited presence, was dressed in a Western outfit her grandmother had made for her. It resembled that of a cavalry soldier from the moving pictures that Joy’s best friend often praised as the best thing “since London was invented – much better than Brighton, ain’t it?”

The bit about Brighton was a dig at Maisy’s cousin Will. The two were outlanders, Vackies – or evacuees in proper posh English. Maisy from the nation’s capital, Will from the popular seaside resort town on the Sussex coast. The both of them could entertain themselves for hours mocking the other’s hometown, cheerfully arguing about which was bettermost. Joy deemed it silly and childish nonsense. Everyone knew the Wyrde Woods were the bettermost place to be. Tucked away in a forgotten corner of the Weald, far away from the busy madness of cities and towns.

At thirteen, Will was the oldest of the three. Joy followed him at twelve. Maisy claimed to be eleven-and-almost-four-quarters, as well as a rapid “not a bloody six-year old, you glocky nickey” when comments were made about her height.

Joy knew her friend’s sensitivity was about more than just her height, as Maisy was especially galled by the common assumption that her mind must somehow have been stunted by her body’s refusal to grow. Joy loved Maisy for the sheer brilliance of her mind and her fervour to shape life on her own terms – only a chuckleheaded puckstool would assume that Maisy was anything other than bettermost deedy.

Will wore his Air Raid Precaution uniform with pride, a blue overall and utility belt, with a Tommy helmet askance on his mop of blond hair, bearing a white “M” for messenger. It wasn’t painted black, like most ARP helmets, because Will had refused to paint over the fading green of the original. He was extraordinarily proud of the helmet because it was something called a Mark One from The Great War that – he assured anyone who cared to hear (or didn’t for that matter) – was far superior to modern regulation issue.

Maisy made fun of him all-along-of that. Joy didn’t. She understood all too well the power of symbolism. It could transform the reality most townfolk insisted was the only dimension that could possibly exist and warp it right into something wholly else. As such, to Joy’s mind, Will had made it into a powerful token for himself. He had an aptitude for the Wyrd but Joy suspected he was unaware of it. Will might have been born elsewhere, but his exile from Brighton had brought him home. Maskall blood ran old in the Wyrde Woods. His heritage here was as broadly branched as the roots of the oldest oak, shared with Maisy whose mother was a Maskall. For all their boasts about London and Brighton, Joy reckoned they both belonged to the Wyrde Woods in a manner that was beyond their own comprehension as of yet.

Joy herself was barefooted. She wore a simple white summer shift that seemed timeless in style, as if she had stepped out of any previous century that featured human habitation on the British Isles. It was vanity, she supposed, chosen deliberately – symbolically. Less of a choice was her wild and frizzy red hair that never stayed in place no matter how often she brushed it.

Joy’s connections to the Wyrde Woods were older than that of the Maskalls. The Whitfields weren’t just familiar with the land; they were at one with it, all those who had previously been, and those who would one day.

Well, almost all of it.

Pushing awareness of her friends aside, Joy focused on the forbidding crumbling walls that enclosed the roofless remains of Tuckersham’s church. Unlike Maisy and Will, Joy didn’t need her eyes to establish the hostility exuded by the main building and its short, squat tower – not to mention the lopsided head stones and half-sunken tombs in the churchyard atween the main ruins and the broad dirt path the children were on. It was a tension that hung in the air so thick that Joy felt compelled to urgently whisper words of protection for her friends.

This was a place of vile hatred. The ominous doom of the ruins had spilled over into the woods around it, so folk generally didn’t come this way unless they absolutely had to, and then they would hasten their step as they hurried through, fuelled by shivers running along their spines.

“Oh, Gwydion” Joy sighed.

She frowned briefly at the sight of a girl, three or four years older than Joy herself, scurrying along the path. The girl was incongruously dressed in heavy soldier’s boots combined with a short dress patterned with what appeared to be skulls. A troubled girl, Joy perceived, but before she could take a second look at the strangely dressed stranger, the passer-by had vanished into thin air. No shim, this one, but a lost soul nonetheless. An anomaly of the Sight, or a vision from past or future. Joy could usually see them clear enow but to her frustration had no idea how to identify what she was seeing, or what meaning lay behind it.

“So what’s with this place, Joy?” Maisy asked. “Why did we come here? Oh, hullo there.”

Those last words were addressed to a ferret. Valkerie usually accompanied Maisy when the children were out and about on adventure, and now formed a white blur as she scrambled out of a coat pocket to perch on Maisy’s shoulder, half concealed by the girl’s abundant mane of dark hair.

“I was curious,” Joy answered.

She didn’t really have a better answer. Hours of poring over old books and ancient crumbling paper scrolls had led her to believe there might be answers to be found at the ruins of Tuckersham’s church. Joy hadn’t shared this particular quest of hers with the others because she wasn’t sure how much to tell, especially since she was mostly guessing and only uncovering knowledge a puzzle piece at a time. Howsumdever, Maisy’s inquisitive mind was unlikely to be satisfied with the vague justification of curiosity. She knew Joy well enow to know that her friend rarely ever acted out of impulse. Any expedition Joy led them on in the Wyrde Woods had a reason that would have been extensively weighed in Joy’s mind first.

Fortunately, Joy was saved immediate further interrogation by Maisy when Will raised an observation.

“I though you said there was a village here. I can only see the church.”

“It be here alright.” Joy swept an arm around to indicate the ample undergrowth beneath the pale trunks of the birch trees on the other side of the broad dirt path. “The cottages were timbered but dunnamany had stone foundations. Start coking about that undergrowth and you’ll find them soon enow.”

“Enow? Enough, ain’t it?” Maisy commented.

“Enow,” Joy insisted stubbornly. Whatever version of English the other two spoke, Broad Sussex was enow for her.

“So what happened here? Why did people leave?” Will asked.

“They ran away,” Maisy suggested. “From the Martians!”

“Quiddy?” Joy asked. “Martians?”

“Ming the Merciless,” Will said, further confusing her. “Evil ruler of Mongo. I’d run if he pointed his Nitron ray at me.”

“Allied with Azura, the Witch Queen of Mars, weren’t he?” Maisy added. “Oppressor of the poor Clay People.” 

“There bain’t naun of that in the Wyrde Woods,” Joy assured them. “The folk here, they never left. Twere the plague. Killed every man, woman, and child in Tuckersham.”

Will shivered. “No wonder it’s such a cheerful place.”

“It’ll be haunted for sure then,” Maisy concluded with evident delight.

“Don’t be silly,” Will objected. “Ghosts don’t exist.”

“Do too!” Maisy retorted.

Joy remained silent on the subject. Will had an aversion to shims. He was by now willing to admit to the possibility of Pooks, but remained insistent on the subject of shims. As far as Maisy was concerned, the more shims the better, a wish just as foolish as Will’s denial. Joy didn’t want to trigger another endless discussion between the cousins on the subject. Not here. Not at night. Shims were best avoided, like many other beings in the Wyrde Woods.

That thought caused Joy to glance at the ruins again, suddenly doubting the wisdom of this visit.

I need to know. Is it still alive? After all these years?

“I’m going to explore,” Maisy announced. “Find me some ghosts, ain’t I?”

She walked towards a patch of undergrowth to push branches and brambles aside with her boot, chatting away to Valkerie who dooked contentedly in reply.

Joy didn’t mind as long as Maisy wasn’t intent on exploring the church – or rather the dark crypt beneath the grass-edged flagstones inside.

A black feathered shadow. Sharp-beaked. Razor-like talons. They missed out on the menacing eyes, glowing red like fierce coals. 

Left on his own with Joy, Will immediately reverted to a state of awkwardness. Maisy had claimed this was because he fancied Joy like mad, but Maisy never hesitated to exaggerate morsels of truth into grandiose designs of her own. Then again, when Joy was alone with the boy, he mostwhen stumbled over his words like a drunk staggering from the Raven’s Roost after closing time. He also blushed a lot.

Ever slow and cautious, Joy was digesting it all at her own speed. She was fond enow of Will when he forgot to be awkward around her, less comfortable when he turned into a timmersome grummut, and immensely flattered by his adulation. Before the cousins had arrived, Joy had allwhen been the odd one out, virtually an outcast at school where she was disliked and feared for…

Being different.

Maisy’s friendship had changed all that, and Will’s feelings – if they were what Maisy said and Joy now strongly suspected – seemed to cement it. Her worry was that he would change his mind when he discovered just how different Joy was.

“So, who’s this Dr Vollin?” she asked, not especially interested but keen to break the ice before the silence between them became unbearable.

Will found his voice easily enow when there was safe ground to cover. “He was an insane surgeon who liked to torture people to death in his cellars. But he died when Bateman threw him into the shrinking room.”

Joy disapproved. “Doctors are supposed to heal folk, naun frit and hurt them.”

Will seemed to take her admonition personally. He shrugged and began to withdraw into awkwardness again.

Joy quickly asked, “Are there many of these mad doctors?”

Her ploy worked because Will started listing a great many.

“…Doctor Zorka who invented devisualizer belts…”

I bain’t much interested in modern city fashions.

“…Doctor Orloff, he dumped people into vats of water and charged them with electricity…”

Strange way to take a bath.

“…Doctor Janos Rukh, he travelled to Africa to find a meteorite composed of Radium X, that made him glow in the dark and drove him bonkers…”

Africa! A far stride from Sussex.

“Doctor Fu Manchu, who was after Genghis Khan’s sword and threw his enemies in crocodile pits.”

I bain’t ever gwoan to see a doctor again, sureleye.

“…Doctor Laurience, who started out researching minds and souls and ended up transferring brains…”

“Transferring brains?”

“Like putting the mind of one person into the body of another. It’d be like my mind in Maisy’s body, and Maisy’s mind in mine.”

Joy wasn’t sure what to make of that. Maisy stayed at the Whitfield cottage a lot for sleepovers in Joy’s loft room. What if this Doctor Laurience had put Will’s mind in Maisy? That might be really awkward when it was bedtime.

Joy giggled, briefly stalling Will mid flow, but he recovered.

“Erm, anyhow, he swaps his mind for that of a younger man, cause he…ahem…really fancies Anna Lee who plays Doctor Wyatt, and he reckons as a younger man he’s got a shot with her, but all sorts of things go wrong, with people’s minds prisoners in the wrong bodies and such.”

Joy nodded. She doubted any good could come from such exchanges, no matter who fancied whom, although she was pleased to hear a first mention of a female physician.

“…Doctor Moreau, on the Island of Lost Souls, who changed beasts into people in the House of Pain. Wolfish for the Sayer of the Law, or a panther like Lola. But it all became a mess and the apeman Ouran turned against him! They tied Doctor Moreau to his own operating table and cut him to bits with his surgeon’s tools…” 

Joy frowned at the mention of beastlike people, or humanlike beasts. She wondered again just how much the silver screen had revealed to Will and Maisy.

Maisy joined them again. “Dontcha forget Perfessor Bandov from Castle Sinister.”

Will nodded wisely, before providing another incomprehensible explanation, “Mad doctor tries to put girl’s brain into apeman’s head.[5]

“They’re not all bad though,” Maisy said. “There’s Professor Norton who helped Ray Crash Corrigan stop Unga Khan from taking over Atlantis.”

“Don’t forget Doctor Huer in the Hidden City,” Will exclaimed.

“Or Doctor Zarkov!” Maisy enthused. “Who helped fight Emperor Ming, King Kala of the Shark Men, and King Vultan of the Hawk Men – but Vultan later changed sides. Oi, Joy, look what Valkerie dug up from them foundations.”

“That be nice,” Joy said absentmindedly, not really registering the item Maisy held up. Her mind was a-swirl with a mizmaze of strange names and even stranger storylines. The odd names reminded her of incantations and Joy was trying to discern a pattern in this strange new magic. Further distraction was caused by the tantalising notion of Will on a sleepover. Would it be better to have his mind in Maisy’s body, or Maisy’s mind in his? Joy had never appreciated the complexity a simple sleepover could pose.

Bettermost to naun…

The object in Maisy’s hand caught the moonlight and lit up in a spectacular manner, dazzling all three of them and finally drawing Joy’s full attention.


[1] The boy (played by Norman Dryden) in The Tell-Tale Heart (1934)

[2] Doctor Vollin (played by Béla Lugosi) in The Raven (1935)

[3] Doctor Vollin (played by Béla Lugosi) in The Raven (1935)

[4] Doctor Vollin (played by Béla Lugosi) in The Raven (1935).

[5] Castle Sinister (1932)

Find out more about Nils and his Wyrde Woods books here – https://nilsnissevisser.co.uk/


The writing life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


With A Little Help From My Friends

Guest blog by Nils Visser

Get your favourite poison out, we’s gonna have a toast at the end.

A few years ago (in ye olde merry pre-Covid days), Cair and I received an invitation from Tom and Nimue Brown to participate in the book market they were hosting at the famous Lincoln Asylum Steampunk festival. They’d read some of my stuff and liked it. As traders we were starters. The handful of previous events we had attended had all been small local affairs. We had no idea what to expect from the Asylum. Cair and I rolled into Lincoln as green as Spring’s first shoots. To say the event was an eye-opener is an understatement to be sure.

As to Asylum itself, the sheer scale of the event, not to mention the fantastic setting, was overwhelming and breathtaking. The impressions we took back home after our four-day immersion into a magical wonderland are too many to fit into the scope of a brief blog. Suffice to say, I’d definitely recommend the experience.

What we also took home was a great deal of respect for the Browns. We were already in awe of their writing and illustrating skills. Unapologetic fans of their Hopeless, Maine graphic novels before we met them in real life, we discovered that the human beings behind the art are even more impressive.

Upon arrival (in a chaotic panic as the sheer scale of the event was rapidly becoming clear to us – Steampunks everywhere in Lincoln!), we were heartily welcomed and received warm introductions to the other participants in the Assembly Rooms. Over the course of the next few days it became clear that this wasn’t a random collection of traders and exhibitors – but a proper community.

Folk willingly helped each other out, minding stalls, offering encouragement, sharing treats, and showing interest in what others were up to. The volume of the exchange of ideas, visions, and dreams conjured up a perceptible creative buzz in the air. I’m socially awkward, far more eloquent on paper than in situations which involve actually talking to people, but will emerge from my shell to recharge creative batteries in the company of folk who dare to dream.

The year after, we were invited to the Steampunk festival in Stroud, Gloucester. We greeted familiar faces from Lincoln, but also met other members of the community the Browns have built around their vision of Hopeless, Maine. Once again hearty introductions were made. That included Professor Elemental, who, half-a-year later at the annual Hastings extravaganza, remembered me instantly even though we had only spoken briefly at Stroud.

During his gig in Stroud, the Prof crowned Cair as Queen of Stroud and she fulfilled her duties most regally, it must be said, looking the part in her lacy black ball gown. There was a certain reluctance to hand back the crown at the end of the night.  To this day, if I try to remind Her Majesty that the Prof said it was just for the night, she’ll stick her fingers in her ears and sing “La-la-la, not listening you simple peasant.”

Although there were many highlights for the Browns during that truly fantastic event, I suspect a main one imprinted on their memories was the improvisation made to Professor Elemental’s Chap-Hop hit Cup of Brown Joy.

Mayhap I project, as I for one can still vividly hear the crowd in the Subscription Rooms roaring back at the Prof’s request. “I say Hopeless, you say…” “MAINE!” Stuck in the memory is also an image of Tom and Nimue, surrounded by the warmth of family and friends on their home turf, roaring along – dancing together somewhere far over the moon.

With all of that in mind, I’m absolutely delighted that the webpage The Hopeless Vendetta, digital epicentre of the Hopeless crowd, is to feature a novelette-length tale I wrote set in Tom and Nimue’s Hopeless, Maine. The story is called Diswelcome. It possibly has some familiar faces. Warning: May contain tentacles.

Writing it was an opportunity to express my gratitude for Tom and Nimue’s incredible hospitality in Lincoln and Stroud.

The story interweaves two worlds in a manner that respects both the fickle and capricious habitat offered by Hopeless (Maine) and my own Smugglepunk verse in Sussex. Tom has done a fantastic illustration of what might have become of the main character (based on my humble self), provided Ned managed to avoid getting eaten by the local flora and fauna. That illustration is to appear in a future Hopeless, Maine graphic novel, which is a marvellous and tantalizing link to Diswelcome.

The story and experience taught me that it was possible to link different creative worlds and art forms together, vital skills for Smugglepunk, as it turned out.

‘Smugglepunk’ started as a joke, in an amusing online convo on a Steampunk fb page regarding the voracious growth of sub-SP genres. I was almost tempted to indulge in a suggested Viking-Punk themed story, when it occurred to me that I was always explaining my story genre as being Steampunk with a bit of a difference, so I might as well invent a specific sub-genre for it as a laugh. Hence Smugglepunk, which was immediately confused for Snugglepunk, which I thought hilarious and brilliant. Snuggling sells, they say and I’ll stoop to any low to sell a handful of books.

When I first met Tom and Nimue there wasn’t much to this brave new world as of yet. Just a Steampunk novel, dropping hints as to a smuggling background history for the main character, and two short stories that had appeared in Writerpunk Press Anthologies, a recognition of which I was and continue to be mightily proud.

Smugglepunk is set in an alternative version of Sussex, in which old South East coastal smuggling lore is fused with Steampunk technology and culture.

Tom and Nimue encouraged me to pursue the ‘genre’ and explore every nook-and-cranny of this ‘Visserverse’, as someone has kindly named it. Short stories for Anthologies and two novelettes followed, and I’m currently scribbling away at a novel, the first part of which has been shared online on my website for free as Lockdown treat. As that part of the world kept growing, I contemplated other means of establishing Smugglepunk as a semi-serious genre. Before long I asked myself: What would the Browns do?

The answer was simple, they would certainly not circle the wagons whilst keening “my precious”, but share the magic of creation and invite others to partake in the sheer joy of it. So I set out, in my own clumsy way, to emulate their example.

From a one-man-show, Smugglepunk has grown thanks to the input of a great many splendid people, some from the Brown’s tribe, others new faces, or friends of old. Photographers, radio-phonic broadcasters, fellow authors, illustrators, songwriters, musicians, editors of various Anthologies, reviewers, mad inventors, Steampunk Bikers, Hastings and Eastbourne Pyrates, West Sussex Steampunks, museums, and old smuggling inns have all hopped on board.

Highlights were: a pre-Lockdown photo shoot by Corin Spinks in the old smuggler’s town of Rye; hearing Felix Clement sing a song based on a poem of mine; receiving splendid contributions for SCADDLES (the first Smugglepunk anthology); hearing Daren Callow of Tales of New Albion read chapter after chapter of Fair Night for Foul Folk (the Lockdown freebie novel) on the British Steampunk Broadcasting Co-operation; Julie Gorringe’s dunnamany Smugglepunk illustrations; and working with Professor Elemental on a new song of his called Elemental Smugglepunk.

It’s worked like a charm I reckon, a bit of the Hopeless magic in Sussex. Tom and Nimue were there every step of the way, commending the mostly impulsive mad-cap ideas I shared with them. None of these new connections or old connections rekindled would have happened without their example and mentorship.

Of course, this year has seen most of this collaboration take place online, at an awkward distance that gives a sense of connection but is still a poor imitation of real human interaction.  

I’m positively certain I’m not the only one who misses those splendid moments of real and genuine contact at Convivials and Festivals. I can’t wait for the moment that I can thank the Browns in person, for believing in me when few did and all the wonderful things that have flourished since. It’s my understanding I’m not the only one whose life has been touched by these two wonderful people, always willing to give and modestly reluctant to take. I’d like to impress upon them how they have enriched the life of others around them in an exemplary manner, and how much Human meaning this has in a world that seems at times to be on a downward trajectory with regard to patience, tolerance, understanding, and empathy.

Hopefully these current dark nights reflect the rock-bottom of this crisis. Vaccination programmes take time to implement. It’s still unclear when we can all meet up again, but there’s a new hope born from the knowledge that we will all meet up again, this thing isn’t going to last forever. Until then…

…raise your glass please, and join me in a toast to absent friends.

Nils Visser

December 2020

www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk    


About Re-Evolution

I first met Connie Reed as a Druid blogger many years ago. So, when I heard she’d started writing fiction, I asked her if she’d like to do a guest blog here. If you like your fiction with a dash of Druidry, this may well be for you!

Over to Connie…

In the beginning there was the world, and it gave me nightmares.  It wasn’t a nightmarish world although it was a dangerous one, on the contrary it was a very wonderful world. The nightmares came from how we arrived there. This world I dreamt of was our future and the trip was brutal. 

The idea for this world stayed with me and I wanted to write stories about it but I was never sure which story to tell first – past, present, or future? Who should I focus on? Which characters should I highlight? Eventually I did what all authors must do and nailed down the Who, What, Where, When, and How. I had my story. I outlined it. I began to write. I broke my tale into five parts.  Four are written, one is in progress.  Each part is two novels. I’ve accomplished a lot, have more to go, and I’m enjoying the whole process. I’m pleased with how the stories have turned out, those who’ve read them keep asking for more. I consider this excellent progress. 

It’s also been a wonderful learning experience about how a story can take you to completely unexpected places whether you are reading or writing. I had intended to merely create a fun read.  Action and adventure.  Swords and sorcery.  Friends and lovers plus good guys versus a variety of bad guys, you know, the normal stuff: cue dramatic action movie music! We all win and go away feeling happy, etc. Basic story. And yet, although I was aiming for a simple adventure, the harsh realities of the world I was creating insisted there be more depth. A number of my characters brought their faith into the equation, the local military got more involved as events progressed, love and family complicated things. I even created a religion – a nature based, elemental religion. It’s only part of the background noise, but I was surprised at how easily it wove itself into my story telling, making itself an important part of events without my actually planning for it.

Without giving too many spoilers, the tale I’ve chosen to tell is of a modern woman who is tossed into a drastically evolved future and what she learns there will help her survive her own swiftly changing present. In the first part of the series she is lost and unaware of what is happening, as the series progresses, she gains more awareness. As Lori struggles to make her way in Eaglefall, she gains friends and allies who help her try to find herself. She becomes embroiled in misadventure in the capital city of Riverton as local mafia and dark mages plot nefarious deeds against the kingdom.

Crime done in the name of greed – for money and power – threatens to disrupt human civilization as well as upset the very balance of nature itself, something which has attracted the attention of the mysterious Live Oaks. Lori, of course, finds herself tangled up in all of it. Her quest to save herself becomes a matter of life and death for many of the non-human tribes of the kingdom as well as the well-being of the intelligent Trees. Saving herself takes a backseat to protecting her friends and the people she grows to love, and she becomes aware of how the actions of a few can upset the balance of nature and threaten everyone.

My first two novels, parts 1 & 2 of Book 1, are now available on Kindle, ebook and paperback. Both are currently available free to read via kindle unlimited. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process of bringing this series to life and I hope readers will like the characters and adventure. And for those worried about human impact on the future of our planet? Well, I’m sorry. I went ahead and destroyed the world later in the series, but this is a tale of bringing it all back to life again too, better and balanced. I hope you approve of my vision of a re-evolved Earth.   

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08L86KF1S  – website for the series


Wherefore Series 1

Wherefore started life as a youtube project with me doing episodes as videos a couple of times a week. You can find series 1 over here – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLd-6bmI3UuPDjEp1YqIYY6GkVTmG-1qux

This is fairly silly, speculative fiction. it does have some serious themes around extinction, climate crisis, and re-enchantment, but i figure it makes more sense to tackle the hard stuff by making people giggle. It’s a collective project and I am especially indebted to Mr Bob Fry (later to become Professor Bob Fry in series 2) and Robin Treefellow Collins, for ideas and contributions.

Wherefore series 1 now exists as a pdf and you can pick it up for free in my Ko-Fi store. Or you can pay, if you like. I believe in gift economy, I like giving things away and I don’t want ability to pay to ever be a barrier for anyone. So, the youtube version is there to be enjoyed, the pdf version is equally free. If you’re in a good place economically and want to pass something back, that’s lovely, and thank you.

https://www.ko-fi.com/s/2241a51430


Hungry Business – a review

Hungry Business is a short story by Maria DeBlassie that manages to be a surprisingly large number of things very effectively all at the same time. It’s a creepy zombie story – with a neat premise about how being a zombie works and what you have to do to avoid it. At the same time, it’s a clever piece of social commentary where the being-a-zombie works as a metaphor for certain kinds of modern experiences. It is somehow both a sinister horror story and very funny, often both at the same time. It’s also a romance, and a story about the nature of romance and the importance of romance stories.  

Author Maria DeBlassie has all of these things going on, but none of them get in the way of it being a charming and entertaining read. Impressive! Do check it out.


The world of Wherefore

Wherefore is a fictional series I’ve been doing over on youtube, aided and abetted by Bob Fry, and others. Mostly Bob though.

Wherefore is set in the Stroud Five (or possibly six) Valleys, and is silly, supernatural and has helped me stay sane during lockdown. As of now, we are gently extending the project by including photos of the setting. These are photos taken by Bob Fry, who has a rare talent for atmosphere to say the least and has somehow managed to make Bank Gardens look the way I write it rather than the way it usually is!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find Wherefore series 1 here – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLd-6bmI3UuPDjEp1YqIYY6GkVTmG-1qux 

 

And series 2 is underway here – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLd-6bmI3UuPAxwnLOB4MzVJwba0wavMYG


Wherefore series one

There are now 50 episodes of Wherefore on my youtube channel. I’ve designated this as series 1 and you can find all 50 episodes here https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLd-6bmI3UuPDjEp1YqIYY6GkVTmG-1qux

Episodes are 5-10 minutes in length. It’s a bit like a soap opera although there are some underlying plot arcs, sort of. There’s a fair amount of magic and animism.

Here’s episode 1 –

Most of the reason for designating the first 50 episodes as series 1, is administrative – I think it’ll be easier to share around if I do it in chunks. I’m also considering doing a paper version because audio doesn’t work for everyone, and because I like paper. I’ll have to do a bit of an edit for that because it was written to be spoken and there’s things I’ve relied on my voice to carry that won’t come through with text alone.

There will be a series 2, and I’ll crack on with that shortly.

 


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/