Tag Archives: fiction

The Bird Atlas – a review

The Bird Atlas by Anna McKerrow is a beautiful fairytale. It’s a fairly small book but I spent about a week reading it because I wanted to live with it, and because it is so rich that I didn’t want to take it in too quickly. 

Wren is a spirit girl, from a long line of Bird Fliers. Her people carry the souls of the dead to the afterlife. Wren lives in a gothic house on the edge of our world – it’s just her and her grandmother and the girl is lonely, and frustrated. And so the tale begins, and we learn more of who Wren is as her journey takes her through time and to different places. In losing herself, Wren finds out who she really is.

I found this to be a really emotional read – there’s nothing graphic, but the story deals with bereavement and grief. I found it deeply affecting. There are also themes of forgiveness, self-forgiveness, working out how to move on – there’s a lot of life lessons here. It’s a book that could well turn out to be healing for anyone dealing with grief and loss.

This is a book that could be shared with a younger reader – it’s quite wordy, and given the emotional content probably isn’t suitable for the very small ones. I know I would have really appreciated it as a child- I struggled a lot with the concept of death and would have found this story comforting and helpful from an early age. If you’re not sure whether it would be helpful to a young person in your life, read it first.

For the grownups out there whose inner child craves fairy stories, this is a lovely read. It’s rich with ideas and enchantment, and is a warm hearted, emotionally reassuring sort of book. I thought it was lovely and very much recommend it.

On the inside – fiction

Don’t be so vain, they said. Your pretty face is skin deep, it means nothing. The accident of good bones, good skin, inherited from your ancestors and just luck. Just because other people praise other girls for the accident of their face, don’t you expect anything. 

It’s what you have on the inside that really counts.

Try harder, they said. Be faster. Why don’t you know this already? And don’t say it’s because no one taught you or showed you. You must be 100% all the time, and better than all the others at everything. You must be perfect, but you must also be modest. Don’t seek attention, don’t make a fuss, don’t you dare think for a moment that what you do makes you special or important.

But what does she have on the inside? 

Rage. All the rage that has no way into the world. All the frustration of endless striving only to find that she has never reached the goal, never proved good enough fast enough. She is not perfectly perfect and superior to all others, she is only a small girl, full of anger that she is not allowed to show because that would be making a fuss and being a nuisance.

It’s what you have on the inside that really counts.

She is surprised when it emerges, but also relieved. Tearing through what was only ever skin deep. Not so pretty now. Tearing through the people who tried to control her. Not so biddable now. And when she stops tearing at herself with these many hands made of rage, she realises that she is bigger than she knew, and more dangerous than she feared, and she is done with their shit. And no one, no one is going to tell her again who she is supposed to be.

(Art by Dr Abbey)

Plant Guardian – fiction

A plant guardian must travel with her love.

She lost everything except you.

I have taken the earth colours into my skin. The signs and symbols of seeds are on me and inside me. I am the grain, I am the bright flowers feeding the bees. I am the seed who waits in the soil.

I am the seed collector. I take a part of what I find, never all. Vital to leave the makings of new life where I find it. The living plants do not need me to guard them, only to treat them with honour. I am the guardian of the plants who do not yet live, the ones who will flourish in times to come. I carry the seeds to new places, I plant hope.

There was a life before this life. I try not to think about it. I prefer not to remember who I was, or what I saw. There is a hideous monotony to war, to death, to destruction. It may shock and horrify you day by day, but it is only ever reduction, you only have less. There is just fear and grief, and more grief and trying to stay alive. In my mind it is a blur, a haze of pain. I do not want to remember.

I don’t want to hear war stories. I don’t want us to compete over who saw the worst thing, who hurt the most yet somehow lived. We are all marked, inside and out. I have tattoos to cover my scars, so that you will see the art on me first and not the damage. I have put my new story of seeds and life onto my skin to blot out what went before. When I look at my body, I see my chosen symbols, and not the damage done to me.

I am the person I chose to be when I had almost nothing left. My body tells that story well enough. I am not what happened to me, I am everything I decided on for myself.

(Art and first text by Dr Abbey.)

Flower Spirit – fiction

Once there were magicians who made women out of flowers. They wanted women who were pure and innocent, and they understood neither womanhood, nor flowers. For in truth, flowers are promiscuous, happily opening their petals to one and all, welcoming insects, bats, birds, even the wind, depending on their nature. The magicians may have been clever, but they lacked for wisdom.

Why even did they crave purity? Well, the truth of it is that inexperience makes a person slower to detect the failings of others. The less you know, the more easily you may be persuaded that what you are experiencing is normal. Purity is no shield at all. But how can a woman made of flowers be innocent? Made of colour and joy and the exuberant sexual nature of the flowers themselves, the flower women were joyful, sexual, colouringful beings and not the meek creatures the magicians had hoped for.

Then there came a time when the land grew barren. With so many people and so few plants to feed them, the magicians wondered if perhaps they might make flowers out of women. They had learned the art that finds the seeds for all things inside all things, and so it was not difficult for them to make flowers in this way. They did not ask whether anyone wanted to be turned into flowers. However, it was a time of great sorrow and people who are in despair are not always careful of their own interests. 

But still their plans did not meet with great success. They had looked upon women and flowers alike merely as objects for use. It is impossible to truly understand the world if all you can think of is how you might make use of its various parts. For all that they had great magic at their command, they did not put an end to suffering. Because of them, you will still sometimes find women who are really flowers, and flowers that remember being women, and many other strange confusions that their meddling has caused.

(art by Dr Abbey, story may or may not turn out to relate to other projects – I’m not currently sure!)

Wherefore – a free book

First Image

Wherefore was my lockdown sanity project in 2020. With prompts and supports from a number of good friends, I set out to write a barmy soap opera. Wherefore is set around the valleys of Stroud, and in it the area is populated with wizards and shapeshifters, as well as the performance artists and bemused poets it would be reasonable to expect.

There’s a mix of whimsy and seriousness. There’s a great deal of animism in the mix. Mostly my aim with this work is to amuse and comfort people. I am still somewhat surprised to find I can write about a novel’s worth of material in about six months as well as doing other things. I was incredibly prolific in my twenties, but I’ve slowed down a lot since then.

I’ve been doing this as youtube episodes – they average at about 7 minutes a shot, on the basis that many of us had no concentration to speak of last year. At the end of each series, the text gets polished up and released as a pdf – these are free, on the grounds that the videos are also free.

I finished series 2 a while back, and initially released the pdf version to my Patreon supporters. Now it’s going out into the wider world. You can pick up a copy here – https://ko-fi.com/s/1eb07c4561

If you haven’t read series 1, it makes sense to get that first – which you can – https://ko-fi.com/s/2241a51430

And as for the youtube versions, 

Series 1 is complete –  https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLd-6bmI3UuPDjEp1YqIYY6GkVTmG-1qux

Series 2 is also complete – https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLd-6bmI3UuPAxwnLOB4MzVJwba0wavMYG

Series 3 is in progress and I expect to wrap it up in October 2021 – https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLd-6bmI3UuPDMpi5gY_L1KRrzTQDnQMhp

The Hand of God – fiction

She is The Hand of God.

In the beginning, when the world was new, and dry and lifeless, the first God lay dreaming. All of what might be lay inside of the first God, who was nothing and everything. Life came to The Hand of God, and as the first God slept, she drew from him the seeds for all things.

They were all mixed together, these seeds. They were dreams of the world as it might one day be. One seed might become elephants while the one next to it would be acacia trees. From the tiniest microorganisms to the giants of the ocean, there were seeds, and The Hand of God took those seeds out into the world and tossed them far and wide.

Some seeds fell where they could germinate and live at once. Others lay dormant for a long time, waiting for the right conditions. No doubt some of them lie dormant still.

All the while the first God lay dreaming, replenishing his seed stock. He did not wake, or stir or act, having no desire to be in the world or to interfere in the lives of the seeds that had come forth from him. 

The Hand Of God became her own self, and in time she took other names and titles. She is the sower of seeds and the gatherer of dreams. She is there at the planting and at the harvest, and to some she is Mother Grain. She is the woman with the open hand, all bounty and life flows from her. 

The Sower of Seeds was the first of the Gods to walk upon the land. Amongst her seeds were the beginnings of all other Gods, and each emerged when their time came and they were needed in the world.

(A possible creation myth for the project Dr Abbey and I are developing. I had an initial idea about a seed sowing deity, but we talked about myths and what resulted was an image inspired by ancient Egypt, and this story. I’m also rather entertained by the implications this would have for a second coming!)

Reinventing Herself – a review

Reinventing Herself ebook by DJ Martin

Reinventing Herself, by DJ Martin is an excellent comfort read. This is a modest peril sort of story in that people whose names you never even know are killed in the background, and there’s a killer to track down, and there is some drama at the end. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the peril level for the named characters never seems high and that you can safely read this story when you want something warm and reassuring.

Main character El has recently lost her husband, and has moved to a smaller home in the woods. She discovers that for women in her family, the menopause tends to bring magical powers in the form of being able to communicate with animals. This is a glorious idea, and as someone frequently drowning in the great menopausal hormone sea, I found it delightful to have this notion  of magical transformation instead.

This is a story full of talking animals. I really enjoyed that – I was the sort of child who really loved talking animal stories, and apparently that hasn’t gone away. If your inner child wants something a bit more grownup that still has talking animals, this is for you. There’s a lot of whimsy and cuteness, and some of the animals are really funny.

There’s a lot of humour in the book. It’s a warm and charming sort of humour, based on surprise, humorous situations, and charm. There’s also a lot of content around people having and developing really good relationships – friends, family members, romance – it’s really nice seeing a book in which all kinds of healthy and functional relationships are explored and you see a lot of people being thoughtful and caring towards each other. There’s also enough complexity in the relationships to stop that feeling implausibly sweet. It’s also about people figuring out who they are and becoming more themselves, and making choices to support their own growth and wellbeing.

If you’re in the mood to grab a blanket and snuggle up with something cheering, this is an ideal book. Take it to your pillow fort, bring snacks, have fun with the modest peril and the magical take on reality this book is set in.

Find out more on the author’s website – http://www.authordjmartin.com/fiction-books/blue-ridge-series/

Weep, Woman, Weep – a review

Weep, Woman, Weep: A Gothic Fairytale about Ancestral Hauntings by [Maria DeBlassie]

Weep, Woman, Weep is a gothic fairytale by Maria DeBlassie, and I loved it. It’s a novella set in New Mexico, written in a first person voice with a narrator who is clear that you’re going to hear her version of events. It’s a really strong narration voice, and I identified to a considerable degree with the main character. Mercy is an outsider, her life is full of magic and much of that magic is dangerous to her. She’s not someone who performs femininity, and it meant a lot to me because it’s so rare to see that.

At the same time there are many things in this story that are outside of my experience. I know something about generational trauma, but I have no experience of dealing with it in the context of racism. It was a really educational read for me on that score.

You can read this as a fairytale metaphor, about overcoming trauma and claiming your own power. I read it as magical realism and that also entirely works, you can step into the reality of this story on whatever terms make sense to you. It is steeped in La Llorona folklore. You could stand outside of that as a reader and see it as the beliefs of the main character, or you can enter into it as the reality she is in.

Happily the story taps into one of my current obsessions – how we tackle desertification and bring life back to damaged landscapes. I love stories where there’s a strong sense of place, and I love reading about characters who are deeply involved with their landscapes and this story is great on that score. The relationship between healing people and healing the land is explicit. It’s also a story about healing and change within a community – exploring the collective and how that relates to the individual. Part of what’s damaging Mercy is what’s damaging her community as a whole – she can’t heal unless her community also heals.

This is a beautifully written, affirming and emotionally rich sort of story. I know some reviewers have found it to be a bit of a weepy but I found it uplifting – your mileage may vary. There’s a lot of emotional truth here, and I think anyone who has ever struggled to find their place in the world will find it a resonant read.

Heartily recommended.

You can find the book on Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/Weep-Woman-Fairytale-Ancestral-Hauntings-ebook/dp/B09CV9P9SH

Girl with a sword – fiction

Grass double swords were the last weapon

In the village all were killed.

Just one girl is there now.

She had never got any tools to be in war.

Winds blow.

Waves come.

The World is ending.

Slowly and sadly, she decides.

Remember you, my love.

No one is ready for war. Tensions turn into rifts as the fabric of society comes undone. Hostility becomes violence. People you thought you knew are not your friends any more, not your neighbours. Trust shatters. My enemy’s enemy is probably also my enemy.

Sometimes it is just a matter of who can bring the most force to bear. Who had weapons already? What are you willing to fight for? What are you able to defend? How well can you hide? Then it becomes a question of skill and knowledge. Can you find water and do you know what to do to make it drinkable? Do you know how to find food? In the end, sickness and hunger kills more people than the violence does.

A bamboo sword might not seem like much, but they aren’t heavy and don’t need much skill to make or use. Three sticks bound together becomes a weapon. After the bullets run out, the bamboo sword can still lash. You won’t kill anyone with that blunt edge, but you can sting them, hurt them enough to make them leave you alone. It is enough.

(Art by Dr Abbey, text by both of us)

Finding my joy

If there was a time when I didn’t want to write, I don’t remember it. As soon as I knew books were a thing, as soon as I had a pencil in my hand, I wanted to put things onto paper. I knew from very early on that I wanted to write with purpose, to have ideas that might change things for people. It frustrated me not knowing enough to yet have those ideas, but the impulse was good.

I experimented. The things I wanted to write were unsellable. I tried writing what I thought people wanted, but I wasn’t very good at it… girl meets boy… girl has a severed head in a bag. Romance was never going to work for me. I got some terrible reviews early on when I was writing erotica, because my stuff was dark and weird. Slowly, I found my people, the ones who wanted dark and weird. I found Tom and his Hopeless Maine project, which wasn’t sexy, but certainly had room for any amount of dark I might want to bring.

I tried writing for money, and I failed. Somewhere in that process, I lost a lot of my passion. I stopped believing in much of what I was doing. I didn’t write much for me. For years I have quietly written for other people – here on the blog, and around other projects. If it helps someone, or amuses someone, that’s enough.

Then, unexpectedly in the last week, my joy flared back into existence. I was working on a project and suddenly realised that I really wanted to be working on it, that my heart was truly in it and I felt excited about what I was doing. That was a startling experience. 

I already knew that this summer I would have to give some serious thought to how I work and what I’m doing. I had no idea it even could be framed by this sort of feeling. I might be going to focus on passion projects, because I might have enough passion for that to be a thing again. I do have things I want to say, and I think fiction is going to be the best way to say them. 

At the moment I’m mostly stretching, testing ideas and wondering about how I want to work and what I want to do. I’m hoping to switch over to four day weeks, at least for a little while. I’m waiting to see how the economic side of my situation pans out, and there are reasons to be hopeful. And I’m writing, because I want to write, and need to find out what happens, because there are people I want to impress, and people I want to share with.

My creative identity was, once upon a time, a really big part of my identity as a whole. I’ve had some strange, barren-feeling years where although I’ve been writing, I’ve not felt like I was inhabiting that space. I’ve not felt like myself. I think all of that is changing now.