Hopeless, Maine – Optimists is the fourth book in the Hopeless Maine graphic novel series I create with Tom. At time of posting it’s available for pre-order in all the sorts of places that sell books. My publisher for this – Sloth Comics – tells me there have been a happy number of pre-orders places already, which is cheering.
Sloth is not a big publishing house, and in normal years has depended a lot on direct sales at comics events. These have not been normal years, and many events haven’t happened. The creative sector has been even more precarious than it usually is. With the cost of living rising, people will, of necessity, cut their budgets for fun things first. Throwing coins at people makes a huge difference.
Of the covers we’ve done so far, this one is my favourite. I’ve only been involved in creating some of the covers, having taken on the colouring part of the work after several books had already been put out there.
Hopeless, Maine graphic novels are generally available from places that sell books, including book shops – although you’ll probably have to order them. Optimists is, at time of posting, available for pre-order and due out at the end of March.
As Sloth isn’t huge, we don’t have much distribution outside of the UK for these editions BUT we also have an American publisher bringing out hardback editions, which makes it easier for people to get copies should they so desire.
On the 22nd of January, there will be an online Hopeless Maine festival, which is an exciting prospect. I’ve already got some brilliant content in from people involved in the project, with more to come. One of the things I love about Hopeless is that it has always been a community thing and that’s very much part of what it’s for.
I had a number of reasons for wanting to do this. One is that everyone being online during the pandemic opened up a great many things for disabled people, and now those things are going away again, which isn’t ok. I wanted to offer something. I also know that in the UK January tends to be a miserable month with not much happening, unpredictable weather and post-festive crapness. So I thought it would be nice to do something fun where no-one has to travel.
The third reason is that it’s a good way to promote the Hopeless Maine project as a whole. This is a project that started life as a graphic novel series, but now also has prose books, poetry, a role play game, a tarot deck, songs and live performance and a film in the offing. This event is a chance for me to showcase all the people who have come in to make those various things happen.
One of the consequences of so much moving online during lockdowns, is that many people who are normally excluded became able to participate. Clearly we could do more to include people who cannot travel to events, but as the people who always could do the things get back to normal, people at the margins are again left out.
There are many barriers to attending real-world events. Illness and disability can make it really hard to go places. Poverty is a big barrier to participation – travel, accommodation and event tickets aren’t cheap. People who are carers can have a hard time getting out to events. For people on unpredictable zero hours contracts or with massively involved jobs – such as farming – can find it hard to take breaks. When you start to consider the number of people excluded from venue-based events, it’s hard to see why we don’t take this a lot more seriously.
I’ve been involved with online events for years – the Pagan Federation were doing them long before covid struck. I put a lot of content online in no small part because I know what it’s like not to have any disposable income for nice things. But, I want to go further. To that end, I’m organising an online festival for late January. It’s going to be based around the Hopeless Maine project and will include many of the people who are already involved. It should be highly entertaining.
My hope is that I’ll be able to do this every year. January is a miserable time (for me, anyway) and I think getting out to things is harder when the weather is against you. And hopefully it will provide some cheer for people who might otherwise be less cheered.
I have a number of exciting thnigs going on with books currently – all around the Hopeless Maine project.
Hopeless Maine is now published in America by Outland Entertainment, they’ve just released some prose fiction set on the island.
They’re re-releasing the whole comics series in large, hardbound volumes, and copies of those have started turning up.
We now also have copies of the penultimate book in the graphic novel series – which comes out officially early next year. we’ve started work on the last book in this story, and we do know what happens afterwards…
For those of you not familiar with this project…. Hopeless Maine is a creepy island, lost in time, somewhere off the American coast. It started life as a graphic novel series and has since spawned a role play game, tarot, live performance, prose fiction, poetry, songs, and a film project. It’s a gothic, steampunk sort of a thing, originally the idea of Tom Brown (to whom I am married) but it’s become a large, sprawling international community with all sorts of lovely people getting involved. You can find out more about it over here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/
During our great Shropshire adventure weekend recently, we hit on the name for the singing quartet that does Hopeless Maine and folk material. Henceforth, we will be Ominous Folk. We also had the opportunity to get our photo taken by Dark Box – who you can find over here https://www.darkboximages.com/
Our friend Gregg takes photos using a Victorian camera, he develops the images on tin plates – he has a portable dark room that looks like a Tardis! It’s a fantastic process and we love the results.
Singing has always been part of my life. I love being able to take performances to events- so much more interesting and engaging than standing behind a table with books! Our next outing will be to Stroud Steampunk Weekend, where we are part of the evening event. More over here – https://stroudsteampunk.weebly.com/
Today, Hopeless Maine is off to Festival at the Edge in Shropshire, in the UK. This is an exciting development for us. We’ve had a performance aspect to the project for some time, but this is our first time out with a script and a show. There are four of us, with songs, Maine folklore, and a story.
Hopeless, Maine started life as a graphic novel series. It was my husband’s idea. I came in to write scripts for the comics, then got into colouring and other things. It’s a world other people have wanted to play with, so we have a role play game and novellas and all sorts of other things going on. We’re always looking for ways to let more people in and do more good stuff.
Some years ago we were invited to participate in our local book festival, and given a stage on the Saturday night. What do you do with a comic at a book festival? It’s not like readings are realistic. We took a selection of short stories, some folk songs and a couple of extra people, and from there, the idea of performance grew.
I’ve been to enough events to know that authors at events aren’t reliably exciting. Unless you are already into an author, listening to them talk about their life and work isn’t interesting. And sometimes even when it’s an author you like, this isn’t a reliably fun way to spend an hour. Not all authors are good speakers or performers. If you’re a fairly obscure author – like me – then the odds of drawing an audience to your sales pitch aren’t great to begin with. But, people at events want to be amused. By offering something more interesting than a thinly veiled book pitch, I can usually get an audience.
With this in mind, we’ve been developing a performance side to Hopeless Maine ever since that first book festival event. We’ve taken songs and folklore to folk events. We’ve taken something like a radio show to a number of steampunk events. I’m plotting other things that can include more people. I’d rather be more entertaining. I have more fun at events being there as a performer than I do stood at a table.
I thought it might be interesting to outline what I’m doing with my time at the moment…
I’ve got into a lovely routine where there’s often an hour between my getting up and my starting work. I use that time to think, drink coffee, sometimes I do some exercise. I approach the day slowly, rather than getting up and starting work, which used to be the way of it.
For the first hour or two, I write blogs – for this site and https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/ I also do assorted social media work. Up until February of this year, much of my day job was running Twitter accounts, but I’ve cut right back on that to make more space for other things.
At the moment I’m switching gear in the morning and becoming a colourist for an hour or two – I’m mostly working on the next graphic novel in the Hopeless Maine series. I work in pencils on paper, my husband does all the drawing which is all very old fashioned, but I like how much more texture and character you get that way.
On Wednesday mornings I sort out my Patreon content for the week, although I may have created the content on the previous day. Currently on Patreon there’s usually a poem each month, a section from a novel serialisation, a seasonal song and a Druid book in progress. https://www.patreon.com/NimueB
On Wednesday afternoons I’m working on a new Hopeless Maine project. At other times I’m also chipping away at world building for a new project and you can find that in the creative section of this blog.
Other, less regular things go into whatever spare time there is during the afternoons. That can mean magazine articles, reading review books, learning material, developing content for talks, doing things to help and support friends – like reading early drafts of their novels…
It’s full on that the moment, I have to concentrate hard for extended periods. Happily, my natural concentration span is about an hour, and if I take breaks to move around, I can make that work.
This also represents quite a gentle pace compared to the kinds of workloads I’ve had at some points in the past. There was one autumn when I was working 7 different part time jobs… At this point my life is a bit more coherent and not as difficult to organise as it has been. And still, I’m having to be deliberate at cutting myself slack for how long I can do some of these things for. I am uncomfortably aware that I expect to be able to work like a machine. I know creative work isn’t simply about the ability to crank it out. I know I need rest time, thinking time, research time and inspiration to create well, but I still struggle with the way capitalism has colonized my head.
Much to my delight, I have been selected to read at the spring 2021 occurrence of Stroud Short Stories. This short story competition runs twice a year and I have quite a long history with it. This will be my third time reading. Last time I managed to smuggle in a Hopeless Maine story and you can watch that here!
I was involved in putting together an anthology of stories from the event some years ago – an epic task that very happily lead to other people doing a second one some time later. I’ve also judged on the event, alongside John Holland – the man who makes the whole thing go.
There’s a lot to like about Stroud Short Stories – it is free to enter. It picks ten winners who get to read their work to an audience – which is a really excellent thing to get to do. It’s a community project run for love of it, and the audience often has a lot of former winners in it. And probably some future ones as well. It’s something that exists simply to be a good thing, and we could all use more of those.
This year will be a recorded event, so I’ll share the video from that when the time comes. Supporters on Patreon have already read my winning entry – I put it up last month, assuming it probably wouldn’t win and that I should get some sort of use out of it. The story is a bit on the wicked side in that I have managed to make something funny out of combining various personal experiences of sexism. But then, satire is what bards and druids are supposed to do, and I would rather do my politics by making laughable the things I find abhorrent.
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.
Christmas isn’t my festival. If you come to this blog regularly, it probably isn’t your festival either.
Happy Christmas though to any Christian readers of this blog, to the Celtic Christians, the Christo-Pagans, the Druid Christians and all other fellow travellers for whom this day is meaningful and significant.
Happy Christmas to anyone for whom this day is a meaningful celebration of family, ancestry, community and relationship. I hope you have a truly lovely time of it.
For everyone else, here’s the Hopeless Maine Christmas card. we aim to do something a bit weird and un-jolly every year to comfort people for whom the season is uncomfortable.