Tag Archives: hopeless maine

Landscape, and fantasy landscape

I’m currently working on a Hopeless Maine novel. Most of the Hopeless Maine stuff I wrote years ago, but as the graphic novels will be coming out steadily from Sloth now, I feel it makes sense to get back into that setting and write more. In the time since I wrote my last Hopeless book, I’ve read a lot of landscape writing and this has had some considerable impact on me.

When I’m writing for the graphic novel of course much of the landscape stuff is down to Tom and the illustrations. It’s his island, he knows what it looks like. However, I’m working on a novel, so I have to do all the backgrounds myself! It’s really interesting putting to use what I’ve learned over years of reading landscape writing.

One of the things I’ve learned is that I don’t like writing that focuses on viewing the scenery. It makes the person in the landscape into a tourist. I’m interested in ways of writing that place the person within the landscape, and that often comes down to how they interact in a bodily way with the place. It’s not just about looking, but moving through, smelling, tasting, touching, eating, and so forth.

In a novel, great reams of description can be dull and irrelevant and slow the story down, so I’m working to make the experience of landscape a key part of the story. It also gives me opportunities to have my characters interact with the strange creatures that inhabit the island. This in turn gives me chance to air another issue that is close to my heart – challenging the idea that human and nature are two separate states.

We’re got some decidedly fantastical things living on Hopeless Maine. In the graphic novels, they are mostly background and the stories are about people. I think that speaks to the way in which humans are so often oblivious to non-human things going on around them. But, I want to do something different with this

Reading landscape literature has changed how I think as an author of speculative and fantastical books. I’m only now finding out how that works because I’m using it. Fantasy fiction is so often seen as an escape from reality, but I’m seeing the scope to make it an act of re-engagement and re-enchantment.

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Hopeless Sinners

I’m excited to announce the arrival into the world of Sinners, the next volume in the Hopeless Maine series. It’s been a bit of a journey – having been picked up, kicked into the long grass and then dumped by Archaia, we found the awesome home that is Sloth Comics. But, it made sense to reboot the series and put the first two books out again. It’s been a long wait to get something new out there.

Let me mention at this point that Personal Demons and Inheritance were the Archaia titles, now gathered into one volume at Sloth called ‘The Gathering’. When we left Archaia they sent us a letter to say they’d stop selling our books, but those books are still being sold and we get no money for them. I’ve no issue with people moving second hand books about, but the length of time Boom (who took over from Archaia) kept them out there was dodgy to say the least. Also, while it says on Amazon that you can buy these – it doesn’t always turn out that there’s one to buy. People trying to buy old versions have had problems.

Sinners picks up with the characters who survived the first two books and continues their stories. By this point they are young adults. You can jump in here without having read the first two stories. I’m confident about this, because Sinners was the first thing I wrote for Tom. He went to a comic con, saw the power of the cute and wanted to do a young Salamandra story, which is where the first two books – written as prequels – came from.

Getting comics out into the world makes merely trying to publish a novel look very easy. A graphic novel – or fat comic – represents six months to a year of full time work (ten hour days, five and six day weeks) for the artist. We’d have to sell tens of thousands of copies for that to turn into the minimum wage. We can realistically expect to sell a few thousand. The only way to do something of high standard as an indy comics creator, is to be willing to accept poverty as a consequence. A lot of people are making that choice because they want to tell their stories and put beauty into the world. For comparison, Tom has worked for larger publishing houses and on projects that paid advances, and even then, he wasn’t on minimum wage when we figured it out by the hour. The book industry in the UK alone is worth billions a year, but creators are treated as disposable by the companies with the most money.

These are issues across the creative industries. People have to work part time at something else to pay their bills. We want nice things, but we don’t pay for them. The internet makes it easy to have nice things at no cost – and in many ways this is a good thing. Creators are not the only people wrangling with poverty, and lack of financial power should not mean a life devoid of good things, I feel. It’s one of the reasons I’m happy to put time into this blog every day. I want everyone to have good stuff.

I work part time as a book publicist to pay the bills, and I create with what time and energy I have left. I buy books, art, tickets for live music, CDs. I have no desire to exploit other creators, but I also have limited funds to pay them with. If those of us who can pay a bit here and there do, it helps keep creative people going. Part time comics artist is not a realistic trajectory when it can take a whole year of work to create a single book. If you’ve only got a couple of hours a day, it could take more like a decade. As a part time artist you don’t have the opportunities and time to develop your craft or much time to create anything.

And on that merry note, here’s a pre-order page for the new Hopeless Maine book https://www.bookdepository.com/Hopeless–Maine-2/9781908830142 

Here’s The Gathering https://www.bookdepository.com/Hopeless-Maine-Nimue-Brown-Tom-Brown/9781908830128

(you can get them anywhere that sells books)

And here’s my Patreon page in case you can spare me some small change every month. https://www.patreon.com/NimueB


Of novels and graphic novels

One of my longstanding projects – Hopeless Maine – is a graphic novel serious, devised and illustrated by my other half, Tom Brown. He lured me in to write it for him long before we thought about living together. It is a big part of how we’ve ended up married.

Initially, I was intimidated by comics writing. You have to mostly focus on dialogue and there’s not much text on any given page. I felt naked and exposed without a narrator. It’s a totally different way of telling stories, much more stripped down and focused than novels. To get a story in a hundred or so pages of sequential art, is a very different process from novel writing. Inevitably we can lavish much more attention on what things look like.

What I can’t really do as a graphic novel author is spend a lot of time inside the heads of characters, exploring their feelings, history, motivations, and so forth. Whole relationships may have to be defined in just a few facial expressions and physical gestures. One of the things I’ve always liked doing as a novelist is taking journeys into people’s heads. I’m as interested by inner process as I am by action.

At the moment, I’m working on a Hopeless Maine novel – which is going to be illustrated. With an illustrated novel, there’s more room to write, and the art supports and enhances that, but doesn’t have to do the bulk of the work. This has the added benefit of requiring far fewer hours of art to make it viable. There are two Hopeless Maine novellas already – set in the lead up to, and the same time frame as The Gathering. Those will emerge into the world eventually.

Novel writing gives me a chance to dig into the details. Hopeless Maine has a lot of details in it that I’ve not been able to explore. We’ve only seen a tiny portion of island life so far. What goes on outside of the main town? What do young people do for fun? I’ve worked out a story that will give me more Hopeless grandmothers, and some scope for narrative mapping. I started working on this book with an aim to make it a bit like Around the World in 80 Days, only around the island. As the story has found its own shape, I’ve moved away from the Verne, and the feature of the original scheme I am most likely to keep is a hot air balloon, which Verne didn’t have. The principle of exploration remains, and for exploring the way islanders, and by extension, the rest of us, talk about landscape.

I re-read Around The World in 80 Days last summer as part of my warm up to doing this book. It turned out not to be an adventure story, but a tale about a man obsessed with timetables. Verne’s hero doesn’t really want to see the world, and thus the author is largely spared from having to describe anywhere he’s not visited. It’s rather clever, and I found it funny. As a child reader, I’d missed that entirely. There’s a definitely charm in having a main character who is looking the wrong way or interested in the wrong things. Will I carry that idea into this novel?  Don’t know. I don’t plan books in too much detail because for me, the pleasure of writing is the act of exploration, not the business of sticking to the timetable.


A seasonal song from Hopeless Maine

As a young human I sang in the school choir, so Christmas Carols featured every year. Most of them I don’t much like but there are some with good tunes. I like seasonal material from the folk tradition, and I mostly don’t like putting Pagan words into Christian songs.

This is not a Christmas song. Hopeless Maine doesn’t really do Christmas – not least because there are some serious disputes on the island about what the date is, which calendar to use, and so forth.  They do celebrate not being dead.

 

The folk tradition taught me that when people migrate, they take their songs and stories with them, but those songs and stories change. So, this is what has happened to Christmas Carols when the people who know them are shipwrecked onto a weird and fairly inhospitable fictional island off the coast of Maine…

 


Into the Gallery

Those of you who have been here for a little while may have already seen the blog on The Hopeless Maine Arts and Crafts Movement and Fluffy Doom. Tom and I have been working for months now, alongside all the regular work we do, getting ready for a Hopeless Maine show as part of Stroud Book Festival. We’re setting up on Monday, Lansdown gallery will be open Tuesday through to Sunday, and on Saturday night we’re in Lansdown Hall with a show in the evening as well.

The canny amongst you will have noticed that this means a seven day working week with a late night near the end of it. There was so much to do this week, that although I can take some of this weekend off, I’m going to have to spend some of Sunday packing and sorting ahead of the setup. I’ve had a lot of extra work to do trying to get ahead on all the stuff I normally do in a week, and even so I’ll have to get up at seven and put in two hours of normal work before I hit the gallery each day.

This last week has been full of anxiety, stress, triggering, panic attacks and waking up in the wee small hours and being sleep deprived. I took yesterday afternoon off and walked, and it has cleared my head a bit, but by no stretch of the imagination am I in good shape going into this.

It’s going to be tough. I hope it’s going to be worth it. By Tuesday of this week, no tickets had been sold for the show, and other book festival events were in the same boat. Partly it’s because people buy tickets later at the moment. I assume it’s about the weather, and wanting to be sure you can go before you commit. Less money to throw around must be a factor. Stroud is also prone to people rolling up about five minutes after the thing started and buying a ticket on the door. But still, it’s a stressful situation to be in.

Also of course, like every promoter, every event, every publisher and music label and thing of that ilk… all the advance promotion went on the big names who least needed the advanced promotion and there is no budget for marketing. I never cease to be amazed by the number of activities that have a budget, but consider promotion to either be a luxury extra or not worth paying for. This approach becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, in which the not so famous are proved not to be worth it, so either get even less space, or even less promotion next time. It’s happening across the board in creative industries.

I hope, in a small way, to buck the trend, but it means having to do a lot of promotion work alongside actually putting together the gallery show and the evening show. That’s also increasingly the size of it for anyone not famous enough that their name alone won’t sell whatever they were doing. Most creative people now have to do most of the work involved in selling whatever it is that they do. Where big companies are involved, profits go to shareholders, while the creator who is both creating and doing all the promotion work, is the last person to get paid.

If you’re in striking distance and want to come along, here’s the webpage for the evening event https://stroudbookfestival.org.uk/event/tom-nim-brown/  – you can just turn up to the gallery.


Notes on Ophelia – adventures in art

This year, Tom and I have been experimenting with new ways of collaborating on art and artefacts.

Creating this image was a joint process. It began with my idea to re-imagine well known works of art in the Hopeless Maine setting. We chose the art to jam on together, but working out how to take familiar images into the world of Hopeless was largely Tom’s doing. Above, you see the Millais Ophelia re-imagined into a world where the water is murkier and has things living in it.

Tom did all of the original drawing. I then went through with coloured pencils. Colour impacts on mood, shape, depth and in this case I had the partial translucence of water to contend with as well – it’s without a doubt one of the most challenging things I’ve ever worked on. I then handed the piece back to Tom and he reasserted some of the hard lines, scanned it, and did the things in photoshop that keep the scan looking more like the original. We’re trying to do as little computer tinkering as possible.

I’ve written about collaborating before, but to reiterate, there are key things to making this work – letting go and letting the other person do their stuff is necessary. We also talk to each other a lot while we’re working, feeding back, working out how to make it go as a joint project. What emerges is, I think, far more than the sum of its parts. A third artist who can most easily be called ‘Brown’.

A lot of comics art these days is done in photoshop, which can make it very smooth and shiny. Holding my nerve to be ok with the medium showing is something I struggle with – in this case the pencil marks, in other cases the brush marks or the oil pastel smears. I like the organic, messy physicality of working with materials, but I also feel a kind of pressure to produce shiny industry standard smoothness, which of course, I can’t…


If we aren’t killed by sea monsters

Sea shanties were part of my life, growing up – my Gran was an enthusiastic singer of these songs, so my memories of them go back about as far as my memories go. Shanties are working songs, creating a rhythm to support the various bits of team heaving and hauling a sailing ship required. Any kind of singing will also help you keep sane when faced with tedious jobs – deck swapping, mending things. When working on boring, repetitive, necessary things, a song will make the difference between being a happy person, and being a miserable resource.

I wrote a sea shanty recently. It wasn’t something I’d ever really thought about before because I don’t spend a lot of time on boats. As a fairly landlocked person, it’s never seemed like something I should be writing. But then it struck me that Hopeless Maine needed a shanty. I’ve been making a lot of things this year that develop and expand on the life of the fictional island, and that’s given me time to explore the details of daily life there.

Being an island, sealife is a key part of the Hopeless diet. However, the sealife is also hungry, and dangerous. The rocks, currents, winds and waves tend to force boats in, so those folk who fish don’t go very far, and spend a lot of time trying not to get themselves drowned or smashed. Or eaten.

In normal sea shanties, chaps make a lot of macho, grunty ‘ho’ and ‘hey’ noises and the odd ‘wuuuh’ to punctuate the song. Hopeless just isn’t that sort of place, which is why, in the chorus, Mr Brown is making more of a groaning noise. And if that leads you to think that we must have a rather odd sort of home life… yes, yes we do.


Lost Islands

Those of you who know me will know that I’ve been a fan of Kevan Manwaring’s work for the best part of a decade. And if you’ve been reading the blogs for a while you may also have picked up that one of the things I do is write a graphic novel series set on an island that is cut off from the rest of reality.  Hopeless Maine, as Walter Sickert put it is ‘an island lost in time’.

It’s a terrible thing to have to admit that I’ve only just got round to reading Kevan’s Lost Islands book. I read it in July because I’m thinking about writing more in the Hopeless Maine setting and I knew it would help me think around that.

One of the things I love about Kevan’s work, taken as a whole, is that he doesn’t sit tidily in a single, neat marketing definition, and seeing him do that has helped me take a similarly unboxed approach. Kevan writes poetry, non-fiction, fiction, he’s a performer, teacher and storyteller, and all of this feeds into any given book. Lost Islands brings together that breadth of experience and insight. This is a book of myths and history, geography, geology, politics, pop culture, literature, personal experience, speculation, science, and even a bit of fiction for good measure! It’s the sort of book that would sit well next to a Robert McFarlane title.

Lost Islands offers a lot of thoughts about physical islands – those that were imagined, may have existed, have definitely disappeared and those that are just very hard and dangerous to get to. It’s also a book that explores the idea of islands in the broader sense – things cut off and surrounded by something other. The driving narrative of the book explores the human desire for the pristine, Eden, and the way in which our search for it destroys not only those pristine environments, but piles on the environmental damage for the world as a whole. There are too many nature writing books out there that encourage us to run off looking for unspoiled nature, and thus to spoil it, so it’s really pleasing to see a book tackle this issue head on and pull no punches about the implications of getting away from it all.

For me, reading Lost Islands generated some fertile lines of thought about how I might map and chart something I’ve set up to be unchartable. Kevan’s recent blog posts have been all about long distance walking, so I’ve been thinking about that, too. I’m thinking about the issue of utopias and dystopias and the desire for something that is not those things. A playground, where you can gleefully run wild but may fall on your face, or be eaten by monsters.

It’s not an easy book to find, your best bet appears to be Speaking Tree


The Hopeless Maine Arts and Crafts movement

At present I’m spending my afternoons making horrible fish art, painting profoundly wrong willow pattern onto household objects, and imagining the arts life of Hopeless, Maine. I’ve never taken world building so far or so literally before.

I’ve been involved with the isolated island of Hopeless Maine for about a decade. It is the brain child of Tom Brown, who first lured me in to writing about it back when we only knew each other online. I married him, and that came out of working together for years on this project. He’s a man with a lot of tentacles.

Opportunities to take Hopeless things out in public have had me making, pondering and inventing for some weeks now. For example, I’ve been making fake dead moths. The Victorians were keen on collecting moths and butterflies, killing them and pinning them to boards. I had a display case turn up full of dead flowers – a rather garish bit of tourist trash. Clearly, the only way forward would be to make the moths from scratch. Mostly out of left over, found, or recycled things. Making them has led naturally to naming them, so we’ve got Granny’s Shroud, the Most Inedible Land Moth and the Poison Druid amongst others (so named because it is partly made of mistletoe, in case you were wondering).

Willow pattern is a widely subverted thing, but I’ve learned a lot hand painting it onto objects. What we see mostly today are factory made, printed to be all the same willow patterns. A foray to my local museum showed me hand painted porcelain, no two quite the same. The idiosyncrasies of the individual painter become a thing, and if there’s one thing I can do, it’s idiosyncrasy. Even so, letting go of the standards of factory produced items to do something that is unique, is not easy. But, what else is an arts and crafts movement for?

I’ve worked out why Hopeless Maine has a tradition of horrible fish art. It’s placatory. People refer to fish (both the main food source and one of the things most likely to kill you) in the way other communities talk of faeries. The Kindly Ones. The Good Neighbours. They don’t call it horrible fish art, they talk about the lovely, generous fish. But, most of the fish are horrible, and the art is no better, so there we are. This is one of the points at which I’ll be generating flash fiction cards to go out in public with the objects.

I also know what’s going on with Werewolf mark making. There’s a fashion in fine art at the moment to talk not about drawing but about mark making. Tom and I do not identify as fine art. Most of the time he’s an illustrator and I’m a colourist and crafter. We do identify with folk art, and things made for people – arts and crafts of course being about mixing the beautiful and the useful. So we are taking a little side swipe at the language of Art, with the werewolf mark making. And there is a little story to tell about the controversies caused because the werewolves probably don’t make the marks deliberately, does that disqualify it is True Art?

If this sort of twisted whimsy appeals, do saunter over to www.hopelessmaine.com where all manner of related other silliness goes on.


The latest Hopeless adventures

There have been some developments this week that I am excited about and want to share…

Anyone who has been with the blog for a while will have likely picked up that one of the things I do is a graphic novel series called Hopeless Maine. It is a setting my other half came up with many years ago, and the essence of the main characters comes from him. He asked me to take on writing the stories and script, long before we got ourselves organised romantically!

Back when we ran Hopeless Maine as a webcomic, and with a weekly blog/newspaper for the island, we had a lot of interaction from people. This year we decided to open Hopeless up to collaboration and play, and the results have far surpassed anything I could have dared to hope for.

For a while now we’ve had pieces every Friday for www.hopelessmaine.com expanding on island life in all manner of glorious ways. This week saw the arrival of a new column that will go out each Tuesday – Tales from the Squid and Teapot – the first of which can be found here https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/%E2%80%8Bobit-sir-fromebridge-whitminster/

The columnist for Tales from The Squid and Teapot is Martin Pearson AKA my Dad. He’s a natural when it comes to describing the life of Hopeless, and this isn’t really a coincidence at all. The books I encountered as a child, the things I find funny,  the way I think and the kind of phrasing I use has all, to some degree, been influenced by him. He’s always written, but not tended to publish, so it’s a delight to be able to lure him out in this manner.

Our other exciting development is a plan for Hopeless Maine the roleplay game. A new blog has been set up for this by Keith Healing, and discussions are under way about how to turn Hopeless into a set of playable mechanics, that allow creativity and improvising. I feel the need to mention at this point that I played a lot of role play in my teens – mostly D&D (Dragonlance), AD&D a bit of 3rd edition D&D, Some White Wolf (Changeling, Mage and Vampire) some Warhammer, a bit of Star Wars, a few rounds of Shadow Run, and others. I’ve also run games. I was never much attracted to playing magic users because the magic seemed dull, prescriptive, too combat orientated and frankly not that magical. This, will be different, and I’m excited about that. There will also, (take note, steampunks) be something enabling invention. It won’t assume combat is how things get done, but will allow for hitting things with a frying pan in an emergency. Early days, but much potential. You can find more about that here –https://hopelesstraveller.wordpress.com/