Tag Archives: hopeless maine

A Good Death

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been killing people on The Hopeless Maine blog as part of the kickstarter we’re doing. People who backed early get obituaries, as though they had been residents of the imaginary island, now deceased. It’s been an exercise in asking what would make for a good death. Most of us won’t read our obituaries in real life, so it’s interesting thinking about what a person might want from a fictional obituary. This may not be quite the same as what you’d want in a real one, but it does raise interesting questions.

Without a doubt, everyone wants to be remembered fondly and have some sense that someone, at least, is sorry they are gone. Whatever form a death takes, the feeling of a life lived well, and fully is important. That bit at least, we may get some kind of control over, whereas the time of our departure is beyond our control.

There’s a definite charm in dying as you lived, or in a way that has a poetic quality to it. This may well be more true of fictional deaths. A comedy death is more appealing in an imaginary setting perhaps, than a real one. There are no doubt people as well as me though, who get a kick out of uncomfortable humour and might enjoy the prospect of our final moments leaving people unsure whether to laugh or cry. I have a fondness for the preposterous, and departing in a way that would have people shaking their heads and laughing has definite appeal.

Good deaths are quick, and perhaps unexpected. I’m not going to write any scenarios in which people die slowly unless I can make that both painless and funny. Long, slow, painful deaths are awful, and take a toll on anyone who has to live through watching that. No one wants to watch someone they love suffering. Most of us don’t even want to watch people we despise suffering in that kind of way.

 

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A little bit of gothic fiction

This is a recording of me reading the first chapter of New England Gothic. It’s a prose novella set on Hopeless Maine.

I come from Gloucestershire in the UK, and in terms of accents, I can sound more, or less like I come from Gloucestershire. I have thus made zero attempts to capture the speaking voices of people living off the coast of Maine at time unspecified, in a slightly uncertain reality. I have no idea what they should sound like!

We’ve been doing a kickstarter to publish this one, and two weeks in, are fully funded, which is wonderful. The support has been amazing – in terms of people pledging, pledging more than we asked for, and sharing the project to get more people onboard. It’s been a really affirming experience. I’ve not written much fiction in recent years because there didn’t seem to be much point – getting novels in front of people isn’t easy. I’m moving away from novels anyway, and clearly there are ways of getting books into people’s hands, so, forwards!

The kickstarter is over here, should you feel moved to check it out  – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/countrostov/tales-of-hopeless-maine

 


Sharing a world

I like collaborating with people. Making stuff up is fun, but making stuff up when that process is shared, is a greater joy. I think this is a big part of what motivates people to engage with both fan fiction and folklore – that it puts you in a community with people who love what you love and who want to play with it. With folklore of course there’s no sense that any one person can own the material. With fan fiction, the tension between original creator and people who want to play can be a thing. Where does celebration end and exploitation begin?

Hopeless Maine has always been a kind of ‘open source’ project with room for people to get involved. How the money works is an interesting question, but there’s not so much money floating about around the project to make is worth ripping off, and the people who want to play with us tend to be inclined to play nicely. Which technically makes it some sort of unofficial anarchic co-operative.

Thus far, co-operation has included people making creatures and objects for the island, writing for the island’s newspaper, performing with us at events, composing music inspired by the island, creating a role play game, and now, prose books. I enjoy this process immensely. The island is a big enough place to really benefit from having more people exploring it. Hopeless Maine feels more like a world in its own right because it has so many real people involved with it.

I do my best work when I’m writing for someone, or because of someone. Left to my own devices I’m not reliably creative. Give me a co-creator who is expecting content, and content turns up in my head. Give me people asking questions and wanting to read stuff, and my output improves. I’ve never been the lone creator in the high tower, my work has always had everything to do with the people in my life. And I like it when some of those people are involved in making things with me.

At the moment, I’m doing a kickstarter to launch one illustrated prose book of mine, and a second by Keith Errington. Both are set on Hopeless, both are illustrated by Tom Brown. Keith’s story also owes something to fellow Hopeless Maine collaborator Meredith Debonnaire. We’re simply raising enough money to print books (in case anyone wonders about the financial implications of this sort of thing.) Get in for both books by the end of the week and you might get an obituary – at time of writing there are 38 slots left for obituaries. You can read the first obituary here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2019/08/26/bertram-fiddles-death-mystery/

And here’s the kickstarter link – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/countrostov/tales-of-hopeless-maine


Playing with Folklore

One of the things I like to do with the Hopeless Maine graphic novel series, is play with folklore. Here’s an example- the entirely traditional Mari Lwyds in a clearly non-traditional setting.

The Welsh Mari Lwyd tradition involves exactly the kit you see with horses skulls on poles and trailing costumes to cover the person holding the pole. You then go to houses and/or pubs for riddling fights.

When people migrate, they take their culture, folklore and beliefs with them. How that plays out can vary – it can mean that sometimes what the disaspora hold is an older form of the tradition than what develops elsewhere. People away from home can be more focused on keeping their traditions unchanged. Sometimes the opposite happens, and the tradition is influenced by what else is around, or evolves to suit the circumstances. Clearly, both trajectories are equally valid.

Playing with folklore in this way gives me scope to make things up – you can read what happens to Mari Lwyds on Hopeless Maine here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2019/05/03/the-hopeless-mari-lwyd/

And doing this in turn gives me a chance to talk about folklore as a process without getting too bogged down in the academic side of things, which is not my natural habitat.

More about the latest volume of Hopeless Maine here – http://www.slothcomics.co.uk/news/hopeless-maine-3-victims-is-released-in-june

Art in this blog mostly by Tom Brown and a bit by me.


Hopeless Victims

A few days ago, copies of Hopeless Maine Victims landed at my door. For those of you who haven’t been following my exploits for long, an explanation… I do a gothic/steampunk graphic novel series called Hopeless Maine. I do most of the writing and I now also colour it. The artist and originator of the island setting is my husband – Tom. We got together through working on this.

I admit I was anxious – this is the second graphic I’ve coloured and the first time I’ve worked on all the art for a Hopeless book. I coloured chapters and two pages spreads in Sinners, but that didn’t quite feel the same. On the whole, I’m pleased with it. There’s an inevitable process whereby you know more at the end of a book than you did at the start, but the only thing to do is accept it – if a person tried to re-write, draw or colour a book the same thing would happen at the revision stage and the book would never be finished… Deciding when a thing is good enough is never a comfortable process.

This book represents a significant chunk of my working life last year. I learned a lot – and not just the experience of colouring. I learned what my hands cannot take. For the next book we will be moving at a slower pace so as to put less pressure on my hands and give me options on music and crafting. I have the willpower and discipline to push a hurting body and keep working, but that doesn’t make it a good idea! Just because I can doesn’t mean I should.

This weekend we had some of the two page spreads from the new book out at an event – the coloured images are definitely stronger for display than the black and white ones – much as I love Tom’s original pencils. I’ve gone from starting early last autumn anxious about messing up his drawings to feeling reasonably confident that I’m adding something good to the mix.

We’ve got two more books to do to complete the story I first created more than a decade ago. (Tom’s been working on this idea for much longer.) It’s been through a lot of developments since then, and the process of evolving work over that time frame has been interesting. What happens after the final book I’m not sure – the project has expanded with more people coming in to explore it, including music, and a role play game. I’m going to be working more on the role play game soon – which I’m very much looking forward to. I don’t know what happens next, and I’m looking forward to discovering that in the company of fellow explorers.

Hopeless is easy to get in the UK – any bookselling site is likely to carry all three titles – The Gathering, Sinners and Victims. You may see copies of Personal Demons and Inheritance – these are both in The Gathering and we don’t get any money if you buy them as separate titles.

If you are outside the UK, your best bet is Book Depository with its free worldwide delivery…

The Gathering 

Sinners

Victims


I say Hopeless, you say Maine…

As I write this, I’m still recovering from a most amazing weekend. Stroud had its first Steampunk Weekend, run by John Bassett – he’s a very creative local chap and also an excellent organiser of things. When he expressed an interest in Steampunk last year, Tom and I were very excited and piled in as best we could to help. Tom was heavily implicated in sorting out the day program and we both did a fair amount of luring people in.

It was a touch surreal seeing people we normally have to travel to spend time with. It was also rather lovely getting people from afar who we really like and being able to share them with local friends. There’s a particular pleasure in watching people I like connecting with each other, and this is one of the things a Steampunk weekend can be counted on to do. Steampunk is all about the social opportunities and the creativity. There was a lot of cross pollination over the weekend.

We took a Hopeless Maine Home Companion set to the event – a team piece lead by The Keith of Mystery. It was fantastic for me being able to focus on performance in an ensemble session and have someone else hold the space together and make that work. There’s also something very lovely about seeing my project in other people’s hands. We also took a Cup Full of Tentacles set to the Sunday – this is me, Tom and James singing stuff we like to sing (mostly folk) and using it to talk about Hopeless Maine a little bit. The room we were in had fantastic acoustics, which is always a delight.

Saturday night was so emotionally loaded that I’m still recovering. It all revolved around Professor Elemental. He is one of my favourite people. It was something akin to love at first sight for me, encountering his Cup of Brown Joy song on youtube many years ago. Tom got talking to him at an event in America (after some pleading on my part) and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. The Prof and I co-wrote a novel, which was an amazing thing to get to do. He wrote us a Hopeless Maine song as well – which is out there should you feel moved to hunt it down with a search engine.

In Hopeless Maine sets, my son James performs Professor Elemental’s Hopeless Maine song, but the Prof had never heard him do it. On Saturday night, he had James up on stage to do the first verse of the Hopeless Maine song. Which was brilliant. What nearly broke me though, was Cup of Brown Joy – the song I started with. Normally there’s an audience participation bit – “I say earl grey, you say yes please” and then people in the audience yell ‘yes please’ in response to a few rounds of ‘earl grey’. We also normally get assam – lovely, herbal – no thanks and oo-long…. But on Saturday the song went “I say Hopeless, you say Maine.”

And they did.

Some of this is because Professor Elemental asks you to do something in a gig and you do it because of his strange, hypnotic powers and irresistible knees… but even so.

If you want to go to a gig that will make you feel better about yourself, and the world in general, he’s the person to seek out. If you want to come out of a room feeling love and solidarity with everyone else who was there, he will do that to you. If you want a space to laugh and cry and jump up and down and feel good about things, and like there’s room for you in the world and that we might be able to make lovely things together… go and see him. He is medicine for the soul.

https://www.professorelemental.com/


Things I am up to

This week I finished colouring volume 3 of Hopeless Maine. It’s the second graphic novel I’ve coloured, and the first time on my own project. For those of you less familiar with the mechanics of comics making – this is normal. Making a comic involves writing a script, drawing it, colouring, inking (or over-lining in our case) and lettering the pages. These can all be done by different people, and in the more famous comics there is more of a production line approach to creation.

I started working on pages back when Tom did a project called The Raven’s Child. I took on some of the shading work to try and get him some breaks and time off. It’s not unusual in the comics industry for people to work ten and twelve hour days, and seven day weeks, and for a while we did that. We’ve since decided that the artist-killing industry model is not for us and that we’d like to spend the rest of our lives with functioning spines.

The first graphic novel I coloured was mediaeval set and a take on King Arthur. Bold mediaeval colours were called for, and anyone used to Tom’s work will know that he’s not really that into bold colours. So, I offered to do it. I worked in oil pastel because it’s my medium of preference. Good for the strong colours. An arse for scanning and impossible to pencil over.

Here’s an admittedly less colourful piece from that project…

For Hopeless Maine, we don’t want serious colour intensity, and we do have a lot of delicacy, so I moved over to pencils. Easier to scan, easy to pencil over, but not, I confess, quite as much fun. I had to figure out a whole new set of approaches for seas and landscapes – previously dealt with by smooshing the oils around. Unable to smoosh, I have to spend a lot more time physically getting the colour onto the pages (A3 for a standard comics page, if you were wondering!) It’s taken a toll on my hands, so music and crafting and been much less of an option for me over the last six months. I’m looking forward to a rebalance.

I’ve enjoyed being more involved in the process – by the time previous comics have come out, my involvement as the writer has felt distant. It’s been more fun being in on the whole thing. We’re evolving ways of working together and I like that process. What we do together is a long way from what we would do separately, and that’s rather cool.

Here’s a chapter cover from the next Hopeless Maine volume…

My crowning achievement for this book has been to learn how to do glows. Candle glows and eye glows, are very much part of Tom’s look, and were something he did when the scanned, hand drawn pages went into photoshop. I have found ways of getting something plausible onto the page, and this cheers me greatly. It was something I didn’t even attempt in the previous comic.

There’s finishing up to do, but the next volume of Hopeless Maine will be entirely uploaded to the publisher over the next few weeks. Copies are already on pre-order and we’re expecting it to be released in the summer. And before then, on to the next one, with an eye to a gentler pace, and me being able to do comics alongside crafting and playing music, without hurting my hands too much.


Co-writing with my younger self

I’ve done a fair bit of co-writing with other people over the years. At the moment, I am in the slightly surreal position of co-writing with myself.

Tom and I are working on the 4th book of Hopeless Maine right now. I wrote the original script more than eight years ago, when I knew far less about comics. Younger me had a rather different voice to current me. Younger me did not really know how to lay out a comics page or tell stories visually. Younger me used to just hand scripts to Tom and leave him to figure out how to make it work on the page. Since then, I have become someone who can think pretty well about visual storytelling and how to get the words onto the page. Having a better grasp of the visual side also means I can see which words to take out.

A few years ago, when contemplating how best to handle an old prose piece in the Hopeless setting, I was given some advice from a fellow writer. Don’t you want it to be your best work? They asked. They were clear that I should revise and update it. In the end, I didn’t do that much. I may have more craft skills than I used to, but there are also things I used to do that I couldn’t do now. How I think about people and situations has changed. I no longer tell the same stories. I am wary of assuming that my current writing self is my best possible writing self. I think previous me had some things going for them.

I find myself working with my old scripts, trying to edit them for best effect, and feeling as though I am working with another author. Usually when I edit for people, the other author is there to talk to. This one is dead, or disappeared, or trapped in another time. I have to edit their work without being able to discuss it with them. I try to honour their vision while applying the things I know that they don’t know. It’s a very odd process. It’s shown me there are things my younger self knew and felt that I need to re-find and re-feel.

We don’t always improve with time. Sometimes our first, unpolished attempts can be the best we do because they have the most passion and energy and are least self-conscious. Sometimes the tools we collect freeze us up and have us second guessing ourselves. Younger me frankly had no idea how to write a comic, but was brazen enough to do it anyway. I am at the moment failing to write a script for something because I’m so bogged down in what I know that I can’t get started. The only way to do it will be to emulate younger me, and write the way I used to write, and then come in for a second stage with all the useful, technical things I know.


Things I am up to

The last few months have been a little bit crazy for me, with numerous changes to my day jobs. I am at present publicist for two authors, two publishing houses and a community venue. I’m doing newsletter and press work for a local group focused on sustainability. I’m doing evening work at events as well. Alongside this, I’m the colourist for the graphic novel series Hopeless Maine and we’re working on the next book. Here’s some art from that:

I’ve had a Patreon page for more than a year now, and it’s helped me keep moving with my own creativity, and it helps as an income stream as well. Thanks to Patreon support, I spent what spare time I had in September putting together a collection of poetry – Mapping the Contours. I also coloured the cover. This is a collection about relationship with landscape. I had it printed locally in the end so the only way to get copies is via Etsy – https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/641871660/mapping-the-contours-poetry

I have two cunning plans following on from this. Firstly, I’m going to serialise a Hopeless Maine novella on my Patreon page for people at the Dustcat level. This is a story set before the graphic novel series and mostly following the exploits of Annamarie Nightshade; resident witch on the island. I shall be putting up a chapter a month. It seemed a good way to share the story, and I will be publishing it by other means, eventually. If you’d like to be able to read that, saunter over to https://www.patreon.com/NimueB

I setup Patreon with the idea that I’d write new things every month by way of content. Serialising an otherwise unavailable book of course isn’t a ‘new thing’ but, it will help me find the time and energy to work on another small book. What I plan to do next is a small book of elemental meditations. As with Mapping the Contours, Patreon supporters will get an e-copy. If you sign up at this point for Patreon, you can of course wander through the old posts and pick up your own e-version. You can sign up for a month, read everything that’s up there already and then leave, should you want, but you won’t get the novella that way!

For the really dedicated, there’s a Glass Heron level with quarterly physical postings. I’ve just sent hard copies of Mapping the Contours to my Glass Herons.  When I get the little meditations book together, I’ll send that out, too, and then that too will go to Etsy so anyone else who wants one can get copies.

I try to give away as much as I can (this blog, what I do on youtube, informal mentoring, volunteer work). But, I’m not independently wealthy, and the practical reality is that if I have to use most of my time and energy on bill paying jobs, I don’t create as much. This last year, Patreon support has really helped me keep going creatively. It is both an incentive and a vote of confidence. If you love someone and they have a Patreon page, just giving them a dollar a month can mean a great deal. When lots of people do that, creators can pay their bills – and many do depend on this income stream to keep afloat. It’s also a gesture of belief and valuing, and that makes a lot of odds too.

Subscribing to this blog is also a gesture of support and valuing that I really appreciate, and knowing there are lots of people who want to read my ramblings has kept me blogging steadfastly for years. Thank you for taking an interest in what I do.


Together we can escape into other worlds

Role play games are seeing a real renaissance at the moment, which I think is really interesting. Computer games are amazingly complex, high tech and visually stunning (not that I play) but they don’t answer every gaming need. You can’t get that far off script. With a role play game, imagination rules and a determined party can take a game anywhere they want to go. I think it’s interesting that more people are choosing a way of playing that prioritises their own imagination, not the shiny graphics.

I played a lot of roleplay games as a kid, and I’m old enough that there was an expectation you’d grow out of it. Adults do not get to play many games – sure the odd board game with granny at Christmas, and we’re allowed to get excited about sports, but computer games and roleplay games like other forms of childish make believe, we’re not things we were not supposed to keep. Only we did, and it#’s become ever more normal to keep playing. I firmly believe that adults need imaginative play just as much as children do, and for much the same reasons.

Playing allows you to safely test and explore all kinds of ideas. For teenage me, it was a safe way of exploring my own identity. I experimented with ways of being and doing and thinking to see what felt comfortable. No real people were killed, seduced, robbed, rescued, or taken on unreasonably long walks through the woods while I did this. I played two different druid characters along the way, and it helped me decide that the resonance I found in that word mattered to me in some way. We all grow and change, many of us benefit from the chance to try on other identities now and then.

There is a magic that happens when people share their creativity. For much of my adult life, that’s had a workish angle as I’ve co-created books with people. My experience is that co-creating also creates a depth and breadth of relationship that you can’t get other ways. A role play game is a process of co-creation and it does interesting things to relationships. It also means that all my best stories from my teenage years are about the things we collectively imagined.

Hopeless, Maine has always been a collaborative project – Tom worked with several other authors before me, and we’ve tended to draw other people in. We’ve had an online project for some time – www.hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com – where people come and play with us. However, we can only include people at the rate of one or two a week. That’s all about to change.

For some time now, a very nice chap called Keith Healing has been working to develop a Hopeless Maine RPG. The mechanics are unique because the island setting with all its strangeness really demanded that. It’s already the best magic system I’ve ever seen and he’s not finished yet. It means that anyone who wants to come to the island and play with it, can.

I’m really excited about this. I know people who are planning to play this weekend. I know that something I helped create is about to take up residence in other heads and that there will be room in those other heads for creative responses. At some point I’ll jump in to write a scenario as well.

You can find the game here – https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/HopelessGames