Tag Archives: Nils Nisse Visser

Witch in a Bottle part 2

A Wyrde Woods Tale

By Nils Visser

Part 2: The Bottle

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

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

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

“NAUN!” Joy shouted.

…but deftly caught by Maisy’s other hand.

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

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

“What is it?” Will asked.

“Witch bottle,” Joy answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We should open it!” Maisy suggested.

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

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

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

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

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

Ferrets! Regular little thieves.

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

Only one person in Tuckersham it could have belonged to.

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

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

“Joy! You know, dontcha?”

Joy shrugged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Whose?” Will asked.

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

A Guardian of the Wyrde Woods.

“Go on,” Will encouraged Joy.

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

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

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

“I knew it!” Maisy declared triumphantly.

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

“How did she know?” Will asked.

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

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

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

“What happened next?” Will asked.

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

“Stupes?” Maisy asked.

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

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

“So do I,” Will added.

“They multiply,” Joy acknowledged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bastards!” Maisy exclaimed.

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

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

Blood, horn, root, thorn…

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

… tooth, bone, wood, and stone.

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

Both Maisy and Will stared at the bottle in silence.

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

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

Valkerie uttered a warning hiss.

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

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

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

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

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

“Shut up!” Will responded.

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

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

Stupes.

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

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

Will sneezed.


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

[2] Barn owl

[3] White Zombie (1932)

[4]White Zombie (1932)

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

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


Witch in a Bottle part 1

A Wyrde Woods Tale

By Nils Visser

Part 1: Setting the Scene

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

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

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

Shoot who? Joy thought. Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maisy dissolved in merry peals of laughter.

Joy shivered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, almost all of it.

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

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

“Oh, Gwydion” Joy sighed.

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

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

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

“I was curious,” Joy answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Quiddy?” Joy asked. “Martians?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do too!” Maisy retorted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her ploy worked because Will started listing a great many.

“…Doctor Zorka who invented devisualizer belts…”

I bain’t much interested in modern city fashions.

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

Strange way to take a bath.

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

Africa! A far stride from Sussex.

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

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

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

“Transferring brains?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bettermost to naun…

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


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

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

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

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

[5] Castle Sinister (1932)

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


On Brighton Streets – another review

Tom reviewed this book as a guest blogger last year. https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2019/12/15/on-brighton-streets-a-review/

I’ve finally got round to reading it. I’ve been slow because I’ve not had much to spare emotionally and I thought it would get to me – and it did. It would be fair to say that Nils Visser is a total bastard when it comes to writing books that will break your heart. He creates emotionally engaging characters and gets you to care about them and puts them, and therefore you through the grinder. Co-writing with Cair Going has in no way changed this. It’s a powerful book and ultimately hopeful, but not easy.

The two main characters are girls in their first year at secondary school, dealing with bullying, and volunteering for a homeless project in Brighton. It brings them into contact with the brutal unfairness of the adult world, and there a lot of tough lessons for them both along the way.

While the book is fiction and contains some fictional elements, much of the context is real. It’s based on the first hand experiences of the authors working as volunteers in Brighton, and draws on The Invisible Voices of Brighton & Hove project as well. The reality of homelessness, the politics, inaction, profiteering, and the innate cruelty of all that are here to be encountered. Even if you’re passably aware, there’s much here that may surprise you, and not in a good way.

Homelessness is not the fault of the homeless. It is the inevitable consequence of so many systems being under pressure that people drop through the widening cracks in increasing numbers. When homes are unaffordable, and there’s little council housing, when work is insecure and most of us are only a few paychecks from disaster, there is bound to be homelessness. Rough sleeping is only part of it, and the people living in cars, vans, boats and caravans aren’t always so visible, nor are the couch surfers, or the people exchanging sexual favours for a night’s shelter. Add to this the total lack of provision for people in mental health crisis, an increasingly cruel benefits system, loss of shelters for folk escaping domestic abuse and cuts to all resources for young people, and you start to wonder how anyone from a low income background avoids being pushed over the edge like this.

Find out more here – https://nilsnissevisser.co.uk/invisible-voices-of-brighton-and-hove-(books-stories-and-poems)


On Brighton Streets – a review

This is both a book review, and a guest blog from Tom Brown

When is the last time you finished a book and felt like a better human being  for having read it? I read pretty voraciously and it’s a a pretty rare occurrence for me. I put off reading this for a while because I’m all too aware of the growing number of rough sleepers and the people that are on the verge of losing any sort of security. Where we live, there are more rough sleepers than we have ever seen before. I’ve volunteered for a local charity and have had the chance to hear their stories and have had to endure the knowledge that some of those that I served coffee and tea to a year ago, have since died. Also, I’ve been homeless and had nearly a decade of insecure housing and unreliable access to sufficient food. (Very glad to say that was some time ago, but what I learned during that time will be with me for the rest of my life)  So, as I say, I was a bit wary of jumping in. I know Nils Visser’s work though and I would read anything he writes (and in fact, plan to read everything he has written)

Right. Enough about me. On to the review. The book under discussion here, is On Brighton Streets by Nils Visser and Cair Emma. It takes you into an understanding of homelessness though the experiences of a set of characters who are entirely relatable, and tells the story that is like the journey that many people make when they begin to understand how this can happen to people, and the way they are treated when it becomes their life. It leads us in through a fairly straightforward understanding of the plight of the homeless and gradually introduces the complexities of their situations, and the realities of the wider culture. It’s readable to the point of being very hard to put down and though it sugarcoats nothing, it leaves you with a sense of hope and a feeling that humanity is perhaps a very good thing to be a part of, and well worth getting in and giving it all another go. It would also be a good book to give to anyone you know who needs a new introduction to the subject. It’s also good for younger readers. The main character is a school age girl, in fact. If all this were not enough, there’s this “All proceeds from this book have been pledged to Cascade Creative Recovery, First Base & Sussex Homeless Support.” Cair and Nils have been at the coalface and have been heroic in their ceaseless (I won’t say tireless, because they are often tired!) work with and for the homeless and vulnerable in the Brighton area.
Here is the link. Go get you one (or several) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Brighton-Streets-Nisse-Visser/dp/9082783649

Creative Osmosis, a guest-blog in two parts

A guest blog from Nils Visser

 

Please don’t get me wrong on this. I receive short book reviews with fierce and joyous exclamations that will startle the cats into a sulk. I’m at the self-publishing Indie stage where reviews, rather than the occasional sale, are the measure of success.

From that perspective, the length and complexity of a review is irrelevant. “I liked this book” is enough. Some of my favourite reviews are thunderous in their brevity. “Insanely well-written” for Escape from Neverland, and – I suspect by the same reviewer – “KICKS ASS” for Dance into the Wyrd. What more do you need to know? Plus, it’s pretty clear to me that the reviewer has read the books. J

I probably risk undermining the message that ‘any sort of review will do’ by gushing over longer and more comprehensive ones, but those longer ones do something entirely different. In their own way they’re as priceless as “KICKS ASS” and “Insanely Well-Written.”

Apart from the sheer magic of realising that there’s someone out there who has demonstrably grasped the essence of a story, and their generous allocation of time in digesting a story comprehensively, it’s also awfully kind of them to formulate that essence in a manner which I could never do myself. I can write a book, but please – OH HORROR – don’t ask me to describe it.

I can get as far as saying, “Look, I did a thing, where before there was nothing, kinda neat, isn’t it?” If you respond, “Yeah, cool, what’s the story about?” (like a normal human being showing interest would), I withdraw back into my shell. “Erm…ah…nothing much…I dunno…you probably shouldn’t bother…”

Every now and then a reviewer manages to phrase what the story is about with such eloquence that it not only leaves me stunned, but also arms me with an answer to that “what’s the story about” question. I can now answer, “Well, so and so says…” Somehow that is easier.

Every now and then, a review is so sirageously awesome, that the aftershocks of sheer jubilation transform into renewed inspiration for stories.

I have been fortunate enough to receive two of these reviews recently, for the novella Rottingdean Rhyme. One by Nimue Brown and one by Mark Hayes. I’m profoundly grateful for these reviews, more than they will ever know, so have no hesitation to gush wildly about these two reviewers, and their skills in unravelling aspects of Rottingdean Rhyme.

Through these reviews, both Nimue and Mark have, unwittingly, made a big mark on the two novellas which complete this mini-series regarding the childhood years of Alice Kittyhawk, protagonist of Time Flight Chronicles Book 1: Amster Damned.

Nimue for Them that Ask No Questions (just published), and Mark for Fair Weather for Foul Folk, still in progress.

I’m not entirely sure they’ll be pleased to have been allocated parental responsibility for the stories, so will have to turn to you, the jury, to demonstrate that their creative DNA, strands of their own writerliness as it were, have been woven into the stories about Alice.  I’ll do this in two parts (sharing this same introduction), covering Them that Ask No Questions on Nimue’s blog Druidlife, and Fair Weather for Foul Folk on Mark’s Passing Place blog.

Creative Osmosis: Indie October Guest Post By Nils Nisse Visser

 

THEM THAT ASK NO QUESTIONS

 

Nimue identifies the novella Rottingdean Rhyme as a story about “smuggling and steam powered aircraft, and community and poetry, written with charm and heart.”

(Her full review can be read here: https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/rottingdean-rhyme-a-review/)

She mentions that she is aware of the darker aspects of the 19th century and believes that any story “pretending the past was a lovely place, is not for me.” She adds: “One of the reasons I appreciate Nils’ work is that he gets an excellent balance of squaring up to issues while creating an engaging adventure.”

That last stuck with me, as well as her analysis of the archetypal common denominator Rottingdean Rhyme shares with traditional smuggler’s lore, which of course forms an inspiration for my re-invention of Sussex smuggling within a Steampunk context.

The reason people can identify with stories about smugglers, pirates or highwaymen, according to Nimue, is that “in so many times and places there have been so few ways of dealing with relentless, grinding poverty. Robin Hood is the poster boy for this sort of thing, but he’s never been alone. These are all figures who, through British history have raised a finger to the ruling classes and pushed back against abject poverty. When you’ve got nothing, the story of someone who pushed back can be worth a great deal.”

That really gets to the heart of the matter, and was immediately relevant to the follow-up novella, Them that Ask No Questions.

In travelling back to Alice Kittyhawk’s past, I was bound by the background information supplied in Amster Damned (in which Alice is in her mid-twenties). In short, Alice was born and partially raised in the small fishing village of Rottingdean, right in the midst of an active smuggling community. That bit was covered in Rottingdean Rhyme, and Alice’s continued association with the Rottingdean Free Traders will be addressed in the third novella, Fair Weather for Foul Folk (more on which in the twin guest blog on the Mark Hayes page).

However, Amster Damned also revealed that the later part of Alice’s childhood was spent in the Brighton slums, and I wanted to use Them that Ask No Questions to expose that experience.

These days, The Lanes quarter of Brighton is a pleasant maze of little courtyards and alleys filled with eateries, pubs, and more boutique shops than you can shake a stick at, usually crowded with tourists. Go back less than a hundred years, and it was strictly a no-go area, reminiscent of Dickensian scenes of abject poverty. Having lived in Africa and Asia, I have visited slums and shantytowns where open sewers running through muddy ditches in the streets add a distinctive odour to the sheer horror of the rampant poverty evident all around you, an experience I could draw on in transforming the picturesque Lanes back into what they used to be.

The trick of course, was to weave this horror into a story as part of the setting, rather than making it the main focus. That included being fairly sparse with details, a long list of every aspect of Victorian poverty would make grim reading indeed. So, what to use, and what to leave to the reader’s imagination?

My regular job, the one that pays the bills, is working in homeless hostels, the most harrowing part of which is when ex-armed service homeless people are visited by their demons late at night. I will not repeat their most tragic memories of Iraq and Afghanistan here. Suffice to say I understand why they are haunted by them, and regularly feel helpless rage that men and women subjected to these experiences are conveniently forgotten by their country when discharged. The associations with the 19th century are easy to make, little has changed it seems. All the more so when some councils in today’s Britain still make use of the Victorian Vagrancy Act to literally punish people for being homeless, and even threaten to arrest grassroots volunteers distributing hot drinks and soup on cold nights.

Homelessness then, features as a theme, specifically that of ex-armed services personnel.

A more difficult theme to tackle was widespread sexual exploitation of children, especially when writing from the perspective of an eleven-year-old girl. To ignore it altogether, when one in five women and girls in Britain was engaged in prostitution simply to keep from starving, wasn’t a realistic portrayal of life in the slums.

But…eleven?

Unfortunately, yes. At the time the legal age of consent was twelve. After years of public campaigning to redress this matter, the government reluctantly raised it to thirteen (a year after this story takes place).

Alice would not only have been confronted by countless scenes of public fornication in the alleys and streets of The Lanes, she would have been eyed as fair game by many of the ‘gentlemen’ at the time. To give this further perspective, reading some contemporary accounts of slum residents, it was clear that slumfolk were seen as sub-human, just as the ‘gentle’ folk viewed the native inhabitants of their sprawling empire as being lesser members of the human race. Having sex with children was generally seen as wrong. Forcing yourself on slumgirls as young as eight or nine, however, was seen as something those sub-human children were pretty much bred for, and all they were good for.

Tragically, this theme is still relevant today. Not a day seems to go by without a hypocritical politician being exposed for sexual exploitation of girls or women. The speed with which women’s rights are being stripped in Red State America is terrifying, and because of my line of work I have seen for myself the County Lines exploitation of vulnerable youngsters currently taking place all over Britain.

I decided to include this ugly theme in Them that Ask No Questions, confronting the reader with this despicable reality in a harrowing scene, but avoiding graphic descriptions and assuming the threat, rather than the deed, would suffice. A bit of a spoiler here, but I had also recently read angry letters of complaint by Victorian men in both Britain and America about the fact that Victorian women, for some strange reason, had taken up the habit of wearing ever longer and sturdier hairpins in their hair. It wasn’t fair, the men complained, that their attentions were potentially rewarded with a jab of cold steel. Hence, Alice is equipped with not one, but two hairpins. Need I say more?

Nimue’s review served as a challenge to write about all this in a manner that avoided these horrors dominating the story entirely, left place for more light-hearted moments good for a smile or a laugh, and most importantly, play on Anglo-Saxon sentiments regarding down-trodden outlaws.

Alice freely admits, at one point, that a gentlemen’s observation of slumgirls being lost to a life of crime is accurate. When she’s apprehended by the Brighton constabulary, she is engaged in three unlawful activities all at once, a regular little criminal, though more in the light of Oliver Twist than the Artful Dodger.  My hope is that you, the reader, not only understand why she is breaking the law, but find yourself actively cheering her on, encouraging a child to be successful in her criminal endeavours. If I managed to achieve that, I’m a happy scribbler.

I inserted a few Easter Eggs into the story as a homage to both Nimue’s review and her own creative endeavours (of which I am an avid fan). The best course of action to have taken would be to wait to see if Nimue (and her partner-in-crime Tom) would pick up on this when reading, supposing they would read Them that Ask No Questions. However, being an impatient fellow, I wasted no time informing them of the fact even as I was writing, so might as well spill some more beans here.

In a wink to the most excellent and bodacious Hopeless, Maine series, by Nimue and Tom, there is a special role for a spoon, and even a spoon joke of sorts. It’s unlikely to be seen as anything remarkable, but I like the little nod to the perpetual spoon crisis on Hopeless.

As for Nimue’s splendiferous review, here is a (redacted) extract from Them that Ask No Questions.

“No buts,” Chief Forty-Guts said gruffly. “I don’t care what Lunnon says, it don’t come right to me. Savvy? Well done, Harding. Now where is this hardened and vicious, but charitable criminal of yours?”

“Miss Gunn,” Harding called out. “The Chief Constable requests your presence.”

“One of the Gunns, is she?” Chief Forty-Guts asked.

“Aye, Sarge. Fancies herself a regular little Robin Hood, robbing the rich, feeding the poor.”

Figuring she had no choice, Alice stepped into view, scowling at the Rozzers. “My name bain’t Gunn nor Robin Hood, and I’m innocent cause I bain’t robbed no one.”

The chief raised his eyebrows. “Innocent?”

“Yarr! I’d like to go home now, Guv. Me mum’ll be worried.”

 

One final touch has been to play on Nimue’s reference to “jolly japes in period costume” by inserting two encounters with followers of the ‘Flight-Funk’ fashion, which involves decorated top hats and goggles. It’s possibly self-destructive to poke fun at the Steampunk audience I’m trying to reach, but I couldn’t help myself. I freely admit that I’ve treated them a bit unfairly and will in future stories make up for this, but perhaps these scenes can be seen as a thought-provoking moment, because as we parade around in our finery, that war veteran still sits outside whatever fine location we’re at, still begging for a penny or a crust of bread just like he did in 1871.

The novellas are set up as stand-alone stories, so can be read in any order you please, but they also form a series. If I’ve whetted your appetite, both Rottingdean Rhyme and Them that Ask No Questions are available as paperback or kindle. By the way, the kindle versions are cheaper than contraband brought ashore on a dark and moonless night. Fair Weather for Foul Folk, the third novella that completes this mini-series, will hopefully be out before Christmas, and is discussed in the twin guest blog on Mark Hayes’s page.

Fair Winds!

Nils

 

http://www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk

 

 


Rottingdean Rhyme – a review

Rottingdean Rhyme, by Nils Nisse Visser is a steampunk novel set in an alternative Victorian England. The book connects with Amster Damned (reviewed here) but you don’t need to have read that to enjoy this tale.

It’s a short story about smuggling and steam powered aircraft, and community and poetry, written with charm and heart.

When people write alternate history, the decisions about what to leave out and what to include are really important. For anyone writing steampunk, questions of race, gender and class are ever present. How do we think about colonialism, industrialisation, pollution, and the widespread exploitation of the era? There are many dark aspects to our history, and any novel that’s just jolly japes in period costume while pretending the past was a lovely place, is not for me.  One of the reasons I appreciate Nils’ work is that he gets an excellent balance of squaring up to issues while creating an engaging adventure.

The context for smuggling, is poverty. One of the reasons smuggling, like piracy, highway robbery and other such technically criminal activity is so romanticised, is because in so many times and places there have been so few ways of dealing with relentless, grinding poverty. Robin Hood is the poster boy for this sort of thing, but he’s never been alone. These are all figures who, through British history have raised a finger to the ruling classes and pushed back against abject poverty. When you’ve got nothing, the story of someone who pushed back can be worth a great deal.

Early on in this book, one of the characters enthuses about all the technological advances being made, and another, older, wiser figure puts him straight on this. How many people can afford to take advantage of those developments? How many new technologies are playthings for the rich, and how much use are they when children still go hungry? It’s a question that is tragically still relevant.

This is a great little story, full of adventure and memorable characters. There’s a deep love of landscape and people underlying the whole thing, and a political sensibility full of modern relevance. How can we ask anyone to honour laws that keep them hungry and powerless?

More about the book and other titles by Nils Nisse Visser here – https://www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk/