Tag Archives: Professor Elemental

Tales of Wrong – a review

There is no earthly way I can write objectively about this book, I have too many feelings about the author and the stories to do anything other than gush.

Tales of Wrong is a collection of creepy and sinister short stories from Professor Elemental (Paul Alborough). There’s humour, whimsy and deeply disturbing things here – my favourite blend.

So, let me tell you about my history with these tales. Quite some years ago I approached the Prof about co-writing, and he was initially cautious, but he sent me a short story he’d written – Confessions Of A Swan Eater – which I loved. I persuaded him to co-author with me and we had a lot of fun doing ‘Letters Between Gentlemen’. During that time frame I also got to see Aunt Fanny’s Horn, and I later saw some of the other stories in their early stages. These stories are in this collection, and it makes me so very happy to finally see them on paper.

It is quite a thing to watch a person go from saying ‘I don’t know if I can write anything other than songs’ to holding in your hands the short story collection they’ve put together. And reading it, and seeing how clever it is – because these stories interconnect and are more than the sum of their parts. It’s a fine collection.

I loved this book. And yes, it is in some ways a hideous misshapen baby grown in a filthy laboratory – you can see that from the cover art I’ve inserted into this post. And yes, it is indeed very wrong – the Punch and Judy story is a definite candidate for the award for most wrong thing I have ever read. But it is also wonderful, and I cannot help but feel that when said hideous baby was in the test tube stage of its unnatural life, a teensy bit of me got in the mix – a strand of hair perhaps, or some highly suspect DNA. And it feels good to have been part of this dastardly process and just a little bit implicated in the results.

You can get copies here – https://professorelemental.com/product/337599

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.


Professor Elemental and Hopeless Maine

Here’s an exciting development! Right now on Professor Elemental’s bandcamp page there is an EP called Nervous, which you can buy. Every penny of revenue from this release will be donated to the YPC Counselling service. This is a youth service based in Brighton and their counselling offers vital, low cost help for young people, giving them a chance to talk about their lives and their problems. So, an excellent cause, which you can support by buying music. https://professorelemental.bandcamp.com/album/nervous-ep

On that EP is a track called Hopeless Maine. This is a song that the Prof has written in response to www.hopelessmaine.com – the graphic novel series (and soon to be many other things) that I’m involved with. It’s a great song, and my son James has been performing it as part of the Hopeless Maine song set for a while now. It’s wonderful to see it released into the world.

I’ve known Professor Elemental for a long time. He was reading Hopeless when not many people at all had even heard of it. He’s always been very supportive of us. We’ve contributed to his comic, and a few years ago there was a co-written novella, illustrated by Tom, called ‘Letters Between Gentlemen’. It’s always been a very fertile sort of relationship.

One of the things that I’m really excited about with the whole Hopeless Maine project is the way it catches the imaginations of other people and causes them to want to jump in and do something. There’s all kinds of amazing things in the pipeline as a consequence of this. It’s awe inspiring, frequently humbling and I feel very fortunate indeed to be part of it.


Here’s the art Tom Brown did for the song – for those of you not familiar with anyone involved, that’s Hopeless Maine’s main character, Salamandra, rescuing Professor Elemental from a sea monster. He really does look like that, only usually without the monstery leg adornment…

Falling in love with musicians. More. Again.

I spent last Saturday at Exeter Yule Ball – a fantastic event Tom and I hadn’t been to before. It may take me some days to recover. With live music during the day and in the evening, it was a great opportunity to hear some new bands. I was deeply impressed by the sheer diversity of music.

I’ve been talking a lot about book industry issues in recent weeks, but things are no less tough in other creative industries. Music is given away online, the only way a performer can make a living is by touring (which is bloody hard work) and selling at gigs. It’s pretty much impossible to make a career by staying home and writing songs. Like most authors, most musicians will have a day job. If you love music, you need to support your musicians. Buy their albums, don’t just pick up youtube freebies.

New-to-me music I think you would like… links on the names for things you can check out. Gurdybird – folk electronica, hurdy-gurdy and pirate hat, great tunes, and also really good videos. Ideal for dancing to. The Wattingers – bass and harmonica. No, really. It shouldn’t work, and yet it does, but the bass (which you don’t get at all listening at home) is like a physical assault and I swear my bones will never be the same, having heard them. Totally startling, in a really good way. The Mysterious Freakshow – Fey Pink sings like every female goth vocalist I have ever loved with a bit of Kate Bush thrown in for good measure. Videos do no justice at all to her captivating stage presence, but go watch some anyway.

I’ve been following Miss Von Trapp online for some time now. She sings songs of murder and violence, or turns previously innocent songs into mayhem and blood baths. Accompanied by a cello. Really funny stuff. It turns out that in person she’s just as delightful, and has a truly amazing voice. You can check her out in this video in which she and Professor Elemental abuse a song and a reindeer… (I was there!)

The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing. Another group I’ve followed for years but had not seen live. Very much the punk side of Steampunk, lots of retro-politics that are all too relevant right now. An intense performance, brilliant songs, a mosh pit (from which I was absent) and my first proper encounter with a musical saw. This song is stuck in my head, and is one of my favourite things at the moment. Atheist issues with the supernatural. This house is not haunted – no god, no ghosts, no afterlife.


The end of the evening bought a set from Professor Elemental. I found him by accident, years ago when looking for an OBOD video on youtube, and have adored him ever since. Fantastic performance, not just funny, but an experience designed to lift people up, leaving us feeling better about ourselves and each other. A one man austerity antidote in a pith helmet. Part of the normal audience job is to look up in awe and be inspired to love the performer. I go to gigs expecting to love the performers. There are whole other levels to this for me with the good professor. Having worked with him to co-create a book, been a test reader for him, thrown works-in-progress of mine his way, introduced each other for nerdbong podcasts… he’s been important to me for a long time, both as his stage self and when not pithed-up. Seeing him over the weekend reminded me of just how much I love working with him, so I’m determined now to find some opportunity for a new collaboration.

And that previous joint project looks like this. Paperback and hardcover, with the lovely people at Snowbooks.


Please Don’t Feed the Trolls

My good friend Professor Elemental is crowdfunding to produce a music video with an anti-bullying making the world a better place sort of message. Truth be told ‘crowdfunded’ is more accurate – the money needed is raised, but there’s some days to go, and all the extra cash that the project delivers is going to three awesome charities helping young people. If you want to be part of the splendidness, hop over to https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/don-t-feed-the-trolls-the-music-video

The startling chap on the left (for those of you who can see him) was created by my other half, Tom Brown, and is a poster exclusively available via Don’t Feed the Trolls. He may remind you of someone. Of course all resemblance to any Prime Minister, living or dead is wholly coincidental, but there’s a political point to make here. This is how we see internet bullying – it’s poor, overweight, ugly and probably still living with its mum. We’re used to looking for bullying when it shows up like this, and we find it harder to spot when it’s got a suit and a PR department. Put this troll in a suit and you’d be more likely to accept what he says as reasonable. Even as he eats you.

Take the troll out of the suit, and he looks like something else entirely. We’re surprisingly susceptible to the messages encoded in costumes. Power and money do not equate to the right to bully others. However, when bullying tactics are an integral part of the political scene, and are offered on TV under the guise of ‘entertainment’ it’s little wonder so many people get online and do all the same things, and feel entitled to name call, abuse, denigrate and threaten.

Not feeding the trolls is not just about avoiding the sad souls online who spit poison. It’s about taking a long, hard look at the culture we’re helping co-create, and the far nastier and more subtle trolls we’ve allowed to grab positions of power.

Introducing Letters Between Gentlemen

When I first saw Professor Elemental in a youtube video, I thought what a wonderful person he would be to work with. It was just a pipe dream, back then. And yet, a series of opportunities came my way, and here we are, here he is, and the book we wrote together is now available.

although that’s not quite how I tend to pronounce my name, but just as I don’t call him Professor when we’re not in a performance context, he tends not to call me Nimue. It’s actually my middle name, and not always the name I use at home, but when in use, I prefer the three syllabled Nim-oo-aye, to rhyme with ‘hay’.

Letters between Gentlemen involves a lot of messing about with history, for purposes of giggles and subversion. I have read a lot of published letters and journals from the Victorian era, a time when the letters of important men were frequently published. Of course many of our characters are women. There’s quite a lot of playing with gender – at least six cases of mistaken gender identity across the whole thing, in fact. I hadn’t stopped to count before, that’s actually rather a lot…

There are some esoteric bits – what is faux Victoriana without some dabbling occultists? In this case, it’s all about the Hermitic and Scientific gentlemen’s club. Or was that the London club of scientific, hermetic gentlemen? There are splitters, it makes it tricky to keep track. Watch out for John the Retriever, the floating mystic of Covent Garden as well. The Professor himself walks a fine line between magic and science, in that what he does claims to be scientific but frankly can only be explained by magic.


Notes from the adventure

The last few days, I’ve been gallivanting about, and you’ve been seeing blog posts I set up at the start of the week. It’s been quite an experience, so, here’s some of what I’ve been up to, and a few reflections along the way.

On Wednesday we went to the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards at the Royal Albert Hall. It’s a huge, Victorian venue, and it was sold out. We saw Bellowhead, Full English, Martin and Eliza Carthy, Fisherman’s Friends, Clanad, Susan Vega, Peggy Seeger and others. I’ve spent my whole life in and out of folk things, and this enthusiastic celebration of the modern folk scene is lovely in the extreme. What really struck me was the little acceptance speeches from winners of various awards – warm, measured, not self indulgent at all. Every single one gave a sense of a person rooted in the community and the tradition. What makes folk go is not the big and famous names, but the many, barely heard of people who pass on songs and tunes, run clubs, sing floor spots and show up as an audience.

Folk is very much a grass roots thing, and even as the awards celebrated the big names, there was a real consciousness that they are the flowering of something that is much, much bigger. We could use a bit more of that in mainstream culture, both in terms of the grass roots spaces where new creative folk can flourish, and in reducing the massive egos that tend to dominate celebrity culture.

Thursday saw an expedition to Brighton, to see the sea, and the gothic skeleton of the old pier. It was also an opportunity to hang out with Professor Elemental and plot good things – Tom and I have been working with the Professor for some time now, and there’s a lot more of that to come. I was very taken with Brighten – a colourful place with lots of unique shops and a really vibrant atmosphere. So many high streets are turning into clones with near identical collections of chain stores, so it’s great to go somewhere with diversity and character.

Friday saw us travelling back, a journey on which we spotted half a dozen red kites. These beautiful birds had all but vanished from the UK when I was a child, so their comeback is something to be really encouraged by.

As I type this, we’ve just learned that comics journalist Bill Baker has died, suddenly and of natural causes. We never got to meet Bill in person, but he championed our work, and his energy and enthusiasm helped us, both in terms of raising our profile, and also in terms of morale. A kind and generous chap, he will be sorely missed.

It’s been a strange few days, much of it good, the last bit not at all so. Treasure the lovely people and the good stuff, there is no knowing how long you have with anything. Life is short and precious.

Bardic contests and other competitions

I should start by saying that I have never won anything in my entire life (although I’ve entered plenty) and that it might therefore be fair to assume I’m a wee bit jaded and cynical as a consequence.

There are contests and prizes in just about every field of human endeavour. The bardic chair, and bardic sparring being the resident Druid option. We also have the Mount Haemus awards for scholarship. Every year the ebook world gets excited about the Predators and Editors poll. One of the authors I edit for dreams of a Pulitzer – who wouldn’t? Of course we all want the recognition of a win, and whatever we say about the value of taking part, that’s not what drives people. The hunger to achieve and be recognised is there in all creative people in all fields, so far as I know. But of course most, like me, won’t even make second or third place. And then what? The sense of failure and inadequacy.

Losing is that bit worse if it feels underserved. Many online contests are in essence, popularity contests. The person who can round up the most friends, wins. In such a scenario, someone new, talented and unheard of never gets a look in. It can often seem that in contests of skill or talent, physical beauty and youth can be what wins the day. I once saw a bardic contest won by a young, slender, pretty creature who did not know her song, lost her word sheet several time and had to pause and restart, while slick and well rehearsed efforts from older, rounder and less pretty people went unregarded. And quite frankly, that kind of thing makes me really frustrated. Losing to the better person is no shame at all. Losing because your face doesn’t fit, or you haven’t done enough ass licking, is not funny.

When it comes to sports, it’s usually fairly easy to ascertain who the winner is. They lifted most, jumped highest, ran furthest, fastest and you can measure that. Where the nature of the activity does not automatically define winners and losers (ie writing poetry) there enters in a subjective element. An element of judgement. A matter of preference. Someone decides, based on whatever they like, who was best.

A couple of years ago I found myself in the strange situation of judging in a poetry contest (they picked random people from the audience). I was not popular as a judge, I got booed a lot by the audience because I did not give high marks to the contestants who were simply working to shock, or to induce emotional responses without having any meaning or wordcraft in the mix. I’m sure there were people that night who felt cheated by how I had judged them. But, I set my own criteria, as required and it being poetry, I put wordcraft before stagecraft, and depth before shiny surface and paid no attention at all to how pretty any of them were. Or how many cheering friends they had brought along. I learned along the way that I prefer not to get into competitive things. I have no problem with anyone else doing it. If I am going to compete, I would rather play chess (at which I am rubbish) than get into something painfully subjective, like a poetry slam, or one of those publically humiliating popularity votes. Because I’m not popular or pretty enough for either. Or perhaps it’s easier for me to see it that way rather than risk pitching my limited talents against the greater skills of others. See, told you I was cynical and jaded!

However, if that sort of thing does float your boat… my lovely man, who is much braver than me, is currently taking part in a contest to pick cover art for the next Professor Elemental CD. http://www.professorelemental.com/fr_home.cfm You might want to wander over and consider which, in your subjective opinion is the best bit of art, by whatever criteria appeal to you. And of course this might not be about the art at all, it might be one of those ‘bring a friend’ scenarios where the person with the most chums, or in some cases, email addresses to deploy, wins. I’ve seen that done, too. Plenty of fairish voting systems can be beaten by a couple of people with a lot of email addresses. Fortunately this poll will recognise your computer, so you can only vote once a day. In the meantime, enjoy the art!

Fate’s sticky fingers

(I’ll be back with the druidic arts tomorrow, but this is on my mind so I want to run with it.)

Fate and destiny are tricky notions. As a Druid, I do not believe in one great creator deity with a grand plan for everything. As a pagan I’m conscious of ideas like the wyrd, and norns, the fates that crop up in various ancient mythologies. Certain of our ancestors do seem to have believed that destiny was in other hands. Supernatural hands at that.

On the whole, I like to think of reality as being a tapestry that we are all making, and of course, what we do now, shapes what we might be going to get. But sometimes, just sometimes, the line of causality that results in a thing happening, is so startling that I wonder. Looking back down the spider web thread that have held aspects of my life together, and the tiny decisions on which momentous things have pivoted, I wonder sometimes. On general principles I don’t like to think something else is pulling my strings, but then I look at what I’ve got, and I wonder. I thought today I’d tell you a story, a tale that is curious, and also entirely true.

About four years ago I was working on something pagan. I don’t remember what, or who it was for, but I put the search term ‘Elemental’ in, and a thing came up that wasn’t remotely what I was looking for. I think I was looking for a Damh the Bard piece on elements of Druidry. Now, normally I’m quite disciplined when working online, I focus on the job, I do not allow myself to get seduced by the many available distractions. That day, either my concentration was down, or I had a little spare time – also unusual. I cannot remember why I did what I did. I look back and wonder about hands on strings. Instead of trying another search term, I clicked play.


I remember that first hearing, the absolute strangeness, the joy of it, the laughing, the rushing to show it to other people. I had found something like nothing else. I had never seen steampunk before, or chap hop. I was enchanted. I had found Professor Elemental. Any time I was really down, or feeling lost I would go back and play the song, and feel better.

Two years ago, my lovely other half was still in America and was invited to appear at the first Steampunk World’s Faire in New Jersey. Looking at what else would be happening, we realised that ‘Professor Elemental’ was also going to be there. So I sent Tom links, and pretty much demanded that he went and at least said hello, as I wouldn’t be able to. Tom did manage to get a chat, during which the Professor’s enthusiasm for comics came to light and a Hopeless Maine bookmark changed hands. On arriving in the UK, Tom made contact with the Professor and the ideas started to flow.

I met Professor Elemental for the first time on Saturday. We’ve been corresponding for about six months now, and dabbling in some shared creativity. His first comic is out sometime around now, and we’ve just committed to doing a 6 page piece for the next one. He’s just shot a TV pilot, we’ve got an Archaia deal, publishers are already expressing interest in what we might do collaboratively. Tom will be doing an album cover, in the future (not the next one, that’s a contest).

Four years ago these things were no more than foolish daydreams. It’s easy to look at someone and think ‘oh, I love what this person does, I could do amazing things with them’. I’d stopped imagining anything like that would happen to me. And yet, these fragile spider webs of opportunity leave their little, sticky trails through the last four years, bringing me from distant admirer status, to someone who is getting to do a thing or three.

Talking in person, the three of us, getting a sense of being both on the same wavelength, and so different from each other that we can go places collectively none of us would have tried as individuals. Stood in a pub garden, overwhelmed by the sheer feeling of rightness, the absolute sense that awen is flowing now and that something is happening that really was supposed to happen.

Only, I don’t quite believe in fate, most of the time.