Tag Archives: stories

New Stories

I have three new stories out in the world at the moment…

I have a tiny flash fiction piece in the album notes of Maximum Splendid, the new Rapscallion album. I’m very taken with the music, and it’s always lovely to be part of a steampunk thing! Hard copies here – https://rapscallionband.com/store#!

And you can listen to a couple of tracks over here – https://rapscallionband.com/music

Over on Patreon, I’ve started serialising a new book. That’s available to anyone who signs up as a Dustcat, Steampunk Druid or Glass Heron. It’s a speculative novel, plenty of magical Pagan elements, plenty of weirdness… Spells for the Second Sister isn’t available anywhere else at present.  You can find that over here –  https://www.patreon.com/NimueB

The Hopeless Maine kickstarter hit its funding goal, so we’re now looking at stretch goals. The odds are very good of hitting the first one, and at $7k everyone who has supported the project gets a new story as a pdf. That means the odds are very good of getting a story for a dollar. There are lots of other interesting things you can have should you feel so moved.  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hopelessmaine/hopeless-maine-the-graphic-novel-by-tom-and-nimue-brown/

Here’s a little taster…

That morning he found a large, yellowish ball of spider eggs inside the collar of his jacket. It was not an omen. Durosimi did not believe in omens.

Any occultist worth their salt knows that divination, prophecy and other variations on a theme of anticipating the future, are tricksy things. Durosimi considered it an inexact science at best.  He preferred exact science and dependable outcomes. Alchemy, necromancy, demonology; why try to see the future when you could create it through deliberate action? Most of what passed for divination was nonsense anyway.

The ball of spider eggs did not mean anything. The large, dead spider that somehow got into his breakfast did not mean anything. Only that the latest cook was as incompetent as the previous one.


Stories we need to change

There are a lot of stories in popular culture that do far more harm than good. One of them goes as follows – and I’ve seen variations of it many times in films.

There are some men who have a job to do. A sexy lady person comes along and distracts them. The professional men suddenly become completely unable to do their job. They may be distracted enough that someone escapes, or plants a bomb, or otherwise thwarts what they were supposed to be doing. They may be so overwhelmed by the sexy lady person that they leave their post, hand over keys or otherwise actively mess up their job.

No one really benefits from this story. It tells men that they have no self control and will think with their balls at the slightest provocation. If there’s a sexy lady person in the room they may become unable to think or to act professionally. They may have no self control or integrity in face of a sexy lady person. This in turn supports narratives that when men experience desire they cannot be expected to control themselves or act responsibly, so it’s perpetuating rape culture.

Scenes like these tell women that sexuality is how women get things done. Sexy clothing, provocative behaviour and offering sex will allow you to manipulate men. Power for women thus becomes entangled with being young – because we don’t tend to present older women as sexually appealing. The accident of beauty is the only possible source of power and worth. Most women therefore will not have an option on being powerful on these terms. It tells women they should be glad when men focus on them sexually because this is the only kind of power they can have. Also sexy women tend to be ‘bad guys’. This is all very patriarchal.

There are stories in which the roles are reversed, but what tends to happen is that the women fall in love with the men, and may switch sides on the basis of this. The women are more likely to be persuaded by the righteous cause the man has, as well as his handsome face. Men are invariably able to use power in other ways alongside persuading key women to act on their behalf. Men using their sexy powers are more likely to be heroes than villains.

A single instance of a story like this doesn’t do much harm, but it’s such a frequently used plot device – and it is lazy as a plot device as well. We see it too often, we hear its messages too often. It’s a crappy story that may do more to shape how people think of themselves than it does to reflect how people really are.


Water Witches

Water magic is all about healing, and emotions. You place bowls of water in the moonlight to gather enchantment, and take healing baths.

Slowly, you learn to listen to the water. You discover that the water is full of sorrow.

There is plastic in the water, and pollution of all kinds. Death flows where there should be life. There is thirst in the land and in its creatures. You stop wondering about how to use water for magic, and start asking how to do magic for water.

You become a water witch. You go to the edge of the desert to make desalination equipment out of rubbish you scavenge from the dumps. You set up camp at the edge of a poisoned lake and dedicate years of your life to fishing out the plastic, filtering out the oil, bringing the plants back. You make sand dams. You try to become a beaver. You make wetlands and plant reeds and dream about hippos.

In a land of intermittent rain, you build barriers across places where the water floods. Your back hurts all the time from bending and digging, but when the rains come you are ready, and some of your dams hold, and ponds form. The soil will not wash away this time, and some of the water will seep back into the earth rather than evaporating.

When you weep for all that has been lost and damaged, you understand that water is all about healing, and emotions.

(Art by Dr Abbey – these are concepts and sketches I’m playing with, but i think we’re going somewhere with all of this…))


Stories to Light the Night – a review

Susan Perrow is a well established international expert in the field of healing stories. I heartily recommend this book for anyone interested in exploring stories (or for that matter any other creative writing) as a healing tool. For anyone following the bard path, this could be a vital part of your tool kit. While this book is focused on creating stories to help children process grief, there are wider implications and the content will certainly benefit older readers/listeners as well.

Stories to Light The Night lays out what it takes to write a healing story. This is invaluable information for anyone considering such work. The majority of the book is taken up with stories. The book is themed around healing from grief, and the topics covered are – the loss of a loved one, the loss of a family connection, the loss of a pet, the loss of health and wellbeing, the loss of place, environmental grief and loss, cycles of life and change, and a chapter that covers an array of other losses.

The stories themselves are mostly written by Susan Perrow, but a fair few come from other therapeutic authors working in different contexts around the world. As a consequence, there’s a diversity of perspective and experience, which I found really helpful and interesting.

All of the stories are presented with a piece about the context in which they were written. Most of them fall into one of two categories – either that they were written by someone as a way of working with their own grief and then offered to others to help, or they were written for a specific family, child, or community. It means that with most stories, there is also a story about what had happened. Many of them were heartbreaking. I cried over pretty much every story in the loss of a loved one section. They are poignant and not easy, even though these stories are short and accessible. They help you face up to grief and to better understand it.

If you have unprocessed grief, this book is going to do things to you. The work of dealing with grief is important, but make sure you don’t get caught off-guard by this. If you are looking for help with your own grief, this book might aid you, but give yourself plenty of time to digest, process and whimper. I did not realise how much unprocessed grief I was carrying when I started reading, and I was caught out by that. Which is fine – books do that sometimes.

The stories here could be used directly by reading them to people who might be helped by them. If you’re interested in using stories as a therapeutic tool in a healing context, this book is a really interesting introduction to the subject. If you are interested in how to bring healing work into your own writing and storytelling, this book has a great deal to offer.

Find out more about the book here – https://www.hawthornpress.com/books/family/bereavement/stories-to-light-the-night/


Princess stories

Like most girls, I was exposed to a fair few stories about princesses while I was growing up. Many of them were awful. I’ve been thinking about the messages in those stories and how they impacted on my sense of self.

First and foremost a princess had to be beautiful. I was exposed to a lot of stories where beauty was defined as blonde with blue eyes. There was a memorably awful one in which the princess who needed rescue turned out to be a big disappointment because she was a bit plump and had dark hair. That one haunted me. Dark haired, dark eyed and regularly fat shamed, it was clear that I wasn’t going to cut it.

Princess stories taught me that the ideal quality in a young woman was fragility. People are more likely to fall in love with you if they have to rescue you first and you function as some sort of beautiful prize. Being good, kind and lovely clearly matters, but that should manifest in a passive, domestic sort of way. You shouldn’t do anything. You should be so delicate and entitled that you complain about a pea under the mattress. I didn’t get much in the way of warrior princess stories until I was a lot older.

I also remember as a child having a moment of working out what life might be like with servants following you round, and not being able to do anything privately or for yourself, and I didn’t much fancy it. I had a fledgling feeling that to be doing nothing in a glamorous way while other people did the work wasn’t something to aspire to.

Princess stories are a key part of how western culture tells girls who they are supposed to be. I think it’s a lot better than it used to be – that the princesses are more diverse, more active, self rescuing. Child me could have done with the dark haired and highly capable Princess Leia, with Shrek’s Princess Fiona, and Nausica from Valley of the Wind. Child me would have been much happier in a reality where being a princess was something anyone, me included, could play with.

This summer, for the first time in my life, someone called me ‘princess’ as a term of affection. I was shocked by what this did to my inner child, who was never a princess. Stories are powerful things, and the ones that were told to us as children do a lot to inform who we think we are allowed to be.


Walking, stories and landscape

I experience the landscape around me in a way that is full of story. At this point, these stories are a mix of local folklore, history, personal experience and fiction.

If I walk from my home to the top of Selsley Hill, I go through a tunnel where I once had a rather magical encounter with a fox. I pass a corner where there was a slowworm one time. I walk past a community garden where I used to be involved. There is a pub, which has a few personal stories associated with it. Then I walk past the field where the were-aurochs first transformed in my Wherefore stories. I will tend to remember the first time going up over the grassy part of the hill and saying there was a chance we’d find orchids and then being blown away by how many orchids there were. There is a path where the bee orchids grow, and I remember who I’ve taken to see them in previous years. There is a signpost that gave me a strange experience once in the mist. Finally, there is the barrow, and all that I’ve done there. And all the other points in the landscape visible from the hilltop and all the stories that connect to those.

Each re-visit adds layers to the story of my relationship with this landscape. Over time, some of the personal experiences turn out to be more enduring than others. The fictional stories build alongside this.

Part of the reason my relationship with the land is like this, is that I walk. At walking speed, there is time for memories of a place to come to the surface. There is time to share a story or a bit of folklore. At walking speed, the landscape becomes much bigger because we have more time in it, and that allows room in all kinds of ways.

The car is a rather new thing in terms of human history. Our ancestors walked, for the greater part. There were no road signs. Finding your way through a landscape may well have been a matter of having a narrative map in your head. We know that some early mapping – like establishing the boundaries of a parish, was a narrative that you walked in order to reinforce it. If you can tell a walk as a story, you can teach it to someone who has never been there. Stories make a journey more entertaining and can help you keep going in rough conditions – I’ve certainly used them in that way. Stories help us place ourselves in the landscape – as individuals, as communities, as people with a tradition of being in the landscape.

I don’t have that unbroken lineage that traditional peoples have living in deeply storied landscapes. But, my people have been here a long time, and I have a feeling of rootedness. Most of what I have, I’ve put together for myself, from the local oral tradition, from folklore books, from history, and shared experience. This kind of relationship with a landscape is available to anyone, anywhere – sometimes you have to mostly work with your own material, but that’s fine. Every tradition starts somewhere.


Pessimism and the Brain Weasels

“Give up,” says the brain weasel. “You’re just torturing yourself with false hope. Really everything is shit and it will hurt less if you admit that and stop fighting it.”

Last week I was thinking about how difficult I find it to imagine good outcomes. This morning, I caught this brain weasel in action, and had a good look at it. I’d been working with the idea that not being able to imagine good outcomes might be an out of date coping mechanism. It isn’t. It’s a way I’ve been taught to think to keep me placid and cooperative.

If hope is torturing yourself and nothing can ever possibly be better, why would you leave? Why would you put up a fight, or try to change anything? Why would you expect people to do better?

Giving up hope is not a protective measure, it’s a form of self-abandonment. It is surrender to all that is wrong, and a way of making sure I never even try to fix things or make them better. It is a deep and soul-killing sinkhole into which I might throw myself.

Would it hurt less if I gave up hope? Would it really? Would it hurt less to think the worst of other people, to imagine that things go wrong because I’m not good enough, or deserve it, or because I am unloveable? Is it really the best choice to abandon all other possible explanations in favour of a story that casts everyone in the worst possible light? Take it apart to see how it works, and this approach doesn’t work at all. It takes the fight out of me, when I need to hold my ground. It takes away my scope for anger at times when I need it most. It also undermines other relationships and reduces my scope to be both imaginative and compassionate. But then, historically, undermining other relationships was a good way of keeping me in a bad place.

I would rather live in hope. I would rather think the best of people and have some space to think well of myself. I would rather hang on to the idea of myriad explanations that have nothing to do with how shit I am, in situations where things go wrong. I would rather imagine there is a way forward, a way out. I do not want to be at the mercy of this particularly nasty little brain weasel.

The trouble with brain weasels is that they present as truth, as obvious facts. This one was given to me, I see that now. It was squeezed into my brain to keep me timid and well behaved and biddable and to stop me imagining that I could have nice things. It tells me that surrendering to pain will hurt less than fighting, and that there is no point fighting, and that hope is my enemy. Time to serve an eviction notice on this creature and not allow it any more residential space in my mind. I need to populate my mind with voices that suit me better. A Hope Otter might be a good move.


Stories about life

We’re all story tellers. We are all inclined to look for sense and meaning in our experiences and we tend to weave these into stories about who we are and what our lives mean. However, the kind of stories we tell ourselves come from our experiences and beliefs and will influence our lives without necessarily being true. One of the things that privilege means is having the confidence, self esteem and sense of entitlement to tell yourself uplifting and encouraging stories, with all the positive benefits that can bring.

I’m good at constructing stories out of tiny fragments of information, and I have a good track record for being right – at least when it comes to making sense of other people. Mostly I tell myself stories about how it is all going to go wrong. This isn’t irrational, and for much of my life, trying to see where the next blow might be coming from has been a useful life skill. It’s not one I think I can afford to do without. But I do need to imagine better things.

So, this is a story about how it came out well in the end. You couldn’t really see it at the time of course because when things are hard and scary, it is difficult to imagine a good ending. But, the hard and scary part was like the middle of a book, and you know how evil authors can be. In the end, things resolved. In the end, you found a way through and life went on and there were good days and you laughed and smiled and it was ok. You looked back and saw how the awful patch fitted into a bigger narrative. You could not have got to the good stuff without going through the hard stuff first, but it was a journey, that hard stuff, not your destination.

Often, the defining feature of a story is where we choose to stop. Take a story far enough and everyone dies. That might be a good ending, because a life well lived and a good death should be things to celebrate. Stop a story at the point when it all goes wrong, and that’s the story you have, even if things later change.

I can tell myself better stories. I can tell myself stories that include the way I make the best of things and how resilient I am. I can tell stories of endurance and the long haul, of not giving up, of second chances and things that worked out well. I can remind myself of the stories where things worked out badly despite my best efforts but how even so, I regret none of my choices. I can tell myself the stories about the things it took a long time to put right, but which came right in the end. Looking back, a great many really important things in my life have, eventually worked out the way I needed them to. Things that seemed like story-ending devastating setbacks at the time have, without exception, turned out not to be. They were not the end-points of the stories, they were challenges along the way.

Things are hard for me right now. I am disorientated, I don’t really know who I am, I’ve been through some life and self-changing stuff and I don’t currently know what it means or what to do next or where I am going. This is not how stories end. Something will change, because something always does. There will be a breakthrough, or a new direction will emerge, or something will sort out. Life continues, and I need to tell better stories about that process.


The silent ancestors

Ancestors of not doing your dirty laundry in public.

Ancestors of lying about where the bruises came from.

It isn’t nice to talk about that. It isn’t polite. It isn’t appropriate. Don’t mention it.

The ancestors who said ‘what will the neighbours think’ and felt it was more important to put on a good show for strangers, than to deal with problems.

Ancestors of keeping up appearances, too proud to ask for help.

It is better to fail and suffer privately than to let anyone know you are struggling. You make sure your hungry child looks clean and tidy, and is polite.

The ancestors who said keeping up appearances meant not speaking about what was done to you. The parents and grandparents of other people’s silence.

Don’t bring shame on us. Don’t embarrass us.

The ancestors for whom the abuse of a female body was a source of shame, not of anger. And you wouldn’t draw attention for fear of hurting the girl’s chances of marriage, and you’d never talk or deal with what had happened that hurt the girl.

Ancestors of not rocking the boat and not making a fuss.

Ancestors of this is not for the likes of us, know your place and be quiet.

We do it my way, because I said so. It was good enough for my family. It’s good enough for you.

Ancestors of do not draw attention to yourself and do not ask for more than you are given.

We don’t talk about nasty body things, or sex, or disease, or pregnancy. We are the ancestors of having no words for these things that are good, or kind, or helpful.

 

Ancestral stories aren’t always made of large, easy to spot drama. Often the most dangerous things are the things we were not allowed to talk about. We pass on stories about the stories we are not allowed to tell. Sometimes the encouragement to silence is subtle. Sometimes it is brutal, loud, and either way it is destructive. Breaking the silence is never easy, but is often vital.


Stories for us

I know this is a subject I’ve posted about before, but it is on my mind a lot at the moment. Stories are maps we hold to help us navigate. When you don’t have stories about the kind of person you are, then feelings of otherness and isolation are inevitable. For many of us, the only available stories are tragic.

There aren’t many good stories out there for polyamorous people. Most three (or more) sided relationship stories are rivalries, and do not end well for at least one person. Love triangles are usually stories about having to choose. Or one of the three people turning out not to be so good after all.

There are more good stories for queer people than there used to be. It is no longer the case that the only way you can have LGBT representation is if your queer characters die tragically. But still, there’s a lot of work to do here. We need more stories in which queer folk do stuff that isn’t about coming out or having a hard time for being queer.

The same issues exist for People of Colour – that good stories that go well and aren’t primarily about politics, struggle and race issues are not as numerous as they should be. Not even close. We need to stop restricting the kinds of stories Black and Ethnic Minority people are allowed to tell.

Then there are the characters who are outside of mainstream culture because they are clever, talented, gifted, brilliant, capable beyond what most people do. And outside of the super-hero genre, this doesn’t go well. The souls who are too good for this world who end up dead, or still alone while comparatively mediocre characters get to have a meaningful experience or a coming of age narrative. This makes me sad. I want to rescue all the manic pixie dream girls and give them stories that are about how they live out their awesomeness and are properly appreciated. I want the world to look at the people who are too good for this world and up its game so they do not have to be sacrificed.

I’d also like a new love story. I am tired of the earth-shattering life changing love affair that can only make sense if it lasts for a very short time frame. What we keep telling each other is that grand passions are not for the long haul. You can only have Romeo and Juliet levels of intensity if you only get a few days together and then you both die. It’s not true.

Obviously one of the answers is that I have to write these stories, and amplify other authors who are writing these stories. If you’re doing this kind of work and would like a signal boost from me, please let me know.