Tales from the Hidden Grove

Tales from the Hidden Grove
"Amongst the finest short story writers in the UK right now" ~ Black Pear Press

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

EdgeLit Derby - Enlightened by Grimdark



This last weekend, I went to a convention in Derby for fantasy/sci-fi/horror writers, called EdgeLit.  It was the first time I had been to this or any convention - except for the time I went to pick up my James White Award at the 2005 Hugos, which was a flying-visit blur of nerves, Alan Lee, and people in Ming the Merciless cloaks.  This time, I had actually paid to go.  It turned out to be a very enjoyable day, both inspiring and entertaining.

As is often the case with such things, one of the best sessions was one I only decided to go to at the last minute: a panel discussion entitled Into the Grimdark – Is Darker Fantasy a Trend, or Here to Stay?

The discussion began with an attempt to define Grimdark as a sub-genre.  There was some disagreement as to whether George RR Martin (Game of Thrones etc.) came under this heading.  I think it was generally agreed that Scott Lynch's Locke Lamora books did.  As far as I now understand it, Grimdark is a sub-genre with low magic, a smaller setting (usually, hence the Martin debate), ordinary people, and a much greyer line between heroes and villains.  In fact, there are no true heroes, certainly not of the "shiny" type.  If I think of Locke Lamora, it's basically likeable bad people with a sense of humour trying to outwit other bad people to stay alive.  They don't always succeed.  It's about daily, individual survival rather than a higher purpose.

Several times, the panel guests spoke of this being a "realistic" approach to fantasy, rather than the "escapism" of high fantasy.  A response to the grimness of the real world ( the one outside books).  The view was voiced that most people don't spend their days in an epic battle between good and evil, but simply figuring how to exist from day to day.  Interestingly, they also claimed Grimdark was more inclusive of minority sex and gender identities.

Some readers may remember a blog I wrote called Curtains to the Darkness, in which I wrote of my frustration at a general tendency to equate "dark" with "mature" or "realistic".  It's particularly frustrating that the opposite of "dark" is "light", which carries with it connotations of "lightweight".  It implies that anything that is not "dark" is mere escapist fluff.  So I was keen to ask the panel if they went along with this view.  Did they perceive a prejudice against light-filled fantasy?  

In asking this question, I was thinking particularly of my current work-in-progress, The Angelio Trilogy, which is also low magic, small scale, mostly about personal relationships and definitely inclusive of minorities.  But it's not "dark".  Everyone is basically good and redeemable; even the "villains" are just insecure schoolboys.  Neither does it subscribe to the notion that ordinary people aren't engaged in a battle between good and evil.  How you see that depends entirely on your perception of the world and of your rĂ´le in it.  I suppose Angelio could be seen as "religious fantasy", in that it comes from a religious world view, and that view is upheld by the main characters.  I suspect Grimdark comes from a non-religious world view, in which daily survival brings meaning to life.  

I was pleased to find that the panel did not go along with the anti-light prejudice.  A story can be "realistic" without being "dark".  One observation made in answer to my question was that the people on our street or in our block of flats are mainly good people.  So a world in which people are basically good reflects reality perfectly well.  They even suggested a new name for my kind of fantasy, one which has no connotations of "lightweight".  Uplifting.  So now I can proudly say I am a writer of Uplifting Fantasy.  And it's just as real as the grimmest Grimdark. 


Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Come into the House



12th July sees the publication of Come into the House, a new anthology from Corazon Books, showcasing the winners and short-listed entries from a competition they ran in partnership with The Historic Houses Association (HHA), to write a short story either inspired by or set in a historic house.

One of those stories is my tale, "The Yorkshire Defiance," inspired by Shibden Hall in Halifax, West Yorkshire.  Outside the local area, Shibden is best known for being home to lesbian diarist and landowner Anne Lister in the 19th century.  

Read my blog on Anne Lister and Charlotte Bronte's "Shirley"



But there is much more to the Hall than Anne Lister.  When I went to Shibden Hall to write my entry for the competition - "in situ" - I drew inspiration from 18th-century family portraits in the Great Hall, and from earlier members of the Lister family.

One such character was Martha Lister, who grew up at the Hall along with her sisters, attending the local dame school, and benefiting from the instruction of a dancing master and a pastry master!  In or around the 1720s-30s, she eloped with one William Fawcett, who subsequently abandoned her, forcing her to return to Shibden Hall with baby William in tow. In the 18th century, I should imagine this would effectively mark the end of any social life Martha might have had.  She became the central inspiration for my story.

I was also intrigued by the career of her three brothers, Thomas, William and Jeremy.  (A lot of Williams in the early 18th century!) They bought shares in a ship called The Yorkshire Defiance, which traded with the American colonies.  Sadly, the brothers were not good businessmen.  They bought a load of deer skins, which arrived in Britain in a ruined and unsaleable condition.  Thomas bought and sold 15 slaves, although his brothers couldn't understand why.  William then moved to Virginia, and later Carolina, where he married and acquired property.  But his life ended when he was lost at sea in 1743.

All in all, the Listers of this period seemed a rather tragic family, and I couldn't help sympathising with them.  Nor could I help making a link between the failure of the ship, The Yorkshire Defiance, and the failure of another Yorkshire Defiance in the form of Martha's elopement.

Do visit Corazon Books' website and have a read of the anthology.  It will be an interesting read, and will bring a whole collection of historic houses to life, the way the Shibden Hall came alive for me.