Tales from the Hidden Grove

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

Friday, 16 December 2016

A Year in Anthologies



Looking back on the year that's almost gone, I've been struck by just how many anthologies my short stories have appeared in this year.  In fact, it's been a bumper crop! I'd like to celebrate with a festive roundup of all my anthology appearances of 2016 (including the title of the short story featured in each). And I've even put up some links, so if you need some last minute Christmas presents, or even somewhere to spend your Christmas money, you know where to look! 


Venn
Unstapled Press, March 2016
"The Ice Queen and the Mer-King"


Those Who Live Long Forgotten II
18th Wall Productions, March 2016
"Claire de le Lune"


The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2 
Mother's Milk Books, March 2016
"Reve/Revival"


Incandescence Transcendent
Oloris Publishing, September 2016
"The Spirit of the Underground"


Circuits & Slippers
Jaylee James, September 2016
"Fit for Purpose"

 https://blackpear.net/tag/black-pear-press/

On the Day of the Dead and other stories
Black Pear Press, November 2016
"Cromwell and the Fools"

Sunday, 9 October 2016

A Big Week in Bradford (2)

As promised, here is an update on my Big Week in Bradford:


Here is my photo from the T&A, publicising the National Poetry Day film, with two of the other readers/writers.

Here is a link to the film, with all the poems:

http://bradford-city-of-film.com/big-screen/national-poetry-day/


And here I am, reading in the moon at The Wild Wood.

Until next time!

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

A Big Week in Bradford

It seems that this week, I will be popping up all over Bradford like a meerkat.  (Apologies to those of a nervous disposition!)  Several things have coincided at once, which is no bad thing.  Here's where I shall be:



  1. Wednesday 5th October: I may well appear in the Bradford Telegraph & Argus, as publicity for event #2. At any rate, I was photographed for it this afternoon.
  2. Thursday 6th October: It's National Poetry Day!  Along with a whole group of other people (mostly poets) I helped Bradford Libraries put together a poetry film, which will be shown on the big screen in Bradford City Park, as well as on YouTube.  I am reading one of the many poems from The Lord of the Rings, which seemed appropriate to my identity as a fantasy writer. (And a fitting thanks for how I began my career, as a LOTR fanfic writer).
  3. Friday 7th October: I will be reading three of my stories at the Wild Woods Bradford Launch Party.  This is a wonderful creative initiative, which begins in Bradford this weekend, to coincide with the Forest of Light in City Park.  An entire magical wood has been created, both outdoors in Darley Street, and indoors in the old Marks & Spenser's building, to play host to a whole series of creative happenings.  Friday's event will include opera, origami, live bands, installations and food - and that's just for starters.  Plus, its free!! 

          I'll be reading three fantastical tales: "Midnight in the Garden of Light" (inspired by the Forest of Light), "Reve/Revival" (from The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2) and "The Lost Children of Lorenwald."  

Hopefully, pictures and links will follow!

Saturday, 24 September 2016

12 Books I Would Give to my 12-year-old Self


I'm writing this little blog in response to a blog by Book Riot. http://bookriot.com/?p=109205

You know the sort of thing: if you could go back in time and hand some books to your 12-year-old self...?  So, without further ado, here's my list (in no particular order):

1.  Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
I was about 18 when I first read it, and knew I would have loved it earlier.
2. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
My young self actually thought this was a rival to Narnia, and had no idea Lewis and Tolkien were friends.
3. The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder
The book that turned me back to contemporary fiction, after about a decade hiding in the 19th century in case Angela Carter jumped out at me again.
4. Overcoming Low Self-Esteem by Melanie Fennel
Enough said.
5. The Dalemark Quartet by Diana Wynne Jones
How did I miss her at time of writing??
6. The Lais of Marie de France
So I wouldn't have to wait until uni to know I didn't need to give up fairy tales.
7. Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb, and all its sequels.
Because - asexuality.
8. Beauty by Robin McKinley
Because I shouldn't have had to wait until 20 before discovering it.
9. Troubadour by Mary Hoffman
Because why wait until the 21st century?
10. Wonder Struck by Brian Selznik
Ditto.
11. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell 
Ditto. Plus it's the best book ever.
12. Silver Hands by Elizabeth Hopkinson
This one would probably break the space-time continuum, but just to prove to myself that I could do it.

What would your twelve be?

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

A Lady Electrician



As part of my research for my ongoing work-in-progress, the Angelio series, I have been reading Charles Burney's Life and Writings of Metastasio (1796).  Metastasio was a poet, a writer of librettos for opera during the 18th century, who spent much of his career at the Hapsburg court of Vienna.  He was also a lifelong friend of the castrato Farinelli (Carlo Broschi) to whom he wrote many letters.

I couldn't help bring caught up short, though, by a couple of letters to a Signora Giacinta Betti Onofri, who was acquainted with Farinelli in Bologna.  According to Burney, "this lady...was a poetess, a musician, and an electrician." (Vol. 3, p. 57)

An electrician!  I couldn't help picturing a lady in towering 18th-century headdress and blue overalls, knocking on the door and saying she'd come to fix the wiring!  

Of course, what Dr Burney meant was something even more intriguing.  On p.60, he goes on to call her: "a smatterer in natural philosophy and electricity."  Evidently, she was an amateur scientist, very interested in the fashionable, "new" phenomenon of electricity.  Apparently, she wrote to Metastasio, "having expressed her terrors at a slight shock of an earthquake at Bologna in strong and violent terms, and her transports of joy on the opportunity which it had afforded for electrical experiments to illustrate the system which ascribes to that power this tremendous effect."  Metastasio wrote back saying: "I know not whether I ought to condole or congratulate you on this event." (p.60)

Electricity was a hot topic in the 18th century.  "In 1750, the electrical nature of lightning was the subject of public discussion in France, with a dissertation of Denis Barbaret receiving a prize in Bordeaux" (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kite_experiment).  1752 was the year of Benjamin Franklin's supposed experiment with a key and a kite in a thunderstorm, although other scientists argued that they did it first.  

By the time Metastasio and Signora Onofri corresponded, it was the 1770s, but there were still many discoveries to be made.  Ampère and Faraday didn't make their breakthroughs until the 1820s.  And - needless to say - women do not feature highly on the electrical roll-call of honour.  It would be fascinating to see what Signora Onofri recorded in Bologna in the 1770s, and whether it fed into her poetry and music.  This was the age of sensibility, after all.  The Gothic novel was invented in 1764 with The Castle of Otranto, and Mrs Radcliffe's famous Mysteries of Udolpho came in 1794, with many more in between.  Giacinta Onofri's mixture of horror and scientific curiosity at the earthquake perfectly captures the spirit of the age.

And, of course, it's impossible to think of a creative woman fascinated by electricity without thinking of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818).  Mary herself might have been far from conception in 1771, but the impulse that lead Signora Onofri to brave the earthquakes in Bologna was the same impulse that lead to the creation of that classic cautionary tale. 

Monday, 15 August 2016

Super Swanwick

Forget Super Saturday or Super Sunday.  I've just got back from Super Swanwick, the annual Writers' School in the heart of Derbyshire, where I return year after year to meet old friends and new, learn new things, share tips and enjoy Britain's craziest live entertainment. 

My highlights for this year were...


1. Running into Ingrid from the National Gallery/Liars' League prize, and subsequently running a pop-up film showing of both our stories being performed at the National Gallery.

2. Steve Hartley's 4-part course on the Psychology of Characters.  If you have to ask what "knicker net.com" might be, you clearly weren't there!


3. The fancy dress disco, for which I dressed as Jasper Fforde's literary detective, Thursday Next.  Yes, that's THURSDAY NEXT I'm dressed as.  Surprised how many people hadn't a clue, when there were at least three Thursday Next novels lying around the conference centre.  True fans we will pleased to know that I tattooed (wrote in pen) "Crimea" on my upper arm and "Jenny is a mindworm" on my hand.  Having been v ill earlier this year, it was incredible to myself that I was able to dance the night away.

4.  "Winning" a free book - basically for knowing EH Shepard illustrated The Wind in the Willows.  After a year of genuine achievements, being constantly congratulated for this was quite bizarre.

And, yes, Swanwick coincided with the Olympics this year.  Very pleasant way of getting off to sleep.  So, despite my opening sentence, most of my Swanwick camera roll looks suspiciously like this..


See you all next year!




Tuesday, 26 July 2016

One Night in London



Last Friday (22nd July) I had the most amazing time at the National Gallery in London.  I was one of five winners of a competition run by the Gallery and Liars' League London for new short stories inspired by a painting in the National Gallery.  I chose The Family of Darius Before Alexander by Paolo Veronese, which you can see behind me in the photo.  I was so excited to find the real painting in the Gallery; I was practically dancing about in front of it!

Picture courtesy of Liars' League

Related Post: Ladies, Gentlemen and a League of Liars


The event was part of the National Gallery's Inspiration Late event.  There were loads of different activities going on in different rooms, and our storytelling event was in Room 61.  As you can see from the photos, each story was read by an actor, next to a print of the painting that inspired it.  It was fascinating to hear all the stories, and to discover the different ways in which the authors had taken inspiration from the paintings.  The actors were wonderful, and each brought the story to life in their own, unique way.  I was especially impressed by "my" actor, Nicholas Delvalle, who read my story with wonderful expression and understanding.  I hope he gets lots of work after this, and if I ever hit the big time, he will be my first choice for the audio book!

Picture courtesy of Liars' League

The National Gallery were really generous with their prizes, too.  We each got two tickets for free drinks on the night, two free tickets for their special exhibition Painters' Paintings (which I went to the next morning and really enjoyed) and the print of "our" painting used in the event.  I've managed to get it home; now I just have to find somewhere to hang it!  I have also had great publicity out of this win (including a spot in my local paper, with only two factual errors!)  I think it's one of the best things I've been involved in, and I would like to thank The National Gallery and Liars' League again for this wonderful opportunity.




Here is Nicholas Delvalle's masterful performance of my story "Desperately Seeking Hephaestion."  You can find the other stories on the Liars' League YouTube channel as well.





Saturday, 2 July 2016

Yes, There is Such Thing as a Free Lunch!


I would like to thank the wonderful people at Waterstones, Bradford Wool Exchange for a brilliant prize that I won a few weeks ago - free lunch and a copy of The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave.  You can see the lunch here, right before I ate it!

I've now finished reading the book, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  It's one of those books that is a physical object of desire, before you even start reading the story.  It has maps!  (You've got to love a book with maps.)  Actually, the main protagonist, Isabella, is a cartographer's daughter - hence the ink and stars of the title - and maps play a big part in the story.  The book also has blue and yellow map-themed decoration on every page, and blue writing.  Perfect.

The story itself is a children's/teenage fantasy, set on an island called Joya.  According to myth, it used to be a floating island, but is now divided and ruled by a cruel governor.  However, when Isabella's friend goes missing in the Forbidden Territories, it becomes necessary to explore the forgotten, dangerous parts of the island, the parts steeped in ancient myth.

Something about this book reminded me of Diana Wynne Jones's Dalemark books.  (Why are those books out of print?  Why??)  Maybe the idea of ancient myths becoming reality, or the fact that the story doesn't shy away from politics and death.  But whereas Dalemark draws much of its inspiration from Wales, Joya seems to be influenced by the myths and history of the Canary Islands.  The Tibicenas - demon dogs that feature in the book - are real mythological creatures from Gran Canaria.  The very name Canary Islands means "isles of dogs," and it was said in Roman times that the islands once contained giant dogs, and that their inhabitants took part in dog-worship.  More importantly, the Canary Islands are volcanic, and it is the mythology of the volcano that really drives the plot of the book.

I don't think I've ever read a Canarian fantasy before.  (In fact, I didn't realise that's what I was reading, until I looked it up afterwards.  I guessed at the Caribbean and Hawaii while I was actually reading.)  To be honest, the real place behind the setting doesn't matter, but I did like the mixture of ethnic backgrounds implied in the story.  I also liked the friendships and the very understated, blossoming romance between the teenage characters.

I should also tell you: the book has a wistful but very magical ending.  But I won't tell you what it is!  You'll have to read it for yourself.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Beauty Revived




31st May is blog link-up day for fairy tale anthology The Forgotten and the Fantastical II, published by Mothers' Milk Books.  

For the link-up, I'd like to share with you this video from the Royal Ballet, about reviving the 1946 production of Sleeping Beauty.

My contribution to the anthology, a re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty called Rêve/Revival, was partly inspired by footage of an old Royal Ballet production of Sleeping Beauty, starring Margot Fonteyn. The version I watched was recorded especially for TV in 1955, but the live theatre version was staged in 1946, to re-open the Royal Opera House after the Second World War.

I didn't know about the 1946 version when I wrote Rêve/Revival, so it's fascinating to discover more connections between Sleeping Beauty, war and new beginnings.  In my story, both the Napoleonic and First World Wars change the map forever, while humans and fairies find a way to end the conflict between their two races.  

It's also very interesting to discover that, in 1946, the rôles of the wicked fairy Carabosse and Prince Florimund were danced by the same person. If you've read Rêve/Revival, you'll know why!

I think this documentary shows that, after periods of devastation, beauty and magic can still be re-awakened.  And that's the theme of Rêve/Revival, too.

The Forgotten and the Fantastical II, with Emma Howitt's artwork for Rêve/Revival. 





Friday, 20 May 2016

Cinderella Scholar #withMalala


In my last blog, I talked about a book I read while I was ill (The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee). Well, as it happens, I read quite a lot of books while I was ill - there wasn't much else to do! One of them was the very influential I Am Malala, which led me to produce this re-write of Cinderella, highlighting the difficulty of education for girls in many parts of the world.

Please watch and share!  And if you want to know more about the work of the Malala Fund, and how you can help make a difference, visit them at malala.org.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Greek Mythology in The Silver Metal Lover

The Silver Metal Lover, here pictured with another unusual romance, The Ghost Bride.

During the colder months - while I was ill, in fact - I read Tanith Lee's The Silver Metal Lover for the first time. It was an emotional read, and it's only now that enough time has passed for me to be able to write about it objectively.

Briefly, the book is about a girl called Jane, who falls in love with a robot called Silver.  Silver is basically the perfect man - he's been designed to bring pleasure and happiness to people.  But Jane finds it hard to believe that a robot could genuinely be in love with her.  Meanwhile, Silver's creators have pronounced him "faulty" and want to destroy him.

It was only when I went looking for fan art of Silver, that I saw someone had suggested the tale is based on the myth of Persephone.  This got me thinking about other aspects of the story, and realising that the book is actually packed with references to Greek myth (and a little bit to Jane Eyre.)  I'm going to go through which myths I see in the story, which means there are going to be spoilers.  So, as they say, if you don't want to know the results, look away now!

1.  Persephone.  This is a bit obvious, because Jane's mother is called Demeta.  She's very controlling.  When the story begins, Jane lives the life of a spoiled rich girl with Demeta in a house that towers on stilts above the city.  So, when she runs away with Silver, she goes to the Underworld in two senses: she literally goes down, and she goes to live in the poorer part of town.  (Which isn't as bad as you might expect, thanks to Silver's encyclopaedic knowledge of the city.)  At the end of the story, Jane finally goes back to see Demeta, but it's clear this won't be a permanent arrangement.  Jane is now a creature of two worlds.  And, prior to that, Silver speaks to her, literally from the world beyond the grave.  He is her Hades, and promises they will meet again.

2.  Narcissus.  Jane's friend Curtis is described as being "Mirror-Biased."  We learn that, generally speaking, this simply means he is gay, but: "Actually, the term Mirror-Biased really applies to Clovis.  He doesn't just sleep with his own sex, his lovers always look like him." (p.18)  He is also scared of having a real relationship with them, and usually tricks them into leaving him when they get too close.  Clovis is Narcissus.  We can see the positive effect Silver has on Clovis because, once they have spent time together, Clovis tries to look like Silver.  It's not all about him any more.  And he acquires the maturity to be truthful with his lovers.

3.  Electra.  Jane's other friend, Egyptia, is in a play called Antektra, which is a thinly-disguised version of Electra.  It is notable that, in psychology, an "Electra complex" refers to a competitive mother-daughter relationship, such as that of Jane and Demeta.

4.  Jason and Medea.  The poisonous twins, Jason and Medea, act like their namesakes when they plant the tracking device on Silver, betraying him to his makers and ultimate death.  In the tale of Jason and the Argonauts, Medea assists Jason in destroying the bronze man, Talos, by removing the nail that stops his one vein. 

These are the mythological references I have found in The Silver Metal Lover.  I would love to know if other readers have found more.  Let me know in the comments! 

Tanith Lee, The Silver Metal Lover, 1981 (Bantam Spectra edition, 1999)

Monday, 18 April 2016

30 Weird Books I Have Read



Yesterday, I read this excellent blog post by Liberty Hardy (aka @MissLiberty) on Bookriot, listing 100 strange and unusual novels.
I was rather disappointed that I'd only read three-and-a-bit out of 100 (I'm actually in the middle of one right now!) But then I remembered that I've read plenty of other bizarre books. And enjoyed most of them -I do love a bit of weird! So I thought I'd make my own list in response, beginning with the original four and going on from there. Sadly, I could only come up with 30 at short notice (it's Monday morning!) but it's been fun to reminisce.

30 Weird Books I Have Read

1. Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre
I believe Bookriot described this as "if David Bowie wrote historical fiction."
2. The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen
So, this author vanishes in a flurry of snow, and...
3. Brave Story by Miyuki Miabe 
A little boy disappears into what is basically a video game. A really weird video game.
4. The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan 
A world of sea and islands, with a floating circus and strange death rituals. Kind of like Earthsea on acid.  This is the one I'm reading now.
***
5. The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist 
Not quite sure what I was eating when I read this one.
6. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift 
Classic weird. Talking horses, flying islands, extracting sunbeams from cucumbers...
7. The Boy With the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick 
Everyone lives in a giant castle and has invertebrate-like deformities. Except for the kid who cries blood...
8. Time and the Gods by Lord Dunsany 
This essential collection of short stories by the master includes such titles as, "Why the Milkman Shudders When He Perceives the Dawn," and, "The Injudicious Prayers of Pombo the Idolater."
9. Queen of the Dark Things by C. Robert Cargill 
This was extra weird because I didn't even read the first book in the series. Seem to remember a miserable guy who's offended the fairies, and an Australian dreamwalker.
10. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman 
Set in "London Below," in which all the names on the Tube Map (Blackfriars Bridge, The Angel Islington etc.) are taken literally.
11. Phantastes by George Macdonald 
The grown-up sister of Alice in Wonderland. More symbolism than you can shake a symbolic stick at.
12. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde 
Or indeed anything by Jasper Fforde. Time travel, cloned dodos, Japanese tourists inside Jane Eyre...
13. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn 
Someone is stealing letters of the alphabet, so each chapter has one less to work with.
14. The Year of our War by Steph Swainson 
So, there's this druggie who's the only guy whose wings actually work. (Yeah, other people have wings, too.) And there's this - like - circle of power...
15. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones 
Don't know which is the more weirdly brilliant between Diana Wynne Jones' original novel and Hayao Miyazaki's anime adaptation. This version has a portal to Wales, John Donne's "Go and catch a falling star," and the whole thing might be an 80's computer game.
16. The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe 
The best thing about being a pirate is the ham. I especially like the old-school comprehension questions at the end.
17. The Princess Bride by William Goldman 
In which the author constantly interrupts himself to tell you why the next bit's not worth bothering with. Even funnier than the film.
18. Orlando by Virginia Woolfe 
An Elizabethan courtier lives for 400 years, and turns from a man to a woman during one night in the Restoration period. Seems remarkably unfazed by it all.
19. Broken Harmony by Roz Southey 
For some reason, a crime series set against the backdrop of Newcastle's 18th-century music scene also needs ghosts and alternate realities.
20. The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen 
Very sweet, sad story, set on an island with five people on it. Plus a dog and a dead body.
21. Perfume: The Story of A Murderer by Patrick Süskind
Story in which the main character wants to control/kill everyone with the power of scent.
22. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka 
Man wakes up as a giant cockroach. As you do...
23. The Boy With the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu 
Actually based on a concept album by a French band. A boy's heart is replaced with a cuckoo-clock, which means he cannot fall in love. He falls in love.
24. I Am a Cat by Sōseki Natsume
Imagine Diary of a Nobody transferred to Meiji era Japan. And narrated by a cat.
25. The Ringmaster's Daughter by Jostein Gaarder 
The entire literary world is buying story ideas from some weirdo called Petter.
26. Encyclopedia of Snow by Sarah Emily Miano 
Sort of random chapters. About snow.
27. Baudolino by Umberto Eco 
So, we've got a lying narrator, Prester John's Land, ten heads of John the Baptist...
28. The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake 
Everyone lives in a giant castle. Again. Only this is the original.
29. The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter 
Had to read this for my degree. Mainly remember a man being forcibly turned female, and a black fertility goddess with six nipples.
30. Swiftly by Adam Roberts 
Like a sequel to Gulliver's Travels, only weirder. In fact, I'm not sure it even makes sense.

As a postscript, I must add that, during the making of this blog, autocorrect threw up the magnificent title, Gulliver's Trowels. I think I'll write that one next...



Friday, 1 April 2016

The Fool Beloved

    

Some time last year, I was in a second hand bookshop, when a title leapt out at me: The Fool Beloved by Jeffery Farnol.  Regular readers will know how much Robin Hobb's Fool, Beloved, means to me.  So, I simply had to buy the book, just because of its title.

I asked Robin Hobb on Twitter if there was any connection between this book and her work, and she said she knew nothing of it.  But she would like to know what it was about.  Now, there is a challenge!  I set about reading the book and finding out what I could about its author.

According to Wikipedia:

"Jeffery Farnol (10 February 1878 – 9 August 1952) was a British writer since (sic) 1907 until his death, known for writing more than 40 romance novels, some formulaic and set in the Georgian Era or English Regency period, and swashbucklers. He, with Georgette Heyer, founded the Regency romantic genre."

The Fool Beloved was published in 1950, so was a late novel for Farnol.  It seems quite old-fashioned for the 1950s, but I suppose that if his readers enjoyed his style, there was no point in changing it.  The book is dedicated to the memory of his brother, Ewart, who was killed in action aged 19, at Vieskraal, Africa, in 1901.

So what is The Fool Beloved all about?

Well, it's an historical romance set in the Renaissance, that reads like a cross between a Shakespearean comedy and Sir Walter Scott.  The Fool of the title is actually a young aristocrat named Angelo, whose brother is murdered by the villain, Gonzago.  (Actually, Gonzago tried to kill Angelo as well, and was only foiled because Angelo had conveniently swapped clothes with a friend.)  Determined to clear his name, solve his brother's murder, and win back his true love, Duchess Jenevra, from Gonzago's advances, Angelo disguises himself as a jester or fool.  He can then go about the ducal court, popping up in gardens with his bells jingling, offering all sorts of cryptic warnings and tender advice to Jenevra, while everyone thinks he's dead.  He also gathers a team of allies who know his true identity, including a friar, a strong man and a page boy.  Angelo succeeds in making Jenevra fall in love with the Fool, but will she love noble Angelo in the same way?  And Gonzago always has one last trick up his sleeve to delay the happy ending.

It's an action-packed tale, full of coincidences, misunderstandings, grisly goings-on and heaving bosoms.  The language is pretty archaic, and some of the supposedly witty conversations make you think the author is actually trying to be Shakespeare.  For example:

"Jenevra, beloved, shame not thy noble love for shame of this motley."

Or:

"Tush, my Lord; fie on thee, Sebastian!"

All in all, though, it is a fun and entertaining novel, that you don't need to take too seriously.  And, given the dedication, it's quite touching that it should concern the story of two brothers, one living and the other dead.


Saturday, 5 March 2016

The View from the Tower


I have always loved "Women in Towers" stories.  Rapunzel, Marie de France's Yonec, and especially Tennyson's Lady of Shallot.  Even Disney's Tangled.  (What's not to like about Flynn Rider?)

The woman in the tower has always been a figure I can relate to.  Sometimes for negative reasons - being too shy and anxious to communicate with the world, or knowing the "invisible bubble" that separates you from the world during periods of intense depression.  Sometimes for positive reasons - I associate the tower with the Inviolate Female, and the symbolism of virginity, chastity and asexuality.  I have always wanted to live in a tower and, even now, can't imagine not choosing to have my bedroom in the attic.

This week, my very own "Women in Towers" fairy tale, The Ice Queen and the Mer-King, was re-released in Venn, an anthology from Unstapled Press devoted to different ideas of gender and sexuality.  The Ice Queen is very much an asexual fable, and I hope its readers will appreciate the layers of meaning beneath the apparently simple story.

I have also just finished reading Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier.  In this fantasy novel, Juliet gender bends the Rapunzel story (in combination with other folk tales).  The inhabitant of the cursed Tower of Thorns is male, and the magic requires a woman to free him.

I have always thought of the tower as being female, so this version was very interesting to me.  I suppose a man in a tower is a bit like the Ensorceled Prince of 1001 Nights.  There is no real reason why either powerlessness or assertive asexuality can't (and don't) belong to men as well as women.  Or to anyone in between.  But what do my readers think?  Have you read any "Men in Towers" stories?  What did you think of them?


          Venn from Unstapled Press. 

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Bring Back the Valentines Pepys Knew



Today is St Valentine's Day, the day when, by tradition, the birds choose their mates, and people in many countries celebrate love.

In recent years, people have started to comment on the fact that Valentine's Day has become insular.  More often nowadays, the focus is on relationships we are already in, with spouses, partners etc.  Single people can feel left out and lonely.

I think it's time to reinstate the kind of Valentine's Day Samuel Pepys knew and wrote about in his diary.  In his day, Valentine's Day was more like Secret Santa.  You chose someone from among your friends and acquaintances (someone of the opposite sex) to be your Valentine for the day.  You then gave them a little present.

Here's an entry from Pepys's diary, 13th February 1662/63.  (Two different years are given because of the Calendar Shift of the late 18th century, changing the beginning of the year from springtime to January):-

This evening my wife had a great mind to choose Valentines against to-morrow, I Mrs. Clerke, or Pierce, she Mr. Hunt or Captain Ferrers, but I would not because of getting charge both to me for mine and to them for her, which did not please her.

This is such a great idea, because it makes Valentine's Day a happy day for everyone, and is a chance to make someone feel loved who might otherwise feel left out.  Who's with me for next year?

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Margaret's Voyage - An Update

Back in October, I launched Margaret's Voyage.  Four copies of Silver Hands were sent out into the world, with instructions for those who received it to read, sign and pass it on.  But not before sharing a photo on Twitter, telling us where in the world they were.  At the same time, I encouraged readers around the world to share their pictures too.

And the pictures have been coming in!  Here are some of the places Margaret has visited so far...

   
A very short voyage, within my home village of Clayton.


Canton Berne, Switzerland.


A voyage along England's south coast from Tavistock to Wallingford...


...and onwards to Ferndown.


Sparkling in the German capital, Berlin.


The university town of Cambridge, UK.


And Kalasin, Thailand, from whence to New Zealand.

I can't wait to see where Margaret will end up next.  So, readers all, post up your photos, and don't forget to use the hashtag, #MargaretsVoyage.