Tag Archives: The random writers

Announcing the third Random Anthology

The Random writers have not been idle in their silence. And here it is – the new anthology!

Stalking Leviathan – A Bestiary of Tales 

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“It’s out there. I can feel it in my water. I can hear it…”
 
Twelve tales that go in search of creatures of myth, legend, and the spaces between the real and the imagined. From the overwhelming confusion of the Irish Civil War to the eerie expanse of modern day Bodmin Moor; from Elizabethan England to the skies above Persia, the Random Writers quest for an answer to the question – What is the nature of the beast?
I am proud to have been an editor on the project, and I and my fellow dragon -co-host, M.E.Vaughan, as well as historical fiction co-writer, Matthew Willis and long term writing buddy, Shell Bromley, all have stories included in the collection.
Get ready for creatures that personify the wild, guard and guide the dead whilst helping the living out of grief, non-binary Unicorns, beasts that personify the madness and destruction of war or the gift of life and nature itself.
Release Date: 29th September 2016 in ebook and paperback formats.
(Special thanks to M.E.Vaughan for the fabulous cover.)
Final bit of news: Tune in the same time tomorrow for the grand cover reveal of
I Belong to the Earth – second edition.

Tales of York Volume 3: Festival of Writing 2015

(This originally appeared on my old blog 06/09/2015)

 

photo 3Over the weekend, I attended my third Festival of Writing at York. I can’t see myself ever getting tired of this yearly event. For one thing, writing is quite a solitary career even when you have a fabulous online support network of fellow writers and keen readers. Ultimately it’s still you, plodding (occasionally racing) along, putting one word after another and hoping very much that you’ll arrive roughly where you set out for. Actually during the novel writing process there are usually several points where you’re hoping to arrive (or finish) at all! So a chance to attend a three day event where you are among your own kind and don’t feel like an alien visiting a strange world where the natives regard you with varying degrees of disbelief is naturally quite a buzz!

Of course FoW York is more than just a writerly buzz. The workshops are excellent – let’s face it, as writers we never stop learning our craft. There is always more you can do, more you an try. photo 4There’s the chance to chat to industry professionals so you get an idea of what is and is not selling. And everywhere there are writers to talk to. And not in a ‘distinct whiff of desperation’ way but genuine, friendly people who want to talk shop and trade tips. Plus York is just a great place to visit!

This year I came away with a sense of just how much further I had to go with regard to writing. Bit like climbing what you think is a massive mountain, breaking through the low cloud at the top … and then seeing the full scale of the mountain range yet to be scaled before you. I will admit to a moments dismay. However looking at it from another perspective, I’ve still got all those mountains to climb. And I loved climbing the last one. However many or few the remaining days of my life might be, I’ve still got a lot to keep me occupied. Challenge accepted.

It might all sound like work-work-work but we all had time for a good knees up at the gala dinner on Saturday night. This year there was dancing. There should be dancing every year in my opinion.

A table full of Randoms. What is the correct term for group of Randoms? A gaggle? A gathering? A weirdness? (Left to Right - Karen Ginnane, Gail Jack, Me, Shell Bromley, Liz Crossland, James Bischeno and fellow Cloudie, Jeannette.)
A table full of Randoms. What is the correct term for group of Randoms? A gaggle? A gathering? A weirdness? (Left to Right – Karen Ginnane, Gail Jack, Me, Shell Bromley, Liz Crossland, James Bischeno and fellow Cloudie, Jeannette.)

Plus I was given books. This is always a good thing 😀

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Plus I had a mini signing session of my own and much to my surprise sold out of copies of ‘I Belong to the Earth’ in 20 mins! I may still have a very long way to go but I seem to have managed to get somewhere. So overall a lot to celebrate and feel grateful for.
On a final note, the thing FOW does best for me, is to re-inject that sense of fun and wonder. A sense of possibility. I don’t think I get that anywhere else, so I’ll definitely be going back next year!

Within the Doorless Tower

Autumn Web 2
Fairy Tales. Funny name really – very few of them feature any characters that are fairies, though a wide range of other supernatural and natural characters parade through. But I’m digressing before I’ve even started. I want to talk about freedom. Specifically freedom in fairy tales, myths and legends. Before I get stuck in on that, let’s clear up a few ‘literary myths’.
Origins;
Fairy tales were not originally written for children. We homonids are wired to receive, process and pass on information most effectively when it is given in story form. Originally this may have been a way of passing on hunter-gatherer experiences and wisdom – text books are a fairly recent invention after all. In a way the information may have changed but the delivery method has not. And importantly, for a story to have most impact when passed from one person to another, it needs to have an immediacy; if it’s not something that happened to the teller, then it’s ideal for it to have happened to someone the teller knows…this is a quick way to align sympathy with the character and for the listener to form an allegiance with the main character.  The expansion of this into heroic tales is not the distancer you might think; when a character – like Herakles – is mentioned, it is so much a part of the collective story telling consciousness, the zeitgeist, that it may as well be a story about somone you know. Once you’ve acheived an alignment of sympathies, then the reader/ listener is willing to suspend disbelief and tales of fantastical beasts and fearsome deeds become probable.
It’s always seemed a great peculiarity to me that there is a propagated mind-set which hands down the received wisdom that fantasy is something you grow out of. At a certain age, childish things like wishes, bad fairies, dragons and heroes must be put aside or you become a quirky, even maladjusted, adult. Ergo fairy tales are for kids. The problem with that is the fact that in the original forms, very few fairy tales are considered fit material for children! Enter the Victorians who in a perfect frenzy of solicitousness, tidied away all the dark, nasty bits in the original tales. It became a self-perpetuating  cycle – cleaned up stories became more suitable for children, they were fantasy so fantasy was the province of infants but let’s just check what the little tikes are reading and maybe make them ‘nicer’.
Even as a child I found the clean version of fairy tales lacking; less than satisfying. There was no jeopardy because no matter what you knew there would be a happy ending. It led to an age of ‘not-believing’ for me which luckily I got over. When I read some of the original versions of the stories, especially Celtic, Greek, Norse and African myths, everything fell into place. As Diana Wynne Jones once said ‘only the feeble minded despise fairy tales – each contain a kernel of utter truth’. Lots of common themes strike me over and over again in fairy tales but perhaps the one I come back to most is the idea of imprisonment/ slavery vs Freedom/emancipation.
Imprisonment:
This seems to take several forms;
Physical – the MC is physically impaired, like the girl with silver hands. Or physically imprisoned, like Rapunzel (Petresonella). Or held in a position of abuse or servitude – Cinderella or The King who wanted to Marry his Daughter.
Magical – the MC is placed under a curse – Sleeping Beauty, or called upon to free someone under a curse – Beauty and the Beast or Six Wild Swans. The MC might be transformed into another creature and denied a human voice at all – Odette in Swan Lake, for example. Or perhaps the curse might make them unappealing in another way – Sir Gawaine and the Loathly Lady.
Class – the MC is held in place through poverty or low birth. Or by having elder siblings who take all of the youngest child’s share of power of position – the chinese version of Cinderella has a heroine with 499 elder sisters! But essentially the MC has to step outside themselves and their pre-conceived belief in their inferiority and become all they can be. In other words, seek their fortune. The Goose Girl, Clever Janet, the golden bird, Jack and the Beanstalk (which actually I hate as an example because any way you slice it, burglary, house-breaking and murder do not a hero make in my book!)
Mental – these are the most subtle forms of imprisonment in stories. If the MC is aware of themselves as trapped, often you have a more mysterious character who endures their imprisonment until they can free themselves. Often this freedom comes at terrible price. Danae defying her father and being locked in a chest and sent out beyond the ninth wave as an exile. Deirdre throwing herself from the chariot rather than submit to a cruel husband. Bloudewedd  being turned into an owl after conspiring against her husband. These tales on the surface seem to trade one form of imprisonment for another or to suggest that only death is the release. A closer reading shows the character making a clear, hard choice, and choice in this case is the epitomy of freedom.
This is not an exhaustive list but it does point at a common theme: The MC is enslaved and needs to earn/ conquer/ choose their freedom.
Freedom;
Doubtless some fairy tales and myths are ways of recalling historical events, but changed and distorted (rather like nursery rhymes – I doubt most parents teaching their toddlers ‘Humpty Dumpty’ realise that they are singing about a cannon used during the war with Cromwell or that ‘Baa-Baa Black Sheep’ is actually about the unfairness of the wool selling laws of the 11th century). But there seem to be deeper truths or rather levels of truths that you can access depending on how deeply you read.
Let’s take Beauty and The Beast as an example. Every major character in this story is a prisoner. Beauty is held prisoner by the beast but also by her obedience/ duty/ love for her father. Her father is bound by his word (and somewhat spurious other motivations). The Beast is imprisoned by his form – so hideous he is an outcast, a self-imposed exile, doubly imprisoned by his own loneliness and his inability to interact with other humans. You could look at this as a cautionary tale told to young girls pre marriage (especially if it wasn’t her choice) – he may look like a beast now but it’s a good match and he’ll turn out to be a prince. That seems a bit facile to me.
Another interpretation is that Beauty is actually imprisoned by her pre-conceptions (a mental imprisonment) and must learn to see past external appearances. Love and acceptance comes in many forms. Most versions of the story depict Beauty as a dutiful child who chooses to go into voluntary imprisonment to improve her father’s flagging fortunes. (That may well have been an historical fact in many cases) But this casts her in the role of someone who must free another – ie the Beast and to some extent, her family (from poverty). In fact the further down you go with this story, the more layers there are. It contains almost all the previously mentioned forms of imprisonment and equally the corresponding forms of freedom; physical, emotional, mental and choice. Perhaps this is why it is one of the most popular fairy tales – it hits on all levels.
A Question;
Which begs the question of ‘why?’  Why is freedom such a potent theme? I don’t have a definite answer – mostly because myths, legends and fairy tales are by nature and necessity, very subjective. They are designed to speak to an individual in a different way depending on what is important to them at the time. Personally, I think freedom is such a common theme because no matter what situation we are in, at some point we will feel trapped. As the essence of true fantasy, fairy tales allow you to examine your prison in a ‘make-believe’ setting. By vanquishing the monster, freeing the hero, releasing the heroine or transforming the beast, we free the part of ourselves that is truly trapped and our real life prisons become endurable if not conquerable. Of course, that’s just my opinion.
If you found this of interest you might enjoy ‘A Lamentation of Swans’, my story in A Seeming Glass: a Collection of Reflected Tales 😉