Drink Up Me Harveys, Yo-Ho – Harvey Duckman Presents Volume 11

I feel a thirst upon me, for rum to quench the taste of salt…
(also there are both 15 authors and 16 authors in this edition. One of them is a lie)

Ben Sawyer

A classic edition of Harvey Duckman Presents is rising from the briny depths once more with a new look.

In the long-forgotten before times of 2020, a plan was hatched to concoct a pirates-themed special of Harvey in between the regular numbered editions, assembling 15 authors on a dead man’s chest to pen swashbuckling tales of fantasy, horror, sci-fi and steampunk.

This collection is now being re-released as Harvey Duckman Presents Volume 11, bringing it into line with the rest of the range, and boasting spooky new cover art blending the book’s fantastical and piratical sides.

In these dread pages lurks Dig, Says Doug, my story of shipwrecked mariners and cosmic horror, revealing what truly lies where X marks the spot.

The collection includes stories by Amy Wilson, Ben Sawyer, Kate Baucherel, Mark Hayes, Melissa Wuidart Phillips, C.G. Hatton, A.L. Buxton, Reino Tarihmen, Liz Tuckwell, R. Bruce Connelly…

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Is Steampunk Elitist? A guest Post by Mat McCall

Facebook is a strange place, mostly people post unimportant stuff, like what they are about to eat, where they are about to eat it, who they are eating it with, their daughter getting her Master’s in Education, and of course cats…

Once in a while however someone writes something on Facebook worth reading, other than my daughter getting her master’s degree. As my friend, fellow author and careful groomer of a fine muttonchop beard, Mat McCall had such a moment of profundity recently, I badgered him to let me reprint it as a guest post, because on occasion when people have something to say it is something worth listening to. This is such an occasion. So, I’ll shut up and let Mat take over for a while…

Is Steampunk elitist?

In my time involved in the Steampunk community, I have been asked one question several times. Sometimes in the form of observations and sometimes as straight-out questions. Basically, the question goes something like this; “Why do Steampunks always dress up as wealthy Neo-Victorians? What about the workers and the poor, why don’t Steamers dress up like them?” This question then is often followed up by something like; “Isn’t that just snobby?”

The assumption seems to be that Steampunks only view their fictional past, and their hobby, through the elitest eyes of the pseudo-upper middle class, and thus are not celebrating the fact that all the great strides in cultural achievement are wrought by the hands of the working class.

In fact, Isambard Kingdom Brunel never built a single bridge, he designed them, he engineered them, but he never built one. The workers did, poorly paid, ill-treated, undervalued and unrecognised, it was their blood, sweat and tears that built Brunel’s dreams. Why then don’t Steampunks celebrate them?

Or is it just about putting on your best frock coat and corset and getting your picture taken?

It seems a good question, and I can only really answer it for myself.

Firstly, there are actually a lot of Steampunks who explore the engineers, workers, and even chimney sweep roles of their Noe-Victorian imaginings. A lot explore the darker side of their worlds taking up personas of criminals and rogues. And of course, soldiers. None of these are affluent roles.

For me though, and I do not think I’m alone in this, it is both a matter of choice and inspiration. My inspiration comes from the novels of Verne, Wells, and others. Their characters were not the landed or industrial rich, but reporters, scientists, academics, and adventurers. In that, they were better off than the poor working class, but still often outsiders and oddballs. From Verne’s Professor Otto Lidenbrock to Wells’ Mr Cavor to Fleming’s Commander Caractacus Pott.

I admit, though I’m no inventor, but I identify strongly with them as outsiders, though I do not attempt to Cosplay them. Nor any of my own literary characters for that matter.

But the true reason I personally do not portray character personas of the poor working class of a pseudo-Victorian age is that Steampunk is escapism for me. Escapism from the real world.

In my real-world life, I have experienced poverty, both that of being virtually destitute to living the hand-to-mouth life of the working poor.

I was homeless at 7 years old; my mother went without meals on a regular basis to feed us. She wore the same coat and broken glasses for most of my childhood so we could eat and have shoes on our feet. I’ve worked in the factories, I’ve shovelled shite, and washed it off clothes, beds, and floors. I’ve cleaned the toilets.

I do not wish to ‘cosplay’ something that I have lived through. I don’t want to pretend to walk around in dirty, shabby clothes, broken shoes, and torn coats, because I once, in fact throughout my childhood and adolescence, had to. It was my reality.

And, I think, from what I know of so many of my friends within the Steampunk community, my experiences, as an outsider and knowing poverty, means that we probably do indeed shy away from those roles and characters. Not because we denigrate them, or devalue them, but because they would be too close to the brutal realities of our lives.

For most Steamers, Steampunk is pure escapism with a nod to a history that never happened and a genteel idealism beyond any reality.

And Thank you Mat.

Mat is far too humble a man to say this, but he is a fine writer of books, the third of his Steampunk Mars trilogy is eagerly awaited, as is the sequel to Annis the first book in his heroic fantasy series.

I have previously reviewed all three of Mats novels (links below) if you have not read them then you so do yourself a favour and read my reviews, then go and read his books, as they are frankly wonderful. He also has a short story appearing in the tenth Harvey Duckman Anthology, which pleases me greatly.

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I’m not good, but who is.

When I was a kid at Pudsey park on the outskirts of Leeds, just across from the abandoned Traction Engine steam roller, in the main play ground there was a Helter-Skelter.

It was a proper Helter-Skelter, a huge wooden construction. It was not dissimilar to the kind that normally toured with small fairs. The kind that required you to carry a mat up to the top and sit on a it to slide down. Also unlike the ones that went around with travelling fairs this one was a permanent fixture. An enormous construction if fact, taller than most of its ilk and the slide mats were even more worn than they were at fairgrounds. But that was okay as you didn’t need to pay to go on it, and once you had slide all the way down you just grabbed your mat and climbed back up to go again…Which in the golden summers of my childhood I would do again and again…

Except, this isn’t true.

There was no Helter-Skelter just across from the traction engine in Pudsey park. I had just convinced myself for years that there had been. It is an utterly false memory.

There was a Helter-Skelter at Roundhay Park over on the other side of Leeds, and it is this my memory has long since transplanted to Pudsey. But it was never free, and you couldn’t just keep going up and down on it.

I started this blog post in May. The title meant something at the time, but I never got further than the Pudsey Helter-Skelter. It spoke of my state of mind at the time and my general sense of self. I chose to stop writing the post back then because I was not in the right state of mind to share my frame of mind… Which is one of the problems with a certain frame of mind, certainly for me.

The title still means something… I am however in a better place than I was back in May and have been for some time I may add. This is in part due to a lot of people who are I suspect unaware of the part they have played in me getting to a better place. Suffice to say there are many of them and many reasons why they have helped, knowingly or otherwise.

The point in dragging out this half finished post, is just to say, that even when things look dark, there is always a dawn on some horizon that will come eventually. Even if the Helter-Skelter’s of our memories never existed…

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Talking books…

“Are they available in audio…?” I get asked for the fifth time that day. At which point I start to explain, in my usual fluid, utterly self-confident, and in no way panic-stricken way that unfortunately they are not…

I’ll go on to explain this is because of the prohibitive cost involved in professionally recoding a novel. For an experienced but relatively cheap recording artist it would be a minimum of £15 an hour, for an average of 10 hours per 10000 words. For, in the case of Passing Place, a novel with 110000 words. Sure, the Hannibal books are shorter, and maybe rolls it at around 70k, but at around £150 per 10k words I’m not spending that kind of money for anything less than the novel I consider to be my best.

There is a degree of arrogance to my opinion of Passing Place which people occasionally pick up on. Which is to say I happily state it is greatest novel ever written (by me) which is not a very British thing to say about your own work. In my defence I specifically said it’s the greatest ‘written by me.’ That doesn’t necessarily mean a great deal, but its readers generally seem to have positive things to say about the book. At least the ones I manage to convince to give it a read, who then give me their opinion…

Some people have bought Passing Place and then never say anything about it to me afterwards. Either it got put on their to read pile and forgotten about, which is a horrendous fate. Or they read it and didn’t even find it interesting enough to venture an opinion. Or they just hated it and are too polite to tell me so… I could not honestly tell you which is the worst fate… Though it is always mildly worse when the readers concerned are people who’s opinions you suspect you would hold in great value…

But not to get distracted by my own inner neurosis’s….

The point about audio books is that in order to record an audio version of Passing Place I would have to outlay around £1650. This is a somewhat of a large outlay for the audio version of a book that despite being the greatest novel ever written by someone called Mark Hayes, at least one specific Yorkshire-man called Mark Hayes, specifically this one… has not exactly been a bestseller.

Passing Place has been in print for six or so years now. In that time it has made substantially less that £1650. About a fifth of that figure in fact, if I am being generous, in the whole six years… It is my least successful book by some margin in this regard. Indeed in every regard except the critical acclaim showered upon it by those few I have convinced to read it. In short, while I am clearly a little mad, I am not that mad…

So “No they are not available in audio…” I explain, and then, because I have started talking and starting talking is the single hardest thing in the world, I go on to explain all those details above, while whoever asked is clearly someone who doesn’t generally read as they prefer to consume their literature in audio fashion, so sin’t going to buy a book, or indeed maintain an interest in what I am saying.

They start giving me funny looks about this point…

All of this isn’t in anyway what I intended to talk about when I started writing this post. It does however illustrate what I wished to talk about quite well. The point being I am in person, when stood behind a table with books upon it, far from the confident charming erudite intellectual you might otherwise expect. If, that is, you have never met me or read between the lines in these blogs.

I hide my shyness behind layers of fake confidence, occasional smuttiness, and attempts at friendliness that are so often misjudged as smug arrogance, because I am just not very good with people I don’t know. Or indeed people I do know… Just people in general in fact… And when I feel such interactions are going badly they start to go worse…

Occasionally, I fend off these demons even if I never defeat them. The weekend just passed was not one of those occasions. As much as I enjoyed everything else about the weekend, in terms of being a bloke stood behind a table talking about his books it wasn’t one of my better ones…

Though few questions were asked of me “Are they available in audio…?” was about the only question I managed not to feel like a fraud when answering. So about the only one I ever answered well…

The right answer to questions like “What are your books about?” and “Tell me about this book..” I know well. I just never give them at the time I am asked…

If your interest the correct answer’s are:-

The Hannibal novels are satires on both the modern world and colonialism, set in a steampunk universe moved forward to the modern age. They are full of strange technology, mad scientists, strong women and foolish men… Hannibal himself is a coward and a rogue, though neither as cowardly or as roguish as he proclaims himself to be. A man of contradictions who relates his tale, after telling you he’s a liar, while sat in a leather armchair drinking port and smoking a good cigar before a roaring fire in his dotage.

The Maybe books are straightforward steampunk novels set some 150 years before Hannibal’s time at the point where HG Wells is about to change everything and history will; diverge. They follow the adventures of Eliza TuPaKa a strong minded young woman and engineer of mixed race descent, attempting to solve her fathers murder, with the aid of Benjamin West and his former manservant Mr Gothe.

Cider lane is a contemporary if unconventional romance, between two people who have fallen off societies edge, coming to terms with old wounds and recent ones that have left them broken. It’s fucking complicated but is also about the importance of tin openers.

The Lovecrafts book is whatr happens when you write a blog and have too much time on your hands…

And Passing Place is…

Oh for the sake of the old gods and the wolf king of winter it’s just the best novel I will ever write, just read it please…

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A bit of genealogy and the Dutch

I don’t know what my paternal Granddad did for a living. I’ve never known. It never occurred to me to ask my dad what his dad did for a crust. Genealogy has never really been much of a thing for me. Though recently I did comes across a very old black and white picture of Edna Fields in a white frilly dress, aged 2, my maternal Grandmother, which brought a tear to my eye because of all my grandparents she is the only one I actually remember properly. A strong Leeds woman full of life who raised her daughters on her own after her husbands early passing, and used to slip 50p coins in my hand and give me a sip of sherry when my mum wasn’t looking…

My paternal grandfather had a stroke when I was little more than a toddler and though he lived on for several years all I really remember is a shuffling old man who couldn’t talk properly and scared me just a little. In fairness I very much doubt that image does any justice to Mathew Hayes, or that he would ever wish to scare his young grandson. But the image of an sick old man is all I really have of him, beyond that I really know nothing.

Just how little I know of my family can be summed up by an old brown suitcase, probably at least 80 years old, currently sat on my kitchen table. A suitcase I dug out of the loft at my parents old house a few weeks ago, along with several boxes of more recent photos and photo albums that cover the entirety of my parents lives together and mine and my siblings childhoods, as well as all their grandchildren…

Basically some idiot volunteered to digitise 60+ years of family photos. A task of near herculean proportions, and looking at many many murky pictures of landscapes, the sea, and figures that could be someone I know but may have just wondered through frame…

That suitcase though is a treasure trove of a different nature. A Fields family history in really old photo’s like the one of Edna aged 2, ration books, bomber crew manifests, pictures of war graves, and other oddities. Stuff I want to documents but don’t really know where to start with. For instance why was one of my maternal ancestors in the highland infantry? I aren’t aware of any Scottish blood in the family.

In short, I don’t know what either of my grandfathers did for a living, let alone my great grandfathers… Something I find myself feeling slightly sad about.

Anyway, on that slightly down note, I feel its time to take about something more cheery. But in keeping with the genealogy theme, because yes of cause there was a point to all that preamble, lets talk about the fascinating and slightly wonderful genealogy of Nils Visser… Writer of many things ( and several names)

The Flying Dutchman is one of those fabulous myths of the European cannon that sprung up from no where much, based on sailors tales, and took on a life of its own thanks to the core of the myth being leapt upon by writers, playwrights and an Opera.

The Opera genesis is a fun story all on it’s own. Wagnar adapted his ‘The Flying Dutchman’ from a chapter in a satirical novel by German writer Heinrich Heine ‘The memoirs of Mister Von Schnablewopski’ in which the lead character attend a performance of ‘The Flying Dutchman’ a play by the English playwright Edward Fitzball. A play which Hiene was believed to attended a performance of in London for many years, despite not arriving in London until seven days after the plays run at the Adelphi theatre ended.

So its a German opera, base on a chapter of German satire (who knew), based on an English play, that the author never saw…

As an aside, here is my favourite Wagnar fact you never really hear as everyone always says the one about him being Hitlers favourite composer. They always say this as if Wagnar’s is some how at fault for Hitler, which is harsh given he died six years before the goosestepping nazi twuddlefunk was even born… My favourite fact about Wagner is he was close friend of Nietzsche and had an affair with the old void starers sister. Though of course the same could be said of Nietzsche, theirs was a close family.

I read a fabulous book by a friend of mine about Nietzsche sister once, It’s why I know things…. (clink here to find out more)

That German opera, (which in fairness, given its Wagner, is really good if a tad Teutonic…) went on to inspire the writing of ‘Der Fliegende Hollander’ by German author Philipp Korber. Presumably in the 19th century equivalent of ‘The book of the movie’. Because cashing in on the popularity of a story in another medium ain’t even slightly new as a concept… Dutch publishing company Gebroders Kluitman then had it translated into Dutch, possibly just because the dutch and the Germans have such a friendly relationship… Then later, the translation being reasonably successful the publishers decided to pay a writer called Piet Visser to do a full rewrite.

Piet who, as it turns out, is the great-grand-uncle of Nils Visser a man who may or may not know what his granddad did for a living, but did stumble into his great-grand-uncle’s profession and become aware of Piet’s work. About this point he decided it would be an interesting idea to write his own version of the myth, however because its Nils and he’s incapable of doing anything by halves, that was four years ago, and his research notes at the end of book one would give Grandpapa Tolkien raise a smile.

(Nils once asked me to go through three chapters of another book he is still writing in order to fix the dialogue of one character so it was in an authentic 18th century Yorkshire dialect, Nils takes authenticity seriously as anyone who has read his Sussex Smugglepunk tales will testify, (and if you haven’t read them you should))

The result of years of arduous and meticulous research turned what was originally planned to be a single novel into a trilogy. The first of which was finally released last month. It’s extremely good and has only one flaw that I have noticed, and I ain’t telling anyone what that is… But anyway that, and the grand Hayes family photo history project are what got me Wondering what my granddad did for a living… But anyway I should probably do a review of the book don’t you think? Yes, that is the point of all this waffling on after all…

Bleak Future : The flying Dutchman book 1 ~ Nils Visser

Nils Visser is one of the finest writers of historical fiction I know. This novel, all be it leaning into fantasy, is no exception. Nils is not one to shirk his research, he must agonise about every detail because he gets those details right. Not just little things like the kind of boots people wear, but the big things that matter that so many writers of historical fiction get wrong. The world Nils creates, in this case the early Dutch Republic, feels as it should because the way people speak and think reflects the time period and the region. Social attitudes, political attitudes and peoples relative positions in society all just fit together. And then, having built this society, he tears it down from within.

Most writers writing a strong female character in a historical setting have them reflecting modern attitudes and virtues. Indeed the same can be said for those writers male characters. All of which is fine,if that is the intent in the first place. The Princess Bride is a fine example of modern characters in a ‘historical’ setting. The trouble is most writers doing this fail. What Nils does is something that requires far more talent and skill than most writers possess. He writes characters that fit the worlds they are in perfectly, and rail against it or double down. A trick he has pulled off perfectly with the POV characters in this novel, twins Liselotte and Andries Haelen. The first you will love for her ‘screw this’ rebellion and determined attitude. The latter you will slap some sense into, or just slap, because he is exactly what his father and society made him, with a few redeeming qualities, that even then require him taking a good hard slap somewhere along the way.

It says something about both characters and how well they are written, that when I read page 177 I punched the air and said ‘Yes, about bloody time you said that to the twat’ rather loudly, for one in the morning…

Andries grows up a little as the book goes on, which makes you less inclined to slap him silly. Lotte on the other hand just erupts from the page and from the confines of a society in which she should be seen and not be heard. Much to both the horror and the pride of her twin.

This is a novel of Character and detail. So many details that in the hands of a less charming, skilful writer would weigh down the text. Nils manages to do the opposite, all his details, his painstaking research, his careful attention to place and period, lift up the text. It gives it life, vigour and a sense of truth.

I honestly have no idea just how true to the 17th century Dutch world Nils’s novel is. But that’s not the point, it feels real and it feels like all the details are correct, so they just become the canvas upon with the story and characters are painted.

Its a fabulous, engrossing read, and I can not wait for the next two books in the trilogy.

It also has wonderful art work, both on the Tom/Nimue Brown cover and the internal illustrations (I love a novel with illustrations) by Julie Gorringe. which is just lushous.

Click on the book and you shall be transported to a place where you may purchase it

Anyway, you should invest in a copy of Bleak Future. As for me , I am off to message my uncle Denis last surviving member of a generation on my paternal side, and ask him what his dad did for a living. I feel its something I should know, after all we all need to know where we come from.

It helps us know where we are going.

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Numerology and Gargoyles

In the dim distant past, in a more innocent time, before the great pandemic, I was invited to write a story for a new anthology. This was in the Autumn of 2018, before the final draft of the first Hannibal novel had been written, Miss Maybe was still a minor character sipping tea in Esqwith’s Passing Place, and Hettie Clarkhurst didn’t even exist on that level.

Given Hettie very much one of the linchpins central to the arc of the first Hannibal trilogy and the first novel was almost complete at this point, Hettie not even existing in the authors mind at that point may surprise you. Unless your a writer yourself, in which case I suspect not even vaguely…

But back to the anthology I’d been asked to submit a story to…

Hannibal was to be my next big project. The Passing Place/ Hannibal crossover novella had been published a few months earlier and the first novel’s release was planned for around the same time as the anthology’s… Therefore I surmised a Hannibal Smyth short story was obviously the thing to write. The only trouble with that was I didn’t know where to start. However I had a jokey passage I’d written about my erstwhile anti hero reminiscing about the time he fought a duel while off his head on LSD. A quote I’d used in the publicity for ‘A Scar of Avarice’ despite it being a passing jokey reflection on an earlier incident and not actually central to the novella.

I just liked the quote…

Reference’s to Hannibal’s disreputable past like this crop up throughout the novels. I keep a separate list of them, to avoid contradictions. At least, contradictions that are not deliberate on my part, Hannibal lies a lot to his readers after all… But as with many of these ‘incidents’ I actually knew nothings about the details of the dual, how it came about and just how he came to fight it while on LSD. It was a throw away joke as much as anything…

It was however a joke people liked, so as I needed to write a Hannibal short story, the actual story of that dual seemed like a fun thing to do… I was certain it wouldn’t screw up any of Hannibal’s back story, or change the course of later events in the novels…

So yes, of course it did.

But before I explain just how it did change things I’ll have a quick moan about an offensive reviewer who pointed out LSD did not exist in Victorian times. Well done you, you’re correct, it didn’t… Of course the Hannibal novels are set two hundred years into Victoria’s reign and while many things did stagnate in Hannibal’s alternative world, chemistry of a certain kind did not… But still , bonus smarty pants points for you…. (that one has bugged me a while, not least because it was a review of the story in the anthology. While I don’t care if someone rips me to shreds in an ill-informed review I do care about the other fourteen writers involved. So in essence if you are going to write a shitty review, get your facts straight…) And breath…

Anyway, the short story I wrote, ‘The Cheesecake Dichotomy’ gave Hannibal’s universe not only the force of nature that is Henrietta Clarkhurst, ‘The Ins and Outs’ gentleman club and fleshed out some of Hannibal’s backstory I hadn’t realised was missing. It also became pivotal to the entire plot arc of the first trilogy in ways I wasn’t even fully aware of until I came to write the third novel. Indeed, I suspect the first Hannibal trilogy wouldn’t be complete even now if not for ‘Cheesecake’ and Hettie Clarkhurst, both of which only exists because of that anthology.

Shocking I know, but I, like most writers in my experience, more or less make it all up as we go along…

But without Harvey Duckman, I suspect Elonis Musk wouldn’t be firing giant cannons at the moon on a volcanic island west of Java. Certainly not with the force of nature that is Henretta Clarkhurst involved…

The Anthology in question was, of course, the first of the Harvey Duckman Anthologies. The tenth (or possibly twelfth depending how you count them) of these anthologies is due to be released on the 9th of September and I am once again one of the writers featured. Indeed I am happy to say I am in all 10/12 volumes, indeed in one of them (the pirates special edition) I feature twice with a story under an assumed name as well as one under my own. In this latest outing in the series I have a story called ‘The Ballard of Jonny Two Bones’ which could be described as a western, for the first paragraph or two. It then becomes something else entirely…

But while I am taking about Harvey, pick a cover….

Pick your favourite cover and read

Seriously, Harvey’s can be read in any order, or you can just try a single volume. So just pick your favourite cover and give it a go…. Harvey Is Calling…

What I like most about being part of the Harvey Duckman family, is just that, it’s a family, with getting on for 60+ authors now spread across the twelve books of the series. Some of them experienced writers with novels and short stories printed elsewhere. Some of them new fresh faces you will not find anywhere else, yet. Several of those fresh faces have gone on to publish novels and books of their own. At least a couple have taken stories they wrote for Harvey and built worlds out of them.

In short Harvey is a well of creativity, always full of interesting stores and new writers. A well of creativity that has also seeded more creativity. Some of those early writers in the first few anthologies have moved on, some are still with us, and some have become entwined in the Harvey team in ways they never expected at the outset. But the creativity and pure joy of stories stays at its core.

The latest 12th volume, number 10, which for obvious reasons is refereed to now as Gargoyle… ‘And there be devils within…’ is released on the 9th of September, it is however available for pre-order on kindle. though why you would not buy the paperback I don’t know…

This one includes stories by a mix of old hands and new bods as ever.

Kate Baucherel, R. Bruce Connelly, Mark Hayes, Peter James Martin, Christine King, Tamara Clelford, C.K. Roebuck, J.A. Wood, John Holmes-Carrington, Jon Hartless, Jack Pentire, Mat McCall, Ben Sawyer and D.T. Langdale.

Like all editions of Harvey the stories within are a mix of many genres and fine reads, with authors you may know, and ones you will be pleased to make the acquaintance of. Click on the cover if you want to know more…

Oh, and enjoy the Carrot cake…

Posted in amreading, amwriting, book reviews, books, cthulhu, fiction, Hannibal Smyth, Harvey Duckman, horror, indie, IndieApril, indiewriter, novels, Passing Place, reads, sci-fi, steampunk, writes, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The one in five

This is slightly disingenuous, slightly, but on average one word in every five I write makes it to the printed page. It disingenuous because that figure is probably higher in the case of my novels, and maybe a tad lower in the case of things like this blog. But one in five sounds about right.

I am not alone in this.

Most writers, if not all, write in drafts.

Some write in consecutive drafts (these are know as the mad people)

By consecutive drafts I mean they write until they decide its not working , then go back to the beginning and start over, whether that be the beginning of the paragraph, the page , the chapter of the whole damn novel…

Others, (those known as the slight saner people), write in in full drafts, finishing one then starting over.

Some writers are a strange combination of the two, like two life forms forced together by some bizarrely mad science experiment by a man in a white lab coat with the kind of smile that suggests you should run a mile unless you want a third eye grafting to your sexual organs and a second set of ears that can act as wings… (these are known as the not quite as mad as the mad people but defiantly up there on the barking scale somewhere people).

None of this is relevant by the way, as will come as a shock to no one who has ever read my blogs before, except that no matter what kind of writer you are, no matter what kind of drafting you do, or how often you howl at the moon when its full, it will still be about one word in five that ever sees the light of day.

Some are lost because they are just bad.

Some are lost because they are the loose plot threads of the the forgotten themes.

And some are cut because they were never really part of the story that we were telling, rather they were part of the story we told ourselves so we could tell you, dear readers, the story that hit the printed page in the end. A bit of story told from a different characters view point, back story to the main over arching plot. That conversation that was happening in the corner booth between the pilot and the barmaid while the main character was drinking away his sorrows at the bar…

Sometimes these odd little asides find their way out in to the world in other ways. Take for example ‘A Scar of Avarice’ a novella that started out on the cutting room floor. Back when I was writing ‘A Spider in the Eye’ I had this odd chapter that did not really work about a harmless little black robed monk in a Tibetan monastery beating Hannibal up in the way little black robed, harmless looking, monks in Tibetan monastery do. It was a fun little diversion, had something to say about colonialism and colonial British attitudes to the Empires less than willing subjects, but was mostly a reference to the crappy kung-fu movies I loved as a child…

The problem with the chapter was it’s main purpose in the novel was to fill in some time between a couple of plot points. I needed a couple of weeks to pass and so injected this little side story in to the novel…

This was fine, except the chapter felt forced, not least because it was. Also the plot fairy’s changed the end of Spider, so the chapter got moved to Tassels…. Where it got moved to the back end of ‘From Russia with Tassels’, due to the bullet train incident, some character growth and subplots etc, and the planning arc changed entirely. In the end its original purpose as time skip filler ceased to be and I cut it from the plot…

The problem was I still liked the chapter… It just wasn’t needed in either of the first two Hannibal Novels (which are effectively one novel but don’t tell any one) This was how ‘A Scar of Avarice’ came about. The novella which actually takes place between the end of Tassels and the start of ‘A Squid on the Shoulder’. Technically between 800 and 200 feet above the Indian ocean, in the period of time spent traversing this distance… But also in Esqwiths Passing Place, a pan-dimensional bar and grill from my novel Passing Place…

Oddly this saved chapter that never saw the light of day in two different Hannibal Novels finally saw the light of day six months BEFORE the first full Hannibal Novel was released…

What has all this to do with the cost of a fresh north Atlantic sea bass you ask? Well not much beyond demonstrating the point that like most authors just because only one in five words ever make it to print doesn’t mean all the bits that get cut are forgotten. Or that they will never see the light of day. Though plenty never do. Writers are pack rats, we save everything… Readers never see beyond the tip of the iceberg…

Sometimes though they get a peek. And in case your wondering, yes this is the actual point I started with and it really has taken this much waffle to get to…

As well as being a writer , I am a reader. In fact I am a reader first, you sort of have to be. In fact I have only ever met one author who isn’t a reader first, and I loath his stuff. So I’ll stick with my analogy. Everyone has there favourite authors, I have a long list, many of whom I have mentioned in the past. One of these is CG Hatton, who is I may add not just a favourite author of mine, but also one of my favourite people, the latter being an even harder category to get into to…

CG’s novels are awesome, I highly recommend them, I have in fact highly recommended them many times, and doubtless will do again. Recently CG messaged me and asked if I was busy or would fancy a rum, and so I called round, on a warm evening and was handed a small paperback and a rum… The paperback was one of ten in a limited run. Which delighted my bibliophile soul…

The Paperback in question is this one…

This small volume contains a few short story’s set in CG’s Thieves Guild universe, as well as small exerts and other things form the cutting room floor. A few of the stories she wrote for herself to tell her self the bigger story. It intriguing, full of spoilers, but its is mostly just a great read, a great insight into CG’s universe and into the stories behind the curtain. I loved it. No surprise there but then I want to read deeper into CG’s universe and know everything… That’s readers for you.

Writers are the gate keepers, we keep a lot of words hidden from view. Wisely on many occasions. But on occasion the best of the bits we horde and hide need to see the light of day. this collection is just that.

You can not get the paperback, as I said there are only ten copies in existence, and in all likelihood its going to stay that way. However you can get a copy for nothing on ebook via Book Funnel. So you should go and do that. Its a few short reads, and if you have never read CG’s work its a nice introduction. If you have then its a light into the darkness we (the readers) don’t normally see because we (the writers) keep it to ourselves. But aside for that, its just a good read, and will leave you wanting to know more. I know I do …

BOOK FUNNEL FREE BOOK HERE

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Darker Ages

There is an industry around romanticised paganism, its nothing new, it has been going on for decades, indeed more than decades, the Victorians were romanticising Britian’s past two centuries back. But there has been a particular raft of ‘cuddly’ paganism that has sprung up around Nordic culture in the last decade or so, and ‘cuddly’ Druidism has been around since the latter half of the 20th century.

None of which should be confused with actual druidism and paganism which is a complex series of belief systems, driven by a desire to be part of, and in tune with, the natural world. That is an entirely different thing.

Complex deeply held beliefs and meaningfully practised rituals, are not what I mean when I talk about ‘cuddly’ paganism. By ‘cuddly’ I mean people getting Nordic rune tattoos, T-shirts with woodcut ravens on them and quotes about Odin, Nordic beard rings, or getting lessons in axe throwing in a safe environment… Effectively commercial paganism, which has taken over from commercial ‘druidism’ selling dream catchers and incense burners at Beltane fire festivals (because western European druidism, Hindu spiritualism and native american cultural folk art are interchangeable, apparently)…

Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with ‘cuddly’ paganism. I own a set of beard runes myself… But it should not be confused with actual paganism. Just as dream-catchers and incense burners are perfectly fine things but owning them and liking trees should not be confused with druidism…

By the same metric, modern paganism and druidism should not be confused with the origins of these two separate but related belief systems… Modern pagans and druids tend to be lovely people for a start, and the ones know they have never tied up a willing victim, garroted them, then dumped them in a peat bog at the winter solstice to bring fertility back to the land.

As far as I know…

The Pagans of pre-christian Europe on the other hand existed in not just another time, but in another world entirely. A darker world, a more brutal world, a place where survival was a fight against the elements, nature was a ‘mother’ by every cogitation of the word even that most modern of uses that Samuel L Jackson is so fond of using…

There was nothing ‘cuddly’ about pagan society, it was a visceral world of blood and sinew, bones and brutality. You lived, you died, and normally not a great many years passed between the two. Life was hard and the myths, spirits and gods of that world were visceral bloody brutal things. Yet in fiction they are often painted in a softer light. Just as modern fairy tales are not the the brutal folklore stories that inspired them…

This brings me neatly, in a none structured, not in anyway planned, way to Lore of the Saelvatici by Steven C Davis. This is a fascinating collection of short stories, narrative poems and pagan inspired folklore type stories of the darker ages. The tales are dark and visceral. There is nothing ‘cuddly’ about them. This is grim dark foe folk-law that has more in common with real folk-law than many modern interpretations of folk-law you might chose to read.

There is a grim fascinating beauty to this collection, which is in essence background material for a larger body of work. that larger body of work is a re imagined version of the Robin Hood mythology. If this is anything to go by that too will be grimmer and darker than you would generally expect. There isn’t much in the way of Lincoln Green and merry thigh slapping going on here. The narrative poem structure of much of this work only adds to the sense of agelessness and timelessness of the stories. They read as if meant to be performed.

Performed on a dark summers night, under the stars, around a campfire that crackles and spits as if it will rage out of control at any moment.

Performed by men and women with antlers tied to their heads, least you hope they are tied on, not grown.

This is visceral, dark, grim and engrossing stuff . It feels real, it feels like the folklore of an England long vanish and forgotten, when Sherwood was a boundless forbidding Forrest full of spirits both benevolent and malicious, often both at the same time. Hunter and hunted. Stag and wolf….

The art work by John Chadwick perfectly supplements the words of Steven C Davis, there is a wonderful woodcut quality to it that fits the material perfectly.

This is a dark read, there is that word again… But I like my folklore, real or otherwise, dark, visceral and threatening. I like to smell the smoke, and taste the blood, and feel the cold sweat upon my back…. I like the fear of the dark woods and everything beyond that tiny fireside that is civilisation….

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The Joy of Random Things

There is something to be said for a low budget B movie that tried it best to rise above the constraints of budget, hockey writing, less than talented actors and more plot holes than plot to have holes in. Actually there is a lot to be said for such movies, most of it good and I’ll admit I have a particular fondness for them. Of course some are just plain dire and are redeemed only by the fact all involved know just how bad the movie is and embrace the whole thing.

Some are beyond even that redemption…

Recently I saw a trio of such movies and between them they manged to make a perfect set of ‘the good’ ‘the bad ‘ and the ‘yea gods why … no seriously why…’. The first of these is more or less the reason I am writing this blog post because on occasion the good B movie make it all worth while, but we will get to that one later , first lets start in the middle with this little gem of Welsh cinema…

Yes, you read that right, Welsh Cinema. It gets a misrable 2.2/10 on IMDB. Which seems a tad unfair as this is hardly Hollywood budgets we are working with here. Written and directed by the prolific Andrew Jones, it is for my mind exactly as good as the title suggests, and sure all the actors are Andrews mates. The special effects are neither special nor effective and the plot… Well… But it has heart and humour, and was clearly made with the joy of film making.

It also has the best lampshade based ‘joke’ you will ever see in cinema. It’s worth a watch just for that.

Now however lets turn to the ugly… or the ‘yea gods why’ as I put it earlier…

This Movie, which gets a respectable, and utterly undeserved 4/10 on IMDB. Some one clearly loves it, and the tag line in the trailer makes it seem better than its is ‘We’re gonna need a bigger house’…. Yet weirdly enough the first ten minutes is great, its almost as if the whole budget went into those ten minutes… Sadly it then goes straight down hill,

If you want a good B movie shark film watch sand sharks btw…

The reason I watched House Shark however was because an actresses in House Shark that had impressed me in another B movie, ‘The Good’ B movie of this trio that is worth a watch. Indeed she, Melissa LaMartina, was the lead in this little gem…

Now I know what your thinking, this whole blog about B movies has all being just a cheap ploy for mark to mention his non-fiction book on HP Lovecraft…

Well yes, okay I will admit the reason I became aware of this little gem is because I wrote a book on Lovecraft and, knowing my interest in both Lovecraft and B movies, my son sent me a link to it.

It turned out to be far better than he, or indeed I, expected. It gets a whole 4.6/10 on IMDB but frankly is house shark is a 4 then this is a solid 7. Ignore the occasionally ropy effects, and that some of the actors are a tad wooden. The writing, humour, and importantly the joy with which this movie was put together speaks of a love of the medium. It’s the kind of film made by people who love film. Sure the budget wasn’t the greatest, and the plot has some questionable elements. But the cast and crew clearly loved making this movie and that makes up for the flaws.

There is a wonderful movie makers sequence where call-girl of the title talks about her clients and there various kinks, all of which come back to bite them when she is later processed by the child of Cthulhu who has impregnated her in The Temple of the Golden Dawn (a nice little reference there)… and the same series of clients are killed off in order in ways that fit with their personal kinks…

There are lots of little, such as when the male lead is asked by his flatmate if he has any spare condoms about, as she is about to get feisty with her boyfriend, the camera cuts to the pack on his desk. ‘Deep Ones by Lovecraft’ …. The name’s of the various Johns in the sequence above and their various kinks are all subtle references to Lovecraft characters as well.. Such as the man called West who likes to play doctor… In fact the movie is littered with Lovecraft Easter eggs. the writers had a lot of fun with this and if you know a bit about old Tentacle Hugger’s fiction so will you, playing spot the reference. Some subtle, some not so much…

So yes, this is in part a blog written because I have a book about Lovecraft’s fiction out there in the world. But its also because of my love of B Movies and wish to share this little gem with your all…

A little blatant commercialism is a small price to pay for such joy, don’t you think…

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Cable Street Remembered

A former Tax official who’s millionaire wife avoids tax and his opponent ‘Pound-shop Thatcher’ are attempting to get the votes of a constituency of 0.2% of the British people. So they are both coming out with increasingly extreme right wing dogma to appeal to the “We did not fight a war for this!” crowd…
Who sort of miss the point of why the war they are generally talking about was fought, and were too young as a rule to have fought in these days to start with…

The latest bullshit idea to be floated by the Tax dodging former chancellor, is that ‘being mean about poor old Britain and its history, should be some from of criminal offence, as clearly it marks you out as a terrorist…

Having read my own work, it has become clear to me I am a terrorist under this definition, as this segment of A Scar of Avarice clearly illustrates..

No matter where they are in the world, an Englishman’s body language is always saying the same thing…

‘We’re so sorry we colonised your country in our imperial majesty, the empire was a terrible thing, glorious of course, so very, very glorious, and we gave you so much; cricket, impoverishing debt, that strange inferiority you foreigners can’t help but feel when an Oxbridge accent is in the room, partition, and so many train stations, while we took all your cultural treasure back to dear old Blighty and stuck them in draws in the “Vic and Bertie”. Gods it was a glorious thing the empire, bloody glorious.’

‘Bloody too come to that, but you can’t paint half the world pink without spilling a little red now can you? But we brought you the rule of law, habeas bloody corpus, lawyers and all that. And let’s not forget parliamentary democracy because god knows that’s working out so bloody well for us…’

‘But, it was, of course, terrible, utterly terrible and we’re so, so, so very, very sorry about all that now.’

“Sorry!”

From A Scar of Avarice

Clearly I need to be locked up now as satire has become illegal. I shall just have to hope, being as I am a straight white male in his 50’s, no one will notice and come and lock me up…

To be clear, Britain was built of the bones of others. It was build very well, because we were damn good it. As far as colonial powers go we were the greatest and most successful of all time. To deny that is to lie. Yes Britain gave the world Habeas Corpus, Parliamentary Democracy, Cricket… etc to a world that previously was unaware of ‘playing a straight bat’, and ‘silly mid-off’. But there are a whole lot of bad things about it as well. Far more bad, in the cold light of the 21st century, than good.

I speak as a proud Brit. But I am as proud of those who fought at the Battle of Cable Street, as I am of those who fought the Battle of Britain. Prouder if I am honest about it because those who fought the fascists at Cable Street did so despite those in power having more in common with Moseley’s Brown shirts than those who chose to stand in their way. People forget fascists were not universally despised by the upper echelons of British society until the out break of WWII.

The right to dissent is central to our democracy, to paraphrase an old saying, ‘I may not agree with you, but I’ll go in to bat for your right to your views.’

Up to, but not including, the moment you try to call people terrorists for having a different opinion to yours or expressing a less than reverent attitude to Britain… Because I am damn sure while I. a straight white male in his 50’s, am not about to have anyone come after me for saying Winston Churchill was a bigoted misogynist racist, I don’t think people who are not straight white males in their 50’s have the same pass as I would get for say so.

*he was btw, brilliant leader in the war years and a hero in many ways I will happily admit, he was however also very very flawed…

Anyway,. I am sure this is just electioneering, I am sure that pound-shop and the tax avoiders husband have no intention of moving Britain further to the right than it always resides… But someone might want to remind them of the battle of cable street at some point, if that’s what they intend to do…

Note 1

This rant BTW is all fault of Nimue Brown, and her somewhat more elegant blog post on the subject. You should read her blog for more insightful stuff. Or just because its always a brilliant read…

https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2022/08/05/vilifying-britain/

Note 2

As I really should occasionally mention my own work directly… The A Scar of Avarice Novella is now available as part of the following collection…

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