Please don’t get me wrong on this. I receive short book reviews with fierce and joyous exclamations that will startle the cats into a sulk. I’m at the self-publishing Indie stage where reviews, rather than the occasional sale, are the measure of success.
From that perspective, the length and complexity of a review is irrelevant. “I liked this book” is enough. Some of my favourite reviews are thunderous in their brevity. “Insanely well-written” for Escape from Neverland, and – I suspect by the same reviewer – “KICKS ASS” for Dance into the Wyrd. What more do you need to know? Plus, it’s pretty clear to me that the reviewer has read the books. J
I probably risk undermining the message that ‘any sort of review will do’ by gushing over longer and more comprehensive ones, but those longer ones do something entirely different. In their own way they’re as priceless as “KICKS ASS” and “Insanely Well-Written.”
Apart from the sheer magic of realising that there’s someone out there who has demonstrably grasped the essence of a story, and their generous allocation of time in digesting a story comprehensively, it’s also awfully kind of them to formulate that essence in a manner which I could never do myself. I can write a book, but please – OH HORROR – don’t ask me to describe it.
I can get as far as saying, “Look, I did a thing, where before there was nothing, kinda neat, isn’t it?” If you respond, “Yeah, cool, what’s the story about?” (like a normal human being showing interest would), I withdraw back into my shell. “Erm…ah…nothing much…I dunno…you probably shouldn’t bother…”
Every now and then a reviewer manages to phrase what the story is about with such eloquence that it not only leaves me stunned, but also arms me with an answer to that “what’s the story about” question. I can now answer, “Well, so and so says…” Somehow that is easier.
Every now and then, a review is so sirageously awesome, that the aftershocks of sheer jubilation transform into renewed inspiration for stories.
I have been fortunate enough to receive two of these reviews recently, for the novella Rottingdean Rhyme. One by Nimue Brown and one by Mark Hayes. I’m profoundly grateful for these reviews, more than they will ever know, so have no hesitation to gush wildly about these two reviewers, and their skills in unravelling aspects of Rottingdean Rhyme.
Through these reviews, both Nimue and Mark have, unwittingly, made a big mark on the two novellas which complete this mini-series regarding the childhood years of Alice Kittyhawk, protagonist of Time Flight Chronicles Book 1: Amster Damned.
Nimue for Them that Ask No Questions (just published), and Mark for Fair Weather for Foul Folk, still in progress.
I’m not entirely sure they’ll be pleased to have been allocated parental responsibility for the stories, so will have to turn to you, the jury, to demonstrate that their creative DNA, strands of their own writerliness as it were, have been woven into the stories about Alice. I’ll do this in two parts (sharing this same introduction), covering Them that Ask No Questions on Nimue’s blog Druidlife, and Fair Weather for Foul Folk on Mark’s Passing Place blog.
(note the post on Druid life can be found here https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2019/10/10/creative-osmosis-a-guest-blog/ )
FAIR WEATHER FOR FOUL FOLK
In his ‘Smugglers of Sussex’ blog (https://markhayesblog.com/2019/06/03/smugglers-of-sussex/) Mark reviews Rottingdean Rhyme, which he describes as a “wonderfully rich and vibrant novella,” as well as noting that my take on Steampunk has been to weave it into local Sussex smuggling lore.
He points out that smuggler’s tales can be found along most of Britain’s coastline, that local smugglers tend to be revered and/or romanticized by the natives, holding a special place in their hearts. Mark also rightly identifies that many of these smuggler’s tales have a lot of common denominators, storytelling traditions as it were. Whilst recognising these roots in Rottingdean Rhyme, he’s also kind enough to point out that I’ve taken old folk tales to fuse them into something new.
I had been thinking along similar lines for the third novella: Fair Weather for Foul Folk. None of the previous stories had an actual smuggling run in them, they were described from afar, because I was gambling that most people are familiar enough with smuggler’s tales to be able to fill in the blanks by themselves, leaving me to concentrate on the airships my Sussex smugglers employ for their business of Free Trading, and character development.
Yet…yet…I wanted a proper smuggler’s yarn for Alice, involve her in a run, bringing a crop from A to B, chased by Customs & Excise or the Royal Aero Fleet.
Mark’s review spurred me to make this wish a reality, to delve deeply into local traditions once again and steal everything that wasn’t nailed down be inspired by all I found.
I had already identified a setting. Until now the stories were set in Rottingdean and nearby Brighton. I wanted to expand farther along the Sussex Coast and knew exactly where.
I have spent many hours exploring the maze of Hasting’s Old Town, as well as the St Clements smugglers caves. One could not wish for more, but Hastings has another historical gem, one of those factual, historically accurate anomalies that sounds so far-fetched that readers will think I’ve gone mad expecting them to believe it. Well, believe it or not, there’s a small area of Hastings which declared de facto independence from the United Kingdom, back in the early nineteenth century. They build a palisade around their settlement, and raised the Stars and Stripes, as well as electing a governor. He read the American Declaration of Independence out loud and proclaimed the small stretch of shingle beach (1500 yards long, 500 yards wide) as a territorial component of the young United States of America. This within living memory of the American Revolution. What’s even more astonishing, is that records indicate this small corner of the United States, right on England’s doorstep, managed to sustain independence for a good 35 years, possibly longer. This stuff is just too good to ignore, so if I were to stretch that independence by another quarter of a century, I could have Alice pay a visit to the America Ground, as the place was called.
As for tales, I was lucky enough to get my grubby hands on a copy of a rare book written by a Hastings local who was a young lad when smugglers were still active (Reminiscences of Smugglers and Smuggling by John Banks, published in 1873).
I could simply incorporate some of these historical accounts and give them a little twist of my own.
Visiting the small town of Rye, further east along the Sussex Coast, was another eye-opener. There’s a small museum in Ypres Tower, the small castle overlooking Romney Marsh, which has devoted considerable attention to local smuggling history. To top my visit off, when I was by the old-lookout point, atop of the former city walls, I was approached by an old-timer, silver beard and all. I’d told no one about the reasons for my visit, and didn’t ask, but he went straight into yarning away about smuggling. He described how a fog would drift in over the marshes from the sea, and how that would intertwine with the mist rising from the gullies, ditches, and tide channels in the marsh, to form a thick blanket over the marsh, to which he added, “and folk would say: Tis fair weather for foul men.”
As you may imagine, I was in full Jake Blues ‘I have seen the Light!’ mode, furiously scribbling down notes, and you may recognise the origin of the title of this novella.
As for tales, Rye is rich in them. There are accounts of members of the notorious Hawkhurst gang drinking at the Mermaid Inn, guns and cutlasses openly on their tables and boasting of their exploits. Furthermore, the Inn itself has smuggler’s tunnels, priest holes, and many reputed ghosts (of smugglers!). Naturally, I went for a pint in the taproom (scribbling more notes all the while).
Rye was also home to John Ryan, the creator of Captain Pugwash, a popular children’s series about pirates. I didn’t know this when I arrived in town but was delighted, as I couldn’t get enough of Captain Pugwash when I was a kid. As a matter of fact, it was those stories that inspired my lifelong ambition to become a pirate when I grow up (some day). I also discovered a new story, Captain Pugwash and the Huge Reward. Set in the town of ‘Sinkport’ (which has exactly the same streets and buildings as Rye), it sees Captain Pugwash’s involvement in local smuggling. Obviously, I can’t steal Ryan’s characters and stick them in a Sussex Steampunk Tale, but I did want to reflect some of the sheer fun of Ryan’s stories in Fair Weather for Foul Folk.
As if that wasn’t enough, Rye identifies strongly with Russel Thorndyke’s Dr Syn stories, also made into movies, tv series, plays, audio adaptations, and comics. These stories are set in Dymchurch, Kent, but both Rye (in Sussex) and Dymchurch are part of Romney Marsh. Outsiders may draw a county border through the marsh, but marsh-folk are marsh-folk and will stick together.
The fictional Dr Syn was a vicar who doubled as a smuggler, known as “The Scarecrow” (and disguised as such), as well as leader of a smuggling gang called The Hell Riders of Romney Marsh. Unfortunately, Thorndyke sold the copyright to Disney, and Disney is a terrible foe to have if they perceive anyone to be meddling with their rights (is there anything they don’t own?). So, no Dr Syn, Scarecrow, or Hell Riders, and probably best to stay away from Dymchurch. That isn’t really a big problem, because the most fascinating feature of Dr Syn was the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde aspect of his dual personality. Syn was gentle, compassionate, intelligent, and well-mannered. The Scarecrow a rogue capable of being utterly ruthless.
Outsmarting the Queen’s Men is a universal theme in smuggler’s tales, so definitely not exclusively Dr Syn. Neither is the dual personality, as the reference to Jekyll and Hyde already suggests. So that will be the way to go, watch out for two characters, in Rye, Sussex (not Dymchurch, Kent) who may well be the same person.
Each setting will introduce new characters, semi-historical and some partially based on local Steampunks and Pyrates who have volunteered to crew despite the risks (I am disturbingly fond of killing characters off, especially if they are likeable). Those who survive, will accompany Alice to the next lot of books, novels this time, which deal with her teenage years.
So, there you have it, most of the ingredients required for a ripping yarn, like the ones they used to tell in taverns up and down the coast. Deeply rooted in folk traditions, but hopefully renewed for modern audiences, Steampunks or not. I’ve already progressed quite a bit and hope to publish before Christmas. If I pull it off, Mark can claim some credit. If I don’t, we’d best delete this guest-blog and nary a word will be spoken of it forever and longer.
The novellas are set up as stand-alone stories, so can be read in any order you please, but they also form a series. If I’ve whetted your appetite for Fair Weather for Foul Folk, and you don’t want to wait, do consider giving Rottingdean Rhyme or Them that Ask no Questions a try. The Kindle versions are cheaper than contraband brought ashore on a dark and moonless night.
About Nils Nisse Visser
Nils is a free-lance writer, occasional poet, archer, Homelessness activist, who was born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands in 1970 (which was the best year ever to be born *Mark), he grew up in the Netherlands, Thailand, Nepal, Oklahoma, Tanzania, England, Egypt and France. Taught English at various Dutch secondary schools for 18 years, but his firm belief that education is most effective when it is fun raised a few eyebrows. Having been told too often that he lived in his imagination, he took the hint and moved there on a full-time basis. He currently lives in Brighton in the county of Sussex in England.
Rather confusingly he sometimes writes as Nils Visser, Nisse Visser or Nils Nisse Visser. For which he apologies.
- You can find out more about Nils at http://www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk
- Follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/NilsVisser
His latest Novella ‘Them That Ask No Questions was released a few days ago, clicking on the picture below might just take you to it, as if by magic…
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