Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Max and Collin’s rambunctiously raucous and chi-chi to the core parlour located high above it all on board our beautiful rainbow-sailed ship, The Harlequin Ladybird.Our tentacles are all of a quiver this morning and our china cups are chattering because we are honoured to have Stephen Palmer joining us for elevenses this morning.
Do please have a seat, (Max, get off the chaise and let him sit down … hm? … no he can’t sit on your lap, just move aside.)
Would you like tea? Earl Grey? Lapsang? Assam? Darjeeling? ( We are all out of Oolong Max so don’t even think about making that joke again)
Definitely Darjeeling. Nothing else will do! But I’ll just cross my legs and place this pocket abacus on my lap so that Max is stymied…
That is very kind and unnecessarily accommodating of you Stephen, here is your tea. Now then, do tell us more about yourself and your latest books.
Well… it’s a long story. Many years ago I was taken off the slush pile by Orbit Books, which started my time as a published author. Since then my career has scaled some heights and descended into some depths, though recently it’s been on a bit of a high. At the end of 2016, my steampunk/alternate history trilogy Factory Girl (The Girl With Two Souls / The Girl With One Friend / The Girl With No Soul) was published, to a very positive reception. Earlier this year we decided to relaunch it with covers designed by famed steampunk illustrator Tom Brown (he of Hopeless, Maine), with a fourth, supplementary novel – not published with the original trilogy – also set for publication. This latter novel is set in 1914-15 and is called The Conscientious Objector.
Oh that does sound like an intriguing series! We very much admire Tom Brown’s artwork too and did you hear that Max? That last book sounds like just your cup of tea! ( Many people find Max objectionable, I’m sure you can see why.) What inspired you to write the series?
The entire plot, characters and structure of Factory Girl came to me one evening during a two hour blitz of ideas. That this happened means it was waiting in my subconscious ready to appear. The overarching theme is whether or not souls exist, an area explored via Victorian-style automata, though also through the life stories of the main characters. Of these, the main ones are: Kora Blackmore, an illegitimate mulatto (used here for historical accuracy) girl imprisoned in Bedlam Mental Hospital; Erasmus Darwin, grandson of Charles; Dr Spellman, an entirely mysterious benefactor; other members of the Darwin family; an enigmatic automaton who can speak and understand; and Sir Tantalus Blackmore, Kora’s father, the greatest industrialist of his age and owner of the Factory in Sheffield, where all the Empire’s automata are manufactured. The story takes place over all three novels during 1910-11.
I see, it sounds most enticing… er, no Max we do not need to hear about your experiences in Bedlam thankyou… nor why there is a young lady there who swears you have tentacles… I’m so sorry Stephen I’m afraid he has been at the sugar again this morning. Moving swiftly on, what would you say most influences your writing in general?
I’m known in the genre world for rarely reading fiction. Most of my influences are non-fiction. For instance, I recently read: Mama’s Last Hug (the emotions of animals), Novacene (James Lovelock’s new one, celebrating his 100th birthday), and The Hare With The Amber Eyes (an extraordinary memoir about netsuke).
How interesting! But if not any fiction then are there any authors who have particularly inspired you?
In my earlier days I was influenced by authors such as Jack Vance, Gwyneth Jones and Gene Wolfe. These days there aren’t many authors of fiction who inspire me, but in the steampunk world I much enjoyed the YA novel Cogheart.
Hm. Excellent. (No he does not want to hear your poetry Max, that is not in least bit inspiring, stop interrupting) Battenburg?
Do you have any parkin? I understand they make it in Leeds.
We certainly do have some Parkin – left over from a tea party with the Brown’s in fact! – although this was made in Lancaster. You know, writing is something I’ve always fancied turning my talents to – having so many tentacles I imagine I could be quite productive as an author. Tell me, what was your own road into fiction writing like?
It was an extraordinary stroke of luck. I had been sending sample chapters and the like to various London publishers, but without much by way of reply. Then, mere days before I moved house (never to return for reasons best not mentioned), I received a letter from Orbit asking me to send the full MS of a novel I’d sent them over a year before. I was surprised! So I sent it off, but then, because of various life-events getting in the way for me and for them, I didn’t hear anything for a while, during which time I wrote a third version. This version was eventually accepted, to be published in 1996 as my debut Memory Seed.
I see, what marvellous good fortune! And do you have any plans for new projects in the near future?
When I do writing events or author appearances I usually mention writer’s volcano – the opposite of writer’s block. So, yes, I have lots of projects on the go! This winter I’ll be writing the final volume of a steampunk trilogy set in an alternate Shrewsbury (my home town) and in London. Set in 1899 and 1900, it follows the fortunes of a couple of orphans.
Ah, we are well acquainted with a small army of orphans so can easily see how that subject could provide ample plot-fodder – in fact Max often wishes he was an orphan. So, where can we get our tentacles on your work?
My novels are available in all the usual places online, both as paperback or ebooks. Infinity Plus have most of the ebooks of my back catalogue.
Splendid. And can we find you online?
Wooooah! Dear me I do apologise, the airship must have slipped and I seem to have landed in your lap I hope I haven’t covered you in octopus slime?
It’s no problem! I’m wearing Dr Avebury’s Secret Trouser Improver, from which liquids dissipate.
What a marvellous invention, perhaps we should invest in some ourselves. But Are you sure you’re alright? Can I perhaps tempt you with another cup of the hot stuff?
If it’s my usual poison, yes indeed… but I must away. A Nigerian automaton has just leaped from my blazer pocket and told me the time. Farewell!
Oh dear, Max I do believe your menacing threats of mostly awful poetry and ill-concealed amorous advances have scared off yet another of our guests. You really must learn to behave yourself ‘In Company.’
Thankyou, friends for joining us this morning on board our beautiful rainbow sailed ship The Harlequin Ladybird and until we see you again, please remain always
Good evening and welcome to my awe inspiring athenaeum of praiseworthy pamphlets – or as that ridiculous octopus calls it, my ‘lovely library.’
I am the ghost of Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect, catalogue and review every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler of the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.
But I have not always been a bad tempered ghost in charge of an underground library. Once upon a time I was a bad tempered gentleman who had devoted his life to the collection of evidence which might perhaps one day bring about the downfall of our oppressive overlord, Wiz.
Not to be put off by death, I have struggled to find a way to continue my work and I have indeed found a method by which I can sporadically leave this library, to which I am otherwise bound, and travel abroad.
This method is known as The Opprobrious Pith Helmet.
By securing the services of a less than reputable Wizard I have had my soul partially bound to an ancient piece of explorational headwear and am therefore able to possess the wearer for short periods of time, with their consent…hm? Did I have to drug them first? Well how very rude of you of course I did not have to drug them…I mean the very idea!
So, this evening I am most honoured to be occupying the form of authour Guy Donovan and I… no those are NOT blood stains on his shirt. It is red paint. I may have had a very minor altercation with a disgruntled barge woman who mistook my innocent enquiries about leather bound tomes for something else entirely, but I managed to set her straight in the end… after I’d clambered out of the canal and removed most of the pond weed.
Anyway I do not have time for an interrogation on the moral use of other people’s bodies, can you not see that I have just returned from a most important business trip? I have new books everywhere and I must review and catalogue them and… what’s that? What are you wittering about? Help? You’d like to help me transcribe? You’ve brought along some single malt to keep out the chills as we work?
Well, I suppose that puts a very different slant on things doesn’t it? Very well then, I will dictate a short extract of each story and a review, and you can pour…I mean type… a-hem…
A WIZARD’S QUANDARY BY JAQ D HAWKINS
The story concerns the wizard Lesana, who is employed by her local king to keep him in potions that preserve his youth. She lives alone in her tower far from the capitol, unless of course you count the small, green dragon in her keeping that she found as a hatchling and named Khadri. No one but Lesana knows about Khadri, and they both intend to keep it that way. If the king found out about him…well, you can guess what would happen, right?
Then one day, a soldier comes from the capitol with orders to take Lesana to the king and teach him how to make her magic potions for himself. Naturally enough, Lesana isn’t very interested in doing anything of the sort, so she and Khadri abscond, with the soldier pursuing them into the mountains—the same mountains in which Lesana found Khadri. The mountains where the dragons live.
What I liked most about the story is the relationship between Lesana and Khadri. It’s very playful and touches on maternal without ever getting cloying. The below sample shows that very well, I think.
Lesana peered carefully into the crucible, closely observing the swirling, black mass within.
“If that pops, you could lose an eye.” Khadri, Lesana’s miniature green dragon companion, hopped onto Lesana’s shoulder, causing her to brace herself against the weight of an animal the size of a full-grown wolverine. He glanced at the churning elixir.
Lesana pulled her head back a little, but continued frowning at the crucible.
“Your eyes see more colours than mine,” she stated aloud. “Can you see any hint of vermilion?”
Khadri danced around on his shoulder perch, pretending not to notice when Lesana steeled herself against the new claw punctures in her partially healed, damaged skin.
“I see the red glowing crystals forming rapidly, as always. You’ve never failed in your efforts to make the Philosopher’s Stone to my knowledge.”
“You should have seen my early efforts, when you were just a hatchling,” she replied. “It’s more by luck than judgement that I never blew up the entire tower.”
“It’s a dangerous business,” Khadri acknowledged. “I don’t see why the king doesn’t just send you to Egypt to retrieve the cinnabar from mummy wrappings.”
Lesana guffawed, pushing herself away from the table where the crucible continued to send sulphuric vapour into the close space of the uppermost tower room where she kept her laboratory, just in case. Fire and explosions tended to travel upwards.
“I can just see the Egyptian Department of Antiquities allowing a foreign wizard to help herself to the preservatives in their precious national tourist industry. Last I heard they didn’t even know the nature of the red ochre. I’d rather not be the one to explain that they’ve had the key to immortality within their relics all this time.”
She wandered to the arched window that looked out over the dead forest to the north. The elevation provided by the fifth level tower room allowed Lesana to see the Crystal Mountains in the distance. A wistful note entered her voice.
“Besides, if I ever leave the king’s employ and travel somewhere, I’d like to go back to the Crystal Mountains.”
“Where you found me?” Khadri gasped. “The dragons would eat you!”
“Perhaps,” Lesana admitted. “But they didn’t before. I felt something while I was there. Something…magical.”
Being a writer of dragon tales myself, (I grew up reading Anne McCaffrey’s fantastic Pern series and the influence shows) I think it’s very important that they be treated as characters in their own right, rather than simply bestial antagonists. Now that’s not to say that dragons can’t be the bad guy! I just think that they’re better storywise when they are presented as more than mere powerful animals. Besides, being that us humans are so good at being bad, I prefer stories where the dragons are more noble. Jaq D. Hawkins did that very well.
And I think we had better leave it there for this evening don’t you? The bottle is dry and I must be getting this body back to its rightful owner… hm? What’s that you say? You don’t think I should give it back in this state? Well we’ve only had a few haven’t we? It is hardly my fault if Guy can’t hold his liquor… hic…
MANY THANKS TO AUTHOUR GUY DONOVAN FOR BEING A FABULOUS SPORT AND SHARING HIS REVIEW IN PERIL’S LOVELY LIBRARY! YOU CAN FIND GUY HERE
AND YOU CAN READ THE REST OF A WIZARD’S QUANDARY IN THE DREAMTIME DAMSELS ANTHOLOGY HERE:
library image courtesy of http://www.freeimages.com
This #indiethursday I’m sharing my love of ….
A small, self-published poetry book written by Nimue Brown, with cover by Tom and Nimue Brown, printed by Stroud Print.
Poetry exploring landscape and the relationships between humans and place, inspired by life along the Cotswold Edge and the Severn Vale.
Human bodies are much like landscapes.
We have our contours and crevices,
Signs of weathering, history written
Into soil and skin alike.
Some of us are flat land formations
Others are complex, curving hillscapes
Verdant forested or marble smooth.
Clay and bone and watercourse.
The places we are inhabiting
Inhabit us in turn, as we move
These bodies through localities, as the
Shape of them shapes or motions.
To compensate for my lack of time to do long reviews just now, I’m using the #indiethursday hashtag to share the indie love and point at some fabulous indie books I’ve enjoyed reading 😀
So, what fab indie fiction are you reading / writing this month? Blessings on your brew and best of luck with all your indie endeavours, lets keep flying the flag for indie writing!
Happy MythpunkMonday! A while back in September, we looked at the mythology and folklore of trees and I shared an extract of some of my tree-based mythpunk Opre! I promised then that I would spend another post looking at working trees into our Mythpunk, so here we go…
As comfortably as trees sit within the heart of many world Mythologies, they don’t lend their image so readily to the realm of punk, at least not at first glance.
We tend to associate trees with the countryside, with high fantasy or historical settings, they might be used in writing to create the feel of tranquillity or terror but we seldom see trees being used to create a gritty urban backdrop for a dystopian situation, or being the catalyst for a postmodernist plot. Fictional trees that speak, tend to speak like old men and women, or very occasionally naive young girls. I would like very much to see a Mohawk sporting, forty-something, jaded Willow Tree hurling cans at litter louts in a psuedo-park in central New London…
That’s an extreme and slightly comical example of course, but I think it’s a good hammer with which to smash our preconceptions about trees in mythic fiction. Trees are, to my mind, too often portrayed as benign life givers, old fonts of wisdom and healing, sources of magic, resources to be used and abused. But they have other faces too ; they can poison, choke, harm, barb, wound, unbalance, tear down and destroy … I mentioned Tolkien’s Ents in the last post in relation to anthropomorphism, but I do very much like their verve!
Our historic abuse of trees and their land surely has enough fodder in it for gritty, feral, subversive voices to rise up from the asphalt and the concrete, the timber frames, furnace and cellulose packaging and bite back so, here is a little list of tree-mendous (had to be done) tree-punk to give us some inspiration, click on each title to follow the links and feel free to share your own ideas, examples and gawd-awful tree puns in the comments! XD
I very much like the trees described in Blades In The Dark ; Jayan Park in the Charterhall district is full of beautiful alchemical abominations in a sunless world, deadly to touch and utterly useless for supporting life, but still revered.
“The great alchemist for whom this park is named contrived to formulate soil and seeds that could produce real, growing trees, without sunlight or radiant energy. They are horrifically toxic to all living things and must not be touched but they still grow beautifully here, over 100 years later.” – Blades In The Dark P262.
In a world not so different from our own, a vigilante group of techies have shut down all the computer systems on the planet in an attempt to put an end to the war and destruction orchestrated by technology. But where there’s a will, there will always be a way and a new ‘cellulose tech’ has now been developed. But using living plant cells in communications technology leads to some disturbingly sentient systems… and then the people begin to vanish…
A POISON TREE
This poem by William Blake is, of course, not actually about a tree but I find the imagery and metaphor strongly evokes a punk sense of proactive subversion; the vengeful gardener, the poisoned fruit / the bright lure to death – in many ways the song of technology to the heart of human kind; the two fingered punk salute at the end…
Here’s a suckerpunch one for you, this one got me right in the windpipe when I saw it so I’m only going to post the link in the title and you can follow it to the picture. It’s inspiring my WIP at the moment!
This broke my heart, appalled and held me enthralled with grim fascination when I first saw it a few years back. The video gives one side of the coin, click the title link for the other…
And just as a fun note to end on – Yes they do exist!
I hope you enjoyed this #MythpunkMonday post, do feel free to join in and share your own work or that of others, using the hashtag and post your own thoughts and tree-punk wisdom in the comments 🙂
#indiethursday: How To Successfully Self-Publish Your Steampunk Book on Amazon (Guest Post by Desiree. J. Villena)
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to this special “how to” edition of your favorite blog for all things steampunk! Gather ‘round the virtual fire — particularly those of you who’ve penned your masterpieces but have no idea what to do next — because today we’ll be talking about how to self-publish and sell your very own spectacular steampunk book on Amazon.
The gargantuan online retailer maintains a variety of reputations, from cutthroat marketplace and notorious Borders’ assassin, to a veritable land of milk and honey (if you know the right tricks). And though we as a self-respecting literary faction might want to turn our backs on Amazon, the fact is that it’s one of the easiest platforms for self-publishing authors to use, offering a simple upload process through its Kindle Direct Publishing unit and a range of exciting promotional options for authors.
On top of that, you simply can’t beat the consumer reach: Amazon controls roughly 80% of the ebook market in the US and UK, and significant portions in every other book-buying country too. Everyone knows Amazon, and most people use it, even if we may also shake our fists at the sky and scream “Damn you, Bezos!” whenever we hear about the latest Amazon travesty. Cognitive dissonance, economic convenience, willful ignorance — call it what you want, but Amazon’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
I mentioned “knowing the right tricks” in order to find success on Amazon, and it’s absolutely true that you can’t just waltz into the marketplace (metaphorically) and expect to make millions. Indeed, self-publishing a book is far from a glamorous business; you get more creative freedom and royalties than you would if you published traditionally, but you also have to put in about ten times the work. That said, if you’re courageous enough to put your book out into the world and you’re determined for it to succeed, you’re probably not the type to be dissuaded by hard work.
So with my slightly diatribical intro out of the way, let’s dive into the reason why all of us are here: presenting my most practical tips for self-publishing your book on Amazon and becoming the steampunk sensation you’ve always dreamed of being!
The most critical move toward successfully self-publishing almost any kind of book on Amazon is, unfortunately, the hardest. This is because it’s not about the publishing process itself, but what you do in the weeks, months, or even years leading up to your book launch: steadily building your following.
Imagine that each of your readers is a feral cat you are trying to tame; if you try to put a collar on it right away, it’ll claw and hiss at you. But if you leave some food out, coo at it, provide it a warm bed and maybe even a few toys, the cat will grow to trust you. By the time you go to slip a collar over its head, it won’t even notice — in fact, it’ll probably purr at the offer, happy to oblige. (This may be a little optimistic for a cat, but I digress.)
Basically, if you try to promote something to a new follower right away, they’ll unfollow you quicker than you can say elevenses. But if you ply them with interesting material, like interviews and reviews of other steampunk authors, they’ll stick around. You might get them to subscribe to a newsletter where you share your personal thoughts on the tropes and trends of the steampunk genre… and which you can eventually segue into talking about your own self-published book.
Alternatively, if you don’t have a steampunk blog or newsletter but you are active in relevant social media circles, try to capitalize on that! Engage in dialogue surrounding new releases and quintessential classics, squeal over fashion and fanart, and share cool and interesting images with your followers (I’ll talk more about this next). Maintain a friendly yet authoritative persona — this is helpful for any author, but especially in a niche like steampunk, where knowledge runs deep even among casual fans.
The point of all this is for other people to enjoy what you have to offer, trust that your content is high-quality, and believe that you are a talented person worthy of their support in the future. This method is known as “give, give, give, take,” and it’s highly effective in tight-knit communities like those of steampunk, where reputation is everything.
Speaking of ways to cultivate a strong reputation…
Steampunk has a very distinct aesthetic in both the literary genre and subculture as a whole. Even someone who knows very little about it can still hear the word and immediately envision clockwork and corsets. Of course, there’s often a difference between what people think of as “steampunk” and actual steampunk, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of popular perception to promote your book with some amazing art!
By far the most important aspect of this is your book cover design. In the publishing world, we like to joke about how “don’t judge a book by its cover” is totally backwards advice for authors; while it works as a philosophical adage, it’s simply untrue when it comes to actual books. Readers will inevitably judge a book by its cover, and decide whether to “look inside” or even buy based on the quality of the design. Which, to be fair, is sort of logical — if the author didn’t bother making an effort with the cover, why would the inner contents be any better?
This doesn’t mean you need to go to art school just to sell your book. However, you should put some serious thought and probably money toward your cover design, whether that means commissioning a friend or hiring a professional. As you’ll learn throughout this process, this is just one of many times when it’s helpful to have a community — you can ask other steampunk authors what level of quality they’ve gone for with their covers, as well as how they managed to afford it and/or if there’s a particular designer they’d recommend.
Don’t forget to look at other bestselling steampunk books on Amazon, too! Again, there’s a distinct dark-and-metallic aesthetic that universally indicates steampunk. But trends can change, and you want to ensure your book cover is clearly associated with this particular genre, both for your personal promotional purposes and on Amazon itself.
Finally, when it comes to visuals, don’t stop with your cover. If you have the budget for it (or some artistically inclined friends to help you out), you should absolutely get a few additional illustrations for your book. Steampunk is one of the most inventive genres out there, and while there’s something to be said for allowing your readers’ imaginations to run wild, it can also be incredibly powerful to provide some visual aids.
What’s more, you can tease these images alongside text previews from your book in order to give your followers a taste of what’s to come. Remember: give, give, give as much as you can before you take. Even something fairly simple (like, say, a tongue-in-cheek “wanted” poster) can make really fun bonus material for your fans.
Now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of self-publishing on Amazon. For those who don’t know, all self-publishing authors on the platform use Kindle Direct Publishing, or KDP, to upload and publish their books.
However, within that all-encompassing process, you also have the option to enroll in KDP Select — a program that allows you to run various price promotions through Amazon, put your book on Kindle Unlimited, and earn higher royalties in certain territories. It’s free to enroll, but it requires 90 days of Amazon ebook exclusivity, meaning you cannot go through any other digital distributors for the first three months of your book’s release.
This is super-condensed summary of everything that KDP Select actually entails, but for our purposes, that’s all you need to know. Your conundrum now is: is it worth it?
The best thing about KDP Select is how easy it is to use. You can start promotions (either free or discounted) with the touch of a button, and then simply direct your fans to your Amazon page. Plus your book will automatically be discoverable on Kindle Unlimited, where subscribers will read it and you’ll get a payout based on how many pages they get through.
The worst thing about KDP Select is, obviously, the fact that your book is restricted to Amazon — despite its far-reaching dominion, it can be unnerving to feel like you’re putting all your eggs in one basket. And if you live in one of those countries where Amazon isn’t quite so totalitarian, you may even be missing out on significant distribution and marketing opportunities. While you will be able to digitally distribute to other places once the 90-day enrollment period is over, you’ll be staking most of your early-launch momentum on Amazon alone.
I can’t tell you outright whether KDP Select is the right choice for you. However, I can tell you which factors to consider: How much help do you want with implementing promotions? Do you have followers who are willing to pay for your book at full price, or will they need a promotion to entice them? How important is wide distribution to you personally? Are you writing a steampunk series? (Series tend to do well on Kindle Unlimited.)
The one aspect of KDP Select that probably appeals to almost all steampunk authors is that there aren’t too many steampunk books currently on Kindle Unlimited. Not only is this a unique selling point for your marketing, but the steampunk-starved SFF readers who subscribe to KU will rush to your book like flies to honey. Of course, there’s no way of knowing how many people will end up read ingyour book through KU, but at least it’s free to get into their library.
Whether or not you decide to enroll in KDP Select and run an Amazon-sanctioned price promotion, there’s still plenty more you can do to externally promote your self-published steampunk book! There are oodles of book review blogs and promotion services that you can explore, not to mention advertising on your own blog and social media — though with relative restraint, since you still don’t want to scare your followers away (remember the cat lesson).
One hot tip for steampunk authors is to aim for quality, not quantity, when reaching out to potential reviewers and third-party promoters. By that I mean: don’t click on those directories and then send a canned email to every single contact on the list! Take the time to comb through your options and select 3-5 reviewers who you think could really help out your book, then write a personalized inquiry to each of them. Off the top of my head, I’d recommend The Kindle Book Review and BookDoggy for first-time authors. And of course, you can always ask for a review or interview from a steampunk-specific blog like this one.
You can do so much more with your own personal connections, too: ask a popular mutual follower about a cross-promotion, encourage your newsletter subscribers to leave a review, and maybe even offer a larger giveaway to increase engagement. The prize doesn’t have to be your book; the giveaway could be for anything steampunk-related, and indeed your followers might be more excited by the prospect of a cool clothing item or small piece of furniture than a book.
Whatever path you take, I certainly hope you’re in a better position to succeed than you were about 2,000 words ago. Steampunk is such a singular genre with an incredible community behind it, and every author’s voice matters — so get out there and make yours heard.
Many thanks from all of us at Blake and Wight to Desiree for this fabulous guest post this morning! Here’s a little more about the author…
Photograph by Kovacs Orsi from www.freeimages.com
Happy #Mythpunk Monday!
Today I’m going to talk about trees! I find few things more inspiring than walking through a forest where the trees seem anthropomorphic. Coming from a spiritual tradition which taught me from the earliest age that all trees were living sentient beings with their own spirits and personalities, I find it interesting that people seem to be drawn more to commune with trees like oak and hawthorn who twist their trunks more readily into gnarled semblance of faces or limbs than, say, the linden, ash or birch who mostly grow straight up to the sky. Of course there are stories of slender-limbed, silver-skinned birch dryads; pretty young maidens dancing lithe and beautiful in wooded glades, but why do we only seem drawn to trees if we can view them as being in some way like ourselves? Even Tolkein’s Ents had a human-likeness about them…
The phenomenon of Pareidolia may be in some way to blame here – the inherent nature of the brain to seek familiar patterns (particularly those of faces) in dissociated stimuli ; fire, clouds, tree bark, wall paper, rock surfaces, waves … it is a natural survival mechanism developed even before we are born to help us seek out our care givers, our kin and our kind.
But even as we grow older and are able to reason beyond our instinctive drives, wondering and questioning whether a tree spirit would or could or should look anything like us in order to be taken seriously and communed with… I know I am sometimes still guilty of being drawn to those tress who do.
Having said that, the tree spirit I have had the deepest relationship ever was a beautiful, strong, generous and resilient beech tree with little to no anthropomorphic qualities whatever – so perhaps there is a lesson for me eh?!
On the other hand, perhaps it depends on your tradition. Mine, as I say, teaches that trees are beings in their own right and unrelated to humans, although communion can and should be sought with them, but perhaps other pathways view things differently? Perhaps trees twist themselves into human like faces in order to try and communicate with us? Who knows? I’d be interested to hear other thoughts on this if you have them 🙂
What we do know and can say for certain is that we have worked trees into the heart of our mythologies and spiritual traditions since we first began imagining the beginning of ourselves and our world. Without trees we wouldn’t have the planet as we know it and we seem to have been aware of this long before it was scientifically proven.
Many religions incorporate the idea of a World Tree, stretching its branches into the heavens and its roots down into the underworld, for example égig érő fa in Hungarian Mythos, the Norse Yggdrasil, Ağaç Ana in Turkish Mythology, The Slavic oaks which even today form the Zapis tree-temples, the Hindu Ashvattha and the Chinese Jianmu.
Leaving aside the great and the grand of world religions and moving in to a more local level, trees have always played an important part in folklore too. Cloutie trees (as we call them here) can be found all over Europe ; trees where folk can leave a small offering in exchange for the tree’s protection, blessing, healing or as a sign of thanks or respect.
My family made a great thing of visiting one of these shrines and leaving a rag of clothing and the story went that an old man was resting one day in his cloak when a poor child came by with none. The man took of his cloak – his last scrap of clothing – and gave it to the child. The tree saw the kindness of the man and sheltered him from the elements that night so no harm came to him. Then in thanks the man returned next year and tied a piece of his cloak to the tree and now all folk thanks the tree for it’s kindness, but anyone who robs the tree will be cursed! I remember my little sister being too scared to go into the shrine in case she touched a rag and it fell!
Another tradition is to hammer pennies into the trunks of trees in exchange for wishes. This tradition has always rather angered and confused me as it must harm the tree, but a few years back, while visiting a fairy tree near Scar Fell, I was happy to learn the roots of one such tradition – it started some time around the 17th century during times of great famine when there wasn’t enough work and many poor people were going hungry. Rich people in the area were encouraged to hammer coins into felled tree logs and wish for better times to come, then after dark (to spare their pride) the poor were encouraged to come and take the coins. The rich either believed or (more likely) played along with the notion that the fairies and taken their offering and were granting their wish and so things began to slowly improve. Of course it wasn’t a solution to the problem but it is still a nice story about communities working together to help one another.
If you’re interested in some really excellent research on the subject, look out Ceri Houlbrook’s ‘Coining The Coin Tree’ here: https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/files/54558281/FULL_TEXT.PDF
We’ve talked a lot of myth today, soon I’m going to have a good look at how we incorporate tree Mythos into Mythpunk, because at first glance it’s not an easy fit. But for now, I’ll leave you with a little extract from my own tree-punk endeavours…
This extract is from Opre! which means Arise! It was written for Romani Family History Month and the Opre Roma! movement and it draws parody between the Romani people, (caught and enslaved both literally throughout history as in our enslavement in Eastern Europe and almost complete annihilation during Baro Porajmos (in some cases still today such as Italy ) and metaphorically today where many of us are still unable to live full lives with basic human rights simply because of who we are) and the trees which our ancestors, and still many of us today, revere in a spiritual way (caught and butchered and poisoned and ‘put to use’ by humanity)
But there is a hopeful beauty here too – the roots which push up the paving stones, the seeds which find root in the cracks between tarmac, the branches and leaves which coil over boundaries and fences… so our people have not been destroyed because we shoulder what the world throws at us and we carry on, we find a way to survive, and one day I believe we will arise, not to conquer or steal or enslave others but just to stand on equal ground as all people should…
Our splintered marrow guards your precious ground
Not bought in blood, but taken in the twilight
When ‘taking’ was a thing we did not understand
Now sentinels bound, subservient you think we stand
Down inside those ringlets blacked by damp
Not the wind—kin to your own cur breath—
But the jewels it carries, diamonds, our inheritance,
Touching, unveiling in our stripped-bare bones
If you liked this extract you can read the rest of it here on Vocal: https://poets.media/opre
Or in my Mythpunk collection Mahrime: Mythpunk For Monsters
Thanks for joining me for another #MythpunkMonday! Feel free to leave me your own thoughts on trees, mythology and mythpunk in the comments and to join in and share your own Mythpunk, or someone else’s that you’ve enjoyed, using the hashtag or in the comments below 🙂
Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Max and Collin’s rambunctiously raucous and chi-chi to the core parlour located high above it all on board our beautiful rainbow-sailed sky ship, The Harlequin Ladybird.
Our tentacles are all of a quiver this morning and our china cups are chattering because we are still taking part in the Dreamtime Damsels blog tour and we are honoured to have another of its contributors, Benjamin Towe, joining us for elevenses this morning!
Do please have a seat, Benjamin (Max, get off the chaise and let him sit down … hm? … no the floor does not do wonders for peoples posture, just move aside.)
Would you like tea? Earl Grey? Lapsang? Assam? Darjeeling? Oolong? (Max don’t be rude)
I brought my own. It’s Enhancing Root tea. The Teacher of the Drelves harvested the tubers in Green Vale during the Dark Period on Parallan, the World of the Three Suns. The circle of Thirttene Friends oversees affairs in the vale, one of the rare green places on Parallan. It’s quite good. Drelves use the tubers in many recipes. The most promising of each generation accompanies the Teacher on the annual quest to harvest the root tubers.
My goodness, how exotic! Do let us all try some! Now then , won’t you please tell us more about your contribution to this Dreamtime Damsels anthology we keep hearing about – the aether is buzzing with the hype but we still haven’t managed to cajole any of our associates into slipping us an illicit copy – sigh – what is the point of rubbing tentacles with the likes of smugglers and pirates if we cannot persuade them to part with their contraband fiction?
Lyana Rikmon, warrior of Donothor. Lyana is a character from my first trilogy, the Donothor series. She is sheriff of the hamlet Knottington and a loyal subject of the Kingdom of Donothor. I’ve written 12 novels, but I’m new to the short story. Damsels has been a learning experience for me. Lyana’s story was written in collaboration with Nils Visser. I’m very excited about it!
Oh did you hear that Max? I love the sound of those place names and we’re all big fans of Nils Visser’s books too. What inspired you to write it?
In 1982, I was Dungeon Master and created campaigns for a group of friends, who challenged me to put the campaign to prose. The result was my first novel Deathquest to Parallan. It was written as part one of a trilogy in 1982. I published it in 2005, after my children scanned the old manuscript to a data disc and presented me my first laptop. I rewrote the story. In the first version I killed almost everyone off. I beat George RR Martin to the punch. The rewrite was kinder and gentler. I then completed the second novel, the Orb of Chalar, and then the conclusion of the trilogy, Death of Magick. Lyana Rikmon is introduced in Death of Magick. The Chalice of Mystery followed, then a prequel Dawn of Magick. Since then I’ve written “prequels.” My Elfdreams series includes Lost Spellweaver, First Wandmaker, Wandmaker’s Burden, Emerald Islands, and Mender’s Tomb. Thirttene Friends is a prequel to both the Donothor and Elfdreams series. My most recent, Unwonted Spellweavers bridges the series. I’m currently working on a sequel to Orb of Chalar.
Marvellous! We are all avid players of D&D (although Penny did manage to fracture her hand a few weeks ago at the gaming table which has been the cause of much amusement) and we will certainly hunt out your series to add to our library! Now, what would you say most influences your writing in general?
My years as Dungeons and Dragons player and Dungeon Master. I enjoy creating worlds and filling them up with characters. I love all things Magick.
Ah, alas Magick is banned here in our world but we are fighting the revolution to try and win back our right to wield balls of fire in public. Any authours who have particularly inspired you? (Max put your poetry book away, no one wants to hear that drivel)
Certainly JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Piers Anthony, Damsels has given me the privilege of collaborating with one of my favourite authors, Nils Visser. I’ve become nigh a permanent resident of the Wyrde Woods. I’ve enjoyed Guy Donovan’s masterful Dragon Treasure series and WC Quick’s quirky elves.
Oh you’ve definately listed some of our favourites there as well (No he really doesn’t want to hear your poetry Max, stop interrupting) Battenburg?
I prefer “octameter” to iambic pentameter.
As do I! How nice to find someone who shares an appreciation for all things octical! But moving on from poetry (for sanity’s sake), you know, writing is something I’ve always fancied turning my talents to – having so many tentacles I imagine I could be quite productive as an authour. Tell me, what was your own road into fiction writing like?
As I mentioned, I wrote my first novel in 1982 and published it in 2005. Writing has been a great escape for me. I encourage young people to read and write… and persist.
Oh well you must meet some of Mrs Baker’s Lancastrian orphans then! Peril does his best to teach them to read and write and they are certainly persistent in many of their other occupations (although I recommend you hold onto your pocket watch if you do venture down there.) And do you have any plans for new projects in the near future?
I’m currently working on a story that will again bridge my brace of fantasy series. It expands on events in Orb of Chalar and will ultimately be a sequel to Death of Magick. It features a powerful red-haired elf named Ravenna, the daughter of a sorceress and assassin. Her father Tigarn Nocerre commissioned the Arch-Lich Achymm to create the cursed sword, the Death of Magick.
Marvellous! So, where and when can we get our tentacles on a copy?
I hope to have it finished by end of year.
And what about your other work, where can we find more of that?
My 12 fantasy novels are available at Amazon, Authorhouse, Barnes and Noble, and some at Kobo and Apple Books. I have signed copies available. My Facebook page is Benjamin Towe books. Benjamintowe.com has excedpts from my stories. I’m on Twitter @bftowe
Marvellous I…. Wooooah! Dear me I do apologise, the airship must have slipped and I seem to have landed in your lap I hope I haven’t covered you in octopus slime?
In Wandmaker’s Burden, the residents of Vydaelia battle a triskaidekapod. 13 tentacles and legs and a nasty disposition. Being hugged by eight arms isn’t so bad.
Well how very kind of you to say so, most people get a little skittish at octopoidal contact, it’s a terrible prejudice and makes for a very lonely life…. Hm, what’s that? Time you were going? Are you sure, why it feels as though you just got here!
My Dreamraiders have the power of Translocation, which enables them to traverse space and time. A bit of Whovian influence I suppose. Escape to an Elfdream…
Oh dear, Max I do believe your threats to commit poetical atrocities and your lack of appreciation for a man’s personal space have scared off yet another of our guests. We are doomed never to get our tentacles on a copy of this Dreamtime Damsels Anthology and it is all your fault. Besides which you have eaten all the french fancies again.
Thankyou, friends for joining us this morning on board our beautiful rainbow sailed sky ship The Harlequin Ladybird, you will find all the blog posts so far on the Dreamtime Damsels blog tour listed below and until we see you again, please remain always
Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Max and Collin’s rambunctiously raucous and chi-chi to the core parlour located high above it all on board our beautiful rainbow-sailed ship, The Harlequin Ladybird. Yes that’s right we have escaped our dank cellar and our evil landlord (if you want to know how you will have to read our #RainbowSnippets posts on Saturdays and all will be revealed). So we are now heading the revolution in Ire from the skies – which turns out to be much safer and more fun than heading it from the ground! But never fear, we still have time to stop for elevenses!
Our tentacles are all of a quiver this morning and our china cups are chattering because we are still taking part in the #DreamtimeDamselsAnthology blog tour and are honoured to have A. M. Young joining us for elevenses today!
Do please have a seat, (Max, get off the chaise and let her sit down … hm? … no she can’t sit on the cats, cats are not cushions, Max, just move aside.)
Sorry about that, would you like tea? Earl Grey? Lapsang? Assam? Darjeeling? Oolong? (Max don’t be rude)
I’m really more of a coffee person myself, but anything dark and strong will do.
Coffee? I’m afraid we have had enough fiasco here with that wretched stuff to last a lifetime, I simply will not have it on board anymore! But if it’s something dark and strong you’re after, well, us octopuses are well known for our muscular physiques, as you can see, and my complexion is certainly on the shadier side of… oh, I see Max has poured you a strong, black cup of tea already… well… do tell us more about your contribution to this Dreamtime Damsels anthology we keep hearing about – the aether is alive with the gossip and although we have tried to coax more information out of several of our captives… er… VISITORS…. we still haven’t managed to get our tentacles on a black market copy…
So, my story is called “What They Do Not Tell You” and it’s a retelling of the Pygmalion myth from the statue’s perspective. Arguably, it’s a bit unconventional as it’s written in a kind of monologue from the main character, recounting her creation and the aftermath of becoming a living woman.
Oh did you hear that Max? Doesn’t it sound exciting – we simply adore a bit of mythpunk here on The Harlequin! What inspired you to write it?
I’ve always loved Roman and Greek mythology, and the Pygmalion myth has long been one of my favorites. What author hasn’t wished they could meet one of their characters, right?
Well, of course, or else I suppose I wouldn’t be here talking to you today!
One day a while back I was talking about the myth and I was trying to remember the name of the statue/woman. Resorting to the help of the internet when I failed to recall it, I found that she was known as Galatea. However, that name was actually provided by a scholar centuries after Rome fell; it had no factual basis in the myth at all. And that got me to thinking about how she was represented in the story, how she was so integral and key to Pygmalion’s myth but she never even had a name. The story just spiraled out from there.
Oh my goodness! I feel tears in my eyes! How moving, I can’t wait to read it! And what would you say most influences your writing in general?
I’m still pretty early into my writing career, but one theme that has emerged thus far is that I love examining people making ‘bad’ choices. What I mean by that is the question of “why would someone do that? how could they not see how stupid/pointless/unkind/short-sighted what they’re doing is?” is often key to my stories. I like to examine the emotions and circumstances that drive us to make decisions we often come to regret but also would make again in a heartbeat.
It sounds very interesting, are there any authours who have particularly inspired you?
I think my biggest influences are Stephen King, Tamora Pierce, and Neil Gaiman.
Oh we’re huge Neil Gaiman fans here as well, that is marvellous. Battenburg? Max stop feeding Battenburg to the cats you are getting it all hairy!
No, thank you. Not much of a sweets person.
Suit yourself, ‘all the more for me’ as Professor Elemental would say 😉 You know, writing is something I’ve always fancied turning my talents to – having so many tentacles I imagine I could be quite productive as an authour. Tell me, what was your own road
into fiction writing like?
A bit like a twisting path through a forest. You start down one branch, sure that you know where you’re going (which was writing poetry, in my case), you get lost for a while, decide to just give up and live by the quaint little pond you’ve found, and then one day while climbing a tree you realize you can see a path again just past that copse of spruce trees. When I went back to school to finish my undergrad degree, I decided to commit to fiction writing even though I had very little practice or experience in it because all of my ideas had just gotten far too large and detailed for poetry. I’ve been a storyteller ever since.
It sounds like quite an adventurous life indeed! And do you have any plans for new projects in the near future?
I have a novella draft that’s waiting for the revision process to begin. I also have an idea for a novel in my back pocket, but I’m not quite ready to start that one yet. And I have plenty of little ideas that may or may not unfurl into full-on short stories one day. We’ll just have to see what happens.
So, where can we get our tentacles on a copy of this delightful collection?
I believe Amazon as well as Barnes & Noble will be the most familiar to the general
reader. There may be other, better sources that I am unaware of currently.
Ah yes, many is the time we have trekked into the Amazon on a search for treasure filled tomes. Never fear, friends, as soon as this book is published we will don our pith helmets post haste and return swiftly with a map (or perhaps even a link) to its whereabouts! 😉 And in the meantime, what about your own work, where can we find more of that?
I actually don’t post my own writings much. However, I did have a flash fiction story
published last year by Underground Art and Literary Journal of Georgia State University.
You can read that online at their website: undergroundjournal.org
Mavellous, we’ll be sure to have a look at…. Wooooah! Dear me I do apologise, the airship must have slipped and I seem to have landed in your lap I hope I haven’t covered you in octopus slime?
That’s quite all right! I’m sure it will wash out just fine.
Are you sure you’re alright? I’m sure Max can lend you a dress if you want to soak out the stain? Hm, what’s that? Time you were going? Are you sure I can’t tempt you with another cup?
Thank you, but I really must get back to ground. I think I see storm clouds rolling in, and I get terrible motion sickness when there’s turbulence. Thank you so much for the
Oh dear, Max I do believe your awful tea-making skills and ill-concealed cat obsession has scared off yet another of our guests. You really must learn to behave yourself ‘In Company.’
Thankyou, friends for joining us this morning on board our beautiful rainbow sailed sky ship The Harlequin Ladybird, you will find all the blog posts so far on the Dreamtime Damsels blog tour listed below and until we meet again,
Please remain always,
Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!
This morning I’m very excited to be taking part in the blog tour for the upcoming anthology ‘Dreamtime Damsels and Fatal Femmes’ and helping me this morning is one of the contributors to that anthology, Nav Logan. Thank you so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today, My Dear! May I take your hat and miscellaneous weaponry?
Just my hat today, and my trusty pen. They say the pen is mightier than the sword, especially if you are up close. A Bic in the eyeball usually does the trick in close combat.
Oh I most wholeheartedly concur! How was your trip from your own dimension? I hope you did not run into any hostile sugar-zombies or sky pirates on your way?
There were a lot of hostile Traffic Cones clustered menacingly on one section of the motorway, but I kept my throttle on max and didn’t look back.
Marvellous, I do the same thing on my steam powered hover-broom. And have you brought along some soup to share with us?
I’ve brought some of my speciality dish: Boxty, Random Road-kill Vittles, and freshly-plucked Stinging Nettle soup. (Always pick the top most leaves… they are the freshest, and the dogs can’t wee that high!)
Mmm, it smells …. er…. most interesting…. and of course delicious! I’m sure the little urchins will enjoy it immensely. Now while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t I open a window and you have a seat by the fire here and tell me a little about the types of fiction that you prefer to write?
My novels are all fantasy fiction, but when writing smaller works, I dip into a range of different fiction genres. It’s good for the brain to challenge yourself as a writer.
Indeed! And I hear you’ve recently made a contribution to the Dreamtime Damsels anthology I’ve heard so much about – would you like to tell us all a little about that?
My contribution to the Dreamtime Damsels compilation is Mulie the Bald. It’s about a young lass who refuses to be pegged, and pushes the boundaries of convention, refusing to accept her designated lot in life. She has her own plans, and may the Gods help anyone who gets in her way.
She sounds like just my sort of lass! And now I know that the release details are all very hush hush at the moment but could you perhaps give us a little teaser that we can get excited about?
Wonderful, I will keep my eye out for its release and be posting links on here when it is available! As an adventuress myself, I certainly think it is wonderful to see a fantasy collection where women take the centre stage isn’t it?
I totally agree, My own book of novels: The StormBringer Saga, centres around the life of one such young girl: Maerlin Stormbringer, and also has some other strong female characters too. Celtic Mythology depicts many such characters within the three figureheads of The Maiden, The Mother and The Crone. We have the likes of Queen Medb, a strong queen who demanded equality with her husband King Ailill as joint rulers of Connacht.
Oh your series sounds most intriguing I will have to have a look at those, I’m a great fan of Celtic Mythology myself and…. oh! now that’s the kettle boiling, what is your ‘poison’ Dear, and how do you take it?
I’ll take a Black coffee please, made from freshly ground mountain arabica beans, and seeped overnight in the tears of my defeated enemies, or a small dash of stevia… if you have it.
You are in luck! Being a witch, such things are merely a swirl of a magical spoon away – there you are. Now, why don’t you tell us all a little more about your own path into fiction writing?
I started writing as a child, mainly poems back then, but the odd short story. I got into writing novels quite by accident. Maerlin’s story started off as a poem, then grew into a short story which grew into a novel… and then a bunch of novels and is still unfinished as yet. Due to my health issues, the fourth book might never get finished, but was three quarters way through its first draught before I was diagnosed.
However, I never thought I’d finish book two, and I did in the end.
It sounds like you have a tenacious spirit, My Dear, and I very much hope you able to finish the fourth. Tell me, is there anything that particularly inspires you when you write?
Dreams. My dreams force me to get up and write down an idea, a concept, or a few chapters of my next book.
Ah, how marvellous, dreams have a magic all of their own don’t they? Now then, of course we love supporting independent writers, artists and small presses here in Ire; do you have any favourite indie authours who have inspired you or whose work you can recommend?
Having Parkinson’s Disease makes reading challenging … and finding the energy to write or focus on editing also, but there are many great independent writers I’ve worked with over the years. The authors involved in Dreamtime Damsels and Dreamtime Dragons would include some of them, and there are some others that deserve a mention: David Wailing, my editor, is a great writer. His books are worthy of a mention. I’ve worked on a few things with Rick Haynes also, and always enjoy reading his stories.
Splendid, I will be sure to hunt those out – I am always on the look out for a good fireside read to keep me company while I knit or bake. And where can we find more of your own work?
The Stormbringer Saga and my books of short stories are all out of print officially now, although I’m sure there are copies available. I’ve had a number of stories published in compilations, plus worked on some stories with other writers which are also still in print, and which help out various charities with their sales.
That’s a shame about the Strombringer Saga but we’ll be sure to look out your short stories in other compilations. Ah now that soup smells like it is about ready, would you be so kind as to help me serve it up to the orphans?
No problem… Having spent years living on the road myself, I’m always happy to pitch in and lend a helping hand when I can.
Splendid, thankyou Nav it has a been a pleasure having you help in the kitchen today!
Thank you all for joining us in the soup kitchen this morning. You will find all the blog posts so far on the Dreamtime Damsels blog tour listed below
Myself, and Max and Collin, will be interviewing more contributors to the anthology throughout August and we hope you will join us for those posts and share them around!
So, until we see you again, Blessings On Your Brew My Dears!
Good Morning! Happy Chocolate Fest or whatever fabulous festival you happen to be celebrating at this time of the year!
My name is Phoebe Darqueling and I write fiction that fans of Steampunk and Gaslamp fantasy love.
Here in Steampunk’d Lancaster we are enjoying the annual Aether Egg Hunt – a chance for authors to connect with their readers and give a little gift of thanks for all their support in the form of an Aether Egg or Small Gift linked to the fictional world they have created.
And here is my contribution to the fun!
You can do a digital jigsaw puzzle of the cover of my newest novel, No Rest for the Wicked. My record is 5 minutes. Think you got me beat? Leave a comment with your time.
Plus, you can preview the full first chapter of No Rest for the Wicked on
You can find my fiction books like No Rest for the Wicked on my Amazon page (www.bit.ly/PhoebeD)
and pickup a FREE copy of The Steampunk Handbook by signing up for my e-news. Find out more
And connect with on Twitter (@gearturns), Instagram (@phoebedarqueling), my Facebook fan group
Have a “hoppy” day and come back next time to get your next author giftie.