Steampunk fiction, reviews and interviews

Posts tagged “Gypsy

Rromani Steampunk: Sources Of Information for writers

Greetings! Today has happily brought yet another request for sources of information  / research for writing authentic Rromani characters particularly in the sci fi / fantasy genre – this is great! I’m so happy that people are starting to get on board with this issue!

So I thought it would be a good idea to create a stripped down post that’s easy to point people at and quick to get info from on this topic. Here, then, are some quick tips for writing authentic Rromani characters in your fiction…

  1. Read Rromani Autobiography and Fiction.

We have a mantra “Nothing about us without us” and it’s a healthy one to keep in mind. The best way to learn about Rromani  people is to read what our people have written about ourselves – not someone else’s interpretation of us, which (however well meant) is never going to be as authentic and accurate.

So, here’s a list of fabulous Rromani writers across many genres to get you started:

Maggie Smith-Bendell

Rajko Ðjurić

Jessica Reidy

Ian Hancock

Caren Gussof-Sumption

Glenda Bailley-Mershon

Rosie Mckinley

Mikey Walsh

Jess Smith

Violet Cannon

Nan Joyce and Anna Farmer

Diane Tong

Jasper Lee

Nina Dudarova

Olga Pankova

Bronislawa Wajs

Philomena Franz

Elena Lackova

Hedina Tahirović Sijerčić

Cecilia Woloch

Louise Daughty

Mariella Mehr

Luminiţa Mihai Cioabă

Oksana Marafioti

Paola Schopf

Margita Reiznerová

Sterna Weltz-Zigler

Diana NormaSzokolyai

Nadia Hava-Robbins

Tera Fabianova

Katarina Taikon Langhammer

Irena Eliášová

Writers who’ve done an especially cringey / bad / offensive job of writing Rromani characters include…

Phillip Pulman

Tim Powers

Emily Bronte

Stephen King

Robert Jordan

Jane Austin

It’s worth reading them to learn what not to do! lol.

 

2. Ask why you want your character to be Rromani – if it’s just for exotic flavour or as a plot device then forget it, sorry but no one wants to be a tool! If the character is an authentic character in their own right with a personality, back story, potential for growth, development and future who just happens to Rromani, that’s the sort of representation we’re looking for 🙂

3. Avoid ‘research’ or ‘biography’ written by non-Rroma. Even if they have traveled or lived with Rromani people. Ask ‘why would someone want to study another group of people and why would they particularly choose Rromani people?’ Often the reason is that they find Rromani people exotic and so have paid a clan to let them ‘see the magic from the inside.’ You are an intelligent person, you can see the problems inherent in a mutually-exploitative situation like that! Other times a person who has adopted a new-age traveling lifestyle and spent time with Rromani travelling folk … the problem with authenticity here is that the writer may see the picture without the background  – they tend to write about the current situation of the small, poverty stricken, desperate group of displaced Roma they encountered, without any understanding of how this situation came to be, how it affects the people they are writing about, how it compares to other groups of Roma around the world and, importantly, how compares to other groups of different cultures in the same conditions – because only then can we begin to separate socio-economic issues from cultural ones!

Some writers to avoid in this area include…

Isabel Fonseca

Dominic Reeve

Raymond Buckland

Charles Leland

 

So, there you go – hopefully those are all quick, useful points to take away 🙂 Got any questions or other topics you’d like me write about on this issue? Leave me a note in the comments or drop me an email 🙂

Big blessings, Penny


Tea at Three: Mythpunk For Monsters

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, thankyou for joining us once again on the swelteringly sultry streets of Steampunk’d Lancaster as we attempt to sell bottles of illegal home brewed lemonade in a desperate bid to pay our rent.

At least that is our ruse for loitering on this street corner this morning, but shhh, step closer, we have something to show you…

Mahrime_Cover_for_Kindle

 

If you’ve been with us for some time you’ll probably be aware that our mistress, Penny, as well as leading a secret double life as an incorrigible octopus and his unnerving gentleman friend (that’s us by the way and we’re not sure we care for the description!) also writes short stories, poems and prose with a far less frivolous flavour in the Mythpunk genre.

If you weren’t aware, you can read some of them here for free: PENNY BLAKE ON VOCAL POETS 

Mahrime – Mythpunk For Monsters is a collection of  mischievously mutilated and punk’d-up folk tales heavily influenced by Penny’s Rromani cultural heritage. Each poem, story or prose piece explores the themes of identity, power and love by putting the monsters, the outsiders, the outcasts, the ‘unblessed’ right at the heart of the narrative.

It’s available now to pre-order on Kindle, free with Kindle Unlimited or 0.99 without and also in paperback if that’s what you prefer (the paperback is full colour with black pages, white text and beautiful white mandala art work by ArtsyBee and comes with a free Kindle copy)

“And what is Mythpunk?” we hear some of you ask…

Mythpunk can be as simple as taking a traditional tale and re-working it to produce something fresh, inspiring and new , or it can be a far more complex synthesising of cultural and mythological evolution; a deep exploration into the cultural psyche or an unflinching dissection of archaic archetypes. A lot of Steampunk involves some Mythpunking along the way and a lot of Mythpunk has a decidedly Steampunk flavour.

 

So, now that we know exactly what we’re letting ourselves in for , lets take a little sneak peek at just some of the things inside the cover…

Mahrime

mahrime quote

 

Mahrime means ritually unclean  / unblessed in Rromani language, it is akin to the word Unseelie in Celtic lore but it is applied to people. The title story in this collection draws heavily on the experiences and mythology of Rromani People and explores the historical out-casting of certain groups and types of people who are branded as ‘monsters’ because their existence is at odds with a dominant cultural or religious ideal. It also goes deeper to hint at the aspects of self which we choose to lock away because we believe them to be unlovable or unacceptable.

 

The Road Back Lost

mahrimequote3

This Mythpunk’d version of The Company Of Wolves is a response to the ideal that we all have both an internal and external collective of wise guiding voices who can teach us our culture, our heritage, our purpose and our place in the world; these voices, intuitions, bodies of lore, family, elders, clan-folk etc are supposed to teach and guide us safely through the wild woods of life and all the dangers therein but what if we don’t have them? What if our family or culture or bodies of lore or even our parents and home have been lost to us? This is the situation for many people today as war and poverty tares children away from their families and cultural white-washing tares culture away from people and places it in the hands of the fashion industry. So what can we do? Try to go back? Try to move forward? Or stay and become the wolf?

 

DAMAO

mahrimequote2

 

Damao means ‘to overcome’ ; the final piece of prose in this collection echoes the hopeful thought that is embedded throughout the book  – with solidarity and support for eachother we can overcome the problems inherent with being labelled ‘outcast’ or ‘monster’, we are not alone and we will endure.

 

So there you have it, Mythpunk for Monsters, we hope you enjoy it, and now I think we will just sit back on this soap box here and sample some of our own lemonade, this day is far too hot to be doing any work and my tentacles are wilting despite the negligee we borrowed from Nimue Brown and her Hopeless Sinners yesterday I think what I really need is a parasol…

Thankyou for joining us on the street corner today, hm? What’s that Max? You think YOU ought to write a book? Honestly, I really don’t think ANYONE is going to be interested in anything you have to say… well alright then I will ‘wait and see!’ … and who exactly do think will publish such an atrocity? Hm? …. oh you’ll ‘find a group of marvelous monsters as mad about tea and tentacles as you are’ will you? Well good luck with that my friend! I shan’t be holding my breath…

While we wait to see what, if anything, comes of Max’s new ambition, let me thank you once again for joining us today and for supporting our endeavors as always and whatever kind of monster you happen to be please, do remain always,

Utterly Yourself.

 


Soup Of The Day: With Author Jack Wolf

 

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!

 

Helping me this morning is Jack Wolf – author of The Tale Of Raw Head And Bloody Bones, which Max and Collin reviewed a short time ago with their Morning Cuppa.

Good morning to you Jack! Thank you so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today, may I take your coat and hat? It is certainly very frosty out there today but the fire here in the bakery is lovely and warm.  How was your journey here from your own dimension?

Not too bad – the skies were fairly clear and the traffic was ok.

I’m very glad to hear that! This cold snap seems to have the Skyway Men clinging to their fires which is a mercy! And have you brought some soup with you today to share with the orphans?

I make something called Bungitin Vegan soup, which is basically a load of chopped veg – 1 onions, 2 carrots, 1 tin’s worth of tomatoes, 1 pepper, half to a whole tin’s worth of chick peas and/or other legumes, and anything else I can find in the kitchen fridge – 1-2 courgettes are good. Add at least one clove of garlic or a teaspoon of garlic paste – this is really important – and a mix of herbs and spices to taste. The italian herbs are good for this, so oregano, basil and sometimes a little black pepper. I don’t usually add salt, but you can, if you want. To cook, brown the onions and begin to soften the carrots by stir-frying in vegetable or sunflower oil for about 4-5 mins, then add everything else and about 3/4 pint of vegetable stock, and let it all simmer until everything is soft and it tastes really rich. Don’t let it burn or get too dense, as this can make the flavour too strong – you have to keep tasting it.

 

Oh vegan soup recipes are always here, what with the dairy rationing and such, thankyou very much! Now while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t you have a seat here by the fire and tell us about your book The Tale Of Raw Head and Bloody Bones, and its main character Tristan Hart? I see you have brought a copy with you to show the orphans..

full cover rawhead.jpg

 

 

The cover art is stunning! I confess to very much enjoying the book myself, not least because of the cunning use of magic, folk lore and the world of faerie to support the narrative – tell me, have you always had an interest in the relationship between our own everyday ‘stories,’ and the magical and mythological frameworks we use to make sense of our ‘real world’ experiences?

I’ve been drawn to faerie tales, and faeries in general, for a long time. I’m also fascinated by human psychology, and the idea that humans create our own conceptual worlds out of the stories – and I use that word extremely broadly – that we tell ourselves. To an extent, the ‘real world’ of our experience is something we invent – a story we tell ourselves every moment of every day.

 

And the story of Raw Head, that is a real British folk tale isn’t it?

 

Yes and no. It’s a recorded folk belief, but I haven’t found any complete tales concerning it – with a beginning middle and end, and so on. It’s likely that the original RH&BB is more a general bogeyman than a character, in the way that, say, the Wolf in the Three Little Pigs is a character. I think he was a personification of the threat of drowning in a culture where only a tiny minority of people knew how to swim, and nobody knew how to perform cpr on a drowning victim. The idea was, I think, that the fear of RH&BB would keep the kids away from the waterways in a way that a simple explanation of the danger would not. References to the figure seem to peter out in the UK after the 18thC, so I guess superstitions moved on.

But oddly enough, in the US the image seems to have persisted, and mutated – there’s a legend in the Ozarks of RH&BB where a creature by that name appears as a monstrous pig. It may be co-incidental, of course. But I drew on this alternate image a little bit as well in the novel; Tristan’s dread of Joseph Cox becomes focused on the fact that Cox works as a pig-keeper.

 

Ah yes! I didn’t recognise that wonderful little twist but that certainly makes sense!  I had also thought it reminded me of the La Lorona mythos and more localised ‘Maggie O Th’Well’ tales. Tell me, what particularly drew you to use that tale as the focal point for Tristan’s story?

 

I’m fascinated by bogeymen, and the idea that one of the tools we use to keep ourselves safe is actually terror. But the name “RH&BB” is also a wonderful metaphor for what a human being is – mind and body brought together in this messy, contradictory way – and trying to make sense of that conundrum is Tristan’s most prevailing obsession.

Raw Head is by no means the only myth you reference in the book, what other prominent faerie figures feature in the narrative?

Well, I also draw heavily on the idea of the Glanconer – the Irish Faerie seducer – or as we might now acknowledge, rapist. He’s the dark Faerie who lies at the bottom of the myth of the Elf Knight, or as I call him in the book, the Goblin Knight. In numerous folk songs such as The Outlandish Knight and Steeleye Span’s The Elf Knight (which was the first place I encountered him) he is a seducer and murderer of young women who lures them to their doom sometimes by drowning, like RH&BB, or more simply by stabbing or strangling them. But of course as a Faerie Knight he’s also part of the court of the Faerie Queen, so she had to come into the book as well – and the image I’ve used to represent her is that of the shapeshifting barn owl. I’ve called her Viviane, of course, which is a nod to the Arthurian tradition. 

Of course, and very nicely done indeed! Now, in some modern / mythpunk re-workings, the world these tales and archetypes belong to is something that is a step removed from the protagonist’s reality but in your book the world of faerie doesn’t just run alongside Tristan’s human world does it?

Well, I don’t see the worlds as being separate in the way that a lot of modern fantasy does. I’m much more drawn to the Alan Garner or Susan Cooper school of world building in which the two realms are in constant communication with each other. It’s much closer to the way I experience the world, as well.

Well, I for one can certainly identify with that, Dear! I very much liked the way that, by giving each of the main characters both a human identity and, simultaneously, a faerie-self, you seemed to re-imagine (or perhaps ‘release’) some of those ancient beings in a way that made encountering them a very fresh, real and emotive experience.

Do you think that it is important to keep exploring these tales and releasing these characters into the collective consciousness?

 

Yes. I think it’s vital, actually. In the last couple of hundred years, we have built an  industrial society that demands that we deliberately reject older, deeper ways of thinking, and more intuitive ways of experiencing ourselves and the world around us, in order to be considered full, ‘rational’ individuals. It’s a form of madness, I think – cutting off a very ancient, nourishing, and protective part of the psyche. We need to find stories that allow us to reconnect with who we really are as a species. I think faerie stories do have the capacity to do this.

 

I certainly think you are right on that point!

The book is set at an important liminal moment in British history – revolutions in the worlds of medical science and industrial technology are bringing a ‘great awakening’ of so called rational thought, but at that same time, aspects of the collective consciousness seem still to be slumbering in the ‘dream world’ of spiritual / magical understanding and superstition. Did you deliberately choose this time period as one that would reflect the turmoil within Tristan and some of the other key characters?

 

Absolutely. The period stands exactly on the cusp of the modern world – and Tristan, in particular, is a character who represents – even embodies – the confusing contradictions inherent in that historical moment. 

 

The character Katherine Montague uses the story of Raw Head And Bloody Bones to communicate and cope with her traumatic life experiences and Tristan uses it to understand and make sense of his own fragmented reality… do you think that, to some degree, we are all prone to using the language of faerie / magic to feel secure and form an understanding of our often confusing or frightening world?

 

I think there is a human tendency to perceive the world through stories – and as I said above, I think that, right now, we need better ones than we currently have. It is a form of magical thinking, in a way – constructing one’s own reality through images, words and ideas. But we don’t all draw on the language of faerie to do this: we all construct our own stories out of whatever conceptual material we have to hand. In Katherine’s case, this happens to be the language of faerie tales: the abused girl, the wicked mother, the stolen child, etc are all common tropes in the folk-awareness of her time. A modern character in her situation would most probably use different stories to try to make some sense out of the dreadful things that have happened to her, and around her. But a modern character would hopefully have more psychological support… Katherine literally can’t speak about what she has gone through unless she displaces it onto a faerie tale – which both enacts and subverts another faerie trope, the magical silence. For her, magical thinking really is a survival mechanism.

For Tristan the situation’s slightly different, because the whole thing goes so much farther – for him, the worlds of faerie, story and rationality collide in a way that is quite traumatic in itself. He may be using the story, but there is also a sense in which he is also being used – and abused – by it. 

 

While this ‘magical toolkit’ for understanding the world may be useful to the individual utilising it, it can lead to fear, suspicion and ultimately persecution of individuals who are seen as liminal themselves – the ‘outsiders’ if you will, whose lifestyle or beliefs set them apart as ‘abnormal’ can’t it?

 

We still don’t live in a particularly tolerant society – even though in many ways it is, of course, much more accepting than it was in Tristan’s time. But it’s true that standing out from the crowd in ways that the crowd don’t understand, or even fear can bring about terrible persecution – I’m thinking of Sophie Lancaster’s murder here, but there are other examples.

When it comes to holding a magical or otherwise ‘fringe’ understanding of the world in some way, I have found that intolerance has tended to manifest as ridicule, rather than fear or violence. I am a panpsychist, for example (a highly unusual position here, but actually one that was most likely the norm throughout most of human pre-history, and which is still common in certain non-westernised societies), and most educated Westerners simply cannot grasp the principles behind it. So they mischaracterise and then dismiss it. The author Emma Restall Orr went through exactly this experience years ago on BBC Radio 4 with Michael Gove. She responded by writing The Wakeful World, which is a fairly decent introduction to the concept, I think. 

 

Viviane, for example, is a character whose ‘otherness’ allows Tristan to see her as quite unreal and therefore excuse and ‘explain’ his misconduct towards her using the framework of faerie mythology. This use of faerie / magical lore against women (and often, as you highlight marvellously in the book, against Rromani women) is a very real phenomenon isn’t it?

 

It was very much a problem in the 18thC, where it did become, in addition to other things, a cloak for racism against the Romani (not that the concepts of racism, or even sexism, existed then). It’s less obvious now, and here, of course – that’s thanks to the Enlightenment convincing the populace that magic is not real – but it still endures verbally in slurs – “Witch” etc – and in cultural assumptions about the overwhelming sexual allure of women’s bodies. “She put a spell on me, your honour” isn’t really that far from “she was wearing a short skirt,” in my estimation. Both rely on the belief that a female body – a woman in a body – somehow exudes some sort of mystical aura that overcomes a man’s ability to control himself, and provides him with the excuse to, as you say, explain away his misconduct.

 

But Tristan isn’t deliberately demonising Viviane in order to take advantage of her, is he? He is genuinely grasping at the threads of, what for him is, a confusing multilayered reality and this manifests to those around him as a form of madness – demonising him, in turn.

 

Yes, Tristan is completely oblivious to the cultural programming that’s going on beneath the surface; and he’s certainly not demonising Viviane on purpose. As far as he becomes concerned, she is wholly the Faerie woman of his dreams and nightmares – if she ever had a real, human self, he can’t acknowledge that.

 

Again, the demonization of those ‘outsiders’ who come to be labelled ‘mad’ is something that has always been a frighteningly real occurrence hasn’t it?

 

Yes, it has – and it is still going on today. When I was writing Tristan I was very conscious of the stereotyping that leads to people with severe schizophrenia, or similar disorders, becoming objects of fear. People have been taught to expect the mad to behave like monsters. It’s dehumanising – demonising. if you like. it’s also statistically untrue.

 

Perhaps especially unsettling is the fact that what is termed ‘madness’ to one particular culture or at one point in history, can later come to be understood as a natural phenomenon  – the hormonal surges of menstruating or pregnant women, for example, and those whose sexuality is anything other than heterosexual…

 

Absolutely – the boundaries of what is considered ‘sanity’ are shifting all the time. I really do believe that in a couple of hundred years – assuming any humans are still left by then – a lot of the beliefs and habits we hold to now will be seen as dangerously crazy. I don’t, of course, know which ones these will be. I have my hopes, but I don’t see history as  an inevitable march of “progress”, either technologically or culturally, so it may be that some very dark definitions of sanity/insanity will come to dominate. Hopefully we won’t go back to a time when women were locked up for being disobedient, but it could happen.

 

 

I suppose it all comes down to who has the cultural upper hand at the end of the day? Here in Ire, for example, a person is considered dangerous and ‘mad’ if they crave a cup of tea or a slice of cake!

 

Now, you see, I think anyone who doesn’t drink tea or like cake must be completely crazy.

 

Power is certainly a theme that you explore rigorously in the book isn’t it? – The power we may have over the people, animals and natural world around us, the power others may have over us and that which we have over ourselves, our actions and our perceptions…

 

Yes, it’s one of the major themes of the novel. It’s connected with the idea of disconnection and displacement – that the less integrated we are as beings with each other and the natural world, the more our relationships become aligned along power lines: power over, rather than power with. Katherine’s and Tristan’s relationship is really an example of mutual power in flux, rather than power over, on either side, although it may not look like that superficially. The dynamic between them is nothing like, for instance, Jane and Barnaby’s marriage, or the sibling relationship between Tristan’s father and his sister.

 

The power that women have over their own bodies is something that you explore in a number of ways through the different female characters in the story, is this something you feel strongly about?

 

I’m very passionate, actually, about the right of a woman to inhabit and control her own body. It is still a shocking truth of our society that women aren’t always accorded physical autonomy – look at the abortion debate, for example.

 

Looking at the #metoo phenomenon in your own dimension recently, it seems as though we are still very much in need of stories which explore this issue?

 

Very much so. We need, as a culture, to reclaim and then rewrite the ballad of the Elf Knight. I think we actually are trying to do something like that, in this historical moment, at least. I was delighted to read that in the latest production of Carmen, in Italy, Carmen shoots Don Jose, not the other way round – and there’s also that new prize for Crime Fiction that doesn’t focus on dead female bodies. There are other stories that can be told. When I started writing RH&BB, several of my early readers imagined Tristan was going to kill Katherine. Er, hardly! But that tells me how deeply embedded some of these unhealthy cultural assumptions about what love is, and what women can and should expect from men who love them, actually are. I was writing against those expectations then, and I will continue to write against them.

 

 

Such important subjects but oh my goodness! I do ramble on don’t I? I must apologise, the kettle has long been singing at us and I haven’t offered you a cup of tea! What is your poison, dear, and how do you take it?

 

Builders’, soya milk, no sugar. Thanks!

 

Here you are. Now then, moving away from The Tale Of Raw Head And Bloody Bones for a moment, what can you tell me about your own involvement in the world of faerie and the enigmatic character of Lord Crow?

 

That’s an interesting question. Of course, being bound by the laws of Faerie, I can’t tell you very much! But I suppose in one way Lord Crow is an idea; in another he’s a being-in-himself. I want to explore the possibility of writing from the point of view of the non-human, and he is my voice and my persona when I do that. I guess there are similarities here with the faerie co-walker, who is a figure I’ve come across occasionally in various modern “guide to faerie” books – though to be honest, I don’t tend to read those sorts of books. The older stories speak to me much more clearly – and also, there’s a tendancy in more modern writings to try to group faeries into species, or even races – which is a hangover from the Victorian obsession with scientific classification. The faeries I know – so to speak – would wet themselves at the thought that any human being should be able to classify them into any sorts of types – especially along such spurious lines as ‘light’ and ‘dark’. They would also probably explode at the notion that they should show any real interest in helping human beings. Faeries are wild. Humans, on the whole, are not. Faerie, as I understand it – in a modern sense, moving away from some of the ways it has been perceived historically as a concept, place, or whatever – has its essence in the flow of energy through complex systems – it can’t be fixed into any stable form. The best way I have found to get to know it is to get to know the natural world, and really fall in love with that – truly, madly, deeply, without reservation, fear, or any desire for power-over it.

I think Lord Crow is quite unlike me, personality wise, though other people disagree. He’s wilder, darker, cleverer, less forgiving, and much less patient. Given the current state of our relationship to the natural world, I don’t find this in any way surprising.

 

‘Re-wilding’ is an important concept that is, happily, growing in popularity as regards our physical relationship with the land isn’t it?

 

Yes; it’s a wonderful development, but it has a long way to go. I’m hoping that it represents the beginning of a tectonic shift in the terms of that relationship towards integration and respect and away from exploitation and power-over. It’s great that people here are slowly becoming accepting of the idea that we should live alongside beavers and – to an extent – wild boar, but I also want to see lynx in every suitable habitat across the UK, and I think some research should be done into reintroducing the wolf in Scotland, to balance the red deer population and give the Caledonian forest regrowth a fighting chance. (And besides: wolves! Wow!) Just as importantly, I want to see a new ‘wilding’ of cities. Bath, where I live, is an ideal habitat for peregrine falcons, because of the many urban pigeons. It’s also a breeding site for herring gulls, which are now in serious decline. People love the peregrines and loathe the gulls. I want to see the gulls welcomed alongside the more charismatic falcons. Urban foxes, too. For one thing, more foxes can mean fewer urban rats; and it’s not so hard for the city to provide fox and gull-proof bins. For another, there’s a moral case, I think, for opening up cities to creatures that can safely live alongside us.

Humans are a bloody invasive species. They need to learn to share.

That’s Lord Crow, now, interrupting. I knew once he heard the conversation he’d be unable to resist joining in with it.

And a very warm welcome to you Sir!

Space-invaders! Manspreaders!

All right, Crow.

 

Do you think that it also concerns our spiritual or psychological relationship with the land as well?

 

I don’t think one is achievable without the other. If we don’t change our overall attitude toward the land, then we will never effect meaningful changes in our behaviour. This whole “man must overcome nature” narrative has got to change.

 

Or it will be changed.

Is that a warning, Crow?

Just an observation.

 

 

Well thank you so much, both of you, for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, Jack, it’s been wonderful to chat with you!

I know you are probably eager to be off and explore our wonderful Lancastrian Frost Fair that is just coming to an end at the moment but, before we start dishing up this wonderful-smelling soup, would you like to tell us about any of your current projects and where we can find more of your marvellous work?

 

I’ve got several projects on the go at the moment. I’m working on something with Lord Crow, of course, but obviously I can’t say too much about that, especially now he’s sitting in the kitchen with us. Faerie law. We’ll see what develops. I’ve also finished my second novel, which is currently looking for a publisher. I’m actually quite strongly drawn to the idea of putting it out via Unbound, as I like the idea of having full editorial control over my own work, and Unbound looks like exactly the sort of model I think both writers and readers want and need – grassroots, down to earth, writer and reader-centred publishing, which doesn’t have to pander to the rather limited tastes of the big London houses. But again, we’ll see what happens. Watch this space!

 

We certainly will! And I hope that you will come back and talk to us about your marvellous work again soon. Well now, I must say that soup really does smell delicious. I think it must be about ready and the little urchins are starting to get fidgety so shall we start serving it up?

 

It’s been lovely to visit! Thank you for the conversation, tea and cake!

 

And thankyou to you all for joining us in the soup kitchen today! If you would like to read more of Jack’s wonderful works and keep up to date with his new releases, do visit his website and blog at: https://jackwolfauthor.wordpress.com/

 

 

 


Steampunk Gypsies: The many names of the Rromani People

If you’ve been following this blog for a while now you’ll know that the word Gypsy (especially with a lower case g ) is a highly offensive word to most Rromani people. What you might not know is why it is so upsetting. You might also want to know the correct term to use instead and a google search might well leave you even more baffled on that score! So, hopefully this post will be a good resource for this subject and of course if you have any questions (or if you’re fed up with me banging on about all this) feel free to leave your comments  in the … er… comments section 🙂

In order to understand this subject clearly, you first need to understand a bit about our language and history…

The Rromani People are a displaced diaspora of India. Back around  the time of the crusades, Rajput military units were formed to protect different regions of India from invading Muslim armies. As these soldiers and their families and attendants all spoke different dialects /  languages, a military language had to be formed which all could understand. This language formed the basis of what is now the spoken and written language of Rromani people worldwide.

When we refer to the way we speak might say ‘Romanes.’ But that is not the name of our language. The word Rom (s) / Roma (pl) means ‘a person / us / the people / (one of) the group / the family / ‘ so to speak Romanes means to speak ‘in the way of the group / the family / the people / us / to speak in our way … it is not the name of a language and, strictly speaking therefore, ‘Rom / Roma’ is not the name of our people.. it just means ‘(one of) the people.’ (It can also mean husband but not in this context – like the word ‘man’ can mean ‘a man’ or ‘people in general.’)

So, if you refer to Rromani people as The Roma or a Rromani person as ‘A Rom’  (which a lot of people do) you are saying ‘The People’ / ‘The Group’ / ‘The Family’ or ‘One of the people / the group / the family’.  That is absolutely fine, many Rromani people speak in that way, most don’t mind it even if they don’t use it themselves. It’s certainly a polite, respectful way to speak to or about Rromani people.

Getting back to the Rajputs again, two groups were defeated by the Muslim armies and forced to leave their lands. Some were captured by Turkish armies and forced to join as slaves, those who escaped into Eastern Europe were immediately captured and enslaved for hundreds of years, those who fled west were unable to find a place to settle but continued travelling through Greece and eventually into the rest of Europe, using their military skills, skills in metal work and horse trading (as well as trades they learnt along the way such as entertaining, dancing and fortune telling – more about that in another post I think? ) to make money.

Obviously during this time The Group was forced to split many times. As each new splinter group moved through different countries, new words were added to the military language they all spoke – thus each clan now speaks a slightly different version of that first ‘Language of The Group.’ They also began to refer to themselves by different names, names that for the most part described their skills and trades  much in the same way as surnames do the world over.

I belong to the Petulengros (Smiths) who are of the English clan known as Romanichals (which literally means ‘Rromani Chaps’ ) and the Kalderash (The cauldron makers /  copper-smiths who turned their pots on fat posts hammered into the ground). Often a Rromani family have kept their clan name (or a version of it). Sometimes though they have had to change it in order to hide the fact they are a Rromani person and so allow them to avoid persecution and live an integrated, peaceful life with the rest of society.

So, some Rromani people don’t like to be called Rom or The Roma – you can understand that now right? They don’t want to be called ‘One of the group’ or ‘The People’ … they want to be called by their clan / family name (Like you might say ‘I’m a Jones’ or ‘I’m a McGill’) they prefer to identify as something related to who their family is and what they do / did.

If you think at this point that Rromani people seem incredibly fussy and it is all terribly difficult to know what to call them please look at it this way…

You might call yourself ‘English’ or ‘American’ defining yourself by your location.

If you do so / have ever done so, please take a moment to consider that it is a privilege to be able to claim a geographical location as an aspect of your identity. It implies that you are an accepted member of that place, you belong there, it is a part of you, it’s your home.

Rromani people do not have that privilege, have not been permitted to join another nation and call it home, they have been refugees for hundreds of years and so they must find different ways of defining themselves. (And, I feel, this is food for thought for all of us when we consider the long term impact of our treatment of refugees and immigrants today.)

(It has been suggested that Rromani people reclaim their Indian connection and that is ‘all well and good’ but as many of us now have fair skin and hair and look anything but Indian, that idea seems a little laughable really! So we continue to be ‘The Family’ / ‘That Group that left India together’ because no other nation has welcomed us and we cannot now go back.)  

There are so many Rromani clans in the world today (Wikipedia has a quite dreadful map showing a very few in simple blocks which can only act as a rough guide) many, as I say, call themselves Rom / Roma and some prefer their specific clan name.

 

So, there you have it – When referring to a Rromani person or people you can say…

Rom – One of the people

Roma – The People

Romany (/ Romani / Rromani / Rhomani ) person – A person who is of the group (spelling is dependant on dialect)

Romany (/Romani / Rromani/ Rhomani) people – The people who belong to the group

Or you can use the specific name of the clan the person / people belong to eg: Sinti, Kalderash, Kale, Romanichal etc…

My advice is to just be clear about what word / spelling you are using, what it means and why you are using it.

 

“But why not gypsy?” I hear you say … well, again we need to look at history and language…

 

The word is a shortening of ‘Egyptian’. When Rromani people first fled into Europe their dark skin and hair caused people to mistake them for Turkish invaders and later either for Egyptians or people from Little Egypt (sources are unclear as to which). They were nick named ‘gyptians’ which soon became ‘gypsies.’ Obviously a homeless refugee population are powerless to dictate what they ‘should be called’.

The word gypsy became so far removed from the word Egyptian that, rather than describing the mistaken place of origin of a group of people, it instead took on its own bizarre set of definitions. Various leaders including Vlad The Impaler, Henry The Eighth and Hitler, all used the word gypsy to justify the de-humanisation and murder of thousands of Rromani people. Rromani people were burnt with the ‘gypsy brand’ on their skin which marked them as belonging to animal rather than to human kind and having no right to existence. They were then tortured, sterilised or simply murdered.

At least 250,000 Rromani people were murdered during the Holocaust alone, at least 85% of Germany’s Rromani population were branded ‘gypsies’ and exterminated because they were seen as sub-human.

During the industrial revolution, the notion of ‘being a gypsy’ was seen as a desirable alternative to the horrors of factory and inner city life. The dehumanisation of ‘gypsies’ at this time took a different turn as they were seen as wild, free, close to nature or at one with it, romantic, mysterious, magical, desirable, roguish, care free… writers, poets and artists failed to see the poverty and persecution suffered by a people who were not nomadic or ‘free’ , but shackled to a seasonal circuit of a few safe ‘atching tan’ (‘stopping places’) where seasonal farm work could be found, not allowed to own property, speak their own language or step foot inside shops. The Gypsy Law Society epitomised the attitude when they declared membership of their elite ‘research group’ required that the gentleman must first ‘bed a gypsy.’

You can, I hope, see why nobody would want this label. Why it is distasteful, sickening and upsetting for a Rromani person to be called a gypsy. Is it any different with a capital G? I don’t think so.

 

So, as writers and readers and steampunk enthusiasts who write and read and cosplay in an era where Rromani people were very visible and were habitually branded ‘gypsies’ how can we include the experiences of Rromani people of that time period without perpetuating the ongoing prejudice?

It might seem like a challenge but it’s really a no-brainer – look at other oppressed groups of the colonial period. How should they be referred to / treated / spoken about in historical or punk fiction? You might for example have a racist or ignorant English character refer to an African character using the N word, but you wouldn’t use the N word in the main text of the narrative to refer to that African person would you? You also wouldn’t call them ‘The N….’ , you would use their name. Just consider the G word, exactly the same as the N word. Because, to Rromani people , it is the same.

( Some Rromani people do use the word Gypsy – either because they are trying to re-claim and re-shape it as a form of empowerment or because the word Rromani is so often met with confusion from non-Rromani people. Many cultures take words that have historically been used against them and turn them into a form of personal power – that, surely, is their prerogative. )

If we couple the respectful use of language to talk about Rromani people, with an accurate portrayal of their history and culture, hopefully we can move the image of Rromani people away from the fantastical / de-humanised ‘gypsy’ and back into reality.

 

I really hope this info has been helpful – I’m by no means a linguistic scholar or historian though so if you think that I’ve made a mistake anywhere do please forgive me and feel free to discuss it, we are all learning together afterall 🙂 And of course if you have any questions or want me to cover any more topics on this subject let me know,

Big blessings, Penny 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Steampunk Gypsies: Rromani Character Creation – Papusza

Greetings! Here, as promised, is another careful look at how to respectfully draw on aspects of Rromani culture and history in order to construct a Steampunk character. Again, I’ve used the word Gypsy in the title here because many people mistake the word Rromani for Romanian but most Rromani people find the term Gypsy offensive so it really is better not to use it. As several people have asked me for more details about this I will do another post soon explaining in detail where the various spellings of Rromani come from, which to use, the history of the word ‘Gypsy’ and why it is offensive.

But for now, let’s look at our next character…

Papusza

Papusza means ‘dolly’ in the Rromani way of speaking and was the nick name given to real life Rromani poet Bronislawa Wajs by her mother. She was called ‘dolly’ because of her beauty but the word is a double edged sword – a ‘dolly’ is a pretty, powerless play thing, manipulated as suits the one who plays with it and then dropped when that player becomes distracted or bored.

 

Bronislawa’s poems about the difficulties faced by Rromani people on the road were used against the Rromani community by various government regimes as an excuse for the execution, sterilisation or forced settlement of Rromani people (not into decent housing and mainstream society, which most would have desired) but onto filthy containment camp sites where their strict religious codes of cleanliness and ritual (Rromanipen) could not be observed. The problems of illness, poverty, persecution and social segregation which Papusza wrote about were obviously not solved by this move and the Rromani community blamed her for the trouble she had caused them by trusting her words to the hands of non-Rromani people.

A lot of lies can be found about her on the internet – for example, that she was cast out by her people for being a poet, that women are not allowed to be poets in Rromani society, she was not allowed to read and write because Rromani people believe these things are evil, that she agreed with the forced settlement regime and that the Rromani family she travelled with were lawless nomads.

A film has been made about her life but I haven’t seen it personally and so I’m not sure how authentic and accurate it may be…

 

The sad truth is that most of her work is now out of print, recordings are like gold dust  and versions that do exist have sometimes been altered slightly / interpreted differently “Dikchaw daj, dikchaw doj…” I look here, I look there, I cannot find my Papusza…

 

So I found myself wanting to pay tribute to her in my own small way, by basing a steampunk character around her real life self. But I know I’m on very dangerous ground here – what I absolutely don’t want to do is add to the false mythology that has grown up around her and now prevents people with a genuine interest from discovering the whole truth. I must remain respectful to the truth and evidence of who she was, as well as to her family and clan, her friends and everyone who may be affected  by my actions in characterising her.

So, instead of trying to take Bronislawa (as little as I can ever know of her) and plonk her clumsily into my steampunk world, I’m going to build an entirely new character who suffers the same problem of being exploited because she happens to have a particular talent.

And I’m going to call her Dolly Cauldari…

Dolly’s Story:

Dorothy Cauldari (Dolly) is a Sho’vani character. The Sho’vani are a technologically advanced, displaced diaspora of the Jentacular Landmass. Their rebellion against Wiz and his evil army of Wizards went horribly wrong when the automaton army they had created rebelled against them and the twelve tribes, led by twelve princesses, fled across the sea to the scattered Isles Of Ire where they have been outrageously persecuted ever since.

(Colonialism is an important and troubling part of our world history but so is the historical and current treatment of refugees and immigrants and I wanted to reflect this part of Rromani history in the history of the Sho’vani.)

As the Jentacular Isle is believed by most to be purely mythical (Collin and Max can personally vouch for the fact that it is not!) the government has decreed that the Sho’vani must have come from Bohemia. They first arrived in Ire during the reign of Henry The Eighth and the mechanical wonders they brought with them caused them to be instantly branded as witches (an offence in Ire that is still punishable by death.)

It wasn’t until Elizabeth The First  came to the throne that this persecution eased up a little and a deal was struck – if the Sho’vani would abandon their nomadic lifestyle (ie – hiding in woods and running from the witch hunters) and share their technological knowledge with the queen’s wizards they would be allowed to live peacefully in squalid little hovels just like any other peasant. Many agreed and became known as Tinkers, others did not.

When Ann became queen she tried to strike another deal with the travelling clans – if they would agree to transport the queen’s tea safely from her plantations to the elite county of Devon in their mechanised vans and prevent it falling into the hands of land pirates, all accusations of witchcraft would be dropped.

Dorothy Cauldari’s  family were among the many Sho’vani clans who ‘agreed’ to this arrangement and so by the time Dolly was born, they had been transporting the queen’s tea from the plantations of Crumbria to the elite closed county of Devon for many generations. They moved from one government designated or safe known stopping place to the next, using their skills in technology to make life on the road that bit easier and their skills with spoon-playing and spoon-duelling to entertain themselves and break the monotony of the constant circular journeying. It was not the idyllic, nomadic lifestyle that poets like Christina Biscotti like to fantasise about, but neither was it as bad as the lives of the plantation workers, treacle miners or inner city factory workers.

Unfortunately, when Dorothy was about ten years old, the ideological militant sect know as The Pre-Cognitive Sisterhood (A group of women who violently enforce their beliefs that the world would be better off if The Cog had never been invented) attacked their convoy one night, destroyed the vans, burned the tea and murdered almost the entire clan.

Dorothy managed to escape and eventually made her way on foot to Lancaster where she soon made a home for herself, along with hundreds of other street urchins, high up amongst the new Skyway Rail system that criss-crosses the entire city, carrying the wealthy elite in safety away from the stench and commotion of the over-crowded and poverty-stricken streets below.

Here she quickly earned respect and notoriety in the illegal spoon-duelling rings that are run out of the basements of the many Tiffin Dens and Flop Houses that pepper the overcrowded docklands on the banks of the river Lune.

The urchins who live amongst the Skyway Rails are vulnerable to many predators. After her first few nights of clinging to the enormous metal girders, trying to wrap her skirts and shawl in such a way that would reduce the risk of falling should the wind blow too hard or her fingers become too frozen to grip on, Dorothy received a visitor. A kind and sympathetic woman who brought with her bottles of sweet, fizzy, sugar laden Lemonade.

Night after night the woman came, bring these little bottles of sweet, sweet hope, until Dorothy and the other orphans found their days melting into grey insignificance as they waited for their next sugar-fix.

Then one day when the woman came she was very sad, her money had run out and she couldn’t bring this free Lemonade any more. But she had a good idea! If the orphans could each sell two bottles of this illegal beverage and bring her the money, she could then buy them one bottle each. It seemed fair enough at the start. But the amount of bottles she expected them to sell in return for one bottle for themselves kept rising and when Dorothy decided that she had had enough of this game, the woman turned very nasty indeed and made it clear that opting out was not an option.

Dorothy was trapped and so she turned to the only resource she had left for comfort – her spoons. Dorothy had played the spoons since before she could walk and she often drummed out little rhythms on the Skyway Rails to pass the time. But now she threw herself into the art with a violent passion – drumming out her anger and frustration at the injustice and futility of the plight of all these children being secretly enslaved to the Lemonade Dealers. There were words too, but she never let those slip out.

People stopped to listen, although they couldn’t see the percussionist high above them, and then one day a curious theatre owner braved the climb and discovered twelve year old Dorothy. He persuaded her to come down, though she was careful to pay for her own coffee and oatcakes, and it wasn’t long before his ‘Little Dolly’ was making headlines at The Garish Theatre with her incredible displays of cutlery-based- percussion-craft.

As Dolly’s fame began to increase, she saw the opportunity to introduce lyrics to these  displays  and finally expose the true and dreadful story of the exploitation of Lancaster’s homeless children. Hearts broke, tears flowed, rallies were held and the government of Ire was backed into a corner – what was going to be done about this?

There’s always a man with a plan isn’t there? Some bright Whitehall spark quickly saw that what these children needed was shelter, food, clothing, soap and the prospect of a life long career. Fortuitously, Her Majesty’s treacle mines and tea plantations were struggling due to the fact that the adults ’employed’ there were often too large to perform all the terrible tasks that needed to be done.

Dolly Cauldari’s name has now become a curse on the lips of every street orphan who lives in fear that tonight may be the night when Her Majesty’s ‘Good Folk’ will arrive in their wagons and spirit them away to a ‘better life’ in the treacle mines or tea plantations. Many Sho’vani people have also loudly expressed their condemnation of her actions – claiming that she should have known better than to trust the secrets of her fellow poor people into the hands of the hated rich, who will always see something that they can get out of the exploitation and powerlessness of the poor.

Ignoring her critics, however, Dolly has continued to attempt to use her fame, wealth and influence to improve the lives of the street children of Ire. She channels all her earnings into campaigning against the ill treatment of children in the mines and plantations and exposing the corrupt empires of the Lemonade Barons, many of which she claims are members of the aristocracy.

 

Costume For Dolly Cauldari

 

Despite her fame, Dolly spends very little of her earnings on herself. Her clothing is largely home made and she places great importance on certain religious and sentimental items. She always dresses in red – the feminine, protective colour of her people. Her shawl once belonged to her grandmother and, along with her handkerchief-bag, in which she keeps her heirloom amber bracelet and silver snake hair-charm and spoons, it is the only thing she has left of her original family life. She is a traditionalist and always wears a red dikhlo (head scarf) and still braids her hair in a crown braid. The locket and mulengi dori (ribbon of the wind people) she always wears in memory of her parents.

 

So, there you are! As with the character of Amelia Manylentils  , I have tried to draw respectfully on aspects of Rromani culture and history to create a character that is more realistic, respectful and removed from the Fantasy Creature we know from fiction and art as ‘The Gypsy.’  Again, I really hope this is helpful to anyone interested in writing Rromani characters into their Steampunk worlds or cos-playing a Steampunk Rromani character and if you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments section.

Big Blessings, Penny 🙂

 


Steampunk Gypsies : Character Creation – Amelia Manylentils

Greetings! Here, as promised some time back now, is a careful look at how to respectfully draw on aspects of Rromani / Gypsy culture and history in order to construct a Steampunk character. I’ve used the word Gypsy in the title here because many people mistake the term Rromani for Romanian but most Rromani people find the term Gypsy offensive so it really is better not to use it. You wouldn’t use the N word to describe a person of African heritage would you? No.

Rromani people are a fairly visible part of the Steam Era, cropping up in folk tales, art, literature and ephemera of the time but our portrayal is usually colourful , romanticised, demonised and mis-representative of the reality of every day life for Rromani people living in Georgian and Victorian times. (I’ll write in more depth about this in a separate article).

But we can move on from the mistakes of the past and make sure that, by educating ourselves, we don’t repeat or perpetuate them when we write , create or cosplay in the Steampunk genre today 🙂

So here is how I used Rromani culture respectfully to influence the creation of one the the primary  characters here in Ire, Amelia Manylentils. If you have any questions about creating your own Rromani characters or other topics you want to me cover etc let me know in the comments as I’m happy to do more articles like this if folks find them useful.

 

Amelia Manylentils. 

Amelia is a Sho’vani character. I drew a fair bit on Rromani history and culture to create the Sho’vani people and so I have drawn on many aspects of Rromani culture to create the costume for Amelia.

The Sho’vani are a technologically advanced, displaced diaspora of the Jentacular Landmass. Their rebellion against Wiz and his evil army of Wizards went horribly wrong when the automaton army they had created rebelled against them and the twelve tribes, led by twelve princesses, fled across the sea to the scattered Isles Of Ire where they have been outrageously persecuted ever since.

Colonialism is an important and troubling part of our world history but so is the historical and current treatment of refugees and immigrants and I wanted to reflect this part of Rromani history in the history of the Sho’vani.

(For those of you who are unaware, the Rromani people are a displaced diaspora of India. Two groups of Rajputs were defeated by Muslim invaders and forced to flee their land. Some were captured by Turkish regiments and forced into their army, those who managed to escape into Eastern Europe were enslaved for hundreds of years. Those who fled to the west were feared, outlawed, imprisoned, murdered, not allowed to settle down , speak their own language, have children or own property. Many are still facing this persecution today. As soldiers and their entourage, they already had skills with metal work , horses and other crafts which they tried to use to earn money. When this wasn’t possible, they took on farm and manual work and also picked up skills such as entertaining and fortune telling along the way. )

Amelia’s Story:

Amelia’s Sho’vani father was ‘adopted’ (read: stolen) by a rich Tea Time Lord and his wife because they could have no children of their own and they thought it would be an amusing project to ‘tame’ a little wild woodling and make him into a proper Ire-ish Gentleman. They succeeded but when he grew to manhood he annoyed his parents by falling in love with and marrying  the local watch maker’s daughter who was also Sho’vani. That is as far as his rebellion went however and he inherited his father’s estate and treacle mine and settled into life as a Tea Time Lord. His wife, who had always hated her father’s business and had been only too eager to escape her fate of having to become a ‘filthy Tinker’ (her words) took to the lifestyle like butter to a crumpet. Unfortunately their daughter Amelia was different…

Love Triumphant: 

“Amelia? Amelia where are you this time?” Gerda Manylentils wrung her hands anxiously as she scoured the ornamental gardens in search of her daughter.

From high amongst the whispering leaves of the grandfather willow, Amelia watched her mother’s progress through the labyrinth of repressed shrubbery. Each leaf of the neatly maimed privet hedges lapped at her crinoline skirts, like the wax-bright tongues of crouching goblins, green and catching the last drips of evening light like drops of honey.

“Amelia?” Her voice was grey with the coming dusk and it weighed on her daughter’s ears with the same impending doom.

Amelia carefully placed her dolls into their little wicker basket and secured it firmly to the hawser. She wiped her grease-stained fingers on an oil cloth and brushed an arm across her cheek, swiping off a layer of sweat and grime. She took one last look around the treehouse. Every nut, bolt and screw, every spanner, saw and wrench was neatly stowed away in its own private apple crate. The leaves of the old man were fainting and pale, fluttering as the tree drew his deep, ragged breaths. She tied the straps of her leather cap under her chin, flicked her goggles down over her eyes and clipped her utility belt to the hawser behind the basket.

“Amelia? Oh!”

Amelia sailed over her mother’s head like a whistling stormcrow and landed, inelegantly, beside the koi pond. She teetered for a moment on the brink, before steadying herself and unclipping the harness and the basket.

Meanwhile, her mother was passing through her usual colour scheme of emotional meltdown; parchment fright, scarlet shock and finally, purple rage. “Amelia, how could you? How, simply, could you do this to me? You know perfectly well that Watkin Caffiendish and his parents, Lord and Lady Sugar of Crumbria are here! That is to say, were here – they are leaving, and, to be perfectly candid, I cannot say I blame them.” She twisted her plump fingers together in agitation. “Oh, Amelia! I am not sure which is worse; that you didn’t make an appearance, or that you could have done and this is what you are dressed like!” She gestured despairingly at her daughter’s patched and grease-stained overalls. “No, it is no good, Amelia, no good at all. Your father will demand an explanation. I demand an explanation! What have you been doing all this time? Where have you been? Not up in that tree again? Oh no!” Her glance strayed to the basket, now hooked over her daughter’s arm. “Not those awful dolls?”

“Mother, they are not dolls they…”

“They were once!” her mother screeched. “Perfectly beautiful porcelain dolls, Amelia, which your Aunt spent months crafting the petticoats for! Why you have to…fiddle with everything, I do not know.”

“It’s not ‘fiddling,’ Mother, it’s ‘tinkering’ and look,” Amelia reached inside the basket and pulled out one of the dolls. It certainly didn’t resemble any of the prim and pouting manikins which graced the little bay windows of the toy shops in town. Any clothes it had once possessed were nowhere to be seen, large portions of the porcelain had been carefully hacked away and replaced with metal screw-plates and the entire chin was now a hinged collaboration of metallic scraps.

“Oh no, please, do not wind it up! Amelia, my nerves! You know I cannot abide…”

Amelia ignored her mother’s pleas and wound the key which protruded from the back of the doll. The moment she released it, the doll’s mouth began to slowly open and close and sweet string music, almost akin to lark song, filled the blushing air.

“See, it sings. I made it sing. And this one…”

“Absolutely not! No more, Amelia, no more! This whole nonsense has gone on for long enough. A Lady should not spend her time fiddling about with things like this, she…”

“It’s not fiddling, Mother…”

“No, enough!” Gerda snatched the basket of dolls and hurled it into the koi pond, where, of course, it floated like an infant Egyptian prince.

Amelia stared at it in silence.

“This is the last straw, my girl. Go to your room and make yourself presentable, whilst I speak to your father about what, exactly, can be done about you.”

 

Amelia let her head fall back, cradled against the warm wood of the ancient rocking chair which had been her grandmother’s, then her mother’s and was now hers. Her legs pulsed her back and forth like a living piston, the cogs of her brain whirring furiously. Above her bed, Love Triumphant rose on flaming wings into the golden dawn of eternity from the brooding brushwork wrought by G.F.Watts. Amelia pressed her index fingers together and a single eyebrow arched. To have wings. To rise from the grim clutches of the mortal bind. The drudge of duty and a course mapped out by incompetent navigators who would never sail this ship themselves, never set foot in the harbour for which they would doggedly insist it must be bound.

She continued to pulse. Each foot thrust a pump for the adrenaline that was fuelling her mind.

Above her head, the many ceiling fans looked down on her with sympathy, as redundant in the chill evening as a tinker at a tea party. The tiny automatons, arranged in regiment across her eiderdown, sat dutifully silent and even the pot bellied wardrobe seemed to suppress a sigh, bearing its burden of corsets and crinolines with sombre resignation.

Amelia scowled at the painting and out of the broad sash window to where bats were now looping gleefully like liberated gloves cast up in celebration into the greening light.

To have wings…

Amelia leapt to her feet, pulled her folding utility knife from her belt and wrenched a spring steel crinoline from the closet. Her furnace lit by the fuel of epiphany, she snipped at the light metal bands with her cutting tools, skilfully subduing the writhing serpents as they sprung and snapped, unleashed from their structural bindings.

Soon a nest of steel lay heaped in one corner of the room and Amelia turned her attention to the sheets beneath the eiderdown. Out came rulers and angle measurers, scissors and chalk and several tools she had designed herself; a rotating rivet setter and a hand held clockwork seam-stitcher.

Before long, a bat-like pair of wings lay spanning almost the width of the entire room. Amelia cast a critical glance at the rocking chair, made a few last minute calculations and then proceeded to strap the wings to the wooden framework at the back of the chair, using leather trunk-straps which she kept in store beneath her bed for just such emergencies. The wings concertinaed in on themselves perfectly and she arranged more straps which would release them at the precise moment of take off.

Next she turned her attention to the ceiling fans, which came down easily via the maintenance pulley system. Each fan came off in piece and was swiftly re-bolted to the chair, along with the small turpentine motor which powered them.

From somewhere deep in the belly of old house, a servant’s bell sang out its dainty falsetto like a knell. With no time to waste admiring her handiwork, Amelia heaved the chair up to the window and hoisted up the sash with practised difficulty, securing it with the tiny cheese wedges of splintering wood.

The giddy scent of pine teased through the fresh night air; exhilarating, promising adventure as it filled her senses until every cell stung with the anxiety to snap this leash of obligatory life.

Amelia raised the rockers of the chair against the sill and guided, slided, eased it into a position of perfect balance. Her breath caught in her chest, her heart a rapid rhythm as she carefully negotiated her way into the seat, feet now the stabilising factor and one arm braced against the rotting window frame, whilst the other tugged the motor into life.

The pang of pine was now intoxicating.

“Hello?”

A shadow eclipsed the green. The bats fled, piping indignation.

The rocking chair teetered on the sill.

“I say, hello? Amelia?”

In a fulmination of fragrant annihilation, the chair staggered, slipped and spiralled down into the ravenous clutches of the psychotic shrubbery below and combusted, leaving Amelia dangling, dumb struck, from the cross bar of the sash.

“Oh dear. Er, terribly sorry about that. Hold on…”

The vivid lights, cast upward from the flaming shrubbery, illuminated the profile of a pathetically small dirigible, from which a rope was now being lowered. Amelia grasped the life line without hesitation and hauled herself up into the gondola which hung beneath.

“Grab an oar then.”

“Excuse me?” Amelia stared incredulously at the synergist of the Armageddon below, as silhouettes of servants began pouring from the house, to leap in frenzied state around the flaming privets like demons around a hell pyre. “Who even are you?”

“Watt.”

“I said who are you?”

“No, sorry, I mean I am. I am Watt. Watkin Caffiendish, er, knight in shining armour, come to rescue you and all that shenanigans. So, grab an oar, fair lady. She rows out like a dream in this weather.”

Amelia looked down, bitterly, at the wreckage of her marvelous machine, now being stoically dowsed by the household domesticons. Behind the dark shutters of the house, the hue and cry was already up.

She picked up an oar and, for one glorious moment, considered trouncing this ballooning buffoon around the head with it and pitching him over the side into the dark abyss that was soon to be her past.

The scent of smouldering turps was becoming acrid and adrenaline-fuelled ecstasy was fast waning to fatigue and resignation.

Sighing inwardly, she fitted the oar into the rowlock and began to pull.

 

….

Above is one of the many mythical re-tellings of Amelia’s early life and the beginning of her infamous voyage to discover Siberia but rather than begin a philosophical debate on that subject, let’s have a look at her costume…

 

 

Amelia is more interested in dressing practically rather than in a way that is perceived as ‘feminine’ (a taboo both in Upper Class Western and Rromani society of the Steam Era!) so I made her a pair of the classic wide legged trousers worn by our Kalderash men and waistcoat to match from heavily embroidered fabric.

Embroidery is of great cultural significance in Rromani culture and I still have a lot of my family’s embroidered pieces which I wouldn’t dare use for costuming! In Ire, one of the Sho’vani families play an important role in the revolution and they use a cog-based embroidery to code messages into clothing they are ‘mending’.

Amelia likes to keep her inventing equipment close to hand. Belly dancing belts stitched with coins are a mark of shame and anger for many women – not just Rromani. In days where women (and men) were seen as property which could be bought to entertain rich people with dancing and other ‘tricks’ , many people were forced to lay aside their religious beliefs about modesty and proper sexual conduct in order to survive. The passion in many Rromani dances is an expression of the anger felt by the slave dancers at being forced to act against Rromanipen (their beliefs) in order to entertain the rich. For Amelia’s costume I decided to take the belly dancing belt of coins and re-purpose / re-claim it as a tool belt  – a status-symbol for an independent young woman – so I have attached cogs and gears and similar things to the sash instead of coins.

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I chose red for the belt because it is a sacred protective colour in Rromani culture and a very feminine colour too. I hate the fact that femininity is often seen as inferior and that when women choose to pursue traditionally masculine careers they are somehow seen as being un-feminine. I wanted to wrap Amelia in her femininity – her inventing and creating are expressions of her womanhood, not a rebellion against that. By the end of our little saga here she is a wife, mother, grandmother, chrononaut and the greatest inventor the world has ever seen and none of these aspects of her character contradict or corrupt the others.

The cap and goggles are necessary for any wife and mother and are just my own everyday wear for nappy changes , cricket matches etc. but I love the black and white lace and pearls adding lots of magpie-pretty to these functional items.

So, there you have it; part one of creating an authentic Rromani Steampunk character. In the not too far future I’ll do a completely different character for you, based on the real historical Rromani poet Bronislawa Wajs. (Yep, we have poets!)

Until then, best wishes for all you splendid steampunk capers and I hope you’ll join the boys in the parlour tomorrow for some marvellous masquerade madness 😉

Penny 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Soup Of The Day: Loli Phabay!

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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!

Now then, my dears, you may have heard of our new government health scheme here in Ire, whereby the Wizards are dumping barrels full of ‘perfectly imperfect’ fruit on the street corners of areas of social and economic deprivation, such as ours, and indicating that consuming these rat-and-fly-magnets would be beneficial to the poor street urchins’ health.

Subsiding on purple seaweed and government-issued tinned tomato soup is the best our poor Lancastrian urchins can hope for in life, so I thought I would pep up these maggot-ridden and sadly rather rancid ‘gifts’ by turning them into the traditional Rromani autumnal treat ‘Loli Phabay’ – or as most of you may know it ‘Toffee Apples.’

“Loli Phabay” translates to English as ‘Red Apple’ and during the early 1900s, (and perhaps even before) Rromani street sellers could be found throughout the autumn and winter with baskets and barrows full of these sticky toffee covered apples on sticks. The cry of “Loli Phabay!” (which is pronounced ‘Lol – ee – pab – eye’ ) soon turned to ‘Loli Pub’ and is where we get the term ‘Lolly Pop’ for the round red candy treats on sticks which look so similar.

Back in those days cinnamon was used to colour the candy mixture red. History doesn’t tell us for certain who invented the toffee apple, or precisely when – I suspect it was some ‘historically insignificant’ mother or baker in her kitchen, or by her cooking fire and we will never know her name – but William W. Kolb, a New York candy maker, was certainly selling red candy apples in 1908.

I am going to use red food colouring to colour my apple candy and, if you’d like to join me, here is Penny’s family recipe which I will be using…

  1. Pour half a large bag of sugar into a medium saucepan with enough water to cover it.
  2. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Add a little bottle of glycerine and bring to a rapid boil. Put a glass of water in the fridge or freezer.
  4. Continue to boil rapidly until a tsp of the mixture dropped into the cold water forms brittle strands that crack easily. (This will take a very long while and you must be extremely careful as burns from the boiling sugar can be extremely serious.)
  5. When the toffee has reached this ‘hard crack’ stage, turn off the heat and allow it to cool for a moment before stirring in 1-4 tsp of liquid red food colour.
  6. Insert wooden skewers (or inverted dessert spoons if you have no skewers to hand) into each apple and dip them into the toffee, being very careful not to burn yourself on the hot toffee. Transfer the apples to a cold plate or tray and pour more toffee over the top to coat them.
  7. Allow the Loli Phabay to cool completely and harden before you serve them!
  8. Be sure to instruct your little urchins NOT to use the apples as missiles to terrorise innocent Octopi and their Very Quiet Gentlemen Friends once they have nibbled all the candy off.

 

And if you’d like to add a more modern twist to your apples you can try dipping them in chopped nuts or sugar strands before they harden, using green or black food colouring or even edible glitter, or coating them in melted chocolate instead… (yes, that is a spoon, they are much safer than skewers if your urchins are very little!)

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Enjoy your autumnal celebrations,whatever shape or form they take,

Blessings on your brew my dears!

 

Andro verdan drukos nane
Man pirani shukar nane
Loli phabay precinava
Hop, hop, hop
Jekvash tuke, jekvash mange
Hop, hop, hop.

 


Elevenses: Warning, Philosophical Octopus…

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome back to the parlour, pull up a lemonade crate and make yourself at home. I’m afraid you find us in a contemplative and, some might even say, philosophical mood this morning… so if the idea of a contemplative and philosophical octopus will put you off your tea, you may wish to call back another day when we have sobered up a little…

 

Staying? Oh marvellous, well then… a-hem… this is what we were discussing…

 

If steampunk sits, eyeing us all seductively across the poker table, shuffling the cards of re-imagined realities , be they past, present or future, then surely He / She / They or indeed It is well placed to grind one sneering scarlet stiletto boot heel into the face of the spluttering, over indulged prejudices and misconceptions that have thwarted the progress of humanity throughout history?

 

And it is our own, humble, modest and most tentatively proffered opinion, that anyone who is inclined to be a part of that boot, or the alluringly unshaven leg within it, or even to cheer from the side lines and pour the next round of absinthe laced tea, should be encouraged to do so.

 

You know the Age Of Steam has always been my Least favourite in history; so much of it makes my blood boil, and no less in your own dimension than here in Ire. Granted we don’t have the issues of colonialism or empire building that you have had, but if you think that means our world is free from oppression and bigotry then you really haven’t been paying attention.

 

Everyone hates the Wizards and the Tea Time Lords because they control everything, everyone hates the Witches because the Wizards tell us to, everyone hates the Tinkers because they can do things that most of us can’t , but everyone wants the Tinkers to do things for them, everyone hates the Land Pirates, the Tea Smugglers and the Tiffin Madams because they succeed in living outside the law, and everyone would love to live outside the law, but everyone wants the things these outcasts have to trade, and few want to examine the turbulent history that has lead them to their current mode of existence.

 

And of course everyone hates the Skyway Men because… well, have you ever met one? I rest my case.

 

Hm? Oh, Max says that “everyone hates the Skyway Men because they are a small group of Tinkers who have broken away from their allotted niche at the bottom of society and formed an aristocracy of their own built on oppressing those they deem beneath them, much in the same way that the royal family and its social entourage have done for centuries, and nobody likes it when the tables are turned or when an upstart minority group rebels against its allotted station in Iife.”

 

Well possibly, Max ,possibly, all I know is, last time I was in Annwn they called me a dribbling cephalopod and threatened to blow our brains out. Hm? I don’t care if it was a hand made lace tablecloth Max, I just don’t care, offence has been taken and that is that. And will you please stop interrupting!

 

Now then, the reason I love Steampunk is that it provides a splendid, hand crafted, gleaming brass, steam powered, time travelling, dimension hopping vehicle into which we can jump (teapot in one hand and energy-ray-blunderbuss-of-idiocy-thwartation in the other) and re-write the wrongs of the past, not to somehow exonerate or brush under the carpet our embarrassing ancestors (and lets face it, we all have a few of those – Max particularly…) but to create new narratives that grab these perpetrators of injustice by the shirt collar, tie them to a small rickety wooden chair in the basement of an abandoned mansion house, shine a spot light in their face and pelt them with a relentless barrage of witty abuse, whilst posing about in front of them wearing smug faces and fabulous amounts of bombazine…

 

Hm? No! It is  merely a sartorial preference, Max, not a fetish. Honestly, for a Very Quite Gentleman you do an awful amount of interrupting.

 

… Far from allowing us to then traverse the murky rivers of the past with impunity, pith helmets on crying “Oh it’s alright, we’re not like that any more see?!”  these new narratives help inform the development of the future, both real and imagined. By not only slaying the beasts of the past but paving the road forwards with their carcasses, we create a poignant ‘bone road’ for those who follow in our adventurous footsteps.

 

But are we obliged to do this? Is it possible that all this talk of ethics, equality, diversity and inclusivity should not cross the boundary from the real world into the imagined? Can’t we just romp around in whatever costumes we like and write or ridicule whatever we fancy because, at the end of the day, it’s just a bit of fun and nobody means any harm and we don’t want the fun taken out of the thing now do we? Leave politics for the pub and steampunk for the cons? Hm? Does it matter if we create an accidentally segregated situation in which certain groups of society do not feel welcome in our ranks or are offended or hurt by our actions or unable to join in the fun because they cannot gain access to it?

Probably everyone’s opinion will be different, we can only offer our own…

Speaking candidly, as folk who are usually in the minority wherever we go (there not being many people in the world-above-waves who sport such fetching tentacles as myself and my Vary Quiet Gentleman Friend), Max and I think these things do matter and that in the Steampunk arena, as in every other area of life, everyone has a duty to follow the wise words of that hypocritical oath that so many doctors swear by…

Hm? Hypo what? Oh Hippocratic is it? So sorry I thought it said ‘first do no harm’ … oh it does say that does it? I’m sorry your human world is so very confusing.

 

More tea?

 

But all this waffling is only the humble opinion of one tea-sotted octopus, over the next few weeks we will be talking to some seriously salt-worthy Steampunks who are passionate about the issues of inclusivity and diversity.

 

As I said earlier, I believe that anyone who is keen to jump into their space-time-dimension vehicle and begin wreaking restorational havoc upon the past, present or future should be encouraged to do so… but anyone who has encountered our own dear Gail Force will know that such well meant endeavours can occasionally blow up in one’s face, so I will also be getting some first class advice on how not to end up causing more harm than good.

Max and I encountered an irate individual the other day who, rudely but quite rightly, said that we shouldn’t go through life terrified of offending others. This is true and we would like to place it now upon the record that, as creatures with many tentacles, we do not wish anyone to be terrified of the ramifications of treading upon one of those limbs. Accidents happen all the time and any reasonable creature will understand that. (An Elder God may not, but they are thankfully few and far between).

We would however like to help create a world where everyone is aware that creatures with tentacles exist and where, just as we try to be polite and courteous and not to trip anyone up or dribble over your best lace table cloths (be quiet Max!), others try to be polite and courteous to us and not trample on us in their eagerness to get to the free biscuits.

More tea? No? Five cups is your limit is it? Ah well, thankyou for staying and enduring the ramblings of a tea-sotted octopus and the embarrassing ejaculations of his Very Quiet Gentleman friend, we hope you will join us again next week for more marvellous tea and excellent Steampunk fiction and of course tomorrow Mrs Baker will be talking to Nils Nisse Visser about his Steampunk book Amster Damned.

We wish you a very biscuit-full afternoon and, until we see you again,

please, be always

Utterly Yourself

 

 

 


On Steampunk and Trolls : A note from Penny

A small but unpleasant thing happened at a con recently which brought to my attention several issues that, in my naivety, reclusiveness and small-scale social paddling pool of carefully vetted beautiful-hearted human beings I had not been aware of.

But before I talk about the little incident and the road forward from there, I need to make it clear that I am speaking and writing and feeling from a situation of immense privilege. For anyone who doesn’t already know, I am half Rromani. Over the generations the parents and grandparents of my family have done all they could to merge with mainstream British culture to the point that all the children of my generation (and now my children’s generation) can live without the stigma associated with being labelled with the racist term ‘gypsy.’

That means they totally (publicly) abandoned their names, culture, religion, traditions, language, dress, beliefs… so that we could have full access to jobs, education, a social life and all the other aspects of life which they had been denied because of their ethnicity. Being Rromani was dangerous, it still is for many, and so my family hid – becoming invisible in plain sight.

Because of their sacrifice, I am able to choose to stand shoulder to shoulder with any other middle class British person, blissfully unaffected by racial issues of disadvantage or prejudice. So when I choose to reclaim, explore or celebrate aspects of my cultural heritage I am exercising that right from a position of safety and privilege ; I am able to choose to opt in or out, to reveal or to hide.

Often I choose to opt in because I feel that, if I don’t, all the beautiful and terrible things that are becoming lost will be lost forever. All the stories will pass away. I feel that the efforts of my elders will have been wasted if I don’t stand in the place their sacrifice has put me and wave their flag for them. Opre Roma? Well, here we are! And although I have endured the odd idiotic remark, that is by no means comparable to the atrocious suffering undergone by many Rromani people, both historically and today.

So when my husband and I Steampunk we always draw inspiration from Rromani history and culture (real Rromani history and culture, not this, frankly insulting, ‘steampunk gypsy’ aesthetic that can be seen wafting around the internet) and, probably because we always Steampunk small-scale with friends and family, this has never been an issue.

But this year we went to something big and I’m sad to say that we received some rather idiotic  remarks from a few other Steampunks about our overtly Rromani costumes not being ‘Proper Steampunk.’ Thankfully our children didn’t hear and obviously we didn’t run off to blub in the toilets but just got on with the day and had a marvellous time.  But it has lead my husband to say that perhaps we shouldn’t dress like that anymore (in case it happens again and the children do hear and get upset), that we should just wear top hats, goggles and lots of high tech gadgetry to try and fit in more rather than stand out as something outside the norm, perhaps we’re ruining it for the mainstream and they don’t want people to stray from the approved aesthetic? Or perhaps they just don’t understand and it’s not worth trying to educate them.

Well I thought about it long and hard – at first I have to say I was shell shocked because I’d always assumed that my small but very diverse circle of educated, enlightened, all-accepting and utterly beautiful friends was reflective of the entire Steampunk Community. I did some snooping, hoping to discover that my first impressions had been correct and that what we experienced was a one off… sadly I found lots of folks had had similar experiences … but happily I also found that lots of folks like us were trying to put their own cultural stamp on Steampunk and THAT I felt was something to dwell on, to pay attention to, to celebrate and to encourage.

Professor Elemental tells us ‘don’t feed the trolls’ and Nimue Brown’s beautiful poem tells us not to give attention to the idiots of the world but to raise high those who are doing good things.

I need to respond to what happened, because it left such a nasty taste in my mouth, and fortunately I am in a position that enables me to choose to respond by ignoring those trolls and instead drawing attention to as many fabulous folks as I can find who are doing good things and helping to make our community diverse, interesting, welcoming, representative, inclusive and fun for everyone who wants to be a part of it – because I think that for the most part it is!

So I stand very awkwardly, very humbly, and very nervously before you all today, in the shadow of those far better and wiser than me, on the shoulders of those far stronger and more deserving, hoping to spend some time celebrating the diversity that already exists within our wonderful Steampunk world by bringing together some fantastic writers, artists, musicians and creators who are actively shaping the genre into a really splendid scene to be a part of. (rather than an exclusive, fusty old gentleman’s club stuck up it’s own rear end).

So that is what will be happening here over the next few months ( I mean, hopefully it sort of inadvertently happens already!)

Nimue Brown spoke recently about creating types of sacred space, the more we all work together to try and create sacred spaces where we can celebrate and explore our own histories and cultures side by side through the medium of punk fiction, the more the trolls will be pushed to the sidelines where they belong.

(Thankyou for humouring me. Apologies for the interruption to the usual schedule of frivolity and mayhem, normal tea service will resume as soon as octopoidly possible…)

😉  – Penny