Steampunk fiction, reviews and interviews

Posts tagged “Pagan

#IndieThursday: Druidry And The Future

This #IndieThursday Collin is sharing his love of…

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Blurb

The Druid path offers a person many valuable tools for coping in these challenging times. use your spiritual practice to underpin your activism, turn your lifestyle changes into offerings and find the means to stay inspired and hopeful. Explore how the bard path can be applied in face of climate chaos, how to practice self care for the benefit of the planet as a whole, how to harness your dreaming, and work with the elements to change your day to day life. Sustainable living should be the goal of any Druid’s life.

 

 

 


#MythpunkMonday: Monstrous Punk

Happy #MythpunkMonday! And happy Halloween / Samhain / Candyfest, whatever you happen to be celebrating at this time! In my house we use this time to remember our dead, to explore liminality and, of course, to stuff ourselves silly with sweet treats! We’re lucky enough now to live in a community where the whole neighbourhood hypes-up for trick or treating and everyone decorates their houses and gardens and opens their doors to the little goblins and witches who drop by to wish each family the best of the season – it’s like carol singing with a ghoulish twist!

So here is a little snippet from Mahrime, the title piece of my mythpunk collection ‘Mahrime – mythpunk for monsters’ . In this part a city girl makes a pact to save a nearby forest, each night she lets a scarlet cord down from her window for the monsters who live within it to climb up and they reward her in an unusual way…

 

You would think I cracked the treasure case open and sucked out the gold, but I was afraid, afraid of stains and questions, afraid my mother would find out about these secret midnight monster feasts. So instead I opened my mouth up wide and carefully, carefully swallowed each egg down whole.

Whole, the eggs of Del came into my warm belly and my flesh cradled them like a bowl of olive wood, my womb knit around them like latticed ligaments of vine; safe, warm, nourished… it should have been no surprise when they hatched out, the fledglings scraping my tissue raw as the forced their blind passage up through my vocal tubes and tore out of my horror-stricken mouth to flop, drenched and heaving onto the breakfast table.

In front of my mother, these fledgling crow-gods scrambled from my mouth and I could not hold them back. But mothers are used to these things. She narrowed her eyes at me, did I not think she had been young once? Did I not think she too had longed for trees and monsters and given birth to sky-gods in her time? And had not my grandmother done as she would now, stuff her daughter’s mouth with wormwood and gilead, with nightshade and mandrake and bind it shut tight with ribbons torn from her own scarlet dikhlo?

All this she did and then she cut the red cord.

I slept, falling in my dreams through the barbed gullet of a beast that was a city that was my mother that was seven little queens with seven little axes all hacking, hacking at my scarlet life line, all trying to sever me from my beloved monsters. But I laughed as I spun through their loathly innards because even in sleep I felt them; my little ravens, my little gods, pecking away at their human-girl prison, gorging and scraping at all the cumbersome weight that held us all pressed into this room, this house, this city on a hill.

Peck. Peck. Peck.

I felt the breeze stir through me, the flutter of their strong, soft wings striving through my rib cage, the thrust of bills chiselling against my teeth and I woke to find myself cleaned of all my superfluous flesh, gleaming in my bones, seeing with a thousand yellow crow eyes. Still they scrabbled and flapped and pushed the boundaries of all that I still was until they carried me up, up the chimney and out into the sky above.

 

If you enjoyed this snippet you can read the whole story here on Vocal…

https://poets.media/mahrime

And if you’d like to buy me a brew to help fuel my next outpouring of mischievous mythpunkery you can find me on Ko-Fi

https://ko-fi.com/pennyblake

 

Thanks for joining me for another #MythpunkMonday and do feel free to join in and share your own / others mythpunk creations either using the hashtag or in the comments here!

 

 


#IndieThursday: Mapping The contours

This #indiethursday I’m sharing my love of ….

https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/641871660/mapping-the-contours-poetry

Mapping the Contours  Poetry image 0

 

Blurb:

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!

 


#MythpunkMonday: Arise!

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…

 

OPRE

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,

We feel

Touching, unveiling in our stripped-bare bones

Kali …

 

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 🙂


#MythpunkMonday: Table For The Dead

Happy #MythpunkMonday!

Thanks so much for journeying along with me so far, or if your new then very much welcome aboard!

A lot of my own stories centre around the strife and tension suffered by cultures who come seeking refuge, fleeing war and persecution, when the host country fails to welcome and respect them as human beings with established beliefs, values and ways of life.

These deserve to be valued wherever possible, just as those of the established culture are already, but so often they instead become embedded in a strange juxtaposition of both shame and ferocious pride.

When our beliefs, culture, language, skin colour, clothes and ways of being are treated as strange or unnatural by others (especially if they are outlawed, as in the case of the original Rromani refugees in Europe) those precious things which are innately ours can become a source of shame and we can feel the need (perhaps in fear of our lives or liberties) to hide them.

At the same time, in hiding them there is a sense of ritual preservation – a keeping close, a treasuring – and that can become obsessive and unnatural in itself as the evolution of ideas which would take place naturally over time with each generation is now not allowed to happen.

Sacred things die. They are not passed on. Partly out of fear – putting the young ones in danger. Partly our of pride – this knowledge will die with us, the last pure ones, it cannot be trusted to anyone else now, it will become diluted and destroyed or turned against us all.

I’m going to share with you an extract from ‘Mulengi Sinija’ which means Table For The Dead. This is a small shrine of sweet treats laid out for the ancestors to encourage them to remember the next generation, the little ones, and watch over them and visa versa to encourage the young children to enjoy communing with their ancestors.

Here though, the celebration is taking place in a strange new land where the characters are forced to hide who they truly are (firebirds living secretly amongst a population of spiders) and the irony is that the precious link between young and old, past and present, ancestors and living is being lost as the generations pass and so the title is more a lamenting ; a saying goodbye, rather than the celebration it was meant to be….

Mulengi Sinija Extract:

There is a weight, more than the fabric, of that long black skirt and the high necked lace shirt she heaves up over her fire form. Here are the white-beaked masques now with their golden glitter and their gaudy plumes, here are the capes of scarlet velveteen, the sun is sinking with a sigh to the guillotine.

One more cup before we have to go? We drink it slow. Drink deep the thousand stories calligraphed in dark amber there against the white. And when it is all gone, step out into the night.

 

If you liked the extract you can read the rest of it on my sister site here:

https://faithintheteapot.wordpress.com/2017/08/18/mulengi-sinija/

 

Thankyou for joining me for MythpunkMonday! I really hope you’ve enjoyed it and if you have, feel free to join in and share some Marvellous Mythpunk that you have written, created or enjoyed. You can share using the #MythpunkMonday hashtag or in the comments here below if you like and I will continue to make this a regular Monday thing 🙂


#DreamtimeDamselsAnthology blog tour: Soup of the day with Jaq D Hawkins

dreamtime damsels anthology

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 another contributor to the Dreamtime Damsels Anthology, Jaq D Hawkins. Thankyou so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today, My Dear! May I take your hat and miscellaneous weaponry?

Oh, don’t let the knives frighten you! I’ve got Mars in Pisces, you see. No temper at all. I’ve never injured an interviewer, promise!

Well thank goodness for that! 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?

As it happens, I’m an old hitchhiker and I’ve got history with airship pirates, so I hitched a lift on the Persephone. Best rum I ever tasted!

Marvellous! And have you brought along some soup to share with us?

How could I visit a soup kitchen without bringing something to share! This is something a little special from a now extinct restaurant I used to frequent in my youth.

Potage St. Germain (Pea Soup)

Ingredients

1 (1 pound) ham bone

4 1/2 cups water

1 (13 ounce) can chicken broth

2 cups split peas

2/3 cup finely chopped leeks or green onions

1/3 cup finely chopped carrots

1/3 cup finely chopped celery

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp thyme

Bay leaf

1/2 tsp pepper

2 1/2 cups milk

1 cup whipping cream

1 cup chopped ham, cooked

1/2 cup chopped chicken (cooked) (optional)

Instructions

Place ham bone in large pot. Add water, chicken stock and peas and bring to boil over medium heat.

Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes

Saute the onions, carrots and celery just until limp. Add them to the soup pot along with all of the seasoning and continue to simmer until peas are very soft and mixture is thick – about 45 minutes. Remove ham bone. Gradually stir in the milk and cream. Add ham and chicken. Simmer, stirring occasionally, about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a splash of dry sherry, to taste.

Mmm, it smells delicious! I’m sure the little urchins will enjoy it immensely.

You might want to give it an extra splash of sherry to keep them quiet. 😉

Marvellous tip! Now while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t you have a seat by the fire here and tell me a little about the types of fiction that you prefer to write?

In the realm of fiction, I’m basically a Traditional Fantasy writer, though I often lean towards darker themes. Goblins for example, or pirates. My new series will deal heavily with dragons. I’ve also been contributing to a lot of short story anthologies recently and some of those are even Horror.

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?

I was invited to contribute and couldn’t resist, having dealt with the editor on the Dreamtime Dragons anthology and being favourably impressed with his attention to quality and detail. The idea of writing about strong women is a natural for me as I’m pretty resilient myself, but most of my stories so far have featured male protagonists. I decided this would be good practice to develop my female characters more.

Splendid and now I know the book hasn’t actually been released yet but Max and Collin were bragging this morning that they had managed to get their tentacles on a pre-order link for the kindle version?

 

Oh thankyou very much, I will order my own copy post haste! As an adventuress myself, I certainly think it is wonderful to see a fantasy collection where women take the centre stage isn’t it?

It makes a nice change. The Wizard’s Quandary was meant to be a stand alone story, but now it’s inspired me to write a follow-up series, with dragons of course. I think some of them are going to have to be female as well.

Oh dragons are always splendid company… Ah now that’s the kettle boiling, what is your ‘poison’ Dear, and how do you take it?

Usually red wine, not that yuppie Shiraz stuff but a good Malbec. However, as you’ve boiled the kettle, a simple coffee will do. A spoonful of honey please, and a little heavy on the milk.

You are lucky I have just visited The Harlequin and have a plentiful supply of contraband milk! Now, why don’t you tell us all a little more about your own path into fiction writing?

Well that started in childhood. By the time I was in high school I was churning out short stories furiously. It was only natural that I would move on to novels eventually. My goblin world took me there.

Oh my! I have never encountered any goblins personally but they sound terribly exciting and is there anything that particularly inspires you when you write?

Anything. Everything. I hear a phrase and a conversation forms around it. I see a colour and start visualising a scene. Stories go through my head faster than I can write down the notes for them!

That sounds wonderful! 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?

A large percentage of my reading for enjoyment these days is written by indie authors. The Big 5 have become cautious and keep putting out clones of whatever sold best last week, usually lightweight stuff that doesn’t appeal to me.

Some indie authors I’ve really enjoyed besides the ones contributing to the Dreamtime anthologies include Graeme Reynolds, Shanna Lauffey, Charlton Daines, Jeff Brackett, Lin Senchaid, Lita Burke, Austin Crawley, Frank Tayell and C.M. Gray. I’m sure there are many more on my book shelves but those come to mind.

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?

My Amazon page is at

https://www.amazon.com/Jaq-D-Hawkins/e/B0034P4BFI

and my Smashwords page is

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/jaqdhawkins

Then of course there is my website where you can read about anything upcoming at http://jaqdhawkins.com

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?

Certainly. Don’t forget a dollop of sour cream in each bowl! Dibs on licking the cauldron.

Absoloutely!

Thankyou 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 and until we see you again, Blessings On Your Brew My Dears!

 

Mary Woldering hosts the first round of character interviews 

Leslie Conzatti presents an excerpt from one of the stories in the anthology: Red, The Wolf

Mary Woldering hosts the second round of character interviews

Our own kitchen witch interviews Nav Logan

Nav Logan joins us for elevenses on The Harlequin

Leslie Conzatti presents an excerpt from one of the stories in the anthology: Dangerous by Morgan Smith

Mary Woldering hosts the next round of character interviews

A.M Young joins us for elevenses on The Harlequin

Benjamin Towe joins us for elevenses on The Harlequin

Cover reveal from The Benthic Times

Cover reveal from Collin on The Harlequin Ladybird


#RainbowSnippets: Jack and Marjory

rainbow-flower-1394714-640x480

Happy Saturday! Here’s my #RainbowSnippets post for this week – if you’re new to this, Rainbow Snippets is a chance to read and share 6 sentences of LGBTQIA+ fiction every Saturday. There’s a huge variety from Steampunk, like mine, to Romance, Fantasy, Paranormal, Comedy and everything in between. You can join the fun and read all the other fabulous snippets at the wonderfully friendly and supportive official facebook group here 🙂

So, here is the next snippet from Jack and Marjory – my novella-in-progress which gives two of my Bi-Gendered characters a chance to tell something of their own little side-adventure, which actually had a massive impact on the history of Ire in a ‘behind-the-scenes’ kind of way.

If you missed last week’s snippet you can catch up here: #RainbowSnippets: Jack and Marjory

If you want to start from the beginning you can do so here: https://blakeandwight.com/2018/09/29/rainbowsnippets-jack-and-marjory/

 

Jack and Marjory are beginning to appreciate allure of Madame Nature ‘in the flesh’ as they trudge the their reluctant way along the picturesque Way Of The Roses en route to  pick up the smuggled teaset for the leader of the revolution…

Cormorants and Goosanders were pottering about now in the river but we left them to it, castin’ a last wistful glance towards Caton Moor and the warm Inns and Coffee Houses of that cosy little white-washed town.

There’s a tree there, beside The Ship, what the landlord calls ‘The Druid Tree’; he’ll charge you a penny to tell you that ‘back in the time of Queen Elizabeth’ the townsfolk used to catch shellfish in The Lune and sell them on the sandstone steps in front of that tree. Then he has the audacity to beam at you, like he’s just taught you something.

We’ve heard whisper of a few lads an’ lassies what’ll sell yer somethin’ delightful on those steps under the old Druid Tree n’all, but It’d cost you more than a penny, Pal.

Still the delights of Caton weren’t for us that day. Our plan was to press on hard to Cracoe and pick up the Treacle Train to York, then hire a Hippo’ton Cab to Beverly, arriving around supper time, keep out of trouble ’til nightfall and then walk the last hour or so to Cottingham.

JACKANDMARJORYCOVER

being an entertaining and informative piece of travel writing by a couple of rogues on the run as they attempt to avoid the machinations of wizards, monarchs and a ruthless band of beatnik poets, deflect a civil war and deliver a priceless, historical tea set before the owner finds himself at the gallows.

 

Wishing you all a most splendiferous week and don’t forget to check in at the #rainbowsnippets facebook group for more fabulous snippets of LGBTQIA+ fiction 🙂 

 

rainbow flower image courtesy of mariah22 at http://www.freeimages.com

book cover image by Renphoto 

 


Soup Of The Day: With Meredith Debonnaire

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 sci fi author Meredith Debonnaire! Thankyou so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today, My Dear! May I take your cloak?

Yes indeed, here it is. Thank you so much for having me 🙂

A pleasure! How was your trip from your own dimension? I hope you did not run into any hostile skywaymen or space pirates on your way?

Very smooth, thank you. Came through the inter-dimensional tunnels, so mainly just Dwarfs. And some of those urchins of yours I think, but they weren’t a lot of trouble.

Ah yes, children will get everywhere won’t they? And  have you brought along some soup to share with us?

Oh I am so sorry! I am honestly a terrible cook, so I thought it better not to subject you to my attempts at food. I have brought tea… Lapsang Souchon?

Oh my absoloute favourite how thoughtful of you! (You know tea is illegal here and so very hard to come by, thankyou imensely for that!) Now then, I will cook up a nice batch of soup for the orphans and why don’t you have a seat by the fire here and tell me a little about your book The Life And Times Of Angel Evans, I know Max and Collin enjoyed reading it immensely

 

Oh, how nice to hear! I enjoyed Max’s Utterly Myself book. Anyway, The Life and Times of Angel Evans is about what you do after saving the world. It was a question that has bothered me for a while. So the story is not about saving the worlds, but about picking up the pieces afterwards when the prophecy is fulfilled and you have to get on with things. Angel Evans did save the multiverse, but now she has to figure out how to have a life and sometimes that feels harder.

 

I really love that premise! I must confess to have dabbled a little in world saving myself but in the end I found running this soup kitchen far more rewarding! Have you brought a copy with you to show the orphans?

The Life and Times of Angel Evans.png

 

Marvellous, thankyou! Ah, now that is the kettle boiling, what is your ‘poison’ dear and how do you take it?

I like a good strong hot chocolate, with chocolate dark as moonless midnight please

Ah, fortunately we have plenty of smuggled cocoa powder in storage ready for the winder months! There you are. Now tell me, My Dear, what do you look for in a good story?

Hmmm, well, characters that I can root for are very important – I find it difficult to be immersed in a plot if I don’t care about the people. I want magic, and I want to be surprised, and I want lots of women and preferably queer representation. Tight plotting is a little less important to me, although I do appreciate it as a skill. As I mainly read fantasy and sci-fi, the worldbuilding is very important and I can be drawn in by an exciting-sounding world. It boils down to wanting something that I will be able to get emotionally invested in, and that will reward that investment rather than stomping on it.

Splendid, … Oh! Do excuse me for a moment, that’s the post…. There we are…Oh lovely it’s the brochure I ordered!  I am looking for my next holiday destination (it is never a good time to be a witch here in Ire but sometimes it is positively dangerous so I like to take the odd pleasure jaunt when that occurs)

How exciting! May I take a look? Holidays are very important things, especially if there is any chance of a mob turning up on one’s doorstep…

Well, yes indeed… mind you, I have heard that you are a chronicler of the history of the curious town of Tantamount – is that a holiday destination you would recommend for a witch?

Absolutely. Tantamount gets seasonal witches most Autumns as they migrate, and to survive in Tantamount you have to be at least a little bit witchy. It’s particularly a good place for picking up odd spell ingredients, though you have to be careful of the history; it bites.

Oh how wonderful it sounds like just my cup of tea! Collin told me they have interesting wildlife, I am very fond of magpies…

Magpies are very important in Tantamount, although why they are important is a subject of great debate and the occasional stabbing. So far as we can tell from the correspondence, there are also very intelligent Wild Boar (who have successfully negotiated for voting rights), spam pigeons, and of course the Carrion. We’re not sure if the Carrion are really wildlife or just some sort of odd phenomena, as no-one who’s got close enough to tell is in any state to pass the information on.

I see, perhaps I might ask Max if I can borrow his aether energy pistol. He also said they have some charming rituals there as well, although as I am post-menopausal myself it sounds like I may not be of much use for some of them?

Ah, I think you are referring to the Bluddening Ritual? That one is specifically for people who menstruate, as it is the most convenient way of bleeding a lot without hurting anyone. There are plenty of other Rituals that you could take part in: The Feast of Fears, which comes around at slightly random times and involves the ancient sport of Carrion Running, is one example. There is also the Awakening of Spring, which involves pouring tea on the Dumpsy Tump while singing classic Tantamount songs such as Truly, It Is Time To Get Out Of Bed, Hades is No Fun Anyway, We Are All Bloody Cold Oh Spring and When Will the Daffodil Beast Roam Free Again? If that doesn’t work, someone has to go and hit the gong. But usually it doesn’t come to that.

I see, well I shall certainly mull that over carefully, it does sound a lot of fun but I want to make sure I return in one piece!  Now then, where can we read more about Tantamount?

All of Tantamount is currently available here: https://meredithdebonnaire.wordpress.com/tales-from-tantamount/

I recommend reading about it from afar; it isn’t a place with a high life expectancy.

And where else can we find you on the aether web?

https://meredithdebonnaire.wordpress.com/

https://twitter.com/DebonnaireMerry

https://www.thebooksmugglers.com/2016/09/life-times-angel-evans-meredith-debonnaire.html

 

Marvellous! Well thank you so much for joining me in the kitchen this morning, that soup smells as if it is ready, would you give me a hand dishing it out to the orphans?

Thankyou all for joining us in the last soup kitchen of 2018, have a very blessed Wizmas or Feast of Fears or Christmas or Creepmas or Yule or Hiding Under The Duvet Until It All Goes Away Fest …. or whatever you celebrate in your dimension at this time of year and I will see you all again once the tinsel and mince pies have died down and the frost fair arives on our frozen river Lune, so until then,

Blessings on your brew my dears!


Pipe and Slippers: Tales From Steampunk’d Lancaster

 

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as 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 every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of vintage port eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… I have been tirelessly working over the summer, interviewing, stalking … I mean studying… the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in the curated back-alley fight clubs – why and how have they come to their present situation? What are their stories? Well, here at least, is one of them…

TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER

SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS 

TALE THE FOURTH:  by ALLISON SHEPHERD

 

“My brooch!” I yelled as Mariah’s twinklepuff slam hit me full force in the chest

and sent me hurtling backwards into the wooden crates at the makeshift

gayelle’s edge. I hadn’t anticipated Mariah’s last pattern and was now

scrambling to catch my breath and get back on my feet. My brooch had ripped

off my bolero as the twinklepuff spell had infused the fibres of the old velvet.

My grandmother had made that brooch for me from the cogs of a broken toy

train and an old yuletide ornament. She’d fashioned the cogs into an owl tying

them together with copper wire, and using tiny emerald crystals pulled off the

bauble for the eyes. Every afternoon after school I’d go to her rag-and-bone

shop tucked away down a narrow cobblestone alley to wait for my parents.

She’d make a pot of Earl Grey with leaves from her “secret supplier” and tell

me stories of when her mother baked double-layered sponge cakes with

strawberry jam filling, and lighter-than-air profiteroles filled with sweet gooey

cream. “Earl Grey.” “Strawberry jam.” “Profiteroles.” I hadn’t heard those

words in almost a decade. My owl brooch had become my talisman, my

connection to my past.

I tried to stand but sat down quickly as my vision blurred. Mariah? This

powerful? I couldn’t understand; she was a third-rate slinger at best, over

estimating both her charms and her spells. Something was different. The

sophistication of the twinklepuff weavings and glitter were not her. Someone

was helping raise the level of her usually amorphous, sloppily put together

concoctions. Who? And why?

It was odd when Mariah had drawn the wildcard for our slingoff but I had

missed a few of the preliminary fights when I had gone out of town. Maybe

she’d improved and been bumped up a couple garnets, I thought. This was my

livelihood, and sometimes it’s better to shut up and sling. Now, as I sat

befuddled trying to clear my head and weave my threads, I saw a glint of silver-

black emanating from Mariah’s perfectly poised hands. Mariah who could

barely make a pattern for a pink-and-gold unicorn spell slinging an

onyxmirrorpearl? With advanced finger positions? I sat spellbound and the

omp smacked me flat. Blood gushed out of my nose, ruby red against my white

pin-tucked shirtwaist. Before I lost consciousness, I saw Emily, the bookie,

collecting from the disgruntled gamblers.

Gill found my brooch, the emerald crystals winking in the twilight-find spell he

cast. The healers had tried to revive me right away but the omp had proved

beautifully formed and knocked me out for hours. I lost my deposit and got

nothing for the night. According to Gill, Emily had been apologetic but could do

nothing as an unexpected large bet against me had her scrambling for gilt. Gill

had taken me home and tucked me up in bed with a hot water bottle, three

pillows and my favourite fluffy wrap. I was still in bed when he came back with

my brooch. I tried to sit up but the wave of nausea had me lying back gingerly

on the pillows. I closed my eyes clutching my owl, my fingers tracing the

notches along the cogs, and started to cry.

My parents were wizards, of course, fighting for Queen and country. They truly

believed that magic should be controlled and out of the hands of ‘ordinary’

people. My parents were strong weavers but by the time they disappeared (of

course) my abilities were rudimentary at best. I’d become a trope: orphan,

living with my grandmother, no magic. But as with my favourite fairy tales, this

was simply the beginning of the story.

My parents had taken an assignment to escort our Queen to Boss Town for a

diplomatic sojourn, or that was what the official correspondence claimed. We

knew better: an excuse for the elite to sample new-fangled sweet marvels and

magiscience tea twists. Mum and dad couldn’t say too much but they were

more tight-lipped than usual as they hugged me goodbye and dropped me off

at Gran’s. We never saw them again. I was fourteen.

Gran moved in with me. I finished school at sixteen and tried out for the

apprentice wizard programme. I didn’t qualify even though my parents had

been senior civil servants. Apparently, according to the report, I didn’t have the

“right attitude, and my spells were nonexistent.” Gran and I eked out a living

from the shop. I met Quelin her “tea supplier,” a jovial smuggler who was able

to find the choicest leaves for us, and sometimes, just sometimes, the tiniest

silver-sprinkled cupcakes. He’d never tell where he got them but always

tapped the side of his nose with his forefinger, “It’s best you don’t know, my

darling,” he’d say, “because if anything happened to me, you might be running

for your life from some nasty bits.” He’d glance across at Gran, who would

pretend to be engrossed with a length of glitterwool handicraft, or checking

her numbers in the accounts book. They thought I never noticed but I always

did.

I had turned seventeen the year of the Youshallnevereatcake Spring, a short-

lived, half-hearted coup d’etat by a handful of boisterous youngsters. It was

quashed by the wizards within hours, the rebels marched through the streets

to the palace courts. I rushed home to tell Gran only to find her in the garden,

sitting in her favourite chair under the willow tree, a cold cup of Earl Grey in

her lap. She looked as though she were taking an afternoon nap, the breeze

ruffling her mop of curls. I clasped her inert hands, and wept.

I started hex slinging in the underground circuit soon after.

Of course my latent abilities eventually showed up, stronger than either of my

parents but without proper training and guidance, it was a mess. My early

slingoffs were either a triumph of a knockout, or me vomiting an endless

stream of bile in a dank corner, a side-effect of using pure, raw magic. Through

practice, and more practice, and much much more vomiting, I learnt to control

and weave almost beautiful hexes. I found a circle of friends who helped me in

the nine years since Gran died: Gill, Emily, Jendra. And I still ran the shop. It

didn’t make much but had become a safe place for us to meet to try out new

patterns and concoctions, catch up on gossip and, yes, of course, find a way to

bring back tea, cakes and magic: we’d been denied our right to a free life for

too long.

***

As I clutched my brooch in my hand, tears streaming down my face confusing

Gill to no end, I realised that Mariah’s win tonight had shifted our timetable. It

hadn’t been subtle, literally a punch to my gut. Someone had wanted our

attention. No longer was our light-hearted, drinking-after-a-slingoff chant of

“Tea, Cake, Magic For All!” a someday cake-in-the-sky dream; someone, or

someones, wanted us ready now. And I was terrified.

 

Allison Shepherd enjoys reading and writing speculative fiction, especially paranormal romance. She teaches at the medical school at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, and has had her work published in bmj Medical Humanities, Tales From the Fluffy Bunny, and is upcoming in Lycan Valley Press Publications “Darkling’s Beasts and Brews”. https://mh.bmj.com/content/43/3/e33 https://www.amazon.com/Tales-Fluffy-Bunny-Various-Authors/dp/1942450699

 


Pipe and Slippers: Tales From Steampunk’d Lancaster

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as 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 every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Bruadar malt whisky liqueur eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… I have been tirelessly working over the summer, interviewing, stalking … I mean studying… the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in the curated back-alley fight clubs – why and how have they come to their present situation? What are their stories? Well, here at least, is one of them…

TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER

SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS 

TALE THE THIRD:  by PENNY BLAKE

We wasn’t always called Jack and Marjory. But then again we didn’t always live in Lancaster. We didn’t always own these boots. We didn’t always work for Kitty Flynn.

Kitty’s coffee house, The Angel, is always full, always bustling, always respectable and everything above board.

They serve government standard issue coffee – the lifeblood of the workforce and the would-be well-to-do alike.

Chicory, acorn, dandelion … the great copper pots of brown liquid sit simmering in the seventeen fire places all day long and Kitty’s daughters run to and fro serving it out in pewter tumblers on silver trays.

The rules are framed in mahogany on the white washed wall: no foul language, no char-latin, no anti-royalist, anti-religious or anticlimactical notions, no games of chance, no business dealings, no magic.

Yes indeed, The Angel is a perfectly respectable place. It must be. The patrons run the great societal gamut from the lowliest mill worker, to dockers, street traders  and Sho’vani barge folk; from town Tinkers like The Time Keeper and The Spoon Smiths, to landlords like Montmorency and Clitheroe, even true aristocrats like Lord Ashton and Lady Grace and wizards like that so-called ‘Dr. Smith’…

The Angel is always full, never a spare room in the place. Kitty rents rooms alright but you’d be damned if you could ever get one. Very particular is Kitty Flynn about who she’ll let a room to and once she gets a tenant in, they tend to stay for a very long time.

We, certainly, intend to stay for a very long time.

Because once you’re in, like us, there’s only one way out – and it ain’t pretty. No, indeed, it really ain’t.

There are seventeen chimney’s in The Angel. Seventeen chimneys and each has an inglenook bookcase.

On a certain evening, at a certain time, after the doors are locked and barred and only a few select patrons are still at table – presumably having booked lodgings for the night and enjoying a late supper – Jack and Marjory might suddenly take into our heads the fancy of reading a particular book titled The Winchester Mystery which is located on the seventh shelf of the bookcase in the seventh chimney.

It is a favourite of almost every patron and tenant and no one  bats an eyelid as the whisper of well oiled cogs heralds the opening of a hidden door and we slip through, and down into an entirely different world below.

Here the air is tight, charged with electricity, close with the heat of many bodies and breaths and damp with sweat and mildew. Arachnid threads of green sphagnum and lichen trace along the limestone walls and arched tunnel ceilings and our footsteps echo among the cheers and jeers, shrieks of pain and laughter and flesh hitting stone.

There are rats down here, snails, reptiles, cats and dust but we don’t need them. When you work for Kitty Flynn, you keep things pure. Just the magic, that’s what Kitty wants. That’s what Kitty gets.

Kitty’s house is always full. All the tenants fight down here. It’s how we earn our keep, of course, and more than that as you can see ; no Hex Slingers in Lancaster are togged out finer than us who board at The Angel, well and truly minted is what we are because Kitty looks after her own…

But you knew that already, right? That’s why you came, that’s why you asked if there was a room and when we saw your hands, bandaged up in strips of kid leather to hide the scars and that high collar pulled up close under your chin, when we saw the hunted look in your blood shots eyes, we knew you’d fit right in…