Happy Sunday folks! I don’t usually do a Sunday post but I was fortunate enough to be invited to do a guest post on Stephen Palmer’s blog on the subject of Rromani representation in fiction so I thought I’d share it at the weekend so that it doesn’t get trampled by Collin and his Frost Fair shenanigans! XD
Here’s the link to the guest post: http://www.stephenpalmer.co.uk/
Stephen Palmer writes a variety of diverse fiction including Sci fi and Steampunk. You can find his authour page on amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stephen-Palmer/e/B0062Z5R78?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1581086881&sr=8-1
WARNING – CUTE SMALL MAMMAL ALERT!!!!!
Wow, we’re three months into this regular post now and I’m feeling really positive about that, thankyou for all the enthusiasm and support you’ve all shown 🙂
Heading into the insanity of the festive season I thought I’d use our December #MythpunkMonday posts to bring you little lesser known snips of winter-themed myths and legends as mythpunk writing hooks to feed the imagination through this manic time of tinsel and terrible music 😉
And moving into January, I’d like to offer some Mythpunk Mondays as guest post slots so if you have an idea for a post with a mythpunk theme, or if you are a writer or artist who would like to promote your own mythpunk works, drop me an email at email@example.com subject #MythpunkMonday Guest Posts and I will slot you in.
But before all that, here’s my last #MythpunkMonday for November and I thought I’d give you an extract from the mythpunk / steampunk short story which I was lucky enough to have included in the Dreamtime Damsels And Fatal Femmes Anthology here…
It’s called Mulo, which is the Rromani word for the spirits of our own dead but it actually translates as ‘the wind people’. Here are a few brief facts about the story before I share the snippet…
The story is set in a post-apocalyptic era where workable land and water are scarce and focuses on an exclusively Roma community which has the same class/ caste system as other settled communities. I thought it would be interesting to explore the interplay of power and prejudice without bringing the issue of race into it.
All the names in the story have a certain significance for example, Ndrita means to shine like a small, bright glittering light, to twinkle like a far off star. Ndrita embodies this – a small light that brings hope and then is gone again.
Sihana means like the moon. The moon reflects light, it isn’t a true light itself, it reflects the power of the sun but it doesn’t have it’s own source of power. It can also seem like a cold light, illuminating without aiding life or growth. All this seemed to embody the character of Sihana.
The marsh lights are a real phenomenon here in Britain – and perhaps elsewhere. They are really caused by marsh gas igniting or sometimes by the glowing fungus known as fox fire. Marsh lights have also been called Death Lights, Jack of the Lantern and Peggy of the Lantern and were thought to be malevolent spirits who had drowned trying to lead travellers astray off the path and into the marshes. I first encountered marsh lights in Bleaklow, Derbyshire and have been obsessed with their lore ever since.
I wanted the story to be gritty and realistic but also carry a thread of hope – to explore power imbalances that are inherent in all social constructs regardless of race or culture but also to highlight the notion of choice as a facilitating vehicle for change. Nothing actually changes in the story on a societal level, but the two main characters, Ndrita and Anika, both changed a little for a moment – they put aside their prejudices to save the life of someone they would normally abhor, and who would normally detest them. They took back the power of choice.
Writing is never a clean process and I had some initial problems with keeping the tense and perspective consistent between the characters’ different scenes – something I wouldn’t have picked up on if not for the fantastic editing team so I owe a lot to them for helping me get that straight!
My own favourite character in the story is Anika’s Ma. She is so like a lot of our own older relatives – stuck in their ways and clinging to superstitions so ancient they barely understand their meaning themselves, wise in so very many ways but powerless against the problems of modern times for which all their handed down wisdom couldn’t possibly have prepared them.
I don’t tend to write stories with a message or a moral, instead I hope my writing opens doors and then leaves them open in case others want to come in and explore what I’m exploring.
In the city, where the fog curls just above the cobble stones, there are many lights; the flickering gas lamps breathing milky pools against the evening’s cool, dark breast; the tinder sparks from flaring pipes; the window-stars like cold diamonds or bright catalysts of life.
Move out beyond the streets, out into the woods, follow that lonely ribbon of road away through the marsh, and the lights out there do not cast the same impression on our minds.
Lights, we understand, mean there is someone and who, we ask ourselves, who could be out there in the dark and the mist? Who on a night like this?
The word for the carriers of the marsh lanterns is Mulo and Baba always told me that this word means demon. After Mammy and Daddy and little Dragan were gone, and all that was left was Baba and me, she taught me to light the tallows in their little glass bottles and set them all around the farm each night, to keep the demons away.
She knew a lot of things my Baba, how to keep us safe through the long dark nights in Indigo. But she didn’t know how to make the water safe, and in the end it was only me, and I didn’t know either.
Thankyou for joining me for another #MythpunkMonday, I hope you’ve enjoyed it and if you’d like to jump in and share your own / others marvellous mythpunkish-ness then feel free to do so using the hashtag or in the comments below!
And before I scoot, I promised ferrets, and here they are… All the proceeds from the above mentioned anthology go to Abington Ferret Refuge, you can check them out here…
Happy #MythpunkMonday! Last month we talked about the power of Mythpunk, this week I’m going to ask how we wield that power responsibly – or if we even need to? I’m going to look at one particular Mythpunk song by my favourite singer/songwriter, talk about my own journey in Mythpunkery and give you a little snippet of one of my own Mythpunk stories.
So, last week we looked at the power of myth and the importance of Mythpunk as a subversive form that can challenge mainstream culture and instigate social change.
That makes Mythpunk powerful too and – as all us true geeks know – ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ (cheesy but true, guys, cheesey but true!)
So what responsibility do Mythpunk creators have and to who?
It’s not an easy question and the answer is likely to be a very personal one for all of us – different for each punk who puts pen to parchment. But I think it’s vital for us all to consider and to create ongoing discourse around this point.
From my own point of view, I came to Mythpunk (although I wasn’t aware of the phrase at the time) feeling as though I wanted to bite back at the restrictive, prejudiced, tired and boring old tales I had grown up hearing. I was carrying fire in my blood and in my head and it flowed out through my pen in rage against the morals and values inherent in those tales, all of which seemed to say that ‘people like me’ were not acceptable, could not be heroes, needed either rescuing or destroying and would certainly get our comeuppance one day … etc etc.
So I wrote to bite back, I wrote to destroy and obliterate and to replace all that ancient, old hat, prejudiced nonsense (as I saw it) with my own values, morals and world-view.
As I got older, I learned a revelation that made me stop and think. It didn’t make me regret what I’d written before, but it did make me proceed from that point onwards in a different way… I learnt the history of my people – a history which my family had been forced to hide from us because of deep rooted and continued prejudice against our people, a history which, I now realise, had been partly encrypted in story and song and passed down through generations in the hope that one day we would understand… and here I was taking a scythe to it all in anger.
Worse still, I soon found – as I now hungrily hunted for more stories, myths, tales, legends and songs which would tell me more about our culture and history – I came up blank ; most of it has been lost and what remains has been twisted and manipulated (not ‘punked’ which is something quite different) out of all recognition by other cultures in order to maintain the myth of the ‘Gypsy Creature’ by people who are not even Romany.
I felt hurt and lost and angry and guilty and very many other things as well and eventually those feelings lead me to write Mulengi Sinija (a tale of cultural appropriation and white-washing which shows how a less powerful culture can be forced to hide themselves while the dominant culture wears their clothing and beliefs like an exotic mask, until eventually the grandchildren of the less dominant culture have forgotten who they are. ) and also The Road Back Lost, which I’m going to share an exert of today.
So after that point I decided that although there really were parts of my culture that needed to evolve, so much had been lost that I wanted my Mythpunk to focus on preserving the good, the beautiful, wise and historic aspects to make tales worthy of passing on to my own children.
I’m still on uncomfortable ground here – there are definitely dark moments when I ask ‘do I have the right to do this?’ and I can only comfortably answer ‘yes’ because it is my own culture and belief, my own experience, the voice of my own blood that is singing through me. I am not certain I could always give a resounding ‘yes’ if that were not the case.
I think that, for me, the subject boils down to questions of Power,Voice and Ownership – does the mythology I’m punking from exist in enough written forms that its power and voice resound through history and are unlikely to be altered / obliterated forever by my work here and now? – does the culture which this mythology hales from have enough power and voice on the world stage to protest against my meddling with it, should it choose to do so? – and lastly, is the culture my own?
But this is just my story, my journey, my own evolving view on things, – I’d be really interested to hear what you think on the subject! Should Mythpunk be a free-for-all? Is it OK to punk from other cultures? Should we not punk at all? Or is there a middle road and if so, how do we stay on it?
It’s a Mythpunk’d version of the child ballad The Raggle Taggle Gypsies / The Gypsy Laddie / Black Jack Davy, a ballad I grew up with, which tells the tale of Lady Cassillis and her lover the Romanichal folk hero and Rom Baro Johnnie Faa.
In that folk tale, the Earl of Cassillis marries his young wife against her will, but her lover, Johnnie Faa, or Black Jack Davy, rescues her and they run away together. The Earl eventually catches them, hangs Faa and his brothers and imprisons his wife for the rest of her days. There isn’t any truth in the tale as far as Faa and Cassillis are concerned, and of course there are aspects of it which seem wonderful and other aspects which seem dreadful.
Here’s the song and above it I’ve included Heather’s introduction/ explanation of it as well – I’ve chosen it because, as with the original, there’s a lot about it that I love from a fun and feminist perspective and also a lot that feels uncomfortable … see what you think?
And finally here’s the excerpt I promised from The Road Back Lost, if you like it and want to read the whole things you can find it on Vocal… https://poets.media/the-road-back-lost
THE ROAD BACK LOST
Do you know what it is like to gut a wolf, child? Do you think you have the stomach for the knife? If you are a daughter of the wood, you ought at least to have that. But perhaps the tool they have given you is not up to the task? Faced with the breath, the lure of iron scent, the clinging claret clots that call to your own quickened pulse, the sharp, sharp teeth a grotesquery of your
Perhaps you would rather flee?
Or perhaps that dilation of your dark and precious orbs betrays your lust to leave this wood and simply be devoured, melting on a hot tongue, melting in a hot belly, melting like a shadow into night? How many times have you tried to lose yourself that way? How many times have you wandered from the path, waiting for your wolf?
Here she is, child, here she sits; white throat waiting to welcome you home.’
Thanks for joining me for another #MythpunkMonday and please feel free to join in a share your own / others Mythpunk either in the comments or using the hashtag – let’s fill every Monday with marvellous Mythpunk madness 😀
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…
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
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!
Photograph by Kovacs Orsi from www.freeimages.com
Happy #Mythpunk Monday!
Today I’m going to talk about trees! I find few things more inspiring than walking through a forest where the trees seem anthropomorphic. Coming from a spiritual tradition which taught me from the earliest age that all trees were living sentient beings with their own spirits and personalities, I find it interesting that people seem to be drawn more to commune with trees like oak and hawthorn who twist their trunks more readily into gnarled semblance of faces or limbs than, say, the linden, ash or birch who mostly grow straight up to the sky. Of course there are stories of slender-limbed, silver-skinned birch dryads; pretty young maidens dancing lithe and beautiful in wooded glades, but why do we only seem drawn to trees if we can view them as being in some way like ourselves? Even Tolkein’s Ents had a human-likeness about them…
The phenomenon of Pareidolia may be in some way to blame here – the inherent nature of the brain to seek familiar patterns (particularly those of faces) in dissociated stimuli ; fire, clouds, tree bark, wall paper, rock surfaces, waves … it is a natural survival mechanism developed even before we are born to help us seek out our care givers, our kin and our kind.
But even as we grow older and are able to reason beyond our instinctive drives, wondering and questioning whether a tree spirit would or could or should look anything like us in order to be taken seriously and communed with… I know I am sometimes still guilty of being drawn to those tress who do.
Having said that, the tree spirit I have had the deepest relationship ever was a beautiful, strong, generous and resilient beech tree with little to no anthropomorphic qualities whatever – so perhaps there is a lesson for me eh?!
On the other hand, perhaps it depends on your tradition. Mine, as I say, teaches that trees are beings in their own right and unrelated to humans, although communion can and should be sought with them, but perhaps other pathways view things differently? Perhaps trees twist themselves into human like faces in order to try and communicate with us? Who knows? I’d be interested to hear other thoughts on this if you have them 🙂
What we do know and can say for certain is that we have worked trees into the heart of our mythologies and spiritual traditions since we first began imagining the beginning of ourselves and our world. Without trees we wouldn’t have the planet as we know it and we seem to have been aware of this long before it was scientifically proven.
Many religions incorporate the idea of a World Tree, stretching its branches into the heavens and its roots down into the underworld, for example égig érő fa in Hungarian Mythos, the Norse Yggdrasil, Ağaç Ana in Turkish Mythology, The Slavic oaks which even today form the Zapis tree-temples, the Hindu Ashvattha and the Chinese Jianmu.
Leaving aside the great and the grand of world religions and moving in to a more local level, trees have always played an important part in folklore too. Cloutie trees (as we call them here) can be found all over Europe ; trees where folk can leave a small offering in exchange for the tree’s protection, blessing, healing or as a sign of thanks or respect.
My family made a great thing of visiting one of these shrines and leaving a rag of clothing and the story went that an old man was resting one day in his cloak when a poor child came by with none. The man took of his cloak – his last scrap of clothing – and gave it to the child. The tree saw the kindness of the man and sheltered him from the elements that night so no harm came to him. Then in thanks the man returned next year and tied a piece of his cloak to the tree and now all folk thanks the tree for it’s kindness, but anyone who robs the tree will be cursed! I remember my little sister being too scared to go into the shrine in case she touched a rag and it fell!
Another tradition is to hammer pennies into the trunks of trees in exchange for wishes. This tradition has always rather angered and confused me as it must harm the tree, but a few years back, while visiting a fairy tree near Scar Fell, I was happy to learn the roots of one such tradition – it started some time around the 17th century during times of great famine when there wasn’t enough work and many poor people were going hungry. Rich people in the area were encouraged to hammer coins into felled tree logs and wish for better times to come, then after dark (to spare their pride) the poor were encouraged to come and take the coins. The rich either believed or (more likely) played along with the notion that the fairies and taken their offering and were granting their wish and so things began to slowly improve. Of course it wasn’t a solution to the problem but it is still a nice story about communities working together to help one another.
If you’re interested in some really excellent research on the subject, look out Ceri Houlbrook’s ‘Coining The Coin Tree’ here: https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/files/54558281/FULL_TEXT.PDF
We’ve talked a lot of myth today, soon I’m going to have a good look at how we incorporate tree Mythos into Mythpunk, because at first glance it’s not an easy fit. But for now, I’ll leave you with a little extract from my own tree-punk endeavours…
This extract is from Opre! which means Arise! It was written for Romani Family History Month and the Opre Roma! movement and it draws parody between the Romani people, (caught and enslaved both literally throughout history as in our enslavement in Eastern Europe and almost complete annihilation during Baro Porajmos (in some cases still today such as Italy ) and metaphorically today where many of us are still unable to live full lives with basic human rights simply because of who we are) and the trees which our ancestors, and still many of us today, revere in a spiritual way (caught and butchered and poisoned and ‘put to use’ by humanity)
But there is a hopeful beauty here too – the roots which push up the paving stones, the seeds which find root in the cracks between tarmac, the branches and leaves which coil over boundaries and fences… so our people have not been destroyed because we shoulder what the world throws at us and we carry on, we find a way to survive, and one day I believe we will arise, not to conquer or steal or enslave others but just to stand on equal ground as all people should…
Our splintered marrow guards your precious ground
Not bought in blood, but taken in the twilight
When ‘taking’ was a thing we did not understand
Now sentinels bound, subservient you think we stand
Down inside those ringlets blacked by damp
Not the wind—kin to your own cur breath—
But the jewels it carries, diamonds, our inheritance,
Touching, unveiling in our stripped-bare bones
If you liked this extract you can read the rest of it here on Vocal: https://poets.media/opre
Or in my Mythpunk collection Mahrime: Mythpunk For Monsters
Thanks for joining me for another #MythpunkMonday! Feel free to leave me your own thoughts on trees, mythology and mythpunk in the comments and to join in and share your own Mythpunk, or someone else’s that you’ve enjoyed, using the hashtag or in the comments below 🙂
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:
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 🙂
Today I’d like to share with you a little extract from one of my own own Mythpunk stories ; this is from The Star Talers – a short poem spun from elements of the original Grimm fairytale.
It was inspired by the historic treatment of Rromani slave dancers during the 13th to 18th centuries and the parallels between this and the modern cycle of poverty and exploitation that I have witnessed in the red light districts of British cities today. As such, it touches on issues of slavery, abuse and recovery, sexuality, identity and self-discovery and ends with the hopeful thought that, ultimately, we can survive and journey on from our past…
THE STAR TALERS
The boy had been hollow rose
Carved out from the hip bones of his mother
Beautiful as a choked out sob against silk pillows
Beautiful as a neck bent back swanlike to display the pulse
Beautiful as an eggshell is to crush and feel the yellow juice spill down
Once. Once he had been that hole
A space to fill with so much Other Blood
Now he stands on the banks of a bright river, Old,
Full, frayed, and spilling out onto the bank
No one comes near
The fear of all the screaming demons, stench and blade sharp thorns that close around him
Holds the world away
But still he will stay
He heard a story once; a whisper, rumour, gossip or snatch of song that clung like a butterfly to his sleeve – there is a land across the river, where you can see the stars fall to earth and in their fierce, full, burning beauty there is peace…
Thankyou for joining me for my second 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 try and make this a regular Monday thing 🙂
If you enjoyed The Star Talers excerpt, you can read the rest of it here on Vocal:
Merry Mythpunk Monday! Today I’m going to talk about what Mythpunk is and recommend some marvellous Mythpunk to fill your shelves with.
This is a bit of an experiment, I’m hoping to do this every Monday and I’m also hoping that other Mythpunk fans and writers will join me in celebrating this wonderful sub genre by sharing your own / others writing, art, music, inspirations etc. using the #MythpunkMonday hashtag. That’s a lot of hope! … but I really passionately feel the world needs more Mythpunk and there’s some awesome stuff out there already that needs bigging-up so, let’s see what happens!
Mythpunk is a term coined by Catherynne M. Valente to describe Punk fiction which is rooted in folklore, fairytale or mythology.
At its simplest, Mythpunk could be a modern Punk retelling of a fairytale with an original ending, tangent or twist ; at its more complex, it has potential to utterly transcend its origins by bridging the gap between archaic world views and modern experience, making it an important tool for social commentary and cultural evolution.
You can read a great interview with Valente on the subject here:
And you can find her Mythpunk series ‘The Orphan’s Tales’ here:
So Mythpunk can be a punked up retelling of a myth, folktale, fairytale or legend, or it could be an interweaving of many different threads from across history and mythology, or it could be something entirely new which resembles, parodies or has elements of folklore and myth.
Mythpunk doesn’t have to be restricted to writing either – it can be music, art, theatre…
For example here’s the soundtrack to Valente’s series by S J Tucker, which you can listen to and purchase here: https://music.sjtucker.com/album/solace-sorrow
So, if you’re new to Mythpunk and what you’ve seen so far has got you hooked, you’ll now want to rush out and stock your bookshelf / kindle full of fabulous Mythpunk titles, right? – fear not, here’s my quick-fix / take-away / happy-meal list of five fab books / series to get you started…
1 Monstress Series
“Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steampunk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both. Entertainment Weekly praised MONSTRESS as “one of Image Comics’ most imaginative and daring new series” and dubbed it the “Best New Original Series” in their year-end “Best Comics of 2015″ list.”
2 The Automation:
“The capital-A Automatons of Greco-Roman myth aren’t clockwork. Their design is much more divine. They’re more intricate than robots or androids or anything else mortal humans could invent. Their windup keys are their human Masters. They aren’t mindless; they have infinite storage space. And, because they have more than one form, they’re more versatile and portable than, say, your cell phone—and much more useful too. The only thing these god-forged beings share in common with those lowercase-A automatons is their pre-programmed existence. They have a function—a function Hephaestus put into place—a function that was questionable from the start…
Odys (no, not short for Odysseus, thank you) finds his hermetic lifestyle falling apart after a stranger commits suicide to free his soul-attached Automaton slave. The humanoid Automaton uses Odys’s soul to “reactivate” herself. Odys must learn to accept that the female Automaton is an extension of his body—that they are the same person—and that her creator-god is forging a new purpose for all with Automatons…”
3 Firebird Fairytales Series:
“Born on the crossroads between worlds Anya’s Gate Keeper magic is buried under grief and rage until one fateful night a firebird hatches on her farm who is sharing its body with the fabled Prince Yvan. With Yvan’s dark magician brother Vasilli and other powerful enemies closing in around them, Anya has no choice but to sober up, follow Yvan intoSkazki and hope that she can learn how to control her awakening magic before it destroys her and any hope of keeping the gates to both world’s safe.”
4 The Tale Of Raw Head And Bloody Bones:
“Meet Tristan Hart, precociously talented student of medicine. His obsession is the nature of pain and preventing. He is on a quest to cut through superstition with the brilliant blade of science. Meet Tristan Hart, madman and deviant. His obsession is the nature of pain, and causing it. He is on a quest to arouse the perfect scream and slay the daemon Raw Head who torments his days and nights. Troubled visionary, twisted genius, loving sadist. What is real and what imagined in Tristan Hart’s brutal, beautiful, complex world?”
5 Vassa In The Night:
“Vassa in the Night is a powerful and haunting modern retelling of the Russian folktale “Vassilissa the Beautiful” for teen fans of urban fantasy, fairy tales, magic, and horror who enjoy books by Leigh Bardugo, Kendare Blake, Catherynne Valente, and V. E. Schwab. In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood. In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue.”
Thankyou for joining me for my very first 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 try and make this a regular Monday thing 🙂
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…
- 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:
Nan Joyce and Anna Farmer
Hedina Tahirović Sijerčić
Luminiţa Mihai Cioabă
Katarina Taikon Langhammer
Writers who’ve done an especially cringey / bad / offensive job of writing Rromani characters include…
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…
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
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…
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 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
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 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,
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 🙂
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 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…
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 🙂
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 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 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…
“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 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.
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?”
“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.
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 😉
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.
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