Redensive Epiphanies – A New Anthology

REPM - Front Cover - Square

I’m happy and proud to announce the birth of my second* publication/editing project – The Redensive Epiphanies of Pouty McNavel.

Epiphanies is an archetypal slim volume. It’s not made of genre, but it’s spiced and seasoned by it. One story is most definitely SF, others have touches of the fantastical, the horrific, the strange and weird. And there are also stories of contemporary everyday life and its hot bright redensive epiphanies.

Stories including work from BFS-nominated Gaie Sebold**, Sunday-Times best-selling author Helen Callaghan, and the real Troy McClure.

Horsehead001 b&w v2We have illustrations too – the anthology is illuminated with collodion photography from award-winning Gordon Fraser.

As ever, without the contributions of all the contributors, this would have come to nothing. Thank  you, one and all!

Available from all the usual places, including Kindle & epub formats, standard paperback, and square print format (recommended).

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REPM - Blurb~

* The first was Mind Seed, in memory of T Party writers group member Denni Schnapp, with all profits to charity, and co-edited with Gary Couzens.

** Gaie’s latest book, Sparrow Falling, is out this month from Solaris. (July 2016).

Leatherwork – A Scabbard

 

I used to make a lot of leather costume, armour and accessories, mainly for LARP, including my ‘famous’ toblerone™ scabbard. That was a few years back and I needed to knock the rough edges off my neglected skills. I’ve been playing around with scraps, some half-finished things I found in a bag, and also made a few belts.

Bronze Sword Scabbard & SwordA few weeks ago I posted about bronze sword casting. Now I’ve also built myself a lovely big craft bench it was time to make something in leather that was a bit more ambitious – a scabbard for the sword. Here it is, along with one of the leaf-bladed bronze swords we made.

The sword is made to a bronze-age style, copying an actual bronze-age sword. You can see the hilt has a round notch where it meets the blade. Style or substance, nobody is really sure, but it does offer a nice way to keep the sword snug in the scabbard.

Bronze Sword Scabbard - HiltHere’s a close-up showing how the hilt notch fits against the scabbard top.

The scabbard is made of two pieces, front and back, plus a little shield-piece at the hilt which i thought would look nice. The main knot-work carving is a copy from a standard design which I modified so I could run the design down the scabbard in a simple way.

Hand cut, dyed, tooled, stitched  and finished, as always. About 5-6 hours work.

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Bronze Sword Scabbard

Unintended Consequences of Brexit

I’ve thought at length about this post for days. I don’t want to take advantage of anyone’s grief. Not writing until after Thursday’s vote would be too late, writing nothing at all feels like an act of cowardice.

I don’t believe the great majority of people who want the UK to leave the EU are bad people. I think they are worried for the future, they want the best decision to give the best long-term future for themselves, their children, this country. Maybe come Thursday they will win, but I desperately hope not. I hoped not a week ago, I hope even more so now. I think their choices are wrong but I don’t think they are bad. I neither want to nor will think of them like that. One of them is my sister.

Thomas Mair may be ill, he may have acted on his own initiative. We do know he had contacts with at least one neo-Nazi organisation in the USA, and that there is photographic evidence suggesting he was directly involved with Britain First. Try as I may I can’t imagine anyone committing a similar atrocity to his and crying “Remain!”

I’m not scared of the UK leaving the EU. I’m sure it’s the wrong decision for a whole range of reasons that have been well-explained in sufficient detail many times over the past few weeks by experienced and educated individuals and organisations focused not on what they want but what are most likely the best choices for this country.  Unlike Michael Gove I’m not tired of listening to the experts.

In The Women’s Room, one of Marilyn French’s characters says she’s part of ‘the lunatic fringe that gets the middle to move over a bit.’ We need to remember that movement can be in any direction, from or to the left or the right, tolerance or intolerance, green or capitalist, xenophobe or xenophile.  We must remember that movement is not always a good thing. This vote isn’t just about notions of self-determination, wealth, independence, and sovereignty, it’s also one of morality. How, after this vote, will we behave towards each other and to people in other countries? How will we treat the needy and disadvantaged, the people with nothing at all?

If the result of the vote is to leave the EU then everyone who voted to leave gets what they want, what they think is best. Congratulations, you won in a free and open democratic referendum. The thing is, that other group of people, the one Thomas Mair belongs to, they’ve won too. So will Britain First, and so will UKIP, the political party that is perfectly comfortable using images almost identical to those the Nazis used in their own racist propaganda campaigns.

The unintended consequence of an exit vote is that it brings validation to the people who think like Mair and believe his methods were right and his goal reasonable. It will bring it to the members of groups like Britain First on the fringes of our politics, and to other similar people and groups beyond. They will have won. They always knew they were right. For them this is empowerment.

And it is something we are all going to have to confront. We’ll have to live with it, and so will our children. This is the lunatic fringe we will have edged a little closer to and this is what scares me.

Choose wisely on Thursday. Be careful what you wish for, people.

~

A Long Time Ago, in an Office Far Away

Well, not that far actually. I think it was Uxbridge.

I recently posted on Facebook about my dislike of biros – not in an existential way, I just don’t like writing with them. They are scratchy harsh things and I’d rather use a pencil. or a fibre-tip, or a rollerball, and especially my lovely fountain pen. Anything but a biro. Though I would draw the line at quill and ink, that’s a bit fiddly for a quick shopping list.

I do all my story plotting and planning with pen and paper, and this is where my fountain pen gets most use. There’s something about the line between mind. brain, eye, hand, pen , and paper that works well for me when I’m thinking.

So what’s Uxbridge got to do with it?* Well, many years ago I worked for a well-known global oil corporation. They had biros everywhere and I took agin them. Whenever I went into my boss’s office I brought a biro with me and would leave it on his desk. This went on for a while. Weeks, months. Sometimes I needed to talk to him two or three times a day.

One day I was in there and he needed to write something down. He opened his desk drawer and inside it there were dozens and dozens of biros. Black, blue, a few red, a rare green. The draw was deep and it was rammed full of biros. He looked down at it in bewilderment, hand on brow. Then he looked at me and said, ‘I don’t understand where they all come from.’

So, Ken, in the unlikely event you read this, it was me and I’m sorry. But only a little bit.

~

* What’s Uxbridge but a sweet old-fashioned notion?**

** Sorry.

A Sheath for my Axe

Last year I learned how to forge an axe head, tutored by the brilliant Nic Westermann at the Greenwood Guild. After two days of intensely hard work, learning to swing a sledgehammer with absolutely no holding back, discovering who the blacksmith really is*, and carving the handle, I had a hand axe to be proud of.

Axe Sheath and templateThe axe is razor-sharp and has long needed a sheath for the head, so last night I decided to make one. After trying an over-complicated design I came up with something very simple and effective. Here’s the finished item, showing how the head neatly slots in, and the cardboard template I used.

When you’re making a simple sheath like this the template just needs to be about 5-10 mm bigger than the blade, depending on blade thickness.

Axe head sheath - fitted.And here it is fastened. A couple of scraps of 2mm leather, some dark brown dye, carved a little edge detail, punch the stitch holes, stitch with waxed cord, edge-burnished with gum tragacanth, a wipe with resolene, measure and punch and fit the snap fastener, and there you go.

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* Like many people I assumed it was the person swinging the sledge, but it is actually the one holding and turning the work on the anvil. The other guy is just muscle. We took turns.

Casting a Bronze-age Sword

This is what we did at the weekend! It was hard work but immensely satisfying. We traveled to the Bronze-Age Foundry in Wales, run by the amazingly talented David Chapman, sculptor, artists and bronze worker.

Adding the TinWe used recycled copper from electric cables, which is very pure, and tin to make a 10% tin bronze mix. The copper is first heated over the flame to drive off water, as a steam burst can make the crucible erupt molten copper. Here’s the tin being added to the copper.

Pouring the bronze

 

Here’s a bad picture of the copper being poured into a soapstone mould. Soapstone is excellent for casting, as it absorbs, stores and radiates heat evenly.

 

Fresh from castingAfter a few minutes cooling the sword came out of the mould. Here is a stack of previously casted swords. Note the triangular sprue on the end of the hilt – first job is to cut that off with a hacksaw.

The sword we were making is a copy of one in the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford, dated roughly between 1000-800 BCE, and found in the Thames near Limehouse

Tidying up.And the second job is to snip off the spare bronze along the blade edges. Like the sprue lumps all these little bits were carefully saved as they can be melted down again become part of another casting.

Ready for work

 

And here’s the cleaned and tidied casting, ready for the hard work – filing and polishing.

Preparing the edges

 

(We did cheat a bit with the edges.)

 

After the first pass.Then it was time for the main labor of the day – hours and hours of filing, smoothing with sandpaper, and polishing with finer and finer grades of wet&dry to make a mirror finish.

This was hard, hard work, and unlike the bronze-age workers, we did it the easy way.

DSCN4191Another job was fitting the oak wood hilt. This is made in two pieces, and is first seared onto the re-heated sword tang, to help seat it. The tang then has four holes drilled, and the hilt fastened with four headless copper rivets. Then the hilt is shaped – more filing and sanding! Finally – a wipe-over with linseed oil.

Here’s the wood being seared into the blade in a clamp.

And then it was more hours of sanding and polishing, working down the grades, all the way to wet&dry 1200, then wire wool, and finally polish. Then an inspection for scratches, and start again. And again.

The reason for so much polishing was to remove the file marks and give the blade the appearance of a true bronze-age sword.

And it was worth it. they look beautiful:DSCN4197When all that was done, we gave the edges a deadly edge.

The blades are roughly 18″ / 45cm long, and the swords weigh 1lb 6oz / 644g.

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A New Anthology Arrives

McNavel

Blimey, looking at all this! I’m proud and delighted to bring this slim anthology of stories, poetry and collodion photography into the light of day.

The Redensive Epiphanies of Pouty McNavel contains stories and haiku by BFS-nominated Gaie Sebold, *Helen Callaghan, Sumit Dam, Chuck Dreyer, Troy McClure, Sarah Ellender, Melanie Garrett, yours truly, and with photography by the award-winning Gordon Fraser.

Two print editions, an e-book, a launch party to plan. Drop me a line if you want a copy to review. (ebook pref)

More to come. Until then:

McNavel:
Victim or perpetrator, woman and man,
She’s on a journey, he’s on a quest.
Doing what we all do – trying to understand.
It’s just beyond his grasp; she’s knows it’s round the next corner.

~

* Helen’s thriller, Dear Amy, is published by Penguin this year.

Old Boots Like New

I get a lot of pleasure from refurbishing old things, bringing them back to life and making them usable again. When Gaie told me she was considering throwing away her old white leather boots I wasn’t sure what I could do but wanted to have a go.

JpegThese boots are 1970s vintage. 40 years of life, including the final few spent in that rock-and-roll lifestyle of a fantasy writer, have taken their toll. The white leather was stained and faded, so were the soles, and the black flashing had faded to grey.

The biggest problem was a detached heel on the right boot. Strong latex glue is perfect for leather, but I’d not tried a shoe repair before. A good application, 24 hours to dry with some weight in the boot, and I had a strong repair that survived a short walk.

After cleaning and de-greasing with a leather dye-prep I made a dilute wash of Titanium White acrylic paint, and gave the boots three coats. The sole of the boot in the second picture gives a good idea of how faded and yellowed the boots had become.

JpegThe lovely white boot leather showed up the black leather flashing on the leg, and the trim on the sole, so that needed re-dying and painting too – both with oil-based black leather dye. In the picture the top stripe is redyed, the bottom one is not.

 

 

 

JpegAnd here’s the finished article – spick and span, and gleaming white again. All ready for a few more years wear.

~

Torosay Castle, and the Cthulhu Tree

Last summer I spent a week with some friends on Mull, a large and beautiful island off the west coast of Scotland. You reach it by ferry from Oban, home of one of my favourite whiskeys.

DSCN4108From Mull you can then take another, smaller ferry to fabled Iona, or an even smaller boat to the mythic Fingal’s cave, on Staffa. (Although there are plenty of pictures in this post these links take you to more.)

Mull’s main town is Tobermory, with its multi-colored buildings along the quay housing some great cafe’s, restaurants and pubs. It’s also the home of another good whisky, though this one is a little too peaty for me.

DSCN4098

While we were there I saw a notice in the local village newsletter for an open day of Torosay Castle gardens. Torosay Castle is more of a baronial pile than fortified castle and as it is privately owned open days are rare. We decided to go, and it was indeed a rare treat. There were damp mossy glades, quiet ponds, enormous beds of nasturtiums, statues – and of course the Cthulhu tree.
DSCN4101

 

The gardens had suffered some neglect but there was plenty of work now being done. Neglect in a garden is not always a bad thing. Some plants need a few years, or decades, or even centuries to come into their own and the formal part of the garden was still very lovely.

 

 

DSCN4119A really charming surprise was the avenue of statues, including this mysterious gentleman, and a very nice gardener. There was a pregnant lady, a dodgy drunkard, and many more. Whoever made them had a nice sense of humour and great attention to detail.

 

 

 

 

 

DSCN4130There was also a pair of rather dissipated lions. I rather liked them.

 

 

 

 

 

DSCN4115And finally – the Cthulhu tree! We found this wood-tentacled monster of a conifer* deep in loneliest part of the garden. This picture gives a good sense of scale. Deep in the silence of the gardens it was a spooky, powerful entity. No doubt many unholy rites and sacrifices have been performed on the blood-drenched soil under these looming branches.

Images of the tree and the diabolic worship I am convinced it must have once inspired (nay, demanded) stayed with me over the next few nights. They inspired some darkly disturbing fever dreams – stories I am unlikely to ever write for the sake of my – and your – sanity.

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* As a one-time botanist I’m mildly ashamed to say I don’t know exactly which conifer, but the I was always more interested in ferns than firs and pines. I think it might be a Thuja.

Yes, and the Rituals of Vinyl

Here’s my latest acquisition – £3.00 from Oxfam, and just about perfect condition. An album I have never previously owned. It’s quite nostalgic to flick through the record stacks again, my finger and thumb haven’t forgotten the technique.

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I’ve been getting back into my vinyl collection recently, and enjoying rediscovering some music I only have in that format, like the Eurythmics first album, and Tangerine Dream.

I used to buy almost all my records second hand as a poor student back in the ’70s. I picked up some great music, including what is probably my most valuable album – Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter.

When CDs first arrived I loved how I could listen to an album all the way through without having to get up and turn the record over. Some months backup I overheard some younger music lovers talking about how much they liked vinyl, and in particular the ritual elements of playing a record. I was charmed they took so much pleasure in discovering technology I took for granted, That conversation made me that there is a ritual to playing a vinyl record. It also helped me remember how much I liked to hear that first bump and crackle of the needle as it touched down in the play-in groove, the faint echo you sometimes heard of the track to come – and having to get up half way through and turn it over.

I’m enjoying being interrupted again.

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