Review – The Honours, by Tim Clare

The HonoursThis is a bold, brave and brilliant book, just like its hero, thirteen years old Delphine Venner.

It’s 1935 and troubled Delphine, recently expelled from school, goes to the isolated Alderberen estate with her mother and equally troubled father. An odd community live in the great house, invited by the ancient and dying last lord of the estate. Part political commune, part new-age retreat, the inhabitants struggle with the psychological damage of war, paranoia, anger, illness – and something else. Something vast and secret. All is not what it seems.

Left to her own devices Delphine runs loose in the house and the estate. Creeping in the secret passages between the walls, the forgotten tunnels under the estate, and in the company of Mr Garforth, a dangerously pragmatic gamekeeper, she listens and learns, and discovers that nothing at all is what it seems. The whole world is beyond sinister.

The Honours is a brilliant gritty fantasy joining this world and the other. Delphine is a wonderfully well-drawn unhappy child and hero, struggling to hold her family together and her father struggles to mend his mind. When it’s all too much she retreats into the adventures of her own imagination – and discovers those adventures have equipped her well for the real-life dangers that erupt and consume everyone on the estate.

There are layers and layers in this story, Clare is a masterful story-teller writing with colour, emotion, and evoking a haunting landscape. The best books don’t necessarily win prizes, this one wins mine. The Honours is one of the best books I’ve read and if there is a sequel then I cannot wait.

~

A Song for 2016

Oh, the world is full of anger,
That ain’t nothing new.
It’s why I cold-brew coffee,
To get a smoother brew!

Those islands of cool reason
Feel far between and few.
That’s why I learned to swim;
Trusting neither boat nor crew!

Who are all a bunch of chancers
Who refuse to take and do
The advice of seasoned experts
Sifting falsehoods from what’s true.

They think they all know better
Fear and anger made them fight
For what they want, not what is best
Vote winnners must be right.

Now we have a world where reason
Is to blame those who warned you not
To do the things you shouldn’a done
For the pain that you’ve now got.

And it’s a pain that I can now
In truth and honesty say
(Whatever the fuck those things are)
I’m sharing day by day.

My advice? I’m not an expert,
So therefore can’t be wrong,
Is don’t get your philosophy
From this rather silly song

And though there’s contradiction
In that verse what I just wrote
It’s the egos of bigots on left and right
And their lies that will sink our boats.

So do yourself a favour
That it all don’t end in tears,
Whatever your gender or sexuality or race or age or faith or politics or economic prospects (which I do admit are bloody important and I sometimes lie in bed worrying about that myself… Where was I? Oh yes, gender, sexuality, race, age, faith, or politics.
Don’t be driven by your fears.

So, Ouch and ouch and fucking ouch
As we spiral round the shitter
And ouch to this and ouch to that
At least the coffee isn’t bitter.

The Egg Timer of Science Fiction

Milford TimerThat egg timer in the picture has some history.  I am its new keeper.

I’ve been to the Milford SF conference three times now. Every time was different, every time I  learned new things about being a better writer. Every time was fun, hard work, and in the company of an interesting and varied group of people.

This year I left Milford as the new chair of the committee. When I told Gaie she said, ‘So being a Clarke Award judge wasn’t enough for you?’ It made me think, and my internal answer was ‘Kind of not, no.’

Milford is hugely useful in less immediately obvious ways. My SF novel, Shopocalypse, might never have been published without Milford, because I met someone there who introduced me to someone else. If you’re a genre writer I really recommend you try to go at least once*. This is what you’ll get: fifteen writers, one week, a whole lot of reading, critiquing, and conversation.

The first time I went it was pretty scary – there were WRITERS there. They had AGENTS and had been PUBLISHED. By PUBLISHERS. I soon discovered they were pretty normal really.  The second time was different, I knew the ropes, I learned different things. I came away re-energised, just like the first time. The third time, a couple of weeks ago was the same, and it was different again – I learned more new things, and got some great advice. And I realised something else too  – It felt a bit like coming home.

I’ve been to my fair share of conventions but I’ve always felt a bit of an outsider. I’ve never felt excluded but I also never really felt like I was really part of the thing itself.  Maybe it’s my version of imposter syndrome, maybe it’s because Milford is smaller, maybe I just like hanging out with other writers. So when I heard Sue Thomason was stepping down after several years as Chair, I thought I could take that on and help contribute to running Milford.  Thanks for being such a good Chair, Sue, I’ll do my absolute best to be the same. So, I am a chair, but according to some philosophers chairs don’t even exist. Others say nobody actually knows what a chair is. If I find out I’ll let you know.

We’ve got some plans to do more at Milford over the next couple of years, ideas for some extra events around the country. Longer term, maybe even extending to two full Milfords a year if there are the numbers.  And of course there’s the Milford bursary**. Check out the web site for details, sign up to the blog, or keep an eye out on Twitter. See the end of this post for more details.

SO, that egg timer… At Milford everyone gets three to four minutes to deliver their crit. These days we time people with a mobile phone, but back at the first UK Milford in 1972 it was an egg timer. That’s the one in the picture, and it’s in front of me on the table now.  It’s interesting to hold it and think about all the people who have been timed by that egg timer. In no particular order they include:

James Blish, Neil Gaiman, George RR Martin, John Brunner, Liz Williams, Christopher Priest, Anne McCaffrey, Brian Aldiss, Alastair Reynolds, Samuel Delaney, Jacey Bedford, Robert Holdstock, Gary Kilworth, Kari Sperring, John Clute, Jaine Fenn, Geoff Ryman, Diane Wynn Jones, Colin Harvey, Gaie Sebold, Colin Greenland, Charles Stross, Bruce Sterling, Cheryth Baldry, Paul Kincaid, Mary Gentle, Maxim Jakubowski…

The wood glass and salt of that egg timer must be imbued with some kind of SFnal talent vibe by now. If I’m lucky some of it will rub off. If not, the next Milford I go to, in 2018, will help do the job. Maybe see you there.

~

* Going to Milford – All you need to know

** The Milford Bursary is a fully-funded bursary for self-identifying science fiction/fantasy writers of colour, i.e. of black or minority ethnicity

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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).

~

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.

~

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.

~

* 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.

~

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.