It might sound a bit mental, but yes – you could certainly do so! However, whether you would or not is possibly open to debate. Anyway. Back at the start of the month, I attended a workshop at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland to make jewellery using microwave fused glass. I like learning new techniques and trying new things, and as my granddad used to work at Pyrex, I hoped that glass might be something that runs in the family. We started out by cutting glass – which is a strange process in which you ‘score’ the glass, then use pincers to ease it apart along the fault line you just created. The pieces above are float glass made from window glass, but I much preferred the diachronic glass that was available due to its range of colours and textures. The assembly process was quite straightforward – layer pieces of glass together, making sure you kept like with like, securing each layer with a dab of water soluble glue. Next, the pieces were loaded into the microwave inside a special microwave kiln. It’s a fairly experimental process, but the idea is to fuse the glass to round the corners, and blend colours etc. Thing is, it doesn’t always work. I made this piece, which I was really hoping would work well, but it failed in the microwave. It wasn’t actually anything I’d done wrong – the microwave itself turned out to be faulty, and wasn’t getting hot enough, so this piece cracked. A second piece I tried ended up as nothing more than a molten twisted mass after the kiln shifted inside the microwave, and my piece got stuck to the side of the kiln. It’s not a foolproof process. In fact, the technical difficulties were such that I had to leave my pieces to be fired later. Luckily they all worked, but I didn’t get them through the post until last Tuesday! I’m really pleased with them, and there are two in particular that I’ll be turning into pendants (the red/purple bar in the middle, and the clear/light blue/dark blue rectangle in the middle of the righthand column). Would I try it again? Probably not. The microwave kilns cost around £60, and it’s recommended that you buy a new microwave so as not to risk contaminating your ‘food’ one with anything. You also need to buy material to keep the glass warm in once you’ve taken it out of the kiln to let it cool down slowly, and then there’s the cost of the glass. The results are nice, but too haphazard for me to want to make a range of glass jewellery. I leave that to the maestros at Murano.
I’ve been doing an online course through Coursera for the past few weeks, looking at how artists and animators can use an awareness of art history to enrich their own practice. This is partly because I teach Contextual Studies at work, and also because I miss art historical practice. My undergraduate degree is in art history, and ever since I finished my A Levels, my own artistic practice has ground to a halt. I used to spend hours drawing and making things, and now the only things I make are related to knitting or jewellery. My only artistic outlet is now photography.
As a result, I’ve really enjoyed responding to artistic assignments, and I thought I would share them here, along with the rationale behind each of my works. I’m hoping this will help ease me back into producing more of my own work in future.
The first graded assignment was called “World in a Box”. We were challenged to create a collection of objects and design a means of displaying them, using any means, materials and style we liked. We could work in two or three dimensions, and make the objects or simply collect them. Then we had to photograph the collection, paying attention to the camera frame. This is what I came up with.
We also had to include an explanation. I called mine The Truth Inside (Boxed World), and wrote the following to accompany my submission;
I have chosen to use framing in two different ways; the first level of framing involves the use of the Matryoshka doll, which ‘frames’ smaller versions of itself inside its main body, while the second level of framing involves the use of the camera, exploiting depth of field to place the crisp focus on the smallest inner doll, leaving the outer parts blurred in the background, thus highlighting the importance of true identity.
I should point out that I developed quite a knack for writing the sorts of nonsense that often accompany artistic works in exhibitions!
What do you think?
Being the necromancer general isn’t the sort of job to get you invited into society. Oh I’m often included in the major events, unless I can find an excuse not to go, but I daresay there are few people who find themselves clustered in their drawing room of an evening, exclaiming “How perfectly dull this conversation is, if only Eufame Delsenza were here!” Unless the social climbers in question are of a macabre or an enquiring mind, I find myself left alone with my work. In all honesty, I care little for polite society – mindless chatter and gossip is too much to be borne. At least no one at the House of the Long Dead speaks unless I choose that they should do so.
I confess I don’t know if I understand the revulsion many feel towards the dead. The Crown Prince’s grandfather is dead, now he merely was dead – the horror of people rests on the verb in question. But here in the Cities, death isn’t the binary state most people assume it to be. Life and death are such relative terms, and while few have trouble with the concept that life is not permanent, they aren’t enamoured of the idea that death is only temporary too. Why not? For a species that gets such a short span allotted to them, you’d think humans would love the idea of a second act.
True, the transition back to life is not an easy one, and it is not available to all. While anyone may cross the Veil from life to death, the journey back requires a skilled practitioner to act as a guide. That’s a very good thing too – imagine the chaos if all souls got bored and decided they fancied another go at life. Would you want to wake up in your own tomb, two hundred years after your family died out and stopped visiting your grave? Worse yet, by the time you find your way back out of the World Beyond and managed to locate yourself, your body might have disintegrated to a point where it was no longer possible to reinhabit it. That’s where the Houses of the Dead come in – we preserve your bodies so you don’t have to.
Yet these reflections are not helping me in my task to prepare the Royal Line for resurrection – I cannot believe the Crown Prince’s pomposity to demand their presence at his coronation. I am well aware that I am procrastinating, but I bear little love for such an irksome little toad, and would dearly love to see his venture fail. Still, it is a big request, and one I cannot accomplish alone merely due to the time allotted for the task to be completed. I must find an apprentice, particularly after that irritating business last year, and I already have the ideal candidate in mind.
Time is running away with me, I must set out for the Academy, although I do loathe the society of Dean Whittaker. Still, given the events of last night, I’m sure he will be more than happy for me to take one of his students off his hands – particularly that student. Oh yes, he will be perfect.
* * *
This is the final stop for my blog tour to promote The Necromancer’s Apprentice, and you’ve now met the Necromancer herself! The novella is available from Amazon, for both the Kindle and in paperback, and is also available for the Nook and the Kobo.
Here we are, back at my own blog for the final post in my tour to promote The Necromancer’s Apprentice. This week, I’ve also been talking about the beauty of novellas on David Shrock’s blog, the importance of visuals on Katherine Hajer’s blog, and all about the mummies on Larry Kollar’s blog.
Today we’re back here to talk about magic! There’s a lot of magic, or magick if you will, in The Necromancer’s Apprentice – the eponymous apprentice, Jyx, starts out as a scholarship student at the Academy, until he’s handpicked by the necromancer general, Eufame Delsenza, to become her apprentice. He’s more advanced that his classmates and working on spells that he shouldn’t be encountering for another year or so. To him, magic is something that comes naturally, and if he understands it, why shouldn’t he have a go?
Most magical systems have rules of some sort, or at least some form of justification behind why they work. Disney’s 2010 adaptation of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice had them attempting to justify the magic on display as being an extension of physics, and as much as I’d like that to be the case, the bottom line is that the sorceror in question was still firing bolts of energy from his hands. Yeah, because quantum physicists do that all day long, don’t they? I know there is an age-old idea that today’s magic is tomorrow’s science, but there’s still a line between the two.
Fullmetal Alchemist explores the concept of transmutation – essentially, you can’t create something out of nothing, so in order to create something, you need to have its component parts. It’s a bit like alchemical baking, really. Leave out the flour and it just isn’t going to work. I like this idea, I really do, and again it appeals to science – you can only create bronze by mixing copper and tin. Trouble is, Edward is just assembling random bits of scrap and turning it into whatever he needs at the time, just by putting his hands together and willing it. He’s like a magical MacGuyver.
This is why I quite liked the magical ‘rules’ of Harry Potter – essentially because the only real rule was ensuring you got the pronunciation right. (“It’s wing-gar-dee-am lev-ee-OH-sa, not wing-gar-dee-am lev-ee-oh-SAR”.) That in itself makes sense to me because how can the magic of your world know what you’re trying to do with it if you get its name wrong? At no point in the book do we find out where the magic comes from, or even how it works – we just know you need to have a wand, and to know how to use it. Simple. No “Oh I can’t do that because it’ll rebound on me threefold”, or “I can’t do that because there aren’t enough iambic pentameters in the atmosphere” – just a wand, and a witch/wizard. Indeed, we also find out that magical ability is something you either have or don’t have, and it seems somewhat random in its expression among humans.
I’ve got a fairly simple system in place in The Necromancer’s Apprentice. Much of the magic taught in the Academy consists of incantations, the wording of which I’ve based on Latin, but it rests on the principle that you have to get the whole incantation, or sigil, right. One mistake and it either won’t work at all, or it’ll do something totally unexpected. I suppose in some ways you could liken it to computer code – you can think you know what you’re doing, only to find out that you really, really don’t. Still, despite that, it’s magic. At no point is Jyx concerned with the physics or chemistry of what he’s doing because in his world, magic is the manipulation of the world using language or symbols. Wizards are commonplace, and there is no strict hierarchy of who can use magic and some can’t since different species or races have their own magic, and among humans it just depends on who is talented enough, or has access to a magical education.
Magic can be a difficult beast to use in fiction, since it can either become the whole plot, or the dreaded deus ex machina. I hate reading a book where it all comes down to “Oh! I just remembered a spell which will totally save the day!”, or the battle is won with the help of some kind of enchanted object which appears at just the right moment, but I want magic to be exactly that – magic. If I wanted science, I’d watch Star Trek.
How about you? What magical systems do you love…or loathe?
I’ve been a fan of Hammer for a long time now, enjoying both their ‘heyday’ films and their more recent output – I loved The Woman in Black, liked Let Me In, and even The Resident had its charm. So I’ve been looking forward to The Quiet Ones for a while now – and I have to say, I’m actually disappointed.
The film was sold to me on the premise that Dr Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) is trying to create a poltergeist – and if that were indeed the plot of the film, it could have been tremendous. Instead, we see the slightly mad doctor (oh what would Cushing have done with the role?) has decided to cure Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke) of her so-called “paranormal delusions” through a process of systematic psychological torture dressed up as science. He believes he can get her to expel her negative energy in a telekinetic outburst and thus be cured. Well, it is set in the Seventies.
Unsurprisingly, Oxford University cut off the funding for the “experiment” and Dr Coupland is forced to take Jane, along with his two assistants, Harry and Chrissie, and cameraman Brian, to an old house in the middle of nowhere. There they conduct more experiments (which seem to consist of little more than sleep deprivation and the occasional seance) in which they attempt to reach Evie, a mysterious ‘entity’ who Joseph believes is nothing more than the personnification of Jane’s mental problems. I’m not 100% sure if Joseph thinks Jane is simply mad, or if he genuinely believes she has telekinetic abilities, but the film seems to come down on the side of the latter – we even see her manifest ‘teleplasm’ at one point, in the manner of early Victorian spiritualist photographs.
The film is hazy over whether or not Evie possesses Jane, or if she’s an independent being attached to Jane – at one point Evie makes loud noises all over the house, and it’s this that supports the film’s claim to investigating poltergeists. Indeed, this particular part of the film is superb, and by this point The Quiet Ones truly had my attention. But then it all falls apart in act three, when the film wanders off into the tried and true territory of cults and demonic possession. Yawn. We’ve seen this all before, and done far better, and I’m really quite disappointed. Worse still is the reliance on found footage, and shaky shots taken through Brian’s camera are tedious rather than disorientating. I’d expect this level of ‘horror’ from Lionsgate but Hammer? Come on, you can do better than this.
It’s a shame because the potential for a cracking horror film is definitely there. True, the editing is a bit shoddy (supposedly terrifying scenes of ‘supernatural activity’ are cut short, followed by completely unrelated scenes that give a disjointed feel to the whole affair) and the continual reliance on the music of Slade should surely count as torture for anyone, let alone Jane, but the sound design is terrific, and the slow build of disturbances twinned with Joseph’s steadfast inability to consider any other theories but his own leads you to anticipate disaster. Even the performances are first rate – but it’s all let down by the ‘MTVisation’ of horror that has crippled the genre of late. The Conjuring proved you could make a good, slow-burning horror film, and James Wan has done some brilliant work with his last couple of films. The Woman in Black was a superb chiller, and I think my hopes were possibly set too high as a result, and I can only give The Quiet Ones three out of five for the film it was, and four out of five for the film I wish it was.
I’ve been blogging seriously since about 2009, and as a result I like to keep up with what’s going on in the world of blogging (which now appears to be content marketing). I also teach social media so it’s a good idea to know what’s going on. Well Copyblogger, that font of information on all things content marketing, decided to remove comments on their blog posts back in March (see here for their post). Instead, people who wish to comment on a post are encouraged to reply to them on Google + or Twitter. They’ve defended their decision by saying that social media allows comments to be conducted in a wider social arena beyond the confines of the blog itself – “You get to have the same great conversations you were having in your blog comments — but now, they take place where a wider potential audience can see them.” They’ve also said that some of the comments posted on their posts have been so insightful that they’d rather the commenter had posted the response on their own blog, linking back to the original post.
Now, I can see their point, but Deb Ng posted this response on her Kommein blog. If I’m honest, I think I agree more with Deb than Copyblogger – comments are where you get to have conversations with people. True, I’m only one blogger in a crowd of thousands, and I don’t get the kind of traffic that Copyblogger get, but still – I don’t blog just to sell things, I blog because I like telling stories, and I like sharing things I’m interested in. Getting comments on the content is valuable because it lets me know not only that someone read the post, but also that they felt strongly enough about it to leave me a comment. Sure it’s nice to have people share my links on Facebook or do re-tweets on Twitter, but it’s only by getting a comment that you know the content was read – and if you’ve spent a couple of hours crafting a blog post full of photos and stories that you hope someone will enjoy, you do hope it’ll get read.
There are a couple of blogs I’ve stopped reading because they not only ask me to go elsewhere to post my comment, they also ask me to sign up for a separate forum where people can have discussions based on the posts. (Although Dan James’ A Big Creative Yes has at least replaced this forum with Google +) Problem is, the discussions end up being conducted by readers, and not the original writer of the post. It’s as if the blogger is saying “here are my ideas, now go and talk about them amongst yourselves but for God’s sake don’t bother me with them.” I also don’t want yet another set of login details to remember (and, er, Heartbleed, anyone?). I love being able to comment then and there on someone’s blog – I don’t have the patience with jumping through extra hoops before I’m allowed to post my response.
Copyblogger raise the issue of spam but I use Akismet and so far only non-spam has gotten through – so I’m not going to close comments to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Sure, I get the occasional person trying to post a link to their blog in a ham-fisted way (witness my post about haunted houses that saw someone post a comment which linked back to their real estate business) but I just trash it anyway. It happens so infrequently that it’s not even worth bothering about. I guess when you get to the size of Copyblogger that’s a real problem, but for me, it’s not even an issue.
So I will continue to allow comments on my blog, as long as they’re not a thinly veiled attempt at providing irrelevant back links to someone else’s blog, and I will continue to encourage and enjoy discussion with anyone who wants to join the conversation!
What do you think?
I’ve been happily promoting The Necromancer’s Apprentice since it came out a month ago, which has been easy to do after reading the lovely reviews it’s had so far! I’ve also been posting Friday flash stories set in the world of the novella for the past few weeks, to give you a taste of the kind of story you can except from the book.
I’m also halfway through a blog tour to both promote the book and hopefully provide something a bit more useful. In case you’ve missed any of the posts, here’s where I’ve been this week!
On Monday, I discussed the creation of fantastical creatures on the Dark Continents blog, which is particularly pertinent due to the presence of Wolfkin in The Necromancer’s Apprentice. I took the tales of the Cynocephali as my starting point…what will you choose?
On Tuesday, I answered questions by Nerine Dorman on her blog. In particular, she asked me how death works in the world of the novella, and what motivates my eponymous apprentice.
Wednesday saw me talk about what goes into a villain on Tracie McBride‘s blog, in which I had to be super careful not to start gushing about Maleficent (as I’m wont to do). I’m quite fond of my own villain, in this case the necromancer general, Eufame Delsenza.
On Thursday I stopped by at Carrie Clevenger’s blog, where she asked me some fun questions about the novella. So if you want to know about the necromancer general, or the mummies in the story, this is the place to go!
Friday saw me hop over to Sonya Clark’s blog for her Author Spotlight, where she asks me about my writing process, and what inspired the story.
I’ll be appearing a few places next week as well, but in the meantime, I hope everyone has a brilliant weekend!
Monte looked at the book lying on the table. No name was emblazoned on the spine or cover.
“Seems like a pretty big book to be lugging around,” he said. He knocked back the last of his whiskey, winced, and put down the glass.
“Important things are no burden.” The man across the table smiled, displaying ferocious rows of dagger-like teeth. Monte shuddered.
“You won’t find many down here wanting to read.” Monte gestured to the pub’s other patrons, a motley crew of drunks and night ladies. A troll in the corner threw him a hard glare.
“Good. The contents of this book are not for them.” The man returned the troll’s glare.
“So why are you telling me about it?”
“Firstly, you are familiar with death, and have a certain apathy towards it. Secondly, I get the sense you can actually read.”
Monte tried not to beam with pride. He’d always wanted to be seen as an educated man, not the grave digger he actually was. This stranger, this man, had finally noticed what everyone else ignored.
“I can. But I’m not the only one in here – you see that guy by the bar?” Monte pointed out a tall, gaunt man with long grey hair and a matted beard. His hangdog expression told Monte that the four pints of Bezziwig’s Broken Heart Basher had not yet begun to work.
“That’s old Crompton Daye. He’s a wizard.”
“Ah, a wizard will not suit my purposes. I need someone who can read but is not keen to use their mind unsupervised. Someone who will not necessarily think for themselves.”
Monte scowled, his previous pride deflated.
“Oh don’t look so piqued, my good man. I simply mean that wizards are too unpredictable and contrary. I need someone solid, and dependable.”
“What do you need someone for?” asked Monte. He tried to remember how the conversation had started but he could only remember arriving at the pub, and then the book. There was nothing in between.
“I’m currently conducting what you might call an experiment, although it’s also a bit of a quest, in its own way. You see, that is a book of last words, and I need someone to help me once I’ve heard the last words I’m looking for.”
The man leaned closer and lowered his voice. “I visit the dying as they lie on their death beds, and I collect their last words. My work is partly out of a desire to record for posterity the final statements of the dead – you could consider it a work of social history.”
“But which ones are you looking for?”
“You said you needed my help once you’d heard the ones you were looking for.”
“Ah, my good man, you are sharper than you appear.”
Monte beamed again.
“Well I need your assistance because I believe that among the citizens of this great city is one who knows the location of a certain artefact. It goes by many names, but the one I prefer is the Heart of the City. He who possesses the heart…”
“Possesses the city”, finished Monte.
“Exactly. I began my project in order to gain access to people on their death beds, which is ultimately the only place where man will speak the truth, and I’m yet to hear what I’m waiting for. Though I believe I shall, and soon, and I shall require your help once I do in order to locate the Heart.”
“I’ve already got a job though,” replied Monte. He’d heard stories about the type of work men could find in the pub – and the trouble that usually followed. Besides, Myrtle would kill him if she found out he’d given up the grave digging for nothing. It didn’t pay well, but any salary was worth having in the Underground City.
“I realise that, which is why I shall pay you more. How about a gold crown now, and a half crown for every week that you are in my employ?” A flash of gold streaked across the man’s knuckles.
“I’ll do it.” Monte agreed before he’d even made up his mind to do so. The man reached underneath the table to pass Monte the coin, and he shoved it into his trouser pocket. Myrtle would be so pleased that she might even be nice to him.
“When do we start?” he asked.
“How about now? I do believe there’s a man upstairs who won’t be in this world much longer.”
The man stood up and headed towards the bar, with Monte following behind. As the barkeeper widened his eyes and nodded to the man, Monte half wondered exactly what he’d gotten himself into.
* * *
This is another story set in the world of my new novella, The Necromancer’s Apprentice. I started my blog tour to promote it on Monday, and you can still grab a copy for the Kindle, the Nook, and the Kobo! Matt R. Jones says that it’s “recommended for anybody who likes fantasy of any sort, and honestly… you don’t have to even dig fantasy to enjoy this story”, while R.L. Bailey described it as being better than the Harry Potter books!
(The main image for this post is by Hux)
We’ve finally had a respite from the fog that’s been sitting across the north east of late (I’m not kidding, my phone’s weather app was stuck on ‘Fog’ from last Friday until yesterday) so I decided to take an advantage of the slightly nicer weather and take some snaps in the garden. Not all of them worked but I’m particularly proud of this one.
Happy April, people!
The House of the Notorious Dead lies on the edge of the Canal Quarter. Water laps against its walls, and inside, the smell of damp stone hangs in the air despite the season. Hooded servants glide along corridors hung with moth-eaten tapestries, and wall niches hold waxworks of the City Above’s most feared and reviled criminals. Here is Samson the Skinner, who flayed his victims alive. There is Archibald Thannenbury, the man who poisoned all but one of his wives.
The crimes grow in villainy as the corridors wend their way below ground. The damp is greater here in the subterranean passages, where moss grows on the walls and water drips from the ceiling. No tapestries are hung here, and the waxworks stand on pedestals to keep them from the wet floor. Common murderers rub shoulders with court assassins and war criminals, and homicide becomes genocide among the committed sins.
The vaults lie three storeys below ground level, where the notorious dead rest in iron coffins. Each vault boasts a Deathwalker, a magickal practitioner trained in the ways of the World Beyond. They spend whole days beyond the Veil, stalking among the subdued souls of these notorious dead, working to keep them passive. Should some spark ignite their passions, they may seek to return to their bodies.
Yet somewhere beyond the Veil, such a spark does indeed flare in the darkness, and a lost soul drifts towards it. There is a Deathwalker nearby, but he dismisses it, believing the soul will have forgotten its purpose before it ever reaches the spark. The Deathwalker continues his patrol, and forgets about the spark, and the lost soul.
However this soul does not forget, and it begins to remember, and it begins to feel. Another spark tears open the darkness for a moment so brief that it can almost be forgiven for not having appeared at all. The soul grasps this spark, and remembers it all.
In the vault, one of the hooded servants stands guard beside the coffin of Waverley Tyrell, the commander who ordered the slaughter of an entire town just seven leagues from the City Above. The servant doesn’t know why, but he feels that something is wrong beyond the Veil. Waverley Tyrell may not be lost after all.
A ragged breath rasps in the cold air of the corridor above, and a waxwork blinks for the very first time.
* * *
This is another story set in the world of my new novella, The Necromancer’s Apprentice. I’ll be starting a blog tour to promote it on 7 April, but you can still grab a copy for the Kindle, the Nook, and the Kobo! Matt R. Jones says that it’s “recommended for anybody who likes fantasy of any sort, and honestly… you don’t have to even dig fantasy to enjoy this story”, while Rab Fulton described it as “a great fast paced story, filled with excitement, wonder and dread”.