August 22, 2014

#FridayFlash – The Tide Turns

Combat de chevaliers dans la campagne by Eugène Delacroix

This is part ten of my Astral Mage serial, following on from Battle!

The Vaal’kyr needed no further encouragement. They dropped from the sky, plummeting towards Draumir’s troops. The wraiths scattered, and darted away towards the distant mountains. The Vaal’kyr swooped to tear the enchantments from the war trolls before racing after the departing wraiths.

Artemuse dipped to get a better view of Draumir’s forces. The professional forces swarmed forwards to tackle the Statue Army. The militia mopped up the few individuals that broke through as stone maces tore open the air and Draumir’s knights alike. Further back, the war trolls, no longer bound by any loyalty to their lord, swung their clubs with indiscriminate force, knocking Draumir’s peasants flying. It looked as though Draumir had underestimated the Rhodenius forces.

But he’d have taken the city if I hadn’t roused the Vaal’kyr.

She looked for the dread lord himself, and found him attempting to hack his way through a water funnel controlled by the Queen. Artemuse worried about the Queen being in battle, but she was a powerful mage. Surely if anyone could beat Draumir, it was her. He swung his sword in all directions, but the frothing water surrounded him. The Queen shouted something at him, but Artemuse couldn’t make out the words.

Satisfied that the Vaal’kyr had neutralised the threat on the astral plane, Artemuse flew back towards the Rhodenius forces. The Statue Army were fighting onwards, cleaving paths through Draumir’s lines. Rogue elements had climbed the statues and were chipping at the stone, but war swords were not made for mining and the statues picked them off like fleas. The militia moved forwards, engaging anyone they encountered.

She spotted Mirage standing further up the slope, watching the battle. She flew towards him, and he snorted as she dropped back into her body. Her fingers curled into Mirage’s mane, and the solid mass of his body felt comforting after her time as an indistinct spirit on the astral plane.

“I think we’re winning, Mirage.”

The horse shook his head and pawed the ground.

“What do you mean? The Vaal’kyr have chased the wraiths and the trolls are taking out Draumir’s own forces.”

The horse whinnied and swished his tail. A cold rock of fear settled her stomach.

“Draumir has something else up his sleeve, doesn’t he?”

Mirage nodded. Artemuse spurred him towards the battle. He picked his way through the fighting, dodging swords and stepping neatly around dying men. The Statue Army had worked their way almost entirely through Draumir’s lines, although many of the peasants had fled across the plains.

Another battle horn sounded, this one low and sonorous. It chilled the marrow of Artemuse’s bones, particularly when she realised it came from inside the water funnel. She rode up to the Queen, and even her jubilant expression faltered.

“That was Draumir’s horn but who can he have left to call upon?” she asked upon seeing Artemuse.

“I don’t know.” She gave an account of all she had seen from the astral plane, and the Queen frowned as Artemuse described Mirage’s reaction.

“I fear this will not end well.” The Queen maintained the water funnel with one hand while sending ice flares into the sky with the other. Artemuse guessed she was recalling the Statue Army, and sure enough they lumbered towards them through the remnants of Draumir’s forces.

“By the stars, look!” Artemuse pointed towards the mountains. A massive white horse picked its way through the dead and dying, but the mages were more concerned with the figure astride the horse. Gunmetal armour glinted in the fading sunlight, the visor down on a helmet shaped like a raven, its wings curved around to hide the nightmarish face within.

The Queen snatched the water funnel away from Draumir and concentrated on firing blasts at the approaching figure. Every jet of water fell short, or missed its target entirely.

“You might be able to contain me with your trickery, but not him.” Draumir laughed, a harsh sound of razors on rusty metal.

“Water magic doesn’t work on the dead.” The Queen’s voice rang hollow.

The men who had been twitching in their final death throes clambered to their feet in the figure’s wake. They shook themselves, and stretched their dead limbs. The dead wearing the colours of Rhodenius remained unmoving on the ground.

“You still won’t take the city.” The Queen tried to sound defiant.

“Your Vaal’kyr are gone, and your statues can’t fight forever. Your militia will tire before my dead men will. True, you struck a blow with the war trolls, but they’ve grown bored and left the field,” replied Draumir. “Before I end your forces, I only have one question. How did you know we were coming?”

“I have many advisors who can see further than you can imagine,” replied the Queen, cutting in before Artemuse could reply.

“Hm. An unsatisfactory answer. And who is this whelp you have with you?” asked Draumir, finally noticing Artemuse.

“My maid.”

Artemuse bobbed her head to Draumir as a mark of respect, but wondered at the Queen’s sudden denial of her abilities.

Arti, don’t be dense, she’s not telling him simply because you’re the only one who can stop him. Eddister’s voice sounded loud in Artemuse’s head, but when she looked around she couldn’t see the Guardian.

How? She mentally asked the question but tried not to look inquisitive.

Water magic doesn’t work on the dead, but astral magic does. 

Of course! It’s the realm of the soul! Artemuse could have kicked herself for not realising it sooner.

Go to it, my sweet one. We’ll hold him off as long as we can but you need to destroy that necromancer.

Artemuse looked at the sky, and imagined the way it looked on the astral plane, shot through with purple and silver. She needed to get there using her body. But how?

Continues next week!

August 21, 2014

What’s the appeal of vampires in fiction?

Dawn's Bright Talons smlI’ve always been a fan of Nerine Dorman, and I’m pleased to let her set up a stall here at the Cabinet of Curiosities to tell you all about her latest offering, Dawn’s Bright Talons. Take it away, Nerine!

A toothsome morsel…

Something for which I’m eternally grateful for at present is the fact that the whole thing about vampires seems to have died back. Tweelight fever is over. I don’t hear much about True Blood or The Vampire Diaries either. Vampire aficionados can breathe a sigh of relief while it appears that YA dystopia and perhaps even zombies have nearly run their course until the Next Big Thing comes along.

Who knows what that will be, but you can be pretty sure it won’t be vampires. At least for a while yet. And I’m hoping for it to be a while, because the vampire, in my mind is such a wonderful character to play with in fiction.

I used to love role-playing when I was younger, and I think if I had half a chance (and more time) I’d definitely have a regular gaming group going. At present, however, that’s not to be, and even when I still roleplayed a few years ago, I was a frustrated author at heart. Players kept destroying my carefully constructed plots whenever I was in charge of a campaign.

Which brings me back to vampires. As characters, they’re fantastic. There’s the slight case of immortality tempered with an allergy to sunlight (I’m a huge fan of giving characters serious flaws so that they’re not superhuman), and they have other aspects, that I often feel are underplayed, and I wish authors would look beyond the obvious.

A love affair between a human and a vampire can only end in a few ways: the vampire loves the human until they die; the vampire turns the human into a vampire; or the vampire finds some sort of way to turn human again. It’s old, my friends, old, old, old. What are some of the other cool things a vampire can do or be (besides a kickass private detective or rock star).

I’ve always loved the idea of vampires who are able to pursue their passions indefinitely due to their condition. This gives them a unique perspective through ages when others are ephemeral. What if you have a vampire who’s an archaeologist a la Indiana Jones? Or a vampire who has definite interests, like trying to get a space programme off the ground? What about a vampire who really enjoys his unlife instead of moping about a One True Love who died during the seventeenth century and now he’ll never get over it?

Perhaps a good starting point is to ask yourself, what would *you* do if virtual immortality was within your grasp? In fact, let’s hear from you, and let Icy be the judge. The best comment on this blog post receives a digital copy of Dawn’s Bright Talons, my most recent fantasy novel.

They are as night to day–but blood will tell when facing a common enemy.

A sought-after dancer in the upmarket Moonlit Garden, Isabeau Letier, has not given her future much thought. All that matters is the art of dance, and charming wealthy patrons into parting with a few extra coins. She has her exotic good looks and her youth. What could possibly go wrong?

When a mysterious nobleman pays her undue attention, Isabeau’s darker, bloodthirsty nature awakens and she kills him with her bare hands after he follows her home. Even worse, she drinks and enjoys his blood. Her brother, Eric, returns home to this disturbing tableau yet remains calm even as the corpse sifts to ash in the morning sun. Isabeau has no choice but to follow her sibling’s lead.

Not many people know that Michel Roux, owner of a slightly down-at-heel theatre in the District of Paper Lanterns, is a vampire. He prefers to keep things that way and steer clear of the petty politicking of the city’s vampiric subculture. When his estranged sire, Tomas, goes missing, and his grandsire sets him the task of solving the mystery, Michel is unwillingly dragged into all of the very dangerous games he thought he’d left behind him.

Isabeau and Michel become unlikely allies as they try to wriggle their way out of being the pawns in a game where they don’t know the rules. Isabeau’s ancient heritage is a danger, not only to herself, but to the established hierarchies at odds with one another in the city of Ysul, and the elders are desperate to either control her–or kill her.

As events unwind, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate friend from foe, and as the two flee for their lives they must also explore the true nature of the bond that they’ve forged and uncover the ages-old secrets that have pushed them onto this path. Warring factions are about to overturn centuries of custom, and two young people are marked to pay the price—in blood.

NerineThank you Nerine! You can buy Dawn’s Bright Talons on Amazon or Smashwords, and you can stalk Nerine on Twitter at @nerinedorman, or sign up for her newsletter here!

An editor and multi-published author, Nerine Dorman currently resides in Cape Town, South Africa, with her visual artist husband, and has works published by Kensington, Dark Continents Publishing, eKhaya, Tor Books and Immanion Press. She has been involved in the media industry for more than a decade, with a background in magazine and newspaper publishing, commercial fiction, and advertising. Her book reviews, as well as travel, entertainment and lifestyle editorial regularly appear in national newspapers. A few of her interests include music, travel, history, Egypt, art, photography, psychology, philosophy, magic and the natural world.

But why not try to win a copy? Simply comment on this post telling me what *you* would do if virtual immortality was within your grasp! The best comment on this blog post receives a digital copy of Dawn’s Bright Talons.

August 20, 2014

3 Reasons to love Sleek’s Arabian Nights palette

I think anyone who follows me on Instagram or Facebook will have seen photos this week of me showing off the eye makeup I’ve been doing using the new limited edition Arabian Nights palette by Sleek.

Isn’t this packaging gorgeous?!

As with all Sleek palettes, it contains twelve shades that are a mixture of ‘sparkly’ and matte. There are more shimmery shades than matte in this one, but they’re completely blendable. Note: I don’t use the applicators. It’s brushes all the way for me.

This is the first look I came up with. I used Scheherazade’s Tale in the corner, Sultan’s Garden over the eyelid, and Hocus Pocus at the outer corner and in the crease. I’ve also got Valley of Diamonds under the eye.

Then I tried this one out. This one features Gold Souk in the corner or my eye, blended into Aladdin’s Lamp across the eyelid, with Stallion at the outer corner, in the crease, and under the eye.

Today’s is this one. This one has Scheherazade’s Tale in the corner, Simbad’s Seas across the eyelid, and 1001 Nights in the crease, with Black Magic under the eye.

Here’s the finished look. As well as Sleek eyeshadow, I’m also wearing Rimmel eyeliner, Soap & Glory Thick & Fast mascara, Max Factor Face Finity foundation in Light Ivory, and Maybelline Super Stay lipstick in Beige For Good. My blusher is from the Body Shop but I couldn’t tell you what shade it is!

But what are my three reasons to love Sleek’s Arabian Nights palette?

1) Wearable!

The colours look really dark in the palette but I actually find they’re quite wearable, even during the day, especially if you use Scheherazade’s Tale or Gold Souk all over the eyelid.

2) Longevity!

The colours have tremendous staying power – bearing in mind I use Urban Decay’s Primer Potion on my eyes under my shadow, these colours really do stay put all day, and they remain vibrant for hours and hours.

3) The price!

The palette is only £7.99, and considering how many shades you get, and how well they last, I think that’s phenomenal value. I bought a four-shade palette from Illamasqua that’s worth £34 and it’s nowhere near as good as Sleek.

So there you have it. Do you wear Sleek? Have you tried the Arabian Nights palette yet? Which of these three looks do you like best?

August 19, 2014

Why I love my lomo camera

I bought a Diana Lomo Mini camera a little while ago, and in the few times I’ve used it, I’ve certainly become a fan! There’s something appealing about the unpredictable results, and considering how easy it is to ‘fix’ images that aren’t quite right in Photoshop, it’s quite nice to take a photo knowing there will be some sort of flaw in the final image!

I got my film processed a little while ago and scanned the negatives, so here are some of my favourite shots.

abandoned flower

This is an abandoned flower head that I found sitting on the stone shelf beside the aga in Belsay Castle, Northumberland. It lookeed so lonely.

belsay castle

And here’s Belsay Castle itself! Nature is slowly reclaiming the building.

light trails

Light trails – I took this photo out of a moving train as I was leaving London. When I first saw the negative I thought the squiggles were a fault with the film, until I scanned it and realised what they were!

pulled film

The view from a bus stop. This shot was right at the start of the film, hence the burns either side. I just couldn’t fake those sorts of light leaks with Photoshop.


Enjoying a sunny day through a tree!

Do you shoot film, and if so, what camera do you use?

August 15, 2014

#FridayFlash – Battle

Great Battle by Grizzli (2006)

This is part nine of my Astral Mage serial, following on from War is Coming!

A horn sounded behind them, and Artemuse turned to see the militia pour over the rise. They moved as a swarm, falling into companies behind the Statue Army. Their commander, a man Artemuse didn’t recognise, broke away and rode towards the Queen.

“We are here, Your Majesty. We managed to rouse the reserve troops as well. We have left a small garrison behind, just in case.”

“Good. Draumir is on his way.”

“Indeed he is,” replied the commander. He peered at the horizon and frowned.

“What strategy do you propose?” asked Eddister.

The Queen spoke first. “Draumir will not merely have men, he will have other forces. The Vaal’kyr will take care of the wraiths, and any other tricks he may have on the astral plane, and the Statue Army will put down whatever they need to. If he’s anything like his father, he will have war trolls and possibly Hellsteeds. Do not engage with either. Focus only on his human army.”

Artemuse gulped. The Hellsteeds were legendary in their ferocity, horses conjured from the depths of midnight and powered by arcane flames. The Statue Army were impressive, but could they withstand such a foe?

“Don’t worry, Arti. The best thing to quench arcane flames is arcane water,” said Eddister, winking. She bristled at the idea that her thoughts were so obvious.

“Indeed. I would imagine that Draumir will wish to speak first – he won’t have expected us to mount resistance, or to have known he was coming, so he may decided to parlay. It’s unlikely, but I’ll speak to him if he does. I want the rest of you in battle formations,” said the Queen.

Eddister nodded and disappeared into thin air, reappearing some distance away near Lord Festiniog. The commander rode back to the militia to pass on the message. Artemuse glanced towards the horizon – the army was now near enough to see clearly. Wraiths dived and swooped across the sky above them, but in close formation – she guessed they’d seen the Vaal’kyr and had lost confidence. War trolls lumbered among the forces, but the enchantments holding them loyal to Draumir were mounted too high. She smiled, the beginning of an idea tickling her mind, and turned to the Queen.

“Draumir’s made a mistake.”

“Of course he has, he should have known better than to march on Rhodenius.”

“No, better than that. I need to speak to Kione.”

The Queen nodded, and Artemuse nudged Mirage to move some feet away. She tried to will herself to enter the astral plane as she had done at the roost, but her body refused to cooperate. She’d have to do this the old-fashioned way.

“Mirage, I need you to keep my body away from the battle. Can you do that?” She stroked the horse’s mane, and gasped when he nodded.

She clambered out of her body, and climbed down from the horse, where her sleeping form slumped forwards in the saddle. Mirage galloped away, taking her body back behind the lines of the militia. Artemuse felt an odd disconnection, watching her body while standing outside of it, but the growing war drums kicked her back to her senses.She assumed the form of a white owl, always easier to manage on the astral plane than in reality, and launched herself into the sky.

The Vaal’kyr had fanned out, forming a line of gnashing fangs and talons above the Statue Army. She picked out Kione, and flew as close as she dared.

“Are you alright, little one? Battle is close at hand,” she said as Artemuse approached.

“Draumir’s done the enchantments wrong on the trolls. They’re too high up. They should be on the breastplate but he’s put them on the helmets,” replied Artemuse.

“Oh has he now!” Kione smiled and looked down at the advancing army. Just half a mile separated the forces.

“I don’t think he expected there would be any resistance from the air.”

“Don’t worry, we know what to do.”

Satisfied that Kione would spread the word of their unspoken plan, Artemuse flew back to the forces. Her heart sank to see the speed at which Draumir’s forces moved – they were just yards away, with no intention of slowing down. Draumir wasn’t going to speak to the Queen after all.

A rumble drowned out the war drums, and the ground between the forces erupted. Jets of water spewed into the air, driving back Draumir’s forces. Artemuse wheeled in the air to see the wraiths close into a tight group, fighting each other to keep away from the Vaal’kyr.

The water died down, leaving the ground sodden and muddy. A figure, clad in black armour, sat on a Hellsteed at the head of the army. His forces stretched away to either side, though Artemuse could see that professional soldiers only made up the first eight lines. The troops to the rear were peasants and farmers, wielding scythes or rakes. The war trolls were dotted throughout the companies, but the Queen had far more Vaal’kyr than Draumir had trolls. His army was outclassed in every way.

Yet still he raised the Black Horn, and blew. The single blast said just one thing. Battle has come.

Continues next week with The Tide Turns!

August 13, 2014

What do I see in the mirror?

20140812_143547The very lovely Chiaki has written a blog post about what she sees in the mirror, based upon the running feature in The Guardian of the same concept. I figured I’d do my own as I don’t usually blog about myself and thought it might make a nice change!

The first thing I see is my makeup. I’ve been accused in the past of using it as a mask, or hiding behind it, while others have paraded the inevitable “Women shouldn’t need makeup to feel attractive” line in front of me, but the truth is, I like makeup. I like experimenting with colours, trying out new techniques, coming up with new looks – it’s a skin-based form of graphic art for me. My makeup is as much a part of how I express myself as my clothes are, and yes, I do choose the colours of my eye makeup to match whatever I’m going to be wearing that day. It’s an extra accessory. I’m currently fond of 60s style makeup. I’m also really pale with purple rings under my eyes without makeup and no one needs to see that. Seriously, I’m doing the world a favour.

20140812_143600I’m also inordinately proud of my hair. It used to be waist-length and poker straight, and I did that typical thing of having it cut off after a break-up (I was dumped by text, no less). There are some days when I miss my long hair but it’s easier to look after at this length. It’s currently a dark Ribena purple, but my natural colour is a dark coppery-chestnut shade. Well I think it is, I can’t really remember! In the past it’s been dark blue, black, purple and red – and also an unfortunate shade of dark green when a blue-black dye went a bit wrong. I’m also fond of my eyebrows, which have been described as “mobile” as I use them to express myself quite a lot.

I smile in photos, but rarely opening my mouth – I’m conscious of the fact I have a “cheeky grin” and that I’ll never have an alluring or attractive smile. I have rather deep dimples when I grin and it either makes me look cute or wicked, depending on the circumstance. My lips form a natural pout so it’s difficult for me to wear dark lipsticks without looking like I’m sneering – so the current trend for nude lip colours is a real boon for me. I don’t really look like anyone else – I have similar bone structure to my brother but that’s about it. I’ve been told I look quite “fey” (in the Faerie sense of the word) but personally I’m gunning for “Vulcan”.

I’m only about 5′ 6″ and I’ve got what people describe as an hourglass figure which is cool but a pain to shop for, as things that fit in the waist are often too tight on the hips, and whatever fits on the hips is far too big on the waist! Probably explains my new-found love of skater and swing dresses. I’ve never been skinny and I don’t think I’ll ever even be slim, but I just want my clothes to fit well, and to be comfortable in my own skin. Hopefully one day I will be.

How about you? What do you see in the mirror?

August 8, 2014

#FridayFlash – War is Coming

Siegfried's Dragon

©Icy Sedgwick

This is part eight in my Astral Mage serial. Continues from Riding Ever Onwards last week!

The vast Statue Army stood on the other side of the hill, their ancient banners flapping in the breeze. Artemuse spotted Eddister, a tiny figure standing alongside Lord Festiniog behind the lines. Several of the Palace Guard were mounted, clustered behind the Statue Army. Yet it was not the sight of mortal men alongside monumental stone beings that caught Artemuse’s eye. No, she was more interested in the Vaal’kyr.

“Are there more of the Vaal’kyr here, Arti?” asked the Queen, gazing down at the assembled forces. She frowned. Artemuse could understand why – the Statue Army were a formidable foe but they would need much more to defeat Lord Draumir.

“Indeed there are, Phenia.” She stared at the sheer numbers of Vaal’kyr milling around on the plains. She’d never needed a collective noun for them before, but they were no flock. Perhaps they were like crows, and she should call them a murder.

“How many?”

“I can count…at least thirty.”

“Good grief!” The Queen stared at the plains as if she could peer onto the astral plane itself.

“Oh no, one of them is heading this way.”

A Vaal’kyr dropped gracefully from the sky, coiling downward in a smooth arc until it landed on the grass beside Artemuse. Where the other Vaal’kyr were black, this one was a pale grey, the colour of smoke on a winter’s day. Eyes like molten silver regarded her kindly, and while Artemuse could see no smile on its draconian face, she could sense a smile in the air between them.

“You are the astral mage? The Lady Owl?” A fluid voice, all at once like the high winds that buffeted her tower and the flow of the river far below, rang out in her head.

She nodded.

“Then you are the one who rang the Death Knell. That was very brave of you, little one.”

“I did what I had to do.”

“And we shall do likewise. Is this your queen?” The Vaal’kyr gestured towards the Queen, who stared at Artemuse with a combination of awe and curiosity.

“She is. Would you like me to pass on a message?”

“I am Kione, lady of the Vaal’kyr. It is good for one queen to meet another. Please pass on my condolences about her husband.”

Artemuse repeated the Vaal’kyr’s words to the Queen. Phenia laughed.

“My husband is of little consequence, he would have seen us all ruined,” she replied, addressing the empty space beside Artemuse.

Kione’s laughter rang out inside Artemuse’s head.

“I like your queen. She has priorities. As do I, little one. We cannot hope to defeat Draumir’s earthbound army, but we can certainly take care of his astrally bound troops.”

“You have seen them?” asked Artemuse.

“I have. They are indeed on their way. You did well to rouse us. In fact…”

Kione looked over her shoulder, beyond her large wings, toward the horizon. Artemuse couldn’t see them yet, but she could feel their approach, like the deep chill that heralds the onset of winter. She shuddered, and felt the Queen’s hand on her arm.

“Are you alright, Arti?”

“Yes, it’s just…he’s coming.”

“I must go, little one, I must discuss our strategy with my people. I see that Festiniog already has yours in hand. I would suggest that you join us on the astral plane,” said Kione.

“But my body…”

“You have entered our plane with your physical form before. And if you cannot, your steed will protect it while you fight alongside us. All speed to you, little one.”

Before Artemuse could protest, Kione’s wings hauled her into the air, and the Vaal’kyr flew out of earshot. The other Vaal’kyr took Kione’s lead, and they formed a loose circle in the sky above the Statue Army.

“Has she gone?” asked the Queen.

“Yes, the Vaal’kyr are discussing their strategy. She wants me to fight with them.”

“I don’t want you to fight at all, Arti.”

“But -”

“No, you need to be my eyes and ears on the astral plane.”

The air rippled beside the Queen, and Eddister appeared. He adjusted his cloak, and bowed to his new monarch. Artemuse raised an eyebrow – Eddister had never acknowledged a ruler before.

“Lord Festiniog wants to know when the militia will arrive.”

“They won’t be long, Eddister.”

“And the Vaal’kyr?”

“They’re already here,” said Artemuse. She pointed towards the murder of Vaal’kyr above them, pleased with herself for deciding on a collective noun, though no longer sure that it suited one as gentle as Kione.

“Where?” Eddister frowned as he peered into the sky.

“On their own plane.”

“Hm. That’ll make fighting difficult. Oh well, that’s why you’re here. Well, among other reasons.” Eddister trailed off, and Artemuse could swear a faint blush had swept across his cheeks, so brief it was almost undetectable.


“Artemuse will be my eyes and ears on the astral plane. I will assist the battle on this plane,” said the Queen.

“Oh, your Majesty, I’m not sure you should fight!”

“Can you conjure water geysers, inland typhoons, and storms?”

“No, but-”

“My point exactly.”

The Queen and Eddister continued to bicker about the Queen’s role in the battle. Artemuse stopped listening, more intent upon staring at the flickering specks of black along the horizon. The specks were growing in size, and Artemuse was in no doubt as to what they were.

“Phenia?” Artemuse interrupted the Queen mid-flow. “Lord Draumir is coming. I see his banners.”

“And I hear his drums.” The colour drained from Eddister’s face as the first faint strains of war drums painted streaks of darkness across the air. Mirage snorted and pawed at the ground. Even the Queen fell silent.

War was on the way.

Continues next week!

August 3, 2014

How much has cinema changed since 1914?

The Tyneside Cinema

The Tyneside Cinema. ©Icy Sedgwick.

I’ve been a lover of cinema for as long as I can remember – as artform, vehicle for documentary and purveyor of entertainment, it’s certainly a versatile medium, and one that does, and should, go beyond the confines of CGI and big star names. So when I saw that my local independent cinema, the Tyneside, was showing A Night at the Cinema in 1914, I felt I had to go and see it. The film is a compilation of travelogues, newsreels, comedies and short pieces from the BFI’s archives – certainly a far cry from the lengthy single feature programmes that modern audiences are used to. In addition, the film was screened with traditional piano soundtrack (albeit not live, which would at least make the experience feel more authentic but would make the film less accessible for multiple screenings). As part of the mass investigation into the cultural climate of 1914 to coincide with the centenary of the Great War, A Night at the Cinema in 1914 aims to emulate exactly what the title indicates.

Charlie Chaplin by P.D Jankens. Licensed under Public domain.

It was certainly a fascinating experience. Watching silent cinema is a very different experience to sound cinema, and the array of films included was so unlike anything that we’re used to in the twenty-first century. 1914 is a long way from the lengthy feature films that we know now, so this sort of ‘compendium’ format is almost entirely alien to modern cinema goers. Most notable among the films was one of Charlie Chaplin’s first appearances as the Little Tramp in Making a Living - it certainly wasn’t as funny, or poignant, as later films such as Modern Times or The Gold Rush, but you could clearly see the potential in his Tramp character.

Other highlights included Lieut. Pimple & The Stolen Submarine, an extremely low-budget comedy starring comedian of the age, Fred Evans, in a film that revelled in its cheap sets and props, but was so delightfully silly that it showed the genuine promise afforded by early cinema, even if you didn’t have a lot of money. Daisy Doodad’s Dial, a story about Daisy Doodad and a face-pulling competition was also amusing, and dabbled with the sort of double-exposure trick photography pioneered by Georges Méliès. Newsreels showed noteworthy events such as an early pilot attempting a loop-the-loop at Hendon airfield and the arrest of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, as well as footage of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand shortly before his assassination, and the British troops enjoying dinnertime at Christmas 1914 at the Western Front. A particularly biting animation by Lancelot Speed named Bully Boy demonstrated the potential links between illustration and animation, tossing satire into the mix to end up with an anti-German propaganda piece. Unfortunately I couldn’t find this last piece on Youtube but I did find one of Speed’s other shorts, to give you an idea of his style. You can find it here.

One thing I found notable among a lot of the films was the lack of cue cards – clearly audiences in 1914 were familiar enough with recurring characters within serials that the cards were unnecessary for explaining action, and audiences were savvy enough to be able to read this visual language which was essentially lost with the coming of sound in the late 1920s. Why use facial expression, body language or posture to communicate when a character can simply say what they think? Cinema in 1914 was still a relatively new phenomenon, so this level of sophistication in understanding action undermines some of the thinking that early cinema was somehow ‘primitive’.

Pearl White. Public domain.

I’m familiar with cinema post 1918, particularly German Expressionism and French Surrealism, but I’d never had much of a chance to see pre-1918 films – largely due to their scarcity. It was also nice to see a range of British films within the programme, although Daisy Doodad’s Dial, a Pearl White short about her recurring heroine, Pauline, and the Chaplin film demonstrate the features coming out of Hollywood at the time. The comedies certainly point to a sort of anarchic sense of humour that can be seen in British comedy, particularly on television, throughout the later decades of the twentieth century, and although I enjoy a lot of Hollywood’s output, it is a shame that a lot of the mainstream cinema has become so homogenised by its influence.

A Night at the Cinema in 1914 also points to just how important film can be within social history – it’s easy to think of cinema has being throwaway entertainment, but viewing such a varied programme from a twenty-first century viewpoint gives a real insight into social attitudes a century earlier. We don’t have to read about what was important, or what was shown – we can see it for ourselves, and experience it in as authentic an environment as possible. Plus, it adds a connection with society a century ago – a girl my age could have gone to see films like this, all the while knowing that her brother, husband or father were going off to war. How would she have felt?

Viewing old footage in a modern context also adds an air of poignancy to what you watch – one of the newsreels showed footage shot in the supposedly neutral Belgium in August 1914, after the town of Louvain was devastated by German troops. Footage of civilians picking through the remains of their homes, searching the ruins for their belongings, seemed all too familiar, and just goes to show how time may change, but humanity certainly doesn’t.

August 1, 2014

#FridayFlash – Riding Ever Onwards

This is part seven in my Astral Mage serial. Continues from The Queen last week!

The horses were saddled and ready in the courtyard when Artemuse and the Queen reached the stables. Artemuse gulped when she saw Mirage, a gigantic beast of a black stallion. The Royal Crest on his saddle gleamed, a flash of gold against burgundy leather

“He’s a big horse,” said Artemuse. She hung back, too nervous to approach him. She’d never had any occasion to learn to ride – her wings took her wherever she needed to go.

“Don’t be afraid, Arti. He’s perfectly friendly.”

Artemuse looked at Mirage, and she swore she saw amusement in the horse’s eyes. The Queen swung herself up into Prado’s saddle, and gestured towards the stallion.

“But…surely he’s used to the Monarch?” asked Artemuse.

“Oh he hated him. It’ll make a change for him to carry someone who doesn’t wear spurs, for one thing.”

Mirage arched his neck and nudged Artemuse with his nose.

“You see? Just climb up, Arti. We don’t have a lot of time.” The Queen smiled but determination coloured her tone. Artemuse nodded, finally realising that the responsibility for the safety of Rhodenius had passed out of her grasp, and into the influence of the Queen.

Artemuse placed a foot in a stirrup and hauled herself up into Mirage’s saddle. Her behind had barely touched the leather before the Queen gave a cry and the two horses clattered out of the courtyard. Artemuse clung to the reins, her knuckles white, as Mirage followed Prado into the cobbled streets of the city.

She had no idea how to control Mirage, but after a few moments, her stomach unclenched. The stallion avoided obstacles with ease, veering around them or leaping over them, before Artemuse even saw they were there. His muscles bunched and stretched beneath her and a flicker of trust in his abilities tickled her mind. She wasn’t sure she’d ever enjoy riding, but Mirage knew what he was doing better than she did.

The horses almost flew in their haste. They’d reached the lower levels of the city by the time Artemuse noticed how quiet the city was. The alleyways and squares should have been thronged with people, shouts ringing out among the everyday clamour, yet the streets were empty. She wanted to call out, to ask the Queen what was wrong, but the wind kept snatching her words away.

The northern gateway to the city lay ahead. Fewer people travelled into Rhodenius from the north, preferring not to travel across the Lesian Plains, so the gate was smaller and less ornate than those serving the other entrances into the city. The portcullis was up and the thick doors stood open, with two guards bearing halberds at either side. Artemuse never travelled into the city through the gates but even she could tell that the number of guards along the wall was less than usual.

The guards stood aside and the horses galloped through the gateway. Narrower and lower than she’d expected, Artemuse wondered how on earth Eddister could have led the Statue Army through it.

The Lesian Plains were a vast expanse of grassland, bordered on all sides by mountains. Rhodenius lay within the southern mountain range where the peaks were at their lowest, and Artemuse’s tower clung to one of the smaller cliffs. The ground swelled and fell in an undulating pattern that deceived the eye – the Plains looked empty, but Artemuse knew Lord Draumir’s advancing army could be anywhere.

The Queen pulled Prado’s reins, and her horse drew level with Mirage. She leaned across to Artemuse.

“I’d imagine the Army are but a few miles from here by now. Our own militia should be catching them up from the western gate,” she shouted.

“Why was the city so quiet? Where did the people go?”

“They’re still there, I just strongly suggested they stay in doors until we return. If we don’t return, they’ll abandon the city,” replied the Queen.

“How?” Artemuse couldn’t imagine how thousands of people would be able to leave the city quickly if Lord Draumir should approach. Surely he’d find them on the road, and cut them down where they stood.

“There are more tunnels under the city than the one Eddister guards, Arti.”

A great shadow fell across the land. Artemuse looked up to see a vast creature circling in the sky above them.

“What’s that?” she asked, pointing upwards.

“What’s what?” The Queen followed her gaze, but shook her head.

Realisation dawned. If Artemuse could see the creature and the Queen couldn’t, then whatever it was flew on the astral plane, not within the mortal realm. There was only one thing it could be.

“It’s a Vaal’kyr,” shouted Artemuse.

Looking more closely with her mind’s eye, she saw thick black feathers, talons like scythe blades and a long snout filled with vicious fangs. A long tail tipped with a razor sharp dagger trailed in the sky behind it. Deep green eyes burned with intelligence, and the creature gave a deep nod when it caught her looking. Artemuse could sense emotions on the astral plane, and the creature was respectful but alert.

She wasn’t sure what she’d expected the Vaal’kyr to look like, or how they’d act, but the monstrous yet graceful animal was not what she’d pictured at all.

“Where there is one, there will surely be others,” replied the Queen. “In what direction is it?”

Artemuse pointed the way, and they guided the horses towards the circling Vaal’kyr. They sped across the plain, the horses kicking up grass as they ran. A second Vaal’kyr joined the first, and a third, and Artemuse realised they were running up an incline. She could only dread what she’d see when they reached the top.

Continued next week with War is Coming!

Image by Inanti. Edits by me.

July 25, 2014

#FridayFlash – The Queen

By Adolf de Meyer [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

This is part six in my Astral Mage serial, following on from The Roost last week!

Artemuse sailed across the palace courtyard and dropped neatly through an open window into the throne room. She landed on a torch bracket high in the ceiling and looked down, expecting to see guards or courtiers fawning over the Monarch. Instead, she saw only the Queen, no longer sitting in the smaller throne as she had been on Artemuse’s earlier visit. She now sat in the Monarch’s throne, her chin cupped in her hand.

Artemuse sailed down to the floor and allowed her feathers to shed, revealing the skin beneath. She wrapped her cloak around herself and approached the Queen, already bent low in anticipation of the curtsey she would be expected to perform.

“Stand up, Artemuse. You bow to no one.”

The Queen did not even look at her, and Artemuse realised she was not staring into space after all – she was gazing into a crystal bowl of water in her lap.

“Where is everyone, your Majesty?”

“The Vaal’kyr took my husband. I sent the guards to call the army to action. The courtiers…well they were just getting on my nerves. They’re so inane.”

A heavy weight thumped into Artemuse’s stomach – the Vaal’kyr had taken the Monarch? They must have considered him to be payment for the assistance they would lend. Artemuse didn’t know what they would do with him, and based on the legends, she didn’t want to know.

“I am sorry to hear about the Monarch.”

“I’m not. That fool would have buried his head in the sand of the Plains if he thought he could get away with it. No, I knew that what you had seen was true – I have seen it in the waters. They asked me for him, and I let them take him – they did so on the understanding I would become Monarch. At least now we might see some action.” The Queen looked up and smiled.

“I fetched the Guardian below the city. He has woken the Sleeping Army.”

“No, you woke the Sleeping Army. Eddister just took you to them. You really must learn to take the credit, Artemuse.”

Artemuse blushed.

“Now you’re here though, we must head out to the Plains together. Between the Vaal’kyr, the Statue Army and the city militia, we should be able to repel Lord Draumir with ease, but I don’t doubt that they could use our help.”

The Queen snapped her fingers, and a side door opened. A single guard, a boy of no more than fourteen, poked his head into the room.

“Send word to the stables, I need Prado. And have Mirage saddled for Artemuse.”

The guard nodded, and left, closing the door behind him. Artemuse bit her lip – Mirage was the famous black stallion ridden only by the Monarch. She wasn’t an expert horsewoman by any means, finding the animals to be capricious and unpredictable, and she was sure Mirage would be more difficult than most. Still, she’d come to the Queen for help, and the Queen needed her down on the Plains. She’d have to put her own feelings aside for now.

“Ben’s a good boy. The horses will be ready by the time we get to the stables. Are you alright, Arti?”

“I do have one question, your Majesty.”

“Call me Phenia.”

“Alright. I do have one question, Phenia. Why would Lord Draumir risk attacking Rhodenius? Surely he’s heard of the Vaal’kyr?”

“Of course he has, although I doubt tales of the Statue Army ever reached his lands. Don’t forget, those who encountered them didn’t lived to speak of it. You have to remember that many now consider the old legends to be nothing more than tall tales, or ancient boasting. Draumir probably assumes the Vaal’kyr are nothing more than a fairy tale to scare people into behaving themselves.”

The Queen set aside her crystal bowl, careful not to spill the water, and stood. Artemuse had forgotten how tall the water mage was, and fought the urge to curtsey – the Queen would tell her off again.

“Come along, Artemuse. I am sure Eddister will be keen to see you again.”

The Queen gave a lopsided smile, and swept off along the length of the Throne Room, her silver robes rippling like water behind her. Artemuse trotted to catch up, and they left the Throne Room together.

Continues next week with Riding Ever Onwards!