Author Archives: Fran

Bristolcon 2012

I look forward to travelling to cons, it’s the writing time on the train and the solitude I think. The journey to Bristol was gorgeous, the morning mists melting over the hills and puddling round the trees. I managed to get a bit of writing done and listened to A Feast For Crows between trains, it seemed to be over very quickly.

The Ramada Bristol is thankfully no great distance from the station and I was warmly met by Paul Wiseall and Dolly Garland with a bag of goodness – lots of comic and novel samplers and rather cool graphic anthology, Murky Depths.

I attended three panels, which I’d already planned beforehand so I could just hang out and chill in between. These were: Working Together, about collaborative writing; Netiquette, or how not to be a twit online and Women in Sensible Armour – a discussion on the portrayal of women warriors in SF, rather than fantasy art and novels.

Working Together seemed to focus more on the working relationship between artists and writers in the comics industry. It was interesting to see all the different methods of working that exist (answer: there are as many as there are partnerships). None of it seemed to really hit on the crux of equal partnership in a creative endeavour, this is a lot harder than simply working to a brief specified by another person – in a shared world anthology for example. It gave me a lot of ideas for things I would like to try out in the future, but nothing new to add to my current way of working. This is fine, and I will continue with my method as it seems that is the best thing to do.

Netiquette was very interesting. I’ve touched on it before here on this blog, but it’s about how to get people interested in you as a writer, without being an annoying salesperson tirelessly flogging your wares. Marc Gascoigne‘s comment that Angry Robot will only consider authors with a blog, twitter and Facebook page was very telling of how important social media is to a writer these days. The other Marc, Aplin, who was chair, said that he is more inclined to want to read books by people he has met on twitter and chatted to. Writers tread a fine line – you have to show everyone a genuine person, but remain professional and not fall into troll feeding, responding to negative reviews of your work, sockpuppetry and all the usual pitfalls that get discussed. It’s something I’ve wondered about:  until established, what can a writer blog about? They can’t advise on writing, as they’ve nothing to show for it; they can’t discuss their WIPs, in case things change or they let out spoilers; there are too many blogs on the process of writing as it is, and it’s dull reading . . . so what is there? Be yourself, show your human side – what else do you do apart from writing? Be engaging, let people get to know you, you’re more interesting than you think.

Women in Sensible Armour, was the obligatory diversity panel in disguise, although it tended not to meander as much as previous ones, thanks to the specific focus. This resonated a lot with me, having a lot of real life discussions on armour and women in general in the HEMA scene over at Esfinges. As for the imaginary portrayals of women fighters in literature and art, I think it’s safe to say that we have moved on from the chainmail bikini. Women in armour look pretty much like men in armour when they’re doing it right, and films like Lord of the Rings have done a lot to reaffirm this.

In between panels, and for much of the afternoon and evening I got to chat, eat and drink with some very cool people. Some I’ve met in real life and it was good to hook up again, such as: the effervescent Anne-Mhairi Simpson; the awesome chief organiser of Bristolcon itself, as well as author, Joanne Hall; Gareth L Powell (very briefly); Anne Lyle, who revealed that Pim and I will get acknowledgements in the final novel of her trilogy. I am honoured. Emma Newman looked stunning in a bespoke scarlet frock-coat; Kim Laikin-Smith  was there with her family (again we very briefly spoke – there’s just not enough time at these things!); Marc Aplin of Fantasy Faction, who just like last year I bumped into at the coffee area, .

New people, along with Paul and Dolly (both of whom I wish I’d spoken to for longer) were the very funny Guy Haley, who got a lot of laughs on the Netiquette panel; the equally funny and informative David Moore; Jonathan L. Howard, who was very charming and friendly; Jen Williams – who I have wanted to meet for ages and was great fun to share booze with in the back of the room like naughty schoogirls; the gorgeous Michela D’Orlando, who I had actually previously met at the Gemmells, when we were both lost and looking for the ladies loo. She sought me out through the swordy thing, and I was happy to give her advice on finding classes, as well as chat about writing. Michela introduced me to Piotr Swietlik who was great fun to chat to and you can see a sample of his work here. I hope to meet up with both again at a con some time. Danie Ware I have seen several times at cons but never actually chatted to, was awesome and very much the voice of reason on the Sensible Armour panel.

Before I knew it the hours fizzled away and it was time to get back on the train. I will definitely return next year. It is a very fun, relaxed and friendly event, growing bigger every time.


This comes to me courtesy of the delightful Ren Warom, you should check her out. She’s in the middle of editing her first novel in a trilogy, Coil, and her industry has infected me (and rightly so) or rather, she has nominated me in this blog hop doodah thingy. Normally this stuff make me cringe but it was good fun reading her post as it gets straight to all the juicy questions about a book.

What is the working title of your book?

Where Dead Gods Lie Buried – this is either the first book and/or the series title

Where did the idea come from for the book? 

I was grasped by one of those ludicrous ideas to write a short story a week for a year and just keep working the hamster wheel, churning out a stock of stories. What actually happened was I began free-writing  the first one, showed it to my friend David and we started chucking ideas back and forth. It grew.

The original opening scene was just about a dark, grim city, not the kind of place you’d want to visit on your holidays, that twists and bends under its own corruption. The protagonist walks into this place she calls home and soon finds everything she knows is turning against her.

What genre does your book fall under?

Definitely secondary world fantasy, possibly epic, most likely of the noir variety.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 

Gary Oldman, James Earl Jones, Naomie Harris, Miriam Margolyes

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 

Amid a religious war, a thief on the run joins forces with a monk and an assassin to stop the end of the civilised world.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 

Hopefully the latter.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

One year. We chucked away more than 100k, but it was fun.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? 

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie, The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. And without the genre I would say books by mystery writers like Dashiell Hammett have similar tones, such as The Dain Curse. There’s a problem to solve, and the person solving it is just as problematic.

Who or What inspired you to write this book? 

If I’m honest it was just that feeling you get when you are in the middle of reading a really great story. Yes I am probably pumping my ego by even mentioning those names above, but that sensation made me want to put pen to paper and generate something from within me that would give people a story they can get their teeth into.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

We’re two people writing one novel so that’s an interesting dynamic to work with as a writer and possibly to observe as a reader as well. Our characters are not straight-cut good and bad people; the protagonist is female, non-white and gay; we chose to set it in a world where  there are no horses . . . so that’s been a lot of fun and fascinating too. If you like violence, grim humour and moral ambiguity this might be what you are looking for.

(this question invented by me in case anyone is wondering) What stage is your book at now?

We are currently reaching the end of the rewrite and then the final edits will begin. The aim is to have the polished manuscript fresh and ready to submit in early spring.

And now I have to nominate five people to pass this on to. Thus I present my fab five (who wear me out just observing their productivity):

The fearless Jen Williams – awesome writer of the Copper Promise fantasy novella series, check it.

The tireless Joanne Hall – author of The Feline Queen and other short stories, The Hierath  trilogy of fantasy novels, as well as bustling organiser of cool things such as the amazing Bristolcon coming this weekend. Get a ticket, go!

The irrepressible Anne-Mhairi Simpson – serial YA fantasy author, and now an editor of anthologies too.

The tenacious Nicole L Bates – from across the pond, author of the Empyrean SF trilogy.

The industrious Colin F Barnes – overlord at Anachron Press, crafter of many a fine horror and SF tale, including the latest shiny addition to his arsenal, a cyberpunk novellette series called The Techxorcist. See his post here.

Nuns on film

Booktrailer for Tales Of The Nun & Dragon

Destination: Publication

Well I’ve reached a milestone, a pretty big one if I’m honest. Still waiting for the truth to hit me but perhaps this will come in time, perhaps at Fantasy Con when I meet up with all my fellow contributors and the editing team.

After Alt.Fiction I was asked to write for an anthology by Adele Wearing, who recently set up a new imprint – Fox Spirit. She liked what I wrote enough to deem it publishable, stick her neck out as an editor and say ‘this is worth reading’. I find that mind-blowing really. Given what a solitary exercise writing is, it’s easy to forget that the aim of the game is to share it with as many people as possible. Even more amazing, people are going to be paying money to read what I have written. Granted there is a heap of talented folk in there – both well established veterans and emerging authors – but still, my name will be alongside theirs, with a little (c) beside it.

So . . . can I call myself a writer now? Will I keep moving the goalposts? I don’t know, but I’m just so gosh-darned pleased that I got to this stage.

Can’t thank everyone involved enough. So instead I will talk a bit more about the book instead of rambling at my own astonishment.

It’s an anthology of tales, all featuring Nuns and Dragons. Many genres, many outlooks, all different. Mine is a fable about getting things done – guess that’s something many writerly types can relate to – The Tale of Sister Amagda and the Thrice Bound Wyrm. The Ebook is available now through Amazon or Wizards Tower Press, print version to follow in the near future. Reviews have been very favourable, and a great amount of interest has been generated. I’ve bought my copy,  and I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s tales!

Fight Camp 2012

I make no apology for another swordy post, it’s that time of year – there are a lot of events on. Arguably the biggest event in terms of attendance in the Historical European Martial Arts calendar is Fight Camp, they managed to fill their capacity of two hundred places this year. To explain, it is a weekend of classes and tournaments, all outdoors, held at The Grange in Coventry. As you can probably guess from the title, there is camping involved, unless you take the civilised option of booking a nearby B&B.

This was my second Fight Camp, after last year, and I was happy to see that the schedule featured a lot of variety: axe, wrestling, pugilism, pollaxe, sword and buckler, lots of sabre, broadsword and targe, as well as the usual longsword and rapier classes.

After setting up camp on the Thursday afternoon the rest of the evening was spent catching up with friends, eating and drinking. I have to applaud the staff at the grange, the food was excellent value for money, and after a day of fighting in all weathers never is a meal (or a beer) more appreciated. The bar is always a great place to hang out, talking to people who I have mostly only ever spoken to online.

Friday morning after breakfast and the opening speech the heavens opened, but I’d already decided by then that I was going to take Peter Smallridge’s ‘how to fall safely’ class (which happened to be indoors, by luck not design, I swear) as I have very little experience of grappling and often freeze up because I don’t know what the options are.

This was essentially an hour of intense warm up (the mirrored wall was running with condensation by the end) and gradually building up our confidence physically. I soon realised that in wrestling all inhibitions about physical contact are swiftly abandoned. It was a liberating, and exhausting experience. Wrestling uses all of your muscles, you are moving in all directions and I was constantly learning about myself. I did my first cartwheel ever, followed straight away by two more.

Still smiling after two gruelling hours. Photo by Miroslav Zaruba

My enthusiasm for this did me in for a lot of the weekend, as I soon learned that wrestling is far harder work than swordfighting, and I paid for it in lactic acid over the following days. I did manage to attend a Stav Axe class which was interesting for being a different weapon, with a different weight and balance, but included some very sound principles which will hopefully translate across to my other training.

I spent some time at the barriers. This is an area reserved for free sparring, essentially like a disco but without the music and you fight instead of dance. People continuously fight here over the entire weekend. Some spend all their time there (I had considered it), and you have the option to have all your bouts scored in the Passage of Arms tournament. The champion of this arena for several years, Mark Gilbert, set a new record of one hundred undefeated bouts. I’m rather pleased to say that my one exchange with him was 5-4. At one point it rained very heavily and we all crouched soggily in the tent with all our gear while a few ardent souls continued. When I was asked to judge a couple of exchanges I discovered a shield can be a great impromptu umbrella.

Sword & Buckler vs Longsword. Photo by Lizzy Wilson


I decided to take the plunge and enter two tournaments this year – the rapier tournament and the Eggleton cup – a mixed weapons competition. I was in the first bout of the rapier against Swordfish 2011 Sword and Buckler champion, Kristine Konsmo. This was an honour and I was really looking forward to the fight, having sparred with her the previous evening at an impromptu ‘sword and buckler party’ (bring a sword instead of bring a bottle). Sadly under the tournament rules we doubled each other out and that was the end of the competition for us both. I am very happy to say that Pim, my husband, went on to win all of his fights and take the victory. That makes his fourth tournament win in a year – we are all very proud of him.


Tournament. All over far too soon. Photo by Willeke Snijder

The Eggleton cup on the Sunday was great fun, and I was pleased that so many of my fellow students from The School of the Sword took part, for several of them it was their first tournament experience and I know how nerve jangling that can be. Everyone performed admirably, and the title, after a three way tie, went ultimately to Simon Thurston of Schola Gladiatoria, an excellent fencer and a pleasure to watch.


In summary it was all over far too soon, I ached all over for most of it, but loved it. I will miss the chatter, the fireside, the people, the classes and most of all the fighting. Roll on FC2013

Tony Lane reviews Tales of the Nun and Dragon, thankfully he liked what he read.

Tony's Thoughts

I’ve got to start out by mentioning the cover. I love Vincent Holland-Keen’s style. The eyes of the Dragon do it for me in a big way. Although I read an early review copy I have seen some of the interior art by Keiran Walsh and they also look pretty darn nice.

I have to admit that I was nervous about reading this because to me the  Nun & Dragon sounds like a pub. I obviously wasn’t the only person who thought that because drinking establishments are a running theme through a lot of the stories. I usually find with anthologies that there are a few strong stories, a few weak ones and that that I just do not like at all. I don’t think there is a single story in this one that I’d describe as weak. The only part I did not enjoy was the single poem. The…

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Bringing home gold

I am so proud of my fencing school, School of the Sword, and most of all my husband, Pim. Four of them drove to the Arts of Mars 3rd World Wide Open Championship 2012 in Hanover last weekend. After a week of lessons they entered tournaments for Sword & Buckler, Rapier & Dagger and Dussack. In the rapier final was my husband Pim and Rob Runacres, also from our school – two great fencers who I admire and look up to. Pim took the gold and Rob the silver. Pim made it to the sword & buckler final where his opponent was Jason Bonner, also from our school and another great fighter who has been very supportive and an all-round great guy since I started historical fencing. Pim took the gold again and Jason the silver. So proud of all of them, and very grateful to our instructors: Phil Marshall and Caroline Stewart. Without them I wouldn’t be fencing, and my life would be poorer.


Swords and Broads

Swordy post: I apologise for the long break, this is a little later than I would have liked.

In a previous post I mentioned the Wallace Museum, I found myself there again on the 7th July with The School of the Sword. We had been kindly asked by the Museum to perform a few bouts of swordplay outside on a stage as part of their Noble Art of the Sword: Fencing and Fashion in Renaissance Europe Exhibition. I was honoured to be selected and five of us set off in the battle bus (my car) for London.

The weather has been typically rainy and it seemed as though we were destined to work indoors (not ideal). But thankfully the weather held off at just the right moments. The stage had not been erected, but we were able to perform on the lawn outside – which was even better. Our first obstacle was Baker Street – it was the same day as Pride, and as I pulled up at the junction I found around twenty sparkly Filipinos (I could tell by the flag) blocking my path. Some police had no compunction about letting the five weirdos dressed in black through and we got the the venue on time. We were given our own parking space, warmly greeted and (bear in mind I was expecting to stand around most of the day guarding the kit) led down to what can only be described as a green room. We had food, drink, energy bars . . . there was even a chaise longue! We were treated like rockstars for the rest of the day.

There were a lot of familiar faces in the crowd, people from the school and other HEMA groups, such as @lizuk and @gergaroth (many thanks to them for the great photographs). We had around eighty people watching each time we were on. Caroline, the director, who has many years experience of presenting outdoor displays did a fantastic off-the-cuff talk and really focused the spectators. We did three stints in all, each was only roughly sketched out so there was a bit of pressure to do well, but once we started we just enjoyed ourselves. This, I have to say for anyone not familiar with Historical European Martial Arts, is actual swordplay – not stagefighting, not point-scoring, just genuine techniques as taught by sword masters of the past. Going by the reaction of the people watching I’d say we didn’t do too bad a job. Cars were pulling over, getting moved on by the police, then driving round the square again to watch anyway.

The crowd seemed to grow each time and after every display we invited them to come and talk to us, hold the weapons etc. They were practically rushing to come and speak to us, I was pleasantly surprised by the people that came – that’s what really made the event for me. My kids have had swords in the house since they were very small and I forget how accustomed they are to weapons. The look on the faces of these children when they held a sword for the first time was something to treasure.

There was a lady who must have been in her seventies who was very keen to hold my sidesword, she seemed so happy to to have it in her hand, and told me that she used to do epee when she was younger. There were a lot of kids but there were also many adults asking a lot of questions, it wasn’t just ‘how heavy is the sword?’, they were very specific: how do you cut effectively? How do you stand in guard? Why do you stand like that? Did the manuals teach how to fight as or against  a left hander? What’s the best way to hold the sword and buckler? What are all the parts called etc. And they spoke to us for some length of time. A lot of them wanted to know where they could find classes too, so it was great to be promoting the art. In between displays we got a chance to see the exhibition and the rest of the museum, we were all geared up and took our swords with us. Here too people stopped us with lots of questions and we had some really involved conversations.

We’re back there again on the 15th September along with Sussex Sword Academy, so if you’re free that day come and check out the museum, there should be even more things going on – and it’s free!

Which leads me on to a new project that I have become part of: Esfinges (sphinxes). I was introduced via Facebook to an amazing pair of women – Ruth Garcia Navarro and Marianna “Perica” Lopez from Mexico. They started a Facebook group for women around the world who practice HEMA  and I got on board, helping to find people and getting the conversation going. In just a few short months we now have over one hundred members, a logo and a whole load of ideas – it’s a very exciting time. A website is in the pipeline but the group’s prime aims are to unite women in HEMA and to promote it to women. It’s a small but growing martial art, and I think there are plenty of women out there who would love the chance to learn how to handle a sword. They all deserve it!

Fellowship, success and coincidence

I had a great chat with YA fantasy writer Anne Mhairi Simpson last night. We took a look at our situations in terms of our writing careers and realised we had a lot in common, same with a lot of our fellow writing buddies. Anyway, see what she has to say about it here.

The David Gemmell Legend Awards 2012 and The Noble Art of the Sword Exhibition at The Wallace Collection – a sublime weekend

A while ago I emailed the Gemmells in the vain hope of winning a ticket, and lo and behold one appeared in the post, a full three days before the event. Cue much panicking about frocks mingled with excitement and anticipation. I would go to the ball.

With the kids just about sorted and left to grandparents I dashed off to London.  After carefully teasing my hair into place I now found myself in a howling gale with mascara running down my cheeks and having to change into my heels, superman stylee, in a phonebox. Being a lonestar at events such as these is a bit daunting to say the least, but the first people I met outside were the lovely Michaela and Stephen Deas who were very warm and friendly, as well as Juliet McKenna and her son.

Once inside I was pleased to meet Anne Lyle, as well as Elspeth Cooper and Suzanne McLeod. Everyone was terrifically turned out, as you would expect, and after a round of bucks fizz we were summoned to the theatre for the awards ceremony.

It began with a reading from Waylander by David Gemmell. Now I will make a confession: I’ve only read Legend, and only skim-read the second half. In principle I appreciate the symbology of Dros Delnoch, the ancient warrior Druss, the flawed Regnak and the thirty warrior monks ready to die in battle, but the story didn’t seem to cut as deep as I expected it to. I think I appreciate books more when I discover them ‘blind’, without any expectation. And that is probably why I enjoyed this passage that was read out. It seemed to strike more chords than Legend did, be a little more grown up. And I will definitely be seeking it out.

There was then an auction, with some terrific lots up for grabs: original artworks, framed prints, rare editions and even 10,000 words worth of editing by Gillian Redfearn of Gollancz. Unfortunately there was a leakage online earlier in the day so that the winners were not a complete surprise to all when they were announced. I managed to avoid it and the results were:

Ravenheart Award (Best Cover Art)
Raymond Swanland – Blood of Aenarion
Morningstar Award (Best Debut)
Helen Lowe – Heir of Night
Legend Award (Best Fantasy Novel)
Patrick Rothfuss – The Wiseman’s Fear

Congratulations to all of the winners.  I was pleased that I had read so many of the books in the shortlist, including the Legend Award winner!

I chatted with some awesome people. Some of whom I have met before at cons, others who I only know as an online presence. Lou Abercrombie, (a brilliant photographer, as well as Mrs Joe) and Sarah Pinborough were great fun, Simon Spanton of Gollancz, Marc Aplin of Fantasy Faction, and Del and Kim Laikin-Smith were lovely to talk to as well. Of course, being the Gemmell Awards, there were some sharp and pointy things to look at – an opportunity I didn’t miss. I got to touch, but not hold Snaga, Druss’s two-headed axe, but I did get to hold one of Raven Armoury’s (providers of the weapons and weapon-shaped awards) scimitars. This also gave me an opportunity to explain the bruises.

It all passed by too quickly, and before I knew it they were chucking us out. After much searching I found a bus that took me to the Hobgoblin in Islington, where I met some great friends from way back and partied like it was 1998. At three I managed to get to sleep at my buddy’s house, then at eight she was wafting bacon and coffee at me, reminding me I had to be at the Wallace Museum at ten. Luckily, four years of sleep deprivation have prepared me well for such situations.

This was my first time at the Wallace Museum and I have heard so much about it from all my HEMA buddies. We’d signed up for a study day exploring the new exhibition – The Noble Art of the Sword: Fashion and Fencing in Renaissance Europe. Just the building itself was spectacular in its decor and scale, I was expecting a large house, but this was breathtakingly huge. I met Pim and a few friends from other fencing schools and after coffee and a good chat we had a glance at the exhibition.

It was stunning. The first thing that greets you is a period sword and buckler with the i.33 manuscript just below it (on loan from the Royal Armouries, Leeds), followed by sword after sword, each more impressive than the last, each one so perfect it looks as if it were forged only the day before, rather than centuries ago. And I have to say that Snaga and the like may be fun, but can’t quite compare to say . . . this.

 . . . or this

There were plenty of manuals of the period in there too, which Pim was very interested in, of course. On the floor outside was a life-sized blow-up of Thibault’s circle, showing all the lines and angles of the sword, the placements of the feet. In the centre of this lies a man, similar to Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man, with his body divided up into layers and labeled – presumably all the places you can stab him.

Still quivering with excitement from all of this we entered the lecture hall where we listened to a fascinating talk from Curator of Arms and Armour Tobias Capwell on the cultural and social aspects of sword-wearing and why it was so important in the renaissance period, followed by Joshua Pendragon on the history of the de Walden collection – a treasure trove of historical fencing manuals discovered hidden for years in a barn.

After lunch we had a quick glance at the Armouries, a mere fraction of the Wallace Collection itself. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop (although the sweets are still in jars and can’t be touched), so many beautiful and fascinating objects, and not enough time to view them all. I encourage anyone to go there, even if swords and armour aren’t your thing, the place itself is a work of art, and it is crammed with antique furniture and paintings – the Laughing Cavalier to name but one.

The afternoon’s talks were an exploration of the differences between military and civilian weapons, a forensical look at the weapons and their manufacture and a metallurgical talk on blade construction throughout the centuries, where many myths were shattered. Intriguing subjects,  and a staggering amount of information to think about. I took notes.

Everyone, including the museum staff, convened in a nearby pub. It was great to chat to friends I haven’t seen in a good long while and make new ones. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay out as we had to come back to the family, but it was a brilliant two days. A concentration of sheer awesomeness.