Category Archives: fencing

So Many Fishies: Perspectives on Swordfish From a Newcomer

This weekend we travelled to Gothenburg, Sweden for a huge HEMA event called Swordfish. I meant to write a review but as Delia Hamwood has done such an excellent one I will steal hers – check it out

So Many Fishies: Perspectives on Swordfish From a Newcomer.

via So Many Fishies: Perspectives on Swordfish From a Newcomer.

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

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.

The year to come

New year’s eve is a time for reflection, so here’s my little run down of what has happened this year:


Completed a first draft of a novel

Something my cowriter and I are very proud of, and still amazed by. The last few months have been a keen learning experience and we continue to hammer the material into shape.

Completed a short story draft

Something I did in a hurry that I found immensely pleasurable. This too is currently subject to editing and rewriting.

Received my first rejections

This might not strike as an achievement, but for me it shows that at least I got as far as submission. Again it was a learning point and I never regard a single word as wasted, it all leads to something.

Entered a rapier tournament

When the opportunity arose and I was asked I faced my doubt and threw myself into it. I thank my instructors for giving me a new way of considering just about any challenging situation – to just face the moment and disregard what has happened and what is to come.

Attended two literary conventions

I decided it was time to serious-up about writing and the social network that surrounds it. Fantasycon and Bristolcon were both fun and educational  – far more than I expected them to be.

Attended two HEMA conventions

As I progress in this martial art I find new ways to grow and develop, and have realised what a huge world of learning and experience there is to be had out there. Fightcamp and Rapier were highlights of 2011.

Completed my practical (five fights) and written (a translation) elements for my Laureando (swordfighting) assessment

I was honoured to be considered ready to take this, and have yet to hear my results, so fingers crossed I have ‘levelled up’ as a fighter.

Bought two swords and a dagger

Okay, this is a bit more than just retail therapy, but I can think of few things more pleasurable than buying weapons. For me it is a physical affirmation of how seriously I wish to take my studies.

Helped to edit two translations

I would expand on this but . . . we don’t talk about fightclub.

Entered twitter, WordPress and the world of social networking

I have two very close friends in my writers group, as well as my coauthor, but twitter has brought me into a world of people with similar interests, where I have made some good friends. So much so that a few of us are planning our own little ‘con’ in Spring.


Complete editing on the novel and submit to agents

I am confident that we can achieve this. The progress is going well, we are both very happy with what we have achieved so far, and we have a plan 🙂

Submit and become published in an anthology

I was kindly asked if I would like to submit to an upcoming anthology. This was the short story mentioned above. I just hope that it meets requirements. And even if it doesn’t, I had good fun working on it.

Enter Rapier 2012, Swordfish and Fightcamp tournaments

Taking part in Rapier 2011 did great work for my confidence, and as one of only two women taking part I’m fairly sure it gave confidence to my fellow swordswomen to take part in next year’s competitions. Swordfighting is largely a boy’s club, but I have faith that good technique, if I can learn and apply it, will serve me well even against the most strong and brutal opponent.

Achieve Laureando status

I should find out how I fared in the next couple of weeks. If I didn’t pass then I’ll make sure I do next time.

Get fitter

Like most people over the winter season the food has not been kind to my waistline. With more opportunities to spar I hope to improve my overall fitness and achieve better movement.

Write every single day

Until the first draft was completed this went without saying. Since then my focus has been on editing, and over Xmas I have found myself less and less available to commit time to it. I know I can do it, so there’s no excuse really.

Read more books, especially non-fiction

Joining Goodreads has helped, and it’s shown me my reading pattern: I tend to have an audiobook, at least one paper book and an ebook on the go at any one time. There are so many great fantasy novels out there that I want to read – classics as well as debut authors’ work that came out in the last year, but I keep meaning to read beyond my genre, get into scifi, for example. Also there are plenty of non-fiction books full of inspiration for a fantasy author, history ones in particular.

Help other people to achieve their goals, whether it’s writing, swordfighting or anything else that I can assist with.

One of the great things about twitter is that you can learn from other people’s knowledge and experience. On more than one occasion I have been able to offer mine. I’ve critiqued, offered advice about lessons, given feedback, searched for information on a topic. I am deeply grateful to those who have taught me about blogging, writing and publishing as well.

Put our regular content

I don’t want this to be a blog full of random waffle to keep myself at the top of searches, I want it to be engaging and useful. I owe it to those of you who read it.

I wish you all a successful and happy 2012. What are your plans for the year to come?

The Pen and the Sword

Today I want to talk about how my fencing has affected my writing.

My sword school have been planning a tournament for months, their first in something like ten years. I’ve been thinking all along that I would be happy to just hang around, help out, be a runner. I’m not ready for tournament, that’s for people who are ‘really good’.

But the pool of rapierists in Europe is not that deep. And as a result you get widely varying levels of skill. As the weekend draws nearer and nearer we’ve been preparing and training harder and harder – well, at least, everyone else has been preparing. I’ve just been training as normal. A couple of the guys asked if I was going to compete. I just shrugged and said ‘No I’m not ready for it.’.  When they tried to encourage me I said that I didn’t think it was fair on me or anyone else competing to go in half-hearted, you need to really, really want to do something like that. Have a strategy, play to win etc. Ambivalence is not the best frame of mind for success.

Then last week it was announced that there was a space free, the guy who was supposed to fill it found that he wasn’t able to attend. And so . . . I volunteered, telling myself I was helping by making up the numbers. I was amazed to find that I was not all that nervous. I worried initially that I wasn’t prepared enough, but our tutor gave us a drill where we only had to focus on the next hit – as long as we made contact and they didn’t then we had succeeded. You live, your attacker dies, end of. That is basically the premise of fencing, to defend oneself. That one nugget of information was a revelation to me. To focus only on right now, and make right now the best I can do.

What’s this got to do with writing? Well the idea of being ‘good enough’ and being prepared.

Swordfighting is the only sport I’ve ever liked. At school I was the kid who always had a note to get out of games. I hated it – the physical exertion was like a punishment, the competitive element seemed divisive. But it’s only in the last couple of years I’ve discovered Historical European Martial Arts – and it has changed my life. I go twice a week and have to say it is an addiction.

My involvement in the practice coincided with my rejuvenated urge to write, and a lot of the lessons can be applied to writing. Here’s what I’ve learned:

All that matters is your next hit.

The sword –  Don’t worry about if you are 2-0 down or 0-2 up. Just make sure you strike without being struck.

The pen – So what if your last piece got ripped to shreds in crit group? You got a rejection slip? Don’t dwell on it and move on. Write the best piece you can, right now.

Fight your fight.

The sword – Don’t be in obedience. If your opponent comes at you, throw something back, rather than performing according to their motions.

The pen – Don’t worry about what’s popular, what sells. Write your  story, one that speaks to you. If it pleases you, chances are it will please someone else.

Keep moving.

The sword – You can stand your ground and fight them off, but this presents them with an easy target. Keep moving, give them something to work against. It’s actually less straining.

The pen – If your writing freezes up, comes to a part where you’re not sure what happens next . . . keep going. Better to write stuff that can be edited down again into something better than nothing at all.

Enjoy it.

The sword – Don’t focus on winning, focus on making the cleanest hits you can, demonstrate that you are a good swordsman, regardless of the score.

The pen – Write because you love writing. Publication is the end goal, but remember to enjoy the ride. If you enjoy writing something and you are relaxed, the likelihood is that feeling will transfer to your reader.

This last bit of advice came from Doug Hulick, and I think has to be the most pertinent of all. “Have fun. It’s the fun fights you remember the longest.”

So when I enter the tournament this weekend, I will try my best not to worry that I’m not ‘good enough’. Everybody has to have a first tournament at some time. If I don’t get beyond the first round, then at least I can say I’ve done it, and next time I enter a tournament it will be with experience.

And when we come to submit this book of ours, I will do my best to maintain the same state of mind. That if it gets rejected all I know is that we will have to try harder (hopefully with some advice) to make it the best book we can.

How about you? What have you learnt in life that has also found ways of applying to your writing?