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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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
So what have I been up to lately? Much of the same, still steadily working through the rewrite of the novel when I get a moment, but I’ve also found time to write some short fiction too.
I’m pleased to say, by way of an interview with the publisher Adele Wearing @hagelrat in SFX Blog, that I have managed to get a short story into an anthology with new imprint Fox Spirit Publishing (@foxspiritbooks): ‘Tales of the Nun & Dragon’. Well, my name gets mentioned at least, so I think I’m in there!
I’m so glad to be part of this project, with many great writers taking part – both established and new. Adele and co have many exciting works in the pipeline. I look forward to seeing what the future holds.
You’d be ill advised to walk the quarter at this hour but that’s exactly what I’m doing. None of us expect trouble on our own doorstep do we? And yet I can hear trouble approaching: a frenzied whispering and sliding of feet. Drink warms my veins and my ears still ring from the tap room, but it’s not enough to distract me from the hushed conversation taking place just a few yards away.
On instinct I press myself to a wall, almost slipping in something soft and reeking as I try to make out the words.
“I’m trying, he’s fucking heavy!”
Two voices, a man and a woman. The shuffling continues. Where I’m standing a weak stream of light spills through the narrow street, showing the wet cobbles, a bottle, a broken jar, rags and nightsoil. I squint hard towards the sound of them speaking. Two pairs of feet appear, taking small, awkward steps. As they come forward I see they bear something large. A person, slumped into a U shape between them as they stagger and hurry under the weight.
They wear boots, cloaks that hang to their knees and, jutting from beneath the fabric where they bend to their task, swords.
This is no bickering couple, my mind races to keep up with what’s happening. Timing my movements with theirs I slide beneath a window. The light from within casts a pale yellow rectangle in the street in which I’ll be able to see them better as they move past me. I cross my hands and grip my sword and dagger. I wait.
They’ve jumped some poor sod and are taking him somewhere quiet to finish the job.
I bite down the urge to just let them pass, as if I’d never seen a thing.
It’s none of your business, just go home.
They come into the light. Long threads of blood run down the slack fingers of the man they carry. To my astonishment, I take a pace forward. Self defence, that’s what this is, they’ll probably be after me next anyway. I draw my weapons, heart pounding, suddenly very angry and gripping tighter than I would like.
“Who are you and what are you doing?” I hear myself say. I step out and press the tip of the sword into the back of the nearest person. It’s the taller of the two, most likely the man. Everything becomes very still. Someone barks with laughter in the next street, something small scampers in the dark. It seems muffled through the blood rushing in my ears.
“None of your business!” hisses the woman, she faces me, squinting in the light over the man’s shoulder. She has dark, tightly braided hair, long limbs and amber eyes. As she snarls I see one of her front teeth is missing and just above it her lip is scarred deep.
The man doesn’t move.
“Yani!” he whispers back at her in warning, partially answering my question.
“Well Yani,” I say, sounding more confident than I feel “I think two people carrying a body down my street is very much my business. For one thing-”
The man lets his shoulders drop, and there’s a thud as he lets go of the body. My cheeks grow hot as he pivots on his toes, turning towards me. In the same graceful motion he draws his sword, holding it high and pointing it at me. He takes a few cautious paces back, his face a knot of concentration. Yani scowls at him, still holding the body under the arms.
“Mowan! What are you doing?”
She looks at my sword and dagger, and lowers the body to the ground. When Mowan does not respond she draws her own sword and stands beside him. I realise, my insides turning to water, that I hadn’t thought this far ahead.
Mowan’s sword gleams sharp in the light from the window. Yani’s is dull, and I can see the blade is daubed with drying blood. Their points are level with my eyes, beyond the robbers’ faces glare at me. I can see Mowan is dark haired like Yani. He has a few days of scruffy beard on his chin.
“As my sister said,” his voice is deep and measured “None of your business.”
Their orange-brown eyes are hungry, like those of wolves. I don’t dare lower my weapons, they would be on me in a breath. I join my dagger with my sword, pointing both blades at each in turn. My heart squirms in my chest. I have to do something. I lunge at Mowan.
He doesn’t move, merely lifts his sword a little, parrying my attack as if he were shooing a fly. In the corner of my eye I see Yani move, her sword cutting high at my head.
“Fool!” she hisses. But I am ready. I catch her blade with my dagger and she frees it instantly, moving to stab me in the face.
“Stop.” Says Mowan. Yani freezes in the act, her brother’s hand on her hilt. She looks at him, chastened, but does not object. I now feel the cold tickle of Mowan’s sword beneath the soft flesh of my chin. For an instant I wonder how many people have died on that blade. He knows his business. I lower my weapons.
“I suppose this is all some unfortunate accident is it?” my voice creaks a little, irritating me for making me sound petulant, scared even, for in truth I am terrified.
Yani’s lip curls up, into what could be the beginning of a smile, but she snorts with disdain. When she speaks her eyes are on me, moving quickly between my face and my weapons, as if weighing me up. But her words are directed at her brother.
“This is getting us nowhere. There’s no time.”
Mowan is silent, staring thoughtfully at me. He takes a small pace forward, and I feel the point press into my skin without yet breaking it. Yani moves to cover him. I swallow, and plant my feet, telling myself not to simply turn and flee. As my weight shifts I become aware of the purse on my hip. A lot lighter than it was before the night began, but it might just save me.
With my dagger hand, I slowly draw back my cloak, showing my purse.
“Listen,” I say, but Mowan frowns. Yani’s eyes dart over me, studying, before opening wide in realisation.
“He thinks we’re robbers!”
Her face pinches briefly as she suppresses a laugh. Her expression moves to irritation. Mowan takes a pace back, and with great relief I feel the sword leave me. Anger rushes in to take the place of my fear.
“You’re moving about in the dark with a bloodied sword and a body, what am I supposed to think?” I say.
Mowan cocks an eyebrow, regarding me from head to toe.
“You’re hardly acting honourably, sneaking up on two people trying to help an injured friend.”
I scoff at the story, and the accusation levelled at me. “Self defence!” I say.
Yani sheaths her sword, draws up her hood and bends to take up the man once again. I can see now that he’s breathing.
“What are you doing with him?”
I gesture with my dagger, lowering the sword and covering the purse with my cloak. Yani snarls impatiently, but Mowan looks at me, his voice soft and dangerous.
“It’s no business of yours stranger. Put away your sword and be on your way.”
Not robbers then. I sag with relief. As I struggle to think what they might be I hear a hissing sound from further down the alley, like iron quenching. Mowan turns his face towards it, and I can see his eyes round and white with fear. I grip my sword once more.
He’s about to sheath his blade and help his sister but she’s grunting as she drags the unconscious man to a nearby doorway. Drawing her sword she stands beside her brother.
“No time ‘Wan! We end this here, now.”
I expect her angry gaze to rest on me, but there’s only urgency in her voice, the way she moves. The pair share a brief glance, I feel almost ashamed to witness it. Together they turn to the sound at the end of the street. There’s a tiny light in the darkness, not soft like a candle flame but piercing white, almost blue, like a spark that does not die. I blink and pale ghosts of it swim behind my eyelids. The light’s getting closer and I can see a person carries it, but despite the brightness they remain in shadow, gliding steadily along the ground without quavering.
My gaze flickers to the boots of the injured man, to Mowan and Yani, their teeth bared as they ready themselves. It’s my cue to leave, get as far away from here as possible until all this has died away.
I still have my sword in my hand. We are all in far greater danger than I had initially thought. They’re not going to kill me. With cold realisation it occurs to me that I’ve waylaid them, two people trying to save a friend. They face something so terrible that it makes me want to run, beyond the city, out into the dark and not stop until dawn. I am anchored in place not by guilt, but by what drew me into this foolishness: to protect my city, my street, and now these people. I owe it to them to stay, and fight. I grip my dagger too.
I know some people say the muse is a load of nonsense and what you really need to do is get your backside in the chair and just write, get someone to hold a gun against your head if that helps. But I am starting to believe in the muse. To me she or he is not some sylph-like grecian beauty dancing around in diaphanous gowns, whispering plotlines to me in my sleep, it’s a cat*.
(please forgive the following extended, gratuitous metaphor)
When you want it is never there, it’s off with someone else giving them all the attention that you crave, growing fat on someone else’s better quality cat food. Or it’s sleeping in the back of the greenhouse for 15 hours at a stretch. You stand in the garden screaming for it, banging tins with spoons, rattling boxes of biscuits and still it ignores you. So you put the food out, go to bed and give up.
Next day the stuff is still in the dish, untouched. The cat might yawn and stretch, come in and nibble at it, but it will largely ignore you. Then when you have given up, gone to watch the telly, or do the washing up, go on the computer, go to bed . . . it’s there. In your face, pawing at you with insistent claws, in the bathroom staring at you while you shower and there is nothing you can do about it.
You’ll have spent an entire day cleaning, because you have visitors on the way then the muse-cat comes in and pukes up on the carpet. But in that puke is the stuff you have been longing for. The story, right when you least expect it, when you least WANT it. So you get down on your knees, give thanks for this irritating beast that brightens your life in the strangest ways and you try to catch its brief moments of attention.
* We no longer have one as the kids are allergic, but I have much experience of these awkward creatures.
Paul Cornell mentions me and some fellow AltFiction peeps here.
And my cakes are even more esteemed by SFX here.
It’s been a very productive weekend: got a short story up to speed, did some proper brainstorming with David and am very excited to write these new scenes for the novel. I didn’t get to do any swordfighting unfortunately so I guess I’ll just have to work extra hard tomorrow. There’s a big event to train for at The Martial Arts Show which Mr T and I are very excited about.
It’s all go at the moment!
Oh, and I have a hopeless Drawsomething addiction. I blame @swordpanda