Not blogged for a very long time, I apologise for that. The upside is that I actually have something to talk about, and seeing as this is a place to talk about meeee, indulge me for a few moments.
Yes that’s me with the medal and the sweaty fencing hair and the stupid grin. In fact two, yes, two bronze medals are now mine and shiny and on a shelf keeping each other company. I won these at SWASH earlier in March.
‘What is SWASH?’ I hear you say. Its an annual event held at the breathtaking Royal Armouries in Leeds each year by the British Federation for Historical Swordplay (BFHS). It’s a two day event with classes, tournaments, talks and many opportunities to get up-close and personal with many beautiful weapons and historical treatises, most thrilling of all being the MS i33 – the oldest martial treatise known. The building itself is impressive – a huge glass tower filled with weapons that ought to have the sign ‘Break glass in case of zompocalypse’.
What did I win them for? One was third place in the inaugural women’s longsword tournament. It was a lot of fun and Tracey Walker made a great mini documentary of the competition here. I enjoyed all my fights, particularly the punch landed on (another) Fran after she swiftly disarmed me in a grapple.
Incidentally, it was fantastic to finally meet up with fellow fencer and Fox Spirit author, Jo Thomas. A lovely person, and I hope to see her again soon with either sword or pen.
The second bronze medal was in the rapier tournament. You may notice Pim in the top photo with me, also with a silly grin. He won gold, natch, but I had to face him in the semi-final. It’s an interesting way to work through marital tension, battling in public, but we did okay. So very pleased with myself over that, and it’s given me much more confidence in my fencing. It’s also made me want to try even harder next time I compete. There are so many fencing events this year it’s difficult to choose between them.
Another facet of Historical European Martial Arts has drawn my attention, fast-forwarding three hundred years from the Elizabethan era to the Edwardians. I’ve joined a study group focusing on Bartitsu. This is a fascinating martial art, made famous in the Sherlock Holmes stories by Conan Doyle.
The ‘original MMA’, it combines pugilism, fencing, jujitsu and savate to create a formidable defence against assorted ruffians that prowl the streets in the dead of night – at least that’s what Bartitsu was developed for. They were dangerous times, and gangs of thieves preyed on lone pedestrians.
It is also a ton of fun, and very varied: you might be punching someone in the face, jabbing them in the throat with a stick, or choking them on their coat. In a few weeks time I will be leading a class on parasol (it being the most fencing-like of the techniques). Don’t be fooled, the humble brolly is a devastating weapon.
Also taken up running. I’m trying to get my fitness up to help with the fencing, and just so I can be a bit more healthy. On the days I’m not fighting in some form or other (it’s been five days a week in some cases) I try and get a twenty minute run in. So far my enthusiasm for this has not waned, and listening to music helps a lot.
I’ve got one child in school and the other in nursery every morning now so it’s opened up a bit of free time. Oh yes, writing time, of course. Ideally that would be the case, and a lot of the time it is, but no, time to get a job. When I left work five years ago I was working in an office, and whilst I had lovely colleagues, I can’t say I’ve missed being there at all in the time since.
Perceptions altered, priorities shifted, I am now a gardener, and really enjoying the fresh air, the smiley passers-by, China Mieville on my iPod and dirt under my fingernails. I’m no Rachel de Thame, but I can dig and I can pull up weeds and I can cut grass. Life is good.
I had a brilliant time with several buddies from fencing school at the Scifi Weekender in Wales. We packed swords and managed to get in a bit of practice each day, as well as enjoying all the cosplay, panels, signings, swag and merriment. Just as I was packing to head out, however, I got a tweet from Paul Cornell asking if I would mind being timer/scorer for the Just A Minute game that he was hosting. It has become a tradition at these events, last year’s panel included Joe Abercrombie, Sarah Pinborough and China Miéville. My mind squirmed, it backed away in terror. ‘you can’t do this!’ it screamed, ‘it’s too scary!’.
So I said yes.
I thought ‘to hell with it’ and agreed. I was a bag of nerves leading up to the show, especially seeing the vast room that held the audience, the stage etc. But I just told myself it would only be keeping score, I probably wouldn’t even be visible.
Then I was led out, alone, into the glare, centre stage, to faces. You know, people.
It was terrifying.
Emma Newman, Paul Cornell, Gareth Powell, Stacia Kane and Chris Brookmyre who were the actual authors that everyone had come to see, had every right to be nervous, but they were funny and brilliant and before long I was just enjoying the spectacle along with the crowd. At the very end Paul was kind enough to ask me if I had any work out at the moment, and I proudly flew the Fox Spirit flag for a couple of seconds.
After that I relaxed, met up with loads of tweeps, drank, ate too many sweets and boogied with giant robots, zombies and superheroes. Definitely going again next year.
Hang on Fran, isn’t this meant to be a blog about, you know, writing?
*Sips wine, looks around*
Hmm? Oh, yes, that. Well I haven’t slacked on that account – two stories with the fabulous Fox Spirit books are coming out very, very soon:
Tales of Eve – An anthology edited by the wonderful Anne-Mhairi Simpson, who is also a damn fine author. The brief is a reverse-Pygmalion, where women create their ideal man. My short story is about the power of wishes.
And the Magnificent Octopus? David and I are still chiseling, buffing, rearranging and sanding its edges. Things take time, but we’re getting there and I’m enjoying the process.
Talk to me, what’s new in your life? I want to know.
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
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
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?