Tag Archives: fantasy

Fight Like a Fantasy Author: An Interview with Joanne Hall

We’re going all fantastical, dear listener. As we haven’t yet finished a new lurcher article, we did the next best thing and got you a writer with a greyhound. Indie UK author Joanne Hall joins us to talk about her writing, her editing  and acquisitions work in a brand new interview. As an added extra, we also poke a cautious spear at the multi-headed Fantasy-Faction, a major fantasy community on the web, which is looking to extend its scaly reach.

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The greydog himself, John Linwood Grant, has more author-type news, but we haven’t room for him today. Maybe we’ll let him mumble something next time. We’d rather get talking to Joanne Hall, who has being scoring multiple hits with her novel Spark and Carousel and then her duology, The Art of Forgetting.

Not content with this, she has recently edited the anthology Fight Like A Girl (with Roz Clarke) and later this year she will be releasing her next fantasy novel The Summer Goddess. Our guest is tragically based in South West England, not Yorkshire, but she makes the best of it, and her website describes her thusly (which saves us typing it in again):

Joanne Hall is the same age as Star Wars, which explains a lot…. She lives in Bristol, England with her partner. She enjoys reading, writing, listening to music, playing console games, watching movies, eating chocolate and playing with the world’s laziest dog.

To the interview-mobile…

Me and Lyra

greydog: Joanne, welcome to greydogtales. We’ve been looking forward to speaking to you for a while, but now we gain reflected glory because your novel Spark and Carousel is on the Gemmell Award long-list for fantasy fiction, and in grand company. A surprise?

joanne: Complete surprise. Especially considering some of the other names on the list. It’s a really strong longlist this year, so to be on it with people like Joe Abercrombie and Robin Hobb, especially as a relatively unknown indie author, is amazing. I’m a huge fan of several of the authors on the list, so have got this far and to be in their company is not something I was expecting!

greydog: We’ll ease our way in with an old standard. You’ve been at this a while – what first drew you into writing in the fantasy field, rather than just reading the stuff?

joanne: I always knew I wanted to write, even when I was really young. But reading Diana Wynne Jones and David Eddings, and David Gemmell a year or so later, was what made me realise that what I wanted to write was fantasy. It just seemed like these authors were the ones writing all the fun things, and I wanted to write the fun things too.

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greydog: Apart from Spark and Carousel, you’ve had quite an impact with The Art of Forgetting – Rider, and then Nomad. Have you any idea what it is about your work that’s caught the imagination of readers? Themes, characters, or a particular style that you’ve used?

joanne: That’s a really hard thing to quantify. I write the sort of books I like to read, so I guess in a way I’m writing for me and people like me. I guess I write characters that are really relatable to a lot of people; they’re flawed and damaged and they make mistakes, but most of them are essentially good at heart, or acting for reasons that they think are good ones. They’re easy to empathise with even if they’re not always likeable.

greydog: We’ve been amusing ourselves by reading some reviews of your work (which are very positive, we should add). They range from complimenting you on the subtlety of your use of more ‘adult’ themes to being shocked but impressed. Is Joanne Hall on a mission to inject reality into fantasy?

joanne: The only mission I’m on is to eat this bag of doughnuts before my boyfriend gets home… I think my fantasy is quite grounded in reality. It’s muddy. It rains a lot. People have vaguely unsatisfying sex and go to the toilet (not at the same time…) I’m not interested in a pristine world. I’ve studied History my whole life and I’m interested in the weird bits, the bits (and the people) that don’t quite fit, so I guess my background interest in history has lent a veneer of reality to the fantasy I write. But it’s not a mission statement, it’s just how the stories tend to come out.

greydog: For people who don’t know your work so well, you started with the New Kingdom trilogy, from 2005 to 2008. How do you think that your writing has changed since then?

joanne: I think I’ve grown more confident. I’m more willing now to try new things and see if they work, and to know to ditch them if they don’t. I think I trust my instincts more now, and I’m less worried about what people might think, having been on the receiving end of some sharp reviews!

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greydog: Some fantasy writers obsess on maps and genealogies, others on tiny quirks of personality. We know that they’re not necessarily exclusive, but in general would you say that you’re a world-builder or a character-builder?

joanne: Both, I think. The world shapes the characters just as much as the characters shape the world. I like to be able to create a wider world than the one you see on the page, one with a history and culture shared by the characters that doesn’t have to be spelled out to the reader. Juliet McKenna calls it “writing off the edge of the map” which I think is a good way of looking at it.

greydog: The Art of Forgetting is a duology, a format of which we rather approve (as an antidote to padded trilogies). Is it really one story which turned out to be too big for a single volume, or did you plan it in two distinct sections?

joanne: When I wrote “The Art of Forgetting” I wrote it as one long book, in one massive sprint (I say sprint, it took eight months to write the first draft, so it was more of a marathon.) But it did kind of fall naturally into two halves. When I was submitting it a lot of people where very positive about it but the overwhelming response I got was that at 190k it was just too long. I actually submitted to Kristell Ink because they said they didn’t have a problem with long novels, and it was Sammy’s suggestion to split it into two books because it just made more sense economically.

greydog: You have another book, The Summer Goddess, coming this year. Care to give our listeners a hint or two about what they’ll find there?

joanne: The Summer Goddess is a stand-alone sequel to The Art of Forgetting. The heroine, Asta, is forced to undertake a perilous journey, and forges an uncertain alliance with a pair of assassins, to save her nephew from both slavers, and the deranged worshippers of an imprisoned god.

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greydog: Onto other aspects of your work. You recently edited Fight like a Girl with Roz Clarke, not your first time as an anthology editor. Is it a role you enjoy?

joanne: I really do. It’s so nice to be able to work with new authors, and to see them then go on to other projects. That’s the part I enjoy most, being able to give inexperienced authors an opportunity, and being able to edit them and bring them up to the standard of more established writers. And it’s great to be able to bring the stories together, to see what themes develop over the course of putting together the anthology. Roz and I also edited Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion, and Colinthology, and she’s a great editing partner.

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greydog: Fight Like a Girl is a great collection, with a fabulous cover. When you started the project, were you looking for strongly contrasting stories, or those which blended in with each other to give a particular feel?

joanne: The cover was by Sarah Anne Langton – have you held it under UV light? It was important to us when we started out working on Fight Like A Girl that women were involved at every stage of the process, from writing to editing to publishing to cover art. Our only criteria when we took on the project was that we wanted stories of combat written by women, or people who identified as women. We never stipulated that the stories had to feature female protagonists, but that’s what we got! I’m really impressed at the range of stories that were submitted to us, and the high quality.

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greydog: The UV effect is neat (but we won’t spoil it here). Now, you’re Acquisitions Editor for the publisher Kristell Ink (imprint of Grimbold Books), ploughing through SFF novels. What sort of experience has this been – a lot of doleful head-shaking, or pleasure at the range of potential new authors?

joanne: A bit of both! Though by and large the quality of submissions has been very high, and it was really hard in the end to choose which books we were going to publish out of our final shortlist – contracts are going out pretty much as I type. (I didn’t think it would be just as exciting being on the sending end as it is on the receiving end, but it actually is…)

Most of the books that we rejected quickly were ones that had committed some fundamental error, like sending three completely random chapters when we asked for the first three, or send us epic poetry, which we don’t publish. I’m really happy that we’ve taken on some brand-new authors, and I’m looking forward to working with them!

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greydog: Another one of your sidelines is that you’ve been the Chair of BristolCon, the science fiction and fantasy convention, for some time. We used to do some con-running ourselves, and it can be hell. Are you a convention junkie?

joanne: I would go to more conventions if I had the time. Or the energy. Or the financial wherewithal. I really do enjoy them, but then I come home and have to sleep for about a week to recover. They are a great way of meeting people and networking and catching up with old friends, but sometimes they can be full on. Especially the bigger conventions. Luckily BristolCon is a petite one-dayer, and very friendly. You can find out more at www.bristolcon.org.

greydog: Given that this is the home of the weird and the lurcher, we notice you also have a rather lovely four-legged companion of your own. May we have a quick word-portrait to share with our three reprobates?

joanne: That would be Lyra, who is deeply weird even for a greyhound. She doesn’t know she’s a greyhound; she thinks she’s a hippopotamus, and her mission in life is to wallow in every puddle and muddy spludge she can get her feet into. Her main interests are sleeping, scrounging and bullying her best friend Charley in a variety of entertaining ways. Like me, she was last in all her races and, also like me, she has a passion for frozen yoghurt.

greydog: She would fit right in with our odd crew, by the sound of it. Finally, apart from The Summer Goddess, what’s coming up for you in the next year? Do you have any grand plans to extend the rule of the Hall-ian Empire?

joanne: Taking over the world by increments is the general plan… The Summer Goddess will be out at the end of September, all things going to plan. I’m hoping to finish a new novel set in an entirely different world by the end of the year, and I’m sure there will be various projects I happen along on the way, but my main focus right now is on The Summer Goddess. After that I might take a breather for a few weeks!

cover by jason deem
cover by jason deem

greydog: You deserve it. It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you, and we look forward to reading The Summer Goddess!

You can find out more about Joanne and her work on her own site and at her author page on Amazon:

joanne hall site

joanne’s amazon author page

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Fantasy-Faction

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We do love fantasy literature, although we often crouch at the old and weird end of the spectrum. A couple of weeks ago we rattled on about earlier fantasy authors (see 10 classic female fantasy authors), but occasionally we want to read something new. And as we pad through the murky swamps of social media looking for such fodder, we occasionally come across groups and blogs which do not make our heads explode. One such is the Fantasy-Faction Facebook Group, which has two especially laudable aspects:

1) The members are genuine fans, and are always full of interesting suggestions about modern fantasy stories, novels and authors (with a jot of old-style surfacing occasionally).

2) It’s a group which discourages arrant self-promotion – the best discussions are about other author’s books and what might be got from reading those (we writery people have to self-promote, but gods-help-us, not all the time, please)

It’s a great place to get reading recommendations, or to query other fans about what they thought of a particular character, story or book.

That’s not all, though. Behind the Facebook group looms the dark, brooding presence of Marc Aplin, with his Fantasy-Faction team. Marc started the UK-based website towards the end of 2010 after being exposed to too many good fantasy novels. Fired with enthusiasm, he wanted to build a network which promoted quality fantasy and encouraged people to explore the genre. So the website hosts all sorts of reviews, major author interviews and articles related to modern fantasy. And it does have a very positive vibe about it. As they say there:

“Why the name Fantasy-Faction? A faction is basically a grouping of like-minded individuals. Five years later our faction is part army, part family, and all lovers of fantasy books. We are now one of the largest fantasy communities on the web and it’s all thanks to our amazing contributors and our loyal Factioners.”

Access to the Fantasy-Faction site and their huge range of articles is free, but they have now started a Patreon page to help with costs and developing the range of features that they offer. If you’re a fantasy enthusiast, have a look at their site:

fantasy-faction main site

And here’s the direct Patreon link if you’d like to support them:

fantasy-faction patreon

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Next week on greydogtales – we bring you up to speed on greydog’s own writing, have an illustrated mega-interview with award winning artist/writer Alan M Clark. drop a few names and throw in a longdog or two…

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Ten Classic Female Fantasy Authors

There have been a lot of lists going around recently. So this isn’t really one of them. It is instead a celebration of ten women who wrote the fantasies that built up our love for the genre, from the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties. We don’t care whether or not they’re the best, or what-have-you. We grew up on them. If you read modern fantasy, by women or men, you should check out at least some of these.

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Most of our articles happen by accident. This one came from seeing a list of authors and going “Hey, she’s not in this. You suck!” And reading a post on Facebook which asked “Are you influenced by the gender of the writer when you buy a book?”

The answer to that question is no, we’d never thought about it until then. Why would we? We don’t check their shoe size or their hair colour either. Our youthful reading, as far as we could remember, was full of women authors. So we checked again, and yes it was.

In those far-off days the library was the first port of call, and the Children’s Section especially, because that held some of the most imaginative fantasy books. The ones they brought out for kids, then they got popular and suddenly they cashed in by publishing them as adult books. Watership Down (not by a woman) is an obvious example.

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Then a job in an actual bookshop turned up during those awkward teenage years. Harrumble! First the Puffin Books, then the Penguin range, and finally the SF and Fantasy section came under our grimy wing. Within months, we owed the bookshop more money than we’d started with (30% discount for employees was the ruination of us). As a result, virtually every book mentioned below is still up there in the Magic Loft. So here are our Ten Classic Female Fantasy Authors…

These are in a sort of chronological order, and focus on the books which hit home at the time. Fittingly, we start with with someone who spent nearly twenty years as a librarian before she became a full-time writer.

1) Andre Norton

American Andre Norton (born Alice Mary Norton) also wrote as Allen Weston and Andrew North. She was the first woman to be Gandalf Grand Master of Fantasy, first to be SFWA Grand Master, and first inducted by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. Although we came across her SF initially, what grabbed us was the Witch World series.

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Basically, the action starts with a chap called Tregarth escaping trouble through a portal to ‘somewhere else’. There are suggestions of other worlds and dimensions, but nothing is laid out as rational science. Tregarth ends up in Estcarp, where ancient and sorcerous powers still struggle for dominance, with the added menace of the cold, technological Kolder race, who also come from ‘somewhere else’. This starts what is called the Estcarp Cycle, initially covering the adventures of Tregarth, his witch wife Jaelithe, and their children Kyllan, Kemoc and Kaththea.

Witch World itself was the first of five linked books which establish the scene.

  • Witch World (1963) – Simon Tregarth’s arrival and meeting with Jaelithe
  • Web of the Witch World (1964) – the continuing struggle of the witches and their allies against their enemies the Kolder
  • Three Against the Witch World (1965) – the start of the saga of the three (grown-up) children
  • Warlock of the Witch World (1967)
  • Sorceress of the Witch World (1968)

Later on the series was expanded with the High Hallack Cycle, on a different continent from Estcarp and its neighboring lands. In the end there were over twenty novels.

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A lot is owed to these books. Despite being from the sixties, they are not Tolkien-based, and any other races introduced are strange and fey, including those of the Light, those of the Dark and some who are quite neutral. There is no one hack Dark Lord or Magic Hairpin – instead, there are many conflicts and misunderstandings between different peoples and beliefs – and a lot of magic! Check them out.

2) Susan Cooper

A British author, Susan Cooper is an entirely different kettle of badgers. Her main fantasy sequence, The Dark is Rising, is still very well known, and draws on British lore for much of its symbology – in particular, there are strong elements of Welsh mythology underlying much of what happens in the sequence.

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Plenty has been written about her work, so we won’t bang on about it here.

  • Over Sea, Under Stone (1965) – more for younger readers, but sets the scene
  • The Dark Is Rising (1973) – you can actually start with this one, if you want
  • Greenwitch (1974)
  • The Grey King (1975) – probably the most powerful of the five
  • Silver on the Tree (1977)

Note: The more recent Dark is Rising film was dreadful. It mangled the story, spoiled the feel, and should NOT be watched. We will say no more.

3) Katherine Kurtz

Katherine Kurtz, another American, wrote a lot of fantasy, including sixteen fantasy novels in the Deryni series. The first novel, Deryni Rising sets out a clearly-defined fantasy world governed by religious beliefs and ritual magic, with substantial conflict between the two.

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Unlike the Witch World books, the Deryni series is fantasy which has the ring of a solid historical saga, with classic tropes of heresy and religious duty. Not as ‘different’ as Norton, but maybe deeper in some ways. One critic called Kurtz “the first writer of secondary-world historical fantasy”.

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The Deryni in question are a line of humans who have hereditary powers, such as telepathy, certain spells or healing, and are variously respected or reviled in different lands. We admit we never finished all sixteen, but try the first one or two:

  • Deryni Rising (1970) – Kelson Haldane must protect his crown from a Deryni usurper.
  • Deryni Checkmate (1972) – Alaric Morgan and Duncan McLain face the wrath of the Holy Church.
  • High Deryni (1973) – Kelson Haldane attempts to repair an ecclesiastical schism on the eve of a foreign invasion.

4) Joy Chant

Joy Chant, a British fantasy writer, is probably less well-known that some of the other women here. We came across her because of her House of Kendreth series, set in the world of Vandarei, and the Puffin edition of Red Moon and Black Mountain. This time it’s easier to see influences, including echoes of C S Lewis and Tolkien, but there’s also a great feel to Vandarei and a certain wildness there. The first book won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for 1972.

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The trilogy is, in order:

  • Red Moon and Black Mountain (1970)
  • The Grey Mane of Morning (1977)
  • When Voiha Wakes (1983)

Editor and critic David Pringle (coincidentally another alumnus of Leeds SF and a founder of the SF magazine Interzone) rated Red Moon and Black Mountain as one of the hundred best fantasy novels in 1988. This book was also included as the thirty-eighth volume of the celebrated Ballantine Adult Fantasy series in March, 1971.

5) Patricia Wrightson

Patricia Wrightson was an Australian writer who might be said to have specialised in magical realism. She wrote nearly thirty books, but the one which caught our eye and got us into her work was The Nargun and the Stars. Importantly, she incorporated Australian Aboriginal beliefs into her work, which gives them a wonderfully different feel to a lot of fantasy.

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The four we recommend looking at are:

  • The Nargun and the Stars (1973)
  • The Ice is Coming (1977) – first of the three Song of Wirrun books
  • The Dark Bright Water (1978)
  • Behind the Wind (1981)

Read these to get away from Western medievalism for a change.

6) C J Cherryh

You might say that C J Cherryh (from the US) is more of a science fiction writer, but she has a touch for, and fascination with, other cultures which has always drawn us in. Conflict between cultures is a key element in some of her work, and to be honest, our favourite collection of hers is probably the Faded Sun trilogy.

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To counter that, we do like the Morgaine Cycle, which we would call fantasy or science fantasy – excepting that there is no ‘real’ magic, so be warned. Morgaine is a time-traveling heroine straight out of heroic fantasy, accompanied by her loyal companion Nhi Vanye i Chya as she seeks to destroy gateways in time and space. Many of the societies with which she has to deal are typical feudal/medieval ones, and she certainly packs one hell of a sword, called Changeling.

  • Gate of Ivrel (1976)
  • Well of Shiuan (1978)
  • Fires of Azeroth (1979)
  • Exile’s Gate (1988)

7) Patricia McKillip

Patricia McKillip is an American author who has written plenty of works which are most definitely fantasy. You might know her because of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (1974), the winner of the 1975 World Fantasy Award, or the marvellously titled The Throme of the Erril of Sherril (1973). Our interest today is in her outstanding Riddlemaster trilogy.

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Again there’s a Celtic influence, but only indirectly. Morgon, the Prince of Hed, was born with three stars on his forehead (but no-one knows why) and has a crown under his bed which he won in a riddle-game with the spirit of a dead king. When Morgon finds out that Mathom of An has pledged to marry his daughter to the man who wins that crown from the ghost, he sets off from his quiet farming community…

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It sounds like a typical heard-it-all-before quest fantasy, but it’s not. It’s fabulous. It contains some of the most moving moments and twists, especially involving the apparently hostile shapechangers and Morgon’s wish for things to make sense and be at peace. Great characters and concepts, such as the land law which resides with the land ruler of each of the kingdoms, making them theoretically aware of everyone and everything which is within their boundaries.

The three books are:

  • The Riddle-Master of Hed (1976)
  • Heir of Sea and Fire (1977)
  • Harpist in the Wind (1979)

It’s hard to believe that you would be disappointed by them, even in 2016.

8) Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones was another writer from Britland, and produced a range of fantasy for children and adults. Some would probably be described nowadays as YA, and in this case we’d suggest browsing her range to see if there’s anything you like. There’s the Chrestomanci series, started in 1977 with Charmed Life, and of course the Howl series:

  • Howl’s Moving Castle (1986)
  • Castle in the Air (1990)
  • House of Many Ways (2008)

That’s not why we’re here though. Our own introduction to Wynne Jones, and the reason why she came to mind, is the Puffin book, Power of Three, which we grabbed from that shelf in the bookshop (remember). It received a Guardian Prize commendation, and is a slightly different cross-cultural fantasy, where youngsters of two myth-type races find common ground – but there’s also an interesting twist.

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  • Power of Three (1977)

This is a children’s book, but it was a surprisingly satisfying find back in the day.

Our last two authors drag us into the early eighties, which is as far as we’re going.

9) Barbara Hambly

Barbara Hambly, from the USA, has written fantasy, mystery, science fiction and all sorts (a technical writers’ term). The books which brought her to our attention were the Darwath books, set in what could be called an alternate dimension, and these are definitely fantasy.

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Darwath is a place of conflict, and if we claw our way back to Katherine Kurtz, also contains a degree of struggle between religion and magic. Society is threatened by the Dark, which is an actual semi-physical foe. Warriors, wizards and less gifted folk must fight to protect their communities, with some hard choices, betrayals and consequences along the way.

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Intelligent fantasy, which holds up well nowadays and is still quite exciting. There are three main linked books, and then a few with the same general background:

  • The Time of the Dark (1982) – first of the trilogy
  • The Walls of Air (1983)
  • The Armies of Daylight (1983)

Also Darwathian:

  • Mother of Winter (1996)
  • Icefalcon’s Quest (1998)

10) Sheri Tepper

Sheri Tepper is another American writer who, like Hambly, has produced work across a range of genres, including science fiction, horror and mystery. While we could pay tribute to some of her more challenging and thoughtful fiction, we’re here for a specific fantasy series – although this too has its moments.

Our interest is in the trilogy of trilogies known as The True Game. In actual fact, the trilogies were written and published out of chronological order, although they are deeply intertwined. The Peter series was the first published. The Mavin series takes place earlier, providing some deep background to the Peter books along the way. The third trilogy, the Jinian series, is notable because it takes place during and after the same time period as the Peter series, giving a different perspective on the same events.

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It’s fairly important to start with the Peter trilogy. This starts with the young protagonist, Peter, learning to control talents which come as part of a person’s heritage – shape-changing, telekinesis, energy storing, mental dominance and many others, often in set combinations. Society is predominantly feudal and dominated by the stronger talents – the Gamesmen – and their demesnes, but all is not what it seems. Dot dot dot.

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We don’t want to spoil the books if you haven’t read them yet, because there are a lot of twists. They’re a rich and rewarding read, with new ideas and revelations coming in every book, some lessons in morality and some very original takes on the use of magic and power, including the nature of wizards.

The Books of the True Game: Peter

  • King’s Blood Four (1983) – the first novel
  • Necromancer Nine (1983)
  • Wizard’s Eleven (1984)

The Books of the True Game: Mavin Manyshaped

  • The Song of Mavin Manyshaped (1985)
  • The Flight of Mavin Manyshaped (1985)
  • The Search of Mavin Manyshaped (1985)

The Books of the True Game: Jinian

  • Jinian Footseer (1985)
  • Dervish Daughter (1986)
  • Jinian Star-Eye (1986)

There we are. Classic fantasy by women writers, the bulk of it from over thirty years ago. No, we haven’t included Ursula LeGuin, or a number of other female notables – ten is quite enough for now. You go and write your own blog – we’re busy here. Explore and enjoy.

Back in a couple of days with something completely different…

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Joshua Reynolds: Royal Occultist with a Warhammer

What can we say about Joshua Reynolds? Founder of the Royal Academy of Arts, noted 18th century portraitist knighted by George III in 1769… wait a minute. Who wrote these notes? Django!!! Bad dog. This is the wrong Reynolds, you daft animal. Uh, right. Today’s guest is the other guy, Joshua M Reynolds, who, well, he writes stuff. Good stuff.

one of our researchers, now on a warning
one of our researchers, now on a warning

Yes, it’s greydogtales, the only site still using lurchers for in-depth research and a labrador as a doorstop. It’s muddy here, and so our notebooks are covered in bloody great paw prints, but we’ll see what we can do.

Our guest writer is well known in at least two quite separate fan circles, and if they ever meet we may need more than longdogs to keep them in order. For Warhammer enthusiasts, Joshua Reynolds has written – and is still writing – a number of novels based on those heady days of utter carnage, betrayal and mad zealotry.

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friday night in any yorkshire town

If you’re not familiar with it, Warhammer is one of those things you do with a table-top when you’re not chopping up chicken carcasses. Scary lead and plastic figures creep into the madness that lies beyond the tomato ketchup, and there are even more rules for where you put the cake knife.

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On the other hand, you may prefer the spine-chilling, rather stylish adventures of Charles St Cyprian, the Royal Occultist, for Mr Reynold’s other main endeavour is chronicling the adventures of this renowned occult detective. Set mostly in the 1920s, the tales follow in the footsteps of William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki, except that St Cyprian is a rather more droll and stylish fellow.

“Formed during the reign of Elizabeth I, the post of the Royal Occultist, or ‘the Queen’s Conjurer’ as it was known, was created for and first held by the diligent amateur, Dr. John Dee, in recognition for an unrecorded  service to the Crown. The title has passed through a succession of hands since, some good, some bad; the list is a long one, weaving in and out of the margins of British history and including such luminaries as the 1st Earl of Holderness and Thomas Carnacki.”

no, django, that's the wrong one again
no, django, that’s the wrong joshua reynolds again

Let’s see if we can get any of this right in our interview…

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the real author, honest

greydog: Welcome to greydogtales. Important stuff first – Josh or Joshua? Or Mr Reynolds, Sir, in our case?

josh: Josh is fine. Or Joshua. Or Your Most Squamous Majesty. Face-Eating Willy. Tupelo Jim Smalls. Clyde. I answer to most anything, really.

Except Tupelo Jim Smalls. Not any more. I got my reasons, and I’ll thank you not to ask.

greydog: We wouldn’t think of it. Right, we dragged you here mainly because two of your recent stories stirred our old brain cells. The first was The Fates of Dr Fell, an excellent twist on the old portmanteau idea of multiple stories, in the manner of the films Dead of Night and Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (see our feature here: spawn of the ripper: the true story). Are you a horror film sort of guy?

josh: I am! The older, the better. Silver screams are the best screams. Keep your CGI, I want practical effects, goshdarnit. Gimme a guy in a grossly unrealistic gorilla suit, ambling awkwardly across a darkened Hollywood soundstage. That’s my jam.

That said, I have seen some newer stuff recently that I really enjoyed. From the Dark (2015) was a pretty swell vampire film which I encourage everyone to see, if they get the chance. It’s a good, old fashioned monster film with some nice sequences and plenty of mounting tension.

greydog: We can only agree. Films from the old days are still our favourites – but maybe we’ll try From the Dark now.

fell1

The second story that caught our eye was your novella The Door of Eternal Night, which manages to weave Arthur Conan Doyle and his creations into the tapestry. Both stories are part of the highly enjoyable Royal Occultist series, which seems to grow and grow. Is there a grand plan mapped out for Charles St Cyprian and Ebe Gallowglass?

josh: Not as such. I know roughly how the series ends and when, but I’m in no hurry to get to it. There are still plenty of stories to be told before starting that particular grim fandango. Basically, I’m happy to write about St. Cyprian and Gallowglass haring about in their Crossley, shooting hobgoblins, as long as people are willing to read about it.

greydog: The Royal Occultist is the nearest thing we know of to our own Tales of Last Edwardian. They’re somewhat different, but both draw on the legacy of Thomas Carnacki, the Ghost Finder. How did you get involved with William Hope Hodgson’s work, and what made it appeal to you?

josh: I first came across Hodgson in an anthology called Grisly, Grim and Gruesome. The story was “The Horse of the Invisible”, which is still perhaps my favourite Hodgson story – Hodgson’s descriptions of the sounds the eponymous phantom makes still creep me out a bit, even today. Even then, I was drawn to the idea of someone investigating a haunting as if it were a mystery. I credit that story with sparking my love of not just Hodgson, but occult detective fiction as a whole, really.

newadventures

greydog: In Sam Gafford’s anthology, Carnacki: The New Adventures, you actually have Carnacki meeting a young St Cyprian. Is this the ‘official’ origin story for St Cyprian’s involvement, or have we missed one?

josh: It is and you haven’t! “Monmouth’s Giants” is chronologically the first St. Cyprian story. That said, there are also several Carnacki/St. Cyprian adventures available, set during the Great War, when St. Cyprian was serving as Carnacki’s apprentice. If you’re interested, you can find a full chronology here: the royal occultist

greydog: You grew up in South Carolina, yet the world of the Royal Occultist is very English. Did that come naturally from reading UK fiction, or did it require an awful lot of research? And spelling lessons, putting the ‘u’ back in color etc?

josh: A bit of both, really. I read a lot of period literature–Waugh, Wodehouse, Sayers, Allingham–and did plenty of research into English history, especially the inter-war period. Also, I live in England now, so there’s probably some sort of osmosis going on.

nagash1

greydog: You have an impressive back-catalogue. Part of that includes work set in the Warhammer universe, and we did vote Nagash in the last election. At least he’s honest. Did you find writing in an established world like that one limiting?

josh: Nah. Limits make things interesting. There are always stories to tell, if you look hard enough. And established franchises are prone to having all sorts of intriguing nooks and crannies to explore. Places where new canon overlaps with old, and blank spaces on the maps.

Also, Nagash 2016. Serve him in life AND in death.

81F1C2-KAEL

greydog: We’ve seen worse campaign banners. We’re interested in your authorial stance, which seems to be “I do a job”. A while ago someone asked how you got into a particular line, and you said: “I was scrounging around for submission opportunities and ran across X’s guidelines. I figured it was worth a shot, so I knocked out a novel pitch that day and submitted it.” You’re not into the ‘tortured artist having vapours in a Parisian attic’ routine, then?

josh: Ha! No. Writing is my profession, and I like to think I’m good at it. It’s what I do to make money, which I then use to pay my mortgage bill and buy groceries and such. To accomplish that, I have to treat it like a job…eight to ten hour days, invoices, taxes, the whole nine yards. As my old granny is known to say, ‘them vapours is not conducive to financial stability’.

greydog: A wise woman. Now, we always wonder what writers read. What sort of fiction do you use to relax? More in the fantasy and supernatural genres, or something quite different?

josh: If we’re talking about relaxing specifically (as opposed to inspiration), I like mysteries. Thrillers, procedurals, cozy, noir… I read ’em all. You give me a sewing circle or a washed-up actor or a cat solving crimes, and I’m a happy fellow. Too, I’m a mark for writers like Dorothy L. Sayers and Ernest Bramah. Real Golden Age of Detective Fiction stuff.

kai-lungs-golden-hours

greydog: Bramah is sadly rather overlooked these days. His blind detective Max Carrados is an interesting read, though his tales of Kai Lung the Chinese storyteller, are even better. And we know you have more stories on the way. Any major projects for 2016 that you can share here?

josh: Well, hopefully, Infernal Express, the long-delayed third novel in The Adventures of the Royal Occultist series, will be out sometime soon. Not to mention the equally delayed second volume of Eldritch Inquests, the occult detective anthology I co-edited with Miles Boothe for Emby Press.

Novel-wise, there’ll also be a few Warhammer-related projects, but if I talk about those, they take away my cheese club privileges.

neferata
neferata

greydog: We’ll ask no more, then, but we’re coming in with our knuckle-dusters up for our last question. St Cyprian and Ebe Gallowglass versus Abigail Jessop and Henry Dodgson. Who’s going to win?

josh: Oh, that’s obvious. Us, when we rake in all that sweet, sweet box office money. I mean, we were planning to sell tickets, right?

greydog: We are now. Many thanks, Joshua M Reynolds (not an 18th century painter).

We do have an accidental publishing connection with Josh, although we didn’t know it until recently. His novella The Door of Eternal Night is part of the series The Science of Deduction from 18th Wall Productions, and our own contribution to the series, A Study in Grey, is due out this month.

book-cover-the-door-of-eternal-night_Final

door of eternal night on amazon

You can get the ebook from the link above. Josh can also be found on his writing website, here:

hunting monsters

the royal occultist book two
the royal occultist book two

Next week on greydogtales: Lurchers and folk horror, but not at the same time. Subscribe, or follow on Facebook, and you’ll know which posts to avoid (we’re sure we should put that more positively, somehow).

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Tolkien at Easter: A Warning from History

Today on greydogtales – why hobbits suck, Wayland’s Smithy, some proper Anglo-Saxon folklore and how to aethelfrith without losing your appetite. Fantasy for those who like mythology and history; mythology and history for those who like fantasy. Or something like that. Hang in there.

People ask me if I write fantasy. They do this with a vague sense of hope, trying to deflect me from another fascinating lecture on either lurchers or Edwardian psychiatry. It’s interesting, I reply, that Freud began corresponding with Jung concerning his patients’ fantasies in 1906…

not a ring-wraith, honestly
not a ring-wraith, honestly

“No, we meant magic swords, elves, dragons, that sort of thing! Fun stuff!” they shriek. And as it happens, today we celebrate an exciting anniversary, Aethelfrith Day. So this is a good time to talk about fantasy.

As everyone knows, it is one thousand four hundred years ago to the day since King Aethelfrith died*. He was slain, in fact, fighting King Raedwald of East Anglia in 616CE. But he had already managed to lay the foundations of the Kingdom of Northumbria by uniting the kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira. Hurray!

Kingdom_of_Northumbria_in_AD_802
northumbria in 802ce

A lot of my family come from around York in old Deira, the city from which Edwin, Aethelfrith’s successor, ruled Northumbria for a while. Edwin converted to Roman Christianity at York. Regarding this event, the church historian Bede (672 – 735) quotes a famous simile about a sparrow flying in and out of a hall, which ends with:

“…This life of man appears for a short space but of what went before or what is to follow we are ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.”

OK, said Edwin. I’ll buy that. I’m not fond of birdwatching, but I would like to know what happens when I finally put down the binoculars. It’s politically-motivated, deeply-suspect Roman Christianity for me!

We’ll stick with Bede for a moment, because it’s also Easter Month, or Eosturmonath, as they called it in the Kingdom of Northumbria. Bede was an Anglo-Saxon monk based in County Durham, and wrote On the Reckoning of Time, in which he says that during Eosturmonath, which is effectively our April, the pagan English celebrated Eostre the Goddess and held feasts in her honour. At the time Bede was writing this (about 723), the custom was dying out and being replaced by a Christian celebration, the Paschal Month, which focussed on Jesus.

oestre, johannes gehrts, 1884
eostre/ostara, johannes gehrts, 1884

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up on a coast with a lot of this sort of history (see whale-road, widow-maker). As a teenager I took Bede’s An Ecclesiastical History of the English People out of the library – that and Tom Swift and His Giant Robot.

Bede’s plot is weak, but the names in there are great, and not long after that I read J R R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I still say that hobbits are best considered in relation to pie-filling (see later), but when I got to the Riders of Rohan, and the genealogy of Theoden King, I was deeply hooked.

LOTR The Two Towers 546

The names, the names… I wanted to write this sort of thing. There were villages around us which might have come straight out of Bede and/or Tolkien. There’s even an Eastrington in the East Riding of Yorkshire, a village which was around when the Domesday Book was assembled, and which may get its name from Eostre. I was getting an Anglo-Saxon rush.

In The Two Towers, there is a song with the line “Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?” Tolkien sourced this from the Old English poem The Wanderer:

Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago?
Where is the horse gone? Where the rider?

The Wanderer is a great read for fantasy fans, by the way. Check out the Exeter Book online, the largest collection of Old English literature still in existence, given to the library of Exeter Cathedral in 1072.

the exeter book
the exeter book

You can listen to The Wanderer in Old English here, just to get the rhythm and sound of the original words:

Side-note: If you want to go deep-Tolkien, the old chap probably got Theoden’s death from the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields in 451, when the Romans and the Visigoths allied to face Attila the Hun. During an indecisive battle (or a victory for the forces of the West, if you like to see it that way), the Visigoth King Theodoric was killed. As Theoden fell at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, so did Theodoric get thrown off his horse and crushed at the Catalaunian Fields (according to a 6th century Roman guy called Jordanes, anyway).

The Exeter Book also contain reference to another figure of Anglo-Saxon and Northern mythology, Weland, known as Wayland, Weyland etc, the smith/god. Heavy-duty Weland stuff is for another time, except to say that he was a key figure in Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill, which we also talked about a while ago.

gehrts, 1883
gehrts, 1883

Some will know of Wayland’s Smithy, the megalithic burial mound in the south of England which was probably adopted by the Anglo-Saxons as a sacred place.

smithy1930s
wayland’s smithy, 1930

This is Weland in the Old English poem Deor:

Weland, the strong man, had experience of persecution; he suffered a lot. Sorrow and longing were his companions, along with exile in the cold winter; he experience misfortunes after Nithad laid constraints upon him, supple bonds of sinew on a better man.

That went away, this also may.

In Beadohild’s mind her brothers’ death was not as grieving as her own situation, when she realized she was pregnant; she couldn’t fathom the outcome.

That went away, this also may.

Many of us have heard that the Geat’s love for Maethild passed all bounds, that his love robbed him of his sleep.

That went away, this also may.

For thirty years, Theodric ruled the stronghold of the Maerings; which has become common knowledge.

That went away, this also may.

We have learned of Eormanric’s ferocious disposition; a cruel man, he held dominion in the kingdom of the Goths. Many men sat, full of sorrow, anticipating trouble and constantly praying for the fall of his country.

That went away, this also may.

If a man sits in despair, deprived of joy, with gloomy thoughts in his heart; it seems to him that there is no end to his suffering. Then he should remember that the wise Lord follows different courses throughout the earth; to many he grants glory, certainty, yet, misery to some. I will say this about myself, once I was a minstrel of the Heodeningas, my Lord’s favorite. My name was Deor. For many years I had an excellent office and a gracious Lord, until now Heorrenda, a skillful man, has inherited the land once given to me by the protector of warriors.

That went away, this also may.

wayland's smithy, max koch, 1902
wayland’s smithy, max koch, 1902

Anyway, I have written fantasy since finding Bede and Tolkien, but I like it skewed. I was Grimdark years before Grimdark was even though of, except that I prefer complex personal struggles over ultraviolence and pitched battles.

I like swords which are named ‘False Hope’ and have no power whatsoever, and rings whose main use is for barter when some bastard steals your coinage. Apart from the unusual octagonal copper rings of my most amoral mercenary, Nemors of the Last Blessing, and they’re not really magical either (weird – I just realised that I wrote about Nemours in my very first blog entry ever, in the year of the blue heron).

I’ve never written about a dragon in my life. I’ve never submitted any fantasy stories either, because I’ve rarely finished any of them to my satisfaction. The only one with which I was happy, Gafolmearc, I lost during a house move, like a number of other ‘only one copy’ stories of mine. This was in the days when you had to remember to put the carbon paper in the typewriter.

(Carbon paper? Typewriter? These, my dear children, were devices used by writers in ancient days to ensure that even more could go wrong with their careers than nowadays.)

reprintcartI do still have most of The Strength of the Skies, one of my Anglo-Saxon fantasies. Might even do something with it one day. Until then, here’s a snippet:

Listen now! Those who have passed are uneasy. They shuffle and turn in their mounds, and spearheads rattle between their ribs. There is a voice above them which says remember, but they only wish to sleep.

A doomsayer has come, and her chants are part of the wind which stirs the barrows. Her scarlet cloak has a wild bird’s will, cracking and flapping in the snare of her broach. As she climbs the mound of Crooked Gydda, she leans into the rain and bares a thin knife. With each name she utters, with each struggling step, she cuts at the tight skin of one arm. Bright blood spatters the earth, name on name.

This is why she is here: to speak doom with her flesh, from the scars of years long gone to the open wounds of the Now.

And this is what she will say: Beornred, last of the Eorls of his line… Beornred, gift-giver, swift-striker… is dead.

As she sings out across the headland, her blood beads like new-pressed wine.

“…son of Aecghild, daughter of Aecglif, who harrowed Mathun and left ten hand of skulls at its gate…”

Eadric shudders and tugs his cloak more tightly around his shoulders. The mutterings of the Wyrd are in the woman’s voice, patterns of a doom which the living should not hear. And he is cold. The sky above the headland is a leaden bowl, filled with rain and wind-whipped spray, and his grey hair is plastered to his scalp. Mathunness at winter’s end is too exposed for his rusting mail threadbare clothes, and his chest tells him so.

Too old, too old, it moans.

“This is tomorrow’s wind, my friend,” says his companion, “But I do not think that you are tomorrow’s man.”

So much for that. To finish with Aethelfrith, why do we have a photo of the Sutton Hoo helmet on here? Because King Raedwald of East Anglia (remember him?), who fought Aethelfrith, is the most likely person to have been buried at Sutton Hoo, in the intact burial-ship they found there. It was Raedwald who installed Edwin as King in Northumbria – yes, Edwin who… you know the rest.

the best use for a hobbit
the best use for a hobbit

Speaking as one who watches The Lord of the Rings extended DVDs by skipping most of the bits where halflings fall over, drop palantirs and so on, I will end with that hobbit pie recipe in full.

Ingredients:

One plump hobbit
One turnip, a couple of potatoes, one small onion
Half a pound of bacon
Handful of fresh thyme and sage; pepper
Flaky pastry to cover

Method:

Throw the turnip really hard and stun the hobbit
Gently saute the onion, bacon and potatoes
Add herbs and pepper
Cover with pastry and cook for 45 minutes
Eat with fresh crusty bread

When the hobbit regains consciousness, tell him that the pie’s all gone, and then laugh at his stricken expression. Gosh, you didn’t think I was going to suggest actually eating one of those hairy little horrors, did you? You’d be picking fur and toes out of your teeth for days…

oestre/ostara. jan fibbinger
eostre/ostara. jan fibiger

*I lied about the exact timing of Aethelfrith Day, incidentally – it might have been a Friday – but not about the rest.

Next time on greydogtales: A feature that makes more sense – our super interview with fantasy and horror author Joshua M Reynolds.

 

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