Archive for October, 2008

This is one of my favourite times of year, and I’m posting today, talking about Whitby.

What do I mean, Whitby?


1) A small seaside town and fishing port on the north east coast of Yorkshire, famous for it’s jet.

2) An important medieval abbey. See also St Hilda (Abbess)

3) “a gathering of as many goths as we possibly can get in one place for drinking, bands, partying on top of cliffs all night, posing for tourists, and generally living it up…”

The Abbey is beautiful, and the lovely town very much part of the thing, but when me and mine talk about ‘going to Whitby’, we’re talking about definition #3 – the Whitby Goth Weekend.

Way back in 1994, a bunch of net-goths decided they’d get together, basically to see how many goths they could get in a seaside pub. The answer was about 250, so the next autumn they decided to actually organise things … bands, the bizarre bazaar, club nights, auxiliary extra club nights, fashion shows, sandcastle competitions, art exhibitions, photo dates with the local photography clubs, history walks, charity football matches against the local newspaper….

Add in personal rituals (for me, that includes at least one afternoon’s raid on the Shepherd’s Purse, buying chocolate coffins in Justin’s, catching up with a lot of people who I don’t otherwise get to see, Getting Ready Together, Sexbat’s 80’s night at Laughton’s, a massed cafe breakfast on the final day for the saying of goodbyes, and the totally unofficial not-quite-legal bonfire) and you have a recipe for a very fun, very full, very customisable long weekend.

It’s a gig-come-convention. It’s a festival. It’s a holiday with like minded friends. It’s an invasion (if you squint – local businesses love us, and the crime rate tends to droop when we’re in town), it’s a party, it’s an opportunity to dress up, it’s – it’s a twice-yearly celebration of community.

I’ve not been able to take time off from my day job to go up to Whitby for three years now, and I miss it. I spent one night this week doing a friend’s hair for him – wielding my latch hook to tidy, tighten and adorn the dreads that were barely to his shoulder blades when I first help make them, and are now past his waist – and I’m glad I got to do that, to be at least that little tiny bit involved in this season’s bi-annual migration to the North.

I could probably ramble on for a few thousand words about Whitby, but, in an attempt not to, I’ll stop now, and just ask this: What do you want to know?

As I write this, my email is all aflutter with people doing last minute prep and posting their farewells, and by the time I post it, on Halloween, there will be a seasonal silence on those channels.

I’d raise a pint of snakebite and black to the departed, but mine’s an absinthe and lemonade ;p


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The Grimm Truth

Okay, so I’m a few days early but to get us into the right mood, I thought I would share a favourite piece of writing with you, but first a word on its origins. I wrote this article for a West Country community newsletter that I used to write for regularly. Subsequently, this piece was also accepted for publication by Gothic Fairy Tales. However, little was I to know that its publication in a small Devon paper would result in my receiving fan mail…all the way from South Africa! A North Devon “maid” (as they are often referred to) had moved all that way but continued to pay for and receive local news as a reminder of her true “home” and the place where her heart lies. She simple adored “The Grimm Truth” and wanted to thank me for writing it. No one could have been more surprised and delighted than I was. Until I began writing novels this was my first instance of anyone outside of the UK reading my work. Who was to know that a simple article would travel such a long way.

The Grimm Truth

Take someone who has not only travelled abroad but also explored many of the counties in the United Kingdom. Couple this with an extensive interest in writing, and one cannot visit these places without gaining an awareness of the numerous tales and fables that exist, many unique to the areas. For a writer it is impossible to ignore the tales of King Oberon’s epic battle on Dartmoor and the wealth of legends regarding fairies and pixies in Devon alone. These stories are born out of and are woven into the magic of legend and history. Yet, as adults, we segregate many of them to the realm of quaintness and childhood. Many of us fail to comprehend fully the extent early delights such as Fairy Tales and Nursery Rhymes, are part of that wealth.

It may surprise many to know that the stories that we now regard as created for and belonging to children were originally intended for adults only. They were often traditional folk tales with endings that were much more bloodthirsty than their modern day counterparts. No one saved granny or the little girl in the red hood from the wolf’s “great big teeth” and Sleeping Beauty was not awakened by a kiss but impregnated by the Prince, and even gave birth while still she slept. These stories speak of other times and places yet they are a tool to reflect incidences in our own lives and history. It was during the Victorian era that these stories began to be rewritten, printed, and delegated to the realm of children’s imagination. However, perhaps in this they still serve their purpose for when read to children now, parents are unconsciously teaching their offspring that bad things happen in life, that we have to learn to deal with them, and that with a little luck and maybe perseverance the good guy can still win. Simply, these stories now teach us at an increasingly young age about the world in which we live, and they should not be regarded lightly or dismissed.

A well-known producer of collectible figurines clearly saw the potential of delving into these fantasies and tapping into the darker origins for adults. Consequently, a small series of figurines depicting these story characters combined with the macabre and gothic, a soupcon of humour and eroticism hit the market as their response. Certainly not to everyone’s taste, the purpose of a brief mention is not to publicise them but to draw attention to the fact that these stories are still with us and their influence remains as strong. In addition, these strange figures delved slightly out of the realm of fairy tales into the substrata of nursery rhymes, these ditties that are regularly told to children of an even younger age. Indeed, some encyclopaedias classify them as verses for children.

Reminded of childhood reminiscences, I particularly recalled a book given to me by my grandmother containing works of the Brothers Grimm who collected stories as a study of their culture. Conversely, Hans Christian Anderson wrote his own stories, though he readily incorporated elements from the world around him. The Brothers were unhappy to find their work often referenced to children as they intended these tales for all. This was a contention they shared with Anderson, though their tales were sometimes considered coarse, while Anderson’s were often moralistic.

Knowing most fairy-tales were not originally intended for younger audiences left the question of the origins and original intentions behind these short, entertaining rhymes. Taking one in particular for research purposes led to some interesting and equally entertaining information coming to light and equally if not more disturbing answers.

A few of us may be aware that “Ring Around the Rosies” was actually an account of the black plague and referred to the circles that occurred around the eyes; this ends unsurprisingly with people “falling down” (dead). However, how many of us remember Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater? How many of us would be content to read this to our children knowing that the origins are from America rather than Europe, though this may seem obvious since pumpkins were not readily available in England until recent years. Not much to concern anyone there even with the Pumpkin’s connotations of Halloween. Yet, how many of us would happily sit down to read this rhyme to children knowing what the verse actually meant. “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater had a wife and couldn’t keep her” translates into an unfaithful wife; hence he couldn’t “keep” her. He put her in a pumpkin shell (pumpkin shell in this instance meaning chastity belt) and there he kept her very well.

Incidentally, the face carved in the Pumpkin is to frighten bad spirits away — it is not a bad entity itself. Another frequent mistake: children are not meant to trick you if they do not give them a treat. They are meant to ask for you to give them a treat or for you to play a trick on them — more examples of where traditions have been twisted to suit this modern age. So adults enlightened, children beware!

The truth is many of the rhymes that we once laughed over at bedtime were written using fact, even politics. Many were folk songs or even prayers; many rhymes were direct digs at greed and taxation. Some may have traditional customs. They may also be categorised as lullabies, riddles and tongue twisters among others — all which had an individual use and intended audience (counting rhymes are an effective aid to learning). Many are synonymous with other cultures though they may appear in a different form or with a substitute character relevant to that country’s history.

Some do not hold up so well in today’s climate. The tale of Miss Muffet, supposedly based on the daughter of an entomologist named Muffet who was frightened by one of her father’s spiders surely helps to instill fear in children of arachnids. Likewise, Peter Pumpkin Eater is seen by some as a form of abuse and the vision of a blind woman running after three mice with a chopper in her hand would be a strange sight for most of us. However, surely it is important to keep these in the context they have been regarded for decades. Once heard as children they became part of our play, have remained constant companions, and did us less harm than most images youngsters are subject to today. The sad truth is some of these rhymes have changed over time and may not reflect their original intent. Alas, some origins are lost to us completely and the creators, many of them anonymous, are no longer with us. Still, they should not be discarded. Not many of us look back on them with any emotion other than fondness. They are an integrated part of our history and most importantly, they teach us to play with words at an early age.

Incidentally, King Oberon was seriously injured and Puck still searches for herbs to cure him. If anyone has any suggestions they could be in for some fairy luck, though Puck is not generally thought of as trustworthy.

Sharon Maria Bidwell
aonia – where the muses live

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Pretty much everyone these days knows about the obvious differences between British and American English – the sidewalks and pavements, the faucets and taps, the gottens and gots. What fewer people know, and I only found out from working with American editors, is the occasional gulfs in grammar between the two languages.

Take passive, for instance. Here in the UK the rules are fairly straightforward, once you get to grips with them. A sentence written in passive voice is one where the subject of the sentence has the action of the verb applied to it – in other words, the subject of the sentence is the object of the verb.

Sounds baffling? You’re not alone! *g* But take the example I was taught at school, ‘The ball is hit by the boy’. In a normal, active sentence, this would be ‘the boy hits the ball’ where the subject of the sentence (the boy) is carrying out the action (hitting) on the object (the ball). But in the passive version, the subject of the sentence (the ball) is having the action (hitting) carried out on it by the subject of the verb (the boy). A more relevant example for erotic romance would be ‘the woman was undressed by her lover’. Oo-er…

Passive voice can appear in any tense. Present – ‘the ball is hit by the boy’; past – ‘the ball was hit by the boy’; even future – ‘the ball will be hit by the boy’.

Obviously an entire story written in passive voice would be incredibly clunky and stilted, but used sparingly it adds variety and can be quite effective at altering the reader’s viewpoint.

In America, from what my editors tell me, this is all quite different. For starters, they call it passive tense, and it seems only to relate to the past. Any sentence involving the word ‘was’ is automatically considered passive tense, irrespective of what the subject and object of the verb are. So, going back to the tedious boy and his ball, the American passive would be ‘the boy was hitting the ball’, even though the subject of the sentence (the boy) is also the subject of the sentence. Their only active version of the same sentence is ‘the boy hit the ball’.

For writers born and educated to this system, that’s fine. But here in Britain there’s a worrying side-effect of this difference, because we have a subtle but important distinction between finished and continuous actions. For us, ‘the boy hit the ball’ is a single, completed occurrence, whereas ‘the boy was hitting the ball’ suggests multiple, continuing actions over a period of time, with no specified end. Put another way, ‘the man undressed his lover’ suggests the woman is already naked, while ‘the man was undressing his lover’ could mean she still has her underwear on!

When I explained this to one former editor in America, she was fascinated, and confirmed that American English has no such distinction. To them, ‘the boy was hitting the ball’ is simply a more roundabout and stilted (and passive) way of saying ‘the boy hit the ball’. Too often, British writers are asked to take out every single instance of the word ‘was’ from their stories on the grounds that it’s passive, which can lead to a loss of the subtle shades of meaning in our writing.

So, what should we do? Explain, and hope that our editors listen? Write the American way for an American market, even though it risks losing some of the richness of the writing? It’s an interesting problem, and one I’m still trying to get to grips with. How about the rest of you?

PS. If you’re interested, or can’t get to grips with my rather woolly examples *g*, there’s a nice grammar guide on active and passive verbs from Birmingham City University here: http://www.ssdd.bcu.ac.uk/learner/Grammar%20Guides/3.06%20Active-Passive.htm

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Hi, I’m another Alex – Alex Draven. Mostly I write queer romance (sometimes dubbed m/m erotic romance, or original slash, or any one of a hundred other labels), and I’ve been putting off making my introduction post, because I always find it slightly embarrassing to talk about myself – how terribly stereotypically British of me!

(Photo by Chanc)

My tagline is ‘Librarian by day, storyteller by night’, because that’s pretty much true – I’ve worked in various libraries, largely in London, and they’re excellent places for watching people. My writing has to fit in around the day job because I’ve learned that nothing takes the joy out of something like making it responsible for keeping a roof over your head. I’ve made that mistake before. I can’t not think about stories, though, so the writing happens in all the spaces where it can, and I get to still enjoy it.

A fair amount of what I write is set in Britain, because that is my background – I’ve lived in England and Wales my whole life.

That said, I struggled for a long while to find a way of writing contemporary stories set in the UK that didn’t get bogged down in specific locations, and my first published stories were set in the USA. (Fall, which is urban fantasy with centaurs, is out of print and freely available on my journal, and Sleeping Bears, which is urban fantasy with bears and set in Alaska. Originally published in an anthology, it has been extended and will be coming out as a stand-alone ebook from Torquere Press in October)

(photo by unclebucko)

How did I make the jump to bringing my stories closer to home? I created fictional locations. There’s Kettle and its environs, which was home to my early experiments in English urban fantasy – some of which I plan to eventually revisit – and there’s Tawnholme, which is home to a lot of my contemporary stories, including both my current publications, Staytape and Favour (or, officially, Favor, because it’s with an American publisher). It took a long while to get a good grip on their geography, their history, but at least most of the background rules that shape the way people act – school systems, police systems, the rules of the road, media distribution, power supply – were already familiar to me.

If you followed the links, you’ll see the other reason I have ‘storyteller by night’ in my tagline – a lot of my stories are set in the UK’s goth/alternative scene. Why? Because boys in eyeliner. Okay, so that’s flippant (if a little bit true). Mostly because that, too, is my background. This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s wondered where my pen name comes from, but, yes, I’m a goth. Or, these days, more of a metal-tinged rivethead corp-goth with terrifyingly eclectic music tastes, depending on how you look at these things.

I don’t write from life, but I do take inspiration from what’s around me, and my aesthetic is what it is.

(Photo by fluffy_steve)

I had a conversation with an editor last year where they queried a description of one of the characters, and I paraphrase.

“Are you sure this is saying what you want it to say – I’m getting Johnny Depp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, they said.

“Yup,” I said.

“Oh,” they said. “If that’s what you intended, then, fair enough. Only that’s not an image that says sexy to me”.

“Um,” I said. “It does to me …”

I’m just glad that the story found readers who see things more my way than the editor’s!

At the moment I’ve got several Tawnholme stories on the boil – the drag queen and the reluctant stag-party guest, the librarian and the children’s author, the roadie and the musician, the one where they meet by dropping milkshake on the pavement, the one where they go on holiday to Cornwall – and a ghost story that’s percolating in the back of my head.

So, in a nutshell, that’s me. Hi!

My website is currently a work in progress, so alexdraven.org.uk will take you to my journal, and the fiction that I’ve posted there.

My published works are available direct from the publisher here or via Amazon / Fictionwise / etc.

And my email inbox is always open, if people have questions or want to get in touch. (Alex@ the domain above)

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