New Book Trailer

We’d already made a book trailer for The Red Man and Others when it came out on Kindle. For this, we took the Red Man himself as a starting point, and then connected Ymke and the farm she grew up on to the Otasfaust, where she met Kaila. As we were launching the expanded paperback of the story collection (available here) we thought it’d be a good idea to give it a new book trailer. Here it is:

The idea we had was to focus on The Return of the Uncomplaining Child, as this is the longest story in the book, and the one in which Ymke, Kaila and Sebastien meet up. As it’s written from Ymke’s point of view, we decided to do it from her perspective, using the first lines of the story, as written by her. We’d already used a medieval style of drawing for the chapter headers of the paperback, and we felt that this would also suit the narrative of the trailer. So, I set to work doing the drawings from Ymke’s diary. I had fun with that, even though Ymke’s a better writer than artist!

We recorded the sound in GarageBand, with separate files for the narration and for the Brotherhood of the Wheel’s chanting. The bell is actually a dinner gong – our cat Polly doesn’t like the sound, and her struggle throughout recording and editing was real! The various Brothers were all me, chanting in different registers, taped on several tracks and then ‘audited’ and mixed. GarageBand is quite flexible, and where a Brother had a good voice but no rhythm, I could still go in and cut – his -track – up to match.

We filmed the ‘live’ bits in our library by candlelight. It’s not something I’d recommend, as the footage came out quite grainy, but if it’s good enough for Kubrick (Barry Lyndon) it’s good enough for me. It’s Angeline you see there, wearing quite a bit of jewellery appropriate for Ymke, like a northern Dutch bracelet with blood coral and a clunky Nibelungen-style armband. The goose quill pen came from a ‘medieval writing’ kit, but augmented with a modern nib. Various odds and ends from around the house, including the Lewis chess piece queen, made up the backdrop.

I edited the video in iMovie. First I laid down the sound, then cut the footage over it, which I’d first sorted into three folders: No (terrible), yes (stuff I’d like to include), maybe (not great, but some elements may work as a cross-cut). I also created the title card in Pixlr, a free, online Photoshop-like program: it’s black and white text on a green screen, which iMovie could then lay over the footage.

It’s all fairly straightforward, and nothing that takes a very steep learning curve: Google is your friend here too – it’ll direct you to ‘how do I do this’ pages and YouTube tutorials. This is all software that was free online or bundled with my computer, and when working digitally, imagination is the main constraint. If the result is rubbish, then scrap it and try again, or try Plan B. It’s absolutely possible to create something aesthetically pleasing, evocative of your book, and tempting to readers.

And – did I really burn one of my drawings? No, of course not. I’d scanned and printed it, and mounted the page in the book. I’m not very precious about my art, but torching it would go a bit far even for me!

Beyond the Veil

Still discombobulated from the paperback launch of The Red Man and Others, we got the message that the line-up of Flame Tree Press’s Beyond the Veil would be made public.

You can find the full list on Flame Tree Press’s blog post, as well as links to further info on each author. This anthology will come out on Kindle, in paperback and in hardback in October, just in time for Hallowe’en. It was edited by Mark Morris, and contains twenty original horror stories, sixteen of which were commissioned from some of the top names of the genre, with the other four selected from hundreds of submissions.

It’s a great list of names, and we are really proud to see ours amongst Priya Sharma, Toby Litt, Matthew Holness (Dream Weaver, and actor, of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace of which we’re huge fans), Lisa Tuttle, and Jeremy Dyson (League of Gentlemen, another favourite of ours).

For our story, For All The Dead, we returned to the area I grew up in, close to the Northern Dutch coast, but that of a century and a bit back. We find ourselves in Soltcamp, the fictionalised version of Zoutkamp, the fisherman’s village that once lay by the sea. It’s a village where the people kept, in the words of one of our characters, ‘one eye on the Bible, the other on the sea.’ It allowed us to play with the folklore of the sea, and embroider our own mythology.

Familiar as we are with the history of Zoutkamp, we worked in elements of one of its infamous residents of the past, the seer Meldine, who was said to have made many predictions of things still to happen, and with her followers to practice her own particular version of Christianity. She is said to have appeared at funerals to preach about the fate of the departed, until the villagers felt she carried that too far and told her to stop. You can read more about Meldine, and other prophets of the sea, in our article for Northern Earth.

The sea, an ever lurking danger behind the dikes of the low-lying areas, certainly had a hold over the people of the coast. It provided their livelihood, but several big floods also devastated the countryside. Chief amongst them was the Christmas flood of 1717, claiming 14,000 lives, but there were other dangers. For our story we were thinking of the disaster of of 1883. A few years ago we visited the monument on the dike of the village of Moddergat on a cold and windy April day; its plaque tells how 109 fishermen went out on 22 ships, and how 17 ships and 83 men remained at sea.

The sea giveth, and she taketh away.

Northernness

Writers sometimes say that their characters start to lead a life of their own. This definitely has turned out to be true for Kaila, Ymke and Sebastien. We started out with a basic outline of who they were, but during the stories we wrote for The Red Man and Others and the follow-ups we’re working on, their personalities definitely have become more complex and nuanced. It’s not easy to define exactly who they are, and often it comes down to ‘Kaila would definitely do this’ or ‘Sebastien would never say that’. For Ymke, we found the one word that encompasses a lot of who she is, how she thinks and what she believes in: Northernness.

This actually came up during a discussion about a project we’ve got in the fridge, about the ornery northern Dutch writer/traveller M.S. Teenstra – and in the back of the fridge, slightly mouldy, a project about the ornery northern Dutch writer/traveller J.J. Slauerhoff. Angeline mentioned Northernness, a term used by C.S. Lewis in his Surprised by Joy, and asked whether it’d be translatable to Dutch. It’s a term that encompasses a lot, but has no strict boundaries:

Pure “Northernness” engulfed me: a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of Northern summer, remoteness, severity… and almost at the same moment I knew that I had met this before, long, long ago. …And with that plunge back into my own past, there arose at once, almost like heartbreak, the memory of Joy itself, the knowledge that I had once had what I had now lacked for years, that I was returning at last from exile and desert lands to my own country…

And to go a bit deeper into the rabbit hole, Joy is understood as:

it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. …I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world.

Jannes de Vries – Seagulls behind the plough

To answer Angeline’s question: Northernness can be translated as Noordsigheid, and it is applicable to Teenstra and Slauerhoff, both writers who travelled to the remote corners of their world, had experiences they could not hope to explain to others (not for want of trying), and yet could never find that single thing that would truly make them happy. Perhaps it was because searched so far that they forgot to look close by; I am reminded of John Boorman’s Excalibur, in which the Knights of the Round Table seek the length and breadth of the realm for the Grail, until Parcival dreams of it while on the verge of death. What is the secret of the Grail? The King and the Land are one, is the answer. Who does it serve? The shadowy figure asks. We may be mistaken this figure for Christ, or God, but no; when the King and the Land are one, we’re looking at a pre-Christian, rural past of agrarian cycles and customs like the May Queen and, per James George Frazer, the Sacred King, who’d take place next to the Earth Goddess for a year.

A sidestep to my dad. While we’re from very orthodox Protestant stock, my grandfather broke with the church, and my father was a Christian in name only. However, he found spirituality outdoors; even when pensioned he’d be up at dawn and on his bicycle, and could be found in the nature reserve close by, or in the polder, the land reclaimed from the sea, while the world was still asleep. This, for me, is a feature of Northernness: the spirituality of the landscape, and the way the northern soul is attuned to it. This is not something that is talked about; it’s a personal relationship. God does not live in a church; God is in the landscape, is the land. With that, the Sacred King, like Arthur, is a stand-in for that deity, but in a way all us northerners are.

Dad

One of the most popular and enduring songs in my native Gronings dialect is Ede Staal’s ‘Mien Hogelaand’. You can find the full text here, with the Dutch translation which Google will help you render in your language of choice. It’s worth listening to, even if you don’t get the words, as part of the song’s meaning is in the melody. (Hogelaand, or Highland, is what the area is called – it’s ever so slightly raised, which was a plus in bygone times of floods).

It’s the sky behind Uithuizen, it’s the little tower of Spijk,
It’s the road from Leens to Kloosterburen, and through Westpolder along the dike.
It’s the windmills and the canals, the churches and the strongholds.
It’s the land where as a child, I didn’t know of pain or sorrow.
That’s my land, my High Land

These examples are not postcard pictures. The accumulation of places, for anyone having grown up there, will go straight to the heart. Ede zooms in gradually, his broad strokes becoming more detailed:

It’s the wheat fields, it’s the oats, It’s the rapeseed in bloom
It’s the horizon at Ranum, Just after a thunderstorm

The song goes from the permanence of the landscape to the cyclical nature of the harvest, and to the momentary, to how the horizon looks after a thunderstorm. That he mentions the village of Ranum is immaterial; we from Groningen recognise the wideness of the landscape, and how that sky looks in the distance. Then, he gets personal, and places himself inside of the landscape and the song:

It’s a nice evening in May; a cow is coughing in the grassland.
I’m dating for the first time, and feel the sparks from your hand.
The wild plans that I had – Nothing will come of them,
until the night in the High Land, lays its dark cloak over us.

This is Northernness, Ede sings about, and Joy: it’s a nostalgia that lies as much in a moment as in the place. Did that moment indeed happen the way he describes, or is his longing for how he remembers it, or wants to remember? There’s a Dutch word, Heimwee, homesickness, which reaches further than ‘home’ alone. It’s a yearning like the German Sehnsucht, or the Welsh term hireath, described as ‘the feeling of longing for a home that no longer exists or never was. A deep and irrational bond felt with a time, era, place or person.’ In Groninger dialect, there’s the word wènst, as in “Ik heb wènst van die”, for which the translation “I miss you” doesn’t reach deep enough. For the Northerner, this longed-for place does exist; the villages may have changed, with shops closing and doors no longer kept unlocked, the landscape in its broad strokes is still there.

Artists from Groningen have tried to tap into this. Of a younger generation than Ede Staal is Marlene Bakker, whose Waarkhanden exudes the same heimwee, linking a personal past with the rural landscape. Its video celebrates the heavy clay of which the Groninger soil is made and which sticks to our feet (figuratively) wherever we go. From the early 1920s, inspired by German expressionists, the members of the artistic circle De Ploeg started portraying the landscape, not as it strictly was (no impressionism or realism here), but as they felt it. That Grail, which Parcival sought, is there, be it perhaps just out of reach: the Northerner and the Land are as one, and for better or worse, this is where the well of happiness, Joy, lies.

So, Northernness. That’s how we’ve decided to characterise Ymke, who comes from an analogue to the rural Dutch north. It’s still a somewhat amorphous description, but it’ll do. As a farm girl she was keenly aware of the enduringness of the landscape – the fields that had been there for generations, the paths that were trod since the first people came to the area, but also the cyclical nature of the seasons. She knows about patience, about sowing a seed and then to wait, trusting that it’ll come up much later, and about finding the brightness in the moment, the way the morning sky looks a bit different every time, the singing bird and ribbitting frog, the flower opening up and the bee with its pollen-encrusted butt. She feels deeply and passionately, yet her convictions are strong as tree roots, below the clay.

(RvS)

Our Newsletter

“I write all of this down because that’s what I do: I write” – Ymke, from The Return of the Uncomplaining Child.

You’d like to stay abreast of what’s going on with our work, and what our eye has fallen on lately? Our newsletter contains a mix of useful and entertaining links, peeks behind the curtain on our works in progress, the occasional cat, and other items which are, as the Dutch have it, “ter leering ende vermaeck.

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Maeve Binchy

We did this portrait of Maeve Binchy (1939-2012) years ago for Verbal Magazine, in our series ‘A Bluffer’s Guide To Irish Writers’ – something we’d love to pick up again!

Maeve Binchy has described her childhood in the rustic town of Dalkey as unsuitable for an Irish writer: it was a happy childhood. Books were read, stories were told, and nobody possessed the gift of blarney as wee Maeve did.

Had not her pupils pooled their pocket money to send her to Israel, hopefully out of gratitude, she might well have remained a school teacher. But her father sent her holiday letters to the Irish Independent, where they saw print, and an author was born.

She specialized in slice-of-life columns and settled into a cottage a mere stone’s throw from where she was raised. She and her husband wrote side by side, their happiness only marred by abject poverty. Luckily, the novel she’d written on the side turned out an instant hit and the wolf was kept from the cottage door for good.

She knows that hers is not an audience of scholars, but people who mark their page in a book by folding the corner. At heart, every American is Oirish, and when Tara Road was chosen for Oprah Winfrey’s book club by that Queen of Daytime Television, they clasped Maeve to their collective bosom.

She may be a world famous author, winner of numerous awards and be the Godmother of Irish chick lit, but Maeve remains unspoilt by her success. Doing the cottage up a bit has been her only authorly extravagance to date; for Maeve Binchy, there’s no place like home.

Electra (1962): Blood and Mud

Mikhalis Kakogiannis’ 1962 Greek film of the Euripides play straddles a reality which is ours, and yet not quite. Its characters are human, all too human; they inhabit an earthy world, yet they follow a course which seems to be predestined, with stylised speech and ritualised movement. Where Medea was a feast of sets and costumes, Electra gets its strength from plot, character, choreography and camera.

The highlight of the film is undoubtedly actress Irene Papas, who also appears in the other parts of Kakogiannis’ ‘Greek Tragedy’ trilogy, The Trojan Women and Iphigenia. Striking, somewhat androgynous, she is stripped down to simple clothes, hair and make-up. She plays the part of Electra, who was banished when her father Agamemnon came back from the Trojan War, and was murdered by his wife and her lover. Humiliated into an arranged marriage with a farmer, Electra bides her time, and when her brother joins her in exile, they plot their revenge.

Aside from the prologue and a few other scenes, the film is set entirely around the simple farm on which Electra lives. The strongest impression we get of the city is the gargantuan walls, with small figures moving against the huge stones. Agamemnon, when we first see him, is likewise gigantic, shot from below. Gone for a decade, he’s become a mythical figure in the child Electra’s eyes. Only then, when she throws herself in his arms, does he become a man of human scale again, before being brought down by his wife and the usurper.

The outdoors is earthy; we see clouds move through the skies, sometimes becoming a character in their own right, a plough pulled through dank earth and still women, their heavy long dresses moving in the breeze. These women are both a Greek chorus and a coven, protecting and literally shielding Electra whenever intruders enter their domain. First it is Electra’s brother who comes out of his own exile. When he walks to and fro, the women move with him, just as Electra turns to keep facing him. Scenes like this could just have been two people talking, but instead it is used to prop up the idea of a heightened reality, a pseudo-reality. We’re in the ancient Greece of Troy, not that of history.

Another visitor, at Electra’s invitation, is her mother, queen Clytemnestra. She explains why she killed her husband and Electra’s father, and apologises. There is no starker contrast possible between these two powerful women: Electra with her inner strength, and her mother, whose royal bearing seems to come as much from her dazzling clothes and make-up as from her controlled movement; controlled power emanates from her.

Whereas the reckoning with Agamemnon’s murderer, the usurper Aeghistus, happened off-screen and almost off-handedly. This is a story about women, and Clytemnestra’s killing is the lynchpin of the movie. She is led into the farmhouse in which Electra’s brother Orestes waits. At her screams, Electra’s women panic. They hurl themselves around in their black cloaks, as crows fly off from the treetops and a horse bolts. This is not a murder that is being committed, it is a taboo being broken. Only the enslaved Trojan women Clytemnestra brought remain impassive. They care not. The contrast between the frantic movement and the stillness that follows is powerful. It’s a held breath, but then the women slowly rise: the Gods have not descended, and their world has not ended.

Throughout the film, you feel the constant presence of the Gods, yet they do not reveal themselves. The drama, in the end, is one on a human scale.

The Red Man and Others

About The Red Man and Others
In a divided city, two rogues try to get their own back on a religious cult; the small but tough sell-sword Kaila and the teenage con-artist Sebastien don their disguises and play their parts.
In the war-torn north of Cruoningha, Ymke and her father live in exile. When her father rescues a giant warrior, Ymke learns that strength is not a matter of muscle alone, and that sometimes the price of hiding is too great.
As Sebastien is elevated to sainthood on the rock of Otasfaust, the Kaila and Ymke find each other, and a new purpose for their talents.
Three journeys of self-discovery; three stories of loss, love and adventure.

What others said
“… a bit like Robert E. Howard’s gritty historical adventures with a dash of Fritz Leiber’s insouciant humor… Issues of queerness, coping with disability, and found family arise organically within the stories, signalling not a deconstruction of sword & sorcery, but a broader inclusivity.” – Ngo Vinh-Hoi, co-host of the Appendix N Book Club podcast
“Intimate, literate and touching scenes erupt into visceral violence; I was reminded of Poe’s Hop-Frog.” – Ricardo Pinto, author of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon
“Call it New Wave Sword & Sorcery… a reaction to the musclebound masculinity, the unbridled machismo that is found and often-times put at the forefront of Sword & Sorcery. It’s good stuff if you’re open to the idea of new takes on Sword & Sorcery.” – Rogues in the House podcast

About the authors
Over the past decade Angeline B. Adams and Remco van Straten have been mainly active in journalism, working for various local and national publications. They wrote about film, theatre and books, and interviewed authors like Neil Jordan, James Ellroy and Anne Rice. The biographical piece on Robert E. Howard they wrote for Fortean Times received a REH Foundation Award nomination.
Now they are focusing on telling their own tales, instead writing about those of others. These stories are firmly rooted in the green hills of Northern Ireland where Angeline grew up, and the heavy clay of the Dutch coast from which Remco came. They are steeped in their shared love for history and folklore, not shying away from treasured genres and format, yet are infused with modern sensibilities and a healthy dose of black humour. Recently, their stories appeared in the Sesheta anthology Underneath the Tree, in Air & Nothingness Press’ The Wild Hunt, and in Dutch translation in Wonderwaan.
Angeline Adams is involved in disability activism and wrote about disability for various online magazines like The Toast and Disability in Kidlit.
On Ymke, the protagonist of The Red Man and The Return of the Uncomplaining Child, she says: “Ymke’s rebellions, like mine, have often been subtle ones: staying alive in a world that oppresses disabled people is also a form of resistance. But sometimes we’re both surprised by what we’re capable of doing when we really have to – and with the right person by our side.”
Remco van Straten co-created Waen Sinne, an anthology which had a lasting impact on Dutch SFF publishing, and was a jury member for the Paul Harland Award, Holland’s leading contest for speculative fiction. “I spent a lot of my childhood and teens reading, and discovering Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories was a watershed moment. I have always wanted to emulate him, and indeed the title of this collection is a hat-tip to his collection, The Dark Man and Others.”

Further resources for The Red Man and Others
Goodreads
Amazon UK and Amazon US
Book trailer
Short story reading
And find Angeline and Remco on Twitter

Why Turnip Lanterns?
Hallowe’en is one of our favourite festivals, and from childhood both of us have been fascinated with ghosts, monsters and other scary and mysterious things. Over the last few years we’ve gone back to the age-old tradition of carving turnips instead of pumpkins. The turnip’s texture is irregular, with lumps and bumps that decide the features for the carved face. Unlike pumpkins, turnips grow underground and hint at things hidden and slowly emerging from the soil. They symbolise the much older, much more forbidding tradition of Hallowe’en.

Track Your Submissions

As over the years we’ve built up quite a drawer full of stories, we needed to have a system to keep track of what went where, when. Our tracker is a living document, updated whenever we’ve got something to update, and sometimes we play a bit with the format. As it’s something we both use, and we’ve got slightly different thinking patterns, above all our submissions tracker had to be simple and intuitive.

Here’s a model of our tracker; I’ve stripped out magazine and story titles, so nobody need feel embarrassed.

On the horizontal axis we’ve got our story titles plus their word count. We pretty much know our stories, so that’s all we need. Vertically, we’ve got the magazine titles with the genre and the word count requirements. Tip: if your spreadsheet program allows, you can link the story title to its submission page on the ‘net. Not shown, on the right hand side, there’s a column with a little bit more detail on the specific quirks they have (“They accept horror but prefer it with speculative element”). Tip: lock your column and row with the magazine and story titles, so when you scroll they stay visible.

Whenever we’ve got a new story, we look at which markets it’s suitable for. Those which aren’t, we give a grey square. Whenever we’ve got a new market, we look at which stories we can potentially submit to them. These choices aren’t only based on word count and genre; sometimes you just know that a market won’t like a story. In practice, you’ll end up throwing things against the wall to see what sticks, and editor feedback (or the lack of it) can make you fine tune it. Tip: Don’t self-reject too quickly. Also: stories can bust genres, like when an editor normally doesn’t take horror but you feel that based on previous feedback they might like your horror story which is actually more a philosophical exploration.

Whenever we submit a story, we make the square for the story title dark blue, as well as the corresponding square in the row for the magazine we submitted it to, where we also type the submission date. That story’s now off the market until we hear an outcome. A market may not be open yet, or a story has been submitted, but we already know where we want it next: in this case we make the story/market square light-blue. You’ll see one story in orange there – we got extensive feedback on it from an editor, and we’ve decided that we want to rewrite it. Tip: Keep a record of your feedback in a separate tab.

And finally, there’s the red squares for “alas!” We don’t let them demotivate us: looking at them may help us decide what a magazine editor likes, and revise our greys and whites. Whenever we colour a square red, we do tend to look at “where do we send this story next?” and “anything else we can send them?”

So, this is our tracker. It works for us (though, this example shows that we can be a bit more ‘on top’ of it). If you’re serious about submitting, we strongly advise you to use a submission tracker. Of course, make it your own. Make it work for you!

The Right To Choose and Live

Less than a year after new laws came into force to give people in Northern Ireland access to abortion services, the Democratic Unionist Party (via a private member’s bill brought by Paul Givan) has proposed a new law to prevent abortions being carried out in cases of non-fatal disabilities.

It’s often assumed that disabled people all feel the same way about abortion: that we see it as an existential threat and proof of society’s prejudice against us. What’s often forgotten is that disabled people also have abortions – or need them, and aren’t able to access them. I have great respect for my comrades in disability activism who argue on both sides of this issue. Unlike many politicians, as disabled people, what we have in common is that we don’t only focus on disability when it’s politically convenient.

As a disabled woman, I will always be pro-choice. It’s a line in the sand for me precisely because I have had so many experiences in which my bodily autonomy has been eroded. And I think the appropriate response to people feeling they need to have an abortion because their child will be disabled is to actually create a society in which disabled people and our families are adequately supported. That’s a whole lot more useful than creating a climate of judgment around difficult choices which are not made in a social or political vacuum.

And at the end of it all, when we create that society where support is guaranteed? Where disabled people are valued as much as anyone else? Whether to have a baby, any baby, still needs to be the choice of the pregnant person, every time. Not Paul Givan’s choice, not the DUP’s choice, but the choice of the individual. I’m not suggesting we need to prioritise disabled people’s needs as a way of reducing the number of abortions, I’m saying we need to do it because it’s the right thing to do. And so is making abortion available on the same terms as in the rest of the UK.

The DUP’s pro-life attitude also appears to stop at the point of birth. It stops with supporting a Conservative government whose policies cause children to grow up in poverty – that’s more than one in four children in the UK today. And here’s another glaring statistic: nearly half the people living in poverty in the UK today are either disabled, or live with a disabled person.

Disabled people should be at the centre of conversations that affect us, and not only when we offer a politically convenient prop to ideologically motivated attacks on everyone’s rights. It has been very, very noticeable when individual politicians and political parties in Northern Ireland actually support disabled people’s rights, and engage substantively with disabled people’s organisations across a range of issues, and not just abortion.

Where ableist government policy leads, the general public follow, and none of this does a thing to challenge the ableism endemic in medical settings. It is a scandal that a staggering 59% of the people who have died from Covid-19 in England have been disabled adults. And despite the outcry and investigation that followed the revelation that autistic and learning disabled adults were being targeted by GPs and hospitals for DNRs since the pandemic began, it is still happening. Where is the pro-life brigade now? Mr. Givan?

At a fundamental, institutional level in this country, the disabled people who are already here are regarded as disposable. We are seen as acceptable collateral damage. We are presumably the same disabled people who are of enormous value to the DUP as political footballs before we are born. And that is what Paul Givan and the DUP leadership do not want to acknowledge. Their complicity in supporting a Conservative government, that has disastrously handled everything it has touched that affects disabled people, is what the DUP hope to distract you from with a debate about abortion.

Don’t fall for it.

(ABA)

Frankenstein Cometh!

How far can you trace back your personal canons?

Anyone who has spent just a bit of time in our house will notice that Frankenstein’s monster has a bit of a presence. My ur-text is King Kong, which I saw when I was about six, but it was Frankenstein which really took root in my imagination a few years later. It’d be tempting to tell you how I identified with the sad, lonesome creature, trying to make sense of the world, but – I won’t. At that age I firmly saw the monsters as them while my heroes were more like Superman and Tarzan.

To be honest, aside from ‘general cultural osmosis’ I don’t quite know where I had picked up the basic story of “scientist creates monster, and monster goes on a rampage,” but I do know that in my imagination the creature was firmly that: a monster, an it even. I was ten when I saw my first Frankenstein film, Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, and I managed to ignore the comedy and be scared by the tropes it sought to parody: thin gruel does satisfy the hungry. My mind extracted from it a story of a man-made monster, a castle in thunderstorm and a sinister assistant mournfully blowing his horn. All that, hung on the skeleton of a single picture found in library book when I was seven.

The book is Hilary Henson’s Robots (in Dutch, pedantically, Robots en Computer) and the miracles of the Internet brought it to my doorstep today. And there it was, on page 19: it’s just a small image, a cut-out of Boris Karloff in his monster makeup. Out of all the other things that could grip me, and may have at another time (like the robot from Metropolis) it was that one image that fascinated me; I must indeed have been in a monsters! frame of mind. At the time, I made a drawing of it in my sketchbook. I can’t account, really, for the shirt. Perhaps it’s a transplant from the Universal Werewolf movies, but I think it’s more that these were typical shirts of the early ’80s.

It would be years before I got to see James Whale’s Frankenstein films properly. That is; I’d saved up for my own small TV set for in my room, and with the advent of cable, the BBC had been added to the few Dutch and German channels we’d received until then. The Beeb had an all-night Frankenstein night, and I remember watching Whale’s Frankenstein and Bride with the skylight above the bedroom door taped shut with black cardboard; mom and dad wouldn’t approve staying up until an ungodly hour. I also had the sound turned completely off. Just as well; I doubt I’d have appreciated the campiness of Bride of Frankenstein!

(RvS)