The Price of Anti-Vax

Today I read that an art academy in the USA decided that students can only attend when fully vaccinated unless they’ve got a medical or religious waiver: “Of the major religions practiced in the United States, only the Church of Christ, Scientist (whose adherents are known as Christian Scientists) and the Dutch Reformed Church are the two religious groups that openly discourage vaccination.”

Of course, the American anti-vax movement would have its roots in Dutch religious zealots. The Dutch Reformed Church would be the church of the Secession of 1834, by Reverend Hendrik de Cock, and it was his own son he carried to the grave because of his stance against vaccination. Dr. Hanneke Hoekstra, university lecturer on modern history wrote about this in her paper The Deceased Child:

In 1840 a son was born to the De Cock family, Regnerus Tjaarda. When he was one year old, the child got the feared smallpox. To survive, the little boy had to be vaccinated with cowpox, but this brought De Cock a moral dilemma. His oldest son Helenius had been vaccinated against pox in 1838; he was witness to what happened.

My father became familiar with the arguments of dr. A. Capadose and others against the vaccine soon after his conversion. Then and also later he was suspicious of everything that came from the side of the non-believers or was heavily promoted by them. (…) He constantly left the sick room and when evening had fallen I followed him without being noticed and witnessed how he poured his heart out to his God.

Trusting on his direct connection with God, De Cock decided that “Your will, and not mine, will be done.” When his son died the next day, there was not a word of complaint against God from the mouth of his father, according to Helenius. The death inspired their religious practice and their religion decided on death. (from: The Deceased Child, Hanneke Hoekstra, p. 199)

Vaccination depicted as a cow-like monster, being fed children in 1807. A precursor of the modern “not my children!” movement. Everything old is new again!

Of course, he wasn’t the first anti-vaxer; in the earlier 19th century there’d been an offensive against the pox, met by resistance from orthodox religious corners. Still; this one church, and one man’s religious verve, and we now still have people in the USA (and The Netherlands?) who are not getting vaccinated because of him. Aside from his boy Regnerus, how many have died because of it?

Farmer and writer (and De Cock’s nemesis) M.D. Teenstra had seen how tuberculosis spread like wildfire through his family in the 1820s. He’d written about smallpox in the Dutch colony of South Africa in his The Fruits of my Labours (1830):

In 1713 and 1755 smallpox must have raged terribly here. It appears that these childhood diseases are more dangerous amongst black and coloured people and make more victims than amongst Europeans. It was the knowledgeable and humanitarian Dibbetz (…), I say it was mr. R. de Klerk Dibbetz, inspector-general of the Cape’s hospitals, who in secrecy went to the Portuguese ship Belisario, anchored in the Table Bay where it had arrived on the 18th November 1803, where he got a strand of the material without the people’s knowledge, with which he in the city started his beneficial deceit, until finally governor Janssens, even though at first against the vaccine, allowed him the use the great hospital, now the barracks, for the further application of it. When the government saw the beneficial results, they showed Dibbetz their gratitude for his dangerous and courageous, his beneficial undertaking, with a genuine display of admiration for him, as well as costly gifts.

Meanwhile, in the province of Groningen (where Teenstra and De Cock lived) a 1an emergency hospital was built in 1817 because of a typhus epidemic, while newspapers in 1849 had daily updates on cholera sufferers and mortality numbers.

Article from an 1849 regional newspaper, tracking cholera infections and mortalities, much like our modern news bulletins.

All this goes to show that people of the era were well aware of the dangers and suffering caused by the various epidemics; the 19th century was an era of epidemics, but also one of enlightenment and medical progress. Not having your children vaccinated in 1840 certainly was a choice.

Hair Synchronicity

Sometimes, we invent our characters’ backstories. At other times, they write themselves.

In 1898, during the restoration of the Romanesque church of Westerwijwerd, a slab of plaster fell away, uncovering a fresco from the first half of the 14th century. It’s likely made after an example from the 12th century, and shows to Frisian warriors fighting with lance (“kletsie”) and sword. The duellists have a typical Frisian hairstyle, a status symbol for powerful medieval Frisians.

The medieval mural in the church of Westerwijwerd.

I recognised the hairstyle; my grandfather has it on a photo of him as a small child, and he still had it as an old man: shaven, except for a “tuufke” on top. It seems to me a ‘go to’ northern hairstyle in the early 20th century, and I wonder whether it’s a continuation of that old-Frisian hairdo. If it was merely practical, wherefore then the tuft?

My grandfather Hemke and grandmother Willemmina, mid-1950s.

In the middle ages the northern Dutch coastal area was a feudal society in more than one way. Rich farmers and their family clan ruled their own little fiefdoms, and they often had their strongholds in which they could retreat in times of war. And war there was often, as there was no central authority, with pope and emperor far away, the area functionally an island and rife with feuds.

This is the background we borrowed for the setting of The Red Man, in which the farm girl Ymke lives in an area of perpetual war between the local nobility. In The Return of the Uncomplaining Child we learn that our warrior woman Kaila has been in the northern region as a mercenary. Ymke doesn’t ask her on which side she fought – where nobility fights over a piece of land, the people living on it inevitably lose, whoever wins.

But then, looking at that old-Frisian hairdo, it struck me: In Ymke, she’s got a girlfriend from ‘up north’, but her mohawk haircut also comes from there!

Kaila and Ymke.

S&S Has a Future

We’re very proud of the get a ringing endorsement for our book from BlackGate.com!

Under the header “SWORD &SORCERY HAS A FUTURE: THE RED MAN AND OTHERS” Black Gate’s John O’Neill writes:

I’m a sucker for modern heroic fantasy, so I was glad to take a look. And what I found was a well-packaged collection that has already garnered some surprising attention. The book came with the usual blurbs (including the Rogues in the House podcast, who called it “New Wave Sword & Sorcery… good stuff”), but I was more interested in reader reviews, and I found plenty. (…)
The book has an impressive 4.5 ranking at Goodreads, based on 16 reviews. There’s a nice mix of enthusiastic commentary there as well.

We’ll take that!

You can find the full article here, and if your curiosity has been piqued, and you haven’t already, you can get your hands on your own copy of The Red Man and Others!

The Risk of “Freedom Day”

To: robin.swann@mla.niassembly.gov.uk
CC: jeffrey.donaldson.mp@parliament.uk; michelle.oneill@mla.niassembly.gov.uk; naomi.long@alliancepartyni.org; clare.bailey@mla.niassembly.gov.uk; colum.eastwood.mp@parliament.uk; nolan@bbc.co.uk

Dear Mr. Swann,

I’m writing, as a clinically vulnerable person, to express my deep concerns at the prospect of Covid safety rules being dropped in Northern Ireland as of 19 July. I’ve just listened to the Prime Minster’s press conference, in which he announced abandoning most anti-Covid measures. This includes social distancing and masking rules, despite the advice of scientists. It should be clear that if Northern Ireland follow England’s lead, we are going to be in unnecessary danger, and our NHS – which was in more trouble than England’s to begin with – will be unable to function yet again.

Recognising how desperate the waiting lists are, so much worsened by non-emergency care being shut down last year, a so-called “return to normal” on the 19th of July is a bad choice. Vaccination has had a powerful impact on the number of patients needing ICU, but Long Covid is still a risk and will itself exert pressure on the NHS. It has already become clear that even a double vaccination is less effective against the Delta variant, and an Epsilon variant has already been named.

Nobody is more afraid of Long Covid than those of us who already have complex health issues: “Freedom Day” would be anything but, for us.

I have severe Crohn’s disease, Short Bowel Syndrome and Intestinal Failure, and I’m dependent on tube feeding. After shielding for over a year, from March 2020, I have finally had a bit of freedom in the past few months to get out and about in person, which for me largely means going to medical appointments. For this, I have just started using public transport, be it in the quiet hours. I don’t go to pubs or the cinema, and I don’t socialise indoors in groups. I am particularly cautious because we don’t yet know just how effective the vaccine will be in patients on various types of immunosuppressant.

For instance, we still await results on Ustekinumab, the medication I take to suppress the activity of Crohn’s disease, an auto-immune condition. When I ask my doctors if I should behave differently based on the rising case numbers locally, they refer me to the public health advice, but my fear is that the public health advice is driven by Boris Johnson’s irrational decision to pretend it’s no longer his concern, referring people to their own responsibility; the government’s use of the term ‘population immunity’ can not be read as anything else but a rebranding of the much-denied ‘herd immunity’.

Already, less care is being taken on our public transport in Northern Ireland around masking and social distancing. Translink, in my experience, don’t enforce social distancing at all other than putting stickers on seats and leaving the public to get on with it. From what I’ve seen, the people who are mostly not vaccinated – children and teenagers, and very young adults – are also the people who are least likely to wear masks on public transport. I remind you that wearing a mask is less to protect ourselves and primarily to protect others.

If we tell people that it’s a matter of personal choice and responsibility, then it’s inevitable that those who already take the least care to protect themselves and others from Covid – e.g. not getting vaccinated when it’s offered, breaking the rules on indoor gatherings – will be the people who use buses, trains and shops without a mask. And they put us all, and our NHS, at risk. This is particularly frightening in the context of so much recent political rhetoric about how there will definitely not be further lockdowns.

I’ve admired your good sense in steering NI’s health service through the most challenging period in its history, and I have particularly appreciated the times during the pandemic when Northern Ireland was more safety-conscious than England. I urge you and your ministerial colleagues to once again take the right decisions, no matter what pressure is exerted from Westminster.

Kind regards,

Angeline Adams

My Father’s Voice

My father, Brendan Adams, was dialect curator at the Ulster Folk Museum at Cultra, and in that capacity he spent an enormous amount of time gathering and preserving the Ulster dialect, both in the field and via the ambitious Ulster Dialect Survey.

Dad wasn’t partisan when it came to language: he spoke both Irish and Ulster-Scots fluently (amongst other languages) and he believed strongly in the value of people getting together and talking to each other. So often in Northern Ireland, language and culture are weaponised to exclude and build walls between us, but Dad believed that the languages and dialects of our island belong to us all. 

Dad died right before I was born in 1981, so not only have I never met him, I’ve barely even heard his voice. Until now, the only audio sample to which I’ve had access was a snippet on a dictaphone he’d used for work, and which had been partially recorded over. 

But now Donal McAnallen at UFTM is heading up a project to digitise the museum’s old dialectology recordings, including some recordings of school children in Co. Armagh in the 1960s. Those children, now in their 60s, have been able to hear their childhood voices, as have their grandchildren, and we can all hear just how the enormous social change that has taken place in the decades since has influenced both accent and dialect.

And my father’s voice is on those newly digitised tapes too. This morning BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster played some snippets, which begins a little past the 1:25 mark.

You can read more about the project and my dad’s work on the BBC website.

BBC followed up with Angeline; she talks about the experience of hearing her father’s voice here.

Brendan Adams, with his uncle Richard Hayward, founders of the Ulster Dialect Survey

(ABA)

They Were Always Here: Tigrina

When going through the membership lists of the Weird Tales Club for our earlier post on female Weird Tales fans, one name stood out: Tigrina. I was curious who the woman was who hid behind that pseudonym. The story of Edythe Eyde (1921-2015) is far more interesting than I could have imagined, and illuminates how women’s contributions to early fandom got erased; not always by malice, but also because the stories that survived were those of the people who endured in fandom; men. For the full Tigrina story I happily point to the very extensive, three-part article on fiawol.org. Really, do click the links – there’s a wealth of ’40s fandom in there!

What we (the general ‘we’) know about early fandom is very much depending on the stories that are told around it; the stories that were told by the men who went on to write books or did other great things in the field of SFF, and were then invited on podia to tell the old stories. And what they then told about: “Uncle Forry, please tell us again about Ray Bradbury!” and “Uncle Ray, please tell us again about when you saw King Kong for the first time, and about Ray Harryhausen!” and “Other Uncle Ray, please tell us again about Forrest Ackerman!” It became a circle jerk, in which many fans who also propped up fandom got forgotten, including the women. But fandom was as lively then as now, if not more so, and fans built networks, reached out and met up.

Forrest “Forry” Ackerman wrote in Weird Tales, March 1940, on the topic of Weird Tales Clubs: “I should like to take this means of informing the imagi-natives of Los Angeles and environs of the existence of just such an organization in this vicinity. Over one hundred consecutive meetings have been held!” He counts Henry Kuttner as a member, and visits from Robert Bloch, Catherine Moore, and Emil Pataja. “We maintain a monster magazine library for the free use of all members, with Weird Tales running back over ten years, and The Hyborian Age and A History of the Necronomicon. The ‘Ghouls’ Get-together’ takes place every Thursday night of the year (excepting rare fifth Thursdays, when we all turn into vampires and go out and ‘paint the town red.‘)”

Ackerman’s pitch was clearly skewed towards the Weird Tales audience, and his trademark hyperbole is already evident. It was catnip, though, to teenage Edytha Eyde, who can be counted as an early ‘fandom goth’. She wrote to him: “I have always wished to belong to such an organization as yours, as I am deeply interested in the Occult, particularly Witchcraft and Black Magic. Unfortunately, my family has always been strongly against my studying these fascinating subjects. I am attending college now, however, (sophomore at exclusive Girls’ School) and I live away from home, so I have more of an opportunity to study the Occult sciences, and also to write this letter to all of you.”

She enclosed a piece for Ackerman’s zine, Voice of the Imagination (VOM), aptly titled ‘Hymn to Satan’. And we’re off to the races. Further issues of VOM saw letters printed, in which she expressed the wish to attend their gatherings, and told more about herself: “My parents, although kind and understanding in some ways, have never understood my liking for the weird and occult, Therefore, they would never understand or approve of my keeping up a correspondence with those who share my enjoyment of terrifying and gruesome things. In fact, if my secret were discovered, I would be denied the privileges I already enjoy, such as an occasional horror show, or spooky radio program.”

She also countered critique of her artwork: “I believe you stated…that my pictures would meet more with your approval if the characters sketched were not wearing quite so much clothing. Well, forgive me for saying this, but I disagree most heartily with your opinion. I do not wish to hurt your feelings, but the scantily clad damsels which so often appear in your fan magazines, although nicely drawn, do not seem, to me, to fit in with the type of magazines they are supposed to be. I think that figures clad in weird futuristic costumes or mystic robes and veils would be much more appropriate.”

Astute criticism there, and one which still applies to Fantasy art. She was curious about other members of the Los Angeles Fantasy Society, with a hint of things to come: “Also, I noticed that in the picture that Fojak gave me of Morojo and him in Chicago (or was it New York?) at the Fantasy Convention, there was another girl in that picture. Who is she? She certainly is attractive. I would like to meet both Morojo and her some time.” (Fojak, Morojo and Pogo are all ‘Ackermanese’ nicknames, based on Esperanto).

Forry would eventually meet up with Tigrina, and gushing write-ups in VOM ensued: “FOLLOW THIS GREAT FEATURE:–“TALES OF TIGRINA”– EVERY ISSUE EXCLUSIVELY IN THE VOICE!” 4E’s (his own rendering of “Forry”) prose is torturous, but the undercurrent is clear. He’s smitten: “She dressed in green and brown, complete to green fingernails. Fascinatingly, her second finger left hand is longer than her middle finger, the sign the Old Norse nue for the were-ylgr…the lycanthropess!(…) She said she’d offer me a lick of her ice cream but she was very conscious about germs. I wondered it she meant me. Later she tempted we with an apple. – (Serpentigrina!) I bit. But if she thought I lost my soul she was mistaken for my soul was saved — permanently — a long time ago. In The Beginning, in fact.”

Tigrina enjoyed being amongst like-minded folk, seeing Forry’s write-ups as a ‘welcome to the group!’ She cosplayed, bringing into practice what she saw as appropriate science fiction dress, started a petition to have Bela Lugosi guest star on the Inner Sanctum Mystery radio show, then just launching, and soon took another swipe at VOM‘s cover nudes: “Believe me, I hate to say this, but I thought that the cover was disgusting. It is well drawn, but it is just the picture itself which is repulsive to me.” She herself provided the cover of VOM 22, of April 1942, portraying her alter-ego, the witch Hazel with her cat Spoox.

She wrote in this issue: “To be able to retain the powers of performing spells, reciting incantations, etc. one must be possessed of a strong will. In dissipation, the will is steadily weakened so that it can easily be dominated by others. So students of the occult should not indulge in harmful practices. I am interested in Devil worship and Black Magic purely for revenge, power, love of mystery and just ‘pure devilishness’, but no further than that. I know also, that my interest in the Black Arts is, to a certain extent, a rebellion from the exceedingly ‘straight and narrow’ path that I have sometimes been forced to tread.”

And, again: “I was glad to see there were not so many of those horrid pictures this time. I feel that I must, however, express my extreme disapproval of the damsel in this edition of your magazine. Why, she is not even pretty! If all, women appeared thusly, I think that they should be exterminated. Ugh, she is posilutely rePULsive! And the title of the picture makes it doubly so. I can readily see how one might call the small picture on the cover of your magazine ‘art’, that is, if you like that sort of thing. (Said ‘art’ does not include the monster, creature, or oversized balloon she holds in her hands). But how can you even for an instant think that there is anything artistic or beautiful, or fantastic about that horrificaricature on page seven.”

Tigrina referred to part of the photo collage; a nude in the lower right corner, her nipples and genitals covered by the text “SPECIAL VOMERMAID”, holding the head of Ray Bradbury. She herself was marked with number 13. The drawing on page 7 indeed has nothing to recommend it, and nothing to do with SFF. I wonder how many female fans were turned off by these repeated nudes. They may seem tame to modern eyes, but they still give off the signal: we allow women in, but actually we’re still a boys’ club. How many women considered putting up with this as the price of admission? And how many women were unwilling to pay at all?

Her admission of Satanism got pushback in VOM 23, June 1942: “Tigrina is a silly girl.” and “Well, I don’t believe in forcing people to live religious lives, either. But she didn’t have to rebel that much!” Henry Kuttner, at 27 perhaps a bit older than other VOM readers and by then already married to CL Moore, had a more considered reply: “I do feel that Tigrina is sincere, and also that she has rather got off on the wrong foot, so to speak. Also I’m a little dubious about her expressed motives – revenge and power and so on. I have no personal criticism to make, but I feel it advisable to say that if those are Tigrina’s chief and only motives, she should consider carefully before investigating the real Satanism. (…) I thought it advisable to write her through Madge, in view of the always possible danger of an amateur student being victimized by fake cults.” It’s worth reading in full.

Tigrina’s reply to her critics was revealing, but you need to take her age and her conservative background into account: “It is true that occasionally I dabble in the Black Arts (what person does not who is interested in that sort of thing?) but only as an experiment or as a harmless (?) manner to give vent to my injured feelings. And I do not limit myself to experimenting with evil spells against those whom I dislike! But if there are truly such opposite beings as god and Satan, if such opposite beings do exist, I think that you know which deity that I would accept as Master!”

After this, there was radio silence from Tigrina, presumably because of college work. She returned with VOM 36, October 1944, (“Now that I’m not so closely supervised”), an issue that saw several of its members writing from overseas, in uniform. There had been gossip about her, which she now caught up with: “I was amused, amazed, and dismayed by the many conjectures and opinions concerning my character, physical appearance, etc. Evidently, some of you do not even believe that I exist. I assure you that I do, although I have often wondered why, and so, I imagine, have some of you.” She called out one Bob Tucker in particular, who apparently was an early champion of the ‘fake geek girl’ theory. Even then! “I shall probably never ‘keep company with any half-baked fans out of sheer gratitude’ as you so quaintly express it, nor am I in the habit of keeping company with friends for reasons of sheer gratitude anyway. I associate with my friends because of mutual enjoyment in companionship.” She also had no time for Sam Youd: “I was amused at Sam Youd’s aversion to me, and his calling me an “affected young school girl”. Perhaps I am affected, and it is true I am young in years, but I am no longer a school girl. So you would like to give me a thrashing, eh wot? What on earth for? What ever have I done to you? Do you feel the urge to beat up everyone whose opinions perhaps vary with yours?”

Then she finally read Kuttner’s open letter to her, and she reflected on the preceding few years: “I wish to express belated gratitude to Mr. Kuttner for taking the time from his writing of weird fiction in order to give me his opinions and advice. Many of you held an antagonistic attitude toward me in bygone days. I can see how you came to the conclusion that I was a spoiled young schoolgirl. Consider my position, however. There I was, for the first time away from the confines of home life. What was more natural than that I should immediately take advantage of my new “freedom”, and delve heart and soul (?) into the study of Black Magic, etc., and all the things that had been so strictly denied me? I was like the youth who, being denied the use of liquor at home, went to his first cocktail party, imbibed with great gusto, not discriminating in his choice of liquors, and who, as a result, became slightly confused.”

While Ackerman caught up with her during 1945, her contributions to VOM tapered off. She summarised: “Fantasy, to me, is an escape and refuge from the troublesome, work-a-day world, and I am sure that it is the same for many other fen.” She then capped it with a response to a humorous piece by Robert Bloch, stating that the world needed more Ackermans, and that it was therefore Forry’s duty to breed. She said: “Since Forrest Ackerman is a steadfast leader in Fandom, and a prolificontributor to Fantasy, the problem then, is not to ‘find Ackerman an Ackerwoman’, but (although this is not a ‘problem’, since the great Forrest J shows no inclination of forsaking Fandom) ‘how to retain such a valuable personality in the realms of Fantasy’.”

Forry could have read these words more closely, yet decided it was a good idea to propose to her, via a public letter to Tigrina: “Finding myself in the incredible position of being in love, I choose this unorthodox (certainly fantasstic!) method of proposing to U. U are a beautiful phantasy treasure, darling + measure up to so many of my ideals that I feel U could bring a lasting source of happiness into my life. I should very much like to be engaged to U. Please reply via ‘Dunky’ – who will be in the enviable position of knowing before me if U will do me the honour to be my fiancée. Je elske dig! Mi amas vin. Forry, 13 June 45. RSVPDQ”

An uncharacteristically pun-free cri du coeur from Ackerman. Puns, as well as common sense, an admonishment and plenty of emotional labour, were supplied by Tigrina, in her response: “So you envision us reading from the same copy of our favourite fantasy magazine, and want to play ‘ring around the rosy’ with my third finger left hand as a target? Tsk, how romantic! I’m honoured, to be sure. (…) I must compliment you upon your unique and utterly fantastic method, but there are those who might question the good taste of this public avowal of your affections. ‘Marriage is a Private Affair’, or so the theatre marquees proclaim. So are proposals! As this was rather an unexpected turn of events, I must reply with the trite phrase supposedly used by the average blushing maiden when being asked the Fatal Question, and say: “Oh, Forrest, this is so sudden!’ And as long as I am keeping myself in suspense, and you in suspense, well– let’s keep the rest of the fen guessing too, shall we?”

Tigrina was not going to turn Forry down in public, but it may be clear that marriage was not on the cards. While (relatedly?) her contributions to the ‘Ackerman group’-centred VOM waned, she was not done with fandom yet. A two week visit to Los Angeles, and Forry’s banquet in her honour got a write-up in the STEFNEWS of August 1945. Are they or aren’t they was still pretty much a topic of debate: “After the meal was finished, 4e had brought forth a cake lettered ‘Welcome Tigrina’ which was served with ice-cream (…) Tigrina wore a pea green outfit which included a hat with a veil, which she remembered to raise before eating. (I had remarked to Evans that her lifting or failure to lift this veil would indicate how excited she was.) It is fortunate that Ackerman did not wear a veil!”


FANews (also August ‘45) reported: “Last Saturday Aug 4 TIGRINA of Palo Alto came to LA to spend two weeks. Her time is being completely monopolized by 4e who is undoubtedly pressing his suit. 4E threw a welcoming party Sat. Nite in the Tamarack Room of Clifton’s Cafetaria, where the LASFS used to meet in the good old days. Most of LA Fandom attended, I believe there were about 17 altogether. ((We sincerely trust that a proper impression was made and that TIGRINA will enjoy her two weeks stay. Good Luck, everyone!))”

Further reporting from the LASFS has Forry indeed schlepping her all over town. And then, in LASFS #9 of 26 August: “Tigrina has tied herself to Los Angeles with a secretarial job at the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers in Hollywood.” While Forrest served in the US Army from 1942 to 1946 he often drove to town to attend LASFS meetings. As several fans lived nearby, the clubhouse at South Bixel Street was the social centre of a whole community of fans.

Tigrina, now also in LA, soon became a mainstay. The hormones of Shangri-L’Affaires’ 14-year old editor, Gerald Hewett, rose to the occasion: “Well, I am amazed. I am dazed. I am with glazed eyes. I got help on ‘Shaggy’ (…) The only persons present who did any actual work were the afore ahindsaid Laney, TIGRINA (lovely as the petals of the desert rose), EEEvans, SDRussell, Tigrina,(graceful as the nodding lily), Forrest J Ack-Ack, Robert Hoffman, Tigrina (radiant as the morning sunrise), and Pete Granger and I. Oh, yes, Tigrina arrived here today for the meeting. Charming girl.”

Tigrina was soon made club secretary, and made notes of club meetings. They are a fun read: “Kenneth Bonnell, not to be outdone by Wally Daugherty’s enthusiastic ideas for Club publicity at the previous meeting, piped up with an idea of his own, suggesting that the male members of the Club choose from among the many classy lassies prevalent in the motion pictures the one with whom they would most enjoy being marooned on the moon. This idea was somewhat squelched, however, when some far-seeing member suggested that the originator of this plan might find himself in quite a predicament if such a thing were actually to happen.” Tigrina laid on the burn.

FANews had several pages on LASFS affairs by her in October. “you’ll just have to take our word for it that she writes up (normally dry stuff) in a very interesting manner.”. And even in condensed form, we get nuggets of fandom tribulations. During S.D. Russell’s lecture on witchcraft: “The speech was unintentionally highlighted by a bit of modern skullduggery when Master Gerald Hewett, annoyed no doubt by the blasphemous snored of Niesen Himmel, who was obtrusively seeking the Land of Nod, proceeded to apply, by means of a lighted ‘Lucifer’, prodigious heat to Monsieur Himmel’s pedal extremities.” And, another lecture: “Russell’s second lecture was postponed because Sam arrived too late (he’d been studying the subject and lost track of time)…” And later: “Meeting adjourned at 9:36 to hear a lecture (third and final) by Russell but it had to be postponed as Sam pleaded insufficient notes… General discussions prevailed.” October 11th: “Betty Northrup and Jack Parsons came up from Pasadena especially to hear Russell’s lecture, but Russell didn’t appear.” Those lectures on witchcraft would’ve been in better hands with Tigrina herself!

Reading through the notes, you see that keeping the Club running and maintaining the Club room was a community effort: a roster was drawn up, there was a Rent Payers’ Committee, and things were taken care of (who’ll get the mimeograph fixed?). LA fandom, 1945, was more than just Forrest J. Ackerman. An acknowledgement: “All of the aforegoing ‘minutes’ have been condensed from ‘carbons’ sent to us by the LASFS Sec’y, TIGRINA. We publish them as a service to fandom to show what Fandom’s most active club is doing. (…) Thanx, LASFS. And Thank you TIGRINA!”

Editor of The Acolyte, Francis Towner Laney, wrote a memoir in 1948 about the heyday of LA fandom. On Tigrina he wrote: “One of the first arrivals was Edythe Eyde of Palo Alto, a rather handsome young lady who through her VOM-publicised romance with Ackerman received more notoriety and less fame than she deserved. Tigrina, as she preferred to be called, took a genuine interest in weird fiction and cinema, was a not incompetent poet and, in a pedantic sort of long-winded way, a pretty good fan writer. She was rather short, neatly built, and with a whooping laugh that sometimes embarrassed her. Everyone around the club seemed to like Tigrina, and she managed to stay around for close to two years without becoming embroiled in any fusses, apart from one memorable occasion when E. Everett Evans unadvisedly patted Tigrina’s little posterior one night after the meeting, and came within a hairsbreadth of having his face slapped as T told him off in a way I hugely loved. Right there in the clubroom, too.” At the end of 1946 she put her name forward as candidate for Director of the LASFS for 1947, but didn’t get the majority vote, and stayed on as secretary until June 1947.

Tigrina read fortunes as her alter ego Witch Hazel at the group’s 1945 Hallowe’en party, and on a coast-to-coast Memorial Day broadcast, she talked about the Pacificon, and especially the costume party. It was valuable publicity for the group; it would be the first post-war WorldCon, organised by the LASFS. It was held on the weekend of July 4-7 ’46, and Tigrina helped to run it: she and Virginia Daugherty organised the Masquerade, then as now a popular event, and took part herself: “Tigrina describes her costume as Dracula’s Daughter, but it didn’t follow any movie. It was all black, spangled with black sequins. A headpiece like Batman’s was at first accompanied with a black eyemask, the only mask at the masquerade. Elbow length gloves, bra, and tights from waist to ankle, with over all a peekaboo cloak. She sang a couple of songs of her own composition” I am reminded of that Weird Tales cover.

A photo of LASFS’s 1945 Christmas party shows a group of 17 people, including six women. Ackerman is in the top row, and his hand rests on Tigrina’s shoulder. The program book of WorldCon has a page with their photos and their names combined; people were shipping them – or was it a last ditch attempt by Forry himself? They visited Edgar Rice Burroughs, were photographed together at Pacificon, but still those distant wedding bells came no nearer. It slowly dawned on Forry that no matter how smitten he was, no matter what good friends they were, it could go no further than that.

Tigrina’s account of the ‘how and why’ is under the pseudonym ‘Lisa Ben’ because she was “concerned that she would upset elderly relatives”. Her parents had already been concerned about her liking for Weird Tales and supernatural radio shows. What she could not reveal, not even to her science fiction friends, was her first love. I think that where ‘Tigrina’ was an aspect of Edythe Eyde that she kept carefully hidden from her parents, ‘Lisa Ben’ was another aspect carefully compartmentalised.

“A few years later, in 1945, I moved down here to Los Angeles to get away from my mother, who was always coming by and going through my things. (…) I found out one day when I was sunning myself up on the top of the garage of the place where I had a room. Some other girls that lived in the building came up and spread out their towels and started to talk among themselves. I noticed that although there was plenty of talk, they never mentioned boys’ names. I thought, Well, gee, that’s refreshing to hear some people talk who aren’t always talking about their boyfriends and breakups. I got started talking to them just out of friendliness. I DON’T know what brought up the subject, but one of the girls turned to me and said, ‘Are you gay?’ And I said, ‘I try to be as happy as I can under the circumstances.’ They all laughed. Then they said, ‘No, no,’ and told me what it meant.”

It’s worth reading in full. It’s a poignant account of her first love and the disapproval of her mother. In Los Angeles, the girls she met took her to a gay bar, and she got the full initiation when policemen entered the bar: “Well, I was frightened. I said, ‘I think I’ll leave.’ The two women at the table said, ‘Don’t leave yet. Wait a half hour because sometimes they lurk outside and then as you leave they’ll take you in.'” It wasn’t a real raid; those policemen just came to intimidate: “In those days, every once in a while there would be an article in the newspapers like, ‘Party of Perverts Broken Up at Such and Such,’ and there would be a list of names.” It’s a tactic still used by media and politicians about gay and trans people: call them perverts, and let the readers’ imaginations come up with something infinitely worse than what really went on in those clubs: dancing.

She started publishing her magazine for gay gals, Vice Versa, in June 1947, coinciding with her stepping down as secretary for the LASFS: “I wrote Vice Versa mainly to keep myself company. I called it Vice Versa because in those days our kind of life was considered a vice. (…) And vice versa means the opposite. I thought it was very apropos. (…) I put in five copies at a time with carbon paper, and typed it through twice and ended up with ten copies of Vice Versa. (…) Then I would say to the girls as I passed the magazine out, ‘When you get through with this, don’t throw it away, pass it on to another gay gal.’ We didn’t use the term lesbian so much then. We just said gay gal. In that way Vice Versa would pass from friend to friend. I wrote almost everything in the magazine, although once in a while I would get a contribution. I wrote book reviews, although there were very few books around at the time that said anything about lesbians.”

Loose ends: By the time of Ackerman’s proposal, she knew she was gay, even though she may not have been able to put the word to it. I can imagine she did weigh up whether to marry him; it would offer a certain stability, respectability… a beard. But, there’s this occasion, earlier, when she ran into her first love: “out from this hotel doorway came my friend. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘How are you? I thought that was you. You know, I’m married now and you should see Junior. I have the cutest little boy.’ She had grabbed hold of my arm, and before I could think, I said, ‘Don’t touch me!’ I reacted that way because all through those years I had never resolved my love for her. (…) I went home and I was just crushed, although, since she was married, I wouldn’t have taken her back. I didn’t want her. She was tainted.”

Ackermanclaimed(in the program book for 1994’s GalaxiCon V, where he was a Guest of Honour): “I sort of nudged her out of the closet. In 1947 she went on to boldly create the legendary VICE VERSA, America’s first underground ‘Uranian magazine,’ a type-written and carbon copied affair. She had so few contributors that I, as an empathetic writer, adopted the pseudonym Laurajean Ermayne and wrote reviews, poetry and fiction.” I honestly think he’s overstating his own role in her ‘coming out’ (such as it was), but Ackerman has been known to be a relentless self-promotor – and architect of our collective memory of early fandom, with him as main star. Still, they kept in contact, as Tigrina she made fandom appearances, wrote stories (with Ackerman) and even appeared as fan in his Famous Monsters of Filmland with Ackerman, Don Glut and ‘Schlock’.

She put what she’d experienced in SFF fandom into practice in her newfound life, trying to find and build a community, and in the process she became an unintentional trailblazer. There was one difference though, as she reported later: “I never realized how serious it was. I blithely mailed these things out from the office with no return address, until one of my friends phoned me and said, ‘You know, you really shouldn’t be doing that. It is against the law and it could land you in trouble.’ And I said, ‘Why? I don’t mention the city it’s from. I don’t mention anybody’s name. And it’s not a dirty magazine by any stretch of the imagination.’ And she said, “Well, it would be dirty to the straight people because it’s about girls'”

After Vice Versa she started writing and performing gay song parodies, like the filking at SFF conventions. She did this as Lisa Ben, an anagram of ‘lesbian’; protecting herself, but also harking back to the days of nicknames in SFF San Francisco. Tigrina had retreated to the background, but Lisa Ben was to stay for quite a while. A favourite of hers is not a parody; written in the 1950s, it starts like this:

Scattered are we over land, over sea.
How many we number will never be known.
Each one must learn from the stars.
She must wear a mask on her heart.
And live In a world set apart.
A shy secret world of her own.
Here’s to the days that we yearn for.

Hear Edyte reminiscing on her past on the Making Gay History podcast.

Ricardo Pinto: The Masters

In the Three Lands, the rule of the Chosen is absolute. At the top of a society they have stratified and subjugated, the Chosen marinate in their ludicrous wealth in the walled city of Osrakum. Their time is spent endlessly plotting against each other and refining the purity of their bloodlines – a project for the ages whose pinnacle is godhood. Never mind the thousands of debased sartlar who toil on the land, or the marumaga house slaves who will meet a cruel end if they accidentally glimpse the unmasked face of a Chosen lord they don’t serve. For masks, in this world, are everything.

Enter fifteen-year-old Carnelian, raised in faraway exile by his father, Lord Suth. Oblivious to his heritage, Carnelian enjoys a homely relationship with his marumaga household, embracing his half-brothers as playmates and protectors. So it’s a shock when three Chosen Masters arrive to strip his island home of its resources for a forced return trip to Osrakum. There, Lord Suth must supervise an election to replace the dying God Emperor. But it’s a long way to Osrakum, and on the way Carnelian will be threatened by the sea crossing, assassins, and his own ignorance of the ruthless world to which he must assimilate.

If Carnelian’s introduction to his native culture is rough, it’s a picnic compared to that of his family. The fact is that Carnelian’s marumaga relations are also his property, and Lord Suth has fatally insulated his son from the full meaning of that power relationship. The other Masters, who exploit vulnerability as a reflex, use Carnelian’s naivety for sport, but he’s not the one who has to bleed. And other people do bleed, a lot, while Carnelian (gradually) summons up a poker face and a little political acumen. This doesn’t always make for easy reading. 

The Chosen play the world like a four-dimensional game of chess, both empowered and constrained by the elaborate rituals, rules and lawmakers that govern their every move. Everything is done for show, and every move hides a sleight of hand.The Stone Dance of the Chameleon as a whole is about Carnelian’s attempt to upend the chess board with compassion. To refuse to play, like Suth, is still a move in the game, with consequences for the pawns. So the larger question asked both by The Masters and the series overall is: do we have to play the game in order to beat it? 

This is a book that intentionally seduces you with a rich culture, a deep history and a beautiful constructed language. You wallow in the aesthetic, and then you catch yourself in the (gilt, bejewelled) mirror, and you start asking yourself: are those blood diamonds? And then you look more closely at your own reflection, at the garments you wear, at the systems of power and exploitation in which you are complicit in our modern world. 

Originally, The Stone Dance of the Chameleon was published as a trilogy, and Pinto’s reworking of it into a septet is a bravura choice, but a canny one. The editing only refines both the beauty and the horror of the text, and the ending of The Masters, once a pause in a longer novel, is recontextualised here as a moment of psychedelic transcendence, leaving Carnelian on the threshold of a new and threatening world. The complexity, both moral and narrative, remain intact, and the message is more relevant than ever before. 

The first part of Ricardo Pinto’s The Stone Dance of the Chameleon: The Masters can be found on here. Ricardo’s website gives a wealth of background information on his books. Find more info on The Masters here.

(ABA)

Dracula’s Bridesmaid

(This appeared in Verbal Magazine in October ’10 as BRAM STOKER: ALWAYS THE BRIDESMAID, NEVER DRACULA’S BRIDE)

Recently, Vampire Diaries star Paul Wesley exclaimed in an interview: “They’ve made this whole vampire thing recently like a sex thing.Back in the day it used to be like Dracula. They were genuinely frightening but now it’s a very sexual tone.”

As for many people, his image of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is that of a neck-chasing stalker with an opera cape and a thick Hungarian accent. Mainly responsible for this image is the – it has to be said – toothless movie with Bela Lugosi. If people who are put off by this creaky Count read the book, they’d find a story filled with adventure, strong characters, romance and, indeed, sex: everything you’ll find in The Vampire Diaries, True Blood, Being Human and Twilight

Stoker’s book of blood is a surprisingly modern read: events happen in ‘real time’ through the use of letter fragments and diary entries. Victorian gadgetry blends scientific authority with folklore. It further convinces the reader because, unwittingly or otherwise, Stoker wrote about the things that kept him awake at night, and populated his novel with the people he knew.

In Count Dracula, beneath the disguise of the Wallachian prince Vlad Tepes, it’s easy to recognize the distinguished actor Henry Irving, who employed Stoker as manager of his Lyceum Theatre. Likewise, the equally celebrated actress Ellen Terry doubles as Stoker’s resolute, independent heroine Mina Harker. Irving and Terry were married but Stoker often found himself their go-between. Where Irving was years their senior, Stoker and Terry were of the same age and shared the playful, friendly manner of honeymooners. Terry nicknamed Stoker, “Ma” and herself “dutiful daughter”. 

Their relationship was more affectionate – though not necessarily intimate – than that of Stoker and his wife. It’s often been claimed that Florence Stoker was frigid and that the sexual undercurrents of Dracula represent Bram’s repressed sexuality boiling over. This is most notable in this scene, early in the book, in which Stoker’s protagonist is beset by a trio of female vampires:

“I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips. It is not good to note this down, lest some day it should meet Mina’s eyes.”

And even more explicitly: 

“I lay quiet, looking out from under my eyelashes in an agony of delightful anticipation. The fair girl advanced and bent over me till I could feel the movement of her breath upon me.”

Legend has it that Bram dreamed this scene after a too generous helping of dressed crab. This seems a bowdlerized version of events, even if it’s still terribly Freudian. Perhaps Stoker did have that nightmare, prompted by his subconscious, but the truth about Florence’s frigidity is less than straightforward.

Born in Dublin in 1847, by 1877 Bram had a respectable career as a civil servant at Dublin Castle. He had just finished a “dry as bones” book on the reformation of clerical duties, but also wrote theatrical reviews. Florence Balcombe, then 18, had been Oscar Wilde’s first love, but she chose security and a stable life with Bram. As she told Oscar: “He never gets into debt, and his character is excellent.” Irving beckoned and they married hastily, similar to Count Dracula summoning Harker on the eve of his wedding.

Florence was stunningly beautiful. She enjoyed a rich social life in the absence of Stoker, who worked long and late for Irving, with only weekends set aside for his wife. While pregnant, Florence realized that further pregnancies would destroy her looks, and that she wanted to entertain artists, not children. So, not so much the loveless marriage of rumour, as a rational choice by an emancipated woman who enjoyed her freedom – there’s more than a bit of Mina in Florence, too. 

While “Mrs. Bram” was a social butterfly, Stoker himself was well enough liked and hugely respected. Respect, however, was not to be had from the one person of whom Stoker seemed to require it the most: Henry Irving. A mesmeric figure onstage and off, his Hamlet unsurpassed, Irving rose from shoestring provincial tours to the London stage before opening his Lyceum in 1878. Stoker flattered Irving in a review, and when they met, he became hysterical with adoration. Irving’s ego was so tickled that he hired Stoker as his manager on the spot, but despite Stoker’s hard work and evident worship, Irving treated him as a mere servant. 

It’s revealing that the characters in Dracula are defined by their response to the magnetic figure of the Count, either resisting him or becoming enthralled. Stoker got caught by Irving’s gravitational pull and reflected this, perhaps in buried resentment, when he depicted Dracula as a monster of heartless manipulation and ambition. 

When Stoker did a reading of Dracula with the Lyceum cast, Irving watched a while from the back, then exclaimed, “Dreadful!’, before striding off. Dracula only made it to the stage in 1925, well after Stoker’s death in 1912, and then only as a “barnstormer”; actor-producer Hamilton Deane was a far cry from Irving, and the play was a far cry from Shakespeare. Yet it was this crowd-pleaser that was eventually adapted into the film with Bela Lugosi. 

Stoker didn’t live long enough to experience – or coast on – Dracula’s eventual fame. Despite ill health and stroke, his later years were quietly spent writing horror potboilers and articles, including a bizarre expose of Elizabeth I as a male imposter. The hallucinogenic prose of his last book, The Lair of the White Worm, prompted later suspicions that he was crazed by syphilis, contracted from prostitutes supposedly visited when Florence wouldn’t oblige.

Since Stoker’s death, increasingly bizarre theories have been posited, casting the author as a repressed homosexual, the victim of ‘haemosexual trauma’, and a conspirator hiding Jack the Ripper’s identity. It seems that in reality, Stoker was the perfect Victorian gentleman, and perhaps that inspires the search for a literary fatal flaw. 

If anything, he lacked a risk-taking spirit and was conservative. He was a writer but could never become a true artist, and lived this ambition through Irving. Consequently, if one character in Dracula sums up Stoker, it’s Renfield: the dedicated solicitor who ends up as a minion and herald of the Count, catching flies, then spiders, wanting a kitten but never getting a shot at the ultimate reward. 

Redundant, Demolished

The old Central Bakery calls up nice memories in Ulrum. The smell of fresh bread which you could already smell when you got near the building. Lovely! The old Central Bakery is one of the buildings in Ulrum which the village would love to see conserved. It is owned by the owner of an agricultural machinery company, a company which is important for Ulrum.

This is from a 2014 project website to ‘future proof’ the village. There was a big pot of money to invest in the village, too, so funding for restoration was available. The neo-classical building is from the 19th century, and from 1953 onwards it was used by eight small bakers to start a bakers’ collective. In 1974 the last of Ulrum’s bakers hung up his hat. It’s a beautiful building that has a right to be conserved, and in a 2016 booklet from an exhibition about the bakery history of the village we read: When you stand in front of the building today you see the details in the plasterwork: this is a building with volume. A building with a story. The plan is to restore the dilapidated building, give it a new lease on life. It has to become a special bakery again, a warm place for villagers and visitors, with unique products everyone will come for.

Every time we visited the village over the past decade, with intervals of a few years, we saw the building in further disrepair: the white plasterwork cracked, the dormer windows sagged through the roof, missing slates exposed the beams below… Today we heard that the building is being demolished. The building’s owner, apparently, was not interested in keeping this for the village.

See, I know him. He used to be my dad’s boss. A big step back in time. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the farmers were the ruling class in the area. Big farmers, around whom the communities were built. They were the drivers of enlightenment and progress in the area. In the 20th century, they still were important: usually they were the families from which school teachers, GPs, solicitors, etc came. When I was a child, there were those who still adhered to this division in the village (aside from the religious factions, that is): you had ‘farmers’ and those who came from farming families, and you had labourers. As one farmer’s son pointed out to me when I was six years old: ‘without us, you’d have nothing to eat!’

My dad’s boss was from farmers’ stock. My grandfather, and his father, were farm hands. My dad was a car mechanic; worked for the company near 35 years. In his mid-fifties my dad had a couple of spells of not feeling too great. Our village GP, one of those learned men of the big houses, advised him on those occasions to rest for the day and go back to work the next. Then, one day, our GP was off, and my dad went to the GP in the next village. He was concerned, and told him to go to the hospital for a check-up. So, my dad went to Groningen, 20 miles up the road. They did their checks and asked him how he got there. Driving. ‘Get someone to pick up your car, because you’re not leaving,’ they said. And so, my dad had a triple bypass.

Now, recovering after surgery, a close family member of my dad’s boss visited him in hospital. He made sure to note that he did so off his own bat. As he told my dad later – ‘He didn’t want me to go. Told me: we don’t mingle with personnel.’

A few years later, word came down to the work floor: they had to let go off a handful of staff, and they’d picked the people who’d had the most sickness absence in the previous years. This, of course, included my dad. The Union got involved, and a negotiations were held. Eventually, a few jobs could be saved. The affected families got together and they decided amongst themselves that the few younger men with small kids should keep their jobs, while those who’d be less impacted would leave. Could they all have kept their jobs? The Union thought they stood a chance of fighting it, but the risk would be that the smallest thing then could lead to dismissal, without the ‘sod off bonus’.

So, this is how my dad lost his job, while very soon after the boss’ children joined the company. The boss’ son had already done his work experience at the garage, and what I gather is that he was not very good at the job, even for a student. Good enough though, apparently, to take my dad’s job. My dad was not forgotten around the village; he occasionally worked in the competing garage when they were busy with MOTs or they needed someone who knew his classics. ‘We know what you did for the younger guy,’ was what was said, with a wink. He never got his petrol at the garage where he’d worked for decades, either.

My dad died less than half a year after I moved to Northern Ireland. The church hall where the funeral service was held was packed. My dad was fairly quiet and didn’t have many close friends, but he knew a lot of people. A lot of people knew him. In the crowd I spotted his former boss, and a shard of hate shot through my grief. He lined up with everyone else to pay his respects, but I couldn’t shake his hand.

For me, he had no business being there. Of course, as one of the village’s notables, he had to be seen there. He’s retired now. I googled him. He is still alive; volunteering for the village’s Mutual Aid, and doling out water bottles at the village’s annual half marathon. His conscience is clear.

(RvS)

Death: The High Cost of Filming

The comic book Death: The High Cost of Living is a spin-off miniseries from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. The premise is that every so often, Death, personified by a young Goth woman, lives as a human for a day, so she won’t forget what it’s like, thereby keeping in touch with her compassion. In this story, she does so in the guise of the teenage girl Didi, who guides a suicidal young man on a journey of self-discovery. I recommend it.

For years, there has been talk of a movie version of the story, and Neil Gaiman wrote a script for it. The location was moved from New York to London, and a prologue was added, set in a Tibetan monastery. Then, due to various circumstances, it didn’t happen. My feeling is that this would never have been allowed to be the film that it should be. I believe that it would work best as a drama in which the relationships are central, but when you’re dealing with Neil Gaiman, the Sandman universe and DC (Grim! Gritty! Snyder Cut!) you’re not going to get that. Even so, perhaps with the success of the faux-indie Joker film, there’s room for a small Death film. A small film would be less of an investment, less of a risk: it wouldn’t have to draw in the numbers of a Superman/Batman tentpole movie to break even.

In Gaiman’s comic and script, the location is London, not the US, where the comic was published. I propose to make it even easier to film the thing: bring it to Belfast. The city is very accessible and ‘film friendly‘, has the Titanic Studios and outdoors locations to fit every need. Northern Ireland is also brimming with talent, its crews veterans of Game of Thrones and Line of Duty, and its acting luminaries famous the world over. Here’s an outline of what Death: the High Cost of Living could look like, if made in Belfast.

THE PEOPLE

Writer/Director: Ash Clarke. Aislinn Clarke’s The Devil’s Doorway is set against the background of the Magdalen Laundries, but focuses on the psychological trauma rather than the body horror of demonic possession. I’d trust her to deliver a taut thriller, but put the emotional journey of its protagonists to the fore. As director of the retro-radio play group Wireless Mystery Theatre, she also shows a mastery of style and whimsy.

Juvenile leads. For the roles of the teenagers Didi and Sexton, unknowns could be cast; we’ve been impressed by shows by the Bruiser theatre school, as well as the Theatre at the Mill Summer Youth Musical Group. Belfast is brimming with up and coming talent waiting to be tapped. The role of Billy should go to a disabled teen.

The Eremite. We used Michael Smiley as our template for the hungry spectral horseman, the Fear Gorta, in our horror story for the Christmas anthology Underneath the Tree. Originally a comedian, his haggard and lugubrious appearance would be perfect for the Eremite. But Lalor Roddy of The Devil’s Doorway would also be very effective in the role, if Aislinn would want to bring him with her. Alternatively, ‘Ma’ could bring ‘Da’ from Give My Head Peace, with Tim McGarry playing against type.

Mad Hetty. A much-beloved and long-running satirical series in Northern Ireland is Give My Head Peace. Its matriarch, commonly known as ‘Ma’, would be a shoo-in for this ‘wiser than she looks, and far, far older’ homeless woman. Veteran actress Olivia Nash may be short in statue, but she’s got a range from light comedy to depth and power.

Mrs. Robbins. She has known Deedee all her life, and knows her big secret. Belfast is a very white city, and no obvious candidate springs to mind. This has been somewhat of a problem across the isle, as also highlighted by Irish/American actress Ruth Negga. Perhaps she’d be available for a cameo?

Foxglove. Belfast has a thriving LGBTQ+ community, which is at the forefront of what’s going on in arts. Is there a queer musician, not necessarily lesbian, who can play (and play as) Foxglove? Surely!

Death. A small but pivotal role, Death, as an adult, appears at the end of the story to take away the dying Didi. Someone’s needed who really lights up the screen, with an almost unearthly beauty. Saoirse Ronan’s career has leapt since she played a vampire in Neil Jordan’s Byzantium, but perhaps she could be persuaded to come to the ‘auld sod’ for a few days of filming.

THE LOCATIONS

Belfast is rich in locations suitable for filming. Despite destructive development plans and a general disregard for our built heritage, enough of the ‘old city’ has survived to, in combination with some of our more modern landmarks, form a backdrop for Didi and Sexton’s spiritual journey.

The story begins in a somewhat uninspiring apartment block. There’s a somewhat out of place building in East Belfast, bordering a park and lower buildings, which would be perfect for outside shots. Alternatively, one of the ‘Manhattan on the Lagan’ high-rise buildings that have sprung up in recent years will add a contrast to the more ‘old build’ of the further story.

We first meet Mad Hetty underneath a bridge. I suggest the railway bridge between the Albert Bridge and the Queen’s Bridge, with its nice Victorian brickwork. Alternatively, the underneath of the Albert Bridge and just besides the station would offer a great ‘All ye who enter here’, new-build on either side notwithstanding.

We’ve got the lovely Victorian St George’s Market, a construction of brick and cast iron framework, which would be a really nice location to set part of the action in, like the chase, and Foxglove’s concert. Traders for the Friday market set up their stalls on Thursdays, so it’d be efficient to film establishing shots on the evening and perhaps after the Friday market’s close. Stallholders might be willing to appear as themselves. A small section of the building might be used outside of market days to set up a limited number of stalls for closer shots, and the market does have live music; though Foxglove’s may skew more folk-rock than ‘pop your lid’ rock.

Alternatively, for the club in which Foxglove plays, why not showcase our own Black Box, with the crooked Hill Street that leads up to it, and the lovely alleys running off Hill Street?

For the conclusion of the film we don’t have to travel far. While Belfast doesn’t have any big fountains that I am aware of, there is a Victorian water fountain on Custom House Square, surrounded by Edwardian era buildings, with a modern water feature on the square, and the leaning Albert Clock tower in the background on one side, and the Harland and Wolf cranes lurking on the other side. It’s at spitting distance from St George’s Market. Crossing the road from the fountain, on the harbour’s edge, is the Big Fish, which may also be a a good anchoring point with visual flair.

If this location isn’t suitable because of the traffic noise, then Buoy Park is a good substitute, with its big, colourful buoys and St Anne’s Cathedral as backdrop.

CONCLUDING

A Death film done like this would elect to use abundant local talent and amenities to tell a story, rather than simply throwing money at it. It’s a way of working that’s brought us countless classic B-movie thrillers, like those produced by Val Lewton (Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie) and the Hammer studios. Words cost nothing more than a writer’s time behind their computer, so this is where it should start. You need craftspeople who know what they’re doing. Hammer Studios understood this, and many of their recycled and small sets are doubled in value by expert lighting and camera work; when David Lynch directed The Elephant Man, cinematographer Terence Fisher came out of retirement to shoot it in black and white. Shoot it well, so you don’t have to fix it in post with layers of filters. Actors should be given the space before shooting to explore their roles and find the nuances in their characters: it’s an ensemble piece at heart, and they’ll need to carry the viewer’s emotional journey.

I think it can be done. It can be made into something very special, magical and emotional, and it can be made in Belfast.