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. 

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.

The Tower of Cthulhu

The sketch made by H.P. Lovecraft, of a statue of the Great Cthulhu, and sent to his correspondent R.H. Barlow in May 1934, always amuses me. Far from the fearsome Old One (first written about in The Call of Cthulhu, 1928), it seems to me a middle-aged man, sitting on the toilet, upon whom it suddenly dawns that there’s no more loo paper. Existential dread indeed, but it’s hardly the sort of creature to inspire madness and a quick demise, as so often happens to Lovecraft’s protagonists.

Robert E. Howard’s heroes are made of sterner stuff than Lovecraft’s. When confronted with the supernatural, they may be afraid or disgusted, but it seldom heralds the end of the story. More often, it’s an opportunity to kick the tale into a higher gear. In The Tower of the Elephant (Weird Tales, March 1933), in which Conan gets confronted with a cosmic being:

Smoke and exotic scent of incense floated up from a brazier on a golden tripod, and behind it sat an idol on a sort of marble couch. Conan stared aghast; the image had the body of a man, naked, and green in color; but the head was one of nightmare and madness. Too large for the human body, it had no attributes of humanity. Conan stared at the wide flaring ears, the curling proboscis, on either side of which stood white tusks tipped with round golden balls. The eyes were closed, as if in sleep.

This then, was the reason for the name, the Tower of the Elephant, for the head of the thing was much like that of the beasts described by the Shemitish wanderer. This was Yara’s god; where then should the gem be, but concealed in the idol, since the stone was called the Elephant’s Heart? (…)

Tears rolled from the sightless eyes, and Conan’s gaze strayed to the limbs stretched on the marble couch. And he knew the monster would not rise to attack him. He knew the marks of the rack, and the searing brand of the flame, and tough-souled as he was, he stood aghast at the ruined deformities which his reason told him had once been limbs as comely as his own.

Not only is an encounter with a Great Old One an opportunity for more action for Robert E. Howard, he goes one better, completely reversing the reader’s expectations. Yag-kosha is a victim, not the threat, in this story, and it’s the sorcerer Yara who is the real monster. Howard takes Lovecraft’s theme of cosmic horror and subverts it. But I wonder: did Lovecraft send him a similar drawing to the one he sent Barlow, before The Tower of the Elephant was written? Was it Sad Cthulhu, hunched on his perch, which inspired the image of the tortured Yag-kosha?

It’s all there – the humanoid body, the wings, the head’s not dissimilar when you think of it. Perhaps Howard simply ‘filed off the serial numbers’ by replacing the octopus-like head with an elephant’s. Or, perhaps, the evil sorcerer’s mutilation of the Great Old One went further than his body and eyes alone? Could Yag-kosha have had a multitude of tentacles around his mouth, of which only one survived Yara’s torture? Were the debased Yag-kosha and Great Cthulhu kinfolk?…

(RvS)

C.L. Moore

I’ve just been rereading the foreword of Lin Carter’s first Flashing Swords! Anthology from 1973. Female writers, and women in Heroic Fantasy, have been on my mind lately, and some paragraphs made me go ‘hm!’.

These stories appeared in the most glorious of all fiction pulps, Weird Tales. Although in direct competition with brilliantly gifted and enormously popular fantasy or horror writers like H.P. Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith, Henry Kuttner or C.L. Moor, Howard’s Conan stories were amongst the most popular ever printed in the pioneer fantasy magazine.

The Conan stories certainly are the most enduring, but at the time they were indeed popular, but not more so than those of Lovecraft or Moore, or writers like Seabury Quinn. In the period described Kuttner hardly got a look in, though; his first story appeared in early 1936, months before Howard’s death. Last named of these four authors is Catherine L. Moore, whose Jirel of Joiry stories were praised in the letter columns. We’ll charitably chalk the misspelling of her name up to a careless typesetter; the same who misspelled Carter’s own hero as ‘Thonger of Lemuria’.

C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry in ‘Hellsgarde’

So popular did this exciting new blend of the adventure story, the imaginary world fantasy and the tale of supernatural horror become, through Howard’s fiction, that when he died in 1936 a number of talented writers stepped forward to fill the gap in the pages of Weird Tales left empty by his demise. (…)

This, hardly before the sod of Cross Plains, Texas, had covered the burly, two-fisted author who had in his time earned more money than anyone else in town, including the local banker, other writers, like Henry Kuttner, with his Elak of Atlantis stories, and Kuttner’s wife, C.L. Moore, with her delightful Jirel of Joiry tales, began contributing to what became in a very short time a new genre of pulp fiction.

Moore, of course, had started her Jirel of Joiry series in 1934, with Black God’s Kiss, and three further stories had appeared by the time of Howard’s death. To label Moore as ‘Kuttner’s wife’ is doing her a disservice; at that time, Kuttner was still very much ‘Moore’s husband’. That word ‘delightful’ also sounds condescending. I really get the sense that Carter didn’t know what to make of her, so decided to stick with ‘not much’. After all, she wasn’t part of the trinity of REH, HPL and CAS, and her heroine, or prose, wasn’t something that he could emulate (and by extension, understand).

Moore’s first Jirel story, ‘The Black God’s Kiss’; trailblazer.

Howard, however, was impressed by Moore’s work, and Jirel inspired him to try his own hand at a ‘sword-woman’, Dark Agnes. He sent it to Moore, who wrote him: My blessings! I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed “Sword-Woman”. It seemed such a pity to leave her just at the threshold of higher adventures. Your favorite trick of slamming the door on a burst of bugles! And leaving one to wonder what happened next and wanting so badly to know. Aren’t there any more stories about Agnes?’

These are not the words of someone emulating Howard but those of a peer, perhaps even someone who Howard looked up to and whose approval he sought. We don’t have his letter, so we don’t know what he wrote her exactly (one wonders whether Dark Agnes a nerdy and wrong-footed attempt at wooing Moore. If so, she wasn’t biting), and Sword-woman remained unpublished until 1975.

In the mid-70s, when Flashing Swords! appeared, there was no such thing as the Internet, and whatever Heroic Fantasy fans knew about the genre’s history came mainly through the forewords of these paperbacks. Sure, there was Amra and a half-dozen fan- and pro-zines, but you’d have to be a dedicated Robert E. Howard fan to get them; they were not terribly cheap and definitely not easy to find. Even in the mid-90s, it took the coincidence of landing in a class with the son of the secretary of the Dutch science fiction club for me to finally get in touch with wider Dutch fandom – and it was not for lack of trying! ‘Hunger makes raw beans sweet,’ the Dutch say, and the words of Carter will have etched themselves as gospel in the reader’s memory.

Jirel at the start of ‘The Black God’s Kiss’. In the story she wasn’t naked, though.

The difficulty of obtaining info also meant that editors of subsequent books often relied on their predecessors’ work, so that even dodgy info was repeated until it became canon. Sean Richards, in The Barbarian Swordsmen anthology does a better job in giving Moore her rightful place at the roots of Heroic Fantasy, though Jirel is the only female hero in the book and the cover has your standard barbarian, sword in hand, with a woman boobily clinging to him. Even now, near half a century later, these paperbacks of the ’70s and ’80s are ‘must haves’ for fans, and Flashing Swords! has proven enough of a brand that Carter’s ‘literary executor’ brought out a new (though abhorrantly mutated) edition. So, whole generations, at least until quite recently, absorbed the idea of C.L. Moore as ‘Henry Kuttner’s wife’ and Jirel of Joiry as ‘delightful’.

In the last decade or there has been a reclaiming of C.L. Moore as one of the founders of the genre; Cora Buhlert’s recent (and Hugo-eligible) articles, ‘Black God’s Kiss’ by C.L. Moore or How to Suppress Women’s Sword and Sorcery Writing and ‘Black God’s Shadow’ by C.L. Moore or Overcoming Trauma as a Core Theme of Sword and Sorcery are must-reads. The tide is turning, yet it will still take time before the pervasive smell of sexism has fully washed away.

(RvS)

Where Have All the Pictures Gone

When we first considered bringing out a book of our short stories, which was to become The Red Man and Others, it went without saying that it’d be illustrated. I’ve got a background in illustration, so we’ve got the ‘in house’ talent, but we also like the look and feel of illustrated books: the art adds a sense of occasion.

Illustrated books, and not only children’s books, used to be common. When I take one of our old Rider Haggard books from the shelf, or Dickens, or our antique Hunchback of Notre Dame, I’ll find illustrations in there; at least a frontispiece. Yet, somewhere during the last century, illustrations disappeared from ‘adult’ books. There are different factors behind this, I think, some cultural, others technical. Many books of yore first appeared in magazines, which as a rule were heavily illustrated. Others, like the works of Dickens, appeared as cheap partworks, the predecessors of the pulps. Illustrations, in woodcut or engraving, offered a one-glance appeal to potential buyers.

Mostly, illustrations would be made ready for print by an engraver. They were highly skilled craftsmen. You can see this most clearly when looking at the work by Gustav Doré; some prints are neatly engraved with parallel hatching, others have a more organic, ‘woolly’ treatment. Maurice Greiffenhagen, who did many awesome paintings for H. Rider Haggard’s stories, painted his illustrations in gouache, after which they were rendered by an engraver.

Maurice Greiffenhagen, illustrating H. Rider Haggard’s “The World’s Desire”

Then, at the end of the 19th century, photographic reproduction became available to printers. It was cheaper but also more versatile. For magazines and newspapers in particular this was a revolution: They were no longer dependant on an artist’s impression of newsworthy items, or an engraver’s rendition of photographs; they could print photographs as they were. I wonder whether this had an impact on how illustrations were seen – as old-fashioned, perhaps, or ‘the next best thing after photographs’. Compare how radio plays took a backseat to films, even though radio drama is a valid art form in itself.

Illustrations kept going strong in the magazines and, when we talk about the science fiction and horror field, the pulps in particular. Really interesting things went on there too; Virgil Finlay is of course a fan favourite, though personally I find the illustrations by Lee Brown Coye and Hannes Bok much more imaginative. Hugh Rankin’s work may look rough and unfinished, yet on closer inspection has a delicious art deco sensibility and leaves room for the imagination. In fact, it’s Finlay’s work which I find less and less satisfying, reliant as it is on photo references. He did put a lot of work in stippling all those shades of grey, though.

Hugh Rankin’s illustration for Robert E. Howard’s first King Kull story, for Weird Tales

If you look at pulps from the time of their decline in the 1950s and ’60s, when they moved over to a digest format, you’ll see the illustrations change: they become more simplified and stylized. Science fiction then moved away from bug eyed monsters and big-bosomed girls in peril, and an atomic age sensibility took over. It’s noticeable that magazines like New Worlds opted for more abstracted and dynamic cover design, with no internal illustrations. The message to readers seems to have been that this was not like the old stuff: this was serious Science Fiction, not frivolous junk.

As paperbacks took over the spinner racks previously dominated by the pulps, and Weird Tales was no more than a fond memory (despite attempts to reanimate its corpse), illustrations could still be found there, but only with the frivolous junk Sword and Sorcery anthologies. Old Weird Tales illustrations were repurposed, Roy G. Krenkel illustrated Robert E. Howard’s stories for Donald M. Grant’s hardbacks (then badly reproduced in paperback), and Stephen Fabian diligently stippled his way through several paperbacks and fanzines. You get a sense that illustrations were used despite the trend; that they happened because of an editor or publisher’s love for the old pulp format. It just didn’t feel right to do without – even lesser publications had artists bravely stippling away. More recently, Wandering Star published Robert E. Howard’s work in luxurious hardbacks, illustrated by top talent like Gary Gianni and Mark Schultz. These editions were (affordably) republished in paperback by Del Rey.

Roy G. Krenkel, illustrating REH. My paperback of “The Sowers of Thunder” is falling apart.

Outside Weird Tales-derived anthologies (and even within – I’m not aware of a culture of illustrating Lovecraft), there wasn’t much illustration being done. Money had something to do with it too: illustrators need to be paid, and cost-conscious publisher were cramming as much (ever increasing) wordage within paperback covers as they could. I guess this then became a self-fulfilling prophecy, with a certain snobbery attached. I at least was smugly proud of myself when I read Lord of the Rings in the tiniest print imaginable. Of course, another kid in the bus yanked it from my hands and declared to all fellow travellers that I was reading fairytales with gnomes and such. ‘But… they’re not gnomes! They’re Hobbits! And it’s a recognised work of literature!’ I tried to stem the laughter, in vain. Illustrations might not have helped make my point.

Outside the safe space of fandom you could find illustrated books for two completely opposite market segments. You had the Folio Society books on one hand: expensive, illustrated hardbacks of classics. Then you had the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books: cheaper, illustrated hardbacks of contemporary bestsellers which were obtained by subscription: everyone could have their home library (and everyone’s heir their white elephant – as Wikipedia has it: ‘Despite this popularity, old copies are notoriously difficult to sell.’). What both series have in common is that they’ve got top talent illustrating, giving each book a certain allure. I certainly wouldn’t mind having the condensed Notre Dame for Ronald Searle’s illustrations alone!

Ronald Searle illustrating “Notre Dame de Paris” for Readers Digest.

And with digital making inroads in our reading habits, perhaps that’s where it’s heading: paper books as ‘have-things’. One book on kindle for in the bus, one for on the shelf. It’s certainly what I see in the bookshops, where classics in particular are sold in several formats, with different, stylish covers. Buying a book for yourself, or as a gift for someone else, has become an occasion again. It’s certainly what we’ve aimed for with The Red Man and Others: with the cover illustration, font choice and lay-out, with the title designs and especially the illustrations we wanted to make it into an attractive book, which people would want to put on their shelf, to occasionally pick up and dip into.

(RvS)

Support Your Indie Writers!

(That’s us.)

It takes much longer to write stories than to read them; plotting, drafting, screaming in frustration and starting again – never mind all the tear-stained pages on which we honed our craft, which will never see the light of day. We’re fortunate that it’s not our book sales that keep our cat (and ourselves) in kibble. However, when you buy our book, you help us to justify the time and energy we spend on the adventures of Kaila, Ymke and Sebastien. While we’ve been overwhelmed by the great reactions we’ve had on our book, it all comes down to this: do we have enough sales to make it worth writing their further adventures, or do we focus on other stories?

If you like what we’ve been doing with The Red Man and Others and would like to support us (or any other indie writer whose work you’ve enjoyed) you can do the following.

Spread the word on social media. This is an important one, if not the most important: if people don’t know our book exists, they can’t buy it. The indie writer’s social media reach is limited, and their friends-list will at a certain point be fed up with them banging their drum. So, they need to break out of their own tweet-circle. You can help by retweeting, and definitely by letting your own peeps know that you’ve read an amazing book, and why you thought it was amazing.

Give our book as a present. Did you read our book, and you think it’d be perfect for this or that friend or family member? Buy it for them as a gift. More and more authors these days are offering to sign bookplates remotely, and we hope that physical events will return soon, so we can meet you and sign and dedicate our book in person.

Let us know that you love our work, and what particularly spoke to you. We spend a lot of time behind our keyboards wondering whether we’re reaching people, whether our characters have truly come to life, and whether our messages have landed. Our egos may be tender, but they can really blossom with a well-placed kind word.

Review or rate our book on sites like Amazon, Goodreads and The Storygraph. Reviews help further sales, push us up the Amazon rankings, and help authors get (better) contracts or other opportunities. Do you write reviews for a magazine, website or blog? We’d be overjoyed with the exposure (if, let’s be honest, it’s positive) and will happily provide you with images and other info to present it well.

Read it with your book group. Perhaps The Red Man and Others is something you’d like to read with your book group? Let us know! We might not be able to provide you with bulk-discounted copies, but we can provide you with talking points and anything else that might make it a great group reading experience. If the stars align, we’ll even come by (through the power of Zoom) to chat about our work and answer questions.

Buy ebooks legitimately! Research showed that only a fraction of the books on the average e-reader were bought legally. People assume that big names can absorb the losses through piracy, and for a small number of bestselling authors that may be true, at least financially speaking. It affects publishers’ bottom line, however, and with it their willingness to support ongoing series or to take a chance on lesser known name. Ultimately, this hurts us all, authors and readers alike.

Buying a physical copy? If your indie author is lucky enough not to be beholden to Amazon for their sales, choose an indie bookshop that supports local authors. Two of our favourite local bookshops are No Alibis in Belfast, and The Secret Bookshelf in Carrickfergus. They’re both brilliant at helping readers find books they don’t yet know they’ll love.

Check their book out from the library, and if they don’t have it – ask for it. The UK has Public Lending Right, which means that authors get a bit of money every time their book is checked out.

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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)

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.