A Valentine’s Day Playlist

We’ve gathered together some love songs for Sebastien, Ymke and Kaila, the heroes of our story collection, The Red Man and Others, and stories to come. We hope you enjoy these songs as much as we do!

Black Tape For A Blue Girl – Remnants of a Deeper Purity

Those eyes quietly tell me of a passion we could share
The dance reminds me of a life that we once knew
Snares for my hopes snares for my thoughts
Snares for my dreams drifting onto oblivion
Can you tell me about the intuition I feel
Can you tell me about everything I long to understand?

This one is for Sebastien. He doesn’t love easily, or let himself be loved. If his love life can be described in one word, it’s ‘regret’. Sebastien may come across as a happy-go-lucky rogue, but he keeps his true self well hidden. There are but few who can peel away his protective layers to see that deeper purity. Once, he met a woman he instantly fell for, who reached out and touched the good inside of him. She set him on the path that ultimately led to Kaila and then Ymke. Our story, Another Soul For The Bone Fire, is currently ‘doing the rounds,’ and we hope you’ll soon get the chance to read it!

Jocelyn Pook (with Parvin Cox) – Upon This Rock


ای شاه، درویشت منم، درویش دل ریشت منم
بیگانه و خویشت منم، دارم هوای عاشقی


Oh King, I am your dervish, your fragile Dervish
I am both a stranger and I am myself. I am in love.

These are the words of the 10th century Persian sufi Abu Saeed Abu al-Khair, and I imagine that the music could be like the music of Kaila’s childhood. She is a woman of strong passions, yet as they say: the candle that burns twice as bright burns twice as fast. Since she left her home beyond the mountains she’s lived by sword and by fortune, never really settling and going from one adventure, one war, one heist, to another. She’s known pleasure, joy, and laughter aplenty, yet only since meeting Ymke does she allow herself to experience a deeper and lasting happiness. We imagine her confessing to Ymke, in the depth of night, when souls lay bare: “I am your dervish, your fragile devish. I am both a stranger and I am myself. I am in love.”

The Dreamside – Paroles Dans La Nuit


Ta voix me cherche dans l’ombre,
Le lit est dans la chambre, dans la nuit. – Où?
Écoute le craquement des bambous.
La neige tombe sur les branches – dans la nuit;
Demain la terre sera blanche et froide.

Your voice seeks me in the shadows,
The bed is in the bedroom, in the night – Or?
Hear the creaking of the bamboo canes.
The snow falls on the branches, in the night;
Tomorrow, the earth will be white and cold.

This is from a poem by the northern Dutch writer J.J. Slauerhoff (1898-1936). He was a restless and somewhat difficult man, whose travels brought him to China and whose poems and books have expressionistic and romantic influences. Whereas Kaila’s love is one of a full conviction and certainty, Kayla is well aware of the fragility of love. She fears that one morning she’ll wake up and beside her the bed is cold.

Marlene Bakker – Waarkhanden

Waarkhanden dij t laand plougen,
En mie goud grootbrocht hebben.
Ik rie deur dreug plattelaand,
Terwiel de wind der deurhìn roast,
En ik aan die denk, hou of wie hier ooit woond hebben.

Dwirrels vegen t stof op in wolken,
Terwiel de wind aal meer hoelt om die.
Mien laiverd, kinst nait zain dat ik terugkommen bin?
Terug noar die.

Worn hands which plough the land,
And brought me up well.
I ride through the dry, flat land,
While the wind rushes over it,
And I think of you, how we once lived here.

Gusts sweep the dust up in clouds,
While the wind cries out for you.
My darling, can’t you see I’ve come back?
Back to you.

Ymke always dreamt of a life beyond the clay and the cold northern winds of where she grew up. Though she definitely got what she wanted, she never forgot the farm, and her father who lived there in exile. Will she ever go back?

If you loved this music, and what it tells about our characters, we’d love you to get further acquainted with Sebastien, Kaila and Ymke in The Red Man and Others. You can find it for Kindle on Amazon UK and Amazon US. If you think it’d make a nice Valentine’s Day present for someone, you can find instructions on this page.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Goals, Wishes and Dreams

Author Lee Brontide created this great meme for Twitter, which lets you talk about your main character’s goals, wishes and dreams, and we decided to make it the basis for a blog post. We’re answering here mainly for Ymke, one of the protagonists of the stories in The Red Man and Others, but also for the stories’ other heroes, Kaila and Sebastien, as the mood strikes us.

1. Do they like to have clear goals and plans? Ymke spent her early life just surviving and going with the flow, but since her experience with Alsigt, the Red Man, crystallised her need to escape, she’s always had some quiet personal goal in mind. She’s always learning something new, often illicitly.

2. Do they wish on stars? Ymke wishes on stars when she thinks Kaila’s not looking. Kaila pretends not to have noticed. Sebastien has a hidden sentimental streak, so we actually wouldn’t rule it out.

3. Any hidden talents? Forgery is the very definition of a hidden talent!

4. Their idea of having “made it”: For Ymke, it’s independence. She knows the world can be a cruel place for disabled people, that sometimes your nearest neighbours are also your biggest threat, and that there will be times when her body lets her down. She’s had to make peace with that, and part of how she’s done that is to find ways to earn her keep. Having grown up feeling tethered to a father who was living in exile and in fear, she wants to go places and be with people out of choice rather than because she has no other option economically. Our ambition for Ymke has always been for her life, even in an analogue of medieval Europe, to reflect the conflicts and ambitions and need for justice of real disabled people in the 21st century.

5. Do they believe in destiny? If you’d ask her, Ymke would hesitate. On one hand, she feels strongly that we make our own luck. On the other, some events and circumstances in life seem to have a very strong gravitational pull. The writer in her respects their symmetry. Was the Red Man meant to end up on her farm? Was he meant to leave again? What would their lives have been otherwise? Ymke tries to make her own luck, and Kaila and Sebastien definitely do, but all three of them also get swept up in the whims of destiny. To borrow a phrase (with thanks to Bernard Cornwell), Wyrd bið ful āræd – Fate is inexorable.

6. Are they sentimental? As above, Sebastien is surprisingly so. There is much about his early life that you don’t know yet (some of it we don’t even know yet!), but through all the turmoil, he has kept with him a small artefact of his childhood. There is also in Sebastien an urge to rescue people. Ymke would deny that she is sentimental or nostalgic. She still has her mother’s book, though, and sometimes she looks through it and remembers teaching Alsigt to read; remembers her father teaching her to read years earlier. Life on the road has made her travel light and focus on what’s next, but for all the places she’s lived in, and as suddenly as she’s sometimes had to leave them, she remembers the people of those places, and some of them she thinks on fondly, and wonders about, years later. And speaking of books: in many ways Kaila is a closed book. There’s much that she’d like to forget, and some things she’ll only tell late at night, when she’s had a few cups of wine.

7. Are they ambitious? Yes, sometimes fiercely and not necessarily always wisely, and we’re really looking forward to being able to share with you a story about that. Sebastien absolutely is ambitious. He wants the best that life has to offer, and he’ll get it. Will it be straightforward? Of course not. It’s Sebastien! We didn’t realise what we were doing, but in writing Ymke this year for one particular Red Man sequel, we accidentally caught ambition ourselves: it turned from a short story into a novella. Then another draft we’re working on did exactly the same, inching towards the 40K mark now. Oops.

8. Are they gracious winners? We wish we could tell you why that’s funny, with regard to one of our characters in particular, in one of the novellas we’re working on. We will say that Ymke is capable of being gracious and conciliatory in both victory and defeat. Sometimes, victory and defeat are two sides of the same coin, though.

9. Do they regret much? Ymke regrets blood spilled on her behalf, even though it’s the reason she’s alive. She regrets that it took the events in The Red Man for her to get out of the rut that was her life. She doesn’t regret the business with Father Folkhert, as dangerous as it got in the end. She meant well. She always means well. It’s just that things have a way of getting out of hand. Especially with Kaila and Sebastien around.

10. Do they keep their dreams secret? For a long time, Ymke was not accustomed to letting herself dream, and when she began to, her father was quick to clip her wings. So, she’s learned to nurture dreams quietly. And some dreams require a little skullduggery to make them happen, of course…

11. Are they prone to envy? Yes. This came as a surprise to Ymke. Living largely apart from others until her mid-teens means she didn’t realise just how much she had been missing out on, until she’d been out in the world a while. Sometimes it takes seeing other people – who are leading more ordinary lives – progress through life stages that were very different for you to fully realise what your life might have been. Encountering the sheltered city sons and daughters of her friends in middle age was strangely bitter for Ymke.

12. What skill are they most proud of? For Ymke, it’s cultivating people, in more than one sense of the word. She’s good at encouraging people and bringing out their potential. She’s also adept at making herself part of a place, so that she is valued and receives support that doesn’t feel like charity; like many disabled people, Ymke has a complicated relationship with that. And, when she has to, she can lie convincingly. These are achievements not taken for granted by someone who came from such an isolated upbringing.

13. What milestones do they care about? The irreversible ones, like “I can’t make it up these stairs any more,” which will inevitably come. When something changes in her body, Ymke waits it out through four seasons, in the hope that it is temporary and contextual. If it proves permanent, her way of life has to change – maybe a little, maybe a lot. Progressive disability is fun that way.

14. Do they procrastinate? No. There’s no procrastinating on a farm. The animals need fed and the seasons move on, so things need doing. This is how Ymke was brought up, and this is what she’s carried with her.

15. Are they good under pressure? All three of them are. They’ve had to be.

16. Do they daydream? Ymke certainly does. She certainly did on the farm, and she still did when the places she visited and the people she met far surpassed those of her imagination.

17. Do they believe in signs or omens? Ymke’s rational adult side is rather at war with the fearful, superstitious side that was cultivated in her childhood. She’ll very quietly feel a certain way about things that have enough symbolic weight. Sebastien, though he’s wise to the tricks of cold reading and the stacked deck of cards, also has seen enough to keep some room for the “What if?…”

18. Do other people believe in them? They believe in each other, though that is sometimes very considerably tested. In The Return of the Uncomplaining Child a great many people believe in Sebastien, and they worked very hard at that. None believe as much as Father Folkhert did: more than they could have hoped.

19. Would they rather be over- or underestimated? It changes. When our trio are up to chicanery, it serves them to be underestimated. Ymke chafed against her father’s underestimation of her in her early life, yet like many women, there have been times when her survival has depended on people underestimating her. She’s learned to leverage that. In the story we’re working on now she feels extremely frustrated and overlooked, though, and she’s coping with it in an unusual way.

20. How do they celebrate their successes? Depends on the nature of the success. Sometimes a quiet night together in front of a good fire is enough. Sometimes it requires a substantial quantity of drink. If they’ve made themselves rich, however temporarily, they’ll share some of it with someone who needs it more.

21. Are they good at accepting help? Sebastien does, though he may be less happy with the assumption of a debt owed. Ymke, only when she can convince herself she’s giving out at least twice as much support as she’s taking. Kaila may accept, but not ask for help.

22. How do they cope with failure? Ruthless self examination, in Ymke’s case; rants to well-chosen confidantes. And ultimately, by finding something to fix, which may take many forms. Sebastien brushes himself off, and turns the page. Kaila will be sore until she feels she’s restored the balance. This is not always the sensible course.

23. Smallest thing they’re proud of: For Ymke, it’s her stitching. For Sebastien it’s his moral compass. Kaila’s got this tattoo, you see…

24. Do they do New Year’s resolutions? Yes, very much so, in Ymke’s case. Sebastien will have many, Kaila none. At least none she’ll share with others.

25. Do they keep them? Ymke usually does.. She’s determined that way, and she sets realistic goals. Sebastien’s resolutions are broken as easy as hastily made promises. Kaila’s resolutions are not made at the start of a year, and may not be resolved within the year.

If you enjoyed this look into the minds and lives of Ymke, Kaila and Sebastien, we’d like – nay, we implore – you to seek out the collection The Red Man and Others on Amazon UK or US. We’ll meanwhile work on their further adventures!

25K!

That’s not Couch to 5 K; it’s the word count of the story of which I’ve just finished the first draft. It’s twice as long as anything we’ve done before, and we’re going outside our usual routine with it too. Normally, we’d discuss a story idea, then I’ll do an outline, after which Angeline does the first draft. I take over and complete the draft, including any bits in all-caps which haven’t been figured out yet. This time, I did the full first draft, while Angeline is concentrating on another story.

She did read the story while I wrote, gave feedback, spotted continuity errors and plot holes, and helped tease out the story’s themes. Her draft will further sharpen the characters’ voices, sharpen the prose and do anything else that make a story ‘work’. Then we’ll hand it to and fro a few more times, and the end result will be that the story isn’t mine; it’s ours. The characters, definitely, are from us both. It’s another story with Sebastien, Ymke and -most of all- Kaila. Both of us have similar ideas of who each of them are, and even where we’d ‘fan cast’ a different celeb in our heads for Ymke, they were remarkably similar in appearance.

At last year’s WorldCon in Dublin, Diane Duane and Peter Morwood described how they were asked to write an opening scene for the Nibelungen film they were working on, “like Conan’s forging or the sword”. What they came up with was two rods of iron, heated, twisted together and hammered until it becomes one bar of strong steel. We like to think our writing is like that; and if the two bars have slightly different properties; well, the visible textures give the resulting sword extra beauty, right?

Photos from Dr. Susie C. Rijnhart’s With The Tibetans In Tent And Temple

“Are you a plotter or a pantser?” is the question often asked amongst writers. We’re definitely plotters, yet that still leaves a lot of room for discovery. Going in, you know what happens, but what remains to learn is why it happens and how it affects the characters. This one definitely affects Kaila greatly, though without the story in front of you it’s of course of no use to go into details. The story incorporates three flash fics I wrote last year during October, using Inktober prompts, but sets them in a bigger context, finding more meaning for them. One of the story’s characters, in a ‘this happened before’ arc, is Kaila’s mentor. This at first gave us the notion that the story was about women: there’d be the maiden, the mother and the crone. However, at 19K words, Angeline having had her first thorough read-through of the thing without framing narrative, we mulled it over and figured that the story really is about family. As we’ve described Kaila, Sebastien and Ymke as found family, the family you choose instead of the ties that come with blood, this was just as well, and it was easy to write towards it.

It’s not going to be bogged down in philosophy though. At least, that’s the idea. The working title is The Wolves of Scorr. It’s actually a title from the Dutch Eric de Noorman comicbook cycle (one of my favourite comics – this year I bought the complete, deluxe, set!). It’s mostly set in the mountains, so I got to do research with the excellent Tresspassers on the Roof of the World, about the early Western explorers in Tibet and the race to Llhasa, and the primary sources mentioned in it, like Dr. Susie C. Rijnhart’s With The Tibetans In Tent And Temple. We also made use of the 1956 documentary Seven Years in Tibet (not to be confused with the Brad Pitt vehicle). Kaila’s mentor is from a region vaguely synonymous to Eastern Europe so we borrowed bits of Ukrainian, Scythian and Latvian (Baltic) folklore and myth. Stumbling upon a cache of cradle songs around the Baltic primal mother figure Mara, Google translate helped me putting together some decidedly dark songs for our character to sing.

The Roseau Stone: the mask of the ancient Russian goddess Jara, circled with runes, or a pitted pebble with a non-rune border? We’re writing fiction, so a goddess it is!

So, what we have is 25.000 words of framing narrative, a few flashbacks, flashbacks within flashbacks, an attempt to make the narratives distinct, and still quite a bit of work to do. As in the other stories set in what we lazily call Wheelworld, there are swords, and there is sorcery. We’re again not quite sure though whether Sword & Sorcery is the right label for this thing. While our adventurous trio is avoiding capture and being tied down, perhaps it’s for the best not to strive for the label too eagerly.

RvS

Happy Birthday, Red Man!

As we’re nearing Hallowe’en, which certainly is Angeline’s favourite festival, we decided to celebrate The Red Man and Others‘ first (and a bit) birthday in style!

We’ve reduced the price of the eBook to £1.99 / $2.99 for the rest of the month, and you get a chance to win an original piece of The Red Man and Others art!

Of course we’re always happy with sales of our book (it’s a good incentive to keep writing the adventures of Kaila, Ymke and Sebastien), but what makes us extra happy is to hear what you think of it. We’ve already been lucky to have received kind words from some notable names in the field, but we’d also like to see your review on Goodreads and/or Amazon!

So, at 6pm GMT on 31st October, we’ll gather the reviews from Goodreads and Amazon (UK and US), and throw them in the hat. The winner whose name we draw gets to choose one of these pieces! Both are A3 size, done in ink and (the Kaila and Ymke painting) acrylics.

To make it fair on those who have supported us since the book was published, we’ll also include their names!

And, if you love our stories, why not give our ebook to someone else as a present? Click here for details – it comes with a certificate containing a mini-fic!

Spread the word!

Angeline & Remco

SWORDSWOMEN!

A commentator has recently made some waves in S&S and Fantasy circles by claiming that it would be impossible for swordswomen to exist because, basically, they’re feeble and no match for a man. This, of course, is nonsense. By the same argument, a poorly armoured foot soldier would be no danger to a knight in full metal on horseback. And yet, medieval wars were full of simple foot folk. Could it perhaps be that there’s more at play?

No medieval battle was a simple equation. How many troops do you bring to the field? Your superior horseman won’t fare well against twenty peasants with pikes. Where is the fight? Does your army have to cross a stream, to be picked off by archers? Staircases in castle towers wind a certain way so that defenders have a nice reach for the sword in their right hand, while it’s hard going upwards. Have your generals made the right tactical choices? There’s so much more to add to the mix than “one woman, one man – pah!”.

Being a good swordsman also is not simply a matter of superior weight and strength, of course. Why have tournaments otherwise? Just put them on the scales, have them lift weights and appoint a winner. No, that’s not how it works. How fit is the fighter? And how quick and nimble? Looks to me as if speed and technique could have an edge over brute strength. Not everyone can be a champion, or even adequate, and many did not go enthusiastically: either you went because you were poor and had no other choice, or your were the second son of a rich family and it was expected of you.

Kaila, one of the heroines in our stories

And then there are other circumstances, where it came down to ‘defend or die’, rebellion, uprising and other situations were the rules of warfare were blurred. And my guess is that you’d definitely find women holding swords then; sometimes by choice, sometimes out of desperation, or spurred by a calling – or revenge. In our stories in The Red Man and Others we’ve introduced the female sell-sword Kaila. We very clearly wanted to give counterweight to the big, manly barbarian of Sword & Sorcery, so she’s not only a woman, she’s also small. When we ‘found’ erstwhile weightlifter and now fitness instructor Samantha Wright, we were convinced it’d work.

Kaila will get a bit of a backstory in which we’ll also meet the woman who trained her. Of course, it was a woman. Kaila is originally from her world’s equivalent of the Middle East, and she made her way north to land, on the other side of a mountain range, in the care of a retired female warrior. I asked a colleague from Ukraine whether she’d know a suitable name for Kaila’s mentor, and she pointed us towards Nastasia Mikulishna (Настасья Микулишна).

Nastasia Mikulishna

She’s a famous woman warrior from Russian folklore, appearing in the cycle of tales around the Bogatyr, comparable to the knights of the Round Table. She’s the daughter of the epic hero Mikula Selyaninovich, and when another knight, fresh from killing a dragon, seeks to conquer her, she literally grabs him by the golden curls, drags him off his horse and sticks him in her pocket. She decides that if he’s good looking she’ll marry him, but that she’ll kill him if he disappoints. This blog post from the Russian immigrant Nicholas Kotar gives a nice overview of the different Russian valkyries.

The Eastern European swordswoman we’re most familiar with in the west, at least by name, will be Red Sonya of Rogatino. She was introduced by Robert E Howard in 1934 in the pulp story The Shadow of the Vulture. The chain mail bikini of her later comic book incarnation Red Sonja is nowhere to be found. Instead: “She was tall, splendidly shaped, but lithe. From under a steel cap escaped rebellious tresses that rippled red gold in the sun over her compact shoulders. High boots of Cordovan leather, came to her mid-thighs, which were cased in baggy breeches. She wore a shirt of fine Turkish mesh-mail tucked into her breeches. Her supple waist was confined by a flowing sash of green silk, into which were thrust a brace of pistols and a dagger, and from which depended a long Hungarian sabre.”

Roy G. Krenkel’s illustration of Red Sonya of Rogatino

Red Sonja, with a “j” (this tor.com blog goes into the particulars) meanwhile was very loosely based on Sonya in the ’70s by Roy Thomas, for Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian comics. She’s had enduring popularity, now via the same Dynamite shelf that brings similarly (un)clad female heroines such as Vampirella, and Dejah Toris of Mars – they even teamed up. Some may find Red Sonja overly exploitative, some may find her a strong female character (particularly when handled by writers like Gail Simone); I’ll leave it up to you, but it was not greeted with enthusiasm when Marguerite Bennett and Nicola Scott ditched her chain mail bikini: the Mary Sue liked it, bros on the internet didn’t. Bros won out.

Nicola Scott’s redesign of Red Sonja

In Sword Woman Howard launched another heroine; Dark Agnes de Chastillon, who killed her groom and fled an unwanted marriage, then gets trained with the sword. He wrote three stories about her, which didn’t sell during his lifetime. He sent them to colleague pulpster C.L. (Catherine) Moore, who wrote: “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.” Moore could know; she’d already launched the successful stories around the warrior queen Jirel of Joiry.

Maybe a rake thin and scantily clad Red Sonja is more comforting for certain men than a tough-as-old-boots Red Sonja would be: it keeps it firmly in the realm of Fantasy. And when writers start to challenge this image there are protests. “Game of Thrones? Unrealistic!” – dismissed off-hand, while physically Brienne of Tarth actually can measure herself against most men, and has had the training too, while Arya Stark is plausibly a dab hand at fencing and makes her size and appearance work for her as an assassin.

Gwendoline Christie as GoT’s Brienne of Tarth

Robert E Howard was widely read, knew his classics, and perhaps he’d read Thomas Bulfinch’s Legends of Charlemagne. In it we find the saga of Bradamante, a female Christian knight who falls in love with the Saracen warrior Ruggerio, provided he renounces Islam. So he does, but meanwhile Bradamante’s parents have another knight lined up to marry her. Eventually, she’ll consent to marry only he who can best her in a fight; only Ruggerio is up to the task. Shadows of Roy Thomas’ Red Sonja too here, with her vow of chastity; no surprise, as in his series Arak he introduced the paladin Valda, daughter of Bradamante. There is a lot of suspension of disbelief needed in Bradamante’s tale – there’s her magic lance and the wizard Atlantes for instance – but it strikes me that for a Renaissance, well-bred audience closely familiar with sword fights, the central premise of a warrior woman must not have sounded too ridiculous to believe.

Alex Kingston as Boudica, Queen of the Iceni

It seems that the further we go back in Western history and legend, the less the sword becomes a male privilege. There’s Scáthach, the Scottish warrior who instructs the legendary heroes of Ulster, amongst them Cú Chulainn. And more firmly rooted in history we find Boudica, Queen of the Iceni, who led the combined Celtic tribes against the Roman army in AD 60/61. It’s hard to believe that hundreds of thousands of rebels would have followed her if she had until then confined herself to the kitchen. With an eye on what we now know of Celtic history, it’s equally hard to believe that amongst her army there were not a fair amount of women, willing to fight for justice and their freedom.

(RvS)