Blacksmithing

Ever since I started reading fantasy novels as a child, I, along with most other fans of the genre, have loved a blacksmith. The archetypical blacksmith’s son/ apprentice finds he has great powers and sword wielding skills in so many novels and films (Pirates of the Caribbean, How to Train your Dragon, Wheel of Time, Wizard of Earthsea). Along with wanting to be an elf, I was certain I could craft my own sword and that being a blacksmith was magic.

Well for our wedding anniversary, AfroKen and I went on a day workshop in Norfolk to make our own knives. It was in keeping with all of the other crafting we’ve done (e.g. making our own wedding rings) as well as living out our fantasy world dreams (e.g. survival weekend learning to start fires and snare rabbits). We had illusions of grandeur, of making a sword in a day, of being naturals. What actually happened was so much more interesting.

My vision of what we were doing was heating up some metal and hitting it with a hammer. That did happen. And it was so difficult to be fast and precise and strong all at the same time. After about 5 attempts, the blacksmith Nick offered to help me out and in one go, made a basic knife shape. Although I hate to admit weakness, I accepted straight away that his decades of experience were worth seeing.

But it doesn’t end at the hammer! To make one little bushcraft knife took us about 8 hours. We had to grind the edges down, sharpen the blade, temper the cutting edge, burn on the handle and then shape it, polish it up, make a leather sheath, and lots of other steps that makes me head spin. It gave me so much respect for the time and cost of handcrafted items.

What I loved even more were the stories. Nick was turning anything into a blade from old Landrover parts to century old ship pins. He made things from meteor and mammoth tusks. He had a backlog of quirky commissions to do and yet he seemed to savour the time telling his stories and teaching two rank amateurs on how to make a knife.

Of course in this day and age everything can be done quicker and cheaper but Nick, and the people who commissioned these items, wanted it for the history, the care and the beauty of a hand-forged item. He told us about making movie props, pieces for museums and when we stopped for lunch we could see his hand-craft in the cutlery, the door handles shaped like leaves and candlestick holders on the table. It was beautiful and the skills to make anything he needed from a chunk of ugly metal was astounding. I can entirely understand why blacksmiths were seen as magicians back in the day.

The sad thing is that it is a dying art. Knowledge and skills were passed down through generations and not in books or videos. I felt like I was being given a glimpse into an old world, another world where we didn’t just buy things from shops but used our hands to make it. And if the first attempt fails, we just keep trying. I know most of it is on youtube and Wikipedia these days, but hearing it from an experienced blacksmith was so much more satisfying. It was more in keeping with the oral tradition.

I’ve never felt closer to the fantasy books of my youth than listening to Nick’s stories about hunting with a bow and arrow, falconry and making his own set of tools in his apprenticeship.

A Summer Reverie

I was doing some writer admin today and looked through some of my old work. I have decided to share with you, a short story from 2008 called A Summer Reverie. This is one of my few non-genre pieces and written with Virginia Woolf and a little bit of James Joyce in mind. I haven’t written in this style since but I’m quite proud of how different it is to my other work. Perhaps it’s worth trying to write a genre piece as a stream of consciousness. Please let me know what you think!

A bit of craic

Just back from a lovely Easter trip to Northern Ireland and County Donegal. The Causeway Coast was inspirational, especially with the lovely weather we had. AfroKen and I did a bit of a Game of Thrones tour but to be honest it was really just an interesting way to stop off at some of the slightly less well-known scenic spots. Whilst I was really looking forward to the Giant’s Causeway, by the time we got to it, we had seen so much beautiful undiscovered landscape that the coach-loads of tourists did ruin the experience a little. We did attempt to play a game of Settlers of Catan on the rocks just because the shape was so similar.

I much preferred Ballintoy Harbour where we climbed around the rocks and watched the waves crashing and creating rainbows with spray over the rocks.

Some photos can be seen over in the photos page.

Long overdue update

This blog has been sorely neglected due to a wedding, a postgraduate degree and finding things like Twitter are so much faster. I decided last night that this should be rectified for a number of reasons. Foremost in my mind was finding another blog, from a stranger, not at all affiliated with myself or any of the publications I’ve been in (to my knowledge), stating they were a “fan” of my work. For any writer that is the ultimate praise. And for someone like me who only produces a handful of short stories a year at most, it was really motivating and inspiring to read that. It made me realise that people do read my work, even if most of them don’t bother to comment on it. And more than that, that some people enjoy my work. How crazy is that? I am determined on the back of this, to finish more stories this year.

At the moment I’m working on three very different stories all inspired by the Manchester Speculative Fiction writing groups anthology,  RevolutionsSubmissions are open to all as long as they are linked to Manchester (UK) and speculative in some shape or form. It’s a paying marking so I highly encourage others to submit! My three stories are all partially written and I have a terrible habit of having a brilliant idea but no way of resolving it. They are also in three of my favourite and very different styles: literary, non-fiction-like, and folklore.  I joined the Man Spec Fic group since moving to Manchester last September. I continue to be impressed by the quality of work from the regular members across both SF and F genres and it’s a real dynamic and motivational group for bouncing ideas off each other.

Other news in the world of writing is that Lontar, in which my story the Floating Market, was published last year, is on the Locus Awards Ballot for Best Magazine or Fanzine. This is exciting as it’s only had 3 issues so far and whilst it’s competing against some of the big names in the industry, everyone starts somewhere.  This also mean the Floating Market can be nominated for best short story in the Locus Awards so if you’ve read it and liked it, please consider voting. 

Self-aggrandisement moment over for now. I have been following a lot of Asian Spec Fic authors on twitter and it’s brilliant to see others out there really making a name for themselves. For so long, no matter what city or country I’ve lived in, I’ve been a huge minority in Spec Fic both as a woman and an ethnic minority. The brilliant thing about the internet is realising I am not alone. Names like Ken Liu, Aliette Bolard, Wesley Chu and Joyce Chang are making headway and inspiring people like me to keep writing the things I do.

Lontar #2

My story The Floating Market is now out in Lontar, Issue 2. Lontar is a South-East Asian journal of speculative fiction based out of Singapore. The Floating Market is a fantastical story  set in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam about a girl and an elephant.

I have to admit, shockingly, despite my own cultural background, I only ever read European fantasy growing up. I loved all the Arthurian legends and sword and dragon-based books based on Western mythology. I was aware there was a different perspective out there having been brought up in a household of Chinese art and TV shows but it never occurred to me that this could be accessible in books since I couldn’t read Chinese. So I soaked up those 1980s soap operas and animes and had to be content.

Even when I lived in Japan I used to pick up the fantasy books and just imagine what the stories were based on the covers.  It felt so cruel that I consoled myself my flicking through manga comic books and just enjoying the pictures (okay I could understand a bit of Japanese by then but not enough for the rich vocabulary in historical and fantastical fiction). The only equivalent I could really find were children’s illustrated mythology books or translated but somewhat turgid ancient texts such as Journey to the West.

Why doesn’t someone write about Asian fantasy, I asked over an over again. People pointed me towards the Mistress of the Empire trilogy, Kwaidan or the more recent novels like Across the Nightingale Floor.  And these were good, enjoyable reads. But something was missing.

Whilst I don’t presume to fill that void myself, I think Lontar is the sort of journal that tries to fill that niche. Written by people living in, or culturally from SE Asia, it is something a bit different. And whilst we are waiting for Google to master the universal translator and apply it to books, have a read of a few short stories. At a bargain $2.99USD, what are you waiting for?

Since I’m updating, I’ve been away from writing for the past two years as I’ve been completing an intensive postgrad in London and all of my free time has gone to reading about speech and language disorders. Once I finish up in July I will be back on the writing bandwagon so keep following!

 

 

Accepted into the world

Lontar Journal has accepted my short story “The Floating Market” for publication in a future issue of their magazine. Lontar is a great new journal filling a gap in the market for speculative fiction with a South-East Asian slant. I’ve been looking for translated/ English work for a while now from authors outside of the Japan and China influence and I’m really proud to contribute my piece to this.

“The Floating Market” is a fantastical short story set in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. More details to follow once I know them!

Go on, stare!

With the Paralympics currently on in London, I thought it would be very topical to discuss disability. There have been a lot of TV programmes on lately about paralympic atheletes, doing a great job to highlight they have overcome a lot and struggled to live full and happy lives. On the other hand there have been a plethora of shows in the last few years which positively encourage us to stare agog at anyone with physical or mental disabilities (Seven Dwarves, Beauty and the Beast– the names of the shows are enough to make you switch the TV off).

My question really is this, when faced with someone with obvious physical disabilities, what is the appropriate way to act?

Take for example an outing I was recently on whilst supervising a group of young children. We were in a park and there was a group from a special education needs school also there. Our children, especially those around 5-6 years old couldn’t help but stare. They were coming across these people in wheelchairs, with strange walks and making strange noises for the first time. Like all children, they didn’t know it was rude, they just did. One of the other adults told them not to stare and when questioned by the child, said it was rude just because someone wasn’t as lucky as them (I’m using their words). Whilst I agree with this adult in theory that allowing our children to stop dead and stare would have been awkward for all involved, I did wonder- who was feeling awkward?

I would say certainly not the children with SEN. Most of them had quite severe needs and were unaware of us. They seemed to be enjoying being out and about and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Those who were aware were also probably use to a certain amount of attention as standard in their lives and we weren’t stopping them from going about their business. Certainly not our children who were probably learning a great deal about how there are different people in the world that aren’t all able-limbed and articulate. So the people embarrassed and mortified by the behaviour were us, the adults. Our instinct is to not make a fuss, act like it’s all normal or turn away and ignore them. But surely if there was another able-bodied school party walking passed, we wouldn’t act like they were invisible. Acting like disabilities are nothing actually encourages ignorance as we need to allow children to ask these questions, even if they are not politically correct or easy to answer.

I am reminded of being in Japan when children would come up to foreign friends of mine and touch their hair because it was blonde or wavy. One black Englishman was asked if he was black all over and also if it washed off. Although surprised by these questions, he didn’t take offence because these children had never seen a black person in real life and they honestly didn’t mean any harm by it. When I was a child I genuinely believed Catholic people believe more than Protestants, even though I went to a Catholic school (a boy at the school told me this when I first joined and I never thought to question his judgement). I also thought the Celtic football team had something to do with cellotape because I never asked.

So I think we should allow children to get their fill. Stare long enough and it becomes every day. We should allow them to ask questions and explain away preconceptions. I remember watching a TV programme about a woman with Tourette’s who was trying to do talks to demystify this sweary disorder but was caught in a Catch-22 that they wouldn’t allow her to speak at schools because of her foul language.

We need to support the people with disabilities as well as the carers and organisations that help them. It’s not an easy job, or life, for anyone. It is a disrespect to who they are to pretend nonchalance. I volunteered in a SEN school for several months and on outings the greatest joy we got was from members of the public (normally lovely old grannies) chatting to the kids. As a 1-1 with a child in school the past year, I was aware my student loved when staff and children called out his name and waved to him in the corridor. We were like celebrities. I have a firm belief that it not only helped the student’s development but also those other children in the class. They will go through life now accepting there are people who cannot communicate as well as them, people that may act a little different sometimes but are still their friend, part of their class, someone they want to invite to a birthday party or pick to be in their team in a game.

TV shows such as Seven Dwarves and Beauty and the Beast don’t interest me because they are about highlighting differences. They caricature people and do grotesque close ups on disfigurements (everyone’s face is not a pleasant sight up close without a ridiculous amount of media air brushing). They pretend to be educational and informative but they are really just for shock and entertainment value. 

I’m interested to see what the feeling will be after the games. Will it change public opinion to have a more inclusive view? What are your thoughts?