Tag Archives: conventions

The Lady Novelist Enjoys an Outre Museum

IMG_0716Bury St Edmunds is a lovely little market town in Suffolk. Well, that’s one thing it is. It’s also a lot of other things. It’s the place where an Anglo Saxon hamlet stood, and where a monastery was established, and where, in the early 10th century, the remains of Edmund, King of East Anglia (martyred and sainted in the 9th century) were reinterred.

The monastery became and abbey, and the abbey became the excuse for the barons to make a pilgrimage to visit the sainted bones of Edmund, but really to nut out the basics of the Magna Carta (a treasonous act).

The town and the abbey did booming business until Henry VIII was having all that marriage trouble and did that whole reformation/tearing down abbeys thing. His daughter Mary went about burning Protestants here as well. And then things trundled on a bit, the way they do, and some murders were committed, and trials and executions had, some with odd footnotes, and then a science fiction convention was held.

IMG_0624So, our lovely little market town of Bury St Edmunds (the ‘Bury’ is a corruption of ‘borough’ – the town name is not a command) has a long and fascinating history – and nearly all of it is represented in some fashion or other in its marvellous (and sometimes very gruesome) Moyse’s Hall Museum.

IMG_0628To begin with, ground floor of this Norman-era building (so even the stones of this museum are soaked through with history) has remnant stonework and artefacts from the old abbey. They’re also displaying some art from the Wolf Trail (the miracles of Edmund that lead to the sainthood include a very helpful wolf) and a wolf skull.

Among its historical treasures is a broken sword from the nearby battle of Fornham in 1173. The silver inlaid inscription translates as ‘Be thou blessed’ on one side and ‘In the name of the Lord’ on the other.

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IMG_0662Naturally, human nature being what it is, not all the mayhem and bloodshed is confined to the field of battle. Two displays from notorious murders are in the Hall’s Justice and Punishment section. The hall was for a time a police station, and among the displays are the mid-19th century truncheons issued to contstables for the exercise of their duties. The truncheons are decorated with arms and the crown demonstrating the officer’s authority – hence, one assumes (and certainly the signage does), the use of the verb ‘to crown’ meaning ‘to hit on the head’.

IMG_0711Rob Murrell, the knowledgable front of house person on the day, also showed me (once we’d fallen into animated conversation) grooves in the stonework that early policeman had worn in through sharpening their cutlasses (as the earliest river police carried) before a busy night of policing.

IMG_0639Most notoriously, the museum has on display a gibbet – that is, an iron cage, in which the bodies of the executed were displayed to dissuade more unsociable behaviour. The very gibbet was used for this purpose n 1794. One John Nichols and his son Nathan murdered Sarah Nichols – daughter and sister to the pair. Nathan’s fate was execution and dissection. John’s was execution and display in the gibbet. The gibbet was found in 1938, buried near the site of the murder, with his skeleton intact inside it.

And there it hangs at Moyse’s Hall Museum, looking like  a prop from a theatre restaurant. But it really, really isn’t.

But that’s not the most gruesome artefact. The other relates to the Red Barn Murder of 1827. William Corder was tried and hanged for the murder of Maria Marten, and his body was used for anatomical research: his skeleton was used to teach anatomy, his skull to advance research on that dodgy science of phrenology. But also, for reasons best known to himself, the dissecting doctor also tanned part of Corder’s scalp and skin, using the latter to bind a copy of the trial records. And these are also on display. (To tell the truth, this is the first thing I’d ever learned about this museum, from The Morbid Anatomy Anthology essay collection, and my prurient curiosity was the main reason I’d wanted to visit.) I’m not going to display pictures of body parts all unexpected here, but click the link to see the image here.

IMG_0645And thus we move trippingly along to displays of items of witchcraft, or to protect oneself from witchcraft (the region notoriosly burned a lot of ‘witches’.) Old shoes were buried inside walls a lot (sadly, along with cats, from time to time) to ward off evil spells. Most of the collection here was found inside one chimney. Along with many shoes, it includes a few mummified cats, some wands and a witch pot.

IMG_0668On the second floor is a display of the region’s proud military history, and the third has a beautiful clock room, filled with timepieces that tick-tock-tick, all on slightly different times, partly due to aging mechanisms affecting accuracy, and partly so that you get a chance to hear each particular tick and chime. It was a surprisingly soothing place to sit, feeling time measuring itself on in delicate ticks, chunky tocks, sudden chirpy songs of the quarter hours – providing a sense that time does not simply march on. Sometimes it skips and dances, sometimes it limps, but it sings to celebrate too. Time moves, and we with it, and it doesn’t have to be a dreadful thing.

There’s the added attraction that it feels like the Doctor is going to show up with his TARDIS at any moment!

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IMG_0678One or two more random things appear as well – musical instruments among them. The strangest, and therefore my favourite, was called the Horse Head Violin, named for the shape of the scroll, but it is in fact made mainly of a cow skull, elements of it stoppered up to obtain the appropriate resonance.

IMG_0675I spoke with Ron Murrell about this extraordinary violin later – I would love to hear it played – and he told me of a conversation with a visitor who had been doing up her Georgian era house and its period music room. They’d taken up the flooring to deal with a water leak, and found the base floor spaces between the joists filled with cow skulls. It turns out this was quite a thing for getting good accoustics in those rooms. Ron mentioned that in the Tudor period, nuts and nutshells were used in flooring to deaden echoes from wooden floors as well.

Wandering past old pub signs, some portraits and various other elements of town history, I passed a video playing on a loop – narrated by a very familiar voice! No credits appeared, however, so before leaving I spoke to Ron (and this is how we ended up having our very long conversation) and asked – “Is that Paul Darrow doing the narration of your video for the Hall?”

“Why, yes!” said Ron (or something very like it but less like a character from a not-very-good play, “He was here one year for our regular science fiction convention. What a lovely man!”

(Darrow, for those who don’t know or don’t remember, played Kerr Avon in the British SF show, Blake’s Seven, 35-odd years ago).

It turns out that, along with poetry readings (Ron does some of those), ghost walks and history walks, Bury St Edmunds has a regular SF and action film exhibition and convention, for which they encourage cosplay! Past guests have included Dave Prowse (the man in the Darth Vader suit).

This year, the event – which goes from 24th October to 15th November 2015 – will include  a few Star Wars villains and some props from Star Trek, including a costume once worn by Leonard Nimoy.

It seems that Bury St Edmunds isn’t contented to be part of the past. It’s angling to be part of the future as well!

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Continuum 11: Launching Thrive and Building Connections

Mary ThriveI’ve just spent the weekend at Melbourne’s annual Continuum Convention, and had (as usual) an absolute blast. I did a few panels – including one on filking (fannish folk music, basically) which resulted in a new Facebook Melbourne Filking community being set up.

I spent the rest of the time running a table in the dealer’s room (selling books and Kitty and Cadaver jewellery) – but what I mostly did was talk with people.

I reconnected (however briefly – we’ve all got so much on at a convention) with old friends and made some new ones. I commiserated on trials and difficulties in the last year. I celebrated the year’s successes with people. I had great conversations, and learned some things, and if I was lucky I shared some good things that others hadn’t known before.

I was very, very honoured and excited to launch Mary Borsellino’s new book, Thrive, which I was thrilled to edit on behalf of the publisher, Clan Destine Press. Most of my readers probably know how very much I love Mary’s books. Thrive is a superb edition to her body of work: a YA novel set in a dystopian future that’s frighteningly very like our rather dystopian present.

THRIVE coverThe blurb:

In a time and place where the gulf between the haves and the have-nots has grown painfully wide, Olivia lives a life cushioned with abundance. Until the day she is kidnapped and held for ransom by Hannah, a girl from a very different kind of life. Olivia discovers a taste for things not commonly condoned in her world: black-market books, daring friends, wild creativity.

From the depths of factory oppression to the dizzying heights of vigilante rooftops, Olivia travels the margins of society, where the misfits gather and build homes for themselves out of whatever they can get their hands on – and fight to make a life worth living.

This story of Olivia discovering the greater world and its unfairness and suffering is as compellling as Mary’s work usually is. It is filled with horror, violence, cruelty and loss but from that desolate ground, Thrive gives us a rich soil from which grows beauty, love, hope and ways to use ideas to fight for better times without destruction.

Thrive is also a very smart book, literate and funny while cracking along with wonderful characters and huge energy. Delightfully, a re-read is guaranteed to add extra depth to your appreciation, as you realise how cleverly plotted it is, and how so many ideas are intricately woven into the cloth of the whole.

In short, if you want to be challenged and engaged and delighted and wowed, go now to get Thrive from Clan Destine Press!

Thrive launchSo. Yes. I launched a book I love with a passion, I bought a lot of other books that set my reader senses tingling, I had long, lovely talks and much laughter with wonderful people and I spent time connecting once more with the broad family of readers, writers, creators and thinkers in the Australian genre community.

Was it awesome? You bet. Will I be back at Continuum next year? HELLA YEAH!

I’m physically exhausted now, but mentally abuzz with ideas and plans ricocheting around my head, turning my brain into an overcaffeinated hive of thought-bees. Which is both brilliant and a little bit frightening.

Just as it should be.

Queermance 2014: An Overview

Queermance-Vol-1-CoverIn late March, the first Queermance writers festival was held in Melbourne, celebrating queer relationships in fiction. Attendance was relatively small but very keen.

Panels included Writing What you Aren’t (in part about straight writers who write queer fiction – like me), The Art of Getting Published, and Writing Sex and Erotica (and how to do it well). The talented Scarlett Rugers taught us about good cover design, while Louise Bourchier of D.Vice talked us through a lot of sex toys and their uses. (I have ideas for at least two stories as a result of that session!)

The festival had enjoyable festivities in the evenings as well, all held in the Hare Hole at Hares and Hyenas – the launch on Friday night, the Queering the Text quiz on Saturday night and Sunday’s Queerbaret, involving dance, juggling, comedy and saucy readings! (I read from the unpublished F/F erotic romance, Birds of a Feather: in the course of the reading, I was required to fake two orgasms onstage. That was new…)

Overall, Queermance 2014 was both fun and educational, and a terrific opportunity to meet other writers and publishers of LGBT fiction. I’m hoping to soon have some guest posts by Scarlett, and host of the Getting Published panel, Nicolas Frank.

One exciting outcome of the festival was the Queermance Anthology. I have a story in it, Late Bloomer, about a rather melancholy judge named Harcourt and his relationship with his gardener, Jake. I did a reading from that story on the Friday night at the launch of the festival/anthology. The e-book also contains stories by Mary Borsellino, Kerry Greenwood, Matthew Lang and Kristen Henry.

Huge thanks and congratulations to the Queermance crew, especially Matthew Lang who kept things moving and kept the attendees more or less in line. When he’s recovered, I hope he takes up the challenge of doing this again next year!

Buy the Queermance Anthology  Vol 1 (it’s only $2.80):

 Read the anthology? Why not leave a review here, or on Amazon and post the link!

 

Genrecon 2013: A Lifting Experience

GC logo 2013 smlI have just returned from another fabulous GenreCon, hosted by the Queensland Writers Centre in sweaty Brisbane. I had a fabulous time! It was enormous fun, but also encouraging, supportive, amazing and educational.

I met so many incredibly talented people doing so many brilliant and amazing things, and who were happy to hear me talk about my Kitty and Cadaver project too. I’m fired up about the possibilities inherent in unusual storytelling projects being undertaken by people like Sue Wright of Tiny Owl and Jodi Cleghorn’s Piper’s Reach epistolary story, which started as an online project and is now being prepared for submission to publishers.

I have been energised and engaged by the speakers on the podiums and the ones I met during meal breaks and at the banquet. I am excited for other people’s books and as much so for my own. Sharing a room with Lindy Cameron, my publisher, has resulted in us becoming better friends as well. I made new friends, deepened acquaintanceships, learned about writing about publishing, had it at least confirmed that some of my approaches are the right ones and generally steeped myself in the rich soil of fellowship with others in my profession.

Genrecon  (2)And I have so many new ideas! I’ll be meeting soon with someone to discuss a way to invite musicians to participate a little more in the world of Kitty and Cadaver. I have copious notes about creating a book trailer for future projects and some ideas of where I want to take that. I’ve joined the Romance Writers of Australia to learn how to become a better writer of romance and erotica, since I’m writing that these days (and enjoying it) and promptly came up with ideas for several new short and long stories. My main trouble now is finding the time to write. Or alternatively to sleep!

For those who follow my Twitter account (@daggyvamp), you’ll recognise the lame pun in the blog heading. For those who missed it, on the night of the Cutlasses and Kimonos banquet, a group of us got trapped in a lift for about twenty minutes.  One of our number, we discovered, was keenly claustrophobic, so there was a focus on staying calm and trying to help her. Apparently, we did this mostly by digging deep for our inner Laconic Aussie and tracking the whole experience on social media. We were all writers, so one or two folks tried to read books. The rest of us Tweeted and Facebooked, and fielded much so-called hilarity from friends who were not likewise trapped in a small, hot, humid lift.

GenreconAt one stage, I took a photo of everyone (and most of us were dressed as pirates) giving the wags the finger and posted it on Twitter. The primary target, a horror writer and heavy metal fan from NSW (you know who you are), pretty much just roared with laughter and declared us ‘hardcore’.

We emerged mostly unscathed, though crumpled. And let’s face it – we’re writers. You can bet at least half of us have already worked out how to use the incident in a novel.

So thank you to Peter Ball and Meg Vann and their team of ninjas for a Genrecon that provided communion with like-minded folks, an excellent program, opportunities to find new projects and partners, and even provide a platform for adventures in elevators!

The next Genrecon won’t be held until 2015, which makes many of us a little sad. On the other hand – there’s no reason we can’t have impromptu get-togethers in the between times. So, if any of you Genrecon folks are in Melbourne and would like to catch up for coffee, chat and mutual energy boosting, drop me a line! We’ll find a time and place to make like cartoon superheroes and combine our energies to encourage awesomeness in each other.

P.S. – Grammarly: 

I’ve been experimenting with an online tool called Grammarly (they promised me shinies if I did). It’s pretty neat. It helped me pick up some typos and check that when I vary considerably from correct grammar, the creative licence I employed really expresses what I wanted to say.  I could also run the text through a ‘Plagiarism’ algorithm, but mostly it just found I had quoted standard text from my own blog. It was more useful than I expected it to be, and I’ll use it again in future.  It could be handy for running manuscripts through before submissions.

And so, a little endorsement: “I use Grammarly’s plagiarism checker because with its Plagiarism algorithm I’ll at least know when I’m repeating myself.”