‘Sausages: The Making of Dog Soldiers’ by Janine Pipe

Twenty years ago, me and some friends bagged a ride to our nearest multiplex to watch a new werewolf movie. We arrived late and had no idea what to expect.

For the rest of that year (and beyond), we were quoting this film constantly. Someone would start whistling the ‘marching’ theme and others would join in. I bought both UK and US copies of the DVD because they have different – absolutely hilarious – commentaries.

Cut to today. Another lady writer with equal (ok, maybe a bit more) enthusiasm had the idea of writing an anniversary tribute to that movie. Here it is.

I was lucky enough to make online friends with Janine and receive an ARC of the book. It’s one of those that you want to devour in a single sitting, and yet take slowly because you don’t want it to end.

This book, make no mistake, is a tribute. It’s an absolute love-letter: to Dog Soldiers and those who brought it to life, as well as to horror and those who carved a path in werewolf movies historically. There’s some big movie names here.

Janine has left no stone unturned in her quest to make this the best retrospective it can be. Full of interviews, quotes, artwork and photos, we learn about the movie from concept to execution, as well as the impact it had on audiences.

The tone is chatty and fun, which is infinitely preferable to a dry film-school dissertation. The shenanigans of the squaddies/actors are contagious, and if you go in with a good sense of humour, you’ll be fine.

People are still discovering the absolute ride that is this movie. I’m glad there’s a book that does it justice, hopefully inspiring new viewers and also aspiring actors, filmmakers, FX creatives and writers to really take the leap to make what they love.

Sit down by the fire. Grab a bowl of Mysterious Stew (and a good spoon). Listen to a friendly voice tell of a crazy tale, of soldiers and big effing werewolves. You’ll love it.

I’m off to dig out one of those DVDs again now, to watch with my own collies by my side.

‘Sausages’ is available now.

Leave a Comment

Wrong…?

I stare at my screen. Again. What do I say? It’s been an age, and the words haven’t been coming.

But today, something tells me to write.

Lately, I’ve been listening to the stories of those who normally go unheard. Folks who aren’t white, aren’t heterosexual, aren’t rich. Folk whose voices are silenced despite how hard they try to speak. I remember being in that place once.

I see the world right now, and I wonder how we reached this point. I think back to my school-days. Were we ever taught to think for ourselves? There’s a vague memory of having to write about our skills, but not much more. We were taught what was Right and what was Not. Marked in red pen, passing exams with ticks in the margin and a score.

There was no room for questioning.

I remember asking what the Poll Tax riots were about. Why teachers were striking. Why the electricity went off from time to time. I remember seeing Margaret Thatcher on Saturday morning TV. I saw a bearded Irishman silenced on the news as bombs went off in London.

Later, I discovered comedy and satire. I learned to read between the lines. School taught Shakespeare; Blackadder showed the Bard’s deeper power. Spitting Image showed politicians laughing at the audience, calling them stupid for voting in such idiots.

I still love Shakespeare, despite school (which should definitely NOT be the way it is). He showed all those shades of humanity: the poor, the non-British, the mad. Each had wisdom of their own.

I learned to love the anti-heroes, the rebels, the dispossessed. I saw punks in the High Street and was awed. I wanted to ask, but couldn’t. I learned to stay quiet, but my eyes were open.

I saw bullying by other children and adults. I saw how people were treated. I felt how I was treated, my usefulness determined by how intelligent I was. Book-smart but mocked for it.

I hid in fiction. I loved words and stories. None were more or less valid than any other. But I saw how preference was given to certain demographics over others, so I quietly tried to seek out what was being hidden. I’m grateful to the kind adults who let me into their section of the library.

Years later, as an adult, I found my voice at University, through feeling my anger at being silenced rise and rise until it had to come out. I jumped on a stage (something I’d specifically been told not to do at school, because I’d fail), and I SHOUTED. The room fell silent. People listened. I jumped down, physically shaking… to have friends congratulate me. Why had I not done this before?

Now, as the world opens up again, the empty stage is open to me. I’m being asked what I want to talk about at events. What will my next book be?

I want to tell my stories. I want to hear the tales of others and give them the gift of time and space, so that fighting to be heard is unnecessary. I want to help the shy ones, the afraid, the silenced, the invalid.

I’ve been mocked for ‘always taking in strays.’ I don’t think that’s a fault. I see the world, I see the mistakes made before, and I see the cleverness of those children coming up behind. I want to help them.

I write. I think. I listen. I question. I hope I inspire others to do so as well.

What are WE doing?

I’m trying to listen and find my path again after the world went mad. Because we’re all mad here, as someone once said. All human.

Comments (7)

Arkham Horror – Reviews

‘Litany of Dreams’ by Ari Marmell

The Devourer Below’ by Josh Reynolds; Evan Dicken; Davide Mana; Georgina Kamsika; Thomas Parrott; David Annandale; Cath Lauria

‘Cult of the Spider Queen‘ by SA Sidor

‘The Deadly Grimoire‘ by Rosemary Jones

I’ve spoken of my enjoyment with Aconyte Books’ Lovecraftian offerings previously, but as they’re now coming in thick and fast, I thought a joint review was in order!

First, ‘Litany of Dreams’. While the early Arkham books stayed firmly in that sinister town, Ari Marmell heads further afield, to explore how the insidious darkness of the Great Old Ones spreads far deeper into the lands around Massachusetts.

We follow Elliot Raslo with what might otherwise be a simple missing persons case: his roommate has vanished. After reading some mysterious writings. And becoming obsessed with a particular chant in an uncomfortably weird language.Yes, this is Arkham after all!

The story unfurls like a true yarn, leading from libraries and museums to the swamps of Hockomock outside the town, with a nod to the ancient lore of the Inuit peoples far to the North.

The tone shifts and changes – fortunately far more comfortably for the reader than for the characters! – so that we see Elliot’s confusion, his new friend Billy’s increasing worry, and the curiosity of librarian Daisy Walker, all combining beautifully as the quest unfolds.

I was reminded of many Lovecraftian movies (notably ‘Reanimator’, with the emphasis on Miskatonic University), but also ‘Evil Dead’ and even ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.’ The escalating fear of the protagonists is tangible, and there were several points where it genuinely seemed like there was no way out for them. I don’t want to say any more for fear of spoilers, but this evil is its own kind of spreading disease, with no way of knowing if there’s any cure. Sound relevant?

‘The Devourer Below’ is the first Arkham anthology from Aconyte, with each story held together by the shared tales of one particular Great Old One, who hasn’t previously experienced a lot of attention in books or movies. As the stories unfolded, I learned more about this particular unpleasant fellow, and how his fearsome reach draws many into his own unique and hungry darkness.

We have sneaky occultists, of course, but also bootleggers, historians, regular people caught up in something far beyond their experience, and so much more. For anyone wishing to play the Arkham Horror roleplaying games, there’s heaps of inspiration for characters here!

Particular standouts for me were Josh Reynolds’ ‘The Hounds Below’, which combined the very real horrors of The Great War with deeper human fears of madness, starvation… and what those may mean when combined together. Also ‘The Darkling Woods’ by Cath Lauria was its own kind of fairytale. I’ve never seen a Lovecraftian story with children as the protagonists, but does this mean they’re able to deal with dark fairytale dangers more effectively than the adults around them?

‘Cult of the Spider Queen’ was always going to be difficult for me, and it took quite a lot to open this one. I’m not a huge fan of spiders, let’s say, and from the start, the creepiness of the story felt like those little (and not so little) legs starting to work their way insidiously down my spine.

This book is absolutely the stuff of Saturday afternoon matinee movies. Leaving civilization behind, the characters travel far into the jungle, looking for a lost group of film-makers who apparently found the fabled Spider Queen. Did they survive? Is the Queen real? What about rival groups of treasure-seekers hot on our heroes’ trail? Will they make it back alive?

Imagine a cub reporter, a beautiful (and apparently wealthy) heroine, a brave tracker and her crew… and then the flickering lights of a black and white silent movie, with not-quite-visible shapes moving in the shadows around an ancient shrines and jungle leaves. This was uncomfortable because of the spiders and the legends, but absolutely gripping in its action-and-excitement atmosphere!

We stay in action movies with ‘The Deadly Grimoire’, a follow-up to ‘Mask of Silver’ (which I’ve previously enjoyed and reviewed). This stands alone if you’ve not read that, though, being its own tale as well as a continuation of those events.

Betsy Baxter is the Flapper Detective, daring stunt-performer and actress, who’s found great success after surviving the previous events in Arkham. However, there’s still loose ends to be tied – so with the help of a female pilot known as ‘The Woman without Fear’ and an antiquarian bookseller seeking the titular Grimoire, Betsy charges straight into an adventure that far surpasses any movie!

Again, this has the vibe of a matinee movie, but also a strong detective story. Where (and what) is the mysterious Grimoire? What do bootleggers and a local crime syndicate have to do with anything, and what are the innovative seaweed-based treatments at the local sanatorium?

Every aspect of Lovecraft is here, bound up with a fun heroine whose thinking is definitely ahead of her time.

I’m glad to say that every single one of these books branches further into the Real World than Lovecraft would ever have been comfortable with – in terms of strong women, native Americans and Inuit, homosexuality and much more. The Ancient Old Ones don’t care about such things, and their tentacles affect everyone, so there’s (happily) no discrimination to be found in any of these pages.

As always, at the end of these books those who survive are forever changed by their encounters with the Great Unknown – as are we, the reader. Part of me wonders what happens next for them, but I know it won’t be necessarily good. It’s just that feeling of wanting to see more of a traditional adventure serial, feeling the jumps and gasps as skilled hands lead us further into the dark.

Hugely enjoyable and absolutely recommended.

Leave a Comment

Words for ‘Me’

‘Start writing…’

Thankyou, WordPress. That’s a great help.

That instruction is actually a good one, but it’s easier to do when I just let my brain move my fingers without too much inbetween. Let’s see how this goes.

I haven’t written about Druidry for a while. There’s a reason for this.

I’ve often said that labels frustrate me, but that ‘druid’ is the closest to what I actually do, in terms of practice, belief, etc.

That’s kind of still true… but also it’s never been wrong-er (BA English Lit, a passport to ruining the English language with impunity).

I’ve been peeling back layers over recent months, both voluntarily and not. Imagine ripping off multiple plasters. Some of which have been on for a really long time (ow/ick).

Druidry is still What I Do. But it’s by no means the only thing I do.

I tried to visualise some sort of diagram to illustrate my thought process here. Probably something like this, but messier:

(Taken from Miskatonic University Press. Yes, really.)

My work is mostly Druidry. But there’s also shades of Witch, Heathen, Spiritualist, Medium, Seer, Mystic… so many words with subtly-shaded differences.

My physical self has some extras: Wounded Healer. Chronically-ill. Major Depressive. I would probably be a Mad Wife in the Attic if we had an attic.

And then there’s all the other things. Old Goth. Middle-aged. Crazy lady. ‘Writer’ should feature somewhere. Crafter. Yarn-wrangler. Wordsmith. Carer to the lost. Holder of hope. Maker of tea. Aspiring Time Lady.

I’ve not been well lately, not at all. I’m getting regular therapy at last, which is an absolute miracle. But it feels as if I’m working through… something. To bring together those parts that are Me, and jettison those that no longer serve or apply. I’m finding some interesting new ones, too. They were hiding until now.

Part of the thought-process was comparing myself to others, as inevitably happens. I didn’t always like what I saw. Egos and power-trippers, those who spoke lots but did little. Those who didn’t seem to feel or care.

I may have been too judgmental for some. I know I wasn’t always. But the idea that if a specific title was shared by both me and another (very different) person was difficult to resolve.

That’s my ego talking, obviously. I know that titles are broad strokes used to describe something. But this led to the idea of subtle shadings.

I think that we need to remember that a single word cannot define us. Not even a few words. A lifetime cannot – and should not – be reduced in such a way. It’s ignorant, over-simplified and wrong.

We are each many things, and exploring those is part of the fun of getting to know people. I think my Things are changing, some more dramatically than others. I always try to be true, though – to myself and to those I hold close.

I’ll try to keep exploring. My mental illness has been trying to draw a line under things and begin to write ‘The En…’, but I won’t let it. I’m not done yet.

Thankyou so much to those of you who are still here. I love you all, truly.

Oh, and by the way, someone recently commented on my last post. They said I ‘sound like a total victim.’

That’s absolutely NOT a word I’d use for myself. The fact that I’m still here should demonstrate that well enough.

Determined. That, I’ll take.

Much love, friends.

Comments (4)

Still Here

It’s been an age. So long since I wrote anything here.

(Even now, my brain is telling me to click away, not to post this, not to bore everyone. But here we go, pushing on)

The words haven’t been coming. The flow has been blocked. They’re there, in my mind, but they don’t want to get out onto the page.

The preventative song is the same. Not good enough. You’ve done your bit. That was all you could do. You’ve done.

You should stop.

(Feel free to read between the lines)

Every day is another step, though. Small things accomplished. Every piece of happiness held on to and cheered.

I can’t face friends one day; the next, I share laughter and hopeful thoughts with a stranger.

I see shock on the face of a person assigned to help me. But not disgust – sympathy. The shame shrinks before his gentle smile.

Being held, in person or virtually. Reaching out myself, wanting to help others. Tears for sick friends, frustration that I can’t do more – but being there.

Gladness in plans that we’re finally able to make, after a year of limbo.

We live in strange times. I’m not sure where the winding path is leading. I’m trying to listen to the subtle guidance – the ringing strike of truth held in random phrases, words on a page, jokes and shared thoughts.

It feels as if I’m living moment to moment right now. And perhaps… that might be ok.

Because I’m wanting more. And the ideas may be starting to bud a little once again. the truths start to fall from my lips and fingertips.

Love and hope to you all, patient friends. The mantra of last year still: Stay Safe.

Comments (2)

‘Intuitive Magic Practice’ by Natalia Clarke

There’s so many books out there on ‘how’ to explore your own magic. What made this one stand out to me was the word ‘Intuitive’ – which is pretty much how I’ve worked for many years now!

Natalia speaks honestly and clearly about how to ‘reclaim your voice’. From discovering how your intuition feels, to allowing yourself to be guided by it, she uses anecdotes and advice from her own experience – not telling the reader what to do, but encouraging them in what they may have already been doing! People speak of ‘returning’ to Paganism, and this absolutely reinforces practices that you may have played with as a child – listening to birdsong, carrying a favourite stone, being aware of the turning of the seasons and moon phases.

So much modern-day learning is intellectual that it can be hard to let yourself go and simply trust yourself and your own intuition – but that’s precisely where the magic lies. This is an excellent wee guide to reinforce a burgeoning magical practice, and simply living as a practical Pagan in a magical world.

‘Intuitive Magic Practice’ is available now as paperback or ebook here.

Visit the author’s website here.

Leave a Comment

‘Mask of Silver’ by Rosemary Jones

After enjoying Aconyte’s previous adventure in the Arkham universe, I was keen to see what would come next. This series really does seem to be going from strength to strength, and – I’m very pleased to say – takes the work of HP Lovecraft and expands on it in ways that would probably make him retreat to his room with smelling salts.

This tale is one of 1920s-era Hollywood and our narrator is Jeany Lin, a sought-after costume designer and makeup artist for a troupe of horror movie makers. Oh, and she’s half-Oriental. And the female script-writer for their latest movie has a girlfriend. Who is – gasp! – a successful actress! Out of the way, Mr Lovecraft, the twentieth century has arrived!

Right away, Jeany is endearing to her readers. Despite the horrors that she’s seen, she is clever, exceptionally pragmatic and aware of the ‘otherworldliness’ of Hollywood compared to the realities of post-War life. She loves what she does, and the almost Repertory-theatre-like group that she works with make a close-knit family that we’re rooting for from the start.

Famous horror director Sydney Fitzmaurice is taking the group to his ancestral home just outside Arkham to work on a passion project that promises to be the scariest film of his career. Is this just studio hokum or something darker? Of course it’s the latter, but the book takes time establishing the characters and their history together, as well as the unique mood of Arkham itself and its residents. By the time doors start slamming and the cast’s nightmares affect their reality, we can no more leave than they can.

The issues of discrimination are touched upon realistically rather than heavy-handedly, and the general theme of ‘other-ness’ winds through the narrative as the uncanny events begin to ramp up. Jeany has to create the titular Mask, but most of the cast seem to wear their own just to survive anyway. The insidious magic of their location easily works its way into the monstrous movie, and we’re genuinely not sure who’ll make it out alive.

‘Mask of Silver’ is absolutely gripping, and although it’s considerably longer than any Lovecraft tale, it takes its time as needed and I was sorry to see it end. I had my favourite characters, suspicions on who was behind the devious activities, and wish to see more of the Arkham natives – who may well appear in other books in this series (I hope).

I absolutely do recommend this, for the mood of Golden Age silent movies combined with ancient unknowable evils. Magic of all kinds, and regular folks trying to survive in many ways.

I loved ‘Mask of Silver’, and am very much looking forward to the next title in this excellent series.

‘Mask of Silver’ is out now in paperback and ebook editions.

Leave a Comment

Look!

Another post from Lockdown UK. Here I am, dressed basically as I work from the sofa. I can’t remember when I last wore makeup. What’s the point? Thoughts that I suspect are familiar to many of us right now.

BUT I’ve just dyed my hair for the first time since last July – and I feel like Me again!

Every time, it’s a question. Do I bother? Is it finally time to let my natural hair show? Well, several inches of growth and once again, I’m reminded that I really don’t like it (not silver enough yet!).

I’ve always had issues with how I look. Always. From years of pageboy haircuts to years of braces, never really understanding what I looked good wearing and then being mocked for wearing what I liked…

Only as an adult did I really discover what felt good to/on me. I love colourful hair, but prefer goth style with splashes of bright. Pastels: NO. I have many leather jackets, which double as armour when in cities or crowded places. And of course, I have my Druid Drag of robe and cloak, plus relevant jewellery.

I’ve seen the extremes of lockdown life, with one group dressing up to play at home and make beautiful social media art. The other stays in comfortable clothing, makeup-free, minimal effort. I’m obviously the latter.

But this year, in Lockdown 3.0, I’ve become what feels like unhealthily insular. The ups and downs of mood haven’t helped, as I feel very self-aware when I go out, as well as not being able to exercise as much leaving me low. I don’t feel worthy of the effort; there’s no point, I can’t work miracles.

Recognising this may help to fix it. I’m slowly returning to ‘public’ work, which is a kick in the pants to sort myself out. I’m being inspired by those social media folks, friends and strangers, rather than overwhelmed by their skill.

Himself commented when I wore some jewellery the other day that it suited me. I took that thought and turned it around in my head: What is ‘me?’ Here, now, at this stage of life, with this shape and with practical needs?

A work in progress, as always. But returning my hair to its colourful best is a start (I’ll get the split ends sorted when I’m allowed again).

Writing this seems so vain in one sense, although I suspect it’s something many of us have thought about as we kick our heels at home. How playful can we be in such scary, mad times? Isn’t such a topic trivial? There’s bigger issues to worry about!

And yet self-care is high on the agenda, as we struggle to find what works in keeping us sane and moving.

I love seeing my friends dress up to go to the supermarket, or post cosy pictures with soft toys and hobbies. This is still who we are, even when we’re not putting on a Public Face for Work. I need to learn not to be ashamed of who I am, nor fear the mockery. I thought I’d got past that, but old demons resurface if given half a chance.

What am I doing? I’m exploring gently to see what pokes a head up from the ground this Spring.

Comments (2)

Light in the Dark

Today was not a good day.

But I did receive some advice that struck me, and which I would like to remember. I should try to ‘surround myself with things that make me happy.’

Even though we may have our own spaces, how consciously do we do this? Not random piles of Stuff, nor the minimalism of only keeping what gives us joy, but taking time to seek out soul-deep happy things in the moment – as medicine, solace, comfort, fuel to keep yourself moving forward.

The world is turning, things are changing, and I don’t know where we will end up. But for the first time in a while, I feel that I am seeing something to aim for, with the pulling back of self-care helping radiate outwards to larger work.

Tonight I sit, exhausted in body and spirit. I have soft knitting in my lap, colourful yarn gifted by fellow yarnies. A pup or a kitten may come by for a snuggle. A toy Jackalope sits nearby, sent from a friend miles away. Fire crackles in the hearth, and Himself prepares comforting food. Before bed, I will dip into a few pages of an excellent book.

Tomorrow, I will work on gifts for friends. Writing plans are germinating, throwing out tiny shoots of growth as characters begin to talk to me. Ritual ideas are also coming, as we near Imbolc, but also as I prepare a rite of Passing.

All of this while the country is locked down by illness. When we need companionship but cannot even touch family and friends – at least we have this technology to keep our shared spirits up. We have items with stories, that have come to us when needed.

We keep going through the winter months, and I am glad of being able to reach beyond that dark to the flame of happiness again.

Leave a Comment

‘A Dowry of Blood’, by S.T. Gibson

Years ago, I discovered a copy of ‘Dracula’ in my local library. I remember doing virtually nothing for the rest of that day – just curled up on the sofa, engrossed in one of the most enduring tales in English literature.

I’ve loved vampire tales ever since. This was in the days before it was a trend, and what was published had to perform as a novel first, a sub-genre second. So it was that I found Anne Rice, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Fred Saberhagen and others. Adult vampires, not teen dreams.

Years later, Kim Newman published ‘Anno Dracula’, one of his super-meta books that references virtually everything in its field, fictional or historical. Dracula rubs shoulders with Oscar Wilde, Lestat and Jack the Ripper. Everything swirls together in a marvellous characterful universe.

This books feels as if it is naturally part of that world.

As the book opens, we are being addressed by the narrator as she tells her history. She is one of several ‘brides’, to a long-lived warrior vampire lord whose name she vows never to mention.

We follow the little vampire family through the streets of European cities and beyond, exploring anew what it feels like to witness the world changing around you, while remaining stuck, frozen in time exactly as you were when you changed into an almost-immortal night hunter.

The writing is beautiful. I found myself absolutely captivated, swept up in the tale as I was with the original story back in my own past. I felt the same wish for the characters to grow beyond their immortal lives, while knowing they never could. I felt traces of the different versions of the same characters (although to my knowledge, only Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has specifically tackled the Brides themselves before).

We, the reader, know who this is, of course. But it’s one perspective, and somehow a voice we’ve never heard before, despite its familiarity. I became as emotionally involved with the protagonist as I had with those well-told vampire tales gone by, and I realized all over again what was missing from the mass-marketed iterations flooding the bookshops these days.

Please do pick up this book and see for yourself. I’m already looking to buy the physical version of the ebook I have, and will absolutely be reading it again, as well as looking out for whatever this author writes in future.

A huge recommend.

‘A Dowry of Blood’ will be released on January 31 as paperback and ebook. I was kindly provided with an ebook version of this title by the author, in exchange for a fair review.

Leave a Comment

Older Posts »