Werewolf? There wolf.

So, I prepared a little surprise for any potential trick-or-treaters (well, there’s no point making it easy, is there?).

Meet Wilf – a six-foot, free-standing werewolf with glowing red eyes. Should sort out the sheep from the goats.

The head is a relic from Halloweens past, actually made for a hoax story in a magazine many years ago. More on that later. For the ‘body’ I used Sir Pell (see previous post) and added some poseable arms. Just because.

Here’s the work in progress pic.

As you see, Wilf actually appears pretty friendly in daylight. At night, however, emerging from the bushes with an uplighter and his eyes lit… Well, we’ll see who makes it to the door.


Sir Pell

Sometimes, you need to hit something with a sword. And occasionally, you want to do so without maiming or killing it. That’s where a pell comes in.

A mainstay of a knight’s training, the pell was essentially a post of approximately human height upon which an individual could practise sword strokes without restraint, building strength and accuracy in a manner that was – in terms of physical commitment, at least – as close to real combat as possible. Often the pell would simply be a rough pole, but later in the medieval period might be fashioned to resemble the enemy of the day.

I wanted a pell I could seriously twat with a variety of weapons. So I made one.

Anyone who has read Hood will recall that Gisburne has an elaborate training device which he calls ‘Sir Pell’, featuring free swinging arms with gimbals and counterweights so it actually responds to attacks with its own counterblows. On one occasion, it knocks Gisburne senseless. I decided to start more simply.

The post is plain timber with a crosspiece at the top, the whole length tightly padded and tied around with hessian sacking. Dimensions are about those of an average man, so mail or other armour can be hung on it if desired. The head is not really designed to withstand heavy blows unprotected (what head is?) but is properly proportioned so a helm will fit it, and is made it so it can take strikes from arrows. An archery target can also be hung over the chest.

I have now given it a good few whacks and can confirm it works well (though the base needs some widening to make it more stable). It’s also immensely therapeutic. You think a punch bag is satisfying? Well, this is the next level.

Even better, though, will be when I dress it up over Halloween to scare the crap out of trick-or-treaters. Time to dig out the old fake wolf’s head, I reckon…

FantasyCon 2017

After skipping last year – and missing out on the incredibly strange Scarborough experience – it was great to get back to FCon on the home turf of Peterborough, see some familiar faces, encounter totally new ones and, perhaps most importantly, to get to talk properly with people I had only seen fleetingly in previous years.

This year, I was fancy free, too. No panels. No readings. Just wafting from fascinating conversation to fascinating conversation. Obviously there were the usual endless, crazy meanderings with John Garland and Eric Steele – I wouldn’t know I was there without those – but also some excellently random new encounters with Anna Smith-Spark, Irene Soldatos, R B Watkinson, Harriet Goodchild and many more.

As ever, there was plenty going on if you could tear yourself away from the bar. Two panels stood out for me. One was ‘Historical Fiction, Historical Fantasy’ on Friday, deftly moderated by Sandra Unerman and featuring Daniel Godfrey, Peter McLean, Irene Soldatos, Andrew Knighton and David Stokes. Together, these authors (and one editor) represented a huge range of historical periods, either making direct use of them as backdrops for their fiction or plundering threads to weave their own secondary worlds. Obviously this is a topic close to my heart and it was great to get different perspectives on it – but also it led to great discussions afterwards, during which I got to meet the author of Bad Bishop Irene Soldatos (who, it turns out, is also a fellow archer) and to chat in depth with Andrew Knighton, who has written in, about and around a frankly ridiculous range historical periods, subgenres and subsubgenres.

Inspiration is what you come to these things for. I was not left wanting.

As it turned out, Andrew was also moderating the ‘Steampunk’ panel on Saturday, which – though he probably did not realise it – provided this in Brunel patent steamshovels. Despite there being only two other authors on the panel – Anthony Laken and Adam Millard – and a relatively small crowd, it really dug deep into what steampunk is, what it’s not, what makes it tick and what it ought to be doing – but too often isn’t. Anthony Laken in particular – occupying the newbie author slot I found myself just four years ago – provided some wonderfully perceptive and passionate insights into the genre, offering up a plea for steampunk to properly tackle the difficulties, contradictions and social injustices of the Victorian age rather than just allowing our polished wood and brass nostalgia for the period to obscure them. Sure, it can be a fun playground in which to run around (I mean, goggles and corsets – what’s not to like?) but it can be so much more than that. This is fantasy, folks. You can do anything. Build anything. Destroy anything. So, what kind of world are you going to make? And why?

It had been my fermenting next novel that took me to this panel, and thoughts such as those above – inspired not only by the panel itself, but by conversations afterwards with Anna Smith-Spark and Stewart Hotston – really brought it into focus for me in ways that were as welcome as they were unexpected. For some time, I had been aware, in a vague sort of way, that what this new novel was going to to do was ‘steampunkish’. But I had never been quite comfortable simply calling it ‘steampunk’. And now, I understood why. What I was doing here was anti-steampunk. I wasn’t taking an existing Victorian reality as a foundation and building an even more outlandish empire on top. I was taking an existing Victorian reality and then utterly destroying it. Suddenly, the path ahead is an awful lot clearer.

More on that later. But in the meantime, thanks FantasyCon.