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research, Writing

Virtual Plotting & Planning




I’ve been investigating new ways to develop my world-building for my novel-in-progress Ragnarok Dreaming, inspired by Norse mythology. I am a highly visual person and my imagination (and writing) has become increasingly taxed by trying to remember my mental images and plans for complex landscapes, cities and worlds in my latest work-in-progress. I was keen to try new ways to visualise my scenes and my characters. I have been writing my draft for Ragnarok Dreaming using Scrivener which is a wonderful software for organising and planning large and small writing endeavours but I wanted something more to visualize world-building.
Enter World Anvil, designed with game builders and role players in mind, it is fantastic for writers and artists alike, including specific features and packages just for creative writers. Then there is FlowScape for map-making and up-close and personal, scene investigation. A wonderful virtual 3D designer for everything from large world maps to smaller regional sections.
I hope you are as excited as I am to see the final outcome of this combined venture using FlowScape and World Anvil to bring the world-building for my novel-in-progress Ragnarok Dreaming to life!


Here’s a quick look at the virtual reality ‘map in progress’ for Midgard.


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Circe

I recently read Circe, a historical fantasy by Madeline Miller, a retelling and exploration of the maligned figure in Ancient Greek mythology, the witch Circe.

Circe follows the unusual female figure of Ancient Greek literature, the witch daughter of the Titan god Helios, exiled to Aiaia by Olyimpium Zeus. The details of Circe’s strangely mortal-like voice, her yellow Titan eyes and seemingly lack of powerful gifts make her unwanted and taunted among the Titans and Olympians alike. Yet Circe raises her brother from infancy and it is he who discovers the hidden powers of the Titan and Nyrad heritage. Aeëtes later becomes the infamous god, creator of the Golden Fleece, father of Medea and challenged by Jason and the Argonauts. Their sister Pasiphaë is wed to King Minos of Crete, the extravagant courts of Knossos later falling to Pasiphaë’s own vengeance when she gives birth to the monstrous Minotaur. Circe’s gifts for witchcraft are later revealed when she transforms mortals into gods and rival nymph Cilla into a monster.

Exiled on the island of Aeaea, Circe enters the legendary heroic tale of Odysseus who, shipwrecked on the Isle, stays for several years on the course of his travels back to Ithaca. Unbeknown to Odysseus, Circe bears him a child and earns the wrath of the powerful Olympian goddess Athena, Odysseus patron and protector. The prophecy of Odysseus death relates to his son and desperate to protect her child, Circe obscures the Isle in a powerful illusion, keeping all the gods away except the trickster Hermes and challenges Trygion, the ancient god of the deep sea for a weapon powerful enough to inflict pain upon the immortals.

Circe was vividly described and detailed, the explanations of Ancient Greek mythology and literature were wonderful. As a former scholar of Ancient Greek and Roman history and mythology, I loved the originality of Miller’s witch Circe while still adhering to the foundations of the broader mythologies. A surprising and exotic storytelling! Definitely well recommended!

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The Institute

I read The Institute by US author Stephen King after many reviews discussed the social issues within the novel and the similarities with the psychologically challenging novels Firestarter and Carrie, both sharing with The Institute, children with powers of telekinesis and telepathy.

The Institute focuses on twelve year old Luke Ellis, a boy of exceptional intellect who is kidnapped one night from his home, his parents murdered. Luke is taken to an isolated and secret government research center known only by those inside as ‘The Institute’. Luke has very a minor talent with telekinesis which like many of the other children in the The Institute labels him a “Pink”, the more expendable children exposed to riskier experiments designed to provoke greater talents in telepathy or telekinesis. Within ‘Front-Half’ of The Institute, Luke meets Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon who are all, like him, kidnapped children, now orphaned. The true horror of The Institute is not just the experiments or dissociated manner of the staff, Luke learns that ‘Back-Half’ is the real horror of the secret experiments. Once children have undergone and survived the initial experiments of Front-Half, they are quickly transferred to Back-Half where no one hears from them again.

Luke’s intellect and kindness helps gain him a friend on the inside operations at The Institute. Through this network, Luke plans an escape and a way to expose the inhuman experiments and treatment of the children kidnapped from their families, lives forever changed. The secrets Luke discovers are dangerous to The Institute and the truth more horrific than anyone realised.

The Institute is a strong novel about our modern social condition and the ease with which society accepts actions for the ‘greater good’. This is the social context that Stephen King explores with detailed historical references to Facist and Communist ideologies. The Institute does have many elements reminiscent of Firestarter but is hard-hitting in its delivery where it shares the emotional weight of social injustice with The Green Mile. Ultimately, I found The Institute without true comparison. A must-read novel.

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Iceland: The Icelandic Horse

In early September 2019, I travelled to Iceland and visited Eldhestar Icelandic horse trekking company located less than 30 minutes drive southeast from the capital Reykjavik. The Icelandic horse was brought to the island by the Viking settlers. You can read about about Icelandic Viking history and the history of Reykjavik here. There are also a series of posts on iconic southeastern Icelandic waterfalls, glaciers and volcanoes and iconic Icelandic landscape.


Sculpture at Eldhestar stables, Iceland

Eldhestar translates to “volcano horses” in Icelandic and aptly named Eldhestar riding stables are located in the valley beneath the volcano Hengill, a region populated by natural hot springs, geysers and rivers. The nearby town of Hveragerði has a thriving horticulture industry using extensive greenhouses where heating and electricity is supplied by geothermal power from the nearby active Hengill volcano.

Town of Hveragerði, geysers, meadows

The Icelandic horse is native to Iceland, being brought to the island with the Viking settlers and isolated from other horse breeds throughout much of history. For this reason, Icelandic horses have not been exposed to other equine viruses if horses leave Iceland, they cannot be re-introduced but most be left in mainland Europe. There are also no other horse breeds allowed in Iceland but nearly every farm, hamlet or paddock contains Icelandic horses which outnumber the human population according to a public census several years ago! Icelandic horses are also semi-domesticated and, for the most part, are not stabled and even spend the harsh winter months foraging for feed in the snow drifts. This hardy character and the endurance of the breed to travel extensive distances over the volcanic rock and challenging terrain makes the horses beloved by many Icelanders.


Eldhestar guide & fellow tour member

I was interested in the Icelandic horse for several reasons. First, I had to see these legendarily tough horses for myself. They are certainly smaller than I’d expected but not in a noticeable way. When moving, they can cover huge amounts of ground with a very large stride, which includes the unique tolt, a gait that occurs naturally in most Icelandic horses. This trot, is uniquely fast and a longer-stride which is surprisingly comfortable.

My guide with Eldhestar was wonderful and the Icelandic horse I was riding (Freya) was enthusiastic and free-willed (a trait that I admire and seems expected in a breed that needn’t rely on human assistance). The Eldhestar riding tours can be as large as a month-long trek across the island, where an entire support team of horses are required, riding horses swapped each day for fresh mounts. In true Icelandic fashion, the 3-4 horses for each rider follow the riding line in a free-moving herd.

Apologies in advance for some jerky and imperfect video of a herd of Icelandic horses, the amazing landscape in the fertile floodplains.

Icelandic horses, meadows, estuary & distant Hengill volcano at Eldhestar Riding Stables, Iceland
reads, Recent Reads

The Bee and the Orange Tree

I read The Bee and the Orange Tree by Australian author Melissa Ashley. A wonderful historical fiction set during the early stages of the French Revolution but focused on the female literary circles surrounding Baroness Marie Catherine D’Aulnoy established as an author in her own right after successful publication career of several novels and fairytale collections. The darker, more disturbing undertone throughout the novel is that of female oppression during the reign of the French King Louis XIV, where the fairytales of young heroes and heroines overcoming impossible odds is a glittering hope for the oppressed women and subjugated peasants of France.

The Bee and the Orange Tree follows Angelina, Marie Catherine’s daughter, raised in a convent with barely any contact with her mother or father. Angelina is recalled from her only known world of the convent, to aid her ageing mother as an assistant. Soon, Angelina finds herself among the literary salons of Paris, attended by some of the most talented writers and poets but also many wealthy or noble families. Angelina is disheartened to discover the popularization of the craft and art her mother worked hard to establish herself and which Angelina greatly enjoys. Angelina is quickly confined by the existence of a respectable woman, suddenly missing the relative freedom of the convent especially as Marie Catherine has not written a single word after suffering an unusual form of writers block.

At one literary circle, Angelina is introduced to her mother’s protege, a young talented writer named Alphonse. Although unsure of her feelings toward Alphonse, Angelina is soon aware that Alphonse’s attempts to court her are only aimed at gaining Marie Catherine as a potential benefactor. This revelation hardens Angelina’s mistrust of Parisian society, which only deepens further when Marie Catherine’s good friend, Nicola Tiquet is accused of adultery and attempted murder. The subsequent trial of Nicola Tiquet, an independently wealthy and powerful woman without the need of a husband to support herself, becomes a focal point for Angelina’s realization of the oppressive nature of French society and the discrimination against women and any of unequal status. Against this is the greater landscape of the early French Revolution and the the determination of the powerful to hold onto power. Throughout these dramatic social challenges, Angelina learns disheartening truths about both her parents, discovering both are willing to sacrifice for their own aims and Angelina soon finds she has more in common with Alphonse than she imagined.

The Bee and the Orange Tree was an engrossing, complex historical fiction where the stories of each of the characters were as much the focus as the development of the fairytale literature and women’s rights in France during the eighteenth century. A wonderful read and highly recommended!

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Black Dogs, Black Tales Update…

A wonderful list of authors pre-selected for this Australian-New Zealand Anthology of Horror, SciFi, Dark Fantasy in support of charity Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.

Things in the Well

New Zealand author, Dan Rabarts, poet, writer and editor, Dion Winton-Polak join the list of fantastic writers who have donated their work to this charity project including: Alan Baxter, Peter Blakey-Novis, Octavia Cade, Matthew R. Davis, Melanie Harding-Shaw, Cassie Hart, John Linwood Grant, Christian H. Smith, and Kaaron Warren.


Note: All proceeds for Black Dogs, Black Taleswill go towards raising money and awareness for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, and we cannot wait to share the finished book with you all!

cover draft

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A Darker Shade of Magic

I had read many reviews of A Darker Shade of Magic by US author Victoria Schwab and in October 2019, I decided to delve into this popular series. I thoroughly enjoyed the world-building and unique characters of the first book in this trilogy.

A Darker Shade of Magic follows Kell, one of two last magicians capable of stepping between three alternate realities. These parallel realities are connected by a city called London and, while magic exists in varying strengths throughout all worlds, it is the fourth world which was the strongest. This fourth reality, known as Black London was consumed by a dangerous magic that overwhelmed the inhabitants and the magicians. When this magic began to leak into the closest Londons, White then Red London, Black London was sealed off to prevent the spread. Now only White and Red London possess any forms of magic while Grey London has virtually none.

Kell, is a magician bound to serve the royal family of Red London but adopted and raised almost like a son but his power as a magician requires his service as a messenger between the ruling monarchs of Red, White and Grey London alongside Holland, his counterpart in White London. During an unscheduled and illegal trading escapade to Grey London, Kell is tricked into smuggling a relic from Black London into Grey London. Events soon spiral out of control, the dangerous and possessive magic from Black London begins to carve swathes through the inhabitants of Grey London. Kell inadvertently becomes entangled with Delilah Bard, a young woman, thief and vagabond, who steals the relic but possessing surprising resistance to its effects. Soon, Kell and Delilah are embroiled in a dangerous game to clear Kell’s good name in Red London and stop the spread of the corruptive magic from Black London by returning the relic and resealing Black London. Throughout this ordeal, Kell and Delilah try to outmanoeuvre Holland, the magician from White London.

A Darker Shade of Magic was an intriguing first instalment of a trilogy rich in world-building and detail. I enjoyed it immensely. A great read!

research

Sweden: Gotland Museum

I visited the Gotland Museum in Visby, Gotland Island, Sweden in early September 2019. You can read more about my research visit to the Uppsala Viking Age burial mounds, the History Museum in Stockholm and the medieval city of Visby on Gotland Island.


Gotland Museum contains an amazing variety of prehistoric Swedish and Viking Age archaeology and history. The collections include picture stones from Gotland Island, large collections from establishment of the official seal and recognition of Gotland county, the doomed Battle of Visby and Viking Age silver and gold hoards found on Gotland Island.

The Gotland Museum collections contain some of the oldest picture stones in Sweden with many dating from the prehistoric era of circa 9000 years ago and including the pre-Viking Age era of circa 700 AD. The earliest picture stones feature animal and geometric motifs before the more familiar Celtic styles of decoration are incorporated into the picture stones. Some of the largest picture stones are well over 6 ft and depict themes and motifs mentioned in Norse mythology. There is one famous picture stone that appears to depict common themes and characters from Norse mythology with a warrior riding into battle on an eight-legged horse, a wolf and a woman holding out a drinking horn. Below that scene is a Viking ship and armed warriors and possibly a Valkyrie or similar winged female archer.


There are also prehistoric human skeletal remains recovered from sites on Gotland Island that offer a rare glimpse into the ritualistic behaviour of the early inhabitants on the island.

The burial of a young woman in her early twenties has been called the “Hedgehog Girl” for the many items made from the local Gotland Island hedgehog which were used to decorate her grave. She was buried with five hedgehog jaws placed across her chest and would have originally worn a cap made from hedgehog skin while her dress was edged with beading made from fox and seal teeth. There were many hedgehog spines found beside her head and it was likely the cap was decorated with hedgehog spines while her grave goods also included offerings of hedgehog spines and teeth. The local inhabitants of Visby confirmed that the hedgehog is still an important symbol of Gotland Island and, despite the ram being on the official seal of Gotland Island, the hedgehog continues to be the symbolic animal of Gotland. There is a strong Association between the symbolic role the hedgehog played in the prehistoric communities and that the common animal today was of symbolic and, possibly ritualistic importance, in the past with some archaeologists interpreting the hedgehog girl had a ritualistic or shamanic role in the prehistoric community.

The grave of a young woman has been named the “Girl with the Flutes” for the total 35 of false bone flutes, 23 buried throughout the grave and another 12 placed directly beside her. The grave was also decorated with red ochre and contained fishing tackle, bone fishing hooks, a finely carved bone comb and bone jewellery. A clay figurine at the foot of the grave is difficult to discern but is either a bird or a seal. The grave was located on the cliffs overlooking the sea and combined with the numerous flutes, it has been suggested a literal or symbolic communication between the girl and the birds or the seals. Whatever the case may have been, the burial shows a strong symbolic nature to the burial where the sea and the role of the flutes was clearly important for the woman buried on the sea cliffs. There was likely a close connection between the prehistoric communities of Gotland Island, they were probably reliant on the sea for survival in times when crops or livestock failed.


The Viking Age was also well-known for the silver and gold hoards that were buried throughout Scandinavia and in other parts of Europe. Gotland Museum has an interesting display of the various hoards associated with the island. Many are vast collections of coins from different regions, silver bracelets, gold torques, silver and gold rings, beautifully crafted silver brooches for cloaks and the elaborately engraved square brooch used by women. Most of the items in these hoards have been recovered during excavations at specific archeological sites but in a few occasions, including a hoard of gold coins stored in a clay jar, an industrious rabbit warren disturbed the buried treasure, bringing the hoard once more to the surface.


Gotland Museum contained an interesting collection of archaeological and historical items from the pre-Viking Age era, Viking Age and through to the Middle Ages. Items from the Viking Age included axe blades and swords recovered from local archaeology sites, carved game pieces made from bone and horse teeth. A gilt weather vane for a Viking longship appears an extraordinary extravaganza by modern standards but retains the deep swirling pictographs on the surface. The arrival of Christianity to Gotland Island was ushered in slowly with early wooden churches a solemn, pagan-appearing place, the wooden form of Christ more resembling Odin during his search for knowledge as he hung upon the tree Yggdrasil. Symbolic jewellery like Thor’s hammer was slowly replaced by the crucifix and the combination ancient and “new” religions defined by the crucifix marked by runes scored into its surface. Other unusual items included Wolfs-head endpieces for a row of church pews, near-immaculately preserved leather boots and the old former seal of Gotland Island established in 1280.


The Battle of Visby was fought in 1361 when Danish forces invaded Gotland Island led by King Valdemar IV and the well-trained Danish army, the force numbering around 2000-2500. In contrast, the defending forces of Visby numbered only 2000 and were not trained infantrymen, or were older individuals, those who had survived previous battles and still bore the marks of injury. The result was a massacre, the Danish forces taking Visby and leaving many of the surviving defending forces of Visby so badly injured they later died from their injuries. The grisly remains from the mass graves outside Visby reveal the savage injuries caused by swords and axes, the damage inflicted from the mace and other battle weapons broke bones and shattered skulls. The healing of these injuries was inadequate and health of the individuals was compromised, with the bones badly set, often twisted and likely leaving the limb unusable.

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South of the Sun winners!

Australian Fairy Tale Society

At last!

The editorial committee putting together the AFTS anthology “South of the Sun” have finally chosen their winners. It was a truly difficult job – we were inundated with talented submissions and we’ve spent many a long hour short-listing, re-short-listing, arguing and finally agreeing on the following. A big thank you to everyone who sent in their entries.

Congratulations to everyone who’s on the list – and commiserations to those who didn’t make it.

·Anezka Sero ̶The Snowgum Maiden

·Lindy Mitchell-Nilsson ̶Jack, the Beanstalk and the NBN

·Yvette Ladzinski ̶The Lonely Mosque

·Melissa Min Harvey ̶The Wild Moon Call

·Clare Testoni ̶The Lyrebird

·Krystal Barton ̶North Coburg to Flinders St Station

·Rachel Nightingale ̶Riverbend

·Jackie Kerin ̶No Horse, No Cart, No Shoes

·Angie Rega ̶The Tale of the Seven Magpies

·Danielle McGee –The Origami Mother

·         June Perkins – Into…

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Writing

Salvador Dali Illustrated Alice in Wonderland

I just discovered the 150th Anniversary edition of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol published by Princeton University Press is an illustrated version by artist Salvador Dali. Absolutely stunning illustrations that are pure magic!

You can buy hardback and paperback copies of this gorgeous edition through most bookstores and online stores at affordable prices.