Thursday, 30 June 2016

Pillar of Salt


Lot's Wife. Mount Sodom, near the Dead Sea.

(Fiction. TW for horror, gendered violence.)
 
For the longest time, this pillar of salt has been a landmark. I have, it goes without saying, visited it myself. It stands on the side of the hill of limestone, clay and salt on the corner of the Dead Sea, overlooking the plain, vaguely human in aspect. Shoulders. Half of a head if you look at it from some angles. It's maybe thirty feet tall. It used to look more like a human, be smaller, but the salt from the saturated breeze builds up over the centuries, has collected around it, made it higher, wider, with an unnatural speed as if every urge of nature is to hide what lies beneath.

Lot's Wife, they call it.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The Prince of Exiles, 26

The cargo ship has gone, and the sky dock is all but uninhabited; the slaves who would have loaded have gone to work; both guards, also slaves, abandon their posts as soon as we appear over the edge of the still-slippery platform and Makara levels her cannon at them.

Written in Water #9: A Dream of Magnus Maximus

The Welsh epic, the Mabinogion, includes in its middle section a short romance that begins like this:
Macsen Wledig was Emperor of Rome, and he was the handsomest and wisest of men, and the best fitted to be Emperor of all who had gone before him.
The Dream of Macsen Wledig, trans. Gwyn Jones

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Written in Water #8: Why Aren't You Dead?

Yes, that's right. This is an icon of Lawrence, smiling, with the barbecue grill that killed him.
So the Great Persecution ends, and the Church breathes a collective sigh of relief. But those years of hiding. Two attempts to extirpate the Christian faith entirely in living memory. The death of any number of brave, good, honest men, women and children, yes, children.

You don't get over that in a day. You don't get over that in a lifetime.

The Prince of Exiles, 25

It's through the sky dock we'll get in, scaling the side of the steps, avoiding the lights. Everything stinks, everything is slick with blood and slime, and the obsidian walls are slippery, hard to grip.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Written in Water #7: Taller than Jesus

I'm not talking about stature. I'm talking about literal height.
What if I were to tell you that there was another Jesus? Another influential teacher, born about the same time, who did miracles and rose again from the dead, who imparted spiritual truths? Whose stories may even have been, although a pagan, the inspiration for some of the stories imputed to Christ? What would you say then? What would you think?

A bit over a hundred years ago, people began to ask those very questions. They had rediscovered Apollonius of Tyana.

The Prince of Exiles, 24

"Your hair's growing back." I am mildly surprised; it's grown back an inch since I saw her a couple hours ago, thick, glossy.

Makara gives a little half-shrug. "Wanted it to."

Sunday, 26 June 2016

What Poe Would Have Done

What say of it? What say of Failure grim,
That spectre in my path?”

Because when you quote Edgar Allan Poe,
Even for a cheap punchline or a laugh,
It is important to misquote, to chop and combine
Modern sentiment and old-time lit
An out-of-place word in a centuries-old line
Because, you must realise,
It’s what Poe would have done,
And you must hope that when you die
Alone under mysterious circumstances,
Paupered, ignored,
That you hold tight to the apprehension
That people might appreciate your work,
Your narrative flow, your dialogue,
Your focus, your texture,
Your grasp of dramatic tension
When you are gone;
It’s what Poe would have done.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Future Friday (on a Saturday) #1: The End of Ownership

Hi, it's Friday. On a Saturday.

So among the projects I'm working on right now (City of God, Cosmic Memory) one of the first things I want to do is kickstart a new edition of my futuristic satire game MSG™, which is still out there, still remembered, and which last week at the games shop I did a demonstration game of that was a riot. Because of that I decided to institute Future Friday as a thing on the blog, a weekly thing where instead of talking about history, I talk about, you know, THE FUTURE. Or the present. Or something.

Friday, 24 June 2016

It is OK to be Sad (For David)


It is OK to be sad.

It is OK to say that I regret
The loss of a thing that gave me
Much to remember, to mourn
And say that right or wrong
This thing has gone, and forever
And this is done. And I am sad.
And it is OK to be sad.

It is OK to take a breath
And recognise I am not unmarked
By the deaths of those we loved
And those we knew and those
To whom we had a profound
Ambivalence. And I am sad.
And it is OK to be sad.

It is OK to understand that time
Has passed, the opportunities that
have passed untaken gone forever
With your youth, and say that
More than half my life is gone
And things did not pan out and I am sad.
And it is OK to be sad.

It is OK to say I am afraid of all the hate
And I am crushed beneath the weight of all the
Sorrow of the world when people who are
Good and people who are innocent are
Turned away and all the world is toxic
And I cannot stop these things and I am sad.
And it is OK to be sad.

And it is OK to say the sun still rises,
You are still here, you are still here
And you are young if I am not,
And I do not know what the world
Into which you will grow
Will be like, and mourning cannot stop
The bullets and the knives and the votes
That snuff out hope,
But as we are right now,
I am still alive, we are still alive
And we will take that breath again together
And we will straighten up
And we will smooth down our clothes
And I will place my hand upon your shoulder
And I will hold you tight
And I will look you in the eye
And I will say I love you and I know,
And I will say, I know that we have much to do,
But right now
It is OK to be sad.

Scribble, Scribble, Scribble

This is only a third of it.
In 1781, Edward Gibbon approached the Duke of Gloucester and presented him with a copy of the newly published second volume of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. 

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Prince of Exiles, 23

The sounds of marine fauna raining from the sky subside; I can hear now over the trickle of rainwater, changed in note, the sound of a man crying, a panicked, hysterical voice, lost in terror.

Written in Water #6: An Interlude Concerning The Elk

A breather. A story about an animal.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The Prince of Exiles, 22

The rain has stopped; yellow streetlamps dye the lowering blanket of clouds a purplish shade that looks like dawn.

Written in Water #5: A Dream of Crosses in the Sky

You see that hole in the side of the statue's head? That's where the laurel crown was attached.

Let's talk about dreams. Dreams are tricky things. Long after we have explained our dreams to people, we continue to edit them, convince ourselves of meanings they might have. The more important the dreams we have are, the more subject to change, to mythologising they are.

And when one dream is credited with a change in the direction of the history of the entire world, its transition into the realms of myth is almost assured.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Write Something Perverse

I've written a lot of ghost stories, horror stories. It struck me some time ago that for horror, ghost stories, anything really frightening, to work, is has to be in defiance of what you actually believe. It has to be perverse.

The Prince of Exiles, 21

"Hello," I say.

Monday, 20 June 2016

The Prince of Exiles, 20

The hammering of the rain outside echoes through the white marble corridors.


Written in Water #4: Vengeance is Mine

The Labarum.
Imagine if you and everyone you knew had spent years in danger of being tortured and killed. Imagine if, just for their religious faith, you'd seen your parents burned alive, your children taken from you and slaughtered. Imagine finding out that someone you loved had been betrayed, fatally, by someone else you loved. A government stealing everything you have, tearing down your homes, prohibiting you from holding down any kind of work even in the good times.

Now imagine that everything changes, suddenly, unexpectedly; suddenly you, the hunted, the hated, the persecuted, are not only permitted to come out in the open but that you are now in control of the very apparatus of state that once had been set on destroying you. You're in charge now. Your church is the church of state; you don't only have freedom, you have power.

It would be hard not to take revenge.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

So I Found my Light

I found my light on Christmas Eve last year,
After some searching, hidden in the attic,
stored in a dusty cardboard box, sealed away with gaffer tape.
I had to tear through the tape with my front door key,
Felt the dust coating my fingertips as I handled the flaps, the
Scrunched up newspaper in which I had wrapped it.
And I knelt on the MDF boards
And the knees of my jeans turned black
And I held the light in my lap and bathed in the warmth of it
The truth of it, the nearly forgotten youth of it
All hand made and sort of intricate,
With little lumps and dots and little scrawly swirly
things that might be words
On the surface that I never could fathom
All tied together with golden wire and glue you couldn’t see
And wondered why I put it away so long.
The other one had broken. I’d had it for a while, and
It was brighter, lighter in the hand, and if it flickered more
It illuminated in a way that hid the imperfections,
Buzzed a little, just enough to mask the bum notes.
And yeah, the batteries were expensive and
The only words that you could see on the side said
Made in China and don’t blame me, judge me, don’t
The old light made it too easy to see the things that were
Wrong with me, and if it made things warm and if it made
Things clear
it was
always
sort of
Awkward, and it showed me things I didn’t want to see
You couldn’t turn it off and sometimes it is easier
To live in a world where you can’t see except with a plastic light
Because human relationships are fragile and it takes courage to have them

If we shared the grief of all the world
it would crush us all to pieces in a second, flat
And sometimes even seeing a little bit is far too much
And so I hid it away in scrunched up pages of the Guardian
In a cardboard box in the attic
(I don’t know even know what a bushel is)
And got a new one off the internet and the problem
With the light you get off the internet is that you never
Get a guarantee and it wears out and maybe
I thought, it’s better not to have a light at all,
And hey a lot of people manage if they don’t have a light
And then I went without for a month or two,
And people who saw me, even people who didn’t have a light themselves
Went hey, what happened to your light? And I took to thinking
And up the ladder I went and here it is all shining, shining in my hands
And I will try it out for a while in all its handmade personalised
Awkwardness and beauty and shed my light upon the world.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Written in Water #2: On a Migration of Narrative

You have all these plans about what you're going to write, and then things happen in the world and suddenly very little seems appropriate. If you don't know, British politician Jo Cox was murdered yesterday. She campaigned for the rights of refugees. She was shot by a man who was affiliated with racist hate groups, who yelled the name of one as he perpetrated his crime, and it seems obvious to anyone with the slightest lick of sense that he did it as a terrorist act. Even so, the press, already aware that their support of Britain committing economic suicide in the upcoming referendum might be endangered by a far right activist murdering a champion of inclusion, are characterising the man who did it as a loner with mental health problems. They're managing the narrative. 

The structures of power have always done this.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Prince of Exiles, 19

We are not invited to dine with the governor; instead we sit in an airy room listening to the rain outside, the lowering advance of thunder, the heartbeat of the far-off factories, as two ostentatiously collared slaves, male and female, naked so we can see the scars of their neuterings, serve us with foul-smelling, heavily spiced sweetmeats and curried offal. None of us, hungry as we are, can touch much of it.

Written in Water #1: Thaïs

An illustration from Anatole France's novelisation of the Thaïs story.
I've talked about the inspirations and profound issues with the source material for Chariot in my In Search of the Miraculous posts; for my City of God project the problems are just as profound, and the source material is in some places even more troubling. Part of that is the nature of the status of history in the period I'm writing about, as I've already said, but part of it also is a kind of savagery, a closing off almost of the human spirit. These were unkind times, or they felt like it to me. I'll be looking at Apollonius of Tyana (what happens when you get an establishment-approved alternative to Jesus), The Historia Augusta (history written by a fiction), The Manual of Intolerance and the City of the Cannibals. And several of the Desert Fathers. And the first of those, and the most terrifying and bleak, is Thaïs.

Because what follows is so awful, this is the part where I say that if discussion of the physical and emotional abuse of women and of gendered insults distresses you or brings back feelings and experiences you'd rather it didn't, you should probably not read this.

I don't want to hurt anyone. 

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

The Prince of Exiles, 18

"We cannot. You do not understand." Cambren's head is shaved like Xipil's but where the priest is slender and graceful, Cambren, the Governor, is bullish, squat, broad, his delicate diadem of office and silk robes somehow at odds with a chin like one of the blocks in the city wall, his brutal brow. His voice is a gentle tenor. His breath stinks. All of them have terrible breath, all the officials around us in the room, sitting at the table, staring us out, these men and women and others with their clear complexions and shining eyes and shaved heads and strong teeth, the benefits of a diet of offal and spiced oils and rotted fish sauce and the halitosis that comes with it.

On Sympathy

"Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connexion with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Dice Problems: the Sequel

So my recent transcript of a talk I gave at a con has been... well. widely shared, really. Aaaand well. The unexpected happened.

People read it.

Or said they had. 

Monday, 13 June 2016

City of God #1: Inchoate History

While I've been waiting for the draft of Cosmic Memory to be polished off, I've started working and planning for Chariot's companion game, still provisionally titled City of God. 

The Prince of Exiles, 17

Where did they take you? 

I don't know. I'm lying on a couch. I can smell the flowers on your table, the sourness of my own breath. I ache.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Departure

Last night I travelled standard class
On a shabby windowless aeroplane,
With stained and battered seats and
An in-flight movie screen of the old style.

I had arranged to meet my father’s ghost
In a far-away departure lounge.
He was of course vague and distant,
As he had been in life. He said nothing new.

I flew home on the same plane,
On the same day, in the same class.
I paid no attention to the movie,
Nor even noticed what it was.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Signal Boost

It being Saturday, this is just a short call out for a bit of publicity. Chariot is available for sale on DriveThruRPG, Amazon, Kindle and CreateSpace, all of which options have different advantages.

DriveThruRPG:
Has a glossy cover;
Allows for PDF version only, and colour + PDF and BW +PDF.

Amazon/CreateSpace:
Has a matte cover;
Is colour only.

Kindle:
No pictures!

With the DriveThru edition you get the PDF too and you can buy a cheaper black and white edition, while you qualify for free postage if you buy the colour version through Amazon; I make about the same amount from either although I can access funds more easily from DTRPG.

I need reviews and talk. 
If you have a blog or website and you review games, please get in touch with me and I can sort you out with review copies. Please spread the word on social media too. I'm on Facebook at ChariotRoleplay and on Twitter as @HowtheWoodMoves.


Friday, 10 June 2016

The Prince of Exiles, 16

Dream logic: you become aware that you have travelled somewhere else, that time has passed.

Whatever Happened to Hat Club?


Yeah, Hat Club, my playtest group, didn't happen for a few weeks because one of the members had some serious family troubles and other things got in the way, and you know how it is.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

These Long-Lost People

Rhadamanthes the Pacifist, who gets a write-up in Cosmic Memory.
It has been an interesting week. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Prince of Exiles, 15

We walk behind the stately, unhurried priest, our feet making hard wet sounds on the stone causeway.

On Remuneration

The "craft" card.
I saw a couple of things in the last couple of days that got me thinking about the thorny issue of pay for game creators.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Dice Problems: Politics in RPGs

This is a version of the talk I gave at the Swansea Comics and Gaming Convention on May 28th (which was a massive success, where something like 1500 people got in and a whole lot of others had to be turned away), where I was plugging Chariot hard (buy it here!) complete with screenies from my (ill-fated) powerpoint. It was well-attended and well-received, and the people there engaged, and seemed to leave happy.

And it had the rather lovely effect of sending people right across the hall to my table to buy things straight afterwards. If you remember my post about ideology from a couple of months back, some of this will be familiar, admittedly, but this is a more coherent take on it. 

The Prince of Exiles, 14

Only the sound of the rain, the distant mechanical heartbeat. Above, the clouds and city smoke merge into glowering black; the rain sets in now, rivulets running down the market stall awnings, rivers in the gutters, flowing from the pediment roofs. 

Monday, 6 June 2016

The Prince of Exiles, 13

The slick marble High Road is silent, but the city is not dead. The smell of smoke in the distance, the hiss of the rain, the feeling of eyes watching from behind pillars, through murky windows, from behind doorway curtains heavy and sodden with unexpected rain.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Transparency Time


Show your workings.
When you do a project like this that's crowdfunded, it makes you publicly accountable. A few weeks ago I'd said that I was going to give a cost breakdown. Exactly where the money has gone and is going. And now I know, I can share that.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

About Time (for Jon and Gina)

In the end the central thing that this will be about is time,
About the time we had the time to talk, to hold
Each other tightly in the cracks of light time shed
Through the curtains on the covers on the two of us,
The time we realised something simple, tentative
Had grown to fill all the forever we’ve evolved to comprehend.
We’re temporary, you and I, but we can watch each other, watch
The way that time will move in us and work its changes
(Is that the time?) Our bodies and our minds
Are sharp and finite, interlocking like the clock components
Tick, tick-tocking and the fact is we are all there is
And you and I, we won’t be here eternally:
Time’s a gift and if it’s given us it’s time
That you and I admit that precious permanent
Impermanence into our lives, as precious as
“I love you” and “I want to spend the time I have with you,
To make a family with you and watch the time go by with you.”
It’s time, isn’t it? It’s about time.

Deities and Demigods

You might catch your breath at the idea,
Grasp the boat’s side, knuckles not as hard nor as pale as this
Wall of sea-borne scales
Glimmering in this cold, crystalline mist.
Your stomach might harden
At the premonition of hell
In the smell of sulphur and charred meat,
In the sight of bobbing, half-finished meals:
Lost men, brave men, men like you.
The dawn might darken
In the opening of this single slitted eye,
Wider than your height
And you might rise to your feet,
Barely trusting the creaking unsteady wood,
Raise your ancestral spear,
Fear that the moon-bright blade
Will not be good
Enough
To end the serpent that girdles the earth:

But since you know its hit point total,
You kill it instead and steal its stuff.

Friday, 3 June 2016

The Prince of Exiles, 12

Caiphul is farther than it seems, the road on a gentle incline; what looked somehow flat, like a storybook illustration or a painted frieze of a distant fortress, becomes something textured, heavy, brutal. 

Thursday, 2 June 2016

The Prince of Exiles, 11

The walls of the city, shockingly white against the dun green of the land, the grey of the sky, rise now, the road a blue-steel blade cutting the plain in two.

We stop for a moment. "I've never been to Caiphul," Makara says, as if it's an omission, a thing she should somehow have done in her life up to now. And I realise that perhaps it is. I have been to Caiphul, and I was not welcome, and I will be far less welcome now.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Chariot's Future

The varicoloured thief of shining things.
So now that I'm in the process of fulfilling backer copies of Chariot, the question of what comes next springs to mind.

The Prince of Exiles, 10

I let Svaathe lead the way; she leads us by a circuitous route back to the road, leaving on the other side of the rise the remains of yesterday's work.