Friday, 29 March 2013

Hic Dragones presents... Twisted Tales of Cannibalism

International Anthony Burgess Foundation
3 Cambridge Street
Manchester M1 5BY
United Kingdom
Wednesday 24th April 2013, 6.30-8.30pm
Free event, booking required

A night of dark horror fiction with Conrad Williams (Blonde on a Stick, One, The Unblemished), Stephen McGeagh (Habit) and Harry Whitehead (The Cannibal Spirit), presented by Hic Dragones and Twisted Tales.

Cannibalism disrupts our relatively stable position at the top of the food chain. From Jeffrey Dahmer to Hannibal Lecter, cannibals are the subject of popular fascination in both fiction and crime reports. However, they have a much longer heritage and their monstrous appetites can make them seem something both greater and lesser than human. Join Twisted Tales and Hic Dragones for an evening of readings by authors known for their cannibal fiction, before engaging in discussion about this primal taboo.

Hic Dragones is a small press publisher and events organizer based in North Manchester. This event is a tie-in with the Cannibals: Cannibalism, Consumption and Culture conference running on 25-26th April 2013. For more information about this conference, please visit the website.

Twisted Tales is an award-nominated series of horror readings based in the North West, with the aim of promoting the best of 21st century horror through engaging the public in a series of dynamic literary events. Now entering into its third year, Twisted Tales has worked with a range of top authors, including China Miéville, Sarah Pinborough, Ramsey Campbell, Jeremy Dyson, Adam Nevill, Stuart MacBride, Graham Joyce, Alison Littlewood and many more. For further information, please visit the Twisted Tales website.

Birkbeck Medieval Seminar: Landscape and Belief

Saturday 27 April, 2013
Rooms G15 and G16, Main Building, Birkbeck
Malet Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 7HX

Birkbeck Medieval Seminar 2013

John Blair (Queen’s College, University of Oxford)
Catherine Clarke (University of Southampton)
Stefan Brink (University of Aberdeen)
Alfred Hiatt (Queen Mary, University of London)

This event is free, and all are welcome to attend.
To reserve a place, email the organizers.
To learn more, visit the website.

CFP: Romance in Medieval Britain

14th Biennial Conference
12-14th April 2014
Clifton Hill House, Bristol

Papers are invited on all aspects of medieval romance. The conference marks the conclusion of an AHRC-sponsored research project on the Verse Forms of Middle English Romance, and papers that address questions of verse form are particularly welcome.

To propose a paper, please send a brief abstract to one of the two conference organizers, before 31 September 2013:
Dr Judith Jefferson, English Department
Prof. Ad Putter, English Department

Further information about the conference will be made available on the website.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

WIN A FREE BOOK! Aimee and the Bear Giveaway

Your chance to win a copy of Aimee and the Bear, the stunning debut novel by Toby Stone. I'm giving away TWO free copies on the 6th April. And the good news? You can enter from anywhere in the world!

When her mother’s cruelty is too much, Amy holds her teddy bear’s paw and travels to the Other Place—a world where teddies become real bears, where children attend the Night School to escape whatever it is they face at home, where Amy becomes Aimee, and there’s magic in the air. But the Other Place is in danger—the Witch has awoken, and Amy must find the courage to save her baby brother before it’s too late.

A dazzling, heart-wrenching and brutal descent into the world of the imagination. This is not a children’s book. This is not a fairy tale. This is not your average heroine.

Aimee and the Bear is published by Hic Dragones.

Praise for Aimee and the Bear:

What a fascinating read!! This is, hands down, one of the best books I’ve found in years. Like I said, Wow. No matter what I render as a review, there is nothing left more important than WOW. This author just blew me away with the perfect clarity, perfect flow, perfectly satisfying writing style that made me smile or frown out loud at times. I may have said this before, but this time I mean it when I say that I was captivated from the first 4 paragraphs.

This is a very unusual book, a contemporary modern day novel with a twist. Amy has a cruel mother and she escapes to another world with her bear to escape her cruel mother, a world with a Night School, strange Teachers and creatures. It is not a children's book (it is quite dark in parts)or a fairy tale. It is enchanting and pulls you along. This is Toby Stone's first book according to the blurb, and for a debut novel it is stunning, he has massive potential.
- Goodreads

Absolutely brilliant! I’m not usually a fan of ‘magic realism’, but this really works. I think that’s because the realism is very real (this is not a book for kids, despite the cuddly toy element) and the magic is serious, funny and dark. Stone is a superb writer – intelligent, stylish and quirky – who creates very rounded characters. As an evocation of the childhood mind, it’s the most convincing thing I’ve read since Alice in Wonderland.
- Amazon

Need to know more? You can read Toby's exclusive short story, 'A Vampire's Guide to Dummies', right here on the She-Wolf blog.

Enter the Competition!

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Wednesday, 20 March 2013

GUEST POST: A Vampire's Guide to Dummies

A new short story by Toby Stone

Toby Stone is a novelist from Whitefield, near Manchester. His debut novel, Aimee and the Bear is out now from Hic Dragones. You can find Toby on Twitter (@tobystone1) or on his blog.

'A Vampire's Guide to Dummies' is an exclusive, unpublished short story.

A Vampire's Guide to Dummies

You may have already read A Zombie’s Guide to Attaining Zen and A Skeleton’s Guide to Overcoming Anorexia. A Vampire’s Guide to Dummies is the third in this series of aspirational texts for the dead. Yes, you too can be a better creature of the night. But A Vampire’s Guide to Dummies is as much help-yourself as self-help. It’s about our food, about where to eat and what to eat – by which of course I mean, who to eat.

I’d like to thank you for taking an interest in where your next meal comes from. There is a wide range of flavours available to vampires, but dummies are the most representative of mortal dishes. Like Big Macs for human children, we all know how a dummy tastes. That sweat of desperation, the slight lard of overeating ice-cream on the sofa, the rich lethargy of their blood. Personally, I prefer to snack on the thick. Intelligence has always made the human bitter. Look at Nietzsche.

Dummies are formed by stupid parents, an insipid childhood and, most often, reality TV. They think vampires foppish, refined, with cheek-bones as high as Robert Pattinson’s side-burns. As a newly turned vampire, you will still be stumbling against this cliché. Female teenagers won’t give you the time of day, let alone night. With regard to film stars, people tell me I most resemble Darth Vader, after he takes off the mask. Words don’t really fit me. The word ‘corpulent’ could have been coined for my gut, but doesn’t have enough syllables and wouldn’t encompass it. Very little does and I shop by catalogue.

The human form, though, is the focus of this guide, and I want to help you to be the most effective vampire you can be. We are, after all, the mortal’s foremost predator. And where better to hunt than in the city, on a summer’s evening, as dusk rots the sky? The girls in their slight dresses, passing like sirens freed from their calling. The jiggle of their hems, of their bosoms. The strong, young men, their nape and shoulder muscles unfurled like wings. The city, in the summer, makes a simile of everything, and the motion of human limbs in the dying light is as pleasant as poetry. Always eat the beautiful. And you can tell, just by looking and listening around, that the most beautiful are also the most stupid.

There are three ways of defining the dummy food-group.

1. What a Dummy is Not

New vampires are drawn to a certain type of food. You will want to eat the vibrant, the strong. To drink blood barely held in check by its veins. I like late night cafés with large windows, and my voyeur’s pleasure is the chav. They are the big cats of the human race – its big game.

The chav, though, is an occasional snack. While they represent good calorific value (their bloodstream contains four-fifths of the RDBI – Recommended Daily Blood Intake), they are exceptionally tenacious livestock. According to research, the calorie-cost of subduing a chav is often more than the benefit of supping on one.

Still, an americano warming your frigid palms, you will find yourself gazing at them, drinking them in as they pass in gangs, having discarded black Nike hoodies for shaven heads and chequered, short-sleeved shirts. You will rise, as I so often have, and follow one into an alley, as he looks to leave his last drink on the cobbles via his bladder.

When you do, there exists a combination of techniques (recommended by most vampire masters) used to prepare this plate. Any good Nocturnal Arts class can train you in these, until they become muscle memory. Practise the moves with a dummy (not a real one, of course). Diagrams can be found in the appendices.

● First, he will unzip. You will clutch at him, grasping his wide, pink, sun-spanked throat.

● Pull him close until you can feel the muscles of his back writhing against your gut.

● The chav will curse and butt back his head.

● You say: ‘Hold still, please.’ And: ‘Stop fighting it, sir.’

● You wrap your legs around his hips, topple him to the side, and roll on the ground, behind cardboard boxes, green skips and black bags.

● The chav will fight like he has always known how, since he was six. But he has always been beaten and, at the end, will go limp, apart from the motion of his tears.

● Then feed. As noted, a chav is not a dummy but a treat, and, though it is important to indulge oneself once in a while, be sure to pop a Rennie afterwards. Chavs give me indigestion. It’s not that I don’t like them, but that they don’t like me.

2. The Male Dummy
Interesting Facts
The top investment banks (of which number JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and Barclays Capital) take pride in firing 20% of their employees every year. The crème may become wildly rich, but the bottom is regularly tapped out and left to rot on the floor. Financiers are among the five professions rated most likely to commit suicide. Due to this, and to 90-hour working weeks, which mean personal relationships are few and distant, bankers are easy pickings. Like thread worms from the bottom of society, nobody misses their passing.
If chavs are rare steaks, the strip joint is the easiest place to pick up the more everyday meat. Near the centre of the city, lap-dancing clubs throb with flesh, with neon lights, and with lines of magnetism that draw the dummies in. This is the place to buffet.

I eat peanuts by the bar and try to ignore the women. From time to time, I may prospect one for a private dance, so as to blend in, but I tell them I’m an arse man. I recommend the bottom dance. It does the appetite no good when you are enveloped in the down of their breasts, in the scratch of their areola, in the probing of their nipples. All your skin will feel is the throb above each, the clanging of blood like church bells in her jugular.

If you can, take a friend. The choice of companion is important. If possible, sit with somebody you cannot stand and have little inclination to talk to. You do not want to be distracted from the hunt. If you have not already turned your spouse, may I suggest doing so now? If you are unmarried, as I was, take a parent. I sit with Frank, who sired me.

Frank was not how one would wish to be turned. A straight man’s bad dream: moustached, leather clad, he maintains a relationship with B.O. that has several unhealthy issues, many of which come from his crotch. I often eat roasted peanuts when he speaks, to disguise my wincing and his mouth odour. Ignoring him, I usually pretend to look at the dancers and all they have to offer.

In reality, I am looking at the door. I suggest living in financial centres: New York, London, Tokyo, Paris, Frankfurt, Shanghai. Keep up with the business sections of newspapers and note the trading times. When the markets close, your buffet will open for business, and a tide of drink will flood in. A Red Sea closing: of investment bankers, hedge funders, open armed investment managers, shorters, speculators, portfolio re-engineers. Dummies out on the city that suckles them.
A Helpful Table
Here’s a selection of which professions you should aim for. (More comprehensive tables to be found in Appendix C.)

Profession: Banker
Risk: Very low - as above.

Profession: Children in Care
Risk: Low. There is only one subset of society humans ignore more than children, and that is children in care.

Profession: Call Centre Operative
Risk: Average. Due to a lack of daylight, may well be as grey as your flesh but, when not plugged into a computer at the right times, they cause a series of statistics to flash red. Other humans may not miss them, but the machines and their maths will, and in today’s work-place they are all that really matter. On the other hand, these employees really don’t.

Profession: Prostitute
Risk: High. Very little makes the media foam more than the marriage of sex and violence, and the drained body of a hooker is enough to send newspapers into spittle-invected overdrive. The scantily dressed corpse makes the biggest splash, I can tell you. It’s something to do with skin on water. Can I recommend cellophane?

Profession: Soap Opera Character
Risk: Very high. It has long been noted that the human mind is capable of storing only a set number of faces (ranging from 150 to 450). If column inches measure the importance humanity ascribes to one of its own, these alone will be missed.
As you prowl the strip club, do not browse for the alpha males, the men slapping rump and pressing the queen’s crinkled face into places her majesty would rather not see. Instead, cast your greed to the group’s tattered hem. The newbies. The greens. Young men straight out of Oxbridge who have not yet fitted in. Awkward grins long and loose and rubbery, holding their drinks with two hands to stop the shaking. They drink quicker than the rest. Soon, they will be drunk, and not in the way they expected to be at the inception of the evening. Afterwards, you’ll feel elated and tipsy. That’s the advantage of dining on the inebriated; you get a free drink with every meal.

I recommend making your move in the toilet. Open a conversation with a comment on one of the dancers, a line that encompasses her curves.


● ‘That Ruby’s a bit of alright’;

● or: ‘I wouldn’t mind a bit of slap and tickle with that Sapphire’;

● or: ‘When Diamond bent over, I think my brain came into my nose’; etc.

A male in a toilet has to follow up on these amuse bouche or be thought homosexual, which is not the impression to give in the Gents. Even better, say it in a northern accent. From there, convince them that a dancer wants a private audience, because they are so young and pretty and different.

Say: ‘That Emerald, I caught her looking at you. I’m a bit of regular here. Reckon I could get you a private room.’ (Add ‘lad’ or ‘son’ if you think you can get away with it.)

A man falls for this, a highly educated human, before he realises that ‘special’ was a word concocted for children who don’t understand ‘retarded’. If he does fall, you will walk into the private booth you have booked and because you, like me, are as ugly as a vampire can be, his callow, whiskey soaked eyes will flinch across you. And if you are like me, which is to say obese, you will subdue him with a lap-dance more forceful and heftier, than he had been imagining. And the breasts in his face will be moobs, and unexpected, and it won’t be long before his Bambi body is broken, and your belly thickens.

3. The Female Dummy

Never, and can I make this clear, never attempt to eat a woman you do not know. They start at the presumption, no matter how ugly the lady, that all men are predators. This is not conducive to hunting.

For hunting ladies, I use Facebook.
Did you know?
97% of callers to the Rape Crisis Line report being assaulted by men they know or, I would suppose, thought they knew. Preying on the familiar is what humanity does best, and, if we are to blend in, it is thus the way to go.
Social media is a wonderful way to convince them that they do, in fact, know you.

I have several profiles: some male, some female, some heterosexual, some homosexual, some a little of all four. The pictures are cropped from Google Images. Once one is nestled in a friendship group, it’s amazing how everybody thinks you are someone else’s acquaintance. I spread myself around, using all the tricks they warn children (but not adults) about.

In the main, I turn the subject of threads to my love of the Twilight series.

‘I real respect Edward, he’s so cool, it must be real hard for him.’ I will post, having Wikipediaed the books. I was unable to read them.

‘Yeah, I no how u feel. Sometimes the hardest thing 2 do is the best thing. Sometimes, u cant have what u want, and it makes u thirstier for it, but somehow its better,’ she will reply.

‘I no right what you mean.’

‘You’re the only man I no who gets it.’

‘8-) I think we can actually learn something from vampires. No I sound crazy. But I do.’

‘Yeah, same here.’

After several months, I will arrange to meet my quarry. Yes, a long incubation period for the maggot to turn into a fly, but you have to imagine several of these ‘relationships’ gaining wings at the same time. Twilites, I call them. Light meals, not too stodgy, you can do things afterwards and enjoy the rest of your evening. Nothing worse than a full roast on a summer’s night.
A Case Study
As with humanity, the most powerful teaching tool for vampires is often the anecdote. This is not, though, a heart-warming parable of a frog tricking a scorpion, or of a bear that learns to talk about his feelings. But if you practise what this study preaches, it will at least warm your guts.

I met one particular ‘Twilite’ for the first time in Starbucks. (Please note: women find coffee less intimidating than alcohol on a first date.) I asked her to wear something red, around her throat, so that I would know her.

The meal-to-be tends to writhe on the hook of this meeting for at least an hour. I sat regarding this one for two hours , as she waited for somebody who looked entirely unlike my ugliness. She wept a little, and in public, and a group of young women pointed at her and whispered. One laughed, and my victim-to-be left in a tirade of clothing and a line of cravat. She looked like someone whose faith in humanity had been shattered. A bit quick to jump to conclusions, humans. She wasn’t paying attention as she reached her flat, and she didn’t lock the door.

It would be insensitive to describe what happened within.

I followed her down an unlit hall, past a white-framed, single paned window. I am light-footed, for an obese man, and can creep. (I am not weighted by a soul.) She slumped on a chair beside a small wooden table and fell forward into her own arms, crying. Her sobs were loud, and I feared the neighbours might be roused, before seeing the regular red gashes, like the marking of prison time, up her arms. I realised that this kitchen had heard it all before. The cupboards were worn, the shelves listless. Her arms, as I was watching them, continued around to clutch at her back, not so much hugging as trying to stab. I could hear tight cotton tearing.

‘You’re right,’ I said.

Her nails stopped, her hands became claws: furtive, stunned animals trapped by her own elbow joints.

‘You could learn from vampires.’

She attempted to turn, but I leant the weight of my chest upon her nape. She tried to scream but the weight, as I knew it would, crushed her lungs into withered leaves. I slammed her head, once, against the small, wooden table. A book toppled onto the floor, face up. New Moon, it said, and it looked eared and resigned, like an old dog. I could hear panting, but it was just her.

She was bleeding from her nose. This distressed me. Impatient, I bit and sucked, and she jolted in her Ikea chair, wetting the tea-stained white cushion and soiling her summer skirt. All I could smell was the red stuff. I could hear her squelching as she writhed, until she stopped.

You’re hungry now, aren’t you?

Before I left I walked through the lounge to the bathroom, picking my feet between discarded books. The lounge had the look of a struggle. Above the sink, the electric light came on but seemed reluctant. Since I’ve been gone, it’s been a relief not to stare at my face. In my day-life, I was an estate agent and the crap of it all had begun to rub off. I looked like shit alive. No doubt I look worse now, but not to me.

I smiled at my lack of reflection, curled back my lips, revealing the extent of my teeth, and reached inside the top-right pocket of my black jacket. From it, I removed a thin, white box, with a single canine drawn on it, in blue.
After every meal, I floss.

Some Pointers on Dining Decorum:

• Always carry floss. We may be descended from medieval Eastern European savages, but we are not barbarians. It is anti-social to spend the evening with larynx hanging from your teeth.

• Wear a dark suit and a shirt a shade lighter. Dark cloth is not an aesthetic choice, as you can imagine. First, it hides the sweat patches of a fight. Second, it hides stains. Blood can be absurdly difficult to remove.

• If you do dribble, I suggest lemon juice and cold water. Do not use hot water, do not. It sets the stain. Then, as Buffy herself might have said, hang the article on a line that will receive direct sunlight; it will finish the job for you.

• And, of course, don’t forget your Rennies.

• And don’t forget to look behind you. No, don’t look up, not yet. Keep reading, please do. Dummies read self-help guides, didn’t you know? Why do you think I wrote this? It’s not exactly life-enhancing. Did you know 94.5% of self-help readers are so gullible they’ll believe any old statistics?

I watch you dummies browsing in bookstores from my blacked-out 2CV, with your dirty little self-help purchases. Watch you pay, watch you leave. Follow you home. There’s no bigger dummy than someone who thinks they can change. What is it with humans and vampires? You want to be like us, do you? If there even was an Appendix C, you’d find Aspiring Vampires at the top of the Helpful Table. You keep odd hours. You’re avoided around the water cooler. If you don’t live alone, you’re heading that way. You’re bloody perfect.

Some Final Tips:

● Stay still. The skin of your throat is soft as I run my nails across it. The finest of hairs lift up onto my fingertips. Does that tickle? My nails are short. They don’t grow anymore.

● Try not to soil yourself. This will feel uncomfortable, like having a tooth removed through your throat. No need to add the smell of faeces to your discomfort. Can you smell my chest, instead, as it presses against your back? I’m wearing Old Spice. Nice.

● If you experience sexual excitement, even as you die, if you harden or quicken, do not go red. The body acts in unusual ways to unusual stimulus. You would not be the first to orgasm as you pass out. Go with the flow, it won’t be the only part of you that does.

As advertised in the title, this guide has led me to you. As with any good dummy, it’s time I popped you in my mouth, sucked, and shut up.

About Toby: Toby Stone went to the same school as Batman (Christian Bale) and Benny Hill. Though they were not all there at the same time. As an adult, Toby has been a toy-seller, an Avon Lady, Double-Glazing Salesman of the Week, a mortgage broker, a suspicious barman, a school governor and a bingo caller. Aimee and the Bear is his first published novel. Follow Toby on Twitter (@tobystone1) or on his own blog.

Aimee and the Bear is OUT NOW, published by Hic Dragones. When her mother’s cruelty is too much, Amy holds her teddy bear’s paw and travels to the Other Place—a world where teddies become real bears, where children attend the Night School to escape whatever it is they face at home, where Amy becomes Aimee, and there’s magic in the air. But the Other Place is in danger—the Witch has awoken, and Amy must find the courage to save her baby brother before it’s too late. A dazzling, heart-wrenching and brutal descent into the world of the imagination. This is not a children’s book. This is not a fairy tale. This is not your average heroine.

Watch the trailer:

Review: Stephen Morris, Come Hell or High Water (Part One: Wellspring) (2012)

Come Hell or High Water is a self-published supernatural/fantasy trilogy written by debut novelist Stephen Morris and set in Prague. Part One: Wellspring and Part Two: Rising came out in 2012. Part Three: Deluge will be out later in 2013. I’ll be reviewing Rising soon, but today’s post is about the first book of the series, Wellspring.

Wellspring has two parallel narratives. The first takes place in 1356 and tells of the unauthorized execution of a woman, Fen’ka, for witchcraft – ‘unauthorized’ because, as the narrative explains, no witches were officially burnt in late medieval Prague. As she dies, Fen’ka utters a series of curses, calling destruction down on her enemies – but also on the city itself.

The second narrative follows the story of Magdalena, a lonely young woman from Prague who becomes obsessed with the occult following a tarot reading. After a startling encounter with Fen’ka (and an otherworldly guide), Magdalena embarks on the task of clearing the witch’s name. With the help of the spirit of Madame de Thebes, a fortune-teller who was tortured, killed and cursed by the Nazis, and two mysterious visitors to the city, Magdalena begins to acquire the knowledge and skills she will need to succeed in her quest.

From the opening chapter, Morris reveals a keen eye for historical detail – particularly as regards late medieval beliefs about witchcraft and the treatment of witches. While the scene of Fen’ka’s condemnation includes many ‘standard’ features of this sort of story, it also contains several unusual and precise historical details. For example, the binding of Fen’ka is described thus:
‘Pulling her to her feet, they next pushed her head and shoulders down and tied her left wrist to her right ankle and her right wrist to her left ankle. In this traditional position, not only was the woman’s body made into an X, a version of St. Andrew’s Cross (and therefore her body itself was a prayer-made-flesh that God’s truth would be manifest), but it was also that much more difficult for her to swim and exonerate herself by propelling herself along the bottom of the river.’
Similarly, the later fourteenth-century chapters, which outline the punishments resulting from Fen’ka’s all-purpose curse, weave historical detail, characterization and Czech folklore together with a rather light touch. Each of the subsequent historical chapters reads almost like a standalone short story, and I found them all engaging and compelling tales.

But Wellspring is not simply a historical fantasy, it’s an ‘urban-historical fantasy’, and half of the chapters take place in modern-day Prague (well, Prague in 2002). These also contain elements of Bohemian legend and folklore, as well as reference to the unique history of the city. Following the protagonist Magdalena as she puts together pieces of the historical/supernatural puzzle, learns about the occult arts and works as an administrator at the Charles University, these chapters comprise the main narrative arc of the novel, ending on a cliffhanger that points to the events to come in the subsequent books in the series.

The 2002 chapters have a different feel to the fourteenth-century ones, but make use of the same mix of action, characterization and exposition. Occasionally, the exposition is somewhat heavy, but the subject matter is interesting enough to carry this. I enjoyed the way the historical and contemporary chapters worked together. While they are, essentially, discrete narratives, the overall picture builds as the reader switches from one to the other and back again.

Unfortunately, I found the contemporary chapters a bit flatter than the medieval ones. This is mostly due to the presentation of the protagonist. I found Magdalena to be a bit of an unengaging heroine, a far cry from the diverse and feisty female characters in the medieval chapters. Magdalena’s lack of interaction with other characters is probably the main issue. She has, to all intents and purposes, no friends. The one character who is ostensibly supposed to perform this role is dismissed and ignored on numerous occasions, and there are very few conversations between the two women. The result of this is that the narrative is almost entirely presented through Magdalena’s internal dialogue and commentary, and this is not always very compelling. In places, the heroine’s self-explanation (occasionally accompanied by a few too many exclamation marks) was a little hard to believe.

One particularly frustrating example is near the beginning of the book. Magdalena travels to New York (on her own) for a holiday. There, she pays for a tarot card reading from a woman with a Central European accent who claims to be a ‘gypsy’. Magdalena is overwhelmed by the excitement of this: ‘A professional gypsy telling her fortune seemed too good to be true.’ She exclaims: ‘This is the highlight of my trip to New York!’ Her reaction seems utterly out of proportion to the rather average events of the card reading. (As a side note, I would say that Magdalena’s response didn’t ring true as a European response to seeing someone reading fortunes and claiming Romany blood – Europe is hardly known for its warm relationship to the Romany people, and I think every fortune-teller I’ve ever seen has the word ‘gypsy’ on their signage somewhere.)

The backdrop to Magdalena’s quest to exonerate Fen’ka interested me – and had a lot to offer. The protagonist works as a secretary to an academic at Charles University; she is asked to assist with the organization of two visiting conferences – one on Evil and the other on Monsters. I must admit to some personal interest here. These conferences are based on long-running conferences run by, and I have attended both on numerous occasions. Magdalena’s dabbling in the world of the occult leads her to believe that two powerful allies in her fight will be arriving in the guise of conference delegates.

However, this backdrop was marred a little by the presentation of Magdalena. Her wide-eyed enthusiasm for conference organization was a little grating, and not wholly plausible. I am yet to meet someone who works in university admin who is that excited at the prospect of a group of visiting academics, particularly a group who do not speak the local language and know little of the local area. That’s a headache, not an honour. By the time the conference delegates arrive, Magdalena’s enthusiasm has tipped over into near-sycophancy: for instance, she describes the accent of one English academic as sounding ‘so elegant, so refined […] that she imagined she were being addressed by the royalty of the academic world’.

Nevertheless, the arrival of the conference delegates allows for more interaction between Magdalena and the somewhat larger-than-life visitors. As far as I know, Rising will pick up where the events of Wellspring left off, and I’m looking forward to seeing things develop with the expanded cast list. There is real promise in the final chapter of the book, which suggests exciting and compelling developments in the next instalment. I hope that the new arrivals will bring out a stronger side to Magdalena’s character, as well as continuing the intense and climactic consequences of Fen’ka’s curse.

Overall, I enjoyed Wellspring. As a piece of historical fantasy set in one of my favourite cities it worked very well. Morris’s writing is strong and the plot is gripping. My concerns about characterization in the contemporary chapters perhaps go some way to revealing where the author’s strengths lie – I believe Morris’s heart is in the Middle Ages, and this is no bad thing at all. The wealth of knowledge, research and affection shown for the fourteenth century (and for Prague) are enough on their own to recommend the sequels to me. And if Magdalena is a little weak and naïve for my tastes… well, there’s always Fen’ka…

For more information about the Come Hell or High Water trilogy, visit Stephen Morris's website.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Review: Monk Punk, ed. by A.J. French (Pill Hill Press, 2011)

I was offered a copy of this short story anthology to review for another website, and I must say I was sold just on the title. The -punk suffix is fairly ubiquitous now: since cyberpunk, we’ve had steampunk, clockpunk, dieselpunk, biopunk, golempunk, the list goes on. ‘Monkpunk’ as a concept seemed to promise something new, but yet also something I’d seen before in the many diverging medieval representations of monks, in the contemporary texts inspired by them (like Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, to give an obvious example), but also in texts inspired by Buddhist monasticism and Eastern spirituality.

The introduction to the collection, which was written by D. Harlan Wilson, addresses this converging newness and oldness, while also raising another important paradox in the name. In exploring the histories of the terms ‘punk’ and ‘-punk’, Wilson points out that they have consistently been associated with the transgressive, but also with specifically externalized transgression. This is a distinct contrast with the internalized world of the ‘monk’. He writes:
‘The ascetic life of a monk might qualify as transgressive and brutal in itself, if only in its deviation from social norms, its wilful introversion, its maintenance of certain ideological values, and its repudiation of basic Darwinian instincts. In the broader spectrum, however, monks mind their own business, whereas punks, by force or will or submission, make other people’s business their own.’ (p. 1)
This juxtaposition fascinates me, as does the notion of the ‘wilful introversion’ of the monk as a transgressive act, and, again, it reminded me of a number of medieval narratives and images of monks. Wilson’s introduction went on to promise great things of the Monk Punk collection: it is, he states, ‘the latest, newest trajectory in the evolving foray of Beat literature. It harnesses the energy and the logos of its forerunners. And it carves out a singular line of flight.’ (p. 3) These are big claims for a small press short story collection! However, I was more than happy to jump in and see whether it lived up to them.

Before I turn to the stories themselves, a final word on Wilson’s introduction. I loved the way the line between passionate reader and academic critic was blurred in this piece, particularly in the way Wilson presented his introduction almost as a manifesto. At times, though, some balance was lost, and some parts tended towards being a little too pretentious and overblown for my tastes (I don’t think a sentence is really improved by the phrase ‘sans the drumming of Nietzschean hammers’, for instance). The style and tone is not for everyone, and is quite unusual in a collection of this sort, but my overall impression was that it worked as both as an introduction to a book, and an introduction to a concept.

There are 23 stories in Monk Punk, mostly by emerging writers (some are first publications). Story settings range from the UK to the Himalayas, from Asia to Outer Space. The stories take place in a variety of time periods, from the Middle Ages to the distant future.

Highlights of the collection for me were R.B. Payne’s ‘The Key to Happiness’ (though this was more to do with the recasting of an old monster in a new guise, rather than the presentation of the monk), Mark Iles’s ‘The Cult of Adam’ (a brilliant premise, though let down a little by some rather clunky exposition) and George Ivanoff’s short but memorable ‘The Last Monk’ (a rather haunting story of someone who survives the apocalypse).

Unfortunately, while I enjoyed these stories and they were, to an extent, fresh and original, the collection itself is a bit of a let-down. It certainly didn’t live up to the high promises of D. Harlan Wilson’s introduction.

Broadly speaking, the collection is divided on Eastern/Western lines. On the one hand, we have Buddhist(-esque) monks, who usually live alone in contemplative spiritualism, but who display deadly martial arts skills when called upon. On the other, we have Christian(-esque) monks, who form cultish, cloistered brotherhoods, prone to ritualistic behaviour, conspiracy and (on occasion) sacrifice. The problem with Monk Punk in general is that it rarely moves beyond this, and the stories begin to feel a little same-y. I had some trouble differentiating the solitary-Eastern-monk-with-badass-fighting-skills stories (of which there are six), as they trod very similar ground. Similarly, the cultish Western monks – who variously worship fish deities, refuse to let recruits leave their circle, sacrifice children, carry out violent initiation ceremonies and conjure/fight demons – are repetitive.

In the latter case, I had a couple of other problems too. I’ll admit one of these is down to my own personal taste – the (apparently unending) influence of H.P. Lovecraft is fairly obvious throughout this collection, particularly in the recurrence of water gods and fish-worshippers. I’m afraid I’m in the minority of people who don’t think fish-people and squid gods are particularly frightening or creepy, and so I tend to find the Lovecraftian deep a little silly. More significantly, however, I also found that some of the ‘Western’ stories lacked the background knowledge needed to convince me of their setting. Some small slips were made in a couple of the stories – a bible verse is misattributed, for instance – but bigger issues can also be found. For example, a small group of twelfth-century monks renounce Christ and worship a water deity: this is described as ‘heresy’ and results in ‘one of the biggest religious trials in history’. As a medievalist, this seemed a little unbelievable to me – there is no way this tiny group of blaspheming (not heretical) men would have overshadowed the politically and culturally threatening crowds of Templars and Cathars that were tried in this period.

Technical details aside, some of the stories attempted something beyond the Eastern/Western binary, with differing degrees of success. The more sci-fi inspired stories tended to take ‘monkpunk’ to other planets, with alien cults, gods and monsters appearing in a number of the stories. Elsewhere, Gayle Arrowood’s ‘Capital Sins in a Dominican Monastery’ offered a more comedic take on monastic life, which was a refreshing change of pace. Sean Monaghan’s ‘Suitcase Nuke’ was a hard-boiled tale of secret agents and terrorists (though the monastery setting seemed something of an afterthought, and Monaghan’s tale was the only one in the book that probably would have worked just fine without the monks). Unfortunately, the only story that attempted to focus on a religion other than Buddhism or Christianity – ‘Nasrudin: Desert Sufi’ by Barry Rosenberg, which tells the story of a colonial explorer who meets a Sufi guru – was marred by racist and misogynist caricature, which made it rather unpalatable.

‘Monkpunk’ as a concept still holds my attention. I will continue to list Eco’s Name of the Rose amongst my favourite books. And there are some stories in the Monk Punk collection that have done justice to the fascinating theme. Overall, though, the collection lacked the originality and energy promised by both the title and the introduction. The jury is still out on whether or not ‘monk’ really can be a ‘-punk’, I’m afraid.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

CFP: Shaping Authority

International Conference
Leuven 5-6 December 2013

Call For Papers

How did a person become an authority in Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance?

The cultural and religious history from Antiquity through the Renaissance may be read through the lens of the rise and demise of auctoritates. Throughout this long period of about two millennia, many historical persons have been considered as exceptionally authoritative. Obviously, this authority derived from their personal achievements. But one does not become an authority on one’s own. In many cases, the way an authority’s achievements were received and disseminated by their contemporaries and later generations, was the determining factor in the construction of their authority. We will focus on the latter aspect: what are the mechanisms and strategies by which participants in intellectual life at large have shaped the authority of historical persons? On what basis, why and how were some persons singled out above their peers as exceptional auctoritates and by which processes did this continue (or discontinue) over time? What imposed geographical or other limits on the development and expansion of a person’s auctoritas? Which circumstances led to the disintegration of the authority of persons previously considered to be authoritative?

We invite interdisciplinary and innovative scholarly case studies that document these processes. They may focus on one (group of) source(s) to analyse its contribution to shaping the authority of a historical person or they may take a longue durée perspective on the rise (and demise) of a person’s auctoritas.

Thematic clusters one can think of may include (1) Biography, historiography and hagiography as grounds for authority; (2) The role played by manuscript transmission and production; (3) The contribution of non-textual sources; (4) Biblical characters as authorities. Papers are invited from fields as diverse as philosophy, classical studies, Oriental and Byzantine studies, history, theology and religion, art history, manuscript studies and hagiography.

The papers selected for presentation at the conference will preferably be case studies which contain the following elements in some combination: (1) Presentation and analysis of the sources and their context; (2) Analysis of the strategies for the “making of authority”; (3) Description of the long term success (or failure) of these enterprises.

Papers may be given in English, French of German and should be twenty minutes long. To submit a proposal, please send an abstract of your paper and a brief curriculum vitae (max one pag. each) by e-mail to the conference organizer before 20 April 2013.

The publication of selected papers is planned in a volume to be included in the peer-reviewed LECTIO Series (Brepols Publishers).

The keynote lecture will be delivered by Prof. John Van Engen (Notre Dame Indiana USA)

Detailed information about the conference can be found on the website.

Scientific Committee: Pieter De Leemans, Sylvain Delcomminette, Russell Friedman, Peter Gemeinhardt, Michèle Goyens, Johan Leemans, Brigitte Meijns, Jan Papy, Gert Partoens, Stefan Schorn, Steven Vanderputten, Peter Van Deun, Gerd Van Riel

Organizing Committee: Johan Leemans, Brigitte Meijns, Gerd Van Riel, Shari Boodts, Marleen Reynders

Keynote Lecture: Prof. John Van Engen (Notre Dame Indiana USA)

Registration: Registration is required before 29 November 2013

Contact: Marleen Reynders

CFP: The Common Denominator 2014

A Postgraduate Conference in British Cultural Studies

20-22 March 2014
Universität Leipzig
Institut für Anglistik

Call for Papers

In ancient Greece, the Pythagoreans worshipped perfect numbers and turned them into musical scales. Two thousand years later, Nicolaus Copernicus still heard their sound in the perfection of the universal spheres. Numerologists, alchemists and the Gnostics all attempt to explain the mysteries of the universe with the precision and beauty of mathematics. And what would the voluptuous garments displayed in Renaissance painting be without the clear lines and structured order of geometry? Already these few examples show that mathematics has always been more than is commonly represented in popular culture in the wider British context. Organised by members and PhD students of the Institute for British Studies of Leipzig University, the aim of this three-day interdisciplinary conference is to bring together researchers from diverse academic and professional disciplines. By establishing mathematics as the common denominator between the individual panels, the links between mathematics and cultural studies are brought into focus. The conference will explore the reception and representation of mathematical concepts across such diverse fields as popular culture, literature, linguistics and didactics.

We invite proposals of 250-300 words for papers of 20 minutes length from postgraduate students and established scholars. Suggested topics may include, but are not limited to the following fields:

• Philosophy: mathematics in history, philosophy and religion, e.g. John Dee

• Politics: mathematics and gender, the British Empire, and Bletchley Park

• Popular Culture: mathematics and their influence on everyday life, recreational mathematics

• The Arts: representations of mathematics in film, the Fine Arts, music, architecture, the aesthetics of mathematical symbols

• Literature: representations of mathematics and mathematicians in literature, mathematical imagery

Proposals should include up to four keywords and indicate a critical approach or theoretical framework. Owing to the international character, the conference language is English. Please e-mail your submissions either as a word document or PDF by 30 June 2013 to the conference email address. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the organizers, Felicitas Hanke, Franziska Kohlt, Andrea Radziewsky, Rita Singer, and Kati Voigt.

Registration Open: Cannibals: Cannibalism, Consumption and Culture

Kanaris Lecture Theatre and Conference Room
Manchester Museum, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, United Kingdom

Thursday 25th April – Friday 26th April 2013

Registration is now open for the Hic Dragones Cannibals: Cannibalism, Consumption and Culture conference. For information about how to register, please visit the conference website.

Conference Programme

Thursday 25th April

9.15-9.45am: Registration

9.45-10.00am: Welcome and Opening Remarks (Kanaris Lecture Theatre)

10.00-11.30am: Session 1: Cultural/Cannibal Encounters (Kanaris Lecture Theatre)
Chair: TBC

(i) Sarah-Louise Flowers (University of Manchester): Consuming Local Tradition: How Outsiders Have Left the Amazon’s Dead Cold and Lonely
(ii) Ruth (Meg) Oldman (Indiana University of Pennsylvania): Preying Upon Blood: Depictions of Catholics in Early Modern Literature
(iii) Michelle Green (University of Nottingham): The Wendigo Cannibal and the ‘Myth’ of Diabetes in Native American Groups

11.30-12.00am: Coffee

12.00-1.30pm: Parallel Sessions

Session 2a: Theorizing Cannibal Culture (Kanaris Lecture Theatre)
Chair: TBC

(i) Sandra Bowdler (University of Western Australia): ‘Cannibalism is Bad’
(ii) Kamil Łacina and Dagna Skrzypinska (Jagiellonian University, Krokow): Bon Appetit! A Concise Defense of Cannibalism
(iii) Suzanne Stuart (University of South Wales, Australia): A Very Particular ‘Consumer Culture’: Theorising Cannibalism in Cultural Discourse

Session 2b: Consuming Women (Conference Room)
Chair: TBC

(i) Jennifer Bowes (Leeds Metropolitan University): Devouring the Self: Eating Disorders as Cannibalism of the Psyche in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Universe and Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman
(ii) Nancy Schumann (Books With Bite): Pardon My Bite: Vampire Women Who Kill Children From Ancient Folklore to Post-Modern Literature
(iii) Carys Crossen (University of Manchester): Fine Young Cannibals: Cannibalism, Psychoanalysis and the Ethics of Consumption in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Series and Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls

1.30-2.30pm: Lunch

2.30-3.30pm: Film Screening and Round Table: Babysitting and the Child Cannibal (Kanaris Lecture Theatre)
A screening of Babysitting (dir. Lucas Masson, 2012), followed by a round table discussion about children, horror and cannibalism
Chair: Hannah Priest
Panel: TBC

3.30-4.00pm: Coffee

4.00-5.00pm: Session 3: Cannibalism in Fiction (Kanaris Lecture Theatre)
Chair: TBC

(i) Abby Bentham (University of Salford): Let Us Prey: Cannibalism, Capitalism and Culture in Jim Thompson’s The Getaway
(ii) Nela Roxana Gheorghica (Independent Scholar): Faber’s Under the Skin and the Cannibal Within Us All

5.00pm: Sessions End


Friday 26th April

9.00-10.30am: Parallel Sessions

Session 4a: Consuming Knowledge, Consuming Christ (Kanaris Lecture Theatre)
Chair: TBC

(i) Matthew Graham (Leeds Metropolitan University): The Devouring of Knowledge: Consumption and Philosophy in Blanchot’s Thomas the Obscure
(ii) Daisy Black (University of Manchester): ‘Smiting a Cake’: Preparing and Cooking Christ in the Croxton Play of the Sacrament
(iii) Sara Williams (Independent Scholar): ‘The Soul is Like an Infant That Still Nurses When at its Mother’s Breast’: Oral Fixation and Fantasies of Kleinian Cannibalism in Female Hagiography

Session 4b: On Serial Murder (Conference Room)
Chair: John Wallen

(i) Helen Gavin (University of Huddersfield): Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Inside the Mind of the Cannibal Serial Killer
(ii) Emilia Musumeci (University of Catania): Love Me, Kill Me, Eat Me. Serial Killers, Sexual Behaviour, and Voluntary Cannibalism
(iii) David McWilliam (University of Lancaster): ‘Help Me, I am in Hell’: Necrophiliac, Necrophagic Serial Killer Jeffrey Dahmer and the Limits of Empathy

10.30-11.00am: Coffee

11.00-12.30pm: Parallel Sessions

Session 5a: Empire and Machine (Kanaris Lecture Theatre)
Chair: TBC

(i) Jessica George (Cardiff University): ‘The War Ate my Boy, Damn Them All’: Food Chain and Fantasy in Lovecraft
(ii) James Collinge (Leeds Metropolitan University): Rethinking the Martian: British ‘New Imperialism’ as a Cannibal Cyborg in H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds
(iii) Franziska E. Kohlt (Independent Scholar): Horrid King Besmear’d with Blood of Human Sacrifice: Man-Consuming Machinery and Moloch as Dystopic Metaphor in H.G. Wells’s Time Machine and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

Session 5b: Cannibalism and Textuality (Conference Room)
Chair: TBC

(i) Barbara Laner (University of Innsbruck): Incorporating Media: Cannibalism in Film as a Metaphor for Intermediality
(ii) Ellie Dobson (University of Birmingham): Flesh-Eaters in London: Cosmopolitan Cannibals in Late Nineteenth-Century Fiction and the Press
(iii) John Wallen (University of Nizwa, Oman): The ‘Cannibal Club’ and the Roots of British Racism and Pornography

12.30-1.30pm: Lunch

1.30-3.00pm: Parallel Sessions

Session 6a: Cannibals and the Other (Kanaris Lecture Theatre)
Chair: TBC

(i) Savi Munjal (University of Leeds): ‘’Tis Human Flesh They Gnaw’: The French Revolution and Cannibalism in Gillray’s Un Petit Souper à La Parisienne
(ii) Joanne Ella Parsons (Bath Spa University): ‘Bone Soup’: Cannibalism, Civilisation, and Racism in The Frozen Deep and the Franklin Expedition

Session 6b: Of Aliens and Monsters (Conference Room)
Chair: TBC

(i) Matthias Stephan (Aarhus University, Denmark): How Other is the Cannibal? – Ontological Blurring in SF Cannibal Scenes
(ii) Franziska Burstyn (University of Siegen): Wicked Witches and Gruesome Giants: Parental Infanticide in Children’s Literature

3.00-3.30pm: Coffee

3.30-5.00pm: Session 7: Cannibals and Popular Culture (Kanaris Lecture Theatre)
Chair: TBC

(i) Karley Adney (ITT Technical Institute): A Carnivalesque Cannibal: ‘Mein Teil’ and Representations of Homosexuality
(ii) Hannah Priest (Hic Dragones/University of Manchester): ‘Killing for Sport… Eating All the Bodies’: Richard the Lionheart, Eric Cartman, Hollywood Superstar Shia Leboeuf
(iii) Edward Powell (University of Leeds): ‘SuperUndeadMassacreFPS!’: Cannibalism and Consuming Commodified Violence in Call of Duty: Zombies

5.00pm: Conference Close

To register for this two-day event, please visit the conference website or email the conference convenors.