Saturday, August 8, 2015

Speculative Revolution with T.E. Taylor

I am delighted to welcome another of my fellow Crooked Cat authors, Tim E. Taylor, to the blog this month.

His latest novel, Revolution Day, was released this past June, and like the rest of the Crooked Cat lineup is on sale this week at Amazon. There are some links below to help you find them.

Hello, Maggie, thanks very much for inviting me onto your blog.

Like yours, my books draw heavily on history. My first, Zeus of
Ithome, was straightforwardly a historical novel. It was based on real events – the revolt of the ancient Messenian people against their Spartan overlords in the 4th century BC, and the wider power struggles in Greece which made this possible – and brought them to life through the personal stories of both fictional and historical characters.

My latest, Revolution Day (Crooked Cat 2015), has a rather different relationship with history. It too was inspired – rather more loosely – by real events: in this case, the downfall, in the space of a few months, of one autocratic ruler after another during the ‘Arab Spring’. How could it be, I wondered, that these strongmen who had been in power for decades and seemed unassailable, suddenly became vulnerable? My interest was not so much in the specific causes of those events but in the nature of autocratic power, its effects on those who wield it, and its ultimate fragility.

Having decided that I wanted to explore these issues in my next novel, I soon came up with my central character, ageing dictator Carlos Almanzor. I settled on Latin America rather than the Middle East, partly because I also wanted a strong, politically active female character – Juanita, Carlos’s estranged and imprisoned wife, who is writing a memoir about his regime and their marriage. Carlos is not a monster – he was once an idealist – and does not crave power for its own sake. Rather, he has become deluded by it and convinced that only he can be trusted with the stewardship of the state, so must do whatever is necessary to maintain his control.

His Vice-President, Manuel, does desire power for its own sake. Lacking a military power base, he seeks to gain it not by force but by intrigue, manipulating the perceptions of Carlos and those around him to drive a wedge between Carlos and Angel, the commander of the Army. As he starts to pull the strings, Juanita becomes an unwitting participant in his plans.

Since I wasn’t trying to recreate specific events (the characters and even the country in which the story is set are fictional), I could be eclectic in borrowing from history. Thus Carlos is not based on any particular historical dictator, but aspects of his personality and career (and Juanita’s) have historical precedents. So Revolution Day is not a historical novel, but still owes its inspiration, and much of its colour, to history.

A Sample from Revolution Day

Carlos’s private secretary, Felipe, has persuaded him to show a more human face to the world by doing an informal video blog. As they discover here, this has its down side...

             The President was sitting back in his armchair, dressed in an open-necked white shirt and slacks. As time had gone on, the Admiral’s uniform had fallen by the wayside piece by piece. The angle of his back reclined a few degrees each week from its original bolt upright position, until his most recent appearances on the internet now saw him draped almost languidly over the chair. As he began to speak, his voice too lacked the stiff formality of his early blog posts. 

           “This has been a difficult week,” he began. “For some time now, there have been rumours that foreign agencies are seeking to destabilise our country, as they have done in the past. I am not one to worry too much about rumours, but evidence is beginning to emerge that I cannot ignore. There are people who should be loyal to this nation, but are instead trying to undermine it.” As he spoke, a synthesised dance beat began in the background, and the image of the president started to shift jerkily from side to side in time with it. “They will be…” he continued after a pause, with a bass drum beat underlining each word. In the original version, broadcast a week before, he had continued with the words “…found, they will be brought to justice,” but now the words “found” and “brought to justice” were replaced by “tortured” and “impaled on stakes”, and in time with these words the President’s eyes bulged out of their sockets and a monstrous erection poked out of his trousers. Then, as the music continued, images of corpses, prominent dissidents, and protestors being beaten by police flashed onto the screen, before the President returned again for the chorus. “They will be tortured, they will be impaled on stakes…”

          “Felipe, come here!” The command was issued in a voice that brooked no delay, and the private secretary was by his side within seconds. “Look at this. A seditious website has broadcast an obscene parody of my blog. That is not all. I have found other material on the internet that mocks my blog, and makes vicious allegations against me. We must identify the perpetrators and have them arrested.”

          Felipe composed himself before speaking. “With all due respect, Presidente, we are unlikely to be in a position to do that. Unless they have been so kind as to put their names to the parody, there is no easy way of finding out who they are. In all probability, they are not based in this country anyway.”

          Carlos turned upon him angrily. “So this ‘blog’ that you have cajoled and bullied me into doing, against my own better judgement, has served only to expose me to ridicule and slander that my enemies can disseminate with complete impunity. Why have you wasted so much of my time on this completely pointless and self-defeating project? Take that stupid camera and computer off my desk immediately.”

Learn More about Tim's Books

You can find out more about Tim Taylor's books on his blog:

Other links

Both books are available this week for 99¢/99p in the Crooked Cat Summer Sale at Amazon. 

Look for Revolution Day here

You'll find Zeus of Ithome here

About T. E. Taylor

          T. E.Taylor was born in 1960 in Stoke-on-Trent, England. He studied Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford (and later Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London). After a couple of years playing in a rock band, he joined the Civil Service, eventually leaving in 2011 to spend more time writing. He now lives in Yorkshire with his wife and daughter and divides his time between creative writing, academic research and part-time teaching and other work for Leeds and Huddersfield Universities.
          Tim’s first novel, Zeus of Ithome, a historical novel about the struggle of the ancient Messenians to free themselves from Sparta, was published by Crooked Cat in 2013; his second, Revolution Day in 2015.  Tim also writes poetry and the occasional short story, plays guitar, and likes to walk up hills.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Charmed and Strange: A quirky story of ups and downs

If you haven't seen Unsung Stories yet, a webzine of science fiction and fantasy, now might be  good day for discovery. Why? Because my first story for them is out today! 

I never was very good at short stories, but this past year I've returned to the form to try and crack both the mystery and the market. Little by little, I think I'm figuring it out. "Charmed and Strange" is an odd little piece that started literally with a dream, then took a while to spin out. At least, here is the result!

If you like it, please let them know at the 'zine. You could post a comment here, too, and of course, please share the link with your networks!

by Maggie Secara

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

In an Otter Dimension: A visit with Ailsa Abraham

So I hear a crash and bang from very close by... it's the roof! As I race outside into the breezy summer morning, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a enchanted carpet endeavoring to land, bearing a rather large, friendly but somewhat giddy-looking otter – no, It’s Ailsa Abraham, all the way from her lovely French village to visit with me today! And she’s so loaded down with goodies she’s having a little trouble managing her wand

MAAAGGGIIIEEE can you catch the edge of the carpet for me, please? I've just washed the darn thing and can't do a thing with it. I nearly collided with the Statue of Liberty but, being originally French, we both just went “bof” and laughed.

Got it! Come in, come it, and welcome back in! Tea and toast or coffee and cake? 

Thanks so much for inviting me back. I know you haven't been very well so I've brought you some “special well-juice” from home, grown within a mile of our house. Hope you don't mind me bringing Lily, she does so like flying on the carpet and it gives me space to have luggage. Here – little bro Cameron baked you a cake and said he's sorry he can't come but someone has to look after the Bingergread Cottage while I'm gallivanting around.

Phew! It's nice to sit down. Cross-legged at my age is a bit tiring. Oh yes, coffee would be fabulous. Come and give me a big hug MWUH!

MWAH, indeed! So tell me what you’ve been up to. Been busy lately?

Busy? You bet your ...whatever! Been on two holidays in the caravan already and got home to a pile of new work. The Bingergread Cottage is working overtime, which is a point, Mrs! When are you coming to see us?

As soon as I get my carpet fixed. In the  meantime, tell me the news! Give, girl!

The third book in the Alchemy series is still under construction which is sad
because so many people love the first two and are clamouring for it but.. yes that stupid motorcycle accident. I know, I know, Hell's Grannies never die, they only smell that way!

On top of that, people are finding me. Isn't that just the best? All you lovely folks coming by to chat on my blog has made it very popular and I recently got asked for an interview with a magazine which ended up with me writing weekly articles for two of them! Here are the links. France  UK (both in English language)

Suddenly everyone wants me to do short stories which is a relief as trying to get on with a complete manuscript is very hard work with my brain on short-time working. No, no, I'm not complaining but a stroke, followed by a couple of bangs on the head in quick succession do leave one a bit fuzzy. I love a magic-carpet ride as much as the next witch, but being helicoptered to hospital and then having my spleen removed wasn't very funny.

No, not funny at all.

Never mind, I can walk a bit better now. My feet still take off on their own and lead me into the furniture from time to time but that has always been a bit normal for me – clumsy! And you know me, Maggie, I just end up lying on the floor laughing hysterically because “large lady doing toddler impression” just kills me!

You’re such a loon. All right, what else are you working on. Something about a memoir?

What else? Oh yes! My memoirs. Having nearly died in that crash, I got aroun to thinking that while I have some of my faculties left and possibly a bit of time on this good Earth, I ought to write down all the funny stories with which I regale people. You remember when we had lunch and I had you rocking with laughter at my “ice cream seller” story?

Oh God, yes, I still giggle every time I think of it, which is often.

Well those! My French friends won't stop pestering me to do them in French too because I did a bit of stand-up in the local village hall and it was a hit. Having chatted with our lovely publishers Crooked Cat, we agreed that translation rights would be problematic and took the professional decision that I should self-publish the memoirs but they did offer any help they could, which was unspeakably kind of them. I did produce “Four Go Mad in Catalonia” not long ago, which is a memoir and self-published, so this isn't a new adventure, just a bigger one.

So that's me at the mo. WIP is Alchemy Book 3 plus memoirs in two languages (working title “Knitting With Eels”) plus trying to arrange covers etc. You know the drill, Maggie. So I'm kind of an otter rushed off my paws, but I like it like that. I never get bored. When I need a break I take a wander down by the river, yes, where the otter from my tales lives, and chat to my favourite Walnut Tree.

Being close to nature really is important to you, isn't it, Ailsa? You seem to draw so much from that relationship.

Someone remarked that my having ventured into all the alternative religions (Wicca, druidry, shamanism etc) was useful for my books but all I could think was, “Books! Books! It's essential for my daily life!”

Now give me your hands, Maggie and see if we can do some magic together. I want you well.

Goodness, I feel better already, Ailsa, dear. Thank you. Now you said something before about a present?

Pressie for your friends – oh yes, I nearly forgot! <dives into large rucksack on magic carpet>


“Ta daaaaaah!” Here is a copy of Four Go Mad in Catalonia which I'll donate as a prize to anyone reading your blog who can answer this question correctly:

Which two modern countries now contain the old Catalonia?

Easy peasy! You can random draw the winner and let me know their email addie/ebook format and I'll pop this copy over to them.

You’re a generous woman, and a delight to know. More coffee?

Must dash, honey. Cameron and Badger promised to cook supper, and with those two loose in my kitchen I can smell the smoke from here! I put a baby air-dragon on watch but you never know!

Well, I’m so very glad you dropped by. It’s been so lovely to sit and chat for a bit. Thanks so much for coming.

Thanks for having me, Maggie. It's been a blast, as always. Give me a shout when you have time to come to the Bingergread Cottage and I will send the carpet for you. Hop up, Lily, we're going home. (mad waving and barking)
Byeeeeeeeeeee. Hi Ho, Rug-weave.. AWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY

Links and everything

Ailsa's page at Crooked Cat Books(learn more about and buy Alchemy and Shaman's Drum)
Website (the actual Bingergread Cottage)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Courtly Magic in the Middle Ages

Courtly Magic in the Middle Ages

By Meaghan Zarb

The medieval court was the centre of political life during the Middle Ages, where officials of all ranks attended to governmental affairs. As a place of wealth, influence and power, intrigues were an ordinary suspicion within the medieval court. This was the ideal environment for popular magical practices to cultivate as the employment of magical practitioners provided great political advantages. This setting reflects the Arthurian romances written during this period and it is common belief that they provide at least an embellished version of the demand and practices found in courts. Astrologers delivered a calendar of ideal times for rulers to make political decisions and alchemists, the possibility of riches and prolonged life. A knowledge of chemicals and herbs would have proved useful in intrigues where poisons and love spells were in demand. As fear and usage of magic was ever present, courtiers engaged in the practice of possessing precious stones whose properties protected them from such inflictions. Wealth and power didn’t just produce the ideal environment for rivalries but also that of the best entertainment and latest technology. The court was home to illusionists and the latest mechanical feats of engineers of the day. They also possessed the valuable minstrel, whose services provide insight into the interest courtiers held in magic.

See the rest at ... Courtly Magic in the Middle Ages