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Karen Bayly

Author of fantasy, sci-fi, horror 

Good News, Bad News … and a thought

It’s time for the bad news and time for the good news... again.

The Bad News: Plastic … not fantastic

Unless you’ve been living somewhere cut off from all communications and the rest of humanity, you would have heard about plastics pollution. It is having a dreadful effect on our oceans and all that dwell within those watery realms.

Photo from University of Tasmania

So we all know that we have to reduce our use of plastic. No mean feat given the following words from Professor Andrew Holmes, polymer chemist and emeritus professor at the University of Melbourne:

“No-one in their daily life within a period of 10 minutes isn’t touching something that is made of plastic.”

I mainly brought this up so I could tell you about ...

The Good News: Edible beer can rings!

In an effort to remove one source of plastic from the inedible food chain, a craft beer company from Florida, USA, has created 100 percent biodegradable and compostable six-pack rings. Theses are made from by-products of the brewing process such as wheat and barley.

Photo by We Believers (see here)

Saltwater Brewery say their six-pack rings are edible by both humans and fish. While processed wheat and barley may not be the best food for our ocean friends, anything is better than plastic. Plus it’s fantastic that the company is turning their waste into something useful.

Hmm ...

It’s been on my mind that while there is a push for the average person to reduce their plastics footprint, we aren’t adequately addressing how it gets into our waterways and oceans in the first place.

Some plastic reaches the ocean because certain people are careless and/or lazy. They leave their rubbish lying around where it is washed down stormwater drains into waterways. Other plastics are flushed down the toilet and synthetic fabrics can shed fibres when washed.

However, some of it is down to a lack of good waste management systems. Even when transported to a landfill, there is still the possibility of some plastic blowing away. Likewise, in many industries, the waste control processes implemented in the production and transportation of plastics are inadequate.

So while the average Joe and Jane can certainly make a difference, the corporate world and governments need to take greater responsibility. So far it seems the onus is on everyone but them.

See more from Greenpeace.

Fee Fi Fo Fum

One of my favourite sources of weird and wonderful information is Atlas Obscura. Recently I stumbled upon a happy little article titled “In 1590, Starving Parisians Ground Human Bones Into Bread” concerning a somewhat nasty situation during the tumultuous French Wars of Religion.

Henri III of Navarre was the legitimate heir to the French throne (as Henry IV of France), but he was a Protestant. As result, he’d been embroiled in a four-year civil war against a powerful anti-Protestant group, the Catholic League. In 1590, he made a move towards Paris causing many peasants in the surrounding towns to flee to the city where they believed they would be safe.

Unfortunately for them, Henri laid seige to Paris. He took control of the surrounding lands and burned their windmills. This endangered the Parisian food supply. It only took a few months before the poorer Parisians were starving. In their desperation, they ate horses, mules, then pet dogs and cats, then moved on to grazing on grass in parks.

A charnel house at the Saints Innocents Cemetery, Paris. Public Domain.

Finally, they resorted to making bread from the bones of the dead. They disinterred skeletons from the mass graves of the Holy Innocents Cemetery, ground the bones into flour, and baked it into bread.

Sadly, eating this bread did little to prolong the life of these poor souls. Instead, they all died and no-one is quite sure why. There are many hypotheses ranging from psychogenic (guilt about cannibalism), to disease or prions in the bones, to the high mineral content of bone bread causing abdominal obstruction (read this essay by Jennifer Monroe Franson). But that is all we have - hypotheses.

Overall, the death toll from starvation was between 40,000 and 50,000. Finally, King Henri relented and allowed his army to provide Parisians with food.

Death waits. Image: zummolo/shutterstock.com

If you're like me, all this talk of grinding bones you probably reminds you of the words uttered by the giant in the fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk:

Fee fi fo fum
I smell the blood of an Englishman
Be he alive or be he dead
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread
.

I wondered whether this rhyme came about after the events of 1590. My research suggested that the first two lines appeared in 1596, in the pamphlet Haue with You to Saffron-Walden, written by Thomas Nashe. Even then, Nashe mentions that the rhyme was already old and its origins obscure. However, the last two lines did not appear until later, with the earliest known printed version appearing in 1711.

So I’m none the wiser as to whether this sad and gruesome chapter in French history inspired a threatening rhyme from a fairy tale giant. Though one thing seems clear - fairy tale giants are blessed with stronger digestive systems than those poor suffering Parisians.

Jack and the Beanstalk Giant. Public Domain.

 

Fortitude

My novel, “Fortitude”, came out last week in both paperback and digital forms. I’m quite chuffed as it is over six years since I completed the first draft.

“Fortitude” has been described by several readers as an eclectic blend of science fiction, fantasy, and steampunk. This means that no major publishers would even read it! In fact, most major publishers don’t read anything that isn’t presented to them by an agent, and getting an agent is difficult, especially for writers of science fiction, fantasy, and steampunk. I did try several times to procure an agent and received some very encouraging rejections.

Image by Nokuro/shutterstock.com

I also sent the manuscript to several boutique publishers. One replied with a very encouraging rejection. Most of the rest didn’t bother answering even when I followed up. Finally, my novel found a home at Mary Celeste Press with Matthew Glenn Ward at the helm.  Matthew had published several short stories of mine in the highly regarded “Skive Magazine”. The beginning of my relationship with Skive Magazine was in the 2005 issue “You Are Going Away” where my short story “Daphne’s Dance” was first published.

Skive Magazine

Getting back to how my novel has been described - I think of “Fortitude” as science fantasy that is steampunk-based, rather than pure steampunk.  I’ve taken the idea that steam has been favoured over other types of energy in this world, and refined to power something more elegant than the usually clunky machines portrayed in most steampunk stories.

The last thing I want to do is present myself as a steampunk aficionado. There are people out there who live and breathe steampunk (as seen at Oamaru, home of the annual NZ Steampunk Festival) and although I love what they do, I’m not one of them. However, the idea of steampunk has interested me since “The Wild Wild West” (the old TV show, not the movie). In fact, the name of one of the main characters in my book - Artemis Devereaux - is a nod to my favourite character of the TV series, Artemus Gordon.

Scene from The Wild Wild West which ran on CBS 1965-1969. Artemus Gordon is on the left.

The novel isn’t set in the steam era nor the Victorian era. I constructed a whole new universe with a different political, scientific, religious and ecological background. There are some aspects of life reminiscent of Victorian London as well as 1920s Europe. I did a huge amount of research on ancient gods, history, and steam technology as well as dirigible aerodynamics and how to fly a dirigible. Sadly, I couldn’t find any dirigible pilots to interview - I would have loved to ask questions instead of relying totally on You Tube videos and text.

I also had the fun of creating a whole lot of inventions, mainly because four of the characters are scientists / inventors, and the whole plot revolves around the misuse of one of these inventions. I’ve no doubt I've pushed the laws of physics to their max - but great inventions are built on great ideas, and who really knows for certain what will work until you begin to build it.

One could say that about a novel as well.

Image by Magergram/shutterstock.com

Where to buy “Fortitude”

Paperback:

Lulu

Digital:

Smashwords
Barnes and Noble
Kobo (use the flag at the top of the website page to switch stores)
Angus & Robertson

Also in the Apple Books store

 

Writing and Me

I don’t really like talking about my writing process as I’m not sure it’s the slightest bit interesting. Yet I do understand that other people seem to want to know the hows and whys of why authors write. For me, it is straightforward - I sit down, put my fingers on the keyboard, and type.

Of course, it’s taken some time to get to the point where that works for me. I used to wait for inspiration before I started writing. As a result, I wrote in short and inconsistent bursts. I decided that the occasional short story was all I could manage and put any thoughts of writing a novel out of my head.

That changed when I did my PhD. I remember holding my somewhat hefty thesis in my hand and thinking - if I can write this, then I can write a novel.

Murray and George ignoring my thesis

I’d like to say that crafting my first novel came easily but the truth is it was still a slog - and I didn’t do it alone. I enlisted the help of various creative coaches over a couple of years, but the one who helped most was Cynthia Morris at Original Impulse.

From Cynthia, I learned the value in writing for just fifteen minutes a day. I learned to switch off my editor's brain and ignore my internal critic. In doing so, the stories bubbling and brewing inside me could come to the surface and flow onto the page.

As I practiced these new skills, I discovered that I could write at my desk, or in a café, or on my iPhone on the train. In fact, I wrote my first novel, "Fortitude", using a text editor on my iPhone on my morning commute. Every evening, I would cut and paste what I’d written into Scrivener.

Looking out of my "office" window

Given I travel around three hours a day (to the day job and back again), I still use my commute to write. I still use my phone as well as the train is often so crowded, pulling out a laptop is not really a comfortable option. So the bulk of my second novel has also been written on my iPhone, only nowadays I have the Scrivener mobile app, so I can sync rather than copy and paste.

From "Fortitude" on Scrivener Mobile

I’ve also learned the importance of plotting, even though I’m a pantser at heart. Nowadays, I do plot an outline before I start writing but then I pants it within that framework. Quite a few unplanned plot points and character quirks have ended up on the page in my both my soon-to-be-published novel and my current work-in-progress. I do feel a sense of gratitude and wonder when I reflect on this process and see that somehow I’d set up these twists and turns in previous chapters without truly realising what I was doing at the time.

The thing is, so much of our storytelling happens away from the keyboard or pen. It happens in our dreams and quiet moments. It happens in the deep dark recesses of our brains when we aren’t thinking about our creative work at all. Often, all we do when we write is let that story escape.

 

Kiwis, Kakapos and Steampunk

Although I'm Australian and we have a friendly rivalry with our Kiwi brothers and sisters, I can say wholeheartedly that I love New Zealand. I love the landscape, the people, the sauvignon blanc, the hokey pokey ice cream, and the Steampunk festival. But as a huge fan of birds, I adore their birdlife.

Kakapos

One particular bird - the kakapo - has been in the news lately. First though, a brief natural history of the kakapo. It is the world’s only flightless parrot as well as the world's heaviest parrot. It is nocturnal and herbivorous. Kakapo are visibly sexually dimorphic. Not only are males and females different sizes with females being smaller than males, females have a narrower and proportionally longer beak, more slender and pinkish grey legs and feet, and a proportionally longer tail.


Sirocco, a male Kakapo - see more at https://www.doc.govt.nz/sirocco

Kakapos are the only parrot to have a polygynous lek breeding system. A lek refers to an area where males aggregate to display and impress females. Kakapo males dig bowls in the ground which they sit in to give their mating call. The call itself is a series of loud low frequency booms (that can carry for up to 5 kilometres with a good wind) followed by a higher pitched series of cheeps. In addition, the bowl the male sits in functions as an amplifier to help project the call. Females hear the call and travel to the lek where the male  performs a side-to-side rocking display while making clicking noises with his beak. If she thinks he’s a good sort, she will mate with him, then disappear to lay her eggs. Needless to say, males take no part in raising the chicks.

Hear a kakapo calling here... Kakapo video

This amazing bird is on the critically endangered list. It was almost wiped out during European colonisation because of the introduction of predators such as cats, rats, ferrets, and stoats. Now, most kakapo only exist on two predator-free islands where they are closely monitored.  The total known adult population is 147 living individuals… plus 70 or so! According to a recent report, the kakapos had an unusually long breeding season this year resulting in over 70 chicks hatching. Nature being nature, not all these chicks will make it to adulthood, but the overall population is likely to increase significantly.

Read more here and watch a video of the cute little fluff balls.

The other piece of news is also about a kakapo chick. This little critter, known by the name Espy 1B, had a large soft lump on its head. When examined, this lump was found to be the brain bulging out through an unfused area of its skull. As this kind of malformation is life-threatening, a team of veterinarians at Massey University decided to operate and made history by performing the first successful brain surgery on a bird. Espy1B is now doing fine.

Read more here and see a video of the operation (if you dare!).

It's F-word time!

Yes, a Festival is coming up soon. The Steampunk Festival NZ is on Thursday, May 30th - Sunday, June 2nd  2019. Now celebrating 10 years, this annual festival in Oamaru, New Zealand delivers fun and adventure for all those inclined toward a world of reimagined Victoriana, fantastic machines and fabulous fashions.

In a cruel twist of fate, my steampunk-inspired novel “Fortitude” won’t be published until after the Festival. Such is life. Meanwhile, here’s a snippet…

Good News, Bad News: I love a good Dystopian Tale ...

...and I enjoy a great horror story but I often wish the news in my social media feeds or on the television wasn't quite so doom and gloom. To counteract this, I'm always on the lookout for stories that make me feel like humanity has a chance, that we can beat the monsters which plague us. And I'm making it my mission to share these stories with you.

So the good news is out there but first ...

The Bad News: Trachoma - you wouldn't wish it on your enemies

Photo from Community Eye Health

Trachoma is the leading infectious cause of blindness in the world. It is linked to poverty and lack of access to clean water and sanitation, and is spread by flies and human touch. It starts as a bacterial infection and, if left untreated, causes the eyelashes to turn in against the eyeball.  The eyelashes feel like thorns (ouch!) scratching the surface of the eye, causing great pain, increased opacity of the cornea, and finally resulting in irreversible blindness. 1.9 million people around the world are now needlessly without sight because they didn’t receive the necessary treatment.

Once prevalent in the west, the fight against this entirely preventable disease continues in poorer communities on Earth.

Read more about trachoma here and here.

The Good News: Malawi is the second country to eliminate trachoma

Photo from www.endtrachoma.org

Ghana was the first country to beat trachoma. In 2000, around 2.8 million were at risk of the disease. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognised that the risk was now zero.

Malawi is the second country to win the fight against trachoma. In 2014, 8 million Malawians were at risk of losing their sight to the disease. Today, the vast majority of the population are no longer at risk of trachoma related blindness, and the Malawi Government health system is strong enough to manage any future cases. More about it here. (Note: You might remember that Malawi is where Madonna set up a non-profit charity plus it is the birthplace of her four adopted children.)

Thanks to Future Crunch for alerting me to this information. It's a relief to know that there is still good news out there.

Book Recommendation: The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag

It's no secret that I love Nordic Noir and I'm partial to stories in an historical setting (real or imagined). Niklas Natt och Tag* has married both genres admirably.  I found the story engrossing and extremely uncomfortable at times. One character's tale was so depraved and horrifying that I avoided reading it before bed and breathed a loud sigh of relief when it was done. (You have been warned!) The characters are memorable, if not always likeable, and the moral questions tended towards haunting rather than being forced down the reader's throat. I suspect I will think about this one for a long time.

* Natt och Tag = Night and Day. Best surname ever IMHO, belonging to a line of Swedish nobles  and officially known since the year 1280.

 

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