Wednesday 22 November 2017


Alexandra Siedel’s poetry is breathtaking; haunting, whimsical, and witty. I’ve been an admirer of it for years. It was only back in February, when I finally had the pleasure of meeting her, that I realised that she also writes short fiction. Not quite sure how I missed that, but I have since put things to rights. 

Issue 16 cover

It’s usually possible to tell in their short fiction, when a writer is also a poet. This is very apparent in Alexandra’s "The Master of Hourglasses", which appears in the current issue of Lackington’s. 

My Photo

The story contains beautiful images, arresting turns of phrase, characters who who linger in the reader’s mind, making themselves - though not necessarily the reader - quite comfortable there. It’s a stunning and unsettling tale of masks, identity, trades, a girl and a god. 

Do check out Alexa’s blog: Tiger in the Matchstick Box where she’s written about the interesting publishing path this story has taken. You can also find out more about her and her writing.

Issue 16 of Lackington’s, with the theme: Trades is now available.

Also, I wanted to mention that Lackington’s has recently started a Patreon page. Money will go toward paying their writers and artists fair prices. Do take a look, it's a wonderful journal with high quality speculative fiction and art. 

Monday 25 July 2016

deer magic

Yesterday I was on the outskirts of a small town awaiting an event (a children's music academy's summer concert). As I had quite a bit of time, and knowing that I'd be in a amongst a large crush of people for a few hours, I decided to take the opportunity for a walk in the countryside. 

Part way in, storm clouds gathered, and the first drops of rain fell. I had brought an umbrella with me, but spotted a hunter's hut which, while I don't know if it's still in use, was anyway stable enough for me to climb inside to take shelter. 

The view out the front.

Out the side.

And out the other, a gorgeous oak. And the rain truly began. 

I never go anywhere without a book. I sat for a while reading, and enjoying the sound of the rain on the roof and of the birds singing each other deeper into the branches of the oak tree. 

Then, as the rain let up, a different sound came. A furtive drumming.

Hooves on the dampened earth.

The youngest came to the foot of my ladder. The mother right behind, perhaps scolding her child's foolish boldness. 
They came with such swift elegance, such wild beauty that my breath caught.
Then I felt a wave of dismay at the juxtaposition of the trust and innocence of the fawn, and of just where I was sitting. 

She urged them away quickly.  

The wild beauty of her, of them, was a gift of magic, 
pulling me into a state of wonder, of connection, of awe. 
I sensed, so strongly, the web which combines us, as those hooves plucked the thread connected to me. 


i press 
ochred hands onto the walls of this cave.  my skin.  my shelter.  

my fingers crawl like night insects 
to sing the running of the animals,
the wind of the chase, the beating of hearts and hooves 
across the plains, of stone and dust.  

each night i dream the chase
across my eyes’ black-lidded sky
each night 
my body slick with sweat and smeared with ash
i run 

as i run, 
i hear the beating of the drum i’ve made - 
taught and resonant - from my own skin,
feel the weight of the weapon i’ve made 
from my own bone.

i leave the fire-painted walls
of this illusion

and i run

under the cool, many-eyed gaze of the night 
i run until i feel my heart will beat its last beat and tear through my skin
i stop

my fear as dry as the dirt in my mouth.

i lower my antlers to the pool 
and drink the stars.

(A poem I wrote a few years ago, which Mike and Anita Allen were kind enough to publish in Mythic Delirium back then.)

Friday 27 February 2015

At night, when the sea had quietened down...

Just finished another of my story collages.  

(20 x 20 x 3.5 cm)

Her story is:

'At night, when the sea had quietened down, she would listen to the stories told to her by the souls of the lost and drowned fishermen whom she had collected since she was a girl and kept safe in nests of shell and phials filled with sand.'

It was inspired by a short story I wrote after visiting Brighton two Novembers back, which was in turn, inspired by the tale 'The Soul Cages' which I came across in W. B. Yeats' collection 'Irish Fairy and Folk Tales.'  I highly recommend the collection.  

My collages always start with a photograph.  I buy these from a stall at London's Spitalfields Antiques Market.  They date from the second half of the nineteenth century.  That's also where I purchase the antique letters I use in many of the collages.

Then I slowly build up the collage / assemblage around the woman in the photo.  It's mostly photos of women that I tend to buy and use.  Occasionally a man or child, but these are the ones which usually speak to me.

I try different ideas out.  Laying on different papers, pressed flowers, pieces of pottery, pebbles, beads.  I have a small collection of porcelain doll limbs and torsos dating back to the eighteenth century from a now defunct German doll factory.

(These are certainly not made in a pet-free studio)

Items get moved around, discarded, brought back.  It's a process that takes place over a number of days as I usually have to let things sit for a while and return to them with fresh eyes to know whether they're working or not.

Once I have - more or less - the design I want, I start to jot down notes about the woman's story in a journal for this purpose.  I have an initial brainstorming session, then usually have to leave it and return a couple more times until I have the fragment of story figured out. 

I type it, print it out, paint it with watercolours to match the collage, and attach it.  

Some of my recent ones have had mini journals included.  I make the journals, then either attach them permanently, or in a way that they can be taken off and even used if wished.  

This is one of my smallest ones.  About 2.5 x 2.5 cm, with hand torn, tea stained pages, Florentine marbled endpapers, leather cover and tie, and mini collage of pressed flower and scrap of antique letter on the front. 

Here she is on a wall.  

She can be seen in my Etsy shop:

Monday 9 February 2015

Little works framed.

(10 x 10 x 3.5 cm. Oil and cold wax with fragment of antique letter and pressed flower on oil paint paper adhered to wood panel.)

In trying to solve the problem of how to frame these tiny, new paintings, I at first wondered whether I ought to frame them before offering them for sale, or simply mat them.  That brought up the problem of how to mat them.  What size and for what format of frame?   

Deciding against those options, I chose to adhere them to the wood panels I use for my collages using acrylic medium.  I've painted the edges black and signed and dated them on the back.  They can hang on a nail or sit on a desk or shelf.    

Three of them are now available in my Etsy shop:

Friday 6 February 2015

Small pieces.

I've been working on some very small paintings (10 cm x 10 cm) on paper.  They're oil and cold wax with collage elements: fragments of antique letters, gold leaf, pressed flowers.  

 (oil and cold wax with antique letter fragment on paper)

As I was working, I rather lost sight of what was happening with the individual pieces.  Paint and pigments spilled over the edges of the tape creating a rather alarming visual mess.  

When I took off the tape off, however, I was pleased with the results.  Then I used more cold wax to adhere the collage elements.  

I finished two of them today.  The rest are for the weekend.  

(oil and cold wax with antique letter fragment and pressed flower on paper.)

Friday 17 October 2014


(the current state of my desk.)

I've just made a discovery about myself: I love revising long work. I've revised many short stories and poems, though I must admit to not really enjoying it. It always seems a chore. A drudgery. This is the first time I've revised a novel length work, due to the fact that it's only the third time that I've actually finished the first draft of a novel, and that this is the first time one's been worthy of revising.
On my shelf, along with the two crappy first drafts, there are also numerous false starts, most of them dead-ending around the 45,000 word mark. At that jinxed spot, I would either run into serious doubts about the story and decide to put it away for a bit; or I'd get really, really excited about a new idea and start the story all over again; or I would simply have run into too many plot-holes, get frustrated, and give up entirely.

"Write, and finish what you start to write." This has been ringing in my ears lately, coming from the mouths / pens of many professional writers. So, a few months ago, I took the very, very rough outline of a story I wanted to tell and I wrote the first draft. The whole blasted thing.
Then I put it away. Since that's also what published writers tell you to do. I wasn't sure how long to leave it there, but when I realized that I was actually dreading revising it and avoiding it for that reason, I knew it was time to bring it out.

(I'm having to use part of my painting wall for the revision process.)

And now, I'm knee deep in the process of revising, and - to my surprise - I'm loving it. I'm excited about the story again. About how things are now starting to set, to become more fully formed, about how the story's internal logic is gelling. It's no longer the amorphous 'first draft'; it's becoming a coherent, revised, competent 'second draft.'
After hearing so many writers talk about how the story really starts to tell itself during the revising process, about how that's the really exciting part of writing a long work, I'm finally starting to get it. I'm sure it's not like this for all writers, but I'm certainly in the camp for whom it is the case. That might change with experience, I don't know. But for the time being, it is the way it is.
Now, having said all of that, I'm still hoping that it won't take too, too many drafts till this puppy's done.

Monday 29 September 2014

From collage to books and back again.

A few months ago, my step daughter asked me if I would make a guest book for her upcoming wedding.  I very happily took on the project, though it had been a while since I'd made a book of any sort.  

About a dozen years ago, I took some courses through CBBAG: Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild.  In the last few years, I'd done very little binding and didn't realize how much I'd missed it.  

To get back into it, I decided to make some smaller journals.  Just to refresh my skills and to become reacquainted with my tools and supplies.

For the past few years, rather than make books, I've been making collages.  They include antique photographs and letter fragments, flowers that I pick and press, shells and pebbles I collect, hand painted papers, skeleton keys, porcelain doll parts.  When the collage is at a certain stage, I write a line or more of text, print it out, stain it integrate it into the collage.  

When I made the first journal then, it was no surprise when I found myself including a collage on its cover.  I use this one now for jotting down ideas and images which will eventually become the lines that I use on my collages.  

I have some gorgeous leather scraps which I've been carting around with me for years, and finally decided to use one of my favourites for a full leather binding.  Which meant bringing out my leather-paring knife.  I also wanted some variety, so decided to stain the pages.

The collage on the cover of this one includes a porcelain doll's arm, fragment of an antique letter, and a couple of matt glass beads.

As I went on, I had some paper cut offs.  As I've traditionally done with these, I made a smaller journal.  I decided to use another arm from an antique porcelain doll as well as a fragment of an antique letter, and hand painted papers to decorate this one.  

There were paper scraps left over from this one too.  So...wash, rinse, repeat...

The journals got smaller and smaller, until I finally reached the limit of what my eyes and fingers were capable of in this ca. 2 x 2 cm journal.   

By this time, I started to think about my collages again and wondered how I could incorporate these mini journals into them.  While Molly looked on.

This is how it turned out.  Full circle.  
Her text is: 

'She collected things; some forgotten, discarded, stolen:
fragments of a love letter, dead flowers from a locket, a child's first dreams,
and sang them into her book of shadows, to become songs for her own subtle magic.'