writing

'Divinity' Extract

10:00 am

Image Credit: @tidesinourveins

She raised her hand to cover her brow as she looked out across the violet landscape, a veil of pink shimmering in the sky to the tune of the chants that echoed in the valley. Leaning into her side was the shoulder of the cohort she had in tow, his hand gripping into the top of her bare foot as he tried to keep his balance. The ground was dust, glowing orange with the light reflected from the spectrum glittering above. It was getting into his joints and making things more difficult than they needed to be, but she would strike him down with a glare if he tried to get to his feet. They needed this image as their cover if they wanted to get across the desert alive. He depended on her to get through this, and she depended on him, however much she resented admitting it.

It was night-time, but you wouldn’t guess from the brightness that surrounded the woman and her motorised companion, dragging his knees down the dune-side as he clung into the straps of her haulage sack. The indigo skin covering his knuckles had started to crack and flake, revealing the intricate map of nerves and wires that lay beneath to the frozen sun above. The chants grew louder as they usually did as night moved onwards, reverberating off the dust below until the entire valley was singing.

‘How long until extraction?’. He peered up, squinting through a dust cloud to get a good look at the woman’s face. She was notoriously hard to read, a permanent grimace across her dimpled skin, not much her own fault, but that of a lifetime of bounty hunting and finding herself on the wrong side of a lot of people. Her eyes flickered down and scanned his face, sensing his tiredness.

‘Too long.’ She eventually responded. A sigh, not at anything in particular, certainly not at him. Just a sigh. ‘We can rest now.’ She dropped her sack onto the floor, which he took as an indication he could finally let go of her, rubbing his knuckles with the palm of his hand. He hated to see himself fall into this state of disrepair. Really, he had never been in this bad a state, but there was little he could do about it now. Complaining to her never got him anywhere, so he silently continued to investigate the damage as she unpacked the shelter, piece by piece. She laid various joints and bolts into a circle in the dust, occasionally adjusting slightly until evenly spread. He was used to her idiosyncrasies by now, but she was taking a little too long for his liking. Eventually, with a click of her fingers and her tongue sticking out the corner of her mouth, the shelter sprang up, fully-formed and airy, ochre to match the desert floor.

'Home, sweet home.'

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Thank you to my friend Oli for creating this lovely art to accompany the extract! You can read my interview with Oli here where you'll find links to more of his work.

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Like what you've read so far? If you support me on Patreon, you could get your hands on an ebook of Divinity as soon as it's released! Find out more here. No idea what Divinity is? Let me tell you...

interview

Interview: Oli Smith on Illustration, Freelancing, and D&D

12:00 pm



Today's interviewee goes against my normal specification, but for very good reason. Oli is one of my oldest and dearest and probably most talented friends, which you'll come to learn when you read through our chat. He creates wonderful fantasy and sci-fi art, writes his own comic series, and acts as Games Master for an ever-growing set of role-playing games with his friends (e.g. me). Obviously I'm biased, but I do think he's a little bit of a genius. Find out for yourself as I chat to him about the woes of GCSE art lessons, creating your own fantasy worlds, and why D&D is probably the best form of escapism there is.


Magic & Musings:
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Oli! First of all, for any readers who don’t know your background, tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do. When did you first get into art? Did you study it formally or come across it as a hobby?

Oli Smith:
Thank you for interviewing me! I’m Oli Smith and I’m a freelance artist. I guess technically I’m an illustrator but most of my work is much more sketch-based, quick, and free-flowing. I do fantasy sketches and character designs as my main sort of focus! I’ve been working freelance for about half a year full-time, so I’m at the start of my career! 

When I was little I always drew. I was the little kid with the crayons. I have a very defined memory of getting into drawing. I was very into anime and manga at the time and I must have been somewhere around 8-10. I’d be given one of those ‘How to Draw Manga’ books and I was so excited. The day after I went to school and remember going to some teacher and my friends and showing them the people I’d drawn. They were horrendous, but people liked them, because we were dumb children and accepting adults! I quickly found myself doing better than the book and then just kept on drawing.

Then there’s GSCE and A-Level Art, which if you like drawing the way I do in your own way is painful. It was absolutely not what I wanted to do and one old fashioned teacher even went so far as to say I’d never have a career in art, which was horrible. But I did good enough to go on to university. I just recently finished studying Game Art Design at DMU and while I don’t actually work in that field now I learnt so many useful things. It gave me my work ethic and figure drawing skills and most importantly skill in concept art. Now I do my own thing but the things I learnt at university are always useful.


Magic & Musings:
Which artists, if any, would you say have been influences on your work? Do you have any favourites to look at when you need a spark of inspiration?

Oli Smith:
You know, in GSCE and A-Level Art they make you research artists. Researching is alright, I can get that. But it was more than that. They make you copy their work, bang on, not even putting a twist on it. I hated it. I hated having to copy another artists work. I never saw the point. It was working backwards to me. It sounds really mean to say but it just wasn’t how I work, it isn’t how I think even now. There’s a great deal of skill one can gain by painting studies of famous paintings but, for me it doesn’t do anything.

So after all that I don’t have a favourite artist or artists. I do take in inspiration from everywhere I can, but there’s no specific favourites that call out to me over and over. It took me a long time to understand and respect Pinterest, but I actually use that as a great source for inspiration now. Instead of focusing on one talented individual, I take a trickling feed of thousands. It works better for me. You almost don’t know what you’re going to get, and can inspire you in really weird directions.

Magic & Musings:
Of all of your art, which are you the happiest with and why?

Oli Smith:
I work on a few projects at the moment, as well as a spattering of doodles and sketches. You might expect me to say my comic but actually my favourite project is my weekly Dungeons and Dragons updates. When people ask what my best work is or the best way to see my style, I say it’s this. I basically take whatever happened in my weekly sessions and paint it up. I do it very quickly, recently realising that I should embrace my sketchy natural art style, and it always ends up in a result bursting with character. It’s that character behind everything that I really enjoy. Painting up characters I know personally and can connect with always ends up with a great sketch in the end.


Magic & Musings:
What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively?

Oli Smith:
Every creative person has to deal with slumps. It sucks. It isn’t easy. I’ve actually just climbed out of one myself. I found it hard to work and had no inspiration, no matter what I did. So here’s how I got over it: I made something every day. I uploaded something every day. It didn’t have to be much sometimes it was just the messiest doodle, but it was something. In one way it makes you feel a little better because you’re being productive. Not as productive as you want, but productive. But also showing people, especially friends, your work can be really inspiring. Just the other day I showed a close friend a spoiler for the next comic issue I’m working on and their excited reaction and questions gave me enough energy to work with enthusiasm! It’s also completely important to take it easy! While doing something every day I put as much time as I needed into relaxing and stress relief. Stress doesn’t help anything, at all.

Magic & Musings:
Moving away from the art a little bit, I know you also DM for people's Dungeons & Dragons games. Hint, me. When did you first get into this, and what is it about this that you enjoy so much?

Oli Smith:
I have always liked the idea of Dungeons and Dragons for as long as I can remember. Growing up I was super nerdy, I just couldn’t really get into it the right way. I wanted to collect comics but had no comic shop. I wanted to collect card games but my Mum wouldn’t let me. (Wisely she thought I’d waste money on it, spoilers: I did.) It was in school I ran my first D&D game and it was terrible. It was fun, don’t get me wrong, but we didn’t understand the rules or how to do anything. Roleplaying came naturally to me, I’ve been roleplaying all my life via text but we just didn’t really get it.

It was the end of my second year at university where we realised, we could just run a D&D game. My Game Art friends were completely like-minded individuals who were just the nerdiest of the nerds and it’s amazing. So when we saw the books for sale for 5th edition we pitched in together and I started making a campaign. With me as the Dungeon Master we started up that game. And while not all the people in that group stayed it became Midwinter, one of my games I keep going now, even though we've left university.

It was while discussing the Midwinter game that my friends back home got jealous and basically demanded I start off a campaign for them too, which I agreed to because I’m really nice. That second campaign, the Regents Blades, is also still going but with a completely different cast. I made the choice to put both campaigns in the same world and it’s brilliant.

I find D&D empowering in a weird way. I, as a Dungeon Master, set the scene, make a world for players to play in, and of course also act the part of the monsters and bad guys. We make a story together. A story that can have complete absurdity and craziness, but also seriousness and drama. It can have whatever we want. You can make whatever you want, be whatever you want. It’s escapism to the grandest. And I think in today's day and age, especially as me and my friends were forced into the real world, that escapism is really nice to have.

There’s something about Dungeons and Dragons, and tabletop roleplaying games in general. Everyone who plays them sort of gets a connection. It’s something I’ve noticed on Twitter but more than any other fandom I know we just get along. We can chat and joke and compare and it’s brilliant.


Magic & Musings:
I know you’ve created your own world where you set your comic series. Tell us a little about the series and Mikome. Where did you get inspiration for this from? Is this something you’re looking to expand on in the future?

Oli Smith:
I mentioned that I used to roleplay. What you do is you write a story between two or more people, but you play your own characters and write their parts. I’ve been writing stories like this for years. Mikome started because of that. I wanted a place to tell these stories, I wanted a place for my people to come from.

So Mikome was born, just over 10 years ago. At first it was a generic fantasy world, but with my own twists on it. As I got older and better at telling stories, I started changing things. The world naturally aged and went through technological revolutions and became what it is now, a sort of dark sci-fi fantasy world. And I still roleplay and write stories in it! I find Mikome very hard to describe. It’s got a little bit of everything. It has cyberpunk feel but magic and monsters, but the magic is more of a science and has a chance to kill you.

For a great example of the growth, the stories actually started in a world called Zetsumei. But that world was taken over by a hostile force and the characters became refugees fleeing to Mikome. There’s a whole universe of stories and places now, that I tenderly call the 'Extended Oliverse'.

Mikome takes inspiration from a little bit of everything I’ve ever watched, read or played. It starts off as an amalgam of ideas that I forge together and grow into a multitude of cool things. Stangely enough, the starting inspiration for what I wanted Mikome to be was based off the flowing long grasses, hills and forest lands of a Heath near my home. It always felt fantastical. I wanted my world to feel like that.

I’ve been wanting to do a comic in Mikome since it started, to be honest. It was after getting really sick during my third year of university I realised, why not? It’s what I want to do. I don’t have the expertise really or the knowledge, but why not just make it. Make what I want. So I did. The Mikome comic series at the moment focuses around a character called Gillian. She’s a high elf but the world is fairly multicultural, so that isn’t the main focus. She wants to be a hero. This is a world where adventurers used to save princesses and sometimes still do, so Gillian is literally a fangirl. She has posters of heroes on her wall, has action figures, she probably writes fan fiction and all. The whole idea of the current story arch is that Gillian as Who, her hero persona, is actually really bad at it. She has no idea what she’s doing and if it wasn’t for her engineering skills she’d already be dead. It’s a really fun story, I find.

As the comic continues I’ll move onto other characters and places and flesh them out. That’s what I know I’m good at. Making characters. It’s the same for DnD and everything else I do I can make memorable deep and interesting characters. I can also make the settings, lots of people tell me how much they like Mikome's atmosphere and the world itself. What I’m not that good at, and I can admit it, is story. But it’s just something that comes in time. Just like the art style, it’s taken me a little while to get it where I want it. I have lots of room to improve. The comic is a journey I'm sharing of me improving and becoming this comic book artist I want to be. So I really enjoy working on it and sharing it. It's fun.

Mikome will continue to grow. I’ve designed an entire Tabletop Roleplaying Game for Mikome that works off its themes and setting. It’s in testing phases now, I actually just started the first true campaign of it. Playing a game set in Mikome like this is actually like a dream come true and I’m really excited to share it when it’s finished.


Magic & Musings:
This is a question I like to ask purely because of the variety of answers I get! I’m really interested in how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done, like a milky cup of tea or a particular album of music you listen to? 

Oli Smith:
I don’t have any kind of ritual but I have one hell of a work station. My desk is where I live. You could tell, due to the semi-controlled mess. It’s a mixture of dice, models I’m painting, notes and snacks. I have three screens. One is for work, one is for reference images, and the last one is for something to watch. I almost always watch something and it’s usually trashy TV. Documentaries about prisons and cheesy American reality shows. These kind of background shows just sort of keep me going, weirdly enough.

One thing I do often is just listen to music. I have a great number of different inspiring playlists for different art moods. You should know, we shared music all the time. (It's true!) Well, we shared music for about two weeks before we had shared all the music we could find with each other. (Also true...) Music gets the mind going. More than anything, I find.

Magic & Musings:
What are your favourite tools you use to create your art?

Oli Smith:
I use Photoshop. It’s not the only tool you can use for digital art but it’s what I was taught to use at university. It’s industry standard so it’s sort of a good idea to keep it going. Even in Photoshop I only use a small handful of brushes. I remember being taught a long time ago that good digital art can get away with only using the basic brushes! As my style focuses on sketchiness and seeing the work, its awesome! I use a graphics tablet to paint and, honestly, I get the cheapest ones I can. I also do some pencil work, and somewhat controversially I only use mechanical pencils.

Magic & Musings:
What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out working in this creative field?

Oli Smith:
I wish I was encouraged a bit more to do my thing when I was younger. I only had one art teacher before university who encouraged me to do the things I enjoyed doing. I almost went an entire different route because I hated art at school so much. Luckily that teacher showed me how to do the work for the systems they had and let me embrace doing my own thing afterwards.Because as it turns out, my style is pretty cool. And people actually like it!

Magic & Musings:
Onto a fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song?

Oli Smith:
You’re going to hate this: I don’t read many books. (You're right, I do hate it.) It’s sad, and something I actually want to change. Weirdly I read a lot of rulebooks. For tabletop games and wargames and all sorts of things, I can sit and read those back-to-back. I think it’s the way they set the scene, that all the stories and worlds they open are made for such a specific purpose. It makes it different. I’d recommend from those Volo’s Guide for Monsters, one of the Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition books. Basically they go into huge detail about 5 or so types of fantasy monsters, all about their culture and religion and how you could use them in games. It is so fleshed out, it’s a joy to read!

Film-wise I will always encourage The Lego Movie. I’m a Lego nerd, and that’s why. There’s a lot more to it than a dumb kids movie, and it always makes me have the biggest dumbest smile on my face! Album-wise I’ve been listening to Everything Everything a lot recently. I’ve listened to everything! Arc or Get to Heaven are really fun listens. A mixture of fun and also kind of feelsy.

Magic & Musings:
Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work?

Oli Smith:
Well thank you for wanting to interview me! I know I’m not your usual interviewee. (I did make an exception to my interviewee spec purely because you're fab.)

Basically, all I try to do is make cool stuff. And I love other people making cool stuff. And I think that’s all the world needs to be! If you think my stuff is cool, check me out! I try to upload something every day on my Twitter and Facebook pages, as well as a tonne of sketches and paintings and a multitude of projects!

If anyone likes my stuff, my Twitter @Olirant is the best place to see my content! Followed up shortly by my website www.olismithart.net. And of course my Patreon, where helping me just $1 a month lets you see cool behind the scenes content and WIP gifs of my work! Oli Smith Art just about everywhere you can find me!

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Enjoying this series? Want to keep it going? Consider supporting me on Patreon for lots more exciting things in the future. Find out more here.

reading

Book Review: Ice Cream for Breakfast by Laura Jane Williams*

12:00 pm


* Thank you, thank you, thank you to Hodder and Stoughton for sending me a copy of Laura's new book. All opinions are my own and, come on, was I ever going to not love this? *

PRAISE THE GRECIAN GODS ABOVE, LAURA HAS A NEW BOOK AND I CAN HOLD IT IN MY TINY HANDS.

Laura, Laura, Laura. You know, Laura? If you don't, you should.

If you've been reading my blog since June last year, you'll know how much I loved Laura's book Becoming (review here!). Now, this book is incredibly different from her previous publication, but still boasts her wonderfully compelling, friendly, and strong voice. As you'll probably pick up reading through this post, I bloody love reading Laura's writing. There's something about it that just works for me. It's easy but complex, and not like anything I could attempt to write. She makes me want to try harder.

After releasing Becoming, Laura admits that she fell into a place where she could no longer write. She was anxious and depressed, no longer feeling the high of reaching her dream of getting a book published. So she became a nanny, earning some money and taking some time out. Ice Cream for Breakfast is a collection of life lessons she believes we should all follow that she learned during this time looking after three lovely little girls. Each chapter outlines one thing she learned from the girls, one event that caused her to realise a truth about life, and gives you ideas on how to implement that lesson yourself into your everyday existence. Some of these truths are ridiculously fun, some are a lot more serious. Allow yourself to be angry and then let it pass, speak the truth even when you think you shouldn't, laugh like you mean it, dream ridiculously big, forgive, adventure, improvise, love endlessly... Our bullshit adult problems are just that. Bullshit. Where did we learn that it's all got to be so bloody serious?

Much like Becoming, I sped through this at breakneck speed and now feel a little sad that, once again, I have ingested all of Laura's catalogue of writing. I'm always on her blog, reading through her updates, relishing in her voice and the tales she has to tell. She's pretty much one of my literary idols at this point. I fortunately now have the absolute joy of having a place booked on one of Laura's writing workshops. I've heard a lot about them, and they seem to draw in such a wonderful, inspiring selection of women. New friends, new ideas, new confidence! Stay tuned.

Ice Cream for Breakfast will be released by Hodder & Stoughton on April 20th. You can read more about Laura's reasons for writing it in her initial blog post announcing the book, as she'll do a better job than me! I really urge you to pick this up if you're facing any sort of life uncertainty, or feel like you've stopped having fun.

interview

Interview: Sarah Fisher on Paper Cafe, Typography, and Impostor Syndrome

10:00 am


This week I'm interviewing the lovely Sarah Fisher of Paper Cafe, a graphic designer and illustrator from Southsea in Portsmouth. She's been an absolute treasure to get to know and I'll certainly be following everything in store for her in her inevitably exciting future! We chatted about creative inspirations, getting ideas from the world around you, and her favourite projects she's worked on. Grab a cuppa, and meet Sarah with me!


Magic & Musings:
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Sarah! Would you like to introduce yourself and what you do? When did you first get into graphic design and illustration? Is this something you've been formally trained in?

Sarah Fisher:
Hello! I'm Sarah, I'm a freelance graphic designer and illustrator and I live and work in Southsea. I've always been an 'arty' person and some of my earliest memories are of painting flowers and patterns on a little easel in our kitchen when I was growing up. I studied Graphic Communication & Typography  at the University of Reading and fell in love with the way that type and images can be used to communicate ideas and to solve problems.

Magic & Musings:
When did you first start selling your designs online and did you find yourself overcoming any hurdles regarding your confidence?

Sarah Fisher:
After graduating from university I worked for a design agency for a couple of years before going freelance in 2015. As part of that I decided to open an Etsy shop called Paper Cafe to sell cards, prints, and wedding invitations. Before opening the shop, I had no idea if anyone would like my stuff, let alone buy it! As designers we are very susceptible to impostor syndrome and it's very easy to feel like we don't belong or that people won't like what we're producing, but I've learnt that there is a place for everyone in the creative world and that although it'll take hard work and determination, it is possible to find your niche.

Magic & Musings:
That's a very nice work ethos to have. Which female-identifying and non-binary artists, if any, would you say have been influences on your work? Do you have any favourites to look to when you need some inspiration or motivation?

Sarah Fisher:
One of my favourite current artists is Jessica Hische - she describes herself as a lettering artist and her typography is exquisite. Another of my favourite female typographers is Martina Flor whose technical precision and care always inspires me to push my own work to the next level.


Magic & Musings:
Of all of your designs, which are you the happiest with and why?

Sarah Fisher:
Two book projects spring to mind that I'm really happy with, the first is a 140-page book that I designed and typeset for a church in Reading. I loved the project because it gave me the opportunity to turn a long and complex piece of text into something fun and engaging to read, and the various constraints of the project forced me to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions. The other project that I absolutely loved working on was for Quadrille Publishing, where I had the chance to illustrate two colouring books for Cath Kidston. The amount of detail in the drawings was a bit mind-boggling at times but it's made me a much more confident illustrator.


Magic & Musings:
Both of those projects look absolutely stunning; I'm particularly in love with those colouring books! Now, I'm interested in knowing how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done? A specific hot drink? A relaxing album?

Sarah Fisher:
I usually work from home in our space room-turned-studio. I'm definitely a morning person so I try and get all my designing done before lunch, usually while listening to a 'focus' playlist on Spotify. In the afternoons, I often head down to a local coffee shop (Southsea has lots!) for a change of scenery and to get through some admin.

Magic & Musings:
What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively?


Sarah Fisher:
One of my favourite things to do if I've got creative block or am not feeling particularly motivated is to go outside (preferably down to the beach!) and just have a wander around. I'll almost certainly come back feeling inspired by the colours of the sea, some details on a plant, ghost signs on a building, or typography on a shop front.


Magic & Musings:
How wonderful to be so close to the sea! So, what are your favourite tools you use to create your designs? Are there any books on creativity and/or working for yourself you would recommend to others?


Sarah Fisher:
I'm a big fan of Adobe Creative Suite and use InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator every day. I also have a Wacom tablet which has been something of a lifesaver and I couldn't live without my Canon DSLR. I'm currently reading This Year Will Be Different by Monika Kanokova which I am thoroughly enjoying. It's a very practical guide for anyone wanting to start their business featuring lots of inspiring stories from entrepreneurial women. Next on my list is How to Style Your Brand by Fiona Humberstone.


Magic & Musings:
You've said to me that you're really interested in typography. What about typography captures your attention? Is there something in particular about the subject you'd like to talk about?


Sarah Fisher:
Whether or not we realise it, typography is all around us, all the time! I'm continually fascinated by the power of letters to communicate. My favourite part of my job is when I get to design typography in a way that solves people's problems - whether that's by making your book easy to read, or helping your poster convey information effectively, or designing your logo in a way that reflects your business.

Magic & Musings:
I have a rather burgeoning collection of books about typography so I'm definitely with you there. What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out working in design?


Sarah Fisher:
I wish someone told me that inspiration often comes from the most unlikely of sources. It's easy to scroll through Instagram or Pinterest looking for inspiration, and while they have their value, often my most unique and exciting designs have come from other inspiration that I've spotted while out and about.


Magic & Musings:
Time for a fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song?


Sarah Fisher:
I do love a good book. Lately I've been getting into John Grisham books - perfect bedtime reading and worlds apart from the creative scene! For a film, if you haven't seen Lion yet, then you really should. It's SO good. An album I'd recommend would be The Social Network soundtrack - a bit of an odd choice I know, but always gets my brain in gear and I like to work away pretending that I'm Mark Zuckerberg making the next big thing ;)


Magic & Musings:
I absolutely adore that soundtrack; I completely understand your interest in it! So, thank you for answering my questions, Sarah. Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work?


Sarah Fisher:
Thank you so much for having me! :) You can see more of my work over on my blog at papercafe.co.uk where you'll find lots of creative DIYs, project and design work, photography adventures, and lots more. I'm also on Instagram, Twitter, and have an Etsy shop

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Enjoying this series? Want to keep it going? Consider supporting me on Patreon for lots more exciting things in the future. Find out more here.

personal

The art of asking for money (I got a Patreon)

8:36 am

Image Credit: @flenjoore
'From what I've seen, it isn't so much the act of asking that paralyzes us--it's what lies beneath: the fear of being vulnerable, the fear of rejection, the fear of looking needy or weak. The fear of being seen as a burdensome member of the community instead of a productive one.' - Amanda Palmer.

In The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer write about how crucial it is to ask people for things. About how it makes us in turn vulnerable and strong, but it's what we need to do it we want to progress and create and grow as a person.

I set up a Patreon account at the weekend. For those of you who don't know what it is, it's a service 'creators' can sign up to and ask people to become patrons, who pay the creator money either every time they release something new, or monthly. Rewards and perks and goals are set up in order to see the creator's progress, and for them to give something back to their patrons above the work they create. I've set up some rewards, some a little silly and others to do with my writing.

So I'm asking you to look at my Patreon account. If you like what I do, or want me to do more of what I promised I'm going to do (that short story collection isn't going to write itself), then you could sign up to give $1 on a monthly basis. Or don't, it's your call. But the option is there. I know we don't all have money to burn, but I figured this was the first step towards that whole 'becoming a paid writer' thing. Depending on yourself and the support of those around you.

You can find my page here. $10 a month will get you a copy of my ebook when that eventually happens. For $25 a month you could even be in it.

I asked, like Amanda told me to. Now it's time to not feel weird about it. Usual content will resume on Wednesday!

interview

Interview: Hayley Jordan on Palace Lungs, Funky Basslines, and Björk

10:00 am


Today I'm interviewing the superbly wonderful Hayley Jordan, aka one of my loveliest, kindest friends who I've had the pleasure of knowing since school. She's pretty much a badass and she spoke to me about her musical venture, Palace Lungs. I really hope you enjoy what Hayley has to say, are motivated by her messages, and check out her music at the end!


Magic & Musings:
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Hayley! Would you like to introduce yourself and what you do? When did you first get into making music? Is this something you've been formally trained in, or a hobby that turned into a business?

Hayley Jordan:
No problem, I'm happy to help! My name is Hayley Jordan, I'm a trans woman, and I make music. I'm currently song-writing and producing music under the alias Palace Lungs, as well as studying Music, Technology, and Innovation at De Montfort University in Leicester. Around the age of 12-3, I started to teach myself the guitar, and this is what sparked my interest in making music, which would eventually lead to learning how to create music on my computer. For a long time it was just a hobby. I would make music with friends, or just learn new ways of writing music. I was always told or given the impression that making music was not a job, and so I never perceived it as one. During my time in college studying Music Technology, one of my assignments was to release an album or an EP on the college record label. I took this opportunity as a chance to release my own music, and it paid off really well as I'm still making music under the same alias!

Magic & Musings:
That really does sound like it was a good opportunity for you! Did you find yourself having to overcome any hurdles when it came to initially sharing your music with the world?

Hayley Jordan:
I doubted myself a lot to begin with. I wasn't musically trained at a young age, and I was always comparing my music and feeling like it was never good enough. I still feel the same way not, but instead of seeing it as a disadvantage, I'm trying to flip it and use it as determination to get better.

Magic & Musings:
I think that's the best way of dealing with those feelings when it comes to creative work. Which female creatives, if any, would you say have inspired your work the most? Do you have anyone you look to when you need some inspiration or motivation?

Hayley Jordan:
Nora En Pure was a huge influence towards my music early on, more specifically her track 'Come With Me'. I loved the way she incorporated piano and strings alongside a funky bassline and a butt-grooving drum beat. Her songs always had a positive feeling about them; they inspired me to recreate this feeling within my own music. In my recent album, Paradise, you can definitely hear Nora En Pure as a source of inspiration. Grimes is another musician who has been quite an influence on me. She's very in control of her artistic intention and her music is really unique and refreshing to listen to.


Magic & Musings:
I'm interested in knowing how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done? A specific hot drink? A relaxing album?

Hayley Jordan:
A coffee is always a must! I also try to do a bit of brainstorming before I jump into something, just a list of ideas about what I should try. I tend to forget about things when I'm working spontaneously so writing stuff down helps quite a bit.
 
Magic & Musings: 
Of all of your music, which pieces are you happiest with, and why?

Hayley Jordan:
It would either be 'Wonder' featuring Evie Kerr, or 'Paradise'. I was really proud of 'Wonder' when I made it and when I got to hear Evie's vocals alongside it, I got goosebumps. I couldn't quite believe that I had made something that sounded as well as it did. I still get quite impressed by it when I listen back. When writing 'Paradise' I felt rather depressed and hopeless; I feel like it represents that perfectly. I also taught myself how to use a vocal emulation program (Vocaloid), because I wanted the song to feature vocals but I couldn't find a vocalist in time.


Magic & Musings:
'Paradise' is probably one of my favourites too. It's got such a good chilled out summer vibe! Next question: what do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively?

Hayley Jordan:
Either by taking a break, or by trying to improve on what's holding me back. Quite recently I've been working on my song writing and I've been really struggling with it. In order to help myself out I looked for articles and videos on the subject; I came across a TEDx talk with Rachel Claudio that was about translating feeling into sound, and suddenly I'm back on track.

Magic & Musings:
I love it when you suddenly find that magical piece of inspiration that gets you back in the zone! What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out working in music?

Hayley Jordan:
It's okay if somebody else's song sounds better than yours. Try to learn why it does and then find a way of implementing it into your own song.

Magic & Musings:
Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song?

Hayley Jordan:
Icons of Pop Music: Björk by Nicola Dibben is a wonderful book that gives insight into Björk's uniqueness. I watched The Ides of March a couple of weeks ago, and I've not been able to get it out of my head. Voyager by Fleece is an album I came across recently. It's a beautiful album that has something nostalgic about it.


Magic & Musings:
I adore Björk, so I'll be sure to check that book out. Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work? What's in store for Palace Lungs in the future?

Hayley Jordan:
I've been super busy with university work recently but I had a 4-track EP coming out sometime in May. I'm also looking to develop a live set-up for the future; I've been wanting to do it for a while now. All of my music is available on Youtube, Soundcloud, or Bandcamp.

You can follow Hayley's journey as Palace Lungs on Facebook here, or on her website here.

interview

Interview: Katie Houghton on Sistra Zine, Cats, and the Future of Print

12:00 pm


If any of you follow me anywhere online, you'll know that I've been on the lookout for exciting creatives to talk to as a continuation of my interview series, and, goodness, I've been overwhelmed by the response I've had. So many bright-eyed, intelligent, and inspiring humans have been in contact with me, and I can't wait for you all to read what's in store for the future.

(I had to make a ruddy spreadsheet.)

Today I'm interviewing the lovely Katie Houghton, the creator of Sistra Zine, and human of many interests. We get to talking about editorial work, distracting cats, inspirational women, and why zines are just damn awesome. I hope you enjoy hearing what Katie has to say; I know I did! You know when you can just tell via email that someone is really fun and happy? That's Katie. She's an absolute star.


Magic & Musings:
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Katie! Would you like to introduce yourself and what you do?

Katie Houghton:
Hi! My name's Katie Houghton, I'm a 26-year-old editor from London. I've worked editorially in a lot of different areas, from music and record distribution to restaurants and hospitality. I have a cat named Iggy, a boyfriend called Slug, and so strong a love of pickles that I bought a set of silver, vintage pickle forks to enjoy them in all their refinery...straight from the jar.

Magic & Musings:
A woman after my own heart. Here's the million dollar question: why zines?

Katie Houghton:
I've always liked zines and independent publications. They're a lot more loose in terms of content and aren't really defined by any set rules, so they're a really fun, honest, and almost humble way of getting a message out there, whatever the message might or needs to be. I've seen zines purely geared to political commentary and zines created with the only aim of sharing 24 pictures of phallic bananas, it's anyone's game.

Magic & Musings:
Oh wow! Looks like I've been missing out on a lot of important publications! So, what was your first introduction into the wild world of zines?

Katie Houghton:
Probably a couple of years ago in Sweden. I've always known what zines are, but never really bought or considered them all that much until then. After a couple of friends of mine created BBY Magazine and we went to the launch night in Gothenburg, I've been interested in them ever since.

Magic & Musings:
I've been eying up Gothenburg as a holiday destination for a while now. Even more reasons to go! What, in your opinion, makes a good zine? What are some of your favourites and are there any we should keep our eye out for?

Katie Houghton:
Zines used to be big on the underground, punk editorial scene and they're making a pretty impressive comeback, meaning it's not hard to find great examples these days. I think it's hard to say what makes a good zine because they're not bound to anything definite. I think all I need to see in a zine is a love for the content, a great correlation between imagery and text, and just a general level of fun. Zines can be so gritty and uninhibited, so it's nice to see commitment to them in any shape or form. I really like Spellbook Zine, Prawnstar Poems, and Sula Collective. They're a lot different to my zine, but they're evocative and unique. If I was to name a magazine that really did inspire me however it would be The Quarterly: Tribes.

Magic & Musings:
Adding all of those to my shopping basket. Out of all of your work, past, present, and future, what are you most proud of and why?

Katie Houghton:
While I may no work in restaurant editorials forever, my current job has to have been one of the most rewarding. I've not only helped launch over 15 different websites with them, I've learned so much about becoming an editor and what level of management that takes. It also helps that my role has taken me to some of the most amazing restaurants, events, and theatres shows in the UK. That'll do nicely.

Magic & Musings:
Sounds like a pretty sweet deal. Do you have any specific aims when you make zines, such as a particular message you want to communicate?

Katie Houghton:
There's nothing set when it comes to Sistra and I'd love to keep it that way. Everything changes over time, and I kind of want to keep that fluidity. The only thing I want to make sure is that our content and writer base stays female throughout. However 'female' can, is, or needs to be interpreted.


Magic & Musings:
On my blog, I love talking about women, f-identitfying, and non-binary artists and their work. Who, if anyone, would you say has been an influence on your work? Do you have any favourites to look to when you need some inspiration or motivation?

Katie Houghton:
I think my friends are the biggest influence on my work for sure. Sometimes famous figureheads are hard to relate to on a personal level, so it's some of the women in my life that have been my biggest drivers. From my friend Leyya who started her own creative company geared towards supporting women of colour, to my friend Ina who spent months getting to know refugees in the Calais camps, I'm surrounded by so many amazing ladies, sometimes I have to sit back and take stock of how lucky I am.

Magic & Musings:
Goodness. What wonderful humans your friends are! Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done? A specific hot drink? A relaxing album?

Katie Houghton:
I can't be too near a window or a cat; nothing much gets done with that puss around. For me the ideal is perched against the radiator, curtains closed, and a bit of heavy metal on the go. It sounds strange and I know it's not ideal for everyone but metal is so fun and furious that it really helps me just go for it. If the environment is too relaxed or casual, I'll likely just find cheese and watch TV insead.

Magic & Musings:
I feel the fun and fury of metal goes well with the fun and fury of zines! Maybe that's what it works so well? So, what do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively? Are there any books on writing and creativity you would recommend to others?

Katie Houghton:
I normally just take myself out of the situation. It's pretty much that simple. Writing can become very stale very quickly, and there's nothing worse than committing to something when you don't have anything to say. I'd rather leave then return to a project at a rate that suits me, than force myself into creating something that feels just 'so-so'.

Magic & Musings:
Have you ever explored working in another medium? Is this something you would consider in the future?

Katie Houghton:
I'm lucky enough to have worked editorially in both digital and print, so I've seen both sides of the coin when it comes to content. Print isn't dead as some are saying; it's just consumed differently now. Digital media is so much more visual as a standard, but so is this kind of print. It's about finding that happy balance as an editor.

Magic & Musings:
What one thing do you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out working in this field?

Katie Houghton:
That printing your own zine doesn't actually come cheap. I naively went into the first issue of Sistra thinking that the cost of a couple hundred, 24-page magazines would be a financial doddle. I could have gone the normal zine route and put a photocopier to good use, but my boyfriend went above and beyond when it came to the design so it deserved the same respect when it came to the printing process. We were lucky to know someone that could cut us a deal, but even then it's not a small price to pay.



Magic & Musings:
And time for a fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song?

Katie Houghton:
Absolutely! I just started reading The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood and can't put it down. It's the perfect mix of socialism, gender commentary, dystopia, and sci-fi rolled into one. Everyting I read normally covers sci-fi in some kind of sense, and I started it just as International Women's Day came calling, so the time was just right. I'd say in terms of film I really enjoyed Beyond the Gates. It's a big of cheap indie scripting, 80s-filtered horror, and light humour all rolled into one. For an album at the moment it's Nailbiter by Looming. I got it on vinyl for Christmas and love the airy, yet antagonist indie.

Magic & Musings:
Thank you so much for letting me interview you today, Katie. It's been a pleasure finding out more about you and your creations! Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work?

Katie Houghton:
Be nice to animals and follow us on Instagram here!

writing

Yes, I'm writing a collection of novellas...

11:04 am

Image Credit: @anniespratt

No, I don't know when they're going to be done, but I do know that it's happening and all of the updates will be here. This is an exercise in 'fuck it, you like writing and you have ideas, bloody well show people even if you've convinced yourself you're crap'.

A little background:

The working title for the collection is Divinity, with each story centering around a different woman in an alien landscape, whether literally an alien planet, or just a place that is unfamiliar to her, physically or mentally. Cryptic, yes. This could all change.

The first is the titular story, 'Divinity', based on a mysterious planet where a quiet bounty hunter is taking her catch, a cyborg, to the extraction point. I know you're not supposed to have a favourite child, but this is by far the idea I'm the most excited about.

The second is 'The Work 'Outing'', where a team-building exercise goes a little off-course, the protagonist finding herself disappearing into the world of the fae, only to discover they are a little more aggressive than initially expected. I've posted a little extract from this before on my blog, which you can read here.

The final story is based on a character from a D&D campaign I played who eventually left the group after it felt like her story was over. The fact I can't stop thinking about her leads me to believe that isn't quite the case. This story will be told in two perspectives: that of the broken elfin cleric looking for a new deity, and a scrappy young half-elf thief looking for a hiding place. This one doesn't quite have a title yet as it's the least developed of them all at this point, and names will have to be changed in order to not infringe on my friend Oli's fantastic world-building.

Again: this could all change. But the goal is set, and they will of course all be fantasy and science-fiction. I couldn't write contemporary fiction if I tried.

P.S. The best part is that I don't even proof my blog posts because I can't be bothered, so how the hell am I going to proof fiction that I have written.

personal

Girl's got herself a newsletter (and a Facebook page!)

2:37 pm

Image Credit: @oliverthomasklein

This is a thing people do, right?

I've gone and made myself a newsletter.

Shaking off the feeling that this is incredibly self-absorbed and trying to embrace it as a way to share things I like and, more importantly I guess for this new 'freelance writer' thing I'm doing, a way to share things I've written in places other than this blog.

It's called 'meg fandango & the magical mystery tour', because why on earth not? You can sign up below. There's not much to worry about, cluttering-up-your-inbox wise as there's not really a schedule for it yet. I'm not going to be publishing posts across the web every single week, so this will pop into your internet tubes whenever it's necessary.

It would be nice if you signed up, so it's not just my one amazingly adorable friend from work who is reading my random typings (hi K!).

P.S. I also have a fancy new Facebook page where you can keep up to date with all of my new posts, if that's how you roll. Basically, there are lots of ways to legally stalk me now, so make the most of it before I decide this is a bad idea.




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haul

And so she bought vinyl...

10:00 am


Vinyl shopping may have become my new book shopping. When shopping in Brighton last weekend for my boyfriend's birthday, I thought, naturally, that the best memento would be a record. I'm not sure how much sense that makes but I do now have a copy of Pure Heroine by Lorde, one of my favourite albums. I bought this from Cult Hero for £20 and had to spend the rest of the day carrying it around. On the beach, across the pier, through the Sea Life Centre. Surprisingly it's still very shiny and new.


Spring forward to Monday afternoon and we're at Cambridge market, drawn in by a sign that says 'SALE £2 VINYL'. How could you not? Dancing on the Ceiling. The soundtrack to The Graduate. The best of Marvin Gaye. 'Take Me Home' by Phil Collins, the most addictive song of all time. Huey Lewis and the Mother-Freakin' News, 'Power of Love' from Back to the Ruddy Future!

You've never had a good morning until you've gotten up and immediately put 'Dancing on the Ceiling' on. I think my neighbours hate me for playing the extended mix of 'Power of Love' six times in a row at 8am. I'm saving the Simon & Garfunkel for when I really need to feel morose.





lifestyle

teatourist February Subscription Box*

9:00 am


* Thank you to teatourist for sending me their February subscription box to try for free; all tea-ish opinions are of course brewed in my own noggin and served to you fresh *

Waking up in the morning to a package of tea coming through your letterbox is pretty damn dreamy, especially when you're trying to cut out the coffee. Even decaf doesn't seem to be sitting well with me these days. So, as we all expected, tea is the answer, as well as peace, but we're talking about tea today.

teatourist is a Derbyshire-based subscription service that sends six loose leaf teas to your door each month, chosen from fantastic companies around the UK, alongside detailed brewing instructions and tasting details. Each  box contains a variety of tea types, from potent black teas to a dreamy oolong, with each sample containing around four cups worth of heavenly goodness. Founded by Joss in March 2016 as a way to allow tea-drinkers to try fancy new brews without shoveling out money on whole packs they might not even like, teatourist tries to send out samples that you might not otherwise pick up. I know I'm not often one to stray from my usual breakfast tea in the mornings, and I have only a small selection of herbal teas that I stick by, so I'm completely sold on this idea.


The February teatourist box contains:

Blend No. 45 by Edgcumbes Tea Blenders - A punchy black tea that I brewed like I would my usual morning brew. A little soya milk and a tiny dash of sugar. This had an incredibly strong smokey smell before I even brewed it.

Cherry Sencha by Cheshire Tea - A relaxing green tea without the tang. I love the red berry hints of this one, and if you stick your nose in the packet it smells like cherryade. Thankfully that doesn't really carry over to the taste!

Brockley Breakfast by the Good & Proper Tea Co. - A vamped-up breakfast tea that I had with a splash of soya milk. Hints of oolong (in my opinion!) and very soothing. This is their first house blend and combines four different black teas: Assam, Kenya, Ceylon, and Darjeeling.

Black Tea & Dandelion by Oteas - A flavoured black detox tea with dandelion root, said to help aid digestion and weight loss.

Gunpowder Tea by the UK Loose Leaf Tea Company - A pleasantly bitter green tea that really woke up my taste buds! The craftsmanship that goes into gunpowder tea is absolutely phenomenal; each leaf is rolled into small balls once they have been withered and steamed and then they are dried.

Ben Shan Oolong by Tea in the City - A lovely smokey oolong ready to wake you up in the morning. I really, really liked this one and it's a teatourist exclusive! I think oolong is quickly becoming one of my favourite varie-teas.


teatourist one-off boxes start at £15, and rolling monthly subscriptions start at £12 including delivery. The package fits perfectly through your letterbox so there's no worries about having to be home for your tea-livery every month, and their website is crammed with five star reviews. To find out more about teatourist boxes, click here, and you can also follow the team on Twitter or Instagram

reading

Book Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman*

12:00 pm


* Thank you to Penguin Random House for sending me a gorgeous copy of this book, all opinions are of course my own *

Pardon my language, but The Power is fucking incredible. Top quality contemporary speculative fiction exists and it's being written by Naomi Alderman. I haven't felt so chilled by a book in a long time, not just from the imagery in it, but from its ideas. As someone who wrote their masters dissertation on feminist dystopian fiction, this was always going to be right up my street, following in the eye-opening footsteps of Marge Piercy, Le Guin, and Joanna Russ (praise be, The Female Man).

We are greeted by a dystopian world, a recognisable world, but this time, young girls are developing powers. With a small twist in their chests they can shock people they touch, create arcs of electricity strong enough to kill, and in turn dominate society through fear. We focus on four characters: a young Nigerian man caught in the middle of the world changing around him, a troubled foster child abused by a religious family, a female politician whose daughter struggles with her newfound power, and a Londoner brought up surrounded by brothers. Each character is an engaging as the one before them, with stories unique enough to set them apart and give a new perspective on the events that unfold. Themes of religion and gender (naturally) are touched upon heavily, with the building blocks of society shifting to something both completely unfamiliar and eerily recognisable. Mary becomes the figurehead of Christianity, Tara for Buddhists, and so on. Men are raped and mutilated in the streets so sex is no longer physically pleasurable for them, but searingly painful, and sometimes deadly, a mirror image of the world's troubles with FGM.

From beginning to end I found this book chilling, but endlessly engrossing. There is no moral to the story, no lesson we can take away. There is no 'right side' to be on. Everyone is troubled and misguided, so if you want to feel completely conflicted, shocked, and confused, pick up a copy of this book. I really do believe this will go down as a classic in the canon on dystopian fiction. Now, I haven't read a lot of Atwood but people have been saying this is very reminiscent of her writing. To me it reminds me a lot of Angela Carter's The Passion of New Eve, where a civil war has broken out in a dystopian America between the sexes. That also contains horrifying scenes of forced genital mutilation and rape, similar to those seen in The Power. So if you enjoyed (enjoyed definitely being the wrong word) New Eve, I think you'll like The Power, and if you've read The Power, give Carter a go! She's ace.