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Darker Fables

Writing. Adventures, maybe? Exciting, definitely.

Songs to Write to

Progress is slow for me at the moment. I’ve been doing quite well with regular blogging, but my novel is moving forward with all the speed of a legless zombie in the mud (I’ve been watching too much of The Walking Dead).

I had a new idea, for a short story, however, so I’m going to have a stab at that tomorrow on the coach home.

I’ll go in armed with a few new tunes for inspiration, and here they are.

1. Allie X – Paper Love

A super-catchy, zesty piece. I think it makes an ideal soundtrack for badass ladykillers, or badass killers, doing what they do best.

2. Rebecca Ferguson – We’ll Be Fine

Considering what an amazing voice this woman has, she is so underrated. You can find both jazz and pop in her albums. Often her songs have a mellow quality, but this is among her more energetic pieces. I find it very uplifting.

3. Porter Robinson & Madeon – Shelter

Given the monster view count on the official video of this song, I think most people have heard this one, but sometimes the mainstream isn’t all about the money, and jewels break through the surface of mediocrity to be recognised. The official video is also a real treat, if you like having your heart broken.

4. Kronic (Feat. Leon Thomas) – Rendevouz

I’ve had this song on repeat for two days, so it would be unfair to keep it to myself. I really wish I knew places where music like this was played, because this is one for dancing. I’ve been using it to imagine chase and fight scenes.

It’s time I went and packed, but hopefully I’ll soon have a story to share. I’ll keep you posted!

Years

Oh, sweet land in the hills
of memory.

Do you remember me?

I have returned with my horses,
wearing finer raiment.

A raven flies ahead
to tell my people of my coming,
like news of a loved one
buried abroad.

I arrive glittering in the sun,
helmeted silver, with gauntlets,
cuirass and greaves.

Do I frighten you?

I have done the things I said I would,
only that, though my world has changed
and I am not who you thought.

Chevalier, I, though I wear the colours
with an apology.

Your loyalty meant so little to me.

I saw you in the blood of dragons,
the ones that I had slain,
and wanted to pillow my head
on your shoulder.

I have no mother now, besides the moon.

My father forgave me, but forgot
everything,
including my existence.

Every mile had only your name,
and in all my battles
you were with me.

My misery, my joy,
tell me it has not been so long
that I shall never see your face again.

Standing here, with my squire,
standard, and baggage train,
I have come washed clean.

Purgatory is behind me.

You, among the willows,
in your brocade gold,
look up.

Tell me that I am finally home.

© Deanna Scutt, 2017

Review: Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’

Carmilla
Illustration from The Dark Blue by D.H. Friston

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I love vampires. The classic, predatory type in combination with a historical setting and a nuanced undertone of rampant sexuality.

The genre has changed beyond all recognition over recent decades, and I seldom find gems among the hordes of new bloodsuckers. Sometimes there is nowhere to go but back to the classics, and it doesn’t come more classic than Carmilla. This novella predates Dracula by more than twenty-five years, but its age is actually quite hard to believe. For one thing, the language, as compared with other classic texts (I’m looking at you, Ivanhoe) is not challenging.

Also, this is undeniably a lesbian vampire story.

‘It was like the ardor of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet over-powering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips traveled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, “You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one for ever.”

A quick summary: Laura and her father live with their servants in a backwater castle. Following an accident, a passing carriage leaves a mysterious young woman in their care – the ravishing Carmilla.

Young, friendless and naïve, Laura is quickly drawn under the spell of this secretive stranger, who is quite different from the sweet invalid she appears to be. As Laura begins to sicken, questions are raised about the kindly attentions of her new companion.

Really, if you’ve read any book about vampires, you’ll go into this one knowing what to expect, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good read. In fact, compared with many a vampire novel, this short text is refreshing, and deserving of its legacy. I think when it comes to the crunch I still prefer Dracula, but it’s not difficult to see what a debt Stoker’s masterpiece owes to Carmilla. 

‘Now the truth is, I felt rather unaccountably towards the beautiful stranger. I did feel, as she said, “drawn towards her,” but there was also something of repulsion. In this ambiguous feeling, however, the sense of attraction immensely prevailed. She interested and won me; she was so beautiful and so indescribably engaging.’

The vampire of this novella is the original incarnation of Lucy, and I think without her the legions of seductive vampiric noblewoman in Gothic fiction would never have been.

Stoker certainly took what Le Fanu had written and bettered it, but in some ways Carmilla is the more groundbreaking text. Unlike many of his Victorian contemporaries, Le Fanu does not shy away from the sexual undertones. They are so heavily present that it’s difficult to honestly label them as something entirely below the surface.

The interactions between Laura and Carmilla are charged with sexual energy, and there is a lascivious, visceral quality to Carmilla’s behaviour that contrasts with Laura’s waxen, slightly limp temperament. As ever in the Gothic, the two women represent the extremes of femme fatale and innocent virgin, but this is one of few Gothic texts which I have read in which the two types of women interact on a basis so fundamental to the plot.

“But to die as lovers may–to die together, so that they may live together.”

Overall, Carmilla is something of an enigma, since despite a little research I can find no satisfying answer as to what inspired it, but it is a good read. (Also, at just over 100 pages, it’s nothing resembling a commitment!)

It’s undoubtedly one of the founding texts of the Gothic genre, and deserves more credit than it has received in the mainstream for being a precursor to Dracula. So go on. It won’t bite.

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Van Helsing (2004)

Summer in Paris

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As I mentioned in my Amsterdam post, I’m going home in a few days. It will be the first time I’ve been in the UK for more than a weekend since I moved to Paris. I anticipate that it’s going to be one of the strangest experiences of my life.

I have a friend who emigrated when she was younger, and she says that the oddest thing for her was not the going away and finding a new country different from her own, but the fact that for all that her experiences abroad changed her, she arrived home to find the place where she grew up completely unaltered.

My family and my homeland are certainly not vacuum-packed, and I’m sure that there are things which have shifted since I’ve been gone, but not my room at my parents’ house, or the old streets of the city where I studied and worked, and which is so familiar to me that I can close my eyes and walk the high street from end to end.

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I’m going home to a city which has started to forget me, but which remains stamped on my character like a iron-wrought brand. I think if there’s an appropriate time to reflect on my first four months of Parisian life, this is it.

It’s nothing original to say, but I’ve learnt so muchI’ve made a friend not just from another culture, but another continent. I’ve danced by the Seine under the light of the moon. I’ve worked with children, some of them terrible, one of them the loveliest little boy, who made me feel better about everything. I’ve had my first date with a foreigner, and I did it in French. I was misread, and got fired, something I never imagined would happen to me. I left my friends in the UK behind, and in doing so I found out just how much I am loved. I forgot who I was, but then I started writing again. My life in Paris has not been perfect, but it has been my life, to live selfishly, with passion, and in complete freedom.

The most important lesson has been one about myself: I am stronger than I thought.

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Paris, like all big cities, is a place where dreams are made or broken, where every day someone finds inspiration, and another person gives up. I have experienced both ends of the spectrum during the past four months.

It’s really difficult to admit that you’re on the wrong path. Harder still when you’ve spent time and money, and made greater sacrifices, just to get so far. But I was not where I was meant to be, and I see that now. I wanted to become a writer because I thought that would be enough for me to express myself. I know now that it isn’t, and I know also that before I wasn’t brave enough to admit what I really wanted to do.

Of course I’m going to continue writing until I’m dead or dribbling, but my aspirations have changed. No longer is writing my be-all-and-end-all goal, and my motives for lifting the pen have changed. These day, I want to use my writing to humanitarian ends, by writing serious novels that aren’t just about action and romance, and by making a switch from a creative career into the hard, analytical world of law.

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I’ve been slow off the mark. I know that. 22 is not the ideal age to discover what it is you really want to do. The next couple of years are going to be tough, not just in terms of catching up academically, but also adjusting to exams instead of coursework, providing for myself financially, and proving myself as worthy of a law career as those who knew it was what they wanted from the get-go.

But it won’t be impossible. Paris has given me the confidence that comes with independence. It might take me a while to get there, but in a few years I will be working in London, and hopefully around the world. I just have to maintain my conviction, work hard, and see it through.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m grateful, for being here, living this life, and having the chances I’ve had. My French is getting there slowly, and though I’m still as useless as I ever was when it comes to men, I am freer than I ever was. I have managed, at last, to ‘find myself’, and experience all that cliché gap year personal growth that has made some for cringey writing, and a better relationship with my own soul.

The Water Town

City of vice Amsterdam may be, but it is also a city of tulips, painters, boats and bicycles. It’s a place I was always curious to visit.

Amsterdam is smaller than Paris, and far quieter. There are only a handful of metro lines, and the inner city is connected by a series of trams. The expected bedtime is earlier than you would think, since both these forms of transport stop running at 00:30, but there are night buses which will get you home if you came to party hard.

I didn’t visit for the drugs, or for the prostitutes in any carnal sense. I took the trip with a friend, and considered it something of an intellectual venture (albeit with drinks). I wanted to see, and to learn, and to fill my head up with something new before going home for the summer.

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One of the many canals, at midnight

We stayed in a hotel at Bullewijk, which is about twenty minutes from Centraal Station by metro. A word to the wise: don’t try to find decent accommodation in Amsterdam on a budget. Unless you’re willing to share a room with ten teenagers who stink of weed, you’re not going to get anything cheap.

Financially, we were pretty much ruined before we even arrived in the city, but after eight grueling hours on the coach we scraped together enough to buy our 72 hour passes. Transport here is charged by the hour, rather than by distance, or destination. (The price is more expensive than Paris, but still a slashed reduction compared with London).

Our first night out was spent at Leidseplein, a picturesque square which houses an assortment of bars and restaurants, as well as the ever-present Irish pub and McDonald’s which no city I have ever visited seems to be without. Food in Amsterdam can be quite pricey, but there are good deals, including unlimited spare ribs for less than €10, which appeared to be something of a local favourite.

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Bullewijk Station

Another note on food is that bakeries, which are situated on just about every street, make a good port of call. There are a variety of European and specifically Dutch fancies, like walnut pretzels, goat’s cheese pizzas, and tartlets in every flavour.

On our first morning we navigated our way to the Van Gogh Museum with a pastry sitting in just the right spot to see us through to lunchtime.

It started to rain. We’re talking a torrential downpour, for which I, sans umbrella, was woefully unprepared. Our plans to visit several museums during the day were quickly scuppered when we realised that there are no admission concessions for young people and students in The Netherlands. In fact, after reluctantly parting with €17 each, we resolved that some serious accommodations would have to be made.

Expensive as it was, however, the Van Gogh Museum is an impressive place, featuring not only a selection of the artist’s masterpieces, but those of his contemporaries, his inspirations, and those who have followed his artistic legacy. There is also a large collection of Van Gogh’s letters, and the museum provides deep insight into him as a person, as well as his growth as an artist over the years of his short, brilliant career.

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Section from Van Gogh’s The Courtesan (after Eisen)

It was also our first introduction to Amsterdam’s sexual side, since Van Gogh was himself a frequent purveyor of ladies of the night, and they are featured in several of his paintings, including the Japanese-inspired picture above. Van Gogh’s infamous ear even wound up in the hands of a prostitute, when he gave it to her.

Somehow I doubt she appreciated it.

We decided to make a better attempt at having a night out on the Friday, and after traipsing about a variety of clubs we settled in Escape, at Rembrandtplein, and danced the night away, together with a multitude of international tourists and a handful of the elusive local youth.

It’s quite sad to admit, but I think at the mere age of 22, the discotheque has lost its intrigue for me. It was fun, and I won’t deny that I love to dance, but I find it hard to understand how I once thought nightclubs could be gateways to romance. I think as you get older you start to realise what a gulf there is between sex and love. Nightclubs are a good place to go with friends, to dance and let loose, but they are full of bad behaviour, and in Amsterdam most people you find out after dark are, unsurprisingly, stoned.

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Amsterdam at dusk

After a late start on the Saturday we took a boat tour around the city’s picturesque canals (A UNESCO World Heritage site) with a jolly South African captain, and then made our way to the famous Red Light District to see what there was to be seen.

It is a strange place. Really that’s the only way I can describe it. The openness of it is in such sharp contrast to the conservative values of my native England that I found it quite shocking to see the women at their windows, dressed to the nines in their latex and seven inch heels. I can’t imagine what people in my grandparents’ generation must make of it.

There’s a small interactive museum, styled as the brothel it once was, which offers a frank, honest appraisal of Dutch prostitution, as well as an overview of the situation in different countries around the world. I came away not sure what I thought, but with a newfound respect for these women (male prostitution does not seem to be a matter of such open discussion).

They clearly take some pride in their work, and maybe legal prostitution isn’t the most morally upright thing in the world, but I don’t believe it’s that wrong, either. Certainly there is something extremely admirable about the Dutch and their commitment to eradicating trafficking and the other, often unspoken, horrors of the sex industry.

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Confession wall at The Museum of Prostitution

Ruminating on the day’s experiences and unusual sights, we took the metro back to the hotel, freshened up, and decided to make the most of our last night in the city. We went out to a bar near Leidseplein, and discussed the weekend over an obligatory Heineken whilst other tourists danced around us.

In the morning there was time only for one last pretzel before we arrived at Sloterdjik and boarded the coach for the long drive back to Paris.

I wish, I think, that I had visited Amsterdam when I was eighteen, instead of 22. It’s a delightful city, in which the old brushes up against the new in the most elegant fashion, but these days I’m not as wild as I used to be, and I no longer have an adolescent’s rent-free disposable income. Certainly there’s a lot to see in Amsterdam that I didn’t get chance to – the Anne Frank Museum and Rembrandt’s house to name but two.

I think one day I’ll go back to Amsterdam and investigate it further. Certainly it would be no challenge to spend a whole week there and explore the pretty little streets and the dark canals, but not yet.

For now, I have to get ready for my next adventure – after four months living in Paris, I’m going home next week. But that’s a topic for another post.

Eve

She has a firm belief
that the universe was made
imperfect.
In it, there is simply no place for her.

Like one of Jupiter’s moons
she is superfluous.
An excess, drifting in the liquid dark.

He is a thin cord on the basket
of a hot air balloon
already pulling towards the sky.

Holding his hands,
her ankles float above her head,
whilst the mud is up to his knee.

Love has no place in liberty,
in the reckless pull of the wind.
Letting go, finger by finger,
they remain linked by a twist of thumbs.

Until the inevitable end,
when a choice is made, seeming hers,
but really, his too.

The sky swallows her,
and she, it, drinking clouds and stars
until she can no longer feel her hand,
or the blood it is bleeding.

© Deanna Scutt, 2017

Blink

Ended,
in a smoky haze,
the naïve hope of youth.
The books which might
have told the past
lie buried
deep beneath our
rooted feet, rotting like
forgotten time capsules.
Little moth, if you
are more
than what you
seem, then pry these locks
with your nails until they
shatter free.
Be to me
a scrap of what
I was. Be a vessel, pure as
the holy light I do not see
when I look at
your lips.
They are frost,
blue under the stars, now
falling into empty hands.
Little phantom,
you are
something old
to me. A revenant of the
time before your creeping
days. Help me
be light
and here again.
Alive in your mind, and a
pulse in my own. All that
you know is a
fleeting
glimpse. Must
you grasp it like salvation
and cling to my cold spine?
I offer nothing,
but I,
to you, never
knowing love or tenderness,
am not unkind, only because
I hate to see you
cry for me.

© Deanna Scutt, 2017

Review: Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’

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If I had a wish regarding literature, it would be the ability to experience children’s books as children do. It’s no coincidence that infant and irritating start with the same letter, but there is something undeniably precious about the bottomless well of wonder that gurgles inside a forming personlity. Once you miss the window with most children’s books, there is no going back, and that is, I think, one of the saddest things about growing up.

A Wizard of Earthsea is a book I wish I had discovered when I was ten years old, when I didn’t know the tropes, and didn’t pick sentences apart like I’m performing some sort of autopsy. At 281 pages, in large print, this is the sort of book that slips down like a spoonful of honey. Before you’ve really had time to savour the taste, it’s gone.

To be honest I should have done my research, and gone in with the right expectation. Le Guin is a writer who does many things well, and her masterpiece The Dispossessed is one of my all-time favourite sci-fi novels. A Wizard of Earthsea has exactly zero things in common with it, because it is an entirely different type of book.

“‘You want to work spells,’ Ogion said presently, striding along. ‘You’ve drawn too much water from that well. Wait. Manhood is patience. Mastery is nine times patience.'”

pg. 26

A Wizard of Earthsea is essentially a coming of age allegory/fantasy which I’m fairly confident serves as something of a prequel to events in later Earthsea books. Our protagonist, Ged, is the standard neglected farm boy with a hidden power, who goes to wizard school and, with the assistance of his unjustifiably large ego, messes up, big time.

I mean, I know I’ve made a few mistakes, but I’ve never summoned up a shadow monster that wants to destroy me and maybe the world thereafter.

There are some bog standard secondary characters who by turns support and hinder our hero on his redemptive quest, including the old, wandering wizard, the beautiful enchantress, and the ancient, cynical dragon. Really, this book doesn’t go anywhere a thousand other traditional fantasy novels haven’t gone since, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad read.

“He knew now why the Archmage had feared to send him forth, and what had darkened and clouded even the mage’s foreseeing of his future. For it was darkness itself that awaited him, the unnamed thing, the being that did not belong in the world, the shadow he had loosed or made.”

pg. 127

A Wizard of Earthsea is no profound pool of philosophy, but its simple messages about the value of humility, friendship, and evil never being vanquished by greater evil are resonant. In a similar vein to The Hobbit, this is a good clean adventure that dips its foot into the darkness of the human soul, but never allows the horror up past the ankle.

As far as children’s books go, I think this is a good ‘un. It’s just a shame that its minimal length leaves the secondary cast sparsely represented, and in some cases, as what feels like loose ends. Also, whilst the ending does what an ending should do, the close feels like it was cut off with a pair of scissors.

All in all, one definitely worth giving to a child, but if you’re over thirteen, you’ve probably missed the boat.

Review: Leo Tolstoy’s ‘Resurrection’

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Phew… I finished it. Don’t get me wrong, I really am quite emphatic when it comes to my love of the Russian classics, but this one took me a while.

Everyone is acquainted with War and Peace, and most have heard of Anna Karenina. Resurrection, is the third, final, and least known of Tolstoy’s longer fictional works.

568 pages, a month, and I’ve done it. Was it, I hear you ask, worth the slog?

Yes and no.

Resurrection has a wonderful premise. Nekhlyudov, a nobleman just past his prime, is called to serve on the jury in a case concerning a supposed murderess/prostitute, who he recognises as his abandoned first love, the once-enchanting Katusha.

So begins a mirrored journey of two people on the road of moral self-discovery, in which Nekhlyudov confronts not only the wrongs he has done, and their grave consequences, but the price of his class’ privileges on the character of society.

“Without removing his pince-nez he stared at Maslova, while a complex, painful process took place in his soul.”

pg. 57

This is a book about the many different types of love, debauchery, divinity, and redemption. It straddles the whole of society, from baron to beggar, and paints a harrowing picture of the divide between 19th century drawing rooms and the lives of the masses who lived and died under the heel of the Russian justice system.

It is a beautiful, ambitious epic of a book. Tolstoy could write, by gad, and by the time he wrote Resurrection it can be argued that he was at the height of his literary powers.

It’s just a shame that I couldn’t enjoy it like I enjoyed War and Peace. Perhaps Resurrection is just that little bit too idealistic, maybe I’m a cynic, or perhaps (though I don’t believe it) it’s just not as good, but as much as I love the premise of this novel, support the majority of its, albeit religious, ideals, and wanted to love it, I couldn’t muster up the same level of empathy that I had for the characters in Tolstoy’s longest work.

“‘Was I really like that once?’ Nekhlyudov thought, continuing on his way to the lawyer’s. ‘Perhaps not quite like that, but I wanted to be, and believed I should spend life in that way.'”

pg. 310

I am wrong. I know that. My failure to adore this book is my own failing. I read too much trash, and sometimes it dulls my ability to appreciate true art. Much as it was a struggle to finish Resurrection, I am glad I did. I have emerged, not in a state of rapture, but at least with my mind awakened from the stupor that threatens to descend whenever I go too long without reading something weighty.

Most amazing about this book is, I think, how much it still has to say. Social injustice, sexism and the cruelty of those in whose hands power resides remain prominent topics of discussion. Though dated, perhaps, by its density, this novel remains immensely relevant. More so, I would say, than many of its counterparts.

It is also impossible not to appreciate Tolstoy’s conviction and bravery, in writing a book like this, living in the era he did.

“Was it possible that so complicated a phenomenon could have so simple and terrible an explanation? Could it really be that all the talk about justice, goodness, law, religion, God and so on, was nothing but so many words to conceal the grossest self-interest and cruelty?”

pg. 387

So… yes. Overall, this one is worth the challenge it presents. Maybe not one for a casual read on a Sunday afternoon, but ideal for a long-haul flight, or some other environment in which it is possible to focus on the book and nothing but the book for several hours. I think some novels deserve their reader’s full attention, and this is, for all that I don’t appreciate it as much as I should, one of them.

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