The Life and Times of Angel Evans: Behind the Scenes

Hello, and welcome!

I’ve not had a lot of time this month, so rather than a neatly planned out post, I’m simply going to give you a few of the drawings I did of Angel while I was writing. Hopefully, back with a full feature next month.

Illustration of Angel Evans, talking to a smoke demon

This first one is a moment right at the beginning of the story – Angel Evans chatting with a being made of smoke. I really like how this one came out, especially Smoke-Face. Perhaps one day I’ll even give my sketches settings.

Angel Evans running through grass

And this one is from a moment at the end of the story, when we get a glimpse of Angel Evans as a child on the day she ran away from home. I almost never think about what my characters are wearing, so sometimes when I draw them there’s just this moment of “Oh damn, what clothes would they wear?” I like the movement in this one – it’s always challenging and fun to try to draw things in action. I was also really trying to make her look actually like a child with child proportions, rather than a mini-adult. I think I managed.

And that’s it this month – back soon with more book reviews.

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Book Review: White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

White is for witching by Helen Oyeyemi

ore: Miranda Silver is in Dover, in the ground beneath her mother’s house.

This has to be the most unsettling book that I have ever read, with the possible exception of Let the Right One In although that is a completely different kind of unsettling. I have never read anything like it: Helen Oyeyemi’s writing is unique, and the sort of thing that one probably loves or hates without an inbetween. It is a story told by unreliable narrators: several of them, who are not always who they say they are. It is a story that crept up inside my head and squeezed my heart and promised not to let me go. It was not the story that it started out as, either. There are forms in which I have read this story before, and in which I am tired of reading it. I am tired, more than I can say, of the pretty thin fragile girl going mad while holding up all the things that nobody else can see and breaking breaking breaking while always looking beautiful – most girls are not fragile. Most women are not mad, but spitting furious (in my experience) and living with things that are not easily spoken of. I am tired of this narrative which has no space for the fury.

(And Miranda was not the only girl there: Ore was there, holding a whole different set of things, and Tijana and SPOILER I was glad that Ore left, that she did not stay to pick up pieces in a fight that wasn’t hers that would have tried to destroy her. Not glad that, again, the queer romance ended in tragedy and separation, but glad that Ore left and survived END SPOILER.)

White is for Witching was not quite this narrative. It went somewhere else. It was that story, told differently and compulsively and with layers and layers that I will probably be peeling back compulsively over the next week, month… It was about an angry house full of rattling histories and bigotry, and a family haunting and haunted. It was about keeping people out or letting them in and all of the ugly ugly things that get swept out of sight. It was about nationality and legacy and the things that get carried and the the things that are devoured and who belongs. Who really belongs, and what that means, and who gets to decide that and what right they have to do so. It was about all the things that Miranda Silver tries to devour or keep at bay; all the history bearing down on her and bearing down on Ore.

It was complex. I don’t think I can unravel it in just one review but it is worth reading, and worth reading again, and marking notes in the margins with pencils and listening to and thinking about the things that nobody wants to look at and why and the messy patchwork that makes up this country and all the everyday violence therein. And the ghosts, standing behind everyone.

Rating: read this book. Do not eat the damn apples.

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Update: spookiness and writings

Hello all! An update for you, seeing as you have been hanging about so patiently.

Here is a photo of me at a Halloween/Samhain party at the weekend – I was most proud of my costume, which was based on nothing in particular, but which I am told looked a bit like the Spirit of Jazz from the Mighty Boosh.

Reading: I am currently between books, but I have just finished Provenance by Ann Leckie and A Portable Shelter by Kirsty Logan, both of which I loved. And re-reading The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison for about the fourth time…

Writing: Too many things! I’ve got a story with a deadline in December, which I am desperately scribbling away at, a series that I want to put up here on the blog for free which I am just over half way through (it involves queers and space and silliness) and a “found” story set in a weird town by a big river, which I am also considering putting up here. Although that is less a story, more a collection of strange notices and letters and stuff. I do think you would all enjoy it

Enjoying: The Hopeless Maine exhibition, which I ended up being part of today. Lots of fun, and looking forward to going again. I will also be part of the event on Saturday, so if you want to see me in action you can come to that: https://stroudbookfestival.org.uk/event/tom-nim-brown/

Pondering: the origins of the word ‘yo’. Me and a friend got into this last night, and it was a rabbit hole of confusion and delight!

Listening to: Deathless by Ibeyi

And that’s me – hopefully you’ll hear from me again soon with some book reviews and possibly one of the two blog series’ that I’ve been thinking of.

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Book Review: The Book of Dust Volume One: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

la belle sauvage book of dust one philip pullman

Three miles up the river Thames from the centre of Oxford, some distance from where the great colleges of Jordan, Gabriel, Balliol, and two dozen others contended for mastery in the boat races, out where the city was only a collection of towers and spires in the distance over the misty levels of Port Meadows, there stood the priory of Godstow, where the gentle nuns went about their holy business; and on the opposite bank from the priory there was an inn called the Trout.

I absolutely loved this. It has been a long time since I read His Dark Materials, which consists of some of my favourite books of all time. I briefly considered re-reading them before diving into The Book of Dust: volume one. In the end I was far too excited to wait.

It took a while for me to settle into this book – I was, I think, a bit too excited about it and couldn’t quite enjoy what was happening now because I wanted to know what would happen next. I became absorbed quite quickly, to the point where I cannot actually pinpoint when I stopped jittering about. Malcolm was, at first, a bit difficult for me to relate to. He grew on me as the story went on, and I think it helped that the point of view moved occasionally.

One of the things I’ve always really loved about His Dark Materials is the worldbuilding (especially in the first book, Northern Lights), so I was absolutely delighted to be returning to the same world. I had forgotten how much I enjoy Philip Pullman’s writing, the long lyrical sentences; the specificity of his dialogue and the richness of feeling. The story is set when Lyra is a baby, and it was exciting to get a sense of Brytain ten years before Northern Lights. Marisa Coulter turns up, which made me yell a bit – I’ve always counted her as one of my favourite villains.

There were some things that were tricky for me – I liked that His Dark Materials had a female central character, so I kept having to adjust for Malcolm being in the middle of it all. There were women in the story, quite a lot of them, but it’s just not quite the same. Of course, Malcolm’s Daemon is female, so there is that.

As for the plot – oh I was just swept away. I read this in two sittings over one day, and I could probably read it again next week. It was, in instances, very fairytale-esque. And relevant to current events in a somewhat scary manner.

I’m well aware that I’m not being particularly objective – it’s all very fresh in my mind and I sort of want to think about it all, re-read it, think about it all again and then re-read the original three books. I’d say it’s definitely a brilliant addition to the world, and I’m interested to see what happens with the other Book of Dust volumes.

Rating: read this book. Do your best to keep your head above the rising water.

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The Life and Times of Angel Evans: Behind the Scenes

Welcome to the third in the Behind the Scenes posts! Apologies for the delay – I was unwell over the weekend.

This month, chatting about Yumiko; the ghostly girlfriend of Angel Evans.

Yumiko from The Life and Times of Angel Evans. By Meredith Debonnaire

Yumiko original character sketch, with colour.

Yumiko was one of those characters who developed as I wrote. I did not plan her out, and when I first started writing I knew next to nothing about her. She was a very gentle presence who was simply there. I have different ways of working with characters: some characters I sit and figure out their entire backstory, all their likes and dislikes, defining memories. With others, I think I’ve figured out those things, and then I have to go back and poke them, and then the story changes them and they end up as patchworks. And other characters are just there. Present where they need to be. Yumiko was one of those.

I’m a little ashamed to say that I did not pay lots of attention to her in her own right: Angel Evans, as a character, is really quite attention hungry (see how she’s sneaking into this post that is meant to be all about Yumiko?). Writing Yumiko mostly came easy, but it very much felt like writing from the outside rather than the inside. It’s hard for me to say what’s going through Yumiko’s mind.

So, rather than going on about the mysteriousness and elusiveness of Yumiko, here are some things I do know.

  • Yumiko was newly dead when she met Angel. The exorcists in Yumiko’s world are very very good at their jobs, so Yumiko was putting a great deal of effort into hiding. She was also dealing with the trauma of being, well, dead.
  • Her family hired the exorcists. She doesn’t like talking about that.
  • Her death was under investigation as suspicious. She doesn’t like talking about that either.
  • Really don’t ask her why she’s a ghost rather than having moved on – depending on her mood she will either start talking about bright lights and tunnels and/or islands covered in glowing mist, or she will lecture you on the importance of recognising different forms of existence. Whether or not any of this is genuine is anyone’s guess.
  • She had no idea who Angel was when she met her: it was about two months in before Yumiko realised that the hopeless junkie she was involuntarily haunting and whom she kept trying to sneakily feed was the Angel Evans, savioiur of the multiverse.
  • Yumiko was not impressed by the saviour of the multiverse thing. She’d had way too much first-hand experience of Angel as a person by then.
Yumiko and Angel Evans meet

Yumiko and Angel meeting.

  • Cranberries, or something rather like it, were Yumiko’s favourite food. She misses them a lot. Sometimes, if she’s sad, she will “acquire” cranberries and leave them all over the flat.
  • Most ghosts cannot do as much physical interaction as Yumiko does. She’s unusual in that respect.
  • Yumiko has a rich and varied online life – the internet, although extremely haunted, is just so much fun.
  • Yumiko’s pre-death memories are hazy – this is quite ordinary for a ghost.
Yumiko, Angel Evans

black fog day

And that’s it for now – I do hope to be able to write more stories in this universe at some point, and one of the ideas I’ve toyed with is using Yumiko’s point of view….

Please join me again next month – I don’t yet know what I’ll be writing about so if you have anything you’d particularly like to see on Behind the Scenes, let me know and I’ll take it into consideration.

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The Tearling Trilogy: a rambly and disorganised discussion

So, I recently finished reviewing this series. And it made me think a lot about stuff, so I wanted to do a very rambly discussion post. It’s gonna have spoilers, and may be a little bit incoherent if you’ve not read the books (I’ll try to make it understandable).

This series does a lot of things that I found really interesting. It also had its flaws (among other things, most of the cast are white, and although there are a few non-straight characters they have pretty small parts).

One of the things it did that made me go “yeeeees!” was that it created a realistic, brutal fantasy world in which things are kinda shit for women (“noooooooo!”) but it absolutely refused to sideline its female characters. And this for me was important. I get super sick of people building fantasy worlds with magic and dragons and freaking goblins and then being like “yeah but sexism is still totally a thing”. Aside from everything else, I think it speaks of a lack of imagination. So although the culture is rather similar to some kind of medieval Europe, including the church being not great, the main character is a woman. The main baddie is a woman. Some of the other baddies are women, and a lot of the important side-characters are women. This means that the patriarchal norms of the world get questioned and poked and prodded and challenged. And as a reader, you start thinking ‘well this is ridiculous’ when the most powerful woman in the country has to sneak about to get her hands on contraception.

It also had a culture based in medieval/feudalistic type reality, and did not flinch away from how awful that system was for most people. Which I tip my hat to, because again I get sick of fantasy where it’s assumed that having a monarchic system is going to be great – you’ve only got to read some history to figure out that no, for most people, that meant working your whole life for someone else who might take your entire livelihood away from you at any moment and nobody cared. I liked seeing that trope challenged.

And then there’s the long running theme of utopia and dystopia. This one will take a bit of background info, so beware the SPOILERS. The Tearling was founded by William Tear, who used magic sapphires to Cross time with a group of idealists trying to leave what is heavily implied to be a version of our world. The people who Crossed wanted to build, effectively, a Utopia. In the books they call it the Better World. And they try really hard, but they fail. William Tear failed to take into account human nature, and also, very importantly, history. None of the adults who Crossed could bear to talk about their history, about exactly what they escaped and what the price was. So the next generation grow up with no history, with no knowledge of the world that their parents fought so hard to escape from. And when things get hard in the Tearling, none of them know the dangers of handing over responsibility in return for safety…

Which leads to the Tearling in the present day: feudalistic, illiterate, with a barely functioning economy, a pretty awful monarchy that rarely cares about its people, a church that cares even less, and a monthly tithe to Mortmesne of slaves taken from its own population by lottery. Effectively, a dystopia. One that, somehow, Kelsea Glynn has to reforge. And she knows her damn history, which is pretty awesome. I really liked the way that it was made clear how important that can be, and that she was trying so hard to create something good with the odds stacked against her.

The ending SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS is really interesting in that Kelsea basically travels in time (and this is going to sound pretty deus ex machina when I describe it, but I promise it was actually foreshadowed really well) to the point in history when Jonathan Tear, William Tear’s son (one of them ooooooh) is assassinated. She does not stop the assassination, but kills the ringleader of the assassins leaving Katie (Jonathan’s bodyguard and lover) in a position to rebuild; originally, Katie fled. It’s actually an intensely terrifying sequence; one of the bits where the imagery has stuck in my mind and won’t leave.

And then Kelsea wakes up, in a new timeline, in the new version of the Tearling that she has created. And it is, if not a proper utopia, at least utopian.

Now originally I sorta felt cheated by this: even though it made absolute sense within the logic of the world, and it was made clear how much this was hurting Kelsea. Here she was in this incredible world that she had sacrificed everything for, and not only did nobody know what she had done, nobody knew full stop. Her memories are confused, none of her friends recall her. And it hurts and hurts and hurts. And part of me was going: “hang on, isn’t this a bit of a cop out? Almost like it all being a dream?”

And then I really thought about it. Why would it be more satisfying to have a harsher ending? Why, exactly, did I think I’d prefer something else? And I thought about how we’re trained to believe that utopia is impossible whereas dystopia is only ever just under the surface, so that even in a fantasy trilogy there was part of me that was reluctant to believe this ending. That was interesting, I thought, because I knew when I was reading it that utopia/dystopia was a massive theme of the entire trilogy, and although I always wanted Kelsea to succeed, somehow in winning as completely as she did I instinctively felt a bit disbelieving. Like, it’s not the time-travelling sapphires that tripped me up, it’s the ending well…So it gave me a lot to think about. Dystopian fiction is pretty popular, whereas trying to find anything utopian is a bit of a challenge. It’s like we simply can’t imagine it. It’s like how people can believe that there are dragons but not that women can have a functional role, or will read a fantasy novel a quarter of which is in a made-up language but throw a hissy fit if there’s some Spanish in there. We can believe that things can get worse, and we can believe that things can get better, but the best is somewhere hazy and beyond. And that, well, that’s interesting because if we can’t imagine something better, nobody’s going to try to build it are they?

Anyway, I have a hell of a lot more thoughts so please do come chat 🙂

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Book Review: The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The FAte of the Tearling book cover

Long before the Red Queen of Mortmesne came to power, the Glace-Vert was already a lost cause.

I finally finished this incredible trilogy, and oooooh do I have a lot to say! If you want to catch up, you can find my reviews of the previous books here and here. I am going to try to avoid spoilers, but there will definitely be some for the previous two books.

So, The Fate of the Tearling. Where to even start? It’s hard to review without describing the whole plot of this and the previous two books, because a lot of things get followed up and pulled together, some of which I had not even noticed being foreshadowed. Kelsea Glynn, now a prisoner, is being taken to Mortmesne; the Mace is trying to run the Tearling (he has the entire damn church to contend with); the Red Queen (we know who she is now!!!!) has an enemy other than Kelsea. And frankly, it looks like everything might go to hell in a handcart. The flashbacks from the past are increasingly important, relating to the present and possibly the future. We get to see the Tearling in its infancy, and watch as it inexorably seems to rip itself apart.

There were a lot of things I loved: this book has strong imagery, much of which has stayed with me. Kelsea and the Red Queen actually being in the same room and having conversations was fantastically tense. And I’m always going to enjoy a fantasy book with this many awesome and interesting women: Kelsea, the Red Queen, Andalie (a seer on the run), Aisa (Andalie’s daughter, learning how to use knives and swords both), Glee (Andalie’s other daughter, also a seer), Brenna (the witch), Emily (a slave in Mortmesne, spying for the Mace), Allie (barely in it, still liked her), Katie (from the past, bodyguard), Lily (part of the original Crossing)…..

The resolution, well, I’m trying to avoid spoilers but I did not see it coming. Honestly, I am going to have to splash out and buy this series, because I need to re-read the entire thing. I recommend it highly.

For those of you who are interested, there is going to be a rambly discussion post about this series in a day or so. It will be RIFE WITH SPOILERS, so be wary of that.

Rating: read this book, cling on for dear life!

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