Favourite Music Thursday: Blind Guardian – Skalds and Shadows

Blind Guardian is a power metal band from Germany. The first of their music which I heard was the album Nightfall in Middle-Earth (songs based on JRR Tolkien’s The Silmarillion and, yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds). Their lyrics are almost all rich in mythology, folklore, and fantasy.

Now I won’t act like I listen to a lot of metal – this is basically it – so I won’t go into a deep discussion. About their musical style Wikipedia has to say:

“Blind Guardian’s first two albums, Battalions of Fear and Follow the Blind, were more in the style of speed metal than their following works. Beginning with their third albumTales from the Twilight World, Blind Guardian gradually began to write more complicated compositions focusing less on speed. As of their sixth album, Nightfall in Middle Earth, Hansi stopped playing bass to focus on singing. At this point the band began to incorporate large amounts of orchestral arrangements, and utilized the technique of overdubbing, heavily influenced by the English rock band Queen.”

“Skalds and Shadows” has been in my head this whole week, so I thought it would be a good choice for this week’s Favourite Music Thursday. Trust me, you want to hear their music. And then go and listen to their other songs…

Flash Fiction: Defeated Draugr & As If We Never Met

These stories were written with the photo and “defeat” as the prompts. “Defeated Draugr” received an honourable mention at the 30 May Flash! Friday competition.
Defeated Draugr
We uncovered the grave while digging foundations for a tower that would reach to the stars. Layers of dirt weighed the barrow down and we dug greedily, talking of mounds of buried treasure among the defeated dead.
Layer by layer we removed time’s dirt until we found the sealed barrow entrance. A red light flickered from behind the doorway. Drawn by the promise of gold – or money paid by collectors – we broke away the rotting doorway of wood and stone.
Yellow light shone from the tomb. Inside among golden treasure, on a stone pedestal, were two figures; a man sitting with a shrouded woman in his arms. He was crying, unaware of the corpse lights or his own death.
“She said she would never leave me,” he moaned, rocking slowly. “She said she would wait for me. And now she does not wake!”
Yellow light flickered around the corporeal ghosts caught forever inside the tomb’s imprisoned time.
“She said she would never leave me,” he cried in vain.
We left the gold, jewels, and the dead lovers and built for them a new door. We were unable to tell others what we’d witnessed. There was no language for such deep sorrow, no hope for forgetting that voice defeated by time.
 

Construction of the Statue of Liberty’s Pedestal. CC2.0 photo by National Parks Service, Statue of Liberty ca 1875.
As If We Never Met
As the tower stretched towards the moon, we started thinking ourselves gods that could shape earth to our wishes. I, however, felt very small and mortal every day when you walked past my front door. You were an angel in a world of wood, mud, and bricks. You never saw me at the window, too scared to speak.
At night I stared at the moon, wondering if you would live there with me in the perpetual silver light. I’d work myself to the brink of death if it meant that I had something to offer you. That we could be together.
The building grew slowly and each day I stared at my angel passing. Until, one day, I waited until you came and then went out the door. But I could only smile like a silly teenager. No words would come to me.
The building crumbled on the day we finished. I fell when I ran, cracking my head on fallen masonry.
I awoke in the hospital; my voice not my own, speaking a strange language – a medical marvel to be studied.
You saw me the day I returned home. I introduced myself, but you did not understand me and kept walking.

And I wished we’d never met.

Kroniese siektelyers: moet ons nie leuenaars noem nie

Please note: I haven’t translated this piece, which was posted on Woes (a creative platform for Afrikaans). Not yet, in any case…
Hierdie stuk het die eerste keer op Woes verskyn.

“Mense het net kroniese siektes omdat hulle nie passievol genoeg is oor die lewe nie.”


Hierdie stelling is sekerlik een van die simpelste en oningeligte stellings wat ek in ’n baie lang tyd gehoor het. Wel, dit en “Het jy al probeer om meer water te drink?” asof elke siekte onder die son (fisies en geestelik) deur dehidrasie veroorsaak word en ’n persoon se DNS absoluut niks met siektes te make het nie.

Ek noem hierdie stelling simpel en oningelig oor ’n paar redes. Een rede is dat dit blyk asof daar die veronderstelling is dat die persoon kies om siek te wees. In dieselfde asem is daar ook die veronderstelling dat die persoon eintlik maar net lui is en die siekte as ’n verskoning gebruik. En, omdat die persoon lui is, het hulle nie ’n passie vir die lewe nie. Jy neem ’n dag af, want jy is lui. Jy gaan nie uit nie, want jy is lui. Dat jy te siek is om uit die bed op te staan, word in sulke gevalle oorgesien en as kaf afgemaak.

Nie net een definisie van “passievol” nie
Maar miskien het ons ook begin om slegs een spesifieke definisie aan ’n “passie vir die lewe” te heg. Dit beteken dat jy altyd besig moet wees, altyd aan die uitgaan moet wees, dat jy berge moet uitklim en valskermspring. Dat jy eintlik soveel energie het dat jy nie weet wat om daarmee te doen nie. Dat jy nie op medikasie moet steun om simptome genoeg onder beheer te hou dat jy net kan opstaan en werk toe gaan nie. En daarom blyk dit dat om siek te wees – iets waaroor jy geen beheer het nie – as ’n swakheid gesien word. As jy nie ’n loopneus of ’n hoes of iets van die aard sien nie, glo jy nie dat die persoon te veel pyn het om selfs net trappe te klim die dag of net vir ’n rukkie in die badkamer wil sit en huil omdat hulle net nie meer kan nie.

En hier is dalk die groot geheim van die lyers – jy sien nie sommer die simptome nie, want dit word weggesteek. Dit word weggesteek juis omdat jy nie as swak, lui, dom – of selfs gevaarlik wanneer dit by geestesiektes kom – gesien wil word nie.

Ons is nie leuenaars nie
Wat baie mense wat sulke stellings maak lyk my nie besef nie, is dat dit oor veel meer gaan as om te impliseer dat iemand lui is. Jy noem die persoon ’n leuenaar. So eenvoudig soos dit. Jy beskuldig die persoon daarvan dat hulle slegs voorgee om siek te wees en dus elke dag van hulle lewe vir jou lieg.

En tog is dit hierdie vooroordele wat veroorsaak dat lyers aan kroniese siektes en geestesiektes hul simptome al hoe meer en meer probeer wegsteek. Want, sê jy in elk geval hoe jy regtig voel die dag, vra mense jou hoekom jy by die werk is. Maar wat so moeilik is om ander te laat verstaan is dat ’n “goeie dag” nie ’n dag is waartydens jy geen simptome het nie. Dit beteken slegs dat die simptome van so aard is dat jy dit kan hanteer. Want jy leer met die jare saam dat jy dit net moet hanteer.

Vooroordele en stigma
Hoe beweeg ’n mens verby die stigma en die vooroordele? Veral in ’n wêreld waar jy nie net die respek van vriende, kollegas en familie kan verloor nie, maar waar jou werk ook oornag in die gedrang kan kom? In ’n wêreld wat, sodra sekere mense uitvind dat jy aan ’n geestesiekte ly hulle dadelik begin optree asof jy skielik in ’n geweldadige massamoordenaar ontaard het. In ’n wêreld waar mense, in plaas daarvan om meer te probeer uitvind, hulleself onttrek en te bang is om selfs hulle kinders naby jou toe te laat.

Die moeilike en maklike antwoord is om mense daaroor te vertel en hulle daaoor te probeer inlig. Mense met kroniese siektes – veral die soort wat jou lewensgehalte inperk – doen gewoonlik baie navorsing oor hul siektes. Ek weet, byvoorbeeld, meer oor die navorsing rondom die CACNA1-geen as meeste mense. Die probleem is om die beste manier te vind om mense in te lig sodat hulle regtig luister na wat jy te sê het. (Wat beteken dat mens nie begin by “so daar is hierdie een geen…” nie.)

Humor… want dis nie snaaks nie
Behalwe vir die probleme omtrent diskriminasie, is humor – so vreemd soos wat dit dalk mag klink – ook ’n groot probleem. Grappe wat handel oor siektes – en veral geestesiektes kom hier te sprake – is baie selde snaaks. Meestal is dit mense wat grap dat hulle “OCD is” omdat hulle altyd drie suikers in hulle koffie moet hê, “Bipolêr is” omdat hulle vinnig kwaad raak, ens. Dit bewys eintlik net dat hulle geen idee het van wat die siekte eintlik beteken nie. En dit maak dit af as ’n onbelangrike ding of iets wat nie “regtig” ’n siekte is nie. Iets waarvoor jy net meer water moet drink of ophou lui wees.

Ek wens vir die dag wat alle mense regtig probeer om meer oor kroniese siektes uit te vind en nie meer bang sal wees vir almal wat aan ’n geestesiekte ly nie. Vir die dag wat ’n mens maar by die werk kan inloop en sê “Ek het hierdie of daardie siekte” en, in plaas daarvan om simpel grappe te hoor of vertel te word om meer water te drink (of jou medikasie te staak), kollegas jou net stilweg sal ondersteun en jou nie kwalik neem oor iets waaroor jy geen beheer het nie.

Nota: Hierdie rubriek is geskryf uit eie ondervinding en met bydraes deur vriende en familie se daaglikse ervarings. Genadiglik is daar ook mense wat wel ondersteunend is en nie vooroordele het nie – of ten minste van hulle ontslae raak. Baie maal is dit hierdie mense wat die lewe die moeite werd maak. 


Foto deur: Sergey Zolkin, StockSnap.io


5 Awesome Sites for Free Stock Photos

Gratisography
If it’s just a personal blog/project you’re busy with, you don’t always have the money to afford professional quality stock photos. But don’t worry; you don’t have to settle for mediocre photos that will make your site look everything but professional. There are quite a few sites where you can get quality stock photos to use for free. The images on these sites are almost all released under creative commons public domain and are free of copyright restrictions. Read more about creative commons licenses on their site
All photos on this site have been released under the creative commons public domain license and therefore need no attribution.
The photos on this site have also been released under the creative commons public domain license and 10 new photos are added every 10 days.
A great site if you’re looking for something a bit quirky. These images are for personal and commercial use and are free of copyright restrictions. All photos by Ryan McGuire.
This site contains photos from public archives, which are free of known copyright restrictions.
ISO Republic
The images on this site also don’t require attribution, although spreading the word about the site is appreciated.
Of course, you can give credit where credit’s due if your project allows it. Giving attribution to the photographer is always appreciated, especially when it’s not expected.
 
 

Vonkfiksie – Blou linte (Flash Fiction)

Blou linte
Daar moet reën wees. ’n Regte Hoëveldse donderstorm met swart wolke, donderweer en die tik-tik van hael op dakke voordat die ys jou vel steek en op die swart teer val en spring. Die hemel se trane moet my woede op huise en motors en sambrele moker.
Of dalk moet dit herfs wees. Geel en rooi blare. Die reuk van vars kompos in die agtertuin. Die appelkoosboom se growwe bas onder my hande en knieë terwyl ons die boom uitklouter.  
Dalk moet dit lente wees. Sonbesies en bye. Blomme en die reuk van gesnyde gras. Ons wat in die buurman se tuin inklim om moerbeiblare vir ons sywurms in hulle leë ontbytpapbokse te pluk. Ons wat giggel terwyl ons die blare van die lae takke stroop. Donkerpers moerbeivlekke op vingers, monde en kaal voete. Jy het altyd blou linte in jou hare gehad.
Maar daar is nie reën nie. Nie blare nie. Nie sonbesies nie.
Net ’n brandende somerson. Die begrafnisondernemer se oprit. ’n Gesig by die sekuriteitshek.
Ek gee die bondel vir die vrou. Die geplooide, bewende hand voel nie soos myne nie. Net ’n oomblik gelede was ons kinders wat speel-speel deur tuine hardloop. Saam.
“Blou linte,” sê ek. “Vir haar hare.”

Vir ’n oomblik ruik ek moerbeie.

Fairy Cakes, Gods, Magic, Lost Love & Mental Illness – April’s Flash Fiction

April’s entries for Flash!Friday turned out to be quite a motley bunch. I received a special and honourable mention for two of the stories and received a “Ring of Fire” badge for taking part at least three times during April. I love the amount of writing practice these stories gives me every week and I hope you enjoy them. To see each story’s prompts, click on the titles to be taken to the individual pages. They can, however, be read without the prompts as well.

Yesterday’s Colours
Yesterday is the colour of an old photograph. The first sign of your love is white clouds at the beginning of spring. A vermilion rose is my love for you. A peacock feather’s rainbow is the flowers and gifts I give you. Bright sunlight is our first kiss.
Betrayal is the colour of soot on glass. The same soot that now taints all I see.
Fading love is cirrus cloud white turning into thunderstorm sky grey. Scarlet is the colour of my heartache. Hope for love to return is the colour of a candle flame. Gold and blue lightning is the colour of screamed words of anger. Goodbye is burning pitch; strangling words and tears alike in my throat. Silver is the knife of your words twisting inside me.
A silver knife stabbing.
A stabbed heart crying.
Red blood dripping.
Bruised skin purple is the colour of your new love. Sickly yellow-green bile is my anger and jealousy.Maggots and rotted black teeth is his look of glee, knowing my hurt. The carmine red of dried ox blood is my despair. The last goodbye is a city’s polluted night sky.
Yesterday’s broken love is grainy photograph hidden in a drawer.
Fairy Cakes
When I recognise the man in the shadow coloured coat, I realise that more than a decade have passed on his side of the wall since he was told he had to leave. It feels like centuries have disappeared.
At the kitchen window I wave at him and can see the haze of blue and grey glass buildings on his side of the world. But he doesn’t see me.
The oven dings and I rush over to remove a new tray of cakes. Now that I know he’s here, I start on a new batch of batter; all golden eggs and silver apples. His childhood favourite. I make snow white frosting flavoured with summer roses. Flakes of crayon-yellow sunshine glitter on top.
An apprehensive hand grips my heart. Almost none return here. They disbelieve every memory of magic. They start believing none of this matter. They become hollow.
Clutching hope in my chest, I put the tray of frosted cakes by the open window and let the fresh smell drift into the air.
I wait, hands trembling. Fidgeting. Every second stretches to a year.
Then he looks around at the familiar smell and smiles like a child; released from the glass and smog world for a while.
We’ll Be Free
I know the Nithin can see me where I’m sitting on the corner of the street. It was foolishly stupid of me to sneak so close when I know they can spot me – even though the shadow cloak worked with charms of invisibility hides me from other eyes. But it was my ticket to learn the truth. Now I know how they make their poison. Now I know that my best friend has been helping them. I’’d recognise the Dragon’s Bane plant anywhere. Her family’s safety bought with a bunch of thorny leaves, berries, and roots at the expense of ours. I want to throw myself at her. Claw at her. Curse her for being a traitor and murderer.
The Nithin steps closer in order to see my face, but a mask of white clay hides my features. A ball of paper wrapped around a dragon tear buys me time as I throw it on the cobbles and let it pour forth a veil of acrid smoke. Panic grips the closest people and I run with the knowledge of how to save my people. No longer will people accept the Nithin and their magical hold on life and death here in Agraver.
We’ll be free.
Twisted Time
I don’t know where I am. The place looks familiar in a time-twisted sort of way. The shop over there should be the bakery. The sweet shop across from me. But they’re gone, suddenly, disappeared overnight. Someone came to change everything.
“Crazy crone,” someone mutters as they walk past.
Why is the sweet shop selling gambling tickets?
I want to play, but I feel drained. My mind feels strange. Someone changed everything.
Something clicks.
I wonder why I’m sitting on the cobbles. I should be at home where it’s warm. In my hand is a piece of chalk. Next to me, in a cup, more pieces. There’s a picture on the cobbles of a house with a tree and a family. It looks like it was drawn by a child, but I don’t see any children close by.
My fingers are covered in coloured chalk dust.
What on Earth am I doing here?
I don’t know where I am. The sweet shop is gone, but I have chalk to draw with. None of the other kids want to play with me.
A beautiful lady in a silver dress comes to sit next to me.
Something clicks.
“Time,” I ask. “What have you done to me?”
Sand of the Gods
The gods’ mountain towered in the desert, spilling sand from its peak. In hidden furnaces the glass life-shell hourglasses of mortals were formed before being sent into the scorching sun to be filled with the falling sand. And the Fillers at the foot of the mountain became immortal as life seeped from the sand into their pores.
He poured a few grains into a tiny glass and handed it to the sightless Gatherer. He knew what such a tiny hourglass meant – mother and child would run out of time together. At his age he could no longer stop the tears. Knowing how much time a person had to live wasn’t right. Just last week they’d filled thousands of life-shells belonging to those who’d all die in the same war.
How many glasses had he filled of people who would die in their sleep?
That night he scooped sand into a bag, swung it over his shoulder, and headed out to where the Gatherers kept the hourglasses.
Rows upon rows of life-shells were hidden inside the Gatherers’ caves. He took the first hourglass and added more sand. When he came to the tenth, the hourglasses rattled, cracked and then one after the other exploded.
He dropped the sand. And ran.



Writing Process Blog Tour

The talented and lovely Liz Hedgecock asked me to take part in the Writing Process Blog Tour. You can read her post over here and see the writer I nominate to take part at the end of this post.

What am I working on?
I’ve just used Camp Nanowrimo to work on the novel(s) I started last year during Nanowrimo. Although I finished Nanowrimo, the story got a bit away from me and turned out to be bigger than I first thought. I still try to write a flash piece every Friday for Flash!Friday (and these can be read on this blog or over here) and I also write two or three guest posts or articles every week.
These articles range from opinions on current affairs to tips and hacks, so every week is a challenge – which I adore. The other fiction pieces I’m working on are all short stories or flash stories. Like most of my other work, these are also speculative fiction and some also link with the Nanowrimo story.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I can’t brag with starting a new sub-genre of speculative fiction, but I have had good feedback about my stories and the worlds I create. I have been told that most of my stories are bittersweet, and it does seem like I don’t often write a piece that’s all light and laughter. My stories tend to focus on how one or two people act within a given set of circumstances.
A theme that I have noticed is remembering or losing memories. For instance, both stories published over at Every Day Fiction have to do memory. My characters in my flash pieces also often don’t have a definite gender – the viewpoint could be male or female, depending on how it is read. I have to admit that I don’t set out doing this, but find that the problem/struggle is in those cases more important for me than having to set the character(s) in stone.

Why do I write what I write?
I’ve always been more attracted to speculative fiction. When I really started writing and not just making up bits and pieces of worlds in my head, I immediately started writing fantasy without really thinking about it. There’s something about the freedom of SFF that I can’t find when writing in the “real world”. You get to ask “what if” and don’t need to be constrained by this world’s countries and history and politics. In a secondary world you can create something beautiful through which you can explore life and I can work through my own questions. It’s much easier for me to write in a different world. And I adore worldbuilding.

How does my writing process work?
My process does depend some on the project. For my weekly flash pieces, I tend to brainstorm before work or during lunch (depending on how busy I am at the office and whether I can take lunch….). A song can often trigger a story or set a mood. As random ideas, sentences or stories pop into my head during the day I’ll jot them down – I always have a notebook with me. Once I sit down to write, I usually make a note or two and then start writing straight away. I’m much more of a pantser than an outliner and often have no idea where the characters or story are going.

One thing I always do, however, is listen to music while I work. I have an eclectic taste in music, so, while I may make a playlist for a specific character, I sometimes just feel like listening to Early Music, Classical music, Pop, Alternative, or everything just shuffled together.

Once I’m done I’ll put the story aside a bit before reading it again and giving it to a friend or writing group to read. I also try to write more by hand and get away from the screen a bit, so many times flash pieces will be written by hand and edited by hand. Writing by hand can sometimes also be more therapeutic than typing.

For the next stop on the blog tour…
Dana Bell is another fantasy writer, whom I met through the Sandboxers Anonymous writing group. She not only has a great imagination, but is also very prolific in her output; as you will see if you visit her blog over here or her brand new one over here.


Flash Fiction: Blue Ribbons

This piece was written for the 6 February Flash!Friday competition. It received an honourable mention and was called “horrendously sad” by Tamara Shoemaker.
The photo and “a fleeting moment” was the prompt.

Blue Ribbons

There should have been rain. A proper Highveld storm with black clouds, thunder, and the tick-tick of hail on roofs before the ice sting your skin as it falls and bounces on the black tar. The tears of the heavens should have beaten my angry pain on houses and cars and umbrellas.

Perhaps it should have been autumn. Yellow and red leaves. The smell of fresh compost in the back garden. The rough bark of the apricot tree beneath my hands and knees as we scaled the branches.

Perhaps it should have been spring. Cicadas and bees. Flowers and the smell of cut grass. Climbing into the neighbour’s garden to pick mulberry leaves for our pet silkworms in their empty cereal boxes. Giggling as we tore leaves from the low branches. Deep purple mulberry stains on fingers, mouths, and bare feet. You always wore blue ribbons in your hair.

But there was no rain. No leaves. No cicadas.

Only burning summer sun. The undertaker’s driveway. A face at the security gate.

I handed the woman the bundle. The wrinkled, shaking hand didn’t feel like mine. A moment ago we’d been kids traipsing through gardens. Together.

“Blue ribbons,” I said. “For her hair.”

For a moment I smelled mulberries.

Rain (Liberia, Guanacaste, Costa Rica). CC2.0 photo by NannyDaddy.

Worldbuilding Wednesday: Resources for Mythology and Folklore

(From the archives)

Although there are many sources for mythology and folklore online, I often prefer to make use of non-electronic books when I just want to browse or quickly need to look up a name. These are a few of my favourite collections.
This handy encyclopaedia contains six different sections: “The myths of Greece and Rome”, “The myths of the Celtic world”, “The myths of the Nordic lands”, “The myths of Egypt and West Asia”, “The myths of South and Central Asia”, and “The myths of East Asia”. Within these the gods, heroes, etc. are given in alphabetical order, which makes it very user-friendly. Lavishly illustrated (and using, among others, artwork by Alan Lee) it is also a delight to browse. It’s just a shame they used one of Alan Lee’s The Lord of the Rings artworks in the book, but I can look past that for the wealth of material it contains. 
On a side note, this book isn’t an exhaustive account of the mythologies. I would also have liked them to include a variety of mythologies from Africa itself, but unfortunately the Americas, Oceania, (most of) Africa, etc. are not covered in this book. Therefore, if you’re looking for these specific mythologies, this isn’t the book for you. In other aspects it is a handy one to have on the shelf.
This book is beautifully designed with gold accents throughout and covers most of the major mythologies quite well. Because of the way in which it is written it is a great book for those new to these mythologies. Rather than used to only look up names or specific objects, this book is meant for reading and browsing.
It is broadly divided into geographical areas – Europe, West and Central Asia, South and East Asia – and, behold – Africa, the Americas and Oceania (although the last three is really only touched upon).
Like The Ultimate Encyclopaedia above, this one also has pages in which recurring motifs (e.g. “abandoned children”, “earth deities”, “shamans”, etc.) across mythologies are shown.
 
This classic work by Frazer is a dazzling mixture of culture, religion, mythology and folklore. First published between 1890 and 1915, this work is a must for any writer’s bookshelf (especially if you write speculative fiction), in my opinion. Although it is available for free online, I do prefer the Wordsworth edition when I’m just reading or browsing (or just don’t want to stare at a screen). This book is described as follows by Wordsworth Reference:
Remarkable for its vast assembly of facts and its charm of presentation … it discusses fertility rites, human sacrifice, the dying god, the scapegoat and many other symbols and practices which have influenced a whole generation of 20th century writers, including D.H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot.
Have you found these books useful? Or which other collections or books do you prefer? I would love to know!