Avon Van Hassel

Building Worlds and Filling Them With Magic

It’s a hallmark of humanity to mourn and honour our dead: all cultures do it, they have done it throughout time. Here, in the west, our trends have changed a lot over time, and some of the ways we did it in the past may look foreign to us, now, but it’s really the same thing at the heart of it.

Memento Mori

Past eras, especially the Victorians, which are beyond the scope if this post, are notorious for the macabre fascination with death. There are a lot of reasons, ranging from poor heath care to shifting religious philosophies to lowgrade carbon monoxide poisoning to the rise of industrialisation and the distancing of ourselves from the natural world. The truth is, with our technological and social advancements, we are removed from death. Most of us are not surrounded by it or haunted by it anymore to the degree that we were in the past. So, death was never far away for them, and life was so delicate and uncertain. Your loved ones could be gone with no warning and no way to say goodbye. So, finding closure through long and complicated mourning rituals was one way to cope with the trauma.

If you think about it, wreaths, jewellery, post mortem photography, etc, aren’t that different from putting a sticker on your car. It’s a way of taking someone’s memory with you wherever you go.

So, now I’m gonna go into some symbols we commonly see on mourning jewellery of this era.

Hair

Yes, this is human hair

Hair was crazy popular. It was one of the easiest pieces of physical relics of the person to get. It was often woven and set behind a piece of glass or crystal, but sometimes it was actually used to created intricate scenes like paintings, or just simple chunks of curls encased in glass.

Eyes

The image of the dead person’s eye was also a common image. Eyes are the windows of the soul, they say, as well as an easily identifiable feature. Not to mention, the obvious visual of the deceased watching over their surviving loved ones.

Jet

Jest is a black volcanic stone. It feels almost like plastic in its texture and weight, but it is a stone. It is shiny and black, so it gives the feeling of fancy gemstones, especially during the periods of heavy, black-only mourning.

Silver

Silver represents the moon, is naturally antibacterial, and is less opulent than gold, so it was a favourite base material for jewellery.

Skeletons

The people of the past did not shy from the macabre in their mourning jewellery. Skulls, skeletons, and coffins are undeniable clues that a piece if jewellery is for mourning.

Acanthus

Pretty much any leafy filigree on funerary art is modeled on acanthus

Acanthus is a lush leafy shrub, popularised by Corinthian columns of ancient Greece. In funerary art, acanths represents remembrance.

Pearls

Pearls also symbolise the moon, but also tears and the sea. Pearls and garnets are very common in mourning jewellery

Johanne’s brooch

By the beginning of Magic Beans, Lady Johanne Blodden is a widow, having lost her husband 7 years previous, during the Ettin Wars. Though she had no real affection for him in life, she is a proper lady, and so wears a mourning brooch to honour his memory, as was expected of a widow. Her brooch features a grey eye, modelled after his portrait, shaped like a teardrop, and ringed in pearls.

Worldbuilding is one of the funnest parts of writing fiction. If you’re writing in the real world, the geography is easy, but if you’re inventing a new world, you have to consider a lot more things. One thing that is impossible to overlook for carbon-based (organic) lifeforms is water. There is no human civilisation that doesn’t have access to water in one form or another.

Life

Life refers not only to drinking water, but also water to irrigate crops and hydrate animals. We need it to drink, but we also need food, and our food needs water.

Transportation of goods

For much of history, the fastest way to move large quantities or heavy goods was with waterways. Shipping over the ocean or even sending boats downstream are much faster than dragging or driving over land.

Travel

Along the same lines as shipping, water can move people as easily as cargo.

Geography

The settlement of villages and towns is always determined by water sources. Nit just for the above reasons, but also for protection or even aesthetics. Large bodies of water can provide buffers against enemies or good vantage points, or even a lovely view that people want to look at for generations.

Industry

Water can power mills by use of waterwheels, it can provide water used for production, and it can carry waste away (though, we’re discouraging that, these days).

Fishing

The water itself can provide a source of food and commerce in the form of fishing. Freshwater lakes and rivers and the ocean all have distinct ecosystems that humans can take nourishment from.

Bodies of water

You cities need water. They can’t survive without water, and there are consequences for limitation of water. The island of Santorini in Greece obviously has access to the ocean, but they have very little rainfall and freshwater. They had to adapt the way they grow wine grapes to absorb as much of every little drop that they can, and they have bottled water shipped in for drinking, as a result, bottled water is crazy expensive.

Bet you’ve never seen a vineyard like this

But they have the sea.

You cities may be coastal, or have access to lakes or rivers, be in a place where they have heavy rainfall, or huge underground reservoirs with lots of wells for access. Whatever you do, start with water, and build the culture around how they utilize it.

Starting off: There was an expression during the Impeachment proceedings that stuck out to me: ‘criticism should be private, praise should be public.’ That pretty succinctly sums up a pillar of my brand and my professional image: I will be vociferous in my praise of work and artists that I like, but my dislike will only be illustrated by my silence on the subject. Which isn’t to say of course, that anyone I DON’T talk about are on my shitlist, lol, but don’t expect me to be one of those authors who gets into wars with other artists on social media.

So, I won’t go into specifics about who I’m talking about, not least because this is a topic that applies to a lot of people, especially at a time in history when someone’s problematic words and actions are on display and subject to consequence. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, and other movements centred around giving voice to disenfranchised people fed up with just taking it, the question has arisen: can you still enjoy the work of someone who proved to hold beliefs or commit actions against your personal morals.

It’s a sticky one. Again, I won’t name specific people, but see if this sounds familiar.

There was a book or series you read in your youth that had a profound impact on you. Maybe it made you feel less alone and more understood, maybe it made you think, maybe it awakened a love of a genre. But then, as you matured and learned more about people and the world, you started to notice things. Outdated gender assumptions, homophobic or racist jokes, that one ageist trope that will not die. And then, the author starts talking on Twitter, and every word they type makes you cringe.

So, should you feel guilty about what you enjoyed as a child? If the work holds up, can you continue enjoying the work without endorsing the things the author says?

To the one, I say no. You were a kid, you’re more mature now, you know better.

But to the second, I tentatively say yes. Art is subjective, it’s not universal and what speaks to you might be meaningless to someone else. And what is problematic to your adult mind was probably completely overlooked when you were young, and something else was formative and possibly even the only light in the darkness to your teenage heart. That emotional connection cannot be denied. You are who you are in part because of the things that were meaningful when you were young. The fact that you matured into a more compassionate and understanding person in spite of exposure to troubling things speaks to the larger messages of that work.

Take what worked, and leave the rest behind.

Concerning the author of those words, they are people, too. Their personal trajectory is not the same as yours or their work. Maybe they slid backward and became more intolerant as they aged- that’s their journey. Their demons shouldn’t diminish how your younger self felt sitting alone in your room with the one thing that understood you. Some people can be educated and helped. Some just have to be cut loose. It hurts, but one thing we all as artists need to make peace with is that once our work is out there and the people get to engage with it, it’s no longer ours.

There’s a line in, ‘All the Rowboats’ by Regina Spektor talking about art in galleries, and it goes, ‘It’s their own fault for being timeless/ There’s a price to pay and a consequence.’ Art has to be accessible, that’s the point. It can’t be divorced from the audience, that’s the point. The work is timeless, the author is mortal.

Art can be divorced from the artist.

It can be taken out of their hands and placed in the custody of the fans. We see it with countless fandoms, where the author is completely overshadowed and rendered almost inconsequential by the fans. Fanfiction and fanart is a prime example. Some authors get into it and play along. The ones who dig in are run over and left behind.

Some works of fanfiction and fanart even eclipse the original source material.

So, if you remembered those books with fondness but don’t follow the author and can’t bring yourself to reread, don’t worry about it. It was the 90’s or the 60’s or whatever, the world has changed. It was probably considered quite forward thinking, at the time. They were doing the best they could, presumably. We’ve moved on, we’re doing things differently now. We’re doing the best we can, now. It’s possible that there will be social criticism of my books. I’m not perfect, I’m doing the best I can. I’m learning all the time, too. I have books and authors from my past that I cringe about or wish they would stop tweeting. But I have to remember that what I got from their work says more about me than it does about them.

Take what’s good, and leave the rest behind.

Btw, I welcome fanfics, fanart, cosplay, etc etc. Tag me.

Ahh, a nice cup of tea. What could be more soothing than gentle perfumed steam rising from a tasteful china cup to warm you on a rainy day or accompany a good book? It’s almost hard to imagine the turmoil that went into making it.

Mmm…

You can’t make a cup of tea without something reaching boiling point.

Tea originally came from China. I point out this ‘duh’ fact because there are a number of famous tea growing regions in the world, like India, Nepal, and Japan. In fact, today, almost every continent has it’s own tea growing regions. But it wasn’t always like that. There are some original growing regions in India, Myanmar, and Tibet, but most of it is in China.

This pic looks super old, right? It is. It’s from the Liao Dynasty, which was around a thousand years ago. China already had tea for 1-2 THOUSAND YEARS BEFORE.

It started, most likely, as a medicinal drink in the Shang Dynasty in the second millennium BC (I never cease to be amazed by how friggin old China is!). From there, it moved to Sichuan province, where people began to boil it and drink it for fun, subtracting the other medicinal plants.

The history of tea in China is fascinating. Tea in China today is fascinating. Maybe one day, I’ll tell you guys about the TWO STORY TEA MALL in Shenzhen that I visited. But this post is about tea in Georgian England, and to get there before I’m old and grey, I’m afraid I’ll have to skip ahead…and almost all of Asia.

Sorry.

Tea is mentioned in passing by Marco Polo in the 1200s, the Portuguese got into it through their Chinese colonial city of Macau, the Dutch East India Company brought the first crate of green tea leaves to Amsterdam in the early 17th century, the French had it in the 1630s, and in the 1650s tea was appearing in British coffeehouses, where it spread to the colonies and beyond. In 1662, King Charles I married the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza, bringing the drink to court.

Now, things start getting crazy.

Tea basically exploded. At first, it was expensive and had to be procured from Dutch smugglers. But then the British East India Company got involved, making things more affordable to the British. By 1700, tea was in grocery stores, and women were getting in on the craze, too. Then they started adding milk and sugar to it. A lot of sugar. The popularity of tea from China and sugar from the Caribbean (which was facilitated by the slave trade, let’s not forget) basically fuelled Britain’s economy and contributed heavily to the global power that Britain was at this time. Then a fungus hit coffee growing regions, dropping popularity of coffee and boosting that of tea, and by 1750, tea was the national drink.

At first, green tea was the most popular (yes, with milk added), then black tea gradually started gaining more popularity, and has stayed the most drunk type of tea, even to today.

Shit starts to get really fucked up in the 1800s, which is after the period I’m talking about, so here endeth the lesson. If you want to know more, look up the Opium Wars and, if you’re not American, the Boston Tea Party (if you are American, also look it up. There’s a good chance that the history you learned in school was wrong.)

How it was made and served

The making and serving of the tea was terribly technical and actually bears some resemblance to the way tea is served in China.

So here, is the step-by-step procedure, if you’re planning to have a historically accurate pot of tea.

First, choose a tea pot big enough to serve your guests. If you have four teacups to fill, the pot should hold six teacups worth; one cup per guest, plus half again.

Not mugs. Cups. Don’t embarrass yourself.

Boil the water, and while it’s cooking, presumably in a brick fireplace, add enough tea for each person, at one teaspoon per teacup, plus half again. (Fun fact, pound for pound, tea has more caffeine than coffee. The reason it’s considered a milder drink is because the serving size is smaller. Traditionally, tea is measured in teaspoons and coffee in tablespoons, which are three times bigger.)

Cover the leaves in boiling water and fill the pot one third of the way. Let it stand for fifteen minutes.

15 minutes is a long time, y’all. Your average cup of tea steeps for 3.

While it’s steeping (dear god, it’s gonna be strong and bitter), pour some boiling water into the cups. That’s the part the Chinese still do.

When the tea leaves are done, fill the pot with boiling water, dump the water out of the cups, and serve two-thirds of the the tea (that’s important) into the still-warm cups. Pass around cream and sugar to each guest’s taste.

You leave one-third of the water in the pot so that the leaves will continue to steep.

Typically, each guest will have three cups each, so you’ll need to rebrew the leaves. Rinse the cups and fill the pot up again with boiling water. Serve immediately with cream and sugar.

For the final round, you rinse the cups again, fill the pot only two-thirds full, and serve the entirety of the remaining tea. And that’s how you keep the strength of flavour the whole way through. Neat, huh?

Now, if you like a weaker tea, use only enough water and tea per guest and don’t leave the leaves sitting in the tincture (the super concentrated tea).

Now, the afternoon tea that we all know and love wasn’t really a thing yet, in the time period of my books, but close. It was mostly drunk medicinally to relieve digestive issues, so it was something you had after a meal, with a meal, or in the late afternoon or evening. It was traditionally served with simple fare, such a bread and butter, but you know fancy people, they’ll find an excuse for cakes and biscuits.

And if you wanna get really fancy, you’ll want to invest in a real wooden tea caddy (yes, they still make them), and find a tea brick, which is how it was transported before. Loose leaf is susceptible to dampness such as is found on oceangoing vessels, but also bugs, and has a tendency to take on the smell of what’s packed with it. Tea bricks (pressed and compacted leaves) are more water resistant and generally travel better. But you’ll have to break chunks off and crumble them up. Please don’t shave them, that’s no better than tea bags.

Behold! A pic from the two-story tea mall in Shenzhen! This shopkeeper is cutting chunks off a tea brick for us.

On the brick note, bringing it back to the Boston Tea Party for a sec: people love depicting all of those guys dumping crates of tea like boxes of sand into Boston Harbour. But they were most likely crates of tea bricks, and those dudes were just frisbee-ing them into the water. And I think that’s a much more fun depiction of history.

Tea and Plain Speaking

There’s a fun little chapter in Golden, where Johanne discusses the prospect of marriage with a matriarch of another branch of her family. If you want to read a bit of it, or sample the tea inspired by it, visit XXX

Content upgrade: ratafia cake recipe

One of the biggest complaints I hear from people who want to write but can’t is that they just can’t find the time. And I want so badly to laugh, because I’m like, ‘YoU tHiNk I hAvE tImE tO wRiTe?’ I don’t. Even without a 9-5 Real Job™️, there are chores to do, errands to run, social and family obligations to fulfill, self care to do to keep from going completely off my rocker, etc. So, how do you find time in a busy schedule?

Mood

The first thing, and this is going to sound harsh, and I don’t mean it to. You have to be absolutely truthful, because it’s not easy. How badly do you want to write? When you’re overworked, sometimes you need to rest, and that’s healthy.  That’s got to take priority. When you’re stressed and it’s just easier to go along with someone else’s plan, that’s fine, do what you have to do.

But if writing is your therapy or god forbid, your job, you have to prioritise it. You have to carve out time. And sometimes that means other things don’t get done (not rest and self care. Rest and self care first, ALWAYS), or you have to put up boundaries and say no to people, or ask someone else to help you out. The reality is that there are only so many hours in a day and sometimes if some of those go to writing, they have to be taken away from something or someone else.

That out of the way, there is a method that I find helpful, when the schedule looks super packed, and it’s called the Pomodoro Method.

Basically, the Pomodoro Method is a system of time management cut into 25-minute chunks with a 10-minute break in between. This is like a High Intensity Interval Training workout for your brain. You focus super hard for 25 minutes, take a 10-minute break (stretch your wrists, get a drink, walk around), then hit it again.

This is super effective for me. I can get from 600-800 words in 25 minutes. It’s said that Terry Pratchett wrote 400 words a day, so I beat him every day. I work for two hours on a project from the hours of 5-7 am, so on a good day when I hit the ground running, I can get 3-4 Pomodoros in, which can be up to a maximum of 2400 words, which isn’t bad for a day’s work.

I like to combine my pomodoros with music, rain sounds, and scented candles. Even better if my cat is in a cuddly mood and I have a cup of coffee to sip in my breaks. It also sometimes helps to have a friend to add a bit of competitive pressure. I have a friend I meet with online every Friday at Stupid O’Clock in the morning. We have a chat, sprint (what it sounds like- a chunk of intense writing) for 30 minutes, compare wordcounts, say our talk-to-you-laters, and go about the rest of our days. It’s really nice and keeps me on track, for 30 minutes out of the week, if nothing more.

So, if you’re serious about writing and you just can’t seem to find the time, ask yourself, ‘can I find 25 minutes?’ Sometimes, that’s all you need.

If you’ve read Golden, you’ll know that Lady Johanne loves her garden. In her story, her husband’s physical absence during the war and emotional absence at home drove her to find a distraction, ending up with a passion for gardening. After the war and her husband’s death, she moved herself and her daughter to her uncle’s house, Ellenly, where she was allowed to manage his ancient garden according to her tastes.

I was going to do this all in one post, but whoo boy, is there a lot to talk about. The Georgians loved gardening.

So, today, we’re going to get into why country gardens are such a thing, what they represent, and what they were used for.

Wealth

Obviously, you have to have land to have a garden. Land is everything to the gentry. That’s what landed gentry means, you’re not just a noble by blood, you have an estate that generates income.

Then you need money to hire gardeners, you need money to buy the plants, which are sometimes exotic and imported, and then also need special tending like greenhouses, etc.

Some gardens have features like fountains (which are purely aesthetic, meaning they’re not used to water anything, and they require engineering and access to a water source), or ancillary buildings like gazebos. Some were designed by famous professional designers (watch this space for a post about Capability Brown, the most famous landscape designer of the age).

Leisure

To design, tend, and enjoy a garden, you have to have time. Sure, peasants had vegetable gardens, and the big houses had little veggie gardens that served the houses attached to the kitchens, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

Easily, the only fresh air and exercise a wealthy person got in a day was a stroll through the grounds. And of course, you couldn’t grab your hand weights and power walk across the sweeping lawns. You had to dress up, get together with your fancy friends, and stroll. And it has to be beautiful, or what’s the point?

Taste

Like everything else about wealth and class, everything you did was on display, and everything was a competition. It wasn’t enough to have a garden, you had to have the best garden. You couldn’t call your friends, so, really, the only way to socialise was to physically visit. So, there were parties and house calls and tea, and all the rest of it, a lot of which happened in the garden. So, your garden had better be on point. And if you saw someone’s garden that was better, you improved yours. And the cycle repeats. You added a new maze or a new hybrid or a water feature or hire a landscaper; whatever you had to do that set your garden apart.

Ok, so, you want to take the plunge and get Scrivener. Good choice, I approve. It’s a gamechanger.

But the programme for your Mac or PC is $50 for Mac, $45 for Windows, and $80 for both (unless you won NaNo and got the discount code) and the app for iOS is $20. Ouch, I hear you. I have the Windows version on my laptop and the app on my iPad, so here’s my breakdown of what’s great and not so great about each.

Just to get it out of the way early: yes, I am an affiliate for Scrivener. No, I am not raking in dough every month because of it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve made anything at all from it. But I do love it, so it’s not gross to promote it. I see it as my responsibility to inform people like me of a product that will help them, and help out a company that has helped me.

Onward.

Scrivener is basically a souped up word processor/binder/so much more. So, if you have Microsoft Word and Evernote and many many copies of different drafts if your stories, do you even need Scrivener? Maybe not, but wouldn’t it be nice to have it all in one place?

But the purpose of this article isn’t to pitch Scrivener as a whole, but to help you decide which version is right for you. I do wish there was a way for people who had bought the desktop version to get a discount on the app, but I don’t know what bureaucratic hoops would be involved in that, so for the time being, let’s assume it’s one or the other. I also wish there was a version for Android, and we are promised one sometime in 2018 (that’s not a typo, I checked. We are late by nearly 2 years), but until then, we’ll have to make some choices.

Firstly, the device you have. I was never much for typing on my phone, and still only do it as a last resort. So, if you don’t have an iPad, I’d say right off, stick with the desktop. If you’re cool with your phone or have an iPad, read on.

Secondly, what kind of physical space do you have? I travel a lot, which means I’m on planes a lot, and the seatback tables make typing on my laptop a real inconvenience, to the point of being nearly impossible. That was my primary motivation for buying an iPad in the first place: I need something more portable, and iPad won out over Galaxy Note because it could run Scrivener. I was lucky enough to snag it when Prime was having a big sale.

So, if space isn’t an issue, then the desktop is grand, and if you need something more portable, go with the app.

Thirdly, features. Scrivener has A Lot of features. An overwhelming amount of features. It’s great if you’re a control freak like me and like to make sure everything is absolutely perfect, but if that sounds scary, there’s a solution. The desktop version has everything, it is full service. It even has a tutorial to get you started and every fresh document also has tutorials. The app is much more streamlined. The trouble with that is that it takes a fair bit of random tapping sometimes to see if it can do what you want it to do. That being said, the bells and whistles that are missing from the app won’t improve or impede your story or process, they’re really very surface level mods that would probably slow it down or make it too big and clumsy a file. I don’t really miss them.

So, there you have it. If you’re landlocked and you like full power at your fingertips, it’s the desktop for you. If you travel and only need the basics (and already have the iPad), go with the app. Obviously, the best choice is both (and they sync through Dropbox, so you never lose your work), but if you’re between checks, are a casual writer, or just resent buying the same programme twice, I hope this has helped.

Wow, February went a lot faster than January, didn’t it? I’m surprised I actually managed to get this book read on time! I’ve had it on my list for a long time, and bumped it up after I wrote my own retelling of the Goose Girl, Golden.

Continue reading

There are so many books out there, Misfits. So many books. Usually, in my efforts to sample as many as I can, I will read the first book of a series, and if it’s good, but doesn’t grab hold of my core, I thank it for its story and move on. Very rarely do I move on to book two. Almost never do I preorder the thing.

Continue reading

Travel is fun. You get to see interesting things, meet interesting people. And some places are special because of their relative location on the map, the fact of being place markers, or because of just how hard it is to get to them. Many of these places have traditions surrounding them, but the ones we’ll be discussing today are line crossing ceremonies.

A line crossing ceremony refers to a sort of ritual performed among the crew when a ship crosses a significant ocean line, usually the Equator, though there are specifics for other lines or landmarks as well. These ceremonies are usually performed by navies, merchant navies, and sometimes passenger cruises or sail training ships, as well. The important point is that by crossing a significant line in the ocean, you join a community of other people who also are considered well traveled sailors, called Shellbacks. Those who have not are called Pollywogs.

‘frolicsome’

History

The tradition seems to date back to the 17th century, during the Age of Exploration, when the sea was teeming with ships and sailors, crisscrossing the globe in search of gold, exotic goods, land, and less respectable trade, such as slaves.

What happened

The ceremonies themselves had a wide variety of events, ranging from silly to bizarre to dangerous to outright brutal assault. The captain would sometimes dress as a priestess of Poseidon, or as the god himself, and direct the crew in various feats and tasks to prove themselves worthy of the sea. They may be forced to strip naked and crawl through disgusting substances like garbage and tar, they might have soap and paint put in their mouths, they could be made to endure a ducking stool (a notorious torture device used during witch trials), and there would often be beatings with such things as firehoses, wet rope, or rods. Some sailors were seriously injured and even killed.

Why?

So, why go through all of this? Well, the main reason is the same as the rationale behind hazing- shared trauma is great for bonding. It’s also thought to toughen up the crew because the sea can be harsh, and also it breaks down a person’s ability to protest an order, no matter how onerous the task. In a storm or during a battle, you have to obey commands quickly, and can’t stand around arguing with your commanding officer.

Today, though, it’s mostly for morale, entertainment, and for the honour of being able to call yourself a Shellback. Rules are strictly laid out, now, and are adhered to carefully. When the rules are broken, the consequences are severe.

Martinette

In my short story, Martinette, Sulat joins a ship called Martinette, which is a merchant vessel. The route takes the crew through a rough and unpredictable patch of sea called The Squalls, but before they get there, they perform a crossing ceremony to bond the crew and prepare them for the ordeal they’re about to face. Sulat doesn’t see much of the storm, but she still has to go through the ceremony to earn the title of Lobster (the opposite being a ‘heifer’).

I won’t tell you what happens, though. You have to read it for yourself.

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