Category Archives: Alex Beecroft

Dancing with Destiny

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For all the pseudo-medieval world building there is out there in Fantasy land, it struck me yesterday that there’s very little dancing. People build castles and set demons on their peasantry, or arise out of humble beginnings as a kitchen drudge to kill (or tame) dragons, but magic seems to be very much of the ‘read a grimoire and point a wand at it’ variety.

As a morris dancer, I am offended at this. Or perhaps offended is too strong a word, perhaps I mean ‘mystified.’

You see, even now, I go out with my morris dancing side at 5.25am on a May Day morning and do the dances required to make sure the sun comes up for the rest of the year. On plough Monday, I and my side (technical term meaning ‘a group of morris dancers’) go out to do the dances required to make sure the fields will be fertile. Just this weekend I was dancing for one side and playing the special morris music for another side at Mill Road Winter Fair. Admittedly, this had no sacred purpose other than getting in some money for beer, but for your average pseudo-medieval peasant, I’m sure getting the beers in was a sacred activity in itself.

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The morris dance has a history so old no one can tell with certainty how far back it goes. Some say it arrived in the UK from Spain in the 15th Century. But then what are we to make of the fact that the Abbot’s Bromley Horn Dance is danced with horns that have been carbon dated as being a thousand yearsold?

(This is actually a vid of the Thaxted version of the dance, because the honest-to-goodness real Abbots Bromley dance doesn’t look anything near as impressive. As Sir Terry Pratchett says, ‘Things that try to look like things often look more like things than things.’)

Of course morris is not alone in being a magic dance once performed to achieve all kinds of good things. Here is a vid of the Romanian Calusari dance, once danced in secret to heal the ill and frighten away evil spirits.

Speaking of Terry Pratchett, I give him big credits for including the morris in his Discworld, and for inventing the Dark Morris, danced at midwinter. He gets my ‘approved by dancers’ stamp. As does Tolkien, whose Silmarillion featured the elf-princess Luthien defeating the Dark Lord by way of a magic dance. This is heady company, but I can at least claim that my hero in the Under the Hill books is a morris dancer, and that I mention Dandiya Raas in passing.

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Within the pavilion, they found the lips of wells. A cold air came up from them, and the water within was black and smooth as jet. Ben didn’t understand how the villagers could possibly unite these passages to the underworld with the kind of prancing and ribbons and flower scenes of the fete.

“This is…old,” he said, feeling it, not stopping to wonder what he meant.

“Yes,” Chris agreed, leaning on the lip of the well, looking down. He tipped a penny into the shaft, and they both listened to the plunk as it hit the water. Ben stepped up beside him and saw his face broken into circles on the surface. “But then so is the dancing. The flowers may be to placate the spirits that live here—to tame them. That may be why the church is here too. But the morris dance is different.”

“It’s not as stupid as it looks.”

Chris laughed and leaned back on his elbows, the deep drop behind him. “You have a way with a compliment. But you’re right. The dance…flouts everything. Everything but itself. ‘See,’ it says, ‘we’re men. We’re alive and strong and beautiful. Bollocks to everything else.’ It’s a kind of defiance to this sort of thing.”

“Like the haka, but with pansies.”

Chris slapped his top pocket, frowned as if he’d expected to find something there, came up empty handed. “Yes, well, the haka’s a bit unsubtle, isn’t it? morris is a lot more English—male-combat display, but with irony.”

“Hankies and flowers instead of swords.”

“Exactly.” He slid a sly look in Ben’s direction. “We’re undercompensating.”

Ben’s turn to laugh. “I’d like to see what for.”

~

I think dance makes an interesting and unexpected vehicle for magic in a fantasy, and one that hasn’t yet been overused, but maybe that’s my ignorance talking. Can you recommend any other books in which ritual dance forms a part? Why do you suppose there are so few? Is it really that uncool? If so, why?

October is for Bloodsuckers

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That may be overstating the position a little, in fact. But this October we start with our new policy of themed months, in which each month we all blog on a similar topic. This month, as one might expect for the month in which Halloween falls, the theme is the paranormal. As a result, I am musing about vampires.

I’m writing a novel with vampires in it at this very moment. Which probably makes it a bit odd that I have to confess that it’s been a long time since I saw the appeal of bloodsucking corpses in opera capes. Is it just me, or is it widely accepted that the lure of vampires is thematically almost identical to the popularity of rape in romance stories? Ie, our dear repressed reader likes thinking about sex but has internalised the idea that they ought not to. As a result they are stuck in a mindset where they want to be forced into it, so they get to have it, but to not have it be their fault.

Maybe I am making this up, but I feel sure it’s old hat as a theory, that the blood drinking part of vampire stories, with the penetration by pointy objects and the swooning etc, is symbolic for sex. So the appeal of vampires as a whole is the appeal of sex to someone who isn’t really comfortable with dealing with sex except at arms length through a metaphor. It’s all very Victorian, I can’t help thinking. Surely we don’t still associate sex with death in quite such an overwrought, repressed-but-guiltily-titilated manner? Aren’t we all a little more liberated than that, more comfortable with our own sexuality, these days?

Judging from the popularity of sexy vampires, maybe not.

But what about those of us for whom sex is not a terrifying (but strangely attractive) monster in the room? Is there anything vampires can do for us? Can they be used as a different metaphor? Can they be made interesting in another way?

I think so. One of the best vampire shows I’ve ever seen was Ultraviolet, the TV series with Jack Davenport as a cop turned reluctant ‘leech’ hunter. (Look at that ‘leech’ as a nickname for vampires. Doesn’t that already give everything a different slant? Wonderful!) In this series, vampires were bloodsuckers in the sense that they were the people who latch onto your emotions and drain them dry. They would use all your soul – dreams, compassion, fears, everything sacred to you – to manipulate you. This series took ‘sexy’ vampires, allowed them to do everything possible to snare the viewer’s sympathy, and yet by the end of it you honestly believed these were irredeemable monsters, and if you were anything like me you detested them with a passion you’ve never felt for any other villain in your life.

It made vampires interesting again, as monsters.

That’s what I’m going for in my book – vampires as monsters. We seem, IMO, to have lost the horror we should have at the thought of a parasite that takes the body of your loved one and uses it to suck the life out of you. Vampires as a metaphor for AIDS, I could see. Why hasn’t someone done that yet? Or perhaps they have?

What do you think? Is there mileage in the monster still, or are you too busy enjoying the sexy kind to want anything different from that?

Holding The Left Hand of Darkness

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Holding The Left Hand of Darkness

 

With our last post, we disgruntled some readers by taking examples from mainstream fantasy rather than LGBT fantasy and you may be thinking that I’ve done it again. It’s probably true, because The Left Hand of Darkness, or LHD as I’ll call it for short, is not an LGBT book. But it is a Q book. Or at least, it has been, for me, the only book I have ever read that gave me a glimpse of what life would be like in a society where people were more like me.

This is a personal reminiscence, because this is a book very personal to me. It’s taken me a long time to work out what exactly it is that I am, because neither of those things are very high profile – I am genderqueer and I am asexual (though het romantic). These things took a long time to figure out because in my day (yes, I am that old) and in my suburban culture we didn’t have words for any of that stuff. I’ve mostly identified as ‘weird’ and ‘frigid’.

So intellectually I had no idea why, when I read this book first, twenty or so years ago, it hit me like a breath of paradise. It hit me like finding out I had somewhere where I was home. I still haven’t read another book that did the same thing (though some of my love for Sherlock Holmes comes down to recognising him as a fellow ace. Oh, I hate it when they give him a girlfriend!)

Anyway, scene setting aside, let’s talk about the book: Read the rest of this entry

Crossing the Line

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Do You Cross The Line? By Alex Beecroft

Here’s a topic that’s on my mind at the moment – crossovers and crossing genres. As an author I hold my hands up and confess to being a serial monogamistas far as inspiration goes. That means, if I’m fired by enthusiasm for the 18th Century, I’ll spend five or more years writing stories set in the 18th Century. And that’s great, isn’t it, because people will get used to the idea that if you pick up an Alex Beecroft book, it’ll be set somewhere around the 1750s and will probably involve sailing ships. I’ve got this branding thing sorted.

The trouble is that eventually my happy little butterfly of a writer’s mind decides its got all the juice out of the celandine of historical fiction, and flits off to the bluebell of fantasy instead, where it hopes to suck up enough sugar to last another half decade. But butterflies are flighty things, and who knows how long that will last before it’s off to the daisy of contemporaries or the purple flowering loosestrife of gothic murder mystery? And as if that wasn’t bad enough, who knows when it will cycle round to historical again and set in for a five book series set in the stone age?

From my point of view as an author, I love the fact that I can write about what takes my fancy at any time, and I’m rather pleased to know that if one obsession peters out, I can find another one. It’s much preferable, from my POV, for me to be writing from love and enthusiasm than it would be if I felt compelled to write more of the same over and over because that was what was expected of me. I think that writing something simply because I felt I ought to would make my life not worth living, and it would also lead to the slow but inevitable descent of my stories into lifeless rubbish.

At the risk of being a little controversial, I can’t help feeling sometimes that that’s what happened to the later volumes of Harry Potter, or the Anita Blake novels – the authors got fed up of churning the same thing out and lost interest, and it showed.

But I can’t help wondering what readers think of that. I, for example, know that I will read anything at all written by Ursula LeGuin, no matter what the genre, but I will only read CJ Cherryh’s Science Fiction and not her fantasy.  What about you? Will you follow an author whose work you enjoy across genres? Or do you think “oh, I wish she would stop messing about with werewolf cop romps in Barbados, and get back to her 12th Century gardening detective novels.” Does the butterfly author risk losing everything every time they try something new?

And since I’m talking about crossing lines, lets talk about crossovers too. Here I’m on even more personal territory. I’ve realised that while I love historical romance and I love fantasy and mystery, what I’d like most would be to write historical fantasy romance. Maybe even historical fantasy mystery romance. The book I had most of a blast writing was The Wages of Sin – a historical ghost story murder mystery m/m romance.

Even my new Fantasy novels, Under the Hill: Bomber’s Moon and Under the Hill: Dogfighters have a strong streak of World War II in amongst the elves and the contemporary romance. I’m trying to have my cake and eat it – trying to amalgamate all the genres I like into every story.

But again – lots of doubts. Does, say, a historical fantasy appeal to both historical and fantasy fans, or does the presence of fantasy put off the historical fans, and the presence of history put off the fantasy ones, so it ends up appealing to neither?

These are the questions that are keeping me up recently, and I don’t have any answers. What do you think? Is it a good thing if authors jump genres? Should they change pseudonym if they do to avoid confusion? Is it a good thing to amalgamate genres, or should the genres be like noble gasses and resolutely refuse to be made into compounds? And if you like the idea of crossovers, what would you like to see crossed over with what, and why?

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Alex Beecroft was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She studied English and Philosophy before accepting employment with the Crown Court where she worked for a number of years. Now a stay-at-home mum and full time author, Alex lives with her husband and two daughters in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.

Alex is only intermittently present in the real world.She has lead a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800 year old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.

You can find me at http://alexbeecroft.com or http://alex-beecroft.livejournal.com I talk more on LJ