Lockdown Loveseat Pallet Project

All aboard the pallet bandwagon

Everyone is making things out of pallets these days. The videos and posts make it look so easy. Planks that prize apart at the slightest effort, beautifully planed and straight oak, blocks you could build your house with.

Not wishing to let this bandwagon leave without me I jumped aboard.

Regrets? I have a few. And splinters. Aches. A lot of aches.

I’m pleased with the outcome, and I learned a lot along the way, but it was a mission and I’m glad its over.

Here’s what I found out.

Not all pallets are equal

Quality, shape, size, wear. All variables. These are the three pallets my wife acquired for free from a local store. Two went into this project.

These are a far cry from gorgeous blonde, smooth pallets of others’ posts. I suspect the splinters have carried a substantial amount of blue dye into my bloodstream. Frankly I’m surprised I don’t look like a smurf now.

Not all parts of pallets are equal Or Square

These aren’t designed to be beautiful. The idea of a pallet is that it does not fall to pieces and can carry a load, over and over. The tolerances on the components are pretty loose. Planks that were optically similar were as much as 5mm different in width.

Differences in length were more about where the wood split when I was breaking the pieces apart, or where there was previous damage. Some parts were warped, some bowed.

That set the tone for this build. It had to be something robust and rustic. Without a planer/thicknesser and a huge amount of waste there was no way this was going to turn into something beautiful and refined. Not in my hands anyway.

Oh, and the less said about the compressed fibre end blocks the better.

So many nails

Each fixing point had at least three nails. All were rusted, and deeply embedded, strengthened by years of compression. I cut where I could but it still meant prying and pulling and hacking.

Then I got to the second layer. Nails bent over and hammered back in to provide an immovable hook. I ignored those as long as I could, then took the Dremel to them.

Of course I had to remember there might be bits of metal embedded when I was sawing and sanding.

Notice also the splits and cracks which rendered the ends of many of the planks unusable.

Making the best of it

All that effort and this is what I got. A pile of potentially usable planks. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to make. Our garden bench has been getting a bit wobbly, so another place to sit was a reasonable challenge.

Most pallet projects keep as much integrity of the original pallets as possible, and I can see why. There was a lot of waste and effort involved in getting this far. I could more easily have created a flat bench which was perfectly functional by chopping and reattaching large sections. I’ll use that method for the next project (a potting table) because I’m running out of dry days and daylight hours.

The point here though was to find out what could be done. Onward!

Loveseat, baby

I’d settled on the idea of a loveseat pretty early on. The design morphed as I got to grips with the materials and worked out what was feasible with what I had.

Originally I had visions of built in shelves for herb pots, and that the central divider would be a planter where I could put in some rose geraniums. That came crashing to earth pretty quickly.

I still liked the idea of two seats facing each other, and a trawl through the available finishes in my garage gave me the idea of a two tone colour scheme. That’s about as much planning as I ever do for something like this.

Here’s the first stage complete:

Also need to do something with the logs

There were mishaps along the way. My trusty pilot and countersink snapped.

Now to find the allen key to remove the countersink

The thicker planks have a little bevel, which I decided to make a feature of. You can see it in the image above. That meant a lot of measuring and re-thinking the design on the fly to make everything fit because it would have been too easy if I just had enough of the right pieces.

This is the test fit of the design I went with for the backs. You can spot where the damaged ends have been hidden away. I didn’t do too much filling on the backs despite the very knackered state of the wood. Let’s say that was to retain the history of the material and not being heartily sick of the project by this stage.

There’d been long delays for bad weather, back injury and other commitments, but it is all about the history.

The final push was a battle against the weather. The task is complete just in time for us to enjoy it next year.

End note on finishes

I’ve been using the Cuprinol Garden Shades range for a while now. Experience from the treehouse shows that it lasts in London weather for five years before it starts to get scruffy, and a couple more before really needing to be refreshed.

This one is done up in Muted Clay and Summer Damson, a colour combo I used on the shed refurb and I quite like.

END

Talking to myself

A bit behind with this one.

This year I had the good fortune to take part in the Lockdown Film Festival – 45 films of isolation inspired monologues. Each in our own bubble, writers wrote, actors performed to their smartphones, and the producer Suki Singh put it all together.

You can head over to the festival home page to browse through all the successful contributions, and there are some crackers, or just jump straight to mine – Rats, performed by the excellent Dani Claydon.

Each one only lasts a minute or two. Go have a listen, come back and tell me what you think.

End

And you can find out more about my writing here

Sideboard, upcycled

Somewhere in the mists of time, probably three years ago now, we inherited an upcycling project from my sister-in-law. The once quaint wooden sideboard didn’t fit the decor of their new home, and my wife and I thought we’d give it a go.

Good from afar, far from good

The sideboard turned out to be a wreck. It had been left outside for some time, and as I didn’t have space for it in the workshop it was outside and covered in tarps for another winter before I could even get started on it.

A closer inspection showed that it wasn’t a particularly good piece either. No wonder they’d picked it up for a tenner. The main structural parts looked like oak, but the rest was plywood and veneer. Most of that was de-laminating.

A good clean up works wonders

The first step was elbow grease. Sanding, and more sanding. All by hand because the parts were a bit too fragile to risk the orbital sander, and the belt sander would have reduced the whole thing to dust.

Slowly a picture of what might be possible emerged.

Left, sanded and cleaned, right with just the cobwebs brushed off

The veneer from the shoulders was all over the place, bits missing, the ply underneath also coming apart. I stripped away everything that was loose and built it back up with that rough packing paper you get with Amazon deliveries and watered down PVA.

With enough bits and layers that gave me a base to put on some new veneer. I had assumed the fascia was square to the shoulders, but obviously over time the two had warped, so there was a bit of fettling and filler required before that process was complete.

I didn’t mess too much with the veneer on the sides. It was wafer thin and ripped in places. I glued down the loose bits and made judicious use of filler for the gaps. It really was in a bad way and stripping it back could have destroyed everything.

We had toyed with the idea of covering the shoulders with copper coins, and I really would have liked to give it a go, but the curve was a bit too severe and undoing that if it went wrong would be really destructive.

We did of course give it a bit of a personal touch at the end. More on that later.

Pro tip – heat breaks up old glue. It took about five minutes of half power and jiggling per handle to get them out. Don’t forget to wear gloves.

Finishes, and the end in sight

I have no idea if there is any science to this, but it felt right. I used two coats of walnut wood dye first. In part this was to even out the colour and hide some of the water damage, and harmonise the different wood types, and in part the wood was in poor condition from exposure and I felt it needed some care lavished on it.

That gave me a good base on which to apply two coats of walnut stain.

Dyed on the left, first coat of stain on the right

The split in the doors posed a tough question. It was theoretically feasible to unglue, disassemble and try to straighten and repair them, but it was a risk. The crack has not penetrated all the way through, there are bends in the back of the door but no open space.

In the end I went with the easy option, and consoled myself that this allowed the sideboard to tell its story.

That said there were myriad cracks and splits that needed repair. I mostly used dust from the sanding and pva in the gaps, and an array of clamps. I’m pretty pleased that the repairs aren’t obvious.

Coming unhinged

The hinges were also a mess. At some point a previous owner had varnished over them. Don’t ask me why. It took a combination of gel paint remover, a toothbrush and wire wool to get this mess off.

I don’t actually like the hinges, and I don’t see how they fit the overall style. There are no holes indicating other hinges were once used. I’ve stuck with these for now, but I can see a future in which they are replaced.

It was around now, with the wood recoloured and a shape emerging that it was clear this was a bit of Frankenstein furniture. The style of the doors, drawers, hinges and top piece don’t seem consistent.

That made it easier to give it a bit of a flourish of our own.

Top, tiled

The flat top on the base was a ruin. It was where the water damage was worst, and it needed a complete replacement. I went with plywood because why be different to what was there before, and a beading to finish off the edge.

There’s something very satisfying about a hand cut mitred corner

That high edge and flat surface meant we could add a personal twist. Tiles.

A bit out of sequence, this is before I cut the top to size, also the beading had been kicking around in workshop for a while and was decidedly wonky at one end

We used a contact adhesive to stick the tiles down, and then grouted. I really like the effect we achieved with this. My wife’s idea and choice of tiles, so well done to her.

Fit, and not quite finished

The two parts are attached with a pair of dowels and pair of screws on each foot. I decided to keep the original dowel position and put in new screw holes. A bit of precise measurement was required to get that right, as well as making a template for the two feet.

Finish line just out of reach

The handles we like aren’t in stock, so there will be a bit of a wait. The build work is done though, and the whole thing put together and in place.

It fits the colour of our fireplace and the two sets of tiles riff off each other. That was completely intentional, obvs.

After a couple of years of on and off tinkering, and a bit of lockdown inspiration, I’m quite pleased with the result. Of course I know every inch of this thing now, I know where the veneer is tap away from falling off, and where glue, filler and hope are holding things together. The whole house is like that.

It was never a high end piece. It looks like it was several ideas cobbled together before we got hold of it, and we have added a few of our own. Something about that feels right. It fits our house and our family.

Job (almost) done.

I had to do some last minute drilling when the screws for the hinges would not sit quite right.

End

Publication Announcement – new story in Space Force: Building the Legacy

What We Learned from the Fire

Funny how certain themes pervade my writing from time to time. A little while back I wrote a short piece (not sold at the time of writing) on religious extremism / militarism being grounded in an blind faith and an unwillingness to ask questions.

Exhaustion has also been on my mind, and how it can be a catalyst for reflection. If you took a chance to listen to me reading from Robert Nichols (head over to Instagram if you haven’t yet) you might recall this line:

Only sometimes will exhaustion allow

Us peace to observe the image of love’s ghost

from Sonnets to Aurelia by Robert Nichols

It has been on my mind that only when adrenalin has been drained, or passion spent, that we can look back on what drove us. Think of it as the seconds needed to overcome an amygdala hijack, and allow the rational mind to take over, writ large.

From that was born What We Learned from the Fire, a reflective piece looking at the horrors of war in the aftermath of a battle, seen from the fatigued perspective of those who execute orders rather than those who give them.

The stories I have sold so far have been, by and large, refined and honed over years. Edited, rejected, re-worked and re-sent over and over. This was a stark contrast. It emerged fully formed, was scraped and cleaned and landed the first time I sent it out.

Thanks for that to Doug Irvin, who saw something in it that fit the theme of this anthology. Read his thoughts on how the anthology came together here. He observed on accepting the story that it put him in mind of Wellington. The comment was a little inscrutable, but I guess he meant this:

Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

It is a melancholy piece, that’s for sure. Don’t worry, the other contributions aren’t.

There are more guest posts about the anthology hosted on Richard Paolinelli’s blog as well.

Interested? Check it out:

And you can find out more about my writing here

End

Storytelling – or just me telling a story

Why let your voice be tamed?

The irrepressible Phoebe Darqueling at Steampunk Journal has posted the audiobook version of my story In the Cavern of the Sleepers, head on over to have a listen.

This was a really fun project. For the reading I had to try my hand at different voices. I also experimented with Audacity to get just the right meditation drone noise for the interstitial music.

It was surprising exhausting to do the reading. Paying attention to every word, switching voices, concentrating on keeping a measured pace but adding urgency when required, all took its toll. I enjoyed it, and if the chance comes along I would like to do it again. Next time I’ll be better informed about what it takes.

Go have a listen then pop back and tell me what you think. If you really liked it here are a few other readings:

Sonnets to Aurelia by Robert Nichols (Instagram)

An excerpt from Desole Habibti (Youtube)

An excerpt from Like Clockwork (Youtube)

My story is set in the jungles of India. If your steampunk interest leans more to airships you can also check out Phoebe reading Secrets and Airships by A.F. Stewart.

End

The opening quote is from Emeli Sandé of course, and the photocredit goes to my cousins the Photosapiens

And you can find out more about my writing here

The Sound of Sonnets

I hold this truth to be self-evident that Shakespeare was a genius. A truth reinforced by watching The Globe’s excellent 2018 Hamlet last night (my TARDIS was broken but luckily the lovely Globe folks are putting some of their archive material online).

So, Uncle Bill. Unparalleled as a playwright and prolific as a sonneteer. Damned by faint praise (did you see what I did there?). The majestic Sir Patrick Stewart has been reading Will’s sonnets on Instagram, and his readings are indeed a thing of beauty. The poems? Well for me they do blur a bit. As Sir Patrick comments, Shakespeare revisits the theme of encouraging his object to have a child across the first seventeen sonnets. (Link to the first one here or follow @sirpatstew)

I hesitate to say it, all to aware of the stratospheric gap between Old Bill and my limited gifts, but he does bang on a bit.

Selections from Sonnets to Aurelia cover.jpg

Inspired by Sir Patrick I thought I’d bring you something you might not have heard. Check out my Instagram, you’ll find a recording of four sonnets by the early 20th-century poet Robert Nichols. I never hear his name mentioned, and it is possible he has been entirely forgotten. 

His book “Aurelia and Other Poems” has a number of “Sonnets to Aurelia”, of which four were selected for the 1936 Oxford Book of Modern Verse. My electronic copy of Aurelia was lost in some forgotten system failure, but the Oxford is a treasured tome I have had for more than a quarter-century (the introduction is by WB Yeats no less).

The selection provides a neat arc, from the first nervous flush of love, through tentative coming together, and then skips to the grounded, temporal nature of love. Love that is lost on death, or through faded memory. And yet, somehow at the end lingers as a ghost.

Go have a listen, let me know what you think. Then go and record your own favourites and tag me back. Introduce me to someone I have never heard of, or your rendition of If. Read aloud and share.

End

You can find more of my readings here:

An excerpt from Desole Habibti

An excerpt from Like Clockwork

And you can find out more about my writing here

 

 

Fitting In – Representation and Integration Through Time and TV

[All opinions expressed are my own and not those of any employer past or present]

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What’s my tribe?

What makes you feel like you fit in? What gives you a sense of belonging?

This is an interesting time in the search for identity. As a species we’re learning that binary notions of personal identity are insufficient to encompass the rich variety of humanity. On a national scale Brexit, immigration and independence all pose searching questions of our individual and collective identities as citizens of the United Kingdom. Interesting, but also confusing.

I’m the child of immigrants. Gen X. North Londoner (the prefix is important). Right-handed. Short-sighted. Muslim. Shia. The labels go on. The last two are core and a matter of opinion between me and my God, so let’s put those to one side.

I was born and raised here. I feel British. With a little less certainty post Brexit, not through any change in the environment that I have witnessed but because things I believed about the country have been proven untrue. And a little more British since watching Man Like Mobeen on BBC3.

Let’s focus on the more, because these are bleak times and something positive will lift the mood.

 

We’re all doomed

A friend recently commented that Temple of Doom is the worst Indiana Jones film. I was momentarily perturbed, largely because this was never a question I had thought about. Perturbed also because it is the one set in India, with all the brown people. “Kaali Maan” and all that.

There was a time when I loved that movie. There were people who looked a bit like me, who spoke the language (near as) that I spoke with my mother, and they were in a Hollywood blockbuster movie. The clothes in the palace were like going to a family wedding. For a while that was enough. It was sufficient to have my people acknowledged, their existence presented to a worldwide audience.

Watch it with a modern eye and it is a racist monstrosity almost on a par with the live action Aladdin.* Lazy tropes and incoherent assumptions abound. Chilled monkey brains, anyone?

Image result for chilled monkey brains

The rope bridge scene is still pretty good though.

 

A thousand apologies for what we used to watch

It got me thinking about the comedies we used to enjoy in the 70s and early 80s. Two deeply contrasting shows spring to mind. It Ain’t Half Hot Mum was set towards the end of the second world war and followed concert party attached to a military unit in India and Burma. We watched it because it was one of the few ways to see brown faces on TV back then, and there were only three channels anyway.

Image result for it aint half hot mum

It has not aged well. The late Michael Bates in brown face spouting “comical” Hindu proverbs in a terrible accent is a particular low point. But at the time it was an acknowledgement, the war in Burma was real, and our people were involved. That the acknowledgement came with a heavy dose of caricature and Johnsonian language was less important to us then than the fact that we were present on the screen beamed into British households.

The contrast with Mind Your Language is stark. This show was set in a night school teaching immigrants English. A veritable UN of races was represented. We loved it. Tropes still ran rife, with each race moulded in it is stereotypes. (e.g. The Frenchwoman was a magnet for the men.) And because people of colour are interchangeable you had a Sri Lankan actor playing a Sikh, and a Chinese actor playing a Japanese executive.

Image result for mind your language

It would not be made in the 21st century (live-action Aladdin notwithstanding**) but we did love it. It put a lens on a very authentic part of the immigrant experience: the trials and tribulations of learning English. I watched my mother go through the same process. Its authenticity put it in a different league to It Aint Half Hot Mum. Everyone I’ve asked misses that show, sometimes you can live with the caricatures and stereotypes.***

And therein lies the shortcoming Temple of Doom, it is a hodgepodge of half-understood cultural references selectively thrown together for a generic evil eastern religion. There aren’t enough snappy lines from Short Round to save it.

When we were naïve and insecure in our place, uncertain of ourselves, it was enough to be seen. We’ve grown, matured as citizens, and now we want more. We want to be represented as we are.

How Audacious

The first step on the road to inclusion came with Goodness Gracious Me, four British Asian actors poking fun at white British attitudes, and the plethora of Asian idiosyncrasies imported into British life. This was comedy in our voice and everyone was listening.

GoodnessGraciousMe.jpg

It also shaped British Asian culture, and perhaps British culture as well. “Going for an English” is both funny as a sketch and a blistering critique of endemic racism. The recurring characters, Mr India, the Coopers, auntie with her aubergine were all people we knew, and now we had a frame of reference to talk about them with non-Asian friends. More than that it shaped language. An idiot is now “Muppet-ji” and if you disagree you can kiss my chuddies.

(Side note – in a conflation of the very white fictional sport Quidditch, and the very brown GGM, I call my kids the Chuddly Cannons.)

For the first time sub-continentals on British soil were portrayed with their authentic voice.

Everyone loves French hot bread****

It’s that authenticity in representation that makes me love Man Like Mobeen. Let me be clear, I’m not a convicted felon, nor from the midlands, nor raising my kid sister. The true gift in MLM is its post GGM use of language. Subtract the swear words and that easy flow between English and Urdu demonstrated by Guz Khan (and in the latest season Art Malik) is the hybrid language I and my family use. With certain friends the swear words come back into play.

Image result for man like mobeen

We relate to the challenges and contradictions he faces (without the gangland criminality stuff, just to be clear Ms Patel). He is us. And therein lies the sense of belonging. Our voice, our struggle, our absurdity is on the screen in the way that we experience it.

People like me, living their lives here, shown on TV. Shown as we are, not the way someone thinks we are or heard we might be.

On paper Citizen Khan should achieve the same thing. Also set in Birmingham and with that Muslim vibe, it could have been a vehicle to provide true representation. Unfortunately it just isn’t funny. We’re no longer so hungry to see ourselves on screen that we’ll tolerate rubbish. That’s also a sign of feeling we belong.

END

* The cultural references in Aladdin span from Turkey to India, from Central Asia to Egypt, because ten million square miles of diversity is still just a bunch of brown people.

** Disclosure: I have written two modern djinn stories and two Arabian nights homages. Judge for yourself if I fell into the same traps: An Absolute Amount of Sadness, Désolé Habibti, Ali Baba and the Little Thief and Adiha and the Three Djinn

*** Fun fact: Dino Shafeek was in both

**** Pain Chaud. It shouldn’t be funny, it is.

This time really the END

Find out more about my writing here

RJF – A cold bleak winter comes

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A cold bleak winter comes

Ruswa Fatehpuri

 

This is a cold bleak winter

And it will last for years to come

 

Grieve. Take time to grieve and heal

For you are right to feel this losing as a loss

And mourn, our country could not choose

A decent man who can’t be bought

 

This is a cold bleak winter

And it will last for years to come

 

Be kind. Kindness is our calling card

However hard the freezing wall of words

And in the chill of these self-centred times

Be the warmth that seeks the greater good

 

This is a cold bleak winter

And it will last for years to come

 

Smile. Smile because our comradeship is joy

No ploy of media or artifice, buffoon veneer

Should steal the gift that is your smile

Smile at the harried doctor, fatigued nurse

Smile and acknowledge at the least

The homeless huddled in the doorway

Smile for the delivery guy, paid by the parcel

Smile even for those who have betrayed

The rights for which their parents fought

The fight for freedom vainly sought

To be baptised in bigotry

 

Grieve, for those who lost their way

Be kind and say only that which heals

And smile to warm this cold bleak winter

That we may last until the spring can come

 

RJF2019

END

Something in a similar vein from Jack Monroe

Check out the Ruswa Fatehpuri chapbook 

 

Becoming an Ally

I am the senior sponsor for the Allies workstream to my employer’s Women’s Network. The key reason for doing it was that it was clearly the right thing to do, but I also had some experiences over the last year that exposed how narrow and privileged my world view was.

Here is the article I wrote for my employer’s intranet to explain some of my motivation (lightly edited to remove organisation specific details). I’m sharing it with my blog followers as a challenge for us all to find our blind spots.

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Working here I have grown accustomed to being the dumbest person in the room. We tell new recruits they’ll be working with really smart people, but we’re a bit coy about the implications.

Anyway, someone needs to ask the stupid questions. So it came as a shock, but no surprise, to learn during this year of gaping blind spots in my world view. Three incidents occurred which held up a mirror to show me what I had been missing.

The first was on the way home from a rare evening out with my wife. We were standing at an above-ground station, waiting for the tube. A train pulled in and pulled out opposite us, and my wife asked, “Did you see what just happened?”

I hadn’t noticed anything and said so.

“The woman on the opposite platform looked into the carriage, saw there was only one other person there, and walked up the train to a busier carriage.”

I’ve been commuting on the tube since I was eleven and never felt concerns over my personal safety. A near-empty carriage is an excuse to man-spread and put my bag on the seat beside me.

It hadn’t occurred to me that for some it was a risk that had to be mitigated. Mirror, blind spot.

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Eye-opening

The second incident was while packing for our summer holiday. With a few t-shirts and pairs of shorts getting my clothes sorted took less time than organising my photography equipment.

It was then that I encountered the organisational Rubik’s Cube that was packing for my daughters (14 & 12).

They’re very sweet, and for my sake maintain the fiction that all their problems can be solved with a hug and a kiss on the nose (then they go and talk to their mum).

But the inescapable truth is that they are young women now. Packing for them meant catering for the uncertainties of female physiology, which could defy both science and almanacs. Each potential outcome meant thinking through different sets of clothes, and contingencies.

I was academically aware of all this. I have a GCSE in biology and I’ve been married for a long time. Of course, by the time I met my wife she had all of this sorted out, and neatly, privately hidden away.

With my daughters, I was watching them learn how to manage for the first time. This time the mirror showed the reality that women live with, but which I had the privilege of never considering.

Behind every female colleague sitting beside me are additional layers of logistics, planning and preparation that I am free from. And that is just the surface level stuff I can wrap my head around.

Again?

The final incident came in the form of a book. My elder daughter did a solo speech at school based on Invisible Women (exposing data bias in a world designed for men) by Caroline Criado Perez. We talked a lot about Perez’s observations, for example she notes that:

“… when a woman is involved in a car crash she is 47% more likely to be seriously injured than a man … And it is all to do with how the car is designed – and for whom.” (p186)

Many years ago I worked for a multinational car manufacturer, planning the vehicles that were up to five years away from market.

We’d identified female buyers as a key demographic to target, and our research told us they were more interested in safety than men.

In all our discussions on safety features and NCAP ratings, not once did the thought arise to have a female crash test dummy.

The mirror (mumble mumble years later) showed what we did not think to question, which should be unacceptable.

Ask the stupid questions

I have learned this year that the world is more profoundly unequal than I had imagined. I’ve been the beneficiary of layers of privilege I have been blind to. This is why I’m standing up as an ally to the Women’s Network.

I’m not willing to accept my ignorance, and I want to learn how to change myself, and maybe nudge the world along a little as I do so.

Some of you may be reading this and thinking “he’s clearly an idiot, this is all obvious”. Don’t worry I get that a lot, like I said: someone has to ask the stupid questions. My challenge to you is – if you see it so clearly what are you doing about it? If you’re doing nothing, well maybe you need a different mirror.

The world doesn’t need another male voice telling women what to do. I’m getting involved to listen and to learn.

[the article then had a call to action to our Allies launch event]

END

More on this theme here:

From the Society of Women Engineers on what makes men become allies

The Diversity Deal

The Jedi Dad Trick

Aside

Return of the Queen published on Crimson Streets

Ambrien is a warrior serving the God-Queen. With her city besieged by a relentless foe, Ambrien’s unique abilities take her away from the battle to challenge everything she believes in order to bring an end to the war.

 

You can read, and I hope enjoy, Return of the Queen as a simple fantasy story on Crimson Streets – head over there to take a look.

 

Of course, there is a bit more to it. If you’re interested…

 

Getting it right

I wrote the first draft of Return of the Queen in a bit of a rush around March 2018. The deadline for a submission call loomed and I had left things a little late. One form rejection and one personal rejection (“it’s a bit slow to develop”) later and I decided to let my beloved beta locusts loose on it. I don’t do that with all my stories; their time is precious but this one seemed worth the candle.

 

It came back littered with comments. Structure, pacing and grammar were all thoroughly examined and thoughtful suggestions given on what to improve, what to cut, what to keep. We had a debate about whether the sacred knives in the story (kindjal, from khanjar) should be an invariant noun, I decided the plural should be kindjali to help the reader while accepting the technical point on invariance. And then the fighting details – style, weaponry, armour – getting these physically plausible and to a point of consistency with the setting.

 

My beta locusts are awesome. They did all that for the pleasure of doing it and I love them. Of course, I’m still seeing things in this story that I am itching to edit.

 

The next rejection showed the benefits of all that hard work: “terrific epic fantasy feel, with terrific magic and worldbuilding” just not quite right for that anthology.

 

Finding the right home

It gathered dust for almost a year, I tinkered every now and then, but the right opportunity didn’t come up, until I came across Crimson Streets. You can see the outcome of that and the interpretation of the brilliant artist Chlo’e Camonayan on their site.

 

The bigger themes

For me, Return of the Queen is more than a bit of fantasy escapism (nothing wrong with that!). We were deep into #metoo in 2018, I was curious to know if I had a legitimate voice to add, and what my contribution might be. That culminated in “Me and Me Too. Even You” late in the year. Return of the Queen precedes the poem but is part of the same thought process. The setting is a matriarchal society, a female deity, and no backhanded Steve Trevor’s to save the day. In this case I had two questions: is it power or masculinity that corrupts? and is there a path to redemption?

 

Guilt, forgiveness and redemption are themes I orbit around, and occasionally crash into, so this will come as no surprise to regular readers.

 

Now you know what I was trying to do go and add a comment on Crimson Streets and let me know if I got close to it (or here, talk to me people). If that dimension of the story doesn’t float your boat, I hope you appreciate the design of the battle skirt, the use of short spears instead of swords, the work that went into the detail, and Chlo’e’s awesome picture.

IMG_6728-7

Hilt detail from the “Splendours of the Subcontinent” exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery in Aug 2018

End

Find out more about my writing here.

There is a Ruswa Fatehpuri chapbook out there too