Wyrd Question Daze : Bryn Hammond

Hi, I’m Bryn, a writer. That’s my primary identity.

Seen here with my historical fiction on the Mongols. Here’s another photo of my shrine: several different translations of the Secret History of the Mongols, and Amgalant, my own novels as an offering.

My website Amgalant is mostly Mongol stuff. I’m still on Twitter @Jakujin, and at Mastodon @bryn@wandering.shop

Other things I’ve written lately:

Sword and sorcery with New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine, edited by the wonderful Oliver Brackenbury. Our Issue 0 is free in epub/pdf, at-cost in paperback and hardcover. Do stick your hand up—download, read and review, sign up to the mailing list—if you’d like to see further issues of excitingly new and inclusive S&S.

Queer Weird West Tales anthology, in which I have a novelette set in a fantasy version of the Russia-Siberia frontier circa 16th century.

I write poems too, not often enough. I’m proud of this Beowulf poem, and proud to be the first poet at the brand-new Green Splotches online venue for speculative poetry.

Where did you come from and where are you going?

Going nowhere fast.

I come from a position of great optimism, and… that word of William Blake’s, exuberance. ‘Exuberance is beauty’ he said, and the teacher I got along with taught me to believe. I’m an exuberant person, and my greatest fear is that it’s getting a little hard to stay that way.

What preoccupies your mind these days?

How to live in a world of constant, escalating crisis. The way my thinking has changed into the short term.  

Name a favourite taste, touch, sound, sight and smell

Taste: fresh coriander leaf  
Touch: oil paint, textured with hair wax, on my fingers#
Sound: baroque opera. Certain songs from Handel’s Hercules, Monteverdi’s Poppea, or Vivaldi’s Bajazet.  
Sight: seawater in different lights
Smell: lemons from my tree

Describe one of your most vivid dreams or nightmares

I almost never remember my dreams. So the werewolf dream I had around age twelve stood out. It’s the only time I couldn’t shake the feeling of a dream being real, and gave me a genuine fear of werewolves for years. I’m not over it.

Have you ever had an uncanny experience?

Not yet. But if I don’t meet an extraterrestrial in my lifetime I’ll be most upset. It can be as uncanny as it likes: life elsewhere in the universe is the only hope I have left.

How does your sense of place affect the way you express yourself?

I have always lived inside my head, in imaginary existences, and ignore my physical surroundings to an abnormal extent. It’s why I don’t drive a car. Still, I must mention the sea, or perhaps water. Melville, in the first chapter of Moby-Dick, was right about the sea, and instilled in me my sea-craze years before I moved to the coast. Along with Algernon Swinburne, whose poetry is obsessed with the sea.

A walk by, or better in, water, fixes any writing trouble you can throw at it. An impossible writing tangle cannot resist my ‘writing beach’, as I refer to my local.

What has particularly touched or inspired you recently?

Online communities
Offline communities
Taika Waititi
Chaucer Doth Tweet
Queer courage
Being asked to do interviews

Tell us a good story, anecdote or joke

I cannot tell jokes or anecdotes. But my Mongol muse, Jamuqa, can. Here he is telling a story, in an excerpt from my Amgalant:

There was a story he loved, about a Chinese. “As cultured as any Chinese, a famous prose stylist, who held the office, at one stage of his career, of Assistant Facilitator of Propriety. It’s the sort of office Chinese have. Served with distinction in the wars against a tribal mountain people stuck in the midst of China, perpetual rebels. Every day he’d send his agents far and wide to scout for executions, and whenever they found a fresh cadaver on a gallows, they filched the liver. This organ, raw, he’d have put before him with salt and vinegar, as his own first course in an otherwise perfectly conventional dinner. To the shock, horror and nausea of colleagues and acquaintances who dined at his house. Now, who does this, I ask you? The mountain tribes? Maybe. Maybe they had a nibble on a liver. But this character, he just had to out-barbarian the barbarians.”

The story is perfectly historical. Secretly, Jamuqa’s fascinated because he may have had a nibble on human flesh himself.

Wyrd Question Daze : Oliver Brackenbury

photograph by Ardean Peters

Hi there!
My name is Oliver Brackenbury. I write screenplays, novels, and short stories. I also host two literary podcasts (So I’m Writing a Novel…, and Unknown Worlds of the Merril Collection), and I recently launched a career as an editor, with New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine.

That last one just had its first issue launch on the very last day of September, and I’d encourage people to check it out for free as an ePub/PDF download, as well as softcover & hardcover formats priced literally as cheap as possible, at cost. Our hope is to get people into this inclusive, boundary-pushing short fiction magazine with issue #0, so they’ll want to help crowdfund issues #1&2 in February. Our extremely low-intensity mailing list is a great way to make sure you’ll be the first to hear about new issues or crowdfunding campaigns for new issues.

And the fact that my intro is almost entirely creative projects does a fine job of implying, correctly, that I’m a very task & goal-oriented person…but I do try to make sure I pause to appreciate the world around me now and then.

Where did you come from and where are you going?

I’m from the small, Southern Ontario village known as Carp, where I grew up just around the corner from a now-defunct five story deep Cold War bunker the Prime Minister would theoretically flee to with his wife & cabinet if the missiles flew.

Nowadays you’ll find me in Toronto with all the other reprobates. Where am I going? Somewhere I get to dedicate as much of my life to writing – and editing, publishing, etc – as possible without having to starve, or fail to pay enough attention to other key things in life like nature or my partner.

What preoccupies your mind these days?

Hahaha THE MAGAZINE. Wow, just so much mental bandwidth. Good thing I love it.

Name a favourite taste, touch, sound, sight and smell

Taste: Salted caramel.
Touch: Corduroy.
Sound: A strong breeze passing through leafy branches.
Sight: Looking straight down the middle of a long road, old trees leaning in from either side all the way.
Smell: Fall leaves on the ground

Describe one of your most vivid dreams or nightmares

Recently my beloved little man, my little Siamese cat – Sam – died more or less of old age. The night afterward I had the most vivid, 8K IMAX etc dream about him sitting on his favourite footstool, leaning forward to nuzzle me as I lay on the couch. Knowing, in that way you know things in dreams, this was his visiting me from wherever he is now, I wished him well and let him know he was welcome to visit again any time he liked. Then I woke up.

Whether it was something fantastic or just my brain processing grief, I’m deeply grateful we got to say goodbye to each other one more time

Have you ever had an uncanny experience?

Honestly that dream felt a little uncanny, but I can think of one other thing. “Uncanny” might be pushing it, however when reading your question my mind went straight to an experience from eleven years ago where I stood on the end of a very long pier in California, at Venice Beach.

It was close to midnight, and the pier was long enough that I was actually free of pretty much all the light pollution. Looking out to sea you could forget what was behind you for a moment, and just focus on the vastness of the ocean, those inky black depths. I remember it really gripped my chest, this sensation of just how truly small one is compared to the Earth they live on, just how far down the surface of that ocean is. It was really something, as plain Jane as it sounds read off a page.

How does your sense of place affect the way you express yourself?

Well, it affects my mood, which of course feeds into whatever it is I’m trying to write. If you mean something beyond “Writing by hand in a nice park on a sunny day makes me write a bit cheerier than in my dark office on a rainy day”…I suppose it can help provide the clarity to express myself more accurately.

What has particularly touched or inspired you recently?

I recently had cause to re-read the final chapter in Brian Murphy’s book Flame & Crimson: A History of Sword & Sorcery. That chapter is called “Why Sword & Sorcery?” and I find it quite inspiring, even moreso now I’m the editor of a magazine seeking to help give the genre a real shot in the arm.

It’s a whole chapter, so that’d be too much to quote here, however I will say that one key element is his discussion of the idea of Sword & Sorcery “re-enchanting” the world. To provide a condensed quote:

Fantasy fiction transports us beyond the boundaries of our normal lives…and upon returning enables us to see the world from a new perspective, through a process called re-enchantment. Re-enchantment is not false optimism, but is a stroke of lightning on the printed page, awakening readers to new possibilities and potentialities. As Ursula LeGuin wrote…fantasy offers somewhere else, a vision of other worlds that dispel despondency. “The literature of imagination, even when tragic, is reassuring, not necessarily in the sense of offering nostalgic comfort, but because it offers a world large enough to contain alternatives, and therefore offers hope.

This really speaks to some of what I hope to achieve with New Edge Sword & Sorcery magazine.

Tell us a good story, anecdote or joke

Hahaha, ah yes, a question that makes me freeze on the spot when asked it in person.
But I will say I’m a fan of this old joke from Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

““Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.”

Wyrd Question Daze: Verity Holloway

Hello! I’m Verity Holloway. I write speculative fiction and weird history. I also edit CloisterFox Zine (https://twitter.com/cloisterfox).

Come and talk to me about spooky stuff on Twitter (https://twitter.com/Verity_Holloway)

Where did you come from and where are you going?

This time around, I was born on the Rock of Gibraltar. I’m ambling towards Gnosis.

What preoccupies your mind these days?

I’ve just finished writing a folk horror novel, so I’m back at the bottom of the mountain, looking up. I’m juggling a lot of projects right now, and waiting for some things to come to fruition, including a short film and a graphic novel. I’m impatient!

Name a favourite taste, touch, sound, sight and smell.

Taste: Atomic Fireblasts
Touch: Velvety dog snout
Sound: A tree full of crickets on a warm night
Sight: The sea where it hits the rocks at Europa Point. Some of the earliest human remains were discovered in caves at that site. The sea is extra-specially turquoise there, luminous.
Smell: When my husky is dozing and she smells of warm popcorn

Describe one of your most vivid dreams or nightmares

When I was about six, we lived in a Royal Navy married quarter in Portsmouth. Those places are never lovely, and that house was particularly odd. My mum tried to shield me from it at the time, but years later she told me about the key flying off the mantlepiece, and the doors and cupboards opening by themselves. A big painting of a warship fell off the wall and missed me by about two seconds.

In that house I’d repeatedly dream of meeting my doppelgänger on the stairs. It was absolutely terrifying, though not a lot happened in the dream. I’d dream that I’d woken up, and I’d walk out of my bedroom and see my double in my pyjamas standing on the landing staring impassively at me. There’s a painting by my favourite artist, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, called How They Met Themselves, where a couple are collapsing in horror at seeing their doppelgängers. I saw it decades after living in the house and it brought those nightmares back.

Have you ever had an uncanny experience?

There’s a Thing in the toilets at the London Hospital in Whitechapel. About eight years ago, me and my boyfriend dropped in to have a look around – it’s a historic building and I like that sort of thing – and before we left to get our train, we looked for the loos. You have to go down into the basement, down a staircase with a wooden banister. I touched this banister and felt a horrid sensation up my arm. Nothing wrong with the wood, lovely actually, but the longer I had my hand on the banister the worse I felt, like something disgusting was coming up through my hand. I didn’t say anything. What could I have said?

Me and my boyfriend parted ways to the ladies and gents. You know when you blunder into a room where people have been talking about you and they all fall silent and stare at you? I felt watched. The toilets were empty, but I felt the need to check each of the cubicles. When I was sure I was alone, I went into the last one. Despite what my eyes were telling me, there was a strong sense of someone waiting outside the door by the sinks. It wasn’t a benign feeling. I wanted to get out of there ASAP. As I was washing my hands, I kept checking the mirrors and looking over my shoulder because it felt like the mirrors wouldn’t tell me the truth. So I hurried to the hand drier, and the moment I turned my back to the room, someone was up against my back, over my left shoulder. It was a man, not quite as tall as me, squared up and smiling like a drunk picking a fight. I knew all this without seeing him. I knew instinctively not to react. If I reacted, he’d be pleased and he’d escalate. You know how people say you must never, ever run if a bear is stalking you? That.

As calmly as I could, I dried my hands, turned around with my eyes to the floor, and walked out. Then I realised I’d have to touch that horrible banister again. Anything was better than that toilet, though, so I tried to ignore the feeling coming up through my hand. Curiously, the thing, the man, didn’t follow me out of the room.

My boyfriend was at the top of the stairs. He’s hard to rattle, but he looked very sober and couldn’t leave the hospital fast enough. “I’ve just had the weirdest experience.” He said there was no one else in the men’s toilets, but someone was behind him, up against his back. He couldn’t see this person, but he knew they were a man, smiling very widely. My boyfriend instinctively knew he had to stay very still and refuse to react. He knew this thing was a practical joker of the cruel variety, but it couldn’t do any real harm beyond causing fear. We still talk about it, years later.

So, no matter how badly you need a wee, never, ever visit the loos in the London Hospital.

How does your sense of place affect the way you express yourself?

I’ve never had a sense of ‘my’ place. That comes from being a Forces kid and constantly moving. You’d be somewhere for six months then pack everything, say goodbye to your friends, and never come back. I’ve always turned to the inside of my head for stability. Mervyn Peake had the same problem, so when I found Gormenghast as a kid I felt at home. Titus longing to see what’s beyond the castle, and Steerpike wanting to escape the hellish kitchens – those characters felt familiar, and I find in my own work I’m constantly looking at the sensation of being trapped, of not fitting in, being at odds with the environment and looking for someplace new.

What has particularly touched or inspired you recently?

My dad’s been digitising his photographs from Antarctica when he was there in 1983. I keep thinking about the abandoned Norwegian whaling stations. The whalers left in the sixties and all their things were still there as if they’d just stepped out – all their clothes, their coffee cups. Polar exploration is so interesting to me, even though I hate the cold more than anything.

Tell us a good story, anecdote or joke. 

In 1840s London, a hat-maker advertised his products by having a giant wooden hat attached to springs which were then mounted onto a man’s head, and then that man was paid to run up and down Regent Street all day. I just find myself thinking about that giant wobbling Victorian hat and laughing to myself.