The Curse of the Mouse and Minotaur

The virgins have been sacrificed, the sage burnt the incense lit and the libations poured.

I am delighted to announce that having done everything except raise the mummy (more luck than judgement tbh), we are finally releasing The Tales of the Mouse and Minotaur, the third and final volume of our Bushy Tales.

This series started with Tales of the Nun & Dragon which is the book that started Fox Spirit and it is the conclusion of our original project. As always a mixture of genres, with humour and darker stuff featuring greek myths and rodents, sometimes both. 

Stories from K.T. Davies, Chloe Yates, James Bennett, Nerine Dorman, Jay Faulkner, Sarah Cawkwell, Pat Kelleher, C C D Leijenaar , Joan De La Haye, Andrew Reid, Ben Stewart, Catherine Hill, Jan Siegel and T.J. Everley 

Not The Fox News: Nostalgia, Escapism and The Overton Window

So I’ve been thinking a lot about nostalgia recently, and how it connects to both escapism and the Overton Window.

There are jokes this month I SWEAR.

First off, nostalgia! It’s what was for dinner when you were a kid! You seem to remember!

We always look at the past through rose tinted glasses, even the parts of it which were less the best days of our lives and more the days of our lives we just had to GET.THROUGH. Things were easier in the past. TV was better. Adulting is hard. We didn’t used to be tired all the time.

At least two of those things are true but those Rose-tinted glasses are not twenty-twenty. Yes, I had more free time when I was 16. I also had dial up internet access, VHS video tapes and there was a single pizza joint within 30 miles of my house. We focus on the stuff that’s easy and fun because it was easy and fun. We don’t think, a lot of the time, about the awful stuff. Just the day to day drudge, that sense we sometimes get of these just being the weeks we have to get through to reach the next bit that’s good. Kate Bush once sang ‘Just being alive, it can really hurt’. She was right. Also being alive can often be really REALLY irritating and while I choose to believe that was in early drafts of the song, I feel the version she went with scanned better.

So nostalgia is an understandable reaction, especially in 2017: Year of The White Hot Garbage Fires Running The Western World. And that’s what leads to escapism.

I am a huge fan of escapism. I am sane and healthy in no small part due to being able to escape into a movie for two hours at a time. If anyone ever tells you escapist fiction is inferior or unneeded yell at them to get off your fucking dragon and fly back to your ice cube castle because it’s a lifesaver and you need it. In fact, I’d say escapism is mandatory now more than ever. We are almost incapable of being free of extra signal and the temptation to always be connected is a very strong one. It’s also one that will first exhaust and then kill you. Don’t let it. Escape.

Where I have an issue is where the two combine. Nostalgia, especially in genre, is more endemic than grumpy chaps in hoods, short people on walking holidays to volcanoes and female and POC authors being erased from the collective narrative.

Actually not as much as that last one.

Seriously though, throw a rock and you’ll hit something bemoaning the lack of golden age rockets, or pulp storytelling or the sort of stories that were told when all this was nowt but fields. It’s perpetuated by the success of genre fiction’s biggest TV shows and movies too. Star Wars began in 1977. Doctor Who is over 50 years old. Star Trek was airing for the first time during the Vietnam War. The future really is yesterday or sometimes seems that way.

And that brings us to the Overton Window. Here’s how Wikipedia describe it:

The Overton window, also known as the window of discourse, is the range of ideas the public will accept. It is used by media pundits.[1][2] The term is derived from its originator, Joseph P. Overton (1960–2003),[3] a former vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy,[4] who in his description of his window claimed that an idea’s political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within the window, rather than on politicians’ individual preferences.[5] According to Overton’s description, his window includes a range of policies considered politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too extreme to gain or keep public office.

 

And here’s a picture:

Basically the Overton Window is what society will accept at any given time. It’s moving right now and not in a good direction but for the purposes of this column let’s focus on the model and not the data. Because that idea can also be applied to genre fiction. Specifically genre TV for the purposes of this article.

Substitute the Overton scale for a timeframe. Park that time frame over the Victorian Era at one end and the 1970s at the other. That’s the period that influences a remarkable amount of genre fiction, even now. That’s in part because we live in a world where decades old cultural behemoths stride the zeitgeist plains like merchandise friendly lobstrocities from the end of The Mist. But it’s also partially because that time frame is what the culture we’ve grown up in draws from. It’s like the old marching song ‘we’re here because we’re here because…’. We’ve always lived in the Castle. We’ve always drawn inspiration from and escaped to these time periods.

 

Wouldn’t it be great if that changed?

 

Wouldn’t it be great if we could shift that window forward in time and, in doing so, provide a new cultural foundation for a whole range of stories?

 

I can even give you an example. Life on Mars was beloved, and deservedly so, in the UK. It wa as fiercely smart, metaphysical and metafictional take on the traditional cop show. Chock full of stereotypes that it also interrogated and satirized, it was deeply weird, profoundly odd TV.

It’s sequel, Ashes to Ashes, was better.

Not just because the addition of a female lead changed the show’s perspective immeasurably. Not just because it provided answers to every question Life on Mars left dangling. It was better because the cultural frame of reference was noticeably different. Instead of yet another British TV show trapped in the dour, blocky cars and terrifying facial hair of the 1970s, it was catapulted forward into the 1980s.

I was a kid in the ’80s in one of the most rural areas possible. Vibrant, and often awful, music and fashion aside it still frequently SUCKED. Seeing that acknowledged in Ashes to Ashes, as well as the amazing music and clothes, made the show feel completely unique even as it was woven from very familiar cloth. It felt, as the series both opened and closed, that we’d made some progress, that things had been, like the man once said, pushed forwards.

That doesn’t happen enough. But it does happen some and increasingly in a manner that’s less nostalgic and far more interesting. Firefly’s influence on The Expanse and Killjoys is obvious for example but neither show is beholden to their predecessor. Killjoys uses a multi-ethnic future to explore both the ethics of being a professional killer and the future of human society. The Expanse puts the diversity equations that Firefly toyed with front and Centre and resolves them into one of the most interesting, well rounded casts in recent history. And of course Stranger Things drags that window forward, dumps it over the 1980s and does truly extraordinary things with that time period.

None of these shows do anything particularly new. All of them do what they do extraordinarily well precisely because of what they use to build those familiar stories. They take time periods or influences that sit in living memory and use them as a foundation to do something new and vital in every sense of the word. And right now, that’s absolutely what we need. Something new. A better place to escape into. One where the new future will be built.

There’s a lot of talk about the Golden Age of TV and it always seems to have just finished. I’d argue that by moving that cultural window we have the potential to keep it rolling. Stranger Things was both a massive success and good. The Expanse has just been renewed, as has fellow drawn-from-the-90s show 12 Monkeys. Their success has raised the viability and visibility off the genre which has led to edgier projects such as Falling Water, 3%, The Leftovers and The OA being commissioned. Odds are you don’t like at least two of those shows. That’s the point. They are the antithesis of nostalgia. Something new built from something new and they only exist because of the environment created by the shows built on the nostalgia window.

Nostalgia is fine. Escapism is a basic human right. But like everything else, the tenets of escapist fiction cannot stand still or it will stop being somewhere we escape to and become something we are trapped in. That’s why it’s great that Buffy is 20 years old and still means so much. Because in a few more years, that will become the basis for something new, the window will shift again and we’ll grow, as a culture, again. It won’t be pretty. It won’t be fast. But it will happen. It will be great. And it’ll have a badass theme tune.

Waxing Lyrical : On Covers

Waxing Lyrical is an occasional series of blog posts. If you are interested in submitting an article please contact adele@foxspirit.co.uk a small fee is paid. 
The images are added by Aunty Fox.

Waxing Lyrical :On Covers by Tabby Stirling

Hello Authors!

My name is Tabby Stirling and I am a book-cover designer and author.  I’ve been asked to jot down a few ideas about how to make your cover really stand out and look ultra professional.  So here goes!

It is true that everyone can design a book cover.  But it is also true that not everyone can design a ‘good’ cover?

What do I mean by ‘good’.  Well, of course, it is very subjective but I always try to design a cover that would sit well on a major bookshop’s shelf.   A design where font and graphics work together to demonstrate the themes of the book and something about the author too.  Where colour balances with everything and a few risks are taken in the spirit of artistic endeavor.

I don’t believe that you have to have been to Art school to get it right but an ‘eye’ is very useful and that, much like the ‘voice’ in writing, cannot be taught (in my opinion).

So how can you design a cover that will be the envy of your friends and appear professional and creative?

Here are a few tips that I’ve discovered during my time as a designer.

FONT

 

There are a rich variety of free fonts that are accessible to the designer so be bold and don’t just stick to the fonts that come with Word and I have put a couple of links down the bottom to start you off.

However, fonts can make or break a cover and just because you love the swirling, medieval capitals sprawling across the cover of your historical romance – it doesn’t mean they work.  

DESIGN PRINCIPLES

A good idea is to remember the old adage about women’s fashion.  You can show off your legs or cleavage but never both at the same time after a certain age.

This is also true of design.  If you want 1000-volt cover you can achieve this by using graphics that ‘pop’ with a plain font and colours that balance.

Experiment with graphic placing – sometimes a slightly off-centre graphic can distribute menace much better than those Horror Fonts that are great on a 40’s film poster but not much else.

Less is more.  Please go with your instincts.  Being bold doesn’t mean that you have to have outrageous fonts, colour and graphics simultaneously.  Experiment with colour and font. Always back away from something you are not quite sure of.  And don’t ever feel that something isn’t quite bright enough without the hot pink graphics (especially if it is a book on chemical engineering).

COLOUR

 

Probably the trickiest one to handle, at least for me.  I love colour and often find myself  cavorting with highly inappropriate pantone colours for long periods of times.  It’s good to experiment, this is how we achieve the final result, but don’t let your experiments get the better of you.  One of the easiest ways to spot an amateur cover is the colour scheme used (or not). 

Great roaring oceans of colour, spewing like a Finnish volcano is not always a positive thing.  Think about how it will be perceived by others.  Try to become less self-indulgent about what you like and what you think will sell. 

LASTLY

Be prepared to put time and effort into your design.  A full book-cover  may take me 12 hours just for the initial mock up before it goes back to the client.  And then the inevitable to and fro where ideas are discussed and the design begins to come to life.  This is one of my favourite bits – being creative with the client. 

What I start with is invariably nothing like the final, approved design and it can be frustrating at times.

I think it is important to treat the author with great respect because writing a book is no easy thing and their ‘baby’ deserves attention. 

However, I would not be doing my job if I didn’t gently point out an idea that I don’t think would work.  I will always try it, if the client insists, because book cover design is a collaboration and a journey.  A quite magical thing really. 

I hope this has been helpful.  Please feel free to email me with any questions – my portfolio can be found at tabathadesigns.tumblr.com  but not all my work is there by a long shot.

Tabby J

Free Fonts

www.fontsquirrel.com

www.dafont.com

Graphics Programmes

Adobe Indesign  (Paid)

Pic Monkey  (free)

Fennec gets Ghoulsome

The first title in our exciting new Fennec line for pre teens is released today!

Ghoulsome Graveyard by G. Clark Hellery

When the local graveyard is scheduled for redevelopment, journalist Catherine decides to help the residents. She decides to hold a fete and enlists the help of everyone living in the graveyard but with ghosts, zombies, witches and a werehuman, what could possibly go wrong? Come and join us for cake, games and more than a little magical chaos in the Ghoulsome Graveyard.

After accepting Ghoulsome and deciding to proceed with a pre teen line, we asked Geraldine Clark Hellery to curate the new line for younger foxes. 

Fennec will be an important part of the skulk moving forward as we get them hooked young encourage younger readers and make the kind of stories that we love here at Fox Spirit more accessible for those who are maybe not quite ready for our more adult content. 

Young adult novels will continue to form a part of the main Fox Spirit line so you can be sure anything bearing the Fennec logo, although still entertaining and awesome, will be suitable for readers as young as eight. 

Out Now: Respectable Horror

Respectable Horror front cover

Get your hands on this beauty! Respectable Horror is out in the wilds and ready to be lured to your home. Miss Poppy (our cover model designed by S. L. Johnson) will lead the way to a spectral crew of authors who are just dying to give you spine-tingling chills. This new collection offers names both familiar and new, writers who believe that it’s possible to terrify without more than a few drops of blood. The wind in the trees, the creak in the floor board, an innocent knock on the door: they’ll all take on a more sinister cast as you turn the pages of this book.

Introduction by K. A. Laity
The Estate of Edward Moorehouse by Ian Burdon
The Feet on the Roof by Anjana Basu
Spooky Girl by Maura McHugh
Recovery by H. V. Chao
The Holy Hour by C. A. Yates
Malefactor by Alan C. Moore
A Splash of Crimson by Catherine Lundoff
In These Rooms by Jonathan Oliver
A Framework by Richard Farren Barber
Running a Few Errands by Su Haddrell
Miss Metcalfe by Ivan Kershner
The Little Beast by Octavia Cade
The Well Wisher by Matthew Pegg
Where Daemons Don’t Tread by Suzanne J. Willis
Full Tote Gods by D. C. White
Those Who Can’t by Rosalind Mosis
The Astartic Arcanum by Carol Borden

Description:

Do serial killers, glistening viscera, oceans of gore and sadistic twists make you yawn behind a polite hand? Are you looking for something a little more interesting than a body count? These are tales that astonish and horrify, bring shivers and leave you breathless. You may be too terrified to find out what happens next – but you won’t be able to resist turning the page. We’ll make you keep the lights on. For a very long time.

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Respectable Horror: C. A. Yates

Respectable Horror front cover
The author of ‘The Holy Hour’ may perhaps be better known for tales of another type:

With regard to my story ‘The Holy Hour’ soon to be presented to you under the auspices of Respectable Horror:

Respectable, you say? Well now, it’s a good job you came to me, my dears, for it is well known about these parts that I am the very embodiment of the well-turned heel of etiquette, the nine-time retriever of Lady Windermere’s Fanny, the epitome of Respectability. Its goddamned quintessence, I say. Yes, indeed, I am all about the corsetry and manners, my sweetest hearts, the decadently clad dandy wilt throw no shade on me. My writings, for the most part, are not that of some rabidly cussing blood-crazed termagant, it’s not all effing and bloody jeffing, with dismembered limbs akimbo and boiling pans of severed heads on the stove – I mean, I once wrote a story about a Sub-Aquatic Opera Company, for goodness’ sake. That’s a positively cultural orgasm of respectability right there, a full on lah-di-dah rigour of protocol and decorum.

Don’t listen to today’s rabble, my loves! Theirs is the voice of indignity and ignorance.

Free yourself from the restraints of the heathenism of modern hedonism and run with me into an old-fashioned gothic phantasmagoria that will chill your spine and … well, actually, I feel quite foolish now, because there aren’t any creaking old houses, or sinister mazes, or spinster phantoms plaguing ruthless rakes in the night. No tastefully bosom-heaving heroines or gargantuous-foreheaded uncles with their eye on their innocent ward’s prize, no creatures that will cause the blood to run slow in your veins, and there are most certainly no books that will twist you into folly itself. There’s a wife; she’s alone and she’s sad. She might be me one day. I hope not, but I fear it.

Wait! There’s a church, they are très respectable, aren’t they? Well, it might be a church, or it might not now I come to think about it, I’m not a believer myself, at least I don’t think I am… there’s definitely a dog. Everyone likes dogs, all respectable households have one.

And no one – I repeat NO ONE – gets eaten.

Respectable? Fucking A.

Oh.

C.A. Yates.

P.S. Blame The Cure. I do.

Waxing Lyrical : Reading to Save your Soul

Reading to Save Your Soul
Alex Bean

A few nights ago I noticed a recent shift in my reading habits.  In a post on Facebook I mused that since the US Presidential election in November I had begun reading a lot more fiction than usual. My habit generally being rather massive works of non-fiction and history, this seemed notable. In the comments on my Facebook post a friend, himself a writer, told me to keep it up. “Read all the fictions. Fiction will save your soul, if not your life.”

That idea has really struck a chord with me, especially in a domestic political climate mired in the toxic racism and incompetent xenophobia of a populist demagogue. To that end, much of the fiction I’ve been consuming at a faster-than-usual pace has incidentally turned out to be the perfect antidote to the uninformed hatred and suspicion permeating from the White House.

In November, right after the election, I felt completely unmoored. My whole sense of the foundations that underlie my society felt undone. So I went all the way back to the source and re-read Gilgamesh. It’s always sort of awesome (in the Old Testament sense of the word) to go back and read texts from the very origins of human civilization. Glimpsing the formal and dramatic power of literature already being harnessed so far back in the fog of time is intimidating and impressive. I also couldn’t help but be amused that the city vs. country divide made so stark in the election can just as easily be found in the wrestling match between Gilgamesh and Enkidu.

As I finished the work, one particular passage stuck out and seems especially relevant in the pursuit of saving my soul via fiction.

“What you seek you shall never find. 
For when the Gods made man, 
They kept immortality to themselves.
Fill your belly.
Day and night make merry.
Let Days be full of joy.
Love the child who holds your hand.
Let your wife delight in your embrace.
For these alone are the concerns of man.” 

Those lines echoed through my mind as I reflected on two pieces of fiction by people being actively persecuted by the short-fingered vulgarian in the Oval Office. One of them is The Moor’s Account, a novel by Moroccan-American author Laila Lalami, which I first read a few years ago. The moor in question is Estevanico, a once-successful slave trader in Morocco who sells himself into slavery in Spain and eventually becomes the first recorded African to immigrate to the Americas. \

Seeing the arrogance and violence inherent to European colonization of the Americas from the eyes of a Muslim from Morocco fundamentally alters the whole American idea. It lets the reader re-imagine this country means by finding the stories in the gaps and ellipses of history. I’d like to imagine that reflection like that might be enough to save the soul of my country if enough people read it and took it to heart.

The other work of fiction, which I started the week that Trump signed his odious Muslim Ban, was Interpreter of Maladies by Jumpa Lahiri. The Pultizer-winning short story collection mostly focuses on Indian immigrants to the United States.  What struck me, again and again, throughout the nine stories in the collection, is how Lahiri uses her understated prose to sketch out characters with thoughts, hopes, fears, and dreams that are at once universal and highly specific. As with Gilgamesh, a quote (or two) may best illustrate her effusive powers.

“While the astronauts, heroes forever, spent mere hours on the moon, I have remained in this new world for nearly thirty years. I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have travelled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.”

“In those moments Mr. Kapasi used to believe that all was right with the world, that all struggles were rewarded, that all of life’s mistakes made sense in the end.”

We may be doomed to live in interesting times and I still find myself full of worry and outrage. But reading those lines made the whole sad, fearful displays which dominate the news shrink from my mind. Fiction, perhaps more than any other format, has the power to cut through the noise and make you look at yourself and the world in a new light. We’re all seekers like Gilgamesh and strangers in a strange land like Estevanico and ordinary people whose achievements are beyond imagination. No one man, no matter how foolish can steal that from us. That’s what will save our souls and that why I’m reading fiction right now.

Respectable Horror: Anjana Basu

There was a white mansion hidden behind wrought iron gates across the road from the school. I knew it was white because the daughters came to school to be chivvied by the nuns through their classes and their brother studied at Xavier’s  several streets away. Occasionally I met their stately mother at my mother’s tea parties and greeted her with a demure, “Hello Aunty” before vanishing into my room.

After school we all went our different ways, so I forgot all about the daughters, though I would continue to meet their mother at various social gatherings, turning greyer and statelier with each passing year.

Then one year I heard a whisper that a body had been found on the roof of the mansion. Well, a body that had been charred to the point of recognition except for a pair of feet. One of the daughters it was said had crept upstairs during the afternoon siesta and killed herself. The sleeping house had not heard a thing and the body was not found until the police were called in.

The possibility of murder was frequently hinted at over martinis for a while – mother and son had apparently colluded to do away with the inconvenient girl who was refusing to let them sell the house. Then the whole story died down with no arrests made.

From there came my story of the ghostly footprints.

 Anjana Basu has to date published 7 novels and 2 books of poetry. The has BBC broadcast one of her short stories. Her byline has appeared in Vogue India and Conde Nast Traveller. 

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New Vulpes Title

It’s an exciting day here at the Fox Den and our tails are extra floofy. We are pleased to announce the release of our second Vulpes title. A quick reminder, Vulpes is our HEMA line of books, historical european martial arts. Swords figure massively in all this.

So without further ado, we introduce

Check it out, it’s a fantastic translation of a great fencing manual.

A quick reminder the first title in our Vulpes line is the lost second book of Giganti, missing for four hundred years before Josh and Pim identified and translated it.

 

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Respectable Horror Cover Reveal

Well what more do we need to say? Coming very soon a wonderful collection of creepy tales to enjoy with the last tendrils of winter mist.