Carmilla Reads

My name is Carmilla Voiez and I am a book addict. I write, mostly horror and urban fantasy, and I read across a wide spectrum of genres.

or "People Susan Hill Has Met"

Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home - Susan Hill

There were things I really liked about this book - the journey through a house full of bookcases, where many of the books Hill owns evoke memories of when and where she read them, or meeting the authors themselves. At times it feels like a who's who, but is enjoyable in spite of that. I have ordered three books on Hill's recommendations and I look forward to reading those soon. I appreciated her thoughts on reading and rereading books to get the most from them - slow reading as a skill to be relearned has much value and appeal.

 

There were things I liked less - Hill can be somewhat dismissive and derisive of certain writers, politics, social movements, people, books and technology. Many of her arguments seem somewhat circular or vague, and "the authors who I have met" parts got tiresome after a while. Some of the quotes used seemed to add little to the book and the section on "Reading for the Soul" just wasn't compelling, but perhaps that's me being equally dismissive.

 

Published at eighteen, invited to all the right parties, and mentored by very talented people it sounds as though Susan Hill's life has been rich and full. It was fascinating to get a glimpse of that. All in all I did enjoy the book. It took me years to take it off my shelf and it was worth the wait. 3.5/5*

A look at the very first novel

The Tale of Genji - Edward G. Seidensticker, Murasaki Shikibu

The edition I read is translated by Arthur Waley and published in 2016 by Stellar Editions. It is only 183 pages and nine chapters and appears to be photocopied then printed with marks on some pages that suggest the edge of the original text. Genji is still a young man at the end of this version as opposed to the full text which takes us beyond his 40th year.

 

This is said to be the first novel ever written. It is the story of Genji, the illegitimate second son of the emperor. It is set in the Japanese royal court in the old capital of Kyoto in the 11th century. Genji enjoys the attentions of numerous women and, after some disastrous affairs, tries to learn some level of responsibility, a difficult task for someone who, because of his status and extraordinary beauty, almost always gets his own way and is rarely taken to task.

 

11th century Japanese court shares many similarities to our own celebrity culture. However, there are also many stark differences which make this a fascinating read.

 

The translation or the original language is often clunky and many of the characters are poorly drawn and easily confused. In spite of this it is fascinating to see early conventions in novel writing that are still used today.

An exploration of death

Exquisite Corpse - Poppy Z. Brite
This book is hardcore in terms of violence and lust. The only comparable books I have read, ones as graphic and disturbing with vivid descriptions of dismemberment, disembowelment and bodily waste would be 
Frisk, by Dennis Cooper and In the Miso Soup, by Ryu Murakami.
 
Exquisite Corpse is told in first and third person. The first person narrator is Andrew Compton, a British serial killer who escapes prison by faking death. How he manages this is somewhat vague, magical and shamanistic, but we expect some suspension of disbelief in fiction, and this isn't too much of a stretch.
 
In this way the narrative and plot reflect each other as Exquisite Corpse is an exploration of death both of the narrator's own self and of others. Not only the violent murders that follow prolonged torture, lovingly described, but also more subtle and normal deaths. Death by disease - the AIDS epidemic has badly hit the French Quarter of New Orleans, and the deaths of relationships - familial and lovers, represented by Tran, the exquisite corpse of the title.
 
A lot happens in the story. Yes, it is shocking and grotesque, but it is also poignant and sad. Exquisite Corpse is by far the best book by Poppy Z Brite that I have read so far.

LGBTIA Magical Realism in Early 20th century Manchester.

The Night Brother - Rosie Garland
Sometimes you are lucky enough to read exactly the right book at the right time. This was the case with "The Night Brother" and me. It was the perfect piece of fiction to read after "Caliban and the Witch". While the beautiful prose and rich characters would have been enjoyable at any time, the poignancy of the subtext was enriched when read with knowledge of the history of women's struggles.
 
It is set in the late 19th - early 20th century, Manchester, England. A time of suffragists and a blossoming underground queer culture, both of which were violently opposed by state and police. Set in this time, place and atmosphere is the story of Edie and Gnome. The first chapter shows them in perfect, natural harmony with each other. But as Edie grows up her intersex nature (given a gloriously magical bent by Garland) is repressed and made a cause of shame by the abuse by their mother. Without full expression and acceptance, Edie/Gnome's relationship becomes destructive and toxic. This journey of acceptance and balance is woven into a wider narrative about feminine roles in society and the struggle to transcend them.
 
It is a dazzling book, bleak at times, uplifting at others. It does not shy away from women's struggles or the resistance to them by reactive traditional figures. It is a lover's kiss of a book, communicating deep and hidden truths while giving intense pleasure. It is among my favourite reads of all time.
 
5/5 stars.

Capitalism, Class Struggle and Misogyny

Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation - Silvia Federici

Anyone who knows me knows I have an interest in both magic and women’s rights, making me the ideal audience for this historical analysis of the effects of and motivations driving the witch-hunts. I was not disappointed. This book is beautifully illustrated and a well researched and referenced account that taught me many things I had not known before and reinforced things I already knew or believed.

 

It places the rise of misogyny within the class struggle as a direct result of the divide and conquer rule duplicated in the colonies. While the text looks mostly at Europe it does draw comparisons with the New World and modern problems in Asia and Africa.

 

It’s well written and apart from the too small text, is easy to understand. It strays into academia, but even for the lay person there is plenty to enjoy. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested even slightly in sexual or class politics and/or activism.

 

The rest of the review will include things I learned from reading the book, so if you prefer no spoilers stop reading now.

 

In the 14th century, after the Black Death created a massive underpopulation problem, workers were able to demand higher wages and better working conditions than ever before. In response the ruling class in Europe took steps to crush lower class solidarity and deal with the population decline. What they did had a massive negative impact on women’s lives throughout the classes, but particularly that of working class women. It was at this time that non-productive sex, including homosexuality, was proscribed, using methods that led to levels of homophobia, which continue to this day. At the same time rape was decriminalised and state funded brothels were established. The use of contraception was banned, and more women were charged in the 16th and 17th centuries for infanticide than any other crime except witchcraft (a crime that also centred around the killing of children).

 

The land enclosures (privatisation of previously commonly held ground) of the 15th and 16th centuries were followed by social enclosures. In the 16th century public gatherings of workers and festivals were outlawed in a deliberate move to destroy community solidarity. Those who bemoan the lack of community in the 21st century can trace its roots back to this time.

 

It was believed that female midwives could not be trusted not to cover up abortions and still births and there was a shift to male doctors attending births. Midwives in France and Germany had to become spies for the state if they wanted to continue their practice. In the case of medical emergency, saving the fetus was prioritised over the life of the mother.

 

Women in the 16th and 17th centuries lost the right to make contracts or represent themselves in court. They were declared legal “imbeciles”. In Germany women were forbidden to live alone or with other women, even with their own families. In Italy women were expelled from the streets. Unaccompanied women risked ridicule or sexual assault. English women were discouraged from spending time with female friends. The term gossip originally meant female friend.

 

In the colonies, in Bacon’s Rebellion, Virginia, 1675 – 76, African slaves and British indentured servants joined together to conspire against their masters. To crush such rebellions racial hierarchies were deliberately constructed and laws were passed depriving Africans of previously granted civic rights such as citizenship, the right to bear arms, the right to make a deposition or seek redress at tribunal. A move mirroring the stripping of legal status in European women at the same time. Slavery was made a hereditary condition and slaves masters were given the right to beat and kill their slaves. Marriages between blacks and whites were forbidden.

 

In addition to these politically created and motivated divisions between groups of people based on gender or race the ruling classes and intelligentsia of 16th and 17th centuries also spent time and energy seeking to divide body and reason in individuals, so that man might dominate his natural instincts through will. Women, working class men and people of non-European descent were considered inferior and unable to behave according to reason. These had to be managed by the state rather than trusted to manage their own behaviour as were higher class white men.

 

With all this in the background – the divisions, the mistrust of nature, the population decline and the violent conquering of the New World, it is easy to see what Federici argues, that witch-hunting in Europe was an attack on women’s resistance to the spread of early capitalism, AND, a fear of the power women gained by virtue of their sexuality, their control over reproduction and their ability to heal. These women were persecuted, tortured and killed, not for “socially recognised crimes, but previously accepted practices and groups of individuals that had to be eradicated from the community by terror and criminalization.” “Their claim to magical power undermined the power of the authorities and the state, giving confidence to the poor and their ability to manipulate the natural and social environment and possibly subvert the constituted order.”

 

Women who used contraception, had sex outside marriage, beggars and rebellious women who argued or swore were put on trial for witchcraft. Women were stripped, all their hair shaved off, pricked all over and internally with long needles, often raped, limbs torn, seated in iron chairs with fires lit beneath, bones crushed, then once the confession was extracted publicly hung or burnt. The entire community was forced to watch the execution, including the witch’s children. Daughters were sometimes stripped and whipped in front of the stake while their mother was burning alive. Homosexual men were sometimes used as kindling for the stakes upon which witches were burned. The term faggot originates from this gruesome history. In 1604, England, James I introduced the death penalty for anyone who used spirits or magic even if they caused no visible harm. Ironically, perhaps, the one exclusion was male practitioners of High Magic, which was considered a science.

 

The persecution and eradication of female healers through the witch-trials allowed for the rise of professional medicine, unaffordable and inaccessible to the lower classes. Francis Bacon’s concept of the scientific investigation of nature was modelled on the interrogation of witches, portraying nature as a woman to be conquered, unveiled and raped. In this way Capitalist exploitation of the natural world and the exploitation of women can be shown to be closely linked.

 

The witch-hunts ended in Europe (excluding Scotland) in the early 18th century. The intelligentsia began to rewrite the history of the witch-trials as the product of Medieval superstition. As the witch-hunts died down arrests for damage to property and assault rose. In Paris in 1871 the new witch-hunt was against the petroleuses. If a woman was poorly dressed and carrying a basket, box or milk bottle that was enough for her to be suspected, and in this way hundreds of women were summarily executed while the press vilified them in the papers.

 

Witch-hunting continued as a tool of colonisation and globalism. Witch-trials happened in Western India in the 1840s and in the 1980s – 1990s in Kenya, Nigeria and Cameroon when the International Monetary Fund imposed a policy of structural adjustment, requiring the privatisation of commonly held land and communal resources, leading to mass impoverishment.

 

So yeah, the book is not comfortable reading, but for those who want to know more it is well worth getting hold of, and the wood cut prints illustrations are wonderful. 5/5 stars.

 

Capitalism and Misogyny (part review up to p.90)

Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation - Silvia Federici

This book looks at the rise of Capitalism from Mercantilism and Feudalism during the Middle Ages. It provides a background to the witch trials that will likely be covered in the later pages.

 

So far I have learned -

 

That in the 14th century in response to greater labour power following labour scarcity after the Great Plague (which wiped out 30 - 40% of the European population) a number of steps were taken to crush peasant solidarity and deal with the population decline. Both affected women to a greater degree than any other social group. Regulations of sexual practises included criminalising homosexuality. Decriminalisation of rape and state funded brothels were introduced, degrading the status of women in communities.

 

Land enclosure (privatisation) in the 15th - 16th centuries eradicated common land and prevented the poor from being self-sufficient. This was followed by social enclosure in the 16th century, proscribing festivals and gathering of workers for any reason in a deliberate move to destroy solidarity.

 

Reading this I fast-forwarded to the present day where much of the racism we suffer from in Europe stems from jealousy of community cohesion.

 

More women were executed for infanticide in 16th - 17th century Europe than for any other crime except witch-craft, a charge that also centred around the killing of children - contraception and abortion. The population crisis in the 16th century, due to disease, starvation and poverty, was second only to the Black Death and threatened the future of the work force, leading to state interest in reproduction. During this time there was a shift from mid-wifery to male doctors at births. Mid-wifes in France and Germany had to become spies for the state if they wanted to continue their practice, and in the case of medical emergency the life of the fetus was prioritised over that of the mother.

 

A lot of this stuff vindicates my personal feelings on the relationship between bigotry of all shades and oppression of the poor, but I didn't have the facts and figures before. This book is hard going, painful at times but essential reading for someone looking at the history of female oppression in Europe and worldwide. The fact that we aren't taught this stuff in school is unsurprising considering the mass slaughter of the poor during land clearances and the effect on class consciousness of that knowledge. It does shake the idea that our current economic system is natural and inevitable. In fact it was brought about by killing those who tried to resist. 

 

A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Novel, Part One – Introduction

Whether you are starting a new novel, thinking about writing a novel, or stuck half way through the process, this series of articles is designed to offer help and new ways of looking at your craft.

 

Carmilla Voiez is a horror and fantasy author. Her novels have been published by indie publishing companies including Vamptasy Publishing, CHBB and Stone Circle Publishing and her short stories have been included in anthologies by Clash Books, Weird Punk Books, Stitched Smile, Siren Magazine, and Dragones Mecanicos. Her award-winning Starblood series is being adapted into a series of graphic novels illustrated by Anna Prashkovich. She has studied creative writing with the Open University and proof-reading with Chapterhouse. Carmilla also offers individually tailored editing packages for self-publishing authors.

 

This blog series will take you through the nine steps of writing and publishing your novel. It is designed for those of you planning your first adventure in writing, and those who feel they are missing something as they write but don’t know what. It may have some relevance to writers working on short stories, but it is designed to cover the challenges of longer pieces (50k words and over).

 

This introduction will set out the format of the course, and list the resources I will refer to throughout the articles. You may wish to add some of these books to your own reading list, but it is not obligatory.

 

Part Two – The Blank Page 

Includes: where to find inspiration for your - story, characters, and settings.

To plan or not to plan, that is one of many questions.

A cost-benefit analysis of NaNoWriMo.

 

Part Three – Content and Themes 

Character-based vs plot-based.

What do you want people to think about as and after they read the story?

 

Part Four – Style 

Perspective, language, tenses and chapter lengths.

 

Part Five – Writer's Block 

Keeping going when it gets tough.

 

Part Six – The End?

Rewriting, foregrounding the themes, deciding whose story this is.

 

Part Seven – Editing

Checking for consistency and avoiding unwanted repetition. Style sheets. Plugging the plot holes. Character arcs.

 

Part Eight – Proofreading

Understanding grammar. Use a dictionary. Common errors. The role of beta readers. Do you need to pay a professional editor?

 

Part Nine – Delivery

Traditional vs self publishing. How to find an agent. How to snag a publisher. The elevator pitch. The dreaded synopsis. Starting something new.

 

Part Ten – Promotion

Release parties. Paid adverts. Building connections. Book signings. Your Facebook page. Your website. Anthologies. Goodreads.

 

Join me on this journey through the writing process and feel free to comment on my blog if you have any specific questions related to the content or your own process. Learn the importance of a closed and an open door as you progress and start building a community of like-minded individuals who support each other’s efforts.

 

The resources I will be using while writing this course include:-

 

“Creative Writing” - Linda Anderson,

“On Writers and Writing” - Margaret Atwood,

“Becoming a writer” - Dorothea Brande,

“On Writing” - Stephen King,

“The Art of Fiction” - David Lodge,

“A Creative Writing Handbook” - Derek Neale,

“Story Structure Architect” - Victoria Lynn Schmidt,

“The Writer’s Journey” - Christopher Volger,

“Writing a Novel” - Nigel Watts,

and my own experiences.

 

Carmilla Voiez.

 

Check out my full bibliography on Amazon.

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Source: http://carmillavoiez.wixsite.com/carmillavoiez/single-post/2018/10/04/A-Step-by-Step-Guide-to-Writing-a-Novel-Part-One-%E2%80%93-Introduction

Black Tom and Racism in Lovecraft's Mythos

The Ballad of Black Tom - Victor LaValle

I think Victor Lavalle sums up perfectly the intent of this novella in its dedication - “For H.P. Lovecraft, with all my conflicted feelings.”

 

This story is set in New York in the 1920s. Charles Thomas Tester is a man from Harlem who earns money to support himself and his prematurely aging father by grifting. He has the reputation of being a go-to guy to fetch esoteric objects, and it is when he is hired to fetch a book for a white woman in Queens that the story begins.

 

It’s a tale of magic and power and the appropriation by whites of power paid for in black flesh. The streets of New York are toxic with hate, and a final tragedy, relating to the book, leads to Tester having nothing left to lose. A freedom that allows him to dare where others falter in fear.

 

It’s a beautiful narrative, taking the best and the worst from Lovecraft and showing it from the perspective of a person of colour. It’s full of gorgeous prose and leaves the reader feeling richer for the experience. Tester/Black Tom is constantly overlooked and underappreciated, but it is he who will triumph, albeit in a pyrrhic victory.

 

The opening of the book sets the stage perfectly -

 

“People who move to New York always make the same mistake. They can’t see the place… They come looking for magic; whether good or evil, and nothing will convince them it isn’t here.”

 

Other quotes I love -

 

“Nobody ever thinks of himself as a villain, does he? Even monsters hold high opinions of themselves.”

 

“The more I read, the more I listened, the more sure I became that a great and secret show had been playing throughout my life, throughout all our lives, but the mass of us were too ignorant, or too frightened, to raise our eyes and watch. Because to watch would be to understand the play isn’t being staged for us.”

Carmilla Voiez talks about Starblood and what inspired her to write the book.

Source: http://vimeo.com/304786745

Rural life warts and all.

The Nessman - Alastair Campbell

The Nessman looks at life through the lens of rural Scotland in the early - mid 20th century. The celebrities are local legends and life is hard, based on farming and fishing. Colin is an unlikable smart arse who is ill fitted to a life on the land and heads for academia and Aberdeen University. The narrative shifts from third person to first person when he starts letter writing. Through both we see his downward spiral into alcoholism and lack of ambition. It is not an uplifting tale but is full of humour, mostly self-deprecating on the part of Colin, and has a poignant honesty too it about what it means to be an outcast.

Broken Mirror and Other Morbid Tales
Broken Mirror and Other Morbid Tales

Broken Mirror

and other morbid tales

 

featuring the novella ~ Basement Beauty

 

Carmilla Voiez

 

 

You’re too beautiful to be killed, Tay,’ Lynsey assured her, brushing a manicured hand through freshly lightened hair.

 

What the fuck do you mean?’ Amalthea shook her head, jostling afro curls and revealing a petulant frown that drew her plump cheeks inwards.

 

Aint you heard? All the victims were ugly. Aint gonna happen to you, kiddo.’

 

Amalthea gazed at the empty pint glass in her hands. ‘Ugly?’

 

Yeah, not grotesque freaks or anything, just plain ugly: big noses, crooked teeth, greasy hair, you know. When I went to the dentist this morning they told me everyone and their f’in dog’s booked in for cosmetic work.’

 

Isn’t that odd?’ Amalthea rotated the glass this way and that between caramel fingers.

 

Lynsey shrugged. ‘Dunno.’

 

I think it’s odd.’

 

Whatever, girl. Just stop stressing, okay. You’re too beautiful to die.’

Carmilla Voiez British Horror Author

The official website of Carmilla Voiez. Webstore, blog and book information with links to social media.

Currently reading

Skagboys by Irvine Welsh