Ghost In The Mirror

Can we see ghosts in mirrors?

Seeing ghostly images in the mirror is a form of scrying. I’ll get into that shortly…

But let’s begin by agreeing that mirrors are, of course, portals to other dimensions.

Just ponder the rationality of that simple statement for a moment. When you look into a mirror, you don’t see yourself. Not really. You merely see a mirrored version of yourself. The tint, texture, and contour of the glass will slightly modify or manipulate the mirrored version that you observe. Therefore it’s not you. It’s a version of you. Remember this when checking your face in the morning!

Snow White Evil Queen Complex

What’s more (and this is even more difficult to understand, so take a breath): the person in the mirror is not the same person that everyone else sees. Not only is the person in the mirror not you (because it’s a modified version) but it’s not even the “you” everyone else sees! Others see a presented image of yourself. The mirror provides a reflected image of yourself. In short, if you really want to examine your “true self” ditch the mirror and don’t worry about what people think or say; instead look deep into your inner being. Right, that’s the Snow White “evil queen complex” dealt with — but it’s drifting away from the main point… so let’s get back on track —

It is important to stipulate that I am not suggesting (at this stage) that anything supernatural is going on when we look into mirrors. But on the other hand, I also think we should properly appreciate how genuinely weird a mirrored surface is. We take shiny surfaces for granted, probably because we’re staring at them for much of the day. Shiny surfaces have a magical authority over us… and even an absolute control over our existence in certain cases. If you don’t believe me, try taking someone’s phone away or denying them a television screen.

Ghost in the Mirror

But back to common-or-garden mirrors, I think it’s because the symmetrical reality of the “mirror world” we experience (I call it the symmetrylity) seems so compelling and perceptive that we don’t recognize the deep and intrinsic flaws in our thinking. We honestly believe that the mirror world is real. However, it is not. It is another dimension. For example, how strange is it that when two people look into a mirror at the same time, they see different images on the same surface! And when a person looks at himself in a mirror, what he really sees is the front and back reversed! You need to be a mathematics teacher if you want to explain the inter-dimensional aspect of mirrors.

Although we might expect a “standard” mirror (perhaps the mirror in the hall) to behave in a rational way, and to always provide an accurate representation of the world around us (albeit in reverse) it’s not true. It won’t! When a glassy surface is not held completely flat then it will behave like a lens and will distort (magnify) what we see. And a mirror that is tilted even moderately (maybe not flat against a wall) will give seemingly realistic results, but it will skew images. While a mirror that curves even insignificantly will, nonetheless, reduce larger images.

Can't Look At Myself

If you add these factors to the strange ability that mirrors possess (they allow us to “see behind ourselves” without turning around, which is one of the most useful benefits of reflective surfaces, but it’s also a bit like looking into the past) — when all these attributes are put together you can guess why some folks claim to see visions in mirrored surfaces. And it’s why humankind, since prehistoric times, has used reflective surfaces to attempt to perceive future events or “see” outside the perspective space & time they found themselves somewhat limited by.

Halloween Mirror

Mirrored surfaces, such as the still dark waters of a sacred pool, or the waters glimpsed in a baptismal font, or polished stones & jewels, or very shiny goblets, or glass spheres, have been used since prehistoric times — for clairvoyance (seeing into future), augury (interpreting omens), and divination (the gift of prophecy). When a reflective surface is used for these paranormal activities, it is called scrying.

Concentrating on the medium of exploration (the reflective surface) is said to help scrying practitioners “focus attention” and “free their mind” in much the same way that a guru might meditate or a priest might be prayerful before a religious service. Maybe it’s a kind of self-hypnosis. After this approach, a scryer might report “seeing” images in a reflective surface. Some scryers even report hearing voices. The famous French seer of the 16th century, Nostradamus, practiced scrying before making his famous predictions; he’d stare into a bowl of water or use a “magic mirror” to see the future world while in a trance. Mirrors seem to lift the veil between what we consider our physical realm and a glimpsed spiritual realm. And it is true that ancient civilizations (such as the Mayans) thought mirrors functioned as two-way portals between humanity and gods.


To understand how mirrors might act as portals, we need to recognise that luminescent surfaces are regarded by some as representations of liminal space and can therefore be thresholds between natural and spiritual realms. To learn more about the fascinating topic of liminality, you’ll need to listen to episodes 13, then episode 40, and episode 51 of my Myth & Magic podcast. I also cover the subject of liminality in depth, in my non-fiction writer’s manual “So You Want To Write Fantasy?” But I think it’s interesting to note that people tend to approach mirrors to ask important questions about their existence and future opportunities at liminal moments in their life (at any thresholds they might encounter.) For example, on a wedding night, getting ready for a funeral, before a big presentation at work or in the dark waters of a font at the moment of baptism. (Note: a child younger than 18 months cannot “see” a reflected image, but what do the godparents see?)

Through the Looking Glass

In literature (especially in fantasy fiction) there is a tradition of using mirrors to combine thoughts on mythology and cosmology and to describe a method of visiting multiple worlds that are typically outside a character’s limitations. I am sure you can think of a hundred examples. A mirror is a useful device because it allows the protagonist to wander (in mind and spirit) without having to leave a prosaic existence. Sometimes there is even the suggestion of a physical trip to an “otherworld”. Thus, Alice reflects on what it must be like to live on the other side of a mirror’s reflective surface, so she chooses to travel “Through the Looking-Glass” in Lewis Carroll’s much-loved tale. Alice discovers an alternate dimension in which everything is reversed, including logic (so, for example, running takes you nowhere, walking away from something returns you to it). She finds that her mirror world is divided into sections by streams (reflective surfaces too) suggesting there are a myriad more dimensions to choose from. Harry Potter comes across a “mirror of desire” perhaps that he might be tempted to use to turn back time (a mirror of Erised) or that can be used as a scrying tool to see his (dead) parents.

The Crystal Ball John William Waterhouse 1902

So, returning to the central question, can ghosts be seen in mirrors? Some people, notably those who are prone to such things, are almost certain to “see” puzzling images in reflected surfaces. Some reported sightings might be because of sensory deprivation (the darkness of the pool or the glow of the chalice), or skewed images that might prove unreliable because of a less than perfect surface. We must also take the mental state of the seer into account (is she at a threshold in life? Is it a time of stress and change?) And the health and mindfulness of the seer must be examined, plus their use of recreational, religious / mystical substances, medicines or intoxicants, and the seer’s lack of sleep, and a host of other factors.

There is probably a lot of pareidolia going on too. Pareidolia is the disposition of all observers to see recognizable objects, patterns — and even messages — in totally disconnected presentations. So, for example, we all see faces in everyday objects. How often have you looked at an electrical socket and thought it seemed to be a smiling face looking back? We all see visions in clouds. And we all see spooky humanoids in reflections. Pareidolia is not some kind of psychosis: it is a normal human tendency. And it explains many curious things.


We must also consider the subjective nature of experience: sometimes we too easily forget that we perceive our environments in a completely different way from those around us. The “seen and understood” universe that we experience differs entirely from the “seen and understood” universe that everyone else experiences. This is due to our sensory perceptions being unique to us. They say that each of us has a unique pattern: but we ought to remember that each of us also experiences a uniquely different world — and although our worlds overlap and seem to have many things in common with each other — each world is experienced in a totally different way. So anyone, at any point in their life, might experience what psychologists will call a benign hallucination on a mirrored surface. It is likely to happen to all of us!

Yes, ghosts are seen in mirrors. And that’s perhaps the least disconcerting aspect of reflective surfaces!

Give Him Money

Agree? Disagree? Ideas or comments? Tweet me @neilmach

Words: @neilmach 2021 ©

Neil Mach is the author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.


Manage your author’s expectations. What do you want from an authoring life?

Before this global emergency I regularly attended author’s conferences, seminars and workshops aimed at creative writers and author-entrepreneurs.

These events were great places to mingle with like-minded people, to learn “tricks of the trade” and to get oneself rejuvenated and revitalized. I always returned home “from conference” feeling recommitted, re-engaged and reawakened. 

At many of these events, they set up a table (in a lobby) where budding authors might place a new book along with promotional materials such as bookmarks, pens, and business cards. After taking out my book, and placing it tidily on the table, I would usually find a seat nearby where I could observe what happened.  The idea would be that someone might pick-up my book, make promising facial expressions, perhaps smile & nod at a humorous page, at which point I would walk over to the table, tell them I am the author and say, “If you like that book, you can take it. Here, take a bookmark as well.” 

authoring table

Of course, 99.9% of people — who payed any heed to the author table — would never pick up my book. They wouldn’t even glance at the cover as they scanned the table with fevered eyes. So I’d nod sagely to those people who sat to my left and right… and then the penny would drop! The people sitting nearby were all the other author-entrepreneurs at the event — they were the other business creatives who, like me — watched the table too. They wanted to see if anyone picked up their book!

Such reasoning therefore meant that the people at the table (the few who intently ignored my book) must have been scanning for some “other” kind of material. I guess they searched for books that might have had the same distinctive qualities as their own (theoretical) project. Or these people (bless them) were “at conference” for their first ever time, or they had strayed into a wild & mysterious world by mistake, or they were looking to collect free pens and bookmarks, or they were hucksters looking for Nest-Egg Seniors (read on to find out more).

avoid eye contact

At one of the last major independent author conferences that I attended in 2019, the illustrious keynote speaker began an inspirational speech with four words: “What do you want?” 

She gazed at the seated delegates with an inquiring and (I thought) slightly judgmental eye, and then she asked:

  • Do you want to be famous for your work?
  • Do you want your book to be on a bestseller list?
  • Do you want to be an award-winning author?
  • Do you want your book to make you rich?
  • Do you want a publishing contract?
  • Do you want to see your book on shelves in high street bookstores?
  • Do you want writing to be an enjoyable and fascinating hobby?
  • Do you want to write reminiscences or fairy stories for your grandchildren?
  • Do you want to tell people you are an author?
book of stars

But then she delivered the bad news: these expectations are not compatible with each other. She implied that if you attend these events thinking the expert moderators & speakers will put you on a path to all these accomplishments, you’re gonna be deeply disappointed.

Just choose one. That’s what she said. Choose one from that list. She stressed that if you choose one path and one deliverable expectation, you will (probably) be successful.

I have been attending these events for ten years. Three or four a year. During that time I have figured-out what kind of person attends such things. Here are the characters I have observed:

Strugglers. These are people like me (author-entrepreneurs & business-creatives) who come to events seeking advice, new angles, fresh opportunities, and ways to engage with like-minded souls. I call us the “strugglers” because, clearly, if we were triple-crown, blockbuster-spewing, author-achievers, we wouldn’t still be galumphing around the land booking ourselves into workshops, lecture-sessions, seminars and assorted symposia!

Newbies. You have to start somewhere. Everyone has to attend their first conference. All authors have to write their first book

Dabblers. These tend to go to every conference but never really properly & seriously start upon their much-promised writing project (more importantly, they never actually finish it) — they just dabble. When you interact with these characters, they will always tell you they have a great idea for a book! But it’s a great idea that rarely comes to fruition.

Wizards. These are the astonishingly skilled wonder workers who are a) presenting at the conference b) invited by one of the illustrious speakers or, c) reconnoitering before a speaking engagement they’ve been booked for

Disorientated. I don’t mean to be rude, but why did these guys come? They look constantly confused & vague; and of course they are totally baffled by the buzzwords and jargon

Nest-Egg Seniors. These are the kindly gentlefolk who merely want to write memories/fairy stories for their grandchildren. I have heard lines such as: “All I want to do is write a book of fairy poems for my grand-daughter” a hundred times. These characters usually yell this sort of thing during a lecture on search engine optimization or international ISBN registration. Of course, there will be clever hucksters in the audience watching & waiting for these guys. Because Nest-Egg Seniors are the preferred victims of the various vanity presses and “full service” publishing houses whose representatives are forever circling these events like rapacious buzzards, waiting for their next meal. To be perfectly honest — getting these guys connected is an irrefutable relief for everyone. Those people from the vanity presses will take a stained manuscript from a Nest-Egg Senior and they’ll give it a makeover, and then print a dozen-or-so copies and deliver them to the pleased and appreciative customer. The “customer” in this case is the author, of course, (not readership) — and she or he might think they’ve gotten away lightly if they only gave up a mere few thousand pounds (or dollars) for the service. But be sure of this: everyone is happy. The “customer” can say with pride that she/he published a book. The grand-child can put said book on a shelf (and never read it) and the vanity publisher will be able to pay another month’s mortgage. Furthermore, it’s the last time we will see that face “at conference.”

Expectation -v- Reality

From the beginning of my author journey I decided (perhaps foolishly) that with regards to “proauthoring” I would do “everything” myself.  This admirable D-I-Y ethic is fine. But it takes time (a lot of time) and gargantuan amounts of effort to master the several dozen skills you need to get into author-entrepreneurship and have “skin in the game.” You need a barrow-load of sanctimonious pugnacity too!

I guess right now (after ten years… and yes, I admit I am a slow-learner) I am at that stage the psychologists call “conscious incompetence” on a four step path to complete competence. (In other words I’m at stage two.) After ten years!  I guess it’s why the keynote speaker asked the attendees: “What do you want?” She was right to ask this, because I know (now) that you can’t have everything. Most of my last ten years have been misspent! I admit it.

Thinking deeply about her words, I realize my earliest aspirations i.e. to be rich and successful were almost as pie in the sky as my general inclination to make writing an enjoyable hobby. You can’t have both. You can’t have it all! Writing can’t be an enjoyable hobby if you want to make money from it. Contrariwise, you can’t “treat” author-entrepreneurship like a part-time hobby. It’s all or nothing. Neither can you get onto bestseller lists and also get awards. Same with getting your book into bookshops: Many of my author friends make six-figure incomes selling their books, but you won’t find their novels on the shelves of major stores!


Only one in a million will tick-off the entire authoring wish-list. In England, right now, there is a game show host (I won’t tell you his name, he’s a nice guy and to be frank I don’t want to give him any more publicity than he already gets) — but I want to explain that he wrote a book during the down-time that the 2020 lock-down afforded him. Then he published it. The public service broadcasting corporation that employs him (a strictly non-commercial broadcaster, by the way) will never miss any opportunity to advertise & promote this guy’s book. He is a frequent guest on various news and entertainment shows, where he (of course) plugs his book. And when he’s off-screen (which rarely happens, because he’s on three times a night) his TV celeb-pals plug his book for him. Unsurprisingly, his book got onto the best-seller list and now he’s revered and applauded as a credible author as well as being a TV quiz show host. And all that happened in one year. Yes, you might be able to spot sour grapes, but I’m just trying to be rational: if you want to check-off all the expectations on the authoring wish list (above) you’ll need to be on television three times a day, every day. And you’ll need a truck-load of television professionals to help you.

world of books

What are your author expectations? Lets go through them one-at-a-time: 

Want to be famous for your work?

Write three-book (or 5-book) serials. Write for market. Write a lot. Aim to write three books a year (minimum) — you’ll probably need to write five a year to be sure of success. Write fast. Write speculative fiction. Focus on building fan bases. Have a huge (really huge) presence on social media to spread your word.

Want your book to be on a best-seller list?

One of my books got into “a” best-seller list for a couple of weeks. That novel sold only 700 copies to make the list I’m talking about. It was later off the list. But what I want to emphasize here is that there are several lists. There are sub-groups of lists. And the sub-groups of those lists have their own lists. Some sub-lists even have their own divisions. Not all lists are the same. Your book can be in a popular coffee-house list, but not in the Times newspaper list. It can be chosen by one chat-show host for their list, but ignored by another chat-show host. The trick is to write “to niche.” Specialize. Go deep. This is the complete opposite of wanting to be famous for your work. Here, the aim is to go for the opposite of mainstreaming. Your novel doesn’t have to be avant-garde, but it must appeal to a narrow audience. A very narrow audience. I know it sounds counter-intuitive but what you’re aiming for here is limited appeal. Then you’ll get onto the lists. And you’ll stay at the top.

 Want to be a prizewinner?

Write a great book, get it edited professionally, and spend money on a great cover. (You should probably do this for all the author expectations, actually, but hey-ho.) Now here’s the big difference between you and everyone else; don’t worry about niches or the main stream. Spend all of your time submitting your work to writing & literature competitions (there are several hundred, so it will take as long as you have.) Eventually, eventually, you’ll win something. Trust in yourself.

Want books to make you wealthy?

There are several schemes and ‘formulas’ that will help you achieve this goal. Many books and courses will guide you through the process (some are snake oil, so get advice before you shell out wads of money). But understand that you will have to put in lots of time and you will need to get-to-grips with the ins-and-outs of Amazon ads. You’ll also need capital to play with. It’s a bit like stocks & shares. Don’t gamble time and money unless you can afford to lose it! I know indie authors who spend a thousand dollars a month on advertising. But they are achieving book sales worth in excess of six figures! Of course, you will never find these authors on the shelves of your local bookstore. And you don’t see their names on best-seller lists. They don’t win prizes. You won’t know them. But they are prosperous and they live elegant lifestyles. You can be like them if you choose this path.

Want a publishing deal?

Write a great book and get it edited properly & professionally. Get the Writers & Artists Yearbook (or similar) and compile a list of literary agents who will accept submissions from people like you with books like yours. Now begin the laborious route into published authorship. Send off your cover letters. It will take time, commitment, and these days you’ll have to show an agent that you have a proven & ready-made audience (so you will require a thriving and popular presence on social media). Beware: publishing services are not the same! These are just vanity publishers by another name… you’ll know them because they’ll come to you (rather than you jumping through hoops to get their attention.) If anyone comes to you with an offer to publish your book, they are probably phony. Just saying it how it is.

Want to see your book on shelves in the high-street?

This can be done, but while you’re attempting to do this you’ll not make money from sales, nor will you be a prizewinner or get onto best seller lists. I haven’t time to go into the complexities & semantics right now (but please recognize you’ll be putting a lot of  effort into reaching this goal with few results). I am fairly certain you’ll need to get yourself published via Ingram Spark (or a similar aggregator or publishing company that sells books to retail stores). Ingram Spark have excellent guides that will help guide you through this convoluted processes. But why? Why do you want to do this? Are you sure it’s not just toilet table love?

Want writing to be a pleasant and fascinating pastime?

Erm? If so, don’t get into the rat race that competitive authorship becomes. Instead, join a local creative writing group, spend time at great writing weekends with your new friends once restrictions have eased (some writers retreats are really nice). Meet pleasant people. Enjoy writing as a recreational pursuit. Who knows, you might even get a short-story or poem printed in a little anthology or a privately-produced collection. It will be very nice. I am envious. But if you decide to follow one of the other results-oriented categories I’ve already mentioned, your nice little hobby will become a frenzied & uncontrollable burden. Please don’t step into the combative world of free enterprise authorship and all the focus, strain, and fatigue it brings. Don’t be tempted!

Want to write reminiscences for grandchildren?

If so, find yourself a really good full service self-publishing company. Someone who you’d like to work with for a year or more. Someone who offers excellent authoring services. Your manuscript will be taken from you and turned into a book that you can put on your shelf. And they will print some more books for your friends and your family. Of course, this will cost you a few thousand. But if this is all you need, it is probably the smartest route to take and it will be the least painful (in the long run). But if you go down this route (and why shouldn’t you?) please remember you won’t become a best-seller, nor will you easily be able to take your book into a high street bookstore, or become rich from it (sorry).

Want to tell people you are an author?

When I tell people I am an author, they almost always ask a question: “Have you written anything I’ve heard of?

Approximately 675 million printed books are sold in the US each year and 190.9 million printed books are sold in the UK. That’s not even e-books. E-books and audiobooks generate billions more in global revenue. For example, Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited (e-books) paid out more than quarter of a billion dollars to indie authors in 2019 (figures from So how can anyone have heard of you? You are a grain of sand on a very shingly beach!

I remember my first ever book. It was exciting. I waited a few weeks for a publisher to pick it up, or to be selected for a Booker Prize, or to be offered a deal for a feature film. But then I understood the truth. My book had disappeared into the nebulous cosmos of book space. Yes, you can see it… if you use a long-range telescope… you can make out a faint glimmer at the far ends of the antholoxia (the literary universe) — but my book is hardly what you’d call a bright star in the bookish firmament.

Sometimes people ask  “Can I get your book in the high street?” And of course the answer is “Yes” — because, yes, you can. But they didn’t really mean it like that, did they? When they compiled the question in their mind, they didn’t actually mean: “If I go into a shop with your ISBN number, would I be able to order your book?” What they really wanted to say was “Can I see your book on display in the Barnes & Noble (or Waterstones) window?” If that’s what drives you (who am I to disagree?) then you need to go down the Ingram Spark route, as I’ve already suggested. But, be clear, if you want to tell people you are an author, anticipate disappointment. Meanwhile, while you’re worrying about this angle, all the other authors will be busy selling their books in batches, working their way to award-winning glory, sending inquiry letters to agents, working on ad campaigns, and preparing their books to maximize sales or just get their stories read by friends and family.

What are your author expectations? Choose one path. Stick to it.

Agree? Disagree? Comments on twitter @neilmach

Words: @neilmach 2021 ©

Neil Mach is the author of “Moondog and the Reed Leopard” available for purchase now.

Poppins Paradox

What is the only essential ingredient of fantasy? The Poppins Paradox explained

Apropos something else entirely my wife yesterday suddenly exclaimed: “I didn’t think Mary Poppins was a fantasy adventure…

I looked at her and grinned, then I made a sarcastic observation along the lines of: “No, I reckon it was a documentary film…”  but I later added, “What do you think the story of Mary Poppins is, if not fantasy?” As you can imagine, there was no answer to that question (probably just a slap!) However, the exchange got me thinking: what ingredients are required before you can say that something is a fantasy?


For example, using the Mary Poppins source to extend the argument: is one criteria of fantasy that it must reproduce an imaginary universe? Do not all works of fiction, be they speculative fiction, magazines, art, movies, etc. don’t they all fabricate imaginary worlds? Are not even daytime theaters, prime-time soap operas, and even the most daring kitchen sink dramas, regardless of the creator’s impressive attempts to depict reality & literal truth, are they not imaginary universes? So why don’t we call them fantasy?

real London?

The Poppins Paradox is that the story is based on a (in the film version, clumsy and hackneyed, I agree) “real world” setting, in this case London, at a point in “real world” history (a Disneyfied Edwardian England, I suppose) and it incorporates a cast of what seem to be, anyhow on the face of it, ordinary “real world” people. Actually, the British-Australian writer P. L. Travers always knew (and she always intended) that her books would be classed as fantasy adventures… and that’s because they featured a magical English nanny. So is it the addition of a “magical” element that makes a story a fantasy — rather than any attempt to create an imaginary universe?

Oz World

As fantasy writers, I think we can get bogged down (and easily convinced) into thinking we need to create imaginary universes. From L.Frank Baum’s Oz World (above), via Tolkein’s Middle Earth and across DC Comics’ multiverse and into James Cameron’s ecosystem, dropping by the continents of Westeros and Essos on the way through —  we have so much enjoyed reading about & creating our own detailed imagery for invented worlds that we get lost within them. (By the way, these are paracosms, and I discuss them in my non-fiction manual “So You Want to Write Fantasy” — and I also explain why you and I might be drawn into paracosmic worlds) — I’m not saying this is a bad thing — I’m just saying it’s not essential for fantasy…

But that brings us back to my original thought: what is the essential ingredient of fantasy (if it isn’t an imaginary universe?)

As I have said before, in much more detail, the supernatural and the fantastic have always been an essential part of any fiction project (not just fantasy fiction.) In fact, ancient civilizations couldn’t separate storytelling from fantasy… and maybe neither can we!

We're Diabetic

Imagine if I gave you a true-life account of one hour of my life from yesterday… a bit like a witness might give his accurate testimony in court… I think it would bore you to tears, and you would probably unplug or fall asleep before I’m done. Not only would my minute-by-minute and step-by-step story be tremendously tedious… it would also be long (endlessly long, you might think) because it would have to take-up more than an hour to narrate, because every component or aspect would have to be fully explained. Most undesirable of all, though,there wouldn’t be any point to it. There’d be no benefit. So you would ask: what was the point of all that? Why did I waste a good part of my life listening to it? What did I get out of it? In short, a real life account of an hour of my life would be an absurd and unproductive waste of time. Knowing this to be true, ancient storytellers sensationalized, romanticized, and glamorized their stories: they made them fantastic, even if those same stories were based on true events or real-world history. In other words, they hyperbolized the cojones out of their accounts! And the public loved it. So the storytellers knew they were onto something. And that’s how real life and the fantastic got mixed up.


Along came a Bulgarian-French historian named Tzvetan Todorov (1939-2017) who famously claimed that the “fantasticis a liminal space within the architecture of life. This is why I bang-on about liminality so much!

I previously covered liminality in greater detail in my Myth & Magic podcasts (you’ll need to listen to Episodes 13, then Episode 40, and Episode 51 please find the link below) but basically (very basically) it’s the idea that there are moments in our lives when continuities and situations dissolve or become uncertain or outcomes that are previously certain will be thrown into doubt… these are liminal periods (or thresholds) in our life; we meet them rarely (but occasionally) and we all experience them.

We will find (all of us) that during liminal moments (most often experienced in rites of passage) our understanding of time becomes fluid and malleable. And when time is amorphous like this, everything we think is true can be doubted.

Why do I feel so tired?

I propose that conjuring liminality, the positioning of ourselves or our readers on an impermanent (almost evanescent) threshold — is the only essential criterion of fantasy. This is why portals are so important in fantasy stories: you leave from a “real place” and enter the magic world of Narnia through a wardrobe, you board the Hogwarts Express and enter an imaginary world from King’s Cross station in London through Platform Nine and Three Quarters. Bilbo Baggins and, after him, Frodo leave the Shire to enter into their magical adventures at a liminal moment in their real lives (their joint birthdays.)

Even the act of picking up a book and immersing oneself inside the world it describes (or luxuriating in a fantasy adventure on screen) is a temporary journey into a metaphysical dimension. Yes, reading and viewing is a transitional moment (a temporary interruption) in how we experience the mechanical passage of time. How often do we suddenly blurt: “Good grief, is that the time?” after reading in bed for too long. How often do we leave a cinema and enter the pale sunlight (blinking) and think “gosh, the real world seems so weird...”

And Mary Poppins? She is caught up in the lives of the Banks’ children, Jane and Michael, and twins John and Barbara, by the east wind. Why then? Because it was a time of liminality: a fluid, malleable and impermanent time when new rules could be established for the young family, and a new “normality” could begin. Poppins always promised she’d “pop out” of their existence once the wind changed… and she did. Poppins’ period was transitional and she, the bearer of change, was merely a temporary evanescent visitor.

So to sum up: fantasy has many desirable ingredients: magic, supernaturalness, fantabulous plot elements, highly imaginative themes & settings, magical creatures, and detailed imaginary universes… but it has only one essential criterion: a sense of disorientation at a transitional moment: liminality.

Agree? Disagree? Ideas or comments?

Words: @neilmach 2021 ©

Comments? Tweet me @neilmach

Neil Mach is author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

How to give a great podcast interview

Here at Myth & Magic we create a weekly podcast specially developed for fantasy authors and fans of fantasy fiction, and we would like you to join us!

Yes, we welcome writers, artists, poets, bloggers, journalists, illustrators, short story contributors, or any creative person who splashes about in the crazy world of fantasy fiction to join the fun. What’s your story?

Come and do a podcast with us!

No matter if you are a newcomer, an enthusiastic amateur, or a best-selling master novelist, we would like to hear your experiences, anecdotes, ideas, and best practices. Our interviewer is a professional journalist and is eager to take your call and have an pleasant conversation. And this will be a great time to talk about your latest project, reveal your new book, or promote your recent activities.

If this is the first time you have done a a radio-type interview, don’t worry, you are in accomplished and sympathetic hands. Neil is a welcoming and hospitable listener. He will make things very easy for you, so you can deliver a clear and effective message to our many listeners.

Your list of questions will be sent in advance and you will choose the date and time of your conversation, so your podcasting experience will be stress free.

Here are some tips for giving a good podcast interview:

  • find a quiet place in your home and tell everyone you will need silence for 30 minutes
  • turn off noisy machinery, washing machines, electric fans, air conditioning, telephones, alarms
  • have a bottle or mug of water nearby to wash your mouth regularly and keep hydrated
  • your topic is “you” a subject you know well, so smile and be unhurried, this is easy-street
  • you can put oomph and dazzle into a jaded voice by smiling and using hand gestures
  • but if you use hand gestures, try not to hit the table or thump things
  • your answers must be expressed in words, uh-huhs or nods cannot be seen on the show
  • if your day is not going well, ask to postpone or delay the interview till a later time
  • the podcaster will adapt to your needs and solve your concerns, just ask
  • it is normal to be a little nervous, but do not dread it, it is purely a chat
  • the Myth & Magic show host will send questions ahead of time, so you can prepare your answers
  • there will not be any sneaky questions, the podcaster will not try to “catch you out”
  • there will be no unpredictable questions either, it’s just a congenial chat
  • sometimes an answer comes out “wonky” so, if you’d like another run at it, just ask
  • bloopers, gaffs and errors can be edited-out, so if you think you made one, just say so
  • if the podcaster has not asked a question you are eager to discuss, just tell him
  • the podcaster will ask about your new book, so be prepared to plug away!
  • the listeners will want to know where they can get your book, so be prepared to share quick links
  • an interview takes energy, so you will be zapped (albeit in high spirits) right after. We advise you to factor in a little rest-time
  • the interview format is light and easy, to help you relaa-aax
  • prepare for an abrupt start, the podcaster will most likely go “right into it”
  • your first question will be a workaday enquiry — how is the weather? What are you doing?
  • We recommend you use Skype or Duo (or another video link) so you can look the interviewer in the eye and chat happily. Don’t worry, the video image is not shared (only the sound)
  • if you’re new to skyping, don’t worry, the interviewer will be kind and patient
  • Find within yourself answers that might:
    a) expose a little of your inner being
    b) express a creed or philosophy that you appreciate
  • your interview will be produced, so mistakes, bloops and smudges will be engineered out, although your answers will be left intact (unless you asked the interviewer to skip them)
  • If you have questions, misgivings or second thoughts about an answer you gave, contact the podcaster as soon as possible and explain your concerns before the show “goes live”. We will edit any dodgy answers out, if you ask
  • we recommend you share your interview with friends, family, followers on all your social networks

Have a great time! Get involved! Tell your story!

SEND YOUR PITCH HERE: or tweet or DM on Facebook

Come on! Let’s get this done. Contact us today

Check this recent podcast interview on Myth & Magic with Guardians Of The Realm author Amanda Fleet :

About Neil Mach

The busy English novelist Neil Mach writes stories about strong women, independent loners, individualists, and other outsiders whose feats are triggered by loyalties and whose actions are animated by a sense of duty… he lives in Surrey England, with his wife, by the River Thames. He has two grown-up daughters and hosts the Myth & Magic podcast show for fantasy authors

Twenty Things People Hate About Fantasy

I adore fantasy, and let’s be honest, so do you.

Fantasy is the best-selling genre of all time.

But there are people who hate fantasy titles. Yeah, really there are…

So what is it about fantasy that drives people away?

I did a little research into this and I discovered twenty things that fantasy haters don’t like about this most popular of all genres…

What can fantasy authors learn from this list, shared below? Well, maybe they can ration some of the worst stylistic elements and features. Maybe they can listen to the criticisms and make reasonable modifications.

Or, quite the contrary, perhaps they should cram their stories with even more of what those haters hate! After all, they’ll never get it…  but the genuine fans will love those qualities!

Either way, it’s good to know the flip-side of opinion…

20 things people hate about  fantasy

1.      Too little romance or too much romance turns people off. Fantasies seem unable to bring that comforting balance of “just enough” romance
2.      Some think “only children” are instinctively drawn to fantasy worlds, so they have pre-decided that fantasy is “not for adults”
3.      Some people dislike stories that are told without rules or limits
4.      Some find the language (terminology) of fantasy somewhat inaccessible
5.      Some feel fantasy fiction does not focus enough on human experience and individual problems
6.      Some don’t like stories with so many characters to follow
7.      Some dislike prose with so much fussy detail
8.      Some do not have the imagination to immerse themselves in fantastic worlds, it’s just the way their minds are hard-wired
9.      Some do not feel their life requires the escapism that fantasy offers
10.  Some dislike the flowery prose of fantasy

[with thanks to Tom Gaul]

11.  Some dislike the arbitrary power an author extends over character and plot development (i.e. inconsistent rules or ill-conceived magic systems)
12.  Some are unable or unwilling to  “invest” in the span of stories that make up an epic fantasy series… some fantasies tend to go on-and-on
13.  Some  believe fantasy fiction is geared towards the male reader
14.  Skeptics (that’s to say, people who doubt  something is true and useful) say magic is unscientific
15.  The same skeptics say that magic is unrealistic
16.  Worse still, those skeptics say magic is not intellectual or sophisticated enough for them
17.  Recycled tropes are a bore
18.  For some, the sheer size of a single fantasy novel is intimidating (let alone a series of stories)
19.  Fantasy romance is considered unrealistic
20.  Conventional rules of reality can easily be bent or hot-wired by the author; this is seen as short-cutting plot and character development, and so this is “unfair”

Thoughts or comments? Tweet me @neilmach


Listen to this topic on the Myth & Magic Podcast

Episode 51 on Apple here >>>

Myth and Magic 3D graphic

Myth and Magic – The Fantasy Fiction Writer’s Podcast



Celestial Skyfish — Mysterious Flying Rods

Celestial Skyfish — mysterious flying rods

Are spooky flying rods captured on film some kind of temporal or transcendental celestial skyfish? Or are they an alien life form? Or an undiscovered species? Is there a more prosaic explanation?

Flying rods are elongated visual artifacts that materialize in night-time photographic images and especially in video recordings. It’s a fairly recent phenomenon, indicating that recent technology has advanced the documentation of these manifestations.

Some advocates of the paranormal have declared that what you are seeing (above) is an alien life form. Other groups propose that these mirror-like & diaphanous creatures are extra-dimensional.

Whatever they are, the flying animals appear to be thin, silver, and transient, with slender, elongated bodies and multiple wings. They are declared to be “evasive” and “super-fast.”

Pseudoscientists have asserted that these strange life forms are represented in petroglyphs (rock carvings) found throughout the world, which could suggest that prehistoric people could once “see” the cryptids (without technology) and wished to record their experience for posterity.

But, so far, this is what we know :

* Flying rods can’t be seen with the naked eye
* Flying rods happen at night
* Flying rods “appear” best when captured by video
* Flying rods are most obvious when captured with infra red film
* Flying rods become most discernible when running slow shutter speeds
* Flying rods are found in spooky places, such as cemeteries or ruins

What creatures fly at night, become discernible at slow shutter speeds and “haunt” spooky places? Investigators have concluded that the most likely explanation for the existence of flying rods is that they are visual illusions produced onto film by nocturnal flying moths.

Moths attracted by the floodlights set up at the Staging Grounds Swifts Creek Recreation Reserve

It’s comparatively simple to take flying rod photos for yourself… Moths attracted to floodlights  at the Staging Grounds, Swifts Creek Recreation Reserve

The rapid passage of an insect flapping its wings across the scope of a lens is assumed to develop a wand-like visual effect, because of motion blur (apparent streaking). Generally, energetic animals such as moths produce elongated afterimage trails when the flaps are caught on film. The rapid flapping of the wings produces the illusion of those jutting extrusions you see on the “spinal column” of the flying creature.

It’s comparatively simple to take flying rod photos for yourself. If you photograph a cloud of flying insects trapped in the sun and use long exposure, you will notice that a few insects are in focus (others are not) and when some insects fly sideways to your lens, they will appear as elongated flying rods in the image.

Words: @neilmach 2020 ©

Further reading:

The English novelist Neil Mach has gained widespread recognition for the creation of strong female characters and for compelling stories that often revolve around the themes of loyalty and duty.

His character Moondog is a Romani detective. He is called-in when other investigators hesitate. The detective inquires into things that lay “beyond normal human experience” where things hang in the balance between mundane and miraculous.

In the novel Moondog and the Reed Leopard the detective is called to Groby to investigate a spate of Big Cat attacks. The novel is OUT NOW.