Dark Arches

NEW YA Urban Fantasy — Out October 2020

Moondog and the Dark Arches by Neil Mach

Janney is a teenage librarian in a peculiar English feudal village. She possesses a remarkable ability: she can fly from her body and hook up with another person. In this state of detachment, she found herself trapped within another young woman who escaped from a pagan ritual, but then jumped off a bridge. Was this woman chased by a monster that had been sent by the evil priestess? Moondog, the preternatural detective, is called out to investigate these evils. Will he discover the truth? What invisible thing lives beneath the church? What is going on in the weird Vale of Amity?

PRE-ORDER this title now or, if you join the ARC team, you will get the novel sent to you FREE


Also out this October:

Loop Breaker

Loop Breaker

A Beacon and the Darkness (The Loop Breaker Book 1) by Russ Thompson

A tale of ghostly mystery and suspense… with the help of the town psychic Sixteen-year-old Lee Ann aids lost souls, helping them break out of a loop they are caught up when they constantly repeat the last moments of their lives.

Fireforged (Elemental Realm Keepers Book 1) by Ahava Trivedi

Orla Illy moves to Edge Rock Isle, a dreary coastal village in England and on her first day at school she gets drawn to the most arrogant and popular boy in school. But then she discovers that demons have abducted her mum… and they’re out to get her too…

Ruby Morgan
Lady of Avalon Part 1: (Ruby Morgan Book 9) by LJ Rivers

LJ Rivers is a pseudonym for co-writing Norwegian duo Linn and Jørn. The Ruby Morgan series are urban Arthurian fantasy novels that began with “Essence of Magic” and tell of half-fae Ruby Guinevere Morgan who has to keep one step ahead of the harvesters who hunt for her magical blood.

Chainbreaker Risen Shard
The Risen Shard (The Chain Breaker Book 1) by D.K. Holmberg

Trained to kill from a young age, Gavin Lorren finally escaped the life of the assassin to settle down in the city of Yoran, but there’s an ancient race with innate magical talent after him — the fast and deadly El’aras warriors — and it will take all of his talents to survive.

Ravens Abyss

Ravens Abyss

Raven’s Abyss (Trials of Darkhaven Book 3) by Ben Blackwell

The Darkhaven series finale that features Raven, a magical mercenary, figuring her life out, who works as a detective, aided and abetted by her cute dog, Octavian. In this episode she faces an onslaught of monsters…

Platoon Sergeant

The Hateful Full Stop

The Hateful Full Stop

There are several reasons why you shouldn’t use full-stops on your social media posts and texts…

In Poland they even have a term for it: “kropka nienawiści” (it means “dot of hate”)

Full Stop

In the same way that you shouldn’t use ALL CAPITAL LETTERS on posts and texts — because FULL CAPS is like the sender is yelling (we don’t need more yelling in our lives, do we?) — the full stop (or period, if that’s your bag) is about closing communication. If you use it, readers will ask: Why are they closing dialogue down? Don’t they like me? Don’t they want me to reply? Why don’t they want to open it up?

If you’re over forty, you may not “get” this, but it’s true, nonetheless. If you think about it, the words on a page (or screen) are just code. The end point of a statement or a command is a dot (written in code). If you don’t think of it that way (perhaps because you have been taught to respect “good old English grammar”) you might have to adjust your point of view…

Once you recognise that stopping dialogue with a dot on a page has immense power and is all about control, restraint and containment, you will understand how coercive and confrontational a dot on a screen can seem (to some).

Please note that I am not for a moment recommending that you abandon grammar in your formal written work. But is it sacrilege to live without full-stops when thumbing out a one-liner or delivering a speedy post?

I’m like you, I prefer good grammar. I think rules clarify things. However, you can ditch the full stop in the following examples:

* A full-stop ending means the termination of conversation. Is this how you want to leave things? If you want the conversation to continue, don’t turn it off by using a stop! A stop is like saying “end of”

* A full stop means end of to a Gen Z reader. She or He will interpret this as snappish. Did you mean to come over tetchy?

* If there is only one sentence in the message box, you may leave it unpunctuated

* If you finish a one-line post or text with an emoticon, you don’t need a punctuation as well 😃

* When reading (aloud) we use a point for pauses. If it’s a one-line speech, we won’t need a long pause at the end, right?

* A full stop goes at the end of a complete idea, but if there is only one complete idea to read, why is it necessary?

Words: @neilmach 2020 ©

Fancy polishing up your communication skills? Neil shares tools, tips and advice for voicing and expressing on social media on his weekly Max Expressificity 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.

Talking Others Up

How to hand-out compliments on socials

Give kudos for effort

Give kudos for effort

Compliments are crazy-difficult to hand out. They can be a minefield of confusion if you’re not careful about what you are doing. What right do you have to judge the product or output of another person or give opinions about appearance and behavior?

Even if you have the best intentions, comments will translate as judgments or comparisons. So don’t use compliments willy-nilly. Be careful about using them at all. Choose, instead, to talk people up!

* Find something that’s gone unnoticed by others and comment favorably
* Using a name only takes a few keystrokes yet it is surprising how few bother with it
* Explain why you support a message and/or an intention behind the message to confirm you considered it carefully
* Give kudos for effort
* Interestingly, validations from a third party seem more important than those coming directly from you. Did some other person say something nice? Tell them who it was and what was said

Avoid compliments about a person’s physical presentation. Just because an individual looks good/sexy to you it doesn’t mean they want you to express it. And, anyway, it will come across as freaky if the person thinks you’ve been examining them a bit too closely!

Also, offering compliments to the opposite sex about physical appearance or clothing can make you seem creepy, seedy, or just plain dubious.

Remember: praise will lift your spirits — while it lifts theirs

Words: @neilmach 2020 ©

Fancy polishing up your communication skills? Neil shares tools, tips and advice for voicing and expressing on social media on his weekly Max Expressificity podcast

Max Expressificity Podcast

Max Expressificity Podcast

Dwight and the the D-K effect

What is Inner D-K?

Why are the most irritatingly ignorant people also the most sure of their opinions?

It’s the D-K effect…

You wouldn’t surprise if I told you that many stupid people think they are smart. But let’s be clear, self-confidence is crucial for human survival and is part of our evolutionary development as a species. But there is a famous adage: “The more you know, the less you think you know — and the less you know, the more you think you know...”

DK effect

the DK effect

In psychology, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive deviation from “the norm” where people with low ability overestimate their ability. But there is also a reverse effect that materializes when highly competent people underestimate their ability/performance (they put undue pressure on themselves, for example, to pass exams or get good grades) and this in turn gets them more qualified so even less sure of themselves.

Dunning and Kruger initially set out to test an hypothesis of ‘illusory superiority’ but what they actually found surprised them. They discovered that some of their subjects both overestimated and also underestimated their own abilities. Rather than confirming the original hypothesis i.e. inferior people believe themselves to be superior — in fact their test subjects were often (equally) susceptible to underestimating their intellectual capacity as they were to exaggerating it. Basically, it was established that when taken as a whole, the general population perceives itself as close to average.

D-K Club

D-K Club

So Donald Trump (to take a random example) suggests that his two biggest assets are: “My mental stability and being, like, really smart…” But he’s also likely to riff something along the lines of: “I’m not a doctor … I’m a person who has a good you-know-what…” (while pointing to his head).

Perhaps, on some level, we all struggle with some kind of internal D-K because expectation (and ego) are the main drivers of intellect and expression. If we do not develop overt self-confidence, it is very likely that we will fail in our chosen tasks. It has even been asserted that suggesting some people suffer from the D-K effect — while others do not — is like saying that some people suffer from fear, while others don’t.

So, be aware of your inner D-K and try not to let superiority/inferiority take over… Maintain the balance!

Words: @neilmach 2020 ©

Fancy polishing up your communication skills? Neil shares tools, tips and advice for voicing and expressing on social media on his weekly Max Expressificity podcast

Max Expressificity Podcast

Max Expressificity Podcast

How to awaken a gypsy nature

How to awaken your gypsy nature

A gypsy soul needs to be free and feel the breeze …

How to awaken your gypsy nature

Dance to your own hand claps…

A gypsy soul knows that life is not just about collecting points and grabbing belongings. Life is not about the ownership of material things. No, life is about wholeness and mindfulness. Life is about loving-kindness and transcending beyond a human body to move into the light. Life is about becoming the best spiritual being you can be…

But how do you do this when you are trapped within four walls, maybe for days, with an outside world that tries to manipulate your heart and with infiltrating weasels that sneak in (via the media and internet) to try to bring you down?

The answer is to be inspired by the ideas, attitudes and experiences that you find within yourself. Don’t try to prove things to anyone else — prove things to yourself.

Validate yourself in your own heart! And be unpredictable: Learn new skills, find enthusiasm in daily tasks, dance to your own hand claps (and dance frequently). And look for magic in ordinary things.

Above all: radiate sunbeams and good auras for your own good


* Never follow the leader
* Never jump on a bandwagon
* Question what you hear
* Remember you are unique
* Embrace fairy tales and miracles
* Find new ways to do old things
* Channel angry energy into creativity
* Channel frustration into music, poetry, and art
* Be the boss of your own thoughts
* Be the treasurer of your own ambitions
* Have faith in your intuition, it is almost always correct

Comment below or tweet me @neilmach

Words: @neilmach 2020 ©

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.

ABC large

The ABC of British BIG CATS

Big Cat Encounters of the Third Kind

In the folklore of Great Britain, BIG CATS, also known as ABCs, that is, Alien Big Cats (Alien as anomalous rather than extraterrestrial) or sometimes Ghost Cats and Mystery Cats, are reports of bizarre or atypical felines seen or witnessed in the field. The media often report such sightings as “panthers” or “cougars” or simply “black cats.”

There is a disputed fringe theory that suggests that these beasts may, in some way, be surviving wildlife from the last ice age and it is interesting to note that lions certainly hunted prey, alongside tigers and jaguars, that also roamed Britain during the Pleistocene era (the Ice Age.) Fossils found in Yorkshire, Devon and London bear witness to “over-sized” lions that once stalked herds of giant deer and mammoths. These big cats are believed to have become extinct around 13,000 years ago.


Lions tigers and jaguars roamed Britain during the Pleistocene era…

But others have suggested that the ABC sightings are more likely to be exotic pets that have been (illegally) released into the environment, or large ‘farm-cats’ or zoological specimens that have escaped captivity. It is a fact that in 1980 a puma (a mountain lion) was captured alive in Scotland.

And there have been several verified accounts of sightings and/or remains found of Eurasian lynxes and the body of a jungle cat, hit by a car, found on the side of the road, in Shropshire in 1989. Other animals that have been observed include ocelots and serval cats. In 1996, in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland police shot a cat that was reportedly a caracal (also known as a Persian lynx). All these seem to have been released exotic pets.

One of the best documented reports of an ABC encounter was by the famous Rural Rides writer William Cobbett who reported seeing a lynx-type big cat (the size of a spaniel) at Waverley Abbey near Farnham in Surrey in 1770. On a later trip to Canada, he saw what he was told was a “lucifee” in native tongue (a North American lynx) and decided that it was exactly the “same cat” he had seen at Waverley. Is this account the origin of the Surrey Puma legend?

The so-called “Beast of Exmoor” is perhaps the most famous Alien Big Cat. Folklorists have long argued that ghostly feral cats haunt the South West of England. Sightings of the Exmoor big cat were first reported in the 1970s, although the beast became famous in 1983, when a South Molton farmer in Devon claimed to have lost more than 100 sheep to the beast.

It was thought that the creature could have been a cougar or a black leopard, judging from the wounds to the sheep (killed by a bite to the throat) and locals theorized that the cat had been released from a private collection sometime in the 1960s or 1970s (unlikely, as the lifespan of a cougar or leopard is around 12-15 years) and although there may have been escapees from private collections, it seems unlikely that a viable breeding population could ever have existed. Nevertheless, eye-witness accounts suggested that the animal was a large panther and capable of easily jumping 1.83-m (6-foot) hurdles.

Shortly after 1983, and in response to growing reports of livestock deaths and more sightings of the “Beast of Exmoor” the Ministry of Agriculture did the (almost) unthinkable and called in the military to take care of it. This was a significant turning point in the ABC’s history, because no one in authority had ever accepted or recognized that the big cat was a “problem” until that point.

So the Min of Ag ordered the Royal Marines to send snipers to the Exmoor Hills to capture or kill the beast. And, although some Marines claimed to have momentarily seen the enigmatic animal, they did not fire their weapons or collect any definitive evidence. The animal was neither captured nor killed.

Beast of Exmoor

Beast of Exmoor ?

During the hunt for the beast, the commanding officer of the Royal Marines was quoted as saying that the quarry behaved with high, almost human intelligence, and: “always moved with surrounding cover amongst hedges and woods...”

The Marines were recalled and thereafter attacks on local sheep reportedly increased! In 1987, the creature was linked to more than 200 farm animal deaths. More recent attacks were reported in 1995 and 2001, although the Ministry of Agriculture has now declared that the killings and sightings are either lies, myths or misidentifications of native creatures.

In April 2019, a large cat the size of a Labrador was spotted in the Cornish village of Harrowbarrow after the animal attacked a dog. That’s right — the cat attacked a dog! Residents claimed that five local domestic cats were missing and that a herd of deer no longer visited nearby fields. A large paw print was found, identified as that of a panther or puma by the RSPCA, and a few days after the discovery, a local girl, Becky Abrey, posted images of an ABC onto her site and reported her sighting to the local press.

@neilmach 2020 ©

Are there truly wild big cats roaming free in the UK, or are they merely constructed fantasies, misidentifications or false memories? See the trailer for the new documentary on the subject (below.)

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.


Four Gypsy Heroes

The Roma people (also spelled Romani) often known colloquially as gypsies, are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group, traditionally made-up of nomadic travelers living mainly in Europe, although after a diaspora, Roma populations are found throughout the world. It is now accepted that the Roma people come from a single group of peoples who left the North Indian subcontinent around 512 AD.

Romani woman with German police officer and Nazi psychologist Dr. Robert Ritter

Romani woman with German police officer and Nazi psychologist Dr. Robert Ritter

Roma are widely known in English by the xenonym Gypsy (and Gipsies), which some Roma folk consider deprecatory.

Arising out of (a legitimate) fear of discrimination, most Roma choose not to register their birth or ethnic identity officially. There are an estimated 10 million Roma in Europe (as of 2019) with large Roma populations found in the Balkans, some central European states, in Spain, France, Russia and Ukraine. There are probably several million more Roma in other countries

During World War II, the Nazis embarked on a systematic genocide of the Roma, a process known in the Romani tongue as the Porajmos (meaning “the Devouring.”) Historians estimate that at least 500,000 and probably over 1 million Romani folk were killed by Germans and their nazi collaborators.

In post-war Czechoslovakia, the Roma were labeled as a “socially degraded stratum” and Roma women were sterilized as part of a state policy to reduce their population. Even in 2004, new cases of forced assimilation were revealed in the Czech Republic.




EL PELÉ was a Spanish Romani born in August 1861 in Aragon, Spain into a Romani family. Ceferino Malla’s father was a cattle-trader and so the family had a nomadic lifestyle, with Ceferino often going without food and having to resort to begging. Known for his integrity and sense of fairness, Ceferino became something of a leader in the Roma community in and around Barbastro in northeastern Spain. Folk sought his advice and mediation in family disputes. Ceferino was also called upon to resolve disputes between Roma and Spaniards.

One day a local landowner, suffering from tuberculosis, passed out on the street. Heedless of the danger of contagion, Ceferino carried the man home on his shoulders. The grateful family rewarded him with a sum sufficient to start a business of buying and selling surplus mules.

After becoming a member of the Franciscan Third order (a tertiary-type ‘friar’) in July 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, Ceferino tried to defend a Catholic priest from Republican militiamen. Both men were arrested, to be imprisoned in a former Capuchin monastery, converted into a wartime prison. As he led a modest life and had no significant political influence, his family asked an influential anarchist and member of the Revolutionary Committee known as Eugenio Sopena, to release him. Sopena did everything possible to free him, but was told that Ceferino was influencing other prisoners by encouraging them to have faith and believe in God. Ceferino was strongly advised to give up his rosary and not to draw attention to himself or his Catholicism, but refused to give up his rosary or his faith.

The Republican militia (revolutionaries) shot Ceferina on August 9, 1936, in a cemetery in the Spanish city of Barbastro, along with 18 other people, mostly priests and believers. Before he was killed, he raised his rosary high to shout loud: “Long live Christ the King.”

El Pelé is now considered the patron of the Rom and Sinti peoples.




SETTELA STEINBACH (born Anna Maria Steinbach) was from Buchten in the Limburg area of southern Netherlands.

Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940. During the occupation of the Netherlands, over 100,000 Dutch Jews were rounded up and transported to Nazi extermination camps; only a few survived. In May 1944, a razzia (early morning police raid) against Romani families was organized across the whole of the Netherlands. 577 people were arrested and taken to Westerbork concentration camp ( the same camp that Anne Frank was taken to in August 1944.)

After the arrests, about 279 people were permitted to leave the camp once interrogation had been completed and the Nazi authority categorized them as non-Romani. But Steinbach and others were condemned. The ten-year-old’s head was shaven and, like other Romani girls and women, she was made to wear a torn sheet around her head to cover her baldness.

On May 19th, Settela was put onto a train along with 244 other Romani folk to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The carriages also contained Jewish prisoners. Settela and her family were gassed along with another three thousand Romani prisoners.

Settela Steinbach gained notoriety after the war when her image (shown above) was shown. The harrowing picture was associated with the pain and anguish of Auschwitz. The photo was taken for a movie about Westerbork transit camp made by the German photographer (of Jewish descent) Rudolf Breslauer whose own family was transported to Auschwitz in the autumn of 1944.

Gypsy Smith

Gypsy Smith


RODNEY “GIPSY” SMITH was born in a bender-tent in Epping Forest, six miles from London. Smith received no education and his family made a living by selling baskets, tin items, and clothes pegs though his father Cornelius mother Polly provided him with a happy Romanichal family upbringing. After his father became one of the “Converted Gypsies” that were involved in evangelistic efforts at that time, Smith taught himself to read and write and began to practice his preaching. He’d sing hymns to people he met and was known as “the singing gypsy boy.”

At a convention at the Christian Mission (later to be known as The Salvation Army) headquarters in London, the Methodist preacher and army founder William Booth noticed the Gypsies and saw the obvious potential in young Smith. In 1877 Smith accepted an invitation extended by Booth to be a “street corner” evangelist for the Mission.

Smith traveled extensively around the world on evangelistic crusades, drawing crowds numbering hundreds of thousands throughout an active life. Despite how busy he was, he never tired of visiting the Roma camps whenever he could on both sides of the Atlantic.

During World War I he ministered under the auspices of the Y.M.C.A. to British troops in France, often visiting the front lines. As a result of this undoubted heroism, King George VI made him a Member of the Order of the British Empire.




PETR TORAK is a modern-day hero. Born in Liberec in the Czech Republic (1981) he grew in a Roma family. In 1999 he and his parents sought asylum in the UK, after suffering violent attacks with political and racist motivations.

Petr volunteered in a solicitor’s office in Southend-on-Sea (he had studied law in the Czech Republic). And, after gaining a work permit, he found employment in fast food, factories and in supermarkets before joining Cambridgeshire Police in 2006 as a Community Support Officer. In 2008 and after further studies, Petr became a fully-fledged police officer with Cambridgeshire.

As a police officer, he worked in the city of Peterborough, a place with many east and central European immigrants and utilized his language skills (Czech, Polish, Slovak, Portuguese, English and Russian) to great effect. He became a project coordinator for a local organisation, COMPAS, which attempts to promote community cohesion, and is a trained mediator for ROMED, an EU funded project which trains mediators to help Roma folk communicate with local authorities.

Petr has also spoken-out against “modern slavery” and other issues affecting Eastern Europe migrants including young women being forced into sex work, and workers being exploited by gang-masters.

Petr is actively involved with the Gypsy Roma Traveller Police Association (GRTPA) that offers a network of support for Traveller and Romany police officers who often feel they are required hide their ancestry for fear of prejudice.

In 2015 he was awarded an honorary MBE (an MBE for non-Commonwealth citizens) for “services to the Roma community.” The award was made Substantive in August 2019.

Words: @neilmach 2020

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. Moondog and the Reed Leopard is OUT NOW.

Myth & Magic Wildflowers Podcast

Myth and Magic — Herbarium of Magical Wildflowers

Herbarium of Magical Wildflowers discussed in the weekly Myth and Magic Podcast

Anemone — Episode 28
Belladona — Episode 05
Betony — Episode 26
Blackberry — Episode 08
Bluebell — Episode 29
Bulrush — Episode 09
Chili Pepper — Episode 02
Daffodil — Episode 25
Fat Hen — Episode 04
Henbane — Episode 33
Hops — Episode 11
Horse Chestnut — Episode 10
Mistletoe — Episode 17
Morning Glory — Episode 07
Neeps — Episode 13
Primrose — Episode 27
St John’s Wort — Episode 01
Sunflower — Episode 06
Violet — Episode 30
Wake Robin — Episode 15

ALL Myth & Magic Episodes HERE >>


Myth and Magic EP 29 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 29 SHOW-NOTES

Folklore and fantasy themes aimed at creative writers: to start writing stories and challenge your brain with exciting ideas, dip into this kit-bag. Learn how fantasy worlds draw on real world history, mythology, and folklore. And there’s weekly news from the world of fantasy fiction too, plus fabulous creatures, studies on folk tales, nature fables and lots more mythical, magical fun.

CLICK HERE for Episode

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This week I explore what the word EPIC means. What are the ingredients that make fiction epic? Tips on how to write your own epic. Some advice on creating chimaera and my own list of fabulous creatures [see directly below]. Also I discuss anchorites & anchorholds and my wildflower of the week is the bluebell (pictured below)

Podcast listeners: Here is my list of chimaera from my bestiarum (how to use it: check the attributes of the body parts from the list underneath my list of fanciful chimaera.) A full explanation of the chimaera, with images, can be found at the bottom of this page.)

Blackguarduiker – greyhound, nebek (pictured above)
Clawsprey – hare, hawk
Cormoragoon – cormorant, pelican
Magriffon – magpie, vulture
Muskougar – deer, panther
Packrock – crocodile, wolf
Pantheradron – lioncel, martlet
Peltsensitive – otter, ferret
Sylphaster – hare, melusina
Tauruslimy – bull, salamander
Triumphallow – deer, wild boar
Ursignus – bear, swan
Worshipacock – dove, peacock
Wrassequirrel – hedgehog, badger

Animal / Creature Attributes

Alligator (croc) – heartless, merciless
Alphyn (hairy wolf) – condemning, judging
Badger – enterprise, snooping
Bear – boldness, courage
Boar – courage, ferocity
Bull – strength, steadfastness
Cormorant – patience, fortitude
Deer – nimbleness, shy
Dove – peace, compassion
Eaglet – valiant, royal
Falcon – vision, acuity
Ferret – fast, perceptive
Greyhound – speed, loyalty
Hare – speed, eves-dropping
Lioncel (small lion) – alert, noble
Magpie – burglar, robber
Martlet (martin type bird) – swift, lofty
Melusine (2-tailed mermaid) – egotistical, neurotic
Nebek (hairy tiger) – ruthless, tenacious
Otter – persistent, ingenious
Panther – unseeable, shrouded
Peacock – extravagant, bold
Pelican – devoted, charitable
Salamander – endurance, fire-resistant
Stag – proud, noble
Swan – gracious, elegant
Urchin (hedgehog) – defensive, bristly
Vulture – patience, commitment
Wolf – vigilant, protective
Wyvern – ferocity, venomous

Anchorites & Anchorholds



An anchorite (female: anchoress) is a person who has chosen to “withdraw” from society. The word comes from the Ancient Greek: ANKORITAS which means “someone who has withdrawn from the world”.

Anchorites differ from hermits in that they enter “isolation” after a service of “internment” (it might resemble a funeral rite) — so they can be considered dead to the world — and therefore they act as if they are a living saint.

The anchoritic life became widespread during the Middle Ages and there were a large number in England. The anchorites were normally isolated in a simple cell ( called an anchorhold) that had often been built against the walls of a village church. In German-speaking areas, it was customary for the bishop to say The Office of the Dead when the anchorite entered his or her cell, to indicate the anchorite’s death to the world and rebirth in a spiritual life.

Some anchorholds had a few rooms and perhaps even attached gardens. Servants tended to the basic needs of the anchorite, providing food and water and removing waste.

One of the most fascinating aspects of these anchorholds is that they were often considered to be a communal “womb” which offered an idealized sense of a community’s “reborn” potential.

Anchorites would provide spiritual advice and counsel to visitors through a small window or hatch in their cell, and therefore tended to gain a reputation for imparting words of wisdom and played an important part in the community as a guide, counsellor or mentor.

It’s well known, across the world, that self-isolation brings a person inner peace and the possibility of quiet and deep contemplation. Although other religions have priests or monks who separate themselves from “everyday life” to seek truth and spiritual clarity, no other religion has anything as extreme as the anchorites. I know we have not chosen to be isolated, in lock-down, but since we are, perhaps it’s healthy and reasonable to look at the positives rather than complain about the negatives.

The fourteenth-century English hermit, mystic, and religious writer Richard Rolle (who met the famous North Yorkshire anchoress Margaret Kirkby) undertook to identify the principles of an anchorite way of life and listed the benefits.

We have been bequeathed good ideas from Richard Rolle about the advantages and compensations that come through self-isolation, and I will finish with those perspectives most relevant to us today — and heartening to hear, too, I think — especially as we respond to the challenges brought by a period of self-isolation. They are presented in my own words and bring my own conceptions (but with thanks to Rolle):

* Living humbly and living calmly brings a person closer to love and patience
* Exchanging transient pleasures for deeper meaning brings a person a more permanent sense of spiritual resilience
* Being isolated from society brings the pleasure of devotion to a higher consciousness
* Isolation allows us to reflect on the shortness of life and, with those reflections, the acceptance that we must account for the hours that we have
* Purity comes when we submit to the will of external influences over which we have no control
* Isolation helps us fix our minds on what is true and fix our hearts on what is meaningful
* An isolated person will discover she or he has time to improve on their wisdom, on their knowledge, on their faith and on other worthy skills


definition of epic

What are the ingredients that make something epic?

Our word EPIC comes from the Latin epicus and the Greek epikos — words that mean story, or poem. Somehow, along the way, we have taken “Epic” to mean “long” or even “overlong” and perhaps even “arduously overlong” — so, for example, an “Epic journey to the shops…” might be laborious and lengthy. Our friends would murmur their sympathy and be glad they didn’t join us on such an arduous quest…

But if you are reading (or, indeed, writing) an Epic fantasy novel, then you’d expect something that offers more than: “long and arduous” — you’d want something that offers:

* Extraordinary derring-do
* Exceptional heroics
* Immortals, superhumans and average humans working together for the common good
* Complex mythologies
* A re-examination of morals
* Rhetorical or figurative language
* Rhapsodic romanticism

If you test The Lord of the Rings against my criteria above I think you’ll agree that it ticks each (and every) box. It is an epic novel.

Several experts, including the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC) have attempted to outline the main characteristics of an Epic. So here’s my shot at it. Test your own novel and your favorite fantasy fiction work against this list:

  • Epics must have an obvious moral theme
  • In Epics the action starts immediately, we’re dropped right into the action, in the middle of events (think Star Wars)
  • The setting will be vast, it will encompass a multitude of nations / realms / worlds (think Game of Thrones)
  • A prophetic goddess / enchantress / sorcereess might be the catalyst or spur for action (think Chronicles of Narnia or the Arthurian Legends)
  • The main characters will have epithets (think, the Man of Steel or Gandalf the Grey)
  • Epics contain lists (think, the list of demons in Paradise Lost)
  • Epic heroes will recite long and formal speeches
  • Epics demonstrate that superhumans / aliens / dieties can work together to overcome evil
  • The protagonists will embody the best principles / virtues of civilization
  • An Epic will often feature a tragic hero’s descent into an underworld or hell on earth 
    miraculous bluebell

    miraculous bluebell

    Wildflower of the week: Bluebell

unicorn tapestry with bluebells

If you want to find a unicorn… go to a bluebell wood in springtime…

It’s said that when the blood-blooded Prince Hyacinthus was killed in a game that went fatally wrong, bright blue flowers sprang from his blood. His lover (the god Apollo) shed divine tears that marked each of the new flower petals: “AIAI” (alas)

The British bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta has often been described as Britain’s “favourite flower”. When I was young my family used to make an annual pilgrimage to one of several “bluebell woods” near to us the view the amazing sight of “the blue of the wood” (and to greedily collect) bunches of this wonderful, aromatic and magical plant. The folk-belief was that if you pulled the flower-stalk away cleanly (they often made a little yelp) the bluebell would not be harmed. This folklore has since been proven to be true (though, if you trample all over the plants – which we were careful to avoid – this would harm them.) I still remember how exciting it was to bring bunches-and-bunches home, to vase them up and take-them to our rooms to enjoy the warming fragrances. When I moved into my current cottage-home at Penton Hook, here by the River Thames, we had British bluebells growing in sturdy bunches by our front door (we also had a witch-scaring Elderberry by the corner of our house). But we had our front yard (garden) paved-over two years ago (it’s very nice & efficient) but in the process of those extensive groundworks we lost our old Elderberry bush and the Bluebells. However, nature is miraculous, and through a little crack in the stonework (and after an absence of 2 years) a bluebell has just appeared!

Common British bluebells aka wild hyacinths, wood bells, fairy flowers or bell bottles (my favorite is the Somerset word for them: Grigglesticks) ought not be confused with harebells (though harebells are known as bluebells in Scotland) which I will cover in another show. Bluebells are a perennial plant that grow from bulbs and appear in April (spring time) and Bluebell Woods are found in all parts of Great Britain and Ireland. Bluebells are a common indicator species for ancient woodlands (that’s any woodland that has existed continuously since at least 1600.)

Native bluebells are a protected species under British law (though they weren’t protected when I was young) and this is because so many important woodland sites have been lost to development since the 1950s.

It’s known that Bluebells synthesise a wide range of chemicals that have potential medicinal properties. For example, they contain at least fifteen biologically active compounds that probably provide them with protection against insect and animal consumption.

The bulbs of bluebells have been used in folk medicine for years: primarily as a remedy for some infections and to stop bleeding, and the roots had been used by folk to make glue.

Bluebells can be clearly seen in the famous medieval “ Unicorn Tapestries” and, since they are pictured alongside other “sex” plants it’s likely they were once considered a symbol of fertility and marriage.

bestiarum of chimaeras

An absurd list of insightful but fabulous creatures

In heraldic representations we often see CHIMAERAS like the hippogriff with body parts taken from various real or imaginary animals. The word chimera (actually means “she-goat” in ancient Greek) was originally used to describe a fearsome looking lion / goat / snake monster that breathed fire, but has since been used to describe any fantasy creature that has been made out of various parts of leftover body parts, or is considered delusionally imaginative, ridiculously extravagant, or simply mind-blowing.

The good thing about the original Chimera (the goat thing) was that this monster personified and embodied the attributes of its original component body-parts: namely, the bravery and ferocity of a lion, the sneakiness of a snake and the obstinacy and persistence of a goat. Other (obvious) chimeras in daily use include the sea lion (also known as a morse) that has the head and upper body of a lion, but the webbed forelimbs of a fish. Therefore, it is predatory like a lion, but it is skillful underwater. And although it is a “legendary creature” and it embodies the attributes of a lion and a fish, the sea-lion is also tangible in a “real world” sense both physically and stylistically. Slightly less “tangible” yet totally recognizable is the mermaid: a human woman with the tail of a fish. So, stylistically, she’s beautiful but slippery. Understandably, we might associate the “Sirens” of classic mythology with the idea of a mermaid, but surprisingly we’d be wrong! The sirens of Greek mythology were half-woman half-bird chimaeras (not fish).The switch to an aquatic swimming creature came later when many of the Christian bestiaries were compiled. It’s possible (though I’m just guessing) that those later compilers didn’t want mermaids to mingle with the (much holier) angels. There’s also a sensible line-of-thought that early sailors might have seen seals (or less likely, manatee, or dugong) languishing on rocks and “singing” and thought they’d seen half-human / half-fish creatures.

But back to my own list of preposterous yet insightful creatures, and perhaps inspired a little bit by J.K. Rowling’s (aka Newt Scamander’s) “Fantastic Beasts” that included several recognisable chimaeras such as the manticore (lion / scorpion) the hippocamp (horse / fish) and the griffin (lion / eagle) but more properly inspired by Friar’s “New Dictionary of Heraldry” I have created my own set of chimaera that “make sense” stylistically.

My set of chimaera might be distinctly improbable and highly wondrous but they’re really quite functional — perhaps even workable — so you could use them for your fantasy fiction project. You can, of course, use them (even though I conjured them out of thin air) and if you do, it would be great if you credited me. But more importantly, I’d love to know if you’ve used (or even thought about) using one of my odd creations. Or why not create your own? But try to follow my advice and make them insightful