Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Interview with Charlotte Savigar

As part of the promotion for the new Tales Of New Albion steampunk electro-rock album, I managed to get hold of the talented composer - Charlotte Savigar - to ask her a few questions about the creation process:

How did you get into music composing?

After starting piano aged 7, it was obvious I had an instant love for this instrument and indeed music. I remember as a kid listening to composers such as Liszt and Chopin at my Grandad’s house and feeling incredibly moved and connected to the piano pieces I was hearing. I guess this was the catalyst that prompted me to sit down and start writing my own music.
I wrote my first solo piano composition aged 11, it was called ‘Pulse’ and I remember feeling really proud of my creation. I even performed it at a school assembly. From there I filled up manuscript book after manuscript book writing down as many ideas as I could. 


Tell us about the Tales Of New Albion project and how that came about

I spend the majority of my time writing library music and every so often I will have a quiet patch where I’m waiting for my next project to begin. With this knowledge, my husband suggested that I write a piece of music for his next story (from the Tales of New Albion) that he was due to read at an upcoming Surrey Steampunk Convivial. After doing a little research about the steampunk genre I decided to create a victoriana / scifi sounding track that is now officially the ‘Albion theme music’. We were both very happy with the composition so Daren suggested that I compose more pieces to accompany his book. Over the course of about 10 months, he gave me more and more story briefs and I pretty much had free range to choose my musical pallet and get creative!  


What is your favourite track from the album and why?

My favourite track is ‘Lost in the Great White’, I would describe this as ‘the serious track’ on the album! It took a lot of time to create this Asian sounding composition and the reason I like it so much is that it really moves me. I feel an emotional connection this piece and am very proud of the writing here.


Your previous releases were more song based, how was it working on an instrumental album?

I loved it! As much as I enjoyed and still do enjoy recording vocal music in the studio, I struggle so much with writing lyrics that on so many occasions it’s held me back. I realised towards the end of 2015 that I was losing the passion for writing songs and once I started writing library music I decided that this was where my heart felt whole and ironically I felt I could express myself more through instrumental music than through words.
With this album I had the opportunity to write for instruments I wouldn’t have ever thought of writing for in the past. In particular synths! They play a big part in the album and really create the scifi landscape I was trying to achieve. I felt throughout the whole project that I had the freedom to create whatever I wanted and as a composer that felt truly liberating!

Any plans for a follow up?

Well Daren is already writing volume 2 so hell yeah!!!

Tell us something about your self that not many people know.

Apparently I’m a bus nerd! And I love to do impersonations!


Check out Charlie's website and download Tales Of New Albion from Bandcamp.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Tales Of New Albion - the Soundtrack Album

Well this is something a bit different from my usual posts.  A while back when I was doing a few readings of my Steampunk stories I asked Charlie (Charlotte Savigar) if she would do a piece of music as an intro for me.  One thing led to another and now we are very proud to announce that we have released a whole album's worth of music to accompany the book.  I'll post an interview with the composer and more about the specific tunes, but make sure you check it out here on Soundcloud.

If you like what you hear, then please do purchase the album from Bandcamp.  You can also order a signed copy of the book along with a signed CD of the soundtrack from Bandcamp, so check that out too.

A lot of the tracks are real earworms, but make sure you at least check out Ellen Hall, Tobias Fitch and Lost In The Great White - as these are just great pieces of music.  Once again there is great artwork by Frog Morris to accompany the release.  Charlie wrote, performed and mixed all these tracks and we had them mastered by Gethin John at Hafod Mastering just outside Cardiff.

I can't recommend this highly enough, so please do check it out and let us know what you think.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Conversation With An Imp

It was dusk as I wandered drowsily and stiff with the fatigues of the day out into my garden, a bag of mealworms clutched in my hand to feed my local hedgehogs. There was a simple science to doing this. Your common or garden Hedgehog’s diet overlaps with both birds and cats, so choosing something that cats are not too fond of is ideal. Mealworms fit this bill perfectly, however the local birds will happy eat those, so you have to wait to put them out until it is late enough to prevent the birds swooping and nabbing the lot. Hedgehogs are nocturnal, so you never see them in daylight unless they are unwell. Right now the warm evening light was a hazy shade of light orange, evocative and dreamlike.

With a small start I realised that standing at the bottom of my lawn in the little hollow near the bush where the fox liked to snooze was a curious looking child, or perhaps a midget as its face was noticeably older looking that its size would imply. Not dissimilar to how the infant Jesus is often portrayed with oddly mature features. It was about four feet tall and dressed plainly in white or very pale blue, its curiously androgynous features were friendly and it had a pleasant, calming smile as though it was delighted to see me. Nevertheless it chilled me rigid and a shiver pierced me through. It raised a hand slightly in a manner perhaps intended to relax me.
‘Please do not be afraid, we will not harm you.’ It spoke in a curiously adult voice, neither distinctly male nor female sounding, but sympathetic and mild. Not for the last time I was inclined to believe it. ‘Can I help you?’ I asked, trying to be calm although my throat was very dry and the words did not come without gruffness attached.
‘No,’ replied the imp with the merest of shrugs. ‘Perhaps we help you.’ It was a statement rather than a question. I swallowed and shook my head slightly to see if that helped in any way. The light continued its lazy drift through the oranges towards burnt ochre. I found myself curious that it had said “we”.
‘How many of you are there?’ I rasped dryly, flicking my eyes around nervously to see if there was more of its kind lurking nearby.
‘Difficult to say,’ it replied in a tone that seemed to imply that it would be hard to explain, rather than it being uncertain on the numbers. It was still slightly creepy though; if it had intoned, “We are legion” in the voice of the devil, I would have been no more perturbed.
‘Are you from round here?’ the question sounded daft even as I formed it.
‘Difficult to say,’ it intoned soothingly again, ‘we have been here before.’
Something felt very strange suddenly, perhaps it was the light. It was darker, but still eerily lit in ruddy tones creeping towards crimson. The clothing of the creature, for I dared not consider it human now, seemed more brilliantly white than before. This brought something to mind and without really considering it I blurted,
‘Are you an angel?’ The creature grinned broadly at this as though amused by the thought, however it shook its head subtly in a way that did not imply anything other than a simple denial.
‘No,’ it replied kindly. However it pre-empted further questions with an expanded explanation this time. ‘What we are is difficult to say. We can tell you what you are.’ The weighting on these words gave me the distinct impression that it didn’t mean me personally, but something much wider, more encompassing. I gulped but could not muster any words at this point as I was distinctly freaking right out (without any difficulty). ‘You are Selfish.’ It continued, still with a simple disarming smile and happy tone to its voice as though discussing a much-cherished pet. Fair enough, I thought but again could not muster any words at this point. The benevolent imp continued to smile pleasantly and its eyebrows lifted just a millimetre or two as if wondering if I had further questions. I did not know what to think. Somehow my lips found shapes and air left my heaving lungs.
‘Why are you here?’ I seemed to have asked, although I was not sure if I had actually spoken out loud. I was suddenly aware of my heart hammering somewhere amongst the veins in my neck.
‘To visit you,’ stated the imp, but again it seemed to imply that the visit was not to me personally. ‘To study and see if we can change.’ I gulped hard, not really following what it was saying. ‘Your planet will continue to revolve,’ it added, but my brain was now spinning sufficiently all on its own. A shudder of dizziness washed over me and wondered if I might faint. ‘We have been here before,’ it repeated, ‘we were selfish.’ This last addendum seemed to suggest that the selfish could overcome their inwardly greedy ways. Why was it speaking to me though, on this warm, sleepy evening that now ebbed inexorably into night? ‘To not be selfish, you must do something that does not benefit yourself,’ spoke the smiling face as though it had read my thoughts, could it read my thoughts? Was it even real?
‘How?’ I croaked in my pitchy head voice.
‘You feed the hedgehogs,’ it replied soothingly in a way that was neither fully instruction nor fully statement.
‘Feed the hedgehogs,’ I mouthed parrot fashion. I could not fathom the implications of the sentence. ‘Literally or metaphorically?’ I worded, astonished at my sudden evolution into some sort of philosophy professor.
‘It is difficult to say, but you should know.’ My head felt clamped now, the whole unreality of this discourse was clanging like a bell in my ears. ‘Hedgehogs are not aware that they are endangered.’ There was a rustling sound from the bushes and a snuffling that did not dissipate. I held still, I knew that hedgehogs have poor eyesight, but would depart pronto if they heard me move. ‘Life is fragile,’ said a gentle voice from somewhere.
‘Life is lumpy,’ I replied, there was the slightest of slight chuckles.
‘This will be hard for you to recall, you do not believe’.
‘You mean no one will believe me, or I will not remember?’ I do not know if I thought this or spoke it acoustically, since neither my garden nor my inner monologue has an echo. 

The sky was dark now, the soft amber glow from the garden lights was the only faint illumination. I could hear the hedgehogs snuffling in the shrubbery and found some residual energy to quietly move and place their food on the ground in the usual spots. I felt like something profound had happened, but I could not tell if it had really taken place or I had imagined it. I was not sure what the difference would be. Sometimes I am awoken suddenly at night by the sound of my doorbell, but no one is at the door; it felt like that.
 ‘I wonder if the hedgehogs will survive our selfishness?’ It was night, and I was talking to myself.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tales Of New Albion - it's here!

So after three and a half years of writing (not constantly mind, just every now and then) about a dozen live readings and two exhausting days of proof-reading (I didn't do a very good job) - my first book is actually available for all to buy and read.  It's a collection of ten Steampunk short stories that may, or may not, be connected in some way - and you can get it as both a Kindle download or a mighty 221 page paperback (with big print and a cover illustration by Frog Morris).  I'll do some "thank you"s below, but without further ado here are the links you need:

Buy Now On Amazon (please, please leave me a review!)

Tales Of New Albion Website (for joining the mailing list to hear about readings and follow-up publications).

It's been quite an emotional journey in some ways and none of this would have happened without the following wonderful people, in no particular order:

Carolyn Whitlock - who shared her writing with me and encouraged me to get back to using my imagination with her own sci-fi stories and ideas.

Ben Henderson - I'd never heard of Steampunk until I met Ben, the next thing I know I'm dreaming a complete Steampunk short story in my sleep (the first one in the book).  Foolishly he agreed to let me read it at one of his splendid Steampunk Convivials and then I realised I actually had better write something!

Frog Morris and his lovely wife Victoria - for being encouraging friends, keeping me creative and (in Frog's case) doing the wonderful cover illustration.  I owe you so much guys!

Catherine Paver - for actually laughing at my wordplay jokes and encouraging me to keep going.

Darren Gooding - for support at all stages (especially when reading to just one person) and planting the seeds of the final chapter in my head when he said that I should include the homeguard in some way.

Emma King - for so much support and love, more laughter and actually helping me realise I could be an author.

Peter / Otis Manousakos - for taking my writing seriously and actually doing some proof-reading for me, plus loud conversations over coffee that I miss.

Lynda Savigar - my dear mum-in-law, who encouraged me at every turn and chased me up for copies of the stories.  The cats are her fault too!

Maura Sutton, Tom Clements, Brian Hurrell, Rev. Fruitbat, Jude Cowan Montague, Tim Barlow, Chris Simonite, Steve Jones and everyone else who requested copies of the story and gave me encouragement along the way.  Sorry if I've forgotten anyone... do remind me!!

To the Puffin Club for commending one of my stories many years ago. I re-wrote it (for the third time) as episode II of this collection.

Penultimately to all the lovely Steampunk folk who listened, commented, laughed, applauded and maybe even shed a tear during my readings.  You are all lovely.

Finally to my partner, inspiration and muse - Charlie Savigar - without who's relentless encouragement and chiding to write I might well have given up.  I owe you a lot, thank you for being there.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

1968 - 1973

In the aftermath of the referendum I have been told by more than one person that they have an advantage over younger voters in that they can "Remember a time before the EU".  Well it only occurred to me the other day that I too can remember a time before the EU (or us joining the EEC to be technically correct).  So just for the record here is the pre-EEC (and early EEC) Britain that I remember.

Despite being exceptionally well educated (6 A-Levels, degree & PhD) my dad had to travel to the north of England, away from his family (who mostly still live in Bournemouth) and my mum's family (still mostly in Kent) in the south to find work.  This is the reason why in the twilight of 1968 I was born in Cheshire, many miles away from the rest of our clan, and spent a big chunk of my childhood there or in Liverpool.  This is something that has dogged me for my whole life and makes it very hard to answer the random question "Where are you from?"  My brother was also born in Cheshire, but to add even further symbolism he was born IN A BLACKOUT!

We were relatively poor (compared with today) through most of my childhood, many early Christmases we had homemade toys rather than shop bought gifts.  Now don't get me wrong, we were very happy kids and a bit of homemade creativity goes a very long way.  But how lucky are we now that we can choose to make a homemade gift for our children rather than having no option?  Those that know me well will be aware that the lack of a Millennium Falcon plastic toy has haunted me my whole life.  Of course that was a little bit later on by which time our joining the EEC had begun to pick up Britain's sagging economy that was struggling to move on from it's industrial roots.  Britain was a country with many economic migrants, but they were mostly British people with no choice but to move around the country (or, after we joined the EEC, abroad to the resurgent economies of Germany and Spain) to find work and support their families.  I've mentioned Auf Wiedersehen Pet before, so will refrain from banging on, but there seems to be a collective failure of memory that this was the situation, and how the EEC helped improve it.

Eventually the recovering economy brought relocation after relocation for us as first dad and then mum moved to get work closer to the capital.  My own friends were left far behind in a world where no email or social media meant it was harder than now to stay in touch.  I did used to write long letters to my best friend in Liverpool, but then he moved also for work and we began to drift apart.  Those of you lucky enough to have stayed in one area your whole life should remember that these days we can choose to move if we wish but, recently anyway, low unemployment has meant it's possible to find jobs without forced relocation.  Being close to your family and friends is something to be treasured.

So the pre-EU Britain that I remember is one of economic migration, (relative) poverty, strikes and blackouts.  A time when the scapegoats for much of this was the Irish and the blacks rather than eastern europeans and muslims, plus ├ža change as they probably don't say that much on the continent.  Not sure which bit of this is supposed to make me look forward to post EU life, but there you go.  Perhaps I'm missing the point and they are thinking fondly of the austerity of the 1950s and 1960s or the joyous time that was Europe in the 1930s and 1940s?!

It's my honest opinion that it is successive UK government's fault that the economic benefits of EEC membership where not shared more fairly around the country.  We are now a post-Industrial nation, and there seems to be precious little plan as to how we adapt to this changing world.  I'm sure there are people with some great ideas, but (and feel free to tell me I'm a numpty) a return to the 1970s surely isn't one of them.

POSTSCRIPT: I found the letter in the picture above in my dad's new garage in Chesham, a simple reminder that times were very hard before and just as the UK joined the EEC.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Who's Listening?

One vote - no voice
I learnt something very interesting about the UK from the referendum this week.  I learnt that there are areas of the UK (in the northeast and Wales to name but 2) that are so poor that they qualify for EU grants and subsidies on this basis.  I also learnt that these areas voted most solidly to leave the EU?  So how did this happen?  How have successive UK governments failed these regions so completely that the EU had to intervene at all?  This is a damning inditement for those we have elected to lead us - the people that we voted for.

There are many reasons for why the poorest parts of the UK voted to leave, but the single biggest one of these is that they don't feel they have a voice in politics.  Due to our archaic 1st past the post system, this is the first time in 3 generations that a vote in Sunderland has counted the same as a vote in the City Of London.  Finally they had a voice that carried equal weight and we all need to listen.

We need change now in the UK before it is too late, voices must be heard equally whichever part of the UK they were born in.

We need proportional representation now!

We need a fully elected second legislative chamber now!

We need some real democracy so that the stranglehold of vested interests is broken forever and all the regions have a say in how we move forward.

When 1.9 million people (4% of the electorate - they should have had about 26 MPs) who voted Ukip only have one MP - something is badly wrong.

I also think that the environment has been sadly omitted from all politics for some bizarre reason, but PR would help with that too (1 million votes for the Greens = 1 MP, should be more like 12).

This is what the EU Referendum screams at me, the question is...

...is anyone listening?


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

So About This Democracy Thing

Gotta love Brighton :)
I've heard some very interesting ideas about what the UK will be like if we vote to leave the EU tomorrow.  These seem to include pretty much everything that is on people's wish-list for a fairer society including: nationalisation and a super tax on the rich.  Folk who are on the left of the political spectrum seem to think that this referendum is a kind of super general election, that will make us all happier, less "restricted: and better off.  I'm really struggling to get my head around why people think this, so perhaps it's worth just going over a bit about how democracy works in this country.

Post EU we will continue to elect the UK government with our first-past-the-post system - which appoints the Members of Parliament to The House Of Commons.  This system (as I've mentioned before, and I've not been contradicted on this yet) favours the incumbent government, since they can change boundaries as they see fit.  This means currently we are looking at a majority Conservative government or a coalition of some sort.  I favour coalition, but it means trading off manifesto issues and tends to end up with lowest common denominator politics rather than great social strides, so I'll leave that to someone better qualified to explain.

Don't forget that our second legislative chamber is The House Of Lords, which is entirely unelected, so again favours the incumbent government since it appoints them.  That's right folks, we can't name them, didn't elect them and can't kick them out!

I think it's most likely that Cameron will resign following a Brexit, emboldened by their win the right wing of the Conservatives and Ukip members (who will go back to being Conservative) will demand a pro-Brexit leader to take them through the negotiations, stating that it's "the will of the British people".  This is likely to be Boris Johnson and please don't let anyone underestimate him, he's a very popular politician who will say pretty much anything to be PM - so he has the best chance (The irony that he will then be an UNELECTED leader of our country, hasn't escaped me).  There are still four years left on the term of the current government so that will cover the EU exit negotiations with a bit to spare.  Since nothing much will change in that time and anything that goes wrong Boris can handily blame on the pesky "faceless bureaucrats" (thank you Ukip for that lazy and derogatory term) in the EU I believe he will get another term of 5 years (that's up until 2025).

So how do we know what a post-EU Conservative government will do in the next ten or so years?  That's very easy, you look at their manifesto.  They will carry on with their own ideas, with renewed vigour since we are now free from "pesky EU interference".  In essence this will mean, for the time being, austerity.  This is basically cuts to services, including schools, policing, benefits and healthcare.  When possible they will endeavour to cut taxes for the rich and the middle classes, in the false belief that this benefits everyone - it doesn't, it benefits those who pay most tax, i.e. the rich and the upper middle classes.

The earliest that the Conservatives can make any changes to their manifesto will be in 2020, roughly the time that EU subsidies run out (the promise to keep them until 2020 is EU policy, they are promising what will happen anyway!).  Will increased subsidies for the poorer parts of the UK (notably Wales and the North-East) be added to their manifesto?  Perhaps, but I don't think so, I think that in the unlikely event that there is spare money it will go in tax cuts.  Austerity is likely to still be running (it's currently due to run until at least 2018) or, perhaps, being reduced (it could also increase if the economy sinks, but let's not get too depressed here), but this won't help the poorest regions quickly.   The same goes for farming subsidies: the EU is one of the few organisations in the world rich enough to pay farmers to manage their land as countryside even if they can't make a profit from it through farming.  I don't recall seeing set-aside subsidies on the Conservative party manifesto, but perhaps they'll add it in my 2020?  In the meantime once these subsidies are withdrawn farmers will have no choice but to sell off unprofitable parts of their farms.  What happens to it after then is up to whoever buys it.

I could go on here, but actually I will just re-iterate that in order to understand what post-Brexit UK will look like you need to read the major party manifestos.  This is NOT a General Election, you are NOT choosing who is in power tomorrow (it's the Conservative party) - you are only voting to remove what the EU gives us and for that I hope you will take a few minutes to read my previous Blog on this very subject.

A vote for real democracy is a vote FOR our continued membership of the EU - if you don't believe me, then please research how democracy really works in the European Union.  Oh, and if you don't know the name of your MEP - then effing well find out!  You can vote for them and you can lobby them for change.

PS For more about how EU subsidies are decided and who in the UK receives them, then this is worth a couple of minutes of your time.

PPS Dorian Lynskey has expressed this even more eloquently here.