I used to make a lot of leather costume, armour and accessories, mainly for LARP, including my ‘famous’ toblerone™ scabbard. That was a few years back and I needed to knock the rough edges off my neglected skills. I’ve been playing around with scraps, some half-finished things I found in a bag, and also made a few belts.
A few weeks ago I posted about bronze sword casting. Now I’ve also built myself a lovely big craft bench it was time to make something in leather that was a bit more ambitious – a scabbard for the sword. Here it is, along with one of the leaf-bladed bronze swords we made.
The sword is made to a bronze-age style, copying an actual bronze-age sword. You can see the hilt has a round notch where it meets the blade. Style or substance, nobody is really sure, but it does offer a nice way to keep the sword snug in the scabbard.
The scabbard is made of two pieces, front and back, plus a little shield-piece at the hilt which i thought would look nice. The main knot-work carving is a copy from a standard design which I modified so I could run the design down the scabbard in a simple way.
Hand cut, dyed, tooled, stitched and finished, as always. About 5-6 hours work.
Last year I learned how to forge an axe head, tutored by the brilliant Nic Westermann at the Greenwood Guild. After two days of intensely hard work, learning to swing a sledgehammer with absolutely no holding back, discovering who the blacksmith really is*, and carving the handle, I had a hand axe to be proud of.
The axe is razor-sharp and has long needed a sheath for the head, so last night I decided to make one. After trying an over-complicated design I came up with something very simple and effective. Here’s the finished item, showing how the head neatly slots in, and the cardboard template I used.
When you’re making a simple sheath like this the template just needs to be about 5-10 mm bigger than the blade, depending on blade thickness.
And here it is fastened. A couple of scraps of 2mm leather, some dark brown dye, carved a little edge detail, punch the stitch holes, stitch with waxed cord, edge-burnished with gum tragacanth, a wipe with resolene, measure and punch and fit the snap fastener, and there you go.
* Like many people I assumed it was the person swinging the sledge, but it is actually the one holding and turning the work on the anvil. The other guy is just muscle. We took turns.
This is what we did at the weekend! It was hard work but immensely satisfying. We traveled to the Bronze-Age Foundry in Wales, run by the amazingly talented David Chapman, sculptor, artists and bronze worker.
We used recycled copper from electric cables, which is very pure, and tin to make a 10% tin bronze mix. The copper is first heated over the flame to drive off water, as a steam burst can make the crucible erupt molten copper. Here’s the tin being added to the copper.
Here’s a bad picture of the copper being poured into a soapstone mould. Soapstone is excellent for casting, as it absorbs, stores and radiates heat evenly.
After a few minutes cooling the sword came out of the mould. Here is a stack of previously casted swords. Note the triangular sprue on the end of the hilt – first job is to cut that off with a hacksaw.
The sword we were making is a copy of one in the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford, dated roughly between 1000-800 BCE, and found in the Thames near Limehouse
And the second job is to snip off the spare bronze along the blade edges. Like the sprue lumps all these little bits were carefully saved as they can be melted down again become part of another casting.
And here’s the cleaned and tidied casting, ready for the hard work – filing and polishing.
(We did cheat a bit with the edges.)
This was hard, hard work, and unlike the bronze-age workers, we did it the easy way.
Another job was fitting the oak wood hilt. This is made in two pieces, and is first seared onto the re-heated sword tang, to help seat it. The tang then has four holes drilled, and the hilt fastened with four headless copper rivets. Then the hilt is shaped – more filing and sanding! Finally – a wipe-over with linseed oil.
Here’s the wood being seared into the blade in a clamp.
And then it was more hours of sanding and polishing, working down the grades, all the way to wet&dry 1200, then wire wool, and finally polish. Then an inspection for scratches, and start again. And again.
The reason for so much polishing was to remove the file marks and give the blade the appearance of a true bronze-age sword.
The blades are roughly 18″ / 45cm long, and the swords weigh 1lb 6oz / 644g.
Last summer I spent a week with some friends on Mull, a large and beautiful island off the west coast of Scotland. You reach it by ferry from Oban, home of one of my favourite whiskeys.
From Mull you can then take another, smaller ferry to fabled Iona, or an even smaller boat to the mythic Fingal’s cave, on Staffa. (Although there are plenty of pictures in this post these links take you to more.)
Mull’s main town is Tobermory, with its multi-colored buildings along the quay housing some great cafe’s, restaurants and pubs. It’s also the home of another good whisky, though this one is a little too peaty for me.
While we were there I saw a notice in the local village newsletter for an open day of Torosay Castle gardens. Torosay Castle is more of a baronial pile than fortified castle and as it is privately owned open days are rare. We decided to go, and it was indeed a rare treat. There were damp mossy glades, quiet ponds, enormous beds of nasturtiums, statues – and of course the Cthulhu tree.
The gardens had suffered some neglect but there was plenty of work now being done. Neglect in a garden is not always a bad thing. Some plants need a few years, or decades, or even centuries to come into their own and the formal part of the garden was still very lovely.
A really charming surprise was the avenue of statues, including this mysterious gentleman, and a very nice gardener. There was a pregnant lady, a dodgy drunkard, and many more. Whoever made them had a nice sense of humour and great attention to detail.
There was also a pair of rather dissipated lions. I rather liked them.
And finally – the Cthulhu tree! We found this wood-tentacled monster of a conifer* deep in loneliest part of the garden. This picture gives a good sense of scale. Deep in the silence of the gardens it was a spooky, powerful entity. No doubt many unholy rites and sacrifices have been performed on the blood-drenched soil under these looming branches.
Images of the tree and the diabolic worship I am convinced it must have once inspired (nay, demanded) stayed with me over the next few nights. They inspired some darkly disturbing fever dreams – stories I am unlikely to ever write for the sake of my – and your – sanity.
* As a one-time botanist I’m mildly ashamed to say I don’t know exactly which conifer, but the I was always more interested in ferns than firs and pines. I think it might be a Thuja.
Here’s my latest acquisition – £3.00 from Oxfam, and just about perfect condition. An album I have never previously owned. It’s quite nostalgic to flick through the record stacks again, my finger and thumb haven’t forgotten the technique.
I’ve been getting back into my vinyl collection recently, and enjoying rediscovering some music I only have in that format, like the Eurythmics first album, and Tangerine Dream.
I used to buy almost all my records second hand as a poor student back in the ’70s. I picked up some great music, including what is probably my most valuable album – Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter.
When CDs first arrived I loved how I could listen to an album all the way through without having to get up and turn the record over. Some months backup I overheard some younger music lovers talking about how much they liked vinyl, and in particular the ritual elements of playing a record. I was charmed they took so much pleasure in discovering technology I took for granted, That conversation made me that there is a ritual to playing a vinyl record. It also helped me remember how much I liked to hear that first bump and crackle of the needle as it touched down in the play-in groove, the faint echo you sometimes heard of the track to come – and having to get up half way through and turn it over.
I’m enjoying being interrupted again.
So this weekend it was a trip to the local garden center, always such a chore, to buy a new and bigger pot. It was nice to find one in the same Mediterranean blue.
Re-potting was a two-man job – thanks Gaie! Gloves were definitely needed. Cycads might look all soft and fern-like but their leaves are tough with spikey ends, and the trunks are a mass of prickly scales.
It was worth it, I really love the elegance of this plant. This particular plant is Cycas revoluta, which is one of the most commonly cultivated cycads and is pretty easy to grow. It’s a lovely thing, even if can sulk for two years before deciding to grow. I do wonder what it’s doing with all that sunlight.
* Or his, cycads being male of female. Until it flowers I won’t know which.
For the first time in my life I had the pleasure of being interviewed for a podcast! This took place earlier this year at the brilliant Archipelacon, along with my partner, Gaie Sebold. We talked with the humungously charming Greg Pellechi from Adventures in SciFi Publishing about writing strong female characters, traveling as writers, collaboration, and more. That interview is now live, and you can listen to it here.
Greg kept the whole interview running smoothly and it was very interesting answering questions on the spot without repetition, deviation or going ‘Um, er, well, um…’ Thanks Greg!
Next Monday, 17 August I’ll be doing a short reading and a Q&A down in Bristol, invited there to read along with Gaie to one of the BristolCon Fringe events. This is a series of evening events organised by some of the people who also run the BristolCon SF&F convention.
Entry is free and it’s in a pub! Honestly, what more do you want? These guys have thought of everything. I think being read to is one of life’s rarer pleasures. It would be lovely to see you there if you can make it. As an added incentive if you are one of the first three people to come up to me and say ‘Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fthagn’* I’ll buy you a pint. Promise.
Finally, BristolCon is a great one-day convention with a big reputation for being very friendly and relaxed. It’s coming soon – 26 September – so if you’ve never been before, why hesitate?
* Spelling & pronunciation may vary.
It struck me recently that there is a word of near comprehensive application and functionality, and that word is ‘Trousers’. It’s a lovely auditory word, the kind that is a pleasure to say under almost all circumstances. It can be whispered or shouted with equal facility most times of the day. A moment’s thought followed by a swift perusal of the examples below will convince you I am right.
Trousers! (Mild oath)
Trousers! (Amazed disbelief)
TROU-SERSSSSS! (War cry)
Get your trousers on! (Hurry up)
Don’t forget your trousers. (Various)
Of course we must not forget the singular:
You Trouser (Praise)
You complete and utter Trouser. (Fair comment/criticism)
To Trouser (Sharp practice, financial or otherwise, admirable behaviour or not.)
I’m sure you can think of plenty more examples. Until then, I salute your trousers!
Last week I can back from Archipelacon, the Nordic SF&F convention at Mariehamn, in the Åland Islands of Finland. I had a great time, the convention itself was quite special, and here’s why:
There’s more I could say about the venue, the pool bar, the top-quality panels and panelists, the workshops, the fact there was an academic stream (I said everyone was welcome), that GRR Martin was one of the Guests of Honour* and there was a Game of Thrones burlesque show.** In brief, I came expecting good, and it was better.
I could say a lot more, but I want to talk about something else. So if you do want more thoughts on Archipelacon there are links to blogs on the convention’s web site, and others, such as the report from Ian Sales. The thing is, I want to write about WorldCon, the World Science Fiction Convention (no, not the Hugos, that has all been said). Voting to select the site for the 2017 WorldCon is now taking place, and one of the bids is for Helsinki, Finland.
I’m supporting the Helsinki bid. I’ve put my money behind it as a bid supporter because I not only hope it wins, I think it deserves to win.
That said, perhaps there are some reasons why Helsinki is not the best choice.
“It’s too far away.”
Too far away from where? WorldCon hasn’t spent much time outside of North America (I’ll come back to that), but it has been held in Australia and Japan. They weren’t ‘too far away’. Helsinki has excellent global transport links.
And hang on. Too far away? Really? I thought we were SF & fantasy fans. The whole point of these genres is that they take you far away. Here’s a chance to visit somewhere a little different, and quite special, with no spaceship or portal required. I promise you, once you come to Finland you’ll fall in love with the place.
“Finland is too small for a big convention.”
This one is easy because Finland has been hosting FinnCon for nearly 30 years. If you haven’t heard of it, this is one of the biggest European SF&F conventions, and is about the same size as a WorldCon. These guys have done this before. A lot.
There’s a second part to this, and it’s Archipelacon. Archipelacon was about as close to a pop-up convention as you can get. There’s never been one before, there may well never be another one again (though I hope there is). In my opinion this was the best organised convention I have ever been to. From the ferry tickets, to having everything ready for my panel, to letting me add some of my books to the trade stall because I’d forgotten to ask in advance, everything worked, and it worked well. Finns not only know how to run a convention, they’re proud of the fact.
There is another very good reason why WorldCon should leave North America again. From 2000 WorldCon has been held in the USA 11 times, Canada twice. Including next year’s event in Kansas, that’s 13 out of 17 years. And how many times has it been held outside of the English-speaking world? Just once, in Japan. To my mind this is reason enough to have the WorldCon in Finland.
While we’re on the subject of language, Finland is essentially a tri-lingual country. Finnish and Swedish are the official language but most people are fluent in English too. For us monoglots only able to speak English, language is not a problem.
In brief, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for WorldCon NOT to be in Helsinki on 2017. More to the point, there are plenty of strong, positive reasons why it should. WorldCon is supposed to be a global convention. Let’s help make it so.
If you are going to this year’s WorldCon in Spokane, or you are a supporting member, I urge you to vote for Helsinki as the location for the 2017 convention. Please.
If you want to know more I suggest you get in touch with the bid team.
I hope to see you there!
** Trust me, you had to have been there, I cannot adequately describe this show. I’m probably not even ALLOWED to describe some of it. It was – ahem – for grown-ups. Ask George, he was there. In fact he was there twice.
So here I am back from the excellent Archipelacon where Regina Kanyu Wang gave a video-report on Chinese fandom to a packed room, followed by a Skype chat between us in Finland, and her in Shanghai. Which is kind of awesome.
I’ll blog more about Archipelacon soon. There was so much interest in what Regina had to say I thought I’d re-post my interview with her for Vector, the critical journal of the BSFA, from late last year.
Chinese SF and fandom is having a renaissance – growing steadily from a small start. A few things have happened since my interview. Significantly, Applecore, than fan group Regina is part of, now has that English-language side to its website she mentions below. I’m sure interesting things are coming, so watch that space!
Meanwhile – here’s our interview:
I met Regina at EuroCon in Dublin. She was also at LonCon3 as part of the Beijing WorldCon bid team. Regina was on a couple of panels at EuroCon, and later on we were part of a group that collected at the bar and chatted into the evening. I asked Regina which mythic heroes existed in Chinese culture, equivalent to, say, King Arthur or Robin Hood. She reminded us of what we already knew – the Monkey King (Sun Wukong) – and also told us a story of a white serpent that fell in love and wished to be human. The differences and similarities to our own stories were fascinating and left me wanting to know more. I also asked Regina if she’d be willing to do this interview, and I’m happy to say she agreed immediately.
Thank you again for agreeing to answer a few questions about Chinese SF and fandom. First, please tell us a little about yourself, and how you became involved with clubs and conventions.
Well, my name is Wang Kanyu in Chinese and to make it easier for my foreign friends, I chose the western name Regina for myself. I live in Shanghai.
I have been reading science fiction and then later on, fantasy, since primary school. But I couldn’t find many friends who share the same interest with me before I entered university. I joined the university science fiction club as soon as I found it. At that time, our club was small and we usually went to neighbouring university to attend their events. Then we got the idea of founding an association of university sf clubs and holding Shanghai Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival annually.
Later on, I met Finnish sf fans as well as scholars in my university and started to have the contact with the Finnish fandom. That’s how I managed to attend Finncon 2013 and visit the Nordic and Baltic fandoms last year. And this year, to meet more friends, I attended Loncon3 and Shamrokon.
I understand there was an earlier SF movement towards the end of the Qing dynasty (Late 19th & early 20th century). Can you explain a little about the history of SF in China?
You are very knowledgeable! Yes, in the Late Qing dynasty, science fiction was introduced into China as a way to prosper the country. Literature has been regarded as something to carry social responsibilities in China for a long time. Learning advanced science as well as democracy from the west was the basic role that science fiction was supposed to play at that time. Most of the western sf translated into Chinese was kind of rewriting.
After PRC (People’s Republic of China) was established, the first wave of modern Chinese sf came in Late 1950s. During that period, the stories were mostly optimistic and limited.
Then came the Cultural Revolution, leaving little space for science fiction. After late 1970s was the second wave. Not only large amounts of works emerged, but also four magazines and one newspaper specialized in sf appeared, as well as fandoms started to grow.
In 1983, the anti-spiritual pollution movement wiped sf from the map. Not until late 1980s and early 1990s did sf recover from the attack.
After 1991, when Science Fiction World held the annual conference of World SF, was the third wave, contemporary Chinese sf writers who are still active today started to emerge.
When and where did the current Chinese SF fandom begin, and how big is it now?
The first Chinese SF fandom appeared in Shanghai in 1980 and immediately in other cities as well. But shortly after came the anti-spiritual pollution movement and all the fandoms were silent during these years.
The first fanzine in China was Nebular (Xingyun), edited by Yao Haijun, who is now editor-in-chief of Science Fiction World magazine. It was published from 1989-2007, 40 issues in all. It helped the forming of Chinese SF fandom.
Regional sf clubs and university sf clubs started to grow after 1990. Then a lot of online community emerged.
It is hard to tell how big the current Chinese SF fandom is now, because it is widely dispersed and diverse. The largest national (or global!) fandom, World Chinese Science Fiction Association has around 180 members and most of them are “professionals” like writers, translators, editors, researchers, etc. There are regular sf events in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, organized by different organizations and without registration system sometimes. The fandoms in different cities do have contacts, but mostly online.
Please tell us more about AppleCore.
In 2009, SF Clubs in four universities in Shanghai decided to organize a big event together. During the preparation of Shanghai Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival (SSFFF), we founded SF AppleCore as an association of university sf clubs in Shanghai.
SSFFF was held in 2009 and annually from 2011 till now. It is more based in universities. Most of the organizers and attendants are university students. During the weekends in a certain month, different events are held in member universities, organized by university sf clubs. A single event can attract 30-200 attendants, depending on the guests.
Since October 2013, AppleCore started the monthly gathering AppleParty, targeting at graduated fans. Usually we have movie screening, topic lecture, panel or short talks in the afternoon and have dinner together in the evening. 30-60 audience show up in the afternoon and 5-20 stayed for the dinner usually.
I thought a WorldCon 2016 in Beijing was a wonderful idea, a great way for fans to reach out and discover, in both directions. How was the whole experience for the bid team? Are there any plans for future bids?
Thanks! To be honest, I am more playing a supporting role in the bid team since I live in Shanghai and the core bid team is in Beijing. We lacked experience for the first time and were not very prepared, but we wish to learn! And I was amazed by the help and will to help offered by foreign fans as well as their interest in Chinese SF. It’s so warm and inspiring!
I cannot speak for the Beijing team, but Shanghai might plan a bid after 2020. I also know an American fan who has been living in Haikou for years want to start a bid in Haikou.
Is there a regional SF convention in your part of the world, similar to EuroCon for Europe? Do you have much contact with SF fandom outside of China?
Unfortunately, we do not have regional SF convention yet. But I hear the voice of starting one. It is kind of hard because China itself is so large as you see.
Fandom in mainland China has much contact with Hong Kong and Taiwan fandoms.
We also have much contact with the Japanese fandom and we are planning a Sino-Japanese SF research seminar in 2015 or 2016 in Shanghai.
I have got some contacts from south-east Asia at Worldcon.
More work needs to be done!
And what Chinese SF conventions or other events could a foreign visitor attend in the next two or three years?
We don’t really have regular conventions in China. Equivalently, we have events like festivals, awarding ceremonies and carnivals.
The most recent one is the awarding ceremony of Chinese Nebular in Beijing on Nov 1 and 2, 2014. International guests as Ken Liu (the brilliant Hugo and Nebular winner), Pierre Gévart (editor of the French SF magazine, Galaxies), Toya Tachihara (Japanese researcher on Chinese SF) and all the names you can think of in Chinese SF will come. You may find other information here: http://www.guokr.com/xingyun2014/index/ (Well, in Chinese… if someone happen to be interested in coming, feel free to contact me.)
One major problem for Chinese SF events is that they do not settle the exact date until just months before. But you can expect the awarding ceremony for Chinese Nebular and Galaxy every year. Around the two awarding ceremonies, there will be different activities. The former is usually in October or November and the latter in August or September. Sometimes they are bound together. It really depends…
As for Shanghai Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival, it’s usually in May. It is also quite easy to organize a meal for foreign visitors in Shanghai, although we do not have a settled plan for cons yet.
What different, new, or familiar things might we expect to see at Chinese conventions?
Different from the cons I have attended, the Chinese conventions are very “Chinese”…Yes, almost all the events and info are in Chinese since we do not usually have foreign visitors.
Unfortunately, I missed the past three international conventions in China, annual conference of World SF in 1991, 97′ Beijing International Conference on Science Fiction and 2007 International SF & F Convention just before Nippon 2007. They seemed to be very successful. So English service is definitely possible.
During the recent awarding ceremony of Chinese Nebular and Galaxy and their surrounding activities, there are red carpet, late night roadside BBQ and beer instead of masquerades and room parties. You may also expect signing session, seminars and lectures. The awarding ceremony of the Chinese Nebular this year will be a stage play, written by Liu Cixin (author of Three Body). That will be a brand new experience.
Which Chinese SF authors would you like to see in translation for us to read? Apart from cost of translation and rights, are there any other big obstacles to translation?
Jiang Bo and Chen Qian. Jiang Bo works in semiconductor area and writes excellent hard sf. Chen Qian is a librarian and is good at composing stories from a small and special angle, and she is a female writer!
The big obstacle I see is that Chinese SF authors are not so good at promoting themselves in the western world. So it is hard for them to be known by the English readers and editors. But now we have the Chinese SF project* on ClarkesWorld, which will help a lot!
(* The ClarkesWorld Chinese SF Translation Project, now fully-funded on KickStarter.)
Please tell us about some Chinese authors whose work we can already read.
Liu Cixin, Han Song, Chen Qiufan, Xia Jia, Zhao Haihong, Hao Jingfang, Fei Dao, Bao Shu, Tang Fei…
Actually a lot of Chinese authors have already been translated. Most of the translated ones are short stories. Do not miss the first modern Chinese SF novel translated into English, Three Body by Liu Cixin.
The online magazine and small press scene in thriving here. Is the same true in China? I’m also wondering if traditional literary culture feels superior to SF, as it can do in the UK, or if it embraces it?
Online magazine and online publishing is thriving here, too. It gives more writers the opportunity to publish their works. I do not see many small press emerging in China, maybe because of the strict publishing regulations here.
In general, traditional literary culture does feel superior to genre literary culture in China. SF has long been put under the branch of children’s literature in China. But in recent years, I see some trend of embracing SF in traditional literature. SF has been included into traditional literature anthologies and magazines. More researchers choose SF as their academic interest or SF authors and fans start to do SF related research in universities.
There have been various movements or styles in English language SF and Fantasy, such as Cyberpunk, GrimDark, and SteamPunk. What are the current theme or style movements in Chinese SF?
Umm, we had Silkpunk and Carpentrypunk, but they failed to become a trend. Only a few related stories.
What can be regarded as movements are Science Fiction Realism proposed by Chen Qiufan in 2012 and Science Fiction Futurism proposed by Wu Yan in 2014. Science Fiction Futurism advocates that SF reflects reality in a way that realism fiction cannot do. Science Fiction Futurism advocates that SF should construct the future.
SF can be used to examine the world as it is today, and can be optimistic or pessimistic about the future. Do you see similar things in Chinese science fiction?
That’s exactly what the two current movements in Chinese SF are about!
Sometimes today and future are combined. Most of Chen Qiufan’s works, setting in the near future, discusses the problems we can see or foresee today.
And of course you can see a lot of Chinese SF writing optimistically or pessimistically about the future. Numerous examples!
The Future! It feels the story of SF fandom in China is just beginning. What’s coming next?
We are trying to show more presence on the international stage!
I have already persuaded my friend to volunteer at the coming Windycon in November in Chicago.
AppleCore is building a bilingual website.
Official website of World Chinese Science Fiction Association (www.wcsfa.com) also has the plan of adding English contents.
I am going to keep a blog about Chinese fandom on Amazing Stories.
We have a lot to learn from the international fandom and we want to be part of it!
I have a dozen more questions, but also think I have taken up enough of your time. Thank you!
Thank you for asking all these insightful questions and give me the chance to tell about Chinese SF!