Album review: Apple of my Eye’s “The Beast Below”

Such is the power of Apple of my Eye‘s storytelling, that the review that follows takes the form of a story.  Imagine it if you will, collaborately told about a table, its ballads sung to the clatter of falling dice.

Apple of my Eye's "The Beast Below"

“Your troupe sits lazily about a large table in the cider house, lost in fatigue and reverie from your last quest.  The air is thick with a sickly smell of cider and sweet tobacco.  A few of you are tweaking the trollgut strings of your instruments, picking stray strands from the bows.  Jo, you notice a man across the room staring at your cello.”

“What does he look like?”

“In a word, drunk.  Very drunk.”

“I’ll ready the finger positions for Delay Poison.”

“Do I have my harmonica?”

“No Dan, it’s still with the blacksmith.  He’ll have it rid of the curse in the morning.”

“Urgh, I get Break Enchantment next level.  Okay, no worries.”

“The drunk man wanders over to your table.  He places his feet carefully as he crosses the room, looking like he’s trying to avoid invisible patterns on the floor.”

Is a penguin a mammal?
Or is it a kind of fish?
Is it a kind of demon?

“I bloody hate riddles.  Why is it always a man in a tavern with a riddle?”

“Be patient, Arran.  As you listen on, it’s clear that this man is paranoid as well as drunk, but his words are frightfully funny.  At the very least, it’s proved pleasant diversion and amusement on a quiet evening.  Does anyone want to make an Insight check?”

“Yeah, I will.  Uh, add four — that’s eighteen.”

“Excellent.  Kit, you notice that there seems to be a hidden pattern to his drunken ravings.  With some subtle nudging, you’re able to get him to repeat parts of his speech.  You’re able to jot down some directions…”

Run, brother please run
To town please carry the tragedy of what’s become
For, of the four hundred men who went down
Twenty or so they came up from below

“Folks, your bardic lore means you recognise the location the drunk man was directing you to.”

“What’s his name?”


“The drunk guy.  Surely he’s got a name.”

“It doesn’t matter.  Oh, I don’t know.  Tomwards.  He’s called Tomwards.”

“All of your drunks are called Tomwards.”

“Shut up.  Anyway, your bardic lore means you know where he’s talking about.  It’s the Barnsley Undermountains.”

“Haven’t we been looking for them for ages?”

“Yeah, but we didn’t know where they were.”

“That’s that dungeon with all the clothwork sprites, yeah?”

“That’s the one.  But to get to it, you’ll have to cross the eastern waterways.  Shall we call the scene here?  How do you want to get across the ocean?”

“I’m not taking a balloon again.  Not since the last balloon owner tried selling me into marriage.”

“We can charter a fishing boat.  I used to work as the compass on the Fruits of the Sea.”

“Cool, so you manage to make a deal with the captain of the Fruits of the Sea.  He makes a point of not asking you why you’re crossing the expanse.  The passage is calm, until … Wait, let me just check this…  Ah.”


“The boatswain calls out to the rest of the crew to help haul in the net, for it’s picked up the biggest catch yet.  However, the load is so heavy, it takes everyone pitching in and using the mast as a pulley to drag the net even near the surface — the tumultous waters of which are soon broken by the thrashing of gargantuan tentacles.”


“Uh, I want us to cast Greater Heroism.”

“Okay.  I want you guys to roleplay this one.”

Powder load
Fire the cannon at the Beast Below
We’ll not go down without a fight, my lads!

The album is excellent: a gorgeous collaboration between strings, mouth organs and melancholy.  It goes on sale tomorrow, Monday 19th September.  If you’re free this Weds, you can visit the beautiful St Pancras Old Church for the album release party.

Album review: Apple of my Eye’s “The Beast Below”

Le Roi en Jaune (fragment)

This has been translated from a French collection of lays. Originally written in a freeform structure, I’ve taken the liberty of corralling it into rime royal. The second half is lost.

Inside the palace crypt Cassilda sings
A mournful song of lost now in Carcosa,
Such as the recent passing of our kings
From living to the lake-side land Carcosa:
Beneath the baleful suns of far Carcosa.
Yet time upon our city now to mourn;
Bid patience ’til successor be inform’d.

Swiftly from the tomb Cassilda steals
And to the waiting arms of her Diego:
A close embrace then at her feet he kneels.
“Do tell me that Camilla does not know.”
“Neither of our love nor poison, no.
The secrets of his murder with him rest;
No need that talk of treason be suppress’d.”

Yet the late king’s illicit lover waits
And hears the dialogue admitting guilt:
Lucrezia stands hid behind crypt gates.
Initial thought of confrontation wilts
To better guard her safety ‘gainst swordhilt.
“I’ll shed the falsehood at the masquerade
And that the coronation might be stay’d.”

While edge of town a tattered stranger knocks
With vivid hand cowl’d under yellow shawl
And cover’d face as though to shield a pox.
The door opened by royal chef full tall
Who in but a breath is under stranger’s thrall.
The stranger he invites into his home.
Then feastly preparations to be done.

For now the lights are dim, the wine is set:
The guests arrive in rich excellence clad.
Despite disguise all as a king are met.
Among the throng the yellow robed nomad.
So look upon the dance as one near-mad
And hear the conversations overheard
Regardless of who took intended word.

Come midnight bell the call to then unmask
And all but one reveal smiling delight.
All but one — the stranger he — “I wear no mask.”
Camilla from him turns her face in fright
Surveys the scene all pallid in moonlight.
Cassilda from the room has turned and fled.
Camilla’s husband: lying, twitching; dead.

The nobles clutch their stomachs full of pain.
The stranger tall he stands amid the scene
Looks on while gore and bile from faces rain.
The toxin wine gone from decanter clean
Absence brighter than yellow tatters sheen.
Into the street fleeing Cassilda thrust:
“Not upon us, oh king! Not upon us!”

Le Roi en Jaune (fragment)

Coming soon: CON’S PRIAL

As I’ve spoken of not long ago, I’ve recently taken to writing a fair amount of games. What’s more, last week was objectively my most successful week for games design – I became a finalist in the Game Chef design competition and
I was paid for my writing for the first time, specifically to write an adventure module for the Patron edition of Grant Howitt’s CULT OF OSIRIS.

From this, I’ve learned two things.

ONE – I’m quite handy at coming up with interesting premises and compelling concepts; both Contempt for the Ogre Poet and Parisien Tempest have been applauded for having good stories.

TWO – I’m bad at writing rules. Now, Contempt was concepted and written over nine days, but still I gave all these rules for “here’s how to do shit” and only in the penultimate paragraph said “here’s what the shit does”. I need to front-load my key details more. Especially the whole “how to win” bit.


I’ve done a little research on “how to write rules” and found this on Numberless to be the only decent one that really addresses my needs. (If anyone has some great guides, please recommend them.)

It’s odd, because as a teacher I give instructions every day. I’m usually pretty good at explaining things in person. Maybe I just need to imagine I’m actually talking the rules through as I write.


I’m going to combine three games I’ve been variously working on for a few months into one package. The package (ebook) will be called CON’S PRIAL, and is made up from the following games. Watch this space!

1. CONJURORS! It’s the turn of the nineteenth century and you scrabble to create the greatest magic show the world has seen.

2. CONSTITUENTS OF R’LYEH. The MP for Innsmouth and Grimwater has been dismissed; you stand in the by-election and need to win without succumbing to the whims of the Elder Gods. Cthulhu plus politics.

3. CONTEMPT FOR THE OGRE-POET. There is no book in the fiefdom, not since the ogre-poet came. You have three days to complete a strategy that will prevent the inhabitants of Easthaven from being eaten.

Each game is designed for a pack of cards and two or more friends. I’m really excited to put them all together.

Coming soon: CON’S PRIAL

You almost forgot about spelling. What it means may surprise you.

Most people accept that it’s important to have “good spelling” and that it’s especially important for curricula vitae and job applications. Who hasn’t sent off a CV to notice a moment later that you’ve misspelled the name of the company or, worse yet, your own name.

Spelling mistakes survive in the digital era, sneaking past spellchecks and sitting there brazen in an email history. Google estimates that as many as twenty three percent of web-pages have a spelling mistake in the first paragraph alone.

Employers cite attention to detail as the main reason a spelling mistake leads to rejection, but an increasing number of companies have begun to take this a step further because – get this – your spelling mistakes actually reveal a lot about the kind of person you are.

What your spelling reveals about you.

Somebody who is good at spelling tends to be very precise in certain facets of a subject that they have deemed important, usually to the detriment of the whole. They are quick to spot errors and are usually quite vocal about them. They tend to consider themselves very good in bed.

I’m a very good speller.

So, look back at the last three texts, messages, emails that you have sent. What does your spelling say about you?

Mising lettrs
You are usually the first in your group to grasp a subject, especially trickier and more obscure concepts. While you are good at looking to experts for advice and knowledge, your peers can describe you as stubborn.

Ordre of lettres
You tend not to follow the crowd – instead you’d describe yourself as a lateral thinker over a logical one. It means that you’re good at understanding the implications of a situation from the outset. However, your desire to think “outside the box” (a phrase that you hate) does cause you to reject the simple solution.

Using tha wrong lettors
You are very good at spotting similarities between potentially very different things. While this means you’re often very good at dealing with a lot of situations, people have called your assumptions short-sighted.

Fonettik spellin
You excel in spoken situations to the extent that it helps shape your ideas to speak them as words. You are particularly vocal about things that disappoint you. You struggle to understand people who don’t explain what upsets them.

Superfluouous lettters
You are in your element when dealing with emotional matters – either your own or those of your peers. In fact, you are particularly good at predicting how people will react to any given situation and are usually able to adapt to it. People tell you that you need to focus more on details.

To be honest, I find these most useful as diagnostic tools – emotional troubleshooting. Work out your strengths – when you play to them you find your successes (and accuracy!) improve.

You almost forgot about spelling. What it means may surprise you.

That was a good king.

Listen! We, the Spear-Danes, in days of old
Were kings of tribes and well won praise.
We know how the lords won honour,
And how Shield took land from his many enemies,
Destroyed their homes and upset their benches,
Making their lords bow low. Though he began
Without friends, he was repaid by Fate
And lived under the sky, wealthy,
With people coming before him from near and far,
Hearing of him from cross the whaleroad*
And giving him gifts. That was a good king!

That was a good king.

Modern-Day Monsters

What follows is penned by a good friend of mine, whose blog you should all read, and if you follow me on Twitter, whose links thereto you’ll have seen. You should read the following; it needs no introduction:

So, I write about different types of horror, and monsters to the ones your usual writer appears to. In fact, I focus entirely on the modern-day monsters, in some kind of insane attempt to understand just what they’re saying about us.

I’m sure all readers will appreciate and understand the current resurgence of the monster in popular culture, primarily in film and TV. And I’m sure you also have all noticed that the central figure is that of the vampire

Source: via Christina on Pinterest

There’s been a lot of backlash over how the figure has become ‘defanged’; I see no point in exploring that any further, as deconstructing texts like Twilight is too easy and a waste of time. More interesting is the sheer popularity of these monsters. The thirst we have for them seemingly unquenched – still, more and more vampire-related series and films are being produced. In thinking about this, and wondering just how we will look back on the period known as ‘fang-citement’ (as I have dubbed it), it occurred to me that these monsters are our modern day myths.

But instead of these myths being our own, “our core myths now belong to the corporations, rather than to the folk” as Jenkins notes in this article. We’ve imbued these figures with super powers – created them in the image of man, and unshackled them from the confines of social expectations. We idolise them, desire them and obsess over them (granted, not everyone does, but not everyone has a ‘religious’ impulse). They are our gods now, and we use them to explore our key issues and attitudes, rather than as a mere form of entertainment. 

This is why I find modern-day monsters so interesting. Because for those of us who do not share the arduous feelings towards fictional beings, analysing the root of these urges becomes an obsession itself. 

If you want to read more about modern-day monsters and their current cultural infestation, my usual blog can be found here.

Modern-Day Monsters

Research – King for a day

Hello everybody.

Despite writing of my plans to write folklorically, in an academic manner, at the turn of the year, I have yet to do anything of the sort. I’ve preregistered at the British Library, but otherwise have done very little towards it. Indeed, I’ve yet to fully register at said Library, which is suggestive in itself.

So, I’m turning my research outwards, because the little I have done has come up blank.

The phrase king for a day occurs a couple of times in popular culture, to my knowledge – having come across it in a Jamiroquai video and a reference to Punch in The Wicker Man, and since having seen that Green Day and Faith No More have musical references to it also. However, I have yet to find a solid historical or folkloric reference – not through internet searching or trawling my folklore books at home.

Thus, I turn my research outwards.

In the true manner of folklore, I enlist the hope of learning the lore of the folk who read this message: where have you come across this phrase?

I am interested in popular culture references beyond those I’ve found, but perhaps more so in stories that might have been told to you. As much or as little as you can provide will be useful – even if it is but a scrap.

Research – King for a day


Today, my (immediate) boss approached me with an idea that I had entirely glossed over, because it was aimed at teachers of A-A* students. To think that my GCSE students could achieve so would be somewhat silly of me, which is why I hadn’t read the message in full.

My school are looking to enchance the achievement of the top cohort of our GCSE students, and as part of their preparation for the exam, we are thinking of running a series of dedicated lectures and seminars to really motivate those at the top end to develop their own interpretations of their exam texts.

I was asked if I’d be interested, naturally I jumped at the chance.

Considering the focus on exam texts rather than those covered for controlled assessment (meaning that a lecture on the Scottish Play, perhaps my forté, would be pointless), it is most likely that I’ll put a lecture together on the subject of The Crucible – after all, the context of witchcraft is an area of my specialty.

So far, I have two clear hopes.

One: to engender in the audience the same fear of witches and witchcraft that would have been felt in Salem.

Two: to include this, somehow:

I’m rather excited. I’ve already optioned a notebook for the whole process.


The Hand of the Baskervilles

My own thoughts on the new year’s transition vary, and I don’t know how much I ascribe to the renewing of future intentions; but perhaps the lack of capitalisation in the opening clause suggest my true thoughts!

Nevertheless, the new year brings with it the coming of a new string to the bow of in that I intend to add some more academic writing to its fold. The blog is currently a variable mish-mash of literary reviews, personal writing and musings on life, peppered by political thoughts. I have written before about my intention to become a folklorist in the future, and have decided that in the manner of Playing God with Monsters and The Flaming Sword (each written by university colleagues of mine) that my own site will feature such academic writing – mostly under the folklore category.

I think that

Folklore shows the fears of society – its folklore is a reflection of that which concerns it. A society can use the freedoms of fantastical logic to express its fears and desires.

Across this year (and beyond, most likely) I shall be examining various elements of folklore from around the United Kingdom and relating them to the societies in which they exist. The first entry will be on the topic of the Black Shuck, the aspect of folklore that most got me interested in the field.

Arthur Conan Doyle was inspired by the stories of the Shuck when he wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles, my favourite of the Holmes stories. I am particularly excited by the forthcoming episode of the BBC’s Sherlock, which will retell that very tale. If you’ve not seen the latest yet, you really should.

The Hand of the Baskervilles

Suspenders of Disbelief +1*

Earlier, I was walking home** and got to thinking about the future, and what I want to do / be – a medieval folklorist.*** I began thinking about the interview process, and perhaps being asked what my areas of interest were (folklore) and about how I justify them (within society, rather than as interests).

“Folklore shows the fears of society – its folklore is a reflection of that which concerns it. A society can use the freedoms of fantastical logic to express its fears and desires.”****

“And do you believe in it? Could the folklore be true?”

“I’m not sure, but I like to think that it could be.”

In reality, this is the truth. I am analytic in my opinion of folklore, but I don’t want to be presumptuous in assuming it is false. Indeed, we cannot be sure, and if I’m honest I like the romance of it all.

But my lack of disbelief also belies my desire to avoid hypocrisy within the realm of my magic.

I cannot choose not to believe in something while expecting my audience to accept it.

And perhaps my very performance creates its reality.

* This is my favourite song about suspenders, magical or else.

** Well, my Camden-based home-from-home.

*** Bit like a florist, really.

**** Also my justification for genre fiction and its importance.


Suspenders of Disbelief +1*