writing

First Fruits

Happy Lammas Eve!

Lammas is one of those old holidays I had no idea existed until I moved to England for a time. I knew about May Day (May 1) and All Saints Day (Nov 1), but Candlemas (Feb 2) and Lammas (Aug 1) were nothing more than vague names that occasionally popped up in the English novels I read, akin to “Michaelmas,” which at one point in my childhood I thought was the British way of saying Christmas.

But no, those four days mark the four quarters of the year in Britain, and Lammas is the Harvest Festival. Its name is most likely derived from “loaf mass,” and traditionally it was marked by bringing bread made from new grains to the church to be consecrated, thus symbolically blessing the harvest.

Last Lammas, we were still in England, and I was still running my Patreon, writing monthly flash fiction, among other things, for my patrons. Since this story was published a year ago, I think I can safely share it here on my blog now, to mark this Lammas. This particular adventure did not actually happen to me, but such is the magic of Cambridge that I was pretty sure it could have, had I cycled down by the river at just the right time.

Enjoy.

First Fruits

By E.L. Bates

It was the first of August, and Effie had just cycled past a two-headed dog.

It flashed past her so quickly the oddness hadn’t registered at first. By the time she whipped her head back to look again, the dog and its owner were out of sight.

Probably just two dogs so close together it looked like only one body, she told herself, but a sense of unease remained.

Usually this was the time of year she liked best in Cambridge: it was warm and sunny, the students had all gone home, the tourists weren’t too bad outside of city centre, and everything was peacefully awaiting the start of the new school year.

Today, though, everything seemed off. As she rode along the Cam, she caught glimpses of oddities all along the other side of the river … a boy with goat horns poking through his curly hair sitting cross-legged under a willow, waving cheerfully at her before returning his fingers to the holes in the panpipes held to his lips … a strange, sinuous creature that was surely no fish raising its head briefly out of the water, green riverweed dripping from its sharply-toothed mouth … a girl in a delicate green dress with meadowsweet crowning her leaf-like hair dancing barefoot along the bank … two owls sitting on a single tree branch though it was the middle of the day, watching her solemnly.

Effie applied her brakes abruptly and skidded to a stop. “Okay,” she said under breath. “This has gotten weird.”

She briefly wondered if someone in one of the houseboats that lined the river in this part had been smoking something that had affected her. It didn’t seem likely, but neither did … this.

“Whooo?” asked an owl.

Effie looked up to see it had left its original branch and was sitting on a tree branch above her head.

“Great, now I’m talking to animals,” she muttered, then cleared her throat and spoke more clearly. “I’m Effie. Who are you?”

The owl stared at her unblinkingly. Effie blushed scarlet and hoped no people had been close enough to hear her. Had she really expected an answer? What an idiot.

She glanced around, but thankfully no one was around.

That was strange in and of itself. Where had everyone gone? Granted this wasn’t the touristy part of the river, past Midsummer Common as she was, but still … there were always some people out and about.

But now, no matter how far she looked in any direction, Effie could see no other human but herself.

The sounds of cars from the road had faded, too. No boats came down the river. A swan floated serenely past, but that was the only sign of life.

Effie swallowed. “This is officially creepy.”

“Whoo?” the owl insisted above her head.

Effie glared at it. “I told you, I’m Effie! What else do you want from me?”

“You’ll drive yourself mad trying to get sense out of old Henry,” chimed in a new voice.

Effie spun around to see the goat-horn boy had crossed the river and was now standing behind her. Now he was standing, she saw that his legs were fully human, but a goat’s tail switched behind him to match the horns.

“Not a faun,” she abruptly said aloud. “You’re a satyr.”

He bowed, eyes twinkling merrily. “Well done! Come along, we don’t want to be late.” He waved up at the owl. “It’s all right, Henry, she’s with me.”

He took Effie’s arm and led her down the path before she could think to argue. “That’s all he wanted, to know whose guest you are.”

“Guest for what? Where are we going?”

“The festival, of course. I have to play for it, but don’t worry, no one will expect anything from you. Guest, you see.”

Effie didn’t see, but her new satyr friend was whisking her along at such a rapid pace she couldn’t spare any breath for questions.

 At last they stopped at Stourbridge Common, or some version of it.

Wild, mythical creatures of every description filled the green, some coming up out of the river, others fluttering down from the trees, still more pouring in from every side. They had nothing in common with each other, any more than they did with Effie, save that each one carried a small, round, golden-brown loaf in their hands, talons, mouths, or tentacles.

“I’m off,” the satyr said abruptly. “Must tune up for the dancing that follows the blessing. Join the queue there, and I’ll see you later.”

He vanished into the crowd, leaving Effie utterly bewildered.

With no better options, she joined the end of the queue as suggested, right behind a naiad whose gown clung to her body and legs and shimmered when she moved.

“Um,” Effie said. “Sorry, but—what are we doing here?”

“Receiving the blessing on the loaf,” the naiad replied. “Didn’t Myles tell you?

Assuming Myles was her satyr friend, Effie shook her head.

“That numpty,” the naiad said. “Today is Lammas. We bring a loaf baked from the first harvest, it is blessed, and then we celebrate with a feast, music, and dancing.”

“I … don’t have a loaf,” Effie stammered. She couldn’t quite wrap her head around these fantastic beings receiving a blessing, just as though they were villagers going to church.

And yet, why not? Weren’t they all creatures of the same King?

She could see the priest now at the head of the queue, a centaur with a golden horse’s body and flowing beard, and the wisest, deepest eyes she’d ever seen on any living creature, human or otherwise.

“Here,” the naiad said, tearing her loaf in half and handing part over. “You can share in mine.”

Effie took the bread, suddenly deeply, humbly grateful. She had no idea why she’d been chosen to attend this celebration, why she got to experience this magic, but the memory of it would stay with her forever.

“Thank you,” she said.

The End

Family, God, Life Talk, seasons

Another Bend in the Road

Dear friends,

Those of you who receive our family newsletter in addition to subscribing to this blog will already have an inkling what this post is about. For those of you who don’t, here goes.

As of February 2, our family will moving back to the U.S. from England for the foreseeable future.

There are a number of factors behind this decision. Health needs in our extended family have been drawing us back to be near to our loved ones and help them in whatever way possible–Carl is in Houston, TX right now, in fact, visiting his aunt in the hospital with pancreatic cancer. At the same time, Carl has felt a growing uncertainty as to whether an academic career in Biblical Studies is really what God is calling him toward, or if, rather, it is time for him to put what he has already learned into action in a local church and community. We have already learned before this that sometimes it looks as though God is calling us to a specific end, when in reality it is the journey that is important.

Whether that be the case here or not, what is certain is that we need to return to the States to support and care for our family. This is not, right now, an official goodbye to the PhD: Carl will be intermitting for the next six months and then will make a final decision–to withdraw or return to Cambridge–this summer.

Carl’s engineering firm has offered him a full-time position in one of their New England offices, which means Maine is our ultimate destination once we’re back. We are looking forward to living near the ocean again, as well as being close enough to mountains to go hiking (or hill walking, if we want to continue to use British terminology once we’re back) on weekends.

To close, I will quite directly from the newsletter:

 As you might imagine, this change has left us more than a little breathless. Our hearts are at peace knowing we are walking in God’s will, though, and we trust that He will continue to make our path clear, as He has ever done. We know with absolute certainty that our time in Cambridge has not been wasted, even though this is not the outcome we’d anticipated. Truly, God’s ways are not ours, and we thank Him that His plans are perfect. Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for your love, prayers, and support during our time here.  

cross-posted from my Patreon, with a few edits.

writing

Patreon

When Carl and I started our newsletter, we knew that we’d only be able to send one out three or four times a year once we were actually in Cambridge. We also knew there were a lot of friends and family who were hoping for more frequent and detailed updates. At the same time, I was racking my brains to come up with a more sustainable way to earn money through my writing than the occasional published short story and the small percentage of people who buy my books. That led to the creation of my Patreon page, a place where people can pledge $1/month for access to weekly journal posts while we’re in Cambridge. Higher pledges unlock further writing–stories and such–but I wanted to keep the basics accessible for everyone. (I really want to say “$1 is less than your weekly cup of coffee!” but that marketing slogan has become SO overdone I don’t quite dare.)

Patreon is a fairly recent site, created as a way for people of all walks to life to be able to support art and artistry according to their interest and ability. It builds upon the old model of patron-and-artist, where rather than commissioning a particular piece of work or simply buying a finished product, patrons make a way for the artist to work freely and serve his or her art. I have set up my site the way I have to give me both accountability–I am committed to writing the weekly blog posts as well as the fiction pieces at each level–and artistic freedom: there are no limits as to the subject or nature of my writing. I think this is going to be a marvelous way to develop my writing skills as well as practice self-discipline, and I am thrilled over the chance to form a closer relationship with my patrons.

If this is a way you’d like to support my writing, or a way you’d like to contribute financial support for our family for the three years we’re at Cambridge, click on this link.  The first couple of posts on there are free for all to read. If you have any questions about this, leave a comment here or send me a private note, and I’d love to chat with you about it.We are less than one week out from our move! My very next blog post on Patreon will be written from Cambridge. Hard to believe, and also so exciting!
Life Talk, publishing, writing

Writing as Community

As I might have mentioned on here a time or two (or twelve), our family is moving to England this fall. My husband Carl has been accepted into Cambridge’s PhD program, so we are “up roots and away” for three years.

Obviously, the main reason and focus is Carl’s continuing education. But we are a team, always have been, and nothing in our lives is ever all about one or the other of us. My goal while at Cambridge is to enrich and expand my writing, to get at the heart of what sort of stories I tell and why, and to make connections with other artists (literary and otherwise).

Here’s the amazing thing about creating: it doesn’t happen in a bubble. The idea of the solitary genius scribbling away in a lonely garret isn’t really very plausible. Even outside an artistic community to help and encourage, life has to happen for the writing to be any good.

To that end, I have started a Patreon page in order to build a community around my writing, to help me get out there and live fully while we’re in England, and then to share that life with others. The most basic tier–$1/month–will access weekly journal posts. This is something I’ve wanted to do ever since we moved to New England and Carl began seminary, but without an outside readership keeping me accountable, I let other things creep in and get in the way. This way, I am committing to my readers just as they are committing to me.

The higher tiers get you access to other types of writing: flash fiction, short stories, that sort of thing.

Writing is a tricky business, and indie publishing even more so. There are beautiful perks–I often say I don’t have fans, I have friends, because my fanbase is so small each member has become a dear friend. I love that. There are also downsides–without a marketing team behind me, it’s difficult to spread word about my books and pick up new readers, thus things like “paying the bills” can become a treacherous quagmire. That is the nature of the business, and I am not complaining.

This Patreon is a way, I hope, of shrinking some of the difficulties and maximizing the best parts of a writing career. I have a built-in audience, which brings about even more joy in the writing and builds a natural community. I also have to worry less about whether or not the writing will bring enough of a return for me to justify keeping on with it.

If this is something that resonates with you, or even if you just want to keep up with our Cambridge adventure on a more regular basis than will be available through this dear old haphazard blog of mine, go on over to my Patreon account and sign up today! It’s going to be a wonderful journey.

I guarantee there will be lots of tea and scones, and much exploring of hidden paths.

goals, influences, Life Talk

Cambridge

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We went to Cambridge! And made it back again, though if it weren’t for the fact that our girls were still stateside we might not have ever left.

England was everything I’d ever dreamed it would be. I couldn’t believe how much it was like how I’d always imagined it, in fact. I kept bracing myself for it to be different, to not live up to my imaginings, but no. It was exactly as I’d dreamed.

Now, I’m guessing that if I had gone to Yorkshire I wouldn’t have found a secret garden and children playing with wild animals on the moor. Lord Peter and Harriet Vane would not be punting in Oxford. Miss Read would not be bicycling to school in the Cotswolds. I didn’t see any hobbits, nor did any cupboard doors lead me to Narnia. I did pass Platform 9 3/4 at Kings’ Cross, but it was not in between platforms 9 and 10, and was clearly a tourist trap.

I do know the difference between fiction and reality. I just like to ignore it whenever possible.

The essence of England, though, the very Englishness of it … that was there. That was real. And I loved it.

We were only in London long enough to get from plane to train to tube to train (and then the reverse coming back), and the rest of the time we spent in Cambridge. Oh, for more time, to get to Oxford, and see the sights in London, to travel the rest of the island! We made the most of our four and a half days, though. We tramped 40 miles all over Cambridge and got to know that city far better than most tourists can.

It is beautiful.

I could write pages and pages of our adventures there, but as I doubt they’d be as fascinating to others as they were to us (met with university housing! Had a cream tea! Were served tea and toast every morning by our hosts! Explored possible places to live! Walked through an ancient cemetery and saw my first European robin! Were nearly mobbed by swans looking for food! Went to Waterstones and the Cambridge University Press bookshop and couldn’t buy anything either place because I had no room in my bag!), I’ll hold back.

We can’t wait to go back. I can’t believe we’ll actually be living there for three (or maybe more, depending on how long Carl’s PhD takes) years.

It’s going to be a most fantastic adventure.

With lots of tea. And scones.

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