Jo Thomas – Writer

By day, Jo Thomas is a compliance advisor for a waste resource company – basically an environmentalist hiding in an office. After work, she’s a writer, editor, Hellhound wrangler and Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) hobbyist. Her second novel and second anthology are due out from Fox Spirit Books this year.

Good things to read.

My first nomination for a good read is The Future Fire, a quarterly(ish) online speculative fiction magazine that publishes short stories up to 10,000 words. All of the stories are on individual web pages so, due to the length of them, you should be able to read them one at a time without burning out your retinas if you’re reading on a standard screen. Specifically what I like about TFF is that the material they put out is very… egalitarian. They have a mission statement to be as inclusive as possible. In clumsier hands than their current editor, it could end up preachy. In reality, it just makes the science fiction and fantasy they publish that little bit more welcoming to people who aren’t the “average” (male, white, young, straight, cisgendered, neurotypical, etc, etc). Because full disclosure is necessary, they have picked up a few of my stories and one is due out in the March issue. (Also, I’m not male, I’m edging out of the young and I’m not neurotypical.)

My own reading and writing tends to fall to the fantasy end of the speculative fiction and my favourite book – or the one I go around enthusing about when I get talking – tends to be The Deed Of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon. It’s available as three books or an omnibus. In many ways it’s a standard Tolkien-like fantasy set in a medieval not-quite-Europe with elves and dwarves. But there are minor differences that make it stand out, at least to me. Elizabeth Moon has a military background and an interest in HEMA. She’s also done a lot of research into the historical aspects, including the Roman and Germanic law codes. The result is a very believeable journey along the path from young farm hand to fantasy paladin. If you’re into this kind of fantasy, whether through films, books or games, I recommend Paksenarrion as a good read.

The “environmental” in the mention of the day job up there may have been a hint that I have an interest in things Green. I also like the Hulk, BattleCat and Kermit, but I didn’t mean that kind of green. A book I recommend for getting in to this is one of my readers from university (back in the day) called A Green History Of The World by Clive Ponting. The version I have is the one first published in 1993 but he also reissued it with some changes in 2007. As Clive Ponting seems to be more interested in explaining how resources can become overused – a version of the Tragedy of The Commons – I consider it a history book with a focus on resource use rather than a specifically environmental book. However, it’ll give you a taste of the issues involved in being “an environmentalist”.

Good things to watch.

My first nomination is the 1973/1974 duo The Three Musketeers and the Four Musketeers. I am aware these are two films but the people who made them weren’t until they came out. I understand it caused quite a stir at the time. However, my interest is because I love the novel by Alexandre Dumas, père, but understand that not everyone wants to wade through old fashioned prose. These two films capture the storyline and intent beautifully. They have good actors chewing the scenery, some fun and well choreographed fencing scenes (pay special attention to how each of the Musketeers has their own fighting style!), and much snarking from the background peasantry.

My other two nominations are going to stick with the fencing theme – but not quite as seriously, because films should be fun. Although it looks as good, the fencing is more obviously Flynning in the 1952 Scaramouche. What makes this melodrama impressive is the final fight, which is to date the longest fencing scene ever filmed and was apparently blocked out as one sequence, although what we see is probably several takes. This film being a fifties production, it’s all bright colours and significant glances and highly enjoyable. It is, of course, based on a book and the adaption leaves quite a lot out if you’re interested in picking up the book afterwards.

The last good thing to watch I’m going to recommend is The Court Jester from 1955. I’ll start by explaining that Danny Kaye couldn’t fence. However, he had the esteemed Basil Rathbone (yes, that one) to teach him enough Flynning to get through the film. Basil Rathbone, it ought to be stressed, was a fencer and basically obsessed with smallswords and epees. Danny Kaye, however, was a great performer who could do an extremely physical sequence that involves his character being hypnotised into being a great fencer – and snapping between fantastic Flynning and being a clumsy jester whenever he hears fingers click. It’s a very funny film if you like old movies.

Good things to use.

As a writer, I hear and read plenty of recommendations for software for writing. Programs that will allow you to set goals or keep track of multiple story lines or track your submissions or put sticky notes all over your desktop. However, the best thing to start with if you’re interested in giving it a go is the basics. So here are some basics:

If you think old style might be the way forward, get yourself a notebook and pen or pencil – this may also work for drawing but I can’t answer for that. I barely even doodle these days. They don’t even have to be wonderful notepads or amazing pens. I find that I like writing this way on train journeys but can’t seem to sit down to it in other circumstances. On the other hand, pen and paper will work when computers run out of electricity.

I like to pretend I’m a rebel so I haven’t allowed Microsoft near my PC for years. As a result, I don’t use the standard Microsoft Office. What I use is the freely available LibreOffice suite – although donations are appreciated by the team and if you’re going to use them on a commercial basis (i.e. as a company) you may need to pay. It’s worth noting that LibreOffice is just one of several similar packages, it’s just the one I have. So, if you want to try writing (or spreadsheets, or presentations, or basic databases) on your home computer without paying for the full Microsoft licence, look up “OpenOffice” and try out a variant or two.

Get yourself a large mug, for whatever your choice of poison is. Something that holds about twice as much as your average cuppa. If you get into this writing lark, you’re going to need it. Not all shops will sell the bigger cups, so you may need to do some hunting to find them – and then you need to find one you can put up with staring at when your mind’s gone blank!

Connect with Jo on Twitter, @Journeymouse.

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