British Fantasy Con is almost upon us (23-25 October) and the organizers have just released this year’s programme which looks exciting, jam-packed, and wonderfully eclectic with a cast of thousands (well nearly). This year we’re in Nottingham and I’ll be participating on a panel session looking at crafting the perfect fight scene and hopefully later that weekend also reading from my forthcoming novel, The Guns of Ivrea, launching next February. Here’s the skinny:
Blades, Wands & Lasers: Fighting the Good Fight-Scene
Whether melee, missile or magic, combat scenes can make for some of the most compelling in genre fiction or film. But what are the essentials for creating telling your story through action?
the mechanics of fighting: how much do you need to know?
from one vs. one to massive scale battles
making sense of mayhem: choreography, pacing, tension, tone & sensory overload
tips for showing character through action
weapons of mass destruction: when is too powerful, too much?
There’s only one way to settle it…FIIIIIGHT!!!
Moderator: James Barclay Panelists: Clifford Beal, Juliet E. McKenna, Brandon Sanderson, Jo Thomas, Danie Ware
I’ll be in some great company and though I believe most of us are leaving our swords at home this time, should still be informative and fun if slightly less physical than Fantasy Con 2014.
This year’s British Fantasy Con at York was a veritable cavalcade of good clean fun: great panels, old friends, new friends, and evening sophistication (carousing), all necessitating several additional days of recuperation afterwards. I had the pleasure of being on a panel that took a critical look at swordplay in fantasy and film. This led afterwards to a very impromptu demo of sword skills and myth-busting in the bar next door featuring fellow scribes Adrian Tchaikovsky, Juliet McKenna, Fran Terminiello, and David Moore. Thanks to Annie Catling we’ve got a video. (I’m assured no bar-flies were harmed in the making of this film)
Britain’s Channel 4 aired a fascinating documentary this past week, Recreating Richard III—a forensic investigation with a twist (spinal twist really). Historians have always questioned the battle prowess of Richard III given his back deformity and after his remains were conclusively identified, and the extent of his scoliosis seen, these doubts took on greater weight.
Step in Toby Capwell of the Wallace Collection and the Channel 4 team who set about trying to discover whether Richard could have actually dealt with the physical stress of medieval battle. Amazingly, and by chance, they linked up with a 27 year old reenactor with scoliosis. And, as it turned out, with the same degree of spinal curvature and shape as Richard III. Dominic Smee became Richard’s “body double” over a period of months, training in riding and swordfighting and even had a custom suit of armour made for him to account for his twisted ribcage and back.
The results were astounding and made for fascinating viewing as it turned out that even this degree of scoliosis would not preclude swinging a sword effectively. Dominic couched a lance, smacked the quintain, and sparred with foot soldiers. Even did a charge of 700 metres over broken ground. Admittedly, endurance was a problem as his ribcage could not expand enough for his lungs and heart to pump effectively, meaning that he would run out of puff after a few minutes. As someone who used to reenact medieval combat in full armour, I know that feeling all too well and my ribcage is A1.
Some of the points were not all that surprising: turns out that riding in a medieval saddle provides more support and control than a modern one. Duh. The postage stamp of a modern English saddle is a joke to those of us who ride Western. There was a parallel thread of analysis on Richard’s skeleton to provide clues on his diet. Turns out that after he became king, his meat and wine consumption went off the scale (leading researchers to claim this affected his overall health and could have contributed to physical failures in the field). But what about every other noble quaffing gallons of wine and eating a whole roast pig for lunch? Seems it was an even playing field in that respect. But at the time of his death, aged 32, his spine already had arthritis and constant pain would have been his companion. Far more likely a contributing factor to his demise perhaps.
For me, the answer was never in doubt. Far too many references in the historical record of Richard’s fighting prowess and not unexpected for someone who would have started training as a boy. Overall, a fun and compelling view and well worth catching if you can online.
Tried watching the Olympic sabre matches yesterday. Lost interest after five minutes. It’s a terrible cultural travesty that over the course of the 20th century we lost our European martial arts tradition. The noble art of defence has degenerated into an electrified wrist-flicking, weenie-wire speed-reflex test with no relation to its dueling antecedents. You can be sure the Japanese would never let such a thing happen to their sword traditions. They know that form follows function. I know I’m biased–but I actually did foil and epee as an undergraduate, and played with sabre as well before discovering something better. Thank the stars above that over the last 20 years, enthusiasts all over Europe and North America are rediscovering true European martial arts through sword academies that resurrect the fencing manuals and techniques of the renaissance and 17th centuries. This isn’t some choreographed stage fighting but actual practice and sparring under controlled conditions, fought in the round, not on a piste. No one wants to skewer their best friend. Many groups are in federations now, with proper certification, training, and structure to make it more than a lark. They are claiming back European swordsmanship using real swords and not kebab skewers. There are many examples on the web and I’ve included a few videos here. Maybe we can take back the Olympics in another 20 years.