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Author: kimbeep

Podcast UP!

Podcast UP!

Last week, we started releasing episodes of ‘First We Write’ through Fox & Bee Books, and when it comes to writing, recording, and releasing a podcast, the learning curve has been STEEP, my friends, but I think I’ve got it under control.

Or do I? We won’t know until the wheels fall off and we careen over the edge, will we? Such is the way of artistic pursuits, and it’s EXCITING.

I decided to start ‘First We Write’ after three friends in rapid succession asked me, ‘How do you write a novel?’, and it seemed so much easier to put together something that they could listen to and that I could send a simple link, rather than draft a great long dreary boring email. And why keep it all a secret? If you have a book living inside you, it’s time to get it out, and I’m happy to give you a helping hand!

So, you can find ‘First We Write’ on iTunes and GooglePlay, as well as on the First We Write website. Go, have a listen, mash that subscribe button on the player of your choice so you won’t miss an episode, and start writing!

The Explosions on Bouvetoya

The Explosions on Bouvetoya

Here’s a cold little story about a frozen island to keep you occupied on a warm July evening…

Bouvetoya (or, in English, Bouvet Island) is listed as the most remote place on earth. Its nearest neighbor is Queen Maud Land, Antarctica — a mere 1600 kilometers away. There are no harbors, no towns, no recorded human history previous to 1739, when Jean-Baptiste Charles Bouvet de Lozier sailed passed in the French ships “Aigle” and “Marie”. Except for lichen and moss, no vegetation grows on Bouvet Island, and no fauna lives there except for birds and transient seals. No one lives on the island — although, according to Wikipedia, Bouvetoya has an international calling code of 47 and the internet country code of .bv.

So, on September 22, 1979, it came as quite a surprise when a United States Vela satellite recorded a flash of light near Bouvetoya. This double flash, characteristic of an atmospheric nuclear explosion of two to three kilotons, is still not completely resolved. No one claimed responsibility for nuclear testing in the area, and while rumors circulate that South Africa or Israel were involved, the capabilities of those countries’ nuclear programs does not match up with the size and time of the explosion. 

How did they record this flash? Well, in 1963, the Vela satellite program was launched in order to detect nuclear explosions from space. Two groups of Vela satellites were developed, and the second generation, called Advanced Vela, were launched between 1967 and 1970. The upgraded Vela satellites carried an optical sensor called a “bhangmeter” which can detect atmospheric tests. The satellite in question, Vela 6911, was presumably one of the Advanced Vela pair which were launched on May 23, 1969, and had thus been operating for over ten years at the time of the incident.

Bhangmeters record light fluctuations on a sub-millisecond time scale, and register the unique dual flash signature of a nuclear explosion. This occurs as the light of the initial fireball is overtaken by the expanding hydrodynamic shock wave, hiding it. As the shock wave passes, the second flash becomes visible. No known natural phenomenon shows this dual flash, and so the Vela satellites and their bhangmeters were very successful in detecting nuclear testing. In fact, every other dual flash reported by the Vela satallites has been confirmed as actual nuclear tests.  Only the explosion over Bouvetoya has ever raised questions.

The Vela Incident brings to mind the Tunguska Event of 1908 — that particular catastrophe flattened trees over 2000 square kilometers of Russia’s isolated north. Both the Vela Incident and the Tunguska Event occurred in isolated places. Both were strange and powerful explosions of mysterious origins (although Tunguska was much larger).

But while the Vela Incident was noticed immediately by the scientific community, the Tunguska Event wasn’t studied until 1921. Were they similar phenomena? What could’ve caused the blasts? Who’s blowing crap up in remote places? I’ve always been interested in the Tunguska Event, but the dual flash of Bouvetoya is interesting and mysterious all by itself — just like the island.

Monster Monday: Rusalka

Monster Monday: Rusalka

It never ceases to amaze me how many monsters are portrayed as beautiful women, and their only goal is to bewitch young men and lure them to their deaths. Like women don’t have better things to do.

Today’s entry in the ‘pretty girls are dangerous’ category is the Rusalka, a Slavic water nymph who swims up from the murky depths during the first week of June, to hang on the low branches of birch and willow trees and tempt young men to drown. They would grab their prey and drag them to the bottom of the river, but sources are unclear what they do with the boys. Eat them? Maybe. While folklore suggests that Rusulkas are the spirits of young women who were jilted and then committed suicide, there’s no mention of ghostly boys coming back to haunt the shores.

Some Rusalka could never leave the water, and were doomed to stand in the shallows while they used their voice to lure young men to their embrace. Still others were described as huge-breasted giants, able to snatch men from the shore and drag them into the river. Either way, I can’t imagine it’s how they envisioned spending eternity.

Poor Rusalkas.

Monster Monday: the Kraken

Monster Monday: the Kraken

If you were to create a Venn diagram of ‘where the humans live’ and ‘where the Pacific Octopus lives’, I would be sitting in the middle of the overlap, and yet I’ve never seen one in the wild. I’ve seen bears, and wolves, and even the famously-elusive cougar, but despite entire summers spent submerged in the ocean, I’ve never seen an octopus.

I know the octopus is out there but I can’t see it, no matter how hard I try, and I think that’s where the fascination and fear of the Kraken gets its power. After all, the sea is full of secrets — what if there is something even bigger lurking in those dark depths, a beast that science has yet to catalogue? What if that creature has a hunger for human flesh? Pacific octopuses can get big, but they don’t seem to nurture a vendetta against humanity (thank goodness for that). I might not be so eager to get in the water if I knew there was a monster of vast proportions swimming under my feet, able and eager to pull down entire ships into its lair.

The Kraken is of Norwegian origin, with the most detailed description coming from the Erik Pontoppidan’s  Natural History of Norway , published in 1755. Doubtlessly the tales are far older, passed down from fisherman to fisherman, and maybe growing a little with each telling. Erik claimed the Kraken was “the largest and most surprising if all the animal creation” and was a serious danger to successful anglers. You see, if you were able to reel in a large catch, the temptation of all that fish would be too great for the Kraken to ignore, and it would rise from the depths to feast on your fish, and probably you, as well.

To me, that sounds a bit like a warning against being too successful. Or maybe it’s a way of moderating against over-fishing.

Either way, the Kraken was considered to be a very real threat, and only ignored at your peril.

I think there has always been a wariness of cephalopods because, with their intelligence and multitude of limbs, they look simultaneously alien and familiar to us. We can marvel at their ability to open jars and escape tanks, but they don’t follow that pattern of other creatures — two forearms, two legs, a solid shape, a single colour. For a long time, octopuses were terribly misunderstood and considered stupid, even though they are actually just shy.

Perhaps, the Kraken wasn’t just strong and invisible; it was cunning, too. It used camouflage to creep close, and an enviable dexterity to snake around a ship to steal the catch. If you add its immense size to the mix — smart, flexible, and as big as an island? — suddenly the Kraken becomes a monster.

I can’t help but wonder if, like the humble Pacific Octopus, the Kraken was sadly misjudged. It can’t be easy, being a behemoth of the deep abyss, living a lonely life in the sunless dark. Maybe it didn’t want anything more than an easy meal. Maybe it was eager to join the fishermen in telling wild tales, and it was only looking for a bit of camaraderie. What if those snaking tentacles that surrounded and crushed the ships were, in actuality, just giving the generous fisherman a big, powerful, and over-enthusiastic hug?

Monster Monday: Kiyohime

Monster Monday: Kiyohime

I love Japanese folklore. They seem to have a monster for every occasion.

With Valentine’s Day tomorrow, I thought I’d chat about Kiyohime, a dragon-woman who was transformed by unrequited love.

Long ago, a young priest named Anchin visited a village, and was offered lodging in the mayor’s house. Anchin fell in love with the mayor’s daughter, the beguiling and beautiful Kiyohime, and promised to return to her after his journey to a nearby temple.

However, after professing his heart to her, he had a change of one. The legend says he shunned her, and I get the impression that he didn’t really tell her why he left — he just continued on his merry way without breaking up face-to-face. That didn’t go over well. Kiyohime grew furious at his sudden change of heart. Enraged, she pursued him to the edge of a river.

Terrified, the priest asked a boatman to help him to cross the river, and told him not to let the woman who pursued him cross with his boat. When Kiyohime saw that Anchin was escaping, she jumped into the river and began swimming after the boat. Her rage was so all-consuming that she transformed into a huge dragon, and she followed Anchin into a temple, where he hid under a large bell. The dragon smelled him inside the bell, and she coiled around it, clanging it many times to drive him out. When that failed, she let forth a fireball and melted the bell, reducing her beloved to ashes.

So, on that note, may all your love be returned, and may your Valentine’s Day be mercifully dragon-free!


Monster Monday: Cadborosaurus

Monster Monday: Cadborosaurus

I grew up on the ocean, and spent a lot of time on the beach as a child, and strange remains would often wash ashore. I’d drag home these half-rotted corpses of aquatic beasts, and it was not uncommon for our property to be festooned with spines, fins, skulls, fleshy bits of things tossed up in winter storms… oh, my poor patient parents!  Thinking back, our yard probably smelled pretty bad.

Most of what I found was so decomposed that you were never quite sure what it had been in life. But in death? They were marvellous beasts of the imagination! And that’s where my interest in Cadborosaurus began. When I found out there was something strange living in the waters in front of my house, suddenly every dogfish, skate and crab became a possible sea monster.

Cadborosaurus (aka Caddy) has been spotted over 200 times in the last century, was reportedly filmed in 2009 by a fisherman named Kelly Nash, and was twice even captured and released (!), but the monster has never achieved the same fame as its Scottish cousin, nor even its Okanagan sibling. I’m not sure why — there were even stinky rotten remains that washed ashore that were identified as Caddy, although they’ve since gone missing. Maybe the name ‘Caddy’ lacks a certain gravitas? Or perhaps it’s because Caddy has been spotted over a much larger territory, reaching from Alaska to San Francisco? Unlike Nessie or Ogopogo, who are confined to lakes, Caddy seems to range up and down the Pacific Coast, and there was even some speculation that the creature migrates to warmer climates in the winter time.

Looking at the migration routes of cryptids is probably not a great way to establish one’s career as a biologist, but it would be interesting to take the dates and times of Caddy sightings over the decades and see if there’s any pattern to it. There seems to have been a spike in sighting in the 1930s, and I’m wondering if that was a particularly good year for Caddies… depending on how you look at it, maybe there were lots of salmon for the sea monster to eat, or if you’re a skeptic, maybe there were more tipsy fisherman on the water. Who am I to say? However, as much as I’d like to correlate the data, I can’t find a single spot where all the sightings have been complied. There’s a tale here, a tale there, and certain key encounters that pop up again and again, but there’s no single website for all your Caddy-related questions.

Maybe that’s the root of Caddy’s obscurity. Nessie has Visit Scotland to promote it, and Ogopogo is the unofficial mascot of the City of Kelowna, but Caddy is left on its own when it comes to marketing. And, let’s face it, when all you have is some grainy footage and a bit of rotten meat from an inconclusive source, it’s hard to make that sound appealing.


Monster Monday: Grims

Monster Monday: Grims

There are some days (and I hope you have these sort of days, too) when I can’t believe how much I love my job, and I feel like wheeling around on an Austrian mountaintop, arms outstretched, singing at the top of my lungs like an idiot, proclaiming the hills to be alive. But not hills with eyes, of course; that’s a very different movie reference.

Today is one of those days, because it’s Monday, and on Mondays, I research monsters, mysteries and murders. Today, I’ll be combining all three into one post, because today, I’m going to talk about grims.

In English and Scandinavian mythology, a grim is the guardian spirit of a sacred space, most often appearing in the form of a great black dog, or sometimes as a spectral sow or a horse. The grim is an portent of doom, and can predict a death, but it also protects the souls of those buried in the graveyard from the clutches of the Devil. Despite their scary exterior, grims aren’t all bad. The grim would wander the grounds at night, and in daylight, it would live in the church tower, out of sight of the living.

It was once believed that, when a new churchyard was created, the first creature to be buried there would be the guardian of the graves. Instead of giving a human the job, a dog would be sacrificed and interred in the cornerstone of the new church, thereby consigning the poor puppy to watch-duty for all eternity.

Of course, this takes us into the shadowy topic of foundation sacrifices, where a living creature is entombed in a building or bridge so that its spirit will protect the structure forever. Foundation sacrifices can range from dogs and horses to peasants and kings, depending on who’s doing the building and where they’re building it. The Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould put it very poetically, when he wrote in 1887 that “The old pagan laid the foundation of his house and fortress in blood.” Nicely worded, Sabs, but still icky.

Anyway, I’m veering off topic and careening towards a rabbit hole. I find church grims interesting because they’re more than just spectral black dogs; they have a job to do. They’re ghosts with a career. I can’t help but think that would be a terrible, terrible occupation, without any hope of a vacation; just an eternity of responsibility towards the souls which surround you. You’d have to be a special kind of grim to love that job.