Steampunk Druids of Uncertain Reality

Nimue BrownNimue Brown writes non-fiction, and fiction and can be found most days at www.druidlife.wordpress.com while her gothic graphic novel exists in webcomic form at www.hopelessmaine.com. She lives with her husband, artist Tom Brown, has revolutionary tendencies and reads omnivorously.

I’m a Druid. We could get sidetracked at this point about what ‘Druid’ means, how it relates to ancient history, who can use the term… but that debate is all over the internet and if you are aching to know, you can find out. For the purposes of this blog, I’m a Druid pretty much only because I’m telling you it’s where I stand and what I do, and in essence that’s all any modern Druid actually can do. As Lelia asks contributors specifically not to write about religion, I’m not getting into the details. This is more about how religions and other subcultures manifest in books.

So far I’ve written two non-fiction books on the subject of Druidry, one about meditation, and the other about ancestors. Before that I mostly wrote fiction, under other names. I still do a bit of that, with Hopeless Maine, my graphic novel series. Being a fiction writer, I’m very alert to the idea of story. Druidry and the Ancestors is in many ways a book about how history is often more story than not, and the way narrative ideas influence how we write about history. When it comes to Druidry it’s even more entertaining. We don’t know much about what the actual ancient Druids did, so the history of how people think about Druidry is actually a history of imaginative reinvention, gothic details, lurid interludes and melodrama. With my authoring hat on, this is deeply appealing raw material. With my spiritual hat on, it’s both embarrassing and Hopeless Maineinconvenient.

My response? I ended up writing a Steampunk novel featuring comedy Druids. There were folk about in the 19th century calling themselves Druids. As far as I can make out they were mostly guys who ached for costumes and titles, but hadn’t managed to join the Freemasons. Truly Pagan and spiritual Druidry came a lot later. There’s nothing like a desire for titles and a hankering after silly costumes to make comedy easy. Leading me, eventually, to a Druid order consisting of four beardy guys on a traction engine. Intelligent Designing for Amateurs comes out in May 2013, and has about as much to do with real Druids as any period fantasy did.

The thing with writing what you know, is that it is fraught with problems. When you’re on the inside of something, and you love it, you don’t want to show off its warts in public, or admit its flaws. I love Steampunk, and Druidry. A bit of fiction that was a celebration of the loveliness of Steampunk and Druidry, would be pretty tedious. As a reader, I want tension, action, giggles… and to do that you have to work with the holes, the flaws, the shortcomings. I think this is why a lot of fiction comes from outside communities, not inside. Most Steampunk style fiction is not written by Steampunks. Most fiction featuring Pagans of any type tends to be written by non-Pagans – you’ll usually find it under paranormal romance, and it won’t bear any resemblance to what happens in real life. Most of the time, Druidry and the Ancestorswhat authors actually do is write what they don’t know, because it’s safer, and more comfortable.

The result tends to be that all sorts of groups, not just the two I’ve picked, are written from the outside by people who see something and speculate. An awful lot of GLBT fiction at the moment is being written by women whose ‘real’ lives are pretty straight. Much kinkster fiction is written by people who do not have a kinky lifestyle. 50 Shades springs to mind, and my BDSM friends tell me that the whole thing is made of wrong. However, if a book gets out there and becomes popular, it informs how the majority see the community in question.

It’s become increasingly important to me to write from the inside, and put good information out there to counter the assumptions. This is one of the reasons I now find myself writing non-fic, because to be honest, it’s easier. Of course I write about a lot of things I only see from the outside, all authors do, but I am increasingly conscious that, as it irritates the hell out of me when other authors get my communities wrong, I too have a duty of care. I try and get my facts straight and I try not to appropriate other people’s lifestyles and cultures for the sake of a quick buck. I fear a lot of people have probably never even considered that this might matter.