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Issue 34 playlist: Comfort songs

words: Marta Bausells

The songs we come back to are like old friends – they can be quirky, loud, make little sense, but they’re always there to lift us up. The songs chosen for this playlist are some of the comfort songs of Oh Comely’s team members. Each for a reason, they soothe us, bring us up and assure us everything is fine just the way it is – and we hope they’ll do the same for you in this colder, darker season. 

Some are celebrations of life and friends, others laments of heartbreak, other declarations of intentions like Billie Marten’s “I want to see things I’ve never seen, quietly happy and live by the sea”. Some are 90s hymns to self-assertion like No Doubt’s ‘Don’t Speak,’ shouts about when to draw the line like Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’, or roadtrip memories like Jeffrey Lewis’s ‘Roll Bus Roll.’ Others are sensational new songs we can’t stop playing, like Solange ripping her heart out and singing “sometimes I don't wanna feel those metal clouds” and Frank Ocean beautifully declaring an open, non-possessive love. 

The common thread is acceptance, peace within the chaos. We’re here now, and we’re not supposed to be anywhere else. As you refocus and think of the year ahead, snuggle up, light a candle, turn the music up, and relax. You’re home.

Wrap up cosy and plug in to issue 34's playlist on Spotify

Win! £500 to spend at Joanie

It's competition time!

Joanie is a fun new womenswear brand with a nostalgic twist and femininity at its heart. Joanie’s range is available in UK sizes 8 to 22, and the brand celebrates individuals who know their own style.

The latest collections for Autumn/Winter 2016, ‘Adorkable’ and ‘Champagne Toast’ showcase cute and quirky pieces and seasonal party wear.  Want to win a £250 spree on their site plus another £250 voucher code to give to a friend? Simply click here and answer the question to be in with a chance of winning. Closing date 14 Feb 2017 at midnight GMT. Good luck! 

Sunday Reading: Potion in a tin foil cauldron

words: Emily Ingle

Like many tales, this one starts with a girl setting off from home. I left last Halloween’s broomstick in my parents’ attic, along with most of my belongings, so it was a Boeing 767-300 that flew me across the ocean. Still, a metal box of people floating above the clouds must be nothing less than magic. I watched southern English towns shrink until they were sesame seeds sprinkled on spinach, handed to me by a smiling flight attendant. I stirred this tiny enchanted woodland with my plastic fork. One paper sachet of salt, one of pepper: a potion in a tin foil cauldron.

I was flying to a world I knew from websites and prospectuses read on the sofa of my university’s study abroad office — a world that put its spell on me from afar. Houses became fairy-sized while the day stretched to an extra seven hours. My journey took a path through a forest of duty-free handbag shops and immigration checkpoints, lined with fire extinguishers that by some strange alchemy weren’t red but silver. It was also a voyage on a sea of stories. Of the books that I squeezed into my suitcase until it was only under the airline’s weight limit by a mouse’s breath, nearly all were fairytales of some kind. While I was packing, a friend gently reminded me that they do have libraries in Colorado, but I still wished I didn’t have to leave some favourites behind.

The versions of fairytales we are fed are often sanitised visions of sparkling castles and royalty charging in on horseback at the perfect moment. But it depends on the telling you choose. Tales have been mocked as superstitious and irrational, but they taught me more than any guidebook or map I could have taken in their place. It is hard to leave the kind of friends who will tell you to bring more socks and fewer books even when it’s not what you want to hear, and grandparents who might not fear wolves but spend a lot of time in hospital these days. But the tales taught me to approach a new land as a dark and mysterious forest; that the charms will be as unexpectedly enchanting as the corners are shadowy. They taught me that the worst monsters would be the ones I conjured up myself.

They also taught me that I could be the storyteller. Long before they were written down and filmed, tales were held in heads not between pages, the narratives and characters more easily shifting into the shape of the teller or the listener. Now I’m sitting at my second-hand but new to me desk. A potassium-rich banana might have been a wise amulet to bring against the dizziness that comes with altitude and I feel like I could sleep for a hundred years. Those books have just been unpacked and are stacked up on the desk’s wooden top. They are the stone gargoyle that will awake to lend me its wisdom or taunt me into action, but it is only my touch that will animate it. There is a misty mountain outside the window and a fantastical range of peanut butter in the cupboard waiting to be tasted.

Fairytales punish ungratefulness with curses and toads; they are a reminder to always be aware of the opportunities I am privileged to have. But while I sat stirring my in-flight potion, my suitcase remained unopened. Instead, I watched the screen in front of me make a charmed map of the start of my own tale. It might be less battling ogres and more googling how on earth zebra crossings work in America, but it’s mine to tell. I’m not looking for a fairytale ending; I’m looking for a fairytale beginning.

Emily Ingle mostly makes pictures for other people's words but sometimes she writes things of her own. You can find her on her website, or pretending she lives in a fairytale.

For more tales of everyday magic, pick up a copy of Oh Comely issue 33

 

Meet indie rock rising star Lucy Dacus

words Marta Bausells; photos Cindy Parthonnaud

 

It’s good that we have chosen a walk around Abney Park cemetery on an Autumn afternoon to have a chat with Lucy Dacus. “Two of my favourite things are forests and graveyards! They’re good because people are quiet. Good for reading and thinking,” she says as we wander around the leaf-covered park in north-east London. Despite being a rising star in the US East Coast’s indie rock scene, Dacus likes to keep things simple – her favourite activity, she says, is to go for walks in her neighbourhood in Richmond, Virginia.

After a long process, which included 20 labels fighting for her, her debut album No Burden came out this September and has been doing the rounds in the States and collecting glowing reviews. Dacus, 21, has been touring her country all year, pretty much non-stop. Hymns like 'Map on a Wall', written years ago, seem perfectly appropriate for her current life on the road: “But I am alive and I made up my mind / to live fearlessly, running wild beneath the trees / above a ground that's solid at the core.” We walk around and sit down with her to talk songwriting, amulets and living more freely in her flash visit to the UK.

 

What in your life draws you to writing songs? And what are the songs in No Burden about?

I don’t have a very good answer because I don’t have a lot of control over the songwriting. I just go on walks and, sometimes, I start writing a song. I just have to listen to my thoughts and acknowledge them, and write them down, and let them sit, and let the song become what it is ... and then I realise oh, it’s finished! It doesn’t feel super intentional. And then after it’s done I can see what it’s about. No Burden was recorded in January 2015, and all the songs in the album were written in the 2 years before that, so some are really old! They’re not really related to each other.

Talk to me about your single, the self-deprecating and pretty amusing statement song 'I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore'. What experience was it based on?

That’s a song that took me like three minutes to write, because I’d been thinking about how to express those thoughts for so long. It’s about my experience primarily in middle school, when I started to try and become myself, apart from my parents. It’s about when you start forming your identity and people are imposing things on you, trying to teach you what your role is in society.

Why did you title the album No Burden?

I just wish people would understand that they don’t burden other people with their ideas, and if you are a burden on someone else that’s the other person’s fault. There’s nothing wrong with your thoughts or your influences or your effects on other people. I think people hold themselves back too much from each other.

And what’s the mysterious picture on the cover?

It’s a picture of me when I was five that one of my parents took of me. Despite what you see, it’s not a huge open field, it’s actually a slope down to a parking lot. But I just went and laid down out of habit (I was always laying down under trees when I was a kid, pretty fanciful). That was a time when I didn’t have the concept of being a burden. So I always try to revert back to that mindset.

When did you start writing music?

When I was in middle school I went to a church camp over the winter, and we had our girls’ cabin and our cabin leader was this college girl who had an acoustic guitar and I thought she was so cool. I was like: I’m going to go learn guitar and be like her. So I just learned a bunch of covers, and friends and I would sing covers together around campfires – classic suburban or country things to do!

You’ve been touring without much of a break since March. How do you keep yourself sane on the road?

I don’t know if I do keep myself sane, but things that are consistent are that I read a lot and I try to keep in touch with people back in Richmond, like my family and friends. But it’s hard, because there’s a difference between intentional communication and incidental communication. Intentionally, I can call them and talk, and say goodbye and it’s done, but the incidental stuff is what I miss. Living with my friends and them coming home and complaining and eating together, and the “what are you up to tonight?”. I miss the unplanned parts of friendship.

What’s Richmond like as a musical city? It sounds like there’s a huge music scene but like it’s very local, and artists don’t get out of there as much as they do in other cities.

Richmond is in a really good position, because it’s two hours from the beach, two hours from the mountains, two hours from Washington DC, six hours from New York. It’s on the East Coast and there are many cities nearby, so I would think more bands would tour from Richmond, but for some reason it’s not as nationally or internationally active. But in Richmond, local bands are thriving. There are tons of new groups and new music that’s really exciting, and I think it’s because people encourage each other locally so much. It’s a curse and a blessing that people don’t get out, because people do ruminate and really grow from each other there.

What’s your life like when you’re back home?

I live in a neighbourhood that is a couple blocks from the river and a couple blocks from the cemetery … I just walk a lot, by myself or with other people. What’s cool about this job is that when I’m not touring I have nothing to do, really (well, other than practice, record and write new songs!). I live with five of my best girlfriends who are all creative types too – sculptor, illustrator, filmmaker… So they give me a lot of life and other content, it’s not just music. That’s why reading keeps me sane too, because it’s an escape into a different creative artform that I’m not involved with.

Speaking of books, what are you reading right now?

Two days ago i finished Anna Karenina, which was great, it was so good – I’ll probably read more Tolstoy soon. I’m about to finish the third Elena Ferrante book. Oh my gosh, they’re so good. I started it just a couple days ago and it’s already over. I’m so upset that there’s only four of them, I wish they’d just go on and on and on! I just started Don Quixote too – and it’s so long I’m kind of intimidated by it. I’ve been trying to tackle epics this year.

Where would you like to be in five years?

I always operate under the assumption that this will all fall apart soon, any day at all, so I try to keep low expectations. But even if I couldn’t do this job, I’d be fine going back to a 9-to-5 desk job. I have my sights on starting a publishing company and maybe a record label in the future, just try to figure out ways to lift up other musicians and writers and artists that I care about. This year has been a lot about my album, and I don’t think I would be satisfied if that was the rest of my life, just my own stuff.

Is there an object you always bring with you on tour?

The lipstick that I wear at every show (I never wear it when I’m not my “work self”). And since August I always wear this ring which was a gift from my birth grandmother. I’m adopted and I met her in august and she gave me this ring she’s been wearing for 44 years. My birth father and his family came to a show in LA in August, and it was overwhelming but they’re all really sweet people.

No Burden is out now.

Contribute to our ‘Strength’ issue

Issue 35 - out in February - will be themed on 'Strength' and we're looking for your contributions. 

We’re looking for stories of resilience, resolve and readiness. Tales that explore a richness of colour, or a force on the senses. Your personal interpretation of what it means to be strong.

To be considered, email a 100-word outline of your idea to ohcomely@icebergpress.co.uk, along with two samples of your work by Monday 21 November. Please state 'Issue 35 contributions' in the subject header. 

Unfortunately we don't accept fiction or poetry samples. 

Look forward to hearing your ideas! 

More curious things: Magic

Our latest issue is dedicated to all things magic and you can see some of the products that inspired us on pages 14 and 15. There are always many more treats we find than we can fit into our pages, so here we're sharing five more favourites (and you can check out some more enchanting pieces here). 

We've fallen in love with the gorgeous compositions of Kansas-based Grace Chin. She describes her work as a search for "pithy, compelling statements that are meant to occupy primarily domestic spaces and serve as daily reminders".  We'd happily look at this every day (and - for more inspiration - check out our feature on digital covens in the issue). 

Witch Bows to No Man wreath, $75, Grace D. Chin

Its glass dome may make it look a bit like a crystal ball but in fact this is a table lamp, ideally sized for a nightstand or a desk. If it won’t help you see into the future, as least it’ll help you see into those dark corners of your room.

Round cloche table lamp, £140, Urban Outfitters

It's hard to resist the old-fashioned charm of this fortune dispenser, promising 100 tickets of "advice, mysterious quips and daily fortunes". Don't bamboozle yourself by pulling out five at a time. 

Fortune Dispenser, £6.95, Rockett St George  

We're huge fans of the work of the Strange Women Society (you can see another of their designs within the magazine, and they designed our special subscriber print). No surprises then that we'll be wearing these enamel pins with pride.  

Strange Women Society Initiation Pin, $10, Strange Women Society 

This Tisty Tosty bath bomb has a wonderful story to contemplate while you soak - it's based on a medieval love potion. Containing real rosebuds, it's scented with floral orris root powder, rose, and lemon. Geranium, jasmine and rose help create a spellbinding fragrance, while rose oil also gets to work soothing broken hearts - it’s used by aromatherapists to lift the spirits.

Tasty Tosty bath bomb, £3.50, Lush

 

Order a copy of the Magic-inspired Oh Comely issue 33.

Sunday Reading: Fire and Water

words Gabriella M Geisinger; photograph Luna Craig

My mom went into labour on the evening of 22 July 1989. It was the last of a stretch of inordinately hot days, the kind that make the Manhattan skyline waver against the clouds. I do not know if you could see the stars that night. She was 37 years old, and was in labour for 22 hours. On 23 July, at 6.08pm, I was born. A Leo.

I’m no great believer in horoscopes. I find the platitudes to be self-soothing. One more way that we absolve ourselves of responsibility for our actions. I never met an Aries I liked – I’m a Capricorn so it’s no wonder we don’t get on. We toss our hands up to the heavens and blame the stars for our misfortune – mercury is retrograde; the moon is full.

I was born at 6.08pm and was the colour of terracotta. I was in an incubator for a few days before I could be sent home to our one-bedroom apartment. It was on the 16th storey, though really it was the 15th – the 13th floor had been abandoned for fear of bad luck. Superstitions, like horoscopes, are not something I believe in.

And yet.

I grew well into my pre-ordained, star-lined path with a wild head of curls – a lion’s mane. Once I was old enough to read Teen Vogue I discovered that, technically, I was a Cancer-Leo cusp. More so than I knew – for then my mother’s 22 hours of belabourment were still unknown to me. Had the physicality of my mom’s body been different, I would have been a Cancer. Had the doctor agreed to a C-Section several hours earlier, I would have been a Cancer. Perhaps I am. That first Cancer’s breath expelled as a sad sigh when I sit, alone, at a party without anyone to talk to. Afraid to approach a stranger. When I spend a whole weekend lost in a world of books. The years I spent as a competitive swimmer, still claiming that I feel more myself in the water – that my body was not built for land.

There is a fault line that stretches through my personality – from tiptoes to crown. It is a fault line that defines me, and splits me in two.

As a child I had a penchant for volunteering and then, upon being chosen, quickly retreating to my seat – my cheeks the colour of beets. As a teen in school, I’d raise my hand to read my favourite passage of a book and then, when my lines came, my heart would block my throat and no words could eke out. I trembled. The pages shook. I felt feverish. Take pity on me.

The duality of my nature is that I both love and fear adventure – attention – risk.

I moved to London in September 2013 and I knew no one in the city. On my first night I befriended two girls in the courtyard of my housing complex. I walked up to them and said hello, fresh off the airplane from New York City. The Leo in me took over – it said this will all be fine. The Leo is most often my motivation – to be liked. It is fiery fearless when it needs to be. It seeks the limelight by way of the byline.

These two elements are not so disparate – but I agonised over them. They made for a more interesting (re: difficult) life. Parties left and then returned to an hour later, realising that I didn’t actually want to be home alone. When my mom finally told me the story of my birth, the metronome of the ticking clock, ushering her from one day to the next, it clicked into place. I reached an understanding; instead of trying to marry these two personalities, I decided to let them co-exist. Horoscopes are, after all, self-soothing. 

I am no great believer in horoscopes.

And yet.

There are two halves of my self – and to chalk it all up to a simple arrangement of molecules and chromosomes feels, somehow, less magical than the alternative. That the particular trail that the stars drew across the sky that night pulled and pushed me into being. The arrangement of the heavens, the planets and asteroids, as the world spun from one day to the next pencilled itself in me. A map of changing constellations under my skin, all variations on a theme.

 

 

Gabriella M Geisinger is a freelancer writer specialising in music, societal commentary, and poetry. For her MA in Narrative Nonfiction at City, University of London, she completed her memoir The Many Lives of my Father. She uses words like bricks, building houses that keep you safe for a time. You can follow her on twitter, and visit her website

 

For more stories of magic, pick up a copy of Oh Comely issue 33

The Neon Demon: An interview with Nicolas Winding Refn

"It started off as a horror film, but then I also wanted to make it into a comedy with a lot of camp, because I love extremeness, and it needed to have melodrama. And in a way it also became a science fiction movie."

The inability of Nicolas Winding Refn to precisely categorise his own film is to its credit. The Neon Demon is at once gruesome and arch, empathetic and heartless, icy provocation and savage allegory. Employing the same mesmeric tone as his earlier work like Drive and Only God Forgives, the film follows aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning) as she attempts to prosper in the cannibalistic world of fashion. As Jesse's beauty warps herself and everyone around her, however, The Neon Demon's fundamental acceptance of human cruelty unsettles as much as its sudden, brutal lurches.

Ahead of its home release today, Nicolas discussed the meaning of the film, and tried to persuade us that narcissism is a virtue.

A wide-eyed teenager going to Los Angeles to “make it” is a plot that's roughly the same age as movies themselves. What appealed to you about using that story?

There was a simplicity to it that I found very interesting. The more simple something is, the more it resonates. That can be confusing because there's a certain expectation for culture to be “complex” and “thought-provoking”, but those are usually devices to steer away from what's really the essence. I believe that less is more, and none is everything.

What do you think is driving Jesse? Is she just looking for fame? Is she trying to escape something?

I think Jesse lives in two parallel universes. On one level she's the deer-in-the-headlights young girl coming to the big city. She feels she doesn't have any particular skills but she can make money from being pretty, so why not take advantage of that? You never know where it might lead to. And then there's another part of her where she's like an evil Dorothy that comes to meet the wizard, but she is the poison that's going to drive the wizard insane because she has what everyone desires, and she knows it. You never really know if she is manipulating or being manipulated, until she goes through the journey of becoming the complete narcissist.

The character of Jesse has to be the most magnetic person in the room, and yet this is a film where every single actor is beautiful – even the sleazy motel owner is played by Keanu Reeves. How did you work with Elle Fanning to create that effect?

Elle is not just beautiful, she's unique. There was no-one else who could have done this but her. If there was no Elle Fanning I don't think I could have made the movie. It was the same thing as Ryan Gosling in Drive. If you weren't gripped by her then there was nothing to take you in – the whole idea is that Jesse has some ineffable quality everyone wants.

How much of The Neon Demon is specifically a comment on fashion? Do you think it's more vicious than other industries?

I don't think fashion is more vicious than other industries, but it's very complex and non-complex at the same time. It is about the most beautiful image, and yet fashion reflects our cultural evolution, our historical evolution. Fashion is very important to us as people. I love fashion personally, I love making fashion commercials and working in advertising. I enjoy the glamour of it, and also the vulgarity and the silliness. It's a great mirror of society.

The models in the film take their competitive nature to extreme, bloody ends. To what extent are their actions allegorical?

It's just normal human behaviour. We're competitive creatures. That's usually seen as something negative, but a lot of The Neon Demon is about celebrating narcissism as a virtue. It's the next human level, our next evolution is a full love of thyself.

Are we supposed to support Jesse throughout? Is there a certain point where we start judging her, and is that hypocritical?

Secretly there's a desire to go through her journey, but then there's morality that's very ambiguous because we still live in a world where narcissism and ego and vanity is usually considered negative. However, we all have it to various degrees, and I think that with the next generation there's more of an acceptance of narcissism, an encouragement of it – the idea that it's okay to completely love oneself openly. For my generation that was a very terrible thing to even admit to, but my kids' generation accept so much more of human behaviour, and fully accepting oneself is a part of it. Of course there's also the hypocritical nature of us, that we all teach this notion of equality, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. All those things that I tell my own children, but I also know that if it's not beautiful I don't look, and neither do you. We have to accept that rather than trying to dismiss it, but it's a horrible feeling. It's also very refreshing because it's like letting go of your own fear of what is right and what is wrong and just accepting what thou will. It's about giving in to your urges.


The Neon Demon is out now on DVD, Blu-ray, Digital and VOD.

 

Sunday Reading: Byootiful Holly

Words: Poppy O'Neill
Illustration: Kate Rowland

Shirley rang. V.nice tea - Holly bit better. Fire done - see you later. A note scribbled on the back of an envelope in 1991. Twenty-five years later I find myself carefully scanning and saving it, safe in the digital world from fire, theft and spilled cups of tea.

My grandmother, Sassy, came across these scraps of paper during a grand spring clean. It's a hoarding instinct I share with her, that causes bank statements to sit for decades, just in case. Pieces of official paperwork and personal ephemera that may possibly, maybe one day, be wanted. It was in this big clear out of seemingly useless paper that the preciousness and vulnerability of these jotted sentences became apparent. Holly was Sassy's beloved Jack Russell, who passed away not long after the notes were written. 

I time-travel by means of this informal letter-writing; messages left by those who dropped in on Holly while Sassy was out. All hopeful, all testament to a cheerful dog, wagging her tail and scrounging from the table. She might be downcast by the evening, but when the note was written she was happy. The granddaughters have grown up, but when the felt-tip touched that paper, they were little girls. Holly might have died many years ago, but when the words were jotted spontaneously down, she was there, she existed. I revisit these letters and a past us, kept as a gift to our future selves. 

I look at the other items Sassy kept. Appointment diaries, facts of the day, people to meet and events to attend. The details that seem small at the time become the concrete, provable key to the cherished essence of a memory. There is a list in her bundle: Things I Want To Remember, and it runs over two sides and up the margins, recalling the quality of Holly's movements – kangarooing through high grass – her habits – biting car tyres – small things that make it seem incredible, once they are gone, that pets never speak a word to us, and yet their personalities are absolutely individual.  

The letters I wrote Sassy at five years old show a child trying desperately to comfort an adult. Holly saves the day, Holly lives with the Flower Fairies, Byootiful Holly. I remember her solid barrel of a body, her warm wiry hair and her pink bacon-rasher tongue. I remember it dawning on me some months after her death that she was truly gone forever. 

These little scraps of evidence are trivial, but they become important precisely because they are kept. The timbre of our voices is in these notes. Relics to conjure a moment, a feeling, a smell. And when they are read alone, while that feeling of a loved one in the room is slippery and comes always with melancholy, we hold on to it and in a small, personal way they are there.

Recipe Friday: Clotted Blood Cakes

Just in time for Halloween, we bring you the last in our fiendish selection of recipes from The Hoxton Street Monster Supplies Cookbook - full of tasty tidbits to satisfy monster appetites. Seeing as they're the experts in feeding the undead, we let them introduce the recipe themselves...

"Those with nocturnal habits often need a mid-morning pick-me-up and blood was always the tipple of choice. However, the profusion of coffee shops has meant that many tribes have adopted the human predilection for caffeine, making fresh blood less popular. The traditional blood clots have been replaced in this recipe to appeal to modern tastes."

You will need (for 20 cakes):

 

200 g white chocolate, broken into pieces

125 g unsalted butter

3 eggs

175 g caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

150 g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

75 g dried cranberries

 

1 Line an 18 x 28 x 5 cm baking tin with nonstick baking paper and snip diagonally into the corners so that the paper fits snugly.

2 Melt half the chocolate and the butter in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract in a separate bowl with a hand-held electric whisk until light and frothy and the whisk leaves a trail when lifted.

3 Fold the chocolate and butter mixture into the beaten eggs with a metal spoon. Sift the flour and baking powder over the top and then fold in gently. Chop the remaining chocolate and fold half of it into the mixture with half the cranberries.

4 Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and sprinkle with the remaining chocolate and cranberries. Bake in a preheated oven, 180°C, for 30–35 minutes until well risen. Leave to cool in the tin.

5 Lift out of the tin, peel off the paper and cut the cake into 20 squares. 

 

For more deliciously fiendish recipes, pick up a copy of The Hoxton Street Monster Supplies Cookbook, published by Mitchell Beazley, £12.99 (octopusbooks.co.uk). And for more otherworldly treats, order Oh Comely issue 33, 'Magic'

Sunday Reading: The Magical Maps of Me

words: Stephanie Victoire image: Lauren Maccabee

I have always wanted to heal all the way through, right from fractured bones in my adolescence to a sad mind in my teens – bruises inflicted on the heart by anything too dear to me. The doctors mended the frame of me but they never spotted the stains left on my organs, or looked closer to find an angry kidney that was storing lifetimes of fears, or the trapdoor to loneliness in my throat.

I’ve always known meditation helps with calming the mind, relieving the body of stress. We paint beautiful places in our heads, don’t we? We search to find our own oceans and meadows. In those places there is peace, euphoria even – our own magic. Like the storyteller I am, I seek the story of me, as a soul inhabiting this body. What has the protagonist been learning along the way? What is the magical world she lives in, that exists invisibly to the external one? What realms are encased in her ribs?

Driven by the moon of Pisces under which I was born on a gentle Taurus day, I was destined to look to dreams to tell me things, to read my worries and fears in my spirit. In ancient medicine, each troubled part of the body represents an aspect of the mental, emotional and even the ancestral self. In our back pains we are storing some sort of guilt; in our high blood pressure we are bottling up our emotions, our deep-rooted anger fights us in fevers. We must change our negative thoughts into positive ones, and if we can map out our minds then why not our bodies?

I decided to journey within and work through every area in my body that had ever caused me tension or pain, which were actually indicated by my emotions. I had come to notice that whenever I self-criticised, my right shoulder seized up. My stomach burned whenever I was afraid. One evening, I created my ceremony: I laid out crystals, lit candles and incense, as if preparing a funeral for myself, setting up for my death. And in a way it was, the death of an old me, an old body.

I closed my eyes and brought my awareness to my right shoulder. As if shrinking down to walk through it, I set off to explore what was there. I was standing in dense brown fog, the ground was arid, cracked and uneven – a place I couldn’t see my way through clearly. I thought: How do I change this and make it positive and beautiful? I broke the fog with the colours of a Nordic sky and sent stars up to twinkle above me. The cracked ground softened into fresh powdered snow. And with this energetic clearing, my right shoulder loosened; I instantly felt lighter. I had released the stagnant energy, set the intention to let go of self-criticism. I wanted to continue. I was feeling the quest of it now, healing myself on this inner-level was liberating. Down I went into my kidney: a dark cave where creatures lurked. The air was cold and I felt frightened. Feelings from where I had been fearful in my life rose to the surface. I wanted them gone. I knew I could use whatever magic I wished to cast them out so I produced my very own Excalibur sword and dealt with each horrid jackal-like being, lancing my way through my anxiety. When the cave was empty, I transformed it into a warm, midnight garden of night-blooming flowers, decorated with fairy lights. I also turned the murky pond of my stomach into a crystalline lake and conjured enchanting water nymphs that sang sweetly to soothe my painful memories.

My body was becoming a vast and wonderful world. I can’t say for certain whether or not the change in my thoughts about myself was the result of this inner enchantment, or the fact that I soon after ended a toxic relationship and travelled the world. But I am a voyager as much as I am a storyteller, in the outer world and the one within, and I choose to navigate through both in perfect harmony.  

 

Stephanie Victoire is the author of the fairy and folk tale collection, The Other World, It Whispers, out 15 November from Salt Publishing. She is currently working on her novel, The Heart Note and is soon to be travelling around the world in search of more inspiration, folklore and magic. Follow her on Twitter: @StephySunkisser and visit her website.

For more tales of magic, pick up a copy of Oh Comely issue 33

Recipe Friday: Bump-in-the-Night Biscuits

Our collection of Halloween recipes from The Hoxton Street Monster Supplies Cookbook continues with these delightfully frightening Bump-in-the-Night Biscuits. We'll let them introduce the philosophy behind this bake...

"Everyone assumes that monsters are genetically programmed to go ‘bump in the night’. In reality, we all know that it takes years of extracurricular classes and daily practice to perfect the skill. These biscuits will help those of you struggling to pass your ‘Quiet Entrance’ and ‘Art of Surprise’ exams, or nocturnal humans with a malevolent streak."

You will need (makes 10–12 biscuits)

250 g self-raising flour

11/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger

125 g unsalted butter, softened

100 g  demerara sugar, plus extra for sprinkling (optional)

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

100 g sultanas

75 g currants

50 g mixed peel or chopped glacé cherries

1 large egg, lightly beaten

3–4 tablespoons milk

1 Line a large baking sheet with nonstick baking paper. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub in with the fingertips until the mixture resembles ne breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar, orange zest, sultanas, currants and mixed peel or cherries. Pour in the egg and add enough of the milk to form a soft, slightly sticky dough.

2 Drop 10–12 mounds of the mixture on to the prepared baking sheet so that they resemble rocks and sprinkle with a little extra sugar, if using.

3 Bake in a preheated oven, 200°C, for 18–20 minutes until golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly, then serve warm. 

For more fiendish recipes, pick up a copy of The Hoxton Street Monster Supplies Cookbook is published by Mitchell Beazley, £12.99 (octopusbooks.co.uk). Or for a bit of "bump-in-the-night" debunking, read our feature on urban legends in Oh Comely issue 33

 

Win! A personalised portrait by Roxwell Press

There's nothing as encouraging as fan art, so you can imagine our joy in the office when we were sent this beautiful watercolour in celebration of our Letters issue by Michelle Evans of Roxwell Press. So thrilled were we, that Michelle's painting went straight onto the pages of our latest issue, with the promise of a competition to win some of her work. So, here it is…

Illustration: Lady of Letters by Michelle Evans of Roxwell Press

Illustration: Lady of Letters by Michelle Evans of Roxwell Press

Continuing along the lines of the Lady of Letters, Michelle has offered the prize of a personalised portrait for one lucky reader. "I'd love to paint a woman in her element, doing something she loves to do," says Michelle. "Whether it's being absorbed in a book with her feet in the grass, riding through the city on her bike, or sitting in a coffee shop writing in her journal."

Alternatively, you could choose a loved one and give the prize as a gift. It'll be a one-off, unique painting (size approx 10 x 12")  in the full vibrant colours of opaque watercolour.

Simply click here and answer the question to enter. Closing date 18.11.16 at midnight GMT. Good luck! 

Culture Monday

Anna Meredith, who plays the Simple Things festival this week. Portrait: Lauren Maccabee for issue 33. 

Anna Meredith, who plays the Simple Things festival this week. Portrait: Lauren Maccabee for issue 33

Another week, another opportunity to throw yourself into our cultural picks. From photography to film, music to MADE, there's masses on this week - the problem will probably be deciding where to start! Do let us know what you get up to, and if there is anything you think we really should be checking out ourselves...

Art

Unveil’d Photography @ various venues, Exeter (20 to 23 October)

Helen Marten: Drunk Brown House @ Serpentine, London (until 20 November) 

Quentin Blake: Inside Stories @ National Museum Cardiff (until 20 November 2016)

 

Film

Cambridge Film Festival @ various venues, Cambridge (20 to 27 October)

Aberdeen Film Festival @ various venues, Aberdeen (17 to 26 October) 

 

Music

James Vincent McMorrow @ The Roundhouse, London (17 October) 

The Duke Spirit @ Manchester, Nottingham, Bristol, London (17, 18, 19 & 20 October). Read our interview with Leila Moss in Oh Comely issue 31.

The Simple Things festival @ various venues, Bristol (22 and 23 October), featuring issue 33 interviewee Anna Meredith 

Slow Club @ Brighton, Bath, Leicester (20, 21, 22 October) 

 

Theatre & Comedy

Lost in the Stars @ Union Chapel, London (17 to 19 October) 

Bridget Christie: Because you demanded it @ Leicester Square Theatre, London (19 & 20 October)

Cathy Come Home @ Bristol, Southend, Luton (21, 22, 24 and 27 October) 

 

Books

Undiscovered Islands @ Stanfords, London (19 October)

New Writing @ Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London (24 October) 

 

Events

Bloomsbury Festival @ Bloomsbury, London (19 to 23 Oct)

MADE London Marylebone @ One Marylebone, London (20 to 23 October)

How To Hygge Festival @ The London EDITION, London (22 and 23 October) 

Battle of Ideas 2016 @ Barbican, London (22 & 23 October)

 

Show us where you've been and tell us what we should include in next week's round-up via our Twitter or Instagram.

There’s Magic In The Air (A Sunday afternoon in Amsterdam in the 90s)

Prince Glass Votive Candle, available from Flaming Idols at Etsy. Spot the reference to this candle in issue 33 of Oh Comely. 

Prince Glass Votive Candle, available from Flaming Idols at Etsy. Spot the reference to this candle in issue 33 of Oh Comely. 

words: Anniki Sommerville

I switched over to the local cable channel. It was Sunday. I hadn’t thought about what day it was. If you go out four nights out of seven it feels irrelevant. There was a Catholic mass on. Like many of my generation, I only believed in God in those desperate, dark moments when I needed serious help. Like the night I passed out outside the queue for The Roxy and woke up not knowing who I was. Or the time I ate hash and wanted to curl up and die. This priest looked familiar. I flipped the channel. An MTV VJ popped up - an inane grin plastered across her open, freckled face.

‘At number 9 we have Mr Big with ‘I’m the One,’ and at 8 we have a surprise newcomer!’

I flipped the channel again. CNN was supposed to be an American news channel but mainly showed weather and images of boring, business men rushing around trying to catch planes. It was an eerie kind of world that I’d never fit into. I thought about Mum who’d be making a giant vat of ratatouille and listening to Joni Mitchell. There was no food in the fridge except for a half-eaten ready meal lasagne. I flipped again and the VJ returned.

‘Here at number seven we have Prince and his tribute to a very special girl. This is ‘Diamonds and Pearls,’ and……. Lola, we’re thinking about ya! Stay cool.’

She blew a kiss and the screen dissolved into Prince sitting astride a red, velvet piano stool. It was unfair that he had so much talent and drive and yet here I was lying on a Sunday afternoon, doing absolutely nothing, with absolutely nothing on the agenda for quite some time. How come some people were infused with so much talent? Was it just like nature where some animals were more powerful and the rest of us just cowered in the bushes, hoping we’d survive another day? Hang on - had she just mentioned my name? MY NAME?!

‘All I can do is offer you my love.’

Yes she had mentioned my name. It was clear! I felt a surge of emotion. It was obvious that Prince had penned this song JUST FOR ME, knowing full well what I’d been going through. He knew I’d been burning the candle at both ends -  in fact just burning the candle completely till it was a blackened, smoking stump. I’d always had this sneaking suspicion that our lives were connected in some way and here was the proof. He was E.T. reaching out his glowing red finger and telling me he loved me and to STAY COOL.

Lighting a cigarette, I thought about the possibility that we might actually have a relationship - not just a long distance relationship but one where we actually lived in the same house (he’d give me one of those great names like he did with all his muses and he’d dress me up in a violet basque. No in fact he wouldn’t MAKE me do anything because he was a feminist. He’d just steer me in the right direction). Something significant was happening in this moment. Okay I was tired and hadn’t slept properly for two days. Okay the blackened candle and all that but at the moment who cared?

I pulled the curtains shut with a bit too much vigour and one fell down. Two drawing pins tumbled to the floor.  Prince would be appalled at the state of the flat and the fact that there was a strand of dried spaghetti stuck to the wall. He would arrive soon. He’d track me down pretty easy. There weren’t many English girls living in this old, decrepit house with spaghetti stuck to the walls. Until his arrival, I just needed sleep.

Sometimes it’s hard to know when you’re asleep and when you’re awake. This is especially true if your thoughts are spiralling. My connection with Prince was weakening. The TV was on and maybe four hours had passed but there was no mention of Prince now. I was suspended in the midst of a rapture. The meaning of life would soon become apparent. Would I ever write a song as good as Prince? Would I even write a line? Or word?

We are all closely linked. All the songs that have ever been written are speaking to us. I was waiting for Prince. I was using my brain to attract him into my life. I would be his next muse. I would prove myself worthy of his attention.

Soon he would arrive and my life would finally begin. The mystery of life would reveal itself. I closed my eyes and waited. 

 

Anniki Sommerville is a freelance writer and Super Editor at Selfish Mother. She is in the middle of writing a book about her lost teenage years spent in Amsterdam. Follow her on Instagram @annikiselfishmother. Seek out more stories of magic in issue 33 of Oh Comely, on sale now

Meet our new music editor

Photo: Irene Baqué

In issue 33 we say a sad farewell to the wonderful Linnea Enstrom, who has left Oh Comely to start a creative writing course in Sweden. We're delighted to introduce you to Marta Bausells, who will be taking on the role of music editor. To get to know her a bit better, we sat her down for a little chat...

Hello Marta! Tell us a bit about yourself and your work.
I'm a freelance writer, editor and curator. I was born and raised in Barcelona. I started out by writing about music and culture at the same time as I studied politics. At the time, I thought they were two separate things and that I'd have to choose, but I later realised that culture is intrinsically linked to society, politics and social action. I then worked for a newspaper there, where I was lucky to report on all sorts of topics – social issues, environment, foreign news – before I moved to London four years ago.

I love that my work has allowed me to learn and explore all sorts of subjects and ideas. I always wanted to go back to writing about culture, though, and I eventually landed a job on the Guardian’s books desk, where I hosted discussions about books, created a series about books set in American cities, chatted to book-lovers around the world daily, and discovered the wonders of the literary internet. Currently, I’m really enjoying working with Literary Hub on covering books from this side of the Atlantic. 

I also do lots of other little things, like a collaboration with Subway Book Review (check it out!), which means I stop book-carrying strangers on the tube and chat to them about what they’re reading! It’s magical. No matter the subject, what I love the most about my job is that I get to meet fascinating people and share their stories. I can't wait to go back to writing about music!

What was the first single you bought? 
The Spice Girls' 'Wannabe'!* It caught me at the exact target age, and everyone at my school was crazy about them for a year.

*If by bought you mean copied on a cassette tape and passed on among friends countless times (oops). But I'm sure I ended up buying it too! 

What was the last gig you went to? 
Well, this is a bit random – but it’s the truth! It was this Catalan guy called Ferran Palau. I had gone back to Barcelona for a few days, it was the end of the summer and it was starting to drizzle (that sticky, humid end-of-summer Mediterranean rain). One neighbourhood was celebrating its yearly festivities, which means the streets are beautifully decorated by neighbours and there are gigs in almost every little square. I had just discovered this guy’s music a few hours earlier in the car, with friends – and there he was. One of those serendipitous musical moments.

What song will always get you up and dancing? 
Anything by Queen. I have a special weakness for 'Don’t Stop Me Now'.

Vinyl, CD or download?
The day I actually have space in the house and money to buy many of them, I’ll go back to vinyls – which is how I grew up listening to music. In the meantime, I’m a Spotify and downloads gal. 

Who, dead or alive, would you most like to interview? 
Frida Kahlo. I visited her house last year in Mexico and I was like “can I just move in here now?”. I would love to have been around her energy when she was alive, even if for five minutes. I am so inspired by how, despite being in horrific and crippling pain, she got up every morning, kicked ass and made the most amazing art – and lived her life in her own terms. 

And if I might cheat and add a couple from the realm of the alive, right now my musical dream interviewee would be Solange – what a queen! I’d love to interview Michelle Obama once she leaves the Oval Office and gets to talk more freely. And Tom Hanks, always. 

Outside of music, what else do you like to do?
Like I said, I love reading. My bedroom is ridiculously full of 'to-be-read piles' – it’s almost like I live around these book towers, and not the other way around. I also love film – I ran a film club with a friend for a while – good television and storytelling podcasts. I used to feel stressed-out or guilty about how little time there is to follow everything, but now I don’t mind being behind on TV shows or anything else. There’s this growing backlog of great culture waiting for me when I get home! What’s not to love?

Let us know a secret...
I don’t like chocolate… (!)

 

Find out more about Marta on her website, or follow her on Twitter

Recipe Friday: Crunching Bone Toffee

Yes, you read that right. In the run-up to Halloween, we're delighted to be sharing some of the recipes from the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies Cookbook. We're a big fan of Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, who sell "bespoke and everyday items for the living, dead and undead", and this is the first time their classic cookbook has been translated for humans. We'll let them introduce the recipe...

"In days gone by, Bone Toffee was a particular favourite of Werewolves and Giants, as the mouth-watering combination of lightly crushed human bones and sweet toffee was a rare treat. If you’re a stickler for the classics and can source human bones, you can ask your local human dismemberer to crunch them for you. If not, we’re confident you’ll find our 21st-century version of the recipe most agreeable."

You will need: 

Sufficient for 175g of toffee

about 50g milk chocolate, broken into pieces

50g firm toffees

4 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

75g popcorn kernels

1 Melt the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl set over a small saucepan of gently simmering water.

2 Meanwhile, unwrap the toffees and put them in a polythene bag. Place on a chopping board and tap firmly with a rolling pin until the toffees have broken into small pieces.

3 Tip the pieces into a small saucepan and add the milk. Cook over the lowest possible heat until the toffee has melted (this will take several minutes, depending on the firmness of the toffee). Remove from the heat.

4 Put the oil in a large saucepan with a tight- fitting lid and heat for 1 minute. Add the popcorn kernels and cover with the lid. Cook until the popping sound stops, then tip the corn out on to a large baking sheet or roasting tin and leave to cool for 5 minutes.

5 Using a teaspoon, drizzle lines of the toffee sauce over the corn until lightly coated. Drizzle with lines of the melted chocolate in the same way. 

 

For more fiendish recipes, The Hoxton Street Monster Supplies Cookbook is published by Mitchell Beazley, £12.99 (octopusbooks.co.uk). And to add a bit more magic to your day, pick up a copy of Oh Comely issue 33

 

 

Issue 33, Magic, is out now!

Arriving in WHSmiths, independent newsagents and in our shop, Issue 33 - 'Magic' - is officially on sale! 

Photo: Lara Watson

Photo: Lara Watson

There's a little bit of magic - everybody has it. In Issue 33, we celebrate the magic of coincidence, superpowers and sisterhoods and encourage you to create your own urban myth. 

Highlights include: an interview with one of France's most-loved actors, Isabelle Huppert; we meet teenage actor Bebe Cave, chat to experimental musician Anna Meredith and genre-busting singer-songwriter Law Holt and explore the golden beauty of the magic hour. 

To buy our latest issue direct from us, click here

Want a taster of the magazine first? Have a flick through a sample of the issue first

More curious things: Magic

In issue 33 - out on 13 October - we pick out a selection of magic-inspired products, suitable for dressing your home and mortal form. We always find more treats than we can include in the magazine, so - abracadabra! - we've pulled a few extras out of our hats...

Who, with more than a passing interest in magic, could resist a book whose topics include: "Alchemy, Astrology, Chaos Magic, Love Magic, Necromancy, Phantasmagoria, Runes, Shamanism, Talismans, Tarot, Voodoo and Wicca"? Certainly not us. Over 400 pages and with plentiful illustrations, this authoritative book explores all of the above and even more, tracing them from Palaeolithic cages to the digital age. 

The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic: An Illustrated History by Christopher Dell, £24.95, Thames & Hudson 

And should you need something to keep your place in your new book, we think we've found the ideal thing. This bookmark, designed by Barcelona-based Octaveo, is inspired by a nazar, an eye-shaped amulet of Turkish Ottoman origin that’s believed to protect against the evil eye. Made from finely cut metal, with a black finish, you’ll never need to look for the right page again.

Nazar bookmark by Octaevo, £10, Unique & Unity

On the list of things you perhaps don't want to bump into on a dark night - a Belionota Prasina (or Jewel Beetle). That doesn't stop us marvelling at it in this beautiful shot by Goran Liljeberg. There's a whole host of prints to pick from including all kinds of bugs and beasts.

Goran Liljeberg's insect prints, £33, Natural History Direct


Empty Casket specialises in "witchy jewellery, crystals and treasures", meaning that they gave us plentiful inspiration for this Magic-themed issue. We don't really need another tote bag, but we really, really want to be part of their coven. 

Coven tote bag, £6, Empty Casket

We've also been eyeing up this laser cut perspex brooch by Jennifer Loiselle, with the glitter making it extra bewitching (if only we could get our eyeliner to look this good!). The brooch is sold by the British Library, meaning that every purchase helps a wonderful institution. 

Brooch eye blue, £28, British Library  

 

Ancient alchemists may have been concerned with turning base metals into gold but we'd be pretty pleased simply with keeping our skin soothed and happy over the winter. Hence this kit that harnesses the power of botanicals to leave facial skin, lips and hands feeling hydrated, soft and protected. Magic indeed! 

Grown Alchemist Amenity Kit Gift Set, £19, John Lewis

 

Order a copy of Oh Comely issue 33 to see more Magic-inspired picks.