If you didn’t see my post on facebook or twitter, Dawn Vogel interviewed me for Mad Scientist Journal about my story Ludwig, which is forthcoming in the MSJ anthology I Didn’t Break The Lamp. I talk about felt presence, synaesthesia, and — of course! — imaginary friends.
I’ll be heading over to Dublin for WorldCon 2019 tomorrow. It’s my first WorldCon, so it’s pretty exciting!
I’m honoured to have been offered three panels and a Kaffeklatsch, so if you want to chat with me about imaginary friends, synaesthesia, fountain pens, inks with MONSTER SHEEN, hypergraphia, or anything else that takes your fancy, here’s where to find me:
16 Aug 2019, Friday 10:00 – 10:50, Level 3 Foyer (KK/LB) (CCD)
Representation of marginalised people in games.
16 Aug 2019, Friday 16:00 – 16:50, ECOCEM Room (CCD)
In recent years there has been a lot of discussion about representation of women in games, but issues of representation and experience still need greater attention across the industry. How diverse and inclusive is gaming today? What should we know and what can we do?
Laser Malena-Webber (The Doubleclicks), Sam Fleming, Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, Tanya DePass (I Need Diverse Games)(M)
Science and politics of water
17 Aug 2019, Saturday 19:00 – 19:50, Wicklow Hall-1 (CCD)
Water is life. Twisting a line from Frank Herbert: ‘He who controls the water controls the universe.’ Our planet is covered by 70% water, our bodies comprise 70% water, and most plants contain 90% water. What other roles does water play in our technologically savvy world? How has water shaped our political landscape, in a time of rising tides and warming oceans? What can we do to protect our most precious resource?
Sam Fleming (M), Darcie Little Badger, Dr Tad Daley (Citizens for Global Solutions), Paolo Bacigalupi
Older characters and older authors
18 Aug 2019, Sunday 13:00 – 13:50, Wicklow Room-3 (CCD)
A decade ago, the media would label an author of 50 as ‘older’. Today, more writers are beginning their careers in their 60s and 70s. Do these older writers write and champion older characters, or is there still pressure to appeal to a younger demographic with equally young protagonists? What are the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a full-time writer at an older age?
Kari Sperring (M), Wendy Metcalfe, Sam Fleming, Faith Hunter (Penguin Random House and Bella Rosa Books and Lore Seekers Press)
As you may know, I have hypergraphia. As far as I can tell, I’ve always had it. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t driven to write. I have never been diagnosed with any of the frequently associated conditions.
While I will write on anything, if there is no other option, the relief valve only really opens properly if I’m able to use a very specific combination of pen and paper. What that combination is has changed over the years. The earliest preference I can remember was for wide ruled A4, and some sort of 0.5mm fibre tip. Years later, my preference moved onto a specific weight of narrow-ruled feint and margin A4, and a Bic cristal grip biro. I still have a stash of thirty or so of these pens in a ziplock bag, and find them in random places around the house, even though my preference had changed before we moved here. For a number of years I was using these biros with a black, hardcover Moleskine, and then I obsessed over a Platinum Carbon pen along with the carbon black ink, or a Noodler’s Bulletproof, also in black. Eventually, Moleskin changed the paper they use, and I rekindled my love for different fountain pens and ink. So many inks! ALL THE INK. ALL OF IT.
I switched allegiance to Lechtturm maybe a couple of years ago, and since then have been filling out page after page of these wonderful notebooks using a variety of fountain pens and inks. I have a taste for sheen but also like a fine line, because I write small. It helps to have pen friends, with whom I can use Tomoe River Paper and broad nibs, and indulge my love of the sheen monster.
My most recent notebook (not to be confused with my commonplace, which is also a Lechtturm, but dotted; or my work notebook, which remains a Moleskine) is a ruled Lechtturm Medium with a delicious metallic copper cover, the first time I’ve used anything other than a black notebook. I carry it with me everywhere, along with about four or five other notebooks of varying purpose. It is a comfort blanket, and a retreat. If I feel that oncoming surge of being overwhelmed, I can dig it out, and just knowing it’s there can be enough to let me continue pretending to be typical. If it’s presence is not enough, then I can allow myself ten minutes to write, and that, along with isolating headphones and a sign on my chair that asks people to leave me alone unless it’s an emergency, usually does the trick.
It’s important, this book. It’s like having a therapist on speed dial. Often, when we’re driving to work, I’ll keep it in my hand instead of packing it in my bag. Like a comfort blanket.
Which brings me to this morning. I had an early meeting, and things to organise, and was on early Floof duty, so things were a bit hectic. We were about to sit down in the car to go, when I realised I’d forgotten my coffee. I dumped my stuff in the back seat, put my notebook on the roof, and dashed back into the house to grab it.
You can see where this is going, can’t you?
Yes, dear reader, I forgot it. We got about halfway to work when I realised. At this point I thought maybe it was in the car somewhere, maybe under the seat, or I’d left it in the kitchen; but I was still sitting on a big bubble of panic. Imagine leaving your wallet somewhere and not having the option of cancelling your cards, and all the money you had left for the rest of the month was in it with no way to get more. That kind of panic.
When I got home, I shoved Floof in the kitchen, didn’t even feed her (sorry Floof!) and went back out in the car to look for it. Having driven round the furthest I think we could have got without it already having dropped off, unsuccessfully, I returned home and fed the dog. Then I went back out on the bike. It’s slower and has the advantage of height.
I found my notebook. It was in the long grass, about a mile from our door.
A car has driven over it. More than one, probably. Maybe a tractor. I was lucky that we didn’t have any rain today; it has survived remarkably well, although I doubt I’ll be writing any more in this one. I’ll have to cut out the filled-in pages and tuck them in the pocket at the back of the replacement I ordered this morning before I even knew for sure if I’d lost this one.
Another Lechtturm, again in delicious copper. This one will not be permitted any free-range activities. They clearly have the same traffic sense as Floof.
There are monsters in every woman’s life. And while maybe not ALL monsters are so bad, I want you to tell me about the dark and twisted ones.
PLV is a twisted but fun little tale of what happens when a woman, tired of her mundane office existence, gets rather more than she bargains for after believing something she reads on the internet. I’m really happy it has found a home with RRP. Expect this one out sometime in 2020.
I’m equally delighted to tell you that another story of mine, Ludwig, has sold to Mad Scientist Journal for their anthology I Didn’t Break the Lamp: Historical Accounts of Imaginary Acquaintances. This story is close to my heart: I was super excited by the open submissions call, and thrilled to bits to have made the cut. I’m sure Ludwig and Hedron would find lots to talk about, if they ever met.
Maybe one day they will.
This one is somewhat bittersweet, as MSJ has announced they are closing the journal. Especially with Jason Sizemore announcing that Apex Magazine is going on hiatus, it’s sad to be losing another source of stories to feed my incessant appetite. That said, with Jason focusing his prodigious editorial talents on books, and the DefCon One editorial team doing likewise, I’m sure I won’t run out of great things to read.
We’re full into autumn now. The geese started flying in a few weeks ago, and Storm Callum took most of the leaves off our rowan trees. The berries have remained untouched by the starlings, who normally devour them before I can gather enough to make jelly. They may have suffered from this year’s prolonged drought. The dog is spending more time outdoors than in, which is our cue that winter is on its way. We have had days of phenomenal sunsets and dawns, which covered social media (if you happen to follow photography sites) with pictures of lenticular and mammatus clouds, as well as the more generally expected cirrus and cirrocumulus looking like lava. These apocalyptic skies are a result of Rayleigh Scattering in the high atmosphere, where dust is kept aloft by high pressure — hence the old saying, “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight.”
The skies have coincided with the warm days and cold nights that result from high pressure in the tail end of the year. Some of the weather models predict a cold snap from this weekend, with possible snow in the mountains.
Being neuro-atypical, I think a lot about perception, and how the entire world outside the confines of my individual awareness is bat country. (I’m sure the general population would think the same about me, but they don’t have to try to translate for it.) I can chalk up some experiences to synaesthesia playing silly buggers with my perception; one of those is this strong feeling that it’s going to be a hard winter this year. I feel like I can smell snow on the way, and I have done for several weeks. There’s no rational explanation for this sensation. It’s not specifically a smell, because my synaesthesia doesn’t work like that, but a shape in the air when I breathe. Like most things to do with my oddly-wired brain, I make a note, keep it mostly to myself, and am amused when I start to read other people opining that winter will be a harsh one. The trees have produced lots of fruit, says one, to fatten up the birds so they will survive. While I know of no reason to think that trees set fruit according to the future needs of birds, I love the idea that the flora and fauna are so closely interconnected, and wonder if trees hold committee meetings at which they discuss fruit futures.
I have yet to determine a reliable way of differentiating between synaesthetic silly buggers triggering some sort of topological pareidolia, and real information. But next time someone tells you they can smell snow even though the temperature is in the mid teens, and people are wandering around in shorts and t-shirts, spare a thought for those whose interactions with physical reality don’t sit comfortably near the middle of the bell curve.
Over Christmas I read, and very much enjoyed, Mythos — national treasure Stephen Fry’s retelling of the Greek myths. I love books about myths, and am lucky enough to have an extensive collection of myth and folklore gracing my shelves. My own introduction to the Greek myths was in the form of the classic Robert Graves, when I was young (so not that particular edition). I was fascinated by these all-too-human deities, who used their great power in the pursuit of goals and desires that seemed rather petty and trivial in the grand scheme of things; entirely self-serving and capricious. This depiction of deity as being similar to humans, but on a much larger scale with everything they did and felt; the idea of deity personifying aspects of human experience, was one I found fascinating, and still do. (Not that I would have been able to put that into words when I read them for the first time.)
Fry concentrates his tellings around that concept. His gods are not Laurence Olivier swanning around in a toga with sparkly FX. He talks of gods as unpredictable, yet all-too-knowable. They are jealous, envious, bear grudges far beyond the scope of any inter-generational feud. They will bend the heavens for their favourites, and cheat, lie, steal and exert brute force to get what they want. Fry draws parallels with powerful politicians of today, and brings a dry wit and humour, as well as his obvious love of words, without going so far as to analyse the stories. He is, as he says in the foreword, interested in the telling of the tales, not pulling them apart to see how they tick.
Mythos doesn’t go as far as the Age of Heroes, but there’s plenty of material to cover before then. Despite previous reading on the subject, I learned some things. That’s always immensely satisfying — it’s why we read such books, after all.
The one downside is that some of the editing errors are blatant, mostly footnotes comprising — verbatim — part of the sentence referencing them. It appeared someone decided certain parts of the text should be in footnotes rather than as asides within the main body, and vice versa, and then went through and copy-pasted but forgot to delete the original. The occasional typo I can forgive, we’re only human, but this happened often enough that I started to wonder if this edition was a draft that had accidentally made it to press.
Editorial gaffes aside, if you want a modern version of the Greek myths interpreted for a modern audience, in a voice so clearly Fry’s one can practically hear him reading them aloud (if someone else ever does the Audible narration, it will just sound wrong), then Mythos is worth adding to your library. If you prefer a drier, more classical take, then you will have to look elsewhere, such as Bulfinch, or brave the eccentricity of Graves.
Two months ago, we adopted a five-and-a-half year-old Siberian Husky/Alaskan Malamute cross. We’d been looking for a dog for almost two years at that point, and had been unsuccessful in persuading the Rescue Centres that the dogs we liked were suitable for us, and us for them.
But that was fine. We weren’t interested in any particular dog, we were interested in the right dog. We were about to register interest in yet another collie, only to be pipped at the last minute. I found out when I opened the website to show a work colleague who had also recently embarked on the dog ownership adventure.
Although disappointed that our pick had gone, I spotted a dog that hadn’t been there even that morning. After a quick check with Frood, I filled out the form, and after that it all happened very quickly.
They asked us if we were prepared for the settling in period. She may go off her food, or have digestive upsets. She might chew. The very nice woman who did the home check told us her most recent adoption ate her husband’s wallet and mobile phone, as if this were the naughtiest thing imaginable.
Our sofa was inexpensive. Wallets and phones are replaceable.
As it turned out, she had none of those problems. A little unsettled the first weekend, but she made herself right at home, aided no doubt by suddenly going from half an hour of walking a day to between one and three, with trips to the beach and expeditions into the forest.
She has been a sweet, friendly, happy and yet still independent addition to our small family, and I love her to bits.
This morning we had our first dog-related breakage.
Yes, it’s a mug. It’s a 1991 Nexus Design Celtic Knotwork bone china mug, and you can find one on Ebay for less than a tenner (not counting the nearly 25 quid postage from the States, which renders it unjustifiable).
It’s not Ming. It’s not even Royal Doulton.
It’s only a mug.
But I bought that mug from a shop in Tobermory in 1992, still dressed in a wetsuit from diving the Hispania that morning. I’d sat in a bathtub at a depth of 30m while my Dad watched and my Uncle Bill operated our RIB up top. That evening, we went to get air from the self-operated machines at Loch Aline, humping the tanks up the hill on foot. Afterwards, we went to the pub, and Uncle Bill bought me pints of 80 Shilling until I was drunk, and Dad gave me a fistful of coins so I could call Frood on the pub phone and play “No, YOU hang up!”
It was the only time I’d been on a trip with my Dad and Uncle Bill and not had the rest of the family along. It was special, and the memory is precious, because I didn’t get to spend enough time with my Dad. I was sent to school in England at the age of 15 and didn’t come back to stay a significant amount of time for another 20 years. On the rare occasion I was back home, Mum and Dad were usually busy, and the motor racing and the business and the foreign trips took up so much time I hardly got to speak to either of them, never mind hang out the way I did with Dad that long weekend.
It wasn’t Ming, it wasn’t even Royal Doulton.
But it was far more than a mug.
It was my fault; I should have been more careful. I should not have started playing with the dog before making sure this memory anchor was safely out of reach.
If it were easy to get, I’d buy another in a heartbeat. Not the same mug, no, not the one I handed over cash for while dripping on the floor of the gift shop and explaining that a cold wetsuit is a horrible thing and we were diving again that afternoon (we did, and I had a close encounter with a friendly seal who nibbled my fin).
But near enough to cradle and remember a time when Dad and I were close.
It’s hard to believe it’s November already. I don’t know where time has gone.
I realise I haven’t updated this blog since May — it has been even longer since I did anything with my other one — and, for once, I’m not going to hold myself to task over it.
A friend and I were having a glum discussion about boilers the other day, and the terrifying prospect of having to replace one. To give this some context, when Frood and I bought our house in early 2015, we knew it was going to be a bit of a project. We hadn’t realised how much of a project it would turn out to be. As my friend said, being an adult pretty much turns out to be a game of resource management. This house has taken up a lot of resource, in terms of time, energy and money, and between that and the day job there hasn’t been much left. What little I’ve had I’ve put into writing, although the one thing writing needs and I lack is mental energy. It’s hard to write when you can do barely more of an evening then eat and fall asleep on the sofa, and when it takes most of the weekend for your brain to decompress from the previous week.
In our previous house, I used to get up and write before work. Since this house is too far from work to cycle, we were both spending too much time sitting in front of a computer, and not getting enough exercise. My health had begun to suffer, and I know where that leads. Been there, done that, don’t intend to do it again. So while we’re now both getting up super early before work, that time is for trying to undo the effects of spending the rest of the day relatively inactive.
So there we are. Being an adult is a matter of resource management, and I have had barely the resource to write, never mind post to the blog.
And, you know, that’s okay. Having a social media presence is important, sure, but it’s not the critical part of being a writer. What is
In a way, I think that lack of resource has been useful. It’s easier to produce when you have all the time in the world, but it’s also easier to click trance away on some spurious line of research or be distracted by the wonders of the internet. When you are limited for time, and know it, you knuckle down and do the work. Bum on seat, words on page. It’s a bit like a Masterchef challenge in which the contestants have to produce a three course meal in 20 minutes or something else ridiculous. You can’t just work hard, you have to work smart.
One day, I hope that I will have more time to write, but I also hope I can hold onto that lesson of working smart, not just hard, and focusing on what matters.
It’s fledgling time for the spotty raptors.
“Oh hey wow. One of four, eh? Must be tough.”
“Dude, you have no idea. It’s impossible to get any peace. It’s all ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME. I can’t even have a bath without one of the others wanting to get in too. Just five minutes, you know? That’s all. That’s all I want. Just five minutes. Or two. I’d settle for two. Or even one. Hell. Yeah. Let’s say one. One damn minute of peace. To chill, have a drink. Get some water up under the feathers. There’s no way I’ll ever be able to eat in peace, I’m not going to torture myself imagining being able. To eat. By myself. Without one of THEM trying to get in on the act. But a bath? You’d think I could manage one godsdamned freaking minute by myself to get the dust out. Just one. One. That’s all. Not twenty, not ten. Just one.”
“Harsh, man. Really harsh.”
- 365shortstories has posted reviews for all of the CP5 stories. Mike Allen has rounded them up over at Mythic Delirium. You’ll find the review of The Prime Importance of a Happy Number here.
- Also at Mythic Delirium, Mike has posted links to a review from Andrea Johnson and to a livestream of the busy launch party.
- There are a number of reviews of Best of Apex Volume 1 up at Goodreads, including a 4/5 star review for She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow from one reviewer (thanks, Althea Ann!).
CP5 could use some reviews up at Amazon, so if you’ve read it please consider posting a review. Every one helps!