Friday, 9 March 2018

IWD 2018

I was very kindly invited to speak at an International Women's Day event at Douglas Library this week, along with several other waaaay more qualified people. I figured I'd use the opportunity to blather about the history of horror and the women who've helped build it.

* * *

I was attracted to writing horror because I always loved the visceral, visual nature of it. The best horror has a kind of exuberance. And people love to be scared in a safe, controlled way. It’s reassuring that you can hide the book in the freezer if it all gets too much.

I also love how horror shines a light on human nature. It exposes our fears, our neuroses, the rotten interiors we'd rather people didn't see. It does this sometimes to highlight how awful the world is and why we should be scared or angry, but at other times it shows how these things can be confronted and overcome. Books show us the inevitable terror of the world, then invite us to believe that hope, bravery, and humanity can help us fight these things (even if we won’t always win).

Like the phrase goes, fairy stories are important not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.

Fairy stories are perhaps the original horror stories. How many people get eaten, beaten, mutilated, kidnapped or cursed in our favourite children's stories? The original tellings were terrifying. They used horrifying aspects to grab the attention, but also to reinforce the lessons they preached - bad things happen to bad people. Evil actions can be defeated by good deeds.

Back in the day, these stories were passed generation to generation by word of mouth, mothers telling children. So in a sense, the very roots of horror came from women telling stories. And it's interesting to see how that continued through the centuries. Early gothic horror, originating in the 18th Century, by pioneers like Ann Radcliffe and Clara Reeve, was written for a mostly female audience. It was considered frivolous; not proper literature. Jane Austen herself referenced this fact in Northanger Abbey - her main character is a young woman who’s filled her head with gothic fiction and subsequently developed an overactive imagination. She says:

“Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss — ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda” […] Now, had the same young lady been engaged with a volume of the Spectator, […] how proudly would she have produced the book, and told its name.”

Into the 19th Century we got Mary Shelley and Frankenstein, one of the cornerstones of our genre. However, it's worth noting that, even then people argued that women's writing shouldn't be taken seriously. Frankenstein was published anonymously for many years. And the theory persists that Mary Shelley didn't actually write the story - it was all the work of her husband, Percy. As recently as three days ago there was an article in the Guardian that suggested Mary Shelley couldn't possibly have come up with such a story, despite, y’know, having a fascination with science in general and galvanism in particular.

So the 20th Century brought a new wave of female horror writers. The perspective they brought, of domestic, psychological horror, resonated in particular with readers at this time: the sense of something terrifying at the heart of the ordinary and everyday. Authors like Shirley Jackson and Susan Hill set the bar here. Angela Carter used the oldest fairytales weaved with social and feminist issues, to teach us that external monsters are rarely scarier than what lurks in people’s souls. The worst wolves are indeed hairy on the inside.

So, for a time, horror was a more-or-less equal opportunities genre, written and consumed by both genders.

Something appears to have shifted in the latter half of the twentieth century. The idea’s come about that horror is something of a boys’ club, and the best writers are male. The other day, an acquaintance remarked - not to me, but to someone else in this room - that women cannot write horror unless it's about sparkly vampires. Obviously I beg to differ. So how have we come to this?

Personally, I blame the 80s. The market for horror movies exploded in the late 70s into 80s. A new kind of visceral horror, slasher movies, video nasties, the infamous banned list. Certain misogynistic tropes became standard - not in all movies, obviously (hastag not all movies), but enough to call a broad trend. If I say slasher movie, we all picture the same sort of trope. Now, there's a fair overlap between those of us who love horror movies and those who read horror novels. People who watched the gore-busters of the 80s looked for literature in the same vein, and found pulp horror.

The authors writing for the pulp market were predominately male. We'll name drop Guy N Smith, Shaun Hutson, James Herbert et al. And Stephen King, of course, but you can't really include Stephen King in any statistics, because he's such an outlier he drags all your arguments askew, like a super-dark star. Neil Gaiman's the same. Anyway, around about this time, male authors have adopted the frivolous gothic novel and turned it around so now people suggest women don't have the heart or stomach for such things.

I have to say at this point, I've never found the horror community to be anything other than delightful and welcoming. No one there has ever told me I shouldn't be here, shouldn't be writing this stuff, or should be writing something more suitable to girls. The only people who’ve ever suggested that were those who dismiss the horror genre in general – I was once accused of bringing down the institution of family and marriage by writing about such grisly subjects.

But when I was growing up, about 99 percent of the authors I read were male. It made me assume horror was a boy’s game. Which suited me fine, I was a tomboy, but it was only as I grew up and learned to read more widely that I realised how skewed my worldview was. I worry at how other young women would fare if they wanted to follow the same path. Wouldn’t it just be easier to write about sparkly vampires?

As to the present day, in my opinion some of the best horror writing out there is currently happening in Young Adult. Those authors have the visceral exuberance that made me fall in love with the genre in the first place. Blending genres is very en vogue at the moment, with horror seguing into sci-fi or thriller or dystopia, as in Naomi Alderman’s recent feminist novel The Power.

People do sometimes wrinkle their nose at horror – it’s viewed as commercial, unsophisticated; entertainment not art. You’ll rarely see a horror novel shortlisted for a major prize. The same critics often wrinkle noses at YA as well – it’s for kids, it has nothing to say, it’s not proper literature. Even fans will sometimes say, oh, it’s my guilty pleasure.

Let me stop the bus there for a moment. People feel guilty way too often about stuff they love. Oh, I love Eurovision, it’s my guilty pleasure. I love the Twilight books, it’s my guilty pleasure. Like you should feel bad for the things that bring you joy. You should only consume them under a blanket, in the dark, when no one’s watching. That’s what we’re taught. We feel like people will judge us.

If we can do one thing for each other and for the upcoming generation, it’s to learn to embrace the things we love. Never feel guilty about something that genuinely makes you happy. And never make others feel bad for the things they care about. We need to support and validate other people and their (questionable) tastes in literature.

I love reading horror books, and I love writing horror books. And I’m exceptionally proud of the women who’ve paved the way for me to do this thing I love.

Thank you, please buy my book.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

book stats, everyone loves book stats

Happy New Year, and welcome to me talking about books again.

In 2017, according to Goodreads, I read 103 books (up on a total of 91 last year). I'm saying this to brag, obviously, but hopefully not to make anyone feel bad about their own acheivements - if you read five books or a hundred and fifty-five books, that's awesome. Books are awesome and we should all celebrate that they've been a part of our lives this year.

I kept a spreadsheet as well as updating Goodreads (because why wouldn't you want a spreadsheet?) and have finangled some statistics out of it:

By genre, Young Adult predominated again (39 books) although not as much as last year, with Proper Grown-Up Literary Fiction coming in second (15 books). I've been trying to read a few smart, grown-up books, mostly to prove that I can. I'm still not convinced they're better than kids' books.

Sci-fi was third, with 8 books. There's been some stellar (har) sci-fi this year.

I managed 13 Non-Fiction books (great improvement from last year) and 2 graphic novels (rather shabby effort).

By author gender, it's about 50-50 female-male, which surprised me because I deliberately try to bias my reading towards women authors. More shockingly, despite my stated promise to read more diversely, only about 15% of my 2017 reading was by authors who weren't white and/or CIS-gendered.

I'm still reading very few books on my Kindle - a grand total of 8 this year. And I seem to have gotten over my brief dalliance with audiobooks.

About a quarter of the novels I read this year were by authors I was already a fan of (or who I thought deserved another chance at converting me). Which means I tried about 75 books by authors I'd never read before. 28 were random selections from the local libraries (and a couple were direct recommendations by our lovely librarians). Another 15 were either recommended by friends or I tracked them down because of positive buzz online. Word of mouth is alive and well! Oh, and 7 books were by our visiting Litfest authors, because I need to keep my fangirling up to date.

Next year, I intend to continue discovering new authors and not understanding literary fiction. I will read more diversely, dammit. And I also intend to properly update my Goodreads account, because I've just started reading the same Douglas Coupland book for what I suspect is the third time.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

best in show 2017

It's been a bit of a year, hasn't it? If like me you're feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the sorry state of the world right now, I don't blame you at all. But it's not all awful. There's been some pretty good books out this year.

Here are my favourites:

Forgotten Worlds / Forbidden Suns - D Nolan Clark
Let's get the obvious ones out of the way first, shall we? D Nolan Clark is a frickin genius, and this second and third instalment of the trilogy (both of which were released this year, so not only is he a frickin genius, he makes the rest of us look ridiculously slack) build on the superlative Forsaken Skies from last year. It's serious sci-fi that will appeal to us who appreciate solid science but also like gunfights and terrifying aliens and gratuitous explosions in space. Everything about this series made me remember why I love sci-fi.

Paradox Bound - Peter Clines
Who wants some time travel road trip treasure hunt shenanigans? That's right, EVERYONE. Peter Clines has produced another clever, funny, fast-paced, twisty-turny adventure that defies easy classification. It's a fun ride.

The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas
Alright, I know this will be on everyone's top ten list this year. But that's because it's awesome. Quite likely Book of the Year. So, yeah, get used to seeing everyone talking about how amazing it is. Even better, go read it yourself because then you'll understand why everyone bangs on about it. It's not necessarily an easy read - I'm not even sure I enjoyed reading it, exactly, but I'm damn glad I did.

Attack of the Fifty Foot Women - Catherine Mayer
One thing this year has taught me is: I was perfectly happy in my comfort zone of political apathy. I didn't want to go back to being angry all the time. But apparently the world has other ideas and apathy just doesn't cut it anymore. If, like me, you're looking for a way to direct your shouty anger towards a cause, Catherine Mayer's book is a good place to start, because gender politics is something that affects everyone, not just those of us encamped in our feminist treehouses.

Things a Bright Girl Can Do - Sally Nicholls
With that in mind, let's have some suffragette YA fiction. This is another book everyone's talking about, and again that's with good reason. Sally Nicholls has crafted a great story following the fortunes (or otherwise) of three separate girls who wind up for different reasons involved with the suffragette movement during the war.

The Night Brother - Rosie Garland
And this is... oh, more historical fiction, also with suffragettes. There seems to have been a theme with my reading this year. Anyway, The Night Brother is an unsettling, folklorish tale set in early 1900s Manchester, with strong themes about identity and gender, and it's really very good.

Desert Skies, Rebel Souls - M P Tonnesen
Exotic locations, coming of age, true love conquering all. Sound good? It is.

The Language of Thorns - Leigh Bardugo
SO PRETTY. Everything about this book is gorgeous. The illustrations - gorgeous. The cover - gorgeous. The stories themselves - a bunch of neat twists on some lesser-known fairy tales - SUPER GORGEOUS. The way the illustrations grow and unfurl throughout the course of each story is a particularly nice touch.

Long Way Down - Jason Bourne
Hoo boy. This is a tough one to describe. It's like a long-form poem story? Only much better than that makes it sound? It's exceptionally well written, it's lyrical, it's a complete emotional gut-punch, and it'll stay with you for loooooong after you finish reading. Oh, and it made me cry for three days.

White as Snow - Maxi Bransdale
A hauntingly beautiful modern-day fairy tale about identity and memory (and the loss of them both). My only complaint is now we have to wait for Book 2.

The Sun is Also a Star - Nicola Yoon
This book came out in 2016, but I didn't read it till this year, and also it's brilliant, so shut up. A proper beautiful love story, featuring pathos, heartache, deux ex machina, and a decent helping of science. Perfect.

I'll do a rundown of what else I've read this year, but that can wait until after the holidays. Have a great Christmas, everyone. Remember that books are the gift that keeps on giving.

Friday, 1 December 2017

karmic gifts

At this time of year, we're reminded to be nicer to others and to help those less fortunate than us. But we're also encouraged to spend way too much money on presents and food and everything else. It's an expensive time of year, and many of us (me included) stretch ourselves too thin. Under those circumstances, it's sometimes hard to think of others as much as we should.

So, here are a bunch of things you can do that take very little time (another commodity in short supply), are free or nearly-free, and can make a tangible difference to people:

Tell people about awesome places to shop
Small local businesses thrive on word of mouth recommendations. Right now, everyone is shopping, and they like buying for somewhere that's been personally recommended. Use this to your advantage and plug your favourite things, whether it's an online store, a local business, the best place to get a gingerbread latte, or a book that'd make a perfect Christmas gift. Tell people how much you love a certain shop or website. Leave recommendations on social media.

Write a review
I know all authors bang on about this, but that's because it's an amazingly helpful thing to do. Ten minutes scribbling your opinion on Amazon or Goodreads can mean the world to an author. If you like a book, please tell the world. And if you've got time, tell the author as well. An ego-boost is the gift that keeps on giving.

Visit the library
This one's a win-win. Go borrow a bunch of books and movies from your local library for the Christmas period. You get a bunch of awesome stuff to read/watch for free, and the library gets statistics to prove how valuable a resource they are to the community. Plus, authors get a few pennies under the PLR scheme every time you borrow their books (at least in the UK, although not currently in the Isle of Man) (BOOO).

Go to the Hunger Site
Next time you're online, click through to The Hunger Site and its associated sites. They use the revenue from advertising to fund various charities, so by clicking on one link, you send money to a bunch of good causes. You can do this daily, and without having to sign up to any newsletters or email lists.

Hey, the world's in a shitty state right now. What good can one person do to make things right? Well, how about telling the people in charge how you feel? If you care passionately about something, chances are someone else feels the same, and quite possibly they've started a petition to lobby the government about it. It only takes a couple of minutes to add your name to an important cause.

Give to charity shops & food banks
Time to declutter? Make a pile of old clothes and toys and take them to the charity shop. Want to clear room in your kitchen cupboards? Take a bunch of those cans and jars that you've been hording (so long as they're still in date; if they're not, maybe it's time to reign in the hording, heh?) and schlep them along to the local food bank. Food banks are also a good place to take those posh cans of cat food that you bought in bulk, which your cat then decided he didn't like. F'ing cats.

Giving time
We're all ridiculously busy right now, I know. But that means your time is an even more valuable gift to give. Can you go to the shops for a neighbour who doesn't drive? Can you pick up a prescription for your nan so she doesn't have to go out in the cold? Can you babysit for an afternoon so your friend can do their Christmas shopping without a toddler hanging onto their ankles? Half an hour of your time can make all the difference.

Being nice
Ultimately, this is what it comes down to. Kindness doesn't have to manifest in grand sweeping gestures or huge monetary donations to charity. We can all be a little nicer, a little kinder, a little more patient in our everyday lives. Remember everyone is stressed right now. Everyone's under pressure to spend, to give, to be happy. Cut everyone some slack. Be as nice as you possibly can, and demand nothing in return.

Man, this turned into a bit of a lecture, didn't it? Sorry about that.

Hope you all have a wonderful holiday season, whatever you're doing, however you celebrate. Hugs.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

things i've learned from a decade of NaNoWriMo

This is my tenth year of doing NaNoWriMo. (I need that gif from Grosse Point Blank of John Cusack's friend shouting "TEN YEARS!")

Now, I honestly didn't realise it'd been as much as ten years. I've just had my head down, typity-typing away, and when I look up from my monitor, blinking in the daylight, apparently a decade has passed. If I complete the Nano challenge this year, that'll be ten consecutive wins, and a total of half a million words written.

Looks kinda nice when it's set down like that. Excuse me while I bask for a moment.

So anyway, I guess maybe I can describe myself as a Nano veteran now? I've put in the time and I've put in the work, and I reckon I've got a handle on the event. I've participated in the November events and also several Camp NaNoWriMos and a couple of Script Frenzies, back when those were still a thing.

(I set all this out because I still feel like, hey, who the hell am I to offer advice? With so many other knowledgeable people out there on the web, why should I add my shouty opinions to the void?)

For what it's worth, here is what I've learned from a decade of Nanoing.


Good Lord, is it not for everyone. Personally I love Nano. It suits me down to the ground. I love the microdeadline of writing 1,667 words a day, I love the freedom it gives me to write fast and loose, and I love the website with its updatable word count / bar graphs. I love the feeling of progress you get from watching your stats creep up. I love stats.

BUT it's not for everyone. Some people get the heebie-jeebies at the idea of writing like that. Who wants the stress of having to hit a word count every day? How can you cope without editing and fixing on the go? Who needs the peer pressure of your writing buddies judging you for your lack of progress? (They say they don't but I know the truth)

If your writing style doesn't fit the Nano model, that's fine. That's more than fine. You know who I'm jealous of? People who binge-write. Like, they sit down at the weekend and churn out five thousand words. How is that even possible? 1,667 words, arbitrary or not, seems to be my upper limit for productivity. If I try to blast through that and keep putting words down, my attention goes, my enthusiasm wanes, and my characters end up reading aloud from the dictionary just to keep the word count flowing.

My style is slow and steady. I'm happy with that. Nano fits me well. Other people have different styles, which Nano doesn't necessarily cater to. That's also fine. Don't try and force what doesn't work for you.


I am a better writer than I was ten years ago. I think that's fair to say. I'm more confident, I have a better working attitude, and I know how to use the word ameliorate.

Was this all down to Nano? Noooooo. Mostly I'd say it's thanks to ten years of more-or-less constant writing, a shedload of invaluable guidance from my various writing groups and beta readers, some professional intervention, and people hitting me with shoes to reinforce advice (I stand firm on certain points, like double-spacing after full stops, and no amount of shoes shall change my mind).

But Nano helped, for sure. It taught me I can write fast (when I need to), and I can write to a deadline (when I want to). It taught me that a paragraph of terrible writing is better than a paragraph that exists only in your head. It taught me, indirectly, the value of editing, because the nine first drafts I've churned out during past Novembers have been godawful. It taught me I am NOT a pantser, like I'd always thought... at least not a good one. And that leads me onto my next point:


One of the most difficult things to admit is that a course of action isn't working for you. It could be that, like me, you consider yourself a hardcore pantser - planning is for the weak! Structure grows organically! And again, sure, if this works for you, more power to you.

Turns out, I can't structure for peanuts.

My Nano novels (and by extension the rest of my writing, because if the model works for November why not extend it to the rest of the year, right?) are horrible blobby messy lumps. They tend to start off alright, with two or three decent chapters, before descending into OH GOD WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. Without a plan, I would grab onto the first reasonable plot point that came to mind and write towards it. Nano happens so fast that there's no time to sit back and think. You're constantly scrabbling for plot. Or at least I am.

Also turns out, structure is hella-difficult to insert after the fact. It's like building a monster out of the squishy bits first then trying to cram a skeleton into it. Difficulty, frustrating, and unpleasant. Even if you succeed, chances are you're going to end up with something that looks, ehhhh, not quite like you'd hoped.

Took me ten years to learn this.

So, my point is, it's okay to change your ways. If pantsing isn't working, stop and make a plan. If you're bogged down in planning, try pantsing for a while.

And if you're really, really not enjoying the process... stop.

No one's forcing you to Nano. No one will judge you if you don't make that 50K in a month (not even me). Like the gambling adverts say: When the fun stops, stop. Come back to it at your own pace. The last thing you want to do is ruin your work by carrying on long after you stop enjoying it.


I've said this before, but we don't give enough kudos to participation. Everyone who signs up to Nano is awesome. Everyone who puts a handful of words onto paper (or screen) during November is awesome. Everyone who plugs on to the end and makes their fifty thousand is awesome. Everyone deserves cookies and praise.

So, if you're enjoying Nano, high five. If you're struggling bravely onwards through Nano, KEEP GOING, YOU GOT THIS BRAH. If you're seriously not enjoying it in the slightest and you think it might put you off writing forever... quit.

Whatever you're doing, however you're doing it, good luck to you all. Keep writing... at the pace that works for you.

Friday, 13 October 2017

what the heck, lego star wars: the force awakens?

Our youngest is five years old and his favourite things are Lego, Star Wars, and video games. So obviously the first thing we introduced him to was the Lego Star Wars games, which we used to have on the PS2 but have recently repurchased for the PS3. And, I have to tell you, those games have held up well. They're still funny and clever and simple enough for an uncoordinated five-year-old (and his thirty-seven-year-old uncoordinated mother) to get the hang of relatively quickly.

They've also toned down the difficulty since the PS2 version, although opinion is currently divided on whether that's a good thing or not. Personally, I like a game I can play. Others like a game that challenges them. Everyone in this house likes a game our youngest can play without constantly asking us to assist him through the tricky bits.

(As a side note, I once again stand by our decision to let our kids play video games from a young age, but that's perhaps an argument for another day.)

So we bought LEGO STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS for our shiny PS4, expecting great things. Or at least more of the same things.

And immediately we found problems. For starters, they've complicated the crap out of the controls. It used to be jump-hit-interact-force. Now we've got jump, hit, interact, force, climb, blow up, throw sabre, shoot, and a bunch of other stuff. Some of them, for example the throw-sabre move, gets used once during the training level then never explicitly used again (that I've seen). You've got grappling hooks to drag stuff around. You've got specific objects that can only be shot by certain characters. You have special binoculars that can highlight special areas.

None of this is necessarily a bad thing. Variety is good. But the Lego games thrived on simplicity. There were only rare moments when you got stuck because (for example) you were trying to force an item that could only be shot. The puzzles were clear enough to be solved but still involved enough to give you a sense of achievement when you completed them.

And then FORCE AWAKENS throws in some cover based shooting.

Seriously now, what's the point of this? If I wanted to crouch behind a chest high wall and pop out to shoot baddies, there are literally a hundred other titles I could play. Why bung it in here? Is it just that the designers wanted "variety" and cover based shooting was the first thing that appeared when they googled "stuff that goes in video games"?

Ditto the quick-time events. QTE always feels like lazy button pushing to me. It's not vastly challenging and it breaks the flow of the gameplay. And, going back to our uncoordinated five year old, it's tricky enough that I inevitably get the controller shoved into my hands to get past these sections.

Oh yeah, and one other change that FORCE AWAKENS has introduced - they've added voices.

This won't sound like a big deal to anyone who hasn't played the originals. But the originals were hilarious, and so much of that humour came from the lego dudes being silent and conveying everything with exasperated expressions and visual gags. So now we've got a bunch of dialogue from the movie, which makes everything more dramatic and less funny. Even the amusing lines aren't so amusing when being fed through little plastic people.

In fairness, this only really hampers the main missions of the game. For the first week I played it, the voices grated horribly, and all I could think was how much more fun it'd be without them. Now that I've got into the side-missions and bonus sections, where they've either recorded new dialogue snips or just ditched dialogue entirely, it's noticeably more enjoyable, and I've laughed out loud at a good few bits.

So my capsule review is: man, it's difficult to make a new game in a beloved franchise. If you leave it exactly the same, people will be all like, but we've paid for this game already wtf?, and if you make alterations they're like, why have you dicked about with a winning formula ffs?

Although, bonus points for having JJ Abrams as an unlockable character.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

this was all foretold

My current to-read list has steadily increased to the point where it's not so much a list as a teetering pile, threatening to topple and crush me at any moment. But having a physical, obvious pile is important (even if I trip over it at least once a day) because it lets me work my way steadily through it, from top to bottom. New stuff gets added at the top, natch, and if something's been in it for more than, say, a year, it's clear it's less of a must-read and more a vital piece of structure holding up the rest of the load.

Occasionally things get shuffled to the top and I remember why I put them in the pile to begin with.

Other things guilt me into reading them simply because they've been sitting there so damn long.

One book that's found itself nearing the top has reminded me of a trope I've seen once too often (and which, in fact, I'm guilty of using myself, more than once, because it's really convenient). Essentially, everything that happens - everything, from running a red light to being menaced by Bigfoot - happens because it's part of some huge, overarching purpose which the characters can only begin to fathom. Greater powers are controlling their fates. They are being guided for a reason.

I've a few problems with this. For starters, it allows all sorts of randomness and coincidence to be hand-waved through. The main character stumbles across a perfect weapon? She was meant to find it. The person she's just met knows the one path through the deadly, deadly swamp ahead? That person was destined to be at this place at this time, specifically to help our hero.

Not that I'm adverse to blatant coincidence, of course. Like I say, I've used it myself more times than I can conveniently count, as a way to dig myself out of a big stupid plot-hole. Or when I wanted aliens to suddenly appear. But:

It also allows the characters to make really bloody stupid decisions, and again it's hand-waved past because they're not responsible for their own choices. Ms Main Character has the option of either walking into the obvious spikey-death trap or carrying on blithely on her way, and decides on the spikey-death route because she senses there's something important hidden in there. And, turns out, there is indeed some unique artefact within, which she'll definitely need later on in her quest (although of course she doesn't know how or why it'll be useful) so it's a good thing she listened to that internal guiding voice of fate.

This is so, so handy as a writer, because it lets us excuse our characters when they're doing anything stupid or irrational. We need them to get hold of that artefact but there's no obvious or compelling reason why they would walk into almost certain doom to retrieve it. To be honest, there's no good reason why our character would be on this quest at all. She's got better things to do; things that don't involve doom and decapitation and so much angst. But if she stays at home and drinks wine, we've got no story, so we wheel out the hand of fate, the forces beyond our ken, and hope our character doesn't suddenly get wise and dig her heels in.

And then there's the question of motivations. Someone who wants to scale Mount Dreadful and defeat the Evil Lord Bumscratch will always be more interesting that someone who is led inescapably for some nebulous reason to do the same. There are always exceptions, of course, of course. Bilbo Baggins wasn't exactly a willing participant. But in general, people like a hero who does things for definite tangible reasons - it doesn't have to be a particularly noble reason (money, honour, revenge, boredom etc. are all understandable excuses) so long as it's more substantial than "there was a reason why I was doing these things, in this order, to this end, while these random occurrences randomly occurred, but I couldn't yet decipher the hidden meaning that fate blah blah blah."

It is, of course, an acceptable way of looking at life, since life is a horrid confusing tangle of events and interactions, and it's no wonder we try to impose some meaning over the top of it. But if it's in a story, the hand of fate better have a flipping good reason for acting like this, or we'll all find a reason to stop reading.