Wednesday, 12 September 2018

our summer kills the sun

Autumn is my favourite season. Sure, it's getting colder and the weather's turning rubbish, and we'll probably not see the sun again until May, but look at all the wonderful things that are on the way. Halloween! Nanowrimo! Bonfire night! The pre-Christmas run up! My birthday! Autumn leaves! Manx Litfest! The start of Bake Off! THE START OF BAKE OFF!

Honestly, I can see why this season overwhelms people. There's a whole bunch of stuff arriving all at once, most of which either costs money or uses up time or both, and it's easy to look at the last four months of the year with dread. (Kendra at The Lazy Genius talks about how to approach this season without being crushed by it; it's definitely worth a listen. I thoroughly recommend Kendra's podcasts, listening to her is like someone putting a blanket round your shoulders and telling you you're doing great.)

ANYWAY. The Great British Bake Off 2018 has started. Let the festival of cakeage begin! This year we're doing a fantasy league at home and a bake-along at work. The bake-along is something I wish I'd heard of sooner - everyone puts £2 in, you draw out a baker, if that baker wins the series you get £24. But, if and when your baker is eliminated, you have to bring in cakes to the office. Why did we never think of this before?? Everyone's a winner, because everyone gets cake.

Manx Litfest is right around the corner and, as usual, I'm super-excited and also super-terrified in fairly equal measures, because there's so much going on and I don't feel the least bit prepared.

And after Litfest we're in the run up to Nanowrimo. I've recently made some RL friends (I know, shocking) who are hopefully organising some meet-ups and write-ins and all sorts of other proper Nano type things, which I'm all enthused about. As usual, however, I'm totally without an idea to write in November. Should maybe think about that over the next month or so.


FOLK - Zoe Gilbert Love, love, love, love. Admittedly, I'm hardly unbiased, since this collection of short stories draws influence from Manx folklore, it's set on an island that looks suspiciously familiar, the author name-checks the Isle of Man in the acknowledgements, and she's attending our festival later this month. I am super-biased. But regardless, honestly, this is a fab book. Myth and legend and fable intertwine through the different stories, weaving a whole atmosphere and sense of place, giving it a dreamlike feel, reminiscent of childhood fairytales that you'd read or tell over and over again. It's the sort of book that'll stay with me for a long time, and which I plan to reread and recommend to everyone I know.

SUNBURN - Laura Lippman This one has been hyped to all get-out, but that's probably because it's smart and twisty and very well written. I didn't enjoy it as much as everyone else in my Twitter feed did, but it's still an excellent read.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE - Margaret Atwood Such a slim-line book for the amount of societal weight and gravitas it holds. I wish I'd read it earlier in life, not least because it feels uncomfortably like non-fiction these days.

MIDDLEMARCH - George Eliot I FINALLY FINISHED MIDDLEMARCH, goddamn that was one hefty tome.

THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL ANGRY PLANET - Becky Chambers A space romp! I've previously overlooked this book because the title made me think it was something else (curse my insistence on judging books by their cover) but I'm glad I picked it up eventually. Not a lot of actual plot happens, so if you're looking for high-octane thrills you might be disappointed, but if you like your space operas to be full of character moments and world building, this is just lovely. It's also the first book in ages that made me want to draw fan art.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

always sunny in the desert

This month I've mostly been playing ASSASSIN'S CREED ORIGINS. And it's okay. Certainly not the worst in the franchise, but pretty far from the best either. To be honest, although I've clocked up a decent amount of hours so far, I feel like I've hardly scratched the surface of gameplay, but that might be because I've only just been given a mission that involved any sneaky assassination. I've also only recently unlocked the hidden blade, or found any building higher than two storeys to climb. Now, call me a traditionalist, but the things I associate with ASS CREED are a) climbing buildings and b) stabbing folks, and not being given either of these options at the outset felt a bit strange. No, it felt like I was playing ASS CREED BROTHERHOOD again, and nobody needs that.

Also, I suspect I'm further through the game than it looks. This sneaky assassination mission is the third main target, out of five. So... am I two thirds of the way through? That can't be right. Look at the size of that map! The rest of it can't all be filled with empty desert and weirdly aggressive hippos, can it?

Oh, wait, it can? And you're going to dissuade me from exploring by making some enemies impossible to kill (helpfully marked with a red skull above their heads) until I reach a certain level? Of course you are.

I do like the ability to "borrow" boats rather than stealing them (the rightful owner complains a bit, then settles down in the bow of the boat until you've finished scooting wherever you're going, at which point they'll take their boat back and go on their merry way, which makes a heck of a change from the protagonist randomly throwing people out of vehicles whenever the whim takes him). And I like my camel, Reginald, and the "follow road" option, where you can autopilot your camel to the next waypoint. Although obviously Reginald is not smart enough to stop BEFORE the waypoint if it is, for example, in the middle of a heavily fortified garrison full of unkillable enemies.

Every time, Reginald. Every goddamn time.

Also, who the heck was in charge of animating that poor camel? I salute Ubisoft's commitment to employing "team members of diverse religions, sexuality, and gender-orientation" (as they tell us at the start of every game, in a slightly defensive way tbh) but next time could they employ someone who knows how a camel is put together? Or who at least could look up a video on youtube? But noooo, let's just use the same animation framework as the horses, and make poor Reginald run like a lumpen horse with little-to-no sense of self-preservation, straight into prickly arrow-death.



The Tale of the Duelling Neurosurgeons - Sam Kean
Brains are weird. That's the first takeaway from this book. The other is that my absolute favourite kind of non-fiction is Extremely Knowledgeable Expert Talks About Specialist Topic in Super-Excitable Fashion. I'll read pretty much anything that falls under that heading, which this book definitely does.

Middlemarch - George Elliot
WHY IS LITERARY FICTION SO HARD. I'm 20% through this ebook. I suspect this may take a while.


Oh Asia, baby, what made you think it was a good idea to put live butterflies into a dress? My heart breaks.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

regaining focus

This blog has somewhat lost focus over the last couple of years. To be honest, I think this is a wider problem with the internet in general - blogs used to be the best-only place for people to air their random opinions and suchlike. Now, if I've got something I want to show to everyone, I'll shout about it informally on Twitter rather than type it all up as a blog post. I've noticed a few other blogs that I follow have had the same sort of issue.

But anyway, I'd like to keep this blog going as a central place for all my information (since I'm waaaaay too disorganised to run an actual factual website) so imma attempt something different. For a while, I'll post about all the things I've fallen in love with that week. Because the internet has plenty of my opinions already, but can always use more positivity.


This month I've been making headway on my Manx authors to-read list:

Now, I've definitely read this before, which I'd forgotten until I was about halfway through and I remembered how it ended. Thanks, brain. Anyway, Chris Ewan is always a delight to read, and this novel (first in a series) is a slightly lighter and more easy-going book than some of his later, stand-alone books. Also it's only like 99p on kindle right now, and you can't even get an ice cream for that price.

This small-but-perfectly-formed book of poetry has been sitting on my shelf for a while now, which makes me feel bad because when I finally settled down with it, I loved it. It's a charming look at the mix of Manx and Indian culture. Like most poetry collections, it's best consumed in small sections, one poem at a time, like Thornton's chocolates.

An epic wodge of historical military fiction with plenty of gory fighting and swooning romance. Not my usual reading fare, and I gave myself a headache from rolling my eyes at the womanising main character, but if you're a fan of this genre you'll have fun with this book.

And I'm looking forward to:

CALL OF THE CURLEW - Elizabeth Brooks
Oh my gosh. We are all super-proud of Elizabeth Brooks. She's been such a supporter of Manx Litfest, local writing groups, and our writing retreats. She's also (as it happens) an AMAZING writer, which everyone's going to find out when CALL OF THE CURLEW is released next month. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy (which I've had to give back to its rightful owner, boo), but I've got my own copy on pre-order. I predict this one will be a favourite of many, many reading groups.

Due for release in August 2018. Another Manx author, another wonderful supporter of Manx Litfest, another amazing writer. I'm rather in awe of the talent pool we've got on this island right now.


Honestly, I don't watch much TV, so don't expect any revolutionary opinions here. Mostly I've been revisiting THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE-OFF because Netflix have added all the old episodes, and you can never binge-watch too much cake. BAKE OFF: THE PROFESSIONALS (which I'm sure used to be BAKE OFF: CRÈME DE LA CRÈME before it moved to Channel 4) has snuck back to stress-up my Sunday nights. Sugarwork structures? Soooo stressful.

And if you're not watching Season 10 of RUPAUL'S DRAG RACE then honestly what're you doing with your life. I'm currently living for Eureka and Kameron, although I swear they need to stop being up for elimination because my heart can't take it.

Podcasts and Music

I discovered The Lazy Genius some time last year but have just started trawling through the podcasts. Now, I'm not much for self-help and life-hacks, but these podcasts are wonderful in their gentle, reassuring, non-judgemental tone. I'm especially enjoying the episodes about how to clean your house without, y'know, stressing so much that you end up sobbing over the gangrenous state of your fridge. Yes, I know. Me, cleaning the house. That's how revolutionary this podcast has been for me. It's one-half practical, simple solutions, and one-half soft reassurance that you're doing absolutely great and you shouldn't be so hard on yourself. I'm a big fan.

It's been 20 years since the release of Therapy?'s LONELY, CRYIN' ONLY, my favourite ever song by my favourite ever band. Twenty years, man.


It's the first few days of TT Week here on the Isle of Man. Ride safe, citizens, and don't be this guy.

And things are gearing up for Litfest 2018 - so far we've confirmed Chris Riddell (squee!), Ben Haggarty (double-squee!), and the aforesaid Elizabeth Brooks (*passes out from over-squeement*).

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.