Itty bitty pretty kitties

Two tabby kitties on a bed. Huge ears, huge eyes, hugely loved.

We haven’t had a cat since Zack died at the ripe old age of 17 in 2008. For the first year or so we just weren’t ready. Andn then ur lives became unpredicatable enough to not want to introduce kittens into the mix. But about two weeks ago, Kelley andn I just looed at each other and said: It’s time. It took a bit to assemble kitten paraphenalia–toys, litter trays, kitty condo, food–and then to find just the right beasties to share our lives for the next twenty years.

Meet our new kitty overlords: brothers Charlie and George. They’re about 12 weeks old, sole survivors of a litter of six from Yakima. We met them at Seattle Area Feline Rescue, and within two hours they were in our house. Which, in the natural course of things, is of course now their house. They have kindly retained us as staff.

George, though bigger (he looks about 10 days older than his brother), is much more skittish. Charlie is fearless (not necessarily a winning evolutionary trait; he’s already crisped his eyebrow whiskers on the gas stove) and very happy to demand attention. Their coats are pretty different. George is more traditionally striped but Charlie is stippled. The first few days the only sound they made were odd little chirrups (George), with the occasional squeaking creak (Charlie). But in the last three days both have begun to essay the tiniest little mews. Both purr like buzzsaws.

Here’s a photo taken on their first morning. That’s the bathroom sink they colonised as a nest for the first few days. The picture’s fuzzy because every time I tried to get close they hid behind their kitty carrier, so this is an extreme iPhone zoom.

Two tabby kittens (11 weeks old) on a teal thermal blanket lining a bathroom sink.

George on the left, Charlie on the right.

By the next day they were venturing into the family room–as long as they kept the bathroom and their comfort blanket in line of sight. Here’s Charlie finding the sofa for the first time (bathroom floor visible behind  him).

Little tabby kitten sitting on an ivory sofa

Charlie likes the sofa

And this is George trying to decide whether or not to risk it.

Little tabby kitten sitting on the carpet by a white sofa, looking worriedpet

George worries about the sofa

A day or so later, they discover the bed:

Two tabby kitties on a bed. Huge ears, huge eyes, hugely loved.

George (back) Charlie (front)

And at this point this most definitely rule the sofa. (All that clutter around the sofa are blankets and sheets which we stuffed in gaps their first few days so that if they got freaked out, or, worse, hurt, they couldn’t hide anywhere we couldn’t reach. Plus a brown paper bag because, well, cats.)

Here are a couple of them looking particularly themselves, Charlie self-possessed:

A small tabby kitten with white chin and white whiskers sits on a wooden trunk, his back to the camera but turning to face the viewer

Charlie loves this trunk. It is the source of all toys.

And George a bit uncertain.

Little tabby kitten sitting on the floor looking a bit forlorn

George just still isn’t sure. Of anything.

More to follow. Meanwhile I’ll be running around catching falling vases, rescuing stuck adventurers, and referring free-for-alls between rambunctious kitty-kind and impertinent feathers, while posting the occasional snapshot on Twitter and Instagram.

Why you should never believe your own publicity

Google Alerts brought me this news today: in a ranking of Famous Essayists from England, I am number 6, outranking Samuel Johnson, Zadie Smith, and others. The tagline for the article says, “includes Christopher Hitchens, Nicola Griffith, and more,” that more including George Orwell, Stephen Spender, Max Beerbohm, Dorothy Sayers, et al who just aren’t, y’know, famous enough to be in the tagline.

All of which demonstrates the peril of algorithms. Because, yes, I write essays. And yes, to some people I am, sometimes, semi-famous. But am I a ‘famous essayist’? Not by any stretch of the imagination. Given that I’m on the list just above Pico Ayers, my fellow judge in the recent London Magazine essay contest, I can guess how the algorithm weighted what, and why I ended on the list. And on a weekday morning that’s good for a grin—in fact I’m still grinning as I type this, imagining the confusion of the kind of reader who takes lists like this seriously.

Though perhaps now I’ll go write a story about an alternate universe where, in fact, I am a Most Famous Essayist. That might be worth some more smiles on this lovely light-filled summery morning.



So Lucky shortlisted for Washington State Book Award in Fiction

Image description: Composite image of two book covers of So Lucky: A Novel, by Nicola Griffith. On the left, the UK edition. On a black background, a burning torch flames in orange and yellow up and across at least half the image. At the top, in between the flames are quotes from the Independent ‘a short, fast-paced whirlwind of a novel’ and BBC Culture‘a sophisticated thriller’. Below is the title, So Lucky in salmon-coloured type, and the author’s name, Nicola Griffith, in white. On the right, the US edition. The background is matte black with the title “So Lucky,” and the author’s name “Nicola Griffith,” in big uppercase type rendered as burning paper. In smaller, brighter letters between title and author is, “A novel,” and, below the writer’s name, “Author of Hild”

So Lucky is a finalist for a Washington State Book Award in Fiction. I’m in great company, including Katrina Carrasco’s The Best Bad Things, which I’ve talked about before:

The other categories (memoir, poetry, YA, etc.) are also strong this year. So take a look and put them on your TBR list. Many thanks to the hard-working judges for providing us with such useful lists.

Winners will be announced in October at Seattle Public Library’s Central Library downtown, Saturday Oct 12, at 7pm. It’s free and open to the public. If you’re interested in meeting the writers (and judges) why not come watch? The last time I went to one of these bashes there was great food, plenty of wine, and live music. Plus all the conversation about books you could possibly want. And do come introduce yourself. I love to meet readers.


More Hild-inspired art

If you need a break from the depressing and teeth-grindingly infuriating news cycle, go take a look at the page of Hild-inspired art (and crafts) and cat pictures (plus occasional dog). I’ve just added portraits of Cian and Hild—this time sent by young Catie LeCours, who was given the book by her mother.

It seems quite a few readers encounter Hild via their mothers (and occasional father). So yay for pets, parents, and readers of all kinds!

Meanwhile, if any artists out t here are so inclined, I’d love to see how you see some of the other characters, like Gwladus, Begu, Fursey, and Breguswith.

This year’s flowers

This year we started a bit late on sorting out the pots and baskets for our back and kitchen decks, for Reasons. But finally we got around to it. Before I get to that, though, here are a couple of pictures of the front of the house, showing how the garden blooms in May and early June. The first is taken from the drive. I worked years to get those roses to finally form an arch around the front porch.* Finally: success!

Every winter our living room is oriented around the fire but every summer we move all the furniture so we’re oriented towards the huge picture window, because, well, what we see through it really is a picture—framed by those roses. We have red, white, cream, pink roses, all different kinds. Plus lavender. Lavender. Sage. An amazing blue bush that’s crack for bees. Wild strawberries, cloud berries, dahlias, Oregon grape, vine maple, so many things…

One of the things we value most about our house is its serenity and sense of privacy. We live in the city, but from inside, we see just nature: birds, trees, and flowers. When we first bought the house, from inside the only visible sign of civilisation was the wall of the barn next door, on the other side of our north fence. It did not trouble us because on its south-facing wall there were no windows, no door, no second story veranda to intrude on our privacy. Here’s what you can see today, from our back deck, of the barn (now converted to an ADU (accessory dwelling unit): three-car garage below, large self-contained apartment above, but still no windows on that south wall).

Most of it is hidden by a cherry tree, a slow-growing privet hedge, and now a fast-growing vine/shrub thing I always forget the name of. In those pots are purple salvia (hummingbirds love it), veronica, impatiens and petunia; herbs (sage and marjoram); marigolds, flaming lips (another salvia—humming birds seriously love these) and more petunias; and sweet bay, a zillion petunias, and some kind of ivy vine things that, again, I always forget the name of.

When we first moved in, we didn’t worry about the fence on the west side of the garden because it was backed by trees growing in neighbours’ yards: a massive cedar tree (at least 80′) in the northwest corner, lilac tree, willow, bamboo, plums, more plums, more willow, all the way down to the ravine to the south. But then there were floods (partially a climate issue but also because of the city fucking up the drainage plan leading to a nightmare deluge for the neighbourhood), and most of the trees, except the massive cedar in the corner, had to come down in order for home owners to get at their ruined drains. So we tacked on a bit of extra fencing, and planted a zillion vines, a mixture of honeysuckle, kadsura, and evergreen clematis. We didn’t bother with the corner because the great big tree there hid everything and its shadow made growing anything else impossible. And then, of course, last year that tree was damaged in a storm and had to come down too. So now we have a hole in our perimeter where we can actually, gasp, SEE THAT WE HAVE NEIGHBOURS.

They are perfectly nice neighbours, but still its even nicer not to have to see people—or be seen—except by appointment. So we’ll have to fix that. Last month we had our eye on a nice, already-big jasmine, but the seller abruptly went out of business and now we’re stumped again. I’m thinking we’ll just go with another combo of flowering and evergreen vines. Tune in next year for an update. Meanwhile, here are a few more flowers from the back deck. These are more petunias (I like petunias) growing with some lavender that we rescued and repotted.

And because I like petunias (did I tell you I like petunias?), here’s a close-up.

We grow most of our herbs and flowers, though, on the deck off the kitchen. Here’s the west side of the deck: fuchsia and veronica; thyme, parsley, and basil; another variety of veronica with more fuchsia (Kelley likes fuchsia); nasturtiums, oregano, sage…

This, left to right, is a bit of the potted jasmine, just about to bloom; a basket of lavender and marigolds (the crows love to perch on that basket to yell at us for breakfast); a pot of begonias (‘mistral orange’); and a bit of a basket of salvia (‘flaming lips’) and petunias.

Here’s a wider view. That pot on the floor in the corner is some kind of grass and yet another sort of fuchsia.

And we have more fuchsia and geraniums (? not sure, actually) in the other direction, but the fuchsia’s not really blooming yet so I didn’t bother with a picture. As I said, these all got a late start, but hopefully by the end of July they’ll be a riot of colour. Stay tuned.

*I’m in a wheelchair now, so when I say ‘I did this or that’, I sometimes—though not always—mean ‘I caused this or that to be done’. I do a lot of the container gardening, though this year I had help with getting stuff planted and repotted, but I prune and dead-head and fuss and water. And I choose the plants and direct where they’ll go. And when others offer to help with larger pruning of bushes and whatnot I gratefully accept and suggest what should come out where (though often the volunteer explains why what I want is idiotic and so does something different and better). Kelley does all the main garden watering because physically it’s beyond me. But between me, Kelley, friends, neighbours, and the crew we pay to actually mow the lawn and stop the driveway being overrun, we make something beautiful. I am grateful.

31 years ago

31 one years ago today I met Kelley at the Clarion workshop at Michigan State University, East Lansing. It was a miserably hot Sunday. I had no food (a vegetarian allergic to cheese in the midwest in 1988). I had no beer (an English person on a dry campus in a town that’s dry on Sundays). I was surrounded by aliens (a dyke on what felt like the straightest, whitest campus on the planet). Then Kelley showed up and everything was magically…fine. Better than fine. And in the thirty years since, things just keep getting better.

Last year I put together a love story in photos: pictures of us in different cities at different times and in different phases of our lives together. So if you want to see a picture with both of us in the same frame, go take a look—because I still don’t have any recent pics of us. (When we’re together tend to forget about other people, and photos.) But here’s one of Kelley taken in March, at work.

Kelley, Seattle, WA.

And here’s one of me in a UK bar doing a classic Griffith family thing: mixing beer and babies—in this case, my great nephew who’s just been handed to me by his dad. Kelley was there, too, just not in the picture.

Nicola and great nephew, Leeds, UK.

Check back here next year and maybe I’ll have a picture by then.

Bucket of eels

It’s been an interesting and difficult year so far. Words have occasionally felt irrelevant. But here’s an attempt to explain a little of what’s going on.

Kelley took full-time employment for the first time in 19 years and it’s meant a huge change to our everyday lives.

Way too many people I love have died. A year ago, I had four aunts and a father. As of yesterday, I have one aunt; I am perilously close to being the oldest generation of my family. This feels surreal. There again, grief itself is surreal. Each hit—and that’s how so many griefs in a row feel: like being hit on a bruise, over and over—renders the world a little less solid, a little less real. Yet one of my sharpest griefs was not for a relative but for a good friend, Vonda McIntyre. When my father died I had to make the agonising decision to leave for his funeral when I knew Vonda only had a few days left (and in fact she died on April 1). I will write about what Vonda means to me another time; right now, I can’t.

This time last year I wrote about my wheelchair-accessible van, and my plans to learn to drive it with hand controls. Life got in the way of focusing on that until earlier this year. And it turned out that my driving test was 36 hours after my father died—and, for Reasons, in a small Western Washington town called North Bend. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the mind-wrenching grief of parental loss, but for the first two or three days it feels like someone sticks a blender in your brain and blitzes. For a while, I can’t make sense of the simplest things, and I don’t remember what people say from one moment to the next. That’s how I was when I was sitting in the driver’s seat for my test. The examiner spoke, and obviously I made some sort of response, but it felt like sitting in a whirling storm of static. I think if the examiner had given me a cognitive test before I turned the engine on she would have refused to get in the car with me, and fled.

However, I did the test, and did the worst job of driving I think I’ve ever done in that van; I didn’t know right from left. When I turned the engine off and waited for her to finish totting up my mistakes, I knew I’d failed. So I was not just surprised but shocked when she told me I’d passed. (I came *this* close to saying, You have got to be fucking kidding me.)1 But I had just enough sense to not do that, and instead plucked the signed form from her hands, thanked her, and drove back to Seattle (well, okay, Kelley drove us back to Seattle; at that point I was toast). In Seattle, we had a celebratory beer, packed, then got on a plane for the UK.

So I might be an orphan but at least I’m now a fully qualified driving orphan.2

Within a week, the blender in my brain has turned it into a thick slurry—and a week or two after that, it pours that slurry into a bucket of thrashing eels. (Ha! If I though I couldn’t think before…)

We got back from the kind of transatlantic trip no one should ever have to make,3 had time to do a quick load of laundry, then turned around and head for Vancouver. We were inVancouver for five days at an academic conference where I was giving a plenary speech. I loved it—Vancouver, the conference, the people, giving the speech— but it was hard. There was only one person there I’d met before. And the series of seminars I attended started at 8:30 three morning in a row (you try being smart at 8:30 when you’re jet-lagged and your slurry brain is in a bucket of eels). Plus, for two days, the hotel bar was closed. (But it was Gastown, so there were plenty of options.)

When I got back from Vancouver, I’d planned to get right back into writing Menewood but, yeah, slurry brain, and those eels. Plus some health stuff I’ve got going on. (Weird blood pressure spikes and crashes; lots of testing; lots of Huh, well that’s odd. I wonder if it’s this. Or, Hmm, how about this. No? Okay, then we’ll investigate this…) Oh, and also the delicious kind of migraine called basilar migraine that makes me go blind and turns words to rubbish. (The blindness and ataxia is only temporary, usually less than hour for me, but it’s a terrifyingly long time to be absolutely blind and unable to communicate.) But I’m gradually picking it back up, re-immersing myself in seventh-century Britain.

My plan is for Menewood to be published in time for the next IONA in London in November 2021. With luck, there may also be another couple of books available at the same time—but I won’t say more about those until/unless they come to fruition.

But, hey, the sun is shining, and now it’s time to replant annuals in our deck pots (and see if I can revive the jasmine that more or less died of neglect the last six weeks). As/when I do, I’ll post pics. Meanwhile, enjoy your spring-becoming-summer.

1 The funny thing is, the examiner added up the points wrong. I actually passed with 2 more points than she thought. So, yay me?

2The thought that you can drive so badly and still qualify to drive around on city streets with other people makes me fret about every other driver in charge of a two-ton death machine.

3Grief + MS + 26 hrs travel time each way = hell; not to mention having to go through security twice on the way back, mutter mutter. Then add in funeral directors, lawyers, flat-clearing, hospital visits—my sister is ill, but that’s a whole other story—and meeting cousins and aunts I hadn’t seen for years; not to mention writing and giving my father’s eulogy when all I wanted to do was curl into a ball and check the fuck out…