2023: A Big Year

2023 is a year of Big Anniversaries—those ending in 0 or 5—marking significant life events for me and Kelley. Here are some of them:

  • January
    • 40th anniversary of the television debut of the band I fronted, Janes Plane, late one Monday night in January (I don’t have the exact date—I always forget and, yep, I forgot this year too) on Channel 4’s Whatever You Want
  • February
    • 30th anniversary of Ammonite. Yes, the copyright page says 1992, but the book did not hit shelves in the US until the end of January/beginning of February and, in the UK, later in February/beginning of March.
  • Early March
    • 30th anniversary of my MS diagnosis, which I got the day after I got off the plane from London where I’d been launching Ammonite.
  • June
    • 45th anniversary of Kelley’s high school graduation. Kelley loved her HS, remembers it fondly, and attends reunions when she can.
    • 45th anniversary of my last day suffering the stifling strictures of Catholic Grammar School education—but for me it’s the escape from the experience that’s worth celebrating, not the experience itself.
  • June 26th
    • 35th anniversary of meeting Kelley at Clarion and falling indelibly in love.
    • 35th anniversary also, of course, of us both going through the life-altering experience that is Clarion where we met so many people who are part of our lives.
  • September 4
    • 30th anniversary of our no-legal-force wedding at our house in Atlanta, GA.
    • 10th anniversary of our extremely-legally-binding wedding overlooking Puget Sound right here in Seattle, WA.
  • October 3
    • 0 anniversary of the publication of Menewood.
  • November 13
    • 10th anniversary of the publication of Hild
    • …and, four days later, the 1409th anniversary of Hild’s birth—though that’s cheating because a) it’s not about me and b) it doesn’t end in zero or five But, hey, this is my list so I make the rules.

In other words, it’s going to be a big year. At this point I’ve no idea how and when we’ll be celebrating but you can bet we will.

Self-portrait

Self portrait

Image description: Sketch outline in muted colours (pale brown, mahogany, pink, ochre) of head, three-quarter profile, of a short-haired white woman

Until now I’d never tried to draw a human portrait of any kind, but about 10 years ago I took a selfie, with an old iPhone 4 in low light, that bleached out much of my skin and left the rest in oddly pink/brown tones. I’ve always liked it. (For two reasons. One, pure vanity! The bleaching makes me look much younger than I really did. And two, I was fascinated by the fact that although what was left because of the over-exposure were just a few dabs and streaks of colour, it still suggested a whole face. So today when I got tired of working on the Dramatis Personae for MENEWOOD, and then when I switched to working on maps got tired of that, I thought, Well, let’s see what happens if I noodle around with a few dabs of pink and brown…

Perhaps this happens to a lot of people, but when I first pick up something—an instrument or paintbrush or fencing foil, or boxing or aikido or gymnastics—I often do surprisingly well. It’s a powerful kind of Beginner’s Luck, a First-timer’s Fluke. And it really is a fluke: it can take me a hundred more attempts to get back to the unselfconscious ease and fluency of that first time—if I bother to stick with it. It makes me wonder just how instinctively amazing we could all be at many things if we just got out of our own way…

Working on this portrait was an extremely strange experience. If I’d thought about it at all beforehand I might have guessed it would feel like the visual-art equivalent of writing a memoir. It wasn’t like that at all. It felt…oddly embarrassing, even furtive, like something to be done in the dark.

For any artists reading this—amateur or professional—is that your experience of self-portraits? Or is this more of a non-artist’s thing? Or just a beginner’s thing?

Suzy McKee Charnas

Suzy McKee Charnas 1939- 2023

Image description: Black and white photo of a middle-aged white woman with short grey hair looking directly at the camera in a way that tells the viewer quite dispassionately that she sees you, and she understands

Suzy McKee Charnas died last night. I found out this morning and have been weeping since. I have a lot to say about her—without her work, my work would not exist—but can’t right now.

If you want to honour her, go read one of her books. Start with the first two Holdfast Chronicles, Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines. Be warned, though: when you read the first one you will want to flinch and look away. Don’t. She didn’t.

Spear—Award Eligibility

Image description: A book, Spear by Nicola Griffith. On the cover, the background is charcoal, shading to black at the bottom, with the author’s name at the top is orange-red and the title, at the bottom, and ‘from the author Hild’ in white. The main image is of a great hanging bowl of black iron with inlaid figures and great bronze escutcheons for the hanging hooks. It is wreathed about by smoke and flame and steam, and the steam forms images: in white, woods with a woman and a stone and a sword; about the trees, shading to orange, is an figure with a spear on a horse; a fort gate and box palisade, and over all, flying up in the smoke towards the author’s name, two birds.

I’ve been asked several times by readers who are drawing up their award-nomination lists whether Spear should be categorised as a novel or novella.

Simple Answer

The book is 45,000 words (excluding the Author’s Note). So if the award you’re nominating for has word-length categories for novella (and most SFF awards specify 25,000 – 39,999 words), then it’s a novel. ETA Having said that, the Hugo apparently allows 20% leeway—so in Hugo terms it could, in fact, be a novella because it’s under 48,000!

More Complicated

If the award does not specify such word-length categories, then it gets a bit more complicated. When I started writing Spear I was aiming for a novelette of 12,000 – 14,000 words. By the end of the first day, though, it was perfectly obvious it would be longer than that, and I switched gears. I treated it as a novella. Which means it’s structured as a novella, with no chapter breaks and a single through-line.

Having said that, it’s not not-a-novella just because I got wordy. The narrative timeline covers years, which usually spells ‘novel’ territory in Fantasy (though not necessarily in SF). There’s enough Arthurian touchstones/tropes—Percival’s story, the Grail, Excalibur, Arthur-Lancelot-Guinevere, Merlin-Nimuë (plus one nifty Arthurian-historiography easter egg that no one’s spotted yet, chortle)—for half a trilogy. And then there’s the historical feel, coming of age story, love story, and the folding in of Irish myth.

Conclusion

Spear is a short novel or a long novella with a lot packed in. I’m truly delighted that so many people like it well enough to want to nominate it for something. The book was a joy to write and it thrills me that some of you found it a joy to read. Thank you.

2023!

Happy 2023!

Here at the Team Nickel headquarters, team members began the day with utter overindulgence, involving (for two-legs) a big chunk of fried cod for breakfast, with Irish breakfast tea and the New York Times (digital) and Seattle Times (paper), followed almost immediately by delicious double-shot Americano and a judicious selection of Fran’s truffles. The four-foots, meanwhile, broke their fast on a moving feast of thrown freeze-dried raw-food treats that scampered under sofas and between chairs, followed by a real workout involving chasing Feather uphill and downdale, ending only with a tragic tangle in the Christmas tree. At which point their assumed their sentry positions boxing us into the kitchen-breakfast room area, alert to further entertainment possibilities.

Image description: George, a 3-year old tabby in his prime, sits upright, tail just so, looking down at his staff from the pinnacle of his cat tree
Charlie, a 3-year old tabby whose description as a ‘fit young cat’ by his personal physician has gone to his head, sitting in an upright position exactly mirroring his brother’s, tail just so, watching his staff from the family room while also keeping the Christmas tree in his peripheral vision in case that frisky Feather should make another appearance.

After a while they got distracted and wandered outside to harass the hummingbirds, leaving Kelley free to chat with her folks in Florida and me to gloat over my lovely clean desktop and started pondering the various files and lists in that To Do folder.

Image description: Mac desktriop showing moonlit sand dunes, with four icons—different drives and an alias of the Settings app—on the lower left and a single folder, labelled To Do, in the upper right.

I have Many Plans, but don’t intend to start in on any of them until Jan 8, at which time I’ll take down my email away message and re-engage with the world.

For now, though, I think I’ll spend the day alternately painting the background of a topographical map of Northern Britain in the Early Seventh Century (I’ll show you that soon) and doing research that will serve both Peretur and Hild this year.

In other words, 2023 is off to a shining start—even the sun is out—and I have high hopes for the year. May yours have begun equally well and just keep getting better.

2022 Blog Stats

Image description: Map of the world showing density of visitors by country. The USA is coloured dark pink, the UK medium pink, and the rest of the world pale pink—with some countries (mainly in Africa) showing blank.


Like last year, the number of people who came to read something increased—but not by much. I posted slightly more often—68 posts—but many of them were brief and informational, notices of appearances and so on.

The Top 5 countries from where my readers log on haven’t changed at all from last year, but the next five were a bit different, with China appearing for the first time, displacing Sweden:

  • US
  • UK
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • Germany
  • France
  • China
  • India
  • Netherlands
  • Ireland

Of the Top 10 New Posts, seven were about my books, and one each about my horrible summer, war in Europe, and realistic Covid death tolls. For some reason, no one seemed to want to read about bright and lovely things like flowers, Kelley, love, or cats. (I’m curious about whether other bloggers had the same experience.)

The Top 15 Overall were mostly perennial favourites—though for the first time since they were written Huge News: Multiple Sclerosis is a metabolic disorder (2011), Books about women don’t win awards (2015) and Lame is so gay (2011) fell off the list—with just three new ones* sneaking in:

What lies ahead for this site? I don’t know. I do know that this blog isn’t going anywhere. I enjoy writing the posts and people seem to enjoy reading them. It ticks along nicely. Plus, this year’s Twitter debacle is just another confirmation that we all need to own our own platforms. Even if I thought all those other social platforms really were being run as public utilities for the greater good (ha ha ha), I like being able to say things too long for Twitter and not pretty enough for Instagram. This is the best place to do that.

Do I want to start a newsletter? No. For the simple reason that this blog functions as a newsletter. All you have to do is subscribe (in desktop view just look at the top of the right hand sidebar; in mobile platforms, scroll right to the end of an individual post), and every new post will be delivered directly to your mailbox the minute it’s published. No muss, no fuss—just like any other newsletter, except that a) you don’t have to pay a dime, and b) I’ll never share your data with anyone for anything. Plus, on a blog you can talk back if you like.

I would like to get back to posting longer and more interesting things. When I last checked I had well over 300 posts partially drafted. Many are from years ago and so will no longer be relevant, but I’m guessing a few others might be worth revisiting. But even if I deleted them all tomorrow, I have a list as long as my arm of things I’d love to talk about. It’s just a question of whether I have the heart—that mix of hope, health, energy, time, and sheer bloody-mindedness that long-term blogging requires to be successful. But I like this blog; I’ve been doing this or something like this for nearly 30 years. So stay tuned for another blog post soon—tomorrow? Monday?—about what to look forward to in 2023.

See you on the other side…

Happy Hedgepig Disco Season to All!

Via Roisín Astell on Twitter (from Verdun bibliothèque municipale MS 107, f.8r)

Signed personalised books for the holidays—including my memoir!

White background, blue letters spelling "Phinney Books" with an image of a Big Wheel in gold at lower leftImage description: White background, blue lettering spelling “Phinney Books,” in all caps. And, in gold, an image of a Big Wheel lower left and “Seattle,” again all caps, lower right.


I’m teaming up again with Phinney Books, on Greenwood Avenue, Seattle, to bring you signed, personalised books for the holidays. Why Phinney Books? Well, because it’s my idea of a perfectly-sized bookshop with just the right stock. Also, it’s level-entry with a light front door so very easy for me to get in and out of. And of course before and after pandemic restrictions it’s wonderfully convenient because it’s right next door to the 74th St Alehouse, which sells an excellent pint of Guinness.

Here’s how it works.

  1. Go to Phinney Books’ online ordering page to buy any of my books, no muss no fuss, and get them shipped to any address in US. Everyone else, see the next step.
  2. Email info@phinneybooks.com (phone is okay: 206-297-2665) with billing info: all major credit cards accepted. They use Square, so they’ll also need the 3-digit code on the back and your billing postal code.
  3. Tell them what you’d like:
    • Spear (hardcover—audiobook and ebook available)
    • Hild (paperback or hardcover—audiobook and ebook available)
    • So Lucky (paperback—audiobook and ebook available)
    • Ammonite (paperback—audiobook and ebook available)
    • Slow River (paperback—ebook available)
    • With Her Body (paperback only)
    • Or my memoir, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party. SEE NOTE BELOW.*
    • Don’t forget, you can order ebooks and audiobooks via the store (I narrated So Lucky and Spear). Sadly I can’t personalise those, though—unless you buy a card from Tom and I sign that.
  4. Tell them whether you want the books personalised (to you, or to someone else; if so, who; and what short thing you’d like me to add). If you give this order by phone, please spell out even the most common names.
  5. Give them your mailing address and payment info.
  6. Beam, sit back and relax: you’ve done your holiday shopping!

Tom, the owner, tells me he is happy to ship multiple copies, to ship internationally, and to ship express/priority, but then there will be extra charges you will have to work out with him.

Deadlines: The sooner you get orders in the better. I won’t be signing anything after Dec 15. My advice? Order as fast as possible, especially if you want a copy of the memoir. Good luck!


  1. * There is a very limited supply of these. There were only 450 to start with and 15 years ago they were priced at $75. The most recent sales I’ve seen elsewhere (auction sites and the like) have been over $100, sometimes well over. And because they’re sealed in plastic—absolutely pristine—I can’t sign and personalise them. But each one is already signed and numbered inside the box. For this promotion only I’ll be selling a handful at $75 each. After that the price will go up. A lot.
  2. It takes time for Tom to order copies of With Her Body.
  3. The Aud novels are not currently available. I reverted the rights and sold everything I had lying about in an earlier promotion. But, woo-hoo!, they will be back on sale at some point in spiffy matching editions from Picador—and I’ll be doing the audio narration.
  4. Bending the Landscape is not currently available—though if you want to pay $750 you can find them online.
  5. And don’t forget, while you’re buying one of my books—or all of them! hey, it’s the holidays, splurge!—you can buy books by other people. Lots of books. Books make great gifts.

Treasure trove discovered: my memoir in a box!

Demon Jesus—a collage I made when I was five years old. Note the very careful nail holes. I’m not sure why the observer has only one leg; perhaps it fell off.

Kelley and I recently went through the house clearing out the accumulated clutter of 17 years. We found all sorts of interesting stuff1—including a stash of my limited edition, signed and numbered, memoir-in-a-box, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party: Liner notes to a writer’s early life. I’m delighted—I thought they were all truly, finally gone apart from my one working copy. I’m nor sure how many of them there are, maybe a dozen—Kelley opened the box long enough to see what it contained, then left it in the attic—but I’m going to part with a handful. The box is a lovely thing, a collector’s item, and there’s nothing I’d like more than to hoard them, gloat over them like a dragon with her gold, but I wrote it to be read.

This book is unique; there isn’t another like it in the world. And there were only 450 copies made. It is my early life in a box: the story of growing up queer, gender nonconforming, hungry (in all the ways) in a super-Catholic family in the north of England, from 1960 until I left for America in 1989. Stories of batty nuns and queer priests; sex and drugs and music; psychopathy and arson and nascent criminal master-mindery; desire, delinquency, and delight; violence, joy, and coalition-building. But above all it’s a love story: how my love of life led to love of words which led to meeting and falling in love with Kelley. Which changed everything—the story ends with me leaving the UK to come to the US to start our life together as writers.

In terms of original word count, Party is short—no more than 45,000 words—mostly short essays with titles such as “Limb of Satan” to “No-Pants Griffith” to “Whole Psychopath.” These are all true stories; some are funny, some are not. But words are only part of the story. Included in the box are scratch-n-sniff cards; a fold-out poster of one of my first artworks (a collage crucifixion of Jesus with demon-red eyes; I was four); a facsimile of my first book—written and drawn at age four with crayon; a CD of me performing with my band; a signed baby photo; diary excerpts; excerpts from my first handwritten novel; old poetry; a recipe for plastic omelette (I’m lucky no one died); quotes from my very first editorial letters (for that same unpublished handwritten novel), and lots and lots of stories, all true—building my first still (again, I’m lucky no one died); the grief of trying to save a sister who did not want to be saved; tales of loneliness and unexpected alliances; and always—always—being different. It’s the story of, well, the early life that made me me—a writer.

For a taste, here are two short readings from the book, stories of me at age four (No-Pants Griffith) and sixteen (Bird of the Fragile Spirit).2 Then tune in tomorrow for how to get hold of one of these beautiful objects.

No-Pants Griffith
Bird of the Fragile Spirit

1 Seriously. All kinds of stuff. So much cool stuff that I’m thinking of starting a Patreon next year and using some of it for Reward tiers.

2 The recording is not great quality—and weirdly I sound as though I have a lisp; I don’t. Also, the title of this piece if that of a poem I wrote at 17 that I later turned into a song.

Gorgeous Kelley

Kelley has a new photo, taken earlier this month. I love it—it looks exactly like her with the cool hair matching the fabulous opal, and the nifty tats going with the delicious muscles. Not to mention her lovely eyes.

It’s been a while since we’ve had a good new photo. This one is by Ed Sozinho, of Sozinho Imagery who lives just around the corner from us. If you live in Seattle and need a corporate or author photo, drop him a line.

Hild, Menewood, and Meanwood

Today is the feast day of Hild of Whitby, aka St Hilda, who died 1408 years ago. It seems like a good time to announce that Menewood, the sequel to Hild, has finally entered copyediting—it’s in the production cycle. It will be published by FSG/MCD in October 2023.

I’ve seen a draft of the cover—it’s fantastic!—and here’s a first stab at the flap copy:

In the much anticipated sequel to Hild, Nicola Griffith’s Menewood transports readers back to seventh-century Britain, a land of rival kings and religions poised for epochal change. Hild is no longer the bright child who made a place in Edwin Overking’s court with her seemingly supernatural insight. She is eighteen, honed and tested, the formidable Lady of Elmet, now building her personal stronghold in the valley of Menewood.

But Edwin recalls his most trusted advisor. Old alliances are fraying. Younger rivals are snapping at his heels. War is brewing—bitter war, winter war. Not knowing who to trust he becomes volatile and unpredictable. Hild begins to understand the true extent of the chaos ahead, and now she must navigate the turbulence and fight to protect both the kingdom and her own people.

She will face the losses and devastation of total war, and then must find a new strength, the implacable determination to forge a radically different path for herself and her people. In the valley, her last redoubt, her community slowly takes root. She trains herself and her unexpected allies in new ways of thinking, and she prepares for one last wager: risking all on a single throw for a better future…

The copy will change, it always does, but I think it gives a sense of the sweep of the book: Menewood is epic. It begins four months after the end of Hild, and covers only four years of Hild’s life, but those years are intense: war and defeat, alliance and betrayal, birth and death, joy and forgiveness, violence and rage, love and lust, war and victory, grief and loss, learning and building, bravery and cowardice, growth and change, war and devastation, power and responsibility, and the making, breaking, and shaping of kings.

Menewood is also full of quieter moments: peace, pleasure, contentment, understanding, acceptance, forgiveness, sorrow, laughter, warmth, friendship, and farewells. It is a book about life: how it feels, what it means, how it changes.

Menewood the book is big—30% longer than Hild. I have a lot to say about it—I could post three times a week from now until October and still not run out of things to talk about—but for now I want to touch briefly on Menewood the place.

The Old English pronunciation of Menewood would be something like MEN-eh-wood. But I pronounce it MEEN-wood because I have based it on a real place: Meanwood, in Leeds, Yorkshire. The fictional stream running through Menewood is the real Meanwood Beck; the fictional valley of Menewood is the real Meanwood Valley. You can go there today, walk under the trees alongside the beck in Hild’s footsteps and imagine her running, laughing, weeping, and deciding the fate of kings.

According to Wikipedia, the name derives from Meene wude — a boundary wood. But I can’t find meene in any Old English glossaries, and mene seems to mean necklace, so, well, your guess is as a good as mine.

I grew up in Headingley, a part northwest Leeds that borders Meanwood, and as a child and teenager ran wild in Meanwood Park, which at about 70 acres covers only a tiny part of the valley. For me, as for Hild, Meanwood is the heart of Elmet, the heart of home. I have a deep and abiding affection for the sound and scent of its trees and air and water. When I go back to the UK I always visit the park, and as soon as I’m under the trees the scent of the soil is a stab under my ribs; it’s part of me.

Here’s a photo of Meanwood Beck I took years ago with Crapcam.

In Hild’s time it would have been bigger and burlier. If you look at a map of Meanwood Valley you’ll see the shape the beck (from a Norse word for brook) carved from the hills on its way to the river Aire.

Above all, Menewood is about Hild. She is on every page, the burning heart around which events turn. And just as in the first book, Hild is most at home in nature, so the book is full of water, sky, and high wild places. I can’t wait for you to read it.

Holiday Bookfest—Live! In-person!—Saturday 19 November!

Come meet me and 27 other local authors next Saturday from 2-4 pm at the Phinney Center. We’ll be signing books, talking about books, reading from books and generally hanging out. I’ll be doing a 10-minute reading—I haven’t decided what, yet. Maybe Spear? Maybe Menewood? Maybe something entirely different? Come and find out!

The Phinneywood blog has all the details:

Discover new ways local authors can help you look at life through the world of books available at the  Holiday Bookfest, once again, finally, being held in person at the PNA on Saturday, November 19, 2-4 p.m. (Blue Building, 2nd floor).

Come to meet local authors, buy books, and get them signed.  Come for author readings, held every 15 minutes. Come to support our local bookseller Phinney Books, who is donating part of the proceeds to the tutoring center Bureau of Fearless Ideas and the PNA. And please bring your gently used children’s books for donation to the Pocket Libraries program!

Among the more twenty-eight authors will be bestselling crime novelist Elizabeth George, Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest, first-time young adult novelist Zoe Hana Mikuta, and memoirist Jessica Gigot, a Skagit Valley farmer.

With the holidays at hand, how about a new cookbook? On hand will be four chef authors: Polina Chesnakova, Hsiao-Ching Chou, Jackie Freeman and Andrea Pons.

And in the gift-giving season, new children’s books will delight the kids in your life. Meet authors Rob Albanese, Lynne Brunelle, Ben Clanton, Andy Chou Musser and Walker Ranson, a young man who penned his first book with his mother, veteran novelist Suzanne Selfors.

A smorgasbord of great books awaits from authors Erica Bauermeister, Robert Dugoni, Laurie Frankel, Nicola Griffith, Thor Hanson, Molly Hashimoto, Priscilla Long, Sharon Mentyka, Boyd Morrison, Steve Olson, Putsata Reang, Steven Reddy, Neal Thompson, Tara Austen Weaver, David B. Williams and the students of BFI.

The building is fully accessible. It’s an airy space, the windows will be open, and mask-wearing is encouraged. Also, I know half the writers—we’re a friendly bunch. And, y’know, there’s a pub and a fine bookstore not too far away—just saying. So come on down and buy a bunch of signed books to give away as gifts—or keep for yourself.

See you there!

Aestas horribilis

I haven’t posted here for over a month. I had to cancel our trip to World Fantasy in New Orleans. I’ve been missing on social media. I have not read the books I promised and not written the blurbs I offered. I haven’t been commenting on politics or history or all things viral.1 I’ve been ignoring friends’ invitations and enquiries. Why? Late summer was horrible; I’ve been overwhelmed.

I’ve already mentioned events of July, when Kelley was laid off2, I broke the cuboid bone in my foot, and then had a bruising wheelchair crash. What I haven’t talked about before here is that Kelley’s mother has Alzheimer’s which has been rapidly increasing upon her. And two months ago she fell, broke her hip and arm, and got concussion.

It’s been difficult. Kelley and I are both exhausted and stressed and working hard on taking care of an old and fragile woman with dementia (and forgets she’s just had her hip replaced and is wearing a cast and tries to walk) and her old and confused husband. We have no time, we have no bandwidth, we don’t know how long this will last or what the future holds. Those of you who have had to manage this kind of thing don’t need telling; those of you who haven’t, well, I hope you never do.

One of the things that adds to the stress is having to renege on promises and cancel things. So let me be clear here: if you ask me a favour3 in the next three months you will not even get the courtesy of a no. Until late winter/early spring, my focus will be very close to home.

Not everything that I’ve been busy with the last couple of months has been bad. The good thing, the best thing—the thing that’s kept me sane—is MENEWOOD. I have a lot to say, and I’ll do that in a separate post, but for now here’s the headline: It’s done, it’s entering the publisher’s production cycle, and oh it will be worth the wait!

Also coming soon here news of a couple of events this month and next, plus the usual holiday books-as-gifts notice.

Meanwhile, it’s truly autumn here in Seattle, and amazingly we still have vivid yellow begonias in bloom, fuchsias brightening both decks and the front bed, and even a few salvia of various colours and shapes giving hummingbirds nectar. The cats are in fine fettle, I love my sweetie and she loves me, and I’m already chortling over the writing ideas I have for what comes next.

Here at Chez Nickel there will be a lot to be thankful for over turkey this year. I wish the same for you.


1 There is so very much to say about this. I could write ten fucking posts and still not get it off my chest.

2 Oh, I could write such a screed about this, and perhaps one day I will.

3 A favour, as opposed to paid opportunity, invitation to something seriously fun, or normal professional activities

This year’s flowers

Every summer we plant a bunch of annuals alongside our surviving perennials in containers on our kitchen and back decks, where I can more easily get to them to water, dead-head, fertilise, etc. I sometimes post pictures on Twitter and Instagram, and several people have asked if I’d do a post going into the planting in a bit more depth because they’re thinking about trying something similar next year.

I’m happy to do that—but to be clear, I am not an expert, far from it. Half the time I dn’t even know the names of the stuff I plant—I pick them because I like the colour, and from the care labels I can guess how much sun/shade and water/not they need, and how high (if vines) how wide (if shrubs) and how long If trailing plants) they’ll grow.

Today I’ll just post pretty pictures of different parts of the garden/decks taken at different times of year, with the names of the plants (at lest the ones I remember) bascially the results. Then sometime in the next couple of weeks I’ll do a more detailed, how-I-decided-and-what-I-did-and-why post, that is, the initial choices. Backwards, I know, but right now the plants are blooming, and it’s pointless planning for next year yet, so it makes sense to me.

The Results

This year we changed the colour of our house exterior, so we had to tear out the climbing roses at the front of in order to paint. This broke my heart (well, okay, made me sigh a bit) because I’d spent years training those fucking roses to look perfect. Here’s how it used to be, from the inside of the front picture window and then from the outside:

A garden of flowers and lawn viewed from inside a house and framed by a window
Seeing the roses around the porch trellis from inside the house
The front garden with roses all around the front porch

Sadly, because the timbers on the front bed had rotted, we also had to tear out everything in the front bed. So we made a new flower bed with a couple of trellises, and planted a mix of vines, shrubs and flowers, both perennial and annual.

Midday sun, August

The vines at the front—on either side of the porch—are a mix of evergreen jasmine (glossy green leaves, for colour during the winter, white flowers for a lovely scent all summer) and deciduous trumpet vines, which (once they flower—not this year, sadly) will have gorgeous flame/salmon flowers that hummingbirds love.

You can see from the picture that I went with lots of warm colours to offset the indigo house—mostly petunias at the front (which being annuals never last past the end of September), with some geranium, hyssop, yellow snapdragon, and a ground cover with white flowers that I can never remember the name of, and at the back some hardy fuchsia plus a shrub with wine-coloured foliage that I frankly have no idea what it is but seem to remember thinking, Hey, that’ll work!

We had such a terrible spring and such a slow start to summer that the front bed looks a bit sparse. Hopefully this time next year will be marvellous.

If you look carefully at the front window you can see through to the back deck and a peekaboo view of the flowers there. And here’s a closeup:

Taken in early evening light in late August

From the top, centre: flame-coloured snapdragon (I hope the vines at the front will flower that colour); just below that pink geranium, to the right of that, red geranium, below the geranium little pink million bells below that red petunia, to the left of the petunia orange marigold, moving clockwise and up a bit, more marigold, next to that variable-pink petunia, above that red/purple salvia, above that hyssop, and at the top blue/purple salvia.

And here’s a wider shot taken a month earlier—before those gorgeous snapdragons really got going, and showing some dark red salvia—in early morning light:

Early July morning

The back deck is where Kelley and I sit in the evenings to talk, drink wine, and grill while bees and hummingbirds zuzz at us and the cats completely ignore us. Here’s a wider shot, showing some other flowers and fruits: some bright pink petunias, behind that a small blueberry shrub—we didn’t get many this year, but are hopeful for next—and some strawberries planted around some kind of daisy.

Early evening on a hazy day

The side deck, just off the kitchen, is where I spend time during the day—usually for an hour or so after lunch—with a cup of tea, some chocolate, and a book. This year that deck has been a haven and balm.

Kitchen deck early afternoon

Here, from lower left, we have pale salmon-pink petunia; above that, Flaming Lips, a kind of Salvia—with some vivid red petunia planted at its base; on the ground, fuchsia; next to that the three jasmine vines we’ve had for years now, entwined to make a small tree; behind the jasmine, though you can’t see it, is rosemary with a few marigolds for colour; at the base of the blue pot that hold the jasmine is something I’m really pleased with this year: bright yellow begonia. (We tried begonias last year on the back deck and they did not do well.) You can see things more clearly here—though it was early in the summer before things really got going adn before we decided where things would end up. Those blue and yellow flowers in front of the begonia (er, the name will come to me…) got moved somewhere else, as did the small purple things to the left of the jasmine—to the front garden I think:

Early summer, when things are just getting started

And this is the deck from the opposite angle. You can see we have a variety of herbs in the coir baskets, along with flowers for colour (petunias in various colours are my standby). We also have herbs in pots on the deck itself—some sage and some oregano I think—stuff like chives and basil and thyme and marjoram:

End of September

From a slightly wider angle you can see the hanging basket behind the herbs, again with Flaming Lips salvia—hummingbirds adore salvia, and I love watching them, so we try to plant different varieties in different places.

Those orange things are million bells I think, and on the table there a basket of petunia and marigolds—but I’d just dead-headed a batch in this photo (marigolds, like petunias, are super-sensitive to moisture of lack thereof; miss a day of watering when the sun is shining and, oof, sadness ensues) so they’re not visible—and behind that some lavender (it didn’t do well this year, I’m not sure why) and then behind the table another coir basket full of fuchsia an little blue flowers that have some woman’s name I always forget—lobelia? veronica?

End of September

So the above photo is from September, and this one is what the table and basket behind it looked like in June (and before we add the petunia to the pot with marigolds):

Early days—lavender, marigold, fuchsia in June

To whet you appetite for a future, How To post, here’s another photo, taken the same day in June, this time of the back deck, while we were still figuring out where things would go and whether we’d bought enough. You can see still still in their starter pots—with the strawberries looking particularly delicious.

Wine o’clock in June

Me at 62

When it comes to special occasions, I mostly talk here about Kelley’s birthdays and our various when-we-met, when-we-married, when-I-moved-here anniversaries, and only bring up my own birthday when it’s one of those end-in-zero-or-5 milestones.

Posts usually come with photos but frankly I’m crap at taking selfies—I usually look something between bored and homicidal. Case in point, my most recent selfie, taken one afternoon in late July about an hour after the third bad-thing-in-one-day event.

Okay, technically still 61 here, but close enough

In my defence, they were pretty bad things: Kelley got laid off with no warning, I found out I had a fractured cuboid bone (and it fucking hurt), and then on the way out of the MRI suite (because of cuboid bone) I had my first-ever wheelchair crash, in which I hit a misaligned paving stone at speed, went flying into the road headfirst, and was landed on by my 40kg wheelchair. I was *grumpy*.

So here’s a better one, a screen cap I took a couple of hours ago during a Zoom meeting. I hadn’t been up very long (do you get up early on your birthday?) so I’m a bit blank, but like all Zoom pix it’s flattering—I always use the ‘touch up my appearance’ setting at about 25% strength, and the direct light smoothes out my skin. But, hey, it’s my birthday. I get to cheat a bit if I want.

Early morning Zoom—too early, really, for one’s birthday

The rest of my day will be spent working on Menewood (I finally have editorial notes, yay!) followed by more video chats, business and personal, then a lovely evening of Champagne and caviar on the deck with Kelley. The weather looks absolutely gorgeous for the end of September and we intend to take every advantage of our pretty flowers and ice-cold wine.

May you have an equally lovely day.

Facing the Butcherbird

Hild as Butcherbird

Image description: Oil-painting-like image of a seventh-century warrior staring directly at the observer, blue-green eyes narrowed and looking as though she’ll ride right over you.


Over on Gemæcce, my research blog, I’ve been doing a series of posts on Hild’s bynames. In Hild, she has four. (Actually six, if you count Light of the World and King’s Fist—but they’re more titles than epithets. And then there are the two she adds in Menewood—but I’ll get to those closer to publication next year.) Butcherbird is the name she acquired as a teenager after she impaled bandits on stakes across the Aire Gap to deter further incursions into Elmet from Craven.

Last year I talked about that byname, a reference to the common English name for the grey shrike—which also impales prey, hanging mouse pups, bees, lizards and so on thorns and fences. But I was never happy with the illustration I used, probably because I was trying to making one sketch do two things—represent a grey shrike and a red shrike—and it ended up stiff and weird and not at all representative of the threat of such a predator (bird or woman). So now I’ve had another go, approaching representation from a different perspective.

Hild as Butcherbird

First, I tried with Hild herself. I went to DALL-E, a platform that uses machine learning to generate images, and told it to create an oil painting based on my image.1 “Oil painting of seventh-century Anglo-Saxon warrior with blue-green eyes based on images of Nicola Griffith.” What I got back wasn’t great. My face, like most people’s, is asymmetrical—but what I got back was seriously wonky. And her hair was flowing blonde tresses (it must have found one of those rare images of me with long hair2), and her mouth was not only crooked but bow-shaped (shudder). So then I uploaded one of my author photos, added “looking formidable” to the prompt, and tried again. Still wonky, still blonde, still bow-shaped mouth, but now at least beginning to look like someone who a) might have survived birth and b) you wouldn’t want to cross.

I took it through Photoshop and then worked on it with Procreate (the two programmes have different strengths) and started to get something not too embarrassing. And here it is. It’s extremely rough, and if I were going to use it for anything serious I’d do a lot more work—she not bony enough; I’d rather her hair was at least braided out of the way; she should be dirtier, and bloody—but for the purpose of this post this sketched-in outline of changes is good enough.

Butcherbird shield

Second, I tried to create the shield the Butcherbird’s Hounds carry. At the beginning of Menewood we get to see this usually-hidden shield (briefly), a sight that’s supposed to terrify her opponents with its crude cruelty—chalk-white paint splashed directly onto raw planks and daubed with bloody red—and suggest what might happen to them if they lose.

This one I did the old-fashioned way, no machine-learning involved, going for something you might get if you used a stick wrapped in cloth to smear on the paint. I wanted it to be blunt and brutal—no subtlety involved. It’s a threat and a warning.

Shield of the Butcherbird

Image description: A seventh-century shield with sewn leather rim and bronze boss, painted stark white directly onto the planking, and daubed with a bloody red image of a man impaled on a stake.


So now I’m happy: these images capture what it might feel like to face the Butcherbird when she’s coming for you—probably the last things you would ever see.


1 Why me? Not because I think I look like Hild but because that way I could be sure I was’t ripping off anyone else’s imagery or likeness. (Go read about some of the ethical grey areas surrounding AI/machine-learning image generation. I plan to err on the side of caution.) Also I have blue-green eyes.

2 I’ve no idea how—even I can’t find one online. But, eh, just for you, here’s one and here’s another.

Kelley on the planet

Today is the start of another year on the planet for my favourite person. If I were Empress of the Universe every bell on earth would peal with joy and celebration. She makes the world a better place. I am lucky to share my life with her.

Hægtes: one of Hild’s bynames

Over on my research blog, a long chewy post about how I researched one of Hild’s first bynames, hægtes. And then how I figured out how to depict one.

Zen and Thunderbirds

One of the things about life in general, and life with a neurodegenerative disease like MS in particular, is having to deal with constant change, most of it not for the better. I get tired of change—but I also know that for all living things change is a constant factor.1

Change always—every single time—takes some getting used to. Some is relatively easy, and warrants a shrug and the Zen attitude: “Change Is.” Some merits the furious resistance summed up very nicely2 as “Change is, of course, to be deplored.”

Both of those saying are constant refrains in our household. So you say say I exist between Zen and Thunderbirds: Change is… and Change is, of course, to be deplored. Except, huh, now that, in the course of finding this clip, I’ve watched it for the first time in decades, it turns out Kelley and I got it wrong. What they actually say is, “One does, of course, deplore change.” Which is not nearly as nifty. So I’ll stick with my original.

Or maybe I’ll resort to Deadwood, “Well, fuck the fucking new!”

So how do you regard change? Zen, Thunderbirds, or Deadwood?

___________________________

1 Inanimate things, too: rock erodes, steel corrodes, the sun implodes

2 In “Vault of Death,” an episode of the old puppet-animation TV show, Thunderbirds.

Spear on sale: 50% off!

Charlie has news…

Image description: Tabby cat yelling at the top of his lungs, “Spear on sale!”


The hardcover of Spear is currently on sale for $9.99 at both Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. So get it while it’s hot! But/and if a few dollars here or there are not of overriding importance, then go buy it from you local indie store—see this enormous list of independent bookstores I put together a while ago. If you’re still not sure, go read all about the book here.

And remember, kittens need treats…

George has hopes

Image description: Tabby cat looking—wistfully, hopefully—down at text reading “More sales mean more treats.”

Indivisible—except by 17

Kelley and Nicola, March 2022 — ICFA, by the pool

Thirty-four years ago today I met Kelley. So far they’ve been the best years of my life. My hope is that they just keep getting better. I certainly hope the photographs of us do! This blurry but happy snapshot was taken with someone’s phone (Jim Kelly’s?) by the pool at the International Conference For The Fantastic In The Arts in Orlando by someone else (maybe Ted Chiang?). I don’t remember—only that we’d been having a great conversation but that, as is the nature of conventions, we were all about to dash off and do something else.

If you want more photos of me and Kelley through the years, see 30 Years Ago: A Love Story In Photos.

Meanwhile, Kelley and I will be getting on with various zesty delights here at home surrounded by cats, trees, flowers, books, Champagne and the life that we’ve built—are still building—together.

May your summer be exactly what you wish it to be.

R/evolution in disability lit is accelerating

Years ago, just before I was first coming out as a cripple, I suggested that Crip Lit was in the place Queer Lit was 70 years ago: no literary awards, no trade publishers, and apart from a handful of small journals no coherent sense of community. (Worse, much of the literature being produced about disability was written by nondisabled people and perpetuating dangerous stereotypes.) But there was a lot going on under the surface, bursts here and there of activism and intercommunication. In 2016 I came up with the #CripLit hashtag, and Alice Wong and I started hosting regular Twitter chats. #CripLit did not iniate change but I believe it was part of what helped accelerate the change already underway.

The first queer literary awards (as far as I’m aware) began just over 50 years ago when in 1971 the Stonewall Awards were created. There are now many awards for queer literature—and many publishers, review journals, websites, and specialist bookstores; a whole ecosystem of Queer Lit. And these days most publishers are aware enough of homophobia to turn away fiction in which queerness signifies evil and/or the queers die tragically at the end. These days, most queer lit is produced by queer writers.

Crip lit is behind the curve. Until recently, vile ableist books like Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You (the crip equivalent of The Well of Loneliness) not only got published and become bestsellers but were also turned into hit movies (appalling and inexcusable in the twenty-first century). Even now, most novels by and about disabled people are reviewed by nondisabled critics. And as far as I’m aware, until a couple of years ago there were no major lit awards for books by disabled writers and/or about disabled characters.1 But things are changing

The first serious award for book-length literature by a disabled writer was awarded in 2021: the Barbellian Prize for a book of fiction or nonfiction by a disabled writer. It was won by Riva Lehrer for her memoir Golem Girl.

And last week the UK’s Society of Authors announced the ACDI Literary Prize for book-length fiction with disabled characters by disabled writers. So now there are two good literary awards for serious Crip lit. Not only that but we also have a smattering of speciality publishers, at least one bookstore that I know of, and a handful of literary journals. The pace of change is accelerating!

I wonder where we’ll be in five years…


1 There were and are other awards, of course, but super-specialised.

  • Disability History Association awards Outstanding Book prize—but it’s so specialised it’s mostly not relevant for most writers.
  • The Oleb Books Personal Essay Award (OBPEA) for writers with disabilities
  • Dolly Gray award which recognises “authors, illustrators, and publishers of high quality fictional and biographical children, intermediate, and young adult books that authentically portray individuals with developmental disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities, and Down syndrome.” The authors do not have to be disabled.

If you know of others, please drop a comment below or send me email.

Two interviews and a review

I’m back from a lovely week on Orcas island (if ever you get the chance to visit the Orcas Island LitFest you should) to find two new interviews and an absolutely stunning review of Spear.

Interviews

One is with Locus. It’s my third interview with the magazine and this time I was talking to Gary Wolfe and Liza Trombi while attending ICFA in Orlando. Locus interviews are interesting in that they are very deliberately left as transcriptions of an oral conversation—you get to see the subject’s mind at work. Or, in my case, skipping about. My thoughts were going a mile a minute so I sometimes didn’t finish one before launching into a tangent. This is how i work during written interviews, only in written interviews I get to go back and put things in order, add the things I dropped mid-thought, etc. So in this interview one thing I did drop mid-thought was Clarion, and what I learnt. I talk about having learnt only two things about writing at the workshop—and what those were, and who I learnt them from—and had intended to then go on to say that the main thing I did learn was what it means to be a professional writer—how the business works; how to behave with others in the industry; and ways to deal with obstacles to career success. For the record, I learnt that mostly from Tim Powers, and Kate Wilhelm and Damon Knight. I’m sorry I didn’t get that into the interview.

Some interviewees apparently edit their drafts pretty heavily (and I think if you read a few of these things you can tell who, just from the style) but I just changed a couple of sentences to make them more clear. So, well, it’s about 6,500 words of NG raw and uncut. I’m pretty sure it’s behind a paywall, but if you’re interested in SFF you really should subscribe anyway. Locus is the trade magazine for the genre.

Here’s a chunk to whet your appetite:

“I went to Clarion because I found an old copy of F&SF in 1987 and there was an ad for the workshop in the back. This was when Clarion was in Michigan. At the same time, I was getting very restless in Hull. I was reaching that point of, ‘I don’t want to live this life anymore. I want to be warm in the morning, I want food in the fridge; I’m tired of being followed by police everywhere, and I’m done with this.’ I had been teaching a lot of martial arts, a lot of women’s self-defense, and I thought, ‘I need to go somewhere different, just for a little bit.’ I saw this advert for Clarion and thought, ‘Oh, science fiction.’ I’d been reading science fiction and thinking about it. I thought that might be cool. About a week later I heard about a women’s martial arts camp in the Netherlands and decided to apply to that too. ‘Whoever accepts me first, I’ll go there.’ It never occurred to me that neither of them would accept me — I was young, still operating in the ‘Hey, I’m amazing, someone has to’ mindset. Clarion wrote back and said, ‘Our actual application process isn’t open yet, but we’re going to put you on file and we’ll let you know.’ They let me know right in the beginning of February that year. They wanted me to go, and they gave me a scholarship. Super cool. Then, of course, I was terrified, because I’d never travelled to another continent on my own. I’d been out of the UK to the Netherlands and Greece and places like that, but always with other people. I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’m going to be gone for seven weeks and I have no idea what it’s going to be like.’ I was frightened. But I thought, ‘If I don’t do this I will regret it for the rest of my life.’

“My instructors were Tim Powers, Lisa Goldstein, Chip Delany, Stan Robinson, and finally Kate Wilhelm & Damon Knight. I don’t think I really learned anything about writing at that workshop. Actually, I did: the one thing I learned is what Kelley and I first thought of as ‘Delany-ization,’ which is putting everything in the right order. He took a bad passage from John Brunner and made it even worse (I think — I hope so!), and gave it to us — something about going into a room in a great and silver city. I can’t remember the details. He said, ‘Rewrite this so that it makes sense.’ Basically, you have to say, ‘He got to the door, he opened the door, he went in, the room was like this, then he did this….’ You put it in the right order. Kelley and I started calling it ‘narrative grammar’, because we realized that it’s not just important to get the physical narrative right — you have to get the emotional narrative right, too. You have to get everything in the right order. You’ve got all these layers of fiction and they have to swell together and fall together. So, I learned that.

“Actually, there was one other thing. I was talking to Kate and Damon, and they said, ‘Have some wine,’ and, oof, it was just nasty wine (a gallon jug of Gallo). They showed me all the stories I had written and said, ‘Put them in order of when you actually wrote these.’ I did, and they went right down to the bottom two stories–my submission stories–peeled them off, and said, ‘These two are good. With these others, we don’t know what you’re doing. You’re messing around. You’re not talking about anything that matters. What are you frightened of?’ I’m like, ‘Right now? Not much — maybe the wine?’ They said, ‘Nah, just be brave. You’re a really good writer: be brave. That’s all we have to say. Let’s have some more wine.’ So, that was it. I learned narrative and emotional grammar and I learned to try to be brave — to do the thing that I think can’t be done, or that most people say shouldn’t be done, or that no one will publish.”

Locus, June 2022, Issue 737, Vol. 88, No. 6, p.66

Another interview I did before Spear came out was with Jenn Jordan for the Syosset Pubic Library’s Turn the Page podcast. And, yet again, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed listening, and the high information density of the finished product—which, given that it was’t edited at all—is exactly the same as the original product :)

I don’t generally listen to podcast interviews because I often find them to be tedious, rambling, fake-chirpy, low-information-density messes, so it’s been a delightful surprise to be involved in so many in a row that, well, are not like that at all. I’m prepared to admit that my notion of podcasts might be very wrong or at least outdated—but I’m curious: what’s your opinion of podcasts? Do you like them? Not? Which one/s would you recommend?

For archival purposes, here are my five most recent podcast interviews:

Reviews

When Hild came out it was reviewed all over the place—lit mags, major newspapers, blogs, pop culture journals, entertainment sites—but that was nine years ago. The publishing landscape has since changed significantly. With the exception of lead titles from major trade presses, most novel reviews today tend to be one-paragraph blurbs from trade mags (PW, Library Journal, Kirkus etc), roundups from book bloggers and YouTubers, pretty but not exactly deep reels on Instagram, the occasional TikTok, squibs on Goodreads, one or two slightly longer pieces in review journals (Los Angeles Review of Books, Chicago Review of Books etc)—with perhaps a single major newspaper. If you’re lucky. And few are likely to be deep, interesting, or revelatory.

Given that Spear is a very awkward length—longer than a novella but not quite long enough to call a novel—and a retelling, at that, my expectations were not high. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. It’s true, I have had only one major newspaper but it was the New York Times and it was positive. All the publishing trade mags were positive, too, with a couple of online bookseller journals (e.g. Shelf Awareness) being absolute raves.

I’ll list a selection of the more substantial reviews below (again for archival purposes) but for now I want to talk about a review essay of Spear on the Ploughshares blog.

The first thing that struck me about the piece was the featured image, a gorgeous painting of mountainous upland—absolutely perfect for Spear. There was no attribution on the Ploughshares site but I liked it so much I did a TinEye reverse image search—and surprisingly came up with nothing. Stylistically the painting looks old enough to be in the public domain (late 19thC British/European maybe, but perhaps early 20thC North American), but I’m reluctant to use it without knowing for sure. So if you recognise the image, or have a better idea how to search for it, please let me know. [ETA: Thanks to Anna’s comment below, I now know it’s “Landscape With Distant Mountains,” by Arthur Severn, 1899.]

The second thing was the length of the essay—about 2,000 words. The reviewer, Holly M. Wendt, really liked the book—which of course is great—but the third and best thing was that they helped me understand more clearly what I had actually written.

Before I go any further, I want to reiterate what I’ve said before about how I wrote Spear. The original conception was as short fiction, perhaps 10,000 words. I’ve explained elsewhere (in one of those podcast interviews above, I think—maybe Intermultiversal?) that when I write short fiction my process is very different from novel-writing. Almost every stage of a novel is at least partially under my conscious control and by the time i’ve rewritten it every single part is wholly so; I understand the connections and nuances and connotations; I know what it does and why and how and what it means. Short fiction, on the other hand, is for me often a wild, intuitive rollercoaster ride through my subconscious, stemming from a nebulous image or feeling and (sometimes, if I’m lucky) a vague notion of the journey’s end, but—with zero sense of the points in between—relying wholly on my subconscious story expertise to get me there. Spear, for all its almost-novel length, functioned for me like a short story. I wrote not knowing nothing what would come out, only that it would be coherent when it was done. And it was. The first draft was essentially what you’ll find in the finished book—only with a few things added that I’d sped past in a frenzy the first time through. I deepened a conversation here, added an emotional resonance there, that kind of thing. By the time it was copyedited and proofed, after I’d written about it extensively, and after talking about it on Zoom, Skype, and via email I thought I knew almost everything there was to know. But there’s always—always!—more to learn.

For example, after talking to several critics about the change of pace in the narrative, and reading several reader comments from those who preferred the dreamlike opening, when the main character is nameless and speaks only to nature or to her unreliable-narrator of a mother, and those who preferred the real-world parts, I knew there was something there still to figure out. Then last week I was in the middle of a dinner conversation with friends when all those remarks came together in my head and I understood what I’d done—and how and why—with tenses and narrative distance and magic, with myth and the real world, and how it all pivoted around a single sentence:

Outside in the clearing her feet faltered but she walked on, through the thicket, and once on the other side she felt in her heart a snapping, like the parting of a sinew.

Spear, by Nicola Griffith (Tordotcom, 2022), p27

It’s at this point that Peretur has her name and is essentially expelled with it from the gauzy and dreamlike world of myth and magic (and present tense—or at least present participles, and narrative distance, and periphrastic prose, and ever-slippery reality) and into the real world, solid under her feet, peopled with living breathing folk. Only now, in the world of people to interact with, that she can begin to truly cohere, to begin to coalesce into her real self. I’d done all that without being consciously aware of what I was doing, but clearly my writing brains, experienced in the way of story, knew what it was about. I felt pretty pleased with myself—smug, even—and at last thoroughly convinced I knew everything there was to know about my own book.

Then I read the Ploughshares essay. Here’s the opening paragraph:

There are few pleasures quite like sinking into a novel that actually merits the adjective “spellbinding,” one in which navigation of known and unknown is so ideally balanced that everything familiar appears from an unexpected angle and everything truly new arrives as deftly as a memory recalled. Nicola Griffith’s Spear, out earlier this year, is just such a book, achieving the particular feat of refreshing the well-trod world of Arthuriana to create a waking dream that echoes most relevantly in our time.

Spear’s Exploration of the Power of Understanding,” by Holly M. Wendt, in Ploughshares blog, posted June 09 2022, accessed June 11 2022 13:30 PDT

I immediately wanted to know: What about that waking dream echoes ‘most relevantly in our time’? And why, as Wendt explains a paragraph or two further down, is it ‘precisely the magical, fantastical elements of Spear that make the novel so seamlessly relevant’ today? I read on, delighted, beginning to understand not only Spear more deeply, but as a result Hild (and therefore Hild and so also Menewood).

For me the money paragraph comes right at the end:

In the midst of so much state oppression in the USA—the proposing and passing of bills that are anti-woman, anti-trans, anti-immigrant, anti-queer, and hostile to people of color, poor people, disabled people, and the environment—the fact that Peretur’s power is rooted in understanding others’ emotional and physical experiences is a striking act of resistance. It is an act of resistance within the sphere of Arthurian mythology itself, a way to remake that space and liberate it for a larger and more inclusive community, and it is an act of resistance that moves beyond the pages of the novel. Oppression gains strength from its refusal to understand others, from its insistent primacy of self-interest. Oppression is incapable of imagining what it might be like to be someone else. Nicola Griffith’s Spear, with its sparking and immersive prose, stands, with Peretur, in defiance of such abuses of power, offering a tale that is a heady and healing draught.

Spear’s Exploration of the Power of Understanding,” by Holly M. Wendt, in Ploughshares blog, posted June 09 2022, accessed June 11 2022 13:41 PDT

But the whole thing is beautifully considered. Do read it.

After that if you want more, here’s a partial list of some other longer (750 – 2,000 words) reviews of and/or articles about Spear I’ve enjoyed:

Meanwhile, I’ll start pulling together YouTube videos of events, and more of those furry, feathered, and fluttery friends of Spear pix. Keep them coming!

Spear in New York Times and Beyond the Trope

When Hild came out I posted often about various news and updates, and pulled together pages of links to some of the best (or most interesting—not always the same thing) reviews, interviews, essays and other miscellanea. I’ve been pretty lax about that with Spear. At some point I’ll pull together some of the more interesting things—video of events, podcasts, reviews—and build a page for it.

For now, though, here are a couple of things from over the holiday weekend.

First, Spear was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review as part of the Summer Reading issue.

Reading it feels like seeing the contours of a landscape rise out of mist: Everything up close is clear, while the surroundings are softened, dimmed, but undeniably present. Peretur’s journey is a pleasure to follow, a lovely flexing of Griffith’s strengths in short form. 

Amal El-Mohtar, New York Times Book Review

And the interview I did for Beyond the Trope podcast is out.

Some podcasts can be weirdly trivial, but—as with X-Ray Vision and Coode Street and Intermultiversal—I really enjoyed this one. It’s fairly short, less than half an hour, and (wonder of wonders!) I’m actually pretty coherent—I even talk in whole paragraphs!—about writing Spear, how and why I sometimes write short, sometimes long, and how it all comes down to the kind of question I’m trying to answer.

And of course at some point I’ll update the blog post about Spear‘s furred, feathered, and fluttery friends and turn that into a page.

History and historicity, historiography and legend

Tapestry by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, overall design and figures
William Morris, overall design and execution
John Henry Dearle, flowers and decorative details
Scanned from Christopher Wood, Burne-Jones, Phoenix, 1997, Public Domain

Image description: Late nineteenth-century Pre-Raphaelite style tapestry of Arthur’s knights in a palette of ivory, cream, gold, peach and burnt umber, showing rich young beautiful, blonde and blue-eyed straight white people in a wood. The men are mounted and wearing medieval armour; the women wear flowing white dresses, and hold swords, spears, and shields ready to hand them adoringly to their heroes who are about to ride out on a quest.


How can you make a realistic novel set in the past feel like magic—and a book stuffed with magic and myth feel realistic? And why is that sometimes a problem for historical fiction writers?

Funny you should ask: I just wrote a whole essay about that for Historia Magazine. Go take a look. Oh, and there’s a clue in the image description…