Boars and ravens and gold

Over on Gemæcce, my research blog, I’m having more fun with totems and banners, this time Edwin and Oswald. I consider the meaning of thuuf, sketch different ravens for Oswald’s banner, and mull the possibilities of ‘purple’. Along the way I ponder gastropods and trade routes, shot-silk taffeta and the self-importance dignity of kings…

Memory of flowers, and flowers to come

Every year we fill planters and baskets on our two decks, and, starting last year, the garden bed in front of our living rom window. Every year I mean to document the progress, step by step. Ever year I forget (or get too busy). I probably will this year, too—but, hey, at least I’m remembering to start with a ‘before’ picture. These photos were all taken in the last three or four days—some in the sunshine, some in the overcast. They are warts-and-all; we haven’t touched anything (beyond cutting the grass) since we did the autumn clean-up last year.

The front garden is the bit I have the least practice with. When we had our house painted a year or two ago, we had to tear our the lovely climbing roses I’d spent years (over a decade, sigh) training to grow over the doorway and porch. The front bed was collapsing, took we tore that out and rebuilt it. I did’t want roses again—they are too vulnerable to PW pests and they are very high maintenance. So I chose a mix of vines to climb the trellises, shrubs, ground-cover perennials, and exuberant annuals. I wanted mostly a red-pink-purple-yellow palette to offset the overwhelming blueness of the house. This is where things stood last year as August turned to September.

Each side trellis was planted with a) a hybrid trumpet creeper: deciduous, so bare and boring all winter, but glorious with rich deep salmon-and-fire colours in summer and b) jasmine: evergreen—so covering all the bare twigs of the creeper), with white blossom in spring. We grow jasmine on the kitchen deck and I’m comfortable with its rhythms and care requirements so I knew that would be fine. The trumpet vine thing, though (sadly I can’t remember its name) was a total shot in the dark.

All last summer the jasmine grew like the beanstalk but the trumpet vine… Well, it just seemed to sit there quietly and enjoy the sun. No growth that I could see and no blossom. So we also planted some blue perennials in front of the whole thing to make things look a bit less sparse This spring, while the jasmine flowered gloriously, the other vine was just a pile of dead twigs. Then suddenly, while we weren’t looking, boom, leaves everywhere. Oddly the jasmine on the left of the house is doing very well; the other vine not so much—but on the right it’s exactly the opposite. Why? I have no idea.

Lots of jasmine, some blue perennial flower, and not much trumpet vine except a teeny tiny bit right at the top

Those dead-looking thing to the lower right are what’s left of the hyacinths that grow every year. I’m not really a fan of those. I love native British bluebells, in the woods, but these messy scraggly hyacinths in front of an already massively blue house, well, if it were up to me I’d rip them out. Kelley likes them, though.

Things look a bit different on the other side.

Rhododendron behind the trellis, with pernnial ground cover at its base, then lots of trumpet vine, not much jasmine, and pretty vigorous perennials

You can see that on this side quite a lot of stuff has survived the winter. Here’s a slightly better picture.

Those blue flowers, and at the back—which thrilled m to see; I wasn’t expecting it—yellow snapdragon! I’m assuming it’s self-sown rather than an actual survival. But it made me smile. The wine-coloured things in front of that—I can’t remember what they are but I wish I could: I love them, and if they can survive without any attention from me I want more of them! Towards the left, almost hidden by those dead hyacinths, you can see the return of a pale-foliaged shrub whose name (again, sigh) I can’t remember. We planted several shrubs, along with transplanted hardy fuchsia, in those front beds, but I’m not seeing much evidence of survival. No doubt I’ll see more when those dead things are pulled. I would love to see some of the salvia we planted come back—but slavia, like fuchsia, can be fickle, and I’m still try to learn the way of the front garden.

One thing in the garden that did not survive, which really surprised me, was the Japanese maple that’s been there nearly 20 years.

An extinct maple, gone to its maker

The bed opposite the window, which you can see as background to the maple, had mixed survival rates. Lots of ground cover survived, and thrived; the roses are unkillable; but our wonderful blue bee bush (Ceanothus) is seriously ailing. It used to be a solid wall of blue, and the bee drone all summer was so loud you could hear it the minute you opened any widow in the house. But now, well, bees still visit (you can hear them in the video below—even over the bass of a delivery car’s bass beat) but I think it’s time to replace it with a new one.

The back fence and back decks are also a mixed (and messy) story.

Flaming lips (Salvia) still flaming

Our hanging basket of salvia is doing brilliantly—flame red blooms drawing the hummingbirds already. The annuals usually planted around the salvia all died, though, so it’s less spectacular than it could be. The other basket of salvia, though, does’t look good. I think we might replace it (transplant it to the back garden and see if it survives—it might). I was surprised by this.Surprised too, that our three different lots of hardy fuchsia—which always survive—this time might not have. That is, they have, sort of: they seem to be sprouting anew from the apparently dead base. But I really want the fuchsias to grow bigger and bigger. If they die—or die back—ever year, I’m never going to get the massive, colour-dripping shrubs I’m after.

Here’s the fuchsia, to the right. Behind it the lilac which just five weeks ago was gorgeous and now looks scabrous—but that always happens—and to the left in the blue pot, the lavender that didn’t do well last year but seems to be surviving okay.

Here’s a wider shot of the flaming lips, taken a few days earlier. You can see that one basket is empty—that’s where we grew the basil, which dies every year in September, and the parsley, which should survive but never does. Just behind that are the herbs that are doing well, including chives, and next to that the main jasmine. Don’t be alarmed by the yellow and brown leaves. Although it’s a perennial, it goes through a partial leaf die-off once or twice a year.

And finally for the kitchen deck here’s a wider shot of the herbs and jasmine. You can just see the sage at the bottom, which is always a doughty survivor, and to its left next to the blue jasmine pot, another of those will-it-or-won’t-it-survive fuchsias. Next to that is the grass we call Charlie’s Hairy Friend—he sits companionably with that plant every summer. Above those are the less-healthy salvia, and then the rosemary, which I can’t tell if it’s doing well or not.

The back deck is also a mixed story. Last year it was gorgeous—absolutely stunning, a riot of lush colour. Just look at last year’s snapdragons, geraniums, marigolds, hissop, salvias, and petunias (and the bay bush hidden beneath it all). If I had to pick my favourite display last year this was it.

Last year at the back we also grew blueberries and strawberries. I had no idea what might survive. It turns out not a lot. The bay bush, which I’d expected. But no fuchsia and no salvia—a disappointment. The glorious surprise was three self-seeded snapdragons.

And they’re the kind with that fabulous blushing salmon colour. They look a bit spindly, though, so I think we’ll buy new ones as well—perhaps plant these in the front bed where we need tall colour.

The strawberries seem to be regrowing, too, and the blueberries, while not exactly thriving, are showing signs of life.

Oh, and I forgot—the trumpet honeysuckle along the back fence is blooming. More bee and hummingbird food.

So that’s where things stand here in Seattle on Memorial Day 2023. Sometime in the next couple of weeks we’ll get serious about buying pots and flats and trays of every luscious thing I can find. Then spend some happy evening sipping wine and deciding where to put them. Then we’ll watch them grow…

Spear on ADCI Literary Prize Shortlist

I’m delighted to announce that Spear has been shortlisted for the UK Society of Authors’ inaugural ADCI (Authors living with Disabilities and Chronic Illnesses) Literary Prize which celebrates positive representation of disability in literature. The prize is open to authors with a disability or chronic illness, for novels including a disabled or chronically ill character or characters.

Spear is in excellent company, alongside Braver by Deborah Jenkins and Fiona-Scott-Barrett’s The Exit-Facility. The winner will be announced along with other SoA honourees at Southwark Cathedral on Friday 29th June. I’m trying to work out if I can be there for the ceremony—I’m not sure yet. If I can be, I will. These awards for literary excellence and crip representation are important.

A year or so ago I wrote a blog post, R/evolution in disability lit is accelerating, about why awards such as the ADCI and Barbellian prizes matter, and what they suggest for the future. Please go read it.

Prizes like these aren’t huge in terms of financial gain: the cash awards are small, and winning doesn’t significantly move the needle in terms of sales—yet. But the same was once true of the Hugo Award—and perhaps even, in its very early days, of the Booker Prize. (Okay, maybe not. When it first began in 1969 the prize was £5,000—about 15% more than the average UK house price; not to be sneezed at. Now of course it nets its winners £50,000 cash, definitely not to be sneezed at—but paling in comparison to the sales bonanza that follows for most winning novelists, and their subsequent advances.

Prizes for CripLit—or DisLit, or Disability Literature, or CIADlit; I don’t care which of these terms you use to talk about CripLit as long as you talk about it—are important because they acknowledge and privilege fiction about crips by crips. They privilege our own truth, lived experience over the regurgitated ableist crap we’ve been force-fed for generations. (I’ve written many pieces about this. See the New York Times or my Washington State Book Award acceptance speech. Or frankly half the essays on my essay page.) If you want to read some thoughts of disabled writers—what we have to face from the publishing industry, what we’re working on—go read the archive of #CripLit chats Alice Wong and I hosted for a while.

Change really has begun. Long may it accelerate! And if you want to help, go buy a CripLit book—go buy one of the ones on the shortlist.

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Charlie and George are 4

Charlie and George had their birthday while we were attending the Nebula conference, so we’ve decided to celebrate today. Here is Charlie explaining his year in interpretive dance.

“It was awesome!”
“There were raccoons but I *punched* em!”
“And then it was spriiiing!”

According to the vet he is a “Fit young cat.” He weighs about 10 pounds, a very sinewy 10 lbs under that deliciously soft and fuzzy fur. If I hadn’t held him and fed him and flinched every time he ran into a wall he couldn’t see after his brain injury three years ago I might not believe that ever happened. He’s happy, healthy, very fit. He’s always doing, always investigating, always leaping up and dashing off. For Charlie, Year 4 was a good one.

Year 4 was also most excellent for George, too, though he is more cautious about expressing it. Though he’s always been bigger and stronger than Charlie he’s also always been much more cautious. He does not like change. At all. He still won’t eat cat food rather than kitten food, and he refuses to accept that his cat tree platform is too small.

“No, no. It still fits.”

He weighs his choices carefully. He likes to consider options—very much a thinker first. While Charlie in repose has what we describe as Resting Demon Face, George has Resting Sad Face. But he isn’t sad. He’s just pondering imponderables. My guess? He’s writing a philosophy book.

“Be glad you don’t understand the things I have seen…”

He is a big cat. Last time we took him to the vet he weighted a hair under 13 lbs. The vet was surprised: she thought he would weigh more given his length and height. “But it’s all muscle,” she said. And it is—he’s heavily muscled and his bones are thick and dense. His affect is slow and deliberate but take it from me he’s wicked smart and very fast. I’m sad to report that earlier this year he caught and ate a hummingbird. (We’ve since moved the feeder to make this less likely.)

He will sleep with Charlie, and, like Charlie, he is very affectionate with me and Kelley. (Every other being on the planet, two legged and four, is either hidden from or hunted.) Unless he’s ill, though, he will never sit on a lap except mine, and then only in bed. Oddly, Charlie will never sit on a lap in bed but loves draping himself all over us any other time (Kelley more than me—she sits more still). When they’re not on us, they tend to stay near us when they’re home. In bed, they both tend to sleep snugged-up next to—but not on—Kelley (because she likes to sleep warmer then me so adds a fuzzy blanket to the duvet—also, she sleeps more and so disturbs them less).

George sleeps

They go through phases when they can sleep companionably together and phases when they can’t seem to bear each other. And then times when you can just tell each is biding his time…

“No, no, nothing’s about to happen here…”

They have developed routines. Kelley—working largely on East Coast time because of her dayjob—feeds them early while I’m still in bed. When I get up we let them out—it has to be fully light but that timing varies by season. They’re out for about 20 minutes, then George comes in as I’m eating breakfast, jumps up, gives me a perfunctory head bump, jumps down and positions himself for a quick game of chase-the-treat. Then he’s outside again. A few minutes later Charlie comes home—he blasts through the cat door like a clash of cymbals—jumps up, gets a head bump, a purr and a rub, magnanimously permits me to hand feed him four or five treats one at a time. (They are spoiled.) Then, blam!, outside again. Rinse and repeat in various combos for the next hour or two—including yowls (George) or trills and chirrups (Charlie) if I’m not in the kitchen to provide treats according to their preference. When I’m really focused and working I ignore them (they are not that spoiled); otherwise it’s a good excuse to get up and wander into the kitchen.

Right around midday they come in together, sharking about the kitchen like fuzzy velociraptors. They accept more treats then stuff themselves to bursting with actual food. At this point, depending on the weather, sometimes they nap, sometimes they want to play, sometimes they go back out and start slaughtering (sigh).

Just in the last year or so they’ve reliably settled into an average nine-to-five workday. In winter this shrinks to 10-to-3 and in spring and summer can stretch from 7-to-8. But they are home, with us, cat door securely locked and portcullis down, every night when it gets full dark—except for a brief, two- or three-week period in late summer when George wants to roam and can sometimes stay out until midnight. No one (except George) enjoys this phase. But he does always come home and we’ve learnt to accept it and be grateful it’s self-limiting.

So, bottom line: Charlie Bean, aka Best and Brightest, and Handsome George, aka Murgatroyd, are fit, healthy young cats at home in their world. Life, they tell me, is good.

I’m not really bothering to do Kitten Reports (there are about two dozen of them now) anymore but do occasionally post pix on Instagram or Twitter. Meanwhile, if you’re new to the Toothsome Twosome, check out the link to catch up.

Nebula Awards Weekend

Me at the Nebula Awards Red Carpet—in reality a kind of nasty beige—just before the banquet and ceremony. Photo by Richard Man Photo

Spear didn’t win the Nebula Award for Best Novel—but I hadn’t expected it to, so I wasn’t crushed. Disappointed? Oh, yep. Winning is always fabulous! But it’s really not a problem for me when the award goes to a good book written by a fine person, which is what happened this year (Babel, by R.F. Kuang). Actually, I would have been fine to lose to any of this year’s finalists.

Best of all, Kelley and I had a fabulous weekend, reconnecting with people we hadn’t seen for years, finally meeting in person those I’ve been talking to online for a while, and meeting brand new people. It was a really diverse crew this year in terms of age, experience, background, identity, and art form. The hotel had a lovely courtyard with plenty of tables so you could choose sun or shade for conversations, and if you just wanted to chill lots of pretty flowers to look at and singing birds to listen to. All just a 20-minute drive from the airport.

One unfortunate thing: lots of people gave me business cards so that I could text or email when I got home but, er, my little stack of cardboard seems to have vanished somewhere between here and there. So if we chatted and you gave me a card and I promised to get in touch, please email or DM me. Yeah, I’m a dimmock—it’s been so long since someone’s given me a business card that I sort of forgot how to deal with them.1

Anyway, here’s a photo of the finalists who were there in person (many more attended virtually). I talked to most of the people in the picture at some point or other (and if I didn’t: Next time!). And today, just as I was about to post this I realised that, for the first time, I was easily the oldest person in the group. I don’t generally think about age much but, wow, that realisation was an interesting moment…

Finalists for the 2023 Nebula Awards, taken in Anaheim, CA by Richard Man.

1 Pro tip: take a photo of them immediately! I mean, I *know* to do this. But for some reason I just…didn’t. Oh, well.

Hild’s totems and banners

Over on my research blog I talk a bit about visible tokens of allegiance among armed groups, and make some guesses of the kind of thing Hild’s people in Elmet might have carried into a fight.

Lot of hand-made pictures!

Nebula Conference and Awards Ceremony, May 12-14

Kelley and I will be in Anaheim from 12-15 May attending SFWA’s Nebula Awards weekend. I’ll be doing one panel and one book signing, both on Saturday. And of course I’ll be at the awards banquet on Sunday, and any and all of the receptions and parties. And when I’m not at those, I’ll probably be in the bar. So please do come and say hello! I haven’t been to an in-person Nebula weekend for nine years so I might not know your face but I’ve probably read your stuff and I’ll definitely want to meet you—so come and say hello!

About the book signing. The books will be supplied by Octavia’s Bookshelf in Pasadena. I’ll sign whatever you bring—tatty old paperback or glossy new hardcover. Octavia’s presence is being billed as a ‘Pop-Up Bookstore’ so I’m guessing their inventory will have to be pretty focused. Which might mean they’ll be bringing mostly recent and/or best-known books—but that’s just a guess, so if you want to buy a relatively obscure book of mine and get it signed you might want to check with Octavia’s beforehand that what you want will be available.

Autographing Session
— Sat 10:00 – 10:30 am
— Anaheim, signing table A

Career Metamorphosis: Shifting or Expanding Genre, Formats, or Focus as a Writer
— Sat 4:30 – 5:30 pm
— Anaheim in-person and streamed
— Walt Boyes, Sarah Branson, Erin Roberts, Nicola Griffith
“Writers who have successfully changed or added to their original areas of focus (e.g., going from novels to short stories or vice versa; going from writing for kids/YA to adult or vice versa) discuss their experiences and challenges and offer advice for other writers looking to transform or expand their own writing endeavors.”

I’ve no idea what I’ll talk about—hey, that’s what moderators are for—but I’ve made a lot of gear changes over the last few years—in terms of fantastical genre and not, series vs standalone, and short books and monster books. But also there are more nebulous things like being positioned differently by different publishing imprints, the perils of publishing a three-book series with three different publishers, and even more subtle choices like whether to make the Othering of a protagonist overt and explicit or simply Norm that Other. Hopefully it will be an interesting conversation.

Spear is a Locus Award Finalist


Locus announced their Top Ten Finalists last night. Spear is a finalist in the Fantasy Novel category. I am smiling.

If you go read the whole Locus Award Top Ten Finalists list you’ll see that fellow Ray Bradbury nominees Ray Nayler and Alex Jennings are finalists for First Novel and Horror respectively, and fellow Nebula finalists Ray Nayler (again!) and Travis Baldtree (First Novel) and T. Kingfisher, Tamsyn Muir and R.F. Kuang (Fantasy Novel) are there, as are two writers who blurbed Spear, John Scalzi (Science Fiction Novel) and Alix E. Harrow (Novella and Novelette).

Winners will be announced June 24 in Oakland.

Spear’s first year #4: Beautiful Process ➔ Beautiful Book!

The three best-designed trade novels of mine (so far)1 are Stay, Hild, and Spear. They are all very different, but what they had in common was a smooth publication process, an efficient, transparent workflow overseen by editorial, design and production departments working in tandem to make the story and the package it is presented in match in terms of seriousness and heft. And the most important part? Communication: everyone knowing who is doing what and when, and consulting every step of the way.

When I sign a contract the first thing I tell an editor is that what makes me happy is information. An informed author, a consulted author is a happy author. I tell the editorial, publicity, marketing and sales teams—I rarely have contact with production, sadly—that I need information. All the information—the buzz, the scuttlebutt; the yeses and nos; the good numbers, the bad numbers—and, most of all, a workflow calendar. This really matters to me: I need to know schedules for copyedits, proofs, ARCs, bookseller letters blurb deadlines, finished copies… All of it. This is important for any novel; it’s doubly important for huge, linguistically complicated novels like Hild or Menewood.1

Why? Because I need more planning time than most writers: I have MS. Disability and chronic illness are in and of themselves part- to full-time jobs. Add to that the lack of energy reserves and I simply can’t always just turn a copyedits/proof/publicity plan around in 5 days. I need to plan my energy expenditure. And the last two years I also have another part- verging on full-time job: family responsibilities.2 The math barely works with careful planning; with no planning all is chaos.

For the last two decades I’ve worked with one editor, Sean Macdonald. We’ve moved together from Nan A. Talese to Riverhead to Farrar, Straus and Giroux (and now FSGxMCD). I know what to expect. Mostly. (No relationship is perfect.) But Sean did not think he was the right editor for Spear, so he suggested an unusual editorial/production partnership with Macmillan sister imprint Tordotcom: One of his new MCD editors, Lydia Zoells, was a historical fiction and Arthurian geek so she would edit, and Tordotcom would handle production and publication.

I was a bit wary—”Change is, of course, to be deplored”3—but also aware that this was an opportunity to finally bring together the two parts of my writing life: the SFF of Ammonite, Slow River and every piece of sort fiction I’ve ever published, and the novels I’ve written in the last 25 years. I was cautiously optimistic.

And it turned out brilliantly. I had my first meeting with Lydia and explained my optimal work environment: give me everything, all the time, immediately, good or bad. And—wonder of wonders!—she believed me. Within a week she was passing through to me all the info I needed. Then I had a meeting with Tordotcom—one of those meetings where there are so many people you can’t get all the tiles on your screen at once—and, again, wow! they listened!

It was great—just as it should be. I was consulted and informed every single step of the way. No one had to get grumpy at anyone about anything because there were no surprises. (Publishing is like surgery: You never, ever want to hear someone say, “Uh-oh…”) As a result Spear (like Hild, like Stay) is an integrated whole whose exterior packaging reflects the story within. And the marketing hit exactly the right tone. It worked beautifully. As a result, Spear is a beautiful book. (Let me be clear—though I love Spear and think I wrote a fine book—from her on when I talk about the beauty and fabulousness of Spear I’ll be talking about the physical object, not the words inside.)

Spear is a very handsome book. In the design department it punches way above its weight. Obviously it looks fabulous—and I’ll talk more about that—but what really struck me when I first picked it up is how it feels in the hand. The jacket has a seriously matte, tactile feel, with a little process on my name and title—not a lot; it’s subtle, just enough to feel substantial. But what’s really lovely is the size and weight.

When I was a teen I preferred reading library hardcovers; paperbacks were okay but they felt flimsy. Over the years, though, I’ve found my preference changing to trade paperbacks and I realise it’s a size issue. Many modern hardbacks are massive and heavy, too unwieldy for comfortable reading unless you have big hands, which I don’t.4 This book is perfect! I could hold it for hours—which of course no one needs to because it’s only 184 pages long. Given its length I worried the book might feel too thin, but look: it’s beautifully proportioned. And the spine of the jacket is very attractive. (Whenever I hold it I just want to stroke it.)

We’re always told not to judge a book by its cover but, hey, we all do. (The cover art is by Rovina Cai and design by Christine Foltzer. I talk about the cover in the cover reveal here and at greater length in a discussion of its conception and execution here). But I can tell you, this book just gets better and better the more you explore.

The front flap is nice—nothing massively special but nice. Ditto the back, and here I’m pleased by the colour coordination: Black and white photo with black end papers; red titles to match the red title and author name on the front. And of course the flaps make perfect bookmarks when you pause mid-read:

But it’s when you start to take the jacket off that you start to get a sense of the glories within:

Just look at that foil stamping—see how it glows! You can see the individual rivets on the shield. The spine is shiny, too, but I couldn’t get as good a picture of it.

Then there are the interior illustrations by Rovina Cai, five altogether: the perfect moody complement to the text. I’ve put them in a slideshow in the order in which they appear in the book:

The whole book is a design delight, exactly what a hardcover should be. The ebook also looks nice, of course—and the audio sounds good (even if I do say so myself)—but for me there’s nothing like the tactile, memory-evoking joy of a real book: the heft of it in my hand, the sense memory of where a particular moment appears on the page, and the specific weight in one hand vs the other that tells you how far through the book you are when it happens. Plus, of course, you can get physical copies signed by the author.

Tordotcom did a beautiful job with Spear. If and when there’s another installment in the lives of Peretur and Nimuë I hope that comes in just as lovely a package.

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[1] Hild and Menewood between them are longer than The Lord of the Rings—and uses at least as many languages, and those languages are changing all through the text. The way a word is used at the beginning of Hild is not necessarily the way it’s used at the end. Do you have any idea how much time it takes to get those copyedits right? AndI don’t count And Now We Are Going to Have a Party, my memoir, because that design is a whole other, amazing thing: a signed and numbered limited edition boxed collector’s set. I don’t count And Now We Are Going to Have a Party, my memoir, because that design is a whole other, amazing thing: a signed and numbered limited edition boxed collector’s set. And of course Menewood is yet to come…

[2] My sister in the UK has serious mental health issues; emergency phone calls and consultations in the wee hours are not unusual. Kelley has two sets of ill and ageing parents who have no one else to rely on. And of course we have two cats who have both already nearly died twice 🙄

[3] Zen and Thunderbirds

[4] This, apparently, surprises people. Perhaps because I have big shoulders and muscled arms people expect big shovel hands at the end of those arms, but, no; my hands are small.

Spear’s first year #3: Rich research, circular as the seasons

An imaginary moment in which three seasons coexist: blossom in spring, green green grass of summer, and the falling leaves of autumn—blending and never-ending, like research.

Image description: A book, Spear by Nicola Griffith, standing upright in the grass under the trees. Against it lean an enamel pin, sized to look like a shield, and a large boar spear. A small hedgehog noses through the grass at lower left. It could be spring, summer or early autumn.

Over on Instagram, OliviaKRobinson asks;

I was struck by how incredibly rich and well-researched the world of Spear felt – what sources did you use to develop and research it?

Much of the foundational early-medieval research—the things I need for world-building: language, archaeology, climate, material culture, agriculture, etc—I’d already done1 in service of Hild (2013) and Menewood (October 2023). And those sources are so numerous and spread over so many years—many before I started keeping track of my sources—that I wouldn’t really know where to start.2

Much of the Arthuriana, in all its (almost) infinite variety, I’d absorbed by osmosis over the years, first through story—everything from Mallory to Tennyson to Sutcliff to Treece to Stewart to Bradshaw—and then through the sources I encountered in those books’ paratext.3 For example, when I first read Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave in my late teens/early twenties, I read her Author’s Note and encountered for the first time mention of the Historia Brittonum (HB) by Nennius (or, as I discovered many years later, the ‘Nennian compiler’). In the course of researching Hild I discovered that Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (HE) probably relied to an extent on De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (DEB) by Gildas—but possibly also on a lost source referred to as the Northern Memorandum. Which turned out to perhaps also have been part of the inspiration for HB—as were DEB and HE. I was beginning to figure out that much of what we think of as history has no definitive source, just endlessly circular references and revisionist interpolations. For a while I thought everything we thought of as history was actually just legend, or even myth. It was at that point that I gave up history and relied instead of archaeological research and material culture. Only to discover that this was often interpreted through the lens of standard historiology.

Round and round with no beginning. (Maybe you’re beginning to understand why there’s no simple answer to an apparently simple question.) Don’t get me wrong—I absolutely love this stuff! It’s my crack. I can get so lost in tracing the connections that I forget why I was researching in the first place; the research becomes its own purpose and joy.

Anyway back to Spear. When I first pondered the possibility of working with Arthurian legend I was in this liminal space: poised between the absolute knowledge that it couldn’t be done—that nativist, supremacist Manifest Destiny was essential to what makes the legend so attractive—and the dawning realisation that there was…something, some tiny clue glimmering in the mist if I could only get to it… And the etymological research I’d been doing in service of place names was part of it.

I’ve been writing fiction long enough to understand when a thought, and idea is so delicate it has to be ignored for a while so it can solidify. So instead of running down the etymological link I started thinking about the Matter of Britain and how it has been used as a rationale for English/Anglo-Saxon/Germanic supremacy for almost a millennium. And that’s when I started thinking about legend and its relation to myth, about cosmology, eschatology, and ontology. I read all sorts of seriously odd stuff that was part philosophy and part religion with a dash of lit theory which led me in circular fashion (this research always ends up being circular, repeating as endlessly as the seasons) back to Tolkien’s notions of myth and story. At which point I felt I’d reached a precarious balance that would topple if I added one more thing, so I sat back, left everything mulch in that black box that is the writer’s subconscious, and did something else (I wrote some more Menewood).

And then one day the vision of a rider on a bony gelding emerging from the mist, both exhausted, both wounded, the rider in tattered and mended armour and holding a red spear, and Boom! it all came together: I could see how Arthurian legend had to end the way it did in order to create its own beginning, and that the rider was Peretur, that I could set this story in the sixth century and, through the person and name of Peretur herself, could tie together Welsh history, English legend, and Irish myth and absolutely fucking destroy that rich white straight nondisabled male Manifest Destiny crap.4

So my sources? Everything I’ve ever read and loved and hated, everything I’ve yearned for and wanted to change. Will it change the world? No. Might it crack the legend open just enough for others to enter? Maybe a little. But if the only real result is one small book that pleases me very much, that’s enough.

[1] And am still doing

[2] It includes all stages of early-medieval (or ‘Anglo-Saxon’ or even ‘Dark Ages’) historiography starting with early to mid-20th century standards such as Trevelyan, to Stenton and on, through the archaeological emphasis in the 70s, to popular TV shows like Time Team to cultural histories to Big History and now to academic pre-prints and conference papers and—importantly—research blogs. If I could somehow go back in time and take notes, I have no doubt the working bibliography would run to several hundred pages. But it also includes constant current research into the natural world: which trees flower first? What do hedgehogs eat? When do certain birds migrate?

[3] Paratext is just a fancy term for the fiddly bits, the delicious extras some writers generously include with their novels: the Author’s Notes about history, historicity, process, and so on; maps; glossaries; family trees…

[4] Insert emoji of writer standing on her desk, head tipped back, positively yodelling in triumph.

Spear’s first year #2: Page and voice

On left, reading Spear, photo by Kelley Eskridge, and on the right, reading So Lucky, photo by Eric Johnson

Image description: Two photos of the same short-haired white woman sitting in front of hideously expense-looking microphones in two different sound studios. On the left, she wears a grey cashmere sweater, headphones around her neck, and is looking directly at the camera. On the right she sits before an iPad placed on a music stand which is covered with sound-deadening old carpet. To one side is a wheelchair and a small table. She’s wearing headphones and a tee-shirt printed with a tangle of charging cords that look like an electric jellyfish, and is looking to one side at someone off-camera.

In a comment Simon asks:

Something I found very special about Spear was listening to you voice the audiobook. I seem to remember you saying in an interview or maybe here on your website that you pushed hard to be the audiobook narrator. To my ears at least, you were wonderful to listen to, and your thoughts on reading to your audience would be great to hear

And over on Facebook Cat asks:

How was that audiobook narration experience? Would you do it again?

The short answers are: fabulous, loved it, and absolutely. But I’m guessing you’dlike more detail.

I’ve narrated two of my books now, So Lucky and Spear. Both times were great experiences, but in very different ways. So Lucky was my first time (read Recording the So Lucky audiobook for more on that) whereas with Spear I felt confident.

What follows is a lot of detail (taken from other blog posts)—but if detail isn’t what you want, skip directly to the section labelled ‘ ‘All the Feels’.


With So Lucky, set in contemporary Atlanta, I didn’t have to worry about pronunciations or (with one exception) accents. Spear, on the other hand, is set in 6th-century Wales, with Primitive and/or Old Welsh (standing in for Brythonic), Primitive and/or Old Irish, and Asturian dialogue, names, and general vocabulary, not to mention the Old French, Middle High German, and Old English words in the Author’s Note.

I decided early on that there was no point trying to figure out how real really early Welsh would have sounded, so I substituted modern Welsh. Ditto for Primitive/Old Irish to modern Irish. The Astures of northern Spain supposedly used a p-Celtic language very similar to Brythonic, so for that accent I just used a very light and precise version of modern Welsh (much as a northern Spaniard fluent in modern English might sound today). Then I made a list of words and phrases I’d have to get right; it came to 73.

So then I sent the list to the Macmillan producer and said, Help! Three weeks later I had over seventy individual sound files of flawless pronunciation from native speakers. I listened to them over and over, until I was confident I could pronounce them correctly. Then (because I’m not familiar enough with the IPA—International Phonetic Alphabet—symbol system) I had to figure out my own system of writing them down phonetically.1 Here’s what that looked like:

Then I started marking up the text itself. Here’s an example of the markup of an early page.

However, just because I know precisely how to pronounce a thing doesn’t mean that I should. To take a modern example, the French pronunciation of Paris sounds perfectly fine when a Frenchwoman in France is using it, but if an American pronounces it that way during a conversation in a sports bar it sounds ridiculous. And of course working folk never pronounce things the same way nobility do—every class has its own accent. How then would a 6th-century Greek quartermaster/military logician speaking Welsh pronounce something? Or a Briton with a northern accent? On top of that, I had to think about how to differentiate people of the same class, and then fold gender into the mix. It all took a while to sort out but by the time I arrived at the studio I was ready!

Except, of course, no plan survives contact with the director…


When you narrate an audiobook it’s not just you and a microphone. It’s you in a locked, soundproof room before a microphone, with an engineer in the mixing booth behind glass, and a director from New York on Zoom audio—with all three audio feeds mixed into your headphones. The engineer for this project was Joel Maddox. His job was to make sure I sounded good—to use the right microphone in the right position and hooked into the right interface at the right setting; to point out and note on his iPad for the editor if he hears any extraneous noise—weird feedback, a belly growl, clicky mouth noise, a faint thud of my hand pounding on my thigh during an emotive moment (oops)—and to note, too, whenever I stopped.

My director was Caitlin Davies. I think I was pretty lucky to get her. She’s not only an award-winning voice actor and narrator herself but also a theatre director and a very experienced audio director—her work has been nominated for and won a variety of awards. I learnt a lot. The book you will eventually hear will be orders of magnitude better than anything I could have done on my own.

The first thing we did was decide on method. There are two basic ways to record narration. One is free roll, where the narrator just reads, stops when they make a mistake, back up to the nearest clean punctuation break—a full stop, a comma—and starts again, all without stopping the recording. The other is punch and roll, which is to actually wind back the recording to the bad word/phrase (doesn’t have to be punctuated) and punch in to record at the right moment. I plumped for free roll: it’s quicker, easier, and much less tiring.

On that first Wednesday, I began pretty confidently and we rolled along seamlessly—until Caitlin said, Good, now you’re in it. Let’s go back to the beginningGive me a storyteller’s voice. I thought I had been. I tried again. Faster, she said. And then *click* there it was: That smooth, warm, lean-in-and-listen note I realised had been missing. And now I was excited! This was going to sound awesome!

We cracked right along. Then we started getting to multiple character voices. I’d spent some time figuring out accents and tones and weights to differentiate people—only it turned out Caitlin thought some of it didn’t work, particularly the women. So I had to go back and work out different voices. It was a bit unsettling; I wasn’t sure these women sounded the way I imagined them. But Caitlin was the director with the vision, so I followed her lead.

The rest of the session went well. The only problem was the heat in the studio, or lack of it. By the time we finished—at 1:00 pm, ahead of schedule—I was frozen in place. My hands were purple and my leg muscles utterly spastic. I asked Joel to please, pretty please crank the heat early the next day so it would be warm when we began. I went home full of energy.

Thursday was hard. The studio was warmer, but every time I read a couple of sentences my voice would crack and scratch and I’d cough. It turned out the heat had kicked up dust and other particles. I’m wicked allergic to dust, also to tree pollen, and February is the start of pollen season. Day Two was sheer bloody stubbornness on my part, and patience and sympathetic-but-hard-task-masterliness on Caitlin’s. Again and again she said, No, go back to the beginning of the paragraph, and I would. Or, Now go back to the beginning of the scene, with more energy. And I did. The last page took fifteen minute because I could hardly manage a phrase without coughing. It was brutal. By 1:00 pm I was toast; I couldn’t read another sentence.

Because of a conflicting gig on Friday—I was delivering Opening Remarks for the Annual Historical Fictions Research Network Conference in Salzburg—we had scheduled a 3-day break from recording and planned to return on Monday and finish Tuesday.

Monday I went in wondering how it would go: brilliant, like Wednesday or brutal, like Thursday? It turned out to be brilliant: fast, smooth, easy, and exciting. It felt as though we’d hardly started when *boom* we were done. It was only 12:30. As I blinked and shut down my iPad, Caitlin warned me there might have to be a pick-up session once the editors had worked on it and found those swallowed words or odd noises the three of us in the studio had missed. But, woo hoo, I was done! I was tired but happy.

All the feels

I finished recording Spear at lunch time on a glittery bright day, and despite Covid Kelley and I decided to risk going to the pub for a pint—my first pint of Guinness for four months. It tasted wonderful and I felt wonderful. So I had another.

It’s hard to describe how reading this book felt. It would be easy to say it felt Amazing or Marvellous or Wonderful, and it would be true, but it’s not the whole story or perhaps not the real story. Reading Spear felt right. It felt sure. It felt as though it was meant to be. Am I the world’s best narrator? No. Am I the world’s best narrator for this book? Yes.

From the moment I wrote the first sentence of the story that grew into Spear I knew this book was different. Each sentence purled out, free and joyous, absolutely and unselfconsciously one with itself. It felt almost ecstatic, as close to a perfect writing experience as I might ever get. I knew how it would feel to read it aloud, how it would sound. It felt incantatory, and there’s something about the particular rhythm matched to the kind of words I was using to try to evoke the living wildness of nature that… Ah, and now this may well sound extreme—overboard and possibly even grandiose—but if you really want to know how it felt to read Spear aloud to an imaginary audience then you’ll just have to accept it: it felt like worship. I don’t mean adoration and obedience but that feeling you get at a huge arena gig (or, yes, in a full church) when the whole crowd is swaying and singing and giving it up, giving over solitariness and apartness and riding the sound of the human voice up, up into a communion of love and joy offered, received, shared and multiplied. That’s what it feels like—a communion. And that’s what finding just the right words to tell a story feels like, too, that possibility that someone you’ve never met—in a place you never been, and perhaps during a time you will never live to see—will one day read what you wrote and so know what you knew and feel what you felt. And that, when it comes down to it, I why I do this thing.

IndieBound | | | Barnes & Noble | Apple |

1. My system wouldn’t work for others. For example I know in this context that when I write -alk, it means to use the guttural sound a bit like the one that comes at the end of loch, or the beginning of Hanukah—because /x/ wouldn’t mean much to me in the moment—though perhaps no one else would.

Spear’s first year #1: Wild Magic

Questions and requests related to Spear are beginning to trickle in on various platforms. If you have a question, drop a comment. Meanwhile here’s one from Facebook:

I loved Peretur’s detailed and concrete connection with the natural world (I loved that about Hild too) … I’d be very interested to hear about how you conceived that

Stacey B, Facebook

Before I wrote a word of Hild I’d been dwelling in the world of seventh-century Britain for years—researching language and landscape, flora and fauna, weather and wyrd, metal-smithing and military hardware, cloth and culture—building the world Hild would be born into and so, inevitably, the world that had given birth to that world, that had come before: the sixth century. Peretur’s world. For years as I read and dreamed I wasn’t thinking about plot, and not much about character; I was building—one stream, tree, horizon, winter, and bird at a time—the worlds they would be born into, the worlds they would interact with and would shape and be shaped by.

Every novel I have ever written—and almost all my short fiction—begins outdoors. It’s just how I think, how I work, who I am as both a human being and a writer. I’m a creature of the body. And any major character I create will be, too. Add to that the fact that both Spear and Hild are set in early medieval Britain: after the industrialised agricultural production of the Roman occupation and before the literate proto-states that followed the Conversion Age. Both Peretur and Hild are born into worlds recovering from at least one major cataclysm—cultural, natural, political—and, unbeknownst to them, heading straight into another. It was a time of turmoil and change, a series of upheavals interspersed with moments of safety and respite. Those who survived lived close to nature: they had to. Guess wrong about planting or harvesting time, about when to take the flock upland, about when to coppice what part of the wood, and you starved. Pay attention or die.

So when you ask me to explain how I conceived of Hild’s and Peretur’s connections to nature, I’m not sure I can. With both Hild and Spear I sat down to write one day and the approach unfurled before me like a path through the glimmering wood. I didn’t stop and wonder whether it was a good path or the right, it was the path, the only path, and it would take me where I needed to go.

In both cases, then, the character’s connection to nature just…was. They live in nature, they swim in it, they breathe it. They are wholly immersed in the natural world and very much in tune with it. And they love it—and therefore love themselves because they feel absolutely part of the world around them. A sense of ownership and belonging. Obligation and gratitude. They might both say nature was their first teacher. They might both say that nature is magical and mystical, ineffable and illimitable. They both have an almost ecstatic relationship with the living landscape.

The big difference of course is that while Hild’s connection to nature appears to be preternatural it isn’t—whereas Peretur’s actually is. Hild is wholly mortal and wholly of this naturalistic, realistic world. Peretur is not wholly mortal but partly of the Overworld and the landscape she moves through runs with real magic. Both books start with Hild and Peretur as children, and by page two we can already make out the difference in how they learn from nature.

Here’s a short passage from the first page of Hild:

She lay at the edge of the hazel coppice, one cheek pressed to the moss that smelled of wormcast and the last of the sun, listening: to the wind in the elms, rushing away from the day, to the jackdaws changing their calls from ‘Outward! Outward!’ to ‘Home now! Home!’, to the rustle of the last frightened shrews scuttling under the layers of leaf fall before the owls began their hunt. From far away came the indignant honking of geese as the goosegirl herded them back inside the wattle fence, and the child knew, in the wordless way that three year-olds reckon time, that soon Onnen would come and find her and Cian and hurry them back.

Hild, p1 (FSG, 2013)

Three year-old Hild feels absolutely at home in nature. She feels part of it, and safe. Living things to her have personalities. She is imagining what the jackdaws are saying, and when she hears the geese she knows Onnen will come soon—not because the geese are actually telling her so but because she’s already in tune with the human rhythms of her community: the goosegirl brings in the geese when the light starts to fail—which is also usually the point at which Onnen comes to find her and bring her home. In the way of smart children of any time and place she is learning to piece together disparate clues, build a pattern, and interpret the result.

Now here’s an excerpt from the beginning of Spear:

She roams the whole of Ystrad Tywi, the valley of the Tywi who fled Dyfed in the Long Ago. In this valley, where there is a tree she will climb it; it will shelter her; and the birds that nest there in spring will sing to her warning of any two-legged approach. In May, as the tree blossom falls and herbs in the understorey flower, she will know by the scent of each how it might taste with what meat, whether it might heal, who it could kill. From its nectar she will know which moths will come to drink, know too of the bats that catch the moths, and what nooks they return to where they hang wrapped in their leather shrouds as the summer sun climbs high, high enough to shine even into the centre of the thicket. Before harvest, when the bee hum spreads drowsy and heavy as honey she tastes in their busy drone a tale of the stream over which they skim, the falls down which the stream pours, the banks it winds past where reeds grow thick and the autumn bittern booms. And when the snow begins to fall once again, she catches a flake on her tongue and feels, lapping against her belly, the lake it was drawn from by summer sun, far away—a lake like a promise she will one day know.

Spear, p2 (Tordotcom, 2022)

Peretur also feels absolutely at home in nature. She feels part of it and safe. Living things have personalities. The difference is that in Peretur’s world, living things do actually talk to Peretur and, as we find out later, she can talk back. In other words, while they both learn from nature, Hild’s learning is mediated by her reasoning, her thinking mind. Peretur’s, on the other hand, are visceral, unmediated, and direct.

Hild loves and feels at home in nature but her gift is the purely naturalistic ability to spot patterns and extrapolate. Peretur also loves and feels at home in nature but her gift is the preternatural ability of a not wholly-mortal being to communicate directly with all aspects of nature—to her everything is alive, not just trees and bats and bees but the wind, the water, the sun on her face.

Did I know all this before I sat down to write either of these books? No. But I knew it by page two of my first draft of each. I hope that answers your question.

Tomorrow: How I feel about narrating the audiobook.

Happy Birthday to Spear!

Last week—Thursday 19th to be exact—marked the one-year anniversary of Spear‘s publication. I forgot because I had a lot of other stuff to think about. But I’m proud of my Little Book That Could. And given that Menewood’s publication in less than six months will inevitably push Spear to one side, I thought I’d do a series (3? 5? I don’t know, let’s see where this takes us) of posts to both celebrate what I enjoyed about Spear‘s publication—these might be a little eccentric and certainly all about what *I* liked, not necessarily what the rest of the world might consider important (y’know, to the extent that the world thins about my book at all) and to thank those who made the book and its success possible.

If there’s anything in particular you’d like me to talk about—about the writing, editing, publishing, supporting, narrating, tools and process, or publicising of Spear—let me know in the comments.

I’ll start with what I was doing last spring, a month or so before Spear came out, which was indulging myself making pictures and videos using stacks of ARCs. Getting the ARCs is always a thrilling moment—the first time I really know my chunk of words will be a book, a real book that exists outside my own imagination, that other people will hold in their hands. It’s the moment I understand that soon the world I made and the people I populated it with will no longer belong to me but to readers. It’s a weird mix of exciting and wistful. Creating things peripheral to that world feels good. I had such a good time making them, in fact, that I could post an example every day for a year and not repeat myself. The amount of time spend on each was hugely variable. So, for example, this first video took less than ten minutes, including editing.

Monstrous Good!

Whereas the one below took dozens of hours. First I had to take and edit the photo of the ARCs. Then take a separate photo of the shield-and-spear pin and edit that. Then draw the picture of the horse. Then build the composite image with shadows in the right places, a certain colour coherence, etc. Why spend so long on something that makes no difference to sales, no difference to anyone or anything? Because it was fun. Because I liked doing it. Because it’s a good way to learn Photoshop and Procreate. But mainly because when I’ve finished writing a book it can be hard to let the people and places go, and this way I get to stay connected, working in its world, for a little while longer.

This next picture for example, is the direct result of my affection for Bony, the gelding that Peretur rescues, and who in turn teaches Peretur how to ride, and through his bravery—facing a horse much bigger than him—saved her life.

Bony was a warrior…

Some of the stuff I did did have purpose. Here for example is the Zoom background I made for the virtual book tour, designed for good colour balance and with a space in the middle for my talking head. (I ended up not using it very often because setting up the greenscreen was such a hassle. But it was interesting to make.)


And here’s a selection quote tiles I built as both clues for the adjective competition and adverts for the book on Instagram.


I could keep adding things all day but I’ll stop here. Tomorrow perhaps I’ll talk about the book itself—the physical object, the design and illustrations (none of the work here would have been possible without the marvellous illustrations by Rovina Cai), and perhaps a bit about how I wrote it, and why, and how it all felt..

If there’s anything about Spear you want me to talk about this week, drop a comment

Spear wins the Ray Bradbury Prize

The Los Angeles Times Book Prizes were awarded last night, and Spear won the Ray Bradbury Award. Apparently it is a Queer Arthurian Masterpiece. I am pleased—ha! English understatement! I am fucking thrilled, delighted, and beaming! I haven’t stopped grinning since my editor at FSG, Sean Macdonald, texted me 13 hours ago.

But I’m also surprised. Before you roll your eyes let me say what I’ve already said a dozen times in the last month because it bears repeating: this is not false modesty. I’m not modest about this book at all. It’s a fucking great book. Pound for pound it was as good as anything on last night’s shortlist: Alex Jennings’ The Ballad of Perilous Graves has already won the Crawford Award; Ray Nayler’s fabulous exploration of alien intelligence, The Mountain in the Sea, is a great science fiction debut (and, like Spear, also on the Nebula shortlist); I haven’t read Sara Gran’s book yet but the reviews are good; and George Saunders, well, he’s already won Big Lit Prizes (though I admit I didn’t even attempt to read his collection because me and his work just don’t get along). Go read the beginning of that sentence again: “pound for pound.” Because that’s the thing: size matters.

Spear is a very short book1— it’s been reviewed as both a novel and a novella, and not a few reviewers complain that as a novel it’s too short, while others mutter that it tries to do too much for a novella. I disagree on both counts, of course—I think the book takes exactly the right number of words to do what it does—but the sentiment is widespread. I never call it either a Novel or a Novella and instead refer to it as a Book—or sometimes joke that it needs a new term, maybe Noveling?

So, yeah, did I really think the Los Angeles Times would give my wee noveling a prize? No—and confidently declared as much. Because I really was confident. Over the last 30 years I’ve got pretty good at forecasting my own chances: I’ve been right every time except, well, except the last time one of my books was up for something, when So Lucky won the Washington State Book Award. And, again, it was the length of the book that tripped me up.2

So now I honestly don’t know what to think about Spear’s chances for other awards. Until 12 hours ago I was absolutely confident that I wouldn’t win the Nebula next month but now I’m really not sure. I suspect that as the awards banquet approaches I’ll grow hopeful. Because although my head still says Nope, my heart has started to whisper, Maybe? Either way, I am not complaining! I plan to have a blast in Anaheim next month, win or lose.3

So if you’re going to be there please come and say hello. I’ll be the one grinning her fool head off.

1 So short that at 45,000 words it technically qualifies as a novella for awards like the Hugo (which allow a 20% word-count overage for its categories)—which of course means that some people will vote for it in that category, and others in the Novel category which means, by my reckoning (which, y’know, we’ve already establish is flawed), it probably won’t make the shortlist for either category…

2 So Lucky really is a novella—35,000 words—and would be categorised as such by any genre award committee (though of course it was never considered for any genre awards—despite being stuffed with imaginary beings and monsters). And, yes, even though I didn’t expect to win I’d given some thought to a thank-you speech just in case. The cost-benefit analysis of taking half an hour to plan for something that won’t happen versus regretting feeling like a fool when you’re speechless in front of hundreds of people is clear. It’s like looking both ways when you cross the street, or using your seatbelt. You don’t expect to be hit by a moving vehicle but What If?

3 Just as I’d planned to have a stress-free blast in Los Angeles this weekend but after a last-minute phone conversation with the Director of Events, withdrew. But that’s a story for another post.

Menewood Q&A | | Apple Books | Barnes & Noble | Books | Target

After I posted on Monday about the ARC of MENEWOOD I started to get many questions on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter about pre-orders, publication dates, review copies, audio editions, word count/page length, and more. This post is designed to address those questions.

When is the book coming out?

In North America October 3 from MCD/FSG, an imprint of Macmillan. 

What about the UK/Australia/New Zealand?

Frankly I have no idea. We had a deal all set up, the editor loved the book, and then she found out I wasn’t willing to either split the two into two or cut a big chunk from a single volume and she withdrew. So what’s happening now? No idea. This is the kind of crap that happened with Hild, too. When it comes to my non-sff books (the Aud novels, So Lucky, Hild, Menewood) the UK is a weird market for me. (I’ve never understood why.) But you will be able to buy it—either the export US version or, eventually, the UK edition.

Is there an audiobook?

Yes. The book will be available as a hardcover, ebook, and digital audio—all available on 3 October, 2023—and, a year or so later, a paperback.

Are you narrating the audiobook?

No. Menewood will have the same narrator as Hild, Pearl Hewitt.

Can I get hold of the book early?

If you’re a book professional, yes. The digital galley is up right now on NetGalley and Edelweiss. Or if you contact Molly Grote, my publicist at FSG, she might send you an ARC or e-galley. If you/re not a book professional, don’t despair: FSG will no doubt run some kind of galley promotion or sweepstakes, and it’s entirely possible I might run a competition or two (depending on how many ARCs I get from the publisher). So stay tuned.

Can I pre-order it now?

Yes! You can pre-order from anywhere books are sold (see the list at the top of the page and again at the bottom). Financially it makes no difference to me where you buy it—I get the same royalty—but as we need the entire book ecosystem to remain healthy I’d like to suggest you get it from an independent bookseller. And if you’re not sure which format to buy, I can tell you that I make more from hardcover sales. Plus the hardcover will glitter with gold and it’s easier to look at the maps and family tree etc. But any format is good—buy one of each!

Can I pre-order a signed and personalised copy?

Yes! From Phinney Books. And as I signed thousands of tip-in sheets a couple of months ago, some other outlets will have signed copies on Day 1—though they won’t be personalised. Closer to publication I’ll know what bookstores I’ll be doing events for, and some of those stores will also have signed copies where, with advance notice, I can personalise them. For now, though, your best bet is Phinney Books.

So you’re doing a tour?

Yes! Maybe. Those details are still TBD. I almost always travel at least regionally and depending on my health and energy maybe I’ll do select dates on the West Coast, or East Coast, or Midwest. In other words, if you’re in the Puget Sound region you will, absolutely, get a chance to see me in person. But the rest may be a mix of in-person and virtual. I should have a better idea by the end of summer.

How long is it?

Long! But not too long! It’s 30% longer than Hild: 269,000 words. The first-pass proofs come in at 736 pages, including most of the paratext—y’know, all the fiddly bits: the juicy extras.

Speak to me of the juicy extras!

Oh, there are so many! I think this deserves its own blog post. For now let’s just say there’s a multi-part Author’s Note, maps, glossary, and more. Stay tuned.

Where to pre-order | | Apple Books | Barnes & Noble | Books | Target

And depending where you are in the world you might want to take look at this list of independent bookshops worldwide recommended by readers. It may need updating—if you see anything obviously out of date, please drop a comment.

Big, Bold, Bloody and Beautiful

Behold! Hot off the presses: the first Preview Copy (FSG/MCD’s way of saying Advanced Reading Copy) of MENEWOOD. There’s just one right now but more are on the way!

Image description: A gorgeously illustrated book—Menewood by Nicola Griffith—standing up right on a sunlit wooden table.

Look at the blurb on the back:

Image description: the back of a big book. In giant letters the back copy reads “The long-awaited sequel to Hild—bigger, bolder, bloodier and even more medieval than the beloved original.”

This is truth in advertising. It is certainly bigger—30% bigger than Hild. Look at the size of that spine:

Image description: a thick book standing spine out and lettered in gold: Menewood Nicola Griffith

The ARC might be a bit brick-like but the finished book will be beautiful. The hardcover proportions will be much more graceful—a bigger trim size that isn’t suitable for ARCs because at this length it would be too floppy and weird to hold in softcover. Then of course there’s that cover—the gorgeous art by the Balbusso twins, deliciously-textured cover stock, and glittering with luscious gold—enough to wake anyone’s inner dragon.

And then there’s the interior design. It’s not quite finished yet—some of the pretties won’t be in the ARC—but the book is divided into three volumes, and each volume further divided, for a total of seven parts. And each part has a little bit of fanciness. Then there’s the maps. (Yes! Plural!) And the Family Tree and the Glossary. And the Historical Note. And that note’s footnotes! And… Well, there’s a lot of stuff.

And, oh , it is most definitely bloodier. The book covers four of the most violent and intense years of Early Medieval Britain north of the Humber. Let me just put it this way: William the Conqueror wasn’t the first to harrow the North

So it’s big. It’s beautiful. And it’s bloody. And, yes, is it bold. It is not a polite book. It’s a book about power. Hild is not a shy and retiring being and it’ll be some time before she becomes anything like a saint. In MENEWOOD she is turned up to 11: love, lust, life; grief, war, risk and reward. No holds barred. But Hild is a whole human being, textured and complex. She also thinks and dreams, dwells and pauses, plans and persuades. Above all, the learns.

There’s so much I want to tell you about this book. And I will, over the next few months. In the next post, though, I’ll start with the important stuff: how to get hold of a copy—pre-orders, review copies, and perhaps even a sweepstakes or competition. Stay tuned!

Verification: where to find the real me online

Twitter will be taking away blue-check verification from those, like me, who won’t pay $8 a month for what will become a useless tool.

This post exists to

  • verify that, yes, I’m who I say I am
  • list where else you can find me online

So, hello! This is me, Nicola Griffith, writer and queer crip (see About for more). Here’s where you can find me:

  • My blog and website—where you are now, reading this. Starting in 1995 I began Ask Nicola, a subsite of a website run by friend Dave Slusher. In 2001 I launched, and in 2008 started a blog, also Ask Nicola. In 2014 I consolidated everything into this site. I post whenever I feel like it—sometimes often, sometimes rarely. Take a look at the Top 15 posts of the last year and you’ll get a sense of my range of interests. If you like what you see, sign up to get new posts sent directly to your inbox.
  • Twitter—the place I’m most likely to see what other people say and interact online. I mostly work through curated lists of early medieval history, disability, life sciences, and books. Over the last few years I’ve become less politically engaged.
  • Facebook—both a personal profile and an official page, though my page is sadly neglected (right now it mirrors posts from my research blog,
  • Research, which I started in 2008 to have a place to put ruminations on the research I do for my sequence of novels about the seventh-century figure, Hild of Whitby. This goes through phases. I can go a year with no post, then when a book approaches publication, or when I’m in the initial, intense phase of research for a new book, post in a hurry and flurry.
  • Instagram—where I post pictures of books, and drinks, and cats, and Kelley on an irregular schedule.
  • YouTube—where I’ve posted a miscellany of videos, mostly to Blow Shit Up!, my playlist of FX vids, and Readings, which is, well, me reading from and talking about my books. There are also a few music videos—of Janes Plane, the band I fronted in the Long Ago.
  • LinkedIn—which just mirrors my blog.
  • Tumblr—ditto.
  • Muckrack—where I sometimes remember to add portfolio links to Op-Eds, newspaper reviews, and essays I’ve written.
  • Author pages on Amazon and Goodreads—but I rarely do anything with them.
  • I also have placeholder accounts on Mastodon, Spoutible, TikTok, Post, Medium and many others—whenever a new thing comes along I sign up, just in case, but rarely bother to establish any kind of presence there. As and when that changes I’ll link the accounts.

Orlando on Friday: Menewood wake-up call!

If you’re going to be at ICFA this Friday, come listen to me read from Menewood! Yes, it’s early, 8:30 am, but trust me, the opening scene is lively. It. Will. Wake. You. Up!

Friday, March 17, 2023 — Orlando, FL — International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts

  • Reading: 8:30 AM – 10:00 AM, Vista A | Group reading. I’ll be reading from Menewood!
  • Signing immediately afterwards in the hall opposite registration

I’ll be reading with three other fine folk. What better way to face the morning?

And then later that afternoon, 2:30 pm, Kelley will be reading something special. She’s a fabulous reader. Do come listen.

More about the cover of Menewood

Cover of Menewood: A Novel by Nicola Griffith (MCDxFSG, 3 October, 2023). Cover art by Anna and Elena Balbusso. Cover design by Na Kim.

Image description: Richly coloured cover of a novel, Menewood, by Nicola Griffith, painted predominatly in blue, gold, black, and red. The image is of a young woman—Hild, the protagonist of the novel—standing tall against an ominous backdrop of medieval warfare. Behind her in the upper left, the top corner is golden, with white-hot tipped yellow arrows arcing overhead against what might be dark mountains or forbidding trees. The arrows are, perhaps, on fire. Crows are dodging them. Below the arrows and crows a mounted warrior charges from left to right, shield glinting silver, sword raised, face hidden behind a helmet. Behind Hild to the right, against a sky full of dark cloud and smoke, the arrows fall towards a host of spears and banners. The pale blue banner in the foreground shows a stylised boar with garnet eyes. The banner behind that displays a raven. In the centre of the image, and taking up more than half of the total image area, is Hild. She looks directly at the observer with blue-green eyes filled with a weight of experience beyond her years. Her expression, partially obscured by windblown hair—pale chestnut with a slight wave—is clear and farseeing: this is a woman who makes decisions that decide lives. She wears what appears to be fishmail armour beneath a richly textured but torn and worn cloak. The cloak is mostly sky blue and held together at the breast by a great, early medieval equal-armed cross brooch of gold and garnet inlay. The belt beneath the cloak is styled somewhere between Celtic and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ interlace. In her right hand she hold a wooden quarterstaff, bound with blood-spattered iron. The cloak is overlain with other images: a red fern, a black war horse, a crow, black leaves, cloud and smoke, and bare, blood-red branches. Lettering, of textured gold in early-medieval style, is superimposed on the image. “Menewood,” centred below the cross brooch in large type. Below that, in smaller type, on the left “Author of Hild” and, on the right, “A Novel.” Below that, in large type, “Nicola Griffith.”

About the cover

Yesterday I talked a bit about the wonderful cover for Menewood by the Balbusso twins. Here’s a bit more on the process.

Long-time readers might remember that when I first talked to my editor about illustrating Hild I was adamant: no representation of Hild on the cover! And you saw how that turned out :) And though my editor was right—this time—and I was wrong, for Menewood I decided I wanted to get my dibs in early and try influence the process from the beginning.

So this time I started the conversation early—which was easy: I simply responded at length to a very useful questionnaire. Here it is (with a couple of redactions to prevent spoilers).

1. Please describe your ideal jacket for this book

An illustration by the Balbusso twins. The Hild jacket was gorgeous, and showed Hild as a child—well-fed, healthy, unscarred by life, but carrying the kind of weight and responsibility for herself and her family no child should have to. The Menewood jacket should show Hild as an adult—a young one, yes, but very much grown up—again carrying great weight and responsibility, but this time a wider, deeper, heavier and more immediate responsibility: for an entire region, and then the fate of the whole of the north of Britain. She should look honed, fierce and focused, but also, still, a visionary. 

The perfect illustration for Menewood would, like that for Hild, be textured, vivid, luxurious and atmospheric. I see her standing in a high place—top of a hill, edge of a cliff, prow of a ship—and looking out. She should be carrying her fighting staff, wearing her slaughter seax and either her warrior jacket (a kind of gambeson) or her mantle of lynx furs. There should be indications of war—banners? blood? smoke?—and the suggestion that she herself is not unmarked by war. And depending on what part of the book we’re referencing, she could be [redacted] and/or [redacted].

I want the colours to be rich and gorgeous, as for Hild, but perhaps in a slightly darker key. So the foiling, for example, instead of being gold could be bronze. Any birds should be flying/fleeing rather than nesting or singing. The light perhaps could be late afternoon.

But definitely Hild, marked by war, standing in a high place, in the natural landscape. And if I had my way, the Balbusso twins would illustrate every single Hild novel, ageing and complicating Hild as she grows.

2. What are some visual themes/key points/motifs in your book?

Nature. Hild is always outside: under the trees, by the water, climbing a hill, wading in a marsh, etc. She prefers high places and wild country. So: trees, birds, water vole, horses, sky, pond, mere, marsh, moor, mountain, swans, herons 

  • most important fauna: 
    • hedgehog
    • horse
    • water vole
  • most important flora/landscape: 
    • ancient oak pollard
    • Menewood beck and its valley
    • high moor

War. There is a lot of war in this book and Hild is always in the thick of it. So: blood, banners, bodies, seaxes, swords, shields, smoke. And Hild is physically scarred.

  • most important banners: 
    • Yffing (purple with boar with red eye)
    • Cath Llew (lynx)
    • Baedd Coch (red boar)
    • Butcherbird (crude picture in red of a man impaled like a shrike’s prey on a white background)
    • Iding (raven, purple on gold)
    • Gwynedd (red dragon)
3. How did the title come about? Does it relate to a passage in the book?

Menewood is the name of Hild’s valley, her personal possession, her safe place and heart-of-home; a secret, wooded valley with a system of becks and ponds, guarded at its mouth by an ancient oak pollard. Menewood is Hild’s last redoubt, her final bolthole, green and quiet and safe—for a while. 

4. Do you have any images or reference material that you would like us to consider?

For a sense of colour see anything from the Sutton Hoo ship burial or Staffordshire Hoard: gold, garnet, sapphire/blue enamel, etc. But if there’s anything in particular you’re interested in I could draw them for you

5. Is there anything you’d prefer not to see on the cover? Least favorite color? Preference for photography over illustration or vice versa? 
  • The only person I want to see on the cover of Menewood is Hild.
  • She must not look demure or sweet in any way
  • I dislike dull and muddy colours: mustard, beige, olive, etc
  • I’d like a richly-coloured illustration, preferably by the Balbusso twins so that the figure of Hild herself looks like a sharper, more experienced, and honed version of the child on the cover of Hild

On balance, I think I got what I wanted—only better, because now the Hild of my imagination has a shape and colour in the real world. The art’s gorgeousness seemed to galvanise the publishing team—and now we’re finalising the rich interior design. It is delicious! But I’ll talk more about that another time.

Meanwhile, if you’re so inclined you can pre-order the book anywhere books are sold, or see the enormous list of independent booksellers worldwide I put together a while ago, or get from your favourite store or platform.

Pre-order | | Apple Books | Barnes & Noble | Phinney Books | Target

Menewood cover reveal!

Cover of Menewood: A Novel by Nicola Griffith (MCDxFSG 3 October, 2023). Cover art by Anna and Elena Balbusso. Cover design by Na Kim.

Image description: Richly coloured cover of a novel, Menewood, by Nicola Griffith, painted predominatly in blue, gold, black, and red. The image is of a young woman—Hild, the protagonist of the novel—standing tall against an ominous backdrop of medieval warfare. Behind her in the upper left, the top corner is golden, with white-hot tipped yellow arrows arcing overhead against what might be dark mountains or forbidding trees. The arrows are, perhaps, on fire. Crows are dodging them. Below the arrows and crows a mounted warrior charges from left to right, shield glinting silver, sword raised, face hidden behind a helmet. Behind Hild to the right, against a sky full of dark cloud and smoke, the arrows fall towards a host of spears and banners. The pale blue banner in the foreground shows a stylised boar with garnet eyes. The banner behind that displays a raven. In the centre of the image, and taking up more than half of the total image area, is Hild. She looks directly at the observer with blue-green eyes filled with a weight of experience beyond her years. Her expression, partially obscured by windblown hair—pale chestnut with a slight wave—is clear and farseeing: this is a woman who makes decisions that decide lives. She wears what appears to be fishmail armour beneath a richly textured but torn and worn cloak. The cloak is mostly sky blue and held together at the breast by a great, early medieval equal-armed cross brooch of gold and garnet inlay. The belt beneath the cloak is styled somewhere between Celtic and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ interlace. In her right hand she hold a wooden quarterstaff, bound with blood-spattered iron. The cloak is overlain with other images: a red fern, a black war horse, a crow, black leaves, cloud and smoke, and bare, blood-red branches. Lettering, of textured gold in early-medieval style, is superimposed on the image. “Menewood,” centred below the cross brooch in large type. Below that, in smaller type, on the left “Author of Hild” and, on the right, “A Novel.” Below that, in large type, “Nicola Griffith.”

About Menewood

Menewood has been a long time coming—over a decade from beginning to end. I was eager to write it but it would not be hurried. It’s a big book, epic and intense—rage, love, lust, loss, fierce joy, grief, triumph, delight—but it’s also full of gentler emotions, those stolen moments of contentment and peace, basking a moment in sunlight, or enjoying a quiet conversation over a bowl of soup. It’s a book about life: how it feels, what it means, why it changes. And its beating heart is its protagonist, Hild: becoming herself, learning to live on her own terms, to build and wield power—exploring and really inhabiting who she is.

It’s set 1400 years ago in seventh-century Britain and it takes up where its predecessor, Hild, left off. It covers fewer years of Hild’s life than the first book yet it’s longer, and deeper and richer—a bigger book in every way. (Imagine it as a trilogy in one volume and you’ll have a sense of what to expect.) It has, though, the same mix of heroic scale and human intimacy, the same soaring exhilaration in the high, wild places of the Long Ago.

Hild when it came out ten years ago was a different kind of book—full of the awe and magic of life, only with no actual magic. It was about a different kind of protagonist: a bright girl then young woman who stayed one step ahead of the murderous whims of a volatile king using acute observations of nature and human behaviour to work out what might happen next.

How do you portray that on a cover? You find a different kind of artist—in this case an artistic team, Anna and Elena Balbusso—who play with time, perception and colour to create clean visions that are somehow infused with layers of wonder. For Hild, they captured Hild’s frank and open gaze perfectly. We wanted to refresh the cover of Hild to coincide with the publication of Menewood—and we’ve adjusted the type—but the image didn’t need a single change. (See below.)

Now, for Menewood, the Balbusso twins again perfectly capture who Hild has become: Against a backdrop of violence and regime change stands a young adult marked by war, honed by the responsibility of power—and vivid with life.

I loved writing this book—Hild and her world are a joy to me. I can’t wait for you to read it.

I love this cover. Later this week I’ll write more about the process to come up with it. Meanwhile, here’s the new cover for Hild.

Refreshed Hild cover

The new cover of Hild: A Novel by Nicola Griffith. Cover art by Anna and Elena Balbusso.

Image description: Richly textured cover of a novel, Hild, by Nicola Griffith, painted predominantly in green, with green-black, black, indigo, red, gold and white. The image is of an adolescent girl—Hild, the protagonist of the novel—standing straight against a backdrop of the natural world at night. Behind her and to the left, the full mon is bright and silhouetted against it are bare tree branches and four roosting birds. White specks and faint shades of indigo hint at a starry night with gauzy drifts of cloud.  The pattern of trees and sky without birds, is repeated to the right. In the centre of the image is Hild, standing with her hands behind her back and her head slightly turned but nonetheless gazing directly at the observer with clear blue-green eyes. Her head and shoulders are protected by a chanmail coif but enough strands of hair escape to show it is dark chestnut. This is a girl-woman with the thousand-yard stare of someone who has faced death and made terrible decisions since the age of eight, who looks out with the clarity of one who knows life is an undiscovered country full of joy and patterns to be understood. She survives because she has an extraordinary mind and a will of adamant. Her longsleeved overdress is the same colour as the sky and blends into the background. This blending is furthered by and overlay of the same bare black tree branches. A gold and garnet equal-armed cross is fastned at her breast and she wear a belt decorated in interlace from which hangs a seax. Lettering, of textured gold in early-medieval style, is superimposed on the image. Above Hild, across the top, in small type, “Extraordinary…[Hild] resonated to many of the same chords as Beowulf, the legends of King Arthur, the Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones. — Neal Stephenson” to Hild’s left, “One of the best novels, period. — Dorothy Allsion” and to the right “Truly, truly remarkable. — Karen Joy Fowler” Just below the centre of the image, immediately beneath Hild’s cross, in giant type, and all-caps, is “HILD” Immediately below that, again in small type is, to the left “Picador” and, to the right, “A Novel” Below that in large type, “Nicola Griffith.”

Spear is a Nebula Finalist!

Spear is a finalist for the Nebula Award for Best Novel. I am DELIGHTED!! I mean it—really thrilled. Really pleased to be in this company, too, a terrific set of books; all very different in mood and tone.

Nebula Award for Novel

  • Legends & Lattes, Travis Baldree (Cryptid; Tor)
  • Spear, Nicola Griffith (Tordotcom)
  • Nettle and Bone, T. Kingfisher (Tor; Titan UK)
  • Babel, R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager US; Harper Voyager UK)
  • Nona the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir (Tordotcom)
  • The Mountain in the Sea, Ray Nayler (MCD; Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

I was convinced that this slim book would fall firmly between the cracks, lost between novel and novella, and not get nominated for anything. Yet now it has three nominations: the Nebula Best Novel Award, the Los Angeles Book Prize Ray Bradbury Prize (Ray Nayler is up for that, too), and the Subjective Chaos Kind of Award (Ray is nominated for this one, too—though in SF rather than Fantasy, and, hey, so is T. Kingfisher!). It really is turning into the Little Book That Could.

Here’s the full list of Nebula Finalists in all the other categories.

Winners will be announced at the 2023 Nebula Conference, held May 12–14, 2023, this year at the Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort, Anaheim, CA. There is also an option to attend virtually. But this year I’m going to be there in person—even though I will have been in Los Angeles just three weeks earlier. It seems I’ll be racking up the frequent flier points this year. Hey, maybe I can use some of them to buy a new jacket. I mean, if this isn’t an excuse to dress up and go to town, what is?

Woo hoo!

And because there can never, ever be too much excitement, come back here first thing tomorrow for the Menewood cover reveal—and some juicy tidbits about what to expect from the book—because it’s fucking *gorgeous*!

Coming tomorrow: Menewood cover reveal!

Tomorrow you finally get to see the splendid, amazing, and fabulous Menewood cover—but also a bonus reveal! I’m hugging myself with delight at the thought. Stay tuned…

Today and tomorrow: ECCC

This afternoon I’ll be at Seattle Center for Emerald City Comic Con where I’ll be doing a panel followed by a book signing. Sunday morning I’ll be doing another panel followed, again, by a signing. Details below:

Saturday March 4, 2023 — Seattle, WA — Emerald City Comic Con

  • Panel:5:00 PM – 6:00 PM, Room 340-341 | Something Old, Something New: The Art Is in the Retelling — Exploring myths from cultures around the world, retelling well-known fairytales, new takes on old stories.
  • Signing: 6:15 – 7 PM, Literary Signing Table #2

Sun, March 5, 2023 — Seattle, WA — Emerald City Comic Con

  • Panel: 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM, Room 340-341 | Writing in Apocalyptic Times — Pandemics, unraveling climate, political upheaval… the world is seeming more and more like a post apocalyptic novel. How the world today impacts writing about tomorrow.
  • Signing: 12:15 – 1:15 PM, Literary Signing Table #1

It’ll be my first ComiCon of any kind. Come and say hello!

In 5 days: Menewood cover reveal!

On Wednesday next week you will see the glorious (fabulous, delicious, rich, dramatic…) cover of Menewood! It will blow you right out of your slippers 😎

Hieme Horribilis

I wrote a version of this, Aestas Horribilis, less than four months ago, but as dozens of you have totally ignored it I’m doing it again. For those with limited time, the tl;dr = Don’t ask me for anything right now. Unless I’ve already offered, the answer is no. If you truly believe what you’re asking/offering is special (for example I *am* going to go to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and Book Prize ceremony), then talk to my agent or publicist and she’ll decide if it’s worth passing on.

The last half of last year was terrible (see the link above), The first quarter of this one has, with two exceptions, been worse. On top of the parental situation mentioned previously—which is continuing to devolve, though, as we now have some systems in place, the physical exhaustion factor is not much worse (emotional toll? different story)—we have a whole host of other things to deal with.

We now have three family situations. One you already know about. One is not my news to discuss. One involves my family in the UK—which adds another layer of difficulty.

This is something I’ve been through three times before. Each time, my sister comes perilously close to dying before we can get her detained under the UK Mental Health Act and given ECT—with or without her permission. Emotionally it’s very hard. Physically, too, because it can involve flying to Leeds and bullying healthcare providers into doing the only thing that works.

All I can say is I am thankful twice a day that my other sister is right there and able to do this. I literally could not right now because of my own health. As you can imagine, this multiple family stress is not restful. And stress and lack of rest are very, very bad for inflammatory immune system issues—of which I have a Santa’s sackful.

Mostly I don’t talk about them because there’s no need. When most people look at me they see an energetic—sharp, happy, healthy, in-control of a zesty life—wheelchair user who loves doing new things, meeting new people, and getting out and about. And most of the time what you see is absolutely what you’re getting. But not right now. Stress does terrible things to the body.

As well as MS I have undifferentiated spondyloarthropathy, ocular rosacea, odd heart issues2, probable MCAS3, allergies, and a really bizarre set of reactions to medications that just don’t affect most other people. Most of the time, when life is stable, all this stuff is just background noise—not to be treated lightly, obviously, but nothing too terrible. Most of the time, I tend to forget everything but MS exists.

Most of the time but not now.

Right now my MS symptoms are the worst they’ve ever been. In addition, my spondyloarthropy is acting up, and MCAS is making me vomit and start to go into shock at the drop of a hat—or even a whiff of high-histamine food. I’m in massive, endless, grinding pain despite physical therapy, ultrasound massage, painkillers, and muscle relaxants. I look terrible (which always hurts my pride). I can’t focus, I can’t sleep, and I’m getting nothing done. My entire system is on a hair trigger. In the last seven days alone I’ve had to cancel without warning two separate events, which also hurts my pride—I hate to be seen as unreliable.

So, right now I don’t want to speak to your class, give you an interview, sign your books, be on your panel, ‘just take a look’ at your book’ or any other damn thing. Unless, as I’ve said, I’ve already told you I will.4

One good thing—beyond good, fabulous—Kelley got a brilliant new job. The hours are reasonable, the pay is fantastic, the health benefits good, and—best of all—she not only enjoys the work but her coworkers and managers (and the firm as a whole—a global, enterprise-level company) are wonderful.

A second good thing: MENEWOOD is still on track for October 3 publication and the publisher is solidly behind it. With luck, I’ll be fighting fit by mid-summer and ready to take the world by storm!

Meanwhile, watch for more news tomorrow about MENEWOOD…

1 The search for a bed has widened from Leeds, to Yorkshire, to the whole North, and now south and central England—and still nothing.

2 By odd I mean variable. Since I first passed out spectacularly in a club at age 20 I’ve been diagnosed with both ventricular and atrial issues, mitral valve prolapse, various electrical issues, plus stenosis and sclerosis of other valves—only for all those things to have vanished by the next echocardiogram and/or stress test. Whenever one of my providers retires the next one simply doesn’t believe my story until he (and it’s always been a he) sees for himself and is confused. I’m used to it. I also believe that my heart is essentially very healthy and just prone to…misbehaviour. My blood work always shows stellar results. As one neurologist once told me: You have a Harvard Chart. In other words, even as a wheelchair user my biomarkers are pretty much green down the line.

3 Getting a definite diagnosis can involve inconvenient, time-sensitive, and often painful invasive tests. So I’m fine with ‘probable’ for now. There are no decent treatments anyway.

4 And even then, honestly, it really depends on the vagaries of a seriously out-of-whack immune system. For example, I truly hope to be at Emerald City Comic Con at the weekend—but if I feel then how I feel today, well, I’m not sure.