A sled chair pulled by direwolves

Since the writers of HBO’s Game of Thrones left the books behind, I’ve been seriously enjoying the show. I no longer dread the sexual and other violence that made the first 5 years such difficult viewing.

This latest trailer looks fabulous! In addition to all the essential tropes of great fantasy—swords and ponies! dragons and seers! queens, and kings, and monsters (human and otherwise)!—we now have an important and powerful character in a wheelchair.

One thing: I can’t quite work out how a wheelchair would navigate all that snow. It really needs to be a sledchair. Pulled by direwolves. ETA: With attached scythe blades, like a chariot?


Music of early 1981: what I was listening to

Image description: Two photos, watermarked with the photographer’s name, Anita Corbin. On the left, two white women, Kelley (left) and Nicola (right) standing in front of a mirror that reflects book shelves, with their arms wrapped around each other, both looking directly into the camera. On the right, Kelley and Nicola again, outside on their front porch surrounded by greenery and flowers. Nicola, on the right, is in a wheelchair, and Kelley is kneeling next to her. Again, they have their arms around each other and are looking directly into the camera.

On July 6th the big new exhibit Visible Girls: Revisited opens as part of Hull City of Culture 2017, and will then tour the country. This weekend the Guardian did a 6-page preview on the retrospective-and-redo of the famous 1981 series, Visible Girls. The Guardian piece only used photos and interviews of pairs who could be rephotographed together (and my new photos are with Kelley, above, and not Carol, as it was in the original). All the subjects of the article seem to be straight women who were interested in male musical subcultures. Perhaps the editors and/or women who were photographed did not know that there was a vibrant women’s music subculture at the time.

It occurred to me that many readers don’t know about the women’s music subculture, either, so I put together a Spotify playlist of music I was listening to in 1980 and 1981 when the original photo was taken. I could only find a couple of things I was looking for but added a lot of the music everyone in my various circles was playing at the time.*


[I’ve been having some problems with very specific embed codes on this blog (Spotify and Storify) so if you can’t see the playlist, here’s a link to my Spotify playlist, VG:R Nicola.]

I have a personal story behind every single one of those songs. When I have time (within a month?) I’ll write them. It will be a long post…

The fifth song is “I’m On My Way” by Gwen Avery. It’s a good song, but the one of hers I really wanted was “Sugar Mama.” So here it is on YouTube. Yes, it’s from 1977, but I first heard it in 1980, on a bootleg tape of a compilation of women’s music; in poor subcultures before the intarwebs this stuff took a long time to propagate:

All this music fed into the songs I co-wrote and sang for Janes Plane, a band which became mildly famous in women’s music circles. So here’s a 9-song playlist of my own music, mostly created and recorded in 1982 and 1983. The first four are Janes Plane, the second four Janes Remains (me and Jane, the guitarist) and the last just me.


*I moved in several: lesbian feminist, indie music, druggies, bikers, theatre babies…

Silenced voices: relative representation in the House of Commons

There are 650 Members of Parliament (MPs) and about 65 million people in UK. In a perfectly just world, we might expect to see the demographics of the electorate reflected in the demographics of their representatives. It is not a perfectly just world. To find out just how unjust it is, I’ve been doing some counting, using population numbers as a proxy for electorate and comparing them to the newly-elected MPs.


Examined from a representational perspective, the numbers suck. Here are the rough percentages of various groups within the UK population:

  • Women 51%
  • Disabled 20%
  • BAME/POC 13%
  • Queer 7*%

Now compare that to the number of MPs from each group:

  • Women: 208 MPs = 32%
  • BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic): 51 MPs = 8%
  • Out Queer: 45 MPs = 7%
  • Out Disabled: 4 MPs = 0.615%

Here’s what that looks like:
pop v rep 2-d copy


The overwhelming majority of MPs are straight, white, non-disabled men.

Of the out queer MPs, all are white, 80% are men, and none are trans. I don’t know how many BAME MPs are queer or crips or women, or how many women are BAME or queer. I don’t know how many of the out disabled MPs are queer—but three are white and men; the only woman is BAME. Intersectionality is a distant dream with regard to UK national politics.

Relative Representation

Where it gets really interesting (that is, enraging) is when we look at relative representation, that is, the ratio between the percentages of the population and those elected to speak for them:

relative representation

Over represented: men, white, non-disabled.
Balanced representation: queer.
Under represented: BAME/POC, women, disabled.

The biggest gap is between the representation for disabled people (grey) and non-disabled people (gold). Take a good, long look. That’s not a gap, it’s a chasm.

Silenced Voices

Imagine 100 disabled people at one end of a room and all but 3 are gagged. The 100 non-disabled people at the other end are not only free to speak but have brought 24 loud-voiced friends. If all talked at once, 3 voices against 124, which perspective will be heard?

Imagine 100 women: 63 get to talk. But the 100 men get to bring 39 of their friends. 63 vs 139. Whose voice will be heard?

Imagine 100 BAME/POC: 62 can speak. Those one hundred white people, though, get to invite 5 extra people. So if everyone shouts at once, 62 vs 105, who will be heard?

Interestingly, queer and straight appear perfectly balanced. But of course white male abled queer voices drown out the rest.

Many of us, then, are poorly represented in the Commons. (Don’t even get me started on the Lords.)

But here’s a thing: the woman who won Kensington and Chelsea for Labour for the first time in the history of the constituency did so by just 20 votes. Twenty. That’s the number of people you’d have round to watch the fireworks, the number of people who go outside to smoke at a party, the number you’d hang out with at a family barbeque/barbecue. So at your next fireworks display/party/barbecue talk to people. Ask them to vote. Every single vote matters. Your vote matters. Next time you get the chance, vote. Make your voice heard.

*We could argue about the percentage of queers in the population until the sun dims. I’ve seen figures ranging from just over 1% to almost 10% depending on whose figures and whose definitions. I plumped for 7% because, well, why not?

One-day workshop Sunday 8 October: Registration now open!

I’m teaching a one-day workshop for Clarion West on Sunday 8 October, 10am-4pm: What Readers Like—And Why. It will be held in an accessible space (I will most probably be in a wheelchair) in the U District of Seattle, and costs $150. Fourteen participants will be selected on a first-come, first-served basis. Registration is open.

I’ll be asking students to do a bit of pre-work, no more than 20 minutes of reading or viewing. This way we can begin with a shared foundation and spend more time actually practising some tools and techniques.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years, particularly the last 12 months (more on that in a future blog post), thinking about how readers respond to narrative. In this workshop I want to share what I’ve learnt about why some moments, characters, or settings live in a reader’s heart and mind for years while others might prompt them to throw the book at the wall. What brings a reader in and what shoves them out? What makes a reader relax and trust you and what will provoke a visceral, negative response? And can you ever harness that visceral response?

I see this as being equally useful to writers of fiction and creative non-fiction; I’d welcome both. What kind of things will we be talking about? Word choice, of course, but also the shape of sentences and paragraphs, what is and is not effective in terms of imagery, how story works, and more.

My plan is to create a template that participants can use as a guide to analyse their own and each others’ work, to help them answer questions about how, as readers, they responded at various points in the text. My hope is that writers can then take that template home and use it to strengthen their own writing. Also—because this is always one of my goals—that in addition to learning nifty stuff you will have a blast.


  • One-day workshop for Clarion West, on Sunday, 8 October, 10am-4pm
  • in an accessible space in the University District, Seattle
  • for 14 participants, selected on first-come first-served basis
  • and costs $150 for six hours of face-to-face discussion, exercise, and workshop.

Registration is open. See you there!

Good music for hard times

It’s been a day of hard news. But here’s a song I love, I’ve always loved. It always helps me. Perhaps it will help you, too.


Here are some pictures of flowers I took yesterday and a snip of sound I recorded first thing this morning: nothing but birds. (It recorded at low volume, though, so you might want to turn it up.) I think it’s going to be a lovely day.


One-day workshop, Oct 8: What readers like—and why

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about how readers respond to narrative, particularly fiction. Cognitive poetics, the neuroscience of narrative empathy, evolutionary and literary theory—it’s easy to get lost in the different but passionate arguments. So I try to answer simple questions: Why do readers respond more strongly to some fiction than to others? How does the writer immerse the reader in a story? What is it about this particular word, or sentence, or paragraph that persuades the reader to trust the writing?

I’ll be teaching What Readers Like—And Why, a one-day workshop for Clarion West, on Sunday, 8 October, 10am-4pm, in an accessible space on the University of Washington campus, Seattle. Space is limited to 14, and will cost $150 for six hours of face-to-face discussion, exercise, and workshop. My plan is to create a template that participants can use as a guide to analyse their own and each others’ work, to help them answer questions about how, as readers, they responded at various points in the text. My hope is that writers can then take that template home and use it to strengthen their own writing.

It will be the fourth time I’ve taught a one-day class for Clarion West. All the classes are different but they do tend to fill fairly quickly. I don’t know when exactly the class opens for enrollment but I wanted to give those who might be interested a heads-up. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis, so I’ll do my best to post another reminder closer to the time.