More Hild-inspired art

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

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

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

This year’s flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31 years ago

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

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

Kelley, Seattle, WA.

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

Nicola and great nephew, Leeds, UK.

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

Bucket of eels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The women of my writing motherline

Today in Electric Literature I talk about five women who shaped my writing. They are part of my writing motherline. The rules were that I had to choose just 5; I could just as easily have chosen 25.

Too few writers, in any form or genre, talk about the women who shaped them. This distorts the history and shape of real influence. As part of the piece I say,

If you want to understand the shape of 21st-century science fiction, read Charnas, and Vonda McIntyre’s Dreamsnake (1978). They are the mothers of us all.

And I believe this is true. I believe that without Charnas and McIntyre and Russ and Tiptree, today’s SF would look very different (I doubt cyberpunk would have been born, for example). But too few of us acknowledge our debt. At some point soon I’ll talk more about that. But for now, go read Electric Lit’s Read More Women series.

5 Great Books by Women, Recommended by Nicola Griffith

The role of embodiment in creative and scholarly enquiry: a plenary lecture

Last week I spent five days at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC, to attend IONA: Early medieval studies on the islands of the North Atlantic—transformative networks, skills, theories, and methods for the future of the field. They aren’t kidding about the transformative bit: I’ve never been to anything like it. It was a purely academic conference that felt like the best WisCon or ICFA ever. Super collaborative and cooperative. If you’re even remotely interested in either the early medieval or the future of academic conferences, you should go read the programme. And perhaps start planning to attend the next IONA, which will be at King’s College London, November 2021.

I was one of the plenary speakers. Here’s the description of my lecture:

This plenary presentation discusses how Griffith’s most recent novel, Hild (2013) operates as a second-order discourse on the illusory nature of history’s immutability: how the novel deconstructs the intersectional development of oppressive discourse on gender, sexual orientation, race, and (with forthcoming Hild sequel Menewood) disability. Central to Griffith’s address is why she chose a queer female protagonist for these novels set in seventh-century Britain, and era of ethnogenesis and cultural change. In doing so, Griffith focuses on the embodiment of the novel, protagonist, and author to argue for the urgent necessity of acknowledging and incorporating one’s understanding of embodiment—and, therefore, identity—into not only the creative arts but scholarly inquiry.

I’m linking here to the PDF of my plenary, plus the slides. I’ll probably leave them up until the end of the month then take them down.* So if you want them, get them now. And then go look at the pretty new IONA website.

Many thanks to Clare Lees for the lovely introduction, and Matt Hussey for organising a splendid conference and inviting me to speak.

*Link now removed

An honourable man

Ten days ago I gave the eulogy at my father’s funeral. I’ve made many speeches, but this was one of the hardest. Grief is an unpredictable as a wild dog. Right up until I spoke I had no idea whether or not I could keep grief from savaging me mid-sentence. But I gave the whole thing—I even sang “Cigarettes and whiskey and wild, wild women”—without a wobble, right up until the last three words.

Cheers, Dad.

My father in his late 80s, enjoying a pint.

An Honourable Man

I loved my father. He was an honourable man. A man of his word. And very much a man of his time.

He was born in 1925. He never owned a computer. He had no use for mobile phones, and I’m not sure he even knew what Uber was. He didn’t much like change. He liked routines: lunch with his sister Dolly, on Monday, at the True Briton—where he ate scampi. Lunch with And and Julie, on Wednesday, at Woodies—where he ate scampi. And lunch with his best friend Derek, on Friday, at whichever pub in town sold the cheapest John Smith’s—as long as they also sold scampi. I think if it had been up to him the world would have frozen in place just after he married Mum in 1951—when women wore their hair long, and skirts, and short-haired men wore suits—but only if he could still eat scampi.

In WWII he was a radio operator in the merchant navy. He loved that. I think he visited every continent except Antarctica. He was very proud of his ship, and very proud to become her Third Officer. He loved telling stories of being a sailor… Like the time the allied fleet liberated Norway—for which every officer got a case of whiskey and a German pistol. And maybe they got other favours, too, though we never actually talked about it—except, one autumn afternoon, when he’d had a glass of whisky, he burst into a chorus of ‘Cigarettes and whiskey and wild, wild women…’ (I nearly choked on my beer.) But he gave all that up to marry my mother.

In many ways Dad was a traditionalist. He believed in certain hierarchies: by gender, by age, by class. People, in his book, should know their place and behave accordingly. We should never get above ourselves. The one time he broke from that personal rule was his marriage to my mother. Dad was not religious, but my mother was Catholic. To get the Bishop’s permission to marry Mum, Dad had to promise to raise their children, raise us, in the Church. The Bishop was still dubious, but eventually he agreed: However, it was Lent, he said, so there could be no music. But Dad loved my mother, and my mother loved music, so for once he stepped out of his comfort zone and said: My wife will have music. And so Mum and Dad were married, in a full nuptial mass, with music, in Lent—which at the time was unheard of. Still is, actually. But somehow, nearly 70 years ago, Dad charmed the Bishop into bending the rules.

Dad could be very charming. Every woman who came away from a conversation with him said, What a lovely man! Part of his charm, of course, was those stories he used to tell of his days at sea: Stories told with wit, verve, and just a hint of wickedness. ‘This scar,’ he’d say, pointing to his chin, ‘is from a fight I got into with a Yank in port. He kicked me under the chin and knocked me cold.’ Or the time, for a bet, he drank an entire bottle of whiskey in one go, and ended up in hospital for two days.

Sometimes it was hard to reconcile the father of the stories with the father we knew, who liked everything to be orderly, and unchanging. The same. Even his clothes: the same shirts from the same tailor. The same ratty old cardigan for decades. And oh, the same most awful maroon swimming trunks—knit swimming trunks—on family holidays by the sea; I mean every holiday. I think he got those trunks before he got married. And he was still wearing them on holiday when I was a teenager. Why? It’s not as though he couldn’t afford a new pair. When I asked him, he looked at me, astonished, and said, ‘But Nicola, there’s nothing wrong them. Throwing them away would be a waste.’

That obsessive hatred of waste drove me crazy when I was growing up. I’d be reading in the lounge at dusk and he’d come in and say, ‘Don’t waste electricity,’ and flick the light off. But I’d give anything to have him walk in here, now, and tell me there was nothing wrong with those eggs—those six-month old eggs—in the fridge, or that those brown and shrivelled daffodils were perfectly good for another week. I will miss, especially, the chocolate oranges he sent me, every Christmas, wherever I was living, carefully boxed in old, cut-up birthdays cards, wrapped with reused brown paper, and tied with string saved from 1963.

I will miss so very many things. But so much of him is in me—in us, his children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren, and great great grandchild—like his love of winning: at Scrabble, or draughts, or Beetle. Oh, he found such glee in winning; it was the only time he allowed himself to boast and chortle. Many of us, too, share his joy in a pint, or a glass of whiskey. Though, to be honest, he couldn’t tell Bell’s from 20-year Macallan—and didn’t believe anyone else could, either. And none of us sisters are any good at lying, because Dad never lied. Ever. And if he promised you something, he would do it.

My father was a man of his word. An honourable man. And I loved him.