Call for contributors: A Hild Companion

Black adn white relief map of Britain annotated with seventh-century polities and place names

Last year I had a fabulous time at a four-day conference held at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC. The conference was IONA: Early medieval studies on the islands of the North Atlantic—transformative networks, skills, theories, and methods for the future of the field. I not only had a fabulous time, met some people to collaborate with.

The first project, already in its preliminary planning stage, is a companion volume to Hild, an accessible guide to the book and its Early Medieval context. Most likely we will aim for publication with by a university press, but as the project comes together more clearly, a trade press may be a better option.

This is a call for contributors, and ideas.

  • Scholars who might teach the book to undergraduates
  • Scholars who may want guidance into certain areas of the field
  • Lay readers who wish to pursue the history/historical context of Hild in great depth

1. Introductory article/s

2. Short survey articles of 10-15 pp each intended to bring the non-scholar into the historical reality in which the book is set, or to guide scholars into particular areas. There will be 7-8 of these. We’re sure of the first four topics and are mulling others:

  • women/gender
  • queerness
  • race/ethnicity/ethnogenesis
  • teaching Hild
  • disability
  • culture/s
  • literacy
  • languages

3. A series of encyclopaedia entries on smaller topics. The number and topics are still very much under discussion, but some examples might include:

  • textile production
  • metal smithing
  • buildings/architecture
  • environment
  • identity/identity-signalling/fashion
  • belief
  • travel
  • law

4. Full bibliography to guide those who want to pursue topics further


Just before Hild was published I bought the domain I’d originally intended it as an unofficial companion to the novels—stuffed with maps, illustrations, family trees, glossaries, all the extra research that wouldn’t fit in the book, and so on. So this is the ideal place to host as much of the book content as we can for free—we believe in open access. Here’s where we’ll put too-expensive-for-print extras for the official Companion: full-colour maps and other illustrations; perhaps sample syllabi, reading lists, and other teaching materials; public domain texts; pre-prints of some Companion articles; specialised bibliographies; interviews with contributors; and whatever else seems appropriate. It’s a website; there are no length restrictions, and nothing is set in stone.


We—me, the editors, other contributors—are fully committed to diversity and inclusion in terms of disciplines, author identity, mindset, and place of origin. Included in the list of those who have already agreed to participate are two historians, two Celticists, three OE lit scholars, and, ahem, one novelist. We’re actively seeking queer scholars, scholars of colour, disabled scholars, and scholars at various stages of their academic careers—including those engaged in independent study.

It’s only human to want to work with those we’ve worked with before, but for this project we’re keen on representing different ways of thinking. So if you have thoughts, please share, either in the comments below or in private email. (If you have my email address please feel free to get in touch privately, or use the contact form on this website.) If you know of someone we should approach, please tell us. And if you think someone you know might be interested, please send them a link.

I you get in touch we’ll share who is already committed, who we’re talking to, and other plans for the project.

I’m excited about this. I hope you are, too.

Kitten Report #12: A new decade [photos]

Charlie and George have torn into the New Year and new decade with enthusiasm. They are still growing like magic beans. George is massive; Charlie seems tiny in comparison, but he weighs 7 lbs 10 oz—above average, apparently, for a cat his age: eight months. My guess is that George is now about 10 lbs, which is more than our last male cat, even in his prime, and it’s not fat. He’s going to be a giant, I think. You can see from this picture just how big he’s getting. Kelley has amazingly large hands but he makes them look small.

Large tabby cat sitting on a lap, head tipped back in bliss

George blisses out

The reason we know Charlie’s exact weight is that we had to take him to the vet. He has some symptoms—snoring, a huffing grunt when he exerts himself, and excessive swallowing—that reminded me of when he was developing his polyp. The vet, however, thinks it may be a reoccurrence of the kitty herpes virus that leads to cold-like symptoms and upper respiratory inflammation—which is what leads to the development of polyps, but doesn’t mean he has a polyp yet. So we’re giving him prophylactic antibiotics, keeping a close eye on him, and crossing our fingers. Other than the symptoms above he is in fine fettle. As you can see by this photo, his build is quite different to George’s.

Young, slim tabby cat standing on a table

Some days Charlie looks more like a civet than an American tabby

At eight months Charlie and George are, in human terms, about eight years old. That is, they can make basic sense of the world because they’ve seen a lot of it before but, oh, there is so very much still to see for the first time. Like snow. We all woke up on Monday morning to this:

Early morning snow covering a back deck, and benches, and fences, and hedges, and trees...

And over the next few hours the kitties were fascinated by snowfall. They had no idea what it was, but George was mesmerised by the falling flakes; Charlie was mesmerised watching George watch the flakes; and I was mesmerised watching Charlie being mesmerised by George being mesmerised. It all got very meta.

Photo of two cats. One in the foreground watching one in the background who is watching snow fall outside the window.

Charlie is mesmerised by George being mesmerised by falling snow

Tabby cat staring directly into the camera with another tabby in the background

Charlie is mesmerised by me being mesmerised by Charlie being mesmerised by George being mesmerised by falling snow…

Tabby cat falling asleep on a kitty condo facing the window

Eventually George mesmerised himself to sleep

Eventually they got bored and fell asleep. George is doing this a lot, with a particular fondness for being on his back with his legs in the air. And he looks so blissed out it’s almost as mesmerising watching him sleep as it was to watch him watching the snow.

Big tabby cat lying on his back with back feet perpendicular to the back of the sofa and head hanging off the front edge of the seat

George measures the sofa in his sleep

Tabby cat lying on his back partly on a kitty condo and partly the oak desk next to it

George is getting way, way too big for that condo

Large tabby cat lying on his back on a green blanket

George finds his bliss, again

Once the snow was gone, the cedar waxwings came back and they were then mesmerised by the flock.

One cat sits on a desk by the window to eatch birds while another cat watches from his kitty condo

They want those cedar waxwings

Tabby cat stretching to the window, yearing for birds, while another tabby cat plays with the first cat's tail

Charlie *really* wants those waxwings. George really wants Charlie’s tail.

You can’t really tell from these photos but Charlie’s coat is quite different to George’s. George is a classic American Shorthair, but Charlie, well, Charlie isn’t.

Tabby cat on a lap with luxuriant white whiskers and thick fur

Charlie has a lot of fur

Beautiful soft-furred tabby sitting on an oak desk and staring straight into the camera

Which can make him look deceptively soft and sweet

You can see the difference a bit better in these two photos of their faces

Closeup of tabby cats soft furry face

Charlie has thick, soft clouds of fur

Tabby cat peers over the top of a closed trunk

George’s fur is short and sleek

Charlie is being particularly active at the moment, leaping on everything, balancing—and sometimes not—on everything, and jumping off from there.

Tabby cat balancing on the back of a wood chair

Charlie want to be one of the flying Wallendas

He’s taken to striking a Monarch of the Glen pose, standing on the kitchen table with his front paws on the back of a kitchen chair and looking tall and noble. But I’m never fast enough to catch that pic. Here’s he’s just coming down from it.

Tabby cat standing with his hinds legs on a table and front legs on the back of a wooden chair

Charlie wants to be the king

But mainly, well, they’re cats; they sleep. The other day George spent hours sleeping on my desk, moving only to turn and sleep in the other direction as the afternoon drew on to twilight.

Tabby cat asleep on cat bed on a desk between keyboard and screen

George sleeps as I work

Tabby cat still sleeps on a cat bed between keyboard and display as the afternoon darkens

The rain pours down outside, I work, George sleeps on…

They’re cats, they sleep a lot. And they’re brothers, they sleep together when there’s room.

Two tabby cats sleeping back to back on a blue throw

Back to back is good, as long as Charlie’s in front

And although George is so much bigger, it’s still Charlie who always takes point and sleeps in front of his brother, protecting him from the world.

Two tabby cats spooning on a blue throw

Charlie takes point, as always, even in spooning bliss

So bottom line: the cats are happy, and growing, and getting on well with each other. Over the next decade there will, no doubt, be much mis/adventure and mischief to come. When anything interesting happens I’ll post about it. Meanwhile, feel free to go reread previous kitten reports.

2010-2019: a decade in review [photos, links]

Two tabby cats with their backs to the camera facing a hearth, watching the flames. the larger cat on the right (George), has his kitty arm around his smaller brother (Charlie). They look as though they are feeling the poignancy of the moment.

Most of the links below are to my own blog posts. But some are to images, and one or two link out. Some of the years have round-up posts, some do not.


This will be a long post: ten years is a long time; a lot has happened; and the world has changed a fair bit. Of course, it had been changing rapidly in the previous decade.

By the time the Great Recession began in 2007 (or 2008, depending on how you squint), I had seen the way publishing was going for midlist writers and decided to change direction: I let go of my old agent, but instead of getting a new one and selling a book on chapter and outlines, I began to work on the book that would become Hild. But I knew I would not make any money from it for years. At the start of the new decade the effects of the recessions were still very much with us. It was almost impossible for freelancers to make money. Kelley and I launched Sterling Editing, and helped those writers who had actual jobs and health insurance to make their work better. We also picked up a variety of freelance and consulting work where were could: we built websites, we taught, we advised corporate executives about their online presence. What money we did make almost all went on healthcare: our annual out-of-pocket medical expenses until just last year averaged about $35,000. It was a very hard time for us, and for many people we knew. I lay awake more than once worrying we would end up living in a paper bag under the overpass eating cat food.

In the last year of the last decade, and this first year of this, I was also spending a massive amount of time working with a non-profit organisation that was going through the dangerous transition from founder-led to semi-professional. I believe that at one point it came very close to collapse, but it is now thriving. It was brutally hard work, and unpaid, but not a decision I regret.

The social media revolution of the beginning of the 21st century began to accelerate. In 2008 I moved my old-fashioned website’s Ask Nicola feature to a standalone blog, Ask Nicola, (still up, because I still haven’t got around to linking everything on the ‘new’ site)—where in the first five years I averaged 330 posts a year. The Yahoo Group I’d started in 1999 began to fade. I joined Twitter. I launched a YouTube channel. And of course, like half the rest of the world, I joined Facebook—not sure when, exactly, but I’ve never liked it that much as a platform; it feels sorta pushy and intrusive. I do, however, like Instagram—though a bit less than I did since FB fucked with the feed order and gave us no way to customise it. There’s also LinkedIn, both for me, and for Aud Torvingen, who has a surprising number of connections. Social media really changed the nature of this blog. I’m okay with that. I find that I use it now not only to communicate via slightly longer-form pieces but to archive meaningful personal and career moments.


So. This was the year that the VIDA Count began, that the first Uber customer hailed a ride, and SpaceX was the first privately funded company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft. Additive (3D) printing was about to take off. Book world was still clinging to the 20th century. Publishers like Macmillan still thought they could stand up to Amazon (they couldn’t). Digital book sales were beginning to eat into print sales—though the most popular e-reader, the Kindle, was itself only one step beyond that first primitive, pointy trapezoidal thing with no back light; the Paper White didn’t come out til 2012. Borders was still around. B&N was still regarded as the Great Satan by independent booksellers, and indie bookseller were in a parlous state. Self-publishing was beginning to look like a thing. Audible was in its infancy and had been owned by Amazon only 2 years, and ACX was still a gleam in some executive’s eye. Book publishers began to merge. Many bookstores closed; Borders is running its digital sales through Amazon—everyone with two brain cells to rub together can see where that will end.  Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy. Not coincidentally, this is the year that Netflix streaming app became available for iOS, Wii, and smart TVs. At this stage, for most people ‘bingeing’ was a word associated with gluttons and alcoholics.

In 2010, I turned 50, just nine days after Kelley. We held a 10-day birthday jubilee. My liver shrivelled a bit, but it was worth it. In 2010 I was still doing yoga but later that year I moved to sabre. Given that sabres were originally used as a cavalry weapon, it seemed ideal to use sitting down.

Two fencers, one in black one in white, crossing sabres

I taught a fair bit, including Lambda Literary’s emerging voices workshop. For the first time my fiction was nominated for a Hugo Award—for the first short-fiction I’d written in a decade—and I decide I am GOD.

Round-up post 2010.


At the beginning of 2011 I did not yet own an iPhone or an iPad but bought an iPod Touch which used what I affectionately referred to as Crapcam, which took lovely, gauzy-looking photos that hid a multitude of sins.

A while later I bought my first iPhone 4S, and I was amazed by Siri. Borders filed for bankruptcy. Games of Thrones debuted and I was struck by the serious lack of imagination of the show-runners when it came to cod-medieval fantasy sex. During this period I wrote several of the posts that are perennial blog favourites, such as Writers Manifesto, and Lame is so gay.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed. And at the end of the year the biomedical research paper I had known about for over a year, written by a friend, was finally published, announcing that MS is not, in fact, an autoimmune disease but a metabolic disorder, specifically, the result of a faulty lipid metabolism. I felt filled with hope, and in a rush of energy I inaugurated what has since become an annual tradition: blowing up the Christmas tree.


I finished Hild. The rewritten ms made an impressive stack.

My new agent sent it out to publishers. I knew it was a good book; I knew it would change things for me. When it sold to Farrar, Straus and Giroux for a goodly sum, I went practically insane with joy.

A few months later I got my first (and still favourite) ukulele, Jeepster, and recorded some songs. Disabled artist Riva Lehrer came to Seattle and we collaborated on a mixed-media portrait, which turned out pretty well and in fact sold so fast I never did get to see the finished thing. Oh, well.

DADT had just been repealed, and we could all sense the winds of change blowing from the Obama Whitehouse. One of the most amazing changes was the passage of the ACA (Obamacare), signed into law March 2010 because it meant I could no longer be refused coverage for previous conditions, which widened my choices considerably. The cost did not go down, but at least it was no longer climbing 20% a year. We spent election week in Vancouver and ignored the madness; on returning to another 4 years of Obama (yay!) I made a surprising—to both me and Kelley—to become a US citizen.

This year I did two round-up posts:

Round-up post, Part One
Round-up post, Part Two


I should have known this was going to be a year like no other when, right out of the box, the pope resigned. I did author photoshoots for Hild and liked the results so much I asked the photographer to shoot me and Kelley.

Kelley and Nicola, May 2013. Photo by Jennifer Durham.

Then I became a US citizen. Then we were in New York for BEA, doing five events a day to promote the upcoming publication of Hild. I also won an award.

Just days after getting back from New York, on the silver anniversary of when Kelley and I met and fell in love—the Supreme Court struck down DOMA and paved the way for marriage equality. A month later, Kelley and I were co Guests of Honour at Westercon, where we also held a mini-reunion of Clarion class of 1988. Two months after that, on the 20th Anniversary of our first, non-legal wedding, Kelley and I got married. After many conversations, we decided we would reclaim an old and honourable word, and call each other wife.

Sepia-tone photo of two women holding hands, wearing identical wedding rings

Then Hild came out and for the rest year my life was all Hild, all the time: a national tour for the hardcover; interviews; essays; book signings. Right at the end of the year: a handshake on an amazing movie deal for Hild. Seriously—just the option money was as much as many conversion prices.

Round-up post for 2013.


This was a hard year. Apart from the crushing financial disappointment of getting the movie contract, and then the producer walking away, and constant travelling—a UK tour, followed by another US tour for the paperback—I had some awful health-related issues. You can see both encapsulated here: happiness and general delight at the world—but that arm strapping as a harbinger:

But even the hard-times were tempered by joy. I had an amazing life-changing eye procedure that meant, for the first time in my life, I didn’t need glasses: going from -17 and -16 dioptres to 20/20 vision seemed—still seems, no was—a fucking miracle. I also published another short story. It didn’t win any awards, but “Cold Wind” seemed to strike a chord among artists.

Cold Wind, by Rovina Cai.

Round-up post for 2014.


After years of complaining about the treatment of women in the literary ecosystem, and taking small steps to address that (see, for example, Taking the Russ Pledge), I finally got cross enough to put together some statistics. I wrote a blog post, Books about women don’t win big awards: some data. The world went mad. It was my first experience of a post going truly viral. It’s easily the most-read post I’ve ever written. It was read and reported on all over the world; I did dozens of interviews. A $50,000 prize was established as a result; and a Toronto Literary Festival celebrating women’s voices.

For the first time, Kelley and I spent a wedding anniversary apart, but it was for the best of reasons: Kelley was in Perth, Australia, on the set of her movie, OtherLife. And speaking of movies, with Carol the world discovered (gasp!) that people would pay actual cash money to watch women on screen.

Round-up post for 2015.


By this point I had long ago set aside my sabre; I was still occasionally doing archery but eventually it got too difficult to go pick up the arrows. At this point that I faced reality, got a wheelchair, and came out as a cripple.

Sepia-tone photo of black TiLite AeroA wheelchair with e-motion wheels

I also enrolled as a doctoral candidate at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. It was an experiment for all of us: I would do the whole thing remotely, as a reasonable accommodation. But, oh, I loved—loved, loved, loved—academic access to multiple institutions. I learnt at warp speed. A month later, we heard the results of the Brexit referendum, and I knew that night that Trump would be the Republican nominee, and perhaps even President. I was not happy.

I coined the hashtag #CripLit, and, with Alice Wong, launched #CripLit, the first Twitter chat for disabled writers. There were many other hashtags launched before and after this time, too: #BlackLivesMatter (2013), #OwnVoices (2015), and #MeToo (in 2017, though the phrase had been used since 2006 by Tarana Burke). By the end of 2016 we needed them more than ever. I’m not going to dwell on the last three years of politics, though, because it’s just too fucking hard. If you want my opinion, you can read blog posts such as Punching nazis, How to defeat an autocrat, and Passport to a perilous future. This was a time where, in the US and UK and many other places, we saw the resurgence of autocracy and kleptocracy, voter suppression and the subversion of legal and legislative process. I argued myself hoarse with many US citizens that a nation’s institutions are only as strong as the ethics of those elected to uphold them.


After I wrote the first draft of my PhD thesis, I wrote the first draft of So Lucky. Then I submitted my thesis. Then I rewrote So Lucky and sold it to Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Then I defended my PhD thesis and become Doctor Griffith.

Another big triumph this year: I finally managed to revert the rights to all three Aud novels. Oh, that made me happy! I also learnt how to travel with my wheelchair: we went to San Diego for the North American premiere of OtherLife. It’s currently streaming on Netflix; go watch it.

We had had a few erratic years, but financially things were a little less dire; we were getting by on our writing and freelance consulting incomes—Kelley was bringing in the lion’s share—keeping our heads above water, though sometimes only just. But it was stressful, and Kelley was juggling entirely too much. And politically and economically we were beginning to wonder if we could stay in Seattle, or even the US. This year I felt so unsettled I couldn’t bear the idea of blowing up the tree, so made reindeer dance instead.

One ray of hope in an otherwise relentless depressing political and cultural year, Get Out made money at the box office.


Ursula Le Guin died. She was a friend—we’d had her to the house, been out for dinner many times—but not one of our very closest friends, so I was astonished at just how hard her death hit me. Perhaps it was because this was a time when we most needed her voice. I was still feeling it when I narrated the So Lucky audiobook the following month. But I focused.

“Yes?” In which I am *focused*…

Surprisingly, I was still feeling Ursula’s loss when So Lucky came out. Sadly, though, I was not a bit surprised at some of the ableist crap apparent in the reviews I got for that book.

In June it was the 30th anniversary of meeting Kelley, and I put together 30 Years: a love story in photos. I wrote a short story, “Glimmer,” and posted it on my website as a free audio download. I began to write nonfiction about disability, including for the New York Times. I was beginning to think: We can do this. Plus, the world was making great strides in movie representation terms. Black Panther, Wonder Woman, and Crazy Rich Asians were all hits.

We were still skating from precarious contract to precarious contract, though, and nothing seemed to be changing except our expenses, which were growing—it’s not cheap being a cripple. And we had to pay a serious chunk of change for a wheelchair-accessible van with hand controls. Thisput us at our absolute limit, and maybe a bit beyond, and then we found out that a contract Kelley had been relying on the for first quarter 2019 could not, in fact, be relied upon. We were facing a black hole with no solution in sight. In middle of numb, blank despair, just two days before Christmas, Kelley was offered a full-time, permanent job. Health benefits! Social security payments! Tax relief! Paid time off! It was a Christmas miracle. This year I blew things up with enthusiasm, and we had a lovely holiday and New Year.

Round-up post 2018.


This year has felt like a surreal mirror-image of the future I imagined as a child. We don’t have flying cars, but we do have killer drones. It’s not the government who is listening to everything we say, but Big Tech; they’re watching, too. And we invited them in because we decided privacy is a reasonable sacrifice for convenience. SpaceX and Blue Origin, two companies founded and owned by billionaires, have rockets that take off and land again on their fins, just like the pulp SF of the 30s. We don’t really have working autonomous vehicles, but we do have electric cars—it’s just that if you live outside big metro areas, well, good luck recharging. We no longer have Concorde; planes go a bit slower, and are a lot more crowded. And for those of us in wheelchairs, well, access has not improved nearly as significantly as we had hoped since passage of the ADA in 1995. Having said that, many organisations are now beginning to pay attention and make at least a gesture (pitiful gestures in some cases; I’m looking at you AWP). Bookstores and libraries are most definitely paying attention except, oops, for Long Island City, New York. And the world has finally woken up to the fact of climate change (something I began worrying about in the late 80s with the discovery, and relentless growth, of the ozone hole), though of course are not doing anything about it. Perhaps they are confused by some of the extreme weather events we’re having, which are not always about being too warm: Seattle, for example, saw record-breaking snow early in the year. I do not understand why governments can’t see that the kind of grinding conflict and migration we’ve had these last ten years are a direct result of environmental degradation. Just look at history. Only this time it will be much, much worse.

However, to stay sane I’ve had to focus on things within my own personal zone of control: there’s nothing much I can do about Trump, about Brexit, about the Supreme Court and every other damn thing except vote and occasionally use this and other platforms to make my voice heard. So this year I’ve been internally focused.

Part of that internal focus is the result of dealing with so much grief. In March, my father died. Less than a week later, our oldest and best friend in Seattle, Vonda McIntyre, died (and I still haven’t been able to write anything for or about her, apart from this very short piece that came out a few days ago). Somehow, and I’m not sure how, in the following three weeks I managed to learn to drive with hand controls and pass my driving test, fly to the UK to give Dad’s eulogy and start dealing with his estate, and travelto Vancouver to give a plenary speech at IONA, a medieval conference. Not long after that, my aunt died. Grief and exhaustion overwhelmed me; I felt as though someone had stuck a blender in my brain, then poured the resulting slurry into a bucket of eels.

During this internal phase I wrote only about things close to home, for example, The gift of a negative review, and the problem with Ruined Earth novels.

And then I abruptly thought, Well, fuck it, if the world keeps trying to beat me bloody, I’ll beat it right back. I took up boxing. (I love it. If you box, come and join me at Title Boxing Club—fully accessible—in Greenwood any time.)

Secure in the knowledge of where the next mortgage payment is coming from, I got a new toy: an iPad Pro, with Pencil. I use it now for everything except long fiction: photo and video manipulation, audio recording, social media, and writing short pieces. We’ve come a long way, baby, since the beginning of the decade, and Crapcam.

This year I also made some stuff happen with my fiction, which I discuss in a writing update: Hild, Aud, Ammonite and more. I celebrated 30 years residence in the US with Kelley. I was delighted (and seriously surprised) when So Lucky won the Washington State Book Award. And perhaps most exciting, energising, and just plain lovely of all, we got kittens: Charlie and George, survivors of a litter of six.

If they could survive the horrors they were born into, and even evolve a higher consciousness, then, fuck yes, we can survive anything the next decade throws at us.

The next decade

In one decade we’ve gone from hardly anyone having a smartphone to a fully app-based society. Drones herd sheep. TV has changed forever. Bingeing is a thing. And a lot of the most popular shows are adaptations of literary properties. Publishing itself has, meanwhile, changed to the outer edge of recognisable. Today we have the Big 5 publishers, and a variety of small, specialised independents. B&N has come perilously close to closing; but the remaining indie bookstores are thriving. However, Amazon owns at least 50% of the US book market and I doubt that this will decrease anytime soon.

Tech behemoths like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook have changed our world to an astonishing degree. Let’s Amazon and its home city of Seattle as an example. Amazon has remade whole chunks of Seattle in its own image, including South Lake Union, a neighbourhood that formerly consisted of parking lots, abandoned warehouses, and cheap artists’ living and working space. (One such space, Re-Bar, is hanging on. I love that place.) In just eight years, rent-plus-utilities in Seattle have gone from around $700 a month to almost $1700 a month. Not coincidentally, homelessness here is now epidemic.

Then years ago, the protestors of Occupy were bringing attention to income inequality. What difference has it made? I believe it helped begin a trickle of change. Those protesters are now probably protesting homelessness. Or the climate crisis. Or gun violence. In a decade that saw horrors like Sandy Hook, the Parkland shootings, and the massacre in Las Vegas, there had been zero significant movement towards gun control. This year alone, as of writing this, there have been 418 mass shootings in the US. But people are talking about it. Change takes time.

This decade so many people have done so much work on so many fronts—the Women’s Marches, Me Too, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, homelessness, anti-fascism (and anti-racism, and anti-white supremacy), Occupy, legalising cannabis—that it’s hard to keep track. There is so very much to do—but it does make a difference. To take just on example: popular culture. Films by and about women are beginning to make money. Women seem to own TV drama and comedy. Books by and about women, by and about women of colour, by and about queer people, are winning awards. But it just a beginning, and it’s fragile. We need more people like the judge who resigned in anger at the explicit sexism of judging.

So how will the next decade unfurl? As I’ve said before, I have no idea. All I know is: it will be nothing we expect; what will make a difference is staying alive to the possibility of change; staying open to feeling; ready and willing to assume good intent and to be kind to one another—but also ready to call bullshit in no uncertain terms. That’s my plan, anyway. My wish for you is that your New Year is exactly as exciting as you wish it to be, and you get to spend it how and with whom you like. See you on the other side.


Blog stats 2019

This post will be short and numbers based. In a couple of days I’ll publish a long, juicy post reviewing the decade.

In 2019 I published 33% less: 50 posts vs. 75 posts in 2018. The average word count of each was 630. According to WordPress, this year about 56,000 people visited the blog, a lot less than last year. I have no real idea how many people actually read each post but I suspect it’s a multiple of the WP figures: more than 2,000 people read by email, a few hundred via the WP feed, and another couple of thousand between three other platforms where the blog reposts automagically. But whichever way you slice it, the nature of this blog is changing. More thoughts on that in a few days.

Most popular

Another indication of change: not a single post written this year made the list of 10 most visited. So here are two lists:

Overall Most Visited (in descending order of popularity)

My Favourites This Year (in no particular order)

Visitors, Referrals

Like last year, readers came to the blog mainly through organic search, Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia, and from almost exactly the same 150+ countries as last year—still no one from Mongolia, Svalbard, or Greenland, huh—and this time, in the top 10, readers from Ireland outpaced those from New Zealand.

  • US
  • UK
  • Australia
  • Germany
  • India
  • France
  • Ireland
  • Netherlands
  • Sweden

No predictions for the coming year because I am always—always!—wrong.

Curve of the World: Vonda N. McIntyre’s final novel

Seattle Metropolitan Magazine has an end-of-decade feature, “Washington Writers Pick Their Favorite Local Books of the Decade,” in which I talk about why, especially now, the world needs Vonda N. McIntyre’s final novel, Curve of the World.

Curve of the World by Vonda McIntyre
Vonda N. McIntyre completed her final novel, Curve of the World, in March, just two weeks before she died of metastatic pancreatic cancer. Vonda was a brilliant writer with huge talent—and an even greater heart. She believed in community and humanity’s ability to solve problems by paying attention to reality and to each other. Curve of the World is an alternate history of the ancient world, three or four thousand years ago, in which Minoans build a global trading community based on mutual obligation and a trust-but-verify approach to communication. We meet people, human and imperfect people of the steppe, Central America, the North American plains, northwest coast, plus the piratical Sea People who prey on them, and see how the Minoan credo—pay attention, communicate, tell the truth (particularly to yourself), and trust-but-verify—can build a working world in which capitalism, global trade, and fairness are not contradictions in terms. There is still conflict—war and famine, fear and hatred, love and friendship, human dignity and human slavery—because people are people, but it is a marvelous vision of how the world might have been, perhaps once was, and might, still, one day be. The world needs this novel.

The article also talks about two other books of note for SFF readers: G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel and Nisi Shawl’s Everfair. Go read it and find out just how many amazing local author’s there are for you to explore.

Blowing up the Christmas tree

For the last nine years our household has enjoyed buying a Christmas tree, decorating it (Kelley’s work), and then blowing it up as inventively as possible (my work delight).

This year was a challenge. First of all because we now have kittens, Charlie and George. They like climbing things, batting at things, and best of all, chewing things to destruction. So we had to get a big, sturdy tree they couldn’t tip over, and we had to put it far enough away from other furniture that they couldn’t leap directly into it. No tinsel icicles for them to eat and then to trail around the house dangling from their butt. (I speak from experience.) No crunchy, tasty little incandescent lights. No glass ornaments for sleepy humans to tread on. Eventually we found enough cloth and wooden ornaments, and bought new less-chewable lights, and just nixed the tinsel. Then after trial and error we figured out what the kitty tide-line for ornaments was and hung everything above that—except the lights, which we tucked deep into the tree way from questing paws.

So now we had a tree, and we’d decorated it. Next: go to my trusty apps to find new SFX to blow up the tree. Which is where we ran into trouble.

Some of the apps I’ve used before no longer run on the updated iOS. And those apps that have updated their software have not updated their gallery of FX. But half way down the second bottle of wine that evening I thought, Ha! If Kelley can decorate a kitty-proof tree then by god I can blow it up! And, indeed, with a bit of ingenuity—combining apps, adding filters, and editing in iMovie—I came up with a few things. Only two, though, involve destroying the tree. So here, for your holiday delectation and delight, are four heart-warming Christmas scenes.

Let’s start with snow. For this first one, in which Charlie is astonished to find two snowmen in his living room, I recommend you go to fullscreen to watch his reactions.

Then, eh, because snowmen are all well and good but snowballs aren’t exactly awe-inspiring, here’s the grown-up version.

Next, although I have yet to see Rise of Skywalker, we’ll be doing that in the next couple of weeks. Here, in anticipation, is BB8 finding out you should never, ever fuck with a tree with powerful friends. (How powerful? Well, here’s another example of the tree striking back.)

And, finally: dolls. I don’t like them. The only time my parents were foolish enough to buy me a doll as a Christmas present—when I was six—I used it as a hockey stick. Nope. I really don’t like them.

For those who want to see pyrotechnics past, go watch my Blow Shit Up! channel on YouTube. You’ll find many of my favourites there: the dragon, Darth Vader, the rock, a piano, dancing reindeer… Enjoy!



The third decade of the 21st century

As a child I found the year 2000…incredible. Yes, I drew pictures of the city of the future: the domes, the flying cars, the automated travel bed (because even then I was ill a lot)—all the usual predictions. But I didn’t really believe it, didn’t deep down viscerally feel that one day I would be forty years old. Nuh-uh. Not possible. Not credible. Yet here we are, well past it. In just two weeks we’ll be starting the third decade of the 21st century. Two weeks. 2020.

I’m starting this new decade with less optimism than I’ve had since, well, ever. For one thing, I begin the new decade as an orphan. Death never entered my thinking as a child or young adult. Sure, my grandparents died but that was sort of what grandparents did, right? Get old and die. Nothing to do with me, not connected at all. I would just get taller and more autonomous; I’d zoom around in a flying car; and I’d still have four sisters, two parents, and a host of aunts and uncles. But today I have no parents, two sisters, and a single aunt.

As a child and then adolescent I also assumed (if I thought about it at all, which I rather doubt) that democracy would be strong and I’d be living in a United Kingdom that was integrated with Europe. Wrong, in a mixed way. Of course I also thought I’d be a white-coated scientist saving the world (brraaap!) or, failing that, a world-famous singer (brraaap!), or—if things went horribly wrong—an entrepreneur (brraaap, brraaap, brraaaaaap!!). Instead, I’m a novelist. So wrong, but in a good way.

Whatever I imagined as my profession, though, I assumed I’d be supremely fit, unconscionably healthy, and wildly good-looking. Well, hey, one out of three isn’t bad…

By the late 90s my thoughts about the future were a bit more complex and rather more specific. At this point I assumed as givens the continued spread of democracy, rule of law, spread of scientific thinking, and reduction in poverty. Wrong—but, again, in a mixed way. Because contrary to what most people think, globally there are fewer violent conflicts. Fewer deaths from disease and poverty. More countries than ever before are democracies. It’s true that many are far from perfect democracies, and that many countries seem to be teetering on the verge of autocracy, but, even so, for much of the world governance is better than it was. The most remarkable change has been to poverty and food security. We have an incredible set of institutions—the World Trade Organisation, the International Court of Law, etc—that actually work, mostly. Again, not perfect, but, again, so much better than anything we had before.

Which makes what is going on now more frightening: rich countries in the best place to encourage continued or, better, accelerated change for the good—such as the UK, where I was born, and the US, where I live—are, instead, beginning to dismantle, brick-by-brick, the legal and cultural institutions that made all this century’s improvements possible: a sense of fairness, the primacy of fact-based argument, the rule of law, social democracy, and a free and fair press. Of course, what led to these institutions possible in the first place was rapacious colonialism, natural resource exploitation, and the ruthless abuse of those who are not white male nondisabled straight Christians, but I had hope that the world was moving in a direction that might enable acknowledgement of and even reparations for those horrors.

I won’t rehash here ideology wars, and the anthropocenic climate change that is exacerbating them, but say only: I was abysmally wrong. And in a very unhappy way.

Another way in which I was wrong, though, is that I thought my achievements (whatever they turned out to be) were entirely my own: done without social support, without even a college degree, and with my back against the wall of a queer-hating universe. Instead, here I am, married, a dual citizen, and with a PhD that I did just because, well, it was interesting. I am delighted to be wrong about these things.

I could go on, but the point I’m trying to get to is that predicting the future is a fool’s game. Sure, there are some things you can predict; you can look at corporate development pipelines (drugs, devices, renewables), demographics (birth and death rates), climate statistics, and federal appointments (young, right-wing, hardline judges) and come up with some notion of how the world might look in ten years. But mostly? Nope.

I’m smart. I read a lot. I think a lot. And I occasionally write science fiction in which I test drive future scenarios. But when people ask me to predict the next decade, I laugh. (On a good day I laugh; on a bad day I opine bitterly that the few who are left will be living in a paper bag under the broken overpass eating scavenged cat food.) Seriously, I am pitifully crap at predicting the future. The most seriously I’ve ever tried was when writing, in 1993 (published 1995), Slow River. Oh, I did get some things right: Bioremediation and the need for it (though today we’re doing much, much less than we could and we need it much, much more than we did). Data ransom. An increasing divide between rich and poor. Charity as fashion. Older people feeling like digital immigrants, strangers in their own culture. But I completely missed social media, the rise of online commerce, and the ubiquity of asomatic connectedness (for good and ill).

So the only thing I’m reasonably sure about in terms of prognostication is that in two weeks we’ll be writing ‘2020’ on our cheques. Except, oh wait, we don’t write cheques anymore. And maybe some deadly pandemic, unexpected asteroid, or nuclear holocaust—or just someone careless tripping the national grid leading to a cascade of devastating effects—could render this notion of money, or even the people who might need it, obsolete.

So, no, I’m not going to offer any predictions for the coming decade. Instead, between now and the end of the year I might write the occasional decade-in-review blog post. Meanwhile, I will tell you that I’m not actually depressed, but I am grieving: grieving the death of people I loved, grieving the dying of social democracy, and grieving the ecosystem that once was.

Helpful people often suggest that the way through grief is acceptance. What they don’t tell you (perhaps because they don’t know) that is that acceptance is usually the result of exhaustion which leads to a fragile—and temporary—peace.  Acceptance is only the first stage of recovery. Acceptance is not the place to stop. Yes, first we have to accept what is real, and where we are—we can’t afford to tell ourselves a rosy story, to hide from what’s happening—but we don’t, we do not, have to accept the inevitability of that status quo, or soldier grimly forward without hope.

So after our acceptance that Yes, this is really happening, perhaps the way forward is to be determined to improve this reality. And a vital step in that process? Don’t shut down. Keep feeling. Because if you stop feeling you’re hiding, and if you’re hiding you’ll never change anything. Thinking can come later, and then planning. But first: feel. And in that spirit, here are two of my favourite songs (at least, favourites today): one from the middle of last century, and one from the end of this decade. Enjoy. Seriously, enjoy them.


Kitten Report #11: Seven months old today [photos]

Today our rescue kitties Charlie and George, only survivors of a litter of six, are exactly seven months old. We’ve had them a little over four months. Despite being obviously brothers, they are developing very differently.

George is much more shy than his brother; his build is much heftier—wider, thicker, longer, more dense—and I’d guess he’s at least 20% taller and heavier than Charlie. Charlie, though, doesn’t seem to care; I’m not sure he’s even noticed. Despite his brain injury, and subsequent near-death and some visual impairment, he’s fearless. He’s the explorer, always the first to investigate something—the fire, the pot of boiling water, the dishwasher—the first to greet strangers and plonk himself on their lap. Loud noises don’t seem to faze him. When the vacuum cleaner comes out, he’ll follow it round trying to figure out if it’s edible. (George, on the other hand, hides under the bed.) When they sleep together, it’s Charlie who assumes the protective position; it’s Charlie who makes George lie still while he cleans his ears throughly (and chews on them for good measure). He is much finer-boned than George, smaller in every dimension. I can guarantee that he will be the first to escape outside and give us a heart attack.

But, oh how they have both grown! Here is Charlie when we first got him. And Charlie about three weeks ago. That’s exactly the same kitty condo platform in both photos.

Two photos of the same tabby kitten sitting on the same piece of furniture. On the left, he is tiny and fluffy; on the right, he is big and burly.

Charlie as a kitty lordling-in-training, and as a full-fledge condo lord.

And here are Charlie and George a couple of weeks ago:

Two tabby kittens on a kitty condo. The one on the left is posing as a sort of split-level library lion

George posing as a sort of split-level library lion because he’s getting too big for a single platform

About one minute after I took this photo from my side of the breakfast table, I got Kelley to sneak around the table, make a noise, and take a picture of them head-on. You might recognise that one. You’ll see that despite the difference in size, Charlie still gets the top spot, every time. Charlie also tends to push George off whatever lap he’s enjoying.

Here’s George yesterday. As you can see, he’s getting to be a serious armful.

Tabby cat sitting on the lap of a woman wearing a pale sweater. The cat looks big.

An armful of lapcat

Apparently, domestic short-hairs don’t even begin to approach their full size til they’re 9-12 months old, and then they grow slightly for the next six months, reaching their full growth at 18 months. So George, at exactly 7 months, is going to be big. Despite that, he’s still pushed around by Charlie but seems to take the domineering phlegmatically. He’s developing a certain savoir-faire, becoming a cat-about town:

tabby kitten in careless, lounging pose

Imagine top hat, silk scarf, and monocle

Charlie also likes playing library lion, though he prefers the leather sofa, particularly when I’ve just got up and he gets the claim the warm spot on the old, soft leather:

Tabby kitty on brown leather sofa, facing right in library lion pose

Leather library lion

Sadly, he also likes ripping up that leather:

Brown leather with a furrowed ridge clawed across it

Charlie wuz here

As well as his cat-about-town persona, George is embracing his pink and frilly side. He loves this cat bed that Kelley’s mum’s female cat, Joey, rejected:

Burly butch tabby sprawling on pink frilly cat bed

George embraces his pink and frilly side

Charlie still prefers my wheelchair as a bed, but, even better, likes to be right there, in my face, making a point—with eyes, ears, and whiskers—that I need to stop whatever I’m doing, RIGHT NOW, and make a lap:

Young tabby cat with very tall pointy ears

These ears were built for pointing, and that’s just what they’ll do…

He’s also beginning to develop a dangerous fondness for the laundry basket, particularly when it’s full of clean and just-folded clothes.

They are still developing skills. For the first time I saw George do the full and focused cat-scratch thing, and now both cats are getting agile enough that they can hang upside down from the sofa arm held only by their claws hooked into the fabric (sigh) and still leap convulsively to catch the soaring Feather in the mouth and drag it to earth. George now chitters reliably at the sight of birds; Charlie still can’t chitter, but makes a wheezing sort of churr. George is figuring out how to meow, but it’s a bizarrely high and tiny meow for such a big burly beastie. Charlie can manage a sort of bubbly meow with a deeper pitch. He has also deduced that rubbing my face, shoulders and arms madly with his cheek produces food.

They eat high-calorie, grain-free kitten food. And zero dry food (a terrible thing to feed to cats, in my opinion). My guess is they’re consuming 800 – 850 calories a day between them; surprisingly, Charlie eats as much as George. Soon I want to start introducing raw food into their diet. George won’t have a problem with that, but Charlie might: he still doesn’t seem to recognise human food. George will turn cartwheels for a tasty snippet of cooked cod or chicken or ground beef, but Charlie ignores all human food except…kale. Which he adores—as we discovered when he dragged a bunch off the counter and chewed it to bits.

Yes, they’re still chewing but much less—though we did have one scary incident last week when Charlie offered to chew my water glass. Fortunately, he hasn’t tried a repeat performance. I think their incisors, canines, and premolars are in now. I’m guessing the four molars will take a while. No doubt we’ll discover they’re erupting when they start trying to eat my phone again. Just FYI, kitty teeth are tougher than gorilla glass.

An iPhone with a tooth-mark in the corner of the screen

Kitty tooth vs gorilla glass

What comes next? Well, kitties vs. the Christmas tree. Fun ahead…

30 years in the US

Today is the 30th anniversary of me moving to this country to live with Kelley. (As opposed to the 30th anniversary of meeting and falling in love with her a year and a half earlier. And the 6th and 26th anniversaries of us getting married. Which we also celebrate. Carpe party!)

Here’s a photo of me, taken in Kelley’s tiny apartment in Duluth, Georgia, on her 29th birthday. It was the second to last night of a 6-week visit for us to decide if what we had was real, and, more to the point, strong enough to get us through all the hardships ahead.

short-haired smiling woman in summer clothes holding glass of champagne and smiling

Taken in Duluth, Georgia, before flying back to the UK to pack my stuff and (ten weeks later) leave forever

That day thirty years ago was hard. I left my family and friends, my partner of ten years, the culture I knew and belonged to, and came–on a tourist visa, good only for six months–to a country where I had no job, no health benefits, and no welcome (it was illegal to even enter the country as a lesbian). I had no money. I was also ill, with what was eventually diagnosed as MS, and broke. Saying the move was stressful is an understatement.

But, hey, it turned out pretty well. We’re married. We share a life built on shared work and love. And I’m now a dual citizen. Life is good.

The problem with Ruined Earth Novels

In this weekend’s special holiday issue of the New York Times Book Review, I review Robert Harris’s The Second Sleep.

As a novelist, Robert Harris has the gift of immersing readers in an unfamiliar milieu, and thrilling them with the subsequent emotional, physical and ethical challenges faced by the protagonist as he (and it is always he) navigates mounting obstacles to a supposedly routine task — and, in the process, unearths unexpected truths.

Those who are familiar with such classic Harris historical thrillers as “Imperium” will, then, settle into the opening pages of “The Second Sleep” alert for clues. April 1468: The arrogant, newly ordained Christopher Fairfax is journeying to the remote Wessex village of Addicott St. George to perform a burial service, that of the village’s priest, Father Lacy. The reader nods knowingly as the bishop of Exeter instructs Fairfax to be quick about the trip and to use utmost discretion. As the young priest and his ancient mare plod through the gray, mist-sodden landscape, his arrogance turns to uneasiness. And as clues flick past — the emerald flash of a parakeet, a church that has “stood square on this land for at least a thousand years, more likely fifteen hundred” — we begin to share that unease.

You should probably go read the rest now for the rest of this post to make sense.

I’ve enjoyed many Harris novels—I particularly admire his Cicero trilogy, starting with Imperium—but  for me The Second Sleep does not succeed. Parts of it are fine—Harris is really good at putting his characters in their landscape—but it’s all in service of a shoddy overall narrative arc. It feels like a tourist’s attempt at a Ruined Earth novel that collapses both from illogical and inconsistent world-building, and the inability to escape the event horizon of the essential ruined-earth premise.

Before we go any further, let’s have some definitions. For me (others differ slightly) a classic ruined-earth novel is science fiction set on this planet generations after a civilisation-wrecking disaster such as nuclear holocaust, technological collapse, and/or climate disaster. The apocalyptic event/s occurred so far in the narrative past that the present-day citizens are unaware of that past, or have largely forgotten how it was; often, they have mythologised that previous era, and demonised its citizens’ dependence upon or affinity for science and technology. This shunning of science and technology is enforced either explicitly by the ruling religious class, or implicitly by cultural taboo. This usually means culture has regressed to a relatively primitive agrarian society, including a return to rigid hierarchies of class, gender, race, and so on.

This definition excludes all kinds of post-apocalyptic fiction such as McCarthy’s The Road (the apocalypse is too recent; ditto Mandel’s Station Eleven), Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy (not set on this planet) and Stevenson’s Seveneves (no shunning of technology). Always Coming Home by Le Guin does not fit my definition because the Kesh use technology (and also because I’m not entirely sure it’s a novel, but that’s whole other conversation). Vonda McIntyre’s Dreamsnake also doesn’t fit because there’s no shunning of technology. Suzy Charnas’s Holdfast Chronicles are an interesting case but in the end I’d say they don’t quite fit the bill because there’s not much tech to shun, and no religious/cultural taboo regarding its use and/or artefacts.

In my definition, the essential premise of a classic ruined-earth novel is conflict between those who want to recover old technologies, and those who wish to suppress it for fear of it precipitating another apocaplypse. Classic examples include Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow, John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids, Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, and Russell Hoban’s Ridley Walker. They are all great books in their own way, but none entirely succeed in escaping the gravitational pull of the ruined-earth premise. To be fair, I’m not sure it’s possible to escape it, not possible to resolve the constant tension between an orderly system and its inevitable collapse into disorder. It’s like trying to banish entropy.

A good ruined-earth novel is easy to set up, and a good writer can sustain it for quite a while, harvesting all sorts of luscious fruit along the way, but eventually the author is faced with a decision: Is their character’s society going to remain disordered/ignorant (that is, is the author going to sidestep the premise), or will it begin to rise towards order again, in which case what will prevent it collapsing again as soon as enough order is achieved to enable fantastically dangerous weapons/climate change/reliance on massively complex interconnected systems? As far as I’m aware, no one has found an answer to that, especially if enough was lost in that initial catastrophe that memory of the mistakes that led to it evaporated along with the technology. Leigh Brackett’s novel is one of the best: flat-out brilliant until the last quarter where it crushes itself flat trying to squeeze through the seam between mid-century gender constraints and the second law of thermodynamics. Miller simply repeats endless cycles of growth and destruction. Hoban avoids deciding by dodging the question and walking away. And Wyndham cheats by suddenly widening the available world to include another society so far away that it may as well be another planet. All of these books, though, are worth reading.

The Second Sleep, in my opinion, is not. (And now you really should go read the review.) The more closely you look at it, the less it makes sense. How can a society build itself from nothing to 18th-century levels of technology without the natural resources that were thoroughly depleted in the run-up to the initial collapse? It can’t. Well, you might say, they could salvage all the metal lying around. Well, no, they couldn’t—entropy, remember? (This is where Hoban’s Ridley Walker fails, too.) All those metals will oxidise and corrode. The soil is degraded. The wildlife extinct. The seed crop initially available would have been reliant upon fertilisers no longer produced. Also, 18th-century technology even then was largely dependent on global trade—which no longer exists. And how come all the populations of our actual 18th-century that actually existed but (that our actual 18th-century novels ignored)—people of colour, women with minds, disabled people, queer people, people of various religions—vanish in this new society? I could go on—and I haven’t even mentioned the plot holes, or character inconsistencies.

The Second Sleep, then, is just the latest failure in a long line of failed ruined-earth genre set in the future. But how about a ruined-earth novel set in the past? It might be an interesting intellectual exercise to argue it’s been done before, a lot: all those Matter of Britain novels in which, after the collapse of civilisation—that is, the Fall of Rome—Arthur and his Camelot are the last redoubt of civilisation and its technologies (literacy, law, stone architecture, roads, money, etc.) fighting off the encroaching barbarism of invading Anglo-Saxons. (Ignore the fact that both the Fall of Rome and Anglo-Saxon invasions are concepts rather frowned upon these days by historians.) To the degree that these novels succeed, it is because the conflict between technology and barbarism is tackled head-on in the form of clashing armies, and neither side wholly loses: the seeds of technological rebirth are sown in the decades of peace Arthur creates between invading waves, and though Britain moves forward speaking the barbaric English tongue rather than civilised Latin, we all know civilisation will flower again—as embodied in the guise of magical sword Excalibur and Arthur and his knights sleeping somewhere beneath the fair hill. Hope, in the end, is the Once and Future King. And hope is what The Second Sleep lacks.

Holiday greetings from Charlie and George

A Christmas card, in pale yellow with a dark red border. The top two-thirds is a photo of two tabby cats sitting with attentive expressions next to a miniature Christmas tree and wrapped presents. The lower portion is hand-printed text that reads, "Charlie and George listened patiently to what the mice wanted for Christmas, and then they ate them."

Image description: Front face of a Christmas card, in pale yellow with a dark red border. The top two-thirds is a photo of two tabby cats sitting with attentive expressions next to a miniature Christmas tree and wrapped presents. The lower portion is hand-printed text that reads, “Charlie and George listened patiently to what the mice wanted for Christmas, and then they ate them.”

Edited to add:

Since I posted the card on social media three hours ago I’ve had several comments/questions on both the image and the caption, so here are some answers.


The image is a Photoshop composite. Judging from questions and comments I’ve had, many seem to think that the cats themselves are digitally messed with. They’re not. Here’s the original photo

Getting the picture was a mix of luck and persistence. I’ve been thinking about this card for about a month. I knew what the caption would be, but for it to work I needed them to be sitting together and facing the camera. A vaguely bored look would be a bonus. So day after day I stalked them with the camera, and finally about ten days ago, just after breakfast, they made this pose. I knew they’d move any second—much faster than I could get there, so I gave the phone to Kelley, hissed at her to Get that picture, now! And got this. I was particularly pleased with George’s pose, especially the paws.

I was going to crop it to a rectangle to take out the platform on the right, then give Charlie a little red Santa hat and George a miniature tree by his paws. But the composition felt off. So I restored the original square and started again. First I put a Christmas tree on the right hand platform. I’m not exactly a photo-manipulation expert so this took some figuring out: find the stock image, abstract the image, size it, put it in the right place, figure out how to put in shadow and make it look as though it was sinking into the carpet covering. But eventually I did figure it out. At which point I realised the colour needed balancing with something on the other side. I tried hanging a Christmas stocking from Charlie’s platform but then it looked weirdly symmetrical. In the end I decided on a couple of little presents. Again, I had to find the image, abstract, resize, place, add shadow, add sinking-into-carpet. Yep, that would work.

What followed then was endless futzing with colour balancing, adding a purple frame, changing colour of the frame to match the Christmas baubles, deciding how big a box I needed for the text, changing the colour of that box, etc.

I did all this using a variety of apps on my iPad (with Pencil) and Mac desktop: Photoshop, Photoshop Fix, and the Apple Photos app. Then I had to write the caption.


I’ve known for a month exactly what the caption should say because around this time every year I think of a holiday card my good friend (and ex) Carol sent me from the UK, starring a cat called Buster. All that I retain of that card is a black and white photocopy of the front with no copyright info. I don’t know who originated either photo or caption. But the basic idea stuck in my head, and every now and again I do a desultory search based on that that old image. A TinEye reverse image search returns a variety of images of the original cat, but no copyright information. And I’ve found this site, with something very like the card, but not quite. A search for the original text brings me several products for sale based on reimaginings of the original (e.g. Etsy, CafePress) but all differently copyrighted. I’m pretty sure the original photo is by Kat Caverley, but the basic sentiment of the caption seems to be some kind of meme.

And that’s as much as I knew until earlier today, when I learnt from a Facebook conversation with Eric Cline that the meme goes back at least to Mark Twain, via Weinstein and Albrecht’s Jonathan Seagull Chicken (in which a chickens’ good friend, including Mark Twain and Moses) throw him a banquet, and then eat him, for, dear readers “…isn’t that just what a chicken is for?”), and probably a zillion other repurposings. We decided that is is an example of the kind of classical SFnal reversal parodied so effectively by Douglas Adams in the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Aaaaanyway, seeing as I wasn’t using Caverley’s photo, and the caption idea is a meme, I felt pretty secure about my card. Now I just had to figure out how to do it. I wanted the caption to look handwritten. I experimented with a few fonts but none of them looked right. In the end I just opened the photo app on my iPad and wrote the text with my Pencil, then then finalised everything in Photoshop.

So there you have it: a simple card that took about ten hours to make. If you want to use it, feel free: just click on the image for a larger version, and download. Enjoy!


Kitten report #10: The evolving disability consciousness of Charlie and George [photo, video]

Today is International Day of Persons With Disabilities.

The annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons was proclaimed in 1992 by United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3. It aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

It seems like a good day to discuss the evolving disability consciousness of Charlie and George. Disability consciousness, like grief, follows stages.

When they first arrived in our lives in August, their initial assumption was that, as it was inconvenient that I couldn’t run around with bits of string for them to chase, my impairments must all be in my head. Therefore they would encourage me to realise this, and so cure myself. After conferring it was decided to take away my mobility aids and so force me to walk. They tore out the brake cable from my Rollator. They were disappointed when instead of a miraculous healing they faced roars of outrage.

Being cats, they skipped the pain and guilt stage and moved into another variety of denial: there was nothing wrong with me; they just wouldn’t see my disability. When they (particularly Charlie, in the initial stages of his brain-injury blindness) kept crashing into the invisible Rollator and being nearly crushed under the wheels of my non-existent chair, they decided they’d better acknowledge my impairments after all.

At which point they declared “Mobility aids are awesome and fun! We wish we had to use them!” This translated into several weeks of leaping onto the Rollator and expecting me to cackle with glee and hurtle round the house at speed for a thrill ride.

Two tabby kittens sitting on a blue Rollator, waiting for a ride

Charlie: Drive, James!
George: And don’t spare the horses.
Charlie: Let’s just eat the horses.

That got old fast, at which point they turned bitter and resentful: “Why me? Why is my mom a crip? It’s not fair!” And they took it out on my mobility aids: they chewed on the wheelchair tires (fortunately solid rather than air-filled) and then various bits of the Rollator:

Close-up of black, hard-foam back rest pitted with tooth marks. Out of focus in the background, an innocent-looking cat is sprawled on the carpet.

George kills the Rollator then feigns innocence

The next stage was depression: hiding under the blankets.

Tabby kitten hiding under blue blanket, chin and paw resting on green blanket

I just can’t

Followed by misplaced empathy: desperately trying to console Kelley for her terrible, martyred role as Cripple’s Wife. This involved much hand-holding:

Tabby kitten asleep on a lap, little paws wrapped around a hand

Charlie tells Kelley, “It’ll be alright. I’m here.”

But now, finally, they are beginning to accept: this is just how it is. My mobility aids have become part of the furniture. Charlie in fact sleeps in my chair every day.

Tabby kitten curled up fast asleep on black wheelchair

My chair is Charlie’s bed

He doesn’t relax in it, he either passes out or sits bolt upright, ready to pounce on stray bits of ribbon and impertinent scraps of paper.

Tabby cat sits in library lion position on black wheelchair facing camera; his eyes are round and wild

“Don’t worry about the taxes. I’ll deal with those receipts.”

Only they don’t start out as scraps. Taxes will be interesting this year because Charlie got hold of a stack of receipts and ripped them to confetti. Oh, well. Who needs deductions when you have such fine kitty companions?

George considers the Rollator his domain. Sometimes it’s a pre-lap launch platform.

Young tabby cat sitting on Rollator, head titled, waiting to jump on a lap

George is willing me to make a lap, make a lap. You’re feeling very sleepy, make a lap…

Sometimes just a damned good place to hang out and relax after a large meal. (He doesn’t care about the tax receipts: his meals aren’t deductible; also, he doesn’t pay taxes.)

Young tabby cat in library lion position on Rollator seat, leaning like the tower of Pisa

Food imparts the wisdom of the ages. I will have the solution to ableism soon…

In just a few short months, then, the evolution of these tiny bundles’ disability consciousness has progressed in leaps and bounds (often while hanging upside down from the curtains or falling in the bath). If these two beasties with brains the size of thimbles can learn, why can’t you? You won’t even have to do it while leaping twice your own height to bring down Feather, or figuring out to get out of the dishwasher.

By the time the next IDPWD rolls around, I have no doubt that our kitty Einsteins will a) have fixed the person-first language of the proclamation and b) have found a solution to the enduring mystery of ableism (hint: the two are not entirely unrelated). Your job? Try to keep up. You might find some tips in previous Kitten Reports.

Signed, personalised books for the holidays

Image description: Photo, taken on a bright spring day with an old disposable camera, of a friendly neighbourhood street: cars parked in the shade of a tree growing on the sidewalk in front of Phinney Books and its next-door neighbour, the 74th Street Alehouse.

I’m a writer. I’m a small business. The independent bookstores that sell my books are small businesses. Today is Small Business Day, and therefore a fine day to remind readers that I’m teaming up again with Phinney Books, on Greenwood Avenue, Seattle, to bring you signed, personalised books for the holidays. Why Phinney Books? Well, because it’s right next door to the pub! Which makes it massively, convivially convenient for me. Also, Phinney Books is my idea of a perfectly-sized bookshop with just the right stock. Also also, it’s level-entry with a light front door so very easy for me to get in and out of.

Here’s how it works.

  • Go to Phinney Books’ online ordering page to buy any of my books, no muss no fuss, and get them shipped to any address in US, Canada, UK, Australia, or New Zealand. Everyone else, see the next step.
  • Email (phone is okay: 206 297 2665) with billing info: all major credit cards accepted. They use Square, so they’ll also need the 3-digit code on the back and your billing postal code.
  • Tell them what you’d like, e.g. Hild (paperback or hardcover) or So Lucky or Ammonite or Slow River. If you order very soon, you could also  probably get With Her Body, my mini-collection of stories.* Or, hey, another book by somebody else—lots of books, any books! It’s the holidays. You (and your friends, your family, everyone you’ve ever met) deserve something nice. Splurge! Remember, too, that you can order ebooks via the store, and—woo hoo!—audio books. And I narrated So Lucky. Sadly I can’t personalise those, though.
  • Tell them whether you want the books by me personalised (to you, or to someone else; if so, who; and what short thing you’d like me to add). If you give this order by phone, please spell out even the most common names.
  • Give them your mailing address and payment info.
  • Beam, sit back and relax: you’ve done your holiday shopping!

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

Deadlines: I haven’t checked with Tom on this but perhaps Friday 13th December is a safe deadline for books shipping domestically, but if you’re willing to pay for priority mail, we could probably push that out a bit. International, well, I suspect you’d have to be quick…

So basically you have two weeks for Domestic. Go for it! I’ll do my best to sign your books before I go to the pub, which means everything will be spelled right. Mostly…

*There are no more of the limited edition memoir boxes. And the Aud novels are no longer available. I reverted the rights two years ago and sold everything I had lying about in 2017’s promotion. But, woo-hoo!, they will be back on sale either late next year or early the year after, so next time I do this, who knows. (There’ll be an audio edition of Ammonite, then, too.) And the time after, well, get ready for Menewood.

‘Cake or Death’ Anglo-Saxon rune ring

When So Lucky came out, I did a brief regional tour, including Portland. After a reading at Powell’s Kelley and I went out for a drink with Wendy Neathery-Wise, who made my Anglo-Saxon bronze bird brooch. Over cocktails, and then more cocktails, we talked of many things, including live shows. Eventually we got to Eddie Izzard and how much I love his “Cake or death?” sketch for its pure, foolish Englishness.

We switched to beer, and the conversation moved on to other things, eventually circling back to metal-smithing. Apparently she wanted to tackle a ring design based on a ninth-century rune ring. Given that the runes on said rings spell out charms, or religious messages, or simple statements of ownership, she was a bit stumped as to what the runes on her ring should say. “Easy!” I said, with the confidence of the well-lubricated. “Cake or Death!”

I thought no more of it until this summer when Wendy emailed me to say she’d made the rings—in silver, bronze, and copper—and did I want one? I don’t wear rings, except for my wedding rings, but I showed Kelley the link to Wendy’s Etsy page, and she thought they looked fab.

Three chunky metal rings, in copper, silver, and bronze, on a black background

Cake or Death?

She chose one in copper, and wears it a lot and finds it both reassuringly weighty and comfortable. Here’s what Wendy has to say about the rings on Facebook:

These say “Cake or Death” in Anglo-Saxon runes. The idea was given to me by Nicola Griffith, who was inspired by Eddie Izzard’s sketch. The translation I used is the OE, “foca oððe deað” put into runes.  The ring design is from this 9th century Kentish find that’s in the British Museum.  I liked the beading and divisions between letters.

And from her Etsy page:

The master waxes were carved by hand. They are cast in your choice of bronze, recycled copper or Sterling silver.

Side note: If you you are the type that thinks your genetics are somehow superior to another’s and want to use things that you think are your ancestral right (like runes and symbols) to oppress other people, DO NOT BUY ANYTHING FROM ME. I have no tolerance for racists, especially who twist history to justify their racist attitudes.

So if  you’re looking for an unusual gift from a right-thinking woman, go take a look at Wendy’s stuff.

Podcast interview: writing characters with physical disabilities [audio]

Square graphic, dark green background, lighter green text and image: nibbed pen with audio waves pulsing from nib, and "season 14" written at the top

A few months ago I was interviewed for the Writing Excuses podcast:

In this episode we discuss how to faithfully represent people with physical disabilities through the characters we create. Our guest, Nicola Griffith, walks us through the process of rigorously imagining how the world might look to someone with a particular disability.

It’s about 15 minutes long. You can listen at the link, subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, or Android, or listen here:

Thanks to Piper, Dan, Tempest, and Alex.

Why I’m going to be saying No a lot

In my last post I updated you on my work schedule. None of that will be possible unless I change a few things.

Those of us from traditionally marginalised groups often find ourselves doing unpaid advocacy and emotional labour for the greater good. One major distraction I had not reckoned on when I signed the contract for Menewood was my new commitment to disability-related issues. I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time doing informal (that is, unpaid and unacknowledged) policy work with various institutions, organisations, and nonprofits. On top of that, one-on-ones with many writers, disabled and nondisabled, about reviewing; about writing disabled characters. It’s been my pleasure and privilege but it ends up as countless hours spent making others’ novels and memoirs better or more marketable. I don’t begrudge an hour of that time—I was happy to do it—but I can feel that well of willingness to sacrifice my time, energy, and focus running dry.

So for the foreseeable future I’ll be declining. And rather than spending time explaining why, I’ll probably just ignore your email. I’ll always have time for friends and family, but other things? No.

More granularly, for the remainder of the year I’ll be turning down requests and invitations–of all kinds.

For the first half of 2020 I’ll be turning down invitations to speak, to teach, to contribute, to blurb, and to meet-strangers-for-coffee-so-you-can-pick-my-brains. Those events I have already scheduled for 2020 I will honour (and at some point I’ll update the Appearances page) but I won’t be adding to them. In the last few months of 2020, assuming Menewood is done, and depending on how interesting the requests are, I might accept invitations to contribute short pieces—but they’ll have to be astonishingly interesting projects and extremely well paid.

As for 2021, I already have a couple of things scheduled, and then I’ll be dedicated to pre-publication for both Menewood and the Aud novels (including writing new fiction, and prepping and performing the audio narration).

I’m not turning into a hermit. I’ll still be going out for dinner and drinks and wonderful conversations with friends, still posting cat pictures on social media. I’ll still go to the park, a film, a splendid exhibition (I really want to visit the new incarnation of the Burke museum but just haven’t had time). I’m planning on a lovely getaway with my sweetie at the end of the year. What I won’t be doing is allowing anything but personal stuff to distract me from my fiction, for at least a year. Essentially, I need to free up time and bandwidth to find the still, quiet place from which all good work springs.

Once again, here’s Meghan Trainor to help you understand:

My name is No.
My sign is No.
My number is No.
You need to let it go.
Nah to the ah to the no no no.

Hat tip to Angie Bennett, a medievalist.

A writing update: Hild, Aud, Ammonite and more

First, Aud. It has taken years but finally I have the rights back to all three novels about Aud Torvingen, and a US publisher has agreed to release all three in splendid new editions. The publisher is MCD/Picador—a collaboration of MCD (who did So Lucky), which is an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux (who did Hild), and Picador (who did the paperback of Hild).

The audio books will be from Macmillan Audio (who did both Hild and So Lucky), and I’m delighted to be able to tell you I’ll be narrating. That is, I’ll be narrating The Blue Place and, if the production costs work out, perhaps Stay and Always too.1

We don’t yet have a firm date for US publication because that depends on other things, such as the UK publication of the Aud books, and, of course, Menewood (see below). Along with the three already-published novels, I’ll be writing three Aud shorts (well, shortish). I can’t wait to get to those! My hope is that once Menewood is chugging through the production phase, I can turn my attention to writing a fourth Aud novel (there were always meant to be five, I have so many luscious ideas) but for now you can at least rely on the shorts.

Also, the Aud books have been optioned for TV, but I won’t say anymore unless/until there’s something to talk about.

I’ve found myself doing bits and pieces of commissioned short work the last year or so, fiction and nonfiction; disability-related and not. Some of those things will start to appear soon, and I’ll link to them as they’re published. I’ve also been giving serious thought to other book-length projects, two of which I’m pretty sure will happen, eventually, though not just yet, because I have Menewood to finish.

Ammonite will finally be released as an audiobook, by Tantor Audio. I don’t know when but my guess would be early next year. I won’t be narrating that but I know who will, and she’s great.

Most of you have been very patient about the second Hild novel. Yes, Menewood is taking a long time—far, far longer than I imagined; far, far longer than I’ve ever taken with a single novel. It’s a long (looooong) and complicated book that I don’t want to read as long and complicated. In the story many, many things happen to Hild—the kind of stuff that would make most human beings curl up and die of despair. But I’m not a fan of misery lit, I don’t like reading it and I hate writing it. My philosophy is that characters should only be hollowed out by sadness in order to be filled with joy. So I’ve spent time finding Hild a good, clear emotional path that is both realistic and an immersive, enthralling read, just as (I hope) Hild was, with much joy and discovery and learning and building to balance the horrors of destructive regime change. That takes research time, thinking time, and writing time. The hardest part of the writing? Grief. So many people have to die, because History says so. And every time I reckon the effect of a new grief for Hild, I have to face my own current grief. And then we have to keep meeting many new important new characters—again because History says so. And some of those have to die, too, because— Never mind.

So I’m working. That work has, of course, been seriously impeded by health stuff, by grief—oh, so much grief (which does not, not help with the characters-who-keep-dying stuff)—politics, disability work, doing a PhD, writing a completely unrelated book, and, now, kittens (including rehabbing one with an acquired brain injury). But I am working, and my hope is that I will have a workable draught by September next year. If so, it’s possible there could be an actual finished copy of the book in your hands for the holidays, 2021. Admittedly it’s a faint possibility, but that’s my goal, and it’s one I dearly want to meet. So, yes: working!

This is going to mean saying No a lot in the next year. I’ll talk more about that next time.

  1. Apparently Seattle is just about the most expensive city in the US for studio time—and finding a studio that is wheelchair accessible makes everything cost even more. So if anyone out there has a good, accessible studio I can use—I have my own engineer, I think—please let me know! Otherwise I might have to travel out of town for a week or two which is just more time away from Menewood.

Hild’s Feast Day

Today is the Feast Day of Hild of Whitby, the anniversary of her death in 680. I mark the day because Hild—and Whitby, its abbey, and ammonites—has marked my life, and in particular my writing life.

My first novel was Ammonite, which was published when I was 32. The author photo I used for that book was taken at Whitby Abbey when I was 30. You can tell from the look on my face how much the place affects me.

In my third novel, The Blue Place, Aud talks longingly of Whitby—the abbey founded by Hild in 657. In Whitby you can find three species of fossil ammonites, or snakestones. A whole genus of ammonites, Hildoceras, is named for Hild: there is a legend that she turned all the local snakes to stone. The legend was so well-established after her death that in the later middle ages enterprising locals carved heads on the stones and sold them as the snakes she petrified.

This is Hildoceras bifrons (though to be frank I can’t tell the difference between this and H. lusitanicum and H. semipolitum). It’s what I think of when I think of ammonites.

Ammonites fascinate me: their shell growth, that lovely spiral, is guided by phi. And phi (Φ = 1.618033988749895… ), the basis of the Golden Ratio or Divine Proportion, has all sorts of interesting mathematical properties. The proportions generated by phi lie at the heart of myriad things: the proportions of graceful buildings, the orderly whorl of a sunflower, ammonites, Fibonacci numbers, population growth, and more. (If you’re interested, a good place to start is Wikipedia.) Phi is what creates the underlying pattern in much of nature. I think phi is responsible for what Hild may think of as God.

So tonight I’ll drink a toast to Hild, and ponder, as I always do, getting an ammonite tattoo.

Kitten report #09: Six months old!

Today the twinsome terrors, Charlie and George, are six months old. We have had them for about half their time on earth.

They begin here, with their foster parent, Cody:

Two tiny tabby kittens, one hugging the other I luv you, bruv! Photo by Charlie (top) and George.

Then they came to us:

Two tabby kitties on a bed. Huge ears, huge eyes, hugely loved. George (back) Charlie (front)

And within a couple of days owned the place:

Then they settled down to the serious business of growing, playing, and learning. Along the way they ate a lot and destroyed many, many things. Charlie also sustained a brain injury as the result of oxygen deprivation during an operation to remove a nasopharyngeal polyp. Overnight he went from a lively, rambunctious in-charge-of-it-all kitten to an almost dead, helpless and incapable fuzzy little bundle. We thought he might die. But over the last three months he’s eaten, played, cuddled and purred his way back to health and strength. His brain does fritz sometimes, and when he’s tired or stressed his visual processing gets confused, but, essentially, if you didn’t know, you would not be able to tell he has any impairment at all.

He certainly destroys as many things as George. I woke up yesterday morning to find the sturdy plastic door stop attached to the slider between the kitchen and deck chewed to a nubbin. Here’s a picture of the  nubbin tastefully lit by a ray of sunlight, long before Charlie even thought about chewing it, when it was, in fact, longer than his head.

Tabby kitten asleep on kitty condo shelf in front of a large window, head hanging down in a slanting ray of sunshine. Through the window is sunshine on green trees and red flowers. Charlie hanging in the sun

Now it’s chewed stump about an inch and half long. And Charlie is still teething with a vengeance. Here, he’s chewing a basket handle:

Tabby kitten gnawing, sharklike, on the handle of a wicker basket Gonna need a bigger basket

George is well ahead in the maturation stakes. He’s bigger, stronger, faster and recognises human food as food (Charlie doesn’t yet). And George killed his first prey a few weeks ago: a mouse. And he ate the soft bits (their teeth aren’t really up to the bones yet, I don’t think). At this point I suspect if Seattle got hit by an asteroid George might just be able to fend for himself. Charlie could not. It’s unclear to us whether that will change as he grows. I’m encouraged by the fact that just in the last week he seems to have undergone a qualitative change: he seems sharper,  more agile, and more focused.

They are definitely people cats. They will both settle in laps, though Charlie much more readily than George, who often prefers to sit on a cushion next to us. Here’s a picture taken on Sunday by our friend, Colleen:

Tabby kitten sitting like a blissed-out kitty meatloaf on a red cushion with a woman sitting next to him stroking his head. Blissed-out George meatloaf, and Kelley

And another, taken the same night. They are fairly typical.

Tabby kitten posing like a business titan in the lap of a cross-legged woman Charlie posing like a CEO, with me

When we first started looking for kitties we wanted a boy and a girl. It’s what we’ve had before, and the combo worked well: the female cat tends to take charge, but the male cat is bigger and won’t let himself be pushed around too much. But then we went to Seattle Area Feline Rescue ad when Charlie settled like a baby bird in my lap that first time, that was that. When we brought them home I was worried that two boy cats might fight a lot (just as two girl cats would) but they get on well. They chase each all the time, of course, and they fight, but its never too serious, and—as you can see—they are very relaxed together. The key is to make sure they don’t have to share toys or food dishes. Here they are after dinner on Sunday, dozing in front of the fire, imitating a pushmepullyou, with one green catnip brought (a present from Colleen) visible on the hearth, and a a grey one (a present from another friend, Kate) between Charlie’s tail and George’s foot.

Two tabby kittens lying top-and-tail by a fire, surrounded by catnip mice.

Charlie (top right) and George (bottom left), exhausted after catnip mouse play, settle in to a sleeping game of pushmepullyou

They give me hours of pleasure every single day—often hours of hassle and irritation, too, but the pleasure has always outweighed the hassle, and the pleasure grows while the hassle shrinks. As you can see, though, the kitties themselves are certainly not shrinking. They haven’t been weighed for a while but my guess is George is about 7 lbs and Charlie approaching 6 lbs.

This will probably be the last of the regular kitten reports. I’ll post photos on Instagram (and mirror on Facebook and Twitter) but I’ll save blog posts for particular milestones and/or special circumstances. If anyone has specific requests, or a question, just drop a comment. And until next time, you can read previous kitten reports here.

What is this? Where can I get one?

What is this? Who makes it? Where can I get one? Are they legal on US roads? How fast do they go? And a zillion other questions. If anyone has answers, drop a comment.

Kitten report #08: Kipper and Ripper

Two tabby cats sitting up after a nap on a woven throw next to a laptop.

George and Charlie are two weeks shy of six months old. Their food consumption is up again, but as you can see from the photo (they were helping Kelley in her office and had just woken up) they are most definitely not portly. I would not be surprised if George were to weigh in at 7 lbs, and it’s all sinew and muscle. Charlie is definitely growing, but he’s still small. He can look surprisingly hefty in bright sunlight, though, and yesterday, when he caught sight of the neighbour cat for the first time—a big fluffy Balinese—he puffed up to alarming proportions and made a kind of strangling sound in his throat—his first attempt at a growl.

Their developmental pendulum swings wildly between sweet fuzzy little sleeping potato and manic murdercat. In their grown-up phases they pose. Charlie has a fondness for Lolling Potentate, while George (jealous of Charlie’s Bast look) is practising Sphinx.

Young tabby cat lolling in the sun, yellow eyes reduced to slits by bright light. Charlie as Jabba the Hut.
Young tabby cat sitting on white carpet in sphinx pose: front paws straight out. George the sphinx.

They are still teething. George sheared off the specially reinforced cords holding the fuzzy pompoms hanging from the kitty condo, though hasn’t yet been able to get through the one on the scratching post. George is also, I suspect, responsible for the huge rent in our favourite 1200 thread count sheets and the great hole in my (admittedly old) purple sweater. His new nickname is Ripper.

Charlie has learnt to carpet swim—pull himself along the floor by digging his front claws in the carpet and pulling himself along, fish-like. And given his mackerel tabby colouring, he is Kipper. Neither of them seem impressed with their new names and refuse to answer to them. Kelley swears that when she calls their proper names they recognise them, but I’m not convinced.

Charlie likes sleeping on me; George prefers to sleep right next to me, preferably on something of mine, whether the Rollator or a sweater—he’s particularly fond of my sweaters; if I put one down, I lose it for the day. He tends to sleep tidily, Charlie not so much:

Tabby kitten asleep on an oatmeal coloured sweater George is dignified in sleep, mostly. Note his paw pads which are like roasted coffee beans.
Tabby kitten on a cross-legged lap. He looks as though he just fell there from a mile up, or maybe is doing the can-can. Charlie can fall asleep anywhere, in any position. Here he looks as though he may be essaying the can-can in his sleep. Note the chewed ties on my sweat pants, sigh.

They both love to cuddle. Charlie is demanding. He just leaps at you and expects to be caught, supported, and carried about like a toddler until he suddenly flops into deep sleep, and then won’t move for hours. He can sleep anytime, anywhere. Last time we were at the vet his was in my arms and just fell into REM sleep, head lolling over my elbow, while the vet was chatting about immunisations. George is a fan of hugs: he stands on his hind legs, reaches one paw up to each side of my neck and tucks his head under my chin. Actually, he likes standing up in prairie dog pose a lot. Here he’s watching Galaxy Quest.

Cat on its hind legs like a prairie dog, watching TV George watches Galaxy Quest

He’s learnt that claws + human skin = verboten. A couple of weeks ago I picked him up (he’d jumped on the table while we were eating breakfast) and he panicked, flailed, and caught my lip and cheek. I bellowed; he ran off and stayed hidden for a while. Later, when he crept out, he seemed chastened. I haven’t seen his claws since. Which is a good thing, because he’s getting big, and strong, and fast. I’m happy not to worry about a recurrence. Charlie, though… A month ago we elected not to trim Charlie’s claws because when he doesn’t see well, the claws are what save him: if he misses a jump by a few inches he can generally hang on and haul himself up. That was fine when he weighed 3 lbs. But now he weighs over 5 lbs it’s becoming problematic: he takes a flying leap at my shoulder and if he feels even a little insecure will clench his paws into taloned fists, like an osprey around a fish.

Tabby cat with its head over staff's shoulder, looking back at the camera Charlie gets possessive

I shout in outrage (and pain), and while he doesn’t like that, he seems unrepentant. Right now my shoulders look as though I’ve gone headfirst through a threshing machine, and my thighs have what look like the fork patterns you put in shortbread. (My hands, too, look like they’ve met the fork fairy.) We’re hoping he’s just a bit behind the learning curve, but we’ll see.

George discovered bacon and played with it for hours before figuring out how to eat it. This was obviously just-in-time preparation for real life. Last night, as a Halloween present, George woke us up growling and leaping: he had caught a mouse and had brought it to us to be admired. I felt sorry for the mouse—but it was dead, so too late to bother to rescue it—but also absurdly proud: our itty bitty kitty killed his first meal! Of course, waking up the next day to its liver and tail in the middle of the carpet—none of our cats seem to care for rodent liver—was less fun, as was the realisation they, hey, we have mice. Not for long, obviously, but still.

Charlie was not the least bit interested in either the bacon or the mouse. I don’t know if this is a vision issue, a developmental stage, or just personal preference. He’s certainly curious about most things. Last week he discovered the inside of the wheelchair lift. When it was in the down position he jumped neatly inside then yowled when he couldn’t get out (it’s a 44″ jump up a metal side panel with no purchase for claws). I couldn’t open the door for him—because I can only get downstair if I use the lift—so I had to bring the lift back up to the main level. When he realised he was moving, and trapped, poor Charlie nearly had an aneurism. Terror adrenalin gave him enough of a boost that he leapt out, mid-rise, at which point I nearly had a fucking aneurism because he could easily have got a leg caught between the lift and the steps. He seemed a bit glassy-eyed, but fine. I had to go make a soothing cup of tea (and of course Charlie promptly tried to boil himself in it).

Charlie’s brain fritzes are becoming less frequent and so more obvious when they do occur. They seem related to fatigue and/or stress. The other day, he was in the kitchen watching a towhee (stealing the food we’d put out on the deck for the crows) when a yard worker clomped up the steps with a roaring leaf blower. Charlie streaked to the other end of the house and hid under the bed; when he emerged he seemed to process poorly for a while. He was fine after a nap. I’m beginning to suspect this may be a permanent feature of his brain injury. If so, he’ll adapt and find ways to compensate, as all of us with impairments do.

He might not be learning about his claws, he might not be learning that not all food comes from tins, but he’s definitely learning. Today I saw him do something George has been doing for quite a while: prancing about on his hind legs while holding and batting about his favourite grey catnip mouse. He’s also learning to think more strategically about prey: how to anticipate where it might be going and being there, waiting, rather than simply chasing. He’s been doing that on and off for a while, butnow he does it all the time, plus he’s figured out that he can cut the angle in a chase by going over a piece of furniture. Frankly it makes our games of feather a bit less entertaining for me. Instead of endlessly racing in a circle, he stops and waits behind a piece of furniture.

Right now I suspect they’re under-stimulated. We’ve chased, caught, and chewed to death several feather toys. The catnip mice only hold them so long. Red dot (the laser pointer) seems to frustrate them now; they’ve learnt they can’t catch it or rip it. Foils balls are always fun, but they go under furniture almost immediately. Ribbons are no challenge at all. And, finally, even their mini-football (soccer ball—Charlie has mad paw-ball skills) seems to be losing its allure.

So: we need some new toys. Suggestions?

20 years of Yahoo Groups

The nicolagriffith Yahoo Group began Sept 11, 1999—started more than 20 years ago by my friend Dave Slusher. Membership, at last count, was 283 people. There were many excellent conversations over the years, peaking in May 2008, many of them long and meaty.

Not coincidentally, 2008 was when I launched my blogs (personal and research) and joined Twitter. Just as with the rest of the world, interactive conversation gradually moved away from the NG email list and onto social media. So the last few years have been very quiet on the NG group. For the last couple of years I’ve been meaning to shut it down but I kept forgetting; I kept forgetting it even existed except once or twice a year someone posted something and there was a brief chat.

But for ten years it flourished: an amazing conversation about art, politics, gender, publishing, neuroscience, love, and intersectional oppression (before we had a word for it). And now Yahoo Groups is folding its tent. So all content, all those marvellous conversations,  will go away mid-December: all files, folders, and back-and-forth emails for the nicolagriffith group will vanish. Poof. Gone.

“Beginning October 28, you won’t be able to upload any more content to the site, and as of December 14 all previously posted content on the site will be permanently removed. You’ll have until that date to save anything you’ve uploaded.” (Ars Technica

So if there are any past or present members of the group—or of any other Yahoo Group— reading this, if you want access to content you’ve previously uploaded, go get it now. You can request a download of your user data, but I did that and what I got back was non-useful. So go to individual files and download them one by one.

Here’s the irritating part, though: there’s no way to download the email conversations. If I had money to burn, I’d pay someone to go download the whole lot, one email at a time, because some of that conversation is worth saving. As there are thousands and thousands of them, I don’t have the time, energy, or patience myself. Apparently someone out there has written a Python script that will scrape the data but I’ll freely admit this is outside my competence. If this might be an interesting challenge for you—one you’d be willing to undertake in exchange for, say, a signed, first edition, first printing Hild hardcover, or the last available memoir-in-a-box—please get in touch, either via the contact form or the comments below.

I don’t know which readers of this blog might still be a member of the NG list—another failing of Yahoo Groups is their seriously crap UI, particularly for administrators; there is no searchable list—but to any reading this: thank you. You made a big difference to me during the writing, editing, and publishing process for Always, the third Aud novel, and I was not happy.

If you’re reading this then you probably already know I still talk about my work—the progress (and not), the successes (and not)—but now I do it on my blog and on Twitter. The best way to keep up with my news is to sign up to get these blog posts via email. If you’re reading this on a mobile browser, scroll to the bottom of the post and add your email address to the box. If you’re using a laptop or desktop, then look at the right-hand sidebar, and add your email address to the box at the top.

On Facebook, I mainly link to this blog, but some good conversations develop in the comments. LinkedIn is just a mirror of this blog. And I tend to post photos first to Instagram. YouTube is mainly for posting my blow-shit-up videos, which I link to from here every holiday season, but also some readings.

But, again, to all those 283 member of the NG Yahoo Group for twenty years of conversation: Thank You.

Kitten Report #07: the chameleon twins [photos]

Charlie and George are now 5 months old, which, apparently, is the human equivalent of 5 years old. That can sometimes be easy to forget because both of them, but George in particular, can look very grownup, like young adults. I look at them and think, If the house got hit by a comet right now they might stand a fighting chance of surviving on their own. Then in the blink of an eye they revert to the itty bitty new-to-the-world kitties we brought home two months ago.

Here, for example, are two photos of George, taken one second apart. In the first he looks like the small,  uncertain kitten we first brought home. In the second: a young cat in charge of his world.

Tabby kitten sitting on a carpet looking very little and uncertain

George looking about 15 weeks old

Tabby kitten sitting on a carpet looking very grown up

George stands tall

He seems a little less maniacally focused on food acquisition this week, but his brother is still in eat-everything mode. Here are two pictures taken two seconds apart. In the first, Charlie’s cast himself on the bed, full of ennui, breathing slowing in that tumble-into-instant-sleep way kittens have. Then, at the other end of the house, Kelley opens a can of cat food…

Tabby kitten stretched out on a green, asleep. Yellow hand-written text reads, "It's all so bloody tiring!"

Charlie stretches out on the bed, and begins to fall asleep—

Tabby kitten flicks open his eyes at the sound of a catfood tin being opened. Hand-written text reads, "I hear... A tin opener? A tin opener!"

—then, on the other side of the house, a tin opens…

They are becoming chameleons, fitting their apparent age to the situation. When they don’t want their games disturbed: haughty adolescent. When they want food, or to play, or a warm lap to sit on: instant itty-bitty. It can be a bit confusing. One minute I’m thinking, Oh, we can leave them on their own all day, and then I think: No, they’re too little. They are basically terribly mobile, curious five year-olds running around armed with deadly weapons: their bodies are way, way ahead of their brains. A rough rule of thumb during the first two years of a cat’s life, one month is the equivalent of one year’s human brain development. Most cats reach their full size at around one year old, but—like humans—their brains aren’t finished for a while after that.

So they can look almost adult—here Charlie seems to be trying to grow a ruff (the kitty equivalent of a teenage boy trying to grow facial hair?) and his tail seems too long:

Two tabby kittens on a kitty condo. On on the lower level seems to be trying to grow a ruff.

Charlie (left) and George (right)

And then he can want to be in my arms like a baby:

Little tabby kitten asleep on an arm

Charlie, looking big-eared and young

Half the time they look like perfectly proportioned young adults, and then Charlie’s ears and tail look huge, or George’s back feet:

Tabby kitten sprawled on read cushion; the camera perspective makes his back foot look huge

George looking like a roof rabbit

Yes, that’s a camera-position/distortion thing, but if you look at the other pictures of George in this post you’ll see his back feet really are big.

Meanwhile, they are still teething. Chew chew chew, sigh. And Charlie at least still seems to think he’s small enough to claw his way up my back (and legs, and ribs) to sit on my shoulders. Assuming I haven’t bled to death by then, more kitty news towards the end of the month. Amuse yourselves meanwhile with previous kitten reports.

So Lucky wins the WA State Book Award!

Blue folder with a gold embossed seal: The seal of the State of Washington, 1889. On top is a name tag: Nicola Griffith, So Lucky.

So Lucky just won the Washington State Book Award for Fiction! Wow. I am surprised and happy. Both the Seattle Times and Seattle Review of Books have more info so go read those for details on where, what, who etc. What I want to talk about here is my surprise.

As the night’s MC, Paul Constant, pointed out, this really was one of the strongest groups of finalists I’ve seen for these awards. Every single book on the fiction list would have been a fine winner. (Yes, writers often say these things as a courtesy; this time, it’s true.) I did not expect to win, both because of the other books nominated but also because of the nature of So Lucky itself.

I’ve never been a fan of false modesty or excessive humility. I can write; So Lucky is a good book. But, by its very nature, it is designed to force the reader to look inside themselves and face their own ableism—because, oh, we are all ableist, even if we don’t want to be; it’s how we’re raised. If the book works as intended, it will make the reader uncomfortable (as well as thrilling, amusing, delighting, all that stuff—but, definitely, some discomfort). In other words, So Lucky is not the kind of fiction that wins awards. Nonfiction that makes the reader squirm? Sure, maybe. But fiction? No.

So when I saw the finalists I knew I wouldn’t win. I showed up at the ceremony a) because it really is an honour b) free party! and c) I wanted to support the friend who I was convinced was going to win. Of course I had thought about what I might say if I did win—doing otherwise is like going for a drive and, though not expecting to crash, not taking a moment to fasten your seatbelt: just plain idiocy—but I hadn’t thought deeply, and I hadn’t polished my thoughts or committed them to memory.

Then when I got to the auditorium I saw that the only microphone at the front was a fixed mic attached to a podium—utterly inaccessible to someone in a wheelchair. So then I was sure, with rock-bottom certainty, I wouldn’t win. So when Constant read out my name I was shocked. I wheeled out, totally blank, and they handed me a handheld wireless mic. And I thought, Fuck, should have practised…

Luckily, I did in fact remember most of what I’d intended to say (because I’ve been saying it for a year at various book events), though not nearly as elegantly as this (now polished—yes: stable door, meet bolt) written version:

SO LUCKY is about a woman with MS, written by a woman with MS. The first word of the book is it, and it is a monster. But the monster is not MS, the monster is ableism.

Ableism is the story we’re all, disabled and nondisabled, fed from birth: that to have intellectual or physical impairments makes us less, Other. Ableism is a crap story.

For one thing, it’s wrong. What disables a person in our culture is not impairment but society’s attitude to that impairment. We are disabled by assumptions. By, for example, the bookstore owner who, when asked why there’s no wheelchair ramp, says, with no trace of irony, “Well, none of our customers use a wheelchair.” Or the editor who says to their author, Can you make the disabled character a bit more lonely and sad, more authentic?”

Ableism is not only factually incorrect but poorly constructed, an inauthentic story told by those who have no clue. Next time you read a book about a quadriplegic who kills himself because he can’t bear to live in a wheelchair, next time you read about a blind woman whose happy ending relies upon a magic cure, ask yourself: Is the author of this story disabled?

According to the CDC, 25% of Americans has an impairment that has a serious impact on their life. One quarter. But what proportion of novels on our shelves are by and about disabled people? According to my back of the envelope calculations, about 0.00013 percent.

Ableism is a crap story. I wrote So Lucky to counter it. So for giving this book—this anti-ableist story—recognition, thank you.

I added a few more thanks, I think. At least I hope I did. If I’d had more time—and less shock—I would have thanked the judges, and Washington Center for the Book, and Washington State Book Awards. I would have thanked my agent, Stephanie Cabot, for having faith in me and my work (no matter how odd it gets); my editor, Sean McDonald, at FSG who found a way to publish a weird thing as an actual novel, and to do it in a vast great hurry because I felt it was urgent; Kate Macdonald, publisher and chief energy source at my UK publisher, Handheld Press (ditto); and all my friends who were sincerely puzzled at my sincere puzzlement over this book. Librarians and booksellers have been amazing; they expected HILD II and got this odd little thing, but embraced it anyway. But most of all I want to thank Kelley, my rock and my beacon, who always had faith in me and my book even during those times when I didn’t, quite. She took the picture, below, of me at the afterparty, still looking a little bemused.

A short haired white woman in a wheelchair signs a book for a reader.

I got to sign a lot of books at the afterparty—photo by Kelley Eskridge

I suspect the bemusement may last a while. But right now the sheer delight is gaining, so I think I’ll stop here and go party some more!

Saturday 12th October: Washington State Book Awards

So Lucky is a finalist for the Washington State Book Award in the fiction category. The event will be held this Saturday at the Central Library, downtown Seattle. It’s free, and all ages are welcome.

Central Library
1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104
Sat Oct 12, 7–9 pm
All Ages

Awards ceremonies can sometimes be a bit dull—though this one, hosted by Seattle Review of Books‘ Paul Constant, might not be—but the afterparties never are! So come meet the authors, get a book signed, have a glass of wine, eat some tasty nibbles, meet some more authors, quiz the judges on their choices, have another drink, meet some more authors, listen to their scurrilous stories…

Last time I went to one of these things, I was jet-lagged out of my mind (just off a plane from the UK—with time only to change my jacket) and by the time the evening began had been 27 hrs without sleep. I talked to a few people but I honestly don’t remember much of it. This time will be different. I’ll be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to chat with one and all. So come and be part of the state’s literary civics, and have a free drink. And come say hello!