Spear adjective competition: Clue #5

Here is Clue #5 in the One Adjective to Rule Them All competition. Words from a blurb by Jo Walton. The background illustration is taken from one of Spear‘s interior artworks by the talented Rovina Cai.

Image description: Square graphic in blue-grey showing a background image of someone in 6th-century armour, sitting on a stone blowing on a dandelion puffball. The seeds rise like smoke, hiding their face. Centred in white text, “Breathtaking. Nicola Griffith knows what she’s doing.” And below that, in red-orange, “Jo Walton, author of Or What You Will”


The competition is OPEN TO ANYONE IN THE WORLD, NO PURCHASE NECESSARY! The winner gets 3 prizes in one:

  • A signed, personalised first edition first printing of Spear
  • A luscious enamel pin specially designed by Forensics & Flowers
  • A digital download of the audiobook, narrated by moi

Here’s what that lovely pin looks like, modelled by me on the lapel of my old but favourite jacket.

Pin design by Forensics and Flowers.

Image description: A grey suit jacket showing on the hand-stitched lapel a round enamel pin in the shape of a shield blazoned wiht fo rget-me-nots and overlaid by a spear. The pin is mostly red, with blue and green for the flowers.


For the rules and how to enter, see One Adjective to Rule Them All. Please note that I’ve amended the rules so you can enter once a day—refining your guesses as the clues mount up!

Comments on this post are off because the only guesses that count are those on the original blog post or emailed directly to me.

Spear adjective competition: Clue #4

Here is Clue #4 in the One Adjective to Rule Them All competition. Words from a blurb by writer Malka Older. The background illustration is taken from one of Spear‘s interior artworks by the talented Rovina Cai.

Image description: Square graphic in blue-grey showing a background image of someone in a grave, eyes covered and knife laid on their breast. The grave is surrounded by whirling leaves and cut forget-me-nots. Centred in white text, “Mesmerizing, epic, and immersive.” And below that, in red-orange, “Malka Older”


The competition is OPEN TO ANYONE IN THE WORLD, NO PURCHASE NECESSARY! The winner gets 3 prizes in one:

  • A signed, personalised first edition first printing of Spear
  • A luscious enamel pin specially designed by Forensics & Flowers
  • A digital download of the audiobook, narrated by moi

For the rules and how to enter, see One Adjective to Rule Them All. Please note that I’ve amended the rules so you can enter once a day—refining your guesses as the clues mount up!

Comments on this post are off because the only guesses that count are those on the original blog post or emailed directly to me.

Spear adjective competition: Clue #3

Thursday I started a competition OPEN TO ANYONE IN THE WORLD AND NO PURCHASE NECESSARY! The winner gets 3 prizes in one:

  • A signed, personalised first edition first printing of Spear
  • A luscious enamel pin specially designed by Forensics & Flowers
  • A digital download of the audiobook, narrated by moi

So basically this, plus the audiobook:

Image description: Two photos of the novel, ‘Spear by Nicola Griffith.’ On the left, the closed book showing the magnificent cover. The background is charcoal, shading to black at the bottom, with the author’s name at the top in orange-red and the title, at the bottom, and ‘from the author Hild’ in white. The main image is of a great hanging bowl of black iron with inlaid figures and great bronze escutcheons for the hanging hooks. It is wreathed about by smoke and flame and fumes, and the fumes form images: in white, woods with a woman and a stone and a sword; about the trees, shading to orange, is an figure with a spear on a horse; a fort gate and box palisade, and over all, flying up in the smoke towards the author’s name, two birds. Just below the author’s name is a quote from Maria Dahvana Headley, “Spectacular…I’ve been waiting years for this book to exist.” On top of the book is a round enamel pin in the shape of a red shield with raised rim and embossed rivets. On the shield are entwined forget-me-nots, with blue-and-yellow flowers and deep green leaves. Lying over all is a broad-bladed boar spear. On the right, the book is open to the title page, showing the lovely textured paper—again, topped by the enamel pin.


Read the first post, One adjective to rule them all, for how to enter. Please leave a comment on that post, not this, so I can keep track. To facilitate that, I’m turning off comments here.

Here’s today’s clue, taken from Nerdist’s April Is Here To Shower You With Good Books

Image description: square graphic in grey-blue showing silhouette of a woman on a horse surrounded by wind or smoke. Printed in white, “A magical fantasy, Spear feels both entirely familiar and vibrantly new” and below, in orange-red, “Rosie Knight, Nerdist.”

Spear adjective competition: Clue #2

Yesterday I started a competition OPEN TO ANYONE IN THE WORLD AND NO PURCHASE NECESSARY! The winner gets 3 prizes in one:

  • A signed, personalised first edition first printing of Spear
  • A luscious enamel pin specially designed by Forensics & Flowers
  • A digital download of the audiobook, narrated by moi

So basically this, plus the audiobook:

Image description: Two photos of the novel, ‘Spear by Nicola Griffith.’ On the left, the closed book showing the magnificent cover. The background is charcoal, shading to black at the bottom, with the author’s name at the top in orange-red and the title, at the bottom, and ‘from the author Hild’ in white. The main image is of a great hanging bowl of black iron with inlaid figures and great bronze escutcheons for the hanging hooks. It is wreathed about by smoke and flame and fumes, and the fumes form images: in white, woods with a woman and a stone and a sword; about the trees, shading to orange, is an figure with a spear on a horse; a fort gate and box palisade, and over all, flying up in the smoke towards the author’s name, two birds. Just below the author’s name is a quote from Maria Dahvana Headley, “Spectacular…I’ve been waiting years for this book to exist.” On top of the book is a round enamel pin in the shape of a red shield with raised rim and embossed rivets. On the shield are entwined forget-me-nots, with blue-and-yellow flowers and deep green leaves. Lying over all is a broad-bladed boar spear. On the right, the book is open to the title page, showing the lovely textured paper—again, topped by the enamel pin.


Read yesterday’s post, One adjective to rule them all, for how to enter. Please leave a comment on that post, not this, so I can keep track. To facilitate that, I’m turning off comments.

Here’s today’s clue, taken from Buzzfeed’s All The Best Books Releasing in April:

Image description: square graphic in grey-blue showing faint ink outlines of two women by a lake and a menacing figure with a spear approaching along a distant path. Printed in white, “In this beautiful queer Arthurian retelling…every sentence sings” and in orange-red “Margaret Kingsbury, Buzzfeed.”

Competition: One adjective to rule them all—Clue #1

Background

Quite a while before Hild was published I started to notice the astounding number of comparisons to other writers I was getting in blurbs, reviews, and critical discussions. This was not usual for me or my work, so I started keeping track. I totted up the totals, wrote a post, and set up a competition for readers.

Now, just eleven days before Spear hits the shelves, I’m seeing a slightly different trend: use of the same adjectives over and over.1 So for my own amusement I started keeping a spreadsheet of adjectives in trade reviews, blurbs from other writers, and booksellers. (I’m not including reader reviews on platforms like Goodreads—and, after publication, Amazon—because that would get overwhelming pretty fast.) Also, I amalgamated a few things—such as ‘new classic/should be part of the canon’ and ‘spellbinding/enchanting/sorcerous’ and ‘mesmerising/hypnotic’ and ‘genderqueer/fluid’—which mostly mean the same thing (and in fact reviewers often use a mix of these words in a single review). And I left out a few things that are used in almost every mention, words and phrases that are variations on themes like Queer and Queer retelling, or Too short/wanted more, or Gender/Genderbent retelling, or Old-bones-new-story/Makes-it-her-own, and so on.

From that spreadsheet I’ve extracted a list of words that are used 4 times or more:

  • Amazing
  • Beautiful
  • Breathtaking
  • Brilliant
  • Canon/Classic
  • Captivating
  • Compelling
  • Concise
  • Dazzling
  • Delightful
  • Dreamy/Dreamlike
  • Effortless
  • Epic
  • Flowing/Fluid
  • Fresh
  • Genderqueer/Genderfluid
  • Gorgeous
  • Humane
  • Inclusive
  • Intense
  • Lovely
  • Lyrical/Poetic
  • Magical
  • Masterpiece/Masterful
  • Mesmerising/Hypnotic
  • New
  • Original
  • Polyamorous
  • Rich
  • Sensual/Sensuous
  • Spectacular
  • Spellbinding/Enchanting
  • Stunning
  • Subversive
  • Vivid
  • Wonderful

Note: This list occasionally grows as another adjective crosses the 4-mention cut-off. And the list is alphabetical, not in order of frequency—that’s your job!

Competition

The Rules

Guess the adjective used most frequently to describe Spear and then guess how many times it’s been used. (Edited to add: You can enter once a day between now and the end date.) The finalists will be chosen from those who guess the right word and the winner will be whoever gets closest to the noted frequency on my list. Just in case we have some eagle-eyed geniuses out there, the tie-breaker will be how many of the other Top 5 most-used adjectives you can guess. To enter, drop a comment here on the blog or, if you’re shy, email me directly using the contact form. ANY COMMENTS YOU MAKE ON ANOTHER PLATFORM—TWITTER, FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM—WILL NOT COUNT AS AN ENTRY. Mainly because it’s just too hard to keep track. I’ll be dropping at least one clue a day here—but perhaps also on Instagram or Twitter—and of course there is the constantly-updated list of reviews on the Spear page. But it’s highly curated; I’m not including every review, and in fact only the tiniest snippets of the ones I do include

The Deadline

10 days after Spear is published, so 29 April. I’ll be updating my spreadsheet until then—so who knows what word might swoop in from left field and take the top spot. Not me! But maybe you do…

The Prize

Actually not one, not two, but three (3) prizes!

  1. A signed and personalised hardcover of Spear (one of my own Author Copies, so you’ll know it’s a first edition, first printing)
  2. A delicious, specially-designed enamel pin
  3. And the digital audiobook, narrated by me

There might be other things I can come up, but that’s it for now.

First clue:

Image description: Square graphic of a dark blue-tinted background showing the outline of a bubbling, steaming Celtic hanging bowl overlaid by, in white, “Humane, intelligent and deeply beautiful.” and below that, in red/orange, “Alix Harrow, author of A Spindle Splintered.”


  1. This I have seen before, with the Aud novels, where almost every newspaper review (back in the day when many newspapers still ran book reviews) characterised the books, the prose, or Aud herself as both ‘brutal’ and ‘beautiful.’ I don’t think the books are brutal at all; I think critics were just fascinated by the juxtaposition of Aud’s raw joy in her physical body, her use of violence as just one tool in her set, and the occasional lyricism of the prose. (‘Lyrical’ was another word used often.)

SPEAR is an Indie Next pick

Some pretty cool books on this list. I am pleased!

SPEAR IN TWO WEEKS!!!

Spear will be out in exactly two weeks. (Two! Weeks!) I’ve been making all sorts of things like Zoom backgrounds for the tour—mostly virtual, but some in-person—and nifty quote graphics, etc.

In terms of review quotes—from trade journals, booksellers, and blurbs from other writers—I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of most common adjectives. Every book of mine seems to acquire a different constellation. For the Aud novels, for example, the top descriptor was brutal (though I didn’t think they were, particularly). For Spear…well, I will say there’s one word waaaay ahead of the pack, but for more you’ll have to wait a few days. Meanwhile, if you want to start guessing, you could start with this highly-curated list of quotes on the Spear page.

I also made two very short videos. Here’s one, a combination of one of Rovina Cai’s gorgeous black and white interior illustrations, which she turned into a colour GIF, and a snippet of added narration. (For the story of that narration, see the first of this two-part post on Speaking Spear.)

Video description: Looped GIF of a black and white illustration with an overlying colour wash of blue-grey, and occasional spreading blood red. A figure kneels in the shallows of a river, leaning their weight on a sword. In the upper third of the image, the figure is framed by bleak, bare trees. Beneath her, under her knee and barely visible, there is the hint of another submerged figure. Below this is the figure’s reflection in the moving water—darker and sharper and violently spattered and streaked with loose brushstrokes that cascade down the rest of the image. The river moves back and forth (back and forth), and blood seeps into the water and is washed away (and seeps and is washed away)…

Audio narration: “As she got her feet under her, she shifted, and lifted her sword, and thrust down again, this time on the collar across his throat. She leaned her whole weight on the blunt and broken blade, leaned and leaned, gasping, holding on while he thrashed, holding on even as the water turned red around him and he went still, holding on even as she sank, exhausted, to her knees, still holding, still leaning, until Bony, limping, nosed the back of her neck and she fell against him, weeping, the blood running down her face mingling with blood from the ragged tear on Bony’s chest and running, with the river, away.”


The second will follow next week. Meanwhile, don’t forget there’s still 13 days to pre-order the hardcover, submit your receipt, and receive one of the very cool enamel pins created by Forensics and Flowers.

Image description: A round enamel pin in the shape of a red shield with raised rim and embossed rivets. On the shield are entwined forget-me-nots, with blue-and-yellow flowers and deep green leaves. Lying over all is a broad-bladed boar spear.

 

Speaking Spear, Part II

This is the second of a two-part piece about recording the Spear audiobook for Macmillan Audio. If you’re interested in how I find an accessible studio, preproduction—along with photos of marked up scripts, etc—read Part One here.

RECORDING

When you narrate an audiobook it’s not just you and a microphone. It’s you in a locked, soundproof room before a microphone, with an engineer in the mixing booth behind glass, and a director from New York on Zoom audio—with all three audio feeds mixed into your headphones. It is super weird to hear yourself in high fidelity and at volume right there, in your ears (I always have to get the engineer to turn down my part of the mix in the headphone feed so that I don’t sound any louder than I might to myself in real life).

The engineer for this project was Joel Maddox. He was very relaxed and competent. His job was to make sure I sounded good—to use the right microphone in the right position and hooked into the right interface at the right setting1; to point out and note on his iPad for the editor if he hears any extraneous noise—weird feedback, a belly growl, clicky mouth noise, a faint thud of my hand pounding on my thigh during an emotive moment (oops)—and to note, too, when I stopped an extra long time for a breather, or stumbled on a word and repeated it, or took a pause for a sip of water.

While the engineer makes the narrator sound technically good, it’s the director who makes the narration sound artistically right.

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

The first thing we did was decide on method. There are two basic ways to record narration. One is free roll, where the narrator just reads, stops when they make a mistake, back up to the nearest clean punctuation break—a full stop, a comma—and starts again, all without stopping the recording. The other is punch and roll, which is to actually wind back the recording to the bad word/phrase (doesn’t have to be punctuated) and punch in to record at the right moment. One of the reasons to use punch and roll is that it saves editing time and therefore money. So it is the top choice of all-in-one providers: those narrators with home studios who supply finished audio rather than unedited. One of the reasons not to do that is it chops up the performance and it takes a much more laser focus to stop mid-flow, restart, then go back to where you were. As the money side is, frankly, not my worry, I plumped for free roll: it’s quicker, easier, and much less tiring.

Beginnings are always interesting. I’ve read from the book a few times already, and have the first couple of pages down pat. So on that first Wednesday, I began pretty confidently and we rolled along seamlessly—until Caitlin said, Good, now you’re in it. Let’s go back to the beginningGive me a storyteller’s voice. I thought I had been. I tried again. Faster, she said. And then *click* there it was: That smooth, warm, lean-in-and-listen note I realised had been missing. And now I was excited! This was going to sound awesome!

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

The rest of the session went well (really well from my perspective) and Caitlin and Joel both seemed pleased. The only problem was the heat in the studio, or lack of it. By the time we finished—at 1:00 pm, ahead of schedule—I was frozen in place. My hands were purple and my leg muscles utterly spastic. I asked Joel to please, pretty please crank the heat early the next day so it would be warm when we began. (You can’t run heat during the session because of fan noise. Next time I’ll plan ahead and lug along a plug-in oil radiator.) I went home full of energy.

Thursday was hard. The studio was warmer, but every time I read a couple of sentences my voice would crack and scratch and I’d cough. It turned out the heat had kicked up dust and other particles. I’m wicked allergic to dust, also to tree pollen, and February is the start of pollen season. Day Two was sheer bloody stubbornness on my part, and patience and sympathetic-but-hard-task-masterliness on Caitlin’s. Again and again she said, No, go back to the beginning of the paragraph, and I would. Or, Now go back to the beginning of the scene, with more energy. And I did. The last page took fifteen minute because I could hardly manage a phrase without coughing. It was brutal. I can only guess it wasn’t that easy for her to keep making me do it again and again—I certainly would have found it hard to ask that of someone coughing and wheezing so pitifully. But finally we got to 1:00 pm and I was toast; I couldn’t read another sentence.

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

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

Me looking happy but a bit used because, well, I felt a bit used

It was lunch time, a glittery bright day, and Kelley and I decided we felt brave enough to risk going to the pub for a pint—my first pint of Guinness for four months. It tasted wonderful. So I had another. Which was so good I had to have one more. Hey, I deserved it!

A couple of weeks later Joel and I got together for a twenty-minute session to overlay the seven times I had mispronounced ‘The Eingl have taken Deverdoeu,’ the one time there was a belly noise, two missed words, one added word, and two places where the words ran into each other. And then I was really done. The book is now totally out of my hands. It can be in yours on April 19.

DETAILS

We had scheduled studio time for four mornings, 10:00 am – 2:00pm (roughly what we used for So Lucky, even though that was a shorter book), but even with breaks and the pickup session I ended up spending less than 9 hours before the mic. So everyone was pleased: me, Joel, Caitlin, the producer Katie, and no doubt all the Macmillan Audio beancounters.

Projected finished hours for the book is 6 hours and 15 minutes. It doesn’t include the Author’s Note—that was Macmillan’s decision—but a PDF of that will be including with the digital file, and if I get around to it I’ll record it myself at home and put it on my website for those who have a hard time with print. It will be interesting trying to figure out how to read footnotes, and it won’t be nearly the same quality, but it will serve.

At some point I’ll also put together a pronunciation guide for those of you who buy the print or ebook, and also repost the map for those who like that sort of thing. But that for the future.

For now, I want to thank those who made this audio book possible.

  • Jack Straw Cultural Center—the studio
  • Joel Maddox—engineer
  • Katy Robitski—Macmillan Audio producer
  • Caitlin Davies—freelance director
  • Levi Fuller—Jack Straw administrative coordinator

And for the audio geeks out there, here’s the gear we used:

  • Neumann U87 microphone
  • Avid HD Omni interface
  • HPF @ 70Hz
  • Gain +46

At some point there will be an audio sample to listen to and I’ll post a link. Meanwhile, preorder the audiobook wherever books are sold:


IndieBound | Amazon.com | Bookshop.org | Barnes & Noble | Apple | Amazon.co.uk


1. A Neumann U87 microphone (costs vary but usually over $3,000) with an Avid HD Omni interface, HPF @ 70Hz and Gain +46. It looked like a pretty spiffy pop filter too, but I forgot to make a note of that.

Speaking Spear, Part I

Jack Straw Studio and Cultural Center

This is Part One of a two-part post about the making of the Spear audiobook for Macmillan Audio. Part Two will go up tomorrow.


In February I laid down the narration for the Spear audiobook. It went well. It’s the second book of mine that I’ve recorded; while the process was similar to the first in some basic ways, it was very different in others. For those who want deep detail on the audiobook process, see my 2018 post about narrating So Lucky. From here I’ll assume you’ve read that post, and this one will build upon it.

Finding a studio

The differences between the two experiences began long before I set foot in the studio. For one thing, before I even signed the Spear contract I stated I would be doing the narration. Macmillan Audio hemmed and hawed, which surprised me. When I pushed them, it turned out that production costs for So Lucky had been outrageous and they weren’t sure they wanted to go through that again. But it turned out that was absolutely nothing to do with me as narrator, and everything to do with the studio we had used. Clatter & Din was the PNW’s leading post-production studio, used to dealing with famous bands and big-brand advertising, and charging accordingly: $250 an hour, a minimum of 8 hours a day whether you used those hours or not, plus markup for every single cup of tea and meal delivery. This is an astounding fee. No wonder Macmillan Audio had been unhappy. I expressed my surprise—why pay that much when this city is crawling with audio studios? Eventually Macmillan admitted that it was the only wheelchair-accessible studio in Seattle they could find.

Huh, I said. So if I could find a cheaper, wheelchair-accessible studio, would they be open to negotiation? Sure, they said, probably assuming there wasn’t one. Right, I said. Leave it with me.

It took weeks. I talked to engineers, studio owners, and producers all over town. While I could find studios charging as little as $70/hour, including the engineer, I could not find a commercial studio that was wheelchair accessible.

So then I talked to people about the cost of creating a permanent studio in my house—but given how big it would need to be to fit all the gear and a wheelchair it just wasn’t possible because a) we didn’t have that much room and b) we didn’t have that much money.

By now we were well into the pandemic, and it turns out Macmillan had started to work with narrators at home. They even had a person right here in the PNW who would come and set up a corner of the house as a studio on a temporary basis, along with all the equipment etc. Would that be okay?

I was tempted—until I started to seriously think it through. Not being able to use my office for a week? Trying to keep the cats out? Sound-proofing against the construction going on both behind us and one house up? Having an engineer in the house day after day? Plus—the real kicker—overloading our occasionally erratic bandwidth with two open Zoom channels, uploading massive chunks of audio, and ensuring the integrity of the constant work meetings Kelley takes all day? The answer was obvious: suboptimal. I didn’t say so immediately—I really wanted to record this book!—but started to ponder other avenues.

Perhaps I could apply for a grant to build something in the garden… Which reminded me of a grant I had considered applying for, years ago, to learn audio engineering at a community sound studio called Jack Straw. A nonprofit community studio. Hmm. I wondered if a) they were still around, b) they used professional-level gear, c) the studio would be accessible, and d) they would be willing to rent out to a corporate, commercial project.

So I hunted down their website—oof, it was an old and creaky site, very early 2000s, typical for a nonprofit1—found contact info for a man called Levi Fuller, and started talking. It turned out that Jack Straw Cultural Center had absolutely everything any professional could possibly need, would be delighted to work with Macmillan Audio on a book project, and held accessibility as one of their most cherished community values. I hope Levi will forgive me when I admit that initially I was sceptical about the accessibility. (Sorry Levi!) But after a series of questions it turned out he was not talking through his hat; the studio was perfectly, brilliantly, amazingly accessible to wheelchair users: level entry, button-push automatic door openers, wide doorways, spacious studios, and—joy of joys!—wheelchair-accessible bathrooms. Not only that but the studio was less than 20 minutes drive from my house, and less than half a block from a parking lot with plenty of wheelchair van-accessible parking slots2 and an excellent, wonderfully smooth curb-cut sidewalk connecting the two. (There was also a mini-mart nearby selling coffee, sandwiches, and other deli, and upstairs at the studio a cosy room where Kelley could sit quietly and work if she wanted.) It was absolutely everything I needed. I was thrilled. And the best part? They charged an astonishingly reasonable $55 an hour, including engineer.

In pretty rapid order we had a producer, a director, a Jack Straw engineer, and dates on the calendar. And because Tordotcom, the publisher, had been so efficient with their production workflow, we had a fully copyedited and proofed ms. to work with long before we had to be in the studio. So, holy shit, we were a go—all sorted months before the recording would begin.

Preproduction

Which is good, because with a book like Spear there was a lot of preproduction work to do.

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

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

I started by trying to figure it all out myself (I’ve spent my life figuring things out; I know how to use the internet). But here’s the thing—everyone on the internet disagrees about everything. So then I asked a friend, Cheryl Morgan, to help with the Welsh but, while she is learning to speak Welsh, she isn’t fluent, and we weren’t sure of quite a few things. So then I sent the list to the Macmillan producer and said, Help!

Three weeks later I had over seventy individual sound files of flawless pronunciation from native speakers. It was like facing a fifteen mile uphill trail in a crappy wheelchair and suddenly someone coming along and saying, No worries, I’ll give you a ride to the top. I grinned like a fool.

I listened to them over and over, until I was confident I could pronounce them correctly. Then (because I’m not familiar enough with the IPA—International Phonetic Alphabet—symbol system) I had to figure out my own system of writing them down phonetically.3 Here’s what that looked like:

Then I put them in order of appearance in the text. Then I started marking up the text itself.

Last time, with So Lucky, I worked from my own Word document on an old iPad Air—and I vowed that by the next time I did this I’d have an iPad Pro with Pencil so I could mark things up with my own notations in colour—the kind of thing I used to do when I first started performing my own work for live audiences, reading from paper. In a sound studio, of course, an iPad is better: you really don’t want to use paper—all that rustling—but working to annotate things with keyboard is tedious and seriously suboptimal.

But I’d had the iPad for a couple of years now, and had been experimenting with notations on PDF. It turns out the native Adobe app is rubbish, so I found something that worked: PDF Expert.4 Now I was happy as a kitten surrounded by string. I could read a paragraph, underline to emphasise, highlight places where I often stumble, add accents, jot pronunciations in the margin, and notes about what accent to use, and/or how heavy—or all of the above. And then I could look at it, realise I could now hardly see the actual text for all the markup, wipe it all away, and start again.

Here’s an example of the final markup of an early page.

Underlines of a whole word mean that’s the word to emphasise; of a syllable, ditto (usually—though sometimes it just means Pay attention to this bit because you tend to get it wrong); and of a consonant, alliteration, which is easy to stumble over. A wiggly underline means that syllable has a non-English pronunciation, like Lugh, which is pronounced something like LOO-ough, with the –ough being a kind of rolled-on-the-tongue wind sound (I’m sure there’s a better way to describe it but that’s how it feels in the mouth), or a rolled r—like the r in Peretur—or ll, which is pronounced something like a breathed-out chluh.

The early pages are heavily annotated because that’s where most of the names come up for the first time. As the manuscript continues, I tend to markup pronunciations only when they’re really difficult5 or the word hasn’t appeared for a while.

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

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

PART TWO—WITH PICTURES OF ME, TIRED BUT HAPPY, AND A CELEBRATORY PINT OF GUINNESS—FOLLOWS TOMORROW

Meanwhile, preorder the audiobook wherever books are sold:
IndieBound | Amazon.com | Bookshop.org | Barnes & Noble | Apple | Amazon.co.uk


  1. Now they have a spiffy website, very nice looking and easy to use.

2. My wheelchair van requires an 8-foot striped access aisle to extend and use the ramp. In Seattle, these are rarer than hen’s teeth.

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

4. Other professionals recommend Notability but that’s not one I’ve tried; PDF Expert does everything I need, and it’s wonderfully stable and wicked fast.

5. The phrase ‘The Eingl have taken Deverdoeu’ was the bane of my life! For one, Eingl is pronounced like a cross between AIR-n-gul and EH-n-gl, and Deverdoeu sounds like d-verr-DOY-uh, which, coming after ‘taken’, is just plain tongue-twisting. There was one other phrase that I stumbled over three times but mercifully I’ve blanked which one.

Orcas Island Lit Fest, June 3-4—Early bird tickets!

If you live in Seattle you’ve been enjoying the gorgeousness that is spring in the Pacific Northwest. It won’t last, of course, but it will be back, and in two months we’ll be in the glorious beginnings of summer.

Now imagine that gloriousness in a peaceful place with farm-to-table organic food, mountain lakes so quiet you can hear the rustle of a swan’s feather, and inns dedicated to your comfort. Add a relaxing, forget-everything ferry ride, and top it all with a weekend of books, books, and more books, and you have the Orcas Island Lit Fest.

After a two-year absence, OILF is returning June 3-4, 2022. Please join me and other writers and readers and book lovers for a celebration of literature and community in a place of gorgeous natural beauty. Seriously, I love Orcas: the food is incredible, and the scenery is stunning—mountains, lake, forest, and beaches. Lovely. Peaceful. The minute I get on that ferry I start to breathe more deeply and my shoulders go down.

This is the fourth year I’ve been scheduled to be one of the festival headliners. In 2019 I had to cancel to go to my father’s funeral. In 2020 I cancelled because of Covid then the whole ting was scrubbed. Nothing happened in 2021 because of the pandemic. But now, finally, it’s on!

I’ll be there to hang out and talk and sign books, I’ll be doing a reading, being interviewed before an audience, and taking part in a panel, Hidden in History: Uncovering Women’s Untold Stories. It’s going to be a spectacular weekend.

Watch this video and get a sense of what’s on offer:

You have 2 more days to get an Early Bird ticket: $5 off festival passes between now and March 30. More info and tickets at EventBrite.

I hope to see you there!

ICFA: Good Times!

A couple of weeks ago Kelley and I flew to Florida, for two reasons. One, to see Kelley’s family in Stuart (recently voted the Number 1 Small Town to Retire To in America). Two, to see many old friends in Orlando at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts.

The visit with Kelley’s family was lovely—but I’ll let Kelley talk about that as and when she wants to. The travel itself is a whole other story, one I’ll be addressing in a separate post. What I’ll focus on here is ICFA, both my history with the conference and our experience of ICFA43.

I went to my very first ICFA in 1993. Or maybe it was 1994. Either way it was after Ammonite came out but before Slow River. My publisher, Del Rey, suggested I go—and even paid for it.1 Ammonite had won the Lambda Literary Award, was the runner-up for the Locus First Novel Award, had won the Tiptree (now Otherwise), been shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke, BSFA and others. In other words, although in early 90s Kelley and I were new writers with between us only a handful of short stories and a single novel, a few people at that first ICFA had already met us in person—Gordon Van Gelder, Ellen Datlow, Chip Delany, Brian Aldiss, and others—or, for a variety of reasons, knew of us.2 But most of the 300 or so attendees (then, as now, it was a small conference) were as new to us as we were to them.

I had a wonderful time. I gave a reading and was on a panel and spent many, many hours by the pool with a drink or in the hotel bar but, better, met many people who I still know and like today—academics, critics, writers, editors, and publishers—and, best of all, many people like me who do a bit of everything. As soon as Kelley and I were back in Atlanta, we decided we would go to the next one. We registered. Booked the hotel.3 Made arrangements for dinners and drinks with various people—even agreed to present someone else’s paper for them (she had a terrible fear of public speaking).

It never happened: that year I was ill. The next year we moved to Seattle. The year after that I was invited to something that clashed with the conference. The year after that, The Blue Place came out and I was busy travelling for that. And on and on. The conference moved from Ft. Lauderdale to Orlando. I would meet some of those we’d met i 1993/4 at other conventions and conferences and parties. We would talk about ICFA, I would get invited, I would want to go—but I was either too ill, or too busy, or too broke, or in another country.

Finally, in 2019 the planets aligned: we had the time, the money, and the energy to go. We registered. Signed up for a reading. Booked the hotel and flights… And my father died. We cancelled everything and flew to the UK.

But by now I was determined. So we registered, booked, arranged meetings—business and social—for the following March… And the pandemic happened. Kelley and I cancelled in February (I knew it was far too risky to be travelling) and the conference committee cancelled the thing as a whole just days before it was due to open. The 2021 conference was all virtual—I attended and did a reading from Spear—and just not the same. And then in September/October, the IAFA held a mini-ICFA: just 45 people and single-track programming. Kelley and I were vaxxed and boosted, Covid numbers were low, mask mandates and testing were in place, the Delta variant was in retreat, and we hadn’t been anywhere or seen anyone for two years. Also, it was a chance to see her family for the first time in nearly 3years. We went.

Out of those 45 or so people registered for the conference, at least 10 were old friends. We had a marvellous time. The weather was glorious; we spent a lot of time sitting out by the lake watching alligators and ibis and lizards. We went to a wonderful seafood restaurant one night, an okay-but-expensive restaurant two other nights, and ate edible food in the hotel the rest of the time—but fortunately we weren’t really there for the food. I convened and moderated the opening panel, with Maria Dahvana Headley and Gary Wolfe, on Once and Future Representation: how Arthurian legend is being repurposed to reflect us all. Mark, the book liaison, attended that panel—actually, I think everyone did—and was jazzed about Spear. Did I want it to be the featured book for the full-sized conference in 2022? There was one condition: I would, of course, have to attend…

I think I frightened him with the speed and ferocity of my acceptance.

In the years since we first attended, ICFA has grown considerably. Now there are multiple tracks, and too many attendees for any one to give more than one presentation—unless you’re the Scholar or Artist Guest of Honour. When you register you have to choose whether to do so as a Creative or a Scholar. In 2019 I had dithered—my PhD was fairly new, and I had an idea for a paper on legend and climate change—before finally deciding to read from So Lucky (which of course I never got to do because I was at my father’s funeral in the UK). But for 2022 it was a no-brainer: read from Spear, because just a month later it would hit the shelves.

The 2022 Artist GoH was to be Nisi Shawl—a friend from Seattle who we hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. The Scholar GoH was Farah Mendlesohn—also a friend, and my PhD supervisor, and her husband Edward James is a fantastic historian whose brains I always like to pick. And of those writers attending, Kelley and I either knew well—some were our former students now teachers themselves, some we had known for over 30 years!—or knew of and wanted to meet, everyone single one of them. I knew all the editors and critics (I think) and a good percentage of the academics, and was absolutely itching to meet a score of the others. So I was pretty sure we were going to have a good time.

Reader, we had a great time. It felt like coming home.

I attended a few programme items but sadly most of the things I would have attended if I could were scheduled opposite other things (there was one time slot where 3 of the things I desperately wanted to see were at the same time on different tracks, tuh) but mostly I just hung out and ate and drank and talked. So much drinking, so much talking! The last night, Saturday, I finally paid the bar bill a little before 2 am, got to sleep about 3, and then had to be up early to pack, then go to a group breakfast, then do a video interview before getting on a plane. I was so tired at breakfast that it took me about fifteen minutes to string a coherent sentence together, but then the breakfast—with ten people—turned into one of those magical I-love-talking-to-those-I-know-and-I’m-so-glad-I-got-to-meet-the-others meals I would not have missed for the world. So it was worth getting only fours hours sleep.

ICFA truly is a community: generous, collegial, smart, interesting, and relaxed. If you like socialising and you like long conversations about the fantastic over a drink, I urge you to go. It is not cheap; you might have to save up and budget carefully, but if it’s at all within your range it will be worth it. I feel a great sense of belonging. I’m certainly planning to be there next year. And from now on I’ll be going as often as I can.

There’s some talk about moving the conference to a more politically hospitable state—somewhere without anti-trans and anti-queer and anti-abortion laws on the books. I would love that to be somewhere in the Pacific time zone—much easier for us to get to.4 In practise I assume that what that will mean is Las Vegas, because anywhere warm and sunny actually on the coast will be too expensive, and places like Portland and Seattle a) don’t always have direct flights from other cities, and b) are not warm and sunny—a great draw in March for those of us from northerly latitudes. You can get from anywhere to Las Vegas, and in March it’s dry and sunny but not too insanely hot. My guess, though, is that move won’t happen immediately. Right now I’m assuming next year will be in Florida—and, hey, it will be another opportunity to combine family and friends in one trip.

And if you attend, you’ll probably hear me read from MENEWOOD…


1 If Del Rey hadn’t paid we could not have afforded the flight or hotel or time off. I was on the kind of visa that did not permit paid employment, and I could not get health insurance—these were the days before domestic partnership, before marriage equality—so we were paying my considerable medical expenses out of pocket from Kelley’s small salary. We were young, had just used our very last reserves to buy a house, and were living pay cheque to pay cheque.

2 But that’s a story for another time, and preferably over a beer or three, nothing is written down, and I have complete deniability.

3 By this time I’d been paid for Slow River and things were looking good financially—good enough to be wroth taking a risk.

4 I love Seattle but it’s a crap city to travel to and from. Particularly if you’re in a wheelchair and every time you change planes there’s the risk your wheelchair will be lost or broken—but that will be one of the things I talk about in more depth in another post.

In the wild waste, a book, growing…

I’ve been amusing myself again with making pictures centred on Spear. Partly it’s a way to stay connected to the book, which will belong to me only for another month, after which it flies free and won’t belong to me anymore but to readers. Partly it’s a way to have fun while I learn my way around Photoshop. And partly, well, I just love making things—and if they include hedgepigs, trees, and brightly coloured lethal weapons, all with a hint of changing seasons, so much the better.

The title of this post is, of course, a reference to the beginning of the book. Here’s the first scene:

In the wild waste, a girl, growing. A girl at home
in the wild, in the leafless thicket of thin grey
saplings with moss growing green on one
side. In this thicket, the moss side does not face north but
curves in a circle with its back to the world, and, at its centre,
where the branches grow most tangled and forbidding, is a
hill. In the face of that hill, always hidden from the world,
is the dark mouth of the cave where the girl lives with her
mother.
          As far as the girl can tell, none on two legs but herself and
her mother has ever trod here. Her mother will creep from
the cave only as far as the gardens at the edge of the thicket,
and then only in summer when the leaves are cloak enough
to hide the sun-burnished bronze of her heavy-waved
hair, when the hard enamel blue of her eyes might be forget-me-
nots; but the girl is at home in all the wild. She roams the
whole of Ystrad Tywi, the valley of the Tywi who fled Dyfed
in the Long Ago. In this valley, where there is a tree she
will climb it; it will shelter her, and the birds that nest there
in spring will sing to her, warning of any two-legged
approach.
          In May, as the tree blossoms fall and herbs in the
understorey flower, she will know by the scent of each how
it might taste with what meat, whether it might heal, who it
could kill. From its nectar she will know which moths will
come to drink, know too of the bats that catch the moths,
and what nooks they return to where they hang wrapped in
their leather shrouds as the summer sun climbs high, high
enough to shine even into the centre of the thicket. Before
harvest, when the bee hum spreads drowsy and heavy as
honey, she tastes in their busy drone a tale of the stream over
which they skim, the falls down which the stream pours, the
banks it winds past where reeds grow thick and the autumn
bittern booms. And when the snow begins to fall once again,
she catches a flake on her tongue and feels, lapping against
her belly, the lake it was drawn from by summer sun, far
away—a lake like a promise she will one day know. Then
as the world folds down for winter, so too do the girl and
her mother, listening to the crackle of flame and, beyond the
leather door curtain, the soft hiss of snow settling over the
hills and hollows like white felt.

At some point I’ll collect all the graphics and videos I’ve made in one place and archive them. When I do I’ll link to it. And maybe readers will send in Spear-inspired art and pet pictures, as they did with Hild. That was lovely.

Meanwhile, you still have a month to preorder Spear and get a free enamel pin. Pre-order here:


IndieBound
 | Amazon.com | Bookshop.org | Barnes & Noble | Apple | Amazon.co.uk

Or see this enormous list of independent booksellers in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland.

ICFA 43, Orlando FL

Kelley and I will be at ICFA this week (March 16—20) to launch pre-publication jollity for Spear. Between us we have a handful of public events:

  • Thursday, 8:00—9:00 pm, Poolside bar. Spear book party. There’ll be a mini book party on Thursday evening by the pool, where I’ll sign books that attendees received in the swag bags, hang out, and drink. It lasts just an hour because I want to attend Nisi Shawl’s Guest of Honour reading at 9:15 pm.
  • Friday, 8:30—10:00 am, Vista A. Reading from Spear. I’ll be reading one of the most exciting scenes from the book at a group event with fellow authors Robert V.S. Redick, J.R. Dawson, and Matthew Sanborn Smith; hosted by Rick Wilbur.
  • Friday, 10:00—10:30 am, book room. Signing. Immediately following the reading, I’ll be in the book room for half an hour to sign anything that didn’t get signed the night before.
  • Friday 4:14 – 5:45 pm, Vista A. Kelley reading. If you’ve never heard Kelley read. you’re in for a treat. Not only is she the best SFF short story writer I know, she’s a great performer. Again, she’ll be reading with a group of writers: Will Ludwigsen F.Brett Cox, and Tenea D.Johnson; hosted by Matthew Sanborn Smith. I’ll be there, too, of course. (Kelley’s readings really are not to be missed.)
  • Friday, 5:45—6:15pm, book room. Immediately following her reading, Kelley will be signing for half an hour and I, of course, will also be there.

Before, during, and after these scheduled events, both Kelley and I can be found at panels and readings and lunches—we hope to make all the Guest of Honour events, because we both know and like Nisi Shawl (Creative GoH) and Farah Mendlesohn (Scholar GoH)—and by the pool with a drink, and in the indoor bar, also with a drink, just enjoying the amazingness that is talking, drinking, and eating with people we know, and perhaps a few we’ll meet for the first time.

If you’re going to be there, please come say hello!

Two years and 20 million dead

Just over two years ago WHO declared a pandemic. Their official count of global dead is 6,027,059.

The Lancet, however, suggest a much higher number of 18 million.

And the Economist has calculated what it believes is a truer estimate: 20 million.

Whichever estimate you trust, that’s a lot of people. Especially when you consider that cases are, once again, beginning to rise.

This pandemic is not over. Every time some local, regional, or national authority says, Hey, don’t worry about your masks, another tranche of vulnerable people will die, and another will sink further into bitterness and isolation knowing they have been moved to the Acceptable Losses column, again; that no one cares; that 99.9% of the nondisabled population of earth would, in fact, rather be able to go watch a movie without a mask than go to a minor inconvenience for two hours than help the woman with an impaired immune system who has been mewed up her tiny apartment for two years. Who now can’t even go to the fucking grocery store. Your two hours of trivial inconvenience versus two years of her life. Two. Fucking. Years. And counting.

People really piss me off sometimes.

Consider this, too. A significant percentage of those who get Covid—whether barely symptomatic or in intensive care; the severity doesn’t matter—will go on to develop Long Covid. How many? We don’t know. Why don’t we know? Because it’s only been two years and we don’t even really have a hard definition of “Long Covid.” But best guesses, trying to compare apples to oranges to fucking potatoes, suggest 10-30%.

Now, go look at those WHO numbers again, this time the left hand side; the official number of total cases of Covid so far: 452,052,304. And you know they are off by a factor of at least three. So rounding the WHO figures down to 452m (because frankly the calculator app on my phone won’t deal with long numbers), and going from super-conservative (using WHO numbers and only 10% get Long Covid) to deeply alarmist (multiply WHO by 3.5 and assume 30% will develop Long Covid) and the number range is 45.2 million — 546 million. And holy shit, suddenly we’re talking about 7% of the global population.

Now, just in case you haven’t been keeping up, Long Covid is a disabling condition. It’s not just a bit of tiredness, or a few aches and pains. It’s a multi-system attack: brain, endocrine system, connective tissue, heart, lungs, overall metabolism. We don’t yet know if for some people it gradually wears off, or whether after another two years you suddenly die, or at some simply mutate into a giant galactic tapeworm, but given other post-viral syndromes we’re aware of (some of us more intimately than others)1 my guess is that it will linger and linger and essentially be not only permanently disabling but also lead to a significant reduction in lifespan. We are walking towards a massive demographic bomb.

So, yeah, think twice, please, before you throw away your mask. And then think again.


1 In February of 1989 I went down with what felt like flu—but wasn’t—and was wickedly unwell for about 10 days. And I never really recovered. I got a diagnosis of post-viral syndrome, then myalgic encephalomyelitis, then chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome, and finally multiple sclerosis. I have not held paid employment since 1989—m health and energy levels are simply too erratic. Then of course there’s polio and post-polio syndrome. So when I say ‘disabling,’ i really mean it.

Win a pin and a free pony!

Photo and image of horse drawn by me; enamel pin for Spear, designed by Forensics and Flowers

Image description: A square photo of a stack of Advance Reader Copies of a novel, Spear by Nicola Griffith, on a table. Superimposed on the image before the stack of books is the sepia-tinted drawing of a horse standing in shadow next to a manipulated photo of a blue and red enamel pin designed to look like a shield painted with forget-me-nots and a spear.


In exactly 50 days Spear will hit the shelves. Which means you have precisely seven weeks to take advantage of the publisher’s pre-order offer: preorder the hardcover, send in a copy of your receipt by 18 April, and win not only this marvellous enamel pin designed to look like a shield, but a free pony! Well, okay, no, not a real pony—but you get to read about one. Actually, you get to read about several, though there is one in particular, a bony gelding called, well, Bony, who teaches our hero to ride and becomes a bit of an equine hero.

And if you like animals there are hedgehogs, cats, a bittern, sparrowhawk, rabbits (yes, even though it’s sixth-century Wales), hares, lynx, ducks and ducklings and a whole variety of lambs, goats, cows, dogs, wolves…

But you’ll never know about them unless you read—or listen to—the book. So why not pre-order now and also get the free pin?

Although only hardcover pre-orders from folks living in the US and Canada* count for this offer, you can pre-order all three editions now from most book retailers:

IndieBound | Amazon.com | Bookshop.org | Barnes & Noble | Apple | Amazon.co.uk

Or see this enormous list of independent booksellers in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland.

Image description: Pre-order graphic for a novel, Spear by Nicola Griffith. Square, with a grey background, showing on the right the book cover next to an enamel pin designed to look like a red enamel shield painted with blue forget-me-nots and a spear. On the left, instruction to visit bit.ly/spearpreorder for more details.


*I don’t know why.

War in Europe

Our lives just changed again. Terrible things are beginning to happen and it’s going to get worse. How much worse? Well, my worry is on three fronts:

  • Nuclear disaster
  • Economic disaster
  • Digital disaster

They are all connected, of course, and any or all will lead to a humanitarian disaster. We could be heading for all three simultaneously, or one might happen immediately, leading to the other two. But whichever way you game it out, we are most probably heading for disaster.

To say this is a bad day is an understatement.

When I heard the news of the invasion late yesterday I went quite blank. The kind of blank your body feels when you’ve sustained a terrible injury—your leg sliced off by a falling sheet of glass; a bullet wound in the belly—and shuts down temporarily because there’s too much to process. I’d been expecting it, of course. “Oh,” I thought. “Well, it’s begun.” Then I blinked, read a chapter of a ho-hum novel and went peacefully to sleep—because what else was there to do? I don’t control anything that would make any difference to individuals in Ukraine and Russia, or the decisions of governments.

Today the numbness is wearing off a little. I have started to sidle up to possibilities and, being an occasional science fiction writer, I immediately went to apocalyptic scenarios. Bear in mind many of these things will happen simultaneously.

  • Russia will focus on the many Chernobyl-style reactors in Ukraine. They will most likely want to capture them but, well, accidents happen. And though these things are reasonably well built, conventional weaponry is very, very good at blowing things up. Imagine the effects of three concurrent Chernobyl-style disasters in Europe…
  • When Russia is cut off from the global banking system, many people will panic. Although Russia isn’t particularly deeply enmeshed in global finance, it’s not isolated. It’s a huge commodities supplier, for example. And panic spreads. In terms of the market, we’ve already entered Correction territory and it’s very possible we’ll soon be in a Depression. And when money becomes scare and/or inflation balloons, corners get cut. (See Nuclear disaster, above. See Digital disaster below.) Of course, once deep sanctions are in place, Russia will retaliate: they will cut off supplies of oil and gas to Europe. Many Europeans will suffer—Germany, for example, gets more than 40% of its energy from Russia. When Europeans start suffering, the global economy will tank.
  • Cyberwarfare is about to begin—if it hasn’t already. The US, Russia, China, and many other countries have been engaging in computer network operations, that is, cyber attacks, for decades, probing each others’ defences and systems, and occasionally disabling a particular operation or system—see, for example, the joint US-Israeli disruption of Iran’s nuclear programme. But these are more like sniper attacks: small, focused, and contained. Russia has already taken down big chunks of Ukraine’s systems. If and when the US unloads any serious attack on Russian infrastructure—on their military supply chain, for example—Russia, naturally, will retaliate. But here’s the thing. Computer network operations are relatively new, in the sense that there are no established protocols and fallbacks, no national agreements and diplomatic mechanisms. It would be very, very easy for things to deteriorate to the point of going after the power grid, sewerage, water supply, train systems, internet, hospitals, manufacturing, distribution, air traffic control… There is no limit to what could fail. I doubt this is where it will start; I doubt that, right now, it’s anyone’s intent—because frankly a full-out cyberwar is essentially civilisation-level suicide. But, again, accidents happen. And once you interrupt a deeply-connected complex system that system has a tendency to fail catastrophically. This worries me more than nuclear disaster—which of course would happen anyway, and in the blink of an eye, in the event of a committed, no-holds-barred cyberattack, and counterattack, on US or Russian infrastructure.

Having said all that, bear in mind, too, that this may all end up being limited to Russia and the Ukraine; Putin could be deposed; diplomats may eventually sort things out; and many other good, useful, positive possibilities may come to pass. I hope so, I really do.

But at the back of my mind is the understanding that the world has been in retreat from state-level reason, justice, and rationality for a couple of decades now. Democracy is in retreat. Trust in government is in retreat. And every time there’s any kind of a disaster—climatological, say, or a pandemic—this isolationist me-first attitude becomes more entrenched.

Put another way, twenty years ago the thought of a major power invading a large, sovereign neighbour in Europe was more or less unimaginable. A combination of the end of the Cold War, the formation of NATO, and the ascendance of the European Union led Europeans to think of themselves as safe, beyond overt war. Just take a look at the last few decades of government spending: the percentage of national budgets used on the military has been steadily shrinking. With the invasion of Ukraine, all that has changed. As fearful governments reverse the decline of military spending—and trust me, they will—where do you suppose the money will come from? Healthcare, eldercare, childcare, education, and all the other things I associate with safety and security.

So, yes, this invasion has changed the world. I don’t know how this particular situation will turn out but I have a bad feeling it may culminate—next year, or 10 years, or 40 years from now—with World War III. And to paraphrase Einstein, after WWIII, when and if there are once more enough people in any shape to engage in war, that war will be fought with sticks and stones.

Spear tidbits and a map

Main image based on OS 1957 Physical image downloaded under CC-BY-NC-SA and heavily modified. Click through to a larger image.

Image description: Black and white map of early sixth-century Wales. Inset in the top right corner is an outline of Britain, with a section of south and west Wales boxed in black. The rest of the map is an expansion of that box, a relief map showing hills, valleys, and rivers. There are several places labelled, and each place is represented by a small black and white drawing: a cave, a horse, a bittern, a tree, a fortified gate. Two sets of dotted lines with arrows indicate travel routes.

I haven’t got around to making a key yet, but the black arrows represent Peretur’s solo journey near the beginning of her story, and the white arrows show her second, more harrowing race to save someone she loves. In terms of scale, the whole thing covers about a hundred miles of from east to west and sixty or so north to south. The cave is about 1,700′ above sea level in the Twyi forest.

The insets are a mix of original work and adaptations of things in the pubic domain—such as the cave, and this tree by Constable.

Cheerfully borrowed from Constable

The horse is one I drew for Menewood (the Hild sequel) for when and if I ever get around to doing a big beautiful high-res map with art. (I love doing maps; I’m doing lots and lots of them in a variety of styles. Closer to the time I’ll share a few, but most are very practical—they help me work out things like logistics, travel times, and battles—so there’s been no room for pretty bits.)

Bony but not really

Those of you who know anything about horses will probably see immediately that this is a mare—because Hild’s horse in the last half of Menewood is a dun mare.

In Spear, though, Peretur’s horse is a bony gelding—rescued from mistreatment—called, well, Bony. Under Peretur’s care, of course, he doesn’t stay bony, so I thought, Eh, why not? and made one drawing do for two horses. Those of you who do know something about horses, just pretend you don’t, and at some point a) I’ll remake the dun mare to look more like the mare I actually wrote about and b) do another horse that’s more like Bony. But don’t, y’know, hold your breath…

The bittern is also destined as a map icon for Menewood. In its current iteration it looks to be in a bit of an altered state—it’s the eyes, which I’ll fix at some point, maybe (but as there’s no rush, don’t hold your breath)—but I find I’m getting used to the staring. So we’ll see.

I see you

Drawing a representation of Caer Leon (now, oddly enough, called Caerleon) took some thought. The Romans built a legionary fortress there—one of only three in Britain—and called it Isca Augusta. It was an important place, home base for a couple of centuries—on and off—of Legio II Augusta (one of the four original conquering legions), and was rebuilt more than once. This means at some point or points it would have had masonry walls. However, nothing lasts forever, and by the time of Spear (let’s say around 530 CE) what remained of those walls (if anything) would be several centuries old. Brick crumbles, stone falls (and is stolen by enterprising folk to improve their own buildings) so by the time the sixth century rolls around, the walls would have been largely transformed. For the icon, then, I used a combination of a stone gatehouse—gatehouses often stand longer than anything else—with reinforced wooden gate and topped by a wooden palisade. I have no idea if it’s even remotely authentic for the time and place because that wasn’t important for the story so I chose not to spend time on a relatively obscure detail.

Similarly, the icon for Caer Gloiu is a cleaned up photo of a carving dug up from Roman-era Gloucester, and altered just a little to represent what people of Peretur’s time may have seen lying about in the rubble and/or still adorning a crumbling entryway or temple. I’m sorry to say I can’t remember what or who it’s supposed to portray, or even if they were a deity or a real person—and, again, I didn’t get too persnickety because, well, not important in the overall scheme of things. And there’s only so much research that makes sense in service of a story based on myth and legend.

Most of the research I used in Spear was encountered while researching Menewood—particularly linguistic and military theories. So despite it being a fantasy, there’s a fair amount of background historical accuracy. I’ll talk more about that another time. For now, enjoy the map!

Big, giant juicy interview!

Image description: Black and white headshot of a smiling, short-haired white woman in three-quarter profile before a microphone. She looks very happy to be in front of an audience.

In December I sat down with Gareth Jelley for a podcast interview for Intermultiversal. We covered a lot of ground—Spear, writing, Hild, Menewood, why I love reading reviews, why Angela Carter’s metaphors don’t work for me, the Matter of Britain, research, creative process, life, the universe, and everything—but the podcast still only represents a fraction of the conversation.


So now here is the big—and by big I mean 10,000 words—written interview, which is based partially on the transcript of that podcast and partially on a written Q&A. The tone varies, obviously, from question to question, but the overall thrust of the conversation is consistent.

Enjoy!

Spear enamel pin giveaway!

The Spear preorder giveaway campaign has just launched, so if you have preordered the book—in any format or hardcover only, but from any US or Canadian retailer—you can own one of these splendid enamel pins designed for Spear by Forensics and Flowers.

All you have to do is give your name and contact info and upload a copy of your preorder receipt to get this splendid pin sent to you directly in the mail. Sadly this offer only applies to residents of the US and Canada—though it also excludes residents of Quebec. (I have no idea why, but these are the publisher’s rules, not mine.)

And it is splendid (I talk more here about what makes it special). I’m not usually a pin person but I’ve been wearing this one on my jacket lapel (and have had many compliments).

You can preorder the book anywhere books are sold (though the UK receipt won’t be eligible for this offer):

IndieBound | Amazon.com | Bookshop.org | Barnes & Noble | Apple | Amazon.co.uk

Or see this enormous list of independent booksellers in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland (but, again, see the eligibility rules above).

Then go get your pin!

Free 32-page sneak peek at Spear!

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


B&N Nook | Kindle | eBooks.com | Google Play

If you go to Amazon or B&N or Google Play or eBooks.com right now you can order a free, 32-page extended preview of Spear delivered to the device of your choice on February 8. I know I’m biased but I’m pretty sure if you read a long chunk of the book you’ll want the rest.

And did I mention it was free? Why are you still here?

Nook | Kindle | eBooks.com | Google Play

Want one now?

Image description: A book cover for ‘Spear by Nicola Griffith’. The background is charcoal, shading to black at the bottom, with the author’s name at the top in orange-red and the title, at the bottom, and ‘from the author Hild’ in white. The main image is of a great hanging bowl of black iron with inlaid figures and great bronze escutcheons for the hanging hooks. It is wreathed about by smoke and flame and fumes, and the fumes form images: in white, woods with a woman and a stone and a sword; about the trees, shading to orange, is an figure with a spear on a horse; a fort gate and box palisade, and over all, flying up in the smoke towards the author’s name, two birds. Above the book, a notice ‘Coming 4.19.22…’


Want to read Spear two months before it’s published? Goodreads is giving away 25 advance readers copies between now and February 18. Good only for residents of the US and Canada.

Good luck!

25% off pre-order special for Spear!

Image description: A book, Spear by Nicola Griffith, standing against a white background. The background of the cover illustration is charcoal, shading to black at the bottom, with the author’s name at the top is orange-red and the title, at the bottom, and ‘from the author Hild’ in white. The main image is of a great hanging bowl of black iron with inlaid figures and great bronze escutcheons for the hanging hooks. It is wreathed about by smoke and flame and steam, and the steam forms images: in white, woods with a woman and a stone and a sword; about the trees, shading to orange, is an figure with a spear on a horse; a fort gate and box palisade, and over all, flying up in the smoke towards the author’s name, two birds. Blazoned across the front of everything a big notice saying “25% off pre-order offer!”


B&N.com are offering a special 25% pre-order discount for Spear, starting today and running through Friday. The promotion is valid across all formats (hardcover, audio, ebook). Just use the code PREORDER25 at checkout.

This is a pretty excellent deal!

You can of course pre-order the book through your favourite independent bookstore or Amazon or Apple or any other online platform—but right now they’re not offering a quarter off the price.

And if you’re not sure yet whether or not you want to buy the book, go read all about it on the Spear page.

Podcast interview all about Spear

In November I did a two-ply interview with Gareth Jelley for Intermultiversal. There’s a forty-eight minute podcast, in which we talk about Spear, rhythmic hypnogogic writing (“Give me an army of eight-year old girls, and I will take over the world…”), why I love reading my reviews—what I learn from them—Angela Carter, and many other things. That’s available to listen to right now:

https://www.patreon.com/posts/interview-with-60545521

It’s the first time I’ve talked about Spear live—and so I don’t have the sound-bites down yet. (Not even close!) Enjoy hearing me sort of stumped for a bit, talking first about the rhythm of the prose, then a corpus analysis of the reviews, then the magic, the atmosphere and, finally, the story—wrapping up the tales of Parsifal, Merlin-Nimuë, Arthur-Lancelot-Guinevere, and the Grail Quest, all in 45,000 words—and what a rush it was to write.

Coming soon will be the long, written version of the interview. And when I say long I mean about 5,000 words. A meaty and wide-ranging conversation with many Deep Thinks about the right metaphors to use for the writing process, how and why I use genre, and why and what I do and don’t like about various other Arthurian retellings.

When it goes up on Intermultiversal.net I’ll link to it. Meanwhile, enjoy the audio.

Kitten Report #21: One year ends, another begins

It started snowing on Christmas night and the next day we woke up to this:

Boxing Day on the kitchen deck

It snowed on and off for a couple of days, by which point we had these hanging over every window and door:

Ice daggers

We didn’t mind, though, because indoors all was cosy and warm. And—because holidays, because Omicron—we were and are fully stocked with comestibles of every variety, including many bags of Charlie and George’s favourite cat treats.

Safe and warm

They didn’t mind being stuck inside. Too much. At first. After all, it was cold out there—and, besides, all the shrews, voles, moles and mice were scuttling about under the snow and inaccessible, and there weren’t many birds around to chase: the hummingbird feeder froze; when we thawed it out and put it back, it was promptly buried in more snow. So Charlie and George just hung out on our laps, or in front of the fire, or on the nice warm audio receiver—which meant I couldn’t watch anything with subtitles, but, hey, sacrifices must be made.

Meditating on warmth

Charlie, though, started to get restless. Eventually he went barrelling out into the snow (and I mean into: it was twice as deep as he is) and within five minutes had brought back a bush tit. Mindful of last year’s salmonellosis episode we took it away from him before he or George could eat it. (George, of course, had sensibly stayed indoors graciously accepting cat treats.) And then? Charlie zipped out and caught another. Rinse and repeat.

Meanwhile, George very pragmatically stole Charlie’s warm spot:

King of the warm spot

And when George spreads like that, there’s no room for Charlie. So Charlie was relegated to sitting mournfully on the windowsill in Kelley’s office watching the ice grow.

And they’re too slippery to even climb…

And, oh, did those ice daggers grow! Daggers, then swords, then javelins, then giant fucking harpoons. We had one set hanging near the front door that got to about 4′ long and as thick around as my thigh. A handy anti-dragon weapon, yes (and you never know when such things might come in handy), and lovely to look at, but increasingly dangerous. (I had visions of trying to explain to a grieving widow just how their loved one ended up looking like something from a Vlad the Impaler Illustrated Edition on our front lawn while trying to deliver a package.) So we knocked them all down. (By we I mean Kelley—because snow and wheelchairs? Not a good combination.) We also dug out the hummingbird feeder. Again. Hummingbirds are fighty little things; it’s unusual to see them sharing anything; but at one point there were three sitting around drinking together, pausing, drinking more, and looking for all the world like a group of friends in a pub. Sadly I was never quick enough to find my phone and get a picture.

The bar is open

George meanwhile was entertained by his favourite game, Chase the Treat, in which I line up cat treats on the kitchen table and/or the seat of my Rollator and flick them off in every direction so he has to leap and pounce. When he got bored, he resumed his acting lessons:

George imitates a Covid swoon

As I type this I hear dripping, and suspect the first day of 2022 will entail a return of the furry beasts to the Great Outdoors—and subsequent filth and mayhem and carnage as they track in slush and mud and blood. They will be very happy: a great start to the New Year.

For now they wish to leave you with their wisdom for the coming year—which just happens to be the title of their upcoming album.

I suspect they may be right.

And me? I don’t have much to add. I’ve been rewriting MENEWOOD (it’s going well) and will talk more about that in the coming weeks. We had a very quiet Christmas—but full of warmth and peace, good books, better wine, and excellent chocolate—and our New Year’s Eve will be our ritual caviar, Champagne, and long conversation about the year that’s past and the year to come.

Most of the time we talk about our goals for the coming year. But the last three or four years we’ve preferred to simply express gratitude and hope.

Last year on this blog I made two wishes—and both were partially granted (which, given recent events, feels like a huge win):

  • The vaccines do work, and pretty well, enough to keep most out of hospital, even with Omicron—but not nearly enough people have been vaccinated.
  • Sadly, the Biden/Harris administration has not been able to find a way around partisan gridlock—at least with regard to social changes, though they have, as I guessed, managed at least a partial infrastructure bill.

This year I’ll express two modest hopes for 2022:

  • That we all keep trying our best to be decent human beings
  • That, beyond the increasing devastation of the ongoing climate catastrophe, the planet doesn’t hit us with too much horror: no asteroids, new plagues, alien invasions, or semiconductor-eating microbes—at least not before I can have a fabulous launch party for Spear, coming 19 April to a bookstore near you!

May we all find warmth, peace, and comfort ahead.

2021 Blog Stats

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


For the first time since 2018 the number of people who came to read something increased—by about 11% on last year. There again, I posted more often—though still not much, just 56 posts. (When I first used a blogging platform—as opposed to laboriously hand-coding everything in the Ask Nicola section of my first website, starting in 1995—I was posting daily, on average, and often more. But social media changed the landscape. So now I think four or five times a month works pretty well.)

The Top 10 countries from where my readers log on haven’t changed very much from last year, either, except that I swapped out Norway for Sweden:

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

Most of the year’s top 15 new posts or pages were concerned with books, kitties, and Covid, with just a couple of more personal pieces:

The top 15 overall were mostly perennial favourites, with just a couple of new ones sneaking into the list:

What lies ahead for this site in 2022? I don’t know. I’ve given up trying to guess. The only thing I know for sure is that this blog isn’t going anywhere. I like being able to say things too long for Twitter and not pretty enough for Instagram, and here’s the best place for it.