Not The Fox News: There Is Hope

I’ve been thinking a lot about hope recently. Not just the abstract concept, although it is one of my personal favorites along with ‘biscuits’ and ‘Every Brooklyn Nine-Nine cold open ever’. But rather the fact it’s often overlooked in genre fiction and how powerful it can be when it’s there.

My earliest exposure to serial fiction, and hope in science fiction, was the Sector General series by James White. These were a series of novels, novellas and short stories set aboard the Sector
General station, a neutral medical facility designed to cater for aliens of any biology and scale. The problems, the antagonists, were more often the challenge of getting the patient diagnosed or sedated than anything action related (Although there was occasional punching) and the end result was a series of stories that presented as fundamentally benevolent puzzles. One particularly great instalment involved the logistics of operating on an alien the size of a continent.

I took two things away from the Sector General books. The first was a reaffirmation of my profound respect for every stripe of emergency responder and customer facing profession. My dad was a teacher. My mom was a nurse. I have friends and family in emergency response, the Armed Services and political journalism. All of them put themselves between society and harm for a living. All of them, to misquote A Few Good Men, stand on the wall and tell us nothing bad’s going to happen while they’re there. Or at the very least, nothing else bad.

The second was a fondness for stories that were based around that very concept; hope. It’s intoxicating, especially these days, to look at fiction that has at it’s core a belief in the fundamental goodness of people. And the brilliant, tragic thing about that is that ‘these days’ could apply to any period in the stretch of history that humanity has told stories to itself. The world is always ending but never quite does. And there’s always hope.

There’s no more intellectual demonstration of this than Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Sir Patrick
Stewart’s iconic role in Star Trek: The Next Generation remains the star around which decades of
TV, movies, comics and novels orbit. Picard was, and still is, the anti-Kirk. Intellectual where his
predecessor was instinctive, compassionate where his predecessor was impulsive. A warrior when needed. A diplomat by choice. Plus he could throw Shakespearean truth bombs like no one else.

The thing I always particularly loved about Picard was that he was a team player. The best leaders are the ones who listen, and so much of TNG was about just that; a problem being worked by a room full of brilliant people, some of whom were human, all of whom were fallible. There’s one particular episode where everything has gone VERY pear shaped and Picard’s first response is to stand, pull his jacket down (obvs) and address the bridge in that stentorian, France by way of Sheffield voice:

‘SUGGESTIONS’

An instinctive leader, in a tight situation, trusting his people to know things, and see things, that he doesn’t. I think about that a lot, both as a man and as the co-owner of a company.
And now, Captain (later, Admiral and if I remember correctly, Ambassador) Picard is making a
return. Stewart has confirmed that a mini-series focusing on him is in the works. That’s amazing
news, not just because Stewart is a titan but because Picard is the exact sort of lead that 2018
popular culture desperately needs. Intelligent, measured, calm. Doesn’t own a twitter account.
Yes, this could be a Logan situation where we watch Stewart do ‘Samuel Beckett! In! Spaaaaaace!’
But even if that’s the case the character is still fundamentally hopeful, still concerned in his entirety with the best of people. Still someone with intelligence in one hand and compassion in the other, wielding both not as weapons but as tools. Still an icon of hope.

Which brings us to Ant-Man and the Wasp. The sequel to one of the better versions of White Man
Begins that Marvel had us slog through over the last few years is just ridiculously charming from
the get go. Everything that didn’t work last time has been dialled down, everything that did work
has been dialled up and it feels like the Ant-Man movies have now joined the Captain America and Guardians movies as having a distinctive style all their own.

And, fundamentally, the best thing about Ant-Man and the Wasp is that there isn’t a bad guy,
there’s an antagonist.

Hannah John-Kamen is one of those performers whose work has been effortlessly good from the
jump off. She’s incredible in Killjoys, she’s great in Black Mirror, the cameo she has in Tomb Raider
and basically everything else. In Ant-Man and the Wasp, she plays Ghost, a dimensionally
dislocated thief and assassin. She survived the accident that killed her parents, which in turn
damaged her on the quantum level meaning her cells constantly tear apart and reform. She’s
essentially unlocked at the quantum level, leaving a ghostly image of herself when she moves and able to phase through solid objects. Rescued by SHIELD, and turned into an assassin by what’s implied to be Hydra-controlled SHIELD, she lives in constant agony and the relief for her pain is wound up with the very personal rescue mission that drives the A plot of the movie.

She’s also a chronic pain sufferer, albeit one with a science fictional twist. And the moment it becomes apparent that her condition is directly linked to Hank Pym’s research, the movie becomes two rescue missions, one of which is to save her. No science weirdo left behind, not on this watch.

It’s such a brilliant move that it’s passed a lot of people by. Because to be clear, Ghost is a villain
for a good two thirds of the movie. One of the best action sequences is a knockdown drag out
brawl between her and Wasp where her phasing powers and Wasp’s size control basically mean
one shot in three lands and all of them hurt. One of the others is a chase which basically involves
Scott hurling himself around obstacles with acrobatic abandon while Ghost methodically walks
through them. She’s always a threat, but when that threat is contextualised she becomes
something greater, rarer and infinitely more interesting; someone with immense power, in need of immense help. A spy who brought in from the quantum cold by the offer of the one thing no one can resist;
Hope.

There are other examples too. Margaret Stohl’s extraordinary, brave deep dive into the abusive
past of Captain Marvel. The rise of the 20 minute explainer as a program in its own right instead of a news segment. Culture, on every front, in every way is starting to rise to meet the hellscape of the late 10’s with the best possible tool to solve the problem; knowledge and through that, yet
again, hope.

And it needs to. 2018 is a dumpster fire of increasingly 20116ian proportion. But there have been
2016s and 2018s before. The world is always ending, but it never quite does and, like The Crystal Method said, there is hope. And right now, there’s more than there was at the top of the year. That’s not a large victory by any means but you know what? It’s a damn good start.

What is better than werewolves in space?

Only more werewolves in space!!

We are very pleased to announce that Starfang Volume 2 in now live and available, with volume 3, the final book in the trilogy, due very soon and ebooks also out this year. 

Joyce Chng is a Singaporean SFF writer and we are pleased to be able to bring you more of her space adventures with Claw of the Clan

Snippet Sunday : Asian Monsters

Blood Like Water 
by Eve Shi

My friend Budi told me that Pak Eko saw the creature toward midnight. The retiree was watching a dangdut singing competition on TV when a faint thump came from his front porch. The second time he heard the sound, Pak Eko went to wake up his sleeping son. The young man, feeling entitled to a full rest after a day’s work at the sub-district civil office, only grunted.
Armed with a knife, Pak Eko carefully unlatched the front windows. The porch, its tiles dull and cracked under the fifteen-watt lamp bulb, seemed empty. Pak Eko caught a whiff of something rotten, and then it was gone. He was about to close the windows when the creature appeared on the left side of the porch.
Pak Eko’s terrified yell rang out in the cold night. Ten minutes later, his immediate neighbours
arrived at his house in trickles. By then Pak Eko was lying on his bed, eyes closed and taking one slow breath after another. His son, looking mildly embarrassed, sat by the bed and massaged his father’s temples with cajuput oil smeared fingers.
‘It smelled a bit like fish,’ the young man mumbled. ‘Very tall—all my dad could see was
its chest. That’s about it.’
Budi’s uncle had been among the neighbours who gathered outside Pak Eko’s room. Budi passed the story on to me while we were crouching beside a stream, a manila-paper windmill sticking out from its bank. We had been struggling to position the windmill just so, to make the water constantly slap at its sails and rotate them.
‘Sounds like an awesome night,’ I said. Uneven grass separated the stream from the village’s main street, a bumpy, potholed stretch of asphalt. Beyond the street lay fields of unharvested rice, the water glinting with reflections of the five o’clock sun. ‘The kids in my class talked about it all day long.’
‘That creature was a lelepah,’ Budi stated, with the confidence of someone who was well-versed in Central Javanese folktale. As if I, along with the other children in the village, hadn’t absorbed the same stories from our elders. ‘Don’t you agree, Wiya?’
‘Pak Eko must’ve had a pond on his porch, since those creatures only eat fish.’
Budi flapped his hand in a familiar gesture: Clever Wiya, resorting to sarcasm whenever she
can’t come up with a quality response. I briefly considered dunking him into the stream, and
instead kept my thin smile on.
‘Lelepah aren’t even from here,’ I added. ‘They live at Progo River, near Magelang. That’s far to the south.’
‘Maybe one of them got lost. Or, yeah, it could be something else!’
As we continued to fiddle with the windmill, Budi wondered aloud what else the night visitor might have been. A burglar? No, they come in groups and rarely work solo. Pocong, a living corpse? But it wasn’t wrapped from head to toe in a white cloth. Genderuwo, then? No, they usually stalked women and children. And Pak Eko saw no fangs or fur. Finally, Budi concluded that the creature had indeed been a lelepah.

Women in Horror & Making Monsters

Making Monsters

Futurefire.net Publishing and the Institute of Classical Studies are currently working on a mixed fiction and nonfiction anthology titled Making Monsters, with a focus on classical monsters in fantasy, horror or science fiction short stories. They currently have a call for fiction submissions out with deadline February 28th.

 The book will be published in the middle of 2018, and edited by Emma Bridges and Djibril al-Ayad. Our monster editor Margrét Helgadóttir will have an essay in the book about the world’s monsters, based on her experiences with editing the Fox Spirit Books of Monsters. To celebrate the monsters and the coming Making Monsters book, she interviewed Emma Bridges about the background for the book and monsters.

  1. What inspired the book?

In October 2017 we held a public event entitled “Why do we need monsters?” at the Institute of Classical Studies in London, where I am based. At the event four academics who have researched different aspects of monsters shared some of their work. It was attended by a mix of people who were interested in contemporary monster culture (for example in films, novels and art) and those with an interest in the ancient world. There were some great questions from the audience and it also generated a lot of interest on Twitter, with people sharing their favourite monster images and so on via the hashtag #ICSMonsters. Certain themes kept recurring in the discussions we were having – conversations around monsters and gender, or monsters and disability, for example. The idea for Making Monsters came from that – it’s a great way of continuing those conversations and combining creative responses to monsters (poems and short stories) with essays written by those (including some of the speakers at the original event) who have an academic interest in the theme.

  1. What do you hope to achieve with the book?

I’m really keen to find ways in which the work which goes on in universities can be shared with the wider public – this kind of “public engagement” is a key part of my role here at the Institute of Classical Studies, which is a centre for supporting, facilitating and disseminating academic research in classical subjects. I’m hoping that the book reaches those who might be curious about either classical myth or monsters more generally, or who enjoy reading speculative fiction, but who haven’t necessarily read anything academic about any of those things. The fiction/poetry and essays by academics will complement each other well as they will draw together some recent research on the topic with new imaginings of classical monsters produced by creative writers. Along with many other classical scholars I’m particularly interested in the contemporary reception of classical myth – the ways in which ancient texts, themes and ideas have been reinvented in new artistic and cultural contexts by writers, artists and other creative practitioners – and it’s also exciting to think that the call for poems and stories will result in the creation of a series of brand new pieces of creative writing focusing on these characters.

  1. What is a monster in your definition?

I think that monsters are often physical incarnations of humans’ deepest fears – they are imagined creatures, often with exaggerated characteristics (like having huge fangs or multiple heads), or whose bodies are hybrid forms combining the physical features of several different creatures. There’s often a sensory element to the way in which we envisage monsters too – they might be imagined as making terrifying noises, for example, or as being unpleasant to touch.

  1. What is your favourite monster?

Rather than having one favourite monster, I have favourite versions of particular monsters. So at the moment I’ve been thinking a lot about Steven Sherrill’s Minotaur in his novel The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, which takes the Minotaur out of the classical world and relocates him as an awkward, lonely and misunderstood character in contemporary America. It’s a really interesting exercise in what happens when we take a different perspective on a character who was traditionally seen as straightforwardly terrifying – Sherrill helps us to get inside the mind of the Minotaur as a character whose difference from the “norm” makes it hard for him to fit in. In a similar vein I really like the artist Howard Hardiman’s rendering of the Minotaur too – his is a melancholy figure for whom it’s hard not to feel sympathy, and on looking at that image I find myself imagining how terrible it must have been to be confined to a labyrinth, away from contact with the outside world except for the delivery of a consignment of humans for his next meal. For sheer gruesomeness in visual art, though, it has to be Rubens’ Medusa for me – she’s pretty terrifying!

  1. Do you think monsters play a role in our societies and cultures?

Since ancient times, it seems that humans have always imagined monsters in their stories and art – so, for example, in Homer’s epic Odyssey we find characters like the many-headed Scylla, who terrorises sailors by snatching them from their ships and devouring them, or the one-eyed man-eating Cyclops who is cast by the poet as representing the very antithesis of civilised society. I think that monsters like these have a role to play both in showing the extent of the human imagination and also in illustrating the things that people have always found frightening – often that’s about the fear of the unknown (such as the anxiety associated with undertaking a voyage across unfamiliar seas, as in the case of the Scylla), or about the subversion of what is perceived as the “correct” type of behaviour in any given society (as in the case of the Cyclops).

  1. Has this changed in modern times? Is it important to pay attention to modern incarnations and reception of classical mythology and literature?

I think that the continuing appeal of stories and films about, for example, werewolves or vampires, shows that the fascination with supernatural creatures who have the power to inspire terror has never really gone away! Where contemporary receptions of classical mythology are concerned, to me one of the most interesting things is the way in which old stories and characters are continually being revisited and adapted in new contexts. Any new version of a mythical story can influenced by, for example, the artist or writer’s own interests or personal beliefs and experiences, as well as by the contemporary political, social or creative context within which it is produced.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking to practitioners for the journal Practitioners’ Voices in Classical Reception Studies and I’ve learned that the motivations for adapting myths in a particular way are as varied as the artists and writers who reinvent them. Looking at these new versions and talking to the people who produce them also helps me and others to understand more deeply some of the ancient texts which I study. By definition myth is fluid, not fixed – there is no one “correct” version of a story – and just as the ancient Greeks and Romans reinvented their own stories in new contexts and using different genres or artistic media, so that remaking of the stories still goes on now.

Thanks for joining us, Emma! Best of luck with the book!

Robin Kaplan, also known as The Gorgonist, has given permission to use her image “The Lonely Gorgon” as cover art for the book.

Read more about the forthcoming book Making Monsters here.

Snippet Sunday : Akane

Akane : Last of the Orions
By G. Clark Hellery
YA novel. 

‘I was chased by the police, then I had a run-in with the Shadows.’ I kick off my shoes and drop my bag as I walk across the room, ignoring the glare from the ever-neat Raulla. She waits a moment, then quickly snatches my shoes and places them by the door before picking up my bag and placing it on the counter. I struggle to hide my eye-roll but Raulla is determined to ignore me. Gon enters and gestures to me, ‘Yes, please, a drink would be great, thanks Gon.’
I flop onto the threadbare couch. Raulla scowls slightly when she sees my dirty clothes rubbing the cloth, but I’m too tired to care. ‘It’s getting more and more difficult to do it. I don’t know how they found me, but I barely got the last of the group through the doorway when I heard the Monodrone. I had to forget the proper closing rites. I just had to run. I’m totally exhausted.’
‘At least those people are now safe from the Shadows,’ says Gon as he hands me a steaming mug and looks around the dilapidated apartment.
‘And you did well to get away,’ adds Raulla, staring at the large locket hanging around my neck. I unconsciously rub the necklace, comforted by its familiarity. I close my eyes and realise how close I had come to losing the necklace and my freedom. An Orion without her necklace, well, it was unthinkable! My mother had given me the silver locket, as her mother had given to her and so on, going back generations. It now hung from a leather cord which was soft from wear, the original chain lost to the generations. The cover was carved with symbols, faded with age, leaving only the vague impression of swirls. Inside the locket was the blood red gem, which continually moved to reflect the mood of the demon contained within.

 

Monster Writing Contest Runner Up : Richard Marpole

Waking Up Underground

by Richard Marpole

“I’ve started making a mental diary of my thoughts and impressions since I clawed my way out of my grave.  It seems like a sane and human thing to do, scientific even; I always liked science.

Day 1.

At first I thought I’d been buried alive.  

Which was ridiculous.  I am an old, old man and the disease that killed me was a serious one, it took no prisoners.  

The people you love have a particular way of looking at you when they know your time is finally running out.  My grand-daughter, my favourite human being in the world, looked at me like that just hours before I slipped away.  She is almost a woman now, but still too young to deal with death.  I reached up out of my chemical-scented hospital bed, held her hand and told her it was ok. 

That was the last lie I ever told.

It wasn’t ok, it hurt to die and it hurt even more to wake up in my grave. 

The impossibility of that awakening was followed by the insanity of my escape.  Even if the disease had left me with a heartbeat, even if the Coroner had somehow not noticed that I was still alive, even if I’d been able to breathe in that airless wooden box; I still shouldn’t have had the strength to smash its solid oak planks and dig through six feet of earth to the surface.  

But I did. 

Human minds are very good at ignoring the obvious.  It was only after I fought free of the earth’s embrace that I noticed the changes in the world, the changes in me.

…..

Day 2.

Night is nearly as bright as day now.  Full daylight is like staring into the sun.  During the day I have to bury myself again or stick to the shadows if I want to see what I’m doing.

I’m definitely dead and I’m definitely still here.  I still can’t breathe but I can walk and see and smell and taste and feel.

Mostly I feel cold.

And hungry. 

I’d like a steak; rare and red and dripping.  That’s a meal fit for a king.

Not that I like kings any more than I like priests.

…..

Day 3.

I’m quite sure that I don’t have a pulse even though I can’t prove it.  I tried pressing fingers to my wrists and neck over and over again, but my nerve endings don’t seem to work properly anymore; all I could feel was the dry rasp of dead skin.  I gave up when I realised that my fingernails, longer and sharper than I remember, were tearing my flesh open whenever my hands slipped, which was often.

Guess I’m lucky that my sense of pain is deader than the rest of me.

…..

Day 4.

I’m losing my memories of life. 

How did I convince the local authorities to let me be buried in the New Forest?  A donation to some charity or other?  A bribe?  Was I buried illegally?

I do remember why I wanted to rest here though.  I didn’t believe in any kind of afterlife but there was something peaceful about the idea of my bones ending up in a place that I’d loved so much in life.

What was my first wife’s name?  I know that she was as cruel as she was beautiful and that as a young man that had seemed like a pretty good deal to me.

Were her teeth sharp; like mine are now?  

Would she have watched the little squeaking creatures of the forest and drooled with suppressed hunger?  

Painted lips opening wide, perfect white teeth snapping closed on a terrified morsel; crunching through fur and flesh and tiny, tiny bones. 

No, that doesn’t fit my other images of her.

Not that I would eat the creatures of this forest.

The little rats are too fast for me.

…..

Day 6.

I lost myself for a bit there.

But it’s ok; I didn’t hurt anyone.

I could’ve.  There are backpackers and hikers and day-trippers in these woods.

They don’t see me.  I’m too clever and too quiet.

I wouldn’t hurt them.  But I don’t want to talk to them either.  What would I say?  

‘Can someone please tell me where I live and who with?  I promise not to bite them.’  

Or.  ‘Hello.  I shouldn’t exist so I’d like to donate my body to medical science.  Don’t worry, I’ll hold nice and still while the scalpels slice through my desiccated flesh.’

No.  Better to wait and watch.  Better to hide in dark corners and listen to the arrogant thrum of their hearts, taste the sting of their sweat in the air.

…..

Day 7.

One of the living bodies likes to watch as much as I do.

He smells awful.  Unwashed and bubbling over with bad thoughts; what my idiot son would have called sinful thoughts.

Usually it’s the young women he watches.  Perhaps he sees them as easier targets.  Wolves are like that; they go for the smaller and younger members of the herd.  Forget the nobility of nature; all predators are opportunists at heart.

…..

Day 9.

I am faster now.  The birds and bugs and other vermin cannot escape my hunger anymore. 

Nor can I.  The emptiness is a live thing, a beast gnawing at my belly.  Nothing satisfies it.

The other watcher is a poor hunter.  He catches nothing.

Perhaps I will catch him.

No; that would be insane.

I am still me.

…..

Day 12.

I heard something today that made me feel almost alive.

A high, pure perfect voice.

I slunk through the trees towards it.

A girl.  Her scent was familiar; her blood called to me and told me her names.

Flesh of the Flesh of my Flesh.

Grand-daughter.

She loved the New Forest as much as I did.  Perhaps that was why she was my favourite.

I don’t want her to see me like this.

But I cannot stay away.

I’ll just watch.

…..

Day 17.

In life I demanded reasons for everything.  Why does this happen?  Why should I accept that on faith?

Now I think that I will never know why I rose from the dead.

Maybe I didn’t.  Maybe this is some kind of hell.  

…..

Day 19.

She has come again.  Tripping through the woods with her friends.

There is a hint of sadness to her; she has not forgotten who showed her these paths.  I wish that I’d never brought her here, never shared my love of nature.  Then I would be safe from her and she from me.

…..

Day 24.

I nearly killed an old man today.  I was so hungry.  But he stopped to rub his aching hip the way I used to and some shred of human feeling pulled me out of the leap that would have taken his head.  He never even saw me.

Stupid old man.

…..

Day 26.

Today was different.  She came back but so did the watcher.

The sickness in his mind was so thick that I wanted to chew it right out of his head.

He followed her.

Stalked her.

Waited until her friends had gone ahead.

Jumped out from behind a tree and knocked her down.

He loomed over her and she stared up at him, too stunned to scream.

“It’s ok.”  He told her.  “You want this.  The devil is in you.”

I was on him in the space of a living heartbeat.  We fell together, our limbs tangled.

Such a sweet struggle.  I sank my teeth into his throat and his blood danced across my tongue.  It tasted like steak and champagne and the heat of a woman’s mouth. 

He shook and cried but I held him tight.  I whispered to him between bites.  “It’s ok, it’s ok.”

When he died my hunger died with him.

For that moment I was warm and happy and content; lost in bliss.

When I came back to myself; she was looking at me, face bruised but eyes bright. 

At last everything made sense.  This was why I was brought back.  Some god I didn’t believe in had given me the chance to save the most precious person in the world.    

I almost reached out to her.  

She spoke to me.  “Grandpa?  Is that you?  What’s wrong with your face Grandpa?”

Too many questions.  

Too many hurtful truths.  

I snarled.

She screamed.

I ran from her and she from me.

…..

Did I really come back to save you, Flesh of the Flesh of my Flesh?

Then why am I still here?

No matter.

Still dead.

Still cold.

…..

You better not come back here, Flesh of the Flesh of my Flesh. 

I’m getting hungry again.”

 

Website changes

Over the next couple of weeks we will be doing updates and changes to the website. Hyperlinks to pages should remain as they always were but we will be slimming down the menus to make navigation easier, particularly on mobile devices. Please excuse any disruption and if you do link to any of our pages it may be worth checking those links at the end of the month just in case. 

Many thanks for your patience. We suggest a nice cup of tea and a biscuit. 

Waxing Lyrical : Into the Darkness

Waxing Lyrical is an ongoing occasional series where members of the creative industries are invited to contribute posts. If you are interested in participating please contact adele@foxspirit.co.uk.

Please be aware this post tackles difficult issues. 

***

Into the Darkness by Tabatha Stirling

Last night I watched, ‘Amy’, a poignant biopic of the young, troubled jazz singer who died at 27.  As I watched I found myself becoming angry with her parents who saw the signs so early of her mental distress and chose to ignore it.

And then I remembered that my parents had done something very similar.  Not out of malice or even ignorance, just a supreme indifference to me, their massive disappointment.

My darkness comes from a four-decade battle with Bi-Polar Disorder.  It has been an intense, exhilarating, intrusive and at times, quite terrifying ride and I don’t expect it to ever change.

With my mood cycling it was impossible to hold down a job.

I was a junkie, bulimic, anorexic and a cutter.  I was sexually vulnerable, unconventional and, instead of getting a secretarial job after finishing school (yes, really), I chose to get a portfolio together and managed to find a place at Art School.

I was intensely embarrassing for my parents and their colonial backgrounds because I wouldn’t stay silent about my illness.  I was supposed to be humble, to be grateful and to be quiet.

Instead, I wrote about it, had messy breakdowns and several stays in the high profile Priory and Nightingale clinics in London.

In my manic phases I would hitchhike across London at 4.00 am, sleep with countless men and women and became involved in the Kink scene because it was the only arena I felt understood.  Here were the outcasts, the misfits and the beautiful perverts who lived inside a bold and daring carnival, dancing with the freaks, the geeks, tops, bottoms and giving me the best excuse to wear corsets I have ever had.

Unbelievably, my depressive cycles were even more dangerous.  I became almost comatose, staying in the same clothes for days.  I ignored the intrusive phone and the battering at the door by frightened friends or bailiffs seeking payment.  I shunned food, sunlight, and society.  Smoking endless packets of cigarettes until my lungs became raw with the punishment.

My flat was full of dust and sticks and dog fur, I was a low budget Miss Haversham. Books were piled everywhere like colourful Pisa Towers lurching towards the floor.

Sometimes, I would crawl to the bathroom and read the backs of shampoo and bath oil bottles, taking comfort from the nurturing advertising.

I was suicidal on a daily basis, cutting my arms to relieve a terrible pressure that sex, drugs or music were unable to mask.

I couldn’t read, but worse, I couldn’t write.

There were endless years where I just didn’t care.  I was happy for that overdose to come, for my heart to give out, for my body to be violated.  I was in a station waiting room holding on for Death.

The irony is that I am a naturally optimistic woman but the darkness and the ever present struggle to stay sane because of my Bi-Polar, seeps into every aspect of my writing and gives it flavour, colour and I hope, credibility.

I fish in the blue-black depths of my characters – I raise their shadows and make them sing.  Celebrating the murderous, the psychotic, the jealous, the rageful, the black, white and red of them.

But I wonder if darkness can only exist in our work if we have experienced it, either personally or by association.

I put this question to some of the writers’ groups that I am a part of and only one, Elvis P. (a devilish moniker), said he utilized his imagination entirely to write about darkness, because he had no personal experience with it.  Overwhelmingly, the consensus was that, ‘Yes!’ writers used their own darkness to access their character’s flaws and to breathe the bad to life on their pages.

In conclusion, I think I can say that I do access my own darkness quite naturally to nurture the flaws in my characters.  It can be a deeply painful, cathartic and even mischievous experience.  When Amy Winehouse wrote her Black to Black album every lyric, every breath was homage to her emotional and physical decimation.

I can only give thanks for the fact that I am still here, medicated now, healthier, happier and to my great surprise, a devoted and loving mother.

As I accepted my darkness and my illness, my writing improved.  Just as if it was an injured hawk that had been given the gift of flight back, despite its brokenness.

My darkness is profound in its pain but it is also my friend.

***

I am proud to live in Edinburgh, Scotland with my Warrior-Poet husband, two elven children and a depressed Beagle, called The Beagle.

I recently signed with Unbound, the literary crowdfunding publisher, for my book about maid abuse in Singapore called Blood On The Banana Leaf.  Funding stands at a revved up 32 percent so if you felt like pledging for some really excellent rewards and my unfettered love, please click here >>> https://unbound.com/books/blood-on-the-banana-leaf

When I’m not writing or baking cupcakes, I am thinking about writing, reading,  studying for my Mlitt in Creative Writing at Glasgow University, designing book covers, gaming or watching dark, blood-splattered dramas like the Walking Dead, Ray Donavon and Sons of Anarchy. I am totally prepared for a zombie apocalypse!

https://unbound.com/books/blood-on-the-banana-leaf

@volequeen

www.volequeen.com

tabathadesign.tumblr.com

 

 

Not the Fox News: The Other F Word

I had a whole draft of this column which was basically the opening monologue from the grumpiest episode of Last Week Tonight. I talked about just how fucking unbearable of a horror show the last couple of weeks have been for, well, pretty much everybody. I had stuff in there about how US politics is so morally bankrupt they can unperson a hate crime against the LGBT community because selling more guns is more important than saving more lives. I had a whole bit about the collection of feral and rabid children’s TV mascots who are dominating UK politics right now. I described one particularly odious one as ‘Darkest timeline Mr Toad.’ If you know which one I mean, that’s pretty funny. If you don’t, please, seriously, keep it that way. He doesn’t deserve to live in any more people’s heads and you can use the space for something better.

ANYTHING better.

I touched on just how horrific it is to have a British politician murdered for the first time in almost three decades. I talked about just how great an actor Anton Yelchin was and how inconceivably, brutally unfair it is for anyone to die as young as Jo Cox, Yelchin or any of this year’s stream of victims to date.  I talked about how the referendum I’m voting in on Thursday is something no one wants but, because UK politics really is The Thick of It with horror instead of jokes, we have to do it anyway. I talked about how tired, and angry and, at times, how frightened I am of this stuff.

 

You won’t be reading that column.

 

It’s taken three days for me to get the distance I needed to realize something. I wasn’t witing it for publication, I was writing it to get it out of my head. To exert a little control in a year which, at the halfway point, feels like that bit in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where shit starts to get very, very real indeed. It helped me. Reading it back, the only thing it would do for you is add to the foothills of Mount WhiteDude Thinkpiece.

So, instead, let’s talk about joy.

Things are rough right now and things are so generically rough, everywhere that people across the planet will probably read that sentence and go ‘Damn right.’ When things are this bad there are two ways to deal with it, I’ve found, that work.

First off, manage your strength. This week in particular, social media is going to be a dumpster fire. A lot of people are going to want to engage with issues a lot of the time. Sometimes you’ll be one of them. Have at. But, when you can, step away. Time and again, over the catastrophe parade of the last few years, I’ve seen people obsessively parked on social media watching stories develop.

Sometimes that holds you up.

Sometimes it puts you down.

Learn to step away, learn to choose when to engage. Be prepared for that answer to be ‘never’ if you need it to be. But please, at the very least stretch and hydrate once an hour.

Secondly, find some fun. One of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century once said we want fun. And Doctor WK was right, we do. In fact we don’t just want it we need and deserve it. So, please, if you can, enjoy yourself. Want to know the best way I found to do that this week?

Lion Spaceships.

 

Voltron: Legendary Defender on Netflix is SO much fun. Classic Voltron premise; alien battleships shaped like lions that turn into a colossal robot, tetchy crew, space princess, comedy space mice, guy with a big mustache. The whole thing is designed to be accessible for people who’ve never seen any form of the show before and boy does it pay off. The animation, from the Legend of Korra team, is amazing. The voice work, especially Bex Taylor-Klaus as Pidge, is great and the show has a wonderful energy and spark to it. It’s smart and kind and goofy and fun and THERE IS A COLOSSAL ROBOT MADE OUT OF LION SPACESHIPS. Seriously, if you’ve got Netflix, go watch it, it’s great.

Amazon Prime more your speed? Watch The Duff. Mae Whitman is going to win Oscars later in her career. She’s an endlessly gifted and completely open comedic actress with dramatic chops to back it up. Whitman is the lynch pin of a smart, witty comedy that takes the usual teen drama tropes and turns them on their heads. Massively funny, emotionally nuanced and Robbie Ammell takes his shirt off. What more could you want? Aside from Lion Spaceships?

Neither of the above? Go pick up Speed. The greatest action movie of the 1990s. Actually two of the greatest action movies of the 1990s and the third act which is a bit bobbins. Regardless, Keanu Reeves’ hyper intense, and not super bright, SWAT officer remains one of his greatest roles, Sandra Bullock is fantastic and there’s an uncredited Joss Whedon script polish. Which, trust me, you’ll notice. Also, play spot the Richard Schifff cameo! It’s not where you think!

atomic

Not a movie person? Phonogram by Gillen, McKelvie and others is one of the definitive comics of the last three decades. Music as magic and magic as music in the post Britpop years. And if you’ve read the series then you know three things:

1.I’m right.

2.It has taken Herculean levels of self control to not write an entire thing about the issue that panel is from and how much fizzing effervescent joy it brings me.

3.Simply putting that here made me smile

and…

D.Yes, you’re right. You DO need to read it again.

the omnivore's dilemma

Not a comic person? The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. One of the greatest food writers of our time talks about the surreal, Orwellian lunacy of the US food system. And also how to make really good chicken. Also there are jokes.

 

Music rather than books?

Beethoven. All of it.

 

Not a classical fan? The Stones.

Not into classic rock? Try Marian Hill.

Geek: Remixed.

Halsey.

Weird Al.

Johnny Cash. And friends.

 

Watch something. Read something. Listen to something. Play something. COOK something. This year has been full of horrors, it is only halfway done and it’s all too easy to put your back to the fire and watch the tree line for whatever’s next. I know, I’ve lived in that state of mind. I won’t say you shouldn’t do the same.  I will say you don’t have to do it all the time.

It’s okay to be frightened. It’s okay to be angry. It’s pretty mandatory to be exhausted. But it’s absolutely vital you are not just those things. We all deserve to be more than okay and right now, it seems like very few of us are even that. So please, this month, if you can? Stand down. Recharge. Have some fun. And remember; Lion spaceships

The Lonely Dark – Product Recall

If you have already purchased ‘The Lonely Dark’ in paperback you may only receive the first two parts. If that is the case please contact  adele@ foxspirit.co.uk with your address to get a replacement with all four parts of the book. We will get replacements out as a matter of urgency. In the mean time to minimize the interruption to your reading we will be delighted to provide you with the ebook in mobi and epub formats to your email address.

Anyone putting their order through from this weekend (20th December) should be absolutely fine.

Our sincere apologies for any inconvenience caused. We thank you for your understanding and patience while we resolve things.

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