Thursday 29 September 2016

Spoken Word Rwanda

Went to my first Spoken Word Rwanda (Facebook/Twitter) event last night with my friend Philippa. It was a really interesting event.

The only problem was, as with most events in Kigali, the venue and theme were only announced the day before. Yet despite this, it was really well attended, and it was nice to see so many Rwandans there - far outnumbering expats.

The performances were really diverse: poetry and music from both amateurs and seasoned performers. One of the best sets of the night was by the guy above, whose name I'm afraid I've forgotten, but you can find him under his alias on Twitter. He performed a piece called #2YearsinKigali, involving the crowd and raising a lot of laughs.

I'm wondering whether I can build up the courage to perform. I sometimes sing at a fireside event at Iwacu Wellness Centre on Sundays. Slowly building up my confidence, as singing is not my forte - I'm never sure my voice will hold up when I open my mouth. I mostly sing jaunty Irish ballads, and each week I'm getting slightly better. The first week I played the tin whistle and shook so hard I almost dropped it. Last week I sang I'm A Man You Don't Meet Every Day, and did pretty well (well enough for someone to ask whether I was Irish). I didn't shake, but I got thumping nerves at the base of my spine.

It's so strange that I can hold a book talk or workshop without batting an eyelid, yet performance, even after training for five years in theatre, reduces me to a quivering wreck. As a novelist, performance poetry terrifies me. It's best done without paper, and for a long-distance writer, paper is your best friend. You feel adrift without it.

I shall continue to work on this.

Meanwhile, I do recommend the Spoken Word Rwanda event to anyone who happens to find themselves in Kigali on the last Wednesday of each month.

Friday 23 September 2016

Twenty Wolves

Productive week, ten thousand words down, taking Wolfish to 20,000.

To celebrate, we had another minor earthquake. Wasn't as big as the one the other week, but woke me up from my afternoon nap. I like to think of it as the earth clapping.

I am absolutely in love with this one. It's writing like a breeze. To the extent I've completely stopped editing Creeper's Cottage. I still reckon this is going to be novella length, so I'm just going to enjoy it and then maybe edit both of the manuscripts and send them out on submission to different places at the same time.

This one deals with adult themes in the thick of a fairytale. I haven't killed off grandma yet, but didn't you always wonder who really did it? That wolf didn't half cop for a lot.

There's witches and woodland and gingerbread and all sorts of fantastical wonderment, with a dark, sexual twist. I haven't enjoyed myself as much since Afsar.

Rough as ever...

When I approached the old oak, the insects continued to chirp and the honey fungus glow. I did not feel in the least bit drowsy, and my tongue tasted spicy. Pressing through the woods, the way seemed easier. No spiders or wildcats awaited me. The trees seemed to draw back instead of closer. The distance seemed somehow shorter.
When I reached the cottage, it was lit by a bright moon, even though it should have been waning. Smoke curled from the stack, and all about was silent and still.
I walked to the door and knocked.
Tap, tap, tap.
No one answered, so I knocked again.
Tap, tap, tap.
I waited and wondered, and eventually pushed upon the door.
No one was inside, but a fresh pot of tea sat steeping on the table, two clay bowls on saucers. I did not know what to do. It looked as though I was expected, but it did not feel right to enter without the woman in the woods present.
“Hello?” I whispered to the dark.
The fat black cat appeared by my ankles. It sat for a moment before stepping over the threshold. It looked back once, put its nose in the air and curled up beside the low-burning embers.
“I am no Goldilocks,” I whispered. “I will not steal your porridge.”
In compromise, I took one bowl of tea from the table and sat on the cottage step. When the bowl was empty, I rested my head against the doorway and watched the moon make its journey through the sky.
The next morning, the woman in the woods found me, curled up on her step, fast asleep.
“Come in, child. You must be hungry.”
Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I stretched my cold bones and did as she suggested. She placed a dish of milky stirabout before me, with a crude wooden spoon. I sprinkled salt and began to eat.
“I was awake all night,” I said between mouthfuls. “I watched the woods and waited, but he did not come.”
“He came,” she replied.
“No, there was no one.”
“I know my home. I know who comes and goes. You were watching the woods whilst he was watching you.”
“Then why did he not step forward?”
“Because he did not wish to see you.”
The oats stuck in my throat, the warm milk gluing my tongue to the roof of my mouth.
“Why wouldn’t he wish to see me?” I asked.
She brought her own bowl to the table and stirred in a fragrant powder I could not tell you the name of.
“Look at you,” she said. “Is it any wonder?”
It felt as though she had cut me, and my confusion bled down my face.
“What do you mean?” I asked, my voice a whisper.
“Look at that fine cloak of yours. Look at your dainty blue shoes. All of that pretty lace about the collar of your dress. He felt ashamed.”
She raised her eyebrows in confirmation and took a spoonful of meal to her mouth.
I found that I had lost my appetite, stirring my spoon about the bowl.
“I don’t understand. Why would he be ashamed of me?”
“He is not ashamed of you, he is ashamed of himself.” My blank look caused her to sigh and put down her spoon. “You were children together, you say?”
“And when you were children, did you have that snowy white cloak, or those coils in your hair?”
“You have changed, girl. He has not.”
“I never wanted him to change.”
“Stop thinking about yourself for a moment and try to feel his thoughts. Seeing you like this,” she swept her hand to encompass me, “has made him wish for things he does not have.”
“What things?”
“Elegance, grace, fine clothes, good manners.”
“I didn’t come here to be a princess,” I replied, the food heavy on my stomach. “I came here to climb trees and poke ants with a stick. I came here to be as we were.”
“Oh, my dear. You haven’t learned that lesson yet? Then I am sorry to be the one to teach it, but Time only takes us in one direction. That life which you long for, it can only live inside of you now, in your memories and your daydreams. You cannot be as you were, because neither of you are what you were.”
As she resumed eating, I stood from the table and left.
Each footfall felt as though the earth shook beneath me. When I reached the mighty oak, I rested against it for a moment, leaning in against its solid form, hoping a little of its strength might seep into me.
I had waited so very, very long for a glimpse of him. He had entered my dreams many times and in them we had run through the woods and rolled in the leaves. Some nights I dreamed of the storm which had brought him. I saw his pale face at the window, my own image reflected back between lightning strikes. Each time I heard the thunder roll, I thought I heard his heart calling to mine. I remembered that day he had been taken away, how silently he stood beside my grandmother. How he did not try to run after me as I followed my mother up the path to home.

Tuesday 20 September 2016

The Polite Language Of Racism

Being an expat myself, I find this a fascinating article by an Australian man who has settled in Switzerland. expat is someone who is working and living temporarily in a foreign country and expects to return home once the mission is completed and does not intend to take a new nationality. I am not here temporarily, and I have taken a new nationality.

The word expat is not used when referring to many of my friends here, though. One, who was born and educated in Switzerland, but holds Portuguese nationality, is an immigrant. His wife, who is American, is an expat.

I'd never considered this before, but why do we call Polish working migrants to the UK immigrants and not expats. Why am I called an expat and not an immigrant?

The language we choose to use makes a world of difference.

Saturday 17 September 2016


In my recent post about the earthquake, I mentioned that I'd written a short sci-fi story about the aftermath of a natural disaster. In the same story, set in the future, my character argues with her husband about reproduction. He wants a natural birth, whereas she wants to make use of technology, to donate their DNA and have the child born in a gesterium. It becomes the next frontier of female equality: whether a woman has the right to work, to vote, to terminate a pregnancy, and now, to have a child without giving birth.

So I was a little entertained when a couple of days ago, I saw this article: Making babies without eggs may be possible, say scientists.

Art... life...

Monday 12 September 2016

Shake, Rattle and Roll

Hot on the heels of the solar eclipse, we had a 5.7 earthquake on Saturday.

I was sitting on my porch at 2:27 in the afternoon when it began. We get them from time to time here. There's a sound like a truck going down a cobbled road, only there aren't any cobbles. Then the earth turns to water and everything wobbles and rattles. I had my laptop on my knee and legged it up the driveway, then remembered my keys were on the table, so turned back around, dived under the porch and ran back up the drive again. If the house did collapse, I'd need the keys to get out of my compound.

I'm one of these weirdos who actually enjoys light earthquakes. It's an incredibly surreal sensation. It's like standing on one of those moving floors in a fun house. The only time I was really fearful was when I got caught up in the aftershock of a particularly bad quake in Cyangugu in 2008 which brought down the roof of the hotel opposite.

After this one, I opened my gate. All of my neighbours were standing around. We looked at each other and just started laughing. Twitter was alive with people joking about whether they were running then tweeting, tweeting then running, or running and tweeting at the same time.

Sadly, reports say it  killed 11 and injured 100 at the epicentre in Tanzania.

What with the solar eclipse, now an earthquake, I think we'd best keep an eye on Lake Kivu!

It's one of the world's three 'exploding lakes,' right next to a live volcano. I recently wrote a short sci-fi story about the aftermath of such an eruption.

Sunday 11 September 2016

Ten Wolves

Well, that was a productive few days.

Just taken Wolfish from 5,000 to 10,000 in three days.

I'm thoroughly loving this one. It's got a real fairytale quality to it, with dark and twisted edges.

I'm writing that in the mornings and editing Creeper's in the afternoons. The MS for Creeper's Cottage is about 390 pages and I'm over halfway already. The first half of the novel is not problematic, but I know there's a rewrite up ahead, which turns me into a lazy bugger.

It's nice to be enjoying writing so much again.

I find it interesting that ancient fairytales can be retold so many times, never ceasing to throw up new meaning or hidden possibilities. Perhaps that is why they have endured 5,000 years

Thursday 8 September 2016


I know I've been a bit quiet since finishing Creeper's mid-August.

I've taken some time out to attend to real world affairs, and to write a couple of shorts for magazines, just to give my imagination a bit of room to breathe. Novels are long, they take up a large part of your life until you finish one, then you feel a little unsure what to do with yourself.

I have started the first edit on Creeper's. I'm at about 125 of 300-and-something. I'd like to say I'm feeling confident, but I'm not. I think I could be looking at my third crash and burn.

I love writing contemporary prose whilst I'm doing it. It's a lot of fun for me, but when I read back through I just keep thinking should have written something historical

Recently heard that Children of Lir won't be out until 2017 as the publisher wants to put together a marketing budget for it. I'm happy to wait. After what they did for Rosy Hours, I know I'm in very good hands and that, when the time comes, they will make it beautiful.

Secretly, it also takes a tiny bit of pressure off knowing that I'm one book ahead. Gives me plenty of time to write another couple of fails and have them rejected without a sweat breaking out.

But I'm in a bit of a flump at the moment.

I recently wrote what I consider to be one of the best short stories of my life, but even magazine submissions take an age to respond. I'm obeying the rules and not putting it out to multiple publications, partly because, if they do accept it, that's rent for a month.

But the muse is hit and miss. Tried to replicate that sparkle yesterday and it fizzled and died.

The pound to the dollar is not fun either. Most paying magazines are based in the US, and when you convert the fee into pounds, it's a lot less return on your time.

Anyway, enough of all this.

Every slump has to end sometime.

I'm continuing to plough on with the Creeper's edit. I know I need to rewrite the ending and deal with a couple of plot chasms. Not looking forward to sending it out to beta readers. Thinking I might just skip that step and throw it through submissions with the full expectation of GNDN

I'd like to keep writing shorts for a bit, I'm not ready to fully commit to another novel, though I know what it will be when I do.

Instead, I'm having a go at writing a novella, working title Wolfish

It's at 5,000 at the moment. 40,000 would be useful, as that's the cut-off for many of the novella competitions I've seen, and I don't know anyone who has actually sold a novella. Who knows, though. 40-60,000 is the likelihood. Can't sell it, can't enter it... sounds like my level of planning.

Continuing in the same vein as Rosy Hours and Children of Lir, the theme is not original, but the way I tell it should hopefully be sumptuous. 

I'm twisting Red Riding Hood into something adult. 


Not erotica.



Little bit of a mystery angle to it.

I'm confident this one will be worth reading.

If nothing else, it'll be a chance to post lots of pictures of wolves. What other reason do I need?

I've been staring at the MS for a couple of weeks, contemplating how to begin. This evening I drank beer and hashed out 1,000 words which came very easily. Writing is sometimes easier than you think it's going to be, because you think so much you think it's hard. 

Also, this morning I had a truly lovely message over Twitter. It's been a long time since launch day, so these sort of things are much rarer nowadays. It's amazing what a few words of encouragement can do for a flailing author. When you know you're capable of something good, you strive to do it again.

Thursday 1 September 2016

Solar Eclipse

Pinch, punch, first day of the month and what a stunning way to wake up!

Got out of bed, had a shower, opened the curtains and instantly knew something was a little odd. Walked to the end of the drive and couldn't work out what was going on. The sun was bright overhead but the light seemed heavy. 

Discovered on t'internet that we were in the middle of a partial solar eclipse. 

Ran back out with my phone and managed to get a couple of shots right at the high point. Such a wonderful surprise.