Monday, 20 June 2022

The Way of All Flesh

 

This is the first in the Raven and Fisher Mystery trilogy.

Edinburgh, 1847. City of Medicine, Money, Murder. Young women are being discovered dead across the Old Town, all having suffered similarly gruesome ends. In the New Town, medical student Will Raven is about to start his apprenticeship with the brilliant and renowned Dr Simpson. Simpson’s patients range from the richest to the poorest of this divided city. His house is like no other, full of visiting luminaries and daring experiments in the new medical frontier of anaesthesia. It is here that Raven meets housemaid Sarah Fisher, who recognises trouble when she sees it and takes an immediate dislike to him. She has all of his intelligence but none of his privileges, in particular his medical education. With each having their own motive to look deeper into these deaths, Raven and Sarah find themselves propelled headlong into the darkest shadows of Edinburgh’s underworld, where they will have to overcome their differences if they are to make it out alive.

I was slightly confused when it got to the very end of the book and the credits mentioned Christopher Brookmyre. I saw him at the Cheltenham Literature Festival years ago, with Jasper Fforde. So I went to look this up and apparently: 

Ambrose Parry is a pseudonym for a collaboration between Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman.

I found that a fascinating concept that two authors could combine to create an entirely new author. What a wonderful idea. 

I also enjoyed the nod to Barry Lyndon. I mentioned that recently in my review of Thackeray's other work, Vanity Fair. Though I must admit, I was a bit uncertain with the title for this one as I was sure The Way of All Flesh was already quite a famous novel. When I looked it up, it was a 'a semi-autobiographical novel by Samuel Butler.' Apparently it was a satire about the Victorian bourgeois.

There was some great opening descriptive of Gargantua unfolding into this great, hulking henchman. It reminded me so clearly of the blob men unfolding in the animation of Howl's Moving Castle. Very evocative of a visual style. 




Also some nice observations on human nature:

He would simply have to endure it. His time at Herriot's had taught him that sometimes people could take an instinctive or irrational dislike to you, as you could to them. In such instances there was nothing you could do to change that and it proved a fool's errand to try. 

And I smiled at the detailed description of how to make a calotype. They handled it with more grace and economy than I did in Secure the Shadow. It's a lengthy and tricky process, and not easily put to paper. They did it the same way I did, having the expert explain it to the neophyte in a friendly and instructive manor. I suppose the other way you could do it would be to have the expert observe themself making the photograph, but dialogue pulls people in and holds attention much better. Just for kicks, I wonder if you could write it as the photograph becoming aware of its own existence as the latent image strengthens and becomes fixed? An interesting short story, perhaps?

I counted three instances where the main characters were forced into a tight space together, inches apart. I'm not sure whether it was intentionally three - as in, third time lucky - or just a motif that the authors really, really liked. 

All in all though, a good read. Great suspense as Raven is racing to the dinner party. Likable protagonists and a solid whodunnit. 

Sunday, 5 June 2022

The Children of Lir Book Trailer

 

A little book trailer for The Children of Lir. Busy working on the audiobook at the moment. You can pick up the paperback and ebook format here

Saturday, 28 May 2022

Emma Newman on Becoming an Audiobook Narrator

 

This is the lovely Emma Newman talking about how she became an audiobook narrator, what the process is, and the skills you need for the job. Emma narrated my book, Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran, and had to learn to sing in Farsi for it! She's a great narrator and a very talented author. 

Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Wordle One Month


Not bragging... well, bragging slgihtly. My first month of Wordle went well.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Saturday, 7 May 2022

How to Format a Short Story for Submission


Just a little writing guide on how to format a short story for submission. You can find a great list of writing prizes on the Almond Press website. There's also an excellent written guide by William Shunn, here.

Thursday, 5 May 2022

Wordle

 

Up until now, I haven't played Wordle, as I'm usually engrossed in Words With Friends, but I finished all my games and still couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd check it out. I've been playing for ten days and so far it seems fairly straightforward - though I know I've just jinxed it by saying that. My strategy is to start with LOUSE, because that knocks out three of the vowels. If none of those come up, I go for HAIRY, which sinks the other two. Once you know the vowels and the easy endings (S, R, H and Y) then there's only really D left as a sensible possibility. The one today was tough:


LOUSE

HIARY

DRAIN

GRAIN

TRAIN


It's harsh when you hit an ending with multiple rhyming options. The other ones that are difficult are double letters. So, LOONY for example, because you don't want to blow a vowel guess by doubling it unless you're sure. 

But, on the whole, there tend to be a limited number of options for a five-letter word once you get the vowels down. 

It's a bit tough for Brits as they use the American spelling for a lot of words, dropping the U in OU words, even though it was invented by a Brit. 

It's more fun than I was expecting, but I won't be tweeting my daily score.

Saturday, 30 April 2022

Rwandan Dictionary of Sign Language


 

I've been doing a bit of vlogging lately and decided to explain how I ended up in Rwanda in the first place. I came to help research the first dictionary of Rwandan Sign Language, which was published in 2009. There's a bit about how I got here and the process of standardising a national language - you can skip through the timestamps in the description.

 

Saturday, 23 April 2022

The Original Black Mona Lisa

 


Aaaaah! Super excited! How cool is this? A few days after posting about Daddy's rap video, I went to his studio and got to see the original Black Mona Lisa. Sure, I'm keeping my cool. Who's not cool? I'm cool. Possibly some more fun things to talk about soon.



Thursday, 21 April 2022

#IndieApril 2022


[Scroll down for yummy book art and links, keep reading for author ramble.]


Hello bibliophiles,

I realise Indie April is almost over and I've not mentioned it at all. I also realise that my blog has turned into a lit review site for all the books I've been reading, rather than writing. I promise that this is a temporary state of affairs - honest! 

The reason I've been so useless at blogging recently is because I've been editing the backside off my new novel. It's been languishing in limbo for almost a year, because I wasn't sure how to feel about it and there was a fuckton (technical literary term) of historical accuracy to deal with. Possibly more than any other book I've ever written. I have been stupidly lucky - far luckier than I deserve - to have an academic expert who has given so much of his time to helping me through this. It would be a disaster if he hadn't. But, because he's put in so much time, I felt I really had to try and do the time period justice. 

Just a few of the fuckups I had to correct - in ancient Mesopotamia, there wasn't any:


  1. Horses
  2. Money
  3. Ability to read silently


I won't go into any of that now, I am probably going to do a videolog about it because, at over 160,000 words of manuscript and countless rewrites, I've actually had enough of typing.

Thankfully, the beta read is going fairly well so far. It's boosted my confidence rather than destroyed it, and because of the positive feedback, I'm starting to see the story in a better light than I did when I originally finished it. As I keep going on and on about, it wasn't the book I set out to write, or even the main historical character I meant to cover. Because of that, I had a hard time excepting it for what it was rather than what I expected it to be. But, now I see, it does hold together. I can be proud of it.

Anyway - #IndieApril is a Twitter tag every April where indie authors like myself (small press and self-published) brag about the kick-ass stories we've written and remind people to go buy them and leave (five star) reviews.

In 2020 I did a set of blogposts for IndieApril that explored the inspiration behind each of my books. I was going to do vlogs this year, but just ran out of time, but I will probably do those later on, so do drop me a line if you have questions about any of my books, as I'll be gathering those up to talk about.

For now, though, I thought I'd just showcase the gorgeous covers and link you through to the in-depth blog posts about each of them. And please do go leave reviews or star ratings on Amazon and Goodreads, they mean a lot, as does word of mouth if you enjoyed something. 


        Rosy Hours #IndieApril                            Creeper's Cottage #IndieApril

                          BUY                                                                                BUY

 



     

   Children of Lir #IndieApril                                  Tangled Forest #IndieApril

                  BUY                                                                          BUY






This one wasn't out at the time. It's a look at
 the relationship between photography and mortality.





BACKLIST

What follows is the dreaded backlist of early novels. 
Read at your own peril. 




         Lucid #IndieApril                                 Angorichina #IndieApril

                BUY                                                                  BUY                  










(But you can still purchase if you're feeling generouse)

Saturday, 16 April 2022

Kingdom of the Cursed



Feels like only yesterday I finished the first of these, Kingdom of the Wicked. I was feeling a bit down about getting to the end, until I realised it's part of a series. The third one, Kingdom of the Feared, is due out in September. I can't remember the last time I pre-ordered a book, but I've pre-ordered this one.

One sister. Two sinful princes. Infinite deception with a side of revenge.... Welcome to Hell.

With the enigmatic Prince of Wrath at her side, Emilia sold her soul to become Queen of the Wicked and travelled to the Seven Circles to fulfil her vow of avenging her beloved sister. 

But the first rule in the court of the Wicked? Trust no one. And it quickly becomes clear that nothing in Hell is what it seems. Even Wrath, her onetime ally, may be keeping secrets about his true nature. But that suits Emilia just fine - she's got secrets of her own.

Faced with backstabbing courtiers, princes who delight in fear, luxurious palaces, dazzling galas, and conflicting clues about what truly happened to her sister, Emilia finds herself on a mission to unlock the mysteries of her own past and uncover the answers she craves.

As long as her sins don't catch up to her first....

Of course, now I've got Two Princes going round in my head. 

What a fascinating writer Keri Maniscalco is. A lot of people were saying Kingdom of the Wicked was YA. The narrative was, but the raunch was borderline. This time around she's gone full NA. And I had to look that term up. I'm still not entirely sure what a New Adult is. I think I'm classed as an Old Adult, or at least a partially used one, perhaps second-hand? But, apparently, sparkly brand-New Adults are a thing now. And that means you can throw a lot more raunch in there. 

I must admit, I rather like the idea of young women (and probably a few men) having their first all-consuming literary crush on the Devil.

Again, I just really liked the female power in this. How unapologetic and self-aware Emilia is, and what a good role model that makes for young women. The strong distinction between lust and love, and how you can desire someone you do not love, and that is perfectly all right. 

There was huge emphasis placed on consent throughout this, which is extremely important, though, at times I did struggle to believe the Prince of Wrath was such a complete gentleman. The embodiment of war... I don't know. Having seen a few post-conflict zones, I struggle with the idea there's much etiquette involved. But, at the same time, it's a romance novel and if War showed his true face, I don't think anyone would be feeling that sexy. So, it's the ultimate power with self-control motif that makes the whole thing fly.

I like it. It's fun.

I chose a violent, bloody shade of red and painted my lips the colour of murder.

*

His gaze was hard enough to make diamonds jealous.

*

"You look like a beautiful cataclysm."...

"It's every woman's dream to be likened to a natural disaster."

"A violent upheaval. I'd say it suits."

*

I believe John Milton, a mortal poet, said it best. Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven. I told you the power of choice, the appeal it holds for me. I would do terrible things, unforgivable things, to choose my destiny. 

*

Astra inclinant, sed non obligant - The stars incline us, they do not bind us. 

Just a delightful book. I went to bed each night looking forward to the next chapter, whilst working my way through Dostoevsky during the daytime. I must admit, I'm not enjoying that one as much. I've now reverted back to listening to The Binding for a third time, as that's one of the best books ever written and a suitable replacement. Plus, if I do nod off early, I don't miss anything because I remember the story very well.

So, here's to being violent little vixens.

This series is wonderfully entertaining. 

Wednesday, 13 April 2022

Musical Interlude: Daddy Ishimwe


My super talented friend Daddy Ishimwe has made a music video to promote his artwork. He's fabulusly multi-talented. If you enjoy, give it a thumbs up and subscribe.




Monday, 11 April 2022

The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD


 
Absolutely outstanding.

It is a story like no other: an epic of endurance against destruction, of creativity in oppression, joy amidst grief, the affirmation of life against the steepest of odds. It spans the millennia and the continents - from India to Andalusia and from the bazaars of Cairo to the streets of Oxford. It takes you to unimagined places: to a Jewish kingdom in the mountains of southern Arabia; a Syrian synagogue glowing with radiant wall paintings; the palm groves of the Jewish dead in the Roman catacombs. And its voices ring loud and clear, from the severities and ecstasies of the Bible writers to the love poems of wine bibbers in a garden in Muslim Spain.

And a great story unfolds. Not - as often imagined - of a culture apart, but of a Jewish world immersed in and imprinted by the peoples among whom they have dwelled, from the Egyptians to the Greeks, from the Arabs to the Christians. Which makes the story of the Jews everyone's story, too.

I'm not entirely sure how I came to have this in my library, but it surpassed all expectation. I do enjoy my history, but it can be a little dry at times - not with this. It was incredibly easy to follow and fairly breathtaking in scope. From the Jewish communities at Elephantine in Egypt, to the horrors of Granada in Spain, and to my home country of England. It really is an amazing story. 

I did not know how deeply words are entwined with Judaism, and the place they hold within the creation story. This was beautifully brought to life in Schama's telling:

While Temple sacrifice was a hierarchically organised business in the hands of the priestly caste, reading was intrinsically a shared, common experience, the impact of its vocalisation not even dependent on literacy. What was said was now becoming a written literature..... The performance assigned to Ezra was all about mouth and ear, about the living force of words. It established, very early on, the Jewish philosophy of reading as unquiet. Jewish reading in the style of the Hebrew Bible, at the dawn of this people’s self-consciousness, is not done in silent solitude (the invention of monastic Christianity); nor is it done for the enrichment of the reflective conscience (though that is not entirely ruled out). Jewish reading is literally loud-mouthed: social, chatty, animated, declamatory, a demonstrative public performance meant to turn the reader from absorption to action; a reading that has necessary, immediate, human implications; reading that begs for argument, commentary, questioning, interruption and interpretation; reading that never, ever shuts up. Jewish reading refuses to close the book on anything.

*

God is, above all else, words.

*

...the essence of Jewish identity could not by definition be done away with. The words beat the swords, the words floated free from their material embodiment like the nefesh from the body. So long as someone committed them to memory, so long as someone, somewhere, had copied them, the words would survive the inhalation of everything else.

*

...a tradition that treated sacred books with as much respect as human bodies. The aged and the damaged books were send to a genizah or allowed to decompose slowly and peacefully, some were even buried in a formal ceremony. Judaism did not shred, tear or burn the word of God. To set fire to a book was as if a living body had been burned on the pyre.

*

Perhaps the ends of the earth were where the words reached farthest? For all the attempts to burn, expunge and blot them out, to excise and criminalise Hebrew reading, to beat the books out of the Jews, the words travelled on and on through space and time.



There was also a nice bit about the introduction of paper to the Islamic world, apparently recorded in a wonderfully titled book by Tha'ālibī, The Book of Curious and Entertaining Information. Apparently the secret of paper-making was drawn from captives of the Tang dynasty. By the 11th century there were two types of ink, brown made from gall and black from carbon. Official records were written on scrolls two feet long and seven inches wide, and a particularly thin type of paper, known as 'bird's paper' was used for messenger pigeons so as not to slow them down.

The other reason this book drew me in is because, for the past year, I've been pressed face-first into the Mesopotamian era, writing about the fall-out of lugal Zage-Si of Sumer and the semitic King Sargon of Akkad. It's a bit tricky, because 'semitic' is of biblical origin, from Shem, son of Noah, and both the biblical flood and semitic languages occurred about two thousand years earlier, before Shem existed, and therefore it's hard to know what to call that group of languages (Eblaite, Akkadian, Assyrian) before Shem. But, basically, the language group was there, as were the holy trinity of gods (An, Enki and Enlil) and the Seven, for Game of Thrones fans. It's all good fun.

So, although this book is about a period much later than the one I'm writing about, it really gives me a feel for the earlier times, and makes me think I'm on the right track. At one point, I take a city by stealth, where a few people infiltrate it and poison the king. I wasn't sure if I was overstretching things by suggesting you could take an entire city this way, but apparently not. In the Battle for Heibar (628-9), 'fake guests' would sneak into feasts and then turn on their hosts, assassinating them.

Men and women were not originally separated at prayer (a common pattern in all religions, where patriarchy appears to creep in later down the line), the female goddess was likely as important as the male - a celestial couple, date palms remained a symbol of everlasting life - 'the tree that never dies', and many Jews, like Sargon before them, were kick-ass warriors, hired as mercenaries by kings far and wide.

I do tend to enjoy the really ancient history. The further back in time we go and the closer to polytheism we get, the more interested I become. As with Pantalaimon and the concept of daemons in His Dark Materials, I like that people align to different gods, and that different gods bring out different personality traits. Things seem to lose a lot of their lustre when everyone is expected to conform to one divine being. One-size-fits-all might be on the label, but it never works in reality. The era of personal gods just feels a lot more relatable.

Other things I learned along the way - flipping the bird (giving the finger in the UK) was originally an antisemitic taunt, Samuel ibn Naghrillah sounds like an amazing poet and I must look him up, and it is impossible to hear the name Eleazar repeatedly without thinking of comedian Eddie Izzard, which I did throughout a significant portion of this book.

Given the sheer brutality of much of the story - it was quite upsetting to hear the same patterns of prejudice and persecution play out over and over - the book did take a moment to point out that episodes of brutality and massacre were the exception, not the norm. It was heartening to hear stories of Jews, Muslims and Christians living together in peace and harmony for many generations. It is a shame that, even today, such peace and basic human dignity is so reliant on whichever nitwit happens to be in power.

Saturday, 9 April 2022

Mysterious Idjwi Rock


A few weeks back I did a video about a trip I took to Idjwi Island with my friend Maia. Whilst going through the photos, I discovered one I'd taken of a strange rock. I thought it might be some sort of carving, so sent it to the Trust for African Rock Art. It appears it might be Batwa hieroglyphs. The chair of TARA sent back some photos of Batwa rock art in Gabon, and the similarity with Knowth in Ireland really got me thinking. 





Friday, 1 April 2022

WAG Animal Rescue

Last week, I spent a day at WAG animal shelter in Kigali. This is what life is like for rescued street dogs in Rwanda.

I've been blogging a lot less recently, simply because I've been making more videos. You can check out my channel here for interesting excursions into what I eat in Rwanda, a girlie weekend in Gisenyi and my favourite Kinyarwanda words

Also, if you like the song on the moto at the beginning of the WAG video, check out my cousin, Sali.

Sunday, 20 March 2022

Kingdom of the Wicked

 

Oh hell, yes.

I mean, you only have to look at the cover to know I'm gonna love this.

Two sisters.

One brutal murder. 

A quest for vengeance that will unleash Hell itself... 

And an intoxicating romance. 

Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are streghe - witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Vittoria misses dinner service at the family's renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin...desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to find her sister's killer and to seek vengeance at any cost-even if it means using dark magic that's been long forbidden.

Then Emilia meets Wrath, one of the Wicked-princes of Hell she has been warned against in tales since she was a child. Wrath claims to be on Emilia's side, tasked by his master with solving the series of women's murders on the island. But when it comes to the Wicked, nothing is as it seems...

I'm kicking myself, though. I usually remember who recommended something to me, but I've forgotten with this. I think it went past on a Twitter thread. One of those, 'name dark fantasy that you love' or something. Someone I know mentioned it and I liked the title. Only, no amount of searching can recover that original thread, so I can't thank them. 

My only problem now is, if I can't have a Prince of Hell, I don't want anybody. 

That's my expectations up in flames.

This was just so much fun, and Marisa Calin read the backside off it. What a wonderful range of accents she's got. Malvagi is such a satisfying word to say.

I didn't take too many notes as I was busy enjoying it, but some memorable moments:

Whatever you do, you must never speak to the Wicked. If you see them, hide. Once you’ve caught a demon prince’s attention, he’ll stop at nothing to claim you. They are midnight creatures, born of darkness and moonlight. And they seek only to destroy. Guard your hearts; if given the chance they’ll rip them from your chests and guzzle your blood as it steams in the night.

*

Lust kept talking. My mind tried to focus on his words, not the shape of his lips.

*

The world and its inhabitants are constantly changing, therefore we Princes of Hell continue to sharpen our minds and our skills. It is the absence of arrogance that allows us to remain the most feared. We do not believe we know all, we believe in adaptation. Adopt those same principles or you'll end up extinct.

*

People carved words into weapons often, but they only had power if I listened to them instead of trusting in my self. 


It's classed as YA, but what I really like is how unapologetically sexual Emilia is. There's none of this coy, demure crap that young ladies are supposed to display. She's a great role model in that respect. It contrasts starkly with The Infernal Devices, which takes place in Victorian England, so everyone is horny as hell but has to pretend they're not. Tess is just as turned on at times but constantly feels guilty and apologetic for it, whereas Emilia knows what she wants and doesn't apologise one bit. Of the two, Emilia is what I needed to read at that age, and still feels more wholesome now I'm in my forties. It also feels like it marks a shift in how female protagonists approach sex in YA. Well done to the publisher who ran with it. 

I was rationing this towards the end, and felt a little depressed when I realised it would all be over soon. But then I discovered it's part of a series - yay! I just love the titles: Kingdom of the WickedKingdom of the Cursed and Kingdom of the Feared. Each with a fabulous cover. You want to eat them all up. Delightfully dark.

Go forth and read... then spawn the armies of hell, or whatever. 

Saturday, 19 March 2022

Friday, 18 March 2022

Musical Interlude: Lauren Paley


Oh, yep. New obsession. Lauren Paley is just fantastic. She sits in stairwells and sings haunting lullabies to try and creep her neighbours out. She even does sea shanties. Just wonderful. Phenomenal voice.


Monday, 14 March 2022

SoA Open Letter to Ukrainian Authors


The UK Society of Authors have issued an open letter to the writers, illustrators and translators of Ukraine.


To the writers, illustrators and translators of Ukraine,

The members, directors and staff of the UK Society of Authors stand with you.

As the illegal invasion of your country continues, we cannot imagine what you and your families are experiencing.

Beyond the horrors of the humanitarian crisis endured by your people, this war is an assault on the rights that underpin your lives and livelihoods: the right to think, speak, write and create freely. It is an assault on a people’s right to self-determination.

Yet Ukraine is more than its borders and land. Ukraine is its people, its rich culture – its history, its present and its future. You, as the country’s thinkers and creators and makers are at the heart of that – whether you report what is happening today, write what must happen tomorrow, or create moments of reprieve to inspire those around you through impossible times.

Create freely. Write fiercely. Share your story. The authoritarian mind is right to fear you. You have the power to counter it.

We look forward to meeting you and your work in better times. Until then, if we can help or if you want us to share your thoughts and writing, email ukraine@societyofauthors.org.

Wherever the weeks and months ahead take you, you are in our hearts.

In solidarity.


You can sign it here

Friday, 11 March 2022

Trans Like Me

 

In Trans Like Me, CN Lester takes readers on a measured, thoughtful, intelligent yet approachable tour through the most important and high-profile narratives around the trans community, turning them inside out and examining where we really are in terms of progress. From the impact of the media's wording in covering trans people and issues, to the way parenting gender variant children is portrayed, Lester brings their charged personal narrative to every topic and expertly lays out the work left to be done.

Trans Like Me explores the ways that we are all defined by ideas of gender -- whether we live as he, she, or they -- and how we can strive for authenticity in a world that forces limiting labels.

Love, love, love this book. Perfectly written and beautifully narrated. 

I especially liked the point about language:

As a teacher, I’m constantly introducing words that are new to my students: rubato, cantabile, légèrement. When new words can bring us closer to something we want to say then we are all too happy to learn them. And this is why I’m suspicious of the claim that trans-related words are too much, too hard and of no use.

Even when a word has been in usage for a long time, those who are suspicious of what that means in terms of gender are quick to claim that the change is too fast. ‘They’ has been used as a singular pronoun in English for hundreds of years; we find examples of the singular they in the works of Shakespeare, Austen and Swift. But trans people like me, who use the pronoun ‘they’ as a gender-neutral alternative to ‘he’ or ‘she’, are often mislabelled in the media by editors who struggle with its usage. By implying that trans people are faddish and difficult about words, writers can cast aspersions on the validity of our language – and of our selves. By claiming that our words are too hard to understand, the media perpetuates the idea that we are too hard to understand, and suggests that there’s no point in trying.

Language is fascinating in every context, and especially here. The point is so well made above, and highlights how language reinforces societal constructs, dragging people back when they try to escape. 

As a cis-gender bi woman, I struggle with language even today. A few years ago I wondered if I should call myself 'pan' because I've been attracted to, and out with, trans people in the past. It's always been the person, not what's between their legs, that I've been attracted to because, let's face it, you're going to have fun either way. Did that mean that I wasn't 'just' bi - and why do I say bi? I use it because that's the word I had growing up to describe attraction to both sexes. But there wasn't anyone visibly trans or non-binary at my school, so I wouldn't have known if I was attracted to people of other genders, and in the early 90s people had a hard enough time with 'gay' and 'lesbian,' yet alone 'bi.' I don't think I ever heard the words 'trans,' 'pan,' 'a-sexual,' or 'non-binary' back then, not in my little village. So, you use the language you've got. And because that's the language I had, it's the word I've always used. And, whereas I guess by definition I am pansexual, I think I'm probably always going to refer to myself as bi. 'Pansexual' just sounds odd as a descriptive for myself, but would I come to feel comfortable with it if I used it? Other people also seem to find 'bi' a simple one to grasp in comparison. So, do I use it because it's easy? I guess a little of everything. I'm cis gender she/her, but I like the GNP 'they' and when talking to new people, I often refer to previous partners as 'they,' which is a common bi sidestep when not wanting to present as straight or gay to new people. 

So, yes, language is a mind bender. And a little exhausting sometimes.

There are so many wonderfully quotable lines in this book. 

I would be scattered away into pieces if I let other people decide me in their own words.

*

To get access to treatment as an adult, you have to have known you were trans since early childhood, but if you say that you're trans in early childhood, you're told that you're too young to know.

*

We assume that anything that is new to us is new to human society as a whole and that if we don't see it reflected in history books and recent memory then it can't have existed for long.

*

A strict gender binary has never been able to hold the totality of humanity. Not in the past, not in the present, not in the future.

*

It is heartbreaking that bodily integrity, the sanctity of selfhood and the right to live free from pain could mean so little compared with the pressure to fit into a false dichotomy. Trans or cis, intersex or not, we need to wake up to the fact that treating sex as a fixed and oppositional binary is not only a distortion of reality but is doing active extreme harm to a significant percentage of our population. Rather than forcibly applying a fantasy to our very real detriment, we could decide to accept the reality and learn and grow from there. 

*

Like many people, I hang more than a few of my hopes on the open mindedness of my generation, of the generation that follows. It would be dangerous though to think trans liberation a done deal because of that. In bleaker moments I have heard fellow activists suggest that the best we can hope for is a future in which the most hateful have died of old age, where this young generation have made good on their promise. In my bleakest moments I worry that they're right. But that would be a denial not only of the other changes happening around us but of our responsibility to agitate for those changes, encourage their developments and guard against pushback.


I just really enjoyed how smart yet easy to follow this book was. It shot down a lot of really nasty arguments that are bandied at trans people with extreme logic, solid statistics and a lot of heart. I think, even if you think you know a bit about the trans experience and you have trans friends or partners, maybe you've read a little around the subject in the past, it's just really nice to have access to somebody else's world, told through their eyes and with their words. And if you've never read anything about the trans experience, this is an excellent starting point. This book is just really open and straight-talking (pardon the pun). I feel like I learned a lot and got a healthy dose of humanism along the way. 

Go and get it. It's a great book.

Thursday, 24 February 2022

The Infernal Devices #3 - Clockwork Princess

 

The third and final instalment of the Infernal Devices trilogy by Cassandra Clare:

Danger and betrayal… Secrets and enchantment… Third and final book in the bestselling prequel series to The Mortal Instruments, set in Victorian London. A net of shadows begins to tighten around the Shadowhunters of the London Institute. Mortmain needs one last item to complete his plan. He needs Tessa. But Jem and Will, the boys who lay equal claim to Tessa’s heart, will do anything to save her. 

I like to include quotes in my reviews, but when I went to look at my Audible notes, there's about thirty of them, which means there were a lot of snippets I liked and a lot of language I leaned into. That's a lot to go back through.

Let's do random selection:

#46: Kwan Yin is the goddess depicted on the front. It is said that when she died and reached the gates of paradise, she paused and heard the cries of anguish from the human world below and could not leave it. She remained to give aid to mortals, when they cannot aid themselves. She is the comfort of all suffering hearts.

#23: Out of dreams of blood and metal monsters, Tessa woke with a start and a gasp.

#38: "...You say the things I think but never say out loud. You read the books I read. You love the poetry I love. You make me laugh with your ridiculous songs and the way you see the truth of everything. I feel like you can look inside me and see all the places I am odd or unusual and fit your heart around them, for you are odd and unusual in just the same way." With the hand that was not holding his, she touched his cheek, lightly. "We are the same.”

#6: Cecily let go of the dagger's handle and rolled sideways, off the body of the worm. Its jaws missed her by a hairsbreadth and snapped viciously shut on its own body. Black ichor gushed and the worm jerked its head back, a howl like the wail of a banshee erupting from its throat. A massive wound gaped in its side, and gobbets of its own flesh hung from its jaws. As Will stared, Gabriel raised his bow and let an arrow fly. It sang home to its target and buried itself in one of the worm's lidless black eyes. The creature reared back--and then its head sagged forward and it crumpled in on itself, folding up, disappearing as demons did when the life left them. 

There's a lot to like about this trilogy. As mentioned in the first, Clockwork Angel, each chapter begins with a line of carefully selected poetry, and it's really nicely curated. Some really excellent choices in there, and no duff ones. I also felt the epilogue was particularly well written, especially the descriptive in the first half. Poetically done. 

This one also picked up the action a little more, but of the three, I still think the first book was the best. The balance of romance and action was just right there. For the second and third, it's a lot of the same romantic repetition. I didn't really feel the characters evolved much once Will found out that important thing about himself, and Jem only appears to exist in order to die. Tessa wasn't my favourite character by the end. For someone who is half-angel, half-demon, she's all goody two-shoes. If you are a conduit for the forces of heaven and hell combined, you might expect a little more internal struggle to control that, or some kick-ass superpowers. It is apparent that she has the latter, as a shapeshifter, but she doesn't seem to make much of it. A little less time protesting her love too much, and a little more time purging the automated armies of hell, would have been my personal preference, but this is a teen romance.

I did enjoy it. I must have, because I can't remember the last time I read a trilogy. I've read two of the four Shadow of the Wind tetralogy, but maybe not a full trilogy since Howl's Moving Castle back in 2012.

Switching narrators was certainly an interesting choice. Clockwork Angel was entirely read by Jennifer Ehle, Clockwork Prince was narrated by Ed Westwick and Heather Lind, and this one was narrated solely by Daniel Sharman. I assume it's to do with balance, maybe a little shapeshifting from female to male. I kind of see it, but I'm not sure it entirely worked for me in the middle. It's not first person, so the switch over didn't seem to follow much of a pattern and it broke the stride a little. But both the first and third flowed nicely. 

From midway through the first book I was kind of hoping it would push mainstream boundaries and extol the virtues of polyamory. After all, Will loves Tess, Jem loves Tess, Jem and Will love each other, and Tess loves both of them - it makes sense doesn't it? But that would have made for a very short story. Way to remove the conflict. Still, there was sort of a nod to the idea at the end. 

Anyway, an enjoyable read.


Monday, 21 February 2022

OwlKitty

My friend Jo introduced me to OwlKitty with the Titanic episode, and I've been binge watching for two days straight. There's also a really sweet adoption video about how OwlKitty (AKA Lizzy) came to be.





Saturday, 19 February 2022

The Girl of Ink and Stars

 

Picked this up because I liked the cover and the title:

Forbidden to leave her island, Isabella dreams of the faraway lands her cartographer father once mapped. When her best friend disappears, she's determined to be part of the search party.

Guided by an ancient map and her knowledge of the stars, Isabella navigates the island's dangerous Forgotten Territories. But beneath the dry rivers and dead forests, a fiery myth is stirring from its sleep.

It won both the Waterstones Children's Book Prize and British Book Awards' Children's Book of the Year in 2017. 

It's an adventure story set on the fictional island of Joya, though reference to real-life places such as Africa, America and India (spelled Afrik, Amrica and India) give the sense that it is rooted in our world. Like the best fiction, it didn't happen - but it might have done.

According to the blog, Like Telling the Truth:

The mapping coordinates of the fictional Isle of Joya are given on the opening page of the book, so of course I went to Find Latitude and Longitude and looked them up! Hargrave has based her tale on La Gomera in the Canary Islands, Spain. This is the very port from which Christopher Columbus set sail on 6th September 1492, intending to sail to the Indies under the patronage of Queen Isabella. 

The lead protagonist is indeed called Isabella. She is a mapmaker's daughter, and who doesn't like a story about mysterious maps?

There was only one map that showed the whole of our island, and it hung in Da's study... It had always felt like a sign that Ma and Da were meant for each other, that he was a cartographer and her only heirloom was a map.

*

Each of us carries the map of our lives on our skin, in the way we walk, even in the way we grow.

Full of dark places and mystical fears:

My body eased through the slight tug of the current. I had forgotten the sensation of weightlessness... Swimming in the sea was different though, the water was black beneath me, and after a while I scared myself imagining what was below and had to get out.

It was an easy read. Reminded me a bit in style of Naomi Novic, and in subject of the Netflix series Shadow and Bone, which also centres around a mapmaker stuck in a land you're not allowed to leave. Shadow and Bone was adapted from books by Leigh Bardugo, but I haven't read those yet, hence the Netflix reference - sorry. But similar themes and a plucky female protagonist who has to fight to be allowed to go on an adventure.

I'd probably suggest the tree format over the audiobook. The audiobook is very well narrated, but one of the main characters is a bit annoying and has a voice to match. Some awful things happen to her, but, because of her voice, I felt more relieved than sympathetic. Reading it for yourself, you might find that she's more relatable. 

Saturday, 12 February 2022

Monday, 7 February 2022

Spirit Badgers


Heading home to Rwanda tomorrow after a truly wonderful holiday in the UK. Last little bit of news before I go - a little art exchange with the wonderful Maria Strutz




Sunday, 6 February 2022

80s TV Nostalgia

Wow, what a blast from the past! This was my entire childhood! Although, not to nit-pick, but I think TMNT were early 90s?

Anyway, my favourites in order:

  1. Duckula was the greatest TV show ever!
  2. Trapdoor had such a cool intro.
  3. Dogtanian (I used to have the wallpaper!)
  4. Dungeons & Dragons
  5. Thundercats (slightly obsessed with Chetara) 
  6. Fraggle Rock (*clap clap*)

Fingermouse and Bagpuss are missing, but they didn't have very catchy intros. The one that did was Whizbit ('haha this a way, haha that a way'). Rainbow was also going strong throughout the whole of the 80s. But I think they're only focusing on cartoons, in which case it's pretty exhaustive. 

And kudos for the Poddington Peas reminder, I'd totally forgotten that catchy theme song.