On That Article from that Former MFA Professor, from a Current MFA Student

I’m currently most of the way through my MLitt in Creative Writing. When that article from a former MFA professor circulated around, all I could think is: man, I feel really sorry for his former students. Also, I’m glad my professors aren’t like that, because otherwise I’d have quit.

There have been other responses. Chuck Wendig has a one, as does Foz Meadows.

The condescension drips from that article, and is basically a load of tosh. I’m an experienced writer (I guess?), so if I’d been in a class and heard a teacher come out with these sorts of things, I’d know to ignore them. Maybe if I was brave enough, I’d call them out on it.

For a new writer, just finding their voice and figuring out what they want to write and gathering the confidence to do it, this could be very toxic.

If your main hope is that most of your students come out of the MFA to become better readers rather than better writers? That’s a problem. You should want all your students to improve their writing. Otherwise, what are you teaching them?

An MFA student is probably paying a lot to pursue the course. My MFA is £3400, and that’s a lot cheaper than many places outside of Scotland. Then there’s the wages they’re losing by not-working or working part-time to devote the time to improving their craft. It’s a big investment. The least you can do is not write off most of them as doomed to be failures. Yes, not everyone who gets an MFA in creative writing goes on to become a published novelist, or poet, or screenwriter. They might not WANT to, and that’s fine, too. Not everyone coming into the course will necessarily have the same skill sets or experience. Some might not want to write the type of literature that the teacher adores. I don’t need to pay that much money for someone to look down on me. That doesn’t mean I expect my teachers to say all my writing is brilliant. I expect them to teach me new approaches, skills, and ways of looking at my craft.

I have done a bit of creative writing teaching, mostly for teenagers at school visits, but I’ve taught most age groups now. I would never, ever tell these students they’re awful. I would point out ways to improve, say it needs more work or a different approach. I would never tear a student down. If someone had done that to me at 16, maybe I wouldn’t have books out now.

Perhaps the reason he can dismiss his students so easily is because he thinks writers are born with talent. No. No no no. Sure, some people might be more predisposed to writing than others. Some might find it easier. Some might enjoy it more. Some might be able to write a publishable novel on the first go, and some might take a few practice novels first. But no one springs from the womb ready to write a perfect novel without doing any sort of work at their craft.

I’ve re-read the aborted novel I started when I was 16. Certain bits of it were actually okay. Most of it was unfocused. There were some nice turns of phrases, and a lot of clunky ones. I had no idea what I was doing with the plot. I had fairies and cat people, and no clear reason as to why or how they fit into the world, which was sketchily built at best. My characters weren’t particularly engaging. The first line, for crying out loud, was “the sunset was as red as blood.” Pretty cliche. Years went by. I read a lot. I wrote a lot. I got better.

If you put your hands up and say “well you either have it or you don’t” then you’re giving up on teaching them anything and you’re not taking responsibility for trying to.

If you didn’t decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you’re probably not going to make it.

Really? Have you met teenagers? Do you remember being a teenager? Not a lot of us knew what we were doing. I certainly didn’t. I was just at a school visit last week and overheard a teen insisting earnestly to another boy that a condom could be used twice. As a teen, you’re learning about so many areas of your life and growing into the person who knows who they want to be and what they want to do.

As a teenager I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I saw it as a very far off goal. I was also thinking about other paths. I was pretty serious about drawing as a teenager, and not bad at it. If I’d focused my attention on art rather than writing, I might be doing that now. Maybe not.

And how many people are there who have sold their debuts in their 50s or older? Plenty. Does that mean they’ve “made it”? That’s such a vague phrase anyway–what does it even mean? For some, making it is finishing something. For others, it’s self-publishing a book to give to friends and family. Maybe they want to publish some short stories in magazines. To others, it’s selling a book to a traditional publisher for a small sum. Still others will only think they’ve made it when they made a million dollars and had a film deal. And even then they might not feel they’ve “made it.” The goalposts always change. It’s a meaningless phrase.

If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out.

That I agree with, shockingly. Yes, you should write while doing your MFA, and devote the time to it. But his response is written with blanket statements. You do not know the circumstances of all your students or what they go through. Last week my dad was in hospital. I wasn’t able to write or finish my uni reading over the weekend. Not all of your students will be able to stop working entirely. For most of last semester, I was working 30 hours a week. Most students aren’t there to piss around. They also have busy lives that can sometimes get in the way.  Sometimes they might be afraid to write, and use time as an excuse.

Also, really, saying if someone asks if they’re a “real writer” they’re obviously not? I’ve written five books and I STILL ask myself if I’m a “real writer.” Every writer suffers from impostor syndrome. A lot of us are bundles of nerves. If you say your students are not “real” writers for having doubts, then you’re a shitty teacher.

If you aren’t a serious reader, don’t expect anyone to read what you write.

Again, yes, you should read a lot if you want to write. It’s the best way to learn. But then he goes on to shame people’s reaching habits, saying you’re a Real Deal if you devour Great Literature as Judged by Him. I tried to read 2666. I like Roberto Bolaño’s shorter work, but the large tome was not for me. Reading The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe is just as challenging, if that’s your goal, but for me it was more rewarding. A lot of creative writing programs aren’t that keen on genres, being mildly tolerant to downright sneery of sci fi, fantasy, and crime. Those are all healthy areas of the bookstore. Those are all ways someone can make a living off their writing, and if they’re writing what they enjoy reading, it’ll show.

No matter what you want to write, reading across a bunch of genres will do you more favours than just reading one type of book.  Don’t shame people for reading books they enjoy. They’ll learn from whatever they read, and then maybe they’ll move onto other kinds of books. I’ll read “trashy” books sometimes. I don’t call them guilty pleasures anymore. I’ve nothing to be guilty about.

No one cares about your problems if you’re a shitty writer.

This whole response is really dismissive of child abuse and trauma. Foz Meadow’s response focuses really well on that. He really, actually said that some of his student’s writing makes them wish they’d suffered more abuse as a child. What in the world? That is an awful thing to say. Imagine someone who wrote about a very personal aspect of their life, and they see their professor wrote this load of tripe.

Even stepping aside from that bombshell–sometimes people write about things from their past, whether intentionally or unintentionally. I did it, early in my writing. I was writing what I knew. It was a good starting point. It was even therapeutic. Were the pieces incredible and moved everyone who read them to tears? No. And I was still learning my craft, so my prose was clunkier. Now my work has made people cry and laugh. But if someone had dismissed my early attempts, it would have set me back.

You don’t need my help to get published.

I really wish creative writing programs focused more on the business aspect of writing. It’s important to understand the business, how money and payment works, what you might expect from a first novel advance. Taxes! The admin side of writing takes up a lot of time (I just spent the morning wrangling my expenses. So exciting). An MFA isn’t a requirement to be published, obviously. But you’d hope by doing one you’d learn some skills that might give you an edge.

But even outside of the nitty gritty aspects, a professor should, ideally, understand the current publishing industry and be able to offer advice to students, should they ask. If a teacher doesn’t feel they know that much about the current state of the industry…maybe learn about it? It’s not that difficult, and it’s part of the job. It’s a huge task, trying to find a home for a piece of writing, and can be so overwhelming to someone just starting out.

Quote: “I find questions about working with agents and editors increasingly old-fashioned. Anyone who claims to have useful information about the publishing industry is lying to you, because nobody knows what the hell is happening. My advice is for writers to reject the old models and take over the production of their own and each other’s work as much as possible.”

You’re advising all your students to self-publish? Eh? Plenty of people still want to go the traditional publishing route, and if so, you should know enough about it to at least point them to some resources. Pretty sure my agent and editors know plenty about the industry they work in, thank you very much. Self-publishing is another valid route to take, but they should know what both paths are like and what they can expect and if it’s right for them.

It’s not important that people think you’re smart.

Yeah, I agree with that. You don’t need to bash someone over the head and go “I’m clever! I’m clever!” with your writing. It can be wearying. A lot of early writers might try that, and a teacher can show them other options or challenge them to try something else. I agree with this, that you don’t need to show an ego to write, and that entertaining writing is a good goal to work towards. “The funny thing is, if you can put your ego on the back burner and focus on giving someone a wonderful reading experience, that’s the cleverest writing.” I agree with this.

It’s important to woodshed.

And then I disagree with this again. “I spent seven years writing work that no one has ever read.” Those 7 years would probably have been more fruitful if he’d shared his work with beta readers. I personally wouldn’t have wanted to delay my writing career by 7 years for…whatever reason. “That’s why I advise anyone serious about writing books to spend at least a few years keeping it secret.” Noooooo. Fine if you want to, but this makes it seem like writing is something to be ashamed of or that no one else can help you with it (even though they just spent a bunch of money hopefully getting help on their writing through an MFA). I enjoy sharing my writing with others. It’s why I write books in the first place. And I’m grateful for the people who read my earlier, uglier drafts. My friend Erica once told me, gently, that I should probably scrap this beginning of a draft of a novel and try a different approach. She was 100% right and I knew it, but hearing it from her helped give me the courage to do that, rather than spending a lot more time on a book that wasn’t working. How can you know if you’re writing something that entertains others if you never show it to them?

Nothing gets under my skin more than someone saying “THIS is definitively the right way to write.” Because for a lot of people, it really won’t be. People want to write different types of things. Just yesterday in class, our teacher asked us what our goals are. Some want to write novels, some poetry, some short stories. One person was interested in getting into screenwriting or documentaries. One writes but her main goal is to become an editor. She’s German, so she came here to develop her writing but also to improve her English so it’s easier to get a job when she’s back home, as many German publishing companies translate works originally in English. Another wants to get into teaching and translating. Some aren’t really sure what they want to focus on yet, but are interested in discovering that through writing more. Every one of my fellow students are worthwhile. None of them should be talked down to or dismissed. We’re all “Real Deals.” We’re there, wanting to learn.

A 2014 Roundup, or: Well, That was Quite a Year

Well, 2014. That was a year. Here’s a brief roundup.

Reading from Shadowplay at Borderlands Books in San Francisco

January 2014: This month had a good start. Shadowplay (Micah Grey #2) was released. I was lucky enough to be able to fly back to San Francisco for this, where I did a few events: a book launch at Borderlands Books, a talk at my alma mater, California State University East Bay, a visit to one of my professor’s classes, and another visit at my old high school, Hayward High. I was also able to do some research trips around San Francisco for the book I’d just finished drafting. I found out Pantomime had been listed a Top Ten Title for the American Library Association Rainbow List. The end of January was less pleasant, for I found out there’d be no contract for Masquerade, Micah Grey #3. I was, frankly, beyond devastated.

Favourite book read in January:  either City of Dragons by Robin Hobb or In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters.

Waterstones Aberdeen Launch. Photo credit: Laura Benvie.

February 2014: Licked my wounds, battled depression and anxiety, and kept promoting Pantomime & Shadowplay. I went down to Newcastle for the North East Teen Book Awards, which ended up being very, very timely. I’d been tempted to take a writing hiatus (because I knew I could never quit completely), and here were teens saying my books were some of their favourites of all time, wanting to take photos and have my sign things, and just in general being so sweet and so enthusiastic about books and reading. I came back and threw myself into the new project I’d been editing. I’d finished the first draft at the end of November 2013, and after some great beta reader comments, I was working on turning it into a workable draft. I called it Bonkers Book on social media. I also announced the Vestigial Tales, or my plan to self-publish some short stories/novellas set in the same world as the Micah Grey series. I also had an Aberdeen launch at Waterstones for Shadowplay, and was really touched by how many people came out for it. I seemed pretty on top of things. Behind the scenes, I was still a mess, though I was getting myself together.

Favourite book read in February:  Unteachable by Leah Raeder.

Mowgli assisting with the Robin Hobb scavenger hunt.
Mowgli assisting with the Robin Hobb scavenger hunt.

March 2014: I’d been approached to write a short story for an anthology and in March I was able to announce it as Fablecroft Press did a funding drive for the Cranky Ladies of History, which blasted through its goals. I also got to participate in Robin Hobb’s worldwide scavenger hunt (post with pictures illustrating the clues), and am now friends with the girl who found my present, Louise, and we meet for coffee occasionally. I found out Pantomime had been nominated for the Bisexual Book Award—yay! I went to my friend Rhona McKinnon’s wedding and danced at my first-ever ceilidh.

Favourite book read in March: The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill.

Laya’s first piece of fan art for the Micah Grey series

April 2014: There were some good events for #LGBTApril I participated in. I went to my first convention of the year—Eastercon, in Glasgow. As the conventions are usually in England, it was nice to only have to travel 2 hours to get to one, for once! I was on my first panel. I had fun but it was also a difficult convention, as my mental health was still patchy.  There was more ceilidh dancing. I finished editing Bonkers Book and was working on the Vestigial Tales. Laya drew her first (of what proved to since be many) fan art pieces, and I also received some fan mail. I was so touched I wrote an emotional thank you to readers. I finished editing Bonkers Book & sent it to my agent and worked on the Vestigial Tales.

Favourite book read in April: This was a good reading month so I had three: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, and Cress by Marissa Meyer.


May 2014: Pantomime was listed as a Scottish Book Trust Teen Book of the Month! I shared the first Vestigial Tale cover and blurb, for “The Snake Charm.” I went to my friend Elizabeth May’s wedding in Gretna Green and ran my first race, a 10k. By this point my mental health was a lot better. I’d been accepted into a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen.

Favourite book read in May: Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb. THIS BOOK. THIS. BOOK. I love it so much.


June 2014: Pantomime WON the Bisexual Book award! I posted my acceptance speech. I released “The Snake Charm,” and it had a great first month! I shared the cover and blurb for “The Fisherman’s Net.” My short story “They Swim Through Sunset Seas,” was accepted in the Solaris Rising 3 anthology. I was nominated for Best Newcomer for the British Fantasy Awards and wrote musings on being a baby writer at the beginning of my career. Strange Chemistry, the publisher of Pantomime & Shadowplay, announced that it was closing down very suddenly. I participated in a rowing competition for work dressed as Princess Leia. Behind the scenes, I’d received and implemented edits from my agent on Bonkers Book and it was getting ready to go out on wide submission.

Favourite book read in June: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.


July 2014 aka THE MONTH MY LIFE CHANGED:  Vestigial Tales: I posted a roundup of “The Snake Charm” and its first month sales, launched “The Fisherman’s Net,” shared “The Tarot Reader’s” blurb and cover, and went on the local radio. Tor/Macmillan offered pre-emptively on Bonkers Book aka False Hearts, changing my life. It was right before a big work audit and I was trying to concentrate on spreadsheets while internally screaming with glee. The press release went live on July 25th. I told work I wanted to stop working full-time. My friend Erica came out to visit from California.

Favourite book read in July: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier and Natural Causes by James Oswald.

Best selfie ever: Ewa, Kim, Mahvesh, Me, Anne, Jared. Photocred: Mahvesh Murad
Loncon3. Photo credit: Mahvesh Murad

August 2014 aka THE MONTH OF ALL THE CONS: Vestigial Tales: I posted my month 2 roundup of being a hybrid author, launched “The Tarot Reader,” and unveiled the cover and blurb for “The Card Sharp.” Erica and I took a day trip to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. I went to Nine Worlds in London and had a great time—definitely my favourite con of the year. I went to some other London events such as the Broken Monsters launch for Lauren Beukes and the Fantasy in the Court event at Goldsboro Books, where I got to meet some people from my new publisher, like my editor Julie Crisp, for the first time. Then it was time for another convention, Loncon3. I went back to Aberdeen, exhausted.

Favourite book read in August: Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters.

Reading from False Hearts at Fantasycon


September 2014: Vestigial Tales: another monthly roundup and launching the last of the Tales (for now), “The Card Sharp.” The cons weren’t over! I journeyed down to York for Fantasycon. My husband and I celebrated our 5 year anniversary/10 years of being together. I did some events for #WriteCity in Aberdeen, doing both public events and school visits throughout the city. I started my Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen and began reducing my hours slightly at work. I was able to announce that False Hearts will be published in the US through Tor/Forge and in Italy through Fanucci Editore. Peter F. Hamilton blurbed the book (!), calling it: “A smart debut from someone who’s clearly got what it takes.” I went down to Winchester for Amy Alward’s beautiful wedding. I became a British citizen!

Favourite book read in September: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes.

More Laya art! Aenea on the trapeze.
More Laya art! Aenea on the trapeze.

October 2014, or THE MONTH OF NO FREE TIME: I did my full-time masters. I did more school visits. I worked around 30 hours a week at the day job. I tried to write, but that didn’t really happen. Pantomime was listed as Gay YA’s October Book of the Month and they did lots of great promotion. I managed to post another Vestigial Tale monthly roundup. I really missed sleep and free time, but by the end of the month, my replacement had started and been trained and I dropped down to around 12 hours a week for work. I finished the first draft of Masquerade, finally.

Favourite book read in October: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (for uni).

Traffic cone or wizard hat? Glasgow.
Traffic cone or wizard hat? Glasgow.

November 2014: I did my full-time masters. I worked part-time. I stupidly decided I’d do NaNoWriMo because who needs free time, right, though I had to adjust my goals to include blogging and university work. My nephew, Theo, was born on November 5th. Shadowplay was Gay YA’s November Book of the Month and False Hearts sold in Germany to Heyne Verlag. Shadowplay was nominated for the ALA Rainbow List! I posted another hybrid author roundup. I took a weekend trip to Glasgow. I “won” NaNoWriMo by the skin of my teeth and swore I’ll never do it again, but it does mean I wrote a good chunk of Brainfreeze Book, my option book for Tor. Things happened behind the scenes regarding *stuff.*

Favourite book read in November:  Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, with an honourable mention to the Complete Atopia Chronicles by Matthew Mather.

The double rainbow in Arran.
The double rainbow in Arran.

December 2014: I finished up the first semester of my Masters degree. I went to London for my agent’s Christmas party. I went to the Isle of Arran on my first-ever writing retreat with Elizabeth May and Emma Trevayne, editing Masquerade for beta readers. I waited to hear about *stuff* and tried to be patient (and failed). I was called back into the day job almost full-time for a little bit. Stress. Stress. Stress. Aaaaand relax. Got ready for Christmas. Ate all the food. Now: reading, watching a lot of TV and slowly editing what I wrote of Brainfreeze Book and sorting through Masquerade beta comments.

Favourite book read in December: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.

And that was my year. Let’s see what 2015 brings!

Musings on Being a Baby Writer

BFSI’m so delighted that I’ve been nominated as Best Newcomer for Pantomime for the British Fantasy Awards. This was decided by a combination of votes and the panel of the society. Thank you to everyone who voted for me – it means so much!

Congratulations to everyone else on the nomination lists as well: look at all this talent.

I was speaking to Kim Curran about this awhile ago (she was nominated for Best Newcomer last year!): we’re NEWCOMERS. We’re still baby authors. We’re in the beginning stages of a whole new career. And if you think of it in terms of a career, we’re still junior authors. Still cutting our teeth and learning the ropes. There’s more promotions to come, new jobs at higher pay that might come along with more experience.

Sometimes it’s easy to be impatient, to wonder why things aren’t working out perfectly, why we’re not able to make a living off our words and jet off to the Caribbean whenever the mood takes us. I’m such a perfectionist that I’m so quick to say I’ve failed at something, when the ending isn’t yet written in stone.

Writing is for the long haul.

I’ve decades left of being a writer. It’s easy to see all the things we don’t have yet, and overlook all the achievements we’ve made. I started writing seriously in 2009-2010, rather than in little fits and spurts. I finished my first book in 2011. In 2012, I had a book deal. In 2013, the first book hit the shelves and it got a bunch of award nominations and one win. 2014, the second book came out, and just a few days ago, my first self-published story. This year I received two invites to anthologies. I’ll be releasing 3 other self-published works. 2015 will see at least my third book out, and maybe another, should the stars align. I’ve done a lot. Some people really enjoy my work. I have 18 single-spaced pages of notes from readers (I put it all together and look at it when I’m sad because I’m a sap–but these notes are PRECIOUS to me). I’ve got a lot going for me. I need to remember that, and not get so bogged down in the negatives, the what-ifs, the what-if-nots.

It’s easy for all of us to be in a hurry. But as long as we’re writing and working towards our goals, we’re not failures. Not by a long shot.

I have no idea what will happen in 2016, or 2010, or 2050, except this: I’ll still be writing.

A Thank You to Readers

I’m not sure what it was about this Easter weekend, but my books got a lot of love, and I wanted to say thank you. It was also interesting to get them from different places: through artwork, through a note in my contact form, on my Facebook author page, in person, and through an anonymous ask box on my Tumblr.

On Saturday morning, a 17-year-old girl from New Zealand named Laya sent me this extraordinary fan art she did of a scene from Shadowplay. It’s so detailed and incredible to see a scene from my books come alive. Someone was moved enough by my words to spend what must have been hours crafting such beautiful work. And to be 17 and that talented? Wow.micahanddrystan micahanddrystan2

The next morning, I had the sweetest note from a 13-year-old from Spain, who said that my books are “two of the best books that I’ve read since the post-Potter depression. For me, that’s saying a lot (I haven’t been so nervous and expectant to see who would win the Maske/Taliesin duel since the final Quidditch match between Gryffindor and Slytherin).” I stared at that for a long time. I grew up a Potterhead, reading fan fiction, dressing up, seeing the film 5 times in the cinema, going to midnight book launches. I remember I was on holiday in Hawaii and my dad had picked up the 4th book for me but I couldn’t read it for the two days until I came back, so I asked him to read me the first few chapters over the phone, I was so desperate to read them. To hear that a total stranger, nearly half my age, found my books even slightly as meaningful as those books were to me…well. That’s an incredible feeling. 

In person, I had the lovely Ann Smyth from Twitter come up to me after the panel and tell me how much she was enjoying Shadowplay. I showed her the fan art and she said she hadn’t gotten to it, and then the next day she told me she’d reached it! Then she told me via Twitter that she’d finished. I love getting little updates like that. It’s so cool to think that yes, someone’s going about their daily lives, like a con, but reading my book in the evening before they go to sleep.

Monday, I got a message from a reader from China on my FB author page. The fact my words are being read around the world is still absolutely awesome. Lastly, I received an anonymous ask in my Tumblr, so I don’t know where they are from, thanking me and saying they bought the second book before they’d even finished the first. In the past, I’ve had people tell me my book helped them feel better about being bisexual. A parent of a school visit I did said she enjoyed my world as much as Narnia. I’ve had a genderfluid person saying it was nice to read a character that was like them. I’ve had a 15-year-old book say my books were the some of their favourite books on Earth.

I worry listing these is coming across as bragging, and that’s not my goal at all. I feel like the least I can do is say a public and heartfelt thank you to these people that have contacted me.

Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who’s reached out to me to tell me that they appreciated my work. It really means so much. Writing is a crazy industry sometimes. It’s full of ups and downs and vast amounts of uncertainty. Before you’re published you have no idea if anyone will want to read your projects. After you’re published, when you’re writing, it’s hard to remember sometimes that there are those out there who want to read your words. You feel like you’re sending things off into the void and you’re listening for echoes, and sometimes it can feel very quiet.

Thank you for liking what you like and feeling moved enough to reach out. I never did that as a teen, and even now I’ve only reached out to a few of my favourite artists because I’m afraid to. Getting these have made me realise how silly that is, and I’m going to try and tell more people that I admire how I feel about their creations. Receiving notes from readers is hands down one of the best parts of being an author for me. It really helps remind me that this is why I love writing: connecting with others. Not for sales figures, not for money (though money would be nice), but to entertain people with my characters and worlds.

Please, never feel ashamed or embarrassed to contact out to someone whose work you admire (unless it’s to show up at their home unannounced at their house or something. Maybe don’t do that). I can guarantee you that they’ll appreciate it. A sweet, little one line note will brighten their whole day and give them the courage to keep going, even when they doubt themselves. Which happens rather frequently, because most creators are neurotic, self-doubting creatures by nature. 😉

Thank you for being amazing.


2014 Resolutions


I like resolutions well enough, even if often I don’t stick to them. But here’s what I’m planning for next year:


1. Finish editing Bonkers Book and send to my agent by March.
2. Finish one of my two other WIPs, though which one depends on certain factors I’m waiting to hear about. (I hate waiting).
3. Finish my Ellada short stories and perhaps self-publish them in summer.
4. Apply for a couple of things that would be really awesome. *cagey*


1. Bump up the exercise. I’ve been good at exercising more consistently in 2013, but I want to do it more often and push myself more.
2. Eat better. As ever – I get into a good habit for awhile and then it all falls apart. My mood is so much better when I’m eating healthy food, though. I can’t be too stringent, or I take it too far, but I’d like my usual habit to be good food, with the odd splurge when out with friends.
3. Sleep less. I’m a chronic oversleeper and I hate it. I really want to train myself to get up early as I’m productive in the mornings.
4. Freak out less. Yeah, this probably won’t happen, but it’s worth trying. My anxiety has been more manageable in 2013 than 2012, but there’s room for improvement.
5. Be off the internet/computer more in the evenings. I spend far too much of my life looking at a screen, between the day job, the writing, and watching TV. I should spend more time doing things in the real world.


1. Read at least 80 books. No other stipulations – I can read whatever genre I want, re-read, what have you.

2013 Round-up: Writing & Non-Writing Life

2013 was, overall, a very good year. Busy, and at times stressful, but overall, good. There were no catastrophes. My health was sound. I was surrounded by friends and family, did not have to worry about finances, and was able to travel. I had my first book out and now, at the end of the year, my second book has arrived and evidently is already available in some shops. I have a lot of be thankful for.

So, writing round-up. In 2013 I:

– Launched Pantomime, out into the big, wide world.
Edited Shadowplay at least 3 times. No idea of word count, as 10k was cut overall but there were plenty of tweaked scenes and such.
– Wrote 15k of Project GSS before I started over and re-wrote the 30k I had from 3rd person to 1st person. Then I decided it still wasn’t working so I changed the setting and plot and started over again and wrote 40k. Feedback says the 40k is vastly improved but needs more development, historical research, and expansion before I move towards the rest of the story, which is what I expected to hear.
– Wrote Bonkers Book, which was originally 66k, and has now grown to 74k in the second draft. That’s out with betas.
– Wrote 18k of Project M, and will hopefully be writing more of that in the new year.
– Wrote a Drystan short story called “The Snake Charm,” which is 10k.
– I’m a bit into another Drystan short story called “The Card Sharp,” which I’ll maybe finish by the end of this year, but unsure. I’m still not entirely sure what I’ll do with these short stories.
– Planned a Cyan short story called “The Tarot Reader”, but haven’t started it yet.
– Wrote a very short story for Halloween called The Ghost of Gold and Grey, which ties into project GSS.
– Wrote a poem of linked haiku called “Bamboo Moon” which is a lesbian re-telling of a Japanese fairy tale.
– I wrote about 40 guest posts, plus kept this blog up to date
– Events: spoke at Napier University, Gordonstoun school, Keith Academy, and Dollar Academy, appeared on SCHMU Radio, had a Pantomime launch at Forbidden Planet in London and Waterstones in Aberdeen, had another signing at the other Waterstones branch (now sadly closed), went to WFC in Brighton, and was a guest at the Inverness Book Festival.

Non-writing-wise, I continued to work full-time at my job as a document controller and did half of a PgCert in Information Management, which I received in May 2013. I’ve been better about fitness and go to the gym around 2-3 times a week, mainly doing yoga and running. I was able to travel, and went to the Czech Republic and Germany at the end of last year/start of this year. I also went to London and Edinburgh a few times, to Brighton, Barcelona, Amsterdam, and soon I’m flying back to San Francisco.

Put together – goodness me, but I was busy. No wonder I’m always tired.

Here’s one photo from each month, which I think gives a good overall picture of the year:

2013januaryCesky Krumlov, Czech Republic.

February. I’m doing two photos for this month as in March I was a hermit and can’t find any photos of anything during that time:

2013februaryWaterstones Aberdeen launch.

London launch at Forbidden Planet.


Signing at Waterstones Langstane (now sadly closed).


Pantomime on the bestsellers paperback list at Gatwick airport in London.

The only photo I can find from that month is me showing off my spray tan. Yes, that is me with a spray tan. I am very pale.

My friend Erica and I outside the Dali Museum in Figures, Spain.

Heusden, Netherlands.

With James Smythe, Sam Copeland, my agent Juliet Mushens, at Kim Curran’s and Bryony Pearce’s joint launch for Control and The Weight of Souls in London.

A quiet evening with one of my cats, Mowgli.

The best photo ever taken with a langoustine & Tad Williams. WFC 2013 in Brighton.

Me with Pantomime & Shadowplay!

Delayed Reactions: Why Sucker Punch Sucks


I’m about two years late to this party.

I watched Sucker Punch recently as part of a film club. I was a little hesitant – I didn’t enjoy Watchmen and…I’ve just realised that’s the only film of his I’ve seen. None of the others grabbed my attention or had pretty terrible reviews so didn’t seem worth the price of the cinema ticket.

Source: wingwingwingwing on Deviantart

Back in 2011 I remember reading a few articles about how Sucker Punch was sexist, and so I stayed away. But watching it, Sucker Punch was a whole other level of misogynist bullshit than I expected. I clenched my teeth at certain points, and was made so uncomfortable by various aspects. Combined with the fact that Snyder obviously patted himself on the back, thinking this was an empowering film because girls are fighting, and it left a very bad taste in my mouth.

Zack Snyder states that Sucker Punch mirrors The Wizard of Oz (he wishes) in that “the fantasy world serves as a metaphor for what’s going on in the real world” He goes into further detail on why he thinks it’s “more than just the girls looking sexy and kicking ass” (source for all quotes from this io9 article):

Everything in the movie is about a show within a show within a show. Someone asked me, “Why did you dress the girls like that, in those provocative costumes?” And I said, “Well, think about it for a second. I didn’t dress those girls in the costume. The audience dressed those girls.” And when I say the audience, I mean the audience that comes to the movies. Just like the men who visit a brothel, [they] dress the girls when they go to see these shows as however they want to see them.

But my hope was that they would take those things back, just like my girls hopefully get confidence, they get strength through each other, that those become power icons. They start out as cliches of feminine sexuality as made physical by what culture creates. I think that part of it was really specific, whether it’s French maid or nurse or Joan Arc to a lesser extent [laughs], or schoolgirl. Our hope is we were able to modify them and turn them into these power icons, where they can fight back at the actual cliches that they represent. So hopefully by the end the girls are empowered by their sexuality and not exploited. But certainly that’s where they come from, the journey is asking, “What do you want to see? Well, be careful what you want to see.

Let’s rip that to shreds, shall we?

So, Zack, pushing the responsibility away is bullshit. You put them in those costumes and wrote it in. Yeah, people filled the cinema tickets, but it was still yours and the costume designer’s choice. It is rare for a girl character in Sucker Punch to be fully clothed. In the first scene, the protagonist Baby Doll is wearing pyjamas, and then her clothes get smaller depending on how far down the rabbit hole we go.

Practical armour

They’re deliberately provocative costume choices: Baby Doll’s schoolgirl outfit is reminiscent of Sailor Moon and the standard “naughty schoolgirl” fantasy.  They make sure to state that Baby Doll is 20 (she’s of age, people!) but she’s wearing blonde pigtails and a headband and looks much younger. In the brothel world, the girls are wearing lingerie, and then in the steampunk Nazi fantasy world they’re all wearing cutesy soldier outfits that are impractical for fighting. But their hats are jaunty!

Nice jumpsuit

Now, I’m not a prude by any means. Women can wear whatever they want, and objectively, a lot of those outfits are rather cute. I would wear some of them. What I have a problem with is that 100% of the men are sensibly clothed 100% of the time. Even zombie steampunk men may have limbs rotting away, but none are topless! The constant lingering camera angles on the girls’ asses and crotches is also wearying. Yes, it’s a fantasy and so theoretically they could wear whatever they want when killing dragons and mecha-Samurai and robots and what have you, but by the same token you can still have them wearing more practical clothing for fighting and still looking sexy, if that’s the aim. Kill Bill did a better job at that (even though that film was very much not my cup of tea, either).

suckerpunch6Snyder states that “Our hope is we were able to modify them and turn them into these power icons, where they can fight back at the actual cliches that they represent. So hopefully by the end the girls are empowered by their sexuality and not exploited.” But the issue is, they’re not power icons. Over and over, the women are exposed to pervasive, sexualised violence: it begins with an implied, threatened rape against Baby Doll and her sister. It’s suggested that because what happens in the fantasy world happens in another way in the level before it, that a lot of the girls in the mental asylum might be sexually preyed upon. All of the girls in the brothel are sex workers against their will, plus Rocket is nearly raped by the chef. There’s not as much threatened sexual violence in the third fantasy world, but Baby Doll even straddles a baby dragon in a weirdly sexual way when she cuts open its throat. It’s as relentless as the rather boring action scenes (which are all filmed like video games, but since you’re not invested in the avatars fighting, it quickly becomes so much mediocre CGI).

I watched the extended version, which has the scene with Jon Hamm as the high roller who has purchased Baby Doll’s virginity but was cut from the cinematic release (so that it could remain 12A/PG-13). Emily Browning, who plays Baby Doll, was upset by it, stating: “I think that it’s great for this young girl to actually take control of her own sexuality. Well, the MPAA doesn’t like that. They don’t think a girl should ever be in control of her own sexuality because they’re from the Stone Age” (source). But the thing is, that whole scene has a long speech from the High Roller saying how he doesn’t just want her body, he wants to possess her mind too and wants a “true moment.” So he asks her to have consentual sex with him and then he’ll offer her freedom (though he never states how this will happen or what he means by freedom). She makes the best of a bad situation and goes with him willingly. But that is not complete free consent, in my opinion. She’s not free to say “no” and walk away – he won’t let her because he paid a small fortune for her virginity and he’s going to collect. Also, after that, she’s knocked back to the real world to be lobotomised.

Happiness is a warm gun.
Happiness is a warm gun.

For though Snyder might think it’s about female empowerment, the power only comes in dreams and nightmares, and that power is systematically taken away. The women in the film are imprisoned in a mental asylum and abused, locked in a brothel and abused, one by one Baby Doll’s comrades Blondie, Amber and Rocket are murdered for daring to fight back. Baby Doll is left comatose, and a very traumatised Sweet Pea is allowed to survive, but only if she’s wearing a sedate white, non-revealing dress and is at the last moment saved by a man again (the bus driver, who was also the mentor in the Nazi-dragon-robot world and gave the girls their orders). Sweet Pea survived because she transitioned from Whore to Madonna.

No more lingerie for you!

As a final point, while Sucker Punch is unfair to women, it’s also pretty unfair to men. All the men (except for maybe Wise Man Scott Glen) are despicable rapists, would-be rapists, murderers, and a fair amount also have poor hygiene. They can’t control themselves when Baby Doll does her sexy dance and stare vacantly. So, basically, Sucker Punch had no characters I liked or rooted for, with the possible exception of the poor baby dragon who had its throat slit and its mother, who was stabbed in the head.

This movie failed for me on every possible level.

The end.


To Those Saying The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith Tanked: Please Stop.

The news broke over the weekend and so this is breaking to no one: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith was really written by none other than J.K. Rowling. She punked the publishing industry, and everyone’s talking about it. It’s been picked up by most news outlets, and overnight it hit number 1 on Amazon and its sales went up 158,000%.

I’ve seen several people/sources expressing shock and horror that only 1500 copies were shipped from the warehouse and of those 1500 hardbacks, only 400odd had sold (and maybe 1000 ebooks, though I don’t think any of these numbers are substantiated, either–the 400odd number probably came from Nielsen bookscan, and those numbers can be pretty off). But this was in the UK only. In 3 months. On an unknown debut. In a saturated market. In a recession. That’s not tanking. It’s healthy.

The Cuckoo’s Calling had a normal publishing experience. Not a lot of fanfare, not in every bookstore window, no big blog tour, no events (she couldn’t very well show up, could she? Though that would have been SO fun if she did waltz out at a low-key launch somewhere). Now the book quite obviously doesn’t have a normal experience, because it was written by a woman richer than the Queen of England, writer of a book series pretty much everyone knows. This shows several things:

1. Good books stand on their own. Robert Galbraith’s career wasn’t over. “He’d” probably sold enough for them to continue with the series, but they’d have decided more based on the paperback sales, if this hadn’t come to light. We’ll never know what the paperback sales would have been, now.

2. Word of mouth usually takes longer than 3 months. I personally wish it had stayed under wraps longer, to see what the paperback sales would have been, if momentum would have grown with each book in the series. That’s what happened with Harry Potter–it wasn’t until the 3rd book that it hit the stratosphere. How amazing would it have been for Rowling to do it not once, but twice? Things take time. Da Vinci Code was Dan Brown’s 4th book. Daughter of Smoke and Bone was Laini Taylor’s 3rd, I think.

3. Unless very heavily marketed, it’s hard for people to take a chance on debuts. Or to find out about debuts. Even very good books–and The Cuckoo’s Calling had awesome blurbs and great reviews. 1 star reviews on Amazon only appeared after the news broke. People like to reach for books where they know what they’re going to get. I know I’m like that. If I’m lazy and know I want to read something I’ll enjoy, I grab one of the Margaret Atwood books I haven’t read yet.

So please don’t say it tanked. It didn’t, and now it’s doing phenomenally. Which is great. I’m sure I’ll read it. The Cuckoo’s Calling performed like many books in those 3 months. It performed better than many books.

There’s speculation that this was a planned stunt–that the news broke in a timely manner before the paperback release. That may be, but that still doesn’t stop the fact that it seems like the secret was kept pretty well, at least for a few months.

I hope J.K. Rowling does this again with more pseudonyms. She seemed to enjoy not having the expectation–I can’t imagine how scary it must have been launching The Casual Vacancy, as such a successful author. Plus it’d be fun–which debut next year could secretly have been written by her?

So maybe pick up a debut, and don’t do so because it might secretly have been written by J.K. Rowling (unlikely she’s doing it twice this year, after all!). Do it because if debut authors are well-supported, maybe they’ll have chances to put out more books, some of which might become your next favourites.