Archive for the ‘Life/Stuff’ Category

In the secret library of my mind, I still own every book I’ve ever bought. Though the hands giveth away, the heart remembers. Even when there are no physical gaps on my shelves to indicate what’s gone, the absence still provokes a certain lurch, like a missing step. I mourn the loss of books which, at the time, I felt certain I’d never actually read, or would never read again; I lament the folly which caused me to get rid of “inessential” works – that is, anything I wasn’t actively planning to reread at the time. I even regret the loss of particular children’s reference books, not for any sentimental reason, but because they’re actually very good starting places for worldbuilding research – or would be, if I hadn’t given them all away.

It’s not as if I make a habit of shedding books. I cling to paperbacks like a baby possum clutching its mother’s stomach. It’s just that, when I do get rid of things, I tend to do it en masse, while under the undue influence of my-room-is-clean-let’s-do-this-thing euphoria. As a kid, I’d take boxes of my old books to the local second hand store, then walk away clutching a whole twenty dollars – which, to a twelve year old, is basically millions. As a teenager, I turfed out a few books before heading to university, then more when my parents moved house. (And then again, to my infinite regret, when my college boyfriend convinced me that the much-loved and complete sets of Garfield, Snoopy and Footrot Flats I’d spent nearly twenty years acquiring were too childish for an adult to keep lugging round.) Every time, I thought I was doing the right thing, and every time, I experienced the same crushing disappointment when, having forgotten my former ruthlessness, I instinctively reached for a book that wasn’t there. Never again, I vowed.

And then we moved to England.

It was the turfout to end all turfouts. To give you some idea of exactly how many books I used to have, before we left, I gave away five boxes of children’s fiction and reference, five of adult works, put another nine boxes aside for safekeeping in Australia, and still had enough books left to fill the twelve boxes that came with us to the UK. I even gave away almost my entire collection of Anne McCaffrey – a decision so foolishly heartbreaking that, for three years afterwards, I managed to convince myself that it had never happened. I only realised the truth this month, when we came back to visit relatives (and to finally reclaim our things) and realised how much I’d thought I’d kept aside was, in fact, missing.

And now, today, it’s my birthday. All month long, I’ve been buying books with birthday and holiday money, stocking up on titles that are rare outside Australia, rummaging through secondhand stores and plotting to once again reconfigure my office when we get home, the better to squeeze in just one more shelf. I’ve even rebought some secondhand McCaffreys, to replace the ones I abandoned. But the real gift I’ve given myself is this: the permission to never, ever get rid of any books again. As a kid, I was able to build a library because I spent my entire childhood in the same, big house with the same, bookish parents. I had stability, space and encouragement, and I used those things to fill my room with dinosaur magazines, books on sharks and castles and the human body and, of course, fantasy novels. I took my library for granted, and so, when the need or opportunity arose, I never thought twice about frittering bits of it away.

But since I’ve become an adult – living in smaller places, packing and repacking my possessions with each new move, living for weeks or months or years with furniture chosen by landlords and not nearly enough storage space – I’ve come to appreciate the immense psychological value of a library. I feel comforted and whole in the presence of books, and always have done, and always will do. Having grown up in a house that boasted reading material in every room, I now find bookless rooms to be cold, unfinished, uncomfortable. Browsing in bookshops calms me down the way tea or coffee calms other people, regardless of whether I end up buying anything. Even when their weight becomes impractical – and even though I now have a Kindle – I always travel with multiple books to hand, partly because I can’t bear the thought of running out of things to read, but mostly because there’s no surer way to make myself feel at home in a hotel room than to put a stack of novels on the nighstand.

And now, finally, I have the same library-spawning privileges I did as a child: a place that’s mine, a supply of shelves, and the sure and certain knowledge that I won’t be moving again for a good, long while. The whole time we’ve been in Australia, I’ve been rounding up the books I left in storage like papery sheep, ready to ship them home with me.. I’m building my new library, and this time, it’s for keeps. In the nineteen days we’ve been here – and without counting Kindle purchases – I’ve bought twenty-two books: an average of more than one day.

Hello. My name is Foz, and I’m a bookaholic.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

2013: A Year In Review

Posted: December 31, 2013 in Life/Stuff
Tags: , ,

2013 has been… well. It’s been. And I still don’t know what to make of it.

I became a mother in February, which was extraordinary and wonderful in every spiritual and familial way, but on the physical and emotional side, it was also depressing, painful and the cause of two unpleasant hospital stays, to say nothing of the still-ongoing recovery time. Let me say this flat out: in my experience, pregnancy is awful, childbirth itself sucks only slightly less than the agonisingly protracted process of recovering from childbirth, which is still quite a lot, and anyone who tells you breastfeeding is an easy, uncomplicated, pain-free miracle of nature is either a fucking liar or trying to sell you something. Barring all the obvious caveats about boredom, sleep-deprivation and guilt, however, being a parent is actually sort of awesome, the practical upshot of which is that whether it happens when I’m twenty-nine or ninety-nine, the second any sort of uterine replicator technology actually gets approved for common usage, I will buy an enormous bottle of champagne, throw a fucking party and raise successive, glorious toasts Science!, because frankly, the final, cinching proof of the non-existence of god – or rather, of an intelligent, benign creator – isn’t the poor Babelfish: it’s the whole ludicrous panoply of mammalian reproduction. I mean, growing a creature in another creature? Talk about design flaws.

ANYWAY.

On the writing front, I actually finished my new novel, which, yay! (Polyamory! Matriarchy! Politics! Portals! Ladies!) Admittedly, I’d thought it was “nearly done” in January, but as it turned out, I didn’t end up completing the first draft until August, with some further new scenes added in December. Even so, it’s going in the win column. I also snagged a few new writing gigs, which was pretty great – reviewer at Strange Horizons and A Dribble of Ink, and columnist for Black Gate – and, as an unexpected treat, an essay I wrote last year was included in the Speculative Fiction 2012 anthology. I’ve also managed some 38 blog posts – 39, counting this one, but not including extra pieces I’ve put up on tumblr or published elsewhere, which is fairly respectable. My blog readership has expanded, too, which phenomenon never ceases to surprise me – hello, new readers! – but has also brought with it a slew of new trolls, such that headdesking, FDJHFDJLing, WTFery and general out of spoon errors with regard to comment monitoring have reached an all-time high. Nonetheless, I have persevered. As xkcd has taught us, people are often wrong on the internet, and in order to weather the storms of incoherent rage these rickety douchesaddles can inspire, it’s sometimes necessary to retreat instead to the calm and icy caves of No Fucks Given.

Also, I’ve read 101 books, which – huzzah! – is one book more than my stated goal for the year. Again, admittedly, some books were rather shorter than others, or were in fact comics, novellas and magazines rather than full-length novels, but given that I’ve also given birth, moved house, done battle with the UK visa authorities on behalf of mine infant progeny and attended my first major con since 2010, I’m not about to split hairs over wordcount. As for politics, while some amazing stuff has certainly happened, overwhelmingly, the rabid shitweasels of regressive dumbfuckery have been working overtime to saturate the rest of us with toxic, moronic blah, and if the vast majority of them were to suddenly contract gangrene of the larynx over NYE and thus lose the ability to speak forever – or at least until they came to their fucking senses - I’d count their silence as a net gain for humanity.

All in all, while 2013 has certainly been an important and memorable year, it hasn’t always been for the best reasons – but it’s when my son arrived, and for that, at least, I’m grateful. 2014 can take the floor with my blessing, and I look forward to seeing where it takes us. No resolutions, this year as last, beyond a general wish for self-improvement, happiness and a thriving family. Oh, and lots of reading and writing, but that should go without saying.

Let’s see how far it gets me.

Happy new year, everyone!

I’m pleased to announce that the forthcoming ebook anthology, Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentaryedited by Justin Landon and Jared Shurin, will feature one of my posts from last year. I feel incredibly honoured to have my writing included in the anthology, not least because it will appear alongside pieces by N. K. Jemisin, Kate Elliott, Liz Bourke, Kameron Hurley, Rose Lemburg and Elizabeth Bear, to name but a few! So, yes: there is currently celebratory happydancing in the Meadows household.

On which topic: it suddenly occurs to me that, despite having mentioned the event on Facebook, tumblr and Twitter, I’ve neglected to blog about the fact that, as of 4th February 2013, I’m now the mother of a devious and lovely son, whom I’ve taken to calling the Smallrus. So, now you know.

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Happy new year, internets! Isn’t it shiny and new? I feel like I ought to be peeling the sticker off and stripping away the plastic.

First up, here are my fictional rolemodels for 2012:

1. Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan

To say I have fallen in love with Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga is something of an understatement: I am in full-on literary lust. If it were legally possible for me to marry her brain, I would do so, but while this is in large part due to the awesomeness of Miles Vorkosigan and the Dendarii Free Mercenaries, the character that absolutely stole my soul is his mother, Cordelia. There is something raw and brutal and beautiful about her, a strength and courage that goes bone-deep. She is vulnerable and human, yes; but when terrible things happen to her – and they do happen – she overcomes them with a species of brilliance that is less about asskicking than it is about pureblooded victory: social, political, intellectual, emotional, feminist and military, written with all the hard and visceral joy of triumph over incredible adversity. Now and forever, she has catapulted herself to the top of my list of Favourite Literary Heroines, and for that, I honour her.

 

 

 

 

2. Helen Parr, aka Elastigirl 

Whenever I watch The Incredibles, I’m consistently blown away by the awesome of Helen Parr. So often in cinema – and particularly in cinema aimed at children – mothers are painted as either obedient housewives or icy harridans, with precious little leeway in between. And then we have Helen, who is not only a competent, caring mother, but a competent, kickass superhero. These aren’t two separate identities whose differences are played for laughs, either: instead, we get a character who argues with her husband and reprimands her children, but who isn’t just cast as a nag; a domestic woman who is neither trapped, ignorant nor passive, but who has chosen her life and is active and happy within in; a wife with emotional vulnerabilities in proportion to her strengths; a woman as ordinary as she is extraordinary. One of the most powerful scenes I’ve ever watched is the one in which Helen saves her children from a plane crash, and if you can watch the following clip without falling utterly in love with her, then I’d suggest that we can’t be friends:

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3. Florence Cathcart

By an order of magnitude, the best new film of 2011 was Nick Murphy’s The Awakening. Set in 1921, the story starts when Florence Cathcart, a debunker of hauntings and unmasker of charlatans, is called to investigate the death of a boy at a boarding school where all the students claim he was killed by a ghost. The resulting narrative is exquisitely balanced: not just Florence, but every character is in some way wounded by the first world war, and the action moves between emotional connections, romance, chilling mystery and genuine, grip-the-seats horror in a way that makes The Orphanage look like Scream. And then there’s Florence, who is hands down the best female character I’ve seen on the screen in years. Witty, bitingly intelligent, courageous and sensual, Florence stole my heart from minute one and has kept it ever since. Talking with writer/director Nick Murphy on Twitter, I asked him if she was based on any particular historical figure – I’d genuinely assumed she must be, because she’d felt so real. His reply? “She was based on the kind of girls I want my daughters to become.” Which, if you’re listening, Hollywood? Is the textbook definition of Doing It Right.

And now, my actual resolutions for 2012:

1. Read at least one non-fiction book per month.

Over the course of 2011, I read 136 new books, only four of which were properly non-fiction, and all of which I read in January. That’s… not a great ratio. I’ve reached a point now where I need to be reading more research material – more history, more philosophy, more culture and politics and feminism and ideas – and not just straight, delicious fiction. This is a modest goal, but one I’d be very happy to achieve. Ideally, I will actually read one NF book each month, but if I manage a minimum of twelve such works spread out across the year, then I’ll be equally pleased. Huzzah for learning!

2. Finish a novel by the end of February.

2011 was a very weird year for me, writing-wise, in that I didn’t actually finish anything. In fairness, I did write half of two new novels and close out the edits for The Key to Starveldt, which was published in October, but I’d nonetheless hoped to have at least a full version of either project ready by this point, and the fact that I don’t bothers me. But! As I have been editing, plotting and generally scheming with regard to the former of these two novels – which, at present, is going by the moniker An Accident of Stars – and know exactly what (I hope) to do with it; and as I ought to have a bit of free time in the next two months, I’ve set myself a completion date of 29 February 2012 by which to produce a viable first draft. Knowing me, this will either prove to be optimism of the highest order or a surprisingly workable timeframe. And boy, do I hope it’s the latter.

3. Get healthy.

I know. I know. OK? No, seriously: I KNOW. Stating this as a serious resolution is roughly the same as jinxing myself, or declaring that I want to achieve world peace by the end of June. Every year I and thousands of others make this our ambition, and every year we are, almost universally, undone by a leftover bottle of wine and the lure of cut-price chocolate before you can say knife. Nonetheless: I hereby pledge to give up drinking for at least the month of January, to try and run a couple of times a week, and to exercise self-control in the presence of chocolate, cheese and any foodstuff created with reference to frying. I also pledge that I shall try to eat smaller portions at main meals, snack judiciously on things I actually like (as opposed to anything that comes from the sweetie box in the work kitchen) and to otherwise comport myself like a sensible adult. I will not deny myself treats, but I will strive to ensure that they are treats, rather than impulses or habits. And so on until I no longer feel the need to unzip the top of my favourite skirt after dinner, amen.

2012 is here. Let the games begin!

 

And here we are again, on the cusp of another new year and the end of the old. For me personally, 2011 has been momentous, challenging, crazy, wonderful, strange, and a whole host of other adjectives. This year, I turned 25 – a quarter-century! – and moved from Australia to Scotland. My second book was released. I made new friends, started new projects, worked new jobs in a new country, discovered cooking, threw a surprise birthday party for my husband, traveled to France and Germany, read over 150 books, got involved with the local Feminist Society, blogged a lot, took masses of photos and drank an extraordinary amount of cider. Without wanting to sound twee, it’s been a year when I’ve not only grown up a lot, but noticed myself growing, and in some instances consciously orchestrated the growth, as opposed to having random maturation thrust upon me by the eddying whims of adulthood. After so much blundering about, it does feel a little as though I’ve got myself together this year, or have, more specifically, got myself into a position from which next year can be confidently tackled – which, frankly, is a relief, because as the process has inevitably involved a certain amount of floundering, doubt and despair, it’s nice to have something to show for it, however hypothetically.

Politically and environmentally, though, the world has been in turmoil. It’s far from inaccurate to describe 2011 as a year of revolution: beginning with the myriad uprisings and calls for social justice known collectively as the Arab Spring, we’ve had rioting in the United Kingdom and the worldwide spread of the Occupy movement. There have been devastating earthquakes in New Zealand – the latest happening just this week – tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan, global financial instability, and the horrific rampage of Anders Breivik in Norway. At the level of society, 2011 has marked the passing of Steve Jobs, Anne McCaffrey and Amy Winehouse, among others – figures whose deaths have had an impact on both our landscapes cultural and emotional landscapes. Even if it hadn’t already been notable as the first year of a new decade, 2011 has made its mark on history.

There are lots of reasons, then, to look forward to 2012 – social progress; political redemption; a fresh start; ongoing hopes for self-improvement; the challenge of unknown horizons; the simple satisfaction of peeling the first, crisp page off a new desk calendar. I have Ambitions, internets, and come tomorrow, I’d very much like to share them with you. But until then, I shall round out the year by sharing with you this picture of my husband dressed as a Doctor Who/Dalek hybrid. Because I can.

Happy new year!

It started at about ten o’clock this morning. My husband, Toby, laid low by a bout of Man Flu, was lying on the lounge, snuffling piteously while I checked my email.

“Where’s my cake?” he lamented. “Will you make me a cake? I’d like one! CAKE!”

Of course, I refused this request with the asperity and hauteur it so obviously deserved. (As anyone experienced with Man Flu knows, indulging the sufferer’s whims only serves to reinforce the belief that they are, in fact, dying of bubonic plague, or possibly Ebola, rather than experiencing mild hayfever, the common cold, or – as is most usual – a hangover.) I am many things, but an on-demand cake wizard is not among them. Moaning his disappointment, my beloved reconciled himself to a cakeless existence and instead began reading China Mieville’s Embassytown, thereby redeeming himself.

Some hours passed. We had salad for lunch. I finished my editing and answered some outstanding emails. I was mooching about on Twitter in a guiltless sort of way when, all of a sudden, it struck me: banana and ginger cake, possibly with some sort of vanilla/cream involvement. Not only that, I already had most of the ingredients – some of them desperately needing to be used prior to rapidly approaching expiry dates – such that the cost of the missing elements would be negligible. I began to Tweet my enthusiasm for the project, and received only enthusiasm in return. I could do this.

By this time, Toby had relocated to the bedroom. I walked in and poked my head around the door – slyly, in the way of one proffering an unexpected treat.

“How serious were you about wanting cake?” I asked. “Because I’m totally making one. Banana and ginger.” I will admit to having emphasised these last words with a certain zealous relish.

“Can it be chocolate?” Toby asked. “Chocolate goes well with ginger and banana. I like chocolate cakes.”

I frowned. Chocolate had not been on the agenda, but perhaps compromise was possible. “We’ll see,” I said. With this established, I began the fifteen-minute trek to Morrisons, a franchise which, despite their aggravating stance on ID and alcohol purchases, nonetheless retains a good range of items. I purchased my sundries, walked back home, did the washing up, and began to arrange my ingredients on the far bench. My plan was simple: take my existing banana cake recipe, then add ginger, cinnamon and – in keeping with Toby’s request, albeit filtered through my own preferences – white chocolate. Midway through this process, however, it became wretchedly apparent that, contrary to what I’d thought, we had no vanilla essence in the cupboard.

“Rats,” I said (or some other expletive that may or may not have been stronger) – and set out again, this time barefoot and at a run, to the slightly closer corner shop at the end of our street. They had vanilla essence; I ran home, added it to my pile, turned the oven to 180 degrees, and began mixing.

In went the eggs, sugar, vanilla and butter. In went the flour, cinnamon, ginger and milk. I’d just got to the bananas when it occurred to me that the oven was being unusually silent. Given that I don’t bake regularly enough to trust that I know how to work the oven, my first reaction, on opening the door and discovering a cold, decidedly un-heated interior, was to ask Toby whether I’d turned it on properly. He poked at the door, turned the dial on and off a few times, removed and replaced the knob, tried the switch, crouched down to peer masterfully at its innards, and declared that my best bet was to leave it be and hope it started to get warm.

Given my significant doubts as to whether this would work, and refusing, after so much effort, to be thwarted by broken technology, I continued mashing my bananas, stirring the mixture, and finally dropping in most of the white chocolate drops. The oven, stubbornly, remained cold.

I formulated a plan. By which I mean, I rang my friend Sarah, who had just got home from Amsterdam, and asked if I could come round and borrow her oven. She said yes.

I informed my husband, packed my things, and started to walk.

There’s a certain sort of stare that members of the general public reserve for girls in weird t-shirts carrying clear plastic mixing bowls full of miscellaneous goop with wooden spoons poking out the end at 3:30 on a Saturday afternoon – which is to say, I was stared at as though I might, in fact, be a crazy person. Possibly if the spoon had been less obvious, or the bowl more opaque, the reaction could have been different, but as things stood, even little old ladies were giving me weird glances. I ignored them, head held high, and rang the bell to Sarah’s house.

It should be mentioned at this point that Sarah lives in a student sharehouse with approximately eight other people, only half of whom I know. The slender, surprised-looking youth who answered the door belonged to the other half. Confronted by the sight of a strange woman holding a clingwrapped mixing bowl and a plastic bag full of cooking paraphernalia, he nonetheless waved me cheerfully into the house at the mention of Sarah’s name.

Moment later, Sarah herself emerged and joined me in the kitchen. As the oven preheated, we talked about Amsterdam while she chopped onions for an early dinner and I got out the icing sugar, vanilla, butter, cream and white chocolate drops and started to mix my icing. (Clearly, the overwhelming virtue of having salad for lunch three days in a row had manifested as cathartic desire to balance the calorie scales.) The cake went into the oven; the icing went into the fridge. This left me with a problem, vis-a-vis the leftover cream: there was no easy way to transport it back home, and it seemed like a waste to leave it be. For reasons unknown, this translated into my trying to change it – first with a whisk, and then with a fork – from runny to whipped.

Thus it was that when four of Sarah’s housemates (who I did know) and a friend of theirs (who I didn’t) came home, they found me sitting at their kitchen table, morosely churning a bowl of cream while Sarah cooked bolognese. It is either a testament to the nature of student sharehouses in general or these friends in particular that not a single one of them asked what I was doing there or why it involved cream, all completely unsurprised when I explained that my oven had broken and so I was using theirs, of course, as though interloping cakes were a common occurrence everywhere.

And so we talked. After forty minutes, the cake was done: I bundled it onto a borrowed plate, packed up my utensils, determined that yes, I could carry both the cake-plate and the icing bowl at the same time without endangering either of them, and prepared to go. Except that I needed to gladwrap the cake for safety. Sod’s law being what it is, all I needed on the home stretch was for some obnoxious passerby to bump me and send the fruit of my labours sprawling into the gutter. Unfortunately, this meant wrestling with a de-boxed roll of clingwrap that had twisted and torn into a sort of cylindrical Rubik’s cube. That took another five minutes – until, just as I unraveled the last thread, Sarah remembered that there was, in fact, an in-tact roll in the next drawer down I could’ve used. (In the end, I used a piece from each one, just in case.)

And then I walked home: bag over my shoulder, plastic bag on my right arm, icing bowl with spoon in my right hand, gladwrapped cake plate in my left. Again with the stares, though this time, at least, they were fewer.

Midway home I realised I’d left my favourite black jacket hung over Sarah’s kitchen chair. Of course. 

But in the end, nothing could dull my triumph. I chilled the still-warm cake enough that the icing couldn’t immediately dissolve. I summoned my husband (who grumbled at having to put down Embassytown) and served the cake.

Who says persistence doesn’t pay?

 

I’ve fallen behind in my blogging this week (apologies!) on account of having just started my first day job since moving to the UK. The work falls well within my zone of competence, the people are nice and the commute by bus, if longer than I’m used to, at least allows for a lot of reading. Even so, it’s been something of a shock to the system to actually have to GET UP and engage in all the daily palaver that constitutes being employed. My last Australian position finished in mid-December, which means I’ve been out of work for three months, and even though I spent more of that time moving countries, finding a house and getting settled in than I did writing, I’ve still grown used to the freedom of setting my own routines, working on my own projects and generally acting like the self-employed author I strive to become. Which isn’t to say I’m not coping – I always have in the past. It’s just that it’ll take me a while before I slip back into my old routine of frantically cramming word-work into every odd corner of the day, as opposed to stretching it out at leisure.

Stupid pragmatism.

Also, and apropos of absolutely nothing, I’ve given up drinking for April. So far, I’m succeeding. A few people have asked me if I’m doing it for Lent, to which the answer is a resounding no, as I didn’t even realise Lent was upon us. But I’d noticed (belatedly) that some people had given up grog for February as part of one of those internet-inspired thingies that appears every once in a while, and so I decided to give it a try myself, mainly out of curiosity to see if I actually could. The first couple of days were the most difficult – not because I’m anything even approaching an alcoholic, but exactly because I know I’m not, and therefore had to keep justifying internally why I was depriving myself of something I enjoyed for no particular reason. This was also exacerbated by the fact that the night of 2 April involved a dinner out with many, many friends as part of a philosophy conference paid for by the university, which featured – among other things – copious amounts of free wine. I stuck to water and still had a good time. The next night was another round of conference drinks at the pub. Though tempted, I kept to lemonade. It’s all been much easier since then, even during other outings with friends, which frankly is a relief: I’d been worried that not drinking while other people were would inevitably result in a situation where, past the first hour, everyone else would be drunk and on one wavelength while I trailed behind on another. Instead, it turns out that either my friends don’t drink as much as I thought they did, or else they’re still all awesome and interesting and interpretable to sober people while drinking. Either that, or I’m just crazy enough not to notice or care to the contrary, but still – it’s nice to know that, should the mood take me, I can have a night out without alcohol and still have a good time.