Archive for the ‘Life/Stuff’ Category

In video games, whenever I’m given the option of fighting with ranged or melee weapons, I go melee. Even in RPG and tactical combat settings, where the interface means my choice of weapon has little to no impact on the controls, I still skew strongly towards swords and knives over bows and guns, because some bizarre, lizardy part of my brain feels more vulnerable if my avatar isn’t armed for close combat. In games that let me control my character’s actions directly, my combat style is blunt and unsubtle: even if I don’t really have the stats for it, my default approach is to be a tank, running right into the thick of things and hitting¬†stuff until it dies. Even back when I was a regular Halo player (multiplayer against friends, never campaign), the sword was always my weapon of choice, followed closely by the shotgun and plasma grenades: in an environment where guns were the default, I still gravitated towards close-range weapons, because they felt, inexplicably, both safer and more satisfying.

Inevitably in the kinds of games I play, there are particular enemies, bosses and training fields where you’re strongly encouraged¬†to tailor your combat approach to deal with specific threats, or else suffer punitive damage. Rationally, I know this, and yet I hate doing it. It irks me to have to switch to ranged weapons because a particular creature is immune to ground attacks, or to switch in my mage as party leader because using anything other than fire magic against a certain boss will see me stalled midgame until I defeat them. Partly, this reluctance is due to stubbornness on my part – I’m an innately contrary person, and always have been – but mostly, I suspect, it’s because hacking my way through problems without having to overthink or plan my approach is something I find soothing about gameplay. In other contexts, I’m constantly having to try and adapt my metaphorical plan of attack to deal with obstacles and the actions of others, but in gamespace, I can simply repeatedly hit the thing and, even if there’s a more stat-appropriate way to minmax my way to victory, I’m still going to end up the Hero of Ferelden. I can be reckless in games, single-minded, and if that gets my avatar killed a few times, so what? They’ll always be resurrected.

But still, in games, there’s that moment where I enter a new area, or start a new fight, and realise that I’m overmatched. Maybe¬†I haven’t levelled my party enough, or maybe it’s just that these new enemies require a specific¬†approach, but either way, if I try to plough ahead in my usual fashion, I’m probably going to die a lot. Which leaves me with a choice: do I suffer a diminished enjoyment of gameplay by temporarily changing my tactics, or do I bash on, save repeatedly, and treat the whole thing as a training run?

Nine times out of ten, I’ll choose the latter approach. Ultimately, I’m gaming for pleasure, and that being so, I’d rather enjoy the challenge of a difficult level played on my terms than feel bored and disconnected by taking an approach which, while easier, doesn’t engage me.

Kind of like how I deal with writing.

I am, as mentioned, a stubborn, contrary person. Like many creative people, my inspiration is something of a Billygoat Gruff/Rum Tum Tugger: hypothetical projects always look more tempting than the ones to which I’ve committed myself, and no sooner have I started a thing than I want to start something else. It is, frankly, a fucking miracle that I ever finish anything at all. But I do it. I do it, because I approach my writing projects with the same blunt melee frenzy¬†as I do my battles in Knights of the Old Republic: I run at them headlong, heedless of strength and context, until I either emerge victorious or die in the attempt. But in real life, resurrection is a trickier process than merely loading from the last save point. I have to stop and recuperate; I have to change my tactics, which means anything from giving myself a series of mental health days to forcibly setting aside the thing I most want to work on in favour of completing the one that’s due. But once I’m back to strength – even if I’m taking punitive damage; even if it means dying again more quickly than I might otherwise – inevitably, I do it all over again. Wash, rinse, repeat. It’s how I work, and I’ve made my peace with that.

If my life right now was a video game, I’d be stuck in a monster-infested plateaux with minimal save points, enemies requiring the use of ranged weapons, and an under-levelled party. I owe multiple Patreon TV Roulette reviews accrued from the past two months, along with a still-incomplete novella and edits on my manuscript, to say nothing of needing to work on the sequel. I’m midway through writing an Ambush Novel I desperately want to finish, and am stalled in my updating of multiple fanfics which, while created purely for my own pleasure, are nonetheless an important sanity-check. I have five or six books waiting to be read for review, something like forty books to preferentially read for pleasure, and so many¬†blog posts to read in my capacity, along with Mark Oshiro, as editor of the Speculative Fiction anthology 2015 (which you should totally submit to here, btw!). I’ve just taken on an extra morning’s work at my dayjob, which brings me up to four days a week – two full days, one morning and one half-day – which means I now have no days at home without my toddler, as all his childcare time falls when I’m at work. I have visa crap to deal with, which is both expensive and stressful. I have Seasonal Affective Disorder to deal with, as I live in Scotland and the Months of Endless Dark are upon us. I have so much to do, and not enough time to do it in, and not enough strength to do it with.

And yet, I’ll get it done. I’ll push through, bashing and yelling and swinging my sword, because it’s what I do, and what I’ve always done. I might have to die a couple more times in the process – am currently resurrecting myself right now, as it happens – but damned if I’ll stop fighting.

Choose your weapons, world. I’ve chosen mine.

11/11/15 – ETA the following awesome graphic, which the excellent Samantha Swords made for me. Hail!

Warrior Within Sword Fire Image cropped 3

Trigger warning: discussion of depression, suicidal ideation.

The greatest trick depression pulls is convincing you it doesn’t exist; that the baseline misery it enforces is normal at best or irrelevant at worst. Even when you know, rationally, that self-blame¬†is itself a symptom, still you second-guess yourself. You think the problem is something else: that you’re fundamentally lazy, or melancholic, or both; that you’re simply not sleeping properly, or exercising enough, or taking the right vitamins. The idea that these deficiencies might be symptoms rather than causes crosses your mind, but you don’t take it seriously; it feels too much like giving up, like letting yourself off the hook. You want there to be something concrete you can do to improve things, a button to press or routine to enact that will suddenly make things better (not that things are wrong, exactly; the fact that you’re constantly tired and sad and anxious and mentally composing suicide notes at the grocery store while simultaneously berating yourself for being so melodramatic because obviously, you’d never really do something like that, is neither here nor there), and if there isn’t – if there’s nothing you can physically do – then that means you’re powerless, or possibly broken, and who wants to have either of those things confirmed?

So you don’t say anything. You move through a world whose gravity seems to pull you down with greater force each day. However much you sleep, it isn’t enough. Your temper frays. You never feel replenished; only drained, as though some vital well at the heart of yourself has run dry, and nothing you do has the power to fill¬†it back up. One by one, your appetites fade: you can’t read, or write, or eat, or shower, or dress – do anything, really – without feeling like the world has vampire teeth in your jugular. Your joys are either tepid and flat or, very rarely, brief and manic. Nothing feels real. You wonder if you’re a sociopath, because shouldn’t love feel stronger than this? Or maybe you just made terrible choices, and everything is all your fault: maybe you just have to live like this forever.

And then, one night, you burst into tears for a solid ten minutes while reading a story that’s set at the beach, because you miss the sun with a visceral ache, like something that’s been pulled out of you, and for the first time, you seriously consider the idea that there might be a tangible reason for all of this. Sure, you’d thought of it before – you knew what Seasonal Affective Disorder was, even brought it up with the doctor the one time you went in to talk about depression, when they shrugged and said maybe, but also gave you some brochures about free counselling and the option of going straight to pills – but the fix seemed ridiculous. Buy a magic science light, as though a fucking lamp¬†could possibly solve your problems. But you’ve been exercising every day, taking iron and Vitamin D and magnesium supplements for months; the recognisably post-natal aspect of your depression stopped a while back; by every external measurement, you should be in an excellent place, and yet you feel worse than ever. You’ve tried everything short of an anti-depressant prescription, and if that’s going to be the next port of call, then why not give the light a shot first?

So you buy the light, plug it in at the desk you haven’t properly used in months, and sit. It’s bright and warm, and something in you relaxes. You start smiling. Within twenty minutes, there’s a tingling sensation all along the skin of your neck, familiar and alien, and it takes you a while to place it: this, for you, is happiness. You used to feel it outside, in the sun, on hot¬†summer days, and always assumed it was a purely aesthetic reaction, your body responding to the beauty of blue skies and warm skin, but in this moment, you realise it’s so much more than that. You don’t just miss the sun; you need it, and suddenly it’s here again, for the first time in what feels like forever,¬†and oh.


It’s like waking up from a coma. You clean the fridge, then clean the kitchen – tasks which, even hours ago, felt utterly insurmountable. You dance to music, just because. You play with your child, and not only doesn’t it drain you; it delights you, and you no longer feel like such a broken mother. You sleep better. You start to write again. You keep up the exercise, but now, the high you feel while moving doesn’t instantly drop away when you finish. You tell a friend, still struggling to believe it, and she tells you that exposure to sunlight is linked to seratonin production: the chemical that literally controls your ability to feel happy and energised.


You use the light every day. After two weeks, you start reading novels for pleasure, a practice you’d more or less stopped, and which had stated to feel like pulling teeth. (It doesn’t, now. It feels like coming home.)

You are whole. You have SAD. You have a magic lamp.

And it’s going to be all right.



The Silence Speaks

Posted: December 12, 2014 in Life/Stuff
Tags: , , ,

So, as keen readers of this blog will be aware, there… hasn’t been much to keenly read of late, on account of the fact that I haven’t been writing anything. Or I mean, I have been writing; just not here. Without wanting to turn this into a round of Writer’s Excuses, the past few months have consisted largely of a crisis of confidence that can roughly be summarised as Me vs. My Brain, with the winner as yet to be determined. I’ve written a lot of fanfiction since midyear, because it’s the only type of writing that I haven’t come to associate with pass/fail pressure, and as such, it’s been the one thing keeping me both sane and even mildly convinced that writing is a thing I can actually do. Everything else has been like pulling teeth. I’ve run late on pretty much every deadline, either self-imposed or externally set, since about June, which I hate, and it’s now reached a point where my inbox is full of unanswered correspondence and supposedly simple writing tasks (proof this, approve that, respond here) that are actually paralysing me, because part of my brain is just constantly screaming shut up you’re fucking hopeless you can’t do this, and, yeah. It’s not fun.

But I’m getting better, as evidenced by the fact that I’m actually writing this post. Slowly, slowly, I’m starting to get things done again. If I owe you a reply or writing, please be patient with me. I am trying – you have no idea how hard I’m trying right now – and I promise, I haven’t forgotten; I’m just struggling. But I’ll get there in the end.

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.


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 Commentary,¬†edited 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.


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:


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!