Book recommendations and update

Hellooo! How have you been? Yes, I missed you all a lot, I’ve just been super busy over here. Mainly trying to find a home for my newest creation (approximately 13,000 words of fantasy oddness, which is a difficult length to find a home for. I’ve had a very encouraging rejection, which was fantastic, but am now left trying to find a new home for it)(so if you know anywhere that likes this length, do let me know!).

Reading: I am currently between books *gasp* I have just recently finished the Shades of Magic trilogy by V.E. Schwab, which consists of A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows and A Conjuring of Light

Now this series is excellent. The worldbuilding is detailed, deep, and pleasing. I loved the mechanics of the magic, the set-up of the different Londons and the uniqueness of each London, so absolutely a part of the world it was in but intrinsically connected to the others. The characters – bloody hell, but VE Schwab makes the reader care about every single character. Even the background ones that only walk on for a few sentences. Even the villains. I could attempt to list my favourite characters, but it would be a very long list consisting of every name that I can remember. (For anyone who wants to know, my absolute favourite was Holland closely followed by Astrid Dane, Lila Bard and Maris who all tie in second). Each one is compelling and flawed and so very painfully human, with their own stories hovering just out of my sight. The plot is tight, well structured and yanks you along with it. V.E. Schwab successfully built a world in which things felt new, which as someone who reads large amounts of fantasy, was really really fun. And the story itself is… Well, it was akin to having my heart in someone else’s hand, knowing that at any second they might crush it or send it soaring. And it did both so so brilliantly. Also, there were some lovely queer characters who SPOILER WARNING SPOILER WARNING get to have a mostly happy ending yay(as much as anyone does in this series. Also, I would have liked them to have more pagespace)! END SPOILER and a cross dressing thief. I HEARTILY recommend this series. And if you have read it already, come and weep in the comments with me. A huge thank you to my friend who lent me these, as I am way to skint too buy them for myself at the moment.

I should probably note that I use the word ‘queer’ as an umbrella term, and that it’s one that I use for myself because I can’t be arsed to get into specifics of my sexuality all the time. It’s meant in a super friendly way, but if it’s upsetting anyone do let me know.

So, continued update! I have a massive “to read” pile. Here are a few 0f the things on it:

  • The Knowing by Kevan Manwaring – really looking forward to this as, disclaimer, I know the author and chatted about it a bit when it was being written.
  • The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth – I have to read this out loud to understand it, but excited!
  • The Long Woman also by Kevan Manwaring
  • Keeper of the Dawn by Diana L Gunn
  • The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan (I’ve read this before, but I was ill so I’m reading it again)

I also have a pretty big backlog of books that I’ve read, but not managed to review yet. Here are a few of those:

  • The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
  • Among Others by Jo Walton
  • Ganymede by Cherie Priest
  •  Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
  • Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
  • The Bone Dragon by Alexia Casale
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I’m unlikely to get to all of these, so I’m likely to review them a bit at random. If there’s any that you’d really like a review on, leave me a comment. I’ve also just finished a re-read of Kate Tempest’s Hold Your Own, which is mindblowing and brilliant. I’ll try to get back to you with reviews sooner this time!

Midweek update

Hah! I title that as if it’s something I do regularly!!! Oh dear…

Anyway, here’s a little looksie at what I’m up to. We have:

Reading: Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga, Warrior Women by Robin Cross and Rosalind Miles, Mosswitch and Other Stories by Sara Maitland. As you can tell, I am once again attempting to educate myself with history (and I guess science??? Mosswitch is fiction with sciencey inspirations). We’ll see how it goes this time (I think I may just have to admit that the reason history makes me so cross is not to do with finding the right book and absolutely to do with all the inherent biases and general shitness of people. That said, I am discovering some incredibly brilliant people so there’s that too) (I’m also terrible at remembering dates, which does not help. But I have a great memory for useless Potter trivia…)

Writing: So. Nearly. Ready. To. Submit. Story. It. Is. Painful. How. Close. I. Am. And. Then. I Can. Forget. All. About. It. For. At. Least. A. Month. And write something else entirely, which, in all honesty, I love the story I’ve been working on but I’m so so ready to be working on something else so I’m going to be very happy when it’s away and I have so many ideas (and do cross your fingers for me getting accepted – it’s a very different beast from The Life and Times of Angel Evans but, I hope, still enjoyable and good).

Other thoughts: Period pants, yes or no?

Favourite song this week:

And that’s me!

News and squealing

Hellooo! I know I know, I’m not very good at this whole ‘blogging regularly thing’. I figure if you’re still following me after all this time you’ve worked this out.

So anyway, here is a quick listy of the literary(?) things that are going on in my life at the moment:

Writing news: I have just finished the first draft of a short story (okay, it’s not that short, it’s about 12,000 words), and I have printed it out, put it in a folder and hidden it under the bed where it is going to stay for at least a month while I gain the distance necessary for editing. I’m finding this hard because I’m very excited about this story, and I just want to to dive back in there. The space, however, is very important. In the meantime, I’m drastically re-vamping an older story of mine that I found a while back and which I think has a lot of potential. Hopefully, I can get this done in the month while the first story is Under The Bed, and maybe have it in shape for sending to submissions by December. Hopefully…

Reading: I have just read The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia by Mary M. Talbot and Bryan Talbot. It’s the first thing I’ve read by them, and I really enjoyed it. I may well write a review in the near future. I’m also reading Women in Dark Times by Jacqueline Rose, which I can only handle in ten to fifteen page bundles at a time, mainly because I end up full of impotent rage…

Excited about: I’ve ordered my copy of A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers and I am very very very excited about it! I shall have it in the next few days! *dances*

And that’s me for now – more news to follow as and when.

🙂

Quick Update

Hello there!

Apologies, it has been an age. I have had a really hectic time recently, and I’ve also been struggling to keep up with my new year’s resolution (submit a minimum of one piece of work to a magazine every month).

Here is an update of what I’m reading, and what I’m likely to review:

The Lavender Menace: Tales of Queer Villainy edited by Tom Cardamome. I’ve got half a review for this which I’m currently finishing off.

Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue. I am part way through this, absolutely loving it so far, very likely to review it.

Websters First Intergalactic Wickedary by Mary Daly, in cahoots with Jane Caputi. This is mind blowing, but I’m not sure whether or not I’ll review it.

And there you have it.

Just to keep you entertained, here are some photos of me gearing up to write this morning.

Gallery

Trials and Terrors of Editing

As perceived by Meredith Debonnaire

For the last several years I have been writing a novel, and last Summer I finally had a full first draft. Since then, I have intermittently been going through the process of attempting to refine this first draft into something readable and enjoyable. That is, I’ve been editing.

What I have discovered is that I find editing hellish. Actually hellish. I’ve never had to edit something of this length before, which means that the learning curve is pretty steep. Writing, for me, is a very raw process. It’s exciting, trying to fit all my ideas into a form. Even on days when I have horrible writer’s block and spend all the time that I put aside for writing picking my toenails in a creatively moribund funk, it feels like part of a process. Editing, however, inspires in me a terror similar to that of doing my tax return. I go into avoidance mode; my room needs cleaning, my socks need pairing, my accounts are in a mess, I have a backache, there are about five books that I’ve been meaning to read forever and suddenly all these things are things that I need to deal with now.

Admitting this makes me feel like a pathetic human being, because I have always wanted to be a professional writer and I know that editing is something I just have to do if I want that to become a reality. There’s a part of me saying “Meredith! Get ahold of yourself! Stop faffing about, sit down and edit that damn chapter! It doesn’t matter if you mess it up because you can go back later and change it. It’s not the end of the world if you get it wrong. Edit the damn chapter! Then you can watch that Avengers film and eat chocolate.” To which the rest of me replies (in a whiny voice) “But it’s scaaarrryy.”

The thing is, it’s hard to be objective when I’ve invested three+ years of my life in this project. It’s terrifying to re-read my writing and realise that there are whole sections (that I personally really like) that are completely superfluous. I have to put all my mental armour on and go “Okay, those ten chapters neither advanced the plot or the character development. Away with them!” while secretly plotting other stories in which the characters that have now vanished can be used. When I realise that there are sections that I actively dislike, it feels like a personal failing somehow. Because I wrote that, and invested myself in it and worked really hard and it’s still awful.

It’s also very easy for me to get bogged down in editing individual chapters and lose sight of the overall story. Sometimes I feel like I get so close to it that I can’t actually see anything anymore, but there’s only so many times I can read through the entire manuscript before it just becomes a huge blur in my head. Editing seems like a process that, to do well, I actually have to take a lot of breaks from in order to be able to re-read the changes I’ve made with clear eyes. However this makes building a work habit very difficult, and also massively exacerbates my tendency towards procrastinating.

The most confusing moment that I’ve had so far was last Friday, when I realised that I had three versions of my storyline plan all of which were different. I had, at some point, made various revisions to the order of events in my manuscript (the novel I am writing is told in a non-linear fashion, so this potentially gets complicated very quickly) and forgotten to date any of them. I found myself sitting in a café reading through each of these versions, with very little clue as to which one was the most recent. I ended up just reading through all of them, picking the one that worked best overall and making a few minor changes to it.

I have, however, had some brilliant pieces of advice from other writers about editing. The first piece of advice was given to me when I had just finished the first draft of the entire novel; I was advised to put it away, and not look at it for at least two months. Longer if I could manage it. It was a very wise course of action.

The second piece of completely invaluable advice that was given to me was that, rather than just going through the novel and cutting things, I should try to write the essence of each chapter in 100 words exactly. This forces me to only include the absolute essentials, and then I can build up from those bones using my first draft as reference. I’m not always particularly strict about this, but it is a very helpful tactic.

I am also lucky enough to have a wide circle of creative friends willing to read my work, give honest feedback, offer support and be an ear for me to moan into when I need to. I fully intend to continue slogging slowly uphill with this task until I have a good, readable manuscript. However much tea, chocolate and tears are needed on the way. Maybe my editing skills will even improve…

Post-editing face How I feel after a day spent editing.

Short story- The Plants

This is a short story that I wrote for a competition themed around the future. Comments and constructive criticisms welcomed. Enjoy!

 

I don’t know how it happened. The war started before I was born, and the official story was one of a ruthless enemy that killed without reason and must be defeated at all costs. Whispers of experiments turned loose, of terrible mistakes made by our own scientists and attempts at negotiation came later.

The war first touched me when I was six; my mum kissed my forehead and cried, my dad wrapped his arms around me and held on so tight I thought I might burst. They handed me over to one of the old AI’s, the ones that looked nearly human, and walked away.

The AI took me through doors the size of dragons and to a chamber, a bomb shelter of sorts, where I had to stay. There were thousands of us hiding in the custom-built cave. Walls of rock thicker than a mountain, and us children packed in like sardines and breathing recycled air.

It was the day our greatest piece of technology died, the day we began losing, but all I remember is that it was too hot in there and I could feel my skin beginning to scald. I was scared and I sobbed quietly at the edge of the enormous space for many hours. I did not understand why we must hide, or where my family were.

Later I found out that our enemies wrecked the central mind, the great computer that controlled more than eighty percent of all our systems. Literally tore it apart. I try to imagine it; three miles of solid nanotechnology ripped asunder, shattered crystals and diodes, hydrogen and glistening metals cracked by the tendrils of its destroyer. So confident were those that built its defence systems that there was no backup, and not even the military had separate controls.

At the time, what I knew was that the air stopped. The machines pumping our oxygen shut down. The temperature soared and bodies pressed in from every direction. People died around me, screaming and sweating as their bodies collapsed. I crawled over convulsing flesh to escape.

I was lucky to be a small child; I managed to squeeze out through the defunct ventilation system, struggling to breath and ripping my nails out as I fought to undo screws. I don’t know if anyone ever cleared those bodies away or if they were left to rot. I don’t know if anyone else escaped.

Around me, the land was vast and barren, artificial cities twisting in glass helixes and glittering like a dragonfly’s wing. It was the first time I had seen our illustrious cities, and they were glorious even as they toppled. From where I stood on the bare hill, I could see a green blur on the horizon; it was a soft colour, nothing like the world I’d been raised in. I didn’t know what it meant then.

There was anger of course; that place was meant to protect the children, to ensure that the war didn’t reach us. But who could have predicted that the central mind would be breached? Millions died that day, and the aftermath claimed millions more as cities collapsed into the ground, as electrical fires burned and nuclear stations shorted out and gave up.

We fought back. New computers were built, and each of our districts had an individual system. We ripped holes in the earth and built fires and constructed huge mechanics out of metal. The luckier people were shot off into space in the hope that maybe some of us would survive. I was conscripted.

My years in the army are a blur of hatred. Vigilance was drummed into us; everything must be sealed and disinfected. If in doubt, fire was the best bet. Our food was tasteless and dry, made from controlled bacteria that was carefully monitored for signs of sentience during its growth. I was taught to recognise symptoms of infection, to drive a plough the size of a hill that spat flames and planted salt in its wake, to kill a fellow soldier if the vines got hold of them and spare them the pain of slow death or, worse, infection by mind spores that could turn you against your own.

It was always my intention to protect; to guard my own kind against our semi-sentient adversary. To ensure that we had a future, however bleak that future might be.

I was far behind enemy lines, a forerunner in my gargantuan plough, when I found the people. They were living, peacefully, in the centre of the wilderness.

I had been told that our only chance was to keep the marauding green at bay, to destroy it. I had been lied to. These tiny collections of humans, the dregs of civilisation, were able to live in jungles unmolested while we suffered from illness, pain and an unwinnable war. A single blade of grass could spell death for an entire sector. I’d seen soldiers torn apart, seen roots and fungus take over a body from the inside. Ivy is the most dangerous.

I knew no-one would listen. They would say these people were slaves or traitors or that I had spores in my brain. But these people are our best chance of survival, not the sterilised space ships, the squeaking of our metal war crafts or the floating villages with their surfaces designed to repel plant forms.

I considered the future, the forms it might take. This planet has made it abundantly clear that humans are not needed, are not wanted. I stalled my plough and watched through the monitor as they gathered, silent, and stared back at me; at the glistening alloy of the machine that I drove, as huge as a whale.

Their skin was mottled; green and brown and purple, and they faded in and out of sight like ghosts. Buildings disguised as part of the landscape came into slow focus; houses hanging like seeds from branches, cobweb walkways connecting tree to tree.

No move was made towards me, nor did they flee. Children ran about, naked and screeching in that unselfconscious manner that children have. It was the children that decided me; they were free, as children should be, not buried in some still breathing tomb. I turned the engine back on.

My plough hummed in anticipation. I reversed slowly, moving away from their still staring eyes until they were out of sight and then turning about. I drove straight back the way that I came, following my own path of tossed soil and destruction.

That is how I came to be here; driving a plough straight into the command base with the colossal laser fully engaged and spitting fire like a hell-beast. The buildings aren’t designed to withstand this kind of attack; threats shouldn’t get this close, and it’s not human technology that they’re worried about.

If I knock out the base here, the entire ploughing operation on this front will have to cease, at least for a year or so. I think of the humans I saw, their strange quiet faces and basic tools. Survival. They are doing better than our remote settlements and militarised fumigation schemes. Our superiors keep the statistics hidden, but there are rumours on the frontline; diseases that sweep down on the wind or creep from the ground, of entire settlements dying in a single night and of crippling sterility.

My machine shudders as it bites into the central unit. Panicked voices scream on my radio, and I know they are scanning me for infection. They won’t find anything. I feel compelled to say something.

“There are people. Living in the forests! There are people!”

A pause, then silence crackles around me. I doubt they’ve listened. I drive onward. Steam gushes out as I slice through ventilation and purifying systems. Behind me the earth is churned and filled with salt, barren. I am cutting through science labs, through planning rooms and quarantine zones.

It’s hot here in the cockpit. They can’t disable my controls, but they have shut down the atmosphere regulator. I nearly laugh; to die of suffocation after all these years seems like a bad joke. On my monitor I watch evacuation pods twirl into the sky like dandelions. There are dark spots across my vision.

Another year or so. I can give those people another few years and that is all. I swore to protect our future, and I tell myself that’s what I’m doing. I keep my hands on the trackpad and lean forward, sweat dripping across my face despite my enhanced resistance. If people can live. If people can live in tandem with the colossal sentience of plants, then this is worth it.

In my mind, my hands scrabble their way through a tattered shaft. I can feel the life wheezing out of me with each shortened breath. For a moment I feel earth on my hands. I wonder what it is to stand on soil with bare feet and be unafraid. I am there, back on that hill. I can see distant movement in the cities, full of flowers and leaves and people.

A cataclysmic groan fills my ears as my vehicle grinds to a halt; a glacier slowing. The city is so clear in my mind, a paradise of metal and flora. I know that it was never like this, that the plants struck before those towering citadels were built.

The quiet, dark faces of those wild people flicker in my mind; they have a future. In my mind I run toward the city as the command unit burns.