Month: December 2012

The View From Here

Well, here we are. It’s the end of 2012: you know, the year we were all supposed to bite it in the Great Unspecified Apocalypse, which may or may not have involved John Cusack… and provided our luck holds (and that the Winchester Boys don’t doze off), tomorrow is the start of a brand new, shiny year.

A couple of days ago, I asked you to tell me the things that have made you happy this year, rather than just spend a bunch of words telling you all about ME some more. And you did – so here they are. In no particular order…

Kim Curran (@kimecurran): I had SO many joyful moments this year, from book deals to flying lessons. But new friends has to top it all.

Jennifer Williams (@sennydreadful):¬†This year I finished writing the book that is dearest to me, and I now have an agent! Top year all round ūüôā

Anne Lyle (@AnneLyle):¬†The novel I’d worked on for 5 years was finally published – and the sequel too! Lifetime goal achieved ūüėÄ

Juliet Mushens (@mushenska): HAPPY 2012 THINGS: for me, amazing amazing list of clients I adore and very exciting new job. (and great glasses.)

Andrew Reid (@mygoditsraining): Seeing good friends, getting headway on a lot of projects. Miles to go, but nice to make progress. Also:

(Ah, yes. No review of the year would be complete without reference to the Great Twitter Gif War of 2012…)

Rebecca Bowden (@Bex_Bowden): Being offered representation by world’s best leopard-print loving, hair flicking super-agent!¬†Making great progress on projects and learning a lot about the publishing industry.¬†Family trips, quality time with loved ones & fun times with supportive friends!

Marguerite Kenner (@museofchaos):¬†¬†My¬†#bringthejoy¬†is definitely having moved to England with Alasdair Stuart. Big risk, bigger reward. ūüôā

@Sci-Fi Bulletin: Most joy? Seeing a group of non-singers become a unified choir and loving making music #bringthejoy

Leanne Bennett (@LeanneBennett):¬†¬†After having been nearly mute for much of the first half of the year – it’s awful not to have a voice – I have started regaining my ability to speak. It took a number of surgeries which were primarily to fix a breathing problem, but the offshoot is that I can now be heard. It’s slow progress, and I often sound either like a 40-a-day smoker or like I have a very bad throat, but there is such joy in being able to be heard.

Chris Roberts (@deadclownart): 2012 left the fam fairly unscathed. got to make art for rad writers & presses. uncle to 2 baby girls (via 2 sibs)

GingerNutNinja: 1. I got some beautiful new skis. Nothing deep and meaningful, but remind me of happy times been and to come just by looking at them.

2. Got part time job at office which made me realise old job which crushed self-esteem, made me miserable and didn’t even pay to compensate for the suffering … is an office exception, not necessarily the norm. Hurrah for wonderful, supportive, flexible new boss.

3. Started fulfilling a resolution. I believe work is the thing you do the minimum of to afford to do the maximum of everything else. Life is too cool to have it any other way. This year I did a few random things that were silly fun and utterly unadult. One was joining a no budget web series as part of the fight unit. It might be utter rubbish, but I had fun. And might even get my name as a no one on IMDB.
Fun. It should be taken seriously. I’m proud of taking the risk, taking a few days unpaid, just to do something I’d never otherwise be involved in.

Life is good, even when it’s not perfect. It’s never perfect.

Jo Hall (@hierath77): This year, after a three-year hunt, I finally found a publisher for Art of Forgetting, and it’s coming out next year. ¬†Dream come true!

Alasdair Stuart (@alasdairstuart):

I’m going to cheat and go with two, but they’re connected:) The first is Marguerite, and the fact I got to spend the Summer with her in California and then move back to a new part of the UK and start a life here. 2012 was a year of huge risk after huge risk for us both and we ran headlong at them, hand in hand and I’ve never been happier. Plus she’s a huge goofball and MASSIVE fun to sit next to at concerts:) I love her completely:)

The second is that, thanks to her, and our new start, I’m finally getting my work together. I swore off fiction, because it was making me miserable, months ago and ended up doing NanoJourno instead of NaNoWriMo. I wrote 135,000 words in one month, clearing my decks and setting me up for 2012. After years of being crippled with indecision and distraction and insecurity, of feeling like the unwanted, unneeded, incompetent party guest, I know, with absolute certainty that I can do this, I’m good at this. It’s a baseline level of confidence I’ve never had before and that may be why I signed up to Colin Barnes’ 1,000,000 words in 2013 challenge. I didn’t have that confidence before I met her and it’s incredible to feel it now.

A million words? Yeah, let’s DO THIS.

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So there you go. Reading through that makes me happy. It covers everything, doesn’t it? From the littlest things up to some really quite big things – and that’s the way it should be. Life is made up of big and small; of hugely important and of microscopically trivial… and everything in between. We should hope to find happiness everywhere and anywhere on the spectrum. If I’ve missed anyone, I apologise – if you’ve got anything to add, feel free to leave a comment and tell us your happy thing(s) of 2012.

As for me? My highlights have to include launching BLOOD AND FEATHERS in Forbidden Planet, and helping to launch the two anthologies I was involved in at FantasyCon this year.

They have to include meeting the wonderful Juliet Mushens and signing as one of her clients.

They have to include my massive good fortune in knowing my friends and in being able to work with the people I work with (Juliet, yes, and Marie and Paul, and Jon, and Dave and Pye and Ben and Mike. Thank you all for your faith!)

They have to include seeing my son in his first school play (even if I spent the preceding two weeks whinging about having to make a whale costume. Seriously, though. A whale?)… and so many more things.

If you had any part in any of this, then thank you. Thank you to everyone who supported the book: thank you to everyone who bought it and read it. Whether you liked it or not, thank you for giving it a shot.

Thank you (as always) to the people who get me through the years, the weeks, the days… and who make me look forward to the ones still to come.

Thank you to everyone who joined in the spirit of “Bring the Joy”, or with the blog, or Twitter, in general.

And if you were around this time last year, you know I like to wind up the year with a song.

We waved off 2011 with the Foo Fighters.

I can’t think of any better song to say “Adios!” to 2012 than this one, and nobody better to sing it.

So long, 2012.

2013? Bring it on.

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Bring the Joy

I have flu. Yay. I made it as far as the afternoon of Christmas Day, and then it sideswiped me. By ten o’clock, I was hunched in the corner of the sofa, wrapped in three blankets and making pathetic “meep” noises. I was also watching THE BOURNE LEGACY, and I can tell you I have never empathised so deeply with a character as I did with Aaron Cross, sweating his virus-mojo out in Manilla. Brother, I was right there with you.

Anyway. Viruses and chems and festive woes aside, I wanted to say thank you.

Just before Christmas, I went all serious and emotional for a bit and wrote a blog about depression and therapy and medication and… stuff. ¬†And I put it online and assumed that most people would be far too busy doing Christmassy things to notice it, but that maybe one or two would see it – and that maybe it would be helpful.

As it turned out, rather a lot of people saw it.

And rather a lot of people got in touch – many of them privately – about it.

I wouldn’t dream of directly repeating what anyone said, but I heard from far more of you than I expected. People who’ve been on medication. People just starting it. People just coming off it. People who’ve had long-term treatment. People who’ve had short-term treatment. People who’ve had, are starting or are undergoing therapy.

So many people.

While their stories and their experiences are their own – each as individual as the person sharing them – it proved one very important thing: if you are suffering from depression, if you are undergoing treatment or think you might need it… you are not alone.

Bearing that in mind, here’s an idea.

Like pretty much everyone else with a blog, I was planning on writing an end-of-year post. You know the sort of thing: this happened in this month, and I did this, and went there and… yadda yadda yadda.

But I’m kind of tired of talking about me. (I know, right? It’s the flu talking. Must be.) I’d like to talk about you. About us. So tell me about your year.

Tell me something good that happened to you this year. Something that brought you joy. It can be a big thing, or a little thing or anywhere in between. Personal, professional, sensible, silly… it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it made you happy.

Tell me what it was, and who you are, and I’ll include it in that end of year post. You can leave a comment on this entry, or mail me via the contact form, or tweet me (and if you can include #bringthejoy, that would be super-helpful). I warn you, if there aren’t enough, I’m just going to have to go ahead and talk about me anyway – and no-one wants that, do they?

You have until the morning of New Year’s Eve.

So let’s end the year the same way we start the new one.

With joy. With optimism. With hope…

… And with each other.

Clarence

[WARNING! SERIOUS POST KLAXON!]

It being very, very nearly Christmas, I’ve done what a lot of people do at some point in December.

I’ve just watched It’s A Wonderful Life.

I’ve not seen it that many times – twice, I think – but I have a huge degree of fondness for it… partly because it’s surprisingly dark for what’s usually called a “feel-good” film – after all, any film where a potential suicide attempt is crucial to the plot would be a hard sell as “fluffy”.¬†Maybe it’s not really that surprising: December is the¬†Beachy Head chaplaincy team‘s¬†peak time¬†of the year.

The genius of Frank Capra’s film is that just for a short while, George Bailey gets to see the world as it would be if he had never been a part of it. It’s the ultimate answer to the question: “Wouldn’t they all be better off without me?”

 

It’s an answer that anyone who takes their own life never gets.

Mental health has, rightly or wrongly, been brought into the news lately too. Rightly because there should be conversations about mental health and they should happen regularly; conversations about supporting people who are struggling and about seeking to dismantle the stigma which surrounds mental health issues. (Wrongly because, well, bullets do have a habit of killing people and it’s very difficult to walk around with a semi-automatic depressive episode in your pocket.)

So here’s the thing. I’m going to tell you about my very own Clarence.

His name was Sanjay. He was my therapist, and I’m certain that without his intervention my life would be very different. Or would have been very different.

Between my second year as an undergraduate and now, I’ve suffered several massively debilitating depressions, each of which has, in its own way, completely and utterly destroyed me. It’s only thanks to the extreme understanding and support of people around me (my family, my various doctors and in that initial instance, my lecturers and the English department at UCL) that each time I have been able to put myself back together.

I’ve taken anti-depressants in varying doses for varying periods of time (Citalopram ftw, kids) and enjoyed their delightful side effects as well as some superbly trippy withdrawal (my particular favourite was the auditory hallucinations: for about 3 days, I was followed everywhere by echoing footsteps. It was incredibly creepy to begin with, but after a while it just got silly. Phantom footsteps don’t follow you to the compost bin on a Tuesday morning. They just… don’t).

I’ve never enjoyed taking them because I feel less like myself on them: they change the way your brain functions, after all, and our brains – our minds – make us what we are. But I’ve taken them because I’ve known that I needed them. And they’ve done their job each and every time – they’ve given me the start I need to pick up the pieces and glue them back together. (There’s almost certainly a “crazy glue” joke to be made there, but it’s just too easy.)

Sanjay, however, changed everything. I was fortunate to have an engaged and understanding NHS GP, and a surgery with a cognitive behavioural therapy teaching programme. I was assigned to Sanjay, overseen by his supervisor, and I saw him once a week for most of a year. That was almost 6 years ago, and since then I’ve not needed medication or further treatment (although that’s not to say I might not need either or both again at some point.)

Sanjay was my Clarence. And I can’t tell you how grateful I am that he was there.

And that’s the thing about It’s A Wonderful Life. In its own way, it shows you the truth about depression, about despair: that they distort. Depression isn’t a black dog. It’s a radiation suit that’s inside out and stitched to your skin, trapping you inside while it slowly poisons you.

Unpicking the stitches is hard.

Realising they’re there in the first place is harder.

I’ve watched several of my friends deal with depression in the last few years, and I’m so proud of them. I’m proud because I know how hard it is, and how it’s so much easier just to give up. I’m thankful they didn’t.

And I suppose that’s why I’m putting this blog up now – while everyone’s doing their “Best of 2012” lists, I’m here nattering away about pretty much the bleakest things imaginable. Because I’m thankful.

I’m thankful for Sanjay. I’m thankful for my family, and my husband especially. I’m thankful for my friends – many of whom have seen the worst of me, and somehow are still here.

I’m thankful for the extraordinary difference that modern medicine, psychology and the NHS have made to my life. Without them… well.

On Twitter, the Samaritans are running a “Stand Up, Speak Out” campaign, raising awareness of the fact they’re there, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Their phone number is 08457 909090. You might not need it, but someone you know might.

We can’t all be George Bailey… but maybe, just maybe, we can be somebody’s Clarence.

The Nice List

My WordPress dashboard is snowing. That can only mean one thing: it must be nearly Christmas.

Look, I can’t help it – and if you think that’s a bad way of judging the start of the holiday season, you should meet Other Half. He declares it to be officially Christmas when one of his online forums puts up the twinkly fairy lights gif around the border of the page. So, you know…

Anyway. Christmas is rolling towards us like a tinsel-strewn juggernaut, and this means it’s prime festive shopping season. Ever helpful, I’ve come up with a couple of suggestions for gifts for those really difficult people to buy for. I warn you: these are, largely, Things What My Friends Have Made – but you shouldn’t let their questionable judgement in hanging around with me put you off. Everything on this list is awesome, and would make an amazing present – and frankly, if you can’t plug your mates’ stuff on your blog, then where can you do it?

So, without further ado, I present (see what I did there?)…

THE NICE LIST

(for the sake of simplicity, the majority of these links are Amazon physical ones. Feel free to sub in the physical / ebook retailer of your choice….)

 РFor action junkies:

SHIFT – Kim Curran

DEPARTMENT 19: THE RISING – Will Hill

Scott Tyler and Jamie Carpenter are, between them, as average as your average teenage boy gets. Except they aren’t… because as you soon discover if you pick up either of these two books, Scott has the power to change any decision he’s ever made and Jamie’s a vampire hunter with a secret government department. Gory, gripping and action-packed, these books are brilliantly paced and plotted. And if you can’t choose between them… why not pick both?

 

 РFor Doomsday Preppers:

THE TESTIMONY – James Smythe

Let me tell you a story about this book (in which a blast of static is heard by almost everyone on the planet, followed by a voice. Is it God? Is it aliens? Is it a mass hallucination..?). I took this on holiday with me earlier this year, and it was the last book I read before heading home. I was sitting in the airport at the Seychelles, which is a tiny little thing, at around midnight, waiting for my flight to be called and reading the last couple of chapters of THE TESTIMONY. There were one or two people already in the departure hall, but we were the last flight out for the night so it was pretty quiet.

And then someone, somewhere, leaned on a button and switched on the PA. There was a burst of deafening white noise… and nothing else.

Not that it mattered, because by that time I had dropped my book and hidden under the departure lounge seating.

That’s how good this book is.

It’s complicated, twisty… and utterly terrifying.

 

 РFor Western fans & short story addicts: 

A TOWN CALLED PANDEMONIUM – Jurassic Press

I’ve been involved in the Pandemonium project (one of my stories appeared in the apocalypse-themed anthology, now out of print) but this one’s a different animal altogether. A shared-world, weird Western anthology with some of my favourite writers involved, it will transport you to a town with secrets, tragedies and horrors. So what are you waiting for? Saddle up…

 

For urban explorers:

THE CITY’S SON – Tom Pollock

Urban explorers know that cities have a life of their own – and London is no exception. But you’ve never imagined it quite like this. Tom Pollock gives you a version of London where street lights come to life, where the ghosts of trains ride the rails and where the building sites scarring the surface of the city lay the foundations for something sinister…

One part urban fantasy, one part New Weird, one part utterly itself, read this and you’ll never look at the city in the same way again.

 

 РFor art buffs:

Vincent Chong prints

Nominated for a World Fantasy Award last year, Vincent Chong has produced book covers for Stephen King, Joe Hill and China Mieville among others, as well as illustrating collector’s editions of some incredible novels (I have a copy of THE CLUB DUMAS, which is one of my favourite books and is probably the most expensive copy of a novel I’ve ever bought!). I have a bunch of his prints, including one (predictably, I guess) of a fallen angel, and they’re beautiful. ¬†Also, I have this as my desktop right now, because I love it.

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So there you go. Yes, they’re all my friends – and I’m utterly unapologetic about recommending their work, because every single one of them is immensely talented. You won’t go wrong with any of them.

 

The end of the Rebellion

The reason I’ve been so quiet lately? Oh, nothing. It’s just… well.

REBELLION’s finished, at least in first draft and has survived its first reading by Other Half.

And now I’m all:

It is only the first draft, and there’s lots of work still to do – but even so, it feels like victory.

This will doubtless turn to utter despair, and reaching for the gin once my editor Jon gets his hands on it (and that’s just his reaction…) but at just over 100,000 words in this version, it’s by far the longest thing I’ve ever written – and when I started, I genuinely didn’t realise how much I would enjoy being back with Alice, Mallory and Vin. Which I did. And I do.

I still have to make my own passes on it, and that’s before we start the real heavy lifting of making it fit for actual human consumption… but I’m happy.

I was made even more happy, as it turns out, by discovering that Book Chick City have made BLOOD AND FEATHERS both their December “Book of the Month” and one of their “Books You Should Be Reading Right Now.” I love the BCC site, so this is a big deal.

(Dean? If you would…?)

I’ll stop now. I promise.

And as it’s my birthday tomorrow – when I’ll be turning the grand old age of 22 (ha!) – I’ll leave you with this. A while back, the excellent Hub Fiction published my Lovecraftian Anglo-Saxon mash-up story, “And the Northmen Brought Their Gods.” It’s now available as a podcast to stream or download, thanks to the lovely team at Dark Fiction Magazine.

Enjoy!