Monthly Archives: February 2018


This week, I’ve been battling insomnia. (Why yes, it has been kind of a tough month, since you ask.) It’s a profoundly frustrating experience. Sleep is something my body absolutely requires, but periodically, for no reason that I’ve ever been able to discern, it decides … not to do it.

I have no conscious control over falling asleep, and I guess obviously I’m also not making the conscious decision not to sleep. In fact, I’d dearly like to. And yet, this very important part of how my brain works insists on doing its own thing.

It is much like creating art, as I think I’ve noted before. There are times when, even though I have a nice big chunk of a day when I could sit down and write, I have a project to work on and a comfortable setting to work in, the words just don’t want to come. Then there will be others when, abruptly, even though it’s late at night or I really just have a few minutes before I have to dash off somewhere, that I will suddenly have a joyous avalanche of words.

I have tried to learn to accept it, and it’s something I continue to try to get better at accepting. Some days will be good. Some days less good. I trust it all balances out in the end.

It’s both frustrating and more than a little fascinating that there are these parts of my being that – as far as I can tell – are completely outside my ability to control and manage. We tend to pride ourselves on our intelligence and our ability to manipulate and control our environment, to use our reason to choose our responses. And yet sometimes, none of that really matters because there’s still parts of our brains operating on another level, what I can’t help but think of as an older level.

At times – like this week, when I’m struggling to get through the things that I need to get done on very little sleep – it’s a bit of an uneasy relationship. Just as with my creative processes, I suppose I trust that eventually whatever part of my ancient brain controls my sleep and I will reach a truce, and everything will balance out again.

That’s all I have for you this week. Pleasant dreams.

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Fog and Rain

It was a rainy, misty, foggy day here today and that feels pretty appropriate for writing this blog entry as I have no idea what to write about. That, in turn, is in keeping with how writing has been going the last while for me – it has been a struggle. This book is now, I feel quite certain, the most difficult thing I have ever written. Some of that is because I know I’m challenging myself in what I’m trying to pull off with it, some of it is just … things not coming easily.

I know my energy is very divided between trying to write fiction and trying to do a good job at the day job and trying to make sure I do other things beyond those two. It’s still easy to get down when the time goes by and the words won’t come.

Yesterday I did reach a bit of a milestone in that I believe I have written all the major scenes for the book I’m working on, and now “all” that needs to be done is to shuffle them into the right order and patch over all the transitions. Experience tells me that’s a fair piece of work to go, but it’s still good to have all the main pieces blocked out.

So I have been making progress, it’s just that every time I sit down to write, even when I know exactly what it is I want to do, it has been really very difficult. Every word I’ve written has been a struggle, and I’ve only hit those stretches where things start to really flow and come easily for very brief times.

I’m not writing this to complain or to fish for encouragement. The reason I decided to write about this today (barring, of course, the lack of another good idea) is that a lot of times when I look around on social media I see posts from writers about how they wrote 4,000 words this morning or just finished the third editing pass on their book and meanwhile I’ve just written and deleted the same sentence for the eighth time.

It often seems, I think, and we are often told, that creation is effortless and easy, and so it’s easy to feel discouraged in those moments when it’s not. Must be doing something wrong. Must not be a real writer. The thing is, that as far as I can tell, everyone has these times when creation is, in fact, super hard. It’s just as important (although less fun) to be forthright about that as it is to talk about the times when things are going very well. Difficulty is part of the process. It’s neither a surprise nor a sign that something has gone wrong, near as I can see.

The thing that I am trying very hard to teach myself is that the most important thing is not to abandon the project at times like this, but keep plugging away, scratch out 113 words in an afternoon if that’s the best you can do, and eventually, things ease up.

This is all dangerously close to advice, so I’ll stop for this week. I trust I’ll have something a touch more engaging for you next time. Thanks for reading.

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The Right Time

The other day on Twitter there was (I swear) an interesting conversation about coming to stories at the right or the wrong time. Guy Kay (an author I like a lot) was ‘speaking’ without someone about a book they had read, which this person thought they would have liked when they were younger, but didn’t actually enjoy now. Kay remarked something along the lines that they had come to the story at the wrong time in their life.

That’s an interesting way of thinking about our relationship with stories. I am a great re-reader of tales, I tend to come back to favourites again and again (for reasons I’ve discussed elsewhere on this blog) and it’s a rare book in my collection that has been read only once. So on the whole, I continue to enjoy the stories that I used to like, although now that I think of it, I have experienced many of them differently as I’ve gotten (so very much) older.

A case in point that had been on my mind recently anyway – not a book, but a TV series, the 80s vintage BBC series Robin of Sherwood. If you haven’t seen it, it’s, well, a very 1980s take on the classic Robin Hood tale. It ran on that same PBS channel that got me hooked on Doctor Who, and it is, I’m pretty sure, the reason why I ultimately got into medieval history.

(As a sidebar, Robin of Sherwood is interesting to me as a good example of how we can see characters and stories like Robin Hood re-invented for each generation. This version of Robin (when the series starts, anyway) is not a disgraced earl, or the yeoman of the medieval tales, but a peasant hero, a commoner perhaps ideally suited for a modern audience. Unlike the thoroughly Christian Robin of the original stories, this one has an alliance with pagan spirituality, suiting the 1980s generally and Christianity’s receding power overall. And (I believe) this is the first time that Robin’s Merry Men includes a Muslim character – again suiting a modern sensibility that our heroes should be racially inclusive. Similarly, this show’s Marian soon ends up shooting longbows and swinging swords with everyone else.)

I watched the show in my early teens, I liked it quite a lot, and so when at I was at university and it was time to pick elective courses, I picked a medieval history course. The rest, due to a professor who took an interest in me, is history. It’s been an interesting and somewhat uneven road, but I wouldn’t change it. Through those studies, I have gotten deeper into the medieval world than Teenage Me, watching PBS, would ever have believed, and met people who I will treasure for the rest of my days.

I still have, on my laptop, the whole run of the series. I watch parts of it from time to time. Looking at it now, from the perspective of a historian, even one with sort of a glancing familiarity with the Robin Hood stories and a rather better one of medieval England – the show gets a lot wrong. In terms of giving much of an accurate sense of the 12th century, it’s … really not great.

I don’t want to dissect it, but I do wonder how I would have felt about it if I could somehow come to it fresh, without all the history the stories and I have together. Judging from the reaction my PhD supervisor had when I made her watch part of it, my guess is: rather different.

Perhaps that’s a shame, and would be an example of not being able to relax and enjoy something for what it is. Perhaps the thing is that I came to Robin of Sherwood at the right time, and now I get to keep it as a story that I love – because I still do, even though it has its problems. (John Rhys-Davies’ King Richard is still maybe my favourite)

I wonder, too, how I would feel about some of the stories that I know I loved when I was younger, if I were to read them again. I’ve seen the Prydian chronicles mentioned here and there of late, and that’s a series that I read in high school and liked a lot at the time. I’ve never come back to them, unusually for me. I wonder how I’d feel. Perhaps that was the right time for them, and that time has passed. (At some point, I’m going to have to find out)

Sometimes even a part of a story can have quite an effect at just the right part of your life. Whatever else happens with the series, I will always be grateful to Jim Butcher and his Dresden Files for just one exchange where his hero tells a sceptic: “I don’t need you to believe me.” For whatever reason, that relatively minor exchange really resonated with me, at that point someone who was really easily drawn into pouring energy into endless efforts to win debates or convince people of particular points of view. That isn’t what that exchange was about in the book, but I use it every so often to remind myself that it doesn’t matter if there are people out there who think I’m wrong on a subject or an issue. It’s fine. I don’t need them to believe me. That has, genuinely, been the source of a great deal of peace.

Anyway, this is all quite disconnected and rambly, now, but I think it’s remarkable how much power a story like Robin of Sherwood can exert over your life, if you come to it at the right moment.

Thanks for reading, and do keep reading. Those stories are out there.

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Walls, and Doubts

Yesterday (I was told), we hit the point where the same number of days had passed since the Berlin Wall came down as the entire time that it was in place. This was a neat little stat, and of course it made me feel old (well, “feel”), but it also (surprise?) got me thinking.

I am the right age that I grew up with the Berlin Wall in place. It was a fixture, if a distant one, of the world as I understood it. There was West Germany and there was East Germany. They were on all the globes and maps and where-ever else. Every 4 years there would be an Olympics and my male relatives would grumble about the East German team.

This was the world as it was.

Then (as I try imperfectly to cast my mind back), events started to happen that I didn’t really understand (being primarily an Idiot Teen at that point) which – it was suggested – meant that all of this was about to change.

I remember that I didn’t really believe it. Of course the Germanys wouldn’t really reunify. Of course the wall would stay there. Nations were immovable concepts and they didn’t get rearranged. (Sidebar: I have no doubt (but am currently too lazy to go look it up) that several, perhaps many, nations appeared, disappeared, or were renamed prior to this, during my lifetime. That these things did not make nearly the impression on my mind that the Germany thing did says something about the media, something about me, and something about the West-centred world of which I am indisputably a part. I struggle to take a broader view now as much as I can, but this was my perspective as an Idiot Teen.) Presumably just as people talked about Quebec separation, and then it didn’t happen (also one of my experiences), this would be a lot of talk that in the end, didn’t happen.

And then it did.

I can’t pretend that I had, at that time (or even really now) a deep enough understanding of the experience in East and West Europe to appreciate the impact of the events I watched unfold on the news. But I remember being truly amazed that it really was happening.

I think it’s a useful perspective. There are parts of our world that we think are absolutely fixed and absolutely immovable and that no force could ever alter them. In some cases, that may even be true. In others, they may be Berlin Walls: it may not be easy or painless to remove them or change them, but it can be done with sufficient effort. And how will we know until we try?

I’m still working on that WIP I’ve been blogging about for what seems like a very long time. It’s now become perhaps the most difficult thing I’ve ever written, with the possible exception of the PhD thesis. I think that’s because it is in some ways the most ambitious project I’ve done in writing fiction, and I’ve hit several stages (I’m kind of in one now) where I’m not persuaded it’s actually that good and the Urge to Abandon is strong.

But, I don’t think that’s the right move for my development as a writer (and some of the Eager Volunteers have been very enthusiastic about it) and so I am pressing on against my own doubts. Some days I wonder if I can do it, finish this story and finish it in a way that people will want to read. This week I am trying to tell myself it is a Berlin Wall.


I have (of course? surprisingly?) seen the trailer for Solo, the Han Solo prequel that is the next ‘Star Wars Movie that is emphatically not an episode of Star Wars‘. I don’t have a lot to say about it. Han is one of my favourite characters from the movies, and I’m about equal parts looking forward to seeing more of his story and hoping that they don’t screw it up. Of course, there’s the added complication of seeing the part played by someone other than Harrison Ford, and seeing someone other than Billy Dee Williams as Lando.

However, I read (and then, as I do, promptly forgot the author of) what I thought was a good article about how the (over) analysis of things like movie trailers has become a fairly poisonous part of the fan community of a lot of SFF. The trailers are dissected and analysed and theorized over to such an extent that the eventual film almost cannot possibly meet the created expectations.

Also, what we saw in the Rogue One trailer was almost entirely gone by the time the movie hit theatres, and the Last Jedi trailers managed to hide almost everything of actual significance about the movie we saw. I know I’ll see Solo when it comes out, and some of the stuff in the trailer looks neat. That’s as far as I go on this one.

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