What I’m Reading

I’m currently doing battle with The House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski and rarely has such a phrase felt appropriate. A seven hundred word plus exercise in wall-breaking, philosophy, and metawriting wrapped up in a lovecraftian horror story of space, angles, and echoes.

I’m enjoying it in the sense that I’m piecing together the story from many disparate strands of pseudo-commentary and overlapping notes on notes where the footnotes become the main story and back again, battling with white space, layout changes, and a general sense of reading at least four books simultaneously.

In other words its like my brain when I’m reading my usual three of four books at once and keeping the strands separate or overlapping as needed depending on the interrelated nature of those books.

I’m enjoying it, even though the word goblin part of me wants to get to the meat of it rather than building up the supporting architecture. So the whole experience is frustrating and rewarding in one, and I’m grateful to the people who kept prodding me to give it a go. I’m only fifty two pages in. I may be some time…

The Invitation

I recorded this reading of The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer last weekend for the DDC. It came after a number of conversations where, basically, everyone was being nice about everyone else’s voices. Its a poem that has featured heavily in my mental health journey, and we had it read in 2012 at our wedding by one of my brothers. Its a story of owning your own responsibilities and worth, and of accepting your partner in whatever context for who they are just as they accept you. Its always been a beautiful piece. Personally I always feel like I sound like I’m speaking ronud a mouthful of rocks when I talk – but I keep being challenged on that, so here goes outside my comfort zone:

My reading of The Invitation

The Invitation by Oriah
It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.

It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.

By Oriah © Mountain Dreaming,
from the book The Invitation
published by HarperONE, San Francisco,
1999 All rights reserved

Spoons Management

Yesterday wasn’t a fantastic day – one of being low in energy and mood, and it wasn’t helped by diabetes starting my day with an upset stomach that led to copious vomiting mid-morning. Still, at least when that was done I wasn’t as bloated and queasy and merely had a headache, lethargy, and a general feeling of worthlessness – so a reasonable trade-off I guess.

Part of the low energy and dip in self-esteem came from the enforced distancing and general ill health between us all. A big part of my love language is physical touch with those I’m close with – not necessarily intimately, but just the brush of hands or quick hugs or joking pokes in the ribs that cross the gaps between us and at least in my head remind and reassure of acceptance and comfort. So with Lady M having a bad fibromyalgia day and physical distance from myr s, it was a bad day to be having my brain throw a tantrum on that front.

Then there was just the part where I was physically tired as well as emotionally exhausted. I’ve been doing a lot between preparation for the D&D game, cleaning the house/decluttering, and generally being a supportive and positive person for everyone – and I just needed to collapse for a bit. Being typically introverted however, I’m generally not fantastic at communicating this coherently, which can lead to a bit of a spiral of my own making.

But that was yesterday – and today the sun is out, and we’ve spoken at appropriate distances with neighbours. They’ve all asked how we are doing now from when we’ve posted on local facebook groups about going into isolation. There’s been the affirmation that our experiences are not so different, and that generally people are choosing the positive view of how to deal with these weird times.

I have the game tonight, so I’me doing some minor tweaks and preparation for that, and I’ve started recording some odds and ends for a channel on our discord, telling stories. I’ve even written an experimental new beginning for the book and recorded that:

I think what I may start doing as I transcribe more of my short stories is also do recordings of them too as an ongoing process – partly to get practice in, but also to offer another form of accessibility to people who can’t read easily for whatever reason. It’s another creative form, and one that I hope people enjoy.

The TBR pile March 2017

I have many, many, many, many books. Some of them are digital, most are not. At any one time I may be reading about three books properly, with others that I dip into.

So: here’s what’s on my bedside table, cued up for reading:

“Revenger” by Alastair Reynolds – basically pirates in outer space. I’ve loved pretty much all his gothic space opera before now, so while I have no idea what I’m in for, it looks fun.

“The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss – a high fantasy with a dry sense of humour so far.

“Fellside” by M.R. Carey – a thriller that looks like it’s going to some dark places.

“Alice” by Christina Henry – madness and an escape from the asylum with all sort of Alice in Wonderland trappings on the cover

“A Cornelius Calendar” by Michael Moorcock – continuing my rampage through all the collected Moorcock characters

“The Whispering Swarm” by Michael Moorcock – which looks like a fascinating alternate London story

“Indexing” by Seanan McGuire – fighting back against stories, or memetic incursions, where fairytales try to play out in the modern world.

Should keep me busy. On the Kindle I also just started reading Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz – which hits all sorts of buttons in the realms of madness, magic and karmic balances.

I’ll not read all of them in a month, but it should keep me busy… I’ll post in a while about what I’ve finished recently too.

Change of Plans

I’ve woken up this morning with, in the words of Mre B, no spoons. 

This is a reference to the imagery of one’s mental reserves being a drawer full of spoons, and as you interact with people or perform tasks you hand those spoons out. When you are out of spoons, you need to rest and recharge.

A geekier version of that theory, now doing the rounds, is based on the magic system in Dungeons and Dragons, and talks of spell slots instead. The idea can be thought of as a straight substitution, or expanded, because in Dungeons & Dragons spell slots can be different levels denoting different complexities.

All this sounds lovely, and does appeal to the geek in me, but it’s far too much effort for daily life – and especially when in a position of having low energy or lacking the capacity to deal with people and situations.

So I’m sticking with spoons, and the lack of them, in my drawer.

Today, this has manifested in our choosing not to drive an eight hour round trip to discuss something relating to our plans for a renewal of vows in five year’s time. 

Instead we’ve slept in and stayed under the covers with the intention of doing very little this morning. The people we were going to meet will call us back about midday and so we can meet that plan with less spoon expenditure, and possibly even some fresh ones back in the drawer 

It’s also why this morning’s story was not a continuation of the steampunk extravaganza. More bits of that will come, but I needed a break for a moment. 

The whole thing will get edited and compiled into a longer piece once the fragments are on the table – and hopefully will help demonstrate some of my writing process for longer pieces.
Right, back to my cuppa and book – currently reading The Copper Promise by Jen Williams, and enjoying it immensely.

New Books And Old

Buying or receiving new books has always been one of my great joys. There’s something about the smell and feel of a book I’ve yet to read that excites me and puts a great big happy smile on my face. It doesn’t matter if it’s an old book, or if it’s fresh from the shelves of a book shop or library. I can ease open this new friend and begin new adventures, or I can go back to an old favourite and either reimagine the scenes or search for things I missed last time.

Today I was lucky to find two books that fell strangely into both categories. The first is the first in the new series by Gail Carrier, whose Parasol Protectorate series we devoured a couple of years ago. This new series, The Custard Protocol, picks up in the same alternate Victorian London with Prudence, daughter of the first series’ protagonists. I’ve just read the first the first chapter and am as enchanted as ever. I suspect I may have to fight Lady M to read it through first.

I just can't odd...

The second is a reprint of a book that I’ve not only heard about, but that has inspired countless other stories, from the work of HP Lovecraft to the recent first series of True Detective. This slender collection of short stories is The King In Yellow, by Robert W Chambers, and is something I’ve been vaguely looking for over the last few years.

The guy at the counter thanked me for buying it, as the cover had been freaking him out every night as he locked up. This bodes well…

So, something new and old in one package, and something that’s a little of both in the other. My gaming stories may be about to get a whole lot weirder…

The Little Things

I made a mistake today. One of the areas of stock control we do in the library is the removal of older and damaged books from the shelves. The branch I work at is one of the smaller ones, but it is surprisingly busy. Its numbers are consistently on a par with much bigger libraries and so the books are well read, and often well thumbed.

We use a stats-based system for stock management that rotates books from where they aren’t as popular (in terms if the number of times they’re issued) to places that have high rates of issues for that subject, author or series. Other times we take older and tattier books off the shelves to make way for newer purchases.

If these older books are in very good condition, we send them to a storage location for rotation back out to public libraries as requested. Otherwise we remove them as stock and send them to the same place, marked as withdrawn. These are then either sold for resale through partner booksellers, or some to be pulped.

This isn’t a confession of sending things out incorrectly marked; though I have just remembered I didn’t leave crates out for collection in the morning. Instead it’s an acknowledgement that, even in what can feel a reassuringly organised and even sedate environment, there can still be rakes in the grass.

My mistake, while feeling grim, low and flat, was to pick up one of the novels and start reading. In this instance it was The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. It’s a book that a number of people, familiar with me and certain events, had warned me not to read – but caught up in the adventure of reading a new and exquisitely written piece, I forgot about that.

Reading the beginning, and the event that kicks the whole story off was shocking and left me physically shaking. I was lucky to be out of public view to be honest, because it took me totally by surprise. I carefully put it back in its crate, knowing a replacement was already on order, and finished filling in the routing slip.

Those simple words shook me and repelled me, but even in the middle of that visceral reaction I still can’t find a point of empathy with the people who felt that shooting up the Charlie Hebdo offices yesterday was in any way justified by any reaction they had to things published there.

The Lovely Bones has a horrific beginning, and some day I will steel myself to carry on reading it, but I can’t even begin to express my horror and disgust at what is happening in Paris right now. As a writer it sends chills down my spine. As a human being, I am far more appalled.


It was my Tuesday Chatterbooks group today, and I’m pleased to announce that it went stunningly well. After last month’s slump, I was concerned that the group was moribund before it had even had a chance to get started.

This had been, to be fair, largely down to the extended closure of the library and some confusion of dates leading to crossed wires.

To try and head things off, I erred on the side of caution in how I kept in touch with the parents, and plastered posters and signs everywhere.

I was expecting eight children in all, and this time got twelve. How? well by creating a word search for the children to do while we waited for everyone to arrive. The group meets immediately after school, so other children in the area got interested and asked to join in.

The word searches contained the names of all the regular attendees, and some key words about the group.

Its an idea I got from a recent gathering of Surrey Libraries Chatterbooks organisers, and it was great to see them working together to find everything, excited to see their names in it.

After that we talked about favourite characters in books read recently, describing them as friends we were telling each other about.


We wrote up the books they’ve read this month, and made more decorations for the Chatterbooks tree, consisting of details of favourite books described in five words.

We even got three of the extra children signed up for future sessions, so I’ll be doing something like that for future sessions too.

All in all, a very rewarding afternoon..!


In all the excitement about being another year older, I also had the inaugural session of the Chatterbooks group that we’ve set up in the Children’s Library in Sunbury. It went rather well.

Chatterbooks, for those who haven’t encountered it before, is a scheme set up by the Reading Agency in the UK to promote the love of books and reading in youngsters.  The Reading Agency is an independent charity whose most high profile patron is Jacqueline Wilson. They work mostly with schools, libraries and similar groups to set up reading and discussion groups with the aim of encouraging children’s confidence in reading and talking about what they’ve read with both adults and other children.

The particular group that I’ve set up is aimed for children between the ages of seven and ten – though that said I’ve allowed a couple of very bright six year olds in as a trial as well and won’t be kicking anyone out on their eleventh birthday. There had been a group previously at the library, so this hasn’t just sprung out of nowhere, but its been a year or two since it was active.

I have to say, I was nervous as anything in the days and hours leading up to it, but as usual once it started I was just on a roll. We had nine children rock up with their parents in tow, and by the time I’d got them reading the first pages of books and trying to work out what might happen next, and got them to match the pages to pictures of the books covers the time was just flying by.

So far, so good. We’re negotiating around school holiday times for when the next one will run, but the kids and parents were both very happy with it, and so was the boss – which was a nice bonus.

Thought I should document it somewhere…