Wednesday, 17 July 2019

#bookreview: Fight Write: How to Write Believable Fight Scenes | Carla Hoch

Fight Write: How to Write Believable Fight ScenesFight Write: How to Write Believable Fight Scenes by Carla Hoch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I once attended Carla Hoch's session in a Realm Maker's Conference, where she demonstrated various fighting techniques for a bunch of writers. This is kinda like that, in book form.

Fight Write is a great writing resource. It doesn't just give you basic information about various fighting styles and weapons, but it also directs you to think about how to write a fight scene, and what sort of stuff you should think about when writing it. (Tip: it's not so much about the technicalities that most readers won't know, but about how it feels).

Hoch is hilarious, both in person and in text, so this doesn't turn into a dry and boring textbook. It also goes a little into the psychology of fighting and how and why people react in different ways, gender differences, scene and environment... and how you can "test" fight scenes and scenarios without getting yourself actually beaten up. (Eg.: Never been punched in the eye? Think about how you reacted when you poked your eye; same reaction, just worse injury)

*bonus: there is a chapter on Fighting Aliens and Stuff if you're writing SFF. ;)

Biggest takeaway: When writing a fight scene, it's not just about the fight. It's about the people involved and their motivations.

I mostly read this because I've been struggling with some fight scenes in my WIP and I've bookmarked like a lot of things to re-read as I fix the WIP, so I can safely say this is a very useful book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Writer's Digest Books via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Purchase a copy here!

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

#bookreview: Native Tongue | Suzette Haden Elgin

Native Tongue (Native Tongue, #1)Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a future world where Linguists have cornered the market on the translation of Alien languages, the 19th amendment has been repealed in 1991 (okay, so this book is dated) and replaced with one deeming females as minors all their lives, with no rights. In this bizarre US society (it's generally implied that it's worldwide? But other than a few mentions of a few European countries, the rest of the world is quite non-existent), women are apparently smart enough to learn languages and be translators/linguists but not intelligent enough to have control of their lives. Wives are very much just well-trained pets.

Yet in a hard-kept secret and brilliant subterfuge, the Linguist women of the Barren Houses are creating a whole new women's language which will be the key to their freedom.

It's a story of misogynist society taken to an extreme and a really chilling read. Because some of the things said are views that I've seen online recently. So it's not a thing of the past, but something that's still going on. Men like this exist--and they shouldn't be in power.

The biggest problem with this book is its letdown of an ending. The story builds but seems to go nowhere. Nazareth, a brilliant linguist with the ability to see what needs to be done, is finally brought into the secret, things are moving, and Laadan exceeds their expectations... And then it fizzles out and I'm left going, "that's it?" All this trouble and the men just... I mean, it's entirely plausible. The way it's set out makes it a possible solution. It's just not very satisfying, fiction-wise.

Or maybe I just think that the ideal the women were striving for was quite lame.
There are apparently 2 more books in this series, but I'm not sure I'll read them.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from The Feminist Press at CUNY via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Why Your England So Bad? World Englishes and the way forward for Malaysian writers

So. In the light of all the nasty debates over proper grammar and How English Standards Are Going Down The Drain in Malaysia, I figured I should post this online.

Now, to clarify, I used to be quite pedantic about my English and how perfect it has to be. It took reading a lot more local stuff that worked instead of the super-stilted Proper English Written by Malaysians (grammatically correct, but ugh) for me to figure out that no, actually...there is a rhythm and a beauty to the way we speak that actually makes sense. Malaysian English isn't quite standardised across races/states to be a proper creole, but there ARE rules to how we phrase things, which sometimes deviates a little depending on whether you're more influenced by Chinese, Malay, Tamil, or dll. Even pure bananas like me pick it up second-hand. And I don't speak any Chinese and my Malay is abysmal. haha.

It took me coming to study Creative Writing in London to figure this out. Who knew World Englishes is a Thing? They don't talk about it back home. BUT THEY SHOULD.

Anyway, I performed this at the The Decolonial Earth event in Goldsmiths, talking about my linguistic heritage. It starts with the monologue, titled 'Banana', and then continues with the rest of the essay.

DOWNLOAD MONOLOGUE

When I first started writing ‘Banana’, I had no idea what I wanted to say. It was something of a mishmash of thoughts and frustrations interspersed with some sort of a story. In a way, this monologue is a showcase of my ongoing confusion over who I’m supposed to be.

Technically, I know who I’m supposed to be. I’m ethnically Chinese, of Malaysian nationality. But it’s not quite that simple.

Like Karen, I often describe myself as a 100% Banana. Like, you would probably never find a less Chinese-speaking Chinese in Malaysia. And it’s a question I’ve been asked all through my life.

“Why don’t you speak Chinese?” 


I blame my father’s side of the family. (My dad is the one on the left.) My grandfather lost his parents to the Japanese occupation in Johor as a teen and my grandmother came to Malaysia alone also as a teen. Without family and community, both of them fell out of touch with their cultural heritage. They spoke Cantonese at home whilst living in Ipoh, but my dad 'forgot' how to speak Cantonese when he moved to Penang as a teen.

So, I grew up in an English-speaking Christian household (which means you don’t practice Chinese customs which are inherently Buddhist or Taoist) and attended a Sekolah Kebangsaan, or national school—but it was a Methodist school, which counted as “English-Ed”.



I lived in a very white-presenting bubble. Technically, we had all races—Malay, Chinese, Indian—but we spoke English to each other. And of course, enjoyed our banana leaf rice.

It wasn’t until I was in the US for a work thing that two things became very clear. For all I’m immersed in White culture, I’m too Asian to be White. Fair enough. And then I visited a Chinese-speaking church in San Jose and realised how un-Chinese I was, even though I was actually from and based in Asia.


Now, this is the hard thing—at least for me. If you are diaspora who grew up in Britain, or in Australia, or in North America, it’s easier to reconcile some of that dissonance. You’ve chosen the cultural affiliations associated with the country you or your parents migrated to.

I am very firmly rooted in Malaysia. What excuse do I have?

“Why don’t you speak Malay?”

This is where the bubble comes in—for all that the Chinese diaspora is so thoroughly Malaysian (and quite proud of it), it’s usually the food and celebrations that are highlighted. Not the language. Instead of Bahasa Malaysia being the common ground, we often just revert to English, especially in church bubbles.


I mean, technically, I’m bilingual. I learnt Malay for eleven years in school. I read the language better than I speak it. Yet for all practical purposes, I’m monolingual.



As a writer—and even before I started writing—language has formed a very core part of my identity. I count myself as a native speaker, English as my mother tongue, even though it won’t be officially recognised anywhere. Without it, I don’t know who I am. It’s a poor excuse, I know.

But honestly, I’m afraid. I’m one of those terribly timid people who won’t do a thing because of fear of embarrassment. And besides change, language is my biggest fear.

I only have one trick: my words, in English.

I’ve been reading books by people of colour recently—written in English, not translations—and I’ve come to realise this. English, as written by the whites, has become quite sterile. It’s dead, rooted in Shakespeare and the Bible, even if they’re not quite aware of it.

These books aren’t.

My reviews can be found under this tag: https://blog.annatsp.com/search/label/WNDB

They’re unapologetic about the words they use, about the cultural ideas they represent, and the languages they slip in. (Take notes! Read These Books!)

There is a level of acceptance of dialect and slang in literature, a sort of hierarchy of languages. As long as it’s a White dialect (Yorkshire, Irish, Midwest, Shakespearean) or Euro-centric (Latin, French, Italian)—maybe a little Spanish, but not too much—it’s okay. Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot is allowed his quaint sayings. Huckleberry Finn is “natural”.

But add in some Tamil or Malay or Chinese and it’s like oh my God, why do you have all these weird foreign words? It’s so unrelatable.

But diversity is what people are looking for now. People of colour are looking to see themselves represented in fiction—and it can’t just be the colour of their skin. Not just being the token brown guy. It has to also be the way they speak, the way they mix languages, the thoughts and feelings that cannot be divorced from who they are.

We read to make sense of the world, to discover who we are. But even more, we write to discover who we are, who we are becoming. Even if it’s only to say that we’re leaving parts of our heritage behind. It happens.

Language has always evolved. English is one of the stupidest, most annoying languages to learn whether spoken or written because it has absorbed and Anglicised so many 'foreign' words that they’re not even aware of it. There are many native Englishes because it’s spoken all around the world thanks to colonisation.

What we should be working towards now is to recognise the beauty of these variants and use them in fiction—to create works of art instead of upholding this so-called hierarchy of languages.

Stolen from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Englishes
Malaysia is part of the Outer Circle.

There’s a difference between a heart language and one that you’re using solely for communication. We need to allow the diaspora—they need to allow themselves—to write in their heart language, the one that comes out of them in their comfort zone, even if it’s a creole that only their community gets. To be empowered to tell their stories in their languages—even if it isn’t “proper” English!

When I think about a decolonial future, I think about these voices in Malaysia who switch from English to Malay to Chinese to Tamil with ease, who bask in bilingual puns, and poke fun at their own cultures, yet are united because of their security in their national identity, no matter what language they speak.


Oh yeah, and that one token white guy because we can.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

#bookreview: The End of the Line | Gray Williams

The End of the LineThe End of the Line by Gray Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been sitting on this review a little because I wanted to separate the book and my personal reaction to the themes. Because I started off the book with "ooooh MAGICAL LONDON! So exciting!" descended into "Ugh what is this creepy Exorcist stuff", nearly stopped reading it, and then pushed on with an overall "eh, not bad, not bad at all!"

(Let's say an average 3.5 stars? Excluding my squick moments.)

So content warning: There's demon summoning & possession in this book, which might be a bit too dark/scary/real for some readers. Then again I don't read horror for a reason, so maybe I'm just easily scared. If I could liken the paranormal stuff to something else, it reminded me of the Catholic exorcism novel I couldn't finish reading in my teens because it was too freaky. This isn't as freaky, but parts of it came close. Do not read alone in the dark.

At heart, The End of the Line is a high-stakes thriller/horror crossover with magical elements. Instead of a heist or a political coup, Williams gives you a criminal crew who manages to summon a demon for monetary gain, only to lose control of it with devastating consequences. Amanda Coleman hates Abras and magic with a passion--mainly because of what her Abra father did to her as a child--but she is the only one who can solve this, especially when her last remaining child's life is on the line. The body count is very high in this one.

The initial start is a little rough going. Williams throws you right in the action, jumping back and forth to the past as the narrative progresses. It's a little frustrating until you reach a certain point of understanding because there are a million niggling details that annoy you until you reach the bit where something is revealed and it hits you OH THAT'S WHY. ISH YOU COULD HAVE TOLD US EARLIER. But that's suspense for you, and if suspense is your thing, this book has oodles of it.

Coleman comes across as cold and evil at times, her extreme hard-headedness and prejudice when it comes to magic a difficult thing to understand. But as events unfold and backstories are revealed, you also feel some sympathy for her and the choices she makes. Some, I say, because whilst I feel that the motivations and stakes are high enough for Coleman to react the way she does, I'm expecting it will garner a lot of "unsympathetic character" comments just because she is female. (Men are allowed to make hard decisions that end up in blood, women not so much. Go figure.) And since the story depends so much on Coleman, this is one of those books where if you don't like the main protagonist, you're just going to end up not liking the book.

All in all, Williams tells a great, if scary, story. There are layers upon layers, slowly unfolding as you travel with Coleman, Caleb, Skeebs, Steph and Reeves to Russia. Blink and you might miss them.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Canelo via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

The End of the Line releases on Monday, 8 July! Preorder now.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

AAAAANNNNNDDD Draft 2 is done

Technically, it was done on Wednesday, but I was too lazy to write a blog post.


Here are the stats in all their beauty!

I should write more but I am lazy. And hungry.

Next steps: send to betas, start edits.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

#bookreview: May It Be So: Forty Days with the Lord's Prayer | Infinity's Reach

May It Be So: Forty Days with the Lord's PrayerMay It Be So: Forty Days with the Lord's Prayer by Justin McRoberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The best thing about this book is that each thought is really bite-sized. It's not really one that sets out to "teach" you something, but one that asks you to reflect on something. Most of the thoughts are a short prayer or a picture. In between, there are longer pieces/anecdotes that tease out a thought or reflection from a line in the Lord's Prayer.

I didn't actually take that long to read it. I have the unfortunate habit of rushing things through--and that's where the downside of this book is: because some of them are so brief, there's a tendency to do more than one a day, so instead of being 40 days, you flip through in something like two weeks. That's not a bad thing either. It just shifts the timeline and maybe the impact, I guess.

Also, because I'm not a very visual person, the pictures didn't do that much for me. But the prayers were wow.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBrook & Multnomah via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

---

I kinda wanted to post this review but I already had the other one slotted so well, double review for you today. :)

Kinda related-ish maybe?

Infinity's ReachInfinity's Reach by Glen Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Infinity Richards, daughter to the most powerful man in America, is on a journey to reach her father in Camp Zion. But her pilgrimage across a dystopian America ravaged by war and hunted by the enemy isn't an easy one. To survive, she must throw off her previous life of ease, affluence, and privilege and learn how to survive out in the wild on wits and grit alone. And, of course, a gun.

The story is told in the first person from several POVs: Ellie, Infinity, Evangelist, Mack, and Damien; each chapter is labelled with the main POV and the day since the Event, so you have a clear time progression and a rather overall view of events happening. It's mostly centred around events that involve (or are related to) Infinity, so you get a bigger overview of the general world and what's happening without getting too scattered.

If you love dystopians, this would be a good read for you. It's dark and gritty, but heading towards a hopeful future and ending. I'm not sure if it's intended to be YA, but it's clean enough to be. (Minor allusions to sex and violence, nothing graphic)
Minor note of confusion: I'm not American, so when it seems like Infinity's father is the main target of the enemy plus the person coordinating the war efforts, I expected him to be the President, but he's the Secretary of State? I guess I'm assuming both the President and Vice President were killed at this point. (Or I don't understand American politics/cabinet.)

As a take on the Pilgrim's Progress for modern times, Infinity's Reach is fascinating. It isn't an exact parallel, though he follows what I (vaguely) recall of the overall storyline/places in Bunyan's classic. It's basically a story of personal character growth, with some spiritual allusions.
There are times where the symbolism fails though, especially in the parallels made with America/Christians vs the Enemy/Devil (which so happens to be some kind of Asian coalition)--in some places, it feels very rah-rah America is the Greatest Christian Nation--and God/Father. Though the secret code through the Bible is rather nifty.

Note: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

Monday, 24 June 2019

#musicmonday: Take Over | Shane & Shane



Thirsty, I'm thirsty for you
In a dry land with no drink, I need you
I know you made a home, inside this heart of stone
So turn it into flesh, Spirit, soften it
I give you all I have, I'm holding nothing back
Jesus, I am yours Jesus, I am yours

Take over, Lover of my Soul
Take control
I surrender, there's nothing I want more
Than to know you, Lord
What am I supposed to do with all my kingdoms next to you
You're the Lord, You're the Lord
I could gain the world and more
It's all nothing next to you
My reward, my reward 

---

The Weight of Strength: Chapter 28.

The queen looks amused. “Oh please. Don’t think I’m that stupid. Your god won’t listen to you, not now that you’ve broken all your vows and there is no priest here to reconsecrate you. You’re impure and if there is one thing I know about your god, is that he doesn’t listen to those who aren’t holy enough for him.”

Ayahanda just keeps his hands up as he repeats the litany, more voices joining in. Until I join in. He turns at the sound of my voice and nods at me. 

“You who listen to the broken, hear my pleas now. I have fallen far away, I have spurned Your Word and Your call. Now You have chastised me, You have brought me to realise the error of my ways. You who are ever-gracious, ever-merciful, ever-forgiving, I pray, forgive me now. Forgive me my wandering, my fear, my doubt, my anger, my bitterness. Take it. Take it!” His voice is a broken roar, hoarse in its earnesty. 

“Oh Kudus…”

He doesn’t complete it, but every single Mahan in the hall takes up the cry, “Maha Esa, berkatilah hambaMu dengan kuasa ajaibMu.”

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Day 36: Not that far behind the #wordcountgoals, also #shakespeare

Writing comes in spurts.

I find that if I write for long hours and get about 5k to 8k in the day, I can't really write much the next day unless a) I'm under a really tight deadline, or b) it's a really exciting part of the story and I just have to keep going.

Right now I'm in the "I know what's supposed to happen but I don't know how to write it" stage so everything is just SO HARD. So I'm in procrastination mode.


Therefore, behold the great plateau.

It's getting better, though. I think. Because I HAVE A DEADLINE, so I'm panicking myself (needlessly) to actually get through writing it because once it's down I'll be able to actually edit it and make it work but as long as it's not written, it's just this nebulous cloud of idea. Or something.

---

To date I've watched three shows at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, because you can get cheap £5 tickets and stand like a peasant for 2 plus hours. It's not so bad. I have strong legs. haha.

The Merry Wives of Windsor was slightly confusing because I went in without any idea what the play was about. The second act was pretty good though. It's not quite the kind of comedy I like, but eh.

Comedy of Errors was much better, or at least I liked the storyline better, because it's more due to chance and honest mistakes rather than being... lewd. This is probably the most accessible of the plays so far. The cast for this was also very brilliant--better than the first.

Pericles was an aesthetic choice due to having read The Porpoise. If you did not have background knowledge of the myth or the source story, you'd just be very, very confused, especially since it jumps from royal family to royal family. There are also long bits of narration in between, in classic Greek drama style, so it's different, I guess.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

#bookreview: Roar | Cecilia Ahern

RoarRoar by Cecelia Ahern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a brilliant, brilliant book and I want to recommend it to everyone on planet earth.

I didn't really know what to expect going in because I've never read anything by Cecilia Ahern before, and I'm mostly an exclusively SFF reader nowadays. But eh, short stories, bestselling author, about women, so why not?

Can I just say again that it's brilliant?

Because it is. Each story is a weird, sometimes too-literal, take on a common phrase, some of them quite general in nature, but all applied to a woman's life and their perceptions of the world. Like being kept on the shelf or eaten by guilt, the world is your oyster, having a strong suit and being pigeonholed.

It's a mix of normal life and mysticality, which is probably why I enjoyed it so much, because it is still very speculative in its own way. I mean, people don't ACTUALLY get swallowed up by the floor when they do something embarrassing, but one just opened up for The Woman Who Was Swallowed Up by the Floor and Who Met Lots of Other Women Down There Too, neither do they get actual literal bite marks when they're eaten by guilt in The Woman Who Found Bite Marks on Her Skin.

There's something in here for almost every woman, a myriad of perspectives of what it is like to be female in this broken and confusing world.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from HarperCollins via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wednesday, 12 June 2019

#bookreview: This Green and Pleasant Land | Ayisha Malik

This Green and Pleasant LandThis Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This Green and Pleasant Land is a beautiful take on the subtle and not-so-subtle racism that the Muslim community faces in Britain.

Bilal, a British-Pakistani, moves to the tiny village of Babbel's End to get away from the Pakistani community in Birmingham. All he wants is to fit in and be like everyone else, and he manages to do just that until the fateful day he decides to fulfil his mother's dying wish: to build a mosque in Babbel's End. With that one request, the people he has called friends and neighbours for the past eight years draw their battle lines, showing him their true faces: that they can only be friends if he totally repudiates his culture and his faith.

It's a very clever book. It's both very British and yet very Asian (at least, I relate to it in a multicultural, diaspora, Malaysian kind of way). It takes a hard look at the British's superiority complex, white fragility, racism, and colonialism, yet also leaves a space to air their concerns. Ayisha doesn't pull punches. Right from the start, she compares the building of this mosque to the work of Christian missionaries in foreign lands, telling Bilal that Babbel's End is his Africa (even though he doesn't want to convert anyone, he hasn't thought that far ahead).

My favourite character (and I rarely have any favourites) is Bilal's aunt, Rukhsana, who's referred to as Khala (aunt) even by people who are older than her, mostly because they keep thinking it's her name no matter how many times Bilal explains. With her terrible understanding of English and her kind and generous heart, Khala Rukhsana sets out to conquer Babbel's End, softening the heart of even Bilal's strongest enemy, Shelley Hawking, parish council chairwoman and churchwarden. Actually, she just sets out to make friends and understand this weird goya village she finds herself in now that she's staying with her nephew. And maybe feed them more zarda and wish them happiness.

All in all, Ayisha manages to tell a complex story about a very sensitive issue without casting anyone as an outright villain just for villainy's sake, highlighting instead the complexity and the nuances around religion, culture, and community. Unless, of course, you're a fragile white supremacist, in which case, you wouldn't enjoy this book.

After all these good bits, why only 4-stars though? Um, mainly because the jumping between POVs was a little jarring for me and took a while to get used to.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bonnier Zaffre via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wednesday, 5 June 2019

#bookreview: Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune | Roselle Lim

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and FortuneNatalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This. This is the book I didn't know I needed to read and deserves like a million stars. Okay, a million minus maybe a few because Daniel Lee how could you. lol.

Natalie Tan finally returns home to San Francisco's Chinatown after seven years away upon the death of her mother. Tired of running, she's given the opportunity to pursue the one dream her mother had denied her: opening a restaurant. Natalie reconnects with a community she's long resented, makes startling discoveries about her Laolao and her Ma-ma, and stumbles upon her true purpose in life. Yet as trouble and disappointments start to pile up, she has to decide if this is truly what she wants and is willing to work for... or if she's going to take the easy way out by cutting ties and running. Again.

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune is an endearing story of friendship and neighbourliness wrapped up in the comforts of food and music, entwining the legacy of her long-dead grandmother and her late mother's one passion. Steeped in Chinese superstition and culture, Natalie's journey of self-discovery echoes the cultural dissonance often experienced by Chinese diaspora around the world. Within the comforts of home and community lurks a larger worldview hidden beneath the surface. Cultural practices and expectations are known and yet unknown, simultaneously strange yet familiar.

There's magic in this book, but not of the normal Western fantasy type. There are no dragons or fairies, spells or incantations, no mighty demons to defeat or swords bandied about. Instead, you find Miss Tsai giving prophecies at midnight over a cup of tikuanyin, the subtle home magic of food made to solve problems--Steamed Dungeness Crabs to provide courage and bravery, Drunken Chicken Wings to reinvigorate love, Noodle Soup for luck--and Natalie's newfound ability to see the problems of her neighbours in threads of energy and light, all wrapped around the mystery of Qiao's magical recipe book.

It isn't a particularly fast-paced story. Grief is a big theme in the beginning, as is guilt, and Natalie sometimes wavers over her problems for a while before deciding what to do. Lim's explanations sometimes feel a little heavy-handed, as if she's trying too hard to clarify, yet may be necessary to bring to light the importance of other subtexts going on in the narrative. Nestled in the text are mouthwatering recipes that you just want to try making if you could bear to draw yourself away from the story. And the food metaphors. So much food. Everywhere.

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune is a book of love. Love, food, and family--including the neighbours and community that become your family in strange and distant shores.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Berkley, Penguin Publishing Group via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Monday, 3 June 2019

#musicmonday: Dry Bones | Gungor



My soul cries out
My soul cries out for you
These bones cry out
These dry bones cry for you
To live and move
'Cause only you can raise the dead
Can lift my head up

---

I actually can't believe I haven't posted this before.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

#bookreview: This Brutal House | Niven Govinden

This Brutal HouseThis Brutal House by Niven Govinden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This Brutal House is moving, visceral; Govinden makes you live every moment, each line evoking a mood, a world.

You are there with the Mothers as they sit in silent protest on the steps of City Hall.

You are Teddy growing up broken but driven, learning to lie in order to fix things, to quietly ease things for the Mothers, using his position in City Hall to try to find a resolution.

You walk the floor to the shade of the vogue caller, living the chaos of the balls, the noise and heat of the dance floor.

---

Where This Brutal House fails, for me at least, is in its clarity. It's not enough for me to feel it. I need more concrete details. I have the bare bones of the story, but as Govinden throws us between the Mothers, Teddy and the Vogue Caller, it feels like information is falling between the cracks.

I'm not of this world of Mothers and Children and balls and drag. I don't know enough to understand the underlying meanings, to read between the lines. I don't have the history to fill in the blanks.

At the end of the book, I am left slightly confused. Emotional but confused.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Dialogue Books via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Monday, 27 May 2019

#musicmonday: Even If | Mercy Me



This probably resonates with Mikal's mood:

They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Well good thing
A little faith is all I have, right now
But God, when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul

I know You're able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You'd just say the word
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Day 10: I hate everything I've written

It's technically three weeks since I've started, but somewhere in the middle of last week I decided that I needed to change my POV. So instead of writing in the third person alternating between Mikal's and Yosua's POVs, I'm now doing first person present in Mikal's voice. And that's restarted the timer to something like day 10. 

I'm not entirely sure I like it. I'm not entirely sure it works. But it's what I've got. I'm at that stage where I both love and hate everything I've written. And I don't know how to fix it. I just have to finish this thing.


I'm trying to push myself to get to 30K this weekend so that I'm back on my original schedule. I don't really have to--I can probably pick up the slack over the weeks, but it feels better to go back to the plan. Mostly because the plan is structured such that I will have downtime to edit in between writing and to do other stuff. I worry that if I don't at least get somewhere near the goal posts I'm just going to keep freaking and panicking because that's what I do.

Anyway. 30K might not actually happen by tomorrow, but if I push a little, I should start June with 40K and can take time off to actually plan my Great UK Dissertation Road Trip. :D

---

I think I'm afraid of first person because it's too close, too raw. I'm obviously not a sixteen-year-old boy, but the core of what he's struggling with is all too real. 

I'm afraid that the yearning will grow all too strong, and that the bitterness and the grief will overpower the rest of the story. 

I need to reach the catharsis of the story, but there's also a chance that where Mikal finds his strength, where he finds his faith and his power and his certainty, I will only lose mine. 

---

I have never been certain. I don't know if I ever will be. 

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

#Bookreview: The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games | Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger GamesThe Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Dark Fantastic is a fascinating read for anyone who is interested in how race affects the character development of people of colour in fantasy, as well as their reception by readers/viewers regardless of race.

Thomas analyses Black characters in four fantasy narratives (books & shows) [Rue in The Hunger Games; Gwen in BBC's Merlin; Bonnie Bennett in The Vampire Diaries; Hermione & Angelina Johnson in Harry Potter] and unpacks the impact of these depictions in society. I have to admit I don't watch much TV, so I have no background/context to the discussions around Gwen and Bonnie, both of which were apparently race-bent for the shows (my knowledge of Arthurian legend is mainly from Disney's The Sword in the Stone, neither have I read the books Vampire Diaries is based on). I have read both The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, so there at least I have some basis of comparison/actual knowledge of what's being discussed.

"Your imagination is more controlled by the dominant social formation than you're probably willing to admit."


One of the problems with publishing English books centering non-white narratives, or even featuring non-white characters, is the usual complaint that "readers can't connect with them". These readers are not just white readers, but sometimes also people of colour themselves. Representation (now and then) is often problematic, even when it exists. The Dark Other has historically been the thing to be feared, the evil that lurks, and the villain that must be defeated--or is just there to serve the storyline and the White Saviour--and even when we try to step out of that mode, to break the cycle of spectacle/hesitation/violence/haunting, we often fall into it again and rarely ever reach true emancipation. It's too easy to fall into trope, it's too easy to fall into the familiar and Thomas puts it thus:
"subverting the traditional positioning of the Dark Other in the fantastic requires radical rethinking of everything we know. It is why, I suspect, when characters of colour appear in atypical roles, they are often challenged, disliked, and rejected.


Thomas also discusses how fans of colour are starting to take back the narrative through alternative means, whether through racebending, shipping, creating alternate universes, etc via fanart, fanfiction, fan videos, or essays and how these collective efforts help fill the gaps where traditional publishing and mainstream media are still struggling.

I will also have to note that coming from a multicultural background, with various media featuring people of colour as the heroes in their own stories, I don't have such a strong disconnect as those from USA or UK, where such media is either hard to get or inaccessible due to language. Still, I've got a lot to think about in terms of how ideas about race in fantasy works and how it will play out ultimately in my own work.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from New York University Press via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

#bookreview: Leaves of Fall | Patricia Lynne

Leaves of FallLeaves of Fall by Patricia Lynne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars, because it's not like super *omg wow writing* but it has a lot of feels. I wavered between 4 and 5 and decided to let it stand with the .5.

Leaves of Fall is a beautiful and tragic, yet hopeful, story about the war between humans and trees. In this dystopian America, the trees have come awake and waged war against humans for all the crimes humanity has committed against trees and nature. Entire populations have been decimated and small human communities now band together for survival in cities, whilst nomads roam around, raiding and killing and raping. Everyone is suspicious of everyone else, even if they're also human.

When sixteen-year-old Armory is kidnapped by nomads, she's rescued by a tree nymph. With no other options, she has to trust the enemy of her people to bring her home safely. But Birch is an optimist. He doesn't just want to lead Armory home--he wants to find a way to make peace with humans and bring an end to the war.

My first thought upon reading the book was "oo Ents!" but then they were angry Ents, not like Treebeard who was still kindly towards hobbits and good people. Leaves of Fall is an easy read, told in the voice of the main protagonist, Armory. So you do have to suffer through some teenage angst, even though Armory is mostly trying too hard to stay alive to be too angsty.

Lynne put a lot of thought into her character development, and I found myself fascinated by Birch, this peace-loving, kindly tree nymph with a really dark past. I loved the way his back story is slowly revealed over the course of their journey, with each revelation causing Armory to have to stop and reevaluate their friendship. Does your past define your future? Is there true redemption for those who have done evil things in war? Yet the most important question is this: can you forgive and reconcile with those who have hurt you, who used to mean evil towards you, but who now seek forgiveness and want to change? Lynne explores this through the various reactions towards Birch throughout the whole book.

Minor complaints, which is me justifying the not-quite-5-stars:
- There's a little bit of resolution at the end that felt a little too simplistic. There was some set up for it in the earlier parts of the book, but I felt like it never quite followed through, and then it popped up right at the end so I wasn't quite convinced. Still, it's not a major part of the storyline, so eh.
- I wasn't quite convinced with the almost insta-love towards the end (not between Armory and Birch); it felt a little too convenient, but then they are teens and teens are teens so it's believable, even if this curmudgeonly reader didn't like it.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

Monday, 13 May 2019

13 May surprise #bookreview: The Weight of Our Sky | Hanna Alkaf

I'd had this book on my TBR for a while--I'd initially been excited to read it when it first came out in February 2019, but it took about 2 months for Amazon to ship it to me and then I didn't have the time.

This morning, I woke up to a Twitter feed full of May 13 posts and 50-year-on commemorations, including some which very explicitly said YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK today, so I did.

---

The Weight of Our SkyThe Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a heavy book. Not weight-wise, it's light enough, it's short enough--I read it in half a day. But it is weighty.

Melati Ahmad and her friend Safiyah head to the Rex after school to watch a Paul Newman movie. Within the span of the movie, Kuala Lumpur as they know it changes. Stuck in Auntie Bee's house far from home during the curfew, Melati must find a way to reunite with her mother--whilst dealing with the djinn in her head that keeps telling her that her mother is dead, everyone around her will die, and it's all Melati's fault.

What possessed Hanna to write about the weighty matter of dealing with OCD on the same pages as she evokes the terror of the never-talked-about May 13 riots? I don't know, but it makes for one compelling and emotional read. I found myself tearing up at multiple places--Hanna's writing is powerful and evocative, drawing you to feel with Melati instead of standing at a distance. The fear is palpable as is the anxiety, the constant counting and counting and counting acting both as a way to calm Melati as well as a grip upon your heart that asks oh no, what's going to happen next? Maybe if you count along with Melati, nothing else bad will happen.

Is there a right and wrong side to the 1969 riots? Does Hanna give any certainties as to who holds the moral high ground? Who was the worst? Whose fault it all was? We don't talk about May 13 because we don't talk about racial politics, even though its effects are still felt in the everyday lives of ordinary Malaysians. Hanna doesn't seem to side one way or the other--the harshest statement she says is in Jay's one statement:
"Bloody politicians and their bloody stupid rhetoric, speeches, ideologies. You ever hear anyone say words don't matter after this, you tell them about this day, when Malay idiots and Chinese idiots decided to kill one another because they believed what the bloody politicians told them."

Instead, throughout and despite the bloodshed and the terror and the racialised statements that she doesn't shy away from (because it was a politically-charged race riot), Hanna highlights the kindness and grace many had for each other regardless of race; from Uncle Chong and Auntie Bee who rescue Melati and other neighbours; Vince and Jagdev Singh who volunteer with the Red Cross to bring food and supplies to various communities; to Puan Salmah, Melati's mother, who treats the injured of all races; and to Melati herself--who learns to stand up for herself and for others in need.

It's not all dark and grim. Hanna indulges in puns and Malaysiana. Auntie Bee is every Malaysian Auntie you've ever met, who will bully you into acquiescence and ask if you've eaten even if she's about to die. Hanna invokes long distant memories of being in school, with the blue pinafores and the chanted terimakasihcikgus, slipping 10-sen coins into payphones to call home and hoping they'll work. There's air mata kucing in cold steel bowls, the fortune teller at the market and the ghost that haunts the cinema.

What holds together the entirety of The Weight of Our Sky is the Malay proverb "Di mana bumi dipijak, di situ langit dijunjung." Aunty Bee explains it as "where you plant your feet is where you hold up the sky", or to use a familiar English phrase, "when in Rome, do as the Romans do." There's a sense of futility in that phrase when Aunty Bee first says it, when as much as they try to fit in, her family is never seen as one of the community. Yet it evolves through the novel as Melati comes to the realisation that Malaysia is all of theirs, the Malays, the Chinese, the Indians, where the wise words of her history teacher reminds her that Tanah Melayu has always had the influence of the Hindus in ancient Kedah and the Malaccan sultan's Chinese bride, so Melayu, Cina, India, though we live and die by the rules of the land, "this country belongs to all of us."

And you feel the weight of sixteen-year-old Melati learning to hold up the sky as it comes crashing down around her.

View all my reviews

---

For some context, here's a special news report on the May 13, 1969 riots. I'm obviously too young to have experienced any of it, and most of what happened in KL whilst my family was either in Penang/Ipoh at that time. There was the Penang Hartal, though I don't know that it affected anyone in my family and it wasn't to such a big scale as May 13 (I think? idk, history is not my strong point; we also never talk about the Hartal). But also, everything that happens in KL is a Bigger Deal because that's the capital city, so.

The politics in Malaysia have always been racialised, something we inherited from Britain's colonial meddlings. But it's not all their fault. Policies put into place after May 13 helped keep the physical peace, but it also further stratified society by race and class. For all its relatively low body count, it had long-lasting effects and the threat of May 13 has long been used to keep the Malaysian Chinese quiet (because you know, curfews and bloodshed is bad for business).

At any rate, it's an interesting juxtaposition because just five days ago, Malaysians were celebrating the first anniversary of May 9, where the then-opposition coalition pulled off a surprising win in the 14th General Elections against the incumbent Barisan National--without any bloodshed. It was a similar election win that triggered May 13 fifty years ago, when the Chinese parties won a majority and the Malays were Not Having Any Of It. And maybe that shows how disgruntled everyone has become with BN, or maybe it shows how far we've come as a society since then.

And so maybe there is hope for Malaysia, one where we do not shy away from talking about the hard things, but where even if we do, we also tell of the good things and of all the things that makes us Malaysian. <3

Edited to add: you can get the book here.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

My April/May West End spree

Right after formal classes ended last month, I went a little crazy and decided to buy tickets to as many shows as I could afford. Obviously, I'm also rather cheapskate and I need to save money, so I ended up buying cheap, upper circle tickets to three shows (altogether less than GBP100, so yay me).


My selection felt rather eclectic overall so I thought I'd talk a little about why I picked the shows and also what I thought about them. 

The first show I watched was Betrayal on 15 April, for two reasons: I've still regretted missing the PenangPAC run with Marina Tan and OHLOOKIT'STOMHIDDLESTON. Lame? Maybe. But I'd heard that the story is amazing, and it has a famous actor, so why not? 
Well, the show was fantastic. I do have to admit that I didn't always pay close attention to the acting, mostly because I was fascinated by the staging as well as the moving pieces of the stage. (This might be a thing with me; I remember being super distracted by the moving stages in Lion King too LOL). I was waaaayyyy at the back so I might probably have missed some frontal projection cues if they were blocked by the overhang (and maybe super close facial expressions), but it was a really good vantage point to see the lines between the actors, the use of space, that revolving stage indication of going back in time. It was a really minimalistic staging (except for that revolving thing) that played a lot with lights and shadows--the silhouettes were so sharp you could actually just watch that instead of the actors. 
I loved Tom Hiddleston's and Charlie Cox's performances, but Zawe Ashton just gave me the feeling that she was trying a little too hard? I don't know what it was but somewhere between the tone of her voice and some of her actions/reactions, I just got a little annoyed at her. I might probably be judging her a little too harshly (always that but *I* wouldn't have made those acting choices) but I could just be disliking the character, though (which by implication would mean Ashton did a great job, so idk).

The next one was The Phantom of the Opera on 29 April. A classic choice-- loved the songs, wanted to see it because I'd seen the movie and wanted to see how they could do all that on stage. Realised that I have fuzzy memories of the plot, so there were some bits where I was like, eh, did that happen? Not sure if there were substantial changes in the movie version, though. (I have read the book, the book is 0% like the musical. Well, 20%. The characters and the basic setup are the same-ish. If I recall correctly (it's been decades), it was very much focused on the phantom, I think, and Christine was really a side note. But reading the book you'd be like, how did this become the musical?!)
Anyways, mixed feelings about this. I'd been pre-warned by Choon Ean that it might not have aged well, seeing it's a really old show and it's using the same original stage, so whatever was new/fresh/impressive then would seem kind of old-fashioned now. 
I liked all the dungeon scenes, with the moving bits and the lights and the smoke and the candles and the tilting walkways and the boat! (See, moving stages gets mentioned again haha). The singing was impressive, the staging and the acting and the mirrors and illusions... everything was AWESOME, except the one key bit that spoiled everything. 
When the chandelier "fell", you could literally SEE THE STAGE HANDS WALK OUT THROUGH THE CURTAINS AND CATCH IT. 
Another thought that struck me though, was that my memory of the Raoul-Christine-Phantom triangle seemed rather romantic? The Phantom had a sort of sad romantic vibe, like, aww you like this girl so much but she doesn't love you in return, poor puppy let me give you a hug. Seeing it again, the Phantom was all kinds of creepy. Like the friendly neighbourhood dad/teacher/helpful uncle/starstruck fan, who suddenly turns into a perv. And I was going like, NO THIS IS NOT ROMANTIC. The Phantom is AWFUL. And then the songs don't seem so romantic anymore. lol. 

Finally, I caught Fiddler on the Roof yesterday! This was 100% nostalgia and throwback to the time when we were stuck in a house in Sweden and had the movie on replay until we could sing all the songs word for word. I can't do that now, but I *know* all the songs. 
It was fantastic! No moving stages for this one--it was flat and static boo--but the scene changes were as interesting to watch as the show itself, so yay. I might decide to watch this one again from a better vantage point--the place I was sitting had a bit of a restricted view, so there was this corner/angle of the stage that I couldn't quite see. Idk yet though, if it comes down to it, I'd rather watch a new show than to re-watch one. We'll see. 

---

As a minor writing update, this is today's stats!



I didn't do all this today, it's just that I didn't update my stats yesterday, being out and all. Things will seem more slowgoing from now on though, since I've reached the end of my pre-edited stuff. From now on, it's actual writing and slogging!

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

#bookreview: The Porpoise | Mark Haddon

The PorpoiseThe Porpoise by Mark Haddon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This started off really lovely and poignant and sad, and then it became... confusing?

Haddon plays with the various myths of Pericles of Tyre (Appolinus / Apollonius) and it's all very well done, very well written, very heart-wrenching. I don't know the original mythology well enough to tell you how accurate the retelling is or how much liberties Haddon as made. However, taking each section, each shift and retelling on its own, Haddon crafts each of them perfectly, entrancingly.

The problem lies with the fact that throughout the twists and turns of the mythology and symbolism, the storyline gets muddled. A character from the start (or the "real life" story) merges in the character of the myth, but instead of staying parallel, instead of staying true to type, the types seem to interchange and jump about until you're wondering: didn't Pericles start off as Darius? Why is he now seemingly Philippe? Is Angelique Chloe or Marina? Or both? It felt like several storylines and characters were lost in the shuffle and then conveniently forgotten about. Could this be because I don't know the core myth? Maybe. Still, it feels like something is missing--somewhere during the jumps between myth and life, some connections seem to have broken or were messed up.

Another thing that wasn't made clear enough for me: how does the myth relate to the real world? Is it all in Angelique's head? Or maybe in Darius's (since the shift starts during his timeline)? Are the intersections real intersections or are they just convenient shifting points for Haddon?

The material itself is also potentially triggering. It deals with grief, abuse and incest, leading to murder and self-harm. These are never fully resolved. There is no happy resolution. Instead, the ending is rather dark so if these are subject matters you have trouble with, this is not the book for you.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Random House UK, Vintage Publishing via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Deep dive into the novel: Day 2

So. The plan is to go into a deep dive from May 6 - June 30 and write 10K per week to reach 80K (and the end of the novel) over 8 weeks.

Unfortunately, due to events over the last week (last minute plans, unexpected laziness), I did not manage to clear up all the things I wanted/needed to do before the start of the week. Which meant all of yesterday and half of today was spent catching up and finalising consignment statements and accounts, chasing people to reply emails and generally a lot of hair pulling. Which means I'm starting off 1.5 days late.

The good part is that I've already got working drafts of chapters 1 - 3, approx 8K-ish words, so I do have some time to get into the groove. I've thus spent most of my time reediting chapter 1 today. And googling the Malaccan sultanate as well as church hierarchical titles. (This will make sense eventually. hahahaha)

So I'm still sorta on track!


I don't know how often I'll post updates (I might do a dailyish blog, but I might not) so if you want to keep tabs (and push me on), here's my goal tracker.

Note: The dissertation actually only needs max 40K, but well, I might as well get the whole novel done, no? The other goal is to get an agent before I leave, for which I do need a completed novel. lol.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

#bookreview: The Beekeeper of Aleppo | Christy Lefteri

The Beekeeper of AleppoThe Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are books that you love right from the start and books that grow on you as the author takes you on a journey to unexpected places. Lefteri's The Beekeeper of Aleppo is one of the latter.

When I first started reading it, I was really all like, what's the buzz? It read like just another refugee narrative, the story of Nuri & Afra's journey from Syria to England--I was drawing comparisons to Abdulrazak's By the Sea--but as events unfold, it becomes clear that things aren't as they initially appear. An exploration of the strange things our minds do in the face of terror and loss, Nuri's narrative appears to be reliable at first--he's the one guiding his blind wife through their perilous journey--but cracks soon appear, signalling that maybe he's not as reliable and steady as we thought he was.

Lefteri switches seamlessly between present and past, each section linked by a key thought, idea, or image. There is a sense of mystery, a sense of "what are you not telling us?" as you read, akin to Oyeyemi's White is for Witching; not the kind that leaves you unsatisfied, but the type that leaves you hoping that the next word, the next paragraph, the next page will reveal what you really need to know. It's beautifully crafted, like a hook in your soul that draws you further on, deeper in, to a kind of inevitability I felt while reading Blackberry and Wild Rose.

As Lefteri leaves the whimsical and hard truths are revealed, the book turns sad and sorrowful. A heaviness sits in your soul, not just because terrible things happened to this refugee couple, but because terrible things are still happening to real, living refugees in our war-torn world. I admit to tearing up at the end of the book, not something I do very often (as much as I read and feel emotionally, tears are often hard to come by). It also ends with hope.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bonnier Zaffre via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Tuesday, 30 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Zephaniah the Zarf Zealot

Zephaniah the Zealot had a zarf. It was made of silver, with beautiful chasing and filigree work, and he used it every morning as he sipped his Tazo Zen (TM) tea (a blend of green tea with lemon verbena, spearmint and lemongrass—the perfect way to add zest to his morning) from a glass cup.

The zarf was his prized possession inherited from his late grandfather, the only thing in the world he valued almost as much as his tea, so it came to quite a shock when he woke up one morning to find that it was gone.

“What do you mean you can’t find it?” he asked his housekeeper, who was actually his housemate that he’d bullied into making tea for him every morning and doing all the chores.

“It’s gone,” Benny said. He was quite tired of clearing up after Zephaniah all the time, especially when the man seemed to spend all day making YouTube videos about the benefits of tea and how everyone should drink them only from clear glasses held in zarfs.

“It can’t be! It was just there last night!”

“Yes, but it’s not there this morning,” Benny grumped, folding his arms across his chest.

“I can’t appear on YouTube this morning without my zarf!” Zephaniah was totally not zen about this.

“Too bad. Don’t appear on YouTube then.”

“But… but… my fans!”

“What fans?”

“My audience! The people I preach to every day and extol the benefits of tea and zarfs!”

Benny rolled his eyes. “I’m sure they’ll make do without hearing from you for one day.”

“But if you don’t find my zarf, then I will never be able to make another youtube video ever in my life!”

“Uhh… buy a new zarf? Or make one? Get one made?”

Zephaniah fell to his knees. “You don’t understand, Benny. That is THE Zarf, the Best Zarf, the Greatest Zarf In  The World.”

“Woahhh,” Benny backed away, “it can’t be all that.”

“It’s like the holy grail. For tea.” Zephaniah clarified with a sniff.

“Right.”

“Please, Benny, you have to help me find it.”

“Um…”

“I’ll reduce your rent! Again!”

Benny didn’t think about it for too long. Doing all the housework and making tea for Zephaniah was tiring and sometimes annoying, but he was paying very little rent. If Zeph reduced the rent even further, he’d barely be paying anything to stay there. It wasn’t a bad deal.

~

Three hours later, after turning the whole house over, Benny found the zarf hiding behind a zither. Where the zither came from or how the zarf got there, he had no idea, but he took it up to Zephaniah’s room.

“Oh thank you, Benny, my man, my best friend! You have saved the day! I will finally be able to make today’s YouTube video where my zealous fans have been waiting all day.”

“You’re welcome, I guess,” Benny replied.

“Wait, don’t go. Let me introduce you to my fans!”

Zephaniah turned his video cam around and Benny found himself being talked about as the saviour of the day, for having found the stolen zarf. Benny smiled awkwardly and waved, though he had no idea who was watching, or how many people would watch it later in the day. It was a matter of principle for Benny that he never looked at Zephaniah’s YouTube page. Ever.

As soon as he could, Benny escaped from Zeph’s clutches and scurried back downstairs. He needed to clear up the house after having turned it upside down in search of the zarf, but when he pulled back the curtains, he just couldn’t. It was a gloriously sunny day outside and all of a sudden, he was just desperate to get out of that zoo he called home. Seriously, living with a Tea and Zarf Zealot was sheer madness, despite the low rent (and even lower now, since Zeph had agreed to another 20% reduction). Pay peanuts and get monkeys, as his mother used to say.

Benny made himself a cup of Zeph’s Zen tea and then went out to the zoo.

---

Today's suggestions were:

  • zarfs, from Barbara Harrison
  • Zealot/Zion,Zionism/zen/Zoroastrianism, from Cherie Osier
  • zither, zest, zeal, zoo, from Donna Smith 


OMG WE ARE DONE FOR THE MONTH.

Thank you to everyone who gave me words to use, even if I didn't end up using them! :)
Here's a link to the final list if any of you want to have a look.

There's also this! Hurrah!

Tomorrow, maybe, I'll blog about Eastercon.

Monday, 29 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Yellow (also, #musicmonday!)



... because you can't escape.

---

You.

You are beautiful.

No, don’t say that. Don’t give me that wavering smile that means you are listening but you’re not hearing, that you heard me but you don’t believe me. There is a brightness in your eyes, a generosity in your smile, a sweetness on your lips and a glow on your skin that makes you who you are. You are beautiful, inside and out, beyond definitions, beyond conventions.

You are.

You are more than you think you are.

No, don’t deny it. Don’t put yourself down because you think you don’t do enough, because you think that others are brighter, stronger, bigger, better, more than you. There is a fullness in your soul, an overflowing in your spirit, an openness in your hands and a mileage on your feet that defines your very presence. You are enough, whether you do or do not. It’s not a competition.

Your skin
Oh yeah, your skin and bones
Turn into something beautiful
You know, you know I love you so
You know I love you so

I don’t say this because I love you. Yet I do say this because I love you. Because you deserve to hear how awesome you are, how good and great and glorious, and if no one else says it, then I must.

The world is a cold, cruel place, but more damaging still is your mind when it spirals, when it is colder, harder, more unforgiving than the world around you. Because the world forgives, it forgets, it moves on, but you don’t. Where they fold in to protect, covering themselves in spikes for defense against the world, you fold your spikes inwards, tearing yourself again and again, protecting the world from you.

They don’t need your protection.

You do.

Your skin
Oh yeah your skin and bones
Turn into something beautiful
And you know
For you I'd bleed myself dry
For you I'd bleed myself dry

You are more than you think you are.
You are beautiful.
You are.
You.

I love you.

---

Today's suggestions were:

  • yellow, from Barbara Harrison
  • Yarmulke/Yiddish/Yom Kippur/yoga/yam/yin,yang/yen/Yule, from Cherie Osier
  • yammer, yodel, from Donna Smith 


All of which I didn't even really read, once I saw "yellow".

Saturday, 27 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: In the Xystus

There was a xiphoid hole in Marcus’ view of the world. It was where his anger used to be, where his hatred and xenophobia once resided. No more. He slumped back against a column in the xystus, exhausted.

“Do what you will,” he said aloud, though there was no one to hear him. “I cannot do this any longer.”

“Who asked you to fight?

Marcus jumped at the words, twisting and turning to see who had spoken. There was no one around. “Who’s there?”

But no one replied.

~

Three days later, exhausted from his morning work out, Marcus leaned against another column, panting.

“You shouldn’t push yourself so hard. What are you trying to prove?”

Marcus looked around with a frown. He still couldn’t identify the owner of this mysterious voice. Again, there was no one in the xystus.

“What do you want?” he asked, feeling stupid for speaking to the air. Though for all he knew, the person could be hiding outside amongst the bushes. The portico was open-air, after all, and he couldn’t see around each tree and bush.

The voice seemed to have disappeared again.

~

The next time the voice spoke to him, Marcus was prepared. He had several of his servants hidden outside and scattered around the xystus to spot if there was anyone around.

“Guilt cannot be assuaged by a sword. Neither can it be diminished by running yourself ragged.”

“Who said I’m guilty?”

“What do you seek to achieve then?”

Marcus had no reply and the voice didn’t speak again. None of his servants could find anyone in the surrounding area. Even his silent watchers were too far away for their voices to have carried.

~

Marcus was slick with sweat, hands trembling, as he leaned over in the middle of the xystus, hands on his thighs.

“You don’t have to haunt me, Justus,” he said as he panted. He’d thought this through over many nights, even as he pushed himself harder and harder every morning. “I know your death is my fault. And I know that I will never get over my guilt. So let me have this, at least.”

“What are you fighting for?”

“You.”

There was a pause. “You know I’m no longer here.”

“But you are. You speak to me. Why?”

“It is not your guilt to shoulder.”

“I let you die!”

“Did you?”

When Justus was alive, his calm, pointed questions would always make Marcus stop and think, would make him reevaluate the rash decisions he often made in anger. Justus’ last question hadn’t made him stop long enough to prevent him from lopping off the head of the other village’s messenger, the other village’s peace messenger, the one that turned out to be the chief’s only son, who had come with an offer of peace.

He’s lopped the boy’s head off because he was too dark and too swarthy and too other. And then there had been war and Justus had been killed in the retribution, had offered himself up for the chief’s anger, ending it all.

Marcus fell to his knees, hand grasping at where his sword should have been, the one he’d given up the day Justus died, when he’d surrendered his village to the rule of the other. Their chief had been merciful, only restricting him to his home. If Marcus looked hard enough, he could see his silent watchers, the soldiers guarding his property to prevent him from leaving.

“You can’t keep punishing yourself for the past.”

“I’m not.”

“Then why do you do this to yourself? Why do you punish your body every morning and starve yourself every evening?”

“What else is there to do?”

“Ask for forgiveness.”

“I’ll not grovel.”

“He won’t expect you to. He’s given you this much.”

“He’s given me this much rope to hang myself.”

“Bitterness does not become you.”

Marcus slumped against a column, exhausted. “I cannot do this any longer.”

“No one asked you to.”

---

Today's suggestions were:


WE ARE ALMOST AT THE END. 

Friday, 26 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Wombats

Winnie had always wanted a pet, but no matter how many times she begged her mother, the answer was always no. She tried asking her father, but his answer was “ask your mother”, so that wasn’t much use. Her best friend Wanda had a  rabbit named Wiggles and even her worst enemy in school had a cat, so it was quite unfair that Winnie wasn’t allowed to have a pet, even though she was almost ten.

One evening, when she was especially bored, Winnie wandered out into the backyard. She was standing by the fence, kicking at the clods of dirt, when she noticed weird little cubes on the trail outside. Winnie’s house in Tasmania was right beside the forest reserve, so she’d seen many wild animals passing by, but she didn’t recall seeing any of these strange cubic pieces of… poo before. Throwing a quick glance back at the house, she slipped out of the back gate and followed the trail. No one called after her, so she happily went on her way, being careful not to step on any of the poo.

Birds called overhead as she passed, but she kept her eyes on the ground, searching for this mysterious animal. She came to a sudden stop when she heard a quiet yelp.

“Ow, that hurt,” a low voice said.

“Sorry. Couldn’t help myself,” another voice replied.

Winnie peered through the folliage to see two small, furry, brown creatures talking. She frowned. How come she could understand what they said?

One of them looked up suddenly, staring straight at her. “Uh oh, I think we’ve been spotted,” it said. The two started to lumber off.

“Wait!” Winnie called after them.

The second one stopped and turned to look at her. “You can speak to us! Walt, wait—the human speaks wombat!”

Walt stopped, baring his teeth at Winnie. “I don’t know, Wanda, are you sure you can trust humans?”

“Is that what you are? Wombats?” Winnie asked, ignoring Walt.

Wanda nodded. “But how is it you understand us?”

Winnie shrugged. “I don’t know. I was just following the trail of poo when I heard you talking.”

Both Wanda and Walt started blushing.

“You… you didn’t see us then though, did you?” Walt asked in a strangled tone.

“No, I only saw you after. Why?”

Wanda smiled. “Oh, nothing. It’s just… heh. Nothing, dear. It was just a slightly embarrassing thing. What’s your name, child?”

“Oh, I’m Winnie. Nice to meet you,” she replied. “Is the poo yours?”

Walt’s nose twitched. “Not ours, I don’t think. But part of the wisdom’s.”

“The wisdom?”

“The rest of our group. Not all the younger ones remember to clean up after themselves sometimes.”

“Oh. Are you all family?”

“Mostly. This is our home territory,” Wanda replied. “Where do you come from, Winnie?”

“Oh, over there.” Winnie turned to point at her house, but realised that she’d lost sight of home. “Oh dear. I can’t see my house anymore.” She bit at her bottom lip. She’d been warned many times by her mother not to wander off too far, and the light was beginning to fade as the sun was setting. “I… I’d better go. I hope I don’t lose the trail.”

Walt and Wanda shared a look. “We’ll come with you, dear,” Wanda said. “If it’s that big white house near the fence, we know the way.”

“Oh, thank you,” Winnie replied.

The two wombats shuffled along beside her as they made their way to Winnie’s house. It didn’t take long before the trail seemed familiar again and Winnie saw the fence and her house beyond that.

“We’ll stop here then,” Walt said, clearly uneasy about being seen by anymore humans.

“Thank you so much!” Winnie replied. “I hope I’ll see you again one day.”

“Maybe we will,” Wanda said.

The two wombats turned and walked back into the forest, leaving Winnie a clear view of a huge bite mark on Walt’s backside. She wondered about that as she hurried back into the house where her mother was calling her for dinner.

---

Today's suggestions were:

  • wombats, from Barbara Harrison
  • Wonder/wander/wishful/worship/WORD, from Cherie Osier
  • wallaby/wedge-tailed eagle/willy wagtail/wattle, from Sharna Steinert,
  • wisteria, wise, from Donna Smith 


Wombats were an easy choice because they're cute. haha. I also could not pass up the chance to pass on the knowledge that, according to National Geographic, a group of wombats is called a "wisdom".

... on an aside, this has got to be one of the weirdest vids I've seen in a while.


Thursday, 25 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Victorious

It wasn’t vanity. At least, it wasn’t to Vanessa, not anymore. It was the need to stay in charge of something, even if that something was just the way people saw her. She needed to look poised and in charge, ready for anything the world threw at her, whilst her life burned down to ashes. If she went down, she would go down looking beautiful, like the queen she was. Should have been.

Vanessa hadn’t understood this when she was younger. She’d looked at the women, both young and old, who populated the spaces she inhabited and scoffed at the thick make-up and perfectly coiffed hair, making snide remarks about how vacuous they were, how air-headed. She had things to do, great things to achieve, and she would do it by sheer willpower without resorting to sexual wiles. She didn’t need to look pretty doing it, she just had to do it.

It’s funny how a decade or two changes things.

~

“You can’t be serious.”

“I am.” Foundation first, smearing it on thick, smoothening out her skin. Concealer for concealing, hiding all her imperfections.

“You can’t—getting pulled into their vortex will kill you.”

“I can’t paddle hard enough to stay outside them.” Contours. Highlights. Illusions to make you thinner, sharper, more desirable. But also, pointier.

“But—”

“It’s the way of the world. It’s sink or swim, dear.” Was she pointy enough? With edges sharp enough to cut? Her brows were on point. She hoped.

Or? There’s still an or?”

“Look if I don’t play the game, I’m out. And then where would I be? What would I do? If I play the game, at least I’ll still be…somewhere.” Eye shadow, sparkly but subdued. Look at me, look at me, it screamed. You want me, it whispered.

“You’ll be dead. Career-wise, I mean.”

“No. Not if I’m smart enough.” Eye-liner. Such stabby things. She hated them.

“No one is smart enough. You can’t challenge the establishment.”

“I’m not challenging it. I’m working with it to subvert it.” The perpetual blush. Pink, rosy, healthy—not quite demure. She wasn’t going for demure, she was going for Queen.

“It’s not going to work.”

“We don’t know that yet.” But they would, soon enough. A final touch of red on her lips. She closed her eyes. This was it. This was the reinvention of Vanessa Ling, the explosion of chaos, into She Who Has It All.

~

The thing with success is… it comes to those who look successful. The world had an idea of what victors and losers looked like, and if your skin wasn’t the right colour, at least your clothes and demeanour could make up for it. As could your make-up.

Vanessa had thought it vanity, a long time ago in her youth, but now she knew better. She knew to hide her vulnerability behind a mask of victory, skirting the vortex of those who would bring her down by drawing closer to those who could pull her up with them. It wasn’t quite the truth, not yet, but it was an armour. And the more you wore a mask, the more you became it.

Vanessa would look victorious, even if she crashed and burned. And no one would be able to tell the difference. 

---

Today's suggestions were:

  • vortices, from Barbara Harrison
  • Vortex, anonymous
  • vanity/vulnerable/vacuous/victorious, from Cherie Osier
  • veal, velocity, vast, from Donna Smith 

I seem to have forgotten how to write. Not entirely sure if this makes sense at all.