A New Year, Another Author Questionnaire…

I found these great questions for writers on Twitter and I answered them in a couple of threads over there (you can find me at @Tabatha_Writes if you want to follow me) but I thought it would be cool to pop them on my blog too.


Part One

1. I started writing as soon as I could hold a pencil. ? Seriously though, my first published work was in 2006, education nonfiction with Bloomsbury Press (or Continuum as they were then) and fiction in 2019 with my first collection DARK WINDS OVER WELLINGTON.

2. The first story I wrote and submitted was what “Heat Pump” (in DARK WINDS…) became, and was a vampire story, a metaphor for being an outsider and a bit of a feminist revenge tale. It received an honourable mention from the NZ Writers College.

3. My most recent story is a WIP which focuses on two lady detectives in the 1920s investigating a missing persons case in Whitby, North Yorkshire.

4. What is my author dream? I think to see one of my works make it onto big or small screen. But in the meantime I’ll settle for fanart of any of my stories.

5. All my WIPs are in Courier New because it’s a monospaced font and I find it easier to pick up mistakes and typos when I’m editing. I don’t publish in that font though. ?

6. What program do I write in? If I can type in it, I’ll write in it. I’ve written entire stories in Notepad on the bus and others in Word on my laptop. I’ve got some pieces handwritten in multiple notebooks and I wrote my first (unpublished) novel in Scrivener. I’m not fussy. ?

7. I don’t have a favourite book store, but I do prefer to buy from indie bookshops or from authors direct rather than give my cash to the ‘Zon. ?‍♀️

8. The best time of day for me to write is usually after breakfast and coffee number two. I’m probably the most productive between 11 and 4. But with two kids and a day job, I mostly write whenever I get chance to.

9. Authors I know and would love to co-write with include Laurel Hightower and S.H.Cooper, but I think the dream would be J.Michael Straczynski.

10. I don’t think there is a book that I wish I’d written. Mostly because I don’t want to write like anyone else, I want to write like *me*. Whenever I read an amazing book I always ask myself what I can learn from it so my writing can be that good too.

11. I am fuelled by coffee and jelly beans when I’m working. And salt and vinegar chips. I also have a bad habit of chewing lollipop sticks when I’m really deep in the story mines. I suspect it’s some strange psychological urge left over from when I used to smoke while writing.

12. Handwritten or typing? Different stories require different methods of being brought to fruition. It really depends on my mood.

13. A genre I’ve never written but would like to try is a Western. I’ve never written one, despite being quite a fan of them in movies, and I suspect my current novel WIP is going to have some similar themes.

14. A genre I doubt I’ll ever write in is crime thriller as I just don’t think I’m clever enough to do all the twisty plot stuff. The same applies to hard sci-fi.

15. I can honestly say I’ve never had a crush on any of my characters ? but I have written some that were partially based on people/friends I knew IRL so I’ve felt a connection of sorts?

16. When I’m writing characters, personality usually comes first, and I’ll generally have a clear idea of how they look. Sometimes they start off with one name (and gender) and I realise as I’m writing that it just doesn’t fit them.

17. I prefer writing characters that you might *think* are heroes but are a little bit villainous too. I like writing characters who thrive despite their flaws, survivors with complicated pasts.

28. Three writers on Twitter I admire are: Penny Jones: @pennyqotu Kev Harrison: @LisboetaIngles and Lor Gislason: @lorelli_ They all write extremely different things but everything I’ve read of them, I’ve loved.

Part Two

1. My most favourite of my own characters has to be Marian from the story of the same name. A badass menopausal wife and mother with a very hairy secret…

2. It’s really hard to say which book which had the biggest influence on my writing, but definitely Barker’s BOOKS OF BLOOD, King’s DIFFERENT SEASONS and anything by Sir Terry Pratchett are strong contenders.

3. The character that’s most like me is… hmmm. Well, all of them in a way. I put a lot of myself in my writing, the good parts and bad parts. I wish I was as fearless as the mom in “Long Drop”.

4. The character least like me is Jensen in ALL THE LAIRD’S MEN who is basically a closeted, misogynist, sadistic asshole. And yet, you can’t fully hate him? Weird.

5. My Big Author Dream is simple… to keep doing this writing gig for as long as I can and keep entertaining my readers, and myself, with my crazy imagination.

6. What I like best about writing is when it surprises me. I plot more than I pants, but the real fun is when the characters take over and do things that are unexpected. In that moment, I’m just the conduit for the story, not the conductor.

7. My current WIP is a speculative memoir gothic fantasy: 4 novellas in one focusing on 4 generations of the same family. It explores the immigrant experience, finding our roots, catastrophic climate change and a little bit of supernatural mysticism.

8. The genre of my first (eventually published) WIP was urban horror meets feminist revenge. I’m not sure that’s what I set out for it to be originally, but that’s what it became.

9. Whenever I get stuck with my work, I walk. Nothing clears out the plot sawdust faster than getting up high and deliberately not thinking about the story for a while. The answers always come when you’re not pushing for them so hard.

10. My ideal writing environment would be a small hilltop cabin with an ocean view, an espresso machine and excellent WiFi. And a couple of cats.

11. Which author’s style I most admire I think is a cross between Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Daphne du Maurier, John Wyndham and Ursula K. le Guin. All authors I read at a formative age and loved intensely. (Impossible to just choose one.)

12. I assume this means can I read someone else’s book while I’m writing my own? And yes, of course. Not at the same time, obviously, but reading is a writer’s fuel and helps us go faster, harder, better. ?

13. Do I write every day? Nope. I don’t equate writing with a habit like making my bed, or a chore like washing dishes it’s something I do because I enjoy it and I don’t enjoy pressuring myself into “shoulds”. So I write when I want to and when I feel I need to.

14. My average word count is somewhere between “I had a spare hour to get some words down” and “I’m spending this weekend working on my WIP” ? I haven’t a clue about the numbers and I don’t particularly care. ?‍♀️

15. The time of day I like to write is the time when I have no distractions. As this varies depending on multiple factors, there is no Golden Hour of writing time for me, but ideally late morning/early afternoon.

16. The hardest part of starting a new project is the time between getting the ideas and inspiration and having the time to actually sit down and write the words. I have an abundance of ideas and a limited pool of time. Also, ADHD and executive dysfunction kick my ass. ?

17. My creative well is never dry. Seriously. My most depressing realisation was that I will never have the time I want to finish all the stories I’ve made notes on, or read the books I want to read. This is probably why I want to be Eve from ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE. ?

18. Tag three people to do the prompt… nah, I don’t tag. But I do invite my friends to copy and paste this on their social media or blogs if they want, as I’m always interested in reading others’ answers.

So, That Was 2021

Kia ora! Just popping by on the last day of the year to leave my final update of 2021 (and also so I can tick off one of last year’s goals, to make a blog post every month!)

I’ll keep it brief…

Very Good Writing-Related Things:

  • I released my second short story collection SEEDS in October to fabulous response and reviews
  • I won an Australian Horror Writers Association (AHWA) award for Best Nonfiction, for my essay on menstruation in horror and dark fiction
  • I was a AHWA finalist for another essay and for Best Collected Work (BLACK DOGS, BLACK TALES with co-editor Cassie Hart)
  • I was a finalist for a Sir Julius Vogel award for Best Fan Writing (also, menstruation in horror and dark fiction)
  • I had two books accepted into my local library catalogues, as well as my poetry chapbook BEACH GLASS & OLD BONES
  • Accepted stories, 4 – Accepted poems, 7 – Accepted essays, 8 (including on The Spinoff) – Features, interviews and other articles, 7
  • BLACK DOGS, BLACK TALES was mentioned in BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR Vol. 13 by Ellen Datlow.

Other Good Things:

  • I “levelled-up” in my day job and I am really enjoying it. It challenges me while also making me feel extremely proud of the help I am giving others.
  • My family have made our house and garden more how we want it, which has increased productivity *and* rest time.
  • I found more of my people and made some new, wonderful friends this year. Some of them I may never meet in person, but they have helped me through a lot. I also feel like I have strengthened some IRL friendships despite hiding myself away a lot due to COVID fears.
  • I have improved my writing and editing skills, and felt much more confident about dipping into other genres. I feel like I finally understand what I am good at and what I am *best* at.

My Resolutions for 2022:

  • I only really have one: keep writing!
  • Finally, a massive thank you to everyone who has supported me this year; those who saw me through my wobbles when I almost gave up writing, those who bought a book, left a review or otherwise told me how much my stories meant to them, those who leant me their skills and wisdom, and gave up their time to help me be the best I could be–I appreciate you all greatly.

    Here’s to 2022 and some brand new stories!

    Short Story – Rabbit

    I will be releasing my first novel in 2022, an as-yet unnamed collection of four intertwined novellas best described as gothic fantasy mixed with speculative memoir. (I do love a good genre-blend.) The world it is set in and the characters it involves are introduced in this short story – “Rabbit.”

    The Old World is gone, the land tipped out of balance, but in the village, life must go on. Until the arrival of a stranger skews the scales once again.

    In a rebuilt future that was once destroyed by war and climate disaster, a young girl has accepted her role as hunter, provider and protector in the wake of her father’s death. When her deaf younger sister is followed by a stranger, she does what she believes she must to keep her, and their village, safe.

    You can download a free epub, mobi or pdf via BookFunnel – https://dl.bookfunnel.com/g4h4ahbu30

    You can also read it online here.


    Rabbit © Copyright Tabatha Wood, 2021

    This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

    This book is copyright. Except for the purpose of fair review, no part may be stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including recording or storage in any information retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. No reproduction may be made, whether by photocopying or by any other means, unless a licence has been obtained from the publisher or its agent.

    Original cover artwork “Moon Dance” © Tabatha Wood, 2021

    Independently published by Wild Wood Books


    Rabbit

    There, up ahead, I see it. A twitch in the undergrowth that shakes the leaves. A rustle and a shiver and a quick flash of movement. A brown-eyed reflection in the dying light. I hold my breath and listen carefully; hear the rhythmic thump of powerful feet wrapped in a soft fur coat. 

    I raise my hand and prepare my bow, recalling all the steps my pappy taught me. I stand straight-backed in an open stance, my left foot favouring my target, and settle the arrow on the shaft. I squeeze the grip like I might coax milk from our goats and grasp the bowstring with two fingers and my thumb. Then I lift my arm to shoulder height and pull the string back… back… as far as I can. Until I can kiss it with my chin.

    My body is rooted, solid and still, but my heart races like the wind on the hills.     

    Steady. I remind myself. Stay calm. Go slow…

    Another flash of movement. The twitch of a black nose. The creature reads the warnings, the signals in the air, savouring the scents on the breeze. It pauses. Pulls back. Have I spooked it?

    Damn it, don’t bolt. Stay there. 

    It moves quickly, nervously, but I don’t think it has noticed me, hidden as I am amongst the trees. Emboldened, it bounds into the clearing and nibbles on the leaves of a small plant. It’s fat, but its fur is mangy, and one ear is completely gone. It happens sometimes, they’re born like that. They don’t care. I doubt they’re even aware. 

    I pause my breath and release my fingers from the bowstring. The string snaps forwards. The arrow flies free, and then the silence is shattered by a crash from behind me and a flurry of chaos ensues. The rabbit darts deep into the forest. A grey-white cloud of bobbin tail is all I see of it as it flees. The arrow thonks into the empty ground, vibrating as it releases its wasted energy. 

    The tree branches part like rolling clouds and Evie emerges. She is wide-eyed and grinning, her whole body shaking with excitement. I turn and scowl, throw my free hand in the air. She sees me and stops short. 

    “What?” Her loud voice sounds nasal, her vowels flat. It booms through the wooded valley. I motion to the arrow. She shrugs as if she doesn’t understand. I purse my lips and shake my head. I know she’s not that clueless. I use my fingers to mimic rabbits’ ears on the sides of my head, then raise one hand towards my lips to make a pantomime of eating. 

    She screws up her face in disgust. “Eugh. Why? Bad meat.” 

    I roll my eyes. It’s not like we have a lot of choices. Pappy always said you can’t live on it, that rabbit meat will eventually make you sick, but any warm-blooded creature can be a meal when needed. 

    I make sure she’s watching my face when I speak. Evie lost her hearing during her sixth winter. She got sick and then she got better, but whatever the sickness was that ailed her, it left her almost totally deaf. Eleven summers later, she can’t hear my voice unless I shout, but she can read my lips with great accuracy.

    “It doesn’t matter, anyway. You scared it off.” 

    She gives a sheepish grin and yells, “Sorry, Ayla!” before motioning back to the way she’d come and flaps her hands in the air. “I saw a bird!” 

    Her speech may seem strange to some, but it’s not challenging. I’ve always been able to understand her. She’s excitable, certainly, and often clumsy, but she’s also incredibly smart. Hunting can be lonely, and I enjoy having her with me. She is good company when she’s not scaring my quarry away. 

    I gather my bow and retrieve the arrow from the grass. “You saw a bird?”

    “Yeah. Big fat green one!” She links her thumbs together and makes a bird shape with her hands. Swoops them through the air. 

    I’ve seen a lot more of those recently. Green with flashes of dark blue and red. They nest in the higher branches but swoop down low to feed. There’s not much flesh on them under their feathers, useless to put over the fire, but perhaps if I could catch a few, they would make a pleasant addition to a stew. 

    “You want to hunt them?” she asks eagerly. 

    I look out beyond the valley towards the mountains. No, it’s too late now. The sun is fading, poised like a dancer balanced delicately on the horizon, ready to drift behind the hills. Everything will start to hide away for the evening and hunting in the dark is not optimal. We need to get back home safely ourselves. I shake my head and motion for Evie to follow me, and we pick our way through the woodland to the village. 

    Aunt Kira has a fire going. I can hear the crackle of the flames before I see them. She looks up expectantly when we arrive, but her face falls when she sees I’m empty-handed. 

    “Poor hunt?” She asks, a bitter edge to her voice. 

    “Blame Evie,” I say, and stash the bow with the rest of our tools. Dav and Bodhi, my younger brothers, sit cross-legged on the ground, stripping long, pointed flax leaves. They have piles of it already built up by their sides. The fibres are strong and good for many uses. They will make these into nets. Kira grunts in frustration and stirs a blackened, bubbling pot that’s suspended over the fire. No doubt filled with vegetables, maybe some old pig bones for flavour. 

    It’s been a while since I’ve caught fresh pig. They are angry and vicious creatures, difficult to kill with a bow. Pappy could take them down with his knife, slash their throats before they even knew what he’d done. I do my best with a sharpened spear, but the beasts seem wise to my intentions and keep well out of my way. Pappy always said I was too fragrant; they could smell me coming on the wind. Such scent is always strongest on my blood days when the moon is new, and my body feels like it is no longer under my control. Those days seek to remind me of what I could be, not who I really am. 

    I see more and more of them lately though. Pigs, goats, wild cats sometimes. Roaming the valley around the outskirts of the camp. Especially now the sky is turning blue. 

    Gramma Loula used to tell us stories, learned from her Mama Sara before her. Sara had seen and lived through the Great Change, but we lost those times in a violent past when the world was more cluttered and raw. People back then powered metal machines with black magic that rose from the sea. Our homeland, once kind, grew hot and barren, and soon the Wild Lands burned. As the air turned red, painted scarlet by the flames, the thick smoke choked the sun. 

    Gramma Loula said men built skyboats that rose high above the clouds. Their crew, the Builders, took a one-way trip to a new, untainted earth. They paved the way for the others to follow. Great cities beyond their wildest dreams. The Exodus, she said, was meant to save them. Instead, it condemned them all. 

    And yet, skyboats floating in the sky; whoever could imagine such a thing? Gramma Loula was born in the darkness, her history destroyed by the sea. I wondered sometimes if the ocean’s rage had reached in and ravaged her mind.

    Kira spoons steaming lumps of something into a wooden bowl. Passes it to me. 

    “Bitta?” I ask. 

    She grimaces. “Yes. It’s all there is.”  

    Bitta. Pappy’s word for such a meal. A bit o’ this, and a bit o’ that. Mix it all up in a sauce. There’s no meat in it but tastes basically good and it’ll stave off the gnawing hunger.

    The hunger and the Purging that came after the Great Change was brutal. Gramma Loula hates to speak of it at all. It took Mama Sara with poisoned ash; ash that still taints the land. My pappy didn’t realize his body was infected, that the ghosts were eating him from the inside. The sores on his skin were proof of his illness; deep, oozing wounds, which, no matter what we did, never fully healed. Gramma Loula said after his passing it wasn’t ghosts that had swallowed him but, “Fucking cancer!” A scourge far worse than the Purge itself. 

    Kira hands a bowl to Evie. She perches on the bench by the edge of the fire, takes an eager slurp, and moans when she burns her lips. I pat her on the elbow, so she looks at me and says, “At least it’s hot, huh?” I blow across the top of my own meagre meal. The fire throws flickering shadows on her face as she smiles and copies me.  

    Evie is my sister, but not of my blood. Her mama was old when she fell pregnant and was not in the best of health. Her pappy, I knew nothing about, only that he wasn’t there. I remember the screams from the hut that night. The sobs that followed a little later. Mama Dani took Evie in without a second thought. 

    Evie was small, and a sickly babe. The village ensured she was protected. My brothers were strong and independent, but Evie was much weaker. She needed me, and I loved her fiercely. I accepted my role as her big sister with pleasure, and she had bloomed and grown with every turn of the seasons. Now in the early stages of womanhood, although slight, she is just as strong as I.

    I slurp a spoonful of food and the inside of my nose itches. I rub it and dislodge the thick layer of grey mud that’s smeared across my face. Flakes of it fall off into my food. It disintegrates before I can fish it out. I scowl in frustration and Evie laughs. Grey fragments crumble from her cheeks into her bowl. She doesn’t notice, or maybe she doesn’t care. 

    Mama Dani takes the mud from the lakeside, scooping handfuls of it into large pots. She mixes it with other things: herbs and animal fat that she’s melted to oil. She makes us wear it whenever we leave the camp or whenever we might not find shade. Without it, our skin is too sensitive. It blisters quickly in the unforgiving sun and burns an angry red. I am thankful that our village is in the forest, that the majestic trees enshroud our lives. We can breathe cleanly, inhale the fresh air. Unlike the nightwalkers, the Iksyop. Those who choose to live in the caves. 

    Our village has stood for many seasons — Gramma Loula was here when the first trees were felled. She helped to build the first huts. Now, there are more than I can count; more than all my fingers and toes twice over.

    Pappy was born here, as were my brothers and I. Gramma Loula is our healer, as her mama was before her. She tended to Pappy when he got sick, made her hut into a healing house. She always encouraged me to continue her work, said I had a skill for it. But healing never interested me. I am too keen on the thrill of the hunt, providing food for my family, not medicine. 

    It was hard for me to see Pappy pass. To watch a big man fade away to nothing. The dread and despair, the feelings of failure, knowing I could not save him. Healing seems too hard for me, but hunting and killing come easy. 

    Evie passes her empty bowl back to Aunt Kira and says loudly, “Thank you.” Kira smiles and nods a reply. Evie comes and sits beside me. I put one arm around her and hold her close. She taps her chest three times with her fist, opens her hand and holds her palm over her heart. I return the gesture and kiss the top of her head, inhaling the scent of wood-smoke in her hair. We have done this ever since she was small, when her sickness had draped a thick blanket of silence over her world, and she was too frightened to talk. Three taps, three words. Our connection. 

    These moments won’t last, I can feel it. A day will come when she’s not here. She’ll say goodbye and leave me. I don’t know how or even when, but I know it as sure as the seasons turn and the sun and the stars rule the skies. I don’t like it, I’ll do anything I can to avoid it, but I also know how powerless I am against the choices of an unforgiving world. 

    Kira takes the pot from the fire. She will clean it in the lake behind the trees. That is her job, just as I have mine. As everyone in the village has theirs. Tomorrow, when the light returns, I will go out to hunt again. 

    My dreams are full of stars and fire. I climb to the tallest tree in the forest and leap from its furthermost branches. As the wind hits my skin, I sprout feathers from my arms, and I drift across land and water. Evie flies higher, a little further ahead. I hear her laughing as she spins in the air. I try to catch her, to take a hold of her hand, but she slips even further away. 

    A flash from the clouds makes me shriek in fear, a bold splash of lightning sears my eyes. I feel myself wheeling, descending at speed. My eyes are burning, and my thoughts are confused. I see only shadows and shapes all around me as I struggle to right myself. Another flash and I’m plunged into blackness, while Evie floats away on a silver cloud. 

    I wake up shouting with a hand on my shoulder, the sun not yet risen above the hills. A pale lilac glow sweeps through the room. It lights up Gramma Loula’s wrinkled face. 

    “Bad dreams?” she asks.

    “Yes. Maybe. Strange ones,” I say. 

    “I see it coming, you know?” She whispers, lowering herself onto the end of my bed. She grimaces as if some part of her body pains her. “The change in the skies. In us.”

    “In us?” I wriggle upright, push the blanket down off my chest.

    “In us,” she repeats, then falls quiet. I watch as she fiddles with her long, grey braid, teasing the hair through her fingers. 

    “What do you mean?” 

    “My mama saw the earth die. The destruction and chaos that came from the air. She survived it despite all her losses.” She waves a hand. “You know all this; I’ve told you before.” I nod my acknowledgment, but I’m curious. “My mama and I—your pappy too—we all lived through the worst of it. By the time you and your brothers arrived, we’d had plenty of chances to learn from our mistakes. To live, not merely survive. 

    “My mama’s world pined for what they’d lost. Mine learned to live with what was left. Between the rising seas and the blazing skies, we had to learn quickly. We did as we must when we had to. Such were the ways of the Old World. Razed by war and left to rot.” 

    “What is it you see coming?” I ask her, but her expression grows distant. Her thoughts are far away. She ponders for a long time before replying.

    “Do you ever think about the future, Ayla?” She sucks her teeth and stares at me, sharp-eyed and intense. 

    “The future? What do you mean?”

    “The future of the village. Of our people? Do you think about what might be out there, past the breakers? Beyond the waves?”

    I know where this is going, this line of thought. A dark place that she slips into whenever she remembers her father. The wars of the Old World stole so many things, but what came after, what was worse, was the loneliness. Blink-fast communication with other villages — not those in caves or merely past the mountains, but with places further than the eye could see — shut down in an instant and destroyed. Wheelpods left to turn orange and brown, their surfaces flaked and decaying. It was a way of living, so taken for granted, few knew what to do. They stopped living when the lights went out. Great Grandpappy Maurice, long gone before I was born, took a sailboat with six others. None of them ever returned.  

    These are the stories, the words I’ve been told, and while I struggle to understand, I see the pain behind Gramma Loula’s eyes and I wonder what it must have been like.   

    “I don’t think about what’s ahead of me,” I tell her. “I know it’ll come soon enough.” 

    She laughs, a deep and throaty cackle, and shakes her head as if she were shaking drops of rain from her hair. “Oh yes, it’ll come soon enough,” she says. “It always does. Even so, you should be ready.” 

    “What for? What do you think will happen?” 

    “What always happens, Ayla. The end of the cycle. The last sleep.” 

    “Everything ends, Gramma Loula. Even us.” I say. 

    She watches me with her deep, dark eyes. “You miss your Pappy, don’t you?”

    I feel a lump start to rise in my throat. “You know I do.”   

    “He was so fiercely proud of you, you know? Even if he didn’t say it very much.”

    In my youth, I believed I was a massive disappointment to him. Not what he’d wanted or expected, ever since the moment of my first bleed. I’d done my best to be what he needed, to prove to him what I was worth. How I felt unfinished, in a hand-me-down skin. Betrayed by the body I wore. Much later, I understood, I was wrong to assume. He knew exactly who I was before I did. He just didn’t have the words to explain. 

    I take a deep breath before answering, making sure I hid the shudder in my voice. “I know. I really do. But sometimes… Sometimes, I wish he’d said it more.”  

    I hear a noise at the door. Evie stands in the entrance, rubbing her dreams from her eyes. Her thick hair hangs loose around her shoulders. The sun elbows its way into the room and its rays tint the ends orange. I forget sometimes how beautiful she is. How strong, although her frame is half the size of mine.

    “Gramma Loula? Ayla? Is it time to eat now?” 

    Gramma Loula stands and throws her arms wide, beckons Evie to come to her. She giggles and scurries into the embrace. Gramma Loula holds her tight. I crawl out of bed and pad barefoot to the food store. Mama Dani has baked sweet potato bread, sprinkled with green and black seeds. I tear off a chunk and chew it. Thoughtful. Gramma Loula’s words rolling round in my head. 

    I leave Evie in the village when I go hunting. I want some time on my own. She stays with Kira weaving the flax, making baskets or maybe mats. The fresh mud on my face feels scratchy already, dried out in the heat. I wrinkle my nose to soothe the itch, wiggling it from side to side. 

    Just like a rabbit testing the air. I think with a wry smile. But I’m not a rabbit, I’m a predator. I am a hunter, stalking prey. Rabbits run without looking and make stupid mistakes. They are weak where I am strong.   

    I walk away from the village towards the mountains, take a drink from the lake as I pass by. The air is still and unusually quiet and the ripples on the water sound loud. I cup my palms together and sip from my hands. I stay low, hidden by the reeds. 

    A violent flapping of wings makes me jump, and a brown shape tinted with streaks of blue swoops across the water’s surface. It opens its beak and the quacking noise it makes is unmistakable as it echoes around the lake’s edge.  

    How long has it been since I’ve seen one of these? Maybe, like the green birds, such creatures are returning. Pappy could do great things with them, not a single piece wasted. Meat and feathers, and bones and fat. Everything had a use. 

    I stay hidden amongst the plants and grip my bow, an arrow already poised to find its target. And then I see her, a little way off in the distance, across the other side of the lake. At first, I think she’s come to find me, but then I realize she’s not alone. 

    I can’t see their face from this distance, but I know the gait of every member of our village, and whoever this gangly, lolloping figure is, they are unknown to me. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up. They walk a little way behind her. She appears calm, completely unaware. And the panic slams into my chest like a rock. 

    She won’t hear them. They’re creeping up behind her and she won’t hear them!

    It’s instinctive now. The bow feels like a part of me, an extension of my reach. I grip the bowstring and slide it back; take aim and hold my breath. As the arrow leaves the string, I feel myself exhale, watch as it glides through the air. It punctures the ground an arm’s length from the stranger, and they jolt backward and yell in surprise. It’s a warning shot; I meant to miss. I want to scare them, so Evie has time to run.

    Except, it is the stranger who runs and straight towards her, not away. They grab her roughly around the waist, lifting her off the ground. My fingers nock a second arrow without thinking. I stand and take aim and pull on the bowstring. This time I won’t miss.

    The arrow finds its target in her attacker’s shoulder, and their screams are shrill and desperate. They lose their grip on Evie and bend over in pain. She stumbles as she is half-thrown to the ground, but to my surprise, she does not run away. Instead, she embraces the stranger and comforts them as they cry. She turns and shouts in my direction.

    “Ayla? Don’t shoot! He’s a friend!” 

    A friend? She knows this person? 

    I dash across the clearing; my bow smacks my hip as I run. I try not to think too hard about what I’ve done.

    You shot somebody, Ayla. You might have killed them. A stranger, yes, not someone you know, but still… Not an animal and not by accident. You hurt another person. By choice. 

    The wound is not bad, or at least, it’s not fatal. The stranger slumps on the grass and wails. A teenage boy, maybe a little older than Evie, with a sallow complexion and wispy hair. I note the absence of mud on his skin. See the angry red patches on his arms and neck where the sun has stung his flesh. 

    He goes to pull at the arrow shaft, but Evie stops him, taking his hand in hers. 

    “No. Leave it in. Or you’ll bleed out.” She glares at me, tears of rage in her eyes. “Why’d you shoot him?” she demands.

    “I thought he was going to hurt you! Do you know him? Who is he?”

    “This is Aaron. My boyfriend.”

    “Boyfriend?!” I can scarcely conceal my surprise. “Since when?”

    “No time for that now. We need to get back to the village. Gramma Loula will know what to do.”

    “We can’t take a stranger back to the village. You know that. It’s against the rules! Where’s he from?” She points to the mountains with one hand and strokes Aaron’s cheek with her other.

    “The mountains? The caves? He’s Iksyop!” 

    Of course he is. His pallor is that of a nightwalker, one who avoids the sun by choice. But he is in the sun’s reach now, and burning quickly as well as being wounded. 

    There are rules that must not be broken. Rules that keep us safe, that keep us whole. Pappy told us we must always remember: our village, our family, our strength. But I can’t let him die. Not like this. Not when it’s my fault that he’s injured.

    Damn it. I don’t have a choice. 

    “Aunt Kira is going to spit,” I say, and thrust my hands under the boy’s armpits, hauling him to his feet. We each take a side, supporting him as we walk. With each step, he howls like an injured dog. There will be no chance for our arrival to be discrete.

    “He’s very loud.” 

    “Yeah.” Evie grins. 

    “Is he deaf too?”

    “No. Just loud. I like that.” 

    They’re waiting for us at the end of the trail; Mama Dani, Aunt Kira, and a few others. Their faces full of concern and alarm. I open my mouth to explain, to apologize, but Kira tells me to hush and follow her. 

    “Leave the boy, come now,” she says, “while you still have time.” 

    I’m confused, but Mama Dani plucks at my arm, slides the bow and my quiver from my back. Pappy’s friend, Old Jonah, takes the injured boy and leads him away. Evie tries to follow, but Kira blocks her way.

    “No. She’s been asking for you both.”

    I realize with a jolt what Kira means, and I run to our hut at full pelt. In her bed by the corner, settled in a nest of rolled-up blankets, lies Gramma Loula. Her mouth is open, but her eyes are closed. Her lids flicker as I enter and whisper her name, my cheeks already damp with tears. 

    “Ayla?” Her voice is barely a croak. I hear Evie enter behind me and gasp as she takes it all in.  

    “I’m here, Gramma Loula.” I take her hand. It feels cold and fragile, like a tiny bird’s wing.

    “It’s here, Ayla, the end of the cycle. Time for my last sleep.”

    “No, Gramma Loula, I don’t understand. You’re not sick, are you?” 

    “My dear one, old age is a harsh mistress. What she changes in you, you can’t cure. But I’m grateful that I’ve had all this time. It’s so much more than I ever expected.”

    Evie sits beside me on the bed and takes her other hand. “Are you tired, Gramma Loula?” Evie booms.

    Gramma Loula chuckles. “Oh, I am. Very, very tired.”

    “Ayla always says if you’re tired you should rest.” She looks at me, but I can’t meet her gaze.

    “I plan to, Evie. I do.” Gramma Loula coughs and her body shakes. Her eyes are wet and dark. “You need to look after yourselves now. The world is big, and this village is so small. A change is coming, I can feel it. Be a part of it, both of you. Embrace the blue.”

    “I will, Gramma Loula. I promise,” Evie says, and kisses her cheek. “You go to sleep now. We’ll see you soon.” Gramma Loula smiles at us both. I feel her squeeze my palm, faintly, oh so faintly. Three times before she shuts her eyes. 

    And I cry until I don’t think I can cry anymore. 

    Pappy nods his approval as I lower my bow with shaking hands. I see the arrow in the distance, sticking upright from the ground. But its tip is not stuck in dirt or grass, it is buried in the side of an animal. A creature that, until a few moments ago, had been breathing and eating and… alive. Pappy puts his hand on my shoulder. 

    “Well done, Ayla, your first kill. I knew you could do it.” He picks up the dead rabbit and hands it to me. It’s still soft and warm, and I sob uncontrollably, overcome with guilt. I am horrified that I am capable of doing such a thing. I wish I could turn back the clock.

    “I know it’s hard,” he tells me, gently. “But it’s necessary. The inevitable way of the new world. Don’t you worry, it gets much easier.”

    Aunt Kira stands beside me. There are stories to be told and explanations to be made. “I will finish here,” she says. “Do as need to be done. Loula was wise and taught you well, I’m sure. Now though, you must tend to the boy.” She bustles Evie and me from the hut. Mama Dani enters as we leave.

    “He’s with Jonah,” she tells me. “Follow the screams.” I listen, and sure enough, I can hear him yelling. At the hut, Dav and Bodhi come to embrace me. They feel the loss just as keenly as I do. We share a moment of bitter, helpless grief before Aaron moans and interrupts our poor comfort. 

    “He won’t let me near him,” Jonah says. “He keeps squealing like a damned stuck pig.” 

    “It’s okay. I can do it. Can you get me clean water and bandages? Bodhi, fetch me some heartleaf, grind the leaves into a paste. Dav, I need some flax thread and a bone needle.” I stand in front of Aaron. Evie holds his hands in hers. The boy is so consumed by his pain, I’m not sure he knows she is there. 

    Damn you, Gramma Loula. Is this what you meant? Was this the change you saw coming for me? 

     I’m a hunter first, not a healer, but despite my many protestations, I have skills in both. Gramma Loula made me help her enough times and I know what to do. The arrowhead is embedded in his flesh, but I can’t be certain if it has impacted the bone. 

    “This is really going to hurt,” I tell him, and I take a firm hold of the shaft and twist. He screams so loud it makes my ears ring, but the arrow moves freely in my fist. “Good, that’s good. It makes things easier.” I inspect the wound more closely, see the edges of the arrowhead just visible beneath the skin. With luck, it will come out as easily as it went in. If it doesn’t, I’ll have to cut it out of him. 

    I twist it again and pull as hard as I can. It’s stubborn, but I am determined. The wound weeps as the arrowhead emerges and Jonah hands me a cloth to stem the flow. “Almost over now, Aaron,” I tell him. I glance at his face, wondering how the boy could possibly look even paler than he did when I first laid eyes on him, and then he slides backward and passes out. 

    “About time,” Jonah says with a wry laugh. “The boy sure could bellow some.” 

    With the arrow free, I pack the wound with heartleaf, stitch the broken skin and wind a bandage around his chest. Only time will tell if that is good enough. If I am good enough. 

    There are questions, of course, which I can’t answer, and Evie refuses to leave his side. When he comes around, Mama Dani gives him some peppery bark to chew and ease his pain, and Jonah helps me move him to the healing hut.

    He is Iksyop, his village is carved deep within the mountains, a broad labyrinth of caves inside the rock. He dislikes the caves and craves the sunlight, although it hurts him and makes his skin sore.  

    The older members of his village think him mad, but there are a few others like him who want more. Those who don’t want to spend their whole lives in the caves. Who know they don’t need to hide. His pappy is long gone like ours is, and his mama lives with another man. He likes him and is happy his mama’s not alone, but he wants to have a place of his own. 

    It was the birds that led him to Evie. He would sit for hours in the forest watching them, until their paths crossed, purely by chance. 

    “I’d never seen someone so beautiful,” he says. “So unusual and interesting. When she laughed, she sometimes scared away the birds, but that didn’t matter to me.”  

    “How long have you two been together?” I ask.

    “Six moons,” Evie says. “Gramma Loula knew.” 

    “Gramma Loula knew you had a boyfriend?” 

    “Yeah. She liked him. Said he looked brave.” 

    I can’t help but laugh. “He looked brave? Wait, she met him?”

    She nods. “Yes. Lots of times. His Great Grandpappy Armie went out on a boat with Grandpappy Maurice. They hunted together and explored the other islands, places out there beyond the sea. They went together on Maurice’s last journey. Gramma Loula told us all the stories she knew. She said maybe it was fate we met.” She turns and smiles at Aaron. There is no doubt their love is undeniable. “We have plans, Ayla,” she says quietly, unusually so for her. “Aaron and his friends have built a boat. They want to go out and see things for themselves. See what’s out there.” She sighs deeply before continuing. “I want to go too.”

    For a second it feels like my heart stops, and I can’t seem to draw a breath. “You want to leave me?” 

    “No, I don’t want to leave you. I want to go see things. Don’t be sad, Ayla. Gramma Loula said the world is big. You know there’s more out there than just our village. That we should embrace the blue. That’s what I want. And it’s time.”

    “If you go, I can’t protect you. I can’t keep you safe anymore!” I hear an edge of hysteria in my voice, but my anxiety is lost on her. Her face crinkles as she smiles. 

    “I know. But you don’t have to. Aaron showed me I have wings. I need to learn how to use them. I need to know I can fly. You understand?”  

    I do. It pains me so much to realize it, but I do. 

    “When will you leave?”

    “Soon. I was bringing Aaron to the village when you shot him.” I grimace and feel my cheeks turn red. “We were coming to tell everyone. The boat is ready. There’s no reason to stay.”

    “None at all?” I snap, more cruel than I intended.

    “Ayla. Please, stop. This is not about you. You know, when you catch a rabbit in a net, it panics and struggles. It does everything it can to get out. Eventually, when it gets too tired, it gives up and accepts its fate. I don’t want to end up like that.”

    “You’re not trapped here, Evie! The village gives you everything you need!”

    “Exactly! It gives me everything except the freedom I need. I… I am not as weak as you think I am. I don’t need rescuing, or protecting, or to be wrapped up in soft blankets in case I hurt myself. I’m tired of being the only one who doesn’t have a role. Who needs someone with them just to leave the village!” She turns away from me and takes Aaron’s hand. 

    “You of all people know how it feels to want more from life, Ayla. To be seen for who you are. You take the roles others’ hand down to you—hunter, healer, daughter, sister—but you never seem sure what you want.” 

    I scoff and furrow my brow. “Am I the rabbit then, Evie?” I shout back. “Is that it? If I stay here and do what everyone else wants, I may as well be trapped and skinned? Put in a pot and stewed!” 

    Aaron shakes his head but will not meet my gaze. “Please don’t be angry with her.” 

    “We haven’t even buried Gramma Loula yet, and already she’s running away! How can I not be angry? Everyone I love leaves me, Evie! What am I supposed to feel?”

    She turns, and even though there is no way she could have heard me or seen the words I’ve spat angrily at her back, she looks me straight in the eyes and replies; three taps on her chest with a fist before holding her hand over her heart.

    My dreams are heavy and unfamiliar. I see things I’ve never seen before. Gramma Loula’s words, her strange prophecy. They spin around in my head like dead leaves in the dirt caught in a mischievous wind. Skyboats float on waves of cloud, drifting through the sky with moonlit sails. I look and see Evie waving from the prow, her eyes gleaming like bright stars. I return her gesture, see the feathers on my arms. Blue and green and red. 

    “Jump, Ayla!” she shouts, and I want to, I really do. But I look down and my feet have grown long and swollen; they are stone-heavy and swathed in grey fur. 

    “I can’t,” I reply. “My place is here in the village. I’m sorry. I’ll be here if you need me. Always.”

    When the boat leaves, two villages are there to see it off. Aunt Kira helps the Iksyop cover their delicate skin with lake mud, gives them jar after jar to keep safe in the hold. Dav and Bodhi offer woven mats for shade, Mama hands them giant bunches of dried herbs.

    Evie looks different somehow, taller and more confident. She fills the space around her as if she has an energy. A quiet strength I’d never noticed in her before. 

    “I wish Pappy and Gramma Loula could see you now,” I tell her. 

    “Who says they can’t?” she replies. “And you too.” The clouds break to reveal a purple-pink sky, smeared with splashes of blue. She fixes me with a curious expression, then reaches out to place her palm over my heart. “Hunter, healer, daughter, sister. You’re all of those, Ayla, and so much more. The village is so lucky to have you.” 

    We cry and we laugh, and we hug each other, sharing breath as our bodies entwine. I inhale deeply, trying to memorize her scent. I remember the wood-smoke in her hair. 

    “Embrace the blue,” I whisper, although I know she can’t hear. The words are to soothe me more than her. Then behind her, there, I see it. A twitch in the undergrowth that shakes the leaves. A rustle and a shiver and a quick flash of movement—a brown-eyed reflection in the shining light. A quivering nose tests the morning air. Exploring the fresh changes on the breeze. It moves out into the clearing, bold and unafraid, and flicks its one good ear with a paw. 

    Scatter My Ashes Over Water, Let My Soul Go Where the Ocean Roars.

    I’ve waited a while to post this, hopeful that it might find another home elsewhere. Alas, that is not to be, and perhaps the truth is it belongs right here, on my blog.

    I also want to acknowledge my privilege that as a tauiwi immigrant with a complex relationship with the country I was born in, I am a grateful guest in the beautiful country of Aotearoa, New Zealand, here only on my merits. While I feel at home here, it is not my land, nor will it ever be.

    This piece describes my very personal relationship with the ocean, the journeys I have made both physically and spiritually, and where I am in the world.


    There is a poster of a world map stuck with Blu-Tack in the entryway to the side of my front door. I put it there for my kids to marvel at. Mostly to make them realise just how far we have come, but also, perhaps, to instil in them the same passion and interest I have for cartography.  The very same version had been pinned to the wall in our old semi-detached in England. Back then, we stuck coloured stars on all the places where our friends and family lived overseas. A purple one, my favourite colour, placed over Wellington, “the Coolest Little Capital” of Aotearoa, New Zealand. Despite the longing I had harboured for many years, seeing the city for myself seemed so desperately far away. 

    The map in my hallway

    That map in England grew old. It was hung up for so long it got sun-bleached and torn at the edges. I’d been sad to remove it while packing to leave and I bought a replacement online on a whim. It travelled on a boat for almost three months rolled up in a cardboard tube before it reached its destination. A pristine, carbon copy of its predecessor; a stark reminder and a fresh start. 

    It is unusually quiet in our house this afternoon. I leave my laptop and head to the kitchen. The kids are in their bedroom playing Minecraft with their friends. My husband is still at work in the city. I’ve been working the best part of the day myself; planning, researching, trying to write. The words are being fickle and elusive today, no doubt I’ll delete more than I keep. 

    I pause on my way back to my desk, sipping from a mug of hot coffee. Most days, I forget the map is there, it feels part of the scenery now. No stars on this one, but a flurry of miniature Post-It notes from when the kids went through my old coin collection and identified where in the world they were all from. It’s funny, I did very much the same as a child. A numismatist since I was seven years old and received an errant French ten centime piece in my pocket money change. I was always less interested in the coins themselves and more where they had come from. Where they’d been. Who had held them? What of their lives?

    A dull orange light from the afternoon sun streaks through the glass panes by the front door. It dapples the hallway carpet and throws tiny starbursts on the map. I put a finger on the bottom of Te Ika-a-Māui, approximately where I know Pōneke to be. I imagine my nail tip is the prow of a boat, and I “sail” counterclockwise across the vast, cerulean expanse of Te Moana nui a Kiwa. I skirt the edge of South America’s Cape Horn—known by sailors as “The End of the World”—and swing upwards through the full length of the Atlantic Ocean. I bear right past Iceland and the Faroe Islands where the waters grow colder and murkier in tone, then down, down, and around into the North Sea. There, I land in Whitby. 

    There are a lot of good things about growing up in a small town where pretty much everyone knows who you are, and everyone knows everybody else. That sense of safety, community, and local identity wraps around you like a comfortable blanket. But if you don’t feel like you fit, grow tired or want more, that blanket grows smothering and heavy. Soon, you start to notice how tatty it is. The dropped stitches and frayed edges that bind you. Those same threads pull together like a net. A trap. And so, you begin to look in earnest for a way to get out. An escape from the past, and Past You. 

    Sometimes, the worst of it is not that smothering, drowning, feeling of confinement, but knowing that everyone you grew up with has already decided who and what you are, and all that you’re capable of. There is a box in that community with your name on it, and don’t you dare forget it.

    I was pulled and I was pushed, and I took a leap of faith. There were false starts and uncertainties, mistakes made along the way. But going back? That was never an option.  

    Me, age 9 at the outskirts of Whitby, UK.

    I am a water-baby. I’ve known that forever. As far back as I can remember, I have been drawn to the ocean. A wrenching, grasping, unignorable need to be near water. A quick Google tells me I am a thalassophile—a person who loves, and feels a strong attachment to, the ocean, sea, and other large bodies of water. The word derives from the Greek terms thalassa, meaning sea, and phile, a person who has a fondness for a specified thing. In Ancient Greek mythology, Thalassa was a goddess and primeval spirit of the sea. A thalassophile needs water like most people need air. They feel intimately linked to the ocean waves and are soothed by the sea breeze. They thrive when they are close to the water and suffer when they are not. 

    During my childhood the sea was always there, and I took it for granted in many ways. The village I grew up in, where I spent eighteen years of my life, was a scant two miles from the nearest beach. No distance at all to an adventurous child with a bicycle and a desire to escape. I spent many hours one summer in my early teens, tramping over the local fields with my neighbour’s rather portly dog in tow, walking to the coast and back. It was no longer overweight by the time autumn rolled around. 

    My adolescence was often spent hanging out on the beach with my friends; walking, chatting, jumping over the waves. Then later, older, but still not quite all of us legal, when we were turned out from the local pubs at last orders, we were made brave by too many vodka shots while our clothes reeked of cigarette smoke, and we dared each other to jump from the pier into ice-cold, grey, harbour water. 

    A statue of King Richard III outside Leicester Cathedral

    The older I got, the more I drifted away, leaving the sea behind me. University led me north up the coast and then west, inland surrounded by industry. My career kept me busy, no time to wander. I would visit my hometown as often as I could, but never as often as I would like. Until eventually, circumstances borne of new love and fresh starts, led me to Leicester, one of the oldest cities in England. The place where a council carpark marked the final resting place of the last Plantagenet, King Richard III of York. It was quite possibly the most landlocked place I could possibly be, and I felt it in my bones. Sometimes so strong it physically hurt. I grew sick, weak, and dreadfully unhappy. 

    When I needed comfort in my darkest times, I would lie on my bed with headphones on, a white noise app on my phone and the sound of the sea in my ears. I could close my eyes and fool myself for a moment I was where I wanted, no, needed to be. 

    My identity is linked to the sea. My Norse ancestors traversed the Northern oceans in longships to establish settlements in what was known as Streanæshealh, a place where Oswy, the Christian king of Northumberland founded the first abbey, guided by the abbess Hilda. Viking raiders destroyed the abbey in 876, with a new monastery founded in 1078. The Norse renamed the settlement to its current name, Whitby, from the Old Norse hvítr (white) and býr (village). Until the 18th century Whitby flourished primarily as a fishing village, when shipbuilding, whaling and the jet trade took over. It is a tourist town now, as the worlds needs have changed, with fishing providing only a fraction of its economy and employment. 

    For a tiny little town it has a lot to experience, in part thanks to its saturation in local myths and legends. The imposing, ruined gothic Whitby Abbey inspired Bram Stoker to write his vampire opus, ‘Dracula’. Saint Mary’s Church stands at the edge of the cliffs, 199 stone steps leading up to it. There is a memorial museum dedicated to Captain James Cook—explorer, navigator, cartographer. (I don’t like him much, but that’s another story.) A working steam train travels the moors and has featured in a number of Hollywood films. The Victorian museum is stuffed to the rafters with artifacts and curios from all around the world. One such highlight; a mummified, severed hand of a hanged man known as a Hand of Glory. Its fingertips were set alight and used by burglars to put their marks to sleep, and it terrified me to tears as a child. Along the cobbled streets of the Old Part of town and amongst the redstone buildings across the historic swing bridge, there are tea shops, fish ‘n’ chip shops and sweet shops galore! Whitby’s money is in people now, not in trade. 

    But it’s an old town for old people. It doesn’t offer much to the young. Or maybe I just haven’t thrown off that blanket of bad memories yet. I still feel the ties that bound me. I surprise myself sometimes, at how angry I feel, how small my life could have been.

    My great, great grandmother Amelia Peart in Whitby. Credit: Francis Frith Collection

    I don’t need to go back to the Vikings to know my family has always been tied to the sea. They were fishermen. Lobster catchers. Net makers and menders. Boat builders and lifeboat crews. A long line of individuals living their lives on, by and in the water, knowing nothing else than the sharp tang of salt in the freezing air, the chill of the damp in their bones. A few years ago I traced my paternal ancestry as far back and wide as I could go. Eglon, Leadley, Peart and Mead. All names in the branches of my tree. I found certificates stating their births and deaths. Census entries detailing their jobs. I even found a sepia photograph of my great, great grandmother perched on seaweed-straddled rocks, at the edge of Whitby beach. 

    One thing struck me like a slap to my cheek; not one of them ever left Whitby. Generation after generation laid down roots and stayed firmly in one spot. Despite living near a pathway to a million new places, a thousand chances for fresh ventures and grand exploration, they stayed put. 

    Unlike me. 

    I left the United Kingdom behind me four years and three months ago on the 27th of July 2017. I’ve not been back since. My decision drew a solid black line under the life I once had, and heralded the start of something new. My journey began well before then, of course, that need to strike out and find adventure, but in the late spring, early summer of 2016 my husband and I became aware that after many, many years of saving and planning, hoping and dreaming, we finally had the means to make some serious choices and changes to our life. One of those saw my husband resign from his job of fourteen years and strike out independently. 

    It wasn’t an easy choice. There was still so much fear to get over, worries about what could go wrong. You become indoctrinated to the working world, even when you hate it and can see so much wrong in it. Taking that chance to escape seems like a hoax, a joke, a ploy to trip you up and laugh at you as you fall. It took courage and determination to cut the threads and create his own business, and I cannot fault his passion or drive. Yet I knew he still wasn’t truly happy, and when an offer of part-time work came up, he was hesitant but couldn’t fully explain to me why. 

    He didn’t need to explain, I already knew that a part of him saw his freedom being removed from him again. The job was good, the hours and pay fantastic, but he needed to be free for a while. He needed to let go and see more of life before it swallowed him up. Hell, we both did.

    A chain of events beyond anyone’s control brought about situations and circumstances that none of us saw coming and never, ever dreamed would be possible. Some people say the universe works in strange ways, but I remain convinced it works in exactly the way it should. Serendipity or otherwise, opportunities pieced themselves together like sections of a jigsaw, pushing us along a path that we had sought to tread for many years but had lacked the means to follow. From a period of sadness and indecision, of frustration and resignation, a door was opened to us, and a means of following our dreams was presented.

    I’m not sure what possessed me that night, sitting on our bed, talking and swapping ideas, but I knew it was the right decision. I told him we should travel, that we should go where he had always wanted, to see New Zealand. Absolutely nothing was stopping us now, except the excuses we gave ourselves. I think I scared him, scared myself, showing that our dreams of well over ten years were possible, attainable. That which we had been saving for, for so long was now within our reach. 

    The last time I saw Whitby in person

    Do you ever feel sometimes that you have promised yourself you are working towards a goal, but deep down you aren’t fully sure if that goal will ever be reached? That’s what New Zealand felt like to us. Every time we had saved enough for the flights, something would happen that would demand the use of those savings. The car broke down. The washing machine blew up. All those myriad, stupid domestic problems that life throws at you and leaves you with little choice but to attack them head on and deal with the fallout. Knowing that we could finally do what we wanted, it was the strangest feeling.

    We all cried that night: myself, my husband, and our two kids, hugging each other tightly. We cried not out of sadness, but out of terrified anticipation and excitement.

    The decision was made, and yet we still dragged our feet at first. I’m not sure why, I suppose there was still a reticence there, an uncertainty. It would be the first time any of us had ever flown, and the flights were long-haul—almost thirty hours of travelling, all told. We were understandably nervous. I joked about it with well-travelled friends who were appalled that my first experience on a plane was to the other side of the world. “Go big or go home,” I would say, with a shrug, because in retrospect it felt crazy, somewhat unreal. I had to laugh otherwise I might crumble. 

    In the end, the journey, even though it was the first for us all, ended up being quite uneventful. Once through the process of customs, boarding and finding our seats, it was merely a matter of settling in for the long haul. We were seated in economy, in a row of four seats in the middle of the plane and we could have been locked in a tin-can simulation for all we knew. We saw nothing of the world as we crossed it as we were so far from the windows. It was… boring.

    Our five-week holiday after? Never boring in the slightest. What we did and what we saw is of little consequence now, but how we felt, that was the kicker. When it ended, when we had to go “home”, it felt like our hearts were being ripped from our chests and everything we loved taken from us. Because we knew right then that while a great many places can feel like home, only one of those places is where you truly live. And I knew for certain it wasn’t England.  

    That Christmas I gave my husband a present that I’d made him. A piece of paua shell I’d picked up from the beach at Moa Point, that I’d carved with a Dremel into a hei matau hook. I wasn’t as well-versed in the real meanings of things then, still stuck in tourist-like obliviousness. I didn’t always see the lines between appreciation and appropriation. The importance of symbols and intention. Despite all this, I made that pendant for him and infused it with much love. “For good luck and safe travel across water,” I told him. He knew exactly what it meant. 

    The view from the plane

    Seven months later, we were back on a plane. Serendipity intervened again, guided us with open palms. Little things that to write about now seem like they couldn’t possibly be real. Details seen only in wholesome, family movies, not things that actually occurred. They were real, of course. As real as that hand I could feel on my back, pushing me to take every step. Two days before leaving we sold our car. The dealer gave us cash that paid for the taxi that took us and our four cases to the airport. We almost missed the shuttlebus, but the driver let us ride for free. Once at the airport, we bought snacks in WHSmith, that amounted to the exact pennies in our pockets. Our seats this time were by the window, and we could see the land fall away as we rose. I watched the ocean spread out beneath us, a blanket of a thousand shades of blue.

    We landed in Wellington just before dawn, the sun barely grazing the horizon. My husband put his hand to the hollow of his neck and made a little noise of surprise.

    “What’s wrong?” I asked him, and he showed me his palm. His delicate paua pendant, had snapped neatly in two. 

    Our friends greeted us at the airport with a massive, hand-painted, rainbow-coloured sign. “Welcome home!” it said, and my stomach fluttered. Welcome home, indeed. 

    The sea I live beside now is not the sea I grew up with. I am displaced twelve thousand miles from the place I once called home. Despite this, I still feel the connection. The water is warm and clear here, stark contrast to the murky grey and forever cold North Sea. Water that I swam in until my skin turned blue and my teeth chattered so hard they might crumble in my mouth. Water I stayed in far too long and swallowed far too much, until I could barely find the energy to get back to shore, and on doing so, threw up bitter stomach-fuls of disgusting, briny liquid. Water, that as a child I was strangely jealous of for it could go anywhere it wanted. It was always moving. Never stuck in one place.

    The pendant I made out of paua shell for my husband

    As all water leads to the ocean, all oceans are connected in one way or another, their relationships like long-lost cousins, mutual links that lead them all into one. Any religion or mythology or magic aside, this is what I’ve always known and felt.  I’ll never let anyone tear me away from the waves again. When my time comes to leave this world forever, I want the sea to take me. Scatter my ashes over water, let my soul go where the ocean roars.

    Sometimes, while walking by the ocean, I gather wave-tumbled beach glass. Once sharp and cruel and dangerous, now smooth and made safe to touch. I feel like the sea does that to me; it takes off all my hard edges and gives me a more rounded view. The sea reminds me: you can be strong without needing defences. It’s okay to let yourself be tumbled in the waves. You won’t break, you’ll just change shape. Trust the journey. Lose yourself to the sea.

    Generation after generation of my family laid down roots and stayed firmly in one spot. They ignored what the ocean could offer them. 

    Unlike me. 

    The kids laugh loudly from the other end of the house, pulling me back to the present. My fingernail stays poised on the place I was born. The place I couldn’t wait to run away from. 

    I trace up, up around the North Sea, past the Faroe Islands and the bottom of Iceland. I swoop down the full length of the Atlantic Ocean, skirt Cape Horn into Te Moana nui a Kiwa. I go onwards to the bottom of Te Ika-a-Māui, and curl through Te Whanganui-a-Tara. I stop at the tiniest dot on the map, where I know Pōneke to be. Plenty of places feel like home. Only one of them is where you really, truly live. 

    I am a water baby. I’ve known that forever. How easy it can be to leave land behind, but the sea? No.

    That will always come with me.   

    Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Where I live now

    Sneak Peek: SEEDS

    My second collection SEEDS will be released into the wild on 16th October * and I am extremely excited. Here’s what some early reviewers have had to say about it already…

    “Tabatha Wood knows what scares you. SEEDS is an incredible collection that digs deep into your emotions, showing snippets of yourself and truths of your innermost thoughts in the actions of characters on the brink.” ~ Laurel Hightower, author of CROSSROADS and WHISPERS IN THE DARK

    “SEEDS is wonderful from start to finish. This was a damn near flawless collection.” ~ Aiden Merchant, author of HORRIFIC HOLIDAYS and SQUIRMING DISEASE  

    “Truly, there is something for everyone in this collection – supernatural creatures, creepy legends, the evil nature of humans, sweet retribution, senseless violence, personal transformation, and everything in between.” ~ Tiffany Michelle Brown, author of EASY AS PIE

    “SEEDS covers a variety of sub-genres, styles, and tones. It shows Wood knows how to work within these and isn’t confining or stifling herself either.” ~ Lor Gislason, reviewer at Horror Obsessive 

    You can read more reviews at Goodreads here.

    Preorders can be made via Amazon or Smashwords and reviewers can request a .mobi or .epub ARC by sending me a message here.

    * Release date is for the ebook version with paperbacks to follow.


    The first story in the collection is a flash-fiction piece entitled “Bloom.” It follows an elderly couple on a road trip as they celebrate their anniversary and encounter a field of mystical sunflowers. As a special sneak peek, I am delighted to share it with you now.

    It begins with a seed…

    Bloom

    On the weekend of our anniversary, we hired a camper van and hit the road. It was a stick-a-pin-in-the-map, spontaneous adventure that we had put off for far too long. We took the highway north, away from the city. Drove for hours until we reached dusty back roads. She sat in the passenger seat, navigating our journey. Told me to turn left down to the farm. In hindsight, I should have realised. She had planned this all along.

    I see the sea of yellow as we crest the hill; a golden haze spread across the horizon, in stark contrast with the piercing blue sky. Her smile lights up her face as bright as the flowers ahead of us. She claps her hands in glee.

    “Look, my love! Isn’t it beautiful?”

    I scoff and sigh. “You knew this was here, didn’t you?” I ask. 

    She turns to me, wide-eyed, her face a picture of faux-innocence, and then laughs. The crow’s feet crinkle around her eyes, but her pupils sparkle like a child’s.

    “I did.”

    “You could have just told me this was where you wanted to come.”

    “But then it wouldn’t have been a surprise.”

    I stop the van at the edge of the field but leave the engine idling. I was surprised alright. But I shouldn’t have been. I should have guessed. Sunflowers had always been her favourite. They were our wedding flowers too.

    “Are you coming, Millie?” she asks. “We’ve travelled a long way.”

    I don’t want to look at her.

    “Come on,” she insists. “At least take a photo of me by the flowers?” She tosses her smartphone in my lap and opens the passenger door. I wait until she exits, pondering my options, before I kill the ignition and follow her. Her long, white hair seems to glow in the sunlight. She moves slowly but determinedly, with a dancer’s grace. I call out to her and my voice carries on the breeze.

    “Clara, you do know what they say about this place?”

    She turns and giggles. “Of course! Thus, the basis of its appeal.”

    “You believe it then?”

    She stops and turns, fixing me with a steely gaze. “Does it matter what I believe?”

    I shrug. I really don’t know.

    She continues walking until she reaches the nearest bloom, and her fingertips graze the thick stem. A single petal flutters from its flower head and lands on the top of hers. She doesn’t notice, but my stomach lurches. I feel the sudden urge to pluck it from her hair. I don’t want it touching her.

    She moves further down the row, trailing her hands through the yellow storm. More petals shudder free and follow her like bright, dangerous confetti.

    “They say that they have power, don’t they?” she says quietly; so quietly I’m not even certain she’s talking to me. “That they harness magic from the sun. Their seeds contain pure radiance. One taste, and you can blossom too. Be beautiful like they are.”

    Panic fills my throat, and a cold blush paints my face.

    “You’re beautiful already, Clara,” I say loudly, hearing the tremble in my words. “Come away.” But she doesn’t want to listen.

    “Yes,” she muses. “Perhaps to you I am. But for how long, Millie? How long?”

    “Always,” I say. “Whatever happens.” Now it’s her turn to scoff.

    “You and I know that’s not true. The disease will win. It always does. It’s only a matter of time.” She caresses the flowers. Fondles their leaves. “Will you still love me when I am bald? When my skin is covered in lesions and sores? Will you still want me when my eyes turn dull and all I can do is sleep?”

    I try to answer, but she’s not done.

    “Will you still find me desirable when you’re wiping my arse, and cleaning strings of drool from my chin?”

    She spins, a ballet dancer’s pirouette. The sunflowers’ dark faces follow her. My blood freezes. Now I’m certain they’ve seen her.

    She shakes her head. “No. I don’t want that any more than you do.”

    She reaches for the nearest flower and removes a single, black-striped pod. I break into an awkward run.

    “Stop! Clara! Please, don’t do this!”

    She moves inside the wall of stems and takes her place beside them.

    “You picked me once, one summer. You crossed that crowded dance floor when we were both so very young. Your first words to me were, God, but you’re pretty. I’d never been told that before.

    “We danced that night, and all nights after. We’ve seen so many seasons since. You call me your ‘little flower’. Tell me, Millie, after everything we’ve seen and done, would you still pick me all over again?”

    She lifts her fingers to her lips, shuts her eyes, and swallows the seed.

    Her body stiffens and her back pulls poker-straight. She tucks her elbows to her sides and outstretches both her hands. Her head falls back, tipping her face to the sun, her lips stretch into a tight line. Clumps of her hair begin to fall; pale, gossamer strands at her feet. I scream as the petals pucker and sprout. Yellow arrowheads burst from her cheeks. She shrinks and twists as her flesh is consumed. Her eyes turn solid black. My vision swims with the weight of my tears. I can’t bear to watch any more.

    As the sky grows grey and the sun falls away, I sit with my back to the fields. There’s a seed in my palm, as heavy as stone. As heavy as the choice I must make. I know she is waiting for me, dancing in the breeze. 

    I’ll wait until dawn to decide.

    Story Planning—How I Move from Inspiration to the Page

    Image credit: Pixabay.com user:geralt

    How I plan a story is very similar to how I plan a road trip: the car is packed, I have a full tank of petrol and I know basically where I’m headed, but the actual route I will take to reach my destination is anyone’s guess. My writing philosophy is something akin to, “Let’s see what happens and hit the road!”

    Of course, I’m not a fool. I also have a jack, some tools, a first aid kit, a backup map, some snacks, a warm blanket… Which brings me to how I actually plan a story.

    Story Shapes

    Kurt Vonnegut, who just happens to be my favourite anthropologist and author, gave a fantastic lecture in 1995 about the shapes of stories. Six of them to be precise. These were:

    1. Rags to riches – a steady rise from bad to good fortune

    2. Riches to rags – a steady fall from good to bad, also known as a tragedy

    3. Icarus – a rise then a fall in fortune

    4. Oedipus – a fall, a rise then a fall again

    5. Cinderella – a rise, a fall, a rise to the end

    6. Man-in-a-hole – a fall, a rise

    And while most writers lean towards the Cinderella arc when writing their stories, it is Icarus, Oedipus, and Man-in-a-hole which are the three types readers prefer.

    “Somebody gets in to trouble, gets out of it again,” Vonnegut said about Man-in-a-hole. “People love that story. They never get sick of it.”

    Three Structures, Six Needs

    It was the Greek philosopher Aristotle who said that stories should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Perhaps not the most insightful writing advice ever, but he was absolutely right, and three-act structure is one we still use today.

    These three structures are:

    1. The beginning hook
    2. The middle build up
    3. The ending payoff

    Break each of those into two again and you have six main plot parts that look like this:

    Diagram taken from https://www.juicyenglish.com/blog/parts-of-the-plot

    Which, funnily enough, also mimics the Cinderella story arc.

    You might also be aware that all good stories need conflict. This doesn’t necessarily mean arguments and fisticuffs, although it can be if that’s what your story is about. According to editor and writing guru, Shawn Coyne, conflict can also mean one of the six core values and their opposites. For these, we look to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs:

    Physiological. Human survival needs. Food, water, air, warmth, and the rest. Life vs. death.

    Safety. Protection needs. The value of personal and group security. Life vs. a fate worse than death.

    Love/Belonging. Social and interaction needs. The value of relationships and friendships. Intimacy and sex. Love vs. hate.

    Esteem. Self-confidence and personal growth needs. The value of being respected by peers and finding accomplishment. Accomplishment vs. failure.

    Self-Actualization. Self-fulfilment needs. The value of reaching your full potential. Maturity vs. naiveté.

    Transcendence. God/religion/spiritual needs. The value of becoming more than yourself. Transcending your own personal concerns and seeing things from a higher perspective. Good vs. evil.

    As these values rise and fall, so too does the story arc. 

    So, TL/DR:

    • All good stories have an arc
    • All good stories move
    • The best thing you can do as a writer is to keep your story moving towards the conflict/dilemma.

    Getting it all down

    With all of that out of the way, how do I, personally, plan a story? My style is somewhere in the middle of planner and pantser (basically, writing/flying by the seat of your pants!) because, as I already stated, I like the car to be packed and roadworthy even if I don’t know exactly which route I’m going to take. 

    I’m a big, big fan of spider diagrams, mind maps, sketchbooks filled with A2-size paper and coloured pens, because when I’m hammering out an idea I like to work visually and physically. When I plan stuff it’s a bit like drinking from the garden hose or “word vomit”. I’ll pick the bits that make the most sense and whip them into some sort of sensible shape, and anything that isn’t used doesn’t get discarded, it often finds its way into another project. I’m also a big believer in no word wasted

    I always start with a feeling or an emotion that I want to express — hope, love, family, revenge etc. This means I have a vague idea of the end point, what I’m working towards, and the tone of what I want to convey. I’ll have a strong idea of what genre it is, even if it’s going to straddle a few. 

    I write up character descriptions, maybe even do some rough sketches or think about who I’d cast to play them in a movie so I can “see” them better in my mind. My eldest kid says I do a version of a D&D character sheet for them, which is pretty accurate. If I can’t see them, I can’t hear them, and that means they’re bound to get unwieldy somewhere along the line, so I have to keep them on a fairly tight leash. 

    I world build—sometimes small, sometimes really quite detailed, depending on the genre and story length I’m aiming for—so I know what the “terrain” is like. Even if they’re just stuck in one tiny room, I need to know the feel of it. In photography, light is everything to a successful picture, and I feel it is also important to writing. I need to know where I am before I start moving around. 

    I draw a “map” which is literally the story shape (see above) where I can add key points on the story line (eg. Mother dies. MC finds magic ring. MC gets sent to witch academy. Tragic fire occurs, death of MC lover—or whatever). Sometimes I will draw an actual map, because I love maps. See also: making imaginary family trees, extended histories, fake languages/currencies/religions etc. 

    I use arcs so I can figure out the pacing and most important parts of the story but these aren’t set in stone. If my characters decide to go to the mountain and not the pub that’s okay, as long as they’re mostly going to the same end point. As a pantser I don’t tend to fight with my characters too much, although sometimes I have to be more forceful or I’ll veer off course into a random side-quest subplot. 

    I tend to edit my work as I go along, but only to the point of adding notes to myself, areas to clarify or question. Sometimes things that seemed great in my head just feel cliché on the page. If I get stuck on something, I try to write around it and leave myself a note to go back to. I have a few WIPs with highlighted parts that say put some awesome dialogue here or character probably needs to be more vulnerable etc. My favourite is always, Sly dog, which means the character has started monologuing. 

    I use lots of different colours and use symbol keys to differentiate between characters which helps me see crossovers/moods as I’m planning. To anyone else it probably looks like a mess, but to me, it makes sense. (Unless, of course I’ve thought of something ad hoc while out and about and it ends up being more of a hastily scribbled note in my phone that might find its way into something more structured eventually.)

    When I’ve finally finished planning, I write when I can on whatever I can. Sometimes I can sit for a few hours at my laptop and type. Sometimes I’ll peck away on my phone while on the bus or at park while the kids play (and yes, on the odd occasion, inspiration has struck while on the loo). Some stories I’ve written longhand with my favourite fountain pen in a notebook and have edited when I’ve typed them up. I have also experimented with speech-to-type software. I once dictated a story parked up in my car in the pouring rain while pretending to be speaking on my phone. I found it interesting but found I “ummm” a bit too much. Ultimately, I don’t have a preferred method of how the story gets out, as long as it eventually does. 

    After all that planning, packing and figuring stuff out, the best part of a road trip is definitely the view while driving.


    This piece was written with the help of a few brilliant online articles. Read more here: 

    https://nofilmschool.com/2016/11/emotional-arcs-6-storytelling-kurt-vonnegut

    https://www.masterclass.com/articles/a-guide-to-the-5-levels-of-maslows-hierarchy-of-needs#what-are-the-5-levels-of-maslows-hierarchy-of-needs

    https://www.juicyenglish.com/blog/parts-of-the-plot

    Story Arcs: Definitions and Examples of the 6 Shapes of Stories

    How to Use Three-Act Structure to Write a Story Readers Can’t Put Down

    The Story Behind the Story—Red-Eye

    My short story “Red-Eye” is one of four reprints included in my new collection, SEEDS. The story was my first ever short fiction acceptance and was originally published in the Australian Horror Writers Magazine, Midnight Echo #14 in 2019.

    This short piece which explains the inspiration behind it was originally published at Sinister Reads. It has been edited and updated slightly.

    Most of my ideas for short stories seem to hit me out of nowhere. They squirm around in my head for a while until finally I relent and commit them to paper. “Red-Eye” was one of the few which was slightly different.

    I emigrated to New Zealand from the UK in July 2017, just over four years ago. Part of the last leg of my journey was a red-eye flight from San Francisco to Auckland. I was wide awake and emotional—thinking, worrying—about my new life ahead. As is usual for me in these situations, I pulled out my phone and started writing.

    “It’s a strange feeling being this high up over the world surrounded by so many sleeping strangers. Trust, that’s the biggest feeling.”

    When you are in an aeroplane you have very little control over your journey. You trust the pilot to do his job; you trust the engine not to fail. You are swept along from A to B, often without even feeling the movement. A night flight is pitch black; you can look out of the window and have absolutely no idea where you are in the world. That realisation only served to highlight the disjointedness I was feeling, and the enormity of what I was doing with my life.

    “Red-Eye” is about journeys, both literal and emotional. The main character is whatever you want them to be, perhaps affected by your beliefs or philosophies. Who they are and what they do is essential to the journeys we take in our lives and the paths we choose to discover. Yet wherever we go and whatever choices we make, our final destination is inevitable.

    For me, “Red-Eye” explored the lack of control I felt. I had put initial events into motion and they had tumbled, giant snowball-style, gathering in speed and size until I had no choice but to roll with them or be crushed. I had no way of knowing if I had made the right decisions. I just had to trust that I had.

    You might not feel all of that when you read it; indeed you might see it only as it is, a chance encounter between a group of travellers who chose to take a red-eye flight. I hope, even then, that it sparks something in you, or makes you think about your own journey in some fashion.

    A to B; we take a few more steps each day. The important part, I think, is making all those steps worthwhile.

    A Nice Soothing Horror Story

    Image credit Pavan Trikutam

    A very quick update as I go through today’s to-do list:

    With the whole of Aotearoa, New Zealand plunged once more into a Level 4 lockdown and anxieties rising again, it might seem somewhat counterproductive to write about how consuming horror can help and heal. But that’s just what I’ve been doing. With huge thanks to all the fabulous authors who sent me their thoughts about what writing horror means to them, I am delighted to say that The Spin Off (award-winning pop-culture and current affairs magazine) has published my piece on home-grown Kiwi horror and the talented women who are creating it.

    You can read the full article here: What you need right now is a nice soothing horror story, and I would love it if you could spare the time to share it far and wide, either with your friends and/or via social media.

    It Feels “Write”.

    This piece about living with chronic pain was first published on The Mighty in 2018, but it seems to have disappeared. As it’s still very relevant, but not something I often tend to discuss at length, it feels right to republish it here, with some minor updates/edits.

    As always, when writing a personal piece, I write from my own life experience and do not presume to speak for any other individuals who may share similar disabilities and/or impairments.


    I’ve got a lot of things wrong with me, from a health perspective. I’ve worn hearing aids since I was 11, glasses since age 13. I had braces at that point too. My teenage years were an interesting challenge in “adventures in bullying,” let’s put it that way. I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at 15 and anxiety/depression at 21. The Big One, though, was in 2011, a few years after giving birth to my two wonderful children, I was told I had fibromyalgia or myofascial (chronic) pain disorder. The (unsympathetic and apparently disinterested) consultant asked me some questions, diagnosed me, gave me a leaflet and sent me on my way. You are unlikely to cure chronic pain disorders, merely manage the symptoms as best you can.

    I don’t say any of this to garner sympathy, merely to give a bit of background information. Basically I’m not the healthiest of specimens, but we all have our problems, right?

    So there are a lot of things “wrong” with me, but I don’t particularly like to focus on that. I prefer instead to focus on what’s right with me. Or even, what’s “write”.  

    Writing is one of the few things I can always do, even when I’m not fully well. I don’t profess to be very good at it, but frankly I don’t care. Writing is my distraction and my great healer, for both my body and my mind. In the initial stages of my diagnosis I fixated so much on what I couldn’t do, and when the pain went to my hands it felt like my love of writing was being wrenched from me, just as my energy and enthusiasm were torn away. It took a while for me get back into it, which was a mistake. I’d let myself grow excuses where my backbone should have been. 

    I write this in the middle of a flare of some nature. Chronic pain sufferers will know what I mean by that. The sudden impact of pain finally amping up to levels that cannot be ignored. The pain is always there, and I mean always, it’s just that after a while, you get used to it. It’s not exactly an old friend, more like an annoying flatmate that moved in uninvited and who you’re now unable to evict. A flare, though, is different. A flare is more like when the annoying flatmate goes suddenly and unexpectedly violent, throws an absolute fit, trashes everything you own, sets the curtains and the carpet on fire, and then sits back and tells you it’s all your own fault. It’s usually not, but sometimes you really do believe it is. 

    I spent a lot of time initially trying to evict the flatmate, all to no avail. Mostly my attempts made it worse. Then I tried to avoid them and carry on as if they weren’t there. That also wasn’t the best of ideas. It turns out that if you try to do that, they’ll find a lot of more annoying ways to make life harder. Now I sort of accept them, keep an eye on them at all times, while making sure they always have their own milk in the fridge and a place to kip. I don’t like it, but I’ve learned it’s better to try to keep them happy. Me and my unwanted chronic pain flatmate, we can get on like a house on fire — and by that I mean: people screaming, chaos everywhere, destruction, doom. 

    A flare can be the result of three things: something I’ve done; something I’ve not done; absolutely nothing to do with anything I’ve done or not done at all. It’s always fun trying to figure that out. I say fun, but of course what I mean is, “I try to keep my humour about me while I assess the situation, otherwise I would spend all of my time curled up crying in bed.” 

    My reaction to a flare usually goes something like this. The first day is mostly an “uh-oh” kind of feeling. I often know it’s coming before it hits, but not always. Even if I’m suspecting it, when it arrives I’m never ready, and I absolutely always have thoughts of “not this again!” and “why me?” I’ll be angry that my plans have been changed for me, determined to push through. By the second day I will still be determined and angry, but I will have been forced to slow down, to accept that this is here again. I will be sad and cry. By the third day I most likely will have spent at least 24 hours strapped to a TENS machine and/or taking pain killers. I’ll be more grumpy and tired and might talk through gritted teeth. People may offer me hugs but I won’t want them, I’ll feel too prickly. The anger will have changed more to determination and resilience. 

    After that, I’ll just get on with it. There is no telling how long it will last, and beyond pacing myself and accepting the pain, I don’t have the luxury nor the desire to become a bed or sofa-bound invalid. I’ll worry, I always worry, that maybe this is the one that won’t go, that won’t pass with time. If it’s a particularly bad flare I may start to think about what changes I’m going to have to make again, if I’m going to have to alter long-term goals. What the pain is trying to take from me again, and if I have anything left to give it. 

    Finally, after an indeterminate period of time has passed, the flare will abate. It won’t go completely, no, that annoying irrational, unpredictable flatmate will be kicking back on a comfy chair, cup of tea in hand, nodding at me to let me know that yes, this time they’ve calmed down again. Next time I might not be so lucky.

    Knowing now that writing and creating are the things that keep me sane and happy, I also know how to utilise them and explore with them, and they help me heal. I finally realised I didn’t have to be someone ‘what wrote real good’, there is no place for judgement or peer review here, it is simply about the joy and peace of doing something that connects me to myself. 

    I started Well-Written, a collective and blog for women in 2017 which focused on writing for wellness. It was very much a labour of love, but it spawned some wonderful physical meet-ups and eventually some workshops too. I genuinely believe it helped others as much as it helped me. Its aim was not to specifically focus on the things that ail you, but to use writing to overcome those ails. To use it as a form of therapy, freedom, or creative introspective of oneself. It offered ways to empower and embrace, to allow women the time and safe space to use their own words to help heal them. Clearly, this had its limits, yet I do very passionately believe that without being able to write about such things, I would not be as capable of dealing with all that life has thrown at me. 

    Pain may well be a part of me for the rest of my life. I acknowledge and accept that, even when I’m tired and demotivated, when “resilience” almost feels like a dirty word. And it doesn’t mean I ever have to like it or feel comfortable about it. My incorrigible, unwanted flatmate has taught me that often to survive and thrive means to compromise, but for me it never, ever means giving up. 

    Good Things Come to Those Who Keep Going

    The last time I made a blog post was at the start of May, and I will be the first to admit it wasn’t an entirely “good” post. I was feeling glum and overworked and struggling to find ways to prioritise my time. I had even decided I was going to take a step back from writing.

    Two weeks later I was stunned to discover that I had been shortlisted in two categories for the Australian Horror Writer’s Association, Australian Shadows awards. The nominations were for three pieces of work in Edited Work and Nonfiction.

    This was especially surprising for me as I almost didn’t bother submitting anything until some friends gave me a bit of a poke. I remember the afternoon when I was trying to get everything together to send and it felt like technology was against me and everything kept going wrong. I almost gave up when a file got deleted accidently, believing it was a sign that my work was rubbish anyway. I’m so very glad I persisted.

    After what seemed like a solid six months of rejections, I sold a shape-shifter themed, gothic horror poem “The Forgotten Ones” to Brigids Gate Press for their WERE TALES anthology in mid-April, and at the start of June my weird, grief-soaked body-horror poem “Her” was accepted by Black Spot Books for their UNDER HER SKIN anthology. I am also extremely pleased to announce that Snow-Capped Press have accepted a piece of flash fiction and two of my poems for their upcoming anthology.

    However, I have saved the very best news for last…

    I am absolutely delighted and more than a little stunned to reveal that my “period piece” essay An Exploration of Menstruation in Horror and Dark Fiction, first published in February 2020 at The Horror Tree for Women in Horror Month, has won an Australian Shadows Award in their nonfiction category.

    And as I joked on Twitter the next day, you only have to win once to legitimately call yourself an “award-winning writer” forever. So I guess I’d better get used to calling myself that! 😉

    All these things have given me the nudge I needed to believe in myself again and it I seems that winding down and alleviating some of the pressures I’d put on myself was exactly what was necessary to regain some headspace. And of course, that means I’ve actually returned to writing and I’ve been enjoying it.

    If this has taught me anything it’s that progress, no matter how slow-going it may seem, is still progress. I’m just out here shovelling sand to make sand castles but every single word I write is one more than I didn’t write yesterday and small steps can yield giant results. 

    Rest if you must, but don’t quit.