Category Archives: Blog

Looking Back and Looking Forward: 2020

For the past few years I’ve done an “Aims for XXXX” post, but given the general shitshow of 2020 and the likelihood for 2021 being similar, I don’t think I can cope with that. My aim for 2020 was, overall: a year of slow building and small joys. I suppose it did sort of work, given the general overview of the year. Small joys was pretty much all I could handle.

This year, my aim? Survive. Sanity optional.

2020 was, frankly, bad. I don’t cope well with working from home; I don’t do well without some sort of routine; and I definitely don’t do well with an additional pile of stress and work which shows no signs of reducing. My mental health has been spiralling and it’s taken a serious load of anti-depressants (which I did not want to go back on) to keep me at a remotely functional level.

It’s not been all bad – I am grateful that I have been functioning. I am grateful that I have a job that is good and varied, with coworkers who are incredibly supportive, and a culture that accepts mental health as an Actual Thing and takes some steps towards trying to help. I am grateful that I have a medical crutch that actually works for me, and a medical team who (mostly) listen and support me. I am grateful that I have a home, an incredibly supportive and wonderful partner, and we have gained a Very Grumpy and Very Cute cat. I am grateful for my family, my friends, and the place where I live. I know that I have so much to be thankful for, and that has helped mitigate many of the effects of both this year and my stupid brain.

However, I can’t entirely blame 2020 for the mental health dip. The last couple of years have been bad; the Grey has been getting worse, and my mental health was already low when 2020 started. I miss my writing. I miss having a big project. I miss the life I had before Oxford; I miss the relationships, friendships, hobbies. I know it’s all gone, and I am happy and certain that it was the right choice for me – but I can still grieve over what I had.

And it’s also, I think, at the root of some of the Grey. I can’t accept that I’m in a new place, because I’m just waiting for it to vanish again. I can’t make new attachments and loves because they’ll just get taken away. 2020 and Covid has made it worse on that front; I’m waiting for loss. Waiting for grief. Waiting for the world around me to crumble.

The fact that it hasn’t yet doesn’t really do much when it comes to the fun world that is emotional logic. I’m working on it all, but that’s been an uphill battle too. As my counsellor said, “you’re doing everything right, so…” and the advice of “well just keep doing it” is not the most helpful when I’m at the end of my resources and still feeling the same. But I’m trying, and working, and hoping. I’m still here, and still going.

So 2020 has been… not great. I am grateful that I am still here, and that I’ve fought my way through it – it’s felt like wading through treacle for much of it, and that has no signs of stopping. 2021 is, at least for the first half, probably going to be as bad – but I am keeping on going, and keeping on swimming, because that’s all that I can do. I have to hope that there is something more, and that even if the world does crack, or crumble, that I can keep going.

2021 is just about moving forward, and trying to heal a little. I’m hoping that my stories come back, and I’m taking tiny steps to try to find that path again. I’m hoping that I can lift my head, feel the breeze and smile as I cycle past the willows. I’m hoping that I can sip tea in the sunshine with a cat on my knee, and feel the peace spread inside. I’m hoping that I can fill in a few more of my cracks with gold, and dissipate some of the Grey.

I miss feeling. I miss being. And I am hoping that 2021 is a year of healing and of renewal, because goddamn do we need one.

Review: Silk & Steel

Silk & Steel by Janine E Southard (ed)

There are many ways to be a heroine.

Princess and swordswoman, lawyer and motorcyclist, scholar and barbarian: there are many ways to be a heroine. In this anthology, seventeen authors find new ways to pair one weapon-wielding woman and one whose strengths lie in softer skills.

“Which is more powerful, the warrior or the gentlewoman?” these stories ask. And the answer is inevitably, “Both, working together!”

Herein, you’ll find duels and smugglers, dance battles and danger noodles, and even a new Swordspoint story!

From big names and bold new voices, these stories are fun, clever, and always positive about the power of love.

So I backed this on Kickstarter after spotting it on Aliette de Bodard’s Twitter, and it was so, so worth it! Every story in this anthology is cute, fun, quirky, action-packed and absolutely, adorably queer. I think my favourite thing is the fantastic mix of genres and styles in a collection that feels both cohesive and very mixed – and it’s absolutely, unashamedly fun. My top picks are “Little Birds” from Cara Patterson for a heart-tugger, “Elinor Jones vs the Ruritanian Multiverse” by Freya Marska for sheer fun, and “The Parnassian Courante” by Claire Bartlett for a lovely mix of action and court manners, but there isn’t a single story that isn’t worth reading, and every writer has managed a ridiculously fun and queer story that makes the entire anthology a joy to read.

The anthology starts with the adorable “Margo Lai’s Guide to Duelling Unprepared” from Alison Tam: what to do when you wake up (with a hangover, incidentally) to find that you’ve accidentally talked yourself into a duel – with a wizard! – for the hand of your best friend, which you definitely, absolutely don’t want? Try to talk the wizard out of it, and then get said best friend to learn magic… the back-and-forth between Pip and Madge is the best part of the story, but I also adore the oh-so-easy worldbuilding and the hilarity of the pair of bumbling young adults figuring it all out as they try to escape the consequences of… well, everything.  “Danger Noodle” by SK Terentiev also has a similar feel, and I absolutely loved the mix of geek, snark and personalities – a couple have headed out to explore, and unfortunately find something a little more dangerous than the monster they were expecting… I love the back-and-forth, and the sheer amount of enthusiastic monster-geek!

“Elinor Jones vs the Ruritanian Multiverse” by Freya Marska is another fun one; portals make it possible to step into another world when you’re fed up of this one, and if you happen to look like their princess, then you can by royalty! Which also comes with associated peasants, court politics, assassination attempts… and bodyguards, who can come in handy when trying to both foil a plot against your life and perform some much-needed political reformation. “Positively Medieval” by Kaitlyn Zivanovich mixes a scarily-near vision of the future (ruining someone’s credit with no-star reviews!) with a wonderful fantasy twist, and I really enjoyed the digs at modern life and fantasy tropes, as well as the trolls-eye view of strange humans. And “The Parnassian Courante” by Claire Bartlett is a story of courtly manners mixed with action as the lowly scribe struggles with her place in Court, and the Princess struggles with her assigned future and the rules that bind her – and I loved the ending to this one.

“Princess, Shieldmaiden, Witch and Wolf” by Neon Yang is a lovely change of pace and tone to the other stories; a princess’ bodyguard, trying to find their place in the world – and the princess struggling too. It’s a lovely twist on the fairytales, and I adored the ending. “The Sweet Tooth of Angwar Bec” by Ellen Kushner is a lovely, short story, and as sweet as the titular tooth! And “The Epic Fifth Wedding Anniversary of Zaynne the Barbarian and Tikka the Accountant” by Elizabeth Davies is another wonderful short; the wedding anniversary always gets interrupted, and this time Tikka has been kidnapped by something evil – and what a wonderful treat for Zaynne to get to rescue her! I loved the sly jabs at classic fantasy tropes, too.

“Plan Z” by Django Wexler is action-packed, with an eternal hope that Plan A might work this time… or possibly Plan B… but actually, when you get right down to it, Plan Z (“shoot your way out”) is really more fun! “Chicago Iron” by Chris Wolfgang was one of two slight off-notes for me in the book; I just couldn’t get into the characters, but the world was fun – roaring 20’s and prohibition era, except not everything is as it seems… and “The Commander and the Mirage Master’s Mate” by Elaine McIonyn was the second off-note, as I just found it a little too long. But again, the world was fantastic, and the mix of Napoleonic-era action with magic thrown in works very well. “Book and Hammer, Blade and Bone” by Ann LeBlanc is a slightly darker (but still cute!) story, but it’s also about belonging, and love… and libraries, knowledge and librarians. So that’s a definite win! “What Finds You In The Deep” by K A Doore is another action-packed one, with a couple exploring an ancient – and cursed – crypt while trying to figure out their relationship… and “In The Salt Crypts of Ghiarelle” by Jennifer Mace is a horror-tinged story about body-snatchers, threats to an isolated kingdom, and a guard just trying to do the right thing.

There are some longer, heart-tugging stories scattered throughout: the beautiful “Little Birds” by Cara Patterson is likewise both heart-aching and heart-tugging – it’s a brutal world, with the ‘Little Birds’ being flying soldiers, knowing that they are unlikely to survive long in the battles and also knowing that they will be cast aside once they are injured. But Court life is no less brutal, and when romance blossoms between a soldier and a servant, the hope of escape grows… I love the mix of court life and war, and the tiny moments between the two hopefuls as their hope grows. Yoon Ha Lee’s “The City Unbreachable” is a story of subtle intricacies, politics and duels on a hiding ship-city; and “The Scholar of the Bamboo Flute” by Aliette de Bodard, the final story in the anthology, mixes mythology and wonder with magic, and demonstrates the price of getting exactly what you asked for – and the price of getting what someone else needs.

The whole anthology is filled with queer and joyous fun, and is absolutely, definitely worth a read.

A Kate Update: Christmas 2020 + 1000!

Merry Christmas to everyone, or Happy Holidays if you celebrate one of the many other occasions around this time of year! It’s been an… interesting… year, but I’m grateful to get this far. We’ve got a tree up, presents under it, and good company (when it’s not shouting for biscuits) – so Christmas is looking good so far. December’s been slow, damp and absolutely hectic (despite the slow – it’s been one of those months where each day goes so slowly and I have so much to do, but then somehow we’re nearly at the end? No idea. Time is weird this year.) But I am now on holiday, yay!

Another mini-thing to celebrate:  this is the 1000-post on Writing&Coe! Feels very weird that I’ve been doing this long enough to get to a thousand posts…

So what have I been up to this December?

DIY: We re-carpeted our stairs! (With a rug, but still – I didn’t feel like sorting actual carpet.) The previous carpet was horrible and beige and wasn’t improving with a chonky cat going up and down it regularly, so we opted to strip the carpet off and put down a multi-coloured rug instead. Bobble, of course, had to supervise… and thankfully didn’t get his tail stapled to the stairs!

Reading: Don’t ask, because I haven’t been. Same for writing. No chance!

Eating: Our local Chinese supermarket does mochi, yay! I tried the peanut one today and it’s great. The local cafe also does fantastic cakes, so I’ve managed to pick up some pandan roulade, and also brought some sayendo home for the Otter to try.

Baking: Lime curd, and veggie roast dinners. My aunt sent us some fabulously adorable silicone pig moulds that are intended for pigs in blankets (well, mini sausages surrounded by pancake batter) so we’ve just been doing pancake versions. They are adorable and very tasty!

Listening: Christmas Jazz! I can’t face standard Christmas music at the moment (incidentally, one plus of lockdowns is less opportunity to get Whammed? Which is a good thing, I think) so we’ve been listening to jazz mixes.

And me… still grey. I upped my meds briefly, but I’ve now shifted them back down to what I feel is a more manageable level, or at least one less likely to make me spaced. I’m still a little out of it, but that’s possibly better than breaking every five minutes, so I’ll take it! Been napping a lot, but still functioning – I’ve been getting out on cycle rides, managing to (safely) see friends & neighbours, and argue with the cat.

Speaking of, we have got him a tiny bow tie for Christmas… I’ll keep you updated about how that goes!

I hope everyone has as good a Christmas as possible under the circumstances, and sending good wishes and hugs to everyone – here’s hoping that 2021 starts to improve.

A Brief Kate Update: November 2020

Another month… or two? Aren’t we still in March? (The weather currently is definitely March weather.) Still here, still going. What’s been going on in the past month or so?

Baking: Key Lime Pie and Pumpkin Pie, along with natas. The natas sort of exploded, but they still taste good! We’ve also been making lots of soups – borscht, leek&potato, tomato (with extra kale, yay… gotta use it up somehow!) and Otter has been learning how to make risotto. Working from home has been really good for eating more interesting meals!

Reading: A Memory Called Empire (LOVE!! – politics and Aztec empire and poetry and language and imperialism and colonialism and characters and such a good story), Aliette de Bodard’s short story collection Of Wars, And Memories, And Starlight (LOVE!! Every story is a different snippet of culture and feelings and they’re all brilliant), and I’ve just started Apocalypse Nyx by Kameron Hurley.

Sewing: I have picked up one of my Ghibli canvases again – I did a Totoro, and started one of Howl and Sophie – and have been enjoying the mindlessness of filling in space with colour. It’s quite theraputic.

Watching: Up On Poppy Hill. It’s very sweet, but also a bit weird? Like… it’s sort of half a story with another half jammed on, and it all got a bit confusing… I dunno. The visuals are the star, as always in Ghibli, and I do always feel the stories are a bit odd. I’m not sure if it’s a re-watch or not.

Listening to: Cat yowls (his FOOD BOWL IS EMPTY) and compilations from AlexRainBird Music on YouTube.

Buying: Lost Stock! You can get a random (with some customisation) selection of clothes from brands that have cancelled their orders due to Covid – and it helps factory workers. It’s been really fun as well – I’ve gotten two boxes now, and out of eight items, I’ve kept five – and two of those were things I would never have picked up in a store/charity shop, yet they work really well! It’s been fun to push my style a bit, and get new clothes when I can’t get to charity shops.

I’ve also been sorting Christmas presents, which has been great fun (and given me something to focus on!) – and we can start decorating soon! We have no idea what Bobble is going to make of a Christmas tree – hopefully he’s old enough that trying to kill baubles has lost its charm.

Work: ALL THE AMAZING BOOKS. Personal recommendations: One Day All This Will Be Yours (which features an excellent and very informative analysis of the relative running speeds of Hitlers (plural) and Allosaurus), Northern Wrath (Vikings! Mythology! Adventure! And a cute fox) and my eternal favourite Grave Secrets, because who doesn’t want a zombie as a best friend?

We also have the UK release of Black Sun – whee! I haven’t read it yet but it’s next on my list, and I am so excited! I also got to read The Witness for the Dead, which is the sequel to The Goblin Emperor, and… just yes.

Playing: Townscaper, which is a very cute build-your-own-city thing that doesn’t have a game, but is just absolutely adorable; and Dungeon Cards, which also has a phone app, and is really good when I just need to not think!

And me… I’m not great, really. I’ve upped my medication again to deal with work burn-out: hopefully the New Year will bring some changes on that front, but for the last year it’s been “just keep holding on, one more month” and I have just run out of fucks to give – which sucks, really, because I want to care, but… urgh. [Edited to add: having been thinking about this, I don’t think “care” is the right word – I do still care about all of my work! I just can’t summon the enthusiasm I know I should have for amazing books, which frankly sucks. I’m still doing the work, but it’s just that everything is a slog – when at least some of it should be fun? Depression, eh.]

I’ve got more energy thanks to the meds (Sertraline) but it’s at the cost of a slightly fuzzy brain and a disconnect to everything. My memory still isn’t great (and likely never will be), I’m tired all the time despite sleeping a lot, and I’m still just grey.

I’ve been doing a CBT course, which went as well as expected, but I feel I have to do it to be able to get any further help. I’ve now been given a worksheet on “values” because I’m obviously not doing enough nice things that tie into my core values, and that’s why I’m not feeling very good. I know all the mental health stuff is trying to help, but I really hate the underlying message of “you’re feeling bad because you aren’t helping yourself enough! Work harder! Do better things!” /rant.

But! I am trying to hold onto the good, small things. I curl on the sofa in the morning with my mug of green tea, watching the dawn out of the window with a cat on my lap. I have been playing Carcassonne with Otter, and texting Sam interesting facts about Roman mosaics. (He has been sending back pictures of his Hallowe’en skeleton, who is currently installed on the couch. I figure it’s as good a place as any.) I am cycling to work down a bumpy path criss-crossed with roots, between drifts of golden-fire leaves and grey water, with the cows ambling their way across the meadow beside me. I am planning a visit to the Ashmoleon with my family in the Spring, and taking pride in the new paint and floor in the bathroom. I am trying to keep stepping forward, one thing at a time, and taking the light where I can.

A small black cat, staring judgementally

Right now it doesn’t feel like anything matters, but I am hoarding the moments for the time when I will be able to appreciate them.

Also, does anyone else’s cat like their fur being ruffled backwards?! Every other cat I’ve known would have clawed your face off if you even tried to ruffle their carefully-smoothed coat, but Bobble loves it! He’s such a strange kitty.

(The photo is when I was three minutes late in giving him breakfast. HOW VERY DARE I.)