Corsets & Roller Skates: History is Stranger Than You Think

May 23, 2023 at 10:48 pm (Uncategorized)

This post was originally written for a guest blog for someone else (I think).

This photo was something I came across while trying to sort out one of my many email accounts. It’s very strange to think that this is really me. THAT TINY WAIST! I was going to post it with a good solid whine about how two of my most important medications also cause massive weight gain and how much that sucks, so… I guess I just did, hey?

Let’s start the post then, which I wrote back in 2015.

Yep, the Victorians were insane… but not in the way you might think.

My interactive novel Attack of the Clockwork Army is steampunk, and features a family of mad scientists. They don’t think of themselves as mad, and by real-life 1850s standards they barely count as eccentric.

As you may have guessed by the title of this blog entry, it was the Victorians who invented roller skates. Casting an eye over patents of the era feels like reading a particularly ludicrous sci-fi novel. The Victorians invented an enormous and noisy device that (allegedly) automatically brushed down your horse. It featured long, spider-like iron arms and an array of cogs, wheels, belts, and counterweights. Any horse worth its meat would have taken one look and kicked it to pieces.

The Victorians also invented the moustache protector, the steam-powered lawnmower (which weighed over a ton and was remarkably difficult to either steer or brake), and (a personal favourite) the anti-garrotte cravat.

I’m fond of the cravat because it’s linked to my particular area of interest: Australia. When Australian residents managed to put a stop to the convict transports to Australia, Londoners feared that all their home-made criminals would be stuck on their own island, and could attack their own people at any moment.

Perhaps now is a good time to admit that I am, in fact, Australian.

I researched 1800s Australia in preparation for inventing my own steampunk version of that history, and to this day the more I read about the era the more incredulous I become.

Cross-dressing, for example. Australia’s early law enforcement was horrifically corrupt, and that corruption was especially blatant on the goldfields. People flocked to Australia from all over the world, and some became fabulously wealthy. Others were so unsuccessful that they couldn’t even afford to pay for a gold-digging licence. The licences were severely overpriced, and the fees for lack of a licence were even worse.

And that, dear reader, is why scores of tough colonial men would greet the local lawmen dressed in full female regalia, and claim that their “brother” or “husband” was elsewhere – “and he has the licence of course, officer.” It is frankly unbelievable that this worked, but it did.

And then we come to the Bentley family. Mr Bentley owned the Eureka Hotel on the Ballarat goldfields. He was good friends with powerful British men (including the magistrate), and was wealthy. One night when a drunken digger yelled to be let into the hotel for a few more drinks, Bentley refused.

From there the story gets murky, and the true events are still being argued over today. One thing is clear: the digger was dead by morning.

According to the small amount of evidence available, Bentley either did the murder or knew who did, but he was not convicted by his powerful friend. It looked like he’d get away with it. Some eyewitnesses said he followed the digger that night and killed him. One eyewitness report actually implies that his pregnant wife did the deed. (Never, ever mess with a pregnant woman.)

The simmering anger on the goldfields soon exploded, and Bentley’s hotel was burned down. For reasons that have never been fully explained, Bentley fled the scene alone on a borrowed horse… wearing a dress.

So if you think steampunk cross-dressing is unlikely, think again. And next time someone on roller skates nearly knocks you over, just be glad they’re not insisting you wear a corset and crinolines every day.

My interactive steampunk novel, Attack of the Clockwork Army is set in Australia. You can choose to be male or female, gay or straight, black or white. You can even choose to fight for the British, or not to fight at all.

The book is available as a Choose Your Own Adventure-style app for your device on Amazon, Apple, Android, and Chrome. You can also buy it directly from the publisher (an easy way to buy and read it on your computer).

The app stores list it as “free, with in-app purchases”. What this actually means is that the beginning is free, and then you pay $5 (once!) to read the rest.

If you want to know about ALL my interlinked magical steampunk tales, take a look here.

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300+ Books That I Love to Read Over and Over Again

May 16, 2023 at 9:53 pm (Uncategorized)

I finally sorted 700+ books on my kindle, and these are the ones that are good enough they’re on my “Favourites” list, meaning I’ve read them at least twice and plan to read them many more times for the rest of my life. There are over 70 authors here.

Please note: I have carefully NOT included people I consider friends, or who I might possibly run into at the supermarket. Let’s just assume that if you’re a writer and you know me, your book would absolutely definitely be at the very top of this list.

I’ll be going alphabetically by author, and keeping my reviews as short as possible, but linking to some of the blog posts I made along the way as well. The links also include comments on books that didn’t make the list.

In many cases I haven’t reviewed a full series because it’s either unfinished, or I like the books enough to re-read them but not enough to buy more (in some cases I can’t bear for the characters to go through more pain, so I stop the series at a reasonably happy point). More often, however, I just haven’t gotten around to buying more. In fact, I bought quite a few books while doing my great book sort—what joy, to rediscover an old book AND discover more in the same series!

I’ve tried to note where there is sexual violence or explicit mental health issues, but there’s a lot of books on this list so I’m not 100% sure I’ve remembered them all.

There are so many extremely (suspiciously) similar covers, that I’m only including pictures of covers that look uncannily like covers by a different author in this list.

Sometimes I see repeating themes in different books by the same author. Other times I really need to describe their different books separately. If there’s a series, I usually only describe the first book.

I’ve marked with an * the books that I think most people will find to be truly great and/or literary writing. My personal taste runs strongly to non-epic (often young adult) fantasy adventure stories.

Aaron, Rachel: “Minimum Wage Magic” (but not the rest of the series)

Title says it all: Realistic fantasy with deadpan humour. More detail here.

Allain, Suzanne: “Mr Malcolm’s List”

Austenish romance with plenty of humour. More detail here.

Anders, Charlie Jane: “The City in the Middle of the Night”

Cross-cultural scifi with a LOT of pointless and sudden death as young people try to fix one of three societies in a hostile planet. More here.

Andrews, Ilona: Innkeeper series, starting with “Clean Sweep”

Fantasy with scifi leanings as the heroine hosts many aliens (often warring/assassin aliens) at her magical inn. More info here.

*Arden, Katherine: Winternight trilogy, starting with “The Bear and the Nightingale”

Intense and stunning medieval fantasy set in Rus’ (now known as Russia). More details here. There is often the threat of sexual violence against women, and (disturbingly) one of the kindest male characters is in an arranged marriage to a woman that is not willing. Neither of them has a choice to marry, and she enjoys being a mother, and is fundamentally resigned to her fate… but it’s still awful. The reader can choose to hate the husband and/or the society and/or the relative that ordered the marriage.

Baker, Mishell, Arcadia Trilogy, starting with “Borderline”

A woman who is very disabled due to jumping off a roof is recruited to deal with the travel arrangements between our world and the world of the fairies—and by “our world” I mean “Los Angeles”. More here. Most of the characters have significant mental illnesses.

Bardugo, Leigh: Many books including “Shadow and Bone”

Dark, often tragic fantasy in which bittersweet is the best you can hope for. But there’s joy in it too, and humour. And it’s so compelling, and the characters are so well-written that you understand every choice they make. Definitely some sexual violence going on in this world eg a character who is unhappily working as a prostitute. Plenty of general violence too.

Barnhill, Kelly: “The Witch’s Boy” and “The Girl Who Drank The Moon”

Unrelated books but both have parents forced to make terrible decisions, with their children suffering as a result. But they are also full of kindness, goodness, and hope. And they work it all out in the end.

Bayron, Kalynn: “Cinderella is Dead”

This is an attempt to escape a misogynistic dystopia in which the religion and laws are based on the Cinderella tale… which really happened in this world 200 years ago.

Berry, T.J: Space Unicorn Blues and Five Unicorn Flush

Bonkers space opera in which being a unicorn will get you killed for your horn.

Blake, Kendare: “Three Dark Crowns” series, starting with “Three Dark Crowns”

Dark fantasy about three sisters. One is born to rule and the other two must be killed at her hand. Lots of murder, betrayal, and childhood trauma.

Brozek, Jennifer: Melissa Allen Trilogy, starting with “Never Let Me Sleep”

Melissa is a troubled teen and the only survivor of… something… that has killed her entire town.

Bryson, Bill: Funny travel books including “Down Under”

Nonfiction that I reread is rare. They’re a little dated now but when he mocks himself it’s always comedy gold. More details here.

Burgis, Stephanie: Scales and Sensibility

Austen-ish… with dragons and a profound awareness of class structure.

Carriger, G L: Especially the San Andreas Shifters series and the Tinkered Stars books (=Gail Carriger)

Carriger uses “G. L.” when there are explicit gay sex scenes. These books are lovely and kind and healing. The Shifters series takes place in her usual magical steampunk universe (with some characters overlapping) and the Tinkered Starts books are technically scifi (with aliens).

Carriger, Gail: Soulless series; Parasol Protectorate…. there’s a lot but “Soulless” is the start (=GL Carriger)

Romantic fantasy humour adventure steampunk books. Same universe as the San Andres Shifters, and also has several gay love stories (and plenty of straight love stories too). But the focus is on the adventures, including vampires and werewolves.

Charles, KJ: “The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting” and “Any Old Diamonds”

Austen-ish gay romance except there’s explicit sex. Lots of fun, and sweet too.

Cho, Zen “Sorcerer to the Crown”

In the middle of the struggles of nations and worlds, England’s first African Sorcerer Royal meets another first: a female sorcerer.

Clare, Cassandra: Infernal Devices Series, starting with “Clockwork Angel”

Magical steampunk adventure including slightly grating YA romance (too much “OOH! He SO PRETTY!” for my taste). This is a prequel to the “Shadowhunters” series, which goes even harder on the romance, which is why it gets skipped here.

Cogman, Genevieve: The Invisible Library series, starting with “The Invisible Library”

Magical library adventure.

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: All original “Sherlock Holmes” tales

Dated in style and sexism, but thoroughly readable and fascinating.

Duprau, Jeanne: The City of Ember trilogy, starting with “The City of Ember”

Before a great catastrophe, an underground city was set up and supplied with everything it would need. But now supplies are running out, and the instructions on what to do next were lost long ago. The Ancients are a deux ex machina more than once, but the characters and drama make it still worth reading.

Fletcher, Charlie: Oversight Trilogy, starting with “The Oversight”

The Oversight protects the mundane world. They used to be powerful and now they’re barely scraping by. When a screaming girl lands on their doorstep, she could be the one to save them—or destroy them.

*Freeman, Pamela: Castings series starting with “Blood Ties”; “The Fastest Ship in Space” (=Pamela Hart)

The Castings series has lots of rape but the stories are so good it’s worth it. Fantasy. “The Fastest Ship in Space” is a fun kids’ adventure (Her entire “Princess Betony” series is pure magic for kids too). More details here. I met the author at a conference and I think we’re still loosely connected via Facebook. She is friendly and likeable.

Gailey, Sarah: “Upright Women Wanted”

The setting is a Western with a repressive society. Travelling librarians who take on a young girl trying her best not to be gay. There are some surprises ahead for all of them.

Goss, Theodora: The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, starting with “The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter”

Many of the most famous Victorian-era scientists experimented on women, including their daughters. What happens when those daughters join forces? An extremely fun and funny tale of monsters united against their tormentors.

Grant, Mira: “Into the Drowning Deep” (=Seanan McGuire)

Deep-sea horror.

Hardy, Janice: Healing Wars Trilogy, starting with “The Shifter”

Nya is a teen orphan struggling to survive, and she must also hide her own unusual magic so she isn’t forced to use it in war. But then her sister disappears.

Harper, Molly: Sorcery and Society series, starting with “Changeling”

Only the upper class has magic. Everyone knows that. So Cassandra must be careful to keep her magic secret. Until it isn’t.

Hart, Pamela: “Digging Up Dirt” (=Pamela Freeman)

Wonderful cozy murder mystery with a touch of archeology. More details here.

Hawker, Olivia: “The Ragged Edge of Night”

Historical novel about two very kind people who have been broken by the Nazis but are still doing their best. This is a beautiful, heartbreaking, heart-healing story. It is based on a true story, amazingly.

Henry, Christina: “The Mermaid”

P. T. Barnum hears about a real mermaid, and wants to exploit her.

Holmberg, Charlie N. “Spellbreaker” and the sequel “Spellmaker”

I find a lot of Holmberg’s books too focused on the romance, but this duology I like. Elsie is an unlicensed spellbreaker who gets caught red-handed by another unorthodox magic user.

Howard, Kat: “Roses and Rot”; “An Unkindness of Magicians”

These unrelated books are both about the cost of magic, and what their heroines are willing to sacrifice.

Huff, Tanya: “Sing the Four Quarters” and “The Quartered Sea” (but not the rest of the series)

In “Sing the Four Quarters” the princess-turned-bard suddenly comes to the attention of the palace when a pleasant dalliance turns into a potential heir. More detail here.

Hunter, Faith: Soulwood series, starting with “Curse on the Land”

Nell escaped a cult and has lived a very simple life ever since, using her potent magic only for defense. But her family is still in the cult, and it’s time to face them. Hunter’s “Jane Yellowrock” series is also excellent (same world) but all of them are quite dark (including the kind of sexual violence you expect in a cult) so I decided not to regularly reread it.

Johnston, E. K.: That Inevitable Victorian Thing

The crown princess has one last summer of freedom before the computers will decide on the most advantageous match for her.

Kingfisher, T.: many books, including “A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking”

Sweet, cozy horror. This author is clearly very sweet and lovely but also deeply sick (there will be SOMETHING horrific in every book, such as an undead horse). I love her. Some of her books are in the same universe, but most are stand-alones. More detail here.

Kontis, Alethea: “Enchanted”

A tale of the least magical (or so she thinks) member of a very magical family. And her friend who happens to be a frog. I enjoyed the rest of the series more than once, but felt it got a little too cutesy for me to reread regularly.

Kowal, Mary Robinette: “For Want of a Nail”

A scifi novelette.

Kwan, Kevin: Crazy Rich Asians series, starting with “Crazy Rich Asians”

This is a razor-sharp satirical series about the uber-rich fashions, lifestyles, and dramas of Singapore. Funny and fascinating.

Kwaymullina, Amber: The Tribe trilogy, starting with “The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf”

The great fantasy series has very intense friendships between teens and children that have had to form their own society—and now it’s at risk.

Lancaster, A. J. Stariel quartet + 1, starting with “The Lord of Stariel”

Hetta returns (briefly) to her ancestral home for her (horrible) father’s funeral, and the magical choosing of the next heir. Which will be either her magically gifted cousin or her wounded older brother.

Landy, Derek: Skulduggery Pleasant series, starting with “Skulduggery Pleasant”

Very funny horror, but the stakes are real (good people can die) so it gets a bit less fun later on. Still good though.

Larke, Glenda: Mirage Makers trilogy starting with “Heart of the Mirage” and Isles of Glory Trilogy starting with “The Aware”

More details here. There’s a LOT of sexual violence in these books, including male child slaves (offscreen) and major female characters. But they’re incredibly potent and involving fantasy tales.

Lawson, Jenny: “Broken”

Another rare nonfiction tale. This is incredibly funny and often alarming. Lawson is clinically depressed so this may be therapeutic or triggering depending on your own coping mechanisms.

Lee, Mackenzi: Montague Siblings, starting with “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue”

Is there anything more tauntingly enjoyable than a trip around Europe with your crush? How about if you’re a bisexual lord, your crush is another man, and you know this is your last moment of freedom before settling into your gentlemanly duties?

Macallister, G. R.: “The Five Queendoms — Scorpica”

An epic fantasy series with gods, betrayal, tradition, and magic. Very dark (I can’t remember if there’s sexual violence but I’d consider it likely).

*McGuire, Seanan: Wayward Children series, starting with “Every Heart a Doorway”

McGuire will hurt you. This is a haunting, beautiful set of stories about children who don’t belong in our world. She writes a lot of great books, and they are all filled with deep emotional pain as well as heroic kindness and courage.

McKinley, Robin: “Beauty”

A dreamy retelling of “Beauty and the Beast”. See more here, including some warnings about her unfinished series.

Menchacha, Elijah: “They Met in a Tavern”

A group of retired heroes has to get back together to save the day, and they are not happy about it. Definitely some PTSD there, among other issues.

Mikalatos, Matt: The Sunlit Lands trilogy starting with “The Crescent Stone”

Madeline Oliver loves fantasy worlds, and then she gets to live in one. But there is a dark secret at the heart of the Sunlit Lands. These books changed my life, and I’ve made sure to tell the author so. We’re connected on twitter and FaceBook, and we are both Christians horrified by what “Christian” is coming to mean in the US.

Milford, Kate: “The Kairos Mechanism” and “Greenglass House”

“The Kairos Mechanism” is about a very young heroine in what looks like a sleepy town of the American West. But there are powerful forces at play and Natalie’s considerable courage will be badly needed. “Greenglass House” is about young Milo dealing with an unexpected influx of mysterious guests at his parents’ inn.

Moriarty, Jaclyn: “The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone” and a prequel “The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars”

Bronte’s parents were killed by pirates long ago but left her a quest that turns out to be more than slightly inconvenient. Moriarty’s writing is incredibly eccentric and cute. Some books I love and others set my teeth on edge.

Nichols, Sophie: “The Dress”

Fabbia arrives in a small town and sets up a vintage dress shop. She is fabulous, and claims her dresses are magical… but her daughter Ella just wants to fit in.

Nicholson, William: Wind on Fire trilogy, starting with “The Wind Singer”; Noble Warriors trilogy “Seeker”

The “Wind on Fire” trilogy is an epic fantasy focused on one family and their courage escaping a dystopia. “Seeker” is about a found family of misfits determined to uncover magical secrets.

Nix, Garth: Old Kingdom series starting with either “Clariel” (a prequel) or “Sabriel”; “Left-Handed Booksellers of London” series starting with “The Left-Handed Booksellers of London”; various others (some great, some merely good)

The Old Kingdom series (originally a trilogy but now 6 books and a novella) is about two worlds that do not mix well. A 1920s-style world much like our own, and a land of dark magic and beautiful things that is roughly medieval in style. The Left-Handed Booksellers are a group of people that police the lines between ancient magics and 1980s London. Nix and I are loosely connected on FaceBook and I’ve gently stalked him at a conference.

*Novik, Naomi: “Uprooted”, “Spinning Silver” and the Scholomance trilogy starting with “A Deadly Education”

This writer is a genius and she keeps getting better. “Uprooted” is about a girl who never thought the wizard would choose her as his price for her valley’s protection (there is an attempted rape); “Spinning Silver” is glorious medieval Russian fantasy; and the Scholomance series is a darkly hilarious story about a school for wizarding children that has a very low survival rate (but be warned: Books 1 and 2 end on cliffhangers). More details here.

Odell, Clare: “A Study in Honor”

A near-future Sherlock Holmes with a lesbian couple as Sherlock and Watson.

*Okorafor, Nnedi: “The Girl With the Magic Hands”, “Binti” series, and more

Okorafor is a writer of Nigerian descent and her style is incredible although often way too dark for me. I am also a big fan of her cat, Periwinkle Chukwu, is the star of an upcoming picture book and also features in one of my own upcoming books (“Fine Felines” post-comp version).

Page, Shannon & Lake, Jay: “Our Lady of the Islands”

Sian Katte is a successful businesswoman until one day she is given a strange power that turns her life and her world upside down.

Painter, Sarah: Crow Investigations series, starting with “The Night Raven”

Lydia has hardly any magic, which has been useful in keeping her away from her crimelord uncle. But he’s paying her well to do just one small job and as a PI down on her luck she can’t resist.

Pape, Cindy Spencer: Steam & Sorcery

Sir Merrick Hadrian needs a governess to assist with his five recently-adopted children. Miss Caroline Bristol doesn’t want to work for someone so handsome, but she has no other options. Two thoroughly decent people in a world of magic and mayhem.

Peters, Elizabeth: “Crocodile on the Sandbank”

Amelia Peabody is a feminist Victorian archaeologist specialising in Egyptology.

Plakcy, Neil S.: Mahu Series, starting with “Mahu”

Gay erotica that’s also a cozy mystery series set in Hawaii. Originally recommended to me by a gay male friend.

Raybourn, Deanna: Veronica Speedwell Mysteries, starting with “A Curious Beginning”

Veronica is a sex-positive spinster lepidopterist (butterfly collector—in part because it lets her travel freely) who is thrown together with a cranky taxidermist. She is SUCH FUN. Great adventures in an alternate Victorian era. More details here.

Rodkey, Geoff: Chronicles of Egg, starting with “Chronicles of Egg: New Lands”

Fun kids’ adventure series with plenty of pirates. More details here.

*Sanderson, Brandon: Skyward series, starting with “Skyward”

Sanderson writes a lot of epic scifi, and very well. This series starts with a loner girl who is determined to become a pilot and join her society’s endless defensive war. The first books in his serieses tend to be small-scale, but major aspects of the world tend to be revealed along the way, getting extremely epic and often looking at what happens after a major political or social revolution.

Sharpe, Tess: “The Girls I’ve Been”

The heroine is an experienced con artist trying to deal with relationships and friendships and learning how to trust and be trustworthy. Then she and her ex-boyfriend and her girlfriend are all caught in a hostage situation and her skills are the only chance they have of getting out alive.

Springer, Nancy: Enola Holmes series, starting with “The Case of the Missing Marquess”

These Holmes-ian books (and the two movies, too) are a delightful adventure series with plenty of adventure and mystery-solving.

Stradling, Kate: “The Heir and the Spare”

Iona is the second-born, bullied both at home and in school abroad. So when her worst bully comes to propose a marriage alliance with her older sister, it seems like the perfect fate for two of the worst people in the world. But it’s not that simple.

Stroud, Jonathan: Lockwood and Co series, starting with “The Screaming Staircase”

Cozy horror. The banter in these books, and in the narrator’s voice, is incredibly funny. More details here.

Tait, A. L.: Mapmaker Chronicles, starting with “Race to the End of the World”

Quinn is chosen as a mapmaker for the king’s plan of a race around the world. There’s plenty of adventure, betrayal, and new wonders. Suitable for both kids and adults.

Taylor, Jodi: Chronicles of St Mary’s starting with “Just One Damned Things After Another” (and the Time Police spinoff series starting with “Doing Time”); “A Bachelor Establishment”; Frogmorton Farm series starting with “The Nothing Girl”; and “White Silence”

The “St Mary’s” series is an extremely funny series about rather hapless historians travelling through time. There are some really bad things that happen (LOTS of death and murder of named characters) and there are serious villains, plus sometimes they have to let historical people get raped because that’s how it happened in history (always off-screen). The main character is sometimes threatened but never sexually assaulted (I think she gets kissed and groped though and she has an incredibly gross stalker-type after her in the first book). Edit: As I reread the series I’m realising that there is loads of rape and attempted rape of the main character, but it’s described obliquely enough that I was able to deny it the first time through (eg she is caught and tortured by baddies and when rescued the first thing she does is put her clothes back on). She has also been sexually abused as a child I think. But overall she treats rape as just another acceptable risk in her line of work, and doesn’t seem to take major psychological damage. I like that—rape doesn’t define her any more than getting beaten up does. It’s unpleasant and scary, but she is going to be fine afterwards. There’s also a fair bit of mental health stuff (major gaslighting in Book 2), and she and her love interest/s have extremely big fights due in part to their respective traumas. And a disabled character deciding to die (which the main character disagrees with, but the book seems to agree with—the “if you’re not able-bodied you may as well just die” notion).

“Bachelor Establishment” is Austen-ish plus misadventure (with Isabella Barclay as a pen-name), and “Frogmorton Farm” also involves misadventure. And an invisible horse. And very much found family, including many eccentric animals. Probably too sickeningly sweet for some. If so, try “White Silence” which is a supernatural thriller. I haven’t read the sequel yet and I can’t remember the details at all.

Tesh, Emily: The Greenhollow duology, starting with “Silver in the Wood”

Tobias is a powerful magical being who lives a quiet life in the Greenhollow forest… until an annoyingly handsome and curious human man puts his peace—and the peace of his wood—at risk.

Thomas, Aiden: “Cemetery Boys”

Yadriel is trans and feels he must claim his Latinx family’s male-specific magic to be fully accepted. Then his cousin is suddenly killed, and Yadriel is determined to summon his ghost and solve the mystery of his death. But the wrong ghost appears.

Timberlake, Amy: “One Came Home”

This story is set in an extraordinary moment in North American history, when huge swarms of passenger pigeons settled in a relatively small area. It’s about one young girl’s missing sister, who may or may not be dead.

Townsend, Jessica: Nevermoor series, starting with “The Trials of Morrigan Crow”

Morrigan Crow is cursed to die on a certain day, but instead she is stolen away to face magical trials.

Uehashi, Nahoko: Moribito series, starting with “Guardian of the Spirit”

A tough bounty hunter is “volunteered” to look after a prince that several parties are trying to kill.

*Valente, Catherynne M.: Fairyland series starting with “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making”; “Space Opera”

The fairyland series is incredibly rich in detail and humour (almost too rich to handle, much like the deliciously overblown titles) and “Space Opera” is Eurovision in Space, with Earth’s fate on the line. In other news, Valente donated books to one of my refugee fundraisers, so I’d love her forever if I didn’t already.

Westerfeld, Scott: Leviathan series starting with “Leviathan”; Zeroes series starting with “Zeroes”

The “Leviathan” series is a steampunk-ish alternate history of the leadup to World War 1, with one side all about clanking mechanical tech, and the other all artificially evolved battle creatures. It is SO FUN and the illustrations alone are worth the price of admission. “Zeroes” (with several other great authors) is dark fantasy about a ragtag group of teens with super powers that are definitely not heroes.

Williams, Donna Glee “The Braided Path”; “Dreamers”

This is an interesting world, but above all a kind one. Of all my books, this is the kindest. There are no baddies and no bad decisions made by the heroes either. It’s just people figuring life out. Some of it is hard, but it is not unbearable. It is my #1 comfort read. “Dreamers” is also fundamentally kind, but there are several awful villains too.

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The Great Book Sort, Part 7: Cozy Crime

May 13, 2023 at 6:41 pm (Uncategorized)

Several years ago I realised I could actually sort the 700+ books on my kindle app.

That glorious multi-year quest is now complete.

pause for cheering

This is one last post along the way, and then I’ll post a super mega awesome post with short reviews of ALL of the “Favourites” list.

“Cozy Crime” is a bit of an oxymoron, except of course it isn’t—it is comforting and satisfying to read a truly gentle crime story with no gore or fatal on-screen violence. But it was cozy crime that brought me great pain due to that merciless real-life villain… Graham Norton.

That’s right folks. I have another arch-enemy (who doesn’t know I exist, and who is a real person so obviously don’t do anything BAD to them on my behalf okay? We all understand exaggeration, yes?)

That awful man promoted the book as utterly cozy, with nothing bad happened except the murder.

He lied. And I will never forgive him.


Pamela Hart (Pamela Freeman when she writes fantasy—which, incidentally, often involves sexual violence) has written the perfect cozy murder in “Digging up Dirt”. The only bad thing that happens is the murder, which happens to someone we don’t really care about.

There’s a gentle romance or two, and lots of fundamentally decent people. The main tension of the story is that the main character would really like to move into her house, but unfortunately it seems a murder was committed there. So she lives with her parents, who are imperfect but really very nice. There are some gentle discussions of religion that I, as a Christian, found very gentle indeed (most discussions of Christianity are not so gentle). It’s possible they could be triggering to someone with church-related trauma, but other than that the book is just a pleasant journey towards justice.

There’s another book with the same protagonist, and I can’t wait to read it.

Nope Nope Nope Nope Nope

Graham Norton wrote a book. It’s quite a good book, called “Holding”. I will never, ever read it again and I will warn off anyone who plans to read it.

It feels cozy, and is mostly very gentle and sweet (maybe a teensy bit fatphobic, if I remember correctly). Then there’s a detailed scene of a child getting raped.

So no, I won’t be rereading that one.

Here’s a weird one: Cozy Horror

The whole POINT of horror is to scare and disgust the audience. I almost never read horror (although I admire it from a safe distance) because I’m way too emotionally sensitive.

And then “Lockwood and Co” appeared on TV, and it’s SO FUNNY. And in the credits who should appear but Jonathan Stroud, an author who I’ve admired for years (oddly enough for his relatively-obscure “Heroes of the Valley” rather than his Bartimaeus series). So the TV series is based on the book series, that I am now devouring (currently on book 4 of 5 or 6).

And yeah, it’s horror. The very premise is awful: ghosts are rising all over the world, and since only (some) children can see them, it’s up to children to face them and restrain them. Youch.

So we have three teens as the main characters, working together in the world’s most terrifying yet necessary job, and nearly dying in utter terror a LOT. But it’s not truuuly horror… it’s a mystery. Why are the ghosts so dangerous at this moment in history when they didn’t kill people in the past? What kind of ghost are we dealing with today, and how do we stop it? What’s the deal with [spoilers]? Etc. So although it’s technically horror the feeling I get is extremely similar to the feeling I get when reading cozy crime. Except with more funny lines and situations eg the very uncoordinated George being a force to reckon with in a battle because no one has any idea where the items he’s throwing will end up—so they can’t dodge.

And there’s magic, which always makes a book better.

Season 1 is on Netflix, and the books are in all the usual places. But be warned—the TV series loves its cliffhangers way too much. And if you have teenagers attracted to boys, they will definitely fall for the charismatic, kind, heroic, clever, and oh so damaged Anthony Lockwood.

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Review of “The Floating City”, my climate fiction game

April 13, 2023 at 4:09 pm (Uncategorized)

I wrote an interactive story set about a hundred years in the future called The Floating City. It’s pretty good I think?

ChoiceBeat magazine is a regular round-up of a bunch of stuff happening in the interactive fiction world. It’s well worth checking out. Here’s the link to the March 2023 issue.

And here’s a really great review of my story!

I would consider Aletheia Knights a friend, but she became a friend due to helping edit my work so her positive impressions are genuine. Probably.

Link to The Floating City.

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What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker: advice on living with chronic illnesses such as Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, and Long Covid (trigger warning: depression)

April 10, 2023 at 11:19 am (Uncategorized)

Prologue: It can and probably will happen to you.

The world is getting more and more disabled people, because a significant proportion of those who get Covid develop Long Covid. Without getting technical, imagine tiredness, weakness, brain fog, and pain at the same level as the flu but forever. If you are chronically ill, you are disabled. No amount of self-control, diet, or medication is going to get you well again.

Around 10% of the population is disabled. It can happen to you, and it is probably already happening to someone you know. If you don’t know anyone with a disability or chronic illness, you actually do. They either keep their suffering hidden or (as often happens) they just don’t fit into your healthy-ish lifestyle, and you didn’t notice when they disappeared.

Everyone who lives long enough will become disabled. It is not a “someone else” problem. Kindly remember that fact when you vote, when you design your home or work space, and when you make long-term plans.

It happened to me.

Pregnancy and birth is a serious physical ordeal that still kills many women today. My body had several chronic issues after my first pregnancy, but my husband and I decided to take a chance and have a second. From that point onward, I was disabled (although it took five years to get a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, which is how long it takes for most people). I can remember begging my partner not to leave the house for more than three hours at a time as I wasn’t well enough to care for the kids for that long.

Yes, I’m aware of the dramatic irony of pregnancy taking away my ability to be a ‘good’ mother. If I could punch dramatic irony in the face, I definitely would.

I also have migraines (also from pregnancy—without medication I would have them every day), and after a few years of fibromyalgia I became morbidly obese and developed diabetes and a couple of other conditions (once you have one chronic condition, you tend to get more as your body is permanently out of whack). I’m also intolerant of FODMAPS and Salicylates (which basically covers 99% of all fruits and veggies—thanks, body!) Shockingly, I also have depression and anxiety. Most disabled people have at least one major mental illness to keep their physical illnesses company.

Worth it.

Part 1: What to do to prepare for the demise of your health (or your partner’s health)

a) If possible, get health insurance. My health insurance costs over $100/month and hasn’t paid me a cent even though I’ve been disabled for eight years. It lists 46 different health conditions that get a payout. Fibromyalgia is specifically excluded.

If you can, get health insurance that covers your degree of ill health rather than specific conditions. And income insurance.

Actually, income insurance is better suited to helping you cope with Long Covid or other disabling conditions. Get that.

b) Talk to your partner realistically about the fact that one or both of you may end up becoming a carer and/or financial support for the other. Note that although Australia has a Disability Support Pension (possible but difficult to get for chronic conditions), it is assumed that your marriage partner (including de facto marriage partners) will share EVERYTHING that they have with you. So if they earn above about $80,000/year or the two of you have more than $3600 in the bank you will not be able to get any government help. Can you support a family of four on that income? (Take-home pay of about $60,000/year, and rent for a 3-bedroom home is at least $30,000/year—which also means you probably won’t be approved for a 3-bedroom rental if you’re not already living there. And a lot of people, such as single parents, have it much worse.) Ask each other, “What if I wasn’t able to work?” “What if you weren’t able to work?” Can either of you become the breadwinner if you have to? Make sure both of you know how to do all the household chores (including cooking a few standard meals) in case one of you can’t do them any more. Talk about the fact that marriages often break down if one person becomes chronically ill, especially if the ill person is a woman. Talk about the fact that chronic illness goes hand in hand with depression and with massive weight gain. Try to figure out what matters most to each person eg one person may feel loved when given gifts like flowers regularly; one may rely on physical intimacy to feel loved; one may need to be told “I love you” every day.

c) Finances. Try to have savings if you can. Basically, if you get sick you’re financially screwed. As any millennial can tell you, our society now expects everyone to be in a committed long-term relationship that contains two able-bodied adults who both work full-time. Sorry about that.

Pick one thing on your bucket list (that doesn’t involve travel, crowds, or hospitals) and do it now, so that if you get sick you can say, “Well, I probably can’t ever go to Paris but I DID learn how to play the ukelele.”

And yes, I know I just told you to have great savings AND to buy and spend a bunch. Sorry.

d) Got kids? If they’re over four years old, there are SOME jobs they can be trained to do. Even if it’s not appropriate to have them doing regular chores, try to teach them the skills so that they are physically capable of doing more chores if they need to (teaching kids chores takes time & health). Focus on the essentials: packing and unpacking their bag before and after school; making their own lunch; filling their drink bottle; getting dressed and undressed; taking care of their own personal hygiene. Sorting washing; putting away washing; hanging out wet washing; putting a load of washing on; remembering to get the wet washing when it’s done; washing dishes; stacking and setting off the dishwasher; unpacking the dishwasher; vacuuming; cleaning bathrooms; mopping; cooking; preparing their own snacks and getting their own drinks when they’re hungry and thirsty; entertaining themselves; walking to and from school; walking to and from the local shops; finding an item at the shops (eg milk) and buying it.

Make some memories with the kids doing stuff that you couldn’t do if you were unwell eg holidays, playing sports, hiking, leaving the house kinda thing.

e) Have at least one friend that you are very honest with eg “I’m too tired to wear a bra but I’d love if you would come over and make me a cup of tea (and a drink for yourself) and re-watch Lord of the Rings with me.” Someone other than your partner.

f) Contribute to your friends and your communities while you can eg washing up after church morning tea; helping friends move house; cooking for a family with a new baby.

g) If possible, make your house and workplace more disability friendly with ramps, reverse cycle air conditioning (many sick people are extremely sensitive to heat and/or cold), comfortable chairs for every situation (many people can’t stand for more than thirty seconds without pain), a bath (for cheap pain relief), and possibly lifts (most non-paralysed-but-still-disabled people are okay with a few stairs but a full flight can be a major obstacle). If you can, have a wheelchair accessible toilet and plenty of room in hallways etc. Get solar panels.

h) Make sure your finances and paperwork are in order, including a will. But the main reason for this is that ‘brain fog’ is a major symptom for most chronic conditions. So if you are sick, you are probably not able to run the paperwork side of the household. I once paid our car registration incorrectly and we nearly got a massive fine before it got sorted out. I regularly forget to pay bills. I nearly ran out of insulin over Christmas even though I had thought of that possibility and prepared for it. I regularly take a wrong turn on the way to a familiar location.

Maybe learn how to do a shared household calendar and shopping list. Have a perpetual calendar that shows all your bills for the year.

Unfortunately Chris has ADHD so paperwork-wise the buck stops with me. I have a whole complicated system that usually works including physically leaving paper bills in a prominent location until they’re paid, marking in my diary every month when our mortgage is due, and using a Webster pack for medication (SO helpful!)

Write down your passwords, and make sure the partner knows where they all are. I know writing down passwords is meant to be bad but if you have them in a spot far away from your computers etc but where you both know where they are, that will save a lot of grief.

Time for a kitten break, I think.

Part 2: How to live with chronic illness in yourself or your partner

This is Chris, my husband. We married in 2009 and our kids are in Year 3 and Year 6 this year. He is an extremely calm and naturally contented person, which is very helpful because he doesn’t dwell on the fact that his quality of life dropped sharply when I got sick.

To be fair, my quality of life dropped a lot more than his.

a) Fat. One of the best things Chris has done is that he’s never once commented on my massive weight gain. As of this entry, I weigh literally double what I weighed on our wedding day. Some of it is from emotional eating (to keep myself from burning down the world and/or harming myself). Some of it is from eating to stay awake or to distract myself from pain. Some of it is from not being able to exercise much. But the bulk of it (see what I did there?) is side effects of either my medical conditions or my medication. I am incredibly sad at the moment as my weight was stable for several years (even through lockdown) and then suddenly jumped by nearly ten freaking kilos. Guess what caused that? Insulin. Cool, the medication now keeping me alive just completely screwed me over. And giving myself injections every morning before breakfast was already so fun.

Some chronically ill people gain only a little bit of weight or even lose weight. Weight loss from illness is difficult as society tends to view it as a plus and doesn’t see it as a dangerous health issue. Weight gain is hated with a visceral passion by modern society, and it is very difficult to live with. As a bonus, a fat disabled person is more likely to be seen as purely lazy—by strangers, by friends and family, and by doctors. The hatred towards overweight people is incredibly painful and can be deadly. I guarantee it comes from inside the fat person as well. I hope that if you or your partner becomes overweight, that you can unlearn the prejudices surrounding weight gain.

Dieting is less healthy than being overweight. Over 95% of diets fail, and with chronic illness and medications in the mix the disabled person is extremely unlikely to ever lose any weight no matter what they do (including gastric bypass surgery, which reduces stomach size and hunger pangs but often causes chronic diarrhea and definitely doesn’t solve all the other weight issues). Amazingly, pretty much every health professional I speak to (including dermatologists, neurologists, and so many others who DON’T specialise in anything relevant) tells me to try and lose weight. Almost all of them suggest gastric bypass surgery. They say things like, “Even five kilos makes a difference” (which I know for a fact is not true as I became diabetic almost 20 kilos ago and my blood sugar varies more with my stress level than what I eat). This is INCREDIBLY HARMFUL and JUST PLAIN WRONG.

There is exactly one up side. Dieting is off the table (pun intended), probably forever. Do try and eat foods that will sustain you, like protein and vegetables. But there is absolutely no reason for you to restrict your eating. Babe, eat WHATEVER you want. You’re gonna be fat either way. Might as well enjoy it.

b) Medical gaslighting and trauma. If you are fat, female, depressed, chronically ill, or a woman of colour (and the prize for “That really really sucks” goes to those who are all of the above) then you will pretty much definitely have at least one doctor who treats you like a hypochondriac and/or moron. Keep an eye out for these common statements: “You’re not sick. You just need to lose weight.” “You’re just aging.” “Every mother is tired.” “Great news! Your test came back completely clear.” “Everyone’s back hurts.” “See an exercise physio.” (NB: An exercise physio can be helpful, but they can also underestimate your illness and injure you.) “How often to you exercise?” “Do you think you might be pregnant?” “Muscle pain is a part of life.” “Get plenty of rest.” “I really think you should see a counselor.” (NB Counselors can be great but they can’t fix chronic illness—just like they can’t fix a broken leg.) “You’re still young.” (Cool so I have decades of pain to look forward to.)

Remember how I mentioned that fibromyalgia averages five years before diagnosis? It gets worse. There are literal medical professionals who believe fibromyalgia isn’t a real disease. Ditto Long Covid, which is overwhelmingly stupid but here we are. The worse part is that they’re sort of right—fibromyalgia is the diagnosis given for a cluster of symptoms that don’t fit any other condition. It’s a ‘recent’ illness in that it only got the name within my lifetime. It’s poorly researched and poorly understood. All of that plus more applies for Long Covid. It’s newer and even less well understood. Even Long Covid specialists are often amazingly unhelpful.

Medical people are human and they make mistakes. But mistakes, especially those based on stereotypes, get people killed. Fat people, women, and people of colour are given less painkillers than other patients, and are less likely to be believed or trusted. There are MANY horror stories eg the woman who went to Emergency with severe abdominal pain and was told to lose weight. She died of uterine cancer.

Understand you’re not alone. Change doctors when you need to.

Time for another cat break.

c) Being poor. You’re almost guaranteed to have a lot less income. If you can stomach cutting back on expenses (having 1 vehicle instead of two; going camping instead of to Fiji, eating at home and having any remaining job-keepers prepare their own packed lunch) then go for it. But remember that no one is perfect and make sure you have at least some dumb stuff that isn’t just about survival eg buying books, eating out once a month at a mid-price restaurant, getting massages. Start your budget with a place to live, bills, food, and probably running a vehicle or two. (Having only one vehicle can mean the sick person becomes completely house-bound…. so don’t do that.) Chris and I almost always get our electronics secondhand (phones, TV, computer games, computers) and we give very crappy Christmas and birthday gifts.

Make sure you have free or low-cost things that you love to do, such as taking a walk, swimming, or sitting in a comfortable chair to watch the sun set while listening to music. And playing computer games. Last night I became obsessed with a really stupid and pointless quest. Giving in to it and staying up way too late was actually a healthy thing to do because it’s a virtually free way for me to NOT be super self-controlled (which I have to be with money). Have pressure valves, and use them before you crack from all the other pressure.

It’s vital to change your expectations about your life, and it’s not easy. I grieved “bring an adult” for many years because the definition of “adult” for many is “someone who financially supports themself”.

Some friendships cost money because the norms of that group cost money eg eating out together. Some friends can adapt to your new circumstances (especially if you’re totally honest with them) and some can’t. Some friendships are worth spending a chunk of your limited income on, but many aren’t. Some friends are extremely beneficial eg some people prefer to host at their house and are happy to pay for the meal without requiring anything (or anything much) from you. Some people are great for ‘babysitting swaps’ where you look after their kids one afternoon and they look after yours the next. Some families step up beautifully and long-term, although most can only handle helping out in a crisis (eg when you’re first sick, or if you’re moving house) or they burn out. Everybody in the world is stressed and overwhelmed and struggling with their own problems, so be gracious.

Try to have a mixture of sick and able-bodied friends—the sick ones will understand you like no one else can, but the able bodied people will be more able to adjust to your needs.

A shocking number of people are struggling to get by in our society, so there are a million interlinked communities out there that are understanding and supportive. Food pantries supply free or low-cost food (and it is often a great way to try something new), and hyper-local FaceBook groups such as Freecycle, Buy Nothing, and Freebies are brilliant for giving and getting free stuff including beds, couches, toys, and clothes (especially baby clothes). Most schools have a second-hand uniform shop and/or a parents group where people give away or sell outgrown uniforms. I emailed my kids’ school recently about camp fees and they paid for the whole thing (nearly $400). Our morgage rate was recently reduced almost a full percentage point thanks to desperation + our morgage broker. CHU and Homeground Real Estate offer below market rate housing for renters in Canberra. It is definitely worth considering a group house situation, especially if you are single and in danger of being socially isolated.

The only up side is that you’ve become part of a major global movement against capitalism and greed. You HAVE to find a different way of living. You HAVE to value yourself for more than your earning capacity. You HAVE to resist the constant siren call of “Buy this thing! It will make you a better and happier person!”

I like to think of myself as semi-retired, and take joy in that. I only get about four functional hours a day, so I nap a LOT, read a LOT, and watch TV a LOT. If I wasn’t sick, my life would look like Paradise. It also means that I can fetch the kids from school and then be at home all afternoon (probably asleep, but still THERE).

I often pretend to be lazy rather than sick (or poor) so I don’t bring down the vibe with friends, which is a dangerous strategy as it leads to people thinking I’m faking all of this. But it’s still worth it sometimes so I don’t have to spend five minutes explaining why I can’t go and try axe throwing (can’t pay, and would almost certainly injure myself badly due to the throwing motion), or to an art gallery (can’t walk that far and don’t feel comfortable asking you to push me around in a wheelchair all day), or to a school play (gives me panic attacks, and two hours in a chair that’s not an armchair can leave me in extra pain for weeks), or whatever.

d) Chores. Once again, you need to severely lower those expectations. My kids are both autistic and Lizzie also has ADHD (which Chris also has…. out of the three of them, 8 year-old Tim is the most likely to actually put his friggin’ rubbish in the bin) so they’re not as independent as I like but oh well.

Work out how much your partner can take on, and don’t push them past that.

If you have to have clean washing picked through day by day on the couch (rather than put away), so be it. Focus on basic hygiene and making sure everybody eats (shopping can be done online although it is a little more expensive; it is definitely worth cooking larger meals and then just reheating leftovers later; don’t buy fancy crockery or cooking things that can’t go in the dishwasher).

Another kitten break.

e) Loneliness and Depression. Very likely.

If it helps, it may be worth getting a pet but only if the able-bodied person is able to deal with their poo, food, and water. Puppies and kittens are a lot of work but older pets are easier to adopt and more likely to be suitable to a disabled lifestyle (plus you can talk to RSPCA staff and get a sense of which one’s personality is best for you). As you can tell, my cats are essential to me.

Try to do low-impact exercise if you can (swimming, bike riding) but do NOT let anyone (especially doctors) pressure you into exercising too much as it can be very dangerous for chronically ill people. “Graded Exercise” programs have harmed many many people.

Get outside if you can. Or possibly take vitamin D supplements.

Enjoy what you can, like TV or picking fresh flowers or whatever works for you and isn’t illegal.

If you’re not able to see people face to face, the internet is a massive source of community. Use it.

Connect to other chronically ill people. There are a LOT, and many many internet/social media groups.

f) Christmas. For years I would use Christmas to get some of the things I couldn’t buy myself, such as clothing (I’d ask my mum to go shopping with me). But that only works if your family accepts and pays attention to wish lists and/or is willing to give you vouchers to stores you like. Usually Christmas and birthdays are really difficult due to finances. A lot of adults, including able-bodied adults, feel stressed by Christmas and will appreciate an honest “Let’s just not give each other gifts for Christmas—ever”. Others would crawl over broken glass if it meant they’d get a home-made gift.

h) Parenting. Find a way to connect with your kids that doesn’t make you sicker. Bed time rituals are usually great (if there’s a comfy chair in their room or you’re able to sit on their bed). I’ve taught my kids to come into my room and jump into my bed with me. To talk; to play on phones side by side; to read or to be read to; to practise times tables; to pretend to be a cat. It works really well for Tim but not as well for Lizzie. We are also watching some great TV shows together, like Avatar and She-Ra. My kids have unlimited screen time (screen time can be essential to autistic kids, so it actually works well for all of us).

What advice do you have for people who have become chronically ill?

This post was brought to you by this tweet:

I focused on disability in this post, since I’m more or less an expert after eight years. But my father died last year and there was SO MUCH paperwork crap to sort through.

Have a think about what your partner/friends/family would have to deal with if you dropped dead without warning, and see if there’s a way for you to make it less awful—making a will; writing down passwords; sorting through that filing cabinet you’ve been putting everything official-looking into since 1994; etc.

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A rather bumpy FLIGHT

April 2, 2023 at 12:45 pm (Uncategorized)

Here is the tale of a story that you can now buy for $5 here.

Way back in 2019, I wrote a game for the IF Comp. I’d done well with “Scarlet Sails” in 2014 so I used ChoiceScript but tried my very best to disguise the engine and myself with a fake name, new intfiction account, and by altering the visuals of ChoiceScript as well as breaking some of the basic stylistic writing rules of ChoiceScript (I wrote “Flight: An Alchemical Adventure” in first person, only ever allowed two choices, and used a mostly-parallel scene structure based on stories I’d done for the Tin Man Games “Choices That Matter” series). 

Reader, stealth is not my forte.

It was immediately obvious exactly who I was and what I was trying to do. If memory serves, my name and all the usual ChoiceScript credits came up immediately when anyone clicked on my link. Oh well. Still a great story! Still super well-suited to the IF Comp, which I adore!

I had thought the deadline was October 1, but luckily I checked the due date and realised it was not 1 October but the end of September. Whew! Imagine how cut I’d be if I missed the deadline after pouring my heart and soul into this story!

At the end of September I settled in for an incredibly intense 48 hours of editing. In a fit of paranoia, I checked the deadline one more time.

Reader, it was already over. The deadline was 28 September. Not 30 September, which for some reason had stuck in my mind.

After falling about raging at my own stupidity for a day or three, I gathered myself and kept working on the story, knowing that the delay would be good for it. 2020 would be a GREAT year. A real winner. It would be the best year I’d ever had.

Things in 2020 didn’t go entirely to plan.

I wrote two more chapters in the story, polished it to a glossy shine, and then accidentally posted an open link to the game for beta testers…. disqualifying the story from the IF Comp forever and ever amen.

Cue more falling about weeping and raging. (Fun fact: two people had clicked the fateful link. I was probably one of them. Still disqualified. Isn’t life fun?)

No problem! I was always planning on submitting it as a Hosted Game to be published at Choice of Games after the IF Comp anyway! I’d give it just a few more tweaks since I had so much free time now, and I’d submit the game to Hosted Games and start raking in the royalties.

Those little tweaks took me two more years. 

I love and hate this game, as I love and hate myself.

Finally it was ready and I submitted the game to the Hosted Games queue at Choice of Games. For the first time in my writing career, I was asked to make significant changes to a potential Hosted Game—apparently murdering children is (checks notes) bad. Who knew?

Okay, no problem. I’d change the protagonist’s past crimes from murdering orphans to murdering tourists. Everyone hates tourists. Easy peasy. There were references to the protagonist’s gently-murderous past throughout the book, so that meant another line by line edit, but so what? This was a great story! Everyone would love it!

I took another half year or so (lightning fast by “Flight: An Alchemical Adventure” standards) but finally resubmitted the game. Sadly, it was still deemed too offensive for Hosted Games.

Ah, crap. I could thoroughly defang my deliciously evil protagonist (the best part of this story) or I could publish the game elsewhere.

Luckily for antiheroes everywhere, exists. 

So here it is, a grand little story that almost killed me (much like an orphan and/or tourist who fell into the hands of that naughty protagonist pre-1783).

It was 48 hours from being finished four years ago. Now, at last, it’s really truly done I swear.

I hope you like it.

You can buy it for $5 here.

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Welcome to Australia: Indonesian/Malay Version

February 6, 2023 at 2:13 am (Uncategorized)

This version is the Second Edition (newer than the version sold at the launch).

You can buy tickets here (please do share that link), buy the books from my store here, or contact me (at if you’d like to be a volunteer at the launch (and get a free ticket and a free copy of the book).

And there’s a not-quite-final English version here.

There will be digital versions of every language (selling for the mighty price of $1.99 most likely) and you are welcome to use the version below (including for schools) as long as you don’t actually print it out.

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The Great Book Sort, Part 6: Disability Representation

January 23, 2023 at 12:44 am (Uncategorized)

Today was exciting. My kindle app has been having issues for a long time; holding blank spots for nonexistent books (that I couldn’t delete); refusing to download certain books that do exist; etc.

I was patient. Until today, when I finished the first book in a rather good series, and couldn’t download the second. Bah!

So I poked through various bits of the app, trying to find a way to fix it. Finally, I did the closest possible thing to, “Have you tried switching it off and on again?”—I logged off. Of course I didn’t have the faintest idea what my password was, or how difficult it would be to reset it. Luckily, it wasn’t difficult at all.

One tiny problem. None of my folders existed any more. Four years of sorting, and all my 700+ books were in one jumbled pile once again. On the up side, I could download the book I wanted to read right now. So I did.

And a few minutes later, all my folders magically reappeared—minus the phantom books that I’ve been trying to delete for a year. I win!

So let’s talk books! There are only 112 left to sort: I’m almost down to double digits.

Chronicles of Egg by Geoff Rodkey

These rollicking adventure tales have lots of piratical injuries—missing limbs, eyes, etc—and one of the key characters has a missing hand as well as neurological issues that make him twitch. As someone with neurological twitches of my own, this is the first time I’ve seen twitching in fiction. Hurrah for variety!

Speaking of things done well, Egg is in love, and not very good at it—but the author is clearly self-aware about the character’s immaturity. Your characters don’t have to understand consent or respect perfectly at the age of thirteen, but you the author need to know when they’re being a creep and/or dumbarse. These books aren’t perfect, but they’re close.

The Arcadia Project by Mishell Baker

These deserve a BIG trigger warning as the viewpoint character attempted suicide before the series begins. It resulted in serious injuries ranging from having significantly less than the usual number of legs to often losing touch with reality.

However, while I almost always end up triggered by any fiction portraying mental illness, this series is like therapy to me. Partly because the main character is trying her best, and improving, and even putting strategies from therapy into practice. And it’s working—sometimes well, sometimes not so well. But she’s smart despite her neurological issues, and she’s alive, and she’s making a difference.

Meanwhile, there’s an excellent fantasy story to be had, which is often horrifically tragic, and sometimes the main character makes awful mistakes. One of the things she knows is that suicide is always a bad plan. Another is that when she’s at her worst, she just needs to keep breathing and a good day will come around again.

The Floating City by, uh, me

This is one of my interactive novels. The viewpoint character’s legs stop just above where her knees would be. Her best friend is Hard of Hearing. I’m really proud of the work I did on this book, even though I know very little about prosthetic limbs or Deaf culture. Yes, I hired sensitivity readers, and of course did research. I chose those disabilities because (a) Prosthetics are cool, and (b) Sign languages are cool. And because I wanted to be a good ally to disabled people, partly through sheer representation and partly by representing a society in which those disabilities are far less difficult to deal with due to the society around them being more adaptive.

It was research for this book that made me realise that I am disabled myself, and that my daughter has ADHD. So it was quite life-changing, and I’m grateful. It’s also a pretty cool climate change fiction story. There’s a shark farm.

Click here. It’s on steam, Googple Play, the App store, Amazon, and your PC.

Oh yeah! The series I’m reading has a couple of minor disabilities too. One of the main characters has periodic bouts of malaria. Another has an eye that gets fatigued, so he sometimes wears a patch.

Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn

This is a delightful story of an irrepressible spinster and lepidopterist gallivanting about in steampunk times. They are excellent (although not for a reader averse to a sex-positive heroine).

My apologies for the poor-quality images this entry. I’m having worse neurological problems than usual (current theory is that it’s due to being very low on iron for a year—it’s very much the focus for my doctors and I at present) and I’m severely lacking in even the rudimentary competence required to divvy up the screenshots into individual pictures rather than sets.

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DIY Cat Enclosure, Part 4

January 4, 2023 at 11:01 am (Uncategorized)

Here’s Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

I can’t remember if I blogged about the second small section of mesh that Chris put up. If I didn’t, here’s a pic, featuring a blurry Zoom. As you can see, one of the cat tunnels is incorporated in the mesh.

It is 2023, yay! As a public servant, Chris gets a ‘free’ holiday between Christmas and New Year’s every year. I eyed the coming holiday with a great deal of nervous excitement. This, clearly, was our time to get more of the cat run done!

Amazing, we actually did. Chris put together the greenhouse (bought purely because it was relatively cheap, see-through, and enclosed—ideal for watching cats playing). Here is Buttons investigating it, since he is the only cat currently in our household who doesn’t assume that anything designed for him is clearly some kind of trap.

I’ll put more cat toys and stuff in it soon. The cat tunnel (same one that’s attached to the most recent small mesh segment in the gazebo) is tied into place, and will eventually be tied more securely (and the plastic door of the greenhouse will be closed) but for now it’s open so the cats can explore the greenhouse and get used to it when I’m not looking.

During the same holidays, Chris put a BIG section of mesh up. Here is Zipper pretending to ignore it from one side.

And here she is pretending to ignore it from the other side:

Either brilliantly, lazily, or both, Chris chose not to trim the bottom edge of the netting on this section. The tangled mass of it works as a lower boundary, and some friends have said they have some cat netting that won’t be useful at their place, so hopefully we’ll be able to just leave it like that (and use the new stack of netting for the final gazebo section).

(In other news, Zipper and Zoom are going to be SO ANGRY when the cat run is finished and they’re fully enclosed.)

The original cat tunnel, which is firmly attached to our cat door, has had its loose end flailing about wildly for some months now, and part of the wire has come out. I realised during the holidays that we already had a tarp-covered table that might as well become part of the cat run, so I tied the loose end of that tunnel to the table, and placed the table by the wall. That will hopefully anchor the whole of Cat Tunnel #1 to the wall, making the rest of the yard more convenient for humans.

So here’s the ultimate plan and current status:

Cat door–> Tunnel #1 –> tarp-covered table = Section 1

1.5 metre gap between Section 1 and gazebo (the gap may get filled with the trampoline at some point, or that may be too finicky). This is Gap #1.

Gazebo: It has a shade-cloth roof; more shade-cloth is clipped to the fence to extend the roof on two sides. The small vertical gaps on two sides are both covered in custom mesh panels; one of which has Tunnel #2 leading out of it. One large side is also completely covered in mesh. One large side (the side facing Section #1) is still completely open.

Tunnel #2 leads from the gazebo to the greenhouse, although it is not properly enclosed at the greenhouse end.

There is a large/long gap between the greenhouse and the shed. It will probably take two cat tunnels, at $59 each. This is Gap #2.

The shed aka the cats’ toilet, is set up and in its rightful place, with a cat-sized hole cut in the door. The door is still standing open in order to make it as easy as possible to use.

I’m still liking the (rather expensive and rather large) cat tunnels we bought. I’ve observed both cats relaxing in them, so they clearly like them too.

Gap #1 is by far the most complex, because we need to have some kind of human door to get in and out of the gazebo. I have several pieces of scrap wood that are likely to get involved somehow.

Lizzie’s having her birthday at our house this month, so it’s unlikely we’ll do anything else until after that, because whatever door we end up making for the gazebo won’t be as convenient for a bunch of 11 year-olds as an open side.

Bonus picture of Buttons and Zipper.

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Taming a Feral Kitten: Two Weeks

January 1, 2023 at 6:44 pm (Uncategorized)

Pretty soon this sweet attack-oriented angel will go to a new permanent home.

How’s his socialisation going? Well, it’s a mix of good and bad. . .

Does he sleep at night?

Yes. Every night I put him in my bathroom and turn off the light. The first night he meowed for a little while. Ever since, he’s been cartoonishly obedient—like a pet parrot that immediately goes to sleep if you just put a blanket over his cage.

Now that I don’t lock him in the shower each night, he tries his best to escape the bathroom any time someone actually uses the toilet. Ah well.

Does he use the litter box?

Yes. This was also an instant success… until it wasn’t. He has urinated and defecated in a variety of locations around my house, but every single instance was in my presence—and his clear favourite toileting location was my bed. That strongly suggested he was deliberately mixing our scents.

I’ve started changing his litter every two days instead of once a week (I’ve always removed his poo very quickly). But I think the real breakthrough came because I stopped feeding him in the bathroom (near his litter) and gave him food and water in my bedroom instead. I THINK I’ve solved the problem—but I still don’t let him in my cupboard or in the kids’ rooms (so he’s not tempted to add his scent to other beds or to our nice soft, fragrant clothes).

Does he claw up the carpet and/or couch?

Yes, a little. Couches are my Achilles’ Heel when it comes to training cats. When a kitten is tiny, it is natural for it to climb up beds and couches because it’s too little to jump that distance. And it’s adorable. But by the time the kitten is old enough to jump that high, the bad habit of using claws on the couch is already formed. Buttons definitely much prefers the cat tower, so hopefully his new owners have a couch that’s not too alluring.

Yes, he has a bow on in this picture.

Does he get underfoot?

Uh, yes. I’ve had at least one cat in my life since I was seven years old, and Buttons is by far the worst when it comes to putting himself next to, in front of, and directly below my feet. It’s worst when he thinks I’m about to feed him (naturally) but it’s extremely common and extremely bad. He’ll circle round and round under my skirt—stuff like that. He’s been stepped on three times and kicked across the floor more times than I can count. The only real solution is to pick him up from wherever he is (even when he’s asleep—he’ll come out of a dead sleep just to hurl himself, kamikaze-style, at your path) and put him down only when you stop moving.

How does he feel about getting picked up?

He loves it. Every time. Even if it’s a young child he’s never met before—he’s all for snuggles, all the time. Having said that…

Does he bite and scratch?

This is where he’s shown the most dramatic improvement (not even counting our initial meeting, when he tried to kill me). He wants to snuggle a LOT but he wants to be playing even more. The perfect solution in his mind is to be attacking his human family. Toes and fingers and arms and unprotected bellies, oh my. Warm, loving, AND delicious!

For the first few days with Buttons, we were all covered in scratches. Hands, arms, legs, feet, and necks suffered the most. The deepest cuts were on the legs, as he was a major climber of human legs. Why not? Such a convenient path to snuggly violence in the warm lap of the legs’s owner. He didn’t particularly care if we were wearing pants or just our skin: we were for climbing.

He’s already learned not to climb humans, or to have his claws out at all if he’s playing with us. (From Day 1, he was clearly moderating his violence in order to not harm us, but he was still drawing blood frequently.) It’s not perfect, but he’s well above the usual standard for his age (now seven weeks). Well done Buttons!

But it’s still a good idea, if one wants him in one’s lap, to have a toy within reach. Because he’d love to be in your lap, but he’s especially love it if he could be attacking something at the same time.

And over the last few days, he has learned that we usually pick him up when we’re about to open a Forbidden Door, and he has started deliberately biting us in hopes that we put him down. This is not ideal.

How is he going with the other cats?

My cats are NOT super friendly, even with humans. (Cats always prefer humans to other cats.) They have gone from terrified to angry to merely annoyed—at which point, although we continue to closely supervise their interactions, we don’t need to be within arm’s reach.

At the ‘angry’ stage, Buttons was perfectly meek and mild, keeping his body low to the ground and backing off when the other cats hissed. But now, after many hours spent carefully keeping out of reach of the other cats, he is getting bored. He wants to play. So although he is still definitely putting himself at the bottom of the totem pole, he is now batting at the other cats’ tails and things like that. Which is upping the annoyance factor, but also continuing to prove that he is not out to hurt them.

In this video, you can see that Zoom (the older cat) is curious about Buttons, and is nervous of him but confident enough to do some experimental slow blinks (remember how that was the very first sign that I’d made positive contact with Buttons?) and to look pleadingly at me. If she was still properly afraid of Buttons, she wouldn’t take her eyes off him—and she wouldn’t try to sniff him.

You can also see Buttons thinking about attacking, but definitely not attacking.

In this more recent set of videos, you can see that Buttons is definitely attacking now (but not in the first clip, where Zoom hisses—but softly—and Buttons makes sweet little mews). As of today, the older cats are still curious about him, and about 89% sure he’s not dangerous, but they’re not in the mood to cheerfully coexist just yet, especially when coexisting with Buttons means a guarantee of being adorably attacked. If they’re really had enough of him, though, they leave.

All of this (and there are many many hours now invested in this process) is about establishing who is boss, and what the rules are between them. The older cats would prefer a “Live and let live” approach (now that, “Make it go away” appears to be off the table) but Buttons cannot be awake without attacking something. Thus, negotiations continue.

He is incredibly sweet, and will often burst into purring just to be near one of his pet humans. Or if one of us looks at him. Or when he invites himself into our lap. When I go to the bathroom at night, he pokes up his stoned little face to see if there’s any chance of a cuddle.

He treats anything and everything as the floor under his feet, and has more than once made himself comfortable on my face.

And, unlike our other cats (who were born suspicious), he adored playing in our Christmas tree.

The friend of mine who was going to adopt him has an older cat with fast-declining health so they had to bow out. However, they have cat shelter connections so we know he’ll find a good home.

I’ll most likely ask the friend to contact their animal shelter person on Tuesday aka 3 January, aka the day when dates and days of the week begin to mean something again.

In the meantime, here’s my favourite pic of Buttons again:

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