‘Monster Hunting for Girls Ages 8-14’ – A Taster

My poetry chapbook Monster Hunting for Girls Ages 8-14 is now available to buy from Dancing Girl Press. If you’d like a taster of the kind of poetry it contains, here is one of the poems. It’s about the Wulver, which is a wolf-ish, human-ish creature from Scottish folklore.

The Wulver

There’s fish on the windowsills this morning.
Tins of tuna, cans of salmon,
fresh and cold in the dawn chill.
Nan says it used to be
whole fish, straight from the net,
shining like silver and glass.
She says half the town is broke now.
Covid cutbacks, withered businesses,
universal bloody credit.

On telly, there’s American towns with werewolves.
Nice towns, big houses,
beautiful bedrooms for the girls,
beautiful cars for the boys.
Vicious werewolves that bite very sexily
the bit between a boy’s ribs and hip.
Mysteries that grip like jaws,
murders that don’t feel permanent.

Us, we’ve got the Wulver.
A man’s body, buck-naked,
beer gut and hairy chest.
Three crappy tattoos, arms full of fish.
A wolf’s head, teeth soppily smiling.
Wet nose, soft ears, always here
to help out
and to howl for us
when we’re too busy or tired to howl.

I was wondering how many different monsters and mythical figures there are in the chapbook, so I made a list. It contains:

  • Witches
  • Changelings
  • Spring-heeled Jack
  • Leprechauns
  • A whole bunch of ancient Greek gods and monsters
  • Zombies
  • Ghosts
  • Mermaids

So, if you’re looking for poetry to read this Spooky Season…

Top Ten Tuesday – Bookish Pet Peeves

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future weeks’ topics can be found here. This week’s topic is…

Bookish Pet Peeves

I’m usually an over-enthusiastic fangirl when it comes to books. I’m much more inclined to rave about the stuff I love than rant about the stuff I hate, but here’s the perfect excuse to have a good old bitch. My pet peeves are pretty varied, but a lot of them can be lumped into the two categories of “annoying romance stuff” and “annoying sexist stuff”.

  1. Mary Sue characters

To clarify, I’m not using “Mary Sue” the way dude-bros on the internet use it, i.e. to describe a female character who is very powerful, succeeds where male characters fail, or just gets shit done.

I mean a female character who is completely perfect in an unrealistic and unsatisfying way. She has no flaws and no depth. She gets everything she wants despite never thinking of herself because of course she’s utterly selfless. Give me female characters who are relatable, real, and complex.

2. “Love interest” characters

Characters that exist purely to be a romantic fantasy always have me rolling my eyes. If a character has no personality beyond being charming, and no motivation beyond fulfilling the protagonist’s every desire, they might as well be a sexy robot.

3. The word “chuckle”

OK, maybe this one is just me, but I find it grating when characters chuckle. I feel like a chuckle is a very specific type of laugh, belonging mainly to elderly men. But so many writers seem to rely on it as the only way of conveying mild amusement.

4. Zero conflict

You know when a book has zero conflict and everyone is thoroughly decent and communicates properly at all times and the world is safe and peaceful and the book is basically like a big warm hug? I don’t like it.

Don’t get me wrong – I can absolutely see the value of these books. But I tend to find them a bit bland and cloying. A book like a warm hug is all very well, but I want a book that will hug me and also punch me in the stomach. Yep, I’m a weirdo.

5. Only one (1) female character

I like to think this trend is dying out, but it used to be common in SFF. Despite women making up half the population, it apparently made sense to have just the one female character. And she would do female things like being alluring, sleeping with the protagonist, and wearing sexy armour.

6. Everyone must be coupled up at the end

Readers like romance, right? So you should have as much of it as possible, right? So every character should end up in a long-term relationship, thereby implying that romantic partnership is the only “happily ever after” that exists, right? Bleurgh. Let some characters stay single.

7. Baddie does bad things because he’s bad

Cartoonish villains who are evil because they like being evil have their place, but that place is generally in pantomimes and Disney films. Antagonists are an ideal vessel for exploring the darker side of human nature, and it always feel like a missed opportunity when a writer fails to address their motivation.

8. Flowery descriptions of eyes

We’ve all seen the jokes about male writers being obsessed with their female characters’ tits (“She breasted boobily down the stairs”) but I feel like a lot of female writers have an equally weird obsession with eyes.

An attractive character’s eyes will never just be “blue” or “dark”- they have to be “cerulean” or “obsidian”. And they’re always doing stuff like flashing, or smouldering, or turning the colour of storm clouds, or being windows to the soul. Calm down love, they’re just blobs of jelly.

9. Women in refrigerators/Bury your gays

“Women in refrigerators” is a term from comic book fandom to describe how female characters are frequently murdered in order to motivate the male protagonist and move the story forward. “Bury your gays” is a similar trope that treats LGBT+ characters as disposable. Both leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

10. Human characters growling

I get it. It’s supposed to be erotic and intense. It’s supposed to hint at untamed emotions and animalistic power roiling beneath a character’s surface. But it just seems kind of … silly.

Do any of these make your list of pet peeves? Am I on my own regarding the word “chuckle”?

Other People’s Butterflies: Taking Stock (and Showing Off a Bit)

I just got my first royalties, woop woop! And while they haven’t exactly made me rich, they are making me feel like a Proper Writer. If you are one of the people who bought Other People’s Butterflies, read it, reviewed it, tweeted about it or added it to your TBR – thank you so, so much.

OPB has been out for over three months now, so I’m taking stock. Firstly, and most importantly, people are actually reading the damn thing. And judging by reviews, the majority of readers are enjoying it. For example…

“The dialogue is witty and sassy; events funny and poignant” – Ultraviolet, Amazon

“Gwen Foster is a force of nature and seeing the world through her eyes is a pleasure” – Kierstin Shea, GoodReads

“A fresh take on high-school drama!” – Andre Boone, GoodReads

Secondly, readers are responding to the themes of asexuality and aromanticism, which is awesome. It’s so heart-warming to hear people of all orientations say that they learnt something, or that it made them think about the importance of platonic relationships; but best of all is when ace-spec or aro-spec readers say it made them feel seen.

I barely read any YA when I was an actual Young Adult because I couldn’t relate to the protagonists. Like, you’ve just found out vampires exist – why is your first instinct to date one of them?!* So if I can make a small contribution to ace and aro representation in YA books, I’m a happy bunny.

Finally, this book has affected my life in ways I never anticipated. I’ve made friends because of it. I’ve had conversations with family members that I never expected to have. I feel more confident and comfortable in my identity. Seriously, if you’re sitting on the fence about writing an #ownvoices book, just go for it! The work is hard but the rewards are amazing.

*I should point out that this was the noughties. YA these days is much more diverse, both in terms of storylines and LGBTQIA representation. There’s still a way to go, but that’s a whole other blog post.

Monster-Hunting for Girls (Ages 8-14) is Published!

Having been delayed and then un-delayed, my poetry chapbook Monster Hunting for Girls (Ages 8-14) is now published! Check it out here if you’d like to buy a copy or get a taste of the kind of poetry it contains.

I’m slightly in love with the front cover. Dancing Girl Press wanted to make it look like a vintage biology textbook, which works well with the horror elements of the book. Though I’m anticipating having to answer the question “Why is there sperm on the front cover?”

As the title would suggest, this chapbook is about childhood and early adolescence. Specifically, it’s about the slow realisation that monsters exist outside the pages of Goosebumps books and episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Contrary to the title, it is suitable for all genders but probably not suitable for eight-year-olds!

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Books on My Autumn 2021 To-read List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future weeks’ topics can be found here. This week’s topic is…

Top Ten Books on My Autumn 2021 To-read List

Having read a grand total of three books from my Summer 2021 TBR, I’m aiming to do much better this season. The books on my list are:

Dune by Frank Herbert

I want to read the book before I see the movie.

The Dragon of Ynys by Minerva Cerridwen

Having read and enjoyed Cerridwen’s short story Match Sticks, I thought I’d give this a try. Autumn always feels like the right time of year for dragons (not that there’s ever a wrong time of year for dragons).

How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

One of my aunties has this book, and I dipped in and out of it while staying with her for a weekend, so I’m already confident it’s hilarious.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

This one has been on my bookshelf forever and I don’t know why I still haven’t read it.

Wool by Hugh Howey

According to the front cover, this is “The Next Hunger Games”. Obviously it wasn’t the next Hunger Games because Divergentwas the next Hunger Games. But I’m intrigued to know what could have been…

Create My Own Perfection

A modern-day retelling of the Medusa myth? Yes please. A modern-day retelling of the Medusa myth with an aromantic-asexual protagonist? Hades yes!

Procedures for Underground by Margaret Attwood

I’ve read plenty of her novels and short stories, but I don’t think I’ve read one single poem by Atwood. I’m starting with this collection purely because I love the front cover. Is it a woman? Is it a lobster? Who knows?

Molly’s Game by Molly Bloom

Not the kind of thing I usually read, but I found the movie fascinating.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

I’ll read anything with witches, but witches in 1893 joining forces with suffragists to get the vote? Gimme gimme.

Port Royal by Peter Smalley

I read HMS Expedient and I’m now keen to see what Captain William Rennie and Lieutenant James Hayter get up to next. Having (SPOILERS) gained a fortune and narrowly escaped death by drowning/exploding guns/volcano, I feel like they ought to take a break. I doubt they will.

Have you read any of these? And what’s on your TBR this autumn?

Poetry Stuff

It’s poetry time y’all! Firstly, a quick update on my upcoming chapbook Monster-Hunting for Girls Aged 8-14. This will now be published in late October, and I don’t mind the delay because it means the release date will be appropriately close to Halloween! Dancing Girl Press have sent me the galleys and the front cover and it’s all looking goooooood.

Meanwhile, here’s a little poem about childhood that wasn’t quite right for the chapbook, but I still like it.

Sacrifice

I’m seven and a bit.

It’s the first of September.

I leave a fairy cake by the fireplace

for St Adamantine.

She is my favourite virgin martyr

because her name sounds like Wolverine’s claws.

Also, I have got her mixed up with Santa

and think she will come down the chimney

to bless the fairy cake

that I have now licked all the icing off.

I’m scrawny, because I only eat

the bits I want to eat.

A Taster of “Other People’s Butterflies”

I decided to post a taster of my novel Other People’s Butterflies today. It’s a YA contemporary with an aromantic-asexual protagonist, and the plot is a little bit Harriet the Spy and a little bit Gossip Girl. If you like this snippet, the whole book is available here in paperback and eBook form.

In this chapter, Gwen (the protagonist) is hanging out with her childhood friend Ethan, who wants to be “more than friends”. Which is kind of a stressful situation when you’re an aro-ace teenager who doesn’t know she’s aro-ace yet…

***

With Mum and Dad gone, me and Ethan settle down on the sofa to watch the second Captain America movie. We sit close together, but not touching, and pass the bag of Doritos back and forth, getting orange dust all over our fingers. I wonder, for the third or fourth time, why I don’t feel the slightest fluttering of desire for Chris Evans. The guy is all muscles and eyelashes, which must be a killer combination because Martine and Angie both fancy the pants off him and they usually have different types.

“If you could have any superpower, what would you pick?” says Ethan.

I chew this over. A few weeks ago, I would have picked invisibility in a heartbeat – all the better for spying. Now, I think I’d still choose it, but for slightly different reasons. It’d be good for avoiding trouble.

“I’d probably pick invisibility.”

“And sneak into the boys’ changing rooms?”

“Why would I waste a superpower on that? It’s not exactly difficult to see naked people, they’re all over the internet.”

“Yes, I’m aware.” Ethan’s voice is dry and a corner of his mouth quirks into a knowing smile. Time to get the subject back on track.

“So, what would you pick?” I ask.

“Shape-shifting.”

“Really? I thought you’d pick flying.”

“I could shape-shift into a bird.”

“What about invisibility?”

“I could shape-shift into a table and no-one would know I was there.”

“Super-strength?”

“Boring.”

“Mind control?”

“Only manipulators pick mind control.”

I’m giggling now, feeling more relaxed than I have in ages. I love the way his brain works, and I think about telling him this but decide not to, in case it sounds creepy. Too intimate, complimenting someone on their thought processes. Safer to stick with external stuff like clothes and hair.

To compensate for not being able to say the stupid shit I want to say, I cuddle up to him and rest my head on his shoulder. He’s warm, and surprisingly comfortable, and all the drama of the past few weeks fades away into insignificance. All is right with the world, until-

“Gwen, you’re kind of giving me some mixed signals here.”

“Hm?” He turns his head to look down at me but I can’t see him properly; our faces are too close together. I pull away from him. “What do you mean?”

“The last conversation we had, you basically said that you didn’t want to go out. Then you invite me over to watch a film and you’re kind of … coming on to me.”

“What the hell? How am I coming on to you?” My voices rises in irritation, but then I remember Mum and Dad upstairs and hush myself up quickly.

“By being all cuddly!”

“I haven’t done anything to you that I wouldn’t do to a female friend or my bloody parents!”

“You know it’s different when you’re with a bloke. I just wish you’d be more clear with me, like, can’t you just tell me what you want?”

Well, fuck. What do I want, exactly? “Why don’t you just tell me what you want?”

A pause. Ethan doesn’t answer the big questions flippantly, but neither does he leave them unanswered. “I want more.”

“Like, more of this? To spend more time with me? Watch more movies together and have more conversations that seem really childish but are actually kind of thought-provoking?”

“Well, yes, all of that.”

“I want that too.” My eyes are stinging, because I wish more than anything that we could leave the conversation there. “But I don’t think you really want more. I think you want different.”

Ethan says nothing for a long moment. I turn back to the TV, where there is a big fight scene going on. Slick and choreographed and brutal. My stomach aches.

“When you said the friend zone is the only zone you have,” says Ethan, “was that just an excuse so I wouldn’t feel bad, or did you mean it?”

“I meant it.”

“I don’t get it. Do your parents not want you having boyfriends yet?”

“No, that’s not it.”

“Do you maybe … do you maybe like girls? Because you know that’s totally okay, right, you know I’d understand.”

“No, I don’t like girls. And you know what, I’m starting to not like you either. Why can’t you just leave it alone?”

Oh crap. Puffer-fish mode. I’ve gone all spiky so he can’t get to me.

“Maybe I should go.”

“Yeah, maybe you should.”

“Fine, then.”

He stands up slowly, then walks towards the door of the living room slowly, like he’s expecting me to stop him. I could stop him, but what then? He wants one of two things from me:

1) A girlfriend-boyfriend relationship, or

2) An explanation as to why he can’t have that.

I can’t give him either of those things, so I say nothing and let him leave.

Historical Fiction – How “Modern” Should the Characters Be?

I’ve been living in the past lately. Why wouldn’t I, when there’s so much fabulous historical fiction around? Between The Murder Next Door, HMS Expedient and Nights at the Circus, I’ve not read anything set later than 1912 in quite a while.

Writing characters from another time can be difficult. You don’t want to take readers out of the story by having characters do or say things that are obviously anachronistic. You also don’t want readers to start hating the characters because they’ve said or done things that are completely objectionable to a modern audience (unless they’re the villain, of course).

So how modern should we make them? I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer to this question, but here are some of my thoughts. Feel free to add your own in the comments!

Modern characters in period costume

In some historical fiction, the characters act, think and talk very much like modern people. They might use the occasional old-fashioned word like “strumpet” or “consumption” but it’s just window dressing.

Is there anything wrong with this? Not necessarily. If you’re writing a fun, escapist historical romance, a lot of readers will actually be looking for 21st-century characters enjoying a modern love story, but with corsets and adorably formal language.

If you know that historical accuracy is not a priority for you or your readers, stand your ground against the purists and let your characters be as progressive, sarcastic, outspoken, sex-positive and generally “modern” as you want them to be.

Tread carefully

But what if gritty historical realism is more your style? This is where things get tricky, because you have to look at your characters through two different lenses. The first is their historical context – what were the norms of behaviour in that time and place? The second is the modern context – how will modern readers react to those behaviours?

The number one thing to be careful with is bigotry. We all know that sexist and racist attitudes were more socially accepted in the past, but be wary about how your characters express them. Some useful questions to ask yourself are:

  • Are they being hateful, or just ignorant?
  • Can their views be challenged in some way?
  • Is it necessary? Remember there are other ways of making your characters realistically flawed.

A less obvious thing that 21st-century readers often have a problem with is passivity. In our modern society, we’re brought up to think of ourselves as masters of our own destiny and act accordingly.

This wasn’t always the case, but readers often still expect characters in historical fiction to shape their own stories. Don’t expect them to empathise with a woman who meekly accepts marriage to a man she hates and doesn’t even bother to have an affair!

Character vs personality

One thing to remember when writing characters from other time periods is that different personality traits were valued at different points in history. In her rather excellent non-fiction book Quiet, Susan Cain argues that “personality” is basically a 20th-century invention.

Before most people lived in big cities and worked in sales-based economies, “character” was the order of the day, and traits such as being hard-working, honest and modest were valued.

20th century changes in how people made a living caused a shift in focus from character to personality, and people began to value flashier traits such as confidence, charm and creativity.

Don’t be afraid to write a protagonist “of good character” rather than one with “lots of personality”. Nobody reads Pride and Prejudice and says “If only Mr Darcy were more expressive and a better communicator, I’d like him so much more.”

Context is key

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that independent female characters, powerful ethnic minority characters or happy LGBT+ characters don’t belong in historical fiction. People have always found ways to overcome societal barriers.

However, it’s important to remember that traits such as strength, power and independence look different in different contexts. Just because a 21st-century feminist is expected to be outspoken and unfiltered, that doesn’t mean an 18th-century feminist would act the same way.  

Perhaps she has to be cunning, or even sneaky, to get ahead in the world. Perhaps she has to be more flexible, or more stubborn and determined. Maybe she has to get angry, or maybe it’s vitally important that she doesn’t lose her temper. Don’t ask yourself “What would I do in that situation?”, but “What would I do if I’d grown up in that situation?”

Thanks very much for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts on character in historical fiction, and I’d also love to get some hist fic recommendations!

Top Ten Tuesday – Secondary/Minor Characters Who Deserve More Love

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future weeks’ topics can be found here. This week’s topic is…

Secondary/Minor Characters Who Deserve More Love

Yaaaasss! Minor characters are so often the best thing about a story. The protagonist has to drive the plot, but secondary characters generally have less to do and more space to just be awesome. Here are some of my personal favourites.

Hassan Harbish from An Abundance of Katherines

Witty, insightful, and loyal, Hassan is easier to like than the book’s slightly whiny protagonist. Also he manages to turn a bit of homophobic graffiti into “God hates baguettes”. John Green was fond of the character and considered giving him his own spin-off novel, which I’m still eagerly awaiting.

Reepicheep from The Chronicles of Narnia


Everyone loves a tiny badass, and Reepicheep is the tiniest and most badass of them all. Disrespect him and he will spank you with a sword.

Laura Moon from American Gods

I could have picked any of the secondary characters from American Gods, but I’m going with the dead wife. She’s a f*ck-you to the “women in refrigerators” trope, where a female character dies a grisly death to motivate the male protagonist and send him on his journey. Laura, bless her rotten little zombie heart, just won’t stay dead.

Hickory Sparkle from Mercedes Ice

This is one of those childhood books that’s burnt into my brain – there’s nothing else like it. Hickory could be dismissed as a girl with a silly name and a crush on Mercedes, but don’t be fooled.

Philippa “Phil” Gordon from Anne of the Island

What I love about Anne’s friend Phil is that she’s very casually a genius. Usually, clever girls are presented as uptight overachievers, constantly striving for straight A’s. Phil has “heaps of brains” but just isn’t that bothered with school.

Alicia Abshire from The Time Traveller’s Wife

Alicia only has a small role in this novel, but I love her for her sense of mischief and her plans for retirement (which involve listening to Jimi Hendrix and The Doors, eating chocolate and shooting heroin!)

The Them from Good Omens

I’m cheating slightly, but these four come as a team. Since they’re competing for attention with the dynamic duo of Aziraphale and Crowley, The Them are often overlooked in Good Omens. But they’re beautifully drawn characters who enjoy an idyllic, outdoorsy childhood before literally stopping an apocalypse.

John Childermass from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

Aside from having a fabulous name, Childermass is the ultimate puppet master. He might be a servant, but he’s always the one in control.

Brune from Bloody Rose

Bloody Rose is full of great characters, but Brune has my heart. He’s a shaman with a daft sense of humour and some serious identity issues. More importantly, he’s a ride-or-die friend.

Mary Malone from the His Dark Materials trilogy

In so many children’s books, the adult characters are bland or two-dimensional. But in the HDM trilogy they’re allowed to be complex and interesting without stealing focus from the young protagonists. Mary Malone is just one of my faves. She a nun-turned-physicist, memorably described in the TV series as “Impertinent. Intelligent. Free.”

Thanks for reading! Who are some of your favourite secondary/minor characters?

A Couple of Poems

These are both pretty old but I still like them!

A Catalogue of Errors

I wake up in the morgue again.

The clean chill of the place

has knocked the summer right out of me

and I slip away shaking,

gut aching, re-tracing my steps.

I’m a bad drinker.

The stuff slows my brain

but quickens my bones, I wake

a hundred muddy miles from home

on a good morning.

I’m a bad scientist.

Treat my chemicals like paints,

my subjects like a tyrant.

I forget to feed my cell cultures.

I blow my nose in the cleanrooms.

I’m a bad mother.

Granted, there’s no other kind

these days, but it’s hard to explain

how I’ve forgotten every baby I had.

I get lost, I think, in my own work,

my own waste of time,

the way my brain likes to eat itself.

I’ve eaten so many mistakes.

Blue powders, the wrong organs of fish,

Snow White red apples

and berries that leave me for dead.

The needing to know

never stops.

Still,

the September dawn oozes

its light over everyone.

Bad drinkers.

Bad scientists.

Bad mothers.

Good morning.

Three at Midnight

It’s midnight, and I’m out looking for people to save. Some loose-limbed youngblood, drowsy with the promise of sleep. Poor girl danced herself dizzy and walks home alone. That brief, in-between age when she doesn’t belong to anyone. The night is as full of monsters as it ever was, but I stretch and stamp and ready my weapons. She doesn’t have to find out.

It’s midnight, and I’m out looking for victims. A hard heartbeat, truthful under the false promise of red lipstick. She knows her flesh is marshmallow-soft. She dyes her hair to disguise the colour of rabbits, sparrows, small things that get swooped on and scooped up and eaten. I bare my teeth. It’s a cold night, and her skin will be like ice-cream.

It’s midnight, and I’m out looking for trouble. I walk with a teasing stumble, every few steps. I sing softly, faking courage, faking a need for it. My blood bubbles with delight. I am a plain, restless, unimportant thing. But tonight I will make gods fight over my fate.

I hope you enjoyed these. If you did, you might be interested in The Problem with Magic Shows.