My Life in Music: 1981

At the beginning of 1981, my family moved to a different part of Kitchener, which meant I changed schools. Partway through the school year, I found myself in Mr Hennig’s grade 6 class at Smithson Public School.

Mr Hennig has the dubious honour of being the worst teacher I ever had. When we left Canada, I had been in the very early stages of learning cursive handwriting. Canadian kids, at least at that time, learned this in grade 2. So the first assignment I handed in to Mr Hennig, he asked me why it wasn’t in cursive script, why was I still printing? I explained that I hadn’t learned that at school in England. He said, “you ought to know this by now. I don’t have time to teach you. The letters are on the classroom wall. Figure it out for yourself.”

So at age 11 I had to teach myself how to write cursive script. It’s one reason why my handwriting is so appalling even I can’t read it. Being left-handed doesn’t help either.

Me in 1981

Then we were given an assignment to write a story – always my favourite thing to do in school. I scribbled away with my story, and at the end of the lesson handed in ten pages. “What’s this?” Mr Hennig asked. So I explained it was my story. He said, “this is way too long. I don’t have time to read this. You need to write shorter stories.”

I don’t know what Mr Hennig was doing with his time, but evidently he wasn’t spending it teaching. I was glad to leave his class at the end of the school year, and move to Stanley Park Junior High to start grade 7.

The picture included here is the standard school photo for grade 6.

The other thing that happened in 1981 is that my youngest sister was born. So we were now three sisters – oldest, middle, youngest. The 11-year gap between me and my youngest sister means I have very clear memories of being woken up in the middle of the night by the baby crying, and it was this that first made me think that babies were hard work and I didn’t really fancy any of my own. My opinion did not change over the years. At least now, at age 50, I no longer get people telling me I’ll change my mind. I never did.

Our little record player looked rather like this

The two-year gap between me and Middle Sister meant that, at that point at least, we didn’t mind spending time together. That changed as we moved into teenage years. But back in the very early 80s we were both getting interested enough in music to buy singles of our favourite songs. And in those days, we had similar enough tastes in music to pool our allowances and buy records jointly (that, again, would change in later years).

One Christmas – and I think it was Christmas 1981, but it could have been the following year – we were given as a joint Christmas present a portable record player, the kind that folded up into a carrying case. The plastic turntable was just big enough for a ’45 (for those of you old enough to remember those). In addition, this little record player had coloured lights on the front that used to flash in time to the music. I went looking online for a picture, and I think the one I have included here was pretty close. My sister and I used to turn out the lights and dance to our records, pretending we were in a disco. One of the singles that we bought together, that we particularly enjoyed dancing to, was “Mickey” by Toni Basil.

I present it here, with the original video, as the song for 1981.

Best Books of 2019

At the beginning of each new year, I like to look back at the books I read in the previous one and highlight the ones I considered the best.

In 2019 I set a Goodreads challenge to read 70 books. I actually managed 72. Eight of those I gave a five-star rating to, and they are as follows:

The Woman in Black – Susan Hill
The Island of Doctor Moreau – HG Wells
The Trespasser – Tana French
The Princess Diarist – Carrie Fisher
The Fifth Elephant – Terry Pratchett
Carpe Jugulum – Terry Pratchett
The Secretary – Renee Knight
The Memory – Lucy Dawson

This year’s list is considerably more eclectic than usual, as it features two horror novels, two psychological thrillers, two comic fantasy, one crime novel and one non-fiction book. Further details about each book can be found below.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK
My horror book club had this one as a discussion book. One of those books I thought I’d already read, because the story was familiar, when I sat down to read it I discovered I hadn’t. It’s a classic creepy ghost story, of the sort of calibre that is rare.

THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU
Another one I read because the book club had it on its list. My only knowledge of this beforehand had been a Hallowe’en episode of ‘The Simpsons’ that parodied it. Part science fiction, part horror, a young man ends up shipwrecked on an island where he discovers the mysterious Dr Moreau is doing genetic experiments on animals to make them more human. Something of an undiscovered classic, for me, but I am glad I read it.

THE TRESPASSER
Book 6 in Tana French’s ‘The Murder Squad’ series had me utterly gripped. I haven’t been following this series chronologically, but I really should because every time I read one of them I really enjoy it.

THE PRINCESS DIARIST
I felt genuine grief when Carrie Fisher died. Although I never knew her, as Princess Leia she’d been a big part of my life. This biographical book deals with the affair she had with Harrison Ford during the filming of the first ‘Star Wars’ film. She was 19, and rather naive and inexperienced – he was 34, married, and really should have known better.

The Carrie Fisher we have come to know and love over the years is a survivor – witty, blunt, and down to earth, but reading this book you are reminded of how she really has been to hell and back, and come out the other side. Her writing is engaging and witty, but reading this also made me sad because it reminded me how much we lost when Carrie Fisher left us.

THE FIFTH ELEPHANT
I have been re-reading all the Discworld books in chronological order and this one, as with the previous one, I gave a five-star rating to. This is one featuring Sam Vimes, and seems to be a social comment on Brexit. Which seems oddly prophetic, as it was written years before Brexit even became a thing.

CARPE JUGULUM
This Discworld book mostly features the Witches, who I love. But it’s also the first to feature vampires. I really enjoyed it.

THE SECRETARY
I was sent this book to review for Shots e-zine, and there is a link to my review above. Maybe it’s because I work as a secretary in the day job, but I found this psychological thriller about a secretary whose misplaced loyalty to her boss causes her to lose her family and her integrity unputdownable.

THE MEMORY
This is a psychological thriller involving two families. Events that happened years ago have far-reaching effects that encroach into present day, and as is the norm with psychological thrillers, nothing is as it seems.

For this year, I’ve decided to play it safe and aim to read 70 books again. Most of my reading is done on my commute to and from work, but for 2020 I am trying to make a point of going to bed early to read a few pages before sleep, as well.

If you’ve set yourself a reading target, do get in touch. And if anyone wants to connect with me on Goodreads, you can find me here.

Happy reading, fellow book-lovers! Whatever you choose to read this year, I hope you discover new worlds and new heroes.

Year in Review: 2019

Another year has gone by, and it’s time to look back at the goals I set at the end of 2018 and see how well I did.

With regard to the exercise and healthy eating, that has gone reasonably well. I am still doing my personal training session, 25 minutes once a week. I still don’t enjoy it, but I do it, and I am now seeing the benefits. I have more strength in my upper body, my arthritic knee doesn’t hurt as much, and I have more flexibility in my body generally. I am also still doing the swimming, and I can now swim 40 lengths (which is 1km) in 30 minutes. I’ve never been a big fan of exercise, but I am starting 2020 fitter than I’ve ever been before.

I’ve been following Weight Watchers since June last year. Progress is slow. The system has changed again, and although it is slightly easier to follow, it’s a lot harder to lose weight now I’m older than it used to be. The last time I was on Weight Watchers, I was back into the size 12 clothes after six months. I am not anywhere near getting into the size 12s now, although the size 14s fit a bit better than they did when I started.

Of course I haven’t weighed myself for about three weeks now, with all of the Christmas chocolate and such around. On Monday I have to go back to the Weight Watchers meeting and face up to just how many pounds I’ve gained over the Christmas period.

I also pledged to keep in touch with friends. I haven’t done as well on this as I was hoping. There are still people I wanted to see last year that I didn’t. But there were some that I did, and most I have at least made contact with, so this is a work in progress.

I have not done so well on the writing either. I made a start on the sequel to OUTPOST H311, but I didn’t plot it first. I got about 15,000 words in, realised what I had wasn’t working and gave up. That will teach me not to plot. But I haven’t managed to get a handle on the plotting either, so that book has gone nowhere.

The fourth Shara Summers novel sits on my laptop, about 35,000 words into the first draft. The third Shara Summers novel does not currently have a publisher, so I stopped writing that series to work on OUTPOST H311, which does have a publisher. But since I’m struggling with the sequel, maybe I should just go back to the Shara series. Just to be writing something.

So, here are my goals for 2020:

1. Get back to a regular writing routine, aiming for 3000 words a week. What I write isn’t important, as long as I’m writing something.

2. Keep up the exercise routine. Aim to have improved my personal best of swimming 1km in 30 minutes by the end of the year. It would also be nice to fit into those size 12 clothes by the end of the year as well, but those menopausal hormones do keep making it very difficult to lose weight.

3. Aim to declutter. I have a house full of stuff, everywhere, and I never throw anything away. This year I want to go through things, bit by bit, to tidy up my personal space. And if I can learn to organise my brain as well (which is also full of stuff, flitting from one thing to another at record speed), all the better.

It seems appropriate to finish with an image from the table-top game Cyberpunk, which we played a lot of in the early 1990s and which was set in 2020. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be too prophetic.

Happy New Year, everyone. Hope you achieve your goals for the year.

End of a Decade

There’s a thing going around social media at the moment inviting people to summarise what they’ve achieved in the last 10 years, as we approach the end of the 2010s and get ready to move into the 2020s.

When I thought about this I decided it warranted a blog post, as it’s actually too big a topic for a

Misty & Misha – 1996-2012/13

tweet.

So, here we go. Here are the things that have happened in my life since 2010.

 
  1. We said goodbye to our two cats Misty and Misha, and took on two rescue kitties Alia and Cassie. Three of those four were named after characters in various D&D campaigns.
  2. I became a published novelist. This is actually a huge deal, as it achieves a goal I set my sights on in childhood. In the last 10 years I have had five novels (three horror, two crime) and one short story collection published. I feel very confident that as far as achievements go, this decade of my life will always come out on top. And because I can’t let this moment go without a blatant plug, here are the Amazon links to my books (UK and US).
  3. I started learning to play the bass guitar.
  4. We met a lot of role players. Hubby and I met playing D&D and it’s always been a big part of our life, but for quite a long time we were gaming with the same crowd. We now have three different groups on the go. Hubby runs the game for all of the groups, and I am a player in them all. Two of the groups have more women than men. Two of the groups consist of players around our age, and one of them consists entirely of people under the age of 35. We try and play once a month with each group, so we do a lot of gaming these days, but each game has a different atmosphere and we always have a lot of fun. And it’s good to have met so many new friends through gaming.
  5. We moved house once, from a three-bedroom 1970s terraced house to a 100-year-old four-bedroom semi detached house. I have to admit I am totally in love with this house. We have spent a lot of money on improvements since moving in, seven years ago. Every time I walk through the door it makes me happy, and it feels like home.
  6. Another one of my life ambitions since childhood has been to travel. We have taken some amazing holidays in the last ten years. Places we have travelled to include: Fiji; Berlin; Borneo; Vietnam; Bali; Mauritius; Guam; New York; Thailand; Cambodia.
  7. On a sadder note, two close family members have passed away: my father-in-law, and my stepfather. We have also had to grieve a couple of friends.
  8. I started the decade a size 12, after following a weight loss plan. I finish it a size 14, once more following a weight loss plan. The whole weight loss thing has been a lifelong struggle, to be honest. I am far too fond of sugary treats, and harbour a dislike of healthy food and exercise. I have spent most of my adult life trying to lose weight, only to have it all come back again. However, thanks to a personal trainer (who I have now been seeing for a year) and a regular swimming routine, I feel I am finishing this decade fitter than I’ve ever been, despite the weight loss struggle, and despite the fact that when one gets older, it becomes much harder to lose weight.
Alia and Cassie at 12 weeks old – June 2013
Guam, March 2019

Since I was born at the end of a decade, as each one ends I celebrate a Big Birthday. Hence, this year has marked the end of my being a 40-something, and I move into the 2020s as a 50-something. Sometimes when I think about that it seems painfully old. But one can’t stop the passage of time, and writing this blog post has made me look at the achievements of the past decade, and realise there was a lot to celebrate.

None of us know what the future holds, but I am hopeful that at the end of the next decade I will still be here to highlight more things to celebrate.

Halong Bay, Vietnam – 2011
Bali – 2014

 

Turning Fifty

When I turned 40, I embraced it. I felt good. I was a lot more confident and ‘together’ than I’d ever been before, I had a novel coming out, and I felt ready to face the world.

2009 Sara

Me in 2009

That was 10 years ago. In a few days I hit 50, and I don’t feel quite so enamoured about that number.

The main difference between 40 and 50 is the reality of having to face my own mortality. I always looked to my grandparents as the genetic marker of how long I had, biologically, to live on this earth. They all lived well into their 80s, but none of them made it 90. In addition, I am not aware of anyone in my family who lived long enough to get that birthday card from the Queen. So logic would dictate that I now have more years behind me than I have in front of me, and that’s a somewhat sobering thought. There is also the unescapable fact that age does tend to catch up with you. Every time I look in the mirror I see more grey hairs and more lines on my face. I have arthritis in my knees, and when it’s cold and damp they ache. I am firmly in the midst of the perimenopause, a life stage that royally sucks and I really wish there was more discussion around this, instead of it being hidden away as a taboo subject.

Being 50 seems to mark a significant life change. I am most definitely middle-aged. I move into the age range for Saga holidays and the ‘over 50s’ funeral plans, the ones with the appallingly patronising adverts on TV with Michael Parkinson. But I am unable to stop time from marching on and this birthday will arrive whether I like it or not.

There are some significant changes I’ve made over the last couple of years to try and deal with impending old age. One of them is to start an exercise routine that involves a personal trainer. Exercise and me are not friends, as I’ve often said. But one of the undisputable facts of getting older is that you get to a stage in life when your body starts punishing you for not looking after it properly. Exercise – like vegetables – is necessary for good health, and I endeavour to tolerate both. But apart from swimming, which I do try to do on a regular basis, I hate all forms of exercise and find any excuse not to do any. So now I have a weekly 25-minute one-to-one session with a personal trainer, and I have to go because she’s expecting me. I still don’t enjoy it, but it’s only 25 minutes. And I have to say after nearly a year in, I am seeing some benefits. My knees don’t hurt quite so much. I am able to take stairs a lot easier. I have a bit more flexibiity – something as simple as doing up a dress with a back zip I used to struggle with, and now I find I can reach behind my own back in a way I couldn’t before.

2019 Sara

Me in 2019

I am also once more on the Weight Watchers plan, in an attempt to lose a few of those excess pounds. My sweet tooth is most definitely my downfall, and sometimes I feel like I’ve been playing ‘hide and seek’ with the same twenty pounds all of my adult life. I successfully lose those pounds. Then somehow I slip back into the old habits and they find me again. So I get on the wagon once more and lose them. Well, you get the idea. Since re-joining WW in the summer, I am down about ten pounds. So roughly halfway there. I have to say, it’s taking a lot longer than it used to to lose the weight this time, and not just because the Weight Watchers plan has changed – that’s another consequence of my changing middle-aged body.

But, gradually, I am getting there. For the last twenty years I’ve had a ‘thin wardrobe’ (UK size 12) and a ‘fat wardrobe’ (size 14). It’s time to go back on the diet when I struggle to get into size 14 clothes. I am not yet at a point when I can fit into my size 12 dresses, but the size 14s all fit a lot better.

However, despite feeling rather old some days, I am actually hitting my fifties healthier than I’ve probably every been, and I will be celebrating with a big party. Music, dancing and food. And alcohol. Lots of it. If I must enter this decade, I will do so with fanfare.

I bought the party dress back in June, as I found it on sale and decided it was The One. It actually didn’t fit at that point. I tried on the size 16, which was slightly too big, and the size 14 was too small. I bought the size 14 and pledged to myself I would get into it by October. I tried it on the other day and it’s now a perfect fit. This might be a small win, but it’s something else to celebrate.

50 is round the corner. I see it there. I am facing it down and saying, come and get me, then. I am ready for you.

Girl Power

Growing up in the 1970s, I was acutely aware of gender stereotypes. I was a very ‘girly’ girl as a child – fond of dresses and dolls. I didn’t climb trees, I didn’t like getting dirty. Then I moved into the 1980s, and adolescence, and I became more aware of the imbalance between girls and boys. And it seemed unfair. I figured out very early on that I didn’t want to have kids, and I liked doing things that girls weren’t supposed to like doing. I started writing horror stories at age 14. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons at 15. I was the only girl in the group for much of the year, and I have already talked about how all the boys ganged up on me in a previous post.

Fortunately for me, when I want to do something, the fact that other girls don’t do it has never put me off. But this isn’t always the case. A lot of girls are put off pursuing an activity or career they enjoy, because being the only girl can be off-putting, especially if you get picked on, as was the case in my first D&D group.

This is why it’s crucial to have role models, especially for girls. Why are there not more women playing lead guitar, or bass guitar, or driving race cars? Why are there not more women pilots, or women fire fighters? There are, of course, women doing these things, but they are still very much in the minority, and they need to be a lot more visible in order to inspire the next generation of young women to follow in their wake.

My inspiration for playing bass guitar was Suzie Quatro, who I remember seeing on ‘Top of the Pops’ in the 1970s and I thought she was a cool rocking chick. My inspiration for writing horror was Stephen King, who of course is male but he writes sympathetic female characters – something some male writers aren’t able to do – and it never occurred to me, as a teenager, that writing horror was something women weren’t supposed to do. Over the years there have been a number of people who have said to me something along the lines of ‘what’s a nice girl like you doing writing horror stories?’ but it does happen less frequently these days, and I hope people are more enlightened. After all, in the view of many people the first modern horror novel was FRANKENSTEIN – written not only by a woman, but one that was only seventeen years old at the time.

Mary Shelly. Image (c) National Portrait Gallery

I’ve considered myself a feminist since the 1980s. Although we have made some inroads since then, it seems we’ve still got a long way to go. I was touched recently by a news article about four-year-old Esme, who told her mother she needed to be a boy because she wanted to be a fire fighter, and she’d only ever seen male fire fighters in books and she ‘didn’t want to be the only girl.’ This prompted fire crews all over the UK to post tweets and videos from their female fire fighters, to prove to Esme that you can be a fire fighter if you are a girl. The story is encouraging, but also highlights how important it is for female role models to get more coverage.

We also seem to be making some inroads in sports. The women’s football league got national TV coverage on terrestrial TV for the first time this year, and had the best viewing figures ever. And the England team did quite well, I note – getting to the semi-final. I am not a follower of football, but this made even me happy.

I am also happy that there is a series of races for women drivers, again on terrestrial TV, for the first time this year. I have been a fan of Formula 1 for over 25 years, and I’ve been banging on for just as long that there aren’t enough opportunities for women racing drivers. This year we have the Formula W. OK there are only six races, of only half an hour each, which is nowhere near equivalent to Formula 1, but they don’t have anywhere near the investment, and it is a start. If people watch the Formula W races, and support them, they might get more investment and most importantly these young women (and they are all young, but so are the male drivers), will pave the way for little girls who dream of becoming racing drivers to understand that this is a dream within reach.

We need these trailblazers. We need women of courage, battling against the preconception that women can’t do these things to prove that they can, and the fact that they are doing these things needs to be publicised so that young girls can see that they can do these things and they won’t be ‘the only girl’.

The final Formula W race takes place at Brands Hatch in the UK next weekend, and I have tickets. I will be there in the stands, cheering on these trailblazing women.

In a small way I hope I am also encouraging a new generation of women bass players. When I have my bass guitar lesson, there is a young girl – maybe about 12 – who watches me through the door for the last few minutes while she waits for her own lesson to start. She seems to genuinely enjoy watching me play, and always gives me a ‘thumbs up’ at the end of my lesson.

I feel that at last we are taking steps towards gender equality. They are very small steps, but at least they are being taken. Which is why it’s so important to support trailblazing women when they come along, forging a path for others to follow in their wake. And it’s why I am so excited about going to Brands Hatch next weekend for the final race in the Formula W series. It doesn’t really matter who wins the championship. In my opinion, all of these women are winners.

I’m finishing this post with a video of the trailblazing woman I still see as an inspiration: Suzie Quatro, performing ‘Devil Gate Drive’ in 1974.

My Life in Music: 1980

On 31 January 1980, I left England to move to Canada, with my mother, my stepfather and my younger sister. I was ten years old and it was the biggest upheaval I had ever experienced in my life.

Four days before the move, my dad and my stepmother got married, because they wanted my sister and me to be at the wedding. My dad is passionate about the American West, and they had a western-themed wedding – at the local Salvation Army Hall, where he was a member. It was such an unusual wedding it made the local paper. The attached photo is the four of us, on that day, near my dad’s house in Ashton-under-Lyne. This is another photo taken by my grandfather.

Life in Lancashire at the end of the 1970s was somewhat depressed. We were living in an area where factories provided the main source of employment, and when they all started to close down the result was mass unemployment. At that time, emigration to Canada required a sponsor. My stepfather’s sister and her family were living in Canada and they were prepared to sponsor us, which made the move possible. But I was not happy with such a major change in my life, and I didn’t want to go. At age ten, you have opinions of your own, but you are not mature enough to express them in a way that will make people listen.

In those days, we were all regular visitors to the library. I enjoyed picking books, and then taking them back a few weeks later to pick out new ones to read. My mother was an avid reader as well, but she also used the library to borrow albums and discover new music. One of the albums she found in the run-up to our move to Canada was a ‘best of’ album by Roger Whittaker, which included a song called “Canada Is”, a patriotic anthem to the country. My mother played this song constantly in the weeks before our move, possibly trying to convince us all what a wonderful place we were moving to.

The first year in Canada was very difficult. Everything changed and I was expected to adapt, and I struggled with that. Everyone dressed differently, spoke differently, did things differently. There is a mindset shared by the people of a country that differs from other countries, and you don’t realise until you spend time there how different that mindset is from your own. I had never been ice skating before we moved to Canada. Canadian kids are put on ice skates the moment they learn how to walk. The first time I went ice skating with my class, I spent the session clutching the side of the rink, while all my classmates sailed by in disbelief, because they had never met anyone who didn’t know how to ice skate before.

I got very homesick. I missed my friends, I missed my family: grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. But most of all I missed my dad. In those days there was no email or internet. The only way of staying in touch with people was to write letters, or speak on the phone, and international calls were so expensive they were infrequent and limited to three minutes, and really what can you say to people in three minutes?

Ironically enough, the song that made me feel the most homesick was a song about Canada, because it reminded me of those last few months in England when I was sick with dread about the move.

This year’s song is a bit of a cheat, because it was actually released in 1974, but it became so integral to the changes in my life that year that it’s really the only choice for 1980. So here’s Roger Whittaker’s “Canada Is”, accompanied by a patriotic video with images from across Canada.


D&D Girls

I started playing Dungeons & Dragons in the mid-1980s. It was September 1984, the beginning of the school year and I had just started Grade 10. There were various announcements at the start of the year about all the clubs that the school ran, and if you were interested you had to turn up to a particular room after school that day. I was persuaded to go along to the first D&D meet by a friend of mine who was keen to try it out. She did not carry on through the year, having been persuaded by her church that anyone who played D&D was doomed to everlasting fire (we had to contend with a lot of that sort of stuff, in those days). But I enjoyed it, and continued playing. The group met in one of the science rooms, and we played once a week, after classes. We were playing version 2, and I rolled up a thief called Tera.

The cover of the Version 2 Player’s Handbook

For most of the year, I was the only girl in this group of teenage boys, who seemed to treat me, on the whole, as some kind of alien species. In the final game of the year, before we all finished school for the long summer break, all the boys in the group decided it would be fun to gang up on the only girl. They attacked my character, intending to kill her so that they could steal her stuff. Fortunately for me, the DM decided that this really wasn’t fair and he stacked the dice rolls allowing my character to escape and run away.

In those days, girls apparently didn’t play D&D. Is it any surprise, frankly, given the way we were treated? Fortunately I am made of sterner stuff. As a teenager I never really bothered too much about what girls were supposed to do and not do. I enjoyed playing this game, and I was going to continue. When the school year started again after the summer break, I joined the D&D club once more. This time I was one of three girls. We decided to break away from the boys and run our own all-female game.

Thirty-four years on, and I’m still playing D&D regularly. In 1989 I met my husband playing D&D. Not only do we still play together, but we now have three different groups. They all feature different players, but he runs them all, and I play them all. We normally manage to play each game once a month. For us, this means we’re playing three out of four weekends a month and I have to remember which character I’m playing. I make notes for each game. It helps me to remember, at the start of each game, where we were for the last one.

In the years since I started playing, things have changed a bit. For starters, it’s apparently now socially acceptable to admit to playing D&D, or at least it is according to this article. In the 80s it was very much the domain of nerds (or sinners, apparently).

It’s also acceptable now to be a woman who plays D&D. Of our three groups, there are two in which women out-number men. One of the female-dominated groups also consists entirely of people under the age of 35 (except for Hubby and I, who bring the average age up quite considerably). This makes me happy, too. The generation that has never known life without computers, mobile phones and social media, are enjoying the interaction of face-to-face tabletop role-playing games, and the unique thrill of rolling dice and recording character stats on a crumpled piece of paper covered in coffee stains.

There are still arseholes out there – mostly online, it seems, hiding behind the anonymity of digital alter egos – who seem to feel the need to give women role-players abuse. But on the whole, I think women who game have an easier time of it than they did when I started playing. And that does make me feel like we’re making a bit of progress.

Monthly Round-up: February 2019

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

February is, of course, Women in Horror month. A chance for we women horror writers to blow our own horns and remind people that we are out here, jostling for space amongst the men. I went to a social gathering of fellow horror writers a couple of weeks ago, in London. It was a very pleasant evening, and good to chat to fellow horror hounds. Chatting to another woman, I explained to her how many times over the years I’d had people say to me some variation of, “what’s a nice girl like you doing writing such horrible stories,” and she nodded in agreement. Meanwhile another writer (male) involved in the conversation looked at us somewhat incredulously and said, “I keep wondering if we still need a Women in Horror month, since women in horror are so well established now. But I guess we do.”

As we still need Pride parades because there are still bigots out there who refuse to accept that LGBT+ people have the right to exist, we need Women in Horror month because there is still a preconception that women don’t do horror. Things are changing, slowly, but there is still work to do (in both of the aforementioned groups).

Hence, I have been busy pimping myself this month, and I have things to report.

OUT NOW

I am pleased to announce that the 43rd edition of the e-zine ‘The Siren’s Call’ – an all-female edition for Women In Horror month – is now out. It contains my story ‘Cigarette Burns’ as well as lots of other stories and poems by fabulous women horror writers. The issue is available to download free of charge from The Siren’s Call site now.

PUBLICITY

I had a guest blog post on Colleen Anderson’s site this month, about why I write horror. You can have a read here.

WORK IN PROGRESS

More good news to report here – the sequel to OUTPOST H311 is officially underway. I haven’t written too many words yet, but I have made a start on the first chapter, and I’ve made progress in plotting and character sketches. I feel like I am gently, but firmly, coaxing my muse out from the rock it’s been hiding under, and it’s starting to wake up.

I have also thought of a title for said sequel. I want to call it ‘OUTPOST: ARMAGEDDON’. I’d like to know what people think of this.

And that’s it to report for this month. See you at the end of March!

My Life in Music: 1979

There’s a bit of a convoluted story attached to the song for this, so bear with me.

In 1979 my mother married my stepfather and he moved in with us, and my sister and I saw my dad during weekends and school holidays. I guess we’d more or less got accustomed to this arrangement now, but I was still suffering badly with nightmares. And one of the things that always seemed to trigger nightmares – from early childhood it seems – was distorted and featureless faces.

There were a few things on TV in the 1970s that I vividly remember giving me nightmares. One was the fembots episode of  ‘The Bionic Woman’, when the fembots took their face masks off, revealing a pair of eyeballs in a maze of electronic circuits. There was an episode of ‘Sapphire and Steel‘ where the supernatural entity removed Sapphire’s face (I can’t find the name of that particular episode). There was also an episode of the original ‘Star Trek’ where a supernatural teenager removed the features from a woman’s face for laughing at him.

All of these things rather jumped out at me without warning while I was watching TV as a child, freaked me out completely and gave me nightmares for weeks.

And there was the album cover of a band called Sad Cafe, called ‘Misplaced Ideals’, which I am including below.

My memory of this is that I was walking through Ashton during the Whit Walks with my sister (referred to in the post for 1978), and this poster was stuck up everywhere. We talked about how it freaked both of us out, and we didn’t know exactly what it was advertising, but I thought maybe it was a film.

Since then I’ve done some research into this. The band Sad Cafe were from Manchester, which explains why posters advertising their album were all over Ashton-under-Lyne. But the album ‘Misplaced Ideals’ was released in 1978, not 1979.

I do remember that this image featured in my nightmares for rather a long time. And the next time I came across Sad Cafe was when their biggest hit was in the charts in 1979. And every time I heard the song on the radio I remembered what I thought of as the scary Sad Cafe image and it gave me nightmares all over again.

I look at this image, and it still freaks me out, although as an adult I don’t suffer from nightmares the way I did as a child. I have been trying to analyse for years what it is about blank or distorted faces that freaks me out so much. I think perhaps it’s connected to a primal fear of loss of identity. Is this a common fear? Does anyone else get freaked out by images of distorted or blank faces?

The story connected to the photograph for this year is slightly happier. It was taken by my grandfather, who was a keen amateur photographer. He had a real eye for detail and probably was good enough to be a professional photographer, but he was a working-class Lancashire mill worker and probably didn’t consider that such a career was open to him.

This is my favourite photo of me as a child, because I think it captures the essence of who I was then, and I still look enough like ‘me’ to be recognisable as the adult I would become. I recall it being taken – in the local park. My memory is that it was taken on or around my tenth birthday, so it was autumn.

Life would change quite dramatically for me, for the second time in my short life, in just a few months, but we’ll get into that in the next post.

Meanwhile here’s the song for 1979, and one that still makes me think of that creepy album cover: ‘Every Day Hurts’ by Sad Cafe.