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The road less travelled…


The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,  
And sorry I could not travel both  
And be one traveler, long I stood  
And looked down one as far as I could  
To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,  
And having perhaps the better claim,  
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;  
Though as for that the passing there  
Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay  
In leaves no step had trodden black.  
Oh, I kept the first for another day!  
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,  
I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh  
Somewhere ages and ages hence:  
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—  
I took the one less traveled by,  
And that has made all the difference.


Sometimes, there are moments when life seems to be giving you some kind of message. When more than one unrelated person   uses the same phrase or begins the same conversation. Intuition, instinct, fate, higher power, coincidence…who knows. But I think it’s important to listen. The phrase ‘the road less travelled’ has come up a lot recently, and reminded me of Robert Frost’s words, which I have loved for a long time. And I realised their relevance to me has never been greater than it is now.

I’ve not written a post on this blog for a while, though you can read some of my thoughts on vampires and lesbians over at the Girls Who Bite blog. This wonderful anthology of lesbian vampire erotica from Cleis Press, containing my subtly erotic ‘She Knows I Am Watching’ about a New World vampire in Oxford,  is released in a few days. An exciting reminder that, whatever else I’ve been doing, I am still a writer.

I haven’t blogged on here for a while because, I guess, I feel like I’m lingering at some kind of crossroads, and it’s not really the place for sitting down with my laptop and explaining my thoughts. There’s not just two roads diverging ahead of me. There’s several. There’s also the path stretching out behind me.

I’ve been gazing backwards quite a lot lately. Going through boxes of long-stored artefacts of my childhood and looking into the eyes of my six year old, ten year old and teenage self in photographs that look surprisingly dated. Those moments are a long way back down the path behind me, however well I remember them. I’m nearly thirty. Properly grown up and everything.

I'm the littlest witch with the green hair!

And yet, part of me has been lingering on that pathway. It’s not been a sunshiny, leafy road and there are points where I’ve tripped, fallen, and been chased by monsters. But somehow I’d wandered onto a path with no junctions, no offshoots. I just had to keep going and there didn’t seem to be anywhere to turn. And because I didn’t stray, it became familiar to me. Not safe, perhaps, but known. And by retracing my footsteps, I knew I could always get back to the little girl at the start of the journey.

Of course, eventually, I reached this crossroads. I’d been searching for it, and, as if by magic, suddenly here I was. And the roads ahead looked scary and unfamiliar. Looking backwards seemed to be the best way to keep hold of myself, as though part of me was always going to be on that road behind me. Surely I was defined by the path I’d already taken…

But, in looking back, I realised something. I’m here. I’m at the crossroads. I’m not still on that path. I can look back down it and remember what it was like, but I reached the crossroads, I made it to this point. And I can rest here a while, whole and complete, and contemplate a while. There is time to question. I’m not on my own here either. I have friends, people who care, people to help me. That’s a huge improvement on that lonely old path.

I’m looking at the roads ahead. The one which is well-worn is very obvious to me. But I don’t want to travel the same way as everyone else. It’s no fun, for a start. Plus, I don’t think I could. I’d feel lost, and finding my way by following the crowd is not something I’m comfortable with.

So I have to choose another road.  Looking along some of them, I can see where they might lead, but I’m not sure. There might be unexpected twists and more junctions. I have to decide, because I can’t take all of those roads. It’s a decision with a lot of responsibility, but I will be brave. I might even head out across the untamed land and make a path of my own. I have visions of wild flower meadows, shadowy woodlands, blue skies and dramatic storms; moments of peril and moments of breathtaking beauty. There will be hope, faith and love, just as there are dangers and doubts. I don’t know where the road leads. But I’ll be the one painting the signposts and deciding which way to turn next.

Because, I no longer believe you’re defined by the road you’ve already taken to get to where you are. I believe you’re defined by the road you choose into the future.


No more limits…


Today I spent four hours in Waterstone’s in Nottingham sitting behind–and occasionally meandering around–a table piled with copies of both of my published books, Truths and Ghosts of Winter. My first solo book signing. Or my first solo sitting-on-my-own-in-a-bookstore-hoping-I-at-least-sell-one-copy.


I set my target low. One copy. And I beat that target, several times over. No, I didn’t sell lots of books, and many of those I did were to people I already know. But I certainly sold more than would have ever been picked up from the shelves of Waterstone’s on an average Saturday. I also got to hang out with some great people, who came to keep me company, who I most likely wouldn’t know if I wasn’t a writer, including my fellow Bold Strokes author Lisa Girolami. And I got to sit and look at my books. MY books. All published and shiny in their beautiful covers, with my name on the front.

To begin with, it was intimidating. To be all on my own, with my books, in a store full of wonderful books of all kinds, and lots of literature-hungry customers. I couldn’t quite get past the idea that I was a fraud and that anyone who bought my books would be disappointed and wish they’d bought one of the thousands of other books in the store. I’ve always been in awe of Waterstone’s, of the brilliant volumes on the shelves and their myriad of compelling covers. So it was hard to make myself “part” of it. I felt like an intruder.

Ghosts of Winter

But then something happened. I wandered around and picked up some of those books. I revisited favourites, let titles catch my eye, examined the covers. I read the blurbs. So many intriguing stories. And my overall impression was one of a world without limits. Fiction really can go wherever it wants to. Within five minutes I’d found a book about the second coming of Christ in modern day New York, a depiction of a medieval queen, a Regency romance, and a book of vampire erotica. And that was such a small sample of what surrounded me.

Of course, I’m hardly saying anything new. Part of the point of fiction is that it is unlimited. The writer sets the rules of their own world and everything takes second place to the story. Those rules bend however a writer wants them to. However, writers can be limited. I was. My first novel, provisionally titled Butterfly will never be published. It’s not badly written and I very much like some of my characters.  But I wrote it with limits. I considered that my friends and family would read it. I considered that I didn’t really understand people that well and thus in dealing with the psychological mind-set of my characters, and didn’t want to present unrealistic thought patterns or motivations. I indulged in characterisation and description, but I never let my mind soar free. The result is something rather mundane and constrained.

The limits have relaxed a little. Becoming aware of my sexuality and finally grasping hold of my individuality led to Truths, written very quickly, in a time when I no longer worried what my relatives would think. Ghosts of Winter is unusual in some ways, but I was still frightened what people would think, so I made sure to stay “safe” with my second novel. There are really no controversial characters or ideas, nothing complicated to understand. Emotionally, it was a challenge to write, but it also fit nicely into the limits of what I thought I could achieve. There is nothing outspoken. Maybe nothing outstanding. That’s not a derogatory comment, but an acknowledgement of the fact that my novels are unlikely to provoke much comment or thought. I even worried a lot about the idea of including a short romance between gay men in a novel with a lesbian target market.

If I’m honest, I was scared to go further. Talk about religion, for better or worse? Include a character who does not have their wicked side in check, but is still appealing? Challenge expectations–of both the heterosexist world and the lesbian community? Many brilliant novels do none of these things. But the reason mine don’t, I realise, is that I didn’t feel capable. Who am I to delve into the mind of a villain? Who am I to present a confident, experienced, witty protagonist? Who am I to use psychological, philsophical or theological ideas as part of my plot?

Today I realised that I can do all of those things, and more, because I’m a writer. I DO have a talent for it. I can create worlds with my words. And in those worlds, I make the rules. I am the powerful one. The only limits are the ones I choose to impose. Any bookstore is a repository of worlds created by other writers. I’m as good as them. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. But I’m a writer just like any other. When I pick up one of their books and admire their bravery, at tackling a difficult or in-depth topic as part of their plot, or for taking on a twisty, complicated structure, I don’t need to be intimidated. I need to remember I’m a writer too, and I have no more limits than any of them. I can be intelligent, witty, wicked and fun…thoughtful, controversial, romantic, far-reaching. I can soar on the wings of imagination.

So, on with the writing. But I’m going to indulge that teenage rebellion I never allowed myself before. I’m going to open all the doors of my mind and see what’s lurking. I’m going to embrace my curiosity and the paths my intellect leads me down. I’ll even look in the dark places, the questioning places, and the fun places.

And I will trust my readers to come with me into that world. I’ll seduce and charm them with words until my rules are the ones that form the boundaries.

I finally believe that I can do it. I was perfectly legitimately placed in that bookstore today. Writing is the gift I was given and I am a writer.  That means I’m unlimited.

And, maybe, life will imitate art. 😀

By the way, I’m very much looking forward to the Bold Strokes Books 2nd Annual Author Event on 23rd and 24th of THIS MONTH!

Part of the furniture


I was never a big fan of creative writing exercises. Maybe it was because whenever took part in them at school I always felt as though the teacher wasn’t quite understanding what I was trying to say. Maybe  little arrogant part of me thought I was a good enough writer that I didn’t need to practice. I think a big part of it was the idea that such exercises are somehow overly indulgent. Playing with words just for the sake of it.

But, since I’ve been part of my fabulous writers’ group, Sapphist Writers, I’ve changed my mind. Funnily enough, every time anyone suggests an exercise, my brain freezes and I think “I can’t do that!” If they told me to write a novel over the space of the next month, I could. But experiment with words in a limited amount of time? Create something distilled, something with stands alone, something which follows the rules of the exercise? That scares me.

Which is why I want to share the results of last night’s exercise here. Not that I think my piece of writing is especially wonderful. But because it still amazes me, and makes me feel grateful that I can produce such a piece. That I had more than a blank piece of paper at the end of the 15 minutes we gave ourselves. And because it was such a simple exercise too, to produce what were deeply felt emotions. Once more, I am indebted to Nicki for suggesting the exercise–thank you! 😀

The exercise: If you were a piece of furniture, what would you be? In 15 minutes, write about the piece of furniture you are and the way you feel.

My writing:

I am a desk, of indefinable age. In some lights, I look antique, experienced, as though many have rested weary elbows and pondered here. But look again, and my lines are strikingly modern and, despite the marks on my scratched surface, you will see I am, in fact, quite youthful. With a kindly hand to polish me, I could be like new again. But no one thinks to polish me.

I am strong, but not showy. I don’t have a place for everything, like some of my kind. My drawers can hide secrets, but you cannot always lock them. Sometimes the lock jams and you can’t open them again.

I support people. Paper and pen, laptop, wax crayon and colouring book; I am here, holding firm, for them.

I’ve been sat on, even stood on once to paint the ceiling. I still have the splatter marks to show for that. I’ve had weary heads on folded arms, sleeping peacefully. I’ve been talked across, hidden under. Always I’m here, sturdy, strong, unnoticed. I listen and support and help as much as I can.

But sometimes I wonder. What if I wanted to be noticed? Silent and supportive no longer. What would they do to find my surface skewed, or one of my legs buckled? If my tired wood began to creak and groan and they were forced to hear me?

I worry, for what would they do without me? How would they write cheques and essays, surf the internet, do homework, write letters, draw their pictures? If I started to make a noise, or my weary slanting made their writing irregular. I am useful and necessary and proud of what they achieve because of me. I don’t want to be cast aside as firewood.

But still, I am scarred, paint splattered, and tired. I fear, before long, something will break. And they will hear me.

Have a go at the exercise yourself. Tell me what you think of mine. 😀

Oh and just a reminder…Ghosts of Winter is already available as an ebook here. And the print version will be out this month!!

Perfect words… (Part Two)


Some of the words I love best are song lyrics. A song called ‘Watersign’ (by Joan Jett and Kathleen Hanna) from Joan Jett’s 2006 album ‘Sinner’ is one of my all time favourites for lyrical beauty. I’ve used this song to put me in the right frame of mind to write many times.
My favourite lines:
Rain on my soul
All shiny and wet
Bleeding all onto your skin
Take me to a place far away
Where we’d be like we’re twins

To me this reflects the ultimate beauty of love between two women. I don’t know if that was the intended meaning behind the words but it’s how I interpret it…Water and blood are both feminine and that idea of an escape where we can be twins–or like with like–is expressed in a very moving way.
Plus Joan’s voice never fails to move me!

And here she is in 1998 performing the song live:

Perfect words…(Part One)


This is the first in a series of blogs I intend to post, where I can share some of my favourites words written by other people. As a writer, I am fascinated by words and the uses they are put to. Inspirational, arousing, convincing, shocking, moving, profound…Words touch us all in different ways. There are certain words, whether it be quotations, sayings, passages from literature, or song lyrics that I find especially wonderful and which I sometimes call to mind as I write. I want to share them.

My first quotation is from a short story, ‘Carmilla’, written by J. Sheridan Le Fanu in 1872 and published in a collection of Gothic stories called ‘In A Glass Darkly.’ It is the story of a female vampire, Carmilla, and her victim, Laura. Despite the dubious equation of lesbianism with female hysteria and vampirism (this is a Victorian story after all), the story contains some particularly well written passages, which convey very evocatively the love that is growing between Carmilla and Laura, without shying away from the darker undertones, which only serve to increase the passion. To me, as a lesbian reader, they seemed especially meaningful, but they are such perfect words, that I think everyone should read them.

I think the line “I live in your warm life, and you shall die—die, sweetly die—into mine” is one of the most beautiful in literature. Yes, on a literal level, they are the words of a vampire. But as a metaphor for the process of falling in love, these words are evocative and wonderful.

From Chapter 4 of ‘Carmilla’ by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, 1872.

She used to place her pretty arms about my neck, draw me to her, and laying her cheek to mine, murmur with her lips near my ear, “Dearest, your little heart is wounded; think me not cruel because I obey the irresistible law of my strength and weakness; if your dear heart is wounded, my wild heart bleeds with yours. In the rapture of my enormous humiliation I live in your warm life, and you shall die—die, sweetly die—into mine. I cannot help it; as I draw near to you, you, in your turn, will draw near to others, and learn the rapture of that cruelty, which yet is love; so, for a while, seek to know no more of me and mine, but trust me with all your loving spirit.”

And when she had spoken such a rhapsody, she would press me more closely in her trembling embrace, and her lips in soft kisses gently glow upon my cheek.

(You can read the whole of ‘Carmilla’ online here)