Monthly Archives: March 2014

When writing about minorities

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It all started when I clicked this link on Twitter. Go ahead and click that, you’ll need to read it to understand what comes next.

Done? Good. I favourited that tweet because I agree that if a reader criticizes a book on the sole basis that the main character is not a straight white man like him, the problem is with the reader.

But it got me thinking. If I were to write from the point of view (I’m going to start using POV from here on) of, say, a deaf, genderqueer Peruvian with a disabled son, would I be able to? Bearing in mind that I’m a childless Irish cis woman who has never left Europe?

They say “write what you know”, although that rule can be interpreted in a variety of ways. I don’t think adhering to it necessarily limits your writing to first-hand personal experience, but when it comes to portraying a character with an entirely different background to you, can imagination be enough?

I first took the question to Joanne Harris (whose books I have declared my undying love for in the past), because she actually responds on Twitter and her opinions are always interesting. Her first response to the Tumblr article itself was this:

Interesting indeed. In the same way that one of my characters is a white-blonde identical twin simply because the dream she was born from painted her that way, why shouldn’t I decide to write characters that are pansexual, disabled, Asian or female just because? Places, after all, don’t have to be visited for us to write realistically about them – several authors have proven that sufficient research is enough to write a good seeming of them. Luckily so, or else historical fiction, fantasy and sci-fi simply wouldn’t exist.

But the difference between places and people is that people have emotions that can be hurt, and those from social minorities very often are. So if we do presume to write from the POV of somebody who belongs to one of those minorities that actually exist today, we must be careful, not only because our portrayal of that one character can be seen to portray the entire minority, but because how we portray them can, at worst, have the potential to do harm even to those individuals in that minority who have not read your story.

At best, mistakes due to insufficient research will just make you look a bit ridiculous in the eyes of said minority.

So: can a middle-class, straight white man from Kent write from the POV of a poor black lesbian living in Somalia? And moreover, should he?

When it comes to social debate, I’m a fan of the “shut up and listen” method. I’m aware that being white, European and not extremely poor makes me privileged, and as such I would never presume to speak in the name of black people or homeless people for instance; rather, the aim should be to help those people to get their voices heard by sharing it. On the other hand, I’m a woman living in a country that doesn’t pay me as much as a man for the same job. While I’m grateful for any support men can give me and other women, should a man presume to speak in our name on the subject (as opposed to speaking in favour of womens’ rights), as well-meaning as he may be, I’d be inclined to politely tell him to listen and not interrupt while we tell him what it’s like to be a woman living in a patriarchal society. In fact, most of the male feminists I know understood this even before I did, and it’s widely accepted as the most logical way to proceed when it comes to any social cause.

But stories are not debates. They can open and contribute to debates, but stories in themselves are stories: things that occur in writers’ brains that the writers then feel the need to get out on paper (or screen, as the case may be). And although stories can have morals and themes, the plot of the story, though influenced by the issues it discusses, will not usually be entirely dependent upon them, in the same way that good characters – like individuals – are not defined purely by which social groups they belong to.

Inspiration works in strange ways. Sometimes, no matter what I do, the story just won’t work the same if I turn the main character into an Irish girl who grew up in the England and France. In fact it’s like that most of the time. Should it stop me from writing that character, even if they come from a minority I don’t belong to?

I think it depends. Toni Morrisson was never a slave, but she has second-hand knowledge of slavery and first-hand knowledge of what it was like to be a black girl growing up in the 30’s, during segregation. No matter how much research I do or how many people I interview, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t write about being a black girl growing up in a black community in the 30’s with quite the same authenticity as her.

On the other hand, I doubt David Mitchell knows first hand what it’s like to be a Mexican female reporter in the U.S. in the 70’s, never mind an eccentric bisexual composer in the 30’s, but he got both those and six other characters’ POVs across astoundingly well in Cloud Atlas. How?

Research? Aside from television, your local library and the inexhaustible Google-sensei, there are *some* resources aimed specifically at writers who want to write characters who are blind or Russian for instance. Once you’ve researched the basics on your subject, do a search for “common misconceptions about…” and see what was comes up.

Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who gets so caught up in the research (including for this article) that I tend to forget the writing part. So how much research do you need to do in order for your character to seem authentic? I think Holly Lisle has the right of it here. I’m paraphrasing, but in one of her essays she once said something along the lines of: “Only research as much as you need for your plot to work. If what you’re researching has nothing to do with your plot, stop.” (Or maybe she was talking about world-building. It works anyway.) Likewise, when researching another culture or social group or a disability, you need to keep your plot in mind at all times so as not to get too carried away (although learning more can’t harm you).

For example, I once wrote a short piece of fiction from the POV of a piece of mint gum, and for that I only needed to find out what the ingredients were, but not how it was made (still, I don’t chew gum any more).

So, say I’m writing from the POV of a character fundamentally different to me and politically sensitive. I’ll be bearing the following things in mind while I create my character:

– Preferably, he must not seem to represent his/her entire community in the story. I’d other secondary characters provide variety, which is realistic when you’re talking about a community.

– No stereotyped, 2D characters. My character may be a devout muslim man, and he is certainly affected by that: He is an Indian whose family was killed by Hindus in the riots, who was taken to England and raised by his grandmother who tried to teach him kindness but who died before she saw her teachings reach him. He struggles with his prejudices daily because although he knows what prejudice feels like when you’re on the wrong end of it, his neighbours are Hindus, like the people who killed his parents, and also Sikh and Christian and also Arab Muslims who worship a little differently to him and whose daughters don’t even show their faces, and he wonders where they got their interpretation of the Q’ran just as he knows they wonder about his. He is also a doctor who has to ignore his religious beliefs at work, and who has actually come to believe that abortions are, in some cases, necessary, but the belief hurts him and he feels guilty about it.

But on the other hand, his parents and grandmother were people who believed in the value of knowledge, and so he is delighted to pass this thirst on to his daughter, and all the while guiltily frustrated with his son, who has cerebral palsy. He likes music of all sorts, and fell in love with his wife’s voice over the phone before even seeing her face to face. His medical training has taught him to forget social barriers, which is how he one day ends up saving the life of his Hindu neighbour, whose wife, in thanks, offers his daughter piano lessons, during which it is revealed that she is something of a prodigy…

Some of the elements I just listed would only be applicable to a muslim Indian having grown up in those parts of India where riots between Muslims and Hindus still occur. Others could happen to anybody. There has to be a mix, and the elements that are specific to whatever group your character belongs to can affect the elements that have nothing to do with said group. An earthquake will affect everyone within its vicitiy, but if you’re in a wheelchair, it might be a bit more difficult to get to safety.

– I have to understand my character and be able to empathize with him. Initially, I wouldn’t be inclined to write from the POV of a muslim Indian doctor anyway because Islam (religion in general actually), India, medecine and life in England are not things that I find particularly fascinating, or at least not half as fascinating as, say, old fairy tales and the Victorian era or, if we’re talking specifically about social groups, polyamory and feminism. So I’ve added some aspects to his character that I *can* empathize with. My parents are very much alive, but I know what it’s like to be genuinely afraid for someone’s life, and for my own life, and I know what grief feels like, and what it’s like to be slightly estranged from the country you’re growing up in (believe it or not). I have no children, but I have sisters much younger than me who I feel incredibly protective of, and I’ve bonded with enough children during my nannying career to know what it’s like the first time a child says your name or buries their head in your shoulder to hide from a stranger. I also have basic knowledge of childhood development, so maybe I’d make my doctor a pediatrician. Sometimes it can’t hurt to write what you know while you’re figuring out how to know what you write.

– Whether or not you decide to use whatever minority your character belongs to to create conflict for the plot, remember that the conflict is there in his or her life whether you want it to be or not. If you ignore that completely in your writing, it’ll read false. I’m not saying you can’t write about the way things should be, rather than how they are, but remember that solutions bring their own problems. If, in your futuristic sci-fi world, men and women have unquestioned equal rights, remember that those countries in which equal rights are most prevalent have lower birth rates because women there tend to have better careers; logically, with medical advances leading to longer lives, in a few hundred years, it might be considered shocking for a woman to get pregnant before the age of 30. Use that conflict to drive your plot. Utopias don’t exist, and change is the only constant.

You might be thinking “I only write high fantasy, so my world and characters can be whatever I want them to be.” You’re right, however: every society has rules, and the ones you create for your imaginary society will affect your character. Never forget that they will have grown up with those rules, and will not be unaffected by breaking them: it will change them. And if they belong to one doctrine and convert to another, remember that this, too, will cause conflict which you should at least acknowledge, if not take advantage of and work into your plot. Personally I always find it more fun to create the rules first and the character after, and make them bend to the rules the way an individual must bend to society and its laws, instead of creating a world for the character.

I think that while it is easier to write what you know than to know what you write, knowing what you write opens up your mind to far more knowledge and wisdom, and cultivates empathy in both you and your readers, and that empathy is essential in order to write authentic characters, no matter how much like you they are. So rather than “write what you know”, I’d say “write what impassions you”, because that’s what you’ll be the most motivated to learn about. You don’t actually have to actually have or sell horses to write from the POV of a horse-seller, but it might help if you know bridle from stirrup.

What do you think?

Cinammon Drops and Violet Wine

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John strolled into the woods like he was there on business. The best way to get away with something was to pretend you were supposed to be doing it, his friend Kenneth had once told him, before demonstrating. He’d walked into church through the back door, touched his cap to a couple of choir boys while heading straight for the alter, reached under it and pulled out a square bottle and two candles, and walked back out with them under his arm. Nobody had said a word.
Still, what business could a chandler’s son possibly have in the forest? Coal had replaced wood in most peoples’ hearths, and any herbs and berries they wanted could be far more easily found at market. It was too cold out today for children to want to play here. The clouds where so low that clumps of them seemed to snag on the highest branches.
At least the grey weather meant fewer eyes to see him. On the way here he’d only met two or three people, all too eager to get back indoors to do more than nod at him.
He hoped she would be there. If she wasn’t, he’d have come for nothing. But he’d checked, going past her house, and her window had been unlit. If she’d had to cancel their meeting, she would have left a candle there to tell him so.
A fat drop hit his head, shocking him into the present. He wondered how old was too old for these sorts of games.
“John!”
The thought evaporated. Darcy was curled up in their hiding spot under the path, a hollow between two trees that had fused together further up. As he approached, she unfolded her legs and turned so that he could squeeze in next to her. She was wearing her brother’s old clothes. It struck him that she looked more feminine in these than she did in the grand, frilly dresses she usually wore.
“I thought you might not come,” she said.
“I thought you might not come.”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because ladies are supposed to mind the rain?” he grinned, then gasped as she elbowed him in the ribs.
“I’m only thirteen. Not a real lady yet.”
“I can’t see you ever becoming one, to be honest. You look more at home in those clothes than most men.” He managed to block her elbow with his hand this time, and took the opportunity to poke her until she squealed.
“Hush! What if we’re found?”
“If we are, it’ll be your fault for tickling me!”
She was right, tempting though it was. He poked again and hit something soft.
“OUCH! John, that really hurt!”
That wasn’t there before, he thought, feeling the blood rush to his cheeks. “Sorry. I’ll stop.”
They were silent for a moment. It was different from the comfortable silence that often occurred between them. It didn’t exactly feel like the hard, cold silence after a fight, either, although it was closer to that. This silence felt hot and awkward.
The rain started in earnest. They pulled their legs to their chests, arms around them. John felt the tiny hairs on her arm tickle the tiny hairs on his arm, and scratched, moving away from her slightly.
“Did you bring anything?” she asked.
“Oh! I did.” He fished a small bag of cinnamon drops out of his pocket. “Your favourite.” She squealed her delight, though she was careful to keep the squeal quiet. “Did you bring anything?” he asked.
She raised a finger the way the pastor did when he was telling them to be patient, picked out the smallest cinnamon drop, and popped it in her mouth. John sniggered. Then she reached around to her side and pulled out a tea towel and a small bottle of something blackish-purple and probably forbidden.
“What’s that?”
“I don’t know,” she said, unwravelling the tea towel to reveal the squashed remains of two pieces of lemon sponge cake. “Father drinks it. I tasted it, it tastes of really nice violet cordial.”
He popped the cork on it and sniffed. “This is violet wine, I think,” he said. “Though I’ve seen violet wine, and it’s not usually this black. Are you sure we should be drinking this? Won’t your father notice?”
“Father never notices anything these days,” Darcy said. “If he does, I’ll just tell him he should never have left it out.”
John looked sideways at her. Darcy had always been more adventurous than him, but she’d never talked badly of her parents before. He’d never heard anybody talk about their family like that.
He handed it back to her. “Ladies first, then.”
Darcy scowled at him, but took it. She tilted the bottle towards the light. John thought he could see the sugar in it swirling. Then she lifted it to him, the way adults drank to your health, and took a big gulp.
John had to catch the bottle as Darcy nearly dropped it in her coughing fit. He spilled a little on his trousers before managing to steady and cork the bottle, laughing.
“You’re mad, Darcy Sullivan!” he giggled, hitting her between the shoulder blades. She smacked his hand away. “Here.” He’d brought a flask of water as well, in case she’d had nothing more interesting. She downed nearly all of it.”I thought you’d tried it already?”
“I did,” she said, finally getting her breath back. “Just a little bit, though.”
“Then why did you take such a huge gulp?”
“I didn’t expect it to be so strong!” She coughed again. “It burned my throat.”
“Alcohol does that,” he said. “My dad let me try his gin once. Horrible stuff.”
“Go on then if you know better, it’s your turn.”
“I know better than to drink it all in one gulp like that!”
“Do it, then.”
He uncorked the bottle and sniffed it again. Then he carefully put it to his lips and tasted a bit. His eyes widened. “It’s really nice!” He took a bigger sip.
“Don’t drink all of it!”
“So says the girl who emptied half the bottle in one go,” he teased. “Besides, you said your dad wouldn’t miss it.”
“No, but I will!”
“Are you sure? We don’t want you choking again – careful!” He just about managed to avoid spilling it again. He was sure that nudge would leave a bruise on his ribs.
He gave it back to her and they took turns sipping it, eating the cake and cinnamon drops in between and giggling louder and louder over the rain. John’s feet were wet, but he didn’t care.
“Goddamnit’,” Darcy said, imitating John’s accent, and John giggled at the blasphemy. “I need t’go to t’ privy.” He giggled even more, and she joined in. “Stop making me laugh, John, or I’ll wet myself in our hide-out!”
“Oh no you don’t, get out!”
“But it’s raining!”
“You’ll have to be quick, then.”
“Just let me wait it out a bit, then we’ll go home.”
His heart sank. “Just go in the bushes like when we were little,” he said.
She twisted her mouth. He noticed that her cheeks were red, but she didn’t seem to be blushing. His dad had red cheeks after a drink or two, he remembered.
“You can’t go back with those red cheeks anyway,” he said. “They’ll know you’ve drunk your dad’s alcohol. You’re drunk, Darcy!”
She glared at him, then laughed. “You ought to see your own cheeks. You’re at least as drunk as me!”
He raised his hands to his cheeks, and she copied him. They were surprisingly hot against his cold hands. “You’re drunker than me, I bet,” he said, cupping her cheeks too.
“Am not!” To prove her point, she reached up and held his cheeks too. “Oh. Yes I am.”
They giggled again, holding each other’s faces, and this time they couldn’t stop. Laughter born in their guts shook itself free, weakening their limbs until, unable to stay upright, their foreheads touched and they leaned on each other.
Finally, they stopped, still holding each other’s faces.
“John?”
“Mm?”
“Do you love me?”
What?
She looked at him. Their faces were too close, and she looked a little cross-eyed. He felt like laughing again, but didn’t, dropping his hands instead.
“Well?”
“I don’t know,” John said. “Kenneth told me that if you love a girl, you have to kiss her.”
“That’s not it,” Darcy said. “Kieran told me that you can tell if somebody loves you from the way he kisses you.”
“How?”
Darcy sat back and twisted her mouth. “I don’t know,” she said. “I suppose we might know if we tried. Do you want to kiss me?” She looked straight at him. He’d never noticed how deep and rich the brown of her eyes was.
“Sure, I suppose so,” he said. He could feel his heart beating as though he’d been running. He wondered how you went about kissing someone you loved. He hadn’t seen it done very often.
“We need to close our eyes,” Darcy said. She obviously knew better than he did. He obeyed and leaned forward.
“Ow!”
He opened his eyes and saw Darcy rubbing her forehead through stars.
“Are you sure we have to close our eyes?” he asked, gingerly checking for bumps.
“Yes! I’ve seen my brother do it, and they closed their eyes.”
“Didn’t they bang heads?”
“No! You’re just no good at it, I bet.”
He glared at her. “You’re the one who’s no good at it! I bet they cheat, anyway. How can you close your eyes and aim at the same time?”
She scowled, but then seemed to consider. “Well, they were touching each other’s faces,” she said.
“Like we were just now?”
“Sort of,” she said, and lifted a hand to his cheek, caressing it.
Heat shot across his skin and her eyes widened at the look on his face. He leaned forward and, hesitating for just an instant, placed his mouth on hers. The same heat blossomed where their lips touched, unfurling, spreading everywhere. He was suddenly aware of every place where his body touched her’s – her hand on his cheek, his arm behind her back, her leg curled under his. It felt like someone had lit a candle in his head and shown him a whole universe of new sensations. It felt like heaven.
How long the kiss lasted, he couldn’t say, but before it finished her hand moved to the back of his neck and into his hair, and her other hand was around his waist, pulling him closer. They finally broke apart, flushed and breathless, staring into each other’s eyes, amazed at their new discovery.
Then Darcy gasped and jumped back. It was only then that John realised that his hands, too, had been pulling her closer to him, and as she pushed them away he felt a terrible sense of loss.
“What?” he asked.
She shook her head, even redder than before, and wouldn’t look at him.
An awful doubt came to him. “Did I do it wrong?”
She glanced at him, then down, and shook her head again.
“Then what is it?”
Curling away, careful not to touch him, she said, “I think we’re being sinful.”
He laughed, then stopped at the hurt in her eyes. “It didn’t feel sinful to me,” he said.
“But gluttony is a sin, and it always feels good,” she said. “This feels even better than gluttony, so it must be a sin.”
John was stumped. After a while he came up with, “But don’t adults do it all the time?”
She lifted her hands and stared at them as though wondering if they were really hers. “I think maybe we did do it wrong,” she said finally. “I don’t think adults do it like that. They must do something else. Or maybe that’s what married people do.”
John said nothing. The hot, happy feeling was entirely gone now. Even he knew that ladies from good families did not marry chandler’s sons.
“I think I do love you,” he said quietly. “And I think you love me, too. I think that’s why it felt so nice. Not because it’s a sin.”
Darcy didn’t reply. Instead she stood up, wobbling a little, and scooped up the empty tea towel and bottle. John followed suit. Dizziness nearly toppled him as he stood, and he had to lean on the tree trunk. He felt a bit sick as they started back.
“It was a silly idea,” Darcy said. “We shouldn’t do it any more.”
John nodded, too unhappy to speak. Before they left the forest, he threw up on the edge of the path.

10 Ways to Empower Our Kids Against Predators

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10 Ways to Empower Our Kids Against Predators

They call me Mummy

Daniel Morcombe murderer Brett Cowan

The past week, for us Australians, has been traumatic. We’ve been glued to our TVs as we’ve watched the final days of the Brett Peter Cowan trial. We’ve cried for the Morcombe family as they’ve had to face the monster who murdered their young son, Daniel, in court day after day.

This monster, Brett Cowan, showed not a shred of remorse for ripping away the life of thirteen year old Daniel Morcombe to satisfy his own sick pleasures. I won’t go into my anger at the justice system that released Brett Cowen twice after brutally raping two other little boys. One of those boys, Timothy Nicholls – only seven years old when he was abducted and raped repeatedly and so brutally that he almost died, says Brett Cowan took his life that day. For that crime, Brett Peter Cowan was sentenced to a hideously inadequate seven years in jail and…

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Glamour Human, Magic Dragon

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Because FUCK TITLES.

The party was in full swing, although rumours of Thrumli activity ran through the room like lightning, and the guests were somewhat agitated. They feasted and drank, danced and flirted like this would be their last night alive, and some had even retreated to various corners of the immense hall for more intimate activities under a glamour shroud. Arwyn noticed that many of those who’d been there at esbat hadn’t turned up this time, and these had been replaced by others she had never met before. Rayth was one of the missing ones, and she wondered if he had been forbidden entry, or had voluntarily abstained from the festivities.

She had her answer when he barged in, pursued by a tiny, furious goblin and stinking of rosewine, pushed gracelessly through the crowd to get to her, and pointed a finger at her accusingly.

You’re human!” he slurred triumphantly, his finger pushing the end of her nose. Arwyn, too surprised to argue or even glamour herself, stared at him.

What are you talking about?” Orren came to stand between them, pushing Rayth’s arm out of the way. Rayth sneared.

Ah, the prodigal son. Thought you could fool us, eh? Thought you could bring a human into our midst and none of us would be the wiser? Long-lost sister indeed! I bet you never even had a sister-”

Orren’s hand was a blur, but the next second found Rayth stumbling backwards, one hand over his eye, blue blood leaking through his fingers.

Care to develop that argument, Rayth?” Orren’s voice was barely more than a whisper, but it cut through the sudden silence like a knife. “I’d be careful what you accuse me of. Remember whose territory you’re on.”

Rayth’s good eye blazed fury. “You don’t scare me. I’m more powerful than the lot of you half-breeds put together! I admit your glamour is good – you nearly had me fooled with her -” he pointed at Arwyn “- but you must have known it couldn’t last. Yorwen’s mad to think she could get away with this-”

Yorwen would like to know how you got past her guards,” said the lady in question, coming to stand next to her children. She lifted a hand, and Rayth glanced behind him to find himself surrounded by goblins in yellow livery, waiting. He licked his lips.

Alright,” he said, “I’ll go quietly, if -” his gaze swept across the assembled fairies, “- Arwyn can prove that she truly is a fairy.”

A murmur broke out in the crowd. Some edged away from Arwyn and her family, other’s craned to look at them. Rayth grinned.

Should be easy,” he said. “Humans have no glamour. All she has to do is prove she has.”

The crowd chattered, some of them laughed. Orren grinned. “Can’t you see she’s glamouring herself already?”

But that’s not her power, is it Orren?” said Rayth, and there was a cruel glint in his eye. “I thought she smelled strange. She smells of human – and you.” Arwyn stared from her brother to Rayth and back again. The crowd hushed, listening. “You must lend her your own power permanently,” Rayth went on, “that’s quite impressive. But then, what else should we expect from the child who killed the Thrumli? Only – ah! Wait! Haven’t you heard? It’s not dead!” The tension in the hall was suddenly palpable. “It’s back. So, Orren, tell us – what happened all those years ago? Since you didn’t kill the Thrumli, what did you do? Did you beg to be let go? Did you find some other child to die in your place?” The gleam in Rayth’s eye had taken on the shade of madness. “Or were you simply not a good enough tithe?”

Kill him.”

Yorwen’s order was still ringing around the hall when the goblins completely submerged Rayth. For several seconds all that could be seen was a writhing mass of brown and yellow, before suddenly, it collapsed. The goblins fell about, confused, their pray gone.

Where is he?” Yorwen shouted. “Find him! Kill him!”

The goblins scoured the hall, then streamed out, leaving the guests in chaos. Yorwen followed them.

Orren glamoured himself a foot taller and shouted for quiet. “Noble guests, I apologize for the disturbance. Rayth should have learned to hold his rosewine before accusing anyone else of human weaknesses -” a few of the guests tittered, “- and I can assure you that not only is my sister a fairy, but she also holds her rosewine better than him.” The whole crowd laughed.

Prove it!” someone shouted. The rest grew quiet again, all turning to the culprit.

Have you been abusing the rosewine, too, Rowan?” Orren asked.

N-no,” the brown-haired fairy stammered. He swallowed, but stepped forward, seeming to gain confidence. “Without presuming to accuse her,” he continued, “I’m sure all of us would like to see how Lady Arwen has progressed. We all know, of course, that she is your sister,” he added hastily. “We remember that her time in Cat’s Court had left her nearly bereft of power, and that you, her kind brother, had to lend her your power so that she could, ah, catch up.” He smiled nervously at Arwyn. “My lady, would you care to show us your power, so that we may congratulate you on your progress?”

Everyone turned to look at Arwyn. Arwyn looked at Orren. Orren shrugged, but she could see the tension in his eyes.

I fear my progress has been slow,” she replied. “But I don’t mind showing you, if you wish it.”

Of course,” said Rowan encouragingly, “Orren must let you do this on your own. We know that – loving brother that he is – he lends you power. Why not let him take his share back, so we can appreciate your true progress?”

Arwyn turned to Orren and held out her hand. He hesitated, then took it, and closed his eyes.

Arwyn had known that Orren lent her power, but she hadn’t known quite how much. As she felt it flowing through her arm like a rush of pins and needles, she felt changes she hadn’t anticipated. Her mind cleared, felt sharper than it had since she’d left Cat’s Court. Her body felt heavier, more clumsy, but also more stable. Her limbs shortened, each finger and toe lost a joint, and although her sense of smell diminished, her odour changed to something more earthy. Never had she felt more human.

The pins and needles slowed to a trickle, then suddenly Orren let go of her hand. Her palm tingled, and as she opened her eyes, she saw the other fairies staring and whispering amongst themselves. She caught the words “human” and “traitor” several times.

Go on,” said Orren. “Prove you’re my sister.” There was something of a challenge in his voice, and Arwyn’s stomach knotted. What if Rayth had been right? What if Orren had never had a sister, and Darcy was her true name?

She turned to face the crowd, gulped. Closed her eyes, knowing it was a beginner’s trick, not caring. The voices around her hushed each other and silence filled the hall. She felt it on her skin and concentrated on that, felt every inch of her body the way Orren had taught her to – skin, flesh, muscle, bone, blue Unseelie veins. I am a fairy, she thought, I look human because I’m a leanan sidhe and I spent too long in Cat’s Court, but I am a fairy. She willed her body to change, her limbs to grow, her ears to point out of her hair. For several agonizing moments, nothing happened.

Then, so slowly that she could barely feel it, her fingers started to grow. She concentrated on what it felt like to have that extra joint, and they popped into existence one by one, first in her fingers, then in her toes. Her limbs grew. Her ears grew. Her body thinned out and she felt her skin tighten just a little. It happened faster and faster, and suddenly she was confident – of course she could do this, she did it every day, Orren surely couldn’t lend her glamour all the time – and she felt silly for doubting herself. She could hear speculative murmurs in the crowd. They knew now that she was a true fairy, of course, and some were already discussing her progress. They found it lacking. She felt a rush of angry pride. She’d show them.

She screwed her eyes shut tight and thought of a dragon. It was big, almost half again her size, and long, like a massive, winged lizard. She felt her dress melt into her skin and become scales – green, she thought, and knew it was so – felt her face form a snout full of long, sharp teeth, her pupils slit and turn green, wings and tail sprout out of her. Her limbs shortened again and her hands and feet grew claws.

She heard gasps and opened her eyes. She towered over the awed guests, some of whom looked more than a little nervous. She grinned, showing them her teeth, and two of them yelped in fear. Her laugh was her own, though, and hearing it, the guests laughed, too. She let go of the glamour, popping back to her original form, straightened her dress (which had become a little rumpled due to the fast switch back) and curtsied. The guests applauded, and Rowan clapped her on the back, nearly knocking her over.

Careful,” Orren warned, catching her by the arm. “Don’t clap too hard or she might eat you.” He smiled at her as though he’d known she’d do it all along, and waved to the crowd for quiet. “Now, dear guests, I fear our little game has tired out my sister. But please,” he added over the protests of the crowd, “stay, eat, drink, dance your feet to the bone. We shall return once she has rested a little.”

Several of the fairies wanted them to stay, and some begged Darcy to turn into a dragon again so they might see how it was done – but Orren politely refused them. Darcy didn’t understand – she did feel tired, but not the bone-deep exhaustion she usually felt at the end of a lesson.

I’m not sleepy,” she protested while they climbed the stairs to her rooms.

I know,” Orren replied, “and I’m impressed. I hadn’t expected you to do the dragon. You managed it well for your second time.”

I forgot to change my voice,” she complained.

You’ll remember next time.”

She pushed open her door and sat down on the bed. Orren closed it, warded the room, and bounded on top of her, pinning her down by her wrists.

How did you do it?” he growled, eyes blazing. How?” He pushed her further into the bed. Arwyn, dazed and terrified, shook her head. “Tell me! That wasn’t glamour, that was magic – a dragon – someone else is teaching you, who is it?”

Nobody!” she whimpered. “I did it by myself! I swear!”

He glared at her, and for a second she thought he looked afraid as well as furious. Then, abruptly, he released her.

You’re not lying,” he said.

Fairies can’t lie,” she retorted, anger replacing her fear. “Why did you do that? After all those lessons, have you no faith in me at all?”

He looked at her, and his eyes were unreadable. “It… surprised me, is all. Luckily I don’t think any of those idiots have seen true magic operate in their lives. You should be safe.” He sighed. “I apologize if I hurt you. I… I feared that, if someone else were feeding true magic into you, then he or she could influence your behaviour.”

Arwyn massaged her wrists and didn’t reply. She wondered how much Orren’s glamour had influenced her.

I think I can do without your glamour, now,” she said instead. “I’ve proven it, haven’t I?”

“That wasn’t glamour you were using. True magic does prove that you are not human, but it doesn’t necessarily prove you to be a fairy.”

“What else could I be? Besides, you said yourself they wouldn’t recognise it. Can’t I just use magic? It’s easier than glamour.”

He studied her as though she were a creature he hadn’t seen before. For a moment she thought he was going to protest. Then he schooled his featured to a pleasant smile and said, “Of course.” He walked to the door and turned. “You ought to rest anyway, though,” he added, looking earnestly into her eyes, like no quarrel had happened between them. “Such an effort has tired you more than you think.”

With that he turned and left, and as he shut the door, she found he was right. She crawled onto the bed and barely had time to wonder if he’d glamoured sleep onto her before sliding into unconsciousness.

Happy Saint Paddy’s!

Video

Last week started out baddish, then got better mid-week, from which moment I was pretty busy. I’ve even gotten a one-time babysitting job for Wednesday morning. Let’s not talk about how I was looking for any job except babysitting and just revel in the fact that I’m once again getting paid to play uno for five hours.

So today I went to meet the family, who were perfectly charming, and did exactly what I’d done to get there in reverse so as not to get lost, the result of which doubled my journey home. I fucking hate Belgian roads.

So instead of the usual Glimmerlands update, which I haven’t been in the right mood/had time to write, I’ve decided (as in right now, on the spot) to talk about being Irish and why I’m both proud of it and not, and the identity crisis I’ve been having my entire life caused by the fact that the only country I really consider mine is the one I don’t even remember living in and know very little about, the complex guilt/pride I hold towards my Manchester accent, and the entrangement I feel towards a family I would so dearly love to become more close to…

Actually fuck that, have a clip of Dara O’Briain.

Possession

Standard

Redlox M’wintir called a halt, sniffed the air, and poked at the ground with his stick. The M’wintir pixies had been wandering the plains of Nout for nearly a quartermoon now, searching for a safe resting place. Their friend-tribe, the Sheelyu, had assured them that they themselves had wintered in these plains without being disturbed, the place would surely be ideal for a few days’ rest.

Either the Sheelyu had deceived them, or something had changed on the plains. Something was wrong, Redlox knew, he could sense it in the air. Not a smell, exactly, and he could sense no trace of glamour or magic other than those used by his own tribe. It was a texture, perhaps, only not – the air felt slimy somehow.

“Chief.” It was Shora, his eldest son and head of the small guard that protected their large family. Redlox could hear the exhaustion in his voice. “We need to stop.”

“I know, son,” said the M’wintir chief. “I just… it’s everywhere. Can’t you feel it? I’d rather we kept going.”

“Hothel sleeps on his feet, and Feather has collapsed. We have no choice, Chief.”

Redlox scanned the wan faces of his ragged, glamour-drained family. Tribe pixies were exceptions in the Unseelie lands, because despite their diminutive class, they lived and moved close together, as a family. They knew that safety and strength came in numbers, and never forgot it. But such groups needed a chief, and Unseelie chiefs were, as a rule, chosen for their power, and therefore had a tendency to be overthrown unless they made themselves well-loved. Redlox had not been deaf to the grumblings of his fellows, nor had he ignored the rumours that age had him jumping at his own shadow. He’d have a rebellion on his hands if he pushed too far – something far more worrying than “slimy air”.

“Rest here then,” he grumbled eventually, and the entire tribe breathed a sigh of relief. As they began sculpting earthbeds in the short grass, he added “I want eight of you on guard, the ones that are still awake. Short shifts – eight on moonrise, eight on moonset, and so on. I’ll take first shift. Who’s with me?”

It took him a while to assemble seven other volunteers willing to stay awake another half-night while the rest slept, but Redlox was firm.

“Why eight?” yawned Heather, Feather’s twin who had volunteered. “Four is usually enough.”

“Something is wrong with the air here,” he repeated. “I don’t trust it. Stay alert, don’t let sleep get the better of you.”

But the moonrise was uneventful, and so was the moonset, which Redlox stayed up for, too. When only the stars lit up the sky, he let his children persuade him to take a nap.

“We’ll wake you the minute anything happens,” Heather assured him.

“The second,” Shora said, and Redlox reluctantly gave in to weariness.

The wrongness woke him.

He sat up, alert as he hadn’t been in a week, and stuck out his tongue. There was a taste to it now, faint but nauseatingly bitter. He saw Shora to his left, sitting in a slump, and cursed.

“Wake up, dolt of a boy! Can’t you feel the air?” He shook Shora by the shoulder, and his head fell back.

Redlox screamed.

When a fairy screams, it is always an unearthly, horrible sound, but when an Unseelie scream, it is the kind of scream that curdles blood and freezes souls. If a human had heard Redlox’s scream that night, they would have died, ears bleeding, or gone mad.

As it was, the whole tribe came running, then fell back, their own screams echoing his.

Shora’s eyes had been ripped out, his face shorn to ribbons. Blood congealed under his sharp black nails, some of which were broken. His fingers were twisted in ways that shouldn’t be possible, and those who looked closer saw that his legs, seemingly crossed, had their feet turned backwards.

The wails of the tribe continued long into the night, followed by an even longer and terrible silence.

Finally, Redlox buried his son in the earth and ordered his tribe to move on. This time they headed back the way they’d come, to the pine forest that was the home of many bothersome brownies and a goblin or two, but nothing as terrible as whatever had killed Shora.

They hadn’t fully recovered, however, and before they were half-way back, four of their number collapsed into a deep sleep and couldn’t be woken. Redlox called a halt and ordered ten guards per shift, in groups of two.

He was woken by Feather shaking him frantically, in tears.

“Father, come, please, it’s Heather, she’s – she’s -”

Heather was eating her own fingers. Her eyes were blank and terrified, like those of a cornered animal, and when Redlox tried to stop her, she twisted in his grip until her arm snapped. Horrified, he backed away, and she went back to eating her fingers.

They tied her to their only wagon with spidersilk rope, and fled the place, to no avail. Heather pulled on her ties until her arms and legs all snapped, then shook her head from side to side until even the spidersilk chafed and cut into her skin, and even then she didn’t stop. When Feather tried to hold her head still, she turned with ferocious strength and bit her.

“She’s not ill,” Feather insisted. “Look into her eyes, she’s still there! She knows what she’s doing, but she can’t stop herself!”

But nobody dared look into Heather’s eyes. They avoided the wagon and Heather’s increasingly empty gaze. Only Redlox could bring himself to look at her, and all he saw was pain.

“This reminds me of his work,” said one of the elders, an uncle of Redlox’s who liked to glamour himself to look even older than he really was. “You know who I’m talking about, Chief. You remember the tithe?”

Redlox glanced uneasily towards the wagon, then looked away. “They took my brother Coren,” he said quietly. “Of course I remember.”

“Coren was a good lad,” said the elder.

“Coren was stronger than me,” said Redlox. “He would have been chief in my place. Mayhap he’d have had the sense to stop and rest before our guards were too worn to keep watch.”

“Mayhap he would, and mayhap it wouldn’t have made a difference. There’s no sense in dwelling on what might have been. If this is what we think it is, then there’s only one way to get rid of it.”

They left Heather tied to the ground and fled once more. Once the tribe had been told what it was, noone protested. Only Feather needed three of her brothers to drag her away.

“Heather! Sister! You can’t do this to her Father, please, she’s still in there, she’s suffering, please-”

“Could we not kill her at least?” asked Pol, Redlox’s second son.

“The Thrumli stays in her as long as she amuses it,” Redlox murmured back, glancing behind them. Heather’s silence was somehow worse than if she’d been screaming. “If we kill her, it’ll look for another victim, and we need time to get away.”

Pol looked as disgusted as he felt, but he nodded. Redlox pushed them on, determined to get out of the plains before they next had to sleep.

They never made it.

Feather’s screams turned to hoarse sobs, which faded in their turn. She stumbled between her brothers, no longer resisting, and noone noticed quite when her mourning silence turned into something else, until she turned around and slit her brother’s throat.

The shouts of her other guard turned to an animal scream, and before anyone had time to react, Feather had stabbed five of them and was after more. Redlox saw the terror in her gaze as she came at him, and promptly broke her neck.

There was a moment when those who saw it told the others, and everyone stopped running and turned to look, waiting. For a moment nothing happened.

Then a child started singing.

Everyone turned to look in confusion as one of Redlox’s younger nephews walked out to Feather’s inert body, slowly singing the Song of the Dead. They watched him kneel before her, clasp his hands in prayer and close his eyes. His voice was high and clear, and the song mournful, but noone joined in.

When he had finished the song, the boy looked into Redlox’s eyes, and Redlox almost thought it was alright.

Then the boy smiled sweetly at him, bit off his own finger, and stabbed himself with it.

The Thrumli let him scream this time, before taking control again and turning the screams to tearful laughter. The boy rose and stumbled towards the others, but they were scattered, and the Thrumli let him collapse. Redlox killed the boy quickly and saw another of his sons change direction and start killing those around him, then twist his own neck and collapse, to be replaced by another, and another. They ran, in vain. Redlox chased after the Thrumli, staring around him, but the nightmare creature was playing with him, taking those who were behind him so that he had to keep turning. He killed it each time, slaying his own with his bare hands or whatever weapon happened to be close, before throwing those weapons as far as he could before the Thrumli could possess him and make him turn it against them all.

By moonrise, they were all dead. Bodies littered the plain, the grass stained blue in the moonlight. Redlox stood in the middle of his fallen tribe, knowing the thing was there, knowing it was waiting for just the right moment to possess him, too…

Someone wimpered.

He turned, staggered ten paces, and found the body of a child – scarcely more than a babe – her body covered in blood and her throat cut. He could not remember if the Thrumli had killed this one, or if he had.

The babe looked at him, her eyes glazed with pain, and he dropped onto his knees before her and cradled her little broken body, and for a second she gazed at him with her own eyes, before the Thrumli possessed her once more, the last of his kin, and he gave up.

“Get on with it, then,” he said to the thing inside his granddaughter.

The Thrumli smiled at him with her mouth and her eyes, and then she died.

And it was gone.

Redlox’s scream could be heard all the way back in the pine forest they’d been heading for. When the Sheelyu tribe found him, surrounded by the bodies of his kin, the dagger that had cut his throat was still in his hand.