A little dog in the cup. I want a puppy trophy okay don't judge me.

It's that most self-conscious tiiiiime of the year!
When the writers are posting
And tweeting and hoping
You'll think of their woooooorks
It's that most self-conscious time of the year!

Yeah, it's an awards post, yeah I feel awkward about it, but I am going to use it as a springboard for a bigger discussion. Skip to that if you like, or enjoy my awkwardness as I summarise my year in publications.

I'm going to list these in approximate order of "how well they seemed to be received at the time", with the caveat that I'm a terrible judge of my own work so this order may bear no relevance to actual quality. I'm also going to note here that this is my second and final year of eligibility for the Campbell. (At time of writing, that page still seems to be listing last year's details.)

If you are considering me for the Campbell (you poor fool), you may also wish to remind yourself of my 2016 awards eligbility.

The Ghosts of Europa Will Keep You Trapped in a Prison You Make for Yourself

Escape Pod, 26th May 2017; 2128 words (short story); sci-fi; on the Nebula recommended reading list.

--then scooted her chair over to the microscope. Amira only needed a glance at the holographic zoom floating over the scope. The viral cells were replicating rapidly, budding and splitting at a phenomenal rate.

"Hey, Mariana, look at this." Amira indicated the hologram, then was struck, at once, with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu: something beyond the familiarity of her lab and its clean white surfaces, or the flat icy plains of Europa beyond the carbonglass windows. And more than the déjà vu, there was a feeling of instantaneousness, that this moment had arisen out of nothing, that nothing was all that had been there before, that everything had just--appeared.

Amira is studying a viral outbreak in her lab on Europa when she begins to realise something is wrong--and once she realises, she has a decision to make on behalf of the man she loves.

You should listen to the narration by Tina Connolly, which is absolutely my preferred version of the text, because it was such a good reading it made me love this story again. The production from EP producer Adam Pracht plays a big part as well, and I'm immensely appreciative of the efforts the whole EP team put into producing this to the very best of their abilities. Warning: designed to make you cry, and has been successful in that endeavour more than once.

The Lies I've Told to Keep You Safe

Daily Science Fiction, 19th October 2017; 356 words (short story); sci-fi; on the Nebula recommended reading list.

I'm sure they're not a threat. Their ships probably need to be that big to travel so far across the stars and the spaces between. They don't mean them to look so dangerous.

They must be friendly. You wouldn't be able to build such things if you couldn't work together as a society.

What half-truths do you tell to keep the people you love safe? How far do you go? How long do you stick by the elaborate construction of lies?

The shortest thing I've ever sold. The shortest space I've ever packed The Feels into. Also a near miss as regards harmful rep, for which I wrote an apology along with some other thoughts, also pretty well received.

Update, 16th Jan 2018: This just had a wonderful review from Brandon O'Brien at Strange Horizons, in the first edition of his Jewelry Box column, and I'm so absurdly proud reading those words I can't describe it.

How I Became Coruscating Queen of All the Realms, Pierced the Obsidian Night, Destroyed a Legendary Sword, and Saved My Heart's True Love

No Shit, There I Was anthology (ed. Alex Acks, pub. Alliteration Ink), February 2017; 5368 words (short story); fantasy.

No shit, there I was, knee-deep in necromantic weasels in the lair of the mad wizard-king, when Korgar and Elutriel both decided it was time to win my affections once and for all.

Elutriel had summoned an aura of resistance, an iridescent bubble free of weasels. He struggled forwards, heaving against the weight of their wasted furry bodies.

"Push them into the flames!" I shouted, pointing with Hrrnngnngrrrndr, the Sword of a Hundred Thousand Agonies, at the fire-trap Korgar had triggered as we entered the room.

But Elutriel ignored me and waded toward Korgar instead. He used the aura to shove a wave of writhing, stinking flesh before him until it piled up and over the granite-slab shoulders of the Vhunken warrior.

Written by Baker and Dovey, i.e. Stewart & me. Essa must steal the treasure from the dark wizard's lair at the top of the tower, but she must also choose: Korgar, the exquisitely chiselled barbarian warrior, or Elutriel, the gentle and romantic cleric? Or--and let's be frank here--find a better option altogether...

A completely ridiculous fantasy parody written over the course of about five nights, and something long overdue for a sequel (of which we have written 2½, and completely failed to edit them into reasonable form). Again, I recommend the narration, this time by Aimee Kuzenski for PodCastle, if only so you can hear someone try to pronounce "Hrrnngnngrrrndr". (Seriously, though, Aimee kills it; that narration is all sorts of fun, and I love it dearly.)

Eligibility: this is a weird one, because the anthology was released in February but it went out to Kickstarter backers last December, which counts as a limited release for Hugo purposes, so as far as Stewart & I can make out, this story is only eligible for the Nebula. Please vote accordingly.

To the Editors of The Matriarch, re: Allegations of Pressganging

Daily Science Fiction, 1st June 2017; 400 words (short story); fantasy; on the Nebula recommended reading list.

Da Vinci's design for an airship

42nd of Autumn, 16th year of Annabelle II

Regarding yr/ article of 37th of Autumn, and the ongoing judicial case around consent and "press-ganging":

I have served in Her Majesty's Air Navy for two decades now, and am considered one of the foremost Captains amongst that glorious sorority, so I write with authority on the topic of naval employment and sailor acquisition.

Exceptionally thinly veiled satire about consent and pressganging. Definitely about pressganging. Uh huh.

This one's aiming to make you laugh rather than cry.

Winter Witch

PodCastle, 22nd August 2017; 1473 words (short story); fantasy.

I feel their grief moving through the forest. It is like a buried splinter tugging at my skin, working its way further inside. In part this is my deep intimacy with these woods, nurtured through all my thirty years, and in part it is the soft sound of their sobbing, carried through still air that is thick with pine and decay and more.

Their sputtering car could only bring them so close in these dense trees, and now they walk the narrow paths to my cottage. The cadence of footfalls on soft mossy ground tells of something small being carried.

There is only one thing so small and heavy with sorrow.

The Winter Witch lives alone in a forest bare of life. She has only one knack, but one is enough. Sometimes.

Part of a wonderfully themed flash fiction episode on Seasons, alongside Shveta Thakrar and Aidan Doyle. Landed a little quietly, this one, perhaps because I was not in a good place to do much self-promotion at the time it came out. I listened to the podcast episode on my way to see my Grandma for what turned out to be the very last time, so yeah. Fuck 2017.


Perihelion, 12th April 2017; 984 words (short story); sci-fi.

Maybe I should kill her, thought Michael, and a thrill ran through him at the idea.

He looked up from his untouched cold toast as Cathy walked back in from the garden, the winter sun picking out the stray silver hairs that had escaped from her ponytail.

"Not hungry, love?" She put a box of fresh eggs on the side.

Michael smiled weakly and pushed his plate away. "Apparently not."

"Fretting about your writing again?"

And just like that, his decision was made.

Memory and inspiration and love and, because we all need at least one story on the topic in our careers, writing.


I have also, this year, written a couple of decent blog posts; narrated a bunch of stories at Tales to Terrify (Children of the Tide, Still Waters), Far Fetched Fables (The Blind Queen's Daughter, Princess Lily's Wedding and Psychopomps), Starship Sofa (Horror on Habitat Seven) and Escape Pod (Ms. Figgle-DeBitt's Home for Wayward AIs); and hosted a bunch of PodCastle episodes (one, two, three, four, five).

On Self Care

Kitty!All of which, typed above, makes it look like this has been a really good year for me. Which is the reason I made myself write this. I needed to see it all laid out, because really, I've had a terrible year.

I've lost three family members since June. I found out one of them had cancer the day after I'd buried someone who'd just died of cancer. My wife and daughter have both had health problems. My car finally gave up the ghost and needed replacing at expense (the joys of 20k of commuting in a year). Two of the three people in my office (for whom I'm responsible) have had shitty years, involving road accidents and family deaths and mental health diagnoses.

And, of course, the whole goddamn world has been on fire, and everyone has been in a constant state of panic.

And in any other year, any one of these things would have made it a Bad Year. But they have arrived in an incessant parade of shittiness, a constant stream of hospital visits and funerals and awful conversations since February. And it has been, without doubt, the worst year of my life.

Writing has been pretty impossible, frankly. I started off alright, but by Easter I nearly quit in a maelstrom of self-pressure and drained emotional energy. Since April, I have started and finished a single 3,000 word story. That's it.

Now I know full well I'm an inveterate procrastinator. I'm very practiced at it: I completed my final year project at uni in the last 4 weeks, sleeping half an hour a day to get all the coding and write up completed. (I do not recommend this approach, FWIW.) And so my approach to writing, up till now, has been "get your arse in the chair and get some goddamn words written, you idle sod".

But this year that's collided with actually needing a break. Writing stories is exhausting; it's constant decision making, and skill judgements, and grasping for the right word, and scraping yourself of emotion to pour into the words instead. You can't do that if you're already exhausted; progress is slow and frustrating and what you end up with has no life to it, no joy. There's no point in making yourself write in 100% of your spare time if all you churn out is crap you want to discard. Better to write only 60% of the time, or 25%, or 10%, whatever, and actually produce something worthwhile. Your brain is the engine that creates entire worlds and people and events. You need to look after it! It is not some cold and empty process that performs perfectly every time it is loaded. It's a soggy lump of meat, and like all soggy lumps of meat, it needs rest between exercise.

And so this year, at long last, I have learnt the difference between can't be arsed to write and should and can't possibly write and shouldn't force it.

Because if I take a break to play with photography instead, or play some games, it might save me from breaking writing forever. I'd rather step away temporarily than make myself walk away forever.

And I very nearly did.

On Momentum

Kitty!This post, much like this year, has taken a depressing tone, and fuck that. Let's end on some cheerfulness, and talk about momentum.

I started writing five years ago. I got nowhere fast, as none of us do. Three years ago I'd quit: I'd tried, I'd failed, and finally I'd tried to make myself write something I thought the market wanted (fast-paced military sci-fi! Action! Excitement!) using the correctly prescribed tools (Motivation-Reaction Units! Scenes! Sequels!) and hated the whole damn process so much I stopped for six months.

When I started again--when an irresistible idea struck me--well, that one ended up winning WotF for the year. Write what you love, yeah?

But the point I want to make here is: good grief, it's only just over 18 months since I was out in LA, and look how much has happened! Not just this year but last year too. And all the things I'm involved in! I'm in the Codex and Villa Diodati writing groups; I'm part of the PodCastle team, reading slush and writing stupid tweets; I've been shortlisted for awards and picked up others for friends. This thing has just exploded, y'know?

And look, I know you're going to think I'm just being British and self-effacing and you want to argue with me here, but seriously: I'm not that special. I'm not some wunderkind bursting onto the scene with talent to spare and a choir of angels singing story ideas above me. I'm just another journeyman writer, fighting for every word, trying to climb this mountain with the rest of you. If you're still chasing that first pro-sale: don't give up. You are one acceptance away from your own ball rolling like this.

And honestly, you can probably start it rolling yourself: I felt typically awkward about joining in and being part of the community before I'd sold something, thinking I had nothing to offer, but in hindsight that was bollocks. I've said it before and I will say it again: just join in.

Keep chasing the dream. Keep writing and submitting and starting the next thing and bouncing rejections out to the next market. Just keep at it. You'll get there, and once you do you'll, well, to be honest you'll still beat yourself up for not doing enough or being enough, but occasionally, just every now and then, you'll sit down and write out all your accomplishments for an awards eligibility post and realise: maybe you're not doing so bad after all.


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