A death each day keeps emotions away

‘We won’t be renewing your contract.’

I strained to smile, and nodded understanding as my supervisor and the HR manager gave me this news. It wasn’t unexpected. I hadn’t been happy in my job for a long time. My supervisor and I collided on a daily basis. It was definitely time to go, and this was the push out the door I needed.


‘Mum’s in hospital.’

I listened as dad told me what was wrong (he didn’t know), what the doctors were doing (he didn’t know), and how long mum would be in hospital (he didn’t know). None of it was reassuring.

‘I’ll go visit her,’ I said.


My mother and I had always had a complicated relationship. You see, I was adopted, and she valued what other people might think, above all else. When these two facts were put together it meant: a) I was forbidden from mentioning I was adopted, to anyone; and b) she constantly judged me for being different from the rest of the family. I mean, what would people think?

Of course I was different! I was from somewhere, someone, else!

Yet I was closer to her than my father or siblings. I clung to her, even in my teenage years. She was my protector, she was my master. One word from her could set the world ablaze with joy, or plunge it into the darkest depression. She was all powerful, all manipulative, all the time.


I visited her in the hospital every second day. It was lucky I was unemployed, affording me the time to spend with her as she died.

When her condition deteriorated she was moved from the general ward to the palliative care unit. Any day now. Any … day … now …

One day I told her I thought she was brave, the way she was facing death.

‘What else can I do?’ she responded.

My ungrateful thoughts flew to old patterns of response. You could complain, my inner voice said, attacking her courage, or blame someone else — the doctors, the disease, me. You could tell us all to go away. Or tell us what you really think of us. You could make this all about you, like you make everything all about you.

Foolish, broken me. This was her death. It was all about her.


I told my therapist I was looking forward to the day she died; to be rid of her from my life; then I would be free to be me. He asked me who that was. Idiot. After all these years he knew the answer to that question — I had no bloody idea.

He told me to say something meaningful to my mother before she died, to let her know how I felt about our relationship.

‘Like what?’ I asked, clueless.

‘Like, you frustrate me,’ he suggested.


That afternoon I sat by my mother’s death bed, alone with her for the first time.

‘You frustrate me,’ I said, out of the blue.

‘You frustrate me too,’ she replied.

Then my father walked in and her attention shifted to him.

It didn’t provide the closure my therapist had implied it would. I smile at her; she ignored me; I went home.

God damn it! She was so frustrating!


We were in the lounge, my brothers and I, eating greasy take-away food, when dad walked in and said ‘She’s gone’.

We dropped our food and rushed into her room. Mum lay there like a statue of alabaster and silk; looking as delicate as a cobweb and as peaceful as a swan gliding across a lake. I touched her hand.

‘Her skin is so soft,’ I commented to no-one.

A nurse stood in the doorway, her mask of sadness attached to her face, just like she was trained.

‘I’m so sorry for your loss,’ she said, low and mournful. We thanked her and went back to ignoring her.

‘You’ll need to clear the room in thirty minutes,’ she said. That made us pay her attention.

‘What?’ my brother asked.

‘We’ll be moving her to the morgue and preparing the room for someone else,’ she explained, the mask slipped and revealed the pragmatist underneath. ‘Take what you wish to keep. We will dispose of anything left behind.’

We gaped at her.

She pushed the mask back into place and gave us a pitiful smile, and marched away.

We looked at each other, then flew into action. We stripped pictures from the walls and flowers from the window sill. We packed her clothes into plastic shopping bags. I emptied her bedside drawers into her toiletry bag.

Except for her Valium. That I slipped into my pocket when no-one was looking.

I might as well get something out of this, I thought, besides being rid of her.


‘How do you feel now?’ my therapist asked.

‘Lighter. Like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders,’ I said. ‘Knowing she is gone, that she isn’t out there somewhere judging me, feels great. I feel free.’

‘Do you miss her?’ he asked.

‘No,’ I said. No, I don’t.

‘What now?’ he asked.

I felt silly, sitting there, talking to him about things he didn’t understand.

‘I don’t think I want to see you anymore,’ I said. ‘You’ve been great, but I’ve moved on. I don’t need you anymore.’

First published on Medium.com, 10/08/2021. (c) David McKenzie

Taking space, giving space

Being an adoptee meant contorting myself into family spaces. First, there was my adopted family. Then, there were my biological families — once I tracked them down. And finally, there was my found family. In each case I was an outsider, invited to join other, functioning human beings as part of a family. In each case it was assumed that I was a functioning human being; that I was similar to them; that I could assimilate.


My adopted parents brought me into their lives to fulfill their need for a ‘complete’ family. After two children and a number of complications, my mother was told she could not have any more children. A crushing blow. They proceeded to the nearest Catholic hospital, where innocents were ripped from the wombs of unwed, teenage sinners and thrust into the loving arms of god-fearing parents-to-be.

They picked me from a line-up of similar babies, future sinners all of us, and took me home like a frozen turkey to be thawed and consumed later. They already had two children; how difficult could it be to bring another into the fold? I would never know the difference, surely. They made a space for me, and placed me in that space. They never considered if I fit that space. I didn’t. It dug into my back and pinched my legs.

Then the unthinkable happened — my mother became pregnant. I now had a little brother, and my space shrank to accommodate him. He was ‘the miracle baby’; the child who was never meant to be. I was the interloper, occupying corners and shadows. Suddenly, I was taking up precious space that was not my birth-right.

I grew throughout my adolescence, as most of us do. My clothes were replaced as I grew taller, and new shoes were bought at the start of each school year. Yet I wasn’t permitted to take up any more room as a teenager than I was had as a small child.

Time passed, and my siblings needed more — attention, chattels, space. But resources were finite in our house. These things had to come from somewhere. The most logical response was to take them from the stranger and give them to the blood-kin. I would never know the difference, surely. I mean, they saved me from a life of sin. Right?

I knew, I just knew, that somewhere out there was family with a space for me; a me-shaped hole that only I would fit. My Cinderella space. All I needed to do was find them.


My biological mother was a blast. She was beautiful, funny, intelligent, and the life of the party. I couldn’t believe my luck, finding her and finding out about her. I nodded and smiled and laughed and was awed. She had been looking for me. Me! All her life she felt me, missing but present. I couldn’t wait to step into the space she had saved for me; my space.

Yet when I did, I found it very crowded. My mother had filled it with people and places and memories, anything to remove the guilty sight of my absence. My face pressed against my brother’s back; my sister’s elbow dug into my ribs. In the dark corners I could hear her lovers whisper and snigger. And hovering over us all were the unholy images of her own parents.

It seems a space cause pain. She had been in pain for so long, after I was stolen from her, she had to treat that pain with any remedy at hand. The first salve was marriage, followed by a replacement son, then a daughter. The marriage was doomed from the beginning of time, and the children’s trust was lost. Then came the lovers, leaving footprints on her heart.

She tried so hard to fill my vacancy that by the time I returned to her the position had changed so much it was no longer mine. No matter how I contorted, no matter how I twisted my mind, I could never fit in that space again. I wasn’t that baby anymore.

I lingered on the periphery of their spaces; a brother and a son who once didn’t exist. A ghost relative. I no longer required room of my own, for no specter can reside in the material world.


My biological father was a space thief from birth. Born at the end of WWII, to a French mother and German soldier father, he was an outcast in his remote mountain village. He was shipped off to be raised by an old couple in a nearby town, relieving his mother of the need to defend his space-wasting presence. She replaced him with a newer, shinier model — a brother with an American soldier father. He didn’t take up space; he made space appear out of nowhere!

I met my biological father for the first time at a restaurant. I was jammed into a corner between the wall and his wife; between a rock and a hard place. He barely spoke to me all night. Over time I began to trust him, and he opened up more. We shared stories and thoughts and opinions. He was old school, though, which was the downfall of our relationship.

At a family function he didn’t like something I had said (to this day I do not know what this was, he has never told me). A week later I received a text message from his wife, absolutely decimating me. She accused me of all sorts of behavior and judgement toward my father. I knew this attack was coming from him, as his other children had told me this was his modus operandi — hiding in the background while his wife did his dirty work.

That was that. A relationship given, a relationship taken away. He closed all the spaces where I might get in; nailed boards across the windows of his emotions to keep me out.


But my found family. Ah! There’s a tour de force!

They are a collection of disparate people, amassed over the years like a snowball growing as it rolls down a hill. Some of them made space for me. Some I asked to make space for me. And others jumped up and down in excitement when they saw I fit perfectly into the empty space beside them. In every cases, I was given space to be me.

Like my other families, my found family assumed I was a functional human being and could assimilate. Unlike my other families, they did not withdraw when they witnessed the truth. When I failed to function, they entered the space around me to ensure I was supported. When I fought against assimilation, they widened the space to give me room to find myself again.

This is the true essence of family. This is what I found in my chosen family. These are people who decided I did not take up space; that I deserved to have my own space; and whose space I defend in return. They are the people who give freely, and expect nothing in return but love and laughter.

We are all adoptees in this family.

First published on Medium.com, 12/08/2021. (c) David McKenzie

The House In The Cerulean Sea – a review

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

T.J. Klune has done it again! I fell in love with the characters, as they were falling in love with each other. Klune has the amazing gift of taking you inside the main character’s psyche, enveloping you in their thoughts and emotions, and dragging you through their faults and fears. Like with Nick in The Extraordinaries, Klune forces us to inhabit the main character Linus as he spends time at the house in the Cerulean Sea, and discovers a world of possibility and worth that had never before existed in his mind. This is a lovely story about love, both of self and others, and remarkable people becoming a family.

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Infestation – a review

Infestation by William Meikle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Infestation by William Melkle follows the tradition of character driven action novels along the lines of Alistair MacLean and Matthew Reilly, but with a twist. The story jumps right into the action, and death and mayhem ensue. The main character, Captain John Banks, is competent enough to get through the danger, albeit with several lives lost, but also appears out of his depth with the situation in which he and his team are trapped. And who wouldn’t be out of there depth, with hoards of ocean bed-dwelling creatures out to kill you. Yes, an Infestation! I’ve long been a fan of this type of action story, and look forward to reading more in this series.

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Sons of Brutality – a review

Sons of Brutality #1 by Daniel Jeudy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Daniel Jeudy has created a cruel world in this crime novel. Everything is harsh – the thoughts of the main characters, the crime scenes, the criminal actions, even the climate and environment seems harsh. This is all in keeping with the type of story this is – brutal. The main character, Detective Addison Mowbray, is beaten, worn and bordering on corrupt, without really crossing over. The parallel crime plots are poles apart. One, the deranged desire of a cult member to raise his girlfriend from the dead. The other, a renegade killer taking out the criminal trash. While there are lots of offensive people and scenes in this book, none were directed at the reader, being contained in the action of the story. This made some of the cruelty easier to handle as a reader. This appears to be book #1 in a series, and there is definitely scope for a series to develop from this premier book. A good read for those who like gritty, gruesome crime reads.

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Nothing to see here – a review

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What an original and entertaining story! Kevin Wilson gives a straight-faced telling of a bizarre family circumstance. The fire-children (twins Bessie and Roland) are intriguing, although most of the attention is given to Bessie and her developing relationship with their reluctant care-taker, Lilian. The character development lacks a bit of detail, but is compensated with a plot that is succinct and keeps the story moving at a good pace. A really fun story, with a heartwarming take on the ‘found’ family theme.

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The Shield Road – a review

The Shield Road: A Collection of Fantasy Short Stories by Dewi Hargreaves

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Shield Road is an enchanting collection of intertwined stories, with characters that climb into your heart and pull at your emotions. The Bladekin was my favourite character, and his chapters were central to the overall story.
Dewi Hargreaves is skilled in creating a world that is simultaneously real and fantastic. His characters are relatable, each being skilled and flawed by their own histories.
This was a completely enjoyable read, and I highly recommend it.

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Not Quite Out – a review

Not Quite Out by Louise Willingham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not quite what I expected. I thought this would be a light, comical escapade of romantic near misses and innuendo. How wrong could I have been.

Not Quite Out is a serious tale of self-acceptance, romance, abusive relationships, tested friendships, bi-phobia, and found family. I was absorbed by the inner turmoil of the main character, William Anson; and intrigued by the mysterious struggles of his love interest, Daniel. Throw in the strain William’s friendship with Daniel has on his other friends, as well as other, typical college struggles, and this becomes a serious examination of life in flux. And not just William’s.

Well worth the investment.

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Date Me, Bryson Keller – a review

Date Me, Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! I read this book and immediately wanted to travel back to my teen years and date Bryson Keller myself. While he is the titular character, and well worth the investment, it is the main character Kai Sheridan, who is the heart of this story.

This queer YA novel travels through familiar themes – coming out, self-acceptance, homophobia, abuse, family rejection, religion, and teenage romance. But it does so with a clear understanding this is Kai’s story, not an everyman tale. Kai’s perspective and experiences provide a unique vision to these themes, and secretly includes the reader in Kai’s inner discourse.

A thoroughly enjoyable read, and a lovely story.

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Flesh Wounds – a review

Flesh Wounds by Richard Glover

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Richard Glover gives an amusing and engaging recitation of his life growing up in an odd-ball family. His mother is a striking concoction of fantasy, lies and wishes. His father, a lost soul consumed by loneliness and alcohol. In the midst of their chaos, Richard grew, and went on to thrive in a world that accepted him, and gave his family space to be who they wanted.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read. As someone with more than my fair share of family dysfunction and wierdo relatives, I related to the shenanigans Richard was subjected to by his parents. There is no lack of love towards them from Richard, and an ultimate acceptance of them as distinct individuals, whose lives and loves had nothing to do with him.

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Honeybee – a review

Honeybee by Craig Silvey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The themes in this story seem too many, and too deep, to be dealt with in one book. But they are. Starting with suicide, proceeding through dysfunctional family dynamics, drug abuse, family violence, homophobia, transphobia, assault, death, friendship, found family, self-discovery, and ending with the ultimate prize – a life of one’s own. I told you it was too much!

Except it isn’t. Not in the hands of Craig Silvey. Craig has a deftness of touch that brings humour to awkwardness, light to darkness, and hope to despair. Honeybee is a wonderful book, and an enigmatic character.

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Served Cold – a review

Served Cold by Alan Baxter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another exciting, and at times unsettling, read from Alan Baxter!
This collection of short stories had something for each emotion. There’s the hauntingly sad Her Grief In My halls; the unnerving The Goodbye Message; the creepy They All Come Through London In The End; and the angry, revengeful Served Cold.
My favourite stories were:
– In Vaulted Halls Entombed, where a group of soldiers encounter otherworldly evil that breaks their bodies and minds; and
– Yellowheart, where a group a group of friends go to a cabin for weekend, and ingest some ‘alternative’ mushrooms. If you’ve ever read horror, or watched any ‘cabin in the woods’ horror films, you’ll know there’s nothing good awaiting these friends on their weekend away.
I’ve read a few Alan Baxter books now, and never fails to deliver an engaging story (in this case, stories), filled with the macabre, the eerie, and the dreadful. Highly recommended!

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Lesser Known Monsters – a review

Lesser Known Monsters by Rory Michaelson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bloody hell! What a ride!
As a long time lover of horror and monster lit, it was exhilarating to see this combined with queer lit in this exciting story.
Rory Michaelson has created an interesting ‘other’ world, where monsters exist in secret alongside humans.
The veil between the our world and the alternative reality where monsters originated is beginning to fail. Oscar, along with his friends Zara and Marcus, is thrust into chaos when he is exposed to the reality of monsters by the sexy Dmitri, a monster himself.
I would hazard a guess that Michaelson had some fun writing this book, as the sense of adventure and camaraderie shines through in his writing. This is dramatic speculative queer lit, with themes of found family, overcoming fears to be our true selves, accepting others for who they are, and trusting those closest to you.
I can’t wait for the next book in this series, The Bone Gate.

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They Both Die At The End – a review

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The enjoyment I received from this book was a complete surprise!
The story is set in an alternative reality, where an early-hours phone from a mysterious organisation called Death Cast informs people they will die that day. The two main characters, Mateo and Rufus, both receive calls. They connect via an app for the soon-to-be deceased, and spend their last day together. These two young men explore their city, their minds, and their hearts, as they ride the subway and Rufus’ bike around New York.
The narrative alternates between each character, giving the reader insight into what they think of each other, what they think of themselves, and what emotions they are struggling with during their last day on earth.
All the adventures they undertake carry risks, reminding the reader of how many near misses each of us have each day. Reminding us how precious life is.
I connected with Mateo and Rufus as people, and their plight, and was emotionally invested in their story. Even though I knew the ending form the start.
This is a smart and original story from Adam Silvera. I highly recommend this book for lovers of YA queer lit, or speculative queer lit, or any queer lit!

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Surrender Your Sons – a review

Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a thoroughly enjoyable queer YA story. Sass expertly explores the ‘negative’ of being queer in society – from religious judgement and family rejection, to teen pregnancy and first love, to suicide and conversion therapy. Adam Sass uses humour and adventure to lighten the load of these heavy topics, while giving the characters room to be emotionally impacted by their shared trauma. The found family element is inspiring, and balances well with the darkness encompassing Connor and the other teens.
I really enjoyed this book, and was rooting for Connor Major from the start!

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S.P.I.D.A.R. – a review

S.P.I.D.A.R. by Bryan Alaspa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The idea behind this story had me sucked in. As a life-long arachnophobia I have a morbid curiosity for spider stories, especially horror. It’s like I can’t look away. I covered my eyes and read the book through my fingers as I squirmed – and checked the corners of the ceiling for spiders!
I enjoyed the isolated setting, the unique township, and the high population of bisexual or pan-sexual townsfolk. The ‘she likes her’ and ‘he likes her too’ side comments added a lightheartedness to the story.
Unfortunately, the amount of character backstory was too much for my liking. I felt like I spent pages and pages being told why some characters had settled in this secluded location, only for them to die a page later. Yet the main characters weren’t given much opportunity to show their growth through the adversity they experienced.
Overall, though, a very interesting concept and enjoyable read.

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Arcadia Falls – a review

Arcadia Falls by Ken Stark

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a thoroughly enjoyable YA sci-fi/fantasy/thriller mash-up. The high-schoolers at the center of the story are relatable, facing the everyday struggles of all high-schoolers across the world. Except, of course, for the monsters trying to kill them!
Stephen King-esque that no-one else can see what’s happening, or even remembers those who have been taken (killed) in the past. Only this handful of teenagers, and one determined grandfather, stand between the devastation of the town and freedom form the underground creatures.
This was a fun read – full of excitement and action reminiscent of The Goonies. It also deals with the issues of loss, death and grief from a unique perspective, subtly weaving these motives into a story that spans generations.

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Castles in the air

I never liked the term new year’s resolution. It always seemed so final, so unwavering. After all, a resolution is a firm decision, a determination to do something or not do something. Either you achieve it, or you fail.

I admire people that can make a commitment at the start of the year and stick to it. Personally, I think we could do this better, in a more self-accepting and self-forgiving way, by making non-specific statements about what we would like to see happen during the year ahead. There should be flexibility to what we want to achieve. If we’ve learnt anything from 2020, it’s that none of us knows what lies ahead.

Broad statements of intent are more positive, and flexible, that resolutions. Instead of saying ‘This year I will lose 10 kilos’, I could say ‘This year I will live a healthier life’. This statement allows for adjustment to unforeseen circumstances, and gives me control over the actions I take to achieve this end. If I merely focus on losing weight, and then don’t, I’ve failed. But if I focus on living a healthier life, I could achieve this through a myriad of ways, like walking, eating healthier, thinking more positively, or even having therapy. Through these actions I’ve achieved my goal, even if I don’t lose weight.

The same approach can be used for almost any scenario. ‘This year I will fall in love’ can be rephrased as ‘This year I will appreciate the relationships I have the new ones that come into my life’. This may translate into love. Or a love different from what you expected.

So, when making plans for the year ahead, think about how you approach the goals you want to achieve. Use phrases that allow room for movement and don’t trap you into an all-or-nothing scenario.

Allow yourself to have a happy new year!

Merry Christmas & thanks for all the trauma

What a glorious time of year! Trees swathed with tinsel. Carols playing on and on and on. people rushing about buying things, giving things, getting things. Families coming together to pretend everything they really like each other.

Excuse my sarcasm.

Christmas has been a challenging time of year for me. I don’t begrudge others their Christmas cheer. I even join in sometimes to be sociable. At the end of the day, though, Christmas reminds me of the awkwardness, discomfort, abuse and downright trauma I experienced throughout my youth.

My adopted parents always did the big Christmas thing. Santa, tree, presents, enough food to feed a third-world country, and alcohol by the bucket load. They tried to make it a fun occasion for me and my siblings. And it was. Then, during the years of my developing awareness, it all turned to shit.

Those teenage years, when you become aware of your parents as people, and not just ‘mum and dad’, can be a rude awakening. I was smacked in the face with my parents’ flaws. She was a controlling manipulator. He was an abusive drunk.

The development of my own identity collided with my new understanding of my parents. I was not like them. This was a ‘duh’ moment; being adopted this was always the case. But now it was as plain as the nose on my face. I was not only not like them physically, I also did not think like them, share their values, view the world like them, or believe in their fantasies.

Christmas became a time of torture, an excruciating event to be endured. When I hit my twenties I made excuses to escape. I even moved to another city to avoid the day. The guilt I experienced (another legacy of the master manipulator) was unbearable. It wasn’t until my thirties that I began to not care, to stand up for myself, and insist I did not want to take part in Christmas.

Now, in my fifties, with one parent gone, it has all changed. Maybe for good. I have just experienced my first Christmas with no contact from my adopted family. Maybe they finally understand I am not like them. Whatever the case may be, it seems our years of pretending to give a damn about each other are over.

It’s sad, I know. Even I feel sad, when all around me are doing things with their families and having fun. But I have new families. My friends are always there for me, and they support me without forcing their own beliefs onto me.

Maybe that’s the true message of Christmas. Families are found, not born.

Cemetery Boys – a review

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas is a unique YA fantasy novel, delving into the world of Latinx trans and queer kids, alongside mystical arts.
I was enthralled with the main characters from the start: trans-teenager Yadriel, his cousin Maritza, and the spirit Julien. They were well-rounded and had clear voices throughout the story.
Although I figured out the mystery about halfway through the book, this did not take away from my enjoyment of the story. In fact, it made me more eager to see what would happen, how the characters would deal with the inevitable conflict to come, and what the final outcome would be for each of them. Kudos to Thomas, I was a little surprised by the ending.
I really enjoyed the Latinx cultural references through the story as well. It made the setting and fantasy elements real, as though this is exactly how life is played out in East L.A.
This is a story of owning one’s identity, family connectedness (whether through born-family or found-family), cultural barriers to queer acceptance, and ultimately, love.
This is a must-read in queer literature.

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A Threat From The Past – a review

A Threat From The Past by Paul Cude

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Threat From The Past is book one in The White Dragon Saga.
Paul Cude sets the scene here, building a world in which dragons co-exist secretly with humans. Dragons influence human development and policy, guiding humankind to make better choices for themselves and the planet.
Cude uses an interesting ploy to cross between dragon and human worlds: dragons use magic to transform themselves into a humans. This allows for everyday interactions between humans and dragon-humans, such as at work and sporting clubs.
The main characters are interesting enough. Peter flounders about trying to solve a mystery but really ends up creating a mess. His best friends, Tank and Richie, are barely developed in this book. Hopefully there a deeper relationship develops between them. For now they are merely ‘friends who grew up together’.
A lot of time is spent describing the dragon sport of Laminium Ball. It all sounds rather quidditch-esque, but with dragons instead of broomsticks. Hopefully the large amount of time spent describing this game feeds into the plot at some point.
The way the dragon world is tied into history is an interesting plot twist as well. I’m looking forward to reading more in this saga, and seeing just how much Peter and his friends develop into well-rounded dragons and humans.

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I don’t need to tell you what a strange year this has been. So I won’t.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk WRITING!

Strange year – yes. Productive year – HELL YES!

Earlier this year, I decided to throw away the novel I had started in 2019. It just wasn’t doing it for me. I was writing it for the wrong reasons, and the story didn’t inspire me enough to have words spewing forth and pages filling with lines of descriptive prose.

Once the old work was swept out the way, I started a new novel. I originally shied away from the idea for this novel, as I though it to be too niche. It had a gay main character, and focused on some gay issues. Thus, it was a gay novel. I thought it would not be mainstream enough.

Then I asked myself – mainstream enough for what? Or whom?

If it was a good story and well written, it would find a reader. That is what’s important. Yes, making a living as a writer is important too, but I can only be a writer if I have readers.

This time I was inspired and the writing was prolific, and in October I finished the first draft, all 86,600 words.

Then came NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. While my novel sits in its folder on my computer, percolating and fermenting before edits begin, I started my 50,000 word NaNoWriMo challenge. I began writing the first novella of a five novella idea I had been developing.

By day 12, I had finished the first novella. I am now working on the second novella, and aim to have the first two completed, and the next three planned out, but the end of the month.

While writing my novel proved to me I could write extensively without a timetable or schedule, it has certainly been easier writing within the expectations of NaNoWriMo2020. Even though those expectations are self-imposed and self-policed. I write every day, and think about writing every day when not writing. I enjoy writing, and miss it when I’m not writing.

At the end of the month I will have two more pieces of work completed, and well developed writing habits to take into the new year.

I am a writer.

Manifest Recall – a review

Manifest Recall by Alan Baxter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good page turner. I was really lost at the start, and really sucked in to the story, then all the horrible trauma started revealing itself. Eli Carver doesn’t have any redeeming characteristics, except maybe being a good shot, yet Baxter still had me feeling for him. The ghosts made for excellent additional drama.
Well worth reading. This story has me looking forward to the next novel in the series. Yep, I’m hooked.

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What doth make a writer?

It’s been a little over a year since I quite my management job, became a part-time shit kicker, and focused my attention on being a writer.

Over this past year I have been devouring resources about writing. I have completed courses on plot, characters, dialogue, structure, and planning. I have subscribed to blogs and newsletters from around the world. And you know what I discovered? Writing is a world of contradictions, and sometimes hypocrisies.

Some articles tell you the planning stage is the most important. Once you have a detailed, documented plan, preferably plugged into a writing program (‘and here’s a link to buy the program I recommend’), then you can whip out a novel in a matter of seconds. (Ok, maybe I exaggerate by saying seconds. Perhaps it was days.)

Some resources tell you the most important thing to do is write. Don’t worry about the plan – the story will come to you as you write. Don’t worry about the quality – that’s what editing is for. Don’t worry if you don’t know what you are doing – you’ll figure it out. Don’t worry if it’s no good – you’ll get better. A lot of encouragement, very little practicality.

Some bloggers tell you the most important element of writing is the main character, or the dialogue, or the setting, or the realism. Only write what you know. Don’t write from imagination alone. Research, research, research. But also, have fun! WTF?

I’ve struggled to put all this information together in a way that is easy for me to understand; that’s applicable to the way I think and work; and that actually contributes to me becoming a better writer.

Until recently, when I read an article in Writer’s Digest t – 15 things a writer should never do by Zachary Petit. Zachary managed to cut through my confusion with these 15 basic rules, from rule 1 Don’t think there is any single path or playbook writers need to follow to rule 8 Don’t ever lower your guard when it comes to the basics (referring to spelling and grammar, etc). Zachary made sense, didn’t make me feel like I was doing it the wrong way, and was practical.

Despite my confusion, I have done well, so far, in making these rules, resources, and ideas work for me. I completed the first draft of a novel, which is now fermenting for a month before I begin editing. And I’m working on a five novella series. Yes. Despite my confusion, I have actually succeeded in writing.

What I would like to see, from writers and bloggers, are resources, guidance, and support around how you go about pitching your book to agents and publishers. How did these authors get published? Have they had the same agent and publisher for all their books? How did they get an agent? If they are self-published, how have they managed the publication and promotion? How are their sales? What kinds of promotional events do they run?

It’s one thing to write a novel. It’s a completely different thing to know what to do with it when it’s written.

Swimming in the dark – a review

Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the opening sentences, I felt the sadness of this story like a weighted blanket, comforting me through the book. This book is poetry: melancholic, innocent, hard and unyielding. The main characters, Ludwik and Janusz, share a love and passion that is pure; a love that is theirs to hold and that holds them in turn. The setting, 1980s Poland, and the background of unforgiving rule and minimalist existence, make their love even more valuable.
I knew I would be heartbroken in the end, even though I had no idea where the story would take me. There was something so predetermined about their love and their lives that left nothing but the knowledge it could not last in that environment.
I highly recommend this beautifully written story, about true love, of another, and of self.

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Box Hill – a review

Box Hill by Adam Mars-Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Box Hill by Adam Mars-Jones is an engaging, hypnotizing, and surprising novel, exploring the relationship between the low self-esteemed main character, Colin, and the world in which he finds himself enmeshed from the age of 18. Colin is an everyman. He is short, fat and self-deprecating. He unexpectedly becomes involved in a six year relationship with Ray, a character who is mythical and mysterious. As Colin’s experiences with Ray develop and grow, so does his relationship with the world around him.
This book was an inspiring read. The language is evocative, honest, and captures Colin’s heart and soul. I couldn’t put it down.

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Invisible Boys – a review

Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a compelling read. Well written, using simple, emotional language that takes you instantly into the heads of the three main characters. A coming of age tale for gay boys. Gritty, hard, reality based stories. Highly recommended.
I found it took me longer to finish than expected, as I kept having to take breaks. The story hit my memories hard, bringing back my own experiences of being a closeted gay boy in a catholic school. Such honesty in the portrayal of what these characters go through. Great ending. Not all happy, but at least hopeful.

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