Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Tonight: Stockton-on-Tees!

Tonight I'm at the central library in Stockton-on-Tees. Come on down!

Wednesday 1st October
Stockton-on-Tees Library
Church Rd, Stockton-on-Tees TS18 1TU
7:30 - 8:30 pm


Monday, September 29, 2014

This week: Yorkshire!

This week I'm in Yorkshire and Teeside. I'll be spending most of my time with family and friends. But I'm also doing some business, and three events. So if you're in the north, take a look:

Wednesday 1st October
Stockton-on-Tees Library
Church Rd, Stockton-on-Tees TS18 1TU
7:30 - 8:30 pm

Thursday 2nd October
Calderdale Library
Central Library, Northgate, Halifax HX1 1UN 
7:00 - 8:00 pm

Sunday 5th October
Ilkley Literature Festival
St Margaret's Hall, Ilkley LS29 9QL 
4:30 - 5:30 pm

I love doing these things. I hope you'll join me.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Don't experiment on guests

A conversation we had in our house many years ago:

"I think I'll try that brand new recipe when so-and-so and such-and-such come over tomorrow." 
"Only if we cook it for ourselves today. Because it's rude to experiments on guests."
Don't experiment on guests. If you have invited someone into your space for an evening, make sure you know what you're doing and can steer them safely through it. This applies tenfold if you've never met them before.

If you are inviting people, you are the host. Being host comes with certain responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is to be alert: to how your guests feel, how your experiment is landing. When you invite guests it's about them, not you. If, for example, we're talking about dinner, and people have toyed with it, pushed it to one side, talked loudly about the wine, then the thing to do is to laugh, say, Well, that didn't work! apologise, and order takeaway. Because if your guests have arrived hungry, you need to feed them. Or they will go away annoyed.

Alternatively, ask their permission. Say, I've never done this before is it okay if I try it on you? There are times when your guests will say, Sure! And there are times when your guests will say, Y'know, our workload is currently hellish, now is not a good time. If you surprise people with something half-baked, you are not respecting their time and energy and you are fucking with their expectations. No one likes to have their time wasted, particularly after a hard day.

When I teach writing, I often use the host metaphor. The reader wants to trust you. As a writer, it's your job to help them. So welcome them, set context, let them know what to expect. Make them comfortable, make sure they feel as though you know what you're doing. Once they know they're in good hands, they relax. When the reader relaxes you can do what you want with them, take them places they've never been in ways they'd never considered—because you have made it clear you know where you're going and they trust you.

So here's a personal, professional, and creative tip: do not experiment on guests. This applies to dinner, workshops, meetings, and artwork or performance that involves an investment of more than half an hour or $5. Just don't.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Grief and its anniversaries

Today is the 26th anniversary of my little sister Helena's death. This is a repost from four years ago.
Nicola and Helena, Hull, 1982
Just over a week ago it was the 22nd anniversary of my little sister Helena's death. I forgot. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I'm glad that grief—this grief; I have others—is no longer front-and-centre in my life. On the other, well, I forgot. And she was my sister, knit through my life for 24 years, the one I went to the ends of the earth to protect and, in the end, failed.

In Stay, Aud says, "Grief changes everything. It's a brutal metamorphosis." And it does, it is. Helena's death taught me that. When I heard the news of her death I felt as though someone had torn off my skin, just yanked it off like a glove. I felt red raw. Everything—other people, sound, breath—felt like sharp salt. For a while, I think I understood what it meant to be mad.

So. I forgot. And yet, physically, I knew I should be paying attention to something. For several days that week I was emotionally labile: what Kelley, kindly, labels mercurial and what others, less politely, call being a moody bastard. For days I felt irritable, morose, jumpy. I felt unmoored. I had no idea what was going on. No idea why I felt so tense. Someone suggested that perhaps turning fifty was a bigger deal than I'd thought. I shook my head; I knew it wasn't that. Fifty is just a number.

Then I realised: it's the anniversary that counts. And then I understood what anniversary I'd missed—consciously. My body knew. Our bodies always know. We remember, deep down, on the cellular level, what happened long ago on an almost-autumn day, when the air looked and felt the same, when the sun was slanting at that angle, when the leaves rustled with just that still-green-but-beginning-to-dry whisper. We feel uneasy. We know something wicked this way comes. And, yes, this anniversary is bound up with my birthday.

Here's an excerpt from my memoir, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party: Liner notes to a writer's early life. It's 1988, September. Kelley and I had recently met at Clarion and then had to part.  Kelley was back in Georgia and I had returned to Hull, England (to the house in Stepney Lane I shared with my partner, Carol), half mad already with missing her. Carol knew, of course, but none of my family did. It was too private. So, one afternoon on my 28th birthday, love, grief, and birthday got melded forever. This is how it happened.
On Kelley's birthday, just nine days before mine, I phoned her for the first time and for five precious minutes, all I could afford, I clutched my grey plastic phone to the bones of skull and jaw and listened to the marvel of the pressure of her breath on the handset microphone membrane, of her hand repositioning itself on the receiver. 
The next day, on the same grey plastic phone, I listened to my mother tell me Helena was dead.

It was about dinner time. Carol answered the phone. She passed it to me silently. 
As my mother spoke I felt a vast internal shudder. This was not the soft shock of falling in love, but a much more brutal metamorphosis. My bedrock shifted, and the world was poised to fall on my head. I took a breath—I remember that breath, every slow-motion swell and stretch of muscle and expansion of cartilage—and stepped to one side.

She's dead, I told myself. Cope.

So I coped. I switched to automatic pilot—very calm, very reasonable; I told Mum I'd be with them the next afternoon. In the morning I went to work, and negotiated time off, and took a train to Leeds, where I began the process of phoning relatives, and helping to bring Helena's body back from Australia, and mediating the sudden deadly family squabble about whether she should be buried or burnt.

Two days later, the autopilot failed. I felt as though someone had ripped my skin off: red raw, so exposed I couldn't bear light, noise, smells, people.

Helena was woven into my earliest memories. I couldn't understand a world without her in it. Helena would never read my first novel. She would never meet Kelley. She would never see America. Everything I ever did from now on would be less real in a particular way because she wasn't there to share it. My life in England felt even more dreamlike now because Helena, the only one in the world with whom I'd shared much of it, had vanished.

I had already felt as though I were living in a strange double-printed story. Now I felt unmoored, lost between worlds.

Kelley was farther away than ever. I wrote to her, told her about Helena, but I knew she wouldn't get the letter for about ten days; her world strode on without me at her side.

On my birthday, my entire family showed up at Stepney Lane to celebrate, to prove that life goes on. I let them in our seating-for-four living room. I made tea. I sat on the carpet in a daze.

The phone rang. Everyone—Mum, Dad, Anne, Carolyn, Julie, Carol—looked at the phone, looked at me: Who was this outsider disturbing our grief? I answered.

"Hi, honey," Kelley said. "I love you, Happy Birthday! How..."

"Stop," I said. "Wait. Helena's dead."

A moment of satellite-bounce silence. "Dead? Oh my god. Are you—"

"Everyone's here." None of them even knew who the stranger on the phone was. She wasn't real. But they were all looking up from their tea: they had heard the tone of my voice. Something was happening. "I can't talk."

"I love you," she said.

"Yes," I said. "Oh, yes."

Carol put down her tea and left the room.

"Everyone's here. I have to go."

I put the phone down and met the Griffith family basilisk stare. I stared right back. It had now been seven weeks since I'd last seen Kelley--longer than the time I'd spent with her at Clarion.
When I remember the anniversary of Helena's death consciously I can label and identify the weirdnesses, I can take into account what's connected to the here-and-now and what is being reflected through that emotional wormhole to the past. When I forget, it's much harder. I don't think I'll forget again.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Birthdays and webs

Today is as brilliant as any in early summer. But the air has that sharp clarity of autumn, and the spiders are not fooled, they know what time of year it is.

It's Kelley's birthday. We have a magnificent Bordeaux awaiting our attention...


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Miscellaneous links

Three things:

  • Two juicy reviews:

  • The Critical Flame:
    "Virginia Woolf’s Mistress Joan, on the pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, becomes absorbed in the details of her surroundings and in the “strange, merry stories” her fellow pilgrims have to tell. But as she approaches the statue of the Virgin at the top of the hill, Joan’s mind becomes filled “with an image that was so large and so white that no other thought had room there.” Christianity, it would appear, whites out the detail. This totalizing energy becomes the root of the tension between Hild and Paulinus: between Hild’s feminine attention to detail and the Crow’s single-minded masculine devotion to an idea—the conversion of Britain to the master narrative of Christianity. Hild’s power, based on observation and interpretation of a multiplicity of details, threatens to subvert the Crow’s authority, which is based on enforcing a single dominant ideology."

    Armarium Magnum:
    "Like the Beowulf-Poet, Griffith evokes a world that is hard, harsh, rich and elaborate. Edwin's royal hall at Yeavering is brought to life with descriptions with more than a touch of Hrothgar's Heorot in Beowulf. The kings warriors - the gesithas of his retinue and the core of his warband - glitter with arm rings, rich belt fittings and ring-hilted swords. And Edwin wears a garnet ring that evokes the rich garnet decorations from Sutton Hoo. There a no trolls and dragons (though there are dangers and terrors enough in Hild's world), but this novel is has the worlds of both Beowulfand Sutton Hoo as its backdrop and its recreation of this culture is intricate and effective as a result."

  • Goodly sized chunks of my Locus interview are now available outside the paywall for your delectation and delight: "A lot of my work is about the body, and how we feel, and how the world works on our bodies and our bodies work on the world. Setting is my primary joy as a writer: the world and the body in it. I think story comes from that interface, where body meets world. Sort of the way some people think mind is born at the interface of world and brain. Whether you want to call it the problem, or the circumstance, or the situation, or the setup, the place a story begins is the world."

  • A reminder that I'm in the UK at the beginning of October: events in the North (mostly but not entirely Yorkshire) and three in London. I'll probably read a snippet of Hild II at some point so come and listen.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Teaching HILD

I've been hearing about colleges in the US and UK that are teaching Hild from a variety of perspectives: history of English, gender and history, landscape history, and so on. This pleases me enormously. 

I'm a big fan of what in the corporate world are called communities of practice, so if you're teaching Hild please let me know, and if you like I can two things:

  • Put you in touch with others doing the same
  • Answer any questions you might have about the book
Or I could just beam to myself, and hug the notion of this thing I made from a few stray thoughts being out in the world and taught.

Many of my other books have been taught, too, but for some reason this one is special. Perhaps because St Hilda herself is so associated with education. It just feels right. So thank you. 


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Evening lake

We had dinner at a friend's the other night high above Lake Washington (on the Seattle side). Fine Rioja, delicious Korean beef, great conversation. A drive home in moonlight. 

Poor photo but a lovely evening. Only a few of them left this summer. We'll be seizing every one.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

UK appearances: links and details

Tickets are on sale for two of the UK events, Ilkley and Stockton. The others are free. But the one to pay attention to right now is the Ilkley Literature Festival. They've almost sold out my event already, so if you want to be there, go plunk down your £6 now (£4 for some).

These are all variations on a theme: I talk, I read, I answer your questions, I sign books. At one or two events the Q and A is chaired, but mainly it'll be me happily telling long stories in answer to short questions. (If you don't know how this works, see this video of one of my Q and As or a reading.)

Wednesday 1st October
Stockton-on-Tees Library
Church Rd, Stockton-on-Tees TS18 1TU
7:30 - 8:30 pm

Thursday 2nd October
Calderdale Library
Central Library, Northgate, Halifax HX1 1UN
7:00 - 8:00 pm

Sunday 5th October
Ilkley Literature Festival
St Margaret's Hall, Ilkley LS29 9QL
4:30 - 5:30 pm

Tuesday 7th October
King's College London
River Room, Strand Campus
6:00 - 8:00 pm

Wednesday 8th October
Queen Mary University London, School of History
Arts Two Building, Mile End Road, Rm 4.14, E1 4NS
5:00 - 7:00 pm

Thursday 9th October
Forbidden Planet London Megastore
179 Shaftesbury Ave, London WC2H 8JR
6:00 - 7:00 pm

I hope to see you there. Bring your questions, your comments, your books. There will be lots of opportunity for chat and signing. Bring your friends—bring everyone! The more the merrier. I love doing this stuff. It will be a blast!


Monday, September 8, 2014

Me and Kelley at Seattle's Project Room 23 September

On Tuesday, 23rd of September, Kelley and I will be at Seattle's Project Room to talk to Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of Powers of Two, about what it's like to work as creative partners. (We're both quoted in the book.) 

We'll be joined by Haruko Nishimura and Joshua Kohl of Degenerate Art Ensemble, and Gretta Harley and Sarah Rudinoff of We Are Golden, and we'll be exploring what it takes for a two-person partnership to succeed. 

It should be an extremely interesting evening. I suspect the event will be full, so if you want to find a seat at the front, do come early. It's a lovely space on Capitol Hill, with level entry.

Tuesday, 23 Sept, 7:00-8:30pm
The Project Room
1315 E Pine St
Free! No registration required.

I hope you'll join us.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

The road home

The other evening we were out and I took this at the four-way stop near our house. To me this view means coming home.

We have a few days of brilliant sunshine forecast here in Seattle; the last days of summer. I'll enjoy being out and about often, but I'll like coming home even more.


Friday, September 5, 2014

In which I explain why the US wouldn't exist without Hild

Real Change is a street paper that focuses on poverty, homelessness, and social justice. It's also a social justice organisation that gives a voice to and provides opportunity for low-income and homeless people. 

I did an interview with them. It's a bit looser than usual: I'm sugared up and highly caffeinated and just let rip. Normally, when someone asks me how Hild changed the world I slip the question. This time I slipped the leash, went for it, and ended up getting a bit, er, grandiose. You'll be pleased to know that without Hild we wouldn't have democracy as we know it... 


HILD nominated for the Washington State Book Award

I'm delighted to announce that Hild is one of the five finalists for the Washington State Book AwardThe winners will be announced the evening of Friday October 10, 7:00 pm, at the Microsoft Auditorium at the central library, at 7 pm. Tickets are free, and there's a reception and book signing afterwards upstairs in the Central Library Living Room, complete with music by Seattle7Writers rock band.

The full nominee list, plus nominees for the two children's awards:


  • Temple Grove by Scott Elliott (University of Washington Press)
  • Hild by Nicola Griffith (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Half as Happy by Gregory Spatz (Engine Books)
  • We Live in Water by Jess Walter (Harper Perennial)
  • Wilderness by Lance Weller (Bloomsbury)
  • What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned by Sherman Alexie (Hanging Loose Press)
  • Self-Storage by Rebecca Hoogs (Stephen F. Austin University Press)
  • Through the Second Skin by Derek Sheffield (Orchises Press) 
  • Rough Day by Ed Skoog (Copper Canyon Press)
  • Pacific Walkers by Nance van Winckel (University of Washington Press)
  • Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story by Peter Bagge (Drawn & Quarterly)
  • Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin by Nicole Hardy (Hyperion Books)
  • The Family: Three Journeys Into the Heart of the Twentieth Century by David Laskin (Viking Books)
  • Driving Home: An American Journey by Jonathan Raban (Sasquatch Books)
History/General Nonfiction
  • The Boy Who Shot the Sheriff: The Redemption of Herbert Niccolls Jr. by Nancy Bartley (University of Washington Press)
  • The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (Viking Books)
  • The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America by Langdon Cook (Ballantine Books)
  • Wolves in the Land of Salmon by David Moskowitz (Timber Press)
Scandiuzzi Children’s Book Award Finalists
Picture Book
  • Frog Song by Brenda Guiberson, illustrated by Gennady Spirin (Henry Holt)
  • Stardines Swim High Across the Sky and Other Poems by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger (Greenwillow Books)
  • Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden, illustrated by Renata Liwska (Little, Brown and Company)
  • Who Put the Cookies in the Cookie Jar? by George Shannon, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Henry Holt)
  • What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom (Compendium Kids)
Books for Early Readers, Middle Readers, and Young Adults 
  • The Wrap-Up List by Steven Arntson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin (Little, Brown and Company)
  • And Then, Story Starters by M.H. Clark (Compendium, Inc.)
  • Jumped In by Patrick Flores-Scott (Henry Holt)
  • The League by Thatcher Heldring (Delacorte Press)
  • Duke by Kirby Larson (Scholastic Press)
  • The Sasquatch Escape by Suzanne Selfors (Little, Brown and Company)


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Wedding anniversary

One year ago today, legally, in Seattle:
photo by Jennifer Durham
 21 years ago today, meaningfully, in Atlanta:
photo by Mark Tiedemann
Today, here, now: utter happiness. It's going to be a beautiful day...


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Another cover photo from 1996

I'm on the cover of this month's Locus magazine. I've been on it before—eighteen years ago*. It occurred to me that you might like to see how I looked then.

Taken aboard the Queen Mary, Long Beach, at the Nebula Awards weekend, 1996
It's poor quality because it's an old, old scan of a printed photo (taken by Charles N. Brown, who did the interview). But, yep, that's what I looked like when I was 35. I'm just glad it's not a full-length picture: I'm wearing shorts. Another ignominy dodged...

*If you want to see a picture of the actual magazine, it's currently for sale on eBay.


On the cover of September Locus magazine

I'm on the cover of this month's Locus magazine. I was interviewed by Francesca Myman at the Nebula Awards weekend at the beginning of May. Francesca also took the photo and designed the cover which is lovely, stuffed with luscious ammonite- and phi-ness. I'm looking forward to seeing it up close and in person.

The only way to read the interview — it's long and juicy, more than 4,000 words — is to buy your own copy.

Frances is a good interviewer — so it mostly makes sense. I was mostly off the opiates at that point, but it's a direct transcription of a verbal interview, so it's interesting: simple sentence structure and lots of short, blunt words. I had the opportunity to edit but chose to do nothing but correct one spelling mistake and clarify a couple of points which I'm guessing I made at the time with facial expression and hand gesture.

Should any of you read it, I'd be curious about what you think.

ETA: And here's a look at the inside spread.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

My health

You've probably noticed that I've been quieter than usual for the last few months. I've been dealing with health issues.

Two main things: my vision and my MS.

My vision problems have nothing to do with MS and everything to do with being what my surgeon cheerily refers to as a "high myope." High myopia is defined as -6.00 dioptres or more. My most recent prescription isn't far off three times that; I'm a super mega-high myope. One of the problems associated with high myopia is posterior subcapsular cataracts (age-related cataracts are more usually nuclear). My vision is no longer wholly correctable with glasses or contact lenses. In fact, even without the cataracts it was getting dicy: most contact lens manufacturers don't make them in my prescription; those that did charged about $800 a year (which usually ended up being closer to a thousand when you factor in damage and loss—you lose a lot of contact lenses when you can't see...).

Not being able to see sucks but not being able to see when you walk with crutches is dangerous. So I made the decision to have surgery: total lens replacement in both eyes. I now have accommodative intra-ocular lenses and I'm busy teaching myself to read again. Well, I will be, when I've healed. I've only just (Tuesday) had the second eye done. And according to the surgeon it can take three to six months to get your best vision.

Right this minute I can see...everything. Distance brilliantly with one eye, up-close fabulously with the other. Mid-range pretty damn good with both. But the seeing is intermittent. The post-operative inflammation plus the various drops (two anti-inflammatory, one antibiotic) I have to take four times a day for the next few weeks make everything look smeared with vaseline. Or maybe that's the actual vaseline in the ointment I also have to use. But, bloody hell, I had no idea the world was so bright! Colours are really different; who knew I'd been seeing the world through a yellowish filter for most of my life?

For fellow high myopes: if you can afford it, do it. It will change your life. Three caveats, though.

  1. Money: most US insurance will cover the surgery only if you actually have cataracts, and they will not cover fancy accommodative intra-ocular lenses under any circumstances. As those fancy lenses come at a fancy price, make sure your bank balance is up to it.  
  2. Pain. One of things I everyone tells you about the surgery is that you feel nothing. They lie—or at least do not have the oddly-shaped eyeballs of high-myopes. It hurt. A lot. This apparently is because the weird-shaped eyeballs means it's a tricky business getting the lens in exactly the right place and for me there's extra hardware in there, too, something called a stabilisation ring. Anyway, there was much shoving of pointy things inside my punctured eyeballs. Not fun. But, hey, surgery doesn't last that long. (Though, of course, longer for me than for anyone else, sigh.)
  3. Hassle. Most people who have cataract surgery done don't have such terrible myopia. For them it's mildly inconvenient to spend a week or two having eyes at different corrections. But for those of us who are at more than -16 D the world becomes an alarmingly treacherous place. I have more bruises than when I was doing karate and getting hit a lot. But they're healing...
...and then, wow, you can see! Sort of. Right now my brain is trying to reconcile the near-vision for one eye and far-vision for the other. And I'm horribly light sensitive. I've been instructed to use light readers even when I don't think I need them so that my eyes can rest and heal. So that's what I'm doing. Mostly. Meanwhile, my right eye is 20/20 for distance. 20/20. I've never, ever had 20/20 vision. I am amazed. If you see me in the next few weeks and I look off into the distance with a goofy smile, that's why: I am being amazed. At mid-range, my right eye is 20/25 (and I think that will improve), and at close quarters 20/40 (ditto). The left eye won't be tested til next week. Pain and expense and hassle are both fleeing, I hope, and most definitely worth it. So, yeah: do it.

And so, now, on to my MS.

Short version: I lost six months of my life to a new MS medication which put me in pain so terrible—the kind of pain that makes killing yourself seem reasonable; I am not joking—that I had to drug myself into oblivion. Every. Single. Day. I came off the meds and within a few days the pain had gone away. My MS is stable. But the effects of six months of heavy opiates and zero physical activity—not kidding about that, either—will take a while to shake off.

Longer version: Last autumn, just before Hild was published in the US, I started Tecfidera, that is, dimethyl fumarate in pill form, sold by Biogen. This is a refined (supposedly) version of an old industrial chemical, that is, a methyl ester of fumaric acid. Variations have been used for years in Germany to treat psoriasis. (Also in China to fumigate furniture...) It has side effects, of course. I read the list carefully. I researched it as far as I was able1. I weighed all the pros and cons. (There are many cons. See below.) I had blood work done. I decided to give it a go.

The first two weeks, on the starter dose, were fine. Certainly within the parameters I'd expected: uncomfortable, inconvenient, but transient. The price was right. (The asking price is $63,000 a year but through the good offices of kind people I got it for free.) Then I went up to the full dose and within two weeks I had the first inkling of trouble.

Quick aside: I injured my elbow in summer when doing archery. After a few days of ice and rest I cautiously re-engaged with the archery and it seemed fine. The occasional weird nerve flash, though, led me to wear a neoprene sleeve to keep the ulnar nerve properly seated.

Anyway, on a late Sunday afternoon in early October I had just arrived in Portland for the PNBA's annual trade show where I was due to give a breakfast speech to 200 booksellers first thing Monday morning. I was feeling fine: well, eager, energetic, with a knock-your-socks-off speech that would charm (I hoped) even Monday-morning muffin mumblers. We checked into the hotel. Got to the hotel room. And then my heart went insane.

I've had a rapid heartbeat before. I've had arrhythmia2. But this time my heart just ran away with me. It was like the worst panic attack in the world. Then it got worse. 120 then 140 then 180 beats a minute. I couldn't breathe. Then pain shot like lightning down both arms, fortunately only for a second. Then the whole thing just...went away. My heart slowed down. I could breathe. I was normal again—though not relaxed.

When I got back from Portland I went to see my neurologist. He said that one of the listed side-effects of Tecfidera was peripheral nervous system excitation: the heart rate, the breathing, and the pain flashes were probably part of that, too. (Apparently, one of the reasons people with heart attacks get radiating pain down their arms is because their peripheral nervous system goes nuts while it tries to figure out how to survive.) But that should die down eventually. Probably.

Hild came out. I had the occasional accelerated heart beat for a few minutes but nothing like Portland, and no pain flashes. I began to relax. My book was out! I was having a blast.

Then one night, the weekend before Thanksgiving, everything went to hell. It was like Portland but much, much worse. The pain shot down my left arm, again and again. Then down my left leg. Then through my torso, up my neck, through my head. Then it all joined up in this sheeting wildfire that turned my mind white. The entire left side of my body body went beserk. I couldn't think. I couldn't speak. Only bellow and writhe. Completely insane with pain. If I could have killed myself to make it stop I might have considered it (but I couldn't have thought it, and I couldn't have done it). But I was incapable of any coherence at all. Kelley called an ambulance.

I've never had an ambulance called for me in this country. I don't remember much about it except that four ETs—three men, one woman, all totally pumped and radiating strength—appeared in clangour of bells and sirens then behaved as though I were having a heart attack. When it was clear I was not they were perplexed. Next stop, ER. That was a nightmare: another ER in the city had just had a horrible fire, so critical patients were being whisked from there. Beds, patients, IVs, wailing. Total chaos. But even as I was with the triage nurse the pain began to ebb. I began to be able to think. I could say my name. The recovery was rapid. And because I then seemed perfectly well, and there was nothing they could do except admit me, hook me to IV morphine in case of reoccurrence, and wait, I went home.

Long story short: over the course of the next few days, it happened over and over. To no apparent schedule. No one could figure out what the hell was going on. My neurologist was already gone for Thanksgiving/Chanuka/to meet his first grandchild. My internist supervised MRIs and various consults. I filled a prescription for Percocet, which I gobbled like Smarties. More than I should. When my internist found out he hit the roof. (He phoned me twice a day, every day, even on the day of Thanksgiving/Chanukah.) From then on I was under strict instructions: This many, no more. If it doesn't manage the pain, go to ER, get hooked up to fentanyl, and have them call me.

My neurologist came back. He studied the MRIs. He put me on prednisone on the theory that I was having a relapse. It made no difference whatsoever.

I gradually learnt that the worst times lasted about forty minutes. At first I thought that was just because that's about how long it takes for oxycodone to really work, but then I started on the automatic schedule thing so there were always opiates in my system and still, forty minutes. Then I figured out (trust me, it's hard to figure anything out when you're wasted) there seemed to be another pattern but I couldn't quite nail it down. I began to log everything: what pill when, what pain when, how long after I did this that that happened. My days were spent at home sitting very, very still in one particular chair and watching the clock until I could take more pills. Without the pills I'm not sure I could have stayed sane.

And that's pretty much all I did. I couldn't walk. I couldn't sit at my desk. I couldn't sit at the kitchen table. I couldn't carry a cup of tea. Everything seemed to trigger those cascades of pain. Sitting very, very still with my bloodstream humming with opiates was the only thing that fended it off. (This is why I cancelled so many things.3) And believe me, I would have murdered my own grandmother to fend it off. Sitting still was what worked.

I lost weight—I was eating fine (opiates do not seem to affect my appetite, for food or beer) but I was losing muscle. Lots of muscle. And my tendons were tightening and shortening.

And then one morning Kelley said: I think it's those damn drugs, at just about the same time as I was staring at the Tecfidera pill in my palm, unwilling to take it. So I didn't take the pill. I didn't take it that evening. Or the next day. Or the next. And the pain began to ebb. I eased up, a bit, on the Percocet, stretching the hours between doses. The pain was still going away—except in my elbow4. I stretched the opiates further. I studied my notes. Definitely a pattern.

I went in to see my neurologist. It's something to do with using my left elbow, I said. And something to do with the bloody Tecfidera. Kelley nodded. I hate that drug, she said. I hate it.

And between us we figured it out: my damaged ulnar nerve was triggering pain signals (normal). But because of my MS, my proximal nerve (demyelinated where it meets the CNS at the neck) wasn't pain-gating those signals reliably. And because of the Tecfidera, my peripheral nervous system was revved to such a pitch that it was blowing those pain gates off their pintles. No Tecfidera meant no revving. No revving meant my proximal nerve could calm down. Pain-gating resumed. My elbow just hurt normally like any injured elbow would.

So now I have a lot of expensive pills in the cupboard that I don't need. My experience has been duly relayed to the FDA and I hope no one else ever has to go through it. I've had a lot of therapy on my elbow, until I can now sit at my desk and type again—at which point, of course, I was slammed with a zillion essays, interviews, and blog posts for the UK publication of Hild. And then eye surgery. And now a lot of physical therapy to do; I have to relearn to walk. But first I have to relearn to see and my eyes need to heal. And somehow I have to squeeze in going to the UK, touring the US and, oh yeah, writing HILD II.

So I've been a bit distracted. But I'm back.

1 For those of you who aren't aware how this stuff works, pharmaceutical companies with billions of dollars on the line sponsor a lot of studies for their potential new drugs. But they only submit for publication the ones that show their potential blockbusters in a positive light. So anything you read about same is inherently biased, no matter how valiantly medical journals try (or don't) to ensure impartiality. No one outside the inner circles of the money-making licence-holder really knows about drugs that come to market—no matter how many letters they have after their name or how smart or how respected or esteemed or revered they may be. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I knew this. But I thought: how bad could it be?
2 I've since fixed my diet and the problem has largely vanished. And a shit-ton of Benadryl usually helps if something gets past my filters.
3 I did manage a few local events. If you saw me between the end of November and April, I was stoned out of my gourd. Apparently most people were none the wiser. (An interesting data point.)
4 I laugh at pain in elbow. It is nothing, nothing compared that flashing, shooting, drenching, lava-like agony of Tecfidera plus proximal nerve demyelination plus peripheral nerve excitation.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Coming to the UK in early October

I'll be in the UK from October 1 to 10 to do Hild-ish things.

In the north I'll be doing events for two libraries and a literature festival:

  • Calderdale Library, Thursday 2nd October, TBD
  • Stockton-on-Tees Library, Friday 3rd October, TBD
  • Ilkley Literature Festival, Sunday 5th October, 4:30 pm
In London, I'll be at two universities and a bookshop:
  • King's College London, Tuesday, 7th October, 6 - 8 pm
  • Queen Mary University, Wednesday, 8th October, TBD
  • Forbidden Planet, Thursday, 9th October, 6 - 7 pm
More details later, with links etc. I think the only one you'd have to book in advance and pay for is the Ilkley Festival (tickets go on sale tomorrow but I've no idea how quickly they do or don't sell out).

Meanwhile, this is thrilling for me. It will be the first time I've done a novel-related event in the UK since 1993 when I was there for the launch of Ammonite. There are so very many UK readers I've met since and talked to through the magical ether of the intarwebs. I wish I could meet you all. I wish I could spend a month in the UK travelling about. But ten days is what we have.

So I hope you can come to one of the events above. It'll be a blast!


Monday, August 18, 2014

Accessing the Future: Disability in SF

Every now and again I come across a project I really want to support. Here's one: Accessing the Future, an SF anthology exploring disability and how it intersects with other factors, edited by Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad.

Disability—and those other factors—is something that concerns me deeply.1

Kathryn and Djibril are raising money at Indiegogo. They need your help. I hope you'll get behind and push. Meanwhile, here's Djibril to tell you a bit more about their goals (note: the footnotes are mine).

Disability in SF: support a new anthology
Djibril al-Ayad
Accessing the Future will be an anthology of disability-themed science fiction stories, co-edited by Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad for Publishing. We want your help to raise the funds to produce it. 

Why a disability-themed anthology?
Disability has always been one of the axes of privilege in fiction that cares about. Issues around disability are poorly treated not only in fiction but in most aspects of our society. People with disabilities are still among the most marginalized and financially disadvantaged, and are often smeared as "malingerers" or "spongers."

In too much science fiction, especially cyberpunk or space opera, we see disabled characters "cured" by the miracle of modern technology (or "escape" their body into the freedom of cyberspace2). We can do better than this. Along with other, intersecting oppressions, disability needs to be addressed in science fiction.

Why address these issues via scifi?
Speculative fiction has freedom to be "unrealistic," utopian, imagine futures or alternate realities where prejudices and rules of our own world do not necessarily exist. In a secondary world, with invented laws of physics or magic, lines between realistic narrative and parable or “message” are blurred and multivalent. Every literary image has a cacophony of possible readings, conditioned by reader expectations via the shared perceptual filters of our society and genre. When you see a protagonist in mirrorshades talking about meatspace, you know what’s coming. Or you think you do, until the author slips you a queer ball.

These decisions impact the story we want to tell, whether in a subversive postcolonial agenda or a conservative "apolitical" romp. This may mean being overtly political, but the alternative is to be covertly so, and audiences aren’t stupid. If this means we find ourselves preaching to the choir, that's okay. People who already agree with us, especially when we’re talking about under-represented voices, deserve to read good, politically palatable stories too, to be reminded that they’re not alone, and the good fight is worth fighting.

And hey, having a choir at all in these circumstances is a good problem to have, right?

Support’s latest anthology of disability-themed SF by pre-ordering or picking up one of the perks at

1 It's a rant, yep. I do that sometimes.
2 Turns out I've ranted about this, too, in "Writing from the Body."


Monday, August 11, 2014

Splendid full-page review in BBC History Magazine

Wow, the September issue of BBC History Magazine has a splendid full-page Nick Rennison review of Hild:

This is a powerful, clever novel. Griffith illuminates the so-called Dark Ages, reconstructing an often alien historical world with great precision, and in Hild has created a sympathetic, complex character to act as a guide. 

If anyone recognises the stained-glass image used in the magazine please let me know. I can't place it. Sorry for the poor quality; I don't have a link and this is a grab from a scan.

While I croon and chortle over Hild's splendiferousness you could do worse than amuse yourself with one of the three other novels they mention in the review sidebar: Conscience of the King (Alfred Duggan), Credo (Melvyn Bragg) and The Bone Thief (V.M. Whitworth). Or you could get the magazine itself, stuffed (apparently—I haven't seen it) with information on Northumbrian kings. Enjoy.

ETA: The stained-glass is from Sneaton. (Thanks, Barbara.)