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  • Archive for February, 2014

    Of gratitude (and a love letter to Facebook)

    2014 - 02.28

    In the last of my trilogy of recent blogs (after which I resume writing on my current projects, so it’s ciao here for a while), I would mostly like to praise Facebook. I’d also like to say THANK YOU to quite a lot of people, and one in particular.

    So, of Facebook. If you’re reading this, you’re probably on it and have a fair idea of my usage. But can you imagine: I had to be more or less coerced into joining. It was back when I was leaving The History Channel to be a nanny in Italy, and I think it was Gemma who sat me down at my desk and basically did the registration for me while I sulked melodramatically.

    My first profile picture was a bad tempered cat icon from an online comic, as protest at the whole affair. Besides which, there weren’t really many digital photos of me at the time (which is probably just as well but seems hilarious now).

    Today, of course, I cannot for the life of me now remember why I was so reluctant to join.

    Oh wait – maybe it was because I have a highly addictive personality.

    Not that people become addicted to said personality, you understand – it’s that I become addicted to things easily. Exercise. Cornflakes. TV shows. Rasmus. Peanut butter. But nowhere has this proven more true than with Facebook, and thus ours is a… complicated relationship. I love the old book of face. But I’d probably have an actual book of fiction finished by now if I’d never been signed up.

    That said, I’d like to think I’ll eventually have more of a platform from which to beg people to read promote the existence of Mandala, when I finally do finish it, as a result of my addiction. Being a prolific user, I have many friends.

    arguably too many, and really, let’s not start on the number of photos...

    Arguably too many, and really, let’s not start on the number of photos…

    The number itself has been observed many times, often in a slyly accusatory manner – the insinuation being that I go out of my way to collect them, or even friend whore. The truth is that one of the few things I am not addicted to is Adding All The Friends!!, checking all requests carefully and ignoring many. But I am addicted to connecting with compelling people. If I meet someone interesting in the real world, I ask to friend them. It’s only been awkward a couple of times, which is statistically quite lucky, really.

    In April, for instance, I hooked up with a man I spent around 10, 15 minutes fooling around in a gym with. Months later, he turned out to be the love of my life. Potentially one of the most important chance encounters of my life would have gone nowhere did I not always have my phone to hand and a keen interest in connecting.

    That this may never have happened...I SHUDDER.

    That this may never have happened…I SHUDDER.

    Now that may not quite excuse the number of incriminating photos other people have of me from this weekend, dressed in glorious 40s garb but with my very contemporary mobile to hand – but I’m just saying. Wins and whoopsies. It’s a complicated relationship.

    So. I was signed up against my own will and yet Facebook was a life saver while I was in Italy. Then I came back to London and History, and for my life, and for a given value of normality, normal services resumed.

    A year or two later, the end of my contract coincided rather unfortunately with the 2009 recession and elimination of all further job prospects. My friend Hols pointed out that I was spending so many hours a week in fitness classes that I might as well try and be paid for them, as opposed to just packing up and heading back to Australia. So I became a fitness instructor and then my life started to get really unconventional.

    But I get to meet the BEST people.

    But I get to meet the BEST people.

    I’d always done Quite A Lot Of Things! but I was soon having a good shot at doing All The Things!!, which meant Meeting All The People, and happily hooking them up on Facebook. Facebook evolved from a social network to a networking asset, and then a creative tool – the amount of solid writing I’m getting done can be fairly accurately gauged by the frequency of AUTHOR ASSIST statuses (yeah, I know. It hasn’t been a good six months or so).

    So yes. I love Facebook. I don’t keep up with everyone on there (obviously) but I keep up a whole lot better than I did without it. I’ve had countless professional, creative and fun opportunities crop up and problems solved through it. And I get a bit of justified flak from friends about my practically unconscious habit of nipping off to cyberspace mid conversation, event, film, show or even – and this is how bad the addiction is – while in bed. With my boyfriend. Who was paying me plenty of attention at the time #GirlfriendFail

    Keeping up with old friends is wonderful but for me, one of the greatest blessings of Facebook is being able to connect with and develop friendships with people I would otherwise have never met, or have met only once or twice, and briefly. I may never meet them in person – but I have inspiring, hilarious and enlightening interactions with them (along with utterly banal ones too of course) nonetheless. Their lives cross mine and mine theirs in a way that was impossible a decade or so ago and is a privilege of the current social media age.

    So let me tell you about one of my long distance Facebook friends.  Rachel Wemyss Syme and I met, briefly, in the real world, at the launch of Nick Harkaway’s second book Angelmaker. I think, from hazy memory, that we mostly met in the foyer of Camden’s Gilgamesh on the way out, and were in the same group walking to the tube.

    On the way out - Nick in the middle with Olivia and Rachel to his right

    On the way out – Nick in the middle with Olivia and Rachel to his right

    We’d managed to miss each other all the way through the party, hit right off on the way out and therefore hooked up on Facebook. Incidentally, at that party I also friended Ian Whates, who recognised me from my evening as Slave Leia a few months earlier at the SFX Weekender.

    ...it was a highly inconspicuous cosplay debut...

    …it was a highly inconspicuous cosplay debut…

    Ian is now my first publisher – of both my photographs and writing – in a Femme Fatale anthology which launches at this year’s Eastercon (SQUEEEEEEEE!). Just two days ago I did my first ever signing sheets and actually felt like A Proper Writer.

    still just going SQUEEEEEEEEEEE

    …still just going SQUEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

    I also there friended Olivia Du Bois, who again I think I met on the way out of the launch, and has since become a friend without equal.

    Also a worthy adversary, quite capable of kicking my ass...

    Also a worthy adversary, quite capable of kicking my ass…

    And I was only invited to the launch because I stalked Nick himself on Facebook after briefly meeting him at one of Si Spencer’s networking SWALC events, and discovering that he used to take part in Body Combat at Esporta Swiss Cottage with the unstoppable Chi.

    So. Moral of the story: YAY FACEBOOK, making bloody brilliant connections.

    Now all Olivia and I need is for Nick to write us into his next book, so we can cosplay ourselves. Otherwise, we've said we'll cosplay him, and tweed is expensive, y'know...

    Now all Olivia and I need is for Nick to write us into his next book, so we can cosplay ourselves. Otherwise, we’ve said we’ll cosplay him, and tweed is expensive, y’know…

    …and back to the story. Rachel is as prolific on social media as I am – probably more so, for she also has complete mastery over the mystery that is Twitter. We chatted a lot over the following year or so, but I was still hugely surprised to be one of a relatively small group of friends invited to attend her wedding. At the wedding, I made friends with another friend of hers, Jess, who within a week, had found me my Tiggertron to adopt. Behold the power of Facebook…

    ...facebook thereafter being known as CatBook...

    …Facebook thereafter being known as Catbook…

    …and the point is that through Facebook, I have developed a closer long-distance friendship with Rachel than I have with friends I live in the same city with and actually see more than once a year. And about a month ago, she did something utterly ridiculous; something which proved just how powerful Facebook is, and how generous people are, and how invested we can get in each other just over the internet.

    Recently, I became very run down. The biggest fear for a self employed fitness instructor is getting an injury or illness which stops you working. You might be surprised how many injuries and illness you can teach through, if you’re bullheaded enough, and I have spent the last four years working my way down the list.

    But I got benched by a doctor, who wanted me to take a month off. I couldn’t laugh at him – I was too busy crying. Take a month off? An unplanned month off? I’d just had a month off to go back to Australia for the first time in four years because I can’t afford more regular trips. Another month?!

    Being the private, introverted soul I am, I made no mention of this told the world about it. I’d argued the doctor down to a minimum and reluctant 10-14 days off. He thought this was a bad idea but not as bad as me attempting to take just Monday and Tuesday off, because that would have made it a four day weekend, which was positive luxury, right?

    I fretted – about my body failing me, about my failing other people, about this foreign sense of helplessness, about the loss of income my failures were costing me. About the fear that I was hitting that time so many instructors reach, when the physical cost of the job grows too high while inflation never makes it to your income, and pulling back just makes the whole thing more unsustainable than it already is. And I haven’t written the three or four books most writers need to break into meagre money making and Plan B (Become a PT!) crashed and burned a year earlier. So, there kind of isn’t a Plan C.

    And in a comment on a thread on my wall, Rachel said something along the lines of ‘I bet if half your friends threw a pound or two in a kitty, we could soften that blow.’

    And I said something along the lines of ‘that is too lovely but I will survive, thank you…’

    And she went and started a crowd funding campaign and asked most – if not all of my friends – for a pound or two.

    And somehow – and I’m still not entirely sure how, but the selfless effort of one good woman and the power of Facebook definitely got it started – this happened:

    Angels exist, and they are ALL AROUND YOU.

    Angels exist, and they are ALL AROUND YOU.


    …(Adele makes incoherent noises and gestures)…

    …I just don’t even know where to start. I’ve written 1,800 words over several days trying to work out what to say at this point, and I still don’t know.

    I know I need to say a massive, heartfelt and still somewhat bamboozled THANK YOU to Rachel for taking a wild idea and taking on my Facebook friend list to ask people for a pound or two to help me take a break. Years ago, Rachel burned out way more spectacularly than I was on track for, and has kept a motherly eye on me for a few years now, whispering words of caution and concern.

    I wish that she could have had someone like her present self to act as a guardian angel in her time of need. I hope I have the chance to pay her kindness forward in time.

    I thank everyone who wrote to me, either via Funrdrazor, PM, email or text to share their stories of burn out and implore me to take action now, as they wish they had when they were in my situation.

    I thank everyone who threw in one or one hundred pounds. I cried a lot after Rachel revealed the fund to me, and as I watched as contributions kept on coming in, even after the (very generous) goal was reached. Some of the amounts stunned me. Some of my cover instructors paid me the fees they had earned for covering my classes. Some friends, who I know earn less than me on a weekly basis, threw in 2 pounds or 5 pounds – which I know is as generous from them as 10 or 20 from other incomes.

    I thank all the people who donated anonymously – I can’t tag you in this post, even though I wish I could.

    I thank Facebook for facilitating this humbling surge of love, support and generosity from my friends. From people I know well, and people I have never met, whose lives intersect with mine nonetheless and who felt moved to help me out in a time of need.

    I thank everyone involved for showing me that any situation can be turned on its head. That I can hit the wall and look up to see hands reaching down to get me back on my feet. That from bad times, beautiful things can happen. That in darkness, candles unseen in the day burn brightest.

    And I thank you, dear reader, for even being here reading my words. Fitness instructing was supposed to be Plan B while I got Plan A – write cool shit that people will pay to read – underway. The faltering of Plan B has helped me refocus on Plan A.   My last two blogs – distributed solely via Facebook of course – struck a surprising chord amongst some readers and even though blogs are not the key business of Plan Awesome, all writers want is to be read. And for being here reading, I thank you for giving me your most precious asset: your time.

    Facebook is shallow by nature, skimming the surface of lives. But in coming off it to a page like this, I thank you for giving me your attention.

    Lastly, I hope everyone will have a Rachel at some point in their life – a friend to keep an eye on you when you falter, and to lend you a hell of a leg-up when you fall.

    My guardian angel x

    My guardian angel x

    Being Human, not Batman

    2014 - 02.19

    So I have a reputation of sorts.


    Ok. More than one. Of all sorts. But.

    One of my reputations is was for being indefuckingstructible. It’s a relatively recent reputation and has absolutely nothing to do with the appearance of pictures like this over the last few years:

    Images: David Long, Rob Gallop, Sean O'Malley

    Me? Fictionally obsessed? Surely not… (photos: David Long, Rob Gallop, Sean O’Malley)

    Then I got a bit crippled last year, which was awkward, but generally speaking, I would bend but I would not break. I would always give myself too much to do and would try to see it through, and usually mess enough of it up to be annoyed at myself but not enough to cause anyone else catastrophe. And I went to work – which is to say I taught physically expensive fitness classes – sick and injured because…well…

    go hard or go home, baby.

    Right…? Because, like, that’s what Bruce Wayne would do.

    Ok, if Bruce Wayne dedicated his life to inflicting acts of exercise on people while being a wannabe writer…





    …run that by me one more time…?

    …run that by me one more time…?

    So, ok. I cannot deny it: I am not Batman. I could not be Batman. If I got hit, I would stay hit, and with a definite lack of heroic stoicism. If I stayed up all night cleaning up London’s criminal element, ran a company during the day and all the while being the world’s greatest detective, then really, not many crimes would be solved, criminals captured only by accident and KirbyCorp would have even worse finances than my own.

    Another obvious reason I surely could not be Batman is my inherently sunny disposition. I grin my way through life with almost offensively relentless cheer. Most of the time, this is completely genuine – though I have a dangerously decreasing tolerance for well-intentioned people trying to find the deep inner sadness which I amclearly covering with my usual sunny disposition. I mean seriously, I am too undamaged to even be a ‘proper’ writer, much less a vengeful superhero.

    But the real reason I really cannot possibly be Batman is that it took Bane breaking his back to put Bruce out of action…


    …whereas three weeks ago I just… burnt out.