Mhairi Simpson's Blog
December 20, 2014
All my life I’ve wanted a long-haired German Shepherd. I was supremely pissed off, back in 2003, when my mother and stepdad bought a long-haired German Shepherd puppy. It seemed like they were rubbing my nose in it. I was at university in London, living in one room. They were in Cambridgeshire, in a house with a garden and umpty billion square miles of fen to walk their huge dog on.
Jealousy, thy name was Mhairi.
I was only slightly mollified by the fact that the dog bonded far more closely with me than with either of its owners. To the point that when the time came to find Dog #1’s replacement, my stepdad suggested to my mother that they not take me along to pick up Dog #2, so as to try and avoid some of this ‘bonding with Mhairi’ nonsense.
(For the record, this endeavour failed. Dog #2 thinks I walk on water.)
I’ve never been able to spend more than a few days with either pup. Having not lived at home since 1996, my visits were limited to weekends, dictated by classes and then gainful employment.
All of which has now changed.
Now, I’m not glad that I ended up so broke and broken down I had to default on a bunch of debts and put my home on the market and move back in with my mother. Nor am I glad she has gone through such difficulties in her marriage that the relationship recently ended in a flurry of police involvement. But I am glad we’re friends again. Apart from anything else, this new living arrangement would be nothing short of brutal if we weren’t, but it also gives me someone to talk to, to confide in, to be around. I’ve been kind of lonely on my own.
And I do now have a long-haired German Shepherd. His name is Rufus, aka Dog #2. My mother is definitely his alpha. I’m the one who takes him out at 3am and then gets nagged again to take him out at 8.30am after he’s had his breakfast, even though my mother is up and doing by then, which he knows damn well as she’s the one who gives him his breakfast. And frequently he makes me take him out again at night after my mother has just done so. And then just wanders around before heading back indoors. This I wouldn’t appreciate much anyway, but he has a double fur coat. Jammy sod.
I’m not entirely sure what kind of relationship it is. He sleeps in my room or hers, frequently starting off next to my bed and then sloping through to her. The panting wakes me up in the night (which isn’t nearly as creepy as it sounds) – when I hear that I know he’s coming to inform me he needs doors opening. Bearing in mind it’s December and there’s only so much pyjamas and a dressing gown can do to keep the cold out, I don’t actually mind the door opening. I don’t even mind the standing around waiting for him to select an appropriate spot for his business. It is a little galling, though, when we come back upstairs, frequently wet and (in my case) shivering, and he heads straight back into my mother’s bedroom. Evidently my bedside rug isn’t good enough. I feel rejected.
So yes, I now have a long-haired German Shepherd, albeit by proxy. And he punishes me for it every night.
December 2, 2014
Fifteen minutes ago I opened up a blank Word document and started typing. Two hundred and fifty-six words later, I know I’ve made yet another huge change in my life. These are the first words I’ve written since the beginning of October.
There’s something to be said for picking up a character who isn’t yet part of anything you’re actively working on. This girl, this superhero, is a first for me. Haven’t done any superheroes before. There are a few waiting in the wings but this one is the latest addition to the tribe of projects-in-waiting. There’s probably some jealousy back there that she’s getting a story before the others. Sorry, guys. That’s just the way it is. Had to work on someone I hadn’t already started writing about and she was it.
That said, as I sit here and think about what the point of this post is, I realise that I’ve always been writing about the same thing and this one page of words has reinforced that. It’s about being trapped. And by extension, about my own life. Society expects certain things of its members and it seems that artists of any stripe are generally least able to fit into the required boxes. I’ve struggled against those boxes for a long time, or rather I struggled to fit myself into them. Tried a few different ones but nothing worked. Money boxes, job boxes, property boxes, relationship boxes.
Maybe all stories are, on some level, about being trapped. Trapped by what you should do and what you need to do, what you’re expected to do and required to do. What people around you need and what you need. Hollywood endings are all about ignoring the boxes, but how many of us choose to step out of them and/or ignore them entirely on a daily basis?
Considering my network, most of the people reading this probably ignore the boxes anyway. Which is good. They enable me to do the same. I can be a little slow on the uptake sometimes. But hey, I’m here now! Ignoring the boxes. Or rather, walking past them on the other side of the street, carefully not making eye contact…
Bye bye, boxes. I have writing to do.
December 1, 2014
I’m not sure I have the right words to put down here. This could be a very short post or a very long one and right now I don’t know how it will go. I haven’t blogged in a while, I know. It’s been hard lately. Hard to muster my thoughts. Hard to get out of bed, some days. Hard to eat or think. Hard to think about anything at all, like fishing in barren waters. There’s just been nothing there, a blank spot. The Nothing came. It took me. I drowned.
And then there was a hand. Where there had been nothing, there was a hand. Right there, in front of me. I only had to take it.
You know what a mirage is, right? You’d think maybe I hesitated. If it was a film I would have. I stared at it for a moment, alright, disbelief a veil between me and reality.
And then I took it.
You’d think once you were on dry land, solid rock, everything would resolve itself into clear shapes and paths again. Turns out, not so much. Everything is still very hazy, still wreathed in mist, like my brain can’t quite process that this is where I am. That the hand was real. The days are pretty bad. The nights are worse. I’ve never suffered anxiety dreams before, that I know of. They are currently a regular occurrence. I wake up hovering over the Nothing and tendrils coil up to pull me down again.
But today… today I got angry. I got angry at the Nothing. Most of all, I got angry at my brain for sabotaging my recovery, my path to health and happiness, the steady cool core inside me.
So I decided to do things today and this, this post, is one of those things. Maybe I’ll blog again tomorrow. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll write tomorrow. Maybe I’ll write today. Maybe I won’t write at all. Maybe I’ll never write again. But my brain serves me, not the other way around. For now, that’s enough.
The Nothing is me. The mind is me. I choose who rules. And for now, it’s me. My love, my compassion, my creativity.
For today, that’s enough.
November 4, 2014
Sometimes it seems the hardest thing to talk about is the thing your heart is most full of. I’ve recently met up with a number of very tolerant people at FantasyCon and Bristolcon respectively who were apparently happy to listen to me expound on my philosophy of the imagination (FantasyCon) and who were happy to play the game that developed out of that (FantasyCon to a certain extent, but mostly Bristolcon).
And every time I felt uncomfortable doing it, putting myself and my heart’s blood out there, like I was imposing on other people’s time and freedom and energy, but I couldn’t stop myself.
The thing is, I believe in imagination the way I believe in sunlight. Sometimes it’s right there, washing you away, flooding you with warmth and joy. And, let’s face it, sweat. Sometimes it’s clouded over, through a bad mood or just general circumstances and you have to go looking for it, digging through the dirt and the smog of your mind until you uncover it again. It’s always there. You just can’t always see it.
As a wildly creative person (with emphasis on the ‘wild’) it’s easy to forget that not everyone can access this world of sunlight and storms and bottled hope at will. And, of course, even I’m on medication to keep the pollution of mind and life at bay.
How, then, do other people access this wondrous plane, a place not all of them believe even exists? Not here, mate, no sorry, I haven’t got an imagination. This, for me, is the greatest tragedy. Imagination is a catalyst for change and the world is always changing. How can you keep up unless you are also able to change, to adapt, to imagine different ways of doing things, different ways to be. Your imagination is a fundamental tool.
I know about my imagination. I count that a blessing. I believe in it, that I can access it, that I can use it to achieve anything I want to. Not everyone does. I want to change that. Imagination is the gift that keeps on giving, the gift everyone already has. I just want to open the door.
Which is where Be A Bard comes in. The best way, in my experience, to get people interested in a foreign concept, especially something that’s a bit weird and/or scary, is to make it fun.
So my thought process went something like:
Games are fun.
Let’s make it a game!
(Not that I know much about games, and zero about designing them, although I know more now than I did!)
(Copyright – Mhairi Simpson)
It’s a simple game, with simple rules. There are plenty of opportunities for laughter. Most of all, it makes using your imagination fun. People generally like doing things that are fun.
Besides, who wouldn’t want to play a game thatlets them kill their opponents’ cards?
October 12, 2014
Author disclaimer: There are no sex workers or drugs in this story.
I’ve been promising it for quite a while but kept wussing out of sorting the cover art. You see, Colin Barnes at Anachron was kind enough to send me over the original cover art but it needed some adjusting so that the text would stand out and I wasn’t able to think it through before. Now, I am! Or rather I was. Yesterday. Today it is up for pre-order at Amazon UK, Amazon US and Smashwords – it should be up at Kobo and B&N and a bunch of other places once it gets through Smashwords review process. (I think it’s at all the Amazons, actually – it’s certain in the DE store). In the meantime, read on to find out a bit more about it, check out the updated cover art (which does, I will admit, look remarkably similar to the original) and read an excerpt!
Detective Constable Robert Blowe has put away more criminals than most of his colleagues combined, but in a world of plea bargains and witness protection, he’s starting to wonder if there’s any point. His fatigue on the job gets worse when the murder of a local drug lord has Blowe on the back-foot and searching for answers to questions that go back to his childhood—to the scene of his own father’s killing.
The murderer is no average criminal and seemingly always one step ahead. You can’t touch it, let alone cuff it, and if you see it, it’s probably after you. Blowe is the only person ever to survive an encounter with the shadowy killer. That was over thirty years ago—a distant memory. Until now.
Blowe isn’t one to hide from a challenge, however, and with the aid of a peculiar informant and a little faith he prepares to face down his nemesis. If he doesn’t stop it then no one will.
Read on for an excerpt!
Light floods into the cupboard as the door flies open, slamming against the wall. Robby Blowe jumps but doesn’t make a sound. He watches a hand reach in and wrap tightly around his arm. It hurts.
It hurts more when the hand pulls him out, bending his arm in a way it doesn’t want to bend. He hits his head on the inside of the cupboard as he slides out and he can’t stop a whimper. It falls out of his mouth like a stone.
“You shouldn’t hide from your daddy, Robby.” Daddy’s eyes look strange. Robby wonders if this is really his daddy, or if his real daddy died already and this… thing took over his body. It’s wishful thinking. This is his real Daddy. He knows him too well.
Daddy stands up and Robby screams as his shoulder twists. He daren’t look. He’s scared his arm isn’t there anymore. It hurts more than any other time. And Daddy is smiling. Robby turns cold all over, because he knows Daddy won’t stop this time. Robby won’t wake up in hospital. He won’t wake up at all.
He starts to cry.
Daddy starts to tell him off, but his voice rises and keeps rising.
Now Daddy’s screaming. His voice isn’t strong or soft or serious anymore. It’s shrill — a cut through Robby’s head — and he slaps his hands over his ears. That’s when he finds Daddy isn’t holding his arm anymore.
Robby slides backwards, nearly screaming again when he tries to use his left arm. After that he only uses his right arm and his feet, pushing himself away from his daddy. He looks taller from down here on the floor, even screaming so loud that his face is red and his eyes are watering. Or is he crying? Robby can’t tell. There’s a bad smell, like burnt dinner, and it’s making Robby’s eyes water too.
Daddy’s arms are outstretched, his fists clenched, and now it looks like his chest bulging. His screams get louder, impossibly louder, and Robby’s hands can’t block the sound out. But he can’t shut his eyes either. He can’t stop watching Daddy scream. And when he finally tears his eyes away, he sees something else.
A tall man, made of shifting shadows, stands at the other end of the kitchen. He holds a stick, a bar of shadow, in his hand, and there’s a very thin line leading from the end of that shadow to Daddy’s chest. It’s a straight line, and it leads right to the centre of the bulge. Something sharp is poking out. Daddy’s chest bulges more and more and his screams get louder and louder until a big fishhook pulls right out, taking a ball of light with it, and Daddy falls to the floor.
Robby watches the hook fly back to the shadow man. The man catches the ball of light, takes it off the hook, and puts it in a bag hanging from his waist. Then he looks at Robby.
Robby knows he mustn’t scream, but as the shadow man moves closer, he can feel the fear rising in his throat. He’s going to scream, he knows it. He’s going to throw up, too.
The shadow man readies his hook and Robby whimpers, pushing himself backwards towards the cupboard. But he can’t move fast enough. His arm hurts and he can’t go fast enough to hide before the hook gets to him. He looks over at his mother. She’s staring at him, but not at him. It’s like she’s looking through him, like she doesn’t see him at all. Tears burn behind his eyes. She’s not going to help. But he won’t look at the shadow man. Maybe if he doesn’t look at him, he’ll go away.
He screws his eyes up tight and remembers sitting in the garden with Mummy. They’re eating squashed fly biscuits. Mummy tells him that everything has a spirit that lives on after it dies, and he makes his biscuits fly around because the spirits of the flies are still there, and Mummy laughs. It’s a sunny day, warm and bright. If he concentrates really hard he can even feel the heat of the sun on his skin…
He opens his eyes. The shadow man is still there. But he’s not moving any more. He’s just looking at Robby. He seems confused. Then the hook comes flying towards Robby.
He throws up his hands and there’s a flash of light and a very high scream, so high you can hardly hear it. Then the shadows just fade away.
Robby looks at Daddy. He’s lying on the floor now. His mouth is still wide open. His eyes are showing white all around the coloured part. He looks like he’s wearing a mask.
Robby slides back into the cupboard. Mummy is lying on the floor, too, and until she wakes up, the cupboard is the safest place to be.
And it doesn’t smell as bad.
“Disturbance at 72 North Leas. Any units respond?”
The call made Detective Constable Robert Blowe sigh, but he stood up and headed for his car, ignoring the tiny man in brown and green who snuck out from behind the sugar bowl and tiptoed towards his barely touched coffee. He didn’t know what it was, but he often saw it or something like it going for a half-finished coffee. It wasn’t doing anyone any harm. Unlike bloody Johnny G.
He’d just come from bloody North Leas. The further his shift got past midnight, the better Sharon’s coffee looked, but that was the downside of this job. People called in and cops responded. For all the good it did sometimes. Between the drugs and smacking his wife around, every cop in Fenton knew Johnny Grayson, of 72 North Leas, but they’d never been able to make charges stick.
There was already a marked car out front when Blowe arrived. The screaming was audible even with the window closed, but it was only when he opened his door that he realised there were two voices. One female. One male.
He burst into the house just ahead of the two constables from the marked unit who he vaguely recalled as Thorpe and Redd and barrelled through to the kitchen before skidding to a halt. He collided with the kitchen table before he could stop himself but barely noticed the impact. The room stank of burnt jam. Johnny Grayson was on the floor.
His wife, Carrie Grayson, was flat up against the cupboards in the opposite corner, hands braced against the workbench on either side, her mouth stretched too wide with her panicked cries. The screaming had made her face blotchy, an ugly mishmash of red, white and dark purple.
Johnny wasn’t screaming, not any more. He lay full length on the floor, his face a mask of terror, eyes bulging, whites showing all around, and the dark pit of his mouth framed by yellow-white teeth. He looked like a grotesque parody of a corpse, even to Blowe who’d seen enough ugly deaths that one more should have been no surprise.
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October 9, 2014
It’s a familiar quote to those of us in the world of sci-fi and fantasy but I’ve inserted it below as a reminder or as a full taste to anyone who isn’t familiar with it (I took this from Goodreads):
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
– Frank Herbert, DUNE.
How often have you read or heard this quote?
Now, how often have you felt it?
There is a difference between the two, of course. I know I can read something without internalising it. Anything relating to fear is particularly heralded by my mind as valuable and oh so true! And yet do I pay attention? Do I really take it in? Well, um… *scuffs toe against the ground*
There comes a moment when you have to decide that you are done with fear, otherwise it will hold you back forever. It’s a persistent little thing and yes, it is little. Tiny, in fact, but its voice is sly and far-reaching. It tells you things you would never believe if you hadn’t been hearing them for so long. Things you would never tell your friends. Things like, “You can’t do that” or “You’re not clever enough”. Things like, “You’ll never have enough money and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
The fact is, there is one thing you can do to change everything and that’s letting go of the fear. Easier said than done, true, but who wants to look back at the end and realise fear took their life from them many years, even decades, before Death did?
It is at once very easy and very difficult to let go of fear. You simply… let go. And once you know that is possible, you realise you have actively been holding on to it all this time. Why? Because it gave you a reason not to reach for your dreams. It becomes its own reason for being. You hold onto the fear because deep down you know that with it, you can’t do anything… With fear, you are absolved from having to try, and maybe failing. Sounds circular and masochistic and it is. It’s both. Another example of Gay Hendricks’ Upper Limit problem – we hold on to things we know make us feel bad because we’re simply not used to feeling good.
Once you can control your fear, once you can remove the mask it lays over your eyes, you realise you have options, choices, opportunities. You just need to see…
October 8, 2014
After some consideration I have decided that policing my thoughts isn’t actually a bad thing – as long as I’m the one doing the policing, of course. To that end, I have decided on a new experiment, which will be conducted as follows: I am not allowed to think that I’m not good enough. Every time I think it I must say to myself, *out loud*, “I am good enough. I have all the skills and abilities I need RIGHT NOW.” And if I say it, same goes.
The idea is to see if I can replace my unhelpful thoughts with thoughts that will actually build me up rather than drag me down. It seems to me that happiness is a constant work in progress. You can be happy for a few minutes or even hours at a time, but if you let negative thoughts butt in they will always interrupt that flow of happiness and if you don’t actively pay attention to your thoughts, those negative thoughts can creep up on you without you even realising. Habit is a dangerous thing.
Since I think a lot (you thought I was a talker, I think way more) it seems incumbent on me to start policing my thoughts. I wouldn’t allow someone to live in my home and tell me I sucked every day, so why is it okay to take it from my own thoughts?
Answer: It isn’t.
October 7, 2014
Writing about beauty is not identifying that which makes something beautiful. It is in recognising that everything is at once beautiful and ugly. Light and dark. Free and imprisoned, while those who are truly free do not exist at all, for shape, form, requires limits, demarcation lines and those who are free have none. They cease to be. They are free. Maybe they exist somewhere else but it would not be anywhere any of us would recognise as a place.
There is beauty in power and power in beauty. And ugliness and weakness too. Balance in all things. But not perfect balance, for with perfect balance comes perfect freedom and a ceasing in this world, in this universe. Love is born of reality. It glows in beauty and ugliness – it accepts imbalance.
Imbalance is key to our existence. Imbalance brings life, love, a struggle for purpose. In balance, the purpose is known. There is no need for struggle, nor for love, nor for life. Unbeings are already perfect in every way.
September 27, 2014
Today I am trimming the cards where I marked them up yesterday. Turns out my paper cutter is brilliant on brute force stuff and not so good on finicky, trimming-type stuff. So I’m sat here with ninety cards and a pair of embroidery scissors. No idea where my paper scissors are but these are more than up to the job. I’m very proud of the Dunkirk spirit permeating my tools at the moment.
I’m not so proud of my cutting skills. The tools are awesome but the ability to cut along a straight line is not one of my gods-given skills, to be quite honest. Still, the purpose will be served. The cards will be closer to the same size as each other than before. So that’s fine.
Then it’s on to the numbering system, which requires me to guess roughly where the half millimetre mark would be on my ruler – this is far more up my alley. And then… INKING!!! And maybe some more drawing. I’ve got thirty-eight more cards to produce, might as well get started.
I’m rather looking forward to the numbering part (which doesn’t actually use numbers, since this game has no text at all) – I have a spreadsheet for this system, people. It’s very serious.
And my hand hurts from the scissor action, but I don’t care. Enjoying every minute…
September 26, 2014
I’m on a twenty-eight day countdown to Bristolcon. This is where I will be playtesting Be A Bard again (I’ve actually got a table in the Games Room, if you’re coming track me down!) and I want it to be a vast improvement on the deck people saw at FantasyCon. That ended up a bit rushed as I only had three days to ink everything and a few hours to cut the cards out before I headed up to York. But that’s okay. All I needed was a basic prototype so that people could see what I was going on about.
Now, of course, comes Stage Two.
Stage Two requires a rather more polished product because, let’s face it, a number of people saw the basic one and gave feedback on it and it’s rather encumbent on me to show I’ve a/taken that onboard and b/given a damn about general appearances. And, if I’m totally honest, I want it to look pretty.
So today is pencil and ruler and maths day. It involves taking every single card (currently ninety-seven of them, although there are a further twenty coming) and re-ruling the borders. The borders have to be 3mm wide on all sides (yes, they really do) and I want the cards to be about the same size because it really does just look SO MUCH BETTER. When I cut them out, as it was my paper cutter’s maiden voyage, it didn’t always go according to plan, so now I get to tidy them up and re-do any which are beyond saving (currently, that’s why I’m only re-ruling ninety-seven cards and not a hundred – three of them are beyond redemption).
The funny thing is, even though it’s very repetitive and makes my back hurt, I’m really rather enjoying this! The perfectionist in me enjoys marking things up so that they’re just so, marking where I’ll need to trim off any excess so that the deck looks more professional by the end of it. LOVING IT.
Loving it loving it loving it, I’m loving it like that…