Reflecting on Buffy, Spike, and ‘That’ Scene

Recently, I became a moderator of Elysian Fields, a fan fiction archive that focuses on the relationship between Buffy and Spike (aka Spuffy) and has around 25,000 members at the time of writing this. Not long after that, the mod team were asked if we wanted to be interviewed as part of an article for Polygon. A few of us said yes and that article is now live, which can be read here.

I hadn’t wanted to do the interview via Zoom but instead wrote to the author of the article, Katie. Below is what I said in full.

I’ve been very public about writing and enjoying fan fiction, to help counteract the taboo some people feel about it. As with many other taboos, I never really ‘got’ why people felt shame about it. But that’s perhaps off-topic.
What draws me to fanfic, in general, is satisfaction. Either I’ve seen a really great movie or read a great book and want more, or I’ve been left frustrated by something and feel the need to fix it somehow. I’m a massive control freak, so fixing things that others wouldn’t consider broken is kind of my jam haha. Outside of fan fiction, I write novels and poetry and short stories set in my own worlds, so words are very much how I relate to everything.
In 2019/2020 I did an English Literature course that required me to read A Streetcar Named Desire, and the ending left me so upset I went home and wrote an epilogue that offered a grain of hope for at least a couple of the characters. I’ve done that in a few different fandoms, but for the most part, my heart is with Buffy. As to why, I’ll need to give a little background.
I was fourteen when the show ended in 2003––such a pivotal and transformative time in a lot of people’s lives. I was navigating what it meant to be a teenager in the modern age while living with parents who considered so much of society evil, from the music on the radio to the shows on TV. That included Buffy––and even tamer things, like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and the first Harry Potter films. I wasn’t allowed to watch any of it. But, given the effects of a, frankly, negligent and emotionally abusive upbringing, I did not have a whole lot of other options for what to do with myself. I didn’t really have friends. I didn’t go out. I was terribly depressed, sometimes even suicidal.
My brother would sometimes watch Buffy (the rules never seemed to apply to him), and so sometimes I was able to catch it, too. And it grabbed me. I became obsessed. Here was a show that dealt with real-life traumas (death and heartbreak and betrayal), albeit via the medium of puns and a fresh twist on vampire lore.
The character of Spike drew me in most of all. The complexity of his character––how he could be furious and honest and seductive all at the same time. And he cried! It was revolutionary to me to see a man, no less one seen as ‘cool’, to show his feelings. Being able to feel things alongside him and the other characters helped me process things in my own life. It was a lifeline, getting me through some of the hardest years I’ve had so far.
And I don’t think I’m alone in that. I think that’s why people stuck with the show, and why it’s still finding fans even now. I don’t have the hard statistics for how the number of fics and members of the community have changed over time, but I feel confident in saying we’ve stayed strong, and our archive in particular is still growing.
With regards to Seeing Red, I have a lot of feelings, and some of them contradictory. On the one hand, I think the topic was an important one to tackle and, as I was saying about taboos, earlier, not left in a place of silent shame. However, I find ‘the bathroom scene’ incredibly hard to watch, and I don’t think the show handled it well at all. We never got to see Buffy and Spike properly address it on screen, and that’s a huge disservice to both the characters and the fans. I feel like the showrunners actively hurt a lot of people with where they look the arc of Spuffy’s sexual relationship, not because it got dark, but because they left it mostly unresolved in that dark place.
I don’t mind reading or writing difficult topics. A lot of the time that’s exactly what needs to be done, and leaning into the raw, difficult aspects of a situation makes the writing stronger. But you can’t half-ass it. The resolution doesn’t need to be all sunshine and rainbows, but it does need to feel resolved. To go through this huge thing as a character and an audience and then almost never talk about it again is bad writing at the very least.
And that’s where the fans have stepped in and written their own endings. Their own resolutions. The beauty of fan fiction is that it gives those most invested in the narrative the power to control it. I’ve read dozens of stories that either change things before Seeing Red, so the bathroom scene never happens, or ones that go through the motions of having the characters fully deal with the aftermath. I’ve written both myself, and I’m not done exploring the topic. It’s that important. It means that much to me. The show saved my life, and it almost feels like, in some small way, I can return the favor.
It is my firm belief that fan fiction is not plagiarism or in a moral grey area, because it only ever adds to the source material. Say you write fanfic in some circles and you’ll be laughed at, but those same circles will fall over themselves for the latest ‘retelling’ of a classic work. The double standard would be laughable if it wasn’t so infuriating.
I think a big part of it is actually that fan fiction is popular with women, and looked down upon (either consciously or subconsciously) for that reason. I could rant about it all day, but I’ll spare you.
Let me know if you want anything clarified or expanded upon.

Confidence Tips for the Painfully Shy

Given the extreme amount of societal pressure on women to look good, in a world where the definition of ‘good’ is ever-changing, and often contradictory––where beauty standards demand you look attractive, but not too attractive, lest you bring any negative attention you might receive down on your own head (because you had to be “asking for it, looking like that!”)… Given all that? It’s fair to say even looking at yourself in the mirror each morning can be a minefield.

What, then, is one to do when you’ve chosen to follow a career path in which an online presence is expected? One where you’re expected to be on at least three different social media platforms, to post semi-regularly on each, and create some kind of consistent ‘brand’ across them?

Specifically, what do you do when you hate how you look, you hate people looking at you, and find yourself in need of professional headshots?

This, folks, is the dilemma I recently faced. Continue reading

March Check In

I have two partially written blog posts saved to my drafts folder titled ‘How I Stay Organised’ and ‘How I Stay Motivated.’ They’ve been there since at least December, which maybe seems ironic on the surface––someone professing to be organised and motivated leaving something unfinished for three months, but I don’t actually think those things are incompatible at all.

It’s actually because I’ve been organised and motivated, albeit in different areas, that those posts so far haven’t been finished. Because the truth is that even the most organised and motivated person in the world (which I am most certainly not) can’t do all of the things––the things they want to do, the things they need to do, plus all the things everyone else wants and needs from them. It’s too much. Compromises must be made. Sacrifices simply have to happen.

And so, this blog has fallen a little by the wayside as other things have popped up and taken priority.

I really enjoy blogging when I’m in the flow of it, and it’s definitely something I’m going to come back to––both in general, and those posts in particular. When that will be, though, I’m not sure right now. But thank you, if you’re still reading this; following along and keeping up with me. I appreciate it, and I hope you’re well.

Getting Real

The Beach in Dundrum

I’ve long considered myself an ‘ideas person.’ I make lists and hatch plans at least every other day, but it’s not always big things. Sometimes it’s small. A lot of the time it’s maybe silly stuff. I once made a list of super long walks to go on, for example. Like Bangor to Belfast, and Belfast to Lisburn, and who even knows where from there? The world? Maybe.

Or, uh… maybe not.

I’m coming to terms with the fact that a lot of my ideas won’t pan out. Even the ones I embark on rarely go to plan, but that can be okay. Crazy misadventures are how memories are made. But also… being real? There’s honestly a lot to be said for staying wrapped in a blanket and drinking a cuppa tea. I know, I know. I sound so old and boring, but fuck it, let’s go for full honesty: life is hard, often exhausting, and so very expensive. You have to find joy in the little things. I know I’m not alone in learning that during our collective two years spent inside.

You know who didn’t really learn that, and I love her for it? My cousin.

In a lot of ways, my cousin is like me but turned up to eleven. She has more wacky ideas, more adventures, and by extension, more mishaps. Sometimes she invites me on her wild road trips and unplanned hikes. (Get in loser, we’re getting LOST!) Sometimes it’s not remotely practical to say yes to driving all the way to Galway at a moment’s notice, but sometimes… sometimes I do say yes.

“Let’s go to Dundrum,” she said to me recently. And I went, thinking all the while, “What the fuck is in Dundrum?”

Turns out, sand dunes. Lots and lots of sand dunes, in which we’d get lost and I’d get injured and, at several points, legitimately fear for my life as my dyspraxic ass tried to scale almost vertical slope after almost vertical slope as the ground shifted under my feet. It probably would have made an excellent, if ridiculous, YouTube video, if capturing the event wasn’t an extra level of stress on top of experiencing it first-hand––which it so would have been.

I love watching such videos. Sometimes I daydream about making them. Yes, they’d look great… assuming I did them right. But doing them right is actual legit hard work, and here we are back at my point about things being exhausting.

I’m not fifteen anymore. I’m not even twenty-five anymore. I can quite happily sit at home and listen to my cousin tell me of her latest near-death experience, or live vicariously through other people’s stunning videography.

So many things I’ve romanticised over the years: people and places and objects and experiences. But how much of it actually matters? That maybe sounds depressing, or defeatist. I’m not saying I’ve stopped wanting to do things. Not at all. But some things? Yes. I actually think that letting go of some dreams is freeing me up for other, better things.

Coming to peace with something isn’t about resignation, it’s about actual peace. Contentment.

Maybe at almost thirty-three, I’m finally learning to chill out.

I guess at this point in the post I should say what I’m actually saying and stop talking around the issue.

So.

I have let go of a dream. Not given up, as such, just realised that I was holding tight to this idea that I’d go back to college. To university. That I’d complete a bachelors degree, and a masters degree, and that I’d finally feel validated in my skills and education and life choices. Lord knows I’ve spoken of this deep desire to return to formal education several times on this blog over several years, but every time I read through syllabuses or yet another online prospectus I’m left with this sense of frustration. Restlessness. Dissatisfaction. This is almost what I want, I would think, but not quite. Over time, that ‘not quite’ mutated into ‘I don’t want this at all.’ Until I’ve finally landed in this place of knowing that I was in love with the idea of studying. Of sitting in visually impressive, grand old buildings, and graduating without a sense of impostor syndrome. Of feeling like I’d finally “fixed” the three years of my life that I so royally fucked up a decade ago.

And people have pointed out to me for almost as long that life doesn’t quite work like that. And I knew that, intellectually, but it didn’t make the feeling go away. Maybe it just had to happen naturally. Gradually. Whatever it was, I’m there now––the other side of the ridge, wondering why the hell I spent so long fantasising about something that was, at the end of the day, exactly that. A fantasy. Life isn’t a movie. Going back to uni wouldn’t be funny montages of goofing around the library at 3am, and drinking so much coffee my eyes pop out of my head, and coming out of all of it with straight A’s, or whatever. I don’t even like coffee.

And when it comes down to it, I don’t really want any of that stuff. Not the reality of it.

My current reality is that I have a husband, and a housemate, and a tiny dog, a job I love, a lot of dear friends, and many opportunities still ahead of me.

So, I’m leaving the sense of regret behind. It was kinda cramping my style, anyway.

Goals for 2022

I don’t really need to acknowledge that 2021 has been ‘a year’ do I? 2022, by extension… I dare not even get started on my hopes and fears for the world.

What I will say is that on a more personal––and indeed, professional––level, some big things happened for me over the past twelve months. I’m gonna write a round-up post for that in the new year, but for now I want to outline goals for 2022 that (I hope) will build on what I achieved this year.

READ

I’m gonna set my Goodreads goal to 20 books again this year, as a minimum.

WRITE

There are several projects I want to work on, as always, but I’m not actually gonna list them here. Sometimes it feels like committing myself to specific works in progress is the kiss of death with regards to motivation for them. It’s like my brain, or the muse, suddenly rebels and wants to work on anything but my stated priority, the moment that priority is made known. The main thing is that words happen.

PUBLISH

Similarly to the above, I have a bunch of different things in the pipeline. I’ll announce them individually as they come.

MAKE ART

A new goal for this year, but one I’m passionate about. I have a lot of smaller, sub-goals that feed into this, not least of which:

LEARN

I started sketching classes in 2021, and I’m all signed up to continue with them from January to March 2022. I’m also booked onto an art workshop in May, and have some illustration mentoring set up, in addition to a free trial of Skillshare I’m currently in the middle of.

Plenty to be getting on with.

CHILL

Because all of the above will take a lot of time and effort, I plan to scale back client work in 2022. We’ll see how that goes!

I know blog posts have been infrequent here, of late, but I’ll never abandon this space entirely. Stay tuned for updates.

What Am I Doing?

To say life has felt manic recently would be a gross understatement, and I haven’t really been documenting any of it here, so let’s catch up.

What am I doing? Such an excellent question. One I’ve actually been asking myself.

I’ve been editing books (for myself and others), formatting books, building websites, filling in applications and reports, juggling some tricky personal life things, dabbling in a lot of art, and writing very little.

Things have been scattered. I’ve been scattered. Sometimes it’s felt like my brain is going to explode.

Last week I released two books (poetry pamphlets Linchpins and Flinch) and a lot of last-minute technical issues meant that I was running around putting out fires when I should have been celebrating. As it stands, I’ve barely mentioned the books since they went live. I need to get on that, obviously, but I also want to make sure that I step back and do really take that time to celebrate.

I’ve been doing so much, and so much of what I do is incredibly enjoyable and rewarding for me, but sometimes I get so caught up in the action, I forget about the reward entirely.

It’s the 4th of October and I find myself not even able to think about NaNoWriMo this year. There’s just so much I have to do between now and then.

On top of that, I think the turn of the seasons is playing with me, and my thoughts have gotten all existential. I’ve been asking myself if I need to rebrand to include art somewhere in my tagline/bio. Then I’ve been going beyond that and asking myself just who in the hell I am anyway.

If you’ve followed this blog for any real length of time, you’ll know I’ve gone through similar phases before. And I trust from those past experiences that things will calm down again and I’ll regain focus and it’ll all be okay. At least until I end up in this place again––which I can laugh at, writing that sentence. I know I don’t have to take everything so seriously.

There’s a quote playing in my head that I can’t quite place this moment. Something along the lines of, ‘Jeeze, relax. Take a siesta or something.’

Not terribly bad advice, that.

Mid-Year Check-In

I’ve been racking my brain for a way to summarise how I’ve found this year so far, and to give an account of all the ways I have (or haven’t) worked towards the goals I set out at the end of 2020.

I know that January, February, and March were frantic with rewrites and formatting and marketing for the release of Full Term.

I know April was Camp NaNoWriMo, and I’d previously said I wasn’t taking part as I didn’t think I had it in me. I was decompressing after the first quarter. But then I went ahead and did it anyway, albeit with a small (10k) goal.

If you’re to ask me how I reached that goal, or what I did in May or June… Well, I have the stats right in front of me, which I’ll get into in a second, but honestly? Everything mostly happened in a fog. I have an all too familiar sense that I’ve been very busy but also that I haven’t much to show for it, which is subjective at best and an outright lie at worst.

So, since that is the case, and my own thoughts and feelings are not the best barometer for measuring success, I will lay out these past six months in cold hard facts.

Words written so far: 85,000 across multiple projects––poems, blog posts, short fiction, fan fiction, and novel rewrites.

That was:

  • 31,000 in January
  • 18,000 in February
  • 3,000 in March
  • 10,000 in April
  • 17,000 in May
  • and 6,000 in June

Books read so far: twelve (and I’m in the middle of three more).

I set out to write a minimum of two blog posts per month, make at least two poetry and two short story submissions per month, and it’s these goals that have been the most hit and miss depending on whatever else I’ve had going on in said months.

My study goal was to complete my Masterclass subscription, which I did. (You can find my thoughts on that summed up here.)

I aimed to put out three newsletters this year, and I’ve done one so far and am planning the second for mid-July, so that’s on track.

I wanted to finish writing three fanfic works in progress, and I’m in the middle of that right now.

Still to come this year is finishing the third Belfast Writers’ Group anthology, finish books two and three in the Family Ties Trilogy, and publish a different book, which I’ve teased but haven’t officially announced yet.

I guess you could say things are more or less going to plan. As is often my takeaway from these kinds of posts, I think I need to not be so hard on myself. I may not have written as much as I’ve wanted, but what I want is often unrealistic, and I have done a lot.

Let me know in the comments section how you’re getting on, reader. If you set any goals, how are they doing? And more importantly, how are you doing? As much as my brain tries to convince me otherwise, goals are not the be-all and end-all of everything.

Stay safe, and I’ll write again soon.

The Formal and the Informal

I am a chill, casual person––except for when I’m not.

Sometimes I like rules just fine––especially the ones I make myself––it’s just rules that have lost sight of why they exist, or rules that exist just for the sake of existing that drive me nuts.

For example, I am against homework and school uniforms because studies have shown that they not only don’t work, but actually further disadvantage families that are already struggling.

And I hate pointless pomp and circumstance at formal events.

But I love lists, and colour coding, and diagrams. You know, useful sh*t.

Do I mentally correct people’s grammar in my head as they’re talking? Absolutely. I have this need to fix the words, even if the other person never knows. It’s how I keep myself right, for writing later. (Hear something said incorrectly enough times and let it go unchecked, and you’ll find yourself adopting the error.)

When it came to our wedding, my husband and I decided which traditions we wanted to follow and which ones weren’t for us. (Most of them weren’t.)

All that to say, I think there’s a balance to be found, between rules and order. And that balance is probably different for everyone.

Some people positively thrive in chaos––but I am not those people.

Recently, I got the urge again to do some art*. It’s an urge I’ve spoken about here before, and one that comes around periodically. Because the thing is that I love art, but so rarely do it. Because I have so very few skills yet (because I don’t do it. Vicious cycle, I know). I also wasn’t sure where to start.

Instead of starting, I stopped and thought. What would I need? I asked myself. And from there wondered what I already had. So I set out to make a list of all the art supplies I currently own. And then I realised that everything I had was completely disordered, mixed together and spread across several different drawers and storage boxes in my office. From there, I tried to put all the like items together (all the pens in one place, all the paperclips in a single tub etc), but soon found it was a losing battle, as the drawers and storage boxes would only let me do so much.

They weren’t fit for purpose.

So I did some online research (i.e. watched approximately fifteen thousand YouTube videos of other people organising art supplies) and decided I needed a new drawer unit. I picked one out, wrote down the details, went to Ikea, spent the morning in a queue, the afternoon assembling pieces of wood, the rest of the day resorting all of my art supplies.

The day after that, I finally sat down to colour in.

That probably sounds crazy, right? Entirely excessive. Except do you know what? It made me so, so happy! Continue reading

A New Season

It’s spring in the Northern Hemisphere, which I’m happy about. I think spring might actually be my favourite season (having thought about this more than is probably sensible). Just the sense of renewal, and fresh starts, and oh, the longer evenings!

New Year has that same sense of starting over, which is why it’s my favourite holiday (if holiday is even the right word?). And summer obviously has long evenings, too, but I’m not so great with heat*, so that doesn’t work for me. Spring, though… imagine a very contented expression here just at the thought. (I’d add an emoji, but the ones I have at my disposal don’t quite do it justice.)

*Extreme understatement (is that an oxymoron?).

Point is: I’m feeling good.

But also… in complete contradiction to that, things have also felt a bit… off(?) for me this past week or so.

2021 for me has been full-on so far. I finished the rewrite of my novel in January and February, then had the whirlwind of the launch in March. I typically take part in CampNaNo in April each year, but it’s just not happening for me right now. I haven’t had the physical energy or mental bandwidth, so have slowed things right down and am going a bit easier. It must be said that I probably wouldn’t have realised I was overdoing things (again) if my husband hadn’t pointed it out. You know how it is when you’re lost so deep in work you don’t even realise it? Just me? Well, anyway, Steve let me know I was in danger of burn out (again) if I kept on, and––as often happens––I then proceeded to be hit over the head with all the pain and fatigue I’d been pushing aside while getting on with things.

That was a couple of days ago, and now I think my brain and body have settled again and––lo and behold––I’m starting to get that itch to write again.

It’s almost as if there’s a rhythm to it all. I don’t know how many times I’ve been around this particular… what do you even call this? Weird life cycle? I feel like there’s a common metaphor that applies here, but it’s eluding me. At this point, I’m not entirely sure if this post is coherent or just a brain dump of unconnected thoughts (maybe both?). Regardless, it feels nice to write. To get the thoughts out, coherent or not.

Almost every day, at the end of the night (which is to say, anywhere from 11pm to 6am–our “typical” bedtime. Which is funny, but that’s kind of the point) my husband and I will often turn to each other and exclaim, “Weird day, huh?” And it’s more than just a running gag, because somehow it ends up being true. Every single time. Because there’s no such thing as ‘typical’ for us. We rarely know what we’re doing from one day to the next, and that’s before whatever of life’s curveballs hit us––and I love it. The weird days (and nights), the inconsistencies, and rhythms, incoherent ramblings, and random tangents… I really do love it all. And I’m grateful for the perspective to see that, that the brief step back has given me.

How do I conclude all this? Is there even a conclusion to be drawn? Is a lack of conclusion not kind of part of what I’m trying to say? If anyone is still reading this, thank you. Welcome to the inner workings of my brain. And, um… Happy Spring!

On Lockdown and Birthdays

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of lockdown starting in the UK.

It’s also my thirty-second birthday. Meaning I’ll be one of the first people to have two birthdays spent in lockdown.

Surprisingly, I’m not feeling too bad about it. Maybe because all the excitement going on with my book release is outweighing the disappointment of not being able to celebrate with friends, or maybe because I know that––comparatively––I’m not in too bad of a position.

All considered, I’ve been fairly unscathed by the pandemic. I’m not saying it’s been easy, but I’m aware of my privilege in not having lost anyone close, when for so many others it’s been so much worse.

Back when the pandemic started, my mental health took a nosedive for a couple of months, as I know was the case for a lot of people. And for a bunch of those people, their mental health hasn’t yet recovered. For more still, the emotional impact was compounded by the fresh wave of injustices that happened during the Black Lives Matters protests last summer. And even more recently than that, the unrest over racism against Asian communities in the states, and women in the UK.

Overall, it’s been a hard year. But I don’t need to tell anyone that.

I hope this doesn’t come across as insensitive, because that’s absolutely not what I’m going for here––my heart goes out to everyone who has suffered over the past twelve months. But with everything that’s happened, I also feel personally grateful to have made it through.

I got my first vaccine on Saturday, and I’m hopeful that, soon enough, I’ll be able to see friends again. (Soon being a relative term.)

Trite as it might sound, the hard times will end. We’ve got to hold on to each other now more than ever, in this home stretch. We’re not out of the woods yet, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel and––I’m sorry, that’s a lot of mixed metaphors. What I just wanted to say is I’m feeling hopeful, and I hope that’s okay.