love letter to pathetic fallacy

Dear friend, I’m writing a thing about pathetic fallacy which isn’t any of the things I’m supposed to be writing but is the only thing I’m able to write right now, which would be stressful except we’re smack bang in the middle of Storm Emma & the snow’s piled up outside my door, all sprinkled with cat pawprints & rose petals & it’s so different & dramatic it’s almost okay that my work’s all messed up because of it.

My work’s messed up for a lot of reasons, but I’m happy to blame the snow — powdery, deep & beautiful. Pathetic fallacy & all that.

It’s March now, suddenly spring. The eclipse season of the past two months dragged me through the dirt, not gonna lie, but here’s this moon in Virgo, first of two full moons this calendar month. Here’s the start of spring comin in on a snowstorm bringing the entire country to a halt. Here’s pathetic fallacy, bright snow nights, the street lamps all reflected & that moon just thrown right back up at the sky.

Every year on New Years Eve I spread out my cards in a wheel with one card for every month & one for the year as a whole. I pick a word for the year to return to over & over. I write my resolutions. From the start of the new year I knew that March would be the queen of swords, my guiding card, the one I write poems about, the one I have conversations with by lakesides. Get to know your cards, have deep chats by bodies of water. They’ll work with you better that way.

Here’s a spell for a full Virgo moon when the Sun’s stuck in all the feels of Pisces:

Pick a queen. Any queen. Queen of swords, queen of cups, queen of wands, queen of coins. Queen of hearts, queen of diamonds, queen of clubs, queen of spades. Pirate queens or fairy queens, witch queens or warrior queens, drag queens or queen bees, queens in constellations, queens of the underworld. Pick a queen to guide you.

Set up an altar to your queen (here’s a hint, the queen is you, doesn’t matter your gender, doesn’t matter the gender of the queen you choose). Put up a picture of her — a tarot card, a photograph, a painting, a doll, a crayon stick figure. Light candles. Scatter rose petals. Cut out hearts. Place down rose quartz. Massage your hands & neck with rose oil. Unclench your jaw. Breathe deep into the scent of it, the warmth.

Consider how you can embody your queen in the coming month. Stretch your spine. Imagine your crown, whatever that means to you — a symbol, a garland, a witch’s hat. Consider how you can wear it until the next full moon. Consider what that means to you. Feel the weight of it around your forehead, pressing against your third eye. Listen to what that weight tells you. Listen for clarity.

Draw whatever symbol comes to you. It could be a heart, a word, a picture, a number. Drawing it seals it: it’s now your sigil. Breathe into it.

When you’re ready, take your rose petals & open a door or a window. Throw them out into the snow. On the threshold carve your sigil into the snow. Invite knowledge, invite clarity. Breathe the cold air. Bring some of that clear, cold energy to bed with you. When you wake up in the morning, first thing, feel for your crown.

love letter to the new moon

I wanted to start writing a newsletter but I’m bad enough at being consistent on social media without adding another format to the list. I haven’t posted here in months. How would I write this if it was a letter? A missive straight into your inbox, quiet and private?

Dear friend,

I’ve been writing a book, but I’ve been writing a book for about as long as I can remember. This one’s wild and authentic, rough around the edges. This one’s an avalanche of old stone. I’m crazy about it. The second draft is starting to crack open and there’s light everywhere, like a Leonard Cohen song. There’s this one scene that makes me cry every time I read it. I don’t think that one will change much in the edits.

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I’ve been writing a story, too, at the same time, that’s different to most of the stories I write – fewer ghosts, notably; less psychological trauma, more self-affirmation. Before starting to play with it (because that’s how stories begin, as a small and haphazardly-curated selection of snippets and half-ideas that you play with until they grow into something you could love), I took four giant crates of old notebooks down from the topmost corner of the wardrobe. Dust and spiders and secrets live there. So do the one hundred and fifty diaries that I’ve kept since the age of six.

Sorting through them was a gargantuan task — not just because the crates were heavy & stored several feet above my head, but because teenage Moïra did not believe in dating her diary entries. There are entire notebooks without mention of a year & even a whole diary without a single date. Not the day, not the month, no indication that a day has passed except for a small dash between paragraphs.

This is probably metaphorical. I had a difficult adolescence.

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I didn’t set out looking for inspiration but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised if some of these diary snippets end up making their way sneakily into my story.

The story’s for Proud, an LGBTQ+ YA anthology for Stripes Books that’s being curated by Juno Dawson. The illustrated collection will include short stories & poetry from eight established authors & will also include four stories from new talent so if you are or know of an unpublished & unagented writer who falls under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, there’s a link to submission guidelines in the Bookseller press release.

It’s a thing of awe and honour to be part of a book I’d’ve loved & needed as a teenager – the proof is in these diaries. I said it already on Twitter but in an attic bedroom in a suburb of Dublin in 2001, 15-year-old Moïra is using an antiquated internet to look for a book like this that doesn’t yet exist & couldn’t possibly imagine she’d ever be writing a story for one. My heart’s huge with it.

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It’s Thursday and the moon is new. Here is a spell for dark moon days, just before the moon is new, when your past is gathered up in your bedroom in one hundred and fifty notebooks and even though you know you are strong enough to carry them (both metaphorically and back into the top of the wardrobe), you don’t have to keep it all strapped to your back. You can put some of it down, sometimes. Makes it easier to move around.

You’ll need:

A red candle, or several (the more the brighter the burn)
Fresh, dried sage
Old words: diary entries you can afford to lose, scraps from another life, photos, letters, clippings, or even just a piece of paper on which you’ve written things from the past you’re ready to put to rest
A fireplace, stove or otherwise flame-proof space in which to safely burn what you’ve come to move past

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The spell:

Light your candles. Sit comfortably. Take deep, cleansing breaths. If you have a daily meditation or affirmation, breathe through it now. Ground yourself. Centre. Concentrate on feeling who you are now & why you are strong.

Light your papers, scraps and secrets with the candle. Drop them into the fireplace & watch them burn. Whisper, chant or say I love you, I love you, I love you to your past self with every flame.

Watch the fire until it’s only embers. Close your eyes. Burn the sage. Listen to the last of the heat crackle the cinders. Don’t open your eyes until you can’t hear it any more, until the past you’re ready to move on from is only ashes. When you’re finished, blow out your candles with one more I love you for the road.

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YA Pride, bi-visibility & representation

We’re coming up to the end of Pride month & I’ve been delighted (& proud!) to find The Accident Season on some readers’ lists of recommended LGBT YA.

The Accident Season is magic realism: a sort of contemporary, sort of mystery, sort of strange little book about teenage girls with predilections for fortune-telling who drink too much & break into abandoned places. It isn’t about coming out or coming of age or about sexual orientation at all, but three of its main characters happen to be bisexual, so it makes me really happy to see it on these kinds of lists, because while coming out & coming of age & figuring out your sexuality is undeniably important, I like that there is also space left open for stories with LGBT characters in which their sexuality is almost incidental.

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I wrote 3 of the 4 main characters of The Accident Season as bisexual. They were all bisexual from the beginning & it was never going to be A Big Thing & none of them were ever going to question their sexuality or even really mention it, because it was what it was. Because sexual orientation doesn’t always have to be the driving point of the narrative. Because there doesn’t need to be a big deal made of a girl kissing her best (female) friend even though they’re both in love with different people, of a girl falling in love with a girl after having been with a boy for years.

There are no labels in The Accident Season because the story is narrated by Cara, & not only are labels unimportant to Cara, but it was important throughout the book that she narrate through a sort of shroud. Cara doesn’t name things, doesn’t pin experiences or thoughts down long enough to label them because she’s too busy deflecting from all her secrets.

A lot of young people don’t like or want or need labels. A lot of young people exist within a group of friends in which everybody kisses everyone irrespective of gender (my teenage friends group was very much like that!) & for many people on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, life & love & kisses & relationships are organic and labelless.

Having said that, I am not Cara, & I think that labels can be really important. I did originally want to name the characters in The Accident Season as bisexual, but it never sounded right, never fit into the narrative. Because doing that would have been me (the author) making a statement, as opposed to me letting Cara (the narrator) tell her story. And Cara doesn’t really work that way.

But Cara is still bisexual. She’s bisexual even if she feels ambivalent about having kissed one particular girl. She’s bisexual even though her main romantic interest in the book is a boy. In the same way, Bea is bisexual even though she feels ambivalent about having kissed one particular boy. She’s bisexual even though her main romantic interest in the book is a girl. Alice is maybe the most obviously bisexual character because she has relationships with a boy & a girl during the course of the story, but readers very often read her as gay. Which I don’t understand. But I suspect it has something to do with bi visibility. We’re so used to the narrative of girl dates boy, girl realises she likes girls, girl goes out with girl. Alice had very good reasons for ending her relationship in The Accident Season & none of those reasons were her sexuality. She was bi when she was with a boy & she was bi when she was with a girl & she’d be bi if she were dating nobody at all because that’s kind of just how bisexuality works.

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Two out of four of the main characters in my next book, Spellbook of the Lost and Found, are bisexual & one is gay. There’s a lot I want to say about them that I can’t at this still-early stage (it’s due to be published in May 2017, so quite a while to wait), but in this book the narrator is a lot more matter-of-fact – she’s observant & little-to-no-nonsense & likes to call a spade a spade – & describes herself as openly out (except maybe to her grandmother) bisexual. This fact has absolutely no bearing in any way on the plot of the story, except that it is part of her history & identity.

So labels or no labels, I like to write books with bisexual main characters in which their sexuality has little to no impact on the story. Because that’s what I’m interested in writing, & because representation & visibility are important, both in theory & personally.

I’m bisexual but I came out as gay when I was 15. It was only in university that I realised I wasn’t. There were a couple of reasons for this, but one of the major ones was that I didn’t have a working framework for bisexuality. In 2000, when I was 14 & figuring this all out, the only representations of bisexuality in popular culture I had come across was the film Velvet Goldmine & the common harmful stereotypes we all know & hate: you’re just being greedy/ it’s just a phase/ you haven’t decided yet.

If I’d had a book or film or TV show with a character who happily identified as bi in either a same- or opposite-sex relationship, or a character who was maybe 80% gay & 20% straight who didn’t identify as gay but as bi, or characters who, like Cara, didn’t need or want any labels but kissed whoever they felt like kissing, with no sexual-orientation-related drama, then maybe I would have figured it all out sooner. But that’s what happens, sometimes, when you can’t find yourself in fiction*. So you just figure, “Hey, they must be right, maybe all lesbians are also somewhat attracted to boys. Maybe I haven’t made up my mind.” Sometimes you need examples to help back up your own instincts, especially when you’re young. And that’s where representation & visibility come in.

It’s getting better, especially in YA fiction, especially in the last few years. I’m not denying that there’s still a long way to go, especially when it comes to intersectionality, but right now I’m going to focus on the positives & share a bunch of lists posted this month of really excellent LGBTQ+ fiction. I’ve probably missed loads of roundups so if you have one or there’s one you’d like me to include, please let me know. And of course I’m always looking to expand my already-ridiculous to-be-read pile.

*I realise that being white, cisgender & able-bodied I obviously see myself in fiction all the time, but you know what I mean.

Penguin Pride: Coming of Age LGBT Fiction
Book Riot: Coming Out & Coming of Age
Adventures with Words: LGBTQ Library
Scholastic: Finding Me: LGBT Books for Kids
Buzzfeed: 26 LGBT Books Everyone Should Read
Claire Hennessy: YA LGBTQ Recs
Malinda Lo: Favourite YA About Lesbian, Bisexual & Queer Girls
Book Riot: Cotton Candy Queer Books

Most of my favourite books are on the above lists, but here are some that aren’t on any of them but definitely should be:

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About a Girl
by Sarah McCarry

Eighteen-year-old Tally is absolutely sure of everything: her genius, the love of her adoptive family, the loyalty of her best friend, Shane, and her future career as a Nobel prize-winning astronomer. There’s no room in her tidy world for heartbreak or uncertainty―or the charismatic, troubled mother who abandoned her soon after she was born. But when a sudden discovery upends her fiercely ordered world, Tally sets out on an unexpected quest to seek out the reclusive musician who may hold the key to her past―and instead finds Maddy, an enigmatic and beautiful girl who will unlock the door to her future. The deeper she falls in love with Maddy, the more Tally begins to realize that the universe is bigger―and more complicated―than she ever imagined. Can Tally face the truth about her family―and find her way home in time to save herself from its consequences?

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Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson

Lighthousekeeping tells the tale of Silver (“My mother called me Silver. I was born part precious metal, part pirate.”), an orphaned girl who is taken in by blind Mr. Pew, the mysterious and miraculously old keeper of a lighthouse on the Scottish coast. Pew tells Silver stories of Babel Dark, a nineteenth-century clergyman. Dark lived two lives: a public one mired in darkness and deceit and a private one bathed in the light of passionate love. For Silver, Dark’s life becomes a map through her own darkness, into her own story, and, finally, into love.

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Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea

Everyone in the broken-down town of Chelsea, Massachussetts, has a story too worn to repeat—from the girls who play the pass-out game just to feel like they’re somewhere else, to the packs of aimless teenage boys, to the old women from far away who left everything behind. But there’s one story they all still tell: the oldest and saddest but most hopeful story, the one about the girl who will be able to take their twisted world and straighten it out. The girl who will bring the magic. Could Sophie Swankowski be that girl? With her tangled hair and grubby clothes, her weird habits and her visions of a filthy, swearing mermaid who comes to her when she’s unconscious, Sophie could be the one to uncover the power flowing beneath Chelsea’s potholed streets and sludge-filled rivers, and the one to fight the evil that flows there, too. Sophie might discover her destiny, and maybe even in time to save them all.

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A History of Glitter & Blood by Hannah Moskovitz

Sixteen-year-old Beckan and her friends are the only fairies brave enough to stay in Ferrum when war breaks out. Now there is tension between the immortal fairies, the subterranean gnomes, and the mysterious tightropers who arrived to liberate the fairies. But when Beckan’s clan is forced to venture into the gnome underworld to survive, they find themselves tentatively forming unlikely friendships and making sacrifices they couldn’t have imagined. As danger mounts, Beckan finds herself caught between her loyalty to her friends, her desire for peace, and a love she never expected.

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The Cure for Death by Lightning
by Gail Anderson Dargatz

The Cure for Death by Lightning is the story of Beth Weeks, a young girl whose life is thrown into turmoil by her abusive father, a mysterious stalker, and her own awakening sexuality. But friendship with a girl from the nearby Indian reservation connects her to an enriching mythology, and an unexpected protector ultimately shores up her world. The novel is sprinkled throughout with recipes and remedies from the scrapbook Beth’s mother keeps, a boon to Beth as she faces down her demons and discovers what she is made of — and one of many elements that gives The Cure for Death by Lightning its enchanting vitality.

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The Last Beginning
by Lauren James

Sixteen years ago, after a scandal that rocked the world, teenagers Katherine and Matthew vanished without a trace. Now Clove Sutcliffe is determined to find her long lost relatives. But where do you start looking for a couple who seem to have been reincarnated at every key moment in history? Who were Kate and Matt? Why were they born again and again? And who is the mysterious Ella, who keeps appearing at every turn in Clove’s investigation? For Clove, there is a mystery to solve in the past and a love to find in the future.