The Great British Public… and other animals

Greetings, programmes!

So, I got to take a trip to the Games Workshop store in the Plaza on Oxford Street at the weekend. In London. All by myself. Well, I travelled all by myself. I was greeted at Kings Cross by my dad and brother who travelled up to meet me for lunch. Which was very pleasant indeed. It was about a gazillion degrees, which is slightly unnatural for the 1st October and three and a half hours on the train left me feeling decidedly warm.

I joined up with the very delightful Nick Kyme who was signing copies of his latest release, Nocturne. It’s the last book in his highly enjoyed Tome of Fire trilogy. I finished it on Saturday morning before I left for London and in response to his ‘how did you find it’ question, I gave him a lower lip sad look. I’ve enjoyed the series and am sad that it’s over.

It was a highly enjoyable afternoon of signing copies of The Gildar Rift and meeting more incredibly nice people – including fine folks from the Bolthole, the Overlords and one guy I’ve known for about 23 years and who I haven’t seen for over 10. He came into town just to see me, which was outstandingly decent of him. The mighty James Swallow rolled by to give us support (and to eat my Haribo) and it’s always a pleasure to see him.

Much fun was had; Nick and I were photographed shooting each other with plastic flint lock pistols… (the store had gone all piratical in honour of the release of Dread Fleet. Which is, by the way, utterly gorgeous and is sitting on the side waiting to be played).

This is what happens when an author turns in a late manuscript. No, really.

Finished the signing and crossed Very Hot London back to Kings Cross for my 17:30 train back home. Got onto the train with ten minutes to spare, found my seat and settled down with my copy of Hammer & Anvil (I’d finished Faith & Fire on the way up to London*) and got comfy.

17:35, the driver announced that there was a ‘problem on the train and that engineers were working on fixing it.’

17:55, the driver sheepishly announced that ‘the engineers couldn’t fix the problem, but THAT’S OK PEOPLE! If you cross the platform, that train next to you will take you where you need to be.

In the traditional scrum that ensues in these situations, I crammed everything back into my backpack and followed everyone else across the platform onto the other train. I re-settled and caught the eye of the lady sitting opposite.

‘Is this train going to Darlington?’

‘I hope so,’ I replied with a rueful smile. ‘If it does, then I’m going in the right general direction.’

‘Me too,’ piped up the fella opposite her. ‘I’m going to Newcastle.’

We chuckled about the confusion of it all and established, quite cheerfully, that OK, we were now 30 minutes late, but if we were on the wrong train, we would all have a Great Adventure together and wouldn’t be lonely. It was all lighthearted and a lot of fun.

18:00 (ish), the train pulls out of the station.

18:02, the woman sitting in front of me starts to complain. She complains that she’s late. She complains that she’s not in the seat she was reserved (note: the train was half-empty and was de-classified. She could have sat in First Fecking Class if she’d wanted to). She complains that it’s too hot on the train. She complains that the wi-fi is a bit rubbish. She complains about everything. She has a go at first the refreshment chap and then the ticket inspector. Then she has a go at the refreshment chap as he goes by a second time.

She complained.

And complained.


All the way to Doncaster. When she got off, about seven people in the carriage genuinely cheered. I wasn’t one of them, but I was joining in silently. Seriously. It was the most irritating thing I’ve ever heard on a train. It was the fact that she eventually started complaining about pathetic things. The coffee didn’t taste right. The sky was the wrong shade of blue.

When I was growing up, my dad worked for what was then British Rail. I always remember a little poem he told me about the communication cord, for which you get a fine if you pull it without good reason. It used to be £50. Do they even have them any more? Or would you just Tweet up to the driver and say ‘STOP THE TRAIN!’ ?

I digress.

The poem went:

If fifty pounds you can afford
Then try your strength upon this cord
If fifty pounds you do not own
Then leave the bloody thing alone.

I tell you what, I’d have paid £50 gladly to get this woman put off the train. I’d have paid £100 if she had been THROWN off.

And that’s just it, isn’t it? She was so typical of people in this country. Lightning fast to complain, but never comment when they receive good customer service. Once, in Sainsbury’s, there was a checkout lady who was just so, so nice. She saw I was struggling with a full load of shopping and a then-one year old baby and she helped me pack and even told off the person behind me when they tutted loudly about how slowly the queue was moving. I stopped at the customer service desk on the way out and asked for a form so I could leave a compliment and thank you note for the member of staff.

The two girls behind the counter blinked slowly and looked at each other.

‘I… think we have something like that…’

‘Hold on.’

The one disappeared behind the counter and then re-emerged with a sheaf of paper that had a layer of dust about seven inches thick on top of it. Spiders had lived and died for generations on that pile of paper. Archaeologists could have found evidence of tiny civilisations if they’d looked hard enough.

The vocal minority likes to complain far too much. Let’s start a new trend! Why not make it a focus, the next time you receive great customer service, to compliment the person behind the counter who smiles at you? Or to tell their manager on the way out the door? Or to phone their head office and say ‘so and so was great – thank you!’ My mother worked for years in a shop and she always got a huge kick out of people thanking her. She gave me many tips for life and one of those was ‘thank you costs nothing and means everything’.

With that in mind, thank you for listening to this brief rant.

And in my writing-related news roundup:

  • my latest short story, Bitter End – featuring Huron Blackheart being a back-stabby git – is now available in the latest ish of Hammer & Bolter (12).
  • Valkia the Bloody is now more than 85% complete and should probably hit first draft stage in the next couple of weeks.
  • I am swamping my poor editor with ideas. He may have drowned by now.
  • The Gildar Rift is due out on 5th December, but there are at least two more signing events planned – 12th November at Games Workshop in Durham and 19th November at Warhammer World in Nottingham. There may be more yet… watch this space!
  • Check out this pretty damn fine advance review (spoiler free!) of The Gildar Rift by the illustrious Shadowhawk.

Speaking, Geeking.

As the bandwagon rumbles past, I feel I am reasonably entitled to jump on board, snuggle into a corner and pull a (probably flea-ridden) blanket up around my knees. As we bounce down a road that hasn’t even heard of the concept of surfacing, I am jolted into a blog-posty state.

Along with many other of my comrades-in-arms across the world, I have decided to join in with the concept of Speak Out With Your Geek Out.

Speaking. Geeking. Out. SHOUT!

So, let’s begin with first principles. The definition of ‘geek’ as per the Internet. And believe you me, it’s worth it.


geek [geek]
noun, Slang.

1. a computer expert or enthusiast (a term of pride as self-reference, but often considered offensive when used by outsiders.)
This is pretty interesting, because the word ‘geek’ has spread to embrace all sorts of areas. Although they may be ‘nerds’. We’ll come to those in a minute. But according to definition #1, to be a geek, you have to be a computer expert or enthusiast. I’m quite enthusiastic about my computer. I have a real passion for charts and graphs in Excel… really… But I’m not an expert. As an aside, my mother once told me her definition of ‘expert’. ‘An ex, Sarah,’ she said, fixing me with a piercingly blue-eyed stare. ‘An ‘ex’ is something that has been. And a ‘spurt’ is a drip under pressure. Always remember that.’

I’ve always remembered that.

Back to the definition:

2.a peculiar or otherwise dislikable person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual.

Where is this notion that geeks (or nerds, but again, we’ll come to them) have to be peculiar or dislikable, just because they’re computer enthusiasts or experts? Christ on a motorbike, I think that people who obsess over the football are peculiar and/or frequently dislikable, but I bet they wouldn’t like it if they were called geeks. Although the worst ones aren’t generally perceived to be overly intellectual either.

Also, what the fuck does ‘overly’ intellectual mean? My cats are more intellectual than a sandwich (although that may be arguable). From the sandwich’s point of view, does that make the cats ‘overly’ intellectual? Surely ‘overly’ is relative?

Back to the definition – and this one is my personal favourite.

3. a carnival performer who performs sensationally morbid or disgusting acts, as biting off the head of a live chicken.



So in summary, a ‘geek’ is an overly intellectual, peculiar, dislikable person who is a computer enthusiast (or expert) – at least when they’re not biting the heads off random poultry. I’m glad we sorted that out. Another mystery solved!

This bit’s really interesting though, ‘cos it’s all about the etymology. Not entomolgy, because that’d, like, be about bees and shit. Or bee shit. Or, whatever.


1915- 20; probably variant of geck  (mainly Scots ) fool < Dutch  or Low German gek


To summarise the summary, a ‘geek’ is an foolish, overly intellectual, peculiar, dislikable person who is a computer enthusiast (or expert) – at least when they’re not biting the heads off random poultry.

My, I’m glad I don’t know anybody like that. Wait. Nearly all my friends are like that! And please note. FRIENDS. I have them. THEY have them. We all have friends. So listen, kids. ‘Geek’ is just a label. But don’t think you can save yourself from the chicken liberation front by changing it to ‘nerd’. That’s even worse. Look at this:


noun, Slang.

1.a stupid, irritating, ineffectual, or unattractive person. intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit: a computer nerd (eg).

So now, not only are you the Clever Terror of the Barnyard, but you’re ugly to go with it.

‘Nerd’ is probably the better choice for people with keen interests in their hobby, but I find it interesting that the definitions are presented that way round. When someone says the word ‘nerd ‘ (hey! That rhymes!) to me, I think of someone who’s mad-keen on something they really enjoy. When I hear the word ‘geek’, I think of someone who’s bloody clever and maybe a bit socially awkward – but not necessarily the kind of person you don’t dare talk to for fear of them spitting feathers at you. Literally.
‘Geek’ and ‘nerd’ are two playground labels that exist beyond into the realms of adulthood. Social groups have always had a need to pigeonhole people and make gross generalisations. Nearly everyone of my generation and onwards has grown up with a computer of some sort in the house. They are geeks whether they realise it or not. They may not fully fit the perceived profile, but by definition – there you go.
But we geeks and nerds have in-jokes. And when there are in-jokes, the ‘norms’ can’t bear it. Remember that and wear your geek/nerd label with pride. Remember. People are only spiteful because they a) don’t understand, b) are jealous and c) are scared you’ll make them look like the thick-as-pigshit moron they actually are.
So speak out with your geek out. Or, if you’re more comfortable, get your word out with your nerd out. Be ugly, intelligent, clever and probably richer than the spiteful sods who don’t ‘get’ geek.
Be happy. That’s what it’s all about.


This. This is funny.

Reasons Why I’m Not Missing LRP #6

Reasons Why I’m Not Missing LRP #6… People Problems and Playground Politics

OK, here we are on the penultimate entry of this week’s worth of reasons why I’m not missing LRP this year. This one’s possibly far more personal to me than a generic reason. So is tomorrow’s. But I’m pretty sure that other people will ‘get’ what I’m talking about with these following examples. There are specific examples as well, but depending on how ranty I get, I may or may not get to them.

This may be slightly cathartic, as well. I make no apologies. This particular entry contains a lot of the real personal heart behind my decision to walk away from the hobby this year.

1) You can’t ‘win’ LRP. Well, not as such. Your character staying alive is generally the only real ‘win’ condition. People get so outrageously precious about their characters that they start cheating. Yes, that’s right. They cheat. They conveniently ignore the fact that they have three hits per location and have just taken their twelfth hit to their unarmoured  head. Why, guys? Yeah, it means you have to roll down in the mud and (hopefully) wait for a healer to get to you. And if a healer doesn’t get to you, you get up off the floor, dust yourself down and go create a new character. Things you should not do when your character dies include (but aren’t limited to):-

– throw a paddy, get physically abusive in an OOC capacity or generally throw objects around like some sort of toddler.
– argue with the person who killed you that they had carefully planned it for months ahead of time when in fact this was not the case.
– immediately create the brother/sister/cousin/son/random friend of your previous character and ‘investigate’ how they died.

Your character died. Get over it. Don’t spend the next ten years bemoaning it. OK, moving on before I start really getting grumpy.

2) Share the Love.  Plot hoovers, I’m talking to you. Just don’t do it. You have no real concept how much you ruin the game for other people with your selfishness.

For those of you who don’t know what a plot hoover is… it’s specifically someone who sucks up all the game world and/or faction plot points and generally refuses to share it with anybody else. This hoarding of the fun makes them Somehow More Special than everyone else. Other players can periodically be heard to say ‘there’s no plot/there’s nothing going on/I’m bored’ or words to that effect. Everyone knows who the plot hoovers are and yet I’ve sat by and watched people deliberately overlook maybe ten players sitting outside a tent looking for something to do just so they can go straight to the Usual Suspects.

Also, Players! If you actually refuse to interact with plot even when it’s (literally in some cases) thrown directly at you, then do NOT start bleating that there’s no plot. Do not ever do this. Nobody would do this, would they?


3) Show a little gratitude, eh? Players. You have a plot team. You have a command team. Outside of this is the greater world of the game team. They work hard to provide plot for you to play along with. They work hard and they don’t get paid for doing it. Most of them have full time jobs and families. All of them invest a lot of time and effort to bring you a game to actually interact with. So if it’s not to your personal taste, instead of bitching about it loudly, or complaining that You Could Have Written It Better (frequently to the face of the person who has written the plot), why not have a rational, adult conversation with your plot team and say ‘could we look at doing something like… [insert thing here]’. Even better, offer to help.

Don’t be so ungrateful.

4) RTFM. Or, in this case, Read the Fucking Rules. Understand what the ‘Tracking’ skill does and does not allow you to do. Learn what ‘Sniff’ will and will not tell you. This applies to refs every bit as much as players, by the way. Learn your bloody spell vocals instead of going ‘humuna… humuna… humuna… MAGIC MISSILE!’ Oh, and tear your spell cards in half instead of stuffing them in your pocket to use again later, you cheating bastard. Don’t think the refs don’t see you doing this, because believe you me… they do.

5) OOC is Not IC. And IC is Not OOC. Just because you learn something OOC (for example, that your mate Bob’s character was murdered on the path and left in the bushes), do not immediately apply this knowledge IC. YOUR CHARACTER HASN’T FOUND OUT THE FACTS, YOU HAVE. See also: cheating. Also, don’t start bitching on that ‘they did it on purpose so they could get all the power’.

The other way around… just because Bob the Troll was rude and abrasive to you IC, does not mean that Bob the player is the same. Don’t treat them as if they are. They might be rude and abrasive OOC as well of course, but that is something you should find out… not presume.

Crikey, I’m getting majorly ranty. Sorry about this.

6) Stop Backstabbing People. If you have a problem with someone at LRP, for whatever reason, then have the decency to address the issue with them directly. Having an issue is not some sort of pyramid selling thing. Don’t complain about it to two other people so that they can then go and tell two other people each and so on until through the marvel of LRP Chinese Whispers, the original issue is blown massively out of proportion and cannot ever be resolved to people’s satisfaction.

This is going on and on a bit and I’m sorry that it’s so shouty and decidedly not light-hearted. But… people asked me for the reasons I walked away. Sometimes that means that they might not hear what they expected. Or maybe it is what they expected. Perhaps if there are LRP players who are guilty of any or all of the above (and I don’t say there are, just that there might be) who read it might see it for the ludicrous behaviour it is. Somehow, I don’t think they will though.

Above all else, remember the key thing we learned during yesterday’s lesson.


Reasons Why I’m Not Missing LRP – #5

Reasons Why I’m Not Missing LRP – #5… ‘Sorry, Are We IC?’

Let’s start by making the key point that many, many LRPers seem to miss. Whether intentionally or not, they seem to miss it.

It’s a game. It’s a game of silly dress up and make believe.

Now, this is quite a difficult post to make without it becoming accusatory in nature, but for me, this is a major, major bugbear. Here, we have people who are not LRPing. Here, we have those people who are camping in a field with their mates and enjoying Out Of Character (OOC) conversations. Perhaps a beer or two. And that’s great. But did you sign up for a weekend party?

No. The clue is in the name. Live Roleplaying.

Let’s make no colourful comparisons here. What you have is a bunch of (mostly) adults playing Let’s Pretend. And that’s all very well and good. But when a roleplayer meets a Weekend Partygoer, it’s like the perennial question ‘what happens when the unstoppable meets the unmovable’? There is nothing worse than getting some cracking IC conversation going and then someone strolls in, plunks themselves down by the fire and starts talking about Eastenders.


NOBODY is saying ‘don’t have OOC conversations’. But if you really, really have to pontificate on the most recent actions of Phil Mitchell (is he even still in Eastenders? I haven’t watched it in like, ten years), then do it in your own tent with the flap closed so nobody who’s actually participating in the game can hear you. Actually, even better. Why not set your tent up in the OOC area and enjoy your OOC weekend party with your mates there? Even better… I refer you back to my previous post about cost. THINK HOW MUCH MONEY YOU COULD SAVE BY NOT COMING AT ALL!

I cannot stress how much this behaviour ruins the atmosphere of a good LRP event. I have been present when someone was (VERY NICELY) asked if they could either stop their OOC conversation or take it to the OOC area and they got rude and arsey and generally twattish.


If you’re uncomfortable roleplaying in an IC area, perhaps you really, really ought to be asking yourself the following question:


Here’s the answer. You’re ruining the immersive experience for people who are trying to have a good time pretending to be someone else.

(Amusingly, and as a hilarious juxtaposition to this, one of my favourite comments at a LRP event EVER came just after Time Out, when some people were what we call ‘Time-ish’ – which is to say, they were still roleplaying after Time Out was called. The comment was ‘will you stop being IC? You’re ruining my Real Life immersion).

So. If you want to go and spend a weekend chatting about TV, Jeremy Clarkson, shopping or bloody football, consider the people who are making the effort to actually participate. And go somewhere else.

A quick caveat. If you have chopped off your arm/leg/other appendage and need the paramedics, or even if you need to ask an OOC question like ‘where am I camping’… of course you can do it.

This may have got entirely more ranty than I originally intended.

Sorry about that.

Reasons Why I’m Not Missing LRP – #3 and #4

Reasons Why I’m Not Missing LRP – #3+#4… Travelling and Cost

It’s a twofer!

I deliberated about these two reasons for a while and whilst both of them have very distinct points of their own, I decided they should be blogged about together. One bleeds into the other. It’s all cool.

Anyway. Back to it.

As some of you may be aware, if Great Britain was taken as the shape of a human body standing sideways (where northern Scotland is the head and Land’s End is the tippy toes), I’m roughly in its armpit. (I pity East Anglia, quite frankly). I live in a former coal mining village in County Durham which whilst it has many salient points is also poorly placed for most LRP events.

All the people round here used to look like this. Actually, some of them still do.

Given that I’m really used to the one system, I will focus on their choices – and as a caveat… I am well aware that there are certain requirements and restrictions that necessitate such choices, and I know that may not necessarily be the company’s fault. But for this year certainly it’s factored heavily into my decision to take a year out.


The system I’ve been playing for the past ten years has traditionally had four main events. The first of these was always in Wigan, the second in Staffordshire, the third in Bristol and the fourth was, up until very recently, in Hertfordshire. Then it shifted to Bristol for a year, then went to a different site Down South.

Let me calculate for you the sum of mileage it would be for me to have attended all events this year. The first one was down south, the second one was in Staffordshire, the third in Bristol and the fourth down south.

That comes to a staggering 1,800 miles. Just to go to LRP and back. That is a metric fucktonne (recognised unit of LRP measurement) of petrol costs. I only have a 1.2L Ford Fiesta. It will do approximately 350 miles to a full tank, which at the current petrol price is £60. That’s £300 worth of petrol (approximately). Add to that the actual cost of the events for two of us (for 2011, this would be £420), and we’re veering into the Lots of Money arena. That’s before food and kit is taken into account. So for the two of us to attend LRP – for FOUR events – in 2011 would have set us back over £1,000. OK – so you don’t have to up-front all this cash in one lump sum, I hear you cry. It’s only £83 a month to save!

Jesus Christ on a motorbike, I wish I hadn’t actually worked that out. £10k I’ve spent on this hobby – probably more – in the last ten years!!! *swoon*

Sorry, but I actually don’t HAVE a spare £83 a month. I don’t earn great money and neither does the Chimp. We have Small Son, a mortgage, bills and increasing transport costs to pay. We don’t get to do ‘luxuries’ outside of Sky TV and the internet at the moment. Now, I know that there are people who come from much further north than I do – one fella I know goes to EVERY event and he lives in Fort William. It also appears that he’s either not short of a penny or two or he doesn’t spend his money on anything else. All credit to him. Perhaps he has one of these in his garden.

One of these would be nice. Only in UKP, please, not USD.

(Just as an additional point of note… given that the three events down south are approximately 5 hours each way and Staffs is 3 hours, that’s also 36 hours of driving time that I don’t get to share with anybody as the Chimp doesn’t drive).

Wigan used to be brilliant for us. It was about a two hour drive. Leek is closer. But they are no longer using the Wigan. Now three out of four events are Down South and the appeal of driving (for Bristol, which is the furthest away) for nearly six hours for what equates to a day and a half of time in? No. Not appealling. If they were longer events, then perhaps the appeal might be greater. But for a Friday to Sunday event? I spend more time in the car or putting up the fething tent (see Reason #1 – Camping) than I do enjoying myself.

And oh. The cost of LRP gear. Swords, armour, Random Item That The Chimp Really Must Have Because It Adds Authenticity To His Character… neither of us can make our own gear. We don’t have the expertise, space or patience to do it. So we have to pay for the honour. And it doesn’t come cheap. Not at all.

In a recession, which apparently we’re in the grip of, something has to give. We haven’t had a holiday since we had our honeymoon weekend in Rome in 2007. Because we’re spending that money on four weekends, only two of which are even LONG weekends. I’ve noticed that we also haven’t seen our old friend Mr. Overdraft since we stopped going. This is also superb.

This major gripe and what I consider pretty solid reason for Not Missing LRP has been brought to you today by the letters ‘F’ and ‘U’ and the number ’69’.

Four. Four reasons why I'm not missing LRP. Ho ho ho ho ho ho.

Procrastinations, Distractions and Things of That Ilk

It’s 11.00am on a rainy Sunday morning. I have the word processor open. I have Streaming Soundtracks playing in the background (currently playing a track from Ghost in the Shell which is Most Splendid). I have a good idea about where Chapter 3 needs to go. I want to reach a certain overall wordcount by the end of the day. I have written some of those words, in fact. (500 of them so far. Pathetic). It is raining outside. Small Son is at his dad’s and Dearly Beloved is at work. I have the house to myself. Bar needing to do some washing up, I have the entire day to myself. I should have written more than this so far.

So why haven’t I?

Procrastination, that’s why.

I just can’t knuckle down and get on with it. I’m having a Tough Time with some real life stuff at the moment and that’s stealing rather a lot of my focus. I hate my head, I really do. It works in bloody weird ways. It just went down this track:

Venting on the blog… will that help? I don’t know, I’ll go and try it. But then that means talking about Real Life and let’s be brutally honest, nobody gives a rat’s arse about Real Life. Alright, well, let’s do a post about procrasination and how easy it is to get distracted when you should be writ… oh look! Facebook is telling me that four of my friends have birthdays today and I haven’t said ‘happy birthday’ to them yet… oooh, a Tweet from Jon Green, must reply. Where was I? Oh yes. Writing about procrastination.

You see how it is?

Oooh, Theme from Miami Vice playing on Streaming Soundtracks. Love that.

For the love of… even whilst writing my blog post I’m being distracted by what’s playing on iTunes. Where the hell is my focus today? Perhaps I should run a lost ad:

Lost: One focus. Answers to the name of Sarah. Last seen enthusing about Project: Podshot. GSOH, likes walks on the beach, trips to the cinema…

Yeah. Actually, I wonder what my concentration would look like if it were a person. It’d be sort of… me, but with my tongue stuck out the corner of my mouth. That’s what I do when I’m concentrating really hard. Yes, even at my advanced age, I still act like a toddler. Probably part of the reason why I’m so easily distracted.

What was the point of this blog post again?


Woooy! Theme from Lost in Space (the original TV series, not the godawful film that I had to keep watching because I couldn’t believe how truly awful it was).

In a minute, I will finish this blog post and I will turn off Firefox. I will turn off Twitter. I will go and do the washing up. I will make a cup of tea, I will breathe deeply and I will get back to Project: Podshot. I will finish Chapter Three by the time Dearly Beloved comes home from work this afternoon. I will not cave into pressure and put the internet or Twitter back on again.

But it’s… you could just check your email for the zillionth time…


OK. It was just a thought.

Dear gods above. Now I’ve been distracted by someone Tweeting a picture of David Beckham with his new baby daughter. Much as I can’t bear the Beckhams, that’s really rather cute.


All of the above was reported live as it happened. An effort to demonstrate the spread of that terrible illness that is Procrastinitis.

Now I’m going to Get a Grip[tm], go do the washing up, make a cuppa and reach the 1,000 word mark. Then – and only then – will I allow myself to play on the interwebs again.*


* Parts of this sentence may be blatant lies on my part. I’m just not sure which bits.



It’s not so much the word that tends to come back as the response as the sheer sense of surprise that seems to be put across in a single syllable. It’s not annoying; not exactly. It’s something else. It’s… frustrating, I think.


That’s the response I’ve been getting when people ask me what it is that I’ve been writing. When I say that my first novel is tie-in military science fiction, I appear to be crossing about seventeen bajillion invisible literary lines and encroaching on Planet Propriety.

Alright, maybe seventeen bajillion lines is a bit of an exaggeration, but there are definite lines that I appear to be crossing with my foray into the world of literature. If you look at it objectively, I couldn’t have made it harder for myself if I had tried. After my weekend at alt.fiction, I have come to realise quite a few things that I had hitherto only suspected. So here’s some thoughts on some of those lines and why I appear to have crossed them. These are the statements that seem to generate the ‘Oh!’ response.

I’m writing genre fiction.

Genre fiction is really now the blanket term for fantasy/sci-fi/horror/urban fantasy/young adult and any number of other sub-categories that loosely fall into the ‘back of the bookshop’ category. A comment that was repeated over the weekend was that genre is perceived as something of a ghetto, where we all stand defending our territory and not letting anybody else in.

Here’s something I’ve heard many times. ‘Genre fiction isn’t proper literature’. What a load of snobby tosh that is. If anything, the capacity to write in a fantastic world demonstrates a much better connection with the long-lost art of storytelling than these awful ‘I was abused by crabs as a child’ type books that seem to be so popular. Where is the ‘Schadenfreude’ section in the bookshop, hmm?

So yes. I’m writing genre fiction. Does that  not make me an author in some way? You know what, get over yourself. What I’m doing is writing stories that I hope people will enjoy reading.

I’m writing for the Black Library.

Actually, this usually gets a ‘who?’ response before the ‘Oh!’. It’s only when I clarify that the Black Library is the publishing arm of Games Workshop that people make the connection. Then they sort of glaze over as they recall that strange little shop with the sweaty teenage boys lurking within and the toy soldiers in the window. You can see it in their face. They’re bewildered by this announcement and don’t know what to say. So they say ‘Oh!’ Sometimes, they say ‘Oh!’ in a bizarrely enthusiastic way as though they can encapsulate everything in that one sound.

This is probably the line that confuses most people; because Black Library is pretty genre-specific after all. Say ‘fantasy’ or ‘sci-fi’ to most non-genre readers and they’ll come back with ‘Oh, you mean Tolkien and Star Trek’.

Uh-huh. Let’s get to the biggy, shall we?

I’m writing military sci-fi featuring seven foot tall, genetically engineered post-human warrior monks who carry chainswords and guns. Big, big guns. Oh – and whilst I’m digging my own grave, it’s tie-in fiction.


Yeah, I think. I know what you’re going to add. And they invariably don’t. Some do, of course. But…

…you’re a girl.

I am! Thanks for noticing the 38C’s there! Oh, wait – that’s ALL you noticed? Are you a PC World reject? (Clarification: I went into PC World once to buy a new printer and the sales assistant addressed everything to chest level. In the end, I actually crouched down to get his attention. I laughed about it, but I wanted to punch him).

Let’s break this down gently.

1) Yes. I’m a girl. Does this mean I am precluded from enjoying military sci-fi? I also happen to enjoy books by Marian Keyes who is as far removed from outer space as you can possibly imagine. My taste in reading is like my taste in music, films and television. Eclectic. I like lots of things. Women who read genre are, in my opinion, likely to be far more intelligent and more widely-read than many of the men – particularly the younger men who have yet to go against the grain and break out of genre for a look at the World Beyond.

So yes. I’m a girl. Reading and writing science fiction of a military nature. Why is this? Because it’s fun. There’s nothing more sinister to it than that. I’m not some sort of rampant feminist trying to make a point. When I first got the writing gig with BL, I worried about writing under my own name. But in the end, I went with the best advice I got.

‘You wrote it, didn’t you? Be proud of it. Not ashamed.’

So I have gone for using my Actual Name. It will be something of an interesting social experiment in some ways and indeed already has been. (Again, for clarification, in a review of one of my short stories, the only thing the reviewer could comment on was that I ‘spent too long describing how handsome the sergeant was’. There was one line in which I mentioned his appearance. That was it. That was all he could find to say on the story. Several people have said to me that they’d never seen such a blatantly sexist review and not to let it bother me. It didn’t bother me, I assure you. In fact, I laughed at it. I am, however, reasonably sure that if I had written using just my initials, or under a male name, he’d have not even mentioned it). Still, that’s his opinion and he’s more than entitled to it. Sirrah, I salute you.

It was just one comment, but I’m sure it’ll happen again. There seems to be a (thankfully small) sub-section of genre readers who instantly despise a girl coming into their precious world. I hope I can at least change their minds a little.

Additionally, if other female authors feel more confident about submitting work to BL because I’m there and not afraid of who I am, then that can only be a good thing. Certainly the dynamic of the game is changing; there are far more girls buying and painting Warhammer armies. I sometimes feel, along with the other BL short story-writing gals out there, something of a trailblazer.

And as for the tie-in fiction stigma…

Even my own dad said, when I told him about The Gildar Rift, ‘but it’s not real fiction, is it?’

There was a pause of aeons. Icebergs formed, got embarrassed and melted.

‘What do you mean, exactly?’ (Inside, I was saying ‘you mean, “well done, Sarah”, of course you do.’)

‘Well… you’re not making anything up. It’s all already there.’

‘I’m creating all my own characters and my own story. The rest of it is just a prop.’


And we were back to square one.

Incidentally, he has since told me how proud he is of me. Heck, I’m proud of me. Tie-in fiction or not, writing a 100k+ word novel is no easy feat. Let the snobs look down from their pedestals and sneer at my work of lesser fiction. I’m the one having fun and enjoying what I’m doing. I’m proud to be a part of the W40K (and WHF now!) worlds.

So, quite frankly… in your face, literary snobs.

You go back to debating the hidden meaning of ‘My Life as a Crustacean’. I will let my imagination run free in a world of either my own, or someone else’s devising, where all the pressures of real life can be left at the door for a few quality hours. Because – and let’s combine all of these things and slap the label on – I might be a female military sci-fi tie-in genre reader and author for the Black Library… but I’m happy doing it. And when someone says to me ‘I loved your story’, then I’ve shared that happiness.

Given the choice of literary recognition or making someone happy… hearing that someone’s joined me in my made-up world, I know which one I would choose any time.