Happy birthday to me | Hux Tales

This week was my birthday.

Not my real birthday as in the day I emerged into the world, twenty three days late and pretty mardy about it; that’s back in September.

But this day is my real birthday in another way. On Monday was one year since I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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I’m sure it probably seems weird to celebrate a diagnosis, but hear me out.

I have spent my whole life knowing I was different, but not being able to put my finger on it. There were certainly parts of my personality and interests that were different from many of the other kids – nerdy, book obsessed, awkward, not remotely interested in fashion – and a regular target for bullying. I managed to get through school and university by surrounding myself with like-interested people, good kind people who didn’t mind that I was a bit odd, or even better, cherished it.

It wasn’t until I was 27 that a friend of mine was diagnosed with Asperger’s that I started realising this was probably the missing keystone. This friend and I have long joked that actually we must have the same genetics, as we both have non-epileptic seizures, wonky joints, an insensitivity to gluten, anxiety in all the same places… and it was only when I looked into Asperger’s* that I realised it was me.

That realisation was really freeing. I had a name for my differences, for how I saw the world, how I experienced it. And I immediately stopped beating myself up about it. Once I got the final stamp of approval pictured at the top, the last vestiges of attempting to remodel myself as a neurotypical person flew out the window. I’m autistic, I’m different, and that’s actually really cool.

I also looked extremely cute this week tbh

It is not a panacea, of course. Being autistic isn’t all super awesome, as it comes along with a bunch of comorbid conditions, both mental and physical health. I still have the hang ups, the trauma, but I genuinely care less.

I used to celebrate November because (and this is going to sound weird) it was when my seizures came back after my last trip to the Philippines. This marked a seriously dark time in my life where I realised I had to give up diving, but being the person I am, I refused to let myself slip into that place, got a job at a marine focused charity in London and carved out a new life. That is what I used to celebrate, the refusal to let my body get the best of me, remembering that each change to my life is an opportunity for something new.

I’ve now switched it over to my Autism Diagnosis, but essentially the reasoning is the same. I found something new out about myself. My life changed. But I still have control of it. It is still very much my life and I’m in the immensely privileged position to be able to live as I do.

What has changed in the last year?

I got Nerys! She’s my little daemon and also my emotional support dog. In the UK, this type of service dog has no legal recognition but they are a big deal in America, so I hope one day in the future they’ll be recognised. Basically, she goes everywhere with me, she helps me feel less anxious, she reminds me to look after myself by looking after her too. She’s helped me knock a big chunk of my anxiety about going outside out of the park (not literally) and means I go outside much more.

At 5 weeks old on the day we met and at 9 months old

I stopped being a booksellerMy health was making working in a bookshop very difficult and so it became unsustainable to continue working such a physically demanding job. I miss aspects of it every single day, which is why my social media has become so book intense.

I came out as nonbinary! This is something I have sort of known about myself forever, living in the space of not-girl and not-boy, but only having the word “tomboy” to describe it. In terms of the “I always knew” narratives of LGTBQ lives, while I didn’t know I was queer for a very long time, I have had what I now recognise as gender dysphoria for much of my life. But, it wasn’t until I started reading about autism, and how many of us are trans, the intersection of those two identities, that I realised that I was two for two.

I’ve been out-ish to some people in the past few years as I felt it out (admittedly, mostly only to other non binary people and Tim), but this year I started using the phrase more, talking about it more, told my sister and my parents. I’ve been thinking a lot about pronouns, and whether I ever want to masculinise my appearance to be a bit more in line with how I see myself. At the moment, I’m sticking as I am, feeling out my happiness in open about it. I’m considering buying a binder, though I’ve found that throwing out some clothes that would trigger my dysphoria has really helped. For now, sports bras do the trick and aren’t incredibly uncomfortable to wear.

I moved in with my inlaws! Tim and I realised that our rental situation was financially precarious and moved to the West London suburbs to live with his parents. We are incredibly lucky to be able to do this, and they’ve been really caring and kind to us. We both miss our old flat a lot, but I was waking up overstimulated every single day due three building sites semi adjacent to our building. It was the right decision, not least because now I get to see fields from my window.

I helped start a independent publishing press! Literally I’m never going to stop mentioning 3 of Cups Press, go admire our website and preorder our first book On Anxiety which publishes in January!! We are launching our second book on Kickstarter in early 2018 and submissions for our future books shortly after that, so follow us on Twitter, sign up for our newsletter and get ready for a 2018 of amazing new authors. I’ve got a bundle of other creative things that I can’t announce right now so I’m positively vibrating with secrets.

Writing it down… wow. A lot has happened. And you know what? I feel great about it. I’m feeling pretty proud of myself lately, so I say happy birthday to me.

 

* A little aside: in the UK, people who fit the Asperger’s criteria are now more likely to get an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis, but my report made it clear that I also fit the Asperger’s profile. Asperger’s has been integrated into ASD along with a couple of other conditions.

Got any questions? Ask them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them there or in a larger Q&A type post.

To All the Weird Jobs I’ve Done Before | Hux Tales

I have realised, my dear friends, that on this blog I have a habit of not oversharing. Which is weird, because I’m a habitual oversharer in real life. Being autistic is not great for understanding social niceties and so I am extremely likely to tell you too much. Though to be honest with you, I think that’s partly who i am as a person.

Anyway, it’s weird for me and I have a bundle of book posts in drafts as I’m trying to move my habit of 5 books on X topic over from YouTube to here. In order to fill the time, I asked on Twitter which of a few more personal posts people wanted to read and a story-time about my weird career path was the winner.

I haven’t always been a book person. I say book person, because I have several bookish hats – blogger, publicity and editorial at 3 of Cups Press, and also a writer, working on my first novel (aren’t we all?) As a child, I took refuge in our local library down the road and our tiny little former classroom library that I was in charge of – a fairly poor attempt at keeping me vaguely interested in primary school, as we had nothing that resembled a gifted and talented programme.

But somewhere along the road, books and I went our separate ways. Growing up in a working class area meant that I literally didn’t know that people could work in books, thinking that accessing that particular sector was only possible through some ceremony equivalent to deification. I can think of a particular moment in time that solidified this – as a teenager something incredibly traumatic happened to me that I then tried to work out through thinly veiled fiction on the internet that was discovered and I was forced to destroy. This is why getting back into writing has been such a slog, though this is a story for another time.

And so began my life of weird jobs that eventually brought me back to working in books after some pretty weird diversions. Here’s a few of them.

1. Measuring snails… yes seriously

My love of books has always been rivalled by my love of the natural world, and habitual reading of Lucy Daniels had set me on being a veterinary surgeon, though trickaloo turns out you have to do a lot of work experience before you can start a degree, and as someone working at least 16 hours a week alongside school that was not going to happen. So, I decided that I’d study Zoology, picking the University of Liverpool as my future home, where I specialised in marine biology. Fast forward a few years, and your boi was a research diver.

In between my degrees I lived on an island in Honduras helping re-set up a conservation association that had regained its funding, while learning to dive, which I carried on doing in the Philippines the following summer, where I studied the dive industry, monitored coral, and saw a lot of cute sharks.

My experience in the Philippines then landed me an amazing, once in a lifetime job travelling around the centre of the country over four months studying aquatic snails. I’m being 100% serious here, that’s what I was doing.

Why were you doing this?, you ask. We were looking into how damaged coral reefs affected mollusc populations, both snails and beautiful bright coloured sea slugs called nudibranchs. This meant I got to dive in some of the most pristine reefs in the Philippines… and some of the worst I’ve ever seen. I mean you could barely call some of them a reef anymore, as they had been so degraded by dynamite fishing in particular. It was the most immense, wonderful and tough time of my life and I do not regret a minute of it.

2. Being put in charge of teenagers’ futures

Okay, I wasn’t ~in charge~ thank goodness, but I have had a number of slightly odd jobs in schools. When I was studying in Liverpool, I began working with AimHigher who were a wonderful and extremely important group that helped students from underprivileged backgrounds think about their future careers and access university if they want to. However, due to desperate need at a school in Birkenhead, I became a regular teaching assistant for GCSE Maths, top and bottom set only. I carried on working for them when I moved to York, where I ended up teaching debate skills to a cohort of year 8 students in a middle school in Northallerton. Both of these times worked out well because the kids were generally pretty well behaved, and any time they were talking out of turn about Call of Duty, I’d slide in and correct their incorrect opinions about which was best in the series then tell them to be quiet. They’d be so baffled that a girl who was also kind of a teacher knew things about games that they would actually get back to work.

3. Now, if you’d like to apply this vibrator to your nose

For a short time, I worked for Ann Summers as a party planner. Generally, I do not recommend working for multi-level marketing companies, but on this occasion it did genuinely work out pretty well for me, as I had a regular group of students who’d organise free parties with me every time loans came through. It was a pretty great job – I’d turn up at someone’s dilapidated and damp Smithdown road house, be handed several glasses of wine and proceed to tell my willing audience about sex toys, with a little bit of sex ed thrown in for good measure. We’d all get fairly drunk, they’d fill out their order forms, and a week later everyone would show up to meet me at the student union to pick up their order of fairly made vibrators and poorly made underwear.

After this, I made some more traditional ventures into sales by working for Gamestation, which then became Game, and Waterstones.

So what now? Do you even work?

Well, now I don’t work. Or rather, I don’t work in a way that looks like work to many people, no 9-5 in sight and a lot of it from bed. When I worked it was a vicious cycle – I’d have a few seizures, I’d be put on “sick leave watch”, my mental health would plummet and take all my other health problems down with it. My quality of life ended up being really quite terrible, never seeing my friends and falling asleep the minute I got through the door. It was no life for me, or Tim, who as my carer had to support me through all those ups and downs.

My prerogative is 3 of Cups Press, eventually finishing my first novel and living a good life with Tim and my dog, Nerys, but I also have all these ridiculous memories I can look back upon, and many more to make.

Got any questions for me? I’m going to start doing more Q&A bloggy posts on here, so ask them in the comments and I’ll get round to them! 

Undercover Princess by Connie Glynn | 1 Minute Reviews

I’ve been watching Connie Glynn aka Noodlerella on Youtube for a while; I’m quite particular to her brand of whimsy and she always has good anime recommendations. When I saw she’d written a book, I wasn’t surprised. During my time as a bookseller, most prominent UK YouTubers either had a book out or on the go, though generally these were non-fiction, self help type affairs. Instead, Connie wrote about her mainstay: princesses.

Cute, I figured. Good for her. It will sell well. And then I thought little more about it until I saw a sampler on the Penguin stall at YALC, which I popped into my tote. The cover of the book (and the sampler) is pretty beautiful, and I am somewhat of a magpie. I figured I’d give the sampler a go, and then resign it to the pile of books that are popular that I won’t bother with.

And then I read the sampler and was absolutely charmed by it. So much so, that I tweeted my lovely chums at Penguin and they very kindly sent me a full proof copy.

I am still charmed, especially because this book is pretty gay in ways I was not expecting.

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Now, Connie herself is out as bisexual/queer on YouTube and I was kind of hoping that this would naturally appear in her work. It does, friends.

Let’s step back a little. Undercover Princess follows Lottie Pumpkin, who leaves her life with her stepmother to attend the prestigious Rosewood Academy on a rare scholarship for excellence, herself being the first recipient in twelve years. Upon arrival, she discovers she shares a room with wild, messy Ellie Wolf. When it is revealed the heir to the Maravish throne is attending Rosewood, suspicion is cast upon Lottie by the other students. To her surprise, Ellie reveals to her that she is in fact the princess in disguise and Lottie agrees to keep up the pretence, taking on the mantle of Portman.

There’s a moment 80% in (not a spoiler) where Lottie learns of a romance between Portman and Princess, and has a minor public episode, and by this point I was yelling at the book YOU ARE GAY YOU ARE GAY THIS BOOK IS GAY with the glee of someone who’d solved some kind of mystery. Maybe I’m wrong, but there’d been a lot of longing glances, weird not-quite-jealousy moments and a moment of “platonic” hand stroking.

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This feels pretty exciting and radical to me because this book is aimed at the tween end of YA, that tricky area when one steps from adventurous but polite Middle Grade fiction (in the UK also known as age 9-12) over to sexed up drunk teen fiction. This area can be quite tricky to find books for but ahoy, this is a great one that also appears to have some LGBTQ+ characters and themes – aside from my headcanon Ellie & Lottie romance, there are a number of other LGBTQ characters in the book. The writing feels firmly accessible tween (though I think most readers who’ve ventured into the Middle Grade section will be fine with this), and is really quite charming. There’s a lot in here about treating others with respectful behaviour whilst also setting boundaries as a self care priority. The morals are all completely in the right place.

I’m pretty impressed with this first outing from Glynn and look forward to reading more of the Rosewood Chronicles in the coming years. I think if you know a young person who loves fairy tales, magical British boarding school nostalgia (like Harry Potter) or all things Disney, this would make an easy win Christmas present, not least because of how pretty it is.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you ever so much to the team at Penguin Platform and Penguin Huddle who sent me over the proof copy.

The Beast is an Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale | 1 Minute Reviews & Giveaway!

Happy Halloween! I have a seriously creepy book for you, and I’m giving away a proof copy too at the end!

One night, Alys is unable to sleep and ventures outside, despite the warnings from her Mam and Dad. While standing in a field enjoying the quiet, she sees the Soul Eaters, mirrored twin sisters Angelica and Benedicta, floating through her village of Gwenith. Their chance encounter leaves the village’s children alive, as the Soul Eaters take the lives of all the adults.

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Rescued by travellers and rehomed with the puritanical people of the neighbouring village, the children of Gwenith are haunted by the Soul Eaters and the Beast. Who will the twin Soul Eaters come for next? Is the Beast all that he seems?

Meanwhile, Alys feels a darkness stirring within her. Angelica and Benedicta unlocked something inside her seven year old self, and as a teenager now she feels it spreading. Desperate to be good, she is terrified of the darkness within her. What is happening to Alys? When tragedy strikes, she must face herself, the forest and all that haunts her.

This is a hauntingly beautiful debut, a dark fairytale interspersed with nursery rhymes that turn you cold. As I was reading the book, I was reminded of The Sin Eater’s Daughter trilogy by Melinda Salisbury, particularly The Sleeping Prince, or even Maria Turtschaninoff’s novels Maresi and Naondel, as well as the more obvious comparisons of the works of The Brothers Grimm and gothic literature.

The theme of motherhood and birth is visited throughout the novel – Alys’ adopted mother is a healer-midwife whose secret medical practices would be deemed as witchcraft, and thus are practiced in the dark.

I really like van Arsdale’s use of the Welsh language throughout the novel, and I really want to know more about her use of it. I had to ask her why, of course.

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Unsurprisingly, the film rights to this book have already been snapped up.

This is 100% one of my favourite young adult fantasy books this year, particularly haunting and repeatedly nerve-wracking. The plot kept me guessing, worrying for the characters, and I was really impressed by the mythology of the world itself.

You can read an extract of the novel over on Hashtag Reads’ Tumblr here.

But, guess what pals! The lovely team at Hashtag Reads sent me a spare proof copy, with the eerie American cover, to give away to my UK & Ireland readers! I’ve got a Rafflecopter set up here – each step you do is an extra entry to the competition. I’ll announce a winner on Twitter and here on the 15th of November.

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Interested in getting a finished copy for yourself? Get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you ever so much to Hashtag Reads for sending me both copies of the book!

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy | 1 Minute Reviews

Julie Murphy‘s second book, Dumplin’, was one of my absolute favourite young adult novels of 2016, and I had high hopes for her third novel, Ramona Blue. Murphy’s writing has proven to be thoughtful, with well crafted characters and good politics threaded through. I was very pleased to once again be bowled over by her work.

Now, do not be alarmed but this is not a slight novel for the average young adult contemporary, coming in at 400 pages altogether. But there’s a reason for that, and allow me to reassure you that the size is not indicative of filler.

This is a story that needs to be told slowly. This is a story of the grinding reality of inescapable poverty, the importance of both chosen and biological family, and the fluidity of human sexuality.

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Ramona lives in Eulogy, Mississippi, a town known for its summer holiday makers, who have shaped Ramona’s life as much as its permanent residents. The novel opens with her saying goodbye to her first girlfriend, Grace, as she and her family pack up ready to return to their home as the new school year approaches. Shortly after Grace leaves, Ramona’s childhood best friend and former summer visitor Freddie and his grandmother Agnes return to Eulogy to live permanently. Freddie and Ramona re-bond over a love of swimming and the shared pain of long distance relationships. But when that bond starts to head towards romantic feelings, Ramona begins to question everything about her identity.

Meanwhile, Ramona’s sister Hattie is pregnant with her boyfriend Tyler’s baby, and Tyler seems to have moved himself into the tiny trailer she shares with her sister and father. As a tall girl, things were feeling cramped to begin with…

Ramona Blue spans 10 months of her life as she struggles to balance her school life, her possible futures and her many part time jobs. Of all the young adult novels I’ve read, this one expertly relays the realities of being inescapably poor as a teenager, and having to take responsibilities far above your station as a child.

Murphy explores the complexities of LGBTQ+ identity and fluidity between labels with great care, creating a thoughtful, honest and open-hearted novel.

Ramona Blue is currently only available in hardback until late Spring 2018, but I really think it’s worth the money. Also the cover underneath the dust sheet is such a pleasing shade of cream.

Interested? Get it here!

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to the team at Harper Collins, Balzer & Bray and the lovely Ammara at Harper Insider for sharing this copy with me.

Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell | 1 Minute Reviews

If I had one word to sum up this book, I’d probably go for “quippy”. I’ve not laughed out loud so frequently while reading a book for quite a while, probably not since Frogkisser by Garth Nix.

Kellen is a Jan’Tep, a sorcerer. Or at least he hopes to be by his sixteenth birthday. The only problem is he doesn’t appear to have any magical powers. His sister is set to be the most advanced sorcerer of their community, despite her youth, and with his father looking to be the net leader of the Jan’Tep, Kellen is feeling more than a little awkward about it.

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When Kellen wins a magical dual using his wits and no magic of his own, his place in the Jan’Tep society is questioned. But when a mysterious Argosi traveller named Ferius Parfax walks into his life, Kellen begins to consider that his home is not all what it seems.

With the mysteries of the Shadowblack curse, the murderous past of the Jan’Tep and the plight of the magicless Sha’Tep underclass, who Kellen is set to join, Spellslinger is a richly enjoyable novel. Kellen and his magical impotence makes a great story; you’re forever rooting for him to work out some way to best the others. He’s completely self deprecating, but aware of his own intelligence and strengths (up to a point, at least). He’s a very easy character to like, especially when his best friend and crush turn against him for his tricksy ways.

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Sebastien de Castell on the story behind Spellslinger, taken from his website

I’m completely in love with the mysterious wanderer Ferius Parfax and her mysterious pack of cards, some of which she uses as weapons. She’s a dry-wit, always with a cigarette in her mouth and a wisecrack on her tongue. Ferius and Kellen’s faithful squirrelcat/nekhek friend Reichis provide much of the sassy dialogue – his whole demeanor and voice in my head is so completely Rocket Raccoon.

Don’t believe me – listen to this excerpt from Kellen’s first interaction with Reichis.

I’m really looking forward to reading Kellen’s future adventures over the series, of which there appears to be five books in total. I think if you’re a fan of Pratchett, Bardugo, Schwaab, and Nix, you’re going to find a lot to like here.

Interested? Get it here in a beautiful paperback with sprayed red edges. The second outing, Shadowblack, has just been released in Hardback.

Also, if you sign up to the Sebastien de Castell Readers Club here, you get a free Spellslinger short story!

What to read next:

 

Tin Man by Sarah Winman | 1 Minute Reviews

I love slightly melancholic books. There’s something wonderful about being wrapped up in bed with a warm drink reading a book that stirs an ache in your chest… perhaps that’s just me.

Stories with LGBTQ+ characters or themes get extra points from me. I have quite the stack of sad gay novellas to work my way around to. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Tin Man fits snugly into that extra-special category.

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Now, some might argue that revealing the relationship between Ellis and Michael going beyond the boundaries of platonic love is a spoiler, but given I have a whole list specifically of LGTBQ+ Ya books, I’m going to hazard that a fair few of you are here for discovering new queer reads. This is the second book this year with an incredibly vague blurb, which lists them as “inseparable”, that actually turns out to be a sad gay book, with Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End last taking up that mantle. I’ve yet to read Days Without End, but I bought it purely because the bookseller informed me it was a “secretly gay” book. He knew what I was after.

Anyway, back to Tin Man. Yes, it’s queer. Yes, it’s very sad. It’s actually probably one of the best books from the adult fiction section that I’ve read so far this year.

The story begins with the winning of a copy of Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers by Dora Judd, a somewhat formidable woman and mother of Ellis, who the novel follows from there on. We find Ellis as an forty-six year old man, depressed and working in a car plant, wondering where the years have gone. Through nonlinear narrative, we are introduced to the two people who mattered most to him, who both appear to have moved on – his wife Annie, and his childhood best friend Michael.

Through the discovery of a box of Michael’s diaries at his father’s house, Ellis uncovers Michael’s lost years. The years after Annie arrived, the years after their marriage, the years after their trip to France.

Winman’s novel takes us through the complexities of human sexuality, the history and friendships of Vincent van Gogh and the AIDs crisis in Britain of the late 1980s, all with a literary flair and considered gentleness. I’m completely in love with this sunny-covered, melancholic novel, and I think many of you will fall head over heels as well.

Interested? Get it here in hardback or preorder the paperback, due out in March 2018.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Katie V. E. Brown and Tinder Press for sharing this copy with me.