By the way, I started a new blog

I’m told they are useful when you want people to give you money for writing.

It’s a proper grown-up site. Even has my name on it.

Well, plus a few extra initials, so people might mistake me for a sexy lady YA author, instead of a decidely unsexy male YA author. Or whatever I am.

Anyway, to celebrate, here’s a short story I wrote. It’s spooky. Please read and comment, give feedback. It’s 500 words, you’ll be done in two minutes. Parts of it are true.

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This season of Game of Thrones is the last one I’m going to watch.

This season of Game of Thrones is the last one I’m going to watch.

[Spoilers for Season 5 of Game of Thrones. Vague spoilers for the books. Trigger warnings for rape and sexual assault]

It’s not (just) because of its problematic treatment of female characters, though I can’t say that’s something I’ll miss. It’s becoming grim to watch while wondering which female character is going to be threatened with assault this week. There were hints of how gross it was getting last season, first with Jaime and Cersei’s encounter, where the question of consent was left up to the viewer and the utterly disgusting and unnecessary side-plot with the Nights Watch (we get it, we’re not supposed to like the dude drinking from a human skull while he monologues. We didn’t need to see a woman being raped behind him to underline that). But the last, universally reviled scene in “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” was the first scene in the series that I actually had to skip. It’s gratuitous, it’s exploitative, it’s not in the books, and it’s unnecessary. It’s reached a point where my first thought on seeing a Dothraki horde encircling Dany was “how long will it be before someone tries to rape her?” I don’t know who the showrunners are writing this for: do they honestly believe that people want to watch beloved female characters risk—and endure—assault at every opportunity? There are other, better ways to create conflict.

(At some point, I’ll have to write about my “no rape” policy when it comes to writing fiction. Gosh, that’ll be cheery.)

But the main reason I’m going to skip the next season of Thrones is that we have now, to all intents and purposes, caught up with the books. Bran, Dany, Cersei and Jon (sighs) have reached the same place where their book equivalents now linger. Arya’s pretty much there. Sansa, Tyrion and Brienne have gone in completely different directions. Nobody cares about Sam. Dorne is a hot mess. Faegon, the Greyjoy Party Boat and Lady Stoneheart are AWOL. Stannis’s plot looks like it has been prematurely spoiled, or at least radically deviated from where it was due to go in the books. Jojen Reed; Mance Rayder; Barristan effing Selmy, characters I knew—knew, in my heart—were going to survive have been killed, bumped off like chumps.

Put simply, I don’t know what’s going to happen anymore.

This season, the Night’s King showed up in person. Shireen burned. Stannis Baratheon, The King Westeros Deserves, has apparently been knocked out the Game. Tyrion and Dany are bros. We’ve reached the point where those who’ve read the books and those who’ve seen the shows are in the same place.

Maybe it’s cowardice on my part, but I’m scared for what’s going to happen next. The knowledge of what was going to happen has always been my defence against the overwhelming tide of grimdark in the show. True, the trade-off was that I knew the Red Wedding was coming, and thinking about it as it approached tied my stomachs into knots. But at least I knew who was going to survive, and if, for example, Talisa died where Jeyne Westerling survived, well, that added a little spice, a frisson of surprise, but at least the broad strokes remained the same. I don’t have that anymore, and yeah, it scares me. It makes Thrones a very different show for me: it’s no longer an adaptation of my favourite books that I had to champion. It’s a media juggernaut, careening off the rails, in a direction I can’t predict.

That may be a good thing, or a bad thing. There’s no harm in being surprised, after all. And it may benefit the show now that it no longer has to pad out episodes or slam the breaks on plotlines for fear of overtaking the books. Nor is it that I’ve fallen out of love with the series: This adaptation is more than I could have asked for. It’s been amazing, from day one. True, some of the sheen has come of it this year, with the gross sexual politics, the derailing of favourite characters and the clusterfudge that was the Dorne plotline. But all that means is that the choice I have to make has become easier.

I’m choosing the books. The books I fell in love with nine years ago. The books I read through three times, all five, at 800 pages apiece.

I don’t know if I’m going to stay the course, though. Ideally, GRRM will at least complete The Winds of Winter by the time the next season rolls around. But since I have to live in the real world, where toast always falls face down and the next ASOIAF novel likely won’t be seen on this side of the next ice age, I may end up cracking and jumping in for season six along with everyone else. Spoilers for this season have been unavoidable, and I can only imagine they’ll get worse when every clickbait pop culture website starts running articles on how I won’t believe what happens at the wedding of Daenerys Targaryen and Hodor or something. So I’m reserving the right to change my mind, arbitrarily, without warning or reason.

We’ll have to see how this plays out. Because for the first time in four years, I really haven’t a clue.

I’ve got a theory about how Stannis is gonna win this thing, though…

Good Night, Good Bless

‘Good night, God bless,’ Mother whispers to me, her smile a promise that dawn will come. ‘May angels guard you as you sleep.’

She closes the door, and exiles the light from the room. The air is still, the sheets are warm and welcoming, and the whole world beckons me into sleep.

But I shall not sleep.

My mind is alive, ablaze with questions.

What if the angels are not there?

What are they guarding me from?

Why does Mother ask the angels to watch over me? What unseen threat lies in waited, crouched, coiled between the shadows on the wall? What nameless terror could there be in this room with me?

And why would Mother lock me in the room with them?

I lie on my back, staring at the ceiling. Concentrating on the drops of paint above me, each a tiny hill rising from the plaster. Each a worm, a slug, an amoeba, hundreds of them, hanging, dangling, dripping from the roof. If I wait and watch, surely one of them will fall.

The rapping at the window steals my focus, spikes my pulse. My body is paralysed, too numb to move, but I can turn my head to listen to the sound, to the tap-tap-tapping on the glass. I whisper to myself, that it is only the wind, just a tree branch swaying in the breeze, knocking gently against the windowpane. But what if I am wrong? What if it is not the wind, or tree branches? What if they are fingers, gnarled and twisted, pawing, clawing outside my room, pawing, clawing, searching for a way in? And what will they look for, once they are inside?

The sweat stings my forehead, turns the sheets slick with fear. I make myself sit up, feel the cool air on my skin, and look around the room. That gap between the bookshelf and the cupboard: was it always there? I remember there was nothing there but wallpaper, before Mother closed the door and stole the light. Was it always so dark? Is it a black door to nothingness, a ravenous wound in the side of reality, slowly, inevitably, growing bigger?

The shadows dance around the room, over chair and table and drawers. Back and forth, back and forth they spin and pirouette, come together and part. I can’t look at them, can’t stand the way the peer at me with their eyeless faces, the way they laugh at me with silence.

I turn around, lie on my back, away from the room. Wrap my hands around my knees like a baby. And I pray. I pray to the angels to remember me. To watch over me. To be there. To exist. To shield me from the darkness, from the shadows creeping, stalking towards me, their hands outstretched, their fingers cold and black.

The angels do not answer.

I hold my breath, pull the sheets over my head, and I wait for my heart to stop.

(This was inspired by one of Victoria’s writing sessions, on the subject of “Bedtime Stories”. So naturally I took it to the darkest place I could)