An Ugly Ducking Responds

The very wonderful Gareth Powell has written an open letter to ugly ducklings. I needed to read that today (actually, I needed to read it a long time ago, but today will do).

It’s odd that I’ve been thinking about the ugly duckling narrative in media over these past few days and then Gareth posts this. I’ve not mentioned anything on Twitter, so it’s clearly a crazy random happenstance.

I’ve worn glasses since I was very young. In those days it wasn’t cool. I got name called at school. You know the ones. It got worse when I hit my teens. I’d greasy hair and skin that defied shampoo and spot creams. Horse riding made my thighs too thick, genes my shoulders too broad. I’d no breasts to speak of. I dressed masculine because dressing feminine just highlighted the fact I wasn’t a girly girl. I was an ugly duckling.

When I was in secondary school, the soap Neighbours ran a storyline: Melanie, the quiet, mousy girl with her hair in a ponytail and thick glasses on her face. An ugly duckling. Then she got contacts, had her hair done, and hey presto! A swan was born. People told me I should do the same. Told me that I’d be pretty. And I fell for their lies.

There was far too much I needed to “correct” to be conventionally pretty. It hurt me to realise that, but it also released me because I stopped being with people that expected that. I dropped “friends” who weren’t, really; the ones that kept me around because I made them look good. But it took me years, decades, to reach the point where I reclaimed myself.

I’m still not there. I still wonder what the hell H saw in me that day in college. I still hesitate in putting my photo online (my Twitter avatar has rarely been me). I was terrified by the panels at BristolCon this year, just as I was last. Hopefully next year, I’ll go on stage with my head held high. It’s something to aim for.

Because I’m not a swan. But Gareth is right and it doesn’t matter. I love what I love, and the people I’m closest to share that love. I didn’t need to pass a beauty test to geek out about Doctor Who with Paul Cornell. What I’d done was far more important to Cliff Simon than how I looked.

These are the things I cherish, and need to remember more.

Thank you, Gareth, for reminding me of that.

NaNo Day 13 – Falling Over

A novel is an equation. Protagonist + antagonist + goal. Sometimes it’s a case of one character’s goal being opposed by another. At others it’s a race towards the same goal. But boiled down, somebody wants something and someone else wants to stop them.

When you’re writing a story, you need a protagonist, an antagonist, and a goal. At the very least. If there’s one of these elements missing, then your story falls over.

My NaNovel is missing an element – it has no antagonist. Well, not an immediate one; there is a Big Bad, a vague, looming presence that it’s as effective at the moment as Sauron. But Big Bads like him and like Star Wars’ Empire have been done. I feel like I’m going over very well-trodden ground, and pretty much sinking.

There’s nothing that I can’t fix, but not within the time-frame of NaNo. In dithering between forging on or dealing with the issue, I’m losing days, which is only adding to my stress. I know there’s good stuff in the 16K I’ve written so far as I’ve a beta reader who’s told me so.

So I’m undecided as to whether to continue with NaNo or not. I’ve a second WIP I could go with if I choose to fight on, but either way, i’m not dumping what I have. Just reworking it so that all the elements are in place.

NaNo Day 7 – SFFSat Snippet 1

Hi, and welcome to the first SFFSat edition of NaNo! I’ve been writing an untitled SFR novel about a homeless woman who finds the man responsible for her world’s destruction. Yet all is not as it seems. This little snippet picks the story up when Cass finds a stasis pod aboard a deserted starship.

She also knows the blank screen to the left of the control keypad will display the occupant’s details. The screen flashes once when she taps it, and then displays a single line of yellow text.


No. That’s not possible. Anthian Leon is dead, by all rights burning in the hell he’d created. Cass takes a step back, though her eyes remain locked on the words. Her heart slams against her ribs. Her blood runs cold. She finds herself trembling and she can taste the ash again. Hear the utter silence of a world destroyed in a moment.

And this is where my word count is sitting:

Please read the other entrants!

NaNo Day 4 – Ebb and Flow

Four days into NaNo, and the fact I’ve not done much planning is starting to show. It took me longer to get going this morning and words were slow as I felt my way through the scenes. It is a more organic way to write, and rather fun in that I discover little details about my characters and their world, but it is a slow way.

Having done NaNo several times – having written pretty much every novella this way – I know that the slow scenes will probably last a couple of days. Then I’ll stumble across a detail that throws oil on the embers and they’ll burst into flames. The words will flow until the tide turns once more.

NaNo Day 3 – Making Lemonade

At 3am my dinner decided it no longer wanted in my stomach. Lying in bed afterwards, shivering and feeling thoroughly miserable, my brain chose to give me a plot bunny. I grabbed my iPad (my mobile being left at the shop because I’m an idiot), made some notes and then emailed them to myself.

Today I’ve written one full scene and two partials from those notes. 2,340 words for 7,321 overall.

When life gives you lemons…