Lost and Found

Lost and Found


It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’d, uh, lost something for a while there. It’s okay. I found it.

Hang on. I think I’m gonna need a beer for this one.


Now let me paint you a little picture.


Recess. Playing Lion King. I’m Simba.

Backyard. Playing Lord of the Rings. I’m Aragorn. The stubble drawn on my face with a charred cork.

Everywhere, all the time. Playing Harry Potter. I’m Remus Lupin and I don’t want the game to end ever. It’s not a game anymore. It’s not even funny. When my friends play along, there is no describing how right it feels.

I’m 12. Summer vacation, and my stomach hurts. I’m bleeding. And I’m hoping. No, not hoping, wishing (which is the closest I come to praying) that I’m sick. This isn’t my first period. I’m just sick, very sick maybe. Maybe we’ll need to go to the hospital, but I am not having my first period.

Junior high. PE class. Some jerk tells me it’s probably time I start wearing bras. I am wearing a bra, and I wish I were invisible. I wear boy jeans, old baggy jumpers and walk with my shoulders hunched. I feel like hiding inside my head.

I’m 14, 15 maybe, and I voice it for the first time. I wish I didn’t have breasts. The adult in the room says “That’s because you still think you could have been a guy. It’ll pass.” I think about this for months and years.

Three weeks ago…


Three weeks ago.

My partner, my soon-to-be husband, asks me where I stand regarding my gender. No pressure, just curiosity. He checks in on me.

“I’m veering more and more towards male but I’m not sure enough to be all out.”

We talk about it all evening. It’s emotional. It’s the most emotional I’ve ever gotten about it. It involves crying and laughing and declarations of enduring love and support, and a lot gets said that was hiding in plain sight for years. Achievement unlocked.

By the end of it, I’m sure. Funny how it goes.

Because I…

I am a guy.

Funny how it goes.


— Alistair —


Asexual Awareness Week

Asexual Awareness Week

Sam's Words And Worlds

Around my twentieth birthday, I became restless. For the first time in seven years, my age would not spell “teen”. I was gradually turning into a grown-up: I was pursuing my studies, had a steady job on the side, was paying for my horse’s boarding and everything he could possibly need. But still, I could not shake the feeling that there was something wrong with me. Something missing, or something broken perhaps. As if I were missing pieces of a puzzle, unless I had maybe one too many. I spent hours on the web, trying to find answers to a question I did not even know.

I ended up on AVEN somewhat by accident, after having clicked on a bunch of websites on yet another forum that seemed to hold no answer for me. I had long given up browsing French websites and forums, as they had not proved to…

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Carry on, Jeeves – a book review

Carry on, Jeeves – a book review

Wotcher, lovely people!

So this is the first in what will hopefully turn into a series of book/movie/tv series reviews. I’m thinking this could be a good exercise for me while giving you entertainment suggestions for your lazy Sunday afternoons. Win-win, right? Right! So let’s start. This is an oldie. I wrote this as part of my Master’s degree, back in 2013, but don’t you know, I think it holds up pretty nicely. I hope it’s as fun to read as it was to write.

Enjoy! Or not. You do you.


When endeavouring to comment upon the work of Mr P.G. Wodehouse, one must wander around the superlative shop with an eye out for discount offers. Now I don’t want to seem over-enthusiastic or anything, but I will go so far as to say that there is a decent chance the chap might be the most talented wordsmith I have ever had the good fortune to read. He’s got it, don’t you know.

Should you chance to open the collection of short stories titled Carry On, Jeeves, the first in a remarkable series, you will meet characters so alive with clumsiness and colourful expressions that they will have you spout out nonsense like “this guy is so improbably absurd that he must be real”. Bertie Wooster will entertain you with some delightful anecdotes from his eccentric life, all of which involve a “kind of darkish sort of respectful Johnnie” of a manservant called Jeeves, who quietly shuffles into his life one day and just as quietly takes over the household. About Jeeves, what can I say? The first thing you learn about him is that “the man’s a genius”. These credentials make him the person to ask when, say, you want to get rid of a manuscript you stole, or need to make a young lady understand that your friend is desperately smitten. Jeeves will always come up with a cunning plan to solve the whole thing, and still manage to get his way every single time. If Jeeves doesn’t like your tie, then by Jove you’ll have thrown it away by the end of the week.

Now Mr Wooster, in his own words “an optimist” and “all for rational enjoyment and so forth”, is the ideal narrator. He will have you laughing your lungs out without even trying to make any jokes. In fact, he probably wouldn’t understand why you are not taking him seriously. He will address you directly with a clear “you know” and yet never will you feel like his voice is forced upon you, nor will these addresses ever get in the way of the story moving forward. For Carry On, Jeeves is first and foremost an utterly enjoyable read.

When I picked it up to write a few words about it, I found I could not put it down, although I’d already read it and, in fact, knew it inside out and upside down. P.G. Wodehouse has this way of sucking you in and keeping you hooked. And I don’t mean in a suspense-y Dan Brown-y way. You keep reading because of the writing (as it should be with every book, let’s just put that out there). If you’ve read as much as four books – well, let’s say five, one doesn’t like to boast – you will know a master storyteller when you see one. It doesn’t take an amazing, knows-all-Proust-by-heart-and-in-French-too, reader to recognize that Mr Wodehouse knows what he’s doing. Every story feels controlled from the first word to the last, neatly tied up in a simple but solid little knot. And on top of all that, it’s dashed clever. There is a good chance that reading Wodehouse will improve your vocabulary. Looking for a new way to call your auntie? How about “old flesh and blood”? Or maybe you want to compliment your friends on their superior intellect? Try “from the collar upward you stand alone”. I guarantee you will make an impression.

What I mean to say is: how often do you find light reading that’s also great literature?

When you consider just how cheap the good old Penguin edition is – and even when you don’t consider it, come to that – there is really no excuse for you not to have Jeeves on your bookshelf. Believe me, he is the kind of man you want around the house.


Character creation: basics

It is my belief, but not mine alone, that a story’s most important advocates are its characters. The fictitious people make the fictitious world, so let us take a look at the basics of character building.

There should be a good reason for the presence of each and every one of your characters. A character can serve a multitude of purposes. Maybe he is holding back vital information. Maybe her story arc mirrors the protagonist’s for contrast. Maybe he will try to help but end up causing trouble.

Which brings us to guideline number two. Nobody is perfect. Perfect is boring, and happy people don’t make for good stories. Make your characters human. The best flaws are relevant to the story. A randomly near-sighted character is not as interesting as one who needs to win an archery competition. What if your leader has a beta personality? What if your soldier can’t stand the sight of blood?

However, there is a fine line between “she’s an idiot, I want to kick her” and “I’ll read something else”. In the first instance, the reader is still engaged. Do not allow your audience to give up on the protagonist. It’s okay to be an idiot if you’re brave. It’s okay to be snarky if you have a good heart. Walk the line.

With these very basic tips at your disposal, go forth, my friend, and remember: a good character can save a bad plot. A good plot cannot save a bad character.




Six months

Six months

Sam's Words And Worlds

Six months. It’s been six months since you left me. And I have been thinking of you almost every waking moment of every day, and almost every sleeping moment of every night. The pain has not dulled. Time does not heal all wounds. That’s bullshit. Some wounds simply never heal. And this is one of them.

I don’t know what to say, except that I love you. And that I hate you sometimes, for literally dying on me. I hate you so much it feels like my blood has turned to liquid rage. And then I hate myself for hating you, because you never meant to leave me like that. It was an accident. The first thing I told you that day was that it was okay for you to go, that I wouldn’t blame you. And I meant it. But I had no idea it would be this hard…

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Stuck in Traffic

Stuck in Traffic

I’m not much of a writer, but some things are so surprising and incredible that you just have to talk about them. My adventure – and yes, I would call it an adventure – started several years ago. I say “started” because I feel the events I’m going to share with you shaped my life and will forever continue to shape it. I was twenty years old and fresh out of college. Barely was my diploma in my hands that I left the comfort of my parents’ home to travel the world. I had been planning the trip all year, an occupation that had caused my grades to drop a few points. I was going to fly to Beijing, rent a car and visit the country from there. As any young bloke who had never left his hometown, I was filled with ideas of huge landscapes, wild nature and a good deal of “making it on my own” feelings.

Upon my arrival in China, I discovered it was going to be trickier than I thought. I had been teaching myself Chinese for the past year, but actually having a conversation with someone bears little to no resemblance to reading sentences in books. I had the hardest time following when the man who rented me the car warned me against the Beijing-Tibet expressway. If I had understood better, I might have taken his advice and missed out on the most interesting and character-building experience of my life; so, in this way, I would say I was lucky my Chinese was bad.

At first, it looked like any other traffic jam. The highway at rush hour. You know that feeling you can get that you’re going to be here all night. The thing is: even when you get that feeling, you don’t actually believe you’re going to be here all night. Deep down, annoyed as you are, you know it’ll be two hours tops. At first, I thought it would be two hours tops. Time passed and then I thought it would be four hours tops. Then I thought it would be six hours tops. By the time the sun went down, we were moving about two inches every ten minutes.

And suddenly, it happened. The driver in front of me turned his engine off. That’s when I realised I hadn’t grown accustomed to the roaring as I thought I had. The roaring had stopped. I reached over to turn off my engine as well and found myself apprehending the moment when I would admit that I was actually going to be here all night after all. Instead of turning the key, I wind down my window. It had been a very hot day and the air inside the car was barely breathable.

I was busy taking in the fresh air of the evening when my eyes locked with those of the man sitting in the passenger seat of the car next to mine. He was about fifty, his face was wrinkled and very tan. He smiled. I timidly smiled back, and then returned to my steering wheel, which, I grant you, was quite useless under the circumstances. I sighed and finally turned my engine off. The silence rang in my ears for a while. I must say I just felt like crying. I cursed myself out loud for being stupid enough to think I could actually make it on my own. I was all alone in this foreign country without any clue as to how long I was stuck there and all I wanted was to be back home. I crossed my arms over the wheel and buried my face in them.

It was morning when I woke up. Very early morning, but morning nonetheless. I felt sort of numb, my neck was sore and I was starving. I was still fighting with the remains of sleep that were pulling my eyelids down when I heard a light knocking against my car door. A woman was standing there, gently smiling at me. She started speaking to me and I must say I didn’t understand a word she said.

“Sorry?” I said in English. I really didn’t feel like making an effort.

She did, however. She repeated a little slower but it was her gesture towards the front of my car that made me understand we were moving again. I nodded. She nodded.

“Thank you,” I said.

She nodded again, smiled some more and went back to her vehicle. I was able to move my car about three feet before the line stopped again.

Looking around, I saw some people getting out of their cars, so I opened my door carefully and stepped out on the tarmac. It was a surreal experience to walk on the highway. I didn’t dare leave my car – which was silly because it was pretty much like being in a parking lot – so I just stretched my legs and leaned against my car door, and almost fell through the open window. The man who’d smiled at me the day before chuckled. I blushed and looked away, trying to seem cooler than I felt.

I spotted a group of merchants slaloming between the vehicles, selling food and drink to the drivers. They must have come from a nearby village. Suddenly remembering that I was starving, I stopped a guy who was walking past me and proceeded in buying a cup of instant noodles and a bottle of water. I thought I had done a pretty good job in carrying out the transaction entirely in Chinese and was about to pay when the man that had smiled and then laughed at me stepped out of his car, took the noodles and water from my hands, gave it back to the guy and started talking very fast. I watched in a stupor as the vendor left in a hurry with my lunch.

“What’s going on?” I asked in the best Chinese I could manage.

The man – Bao-Zhi was his name, as I later learned – put his hand on my shoulder.

“Twenty yuans for that, it’s too expensive.” he said.

“I don’t have a choice,” I said. “I’m hungry.”

“Come eat with us.” he said.

For a moment, I thought I’d misunderstood, but the way he smiled and pushed me towards his car left little room for doubt. As much as I tried to protest, he wouldn’t have it. He introduced me to his brother Hai, his wife Dao-Ming and his daughter Jia. All of them were smiling and gladly welcomed me. We all sat next to their car and I was instantly handed a bowl of rice and an orange juice. Bao-Zhi was quite chatty. He told me pretty much everything about his life. How his mother’s birthday was coming up and they were travelling to see her, how he and his brother hadn’t seen each other in six months and they thought it would be fun to make the journey together, how Jia was on her summer break from studying economics at the Beijing University. I was intimidated and didn’t talk very much. They asked me if I was visiting China for the first time, although I think it must have come across quite clearly already. Little by little, I loosened up and started feeling more and more comfortable around them.

I ended up spending the next five days with Bao-Zhi and his family. We passed the time by playing cards, or chess. Hai was pretty good at it. I play a lot myself and never won against him. Once every two hour or so we would climb back into our cars, move forward a few inches and then get right back to our game or lunch or discussion. It was very emotional when we finally saw the end of the traffic jam. On the sixth day, we were able to move more, more often. We knew the time would come very soon when we would have to say goodbye and drive our separate ways. And indeed, by the end of that day, the traffic was almost back to normal. We pulled over on a parking lot and exchanged farewells. They gave me their address in Beijing and made me promise I would come and visit them as often as I could. I gave them my address in London and made them promise they would write. There was a lot of hugging and even a little bit of crying. Then I went on to carry my exploration of the country.

We kept in touch, Bao-Zhi and I, and even now that twenty years have passed, I still go to China every two years or so and visit him. It feels like I have another family always waiting for me at the other side of the world. Which in a way, I suppose I do.


Put down that book

Put down that book


So it’s been a while, hasn’t it? How have you been? Recently settled back into my little Canadian dwelling after a long, wonderful and exhausting trip to Europe, it seems to me that this rainy day is perfect for a new blog post.

Shall we talk a bit about writing? I’d like that.

Now, I love a good book. One of my favourite activities is to wander around Waterstones and pluck random novels from the shelves. Every reader has their own little ritual for picking a book. Some will look at the blurb on the back. Some go for prize-winning works. Some get recommendations from friends. Maybe some of you like to judge them by their covers, shame on you.

Here’s my personal method, feel free to test it.

First I look at the blurb. Is it snappy? Is the plot appealing to me? Good. Then I open it at page one and read the first two or three paragraphs. If I find myself reading the whole page and then some, that book is mine!

Finally I open it somewhere in the middle and once again, read a few paragraphs. This is because the opening of a novel is not always reflective of the entirety of the writing. Is the dialogue any good? How does the style hold throughout? This is important because there are quite a few, shall we say, grammatical choices that will make me put down a book and never ever ever ever pick it up again.


Let us review some of those, because why the hell not?

Bland narration


There is a stereotype in the writing world that first person is for young adults. There are first person young adult novels, absolutely, of course, sure. But there is also Irvine Welsh. Present tense storytelling suffers from the same stereotype. But once again, give Irvine Welsh a try. His are some pretty fucking brilliant first person, present tense novels.


More often than not you open a first person novel and it feels like the usual third person narrator is for some reason speaking in first person. You cannot, repeat, cannot approach a first person narrative in the same way you would a third person narrative. They are completely different and require two very different states of mind from the author. When you are writing in first person, your narrator isn’t some mystical entity (unless it is). It’s a person. A living, breathing human being (unless it’s not).

You need to be an actor. You are the character. You’re a fifty-year-old working-class lorry driver with a kind heart and simple style. Would you describe your partner like a painter would describe a sunset? Doubtful. You are brushing your teeth after a long day at work. Would you stop and describe your wavy dark hair and piercing green eyes in front of the bathroom mirror? No, you would not.

Besides, it is so much fun to just be a character, act like them, talk like them. Go ahead and enjoy it. If you do, there’s a good chance your readers will too.


Over-the-top punctuation


Ellipsis followed by exclamation mark does not… create surprise! It is not… punchy! Mainly, it’s just… aggravating!

That is not how you create suspense in a scene. Don’t you see how it doesn’t make any sense? Suspense should build through content and emotions. This is a gimmick. Get rid of it.

Please also get rid of this!! And how about leaving this in the trash?! In fact, even a single exclamation point, used by a third person narrator, is cringe-worthy. “Then he discovered that, standing next to her, was his father!” Why are you attracting attention to yourself? You are not a character, you are not part of this story, make yourself scarce, for God’s sakes!!

Here’s a confession. I put down The Catcher in the Rye and never took it up again. Want to know why? Because it kept telling me how to pronounce every single sentence. Italics are acceptable if, and I would argue only if, the sentence could mean two different things, depending on the inflection. Otherwise, keep your italics for titles and foreign language words.

Yes, style is important. Yes, experimenting is fine. But please do make sure it actually improves the immersion. Stories are meant to be captivating, to draw you in. Aggressive punctuation pulls you out. Just do the math.


Forced feelings


Okay so I’m just going to come out and say it. Twilight. The Twilight series is a great example of that, but it is not the only one.

You’ve seen this happen. The main girl and the main guy are madly in love and you can’t for the life of you figure out why. “But Gwen, love just happens, there is no why!” Shut it, stop, don’t. People who don’t have fun together, don’t laugh together, don’t share deep thoughts, don’t allow themselves to be silly in front of each other, people who don’t like each other are not in a strong forever relationship. If they hadn’t tragically and stupidly died, I would have given Romeo and Juliet about a month together. Love at first sight? Please. I think what you mean is lust at first sight. And you can’t write a good romance on lust alone. When I read about a romance, I want to be reading about a friendship.

This also goes for other feelings. Hate. Jealousy. Guilt. Shame. Don’t force your characters to feel things because you want them to. Create the believable circumstances in which they will organically come to feel the feels. They will thank you for it. Or they won’t. Don’t pressure them.


So here you have a nice little top three of what will make me put down a book. What are your personal pet peeves? How about sharing with the rest of the group?




Cosmic Dancer

Cosmic Dancer

Sam's Words And Worlds

On Sunday, June 4, 2017, I scattered your ashes. I went to the beach where we had been over five years and a half ago. I will never forget how happy you were that day. More than that, you were ecstatic. In your youth, when you were still a race horse, you used to train on the beach from time to time. There is no doubt in my mind that you loved running as fast as you could on the sand, with the waves roaring and crashing near you, the wind rushing through your mane, free as a bird.

You had galloped fast before. And you galloped fast after that. Faster than any horse I had ever known, and I have met quite a lot of them. But never did you run as fast as you did on that day. You even forgot I was there, on your back, holding…

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The Angel Amongst Us

The Angel Amongst Us

Yet another wonderful tribute. Sam, my friend, you didn’t deserve to have to grieve twice at the same time. But sometimes we don’t get what we deserve. And sometimes we don’t deserve what we get. You are handling it gracefully and selflessly, and I hope writing – so beautifully – about your departed friends brings you some level of comfort.

Sam's Words And Worlds

“He was an angel”.

This is what my father said upon learning that our beloved dog had died. And I sincerely do believe that truer words have never been spoken. Our faithful companion of fourteen years, Ullan de Royal Belgravia, died on May 15, 2017, at around 11:30pm. We took him urgently to the vet after he suffered a stroke, but we decided to let him go, for his own sake. He died in my arms, knowing that he was loved, and that he had fulfilled his purpose as a dog; that is to love with all the might of his heart, that was, quite literally, too big for his own chest.

You found your way to us by accident. When my parents went back to the kennel we had previously visited, a lovely place where the dogs were loved, they had never planned on coming home with a dog…

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7am together

7am together

The fog rolls in at 7am. At first it’s far away, vague, “what is this?” You become wary, uneasy, because it is coming towards you rather fast and from all sides. Oh dear. Before you know it, it’s all around you and you can’t see two feet in front of you. You’re not sure where you are and if you take a step in the wrong direction, you might fall off a cliff.

7am and my heart is pounding. It pulls me awake, like someone poking me and very politely reminding me that I have to be on stage in front of thousands of people in five minutes to give a speech about the socializing habits of penguins — something I’m sure I am extremely unqualified to discuss. I’m sweating and icky and uncomfortable. My chest is tight and I’m shaking inside.

It’s not the first time, of course. The first time was much scarier. By now it’s more of a bother than anything else. Not this again, I’m tired, I was hoping to sleep well tonight.

When I come back from the restroom and stumble into bed, my partner stirs. “Are you having trouble sleeping again?” In his gentlest, most caring, slightly sleepy voice. So I tell him all about the fog. I tell him it’s okay and it’ll pass eventually, but that’s not good enough for him.

“I want to help,” he says. “I want to help.”

He strokes my stomach and even though I am barely aware of the touch, even though I can’t see through the fog, it makes me happy. How about that? I didn’t use to think panic attacks and joy could occur at the same time. But they can. They can and at 7am that day, they do.

7am is very early for us night owls. We may have gone to bed at 3 or 4.

He offers to make me some tea. My partner. And that’s what he does. We both get up and I sit on the couch while he goes into the kitchen and brews me a peppermint.

“Do you think you’ll be able to go back to sleep? You seem pretty awake.”

No, I won’t be able to go back to sleep. It’s too late and too early at the same time.

And then to my surprise, well, no, not surprise. It’s more like an emotional realization. And then to my emotional realization, he pours himself some cereal, turns on the PS4, and sits with me.

At 7am, both exhausted, we play games and have tea and cereal together. He could go back to sleep. It’s obvious. But he doesn’t. Willingly, he lets himself feel a bit worse so that I can feel a bit better.


That is love.