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The Alchemy of Reading.

An anti-abstract: I’m not going to use this post to talk about people who deliberately misinterpret Barthes in order to give a psychological assessment to long-dead authors and put words into the mouths of living ones, Tumblr. That would be pointless, and it wouldn’t be fun.

An abstract: I’m going to talk about what I think reading, or indeed watching, or any form of apparently one-sided, supposedly non-interactive communicative art is.

What is reading?

What a bizarre question. What happens when you read something?

Well, your brain makes an attempt to decode the verbal and visual encoding of non-verbal ideas and emotions encoded by someone else’s brain into that medium in an attempt to communicate those ideas to another person, like so:

(Image originates here)

That little overlap in the middle is to do with shared cultural references, experiences in common (whether culturally expected, like Western children being expected to have some experience of “Christmas”, or universal human experiences, like having a poo), common observations, and of course shared language, whether that language is verbal (I am talking to you in English because my attempts to learn any other languages so far have led to hysterically funny failure; I am a bear of very little brain), or non-verbal (semiotics, sociomusicology, have at you).

When you read, you are trying to extract meaning from a meaning-carrying device primed by someone else.

Reading is a creative act.

In order to read, you create a new universe.

The foundations of that universe are laid in the head or heads of the creator/s of the meaning-carrying device. A code is laid down to be read, a set of instructions to the brain which are both direct and descriptive (“I have hit my foot”, said Peter.) and figurative and evocative (The red fog enveloped Peter’s heart as he swore at the throbbing mass his foot had become.); direct and descriptive code relies a little on shared experience (we assume you have hit your foot, know what a foot is, and what hitting it entails), filling in gaps (it is most likely Peter did not deliberately strike his foot with his own hand, and that he has bumped it against something unnamed, probably while in motion), and so on. Figurative and evocative code requires more faith in the shared experience with the reader, and shared cultural references (red is equal to anger, fog is absence of clarity in thought due to emotional upheaval, we know that Peter’s foot is still a foot but the sensation of pain has transfigured it on an experiential level).

When code is laid down it is inert. A film that is not watched and a book that is not read have no meaning. They have potential meaning, in the way that a rock balanced on top of a gantry has potential energy. This is authorial intent. Without anyone to read it, the intent has no function.

When a reader comes to a text they decode it, but this term implies a simple undoing of the coding process.

What actually takes place is creative interpretation of the code, and in the process of this, a story, or version, is created. Sometimes these deviate drastically from the intended content of the code.

No two stories/versions of the same code are the same.

Every person’s reading of a text, every reading by the same person of the same text, is unique, regardless of what shared opinion of the text they come in with.


Because no two people are the same, and what causes a particular interpretation and emotional reaction – alchemical reaction – is the amalgamation of every single experience, thought, belief, and resonance that one person has had throughout their life, which will inevitably pick out different emphases among the text and trigger different emotional experiences, memories, prejudices, and fears.

In literary criticism, in order to present an interpretation of the text as valid it must be supported with evidence from the text and an argument which convinces and which typically draws on an accredited theoretical framework, or builds it own. In reading, all interpretations are valid, and equally valid, and no one reader’s interpretation may supersede another’s by virtue of authority alone. In fact, the attempt to communicate the experience of reading creates another story/version, that of the experience-telling, which exists between the various readers of the work, and at second-hand, as a catalyst, the creator of the work.

In other words, the story created in the interaction between the creator/s of a work and each individual reader is a private and unique story as it is experienced by the reader. This act of creation is not duplicated, not possible to share in its entirety with anyone, and is not owned by the work’s creator (they only made the code to be read), and not owned by the reader (they brought their self and attendant experiences to the code to read it, but the code is not theirs). It exists independently of both.

Each reading is a temporary and private work of art.

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Conversations On How To Write

(Further self-important essays on the writing process and advise and exercises can be found in How Not To Write By Someone Who Doesn’t)


In the depths of the hellish night shift the brain has time to mull over problems not typically considered in a busier, more sunlit atmosphere. In my case I’m lucky enough that there’s someone in the opposite time-zone to me who is also frequently bored in charge of a computer, and has her head screwed on when it comes to the business of writing.

You’ll have to excuse the regular descent into internet vernacular with attendant poor grammar (on my part), spelling, and punctuation. There’s been a tiny amount of censorship and explanation but on the whole I wanted to maintain the authenticity of the original discussion, mostly conducted between the hours of 3:00 and 5:00 in the morning in between hating the national press.

Your host, I (YHI): it’s much easier to think when answering questions too

Extraordinary Comic Maker (ECM): yeah, like.. breaking it down into it’s parts to assemble sentences, from nebulous thought into structure, even as it’s growing, helps with untangling and identifying gaps and obvious problems.

This is one of the reasons I’m not a fan of “oh, I won’t answer that question until I’ve done some research/thinking”; I find that in answering a question on the fly it’s a lot easier to bring together elements that are bubbling away beneath the surface and get to a more concrete solution than by toiling away alone in the dark.

YHI: Yes! And in explaining it to someone else, one has to have an idea of what one means. It can be very helpful for filling in the gaps, as you say.

ECM: Yeah, always special to try to explain something and then go …????  I have no idea what I’m trying to describe???

YHI: I find the act of trying solidifies things, possibly due to my DESPERATE NEED to sound like I know what I’m talking about at all times, and suddenly all of the vague “I hadn’t really thought about it’s” turn into “QUICK PULL SOMETHING OUT OF YOUR ASS SO PEOPLE DON’T REALISE HOW DUMB YOU ARE”. Amazing what a panicked ego can achieve.

Personally I’m a big fan of hacking the worst aspects of my personality in order to make things which are usually grotesquely self-destructive work in my favour. I may not be able to change the fact that I’m defeatist, ego-centric, and pathetically keen to sound intelligent at all times, but I can at least work on bending those personality traits into helping me to persist and achieve at least small goals!

Fortunately, ECM knows what I’m talking about:

ECM: Necessity, panic, something, invention? Ohhhhhhhh I know that one. A bit like the “I like how you did x, and how it parallels y” “YES, YES THAT WAS INTENTIONAL, YEAH. (???!!!!!)”

For what it’s worth, I think a lot of the instances of “yes, yes, that was intentional” are at least subconsciously so:

YHI: ah, my old friend “i think that was wholly subconscious but i’m going to pretend i’m totes that clever”

The discussion moved onto the specifics of world-building for a while:

YHI: so useful to have intercultural conflict even between characters which get on – it’s just not a realistic representation of sentience otherwise

At which point ECM gloriously and brilliantly climbed onto a soapbox which I can’t articulate half as well, and I’m going to give you her response in full to mull over for your own writing projects, because she nails so accurately the real core of creating a believable, meaty, weight world:


And yeah, it’s the thing of not wanting to make people too reasonable or emotionally competent. And there should always be more stories about people of different backgrounds and cultures mixing in positive or at least non hostile ways and still being people – that is, a bit dickish and self involved, getting on best when there is a shared goal, running into each other when stress is high, more forgiving and able to handle offence and upset when well rested and secure, more willing to admit guilt when they trust each other, able to compromise but not all the time.
I dunno. I understand all the reasons why fiction matters, that nothing is without ideology in some way, but… arg. People are dickheads and it’s not the end of days. People hurt through well meaning and indifference and spite and and sometimes it doesn’t matter in the slightest and other times it does. Aaaand for the most part people just do not give a shit.
I don’t want tedious ‘if onlys and should be-s’ and I don’t want nightmare ‘if you’re not carefuls’. Not exactly reality but something that breaths, that is recognizable as real, if out of focus, perhaps more interior. Like dreams – moments of sharp focus and lots of dim movement and shapes and knowings.
I want this world to have big difficult powers that wear lots of hats, and the rage felt by not being able to see your enemy, of being under attack and going out of you mind to find the source of the sharp pains that come for invisible sources. And I want these big powers to be mortal and fallible. Always on the brink of finally becoming too arrogant and blind to survive, but mean and determined enough to get where they are. For this universe to heave and shift and everyone just try to hang on and make dinner and a life.
And I want it to over exposed and desperate and cold and quiet. Very very big. Deep, wide, shifting. Big structures that change the shape but not the texture. Things decaying even as they’re built. And new life, always life, thriving and struggling and fucking and getting in it’s own way. No great answer no great conclusion just more of the same until it all ends. Horror and beauty and fart jokes. No right answers and nothing beyond hope and it’s all indifference and bitter unfairness. No special ones. Absolutely no special ones. Not and ideal universe but a universe that has – and fails to live up to it’s – ideals. And for it all to have some fucking bite.
“Horror and beauty and fart jokes”, possibly the greatest manifesto heading you can ask for.
YHI: it makes sense and your ambitions are narratively speaking deeply worthy… i mean, imo, what you’ve set out to do is encompass the entire realistic human experience as painted on a broader canvas, hugely ambitious and right. you can’t just detach any part of existence from all others and have it make sense, the whole machine of environment and prejudice and interaction and history has come together to make every single moment and quirk, right? so the engine of story you’re building is functional and accurate, unlike the “i’d like it to be this colour and the details can just go spit” approach people take most of the time.
Back to specifics:
ECMI think this story will live and die on how emotionally believable the story is
YHI: All stories worth reading live and die on that. Emotionally unbelievable stories may have technical perfection but no one ever loves them.
And then, my dear audience, she asked me a whole bunch of questions.

How do you manage the emotional integrity of a story?
you keep drawing on the depth of your characters until they feel like real people, you get a template of them in your head and then you drag them out of their depth and bang them into each other; as long as none of their responses feel inauthentic you know it’s working out. sometimes the plot has to change as you go along because the characters have their own life and just won’t do the thing you’ve said they should… it’s usually best to listen at this point. it’s a pretty organic way of working admittedly but you can’t force things. if a character refuses reconciliation and goes for a big sacrifice that’s just what it’s in them to do…

When do you know a story is done?
there’s a shape stories have. it’s usually sometime after the lowest point. there’s about three “lowests”, and the absolute lowest is followed by an up-tick, where there’s a kind of cool moment of calm or stasis, usually with the promise that something will happen, but not just yet… that’s where the plot ends. That’s the end of that story. [the “something” that’s about to happen can be of another order of magnitude, dr who is quite a good reference point for this – old dr who anyway. sarah waters is with me on that one]. in terms of “ready to be written” done-ness it’s usually when the fucking thing starts writing itself; the characters start talking and won’t shut up, you’ve assembled something so lively that the narration is burping its way into quiet moments of your life, and the wretched infection has to be written or you will not get a moment’s peace. as soon as i can “hear” it clearly i know it’s approaching readiness.

Dialogue? How?

let characters talk to each other in your head, write down what they say, remove approximately 90% of it so that it doesn’t take up four thousand pages. if they won’t talk to each other write about the way they’re not talking to each other and what they interpret from the silences. throw in raymond chandler’s man with a gun to make them interact if necessary. the way i approach it, at least, they should be a) out of water enough to behave beyond the limits of normality as a result of plot events, and b) so well-fleshed that their responses to events can be relied upon to be natural; dialogue follows as a result of that. to take what you’re working on as an example: someone bursts in and demands to see the navigator, clearly not knowing who that is, while [REDACTED, a character specific to ECM’s project] is standing right there. what does he say? what do they say? what information are they trying to convey and how is their ability to convey that impeded by [REDACTED, a character specific to ECM’s project] being a moody bitch at them? eavesdropping conversations was something i was taught to do both in theatre school and on various writing courses, and i did some audio typing work for a friend who needed her phd interviews transcribing; if you spend a little time writing down verbatim what people say to each other (then remove all the fucking repetition and 99% of the hesitations and at least some of the circumlocution) it helps to internalise what natural speech patterns sound like and what kind of character they’re attached to. the aim is to be able to determine who is talking without any attribution [and once you’ve got it settled you can play with it, having people speak in a way that is not natural, and which therefore makes readers feel unsettled].

Single thing you wrote/created that you’re most proud of?

usually this is just “the most recent thing i’ve written and didn’t hate”, and currently really is the case, i have genuine confidence that [it] is probably the most well-constructed and emotionally broad thing, the least over-indulgent thing i’ve written to date. but it’s not ready.

Work that you most admire? 

for clarity of vision and character stability, pat barker’s regeneration books. for character voice lolita and the book i’m reading at the moment [this was The Debt To Pleasure, which i wholly recommend]; for break-neck pacing and sheer excitement, glass books; for abject poetry and management of delicate clue-laying and emotional sadism on an incredible scale mary renault – her touch is so light you sometimes have to read and reread to get all of the layers, and the rhythm of her sentences occasionally makes me angry because they’re so WELL BALANCED AND JUST. TOO GOOD. – there are a lot of works where the concept is just mind-blowing but i have no idea if it’s a technical thing or if it’s simply ideas that resonate with me.

What do you find to be the most useful thing to know about a character?

It kind of varies on the character, which is bewilderingly unhelpful, I know. Currently I’ve found things like: the book I’m planning has a major character for whom singing was an important part of his life until various events took place, and now he has lost both that and his very strong religious faith. What has proven to be the key in unlocking him in my head is not this, nor his relationship with his family, but what his voice sounds like now. It changed his look in my head and made him an individual character with his own life. Learning which swear words another character favoured as given me her voice. In [the most recent project] it was getting to grips with how [a major character] felt about his position as a golden boy and what effect that had had on his confidence and also recklessness; sometimes I have to keep prodding a character because they feel flat and weird and wrong and something has to be changed about them and I’m never sure what it’s going to be. But there needs to be a handle onto which I can hang in order to make them solid.

Favourite part of the writing process?

I realise I’m in the minority here but THE ACTUAL WRITING. I hate having a wrestling match with my brain trying to plot things. Once all that is in place the scenes usually just write themselves. It’s like running down hill fast or, at some points, like hitting the crest of a rollercoaster. Fantastic feeling, highly worth it just to submerge myself in a totally different reality that I’m also getting to shape without feeling like it’s me doing it? I think part of the reason it is usually not so hard to write the actual content is that by the time I get started I’ve spent so long with the characters/world that there’s no concern about voice or reality. But easily that “god this stuff is just pouring out of me” sensation.
What writing skill/part of your writing are you most pleased with?

I can guarantee that as soon as I focus on something here I will become dissatisfied with it. Previously I’d have said character voice diversity, but I’ve been on an editing read recently and I’m convinced all my characters sound like me. I guess the ability to provide a sense of place without going overboard on details? Not sure if that’s something I actually manage or if I just leave people floundering in white space though. Oh, emotional impact. I’m okay with that.
What do you find the hardest/want to most improve?
Nuts and bolts: I cannot pace for shit. I have real trouble with cause and effect, my endings are ropy, there is little to get plot resolution happening as a result of character actions rather than as something that happens to them – I suffer from chronic Passive Protagonist Disorder and I don’t think it’s going to clear up until I start writing a different sort of protagonist and that’s not happening until I sort out some mental issues. WHICH IS EMBARRASSING, FRANKLY.

In your opinion, what do you think makes a good protagonist? Or at least a compelling/effective one?
My friend [REDACTED], with whom I disagree about a lot of things, said something very good on this: he said if he has made it through a book for 100 pages and he doesn’t care whether the protagonist gets his heart’s desire or has an anvil dropped on him, the book is lousy and the protagonist is lousy. I am inclined to agree. They need to provoke some kind of strong emotion, even if it is just curiosity, and no matter how repellent they are as a person you need to want them to be in your field of “vision” – you have to want to know what they’re up to, what will happen to them. In effect a species of charm, even if it’s achieved by them being horrifyingly charmless.

More annoyingly the consensus of writing books, which I am less inclined to agree with, is that a protagonist has to be active. Things have to happen because of something they’ve done. I’m kind of a fan of the “giant events far beyond the protagonist’s control” approach as well, if only because a) the universe works that way, and b) I think the individualist, non-fatalistic hero is probably a modern/western invention to a degree. So Budgie’s edict, yes.
what is a protagonist that you would like to write?

a total fucking shit. I want to be able to write someone with whom I have almost nothing in common and with whom i disagree massively, and still care what happens to them. i want to be able to make myself sympathise with them and care what happens to them, the way that better authors have made me done with complete shit protagonists. in a slightly pseudo-religious sense i think it’s actively important to humanise The Other so that we learn to accept a diversity of viewpoints as being human even as we try to change their views, to approach them as mutable rather than alien and only worthy of destruction and hatred. which means i at some point need to overcome my cowardice relating to being misinterpreted as sharing the views of characters i write, i suppose.
What the most useful thing to keep in mind when going for emotional impact?

  1. small and personal trumps massive and wide-reaching – even if you’re writing about wide-reaching things bring the focus down onto as small a group of people as possible. choose individuals and write about them, pick individual moments rather than a stream – panels/snapshots, not trying to capture the whole event. the glory of the human imagination is that we will fill in the gaps with whatever’s most affecting to us, and the work being done by the reader will surpass anything a writer can do on their own.definitely worth remembering that the consumption of Story is a collaborative act.
  2. i know people go on and on and on about “show, don’t tell”, but it is really important in this area; you only need to devote a sentence or two to the description of an emotion and the rest should be the physical or whatever effects on the character, how they appear, the sensation of that. also with describing an emotion metaphor’s usually helpful? like “mike was sad” blows chunks unless you’re going to contrast it to him either a) being demonstrably not sad (irony) or b) being demonstrably totally fucking devastated (understatement). meanwhile, “mike was hit by a breaking wave of sadness” (or whatever works with your own idiom) is something which makes the experience relatable. “sad” is nebulous. “agony” is relative. “hot needles of shame breaking out in his cheeks” is something most of us are familiar with on a visceral level.
  3. pacing really fucking matters. you can’t pull an immediate emotional impact out of the bag without some build-up – it will just fall flat. you can have tension ticking along in the background of other scenes as you move onto different topics with this “what will happen” hanging over people’s heads, you can twist and bend the narrative however you want, but if you don’t give the moment of emotional impact the space it needs to grow it will just fall flat. also, be wary of either a) getting it over with too quickly – people need to be able to process it and it will feel flat if you just rush past it, or b) dragging it out like you’re milking the damn thing. mawkishness will make readers resent the shit out of it and stop caring both about the event and about the characters.
  4. something that i’ve been writing on my angry post-its to my former self as i go through the first editing pass on my last MS has been “seed this”. it means making sure there are sufficient roots for an event or character leading up to a situation that they feel anchored in the narrative and the world, rather than airlifted in to provide conflict or whatever at an appropriate moment. and  be careful of this, readers get fucking irate if they think you’re just playing them for emotional release for no reason, to no end, without any indication of the point of what you’re doing. it has to have a function in the plot, ideally, or in the character’s development. but also yeah, don’t fridge characters either.


We then had a brief interlude for relishing the mere memory of the moments when creation is easy.
ECM:  I get that glorious creative-iron-filings-aligned thing with painting sometimes – like for bloody once one’s brain is doing what it should, all the things that don’t work in every other fucking circumstance pulling together and functioning in an almost unconscious effortlessness.  feels like being a dancer or a sea gull or something, but mentally. never lasts but worth going through the agony and self doubt to do it again. and again. and again.
This seems like as good a point as any to end a very long post full of rambling about the Process, because what she says about the sensation of writing or creating anything, when it works, is all that really needs to be said about that. We are drawn to this annoying, gruelling, frequently otherwise unrewarding path of activity littered with mistakes and disappointments for that addictive experience of the whoosh of creation – when everything goes right and there’s no casting about for words or overstepping lines or wondering what happens next, only the unstumbling rush forward through scenes or colours or compositions, which is worth a thousand of any other kind of experience you could ask for.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the praise and the money when the finished product briefly catches people’s eye, but that’s not why I do it, and I don’t think that’s why anyone else does it, either.

(Further self-important essays on the writing process and advise and exercises can be found in How Not To Write By Someone Who Doesn’t)

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Persistence: Only Available At 5am When I Have No Choice

Sometimes the flow of work at my workplace doesn’t keep pace with how quickly I process it and by “sometimes” I mean “often”. Unfortunately by 5am I’ve also lost the ability to form sentences and can’t productively use the time to work on book projects, and I can’t look at hardcore pornography because I’m at work.

Recently I decided that I’d try copying a painting by one of my (current) favourite painters, Newlyn School artist and Notorious Heterosexual Henry Scott Tuke, whose primary fodder of sun-kissed naked boys viewed from behind is mysteriously not banned by my workplace, on the grounds that if it’s rendered in paint it’s not pornography.

Now there’s a good reason my tag for attempts at freehand lineart on my less official blog is “derek can’t draw”, and it’s also fairly self-evident. I hear that practice makes perfect, but I also hear my dear chum Jamie McKelvie’s complaints about sciatica brought on by endless drawing and think that art is entirely Too Dangerous for a fragile flower like me, and stick to lifting heavy things in the bathroom instead.

Being for all intents and purposes nailed to my bastard desk for at least another hour with nothing else to do I thought I’d take my life and back muscles into my own hands and give it a try anyway:

brush pen

My brush pen had run out. Under normal circumstances I would take this as a Sign From God that it is not to be, but alas God is going to have to signal a bit harder (say, for instance, by letting me go home) under conditions like these–


Merciful fucking Christ, have I always been this bad at art?



I made an attempt to block it out with a wee figure in the corner but as you can see this did not help in the slightest.

getting worse

Trying to go for something more stylised and less naturalistic is not helping. It’s getting worse. It’s getting worse the more I do it.

Look at that leg what is happening to his leg?

am i on acid

The point at which sleep deprivation and hallucinogenic drugs become a very similar experience: the arms are improving (for a given value of improving) but the legs are making me concerned that I’ve experienced neurological damage and just haven’t noticed yet (Will Graham, I am coming for your crown). Do I have encephalitis or am I just incredibly stupid?

Don’t answer that.


Experimenting with an edict from friend Kev about letting “mistakes” become part of your style, as well as with a slightly better block-out. Not worried about club foot, jug ears, crab hand, or banana fingers, but that leg. It’s broken. There’s a gravitational issue going on – his arm’s supposed to be resting on his knee and there’s this smashed noodle happening there instead.


Frustration takes hold. None of these poses are right. There’s a distinct, leggy problem occurring and re-occurring, like someone has lost his grip on anatomy and probably shouldn’t be trying to draw at 5am after about 260mg of caffeine anyway.


This calls for drastic measures. Fling open a new tab. Find some anatomy guides. This one was of the musculature of the leg (and leg bones), in case this is not clear from the gargoyle scratchings I committed to paper.

Commentary written on my drawing is fairly standard practice: earlier in the night I tried to redesign a character and every sketch was accompanied by criticism from the drawings themselves and protests that they wanted to be left in peace.


The thigh bone’s connect to the shin bones and the shin bones are connected to the heel bone and the heel bone rests on the ground, Derek, because you’re not a horse.

see through

Making the body see-through to get an idea of where all the limbs sit helps, as does temporarily changing to a different pen.

I mean look, his elbow’s bulbous but at least his leg’s not broken any more.


Combining with the character redesign. The leg is still fucked but eh. How much more can I do?


After all, until I can get the hang of the line of gravity in a figure anatomy is going to be a dead duck anyway.

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Coming Out As Trans: A Bloody Cliché-Ridden Story.

My updated passport. Note gender.

My updated passport. Note gender.

That should cover the basics, I feel. I’m not a fan of making big announcements but as I made a song-and-dance about the last name change and this one is rather more important, it behoves me to at least have a hum and a shuffle about this.

For very few remaining people this will come as a surprise. The majority already know. I’m in the laborious process of flitting between private and NHS healthcare at the moment, trying to secure prescriptions and surgery, and spending a lot of my free time doing daft-looking and daft-sounding exercises to help shape my muscles and vocal chords so that strangers stop referring to me as “she” and making me feel like crap.

It should be noted that my friends have been exemplary about this, with almost no habitual slip-ups and immediate corrections. Not one of them has questioned whether I mean it, and not one of them has flounced off in a transphobic huff. I’ve spent years and years filtering out the arseholes from my social circles and it has paid off

In my job I read a lot of news articles, and it gives me the unparalleled opportunity to see how the narrative of transitioning, which seems to have been cemented in place a long time ago and which requires a fairly rigid set of boxes to be ticked, is usually told. It’s also given me the opportunity to see that while the media is pretty obsessed with trans women (whether deriding them, fetishing them, or actually managing to be respectful) there are still not very many mentions of trans men. There were even fewer mentions when I was younger, which I’m pretty sure was a contributing factor in me being blissfully uncomfortable and incapable of actually putting a name to what was wrong for so long. A list like this one might help, might have helped.

There is a traditional narrative of transition, of early discomfort, cross-dressing, and dysphoria, disaffection with social gender roles and clothing, culminating in a lightbulb moment. There are a few hiccups with that smooth narrative: cross-dressing is not necessarily linked to gender roles, clothes don’t really have their own gender, and thanks to tireless campaigning by women’s dress reformers in the 1800s and early 1900s, it is not exactly outre for women to wear trousers or suit blazers. Unfortunately for men who like dresses, Eddie Izzard has not had the same degree of success in ungendering the frock and lippy.

The bounds of gender are also elastic. If a cis woman can be butch, a tomboy, etc, without compromising her gender identity (and she can and should be allowed this), then why should a transgender woman not be allowed this? If a cis man can be a drag queen (and God be praised many are, drag queens are an element of entertainment culture I never, ever want to see pass away), or a metrosexual, or David Bowie, why can’t a trans man have purple eyebrows and a latex dress?

Discomfort with gender roles is, I’ve noticed, hardly restricted to transgender people. Straight, cis, male friends complain tirelessly of being boxed in by expectations of masculinity. The angry demand that women be allowed to damn well do anything that men do (including really stupid and damaging things) has been heard with increasing ferocity and eloquence for over a century in the UK alone.

Early discomfort is … well, it’s hard to separate from discomfort with other things, a factor which seems to be largely ignored in the WPATH standards of care. I was raised in a proudly and profoundly second-wave feminist household. Since the moment I could form sentences I have been aware of a) the millstone of partriarchal impositions on women’s bodies, b) the role of the partriarchy in suppressing women’s achievements and c) the phrase “internalised misogyny”.

In a world where a bleak division continues to be perpetrated between the power held by women and the power granted to men, is it really likely that every transgender child can tell the difference between being piqued that they’re prevented from having a pink doll or furious at being forbidden football for reasons of generalised unfairness and the stirrings of social dysphoria? We only have hindsight.

Physical dysphoria (as opposed to social dysphoria) which is not a requirement for a non-cisgender identity, is more concrete. And so we’ll begin my Classic Trans Narrative with that.

It is a curious thing to look back over the experiences of your life and realise that your uncategorisable weirdnesses, over which you’ve experienced shame, guilt, anger, and a sense of dislocation from yourself so deep that you’re still plagued by doubts that you exist at all, and find that you are, in fact, categorisable. To turn to other people who have had similar experiences and find that they fit, to a degree, within an existing framework of which you’ve been utterly ignorant. To go back and fit the disjointed, glaring moments and current of Wrongness into an actual picture which, viewed from the position of already having the answer, suddenly and finally makes sense.

A bit like a historical Magic Eye Picture.

If I was preparing a slideshow I might, for example, include childhood instances of trying to create an STP harness out of a toilet roll tube. I might mention the virulent jealousy of my male best friend and his stupid weird testicles when I was 7. Children are weird, naysayers would say. I might mention the utterly alien experience of female puberty, bringing with it the start of no longer feeling as if I was in my own body – a sensation which has sent me through all kinds of risk-taking behaviour, depths of despair, unwanted pregnancy (why care about contraception when you barely believe it’s you having the unprotected vaginal sex?), eating disorders, obesity, self-harm, and a long-term indifference to my own survival. Internalised misogyny, naysayers would desperately reply, on being faced with these Powerpoint slides.

It is also curious to think that the answer was so flatly denied with such a contradictory blend of “everyone feels like that” and “you’re weird”. Make up your minds, Society!

Physical dysphoria takes many forms (please note 2). For the most part I’ve been lucky. Feel revulsion and discomfort would require a sense of association with my body and over a decade of starvation, substance abuse, shitty behaviour, and just plain continually distracting myself has stopped that nonsense. Getting back in contact with myself – mainly through exercise and testosterone – has been, to put it mildly, frightening. Having a damageable human body instead of a vague idea that something I don’t like will be got rid of if I get hit by a truck is something I’m still adjusting to.

That feeling of alien disconnect was so pervasive, so normal to me, that I didn’t think it worth investigating, after a while. Internalised misogyny. A refusal to Play Nice With The World. My mother, working within her own framework of beliefs which include some interesting approaches to reincarnation, decided that I “didn’t want to be on the Earth”, which is hardly a perceptive leap after your only child has persistently attempted suicide and spends most of their time lying down or bleeding on things while crying.

It remains difficult to talk, or think about.

For the sake of the Narrative, let us assume there was one lightbulb moment, instead of a series of ever-increasing lightbulbs hastily switched off for fear of being ridiculed, accused of attention-seeking, and dismissed by all and sundry. Let us not compare the road to openness about gender with my progress to the same with sexuality, where I did the fucking Closet Hokey-Cokey for a decade and still operate, largely, on a need-to-know basis where I judge almost everyone as Not Needing To Know.

Let’s. It’s true. I’ve wandered back and forth on pronouns, accepted my position and rescinded it, panicking at the breadth of the implications and the apparently insurmountable obstacles, convinced the response would be the same: You’re Making It Up. And let’s, for a moment, regard with outright suspicion the people who believe that wanting to keep elements of one’s life and identity private, or not wishing to disclose, for example, the content of one’s underwear to hostile arseholes from every walk of life, means one is not sincere.

And let’s also talk about wishful thinking, the main outlet for someone too fearful of rejection to actually pursue the increasingly obvious: an avowed atheist, I’ve lobbed pennies in wells, made wishes on candles, submitted prayers at Sacre Coeur on a Christmas Holiday, sought out shooting stars, made weird bargains with the universe where on a set time and date (compliant with what I was raised to believe: manifestation, and positive thinking. Turns out, by the way, you actually have to do something instead) I would just wake up and everything would be fine. No more heinous female body. No more womb torment, no more stupid voice, and could I maybe please also grow six inches?

The universe, unfeeling and indeed non-cogitating bastard that it is, has not obliged me. Thankfully I’ve never been nuts enough to think that what it wants from me is human sacrifice, because I’d have been willing.

Why now?

This is understandably a question I’ve been asked a few times by medical professionals. They are required to ask, and if I’ve been effectively sitting on a suicidal ideation landmine for 30+ years the question of “why now” does seem pertinent. There are a lot of factors: the presence of the Resident Australian and the sense of security and stability in my home life has helped enormously, as has the increasing number of transgender friends I’ve amassed who are, by virtue of who they are, more inclined to take me seriously. Media concentration has made it less likely that I’ll be met with total bemusement; indignant support by acquaintances for the gender identity of Chelsea Manning (for various reasons the fact that this is a Wikipedia link is highly ironic) was a boost, as was the delighted reception of Laverne Cox into the public eye.

Also, and less pleasantly, people have persistently been dying – in 2011 a series of friends and acquaintances committed suicide, in 2012 two deaths occurred in my family in the same week – which despite a long and by then almost-habitual familiarity with suicidal ideation and an indifference to my own survival, did also give me the impetus to think about how everyone else conducted their lives.

Namely, right up until those friends lost their grip on the battle with their own mental health, and until those family members no longer had the physical wherewithal to keep kicking death in the bollocks, none of them had to my knowledge spent their entire lives hiding under a rock and drifting into and out of things without my sustained enthusiasm because they felt like a shadow of a person. In fact, they’d done the opposite – pursued their interests and passions with zeal and vigour, and in every case the world will be the worse for not having them in it. I wasn’t sure the same could be said for me.

The same very much cannot be said for me, in fact. A lack of confidence has dogged me most of my life. I’ve walked into achievements with the blunt sense that I don’t deserve them and that they belong to someone else. The BA I earned was an aberration. The literary competitions I won were probably a mistake. The relationships I had were just because people hadn’t realised I was a fake. And so on. I pursued almost nothing, I settled as quickly and as easily as I could and tolerated things that should not have been tolerable to anyone simply because I couldn’t bring myself to care about them. My body wasn’t right, I wasn’t right, so what did it matter if I did or did not go anywhere in life?

Flitting in and out of unemployment and bashing out books did give me a chance to consider this, too. What exactly was I avoiding in not doing anything about a problem that was destroying me, body and mind? “Things might be terrible?” Things were already terrible.

As I said, I’ve never been a terribly motivated person. If there is even a sliver of doubt in the likelihood of me getting to point B from point A I hang back and don’t get off the sofa. There was no guarantee that I wouldn’t do with this as I had with, say, my attempt at a career change five years ago, when I chucked some redundancy money at getting an HNC in Music Production: pursue it enough to get over the quantifiable hurdle (I passed the HNC with a Distinction because if there’s one thing I am it is painfully, pathetically academically competitive when I already know I’m doing better than the rest of my class)  and then abandon it as too hard, requiring too much interaction.

That’s another thing, by the way. When you live your life in a constant fug of Wrongness and misgendering you don’t really want to interact with people very much. It drains the living shit out of you because you’re having to realign yourself, continually, to a gender that’s not yours, and rise above feeling like utter pants in order to communicate/remember how to perform that Not Your Gender.

I lined up all the possible objections to my transition and started to tackle them with a determination I had no idea I actually possessed.

  1. I was worried that, being a long way “obese” on the BMI scale when I went to see my GP, I might be refused treatment on the basis of physical health. Testosterone raises the blood pressure and cholesterol, and both are associated also with elevated weight. As it happens, my cholesterol levels were entirely fine and my blood pressure was “surprisingly good” for someone of my total lack of fitness and dislike of being in a doctor’s surgery talking about My Feelings.

But I didn’t want to encounter any potential resistance later, either. So I hurled myself at what is looking to be a permanent lifestyle change: I now walk around 5 miles most days, lift weights, and eat less than a third of what I was eating before: completely different foods. Since August 2014 I have gone from 113kg to 73-76kg depending on the week.

  1. I was aware this was going to take a long time, and also aware that I am not a patient person. Cowardly, yes; patient, no. And the one thing I know about medical processes is that if you want something doing quickly, you have to pay for it. For which I would need a regular source of income that wasn’t in the doldrums. I would also need to not be constantly at the mercy of some spectacular dickheads higher up the food chain one of my seasonal work go-tos, which was also something of a foot in the arse for what happened next: I changed gear, and went after a job with the kind of direction and determination I have, again, never actually managed before.

    I got the job.

    I passed my probation, which has also never happened before.

    I’m good at my job.

    Which is weird.

  1. I’ve actually started looking into savings schemes and planning ahead. For the future. The one that I’m actually convinced I’m going to have now. I’ve stopped behaving as if I’m going to die tomorrow.
  2. The path hasn’t been easy. There have been setbacks, misunderstandings, lost documents – a grim period in which a lack of information from the Passport Office website meant I didn’t have the right paperwork and effectively had my passport confiscated, putting me in the same category as people who want to take their daughters abroad for FGM because they hadn’t been clear about what degree of medical professional they wanted a letter from. There’s been money flying about like the trading floor of a stock exchange. And instead of toppling over the minute things get difficult, as has typically been my wont (“This is hard! I’m not doing it!”), each time I’ve taken stock, collected advice, asked for clarifications, and attacked the problem anew.
  3. People have been helping. Not just a battery of deeply, deeply appreciated friends, not just the people I live with, not people with a stake in seeing me happy. Doctors. HR managers. Even, once I had the right damn letter, the Passport Office. Who have expressed sympathy and the desire to be supportive. Who have listened to me. Who have, instead of treating me like I don’t know my own mind, responded to me behaving like an actual damn adult and saying “I do know myself better than you do, and what I know is that I am not going back on this” by agreeing that I know what I am.

Why blow my own trumpet in such a vulgar fashion?

Because, pathetic as it is, this is amazing to me. After three decades of being a spineless, directionless, worried idiot who lived so constantly with the desire to die or at least not live, I can now make long-term plans; I don’t walk around feeling like I’m slowly suffocating. I have things to look forward to. I have determination to make those things happen. I have contingency plans. I am prepared to kick and kick and kick until I get a body I can live in; now that there is a route out of this situation that doesn’t feel unreachable, I feel like I have the power to reach for it; now that there’s a way out that isn’t just “die”, I don’t want to die any more.

As I told the first therapist I saw about this, I didn’t know I could do this. And now… what else could I do? What else am I capable of?

Most of the resources online for parents dealing with their children transitioning are aimed at the parents of young children and teenagers. I’d like to think that means that parents are becoming if not more accepting (lunatics and bigots will always abound), then at least better-informed. When I was younger there was none of this, no framing for what I was feeling, and no point of reference. No depiction of trans men in the media or in the books I read that would have given me a handle on how to phrase what I experienced.

Trans men and women before me have fought like crazy to get us we were are now: talking about Caitlyn Jenner’s dress and Lana Wachowski’s mad sci-fi. Presenting narratives about transgender men and women that don’t end in suicide or murder, so that the next generations have something to look forward to, something to hope for.

If it’s not too late for Caitlyn Jenner to get her life working the right way for her, then it’s not too late for me.

These links are intended for the further education of people who have recently discovered a friend or family member is transgender, rather than for the support or assistance of those who are trying to transition. I also recommend reading the links in the body text.

My Child Came Out As Transgender, Now What?
Transgender advice: the best resources online
Resources for people with transgender family members
Mermaids (for transgender children)
My Daughter, My Son: How School Bullies and State Laws Changed the Way I Saw My Transgender Child
Things Not To Say To A Transgender Person (video, useful & informative, from the BBC)
5 Things Cis People Can Actually Do For Trans People
If Trans People Said All The Things Cis People Said (video)


Cisgender privilege
3 Examples of everyday Cissexism (Since genitals do not determine gender, you actually won’t know your child’s gender identity until they’re able to tell you.)


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I Love Living In The Future: New Shit Exists!

While I am usually too suspicious of purported developments (and too broke) to actually buy them until they’re old hat, I do love to waste my time on new inventions websites fantasising about what could be achieved if I were only a) rich b) rich, and c) really, really rich (if you’d like to help me become slightly less poor: products are available to assist).

I’ve collected together some of the best, most lunatic, or most avarice-inspiring things I’ve seen.

The Compute Plug.

Computer Plug

An entire computer in a plug. Perfect for the space-deprived being of tomorrow or, given rent prices in London, New York, and Tokyo, the space-deprived being of today.



Addressing some of the housing issues and the time taken to build both furniture and shelter, these are literally construction-sized Lego blocks, something I have been dreaming of since I was a wee ‘un. Brilliant. Website here.

Motorized Unicycle Thing.

I’m not going to lie, I see people on these in the street occasionally and I think they look like prize wankers, but I’m sure when it’s more normalised and they’re cheaper this will become a perfectly acceptable means of transport in London, especially if they are given their own lane and don’t get in the way of pedestrians and cyclists.

Leather Bag Scarf.

No exciting new technology here, but I’m sure that in the permanent hellish Mad Max-esque post-apocalyptic wasteland that we’re going to endure in, oh, about thirty years or so, this will be a stylish and multipurpose alternative to the bum-bag.

The Drumi.


A washing machine that is operated entirely by pedal power.



For the cocktail bar in, I dunno, your space Limo. Listen, my space Limo is going to have a cocktail bar, okay. You can have a coffee machine in yours. I don’t drink coffee.



A suitcase that turns into a set of shelves, because if you’re going to be itinerant for your job, you may as well accept that fact with good grace. Pairs nicely with the workstation suitcase, which means that with only two pieces of checked luggage you are ready to accept that you no longer own your existence! Corporate dystopia is Now.


More for the dark dystopian post-apocalyptic future where for some reason there are no Wifi hotspots but still internet, or more realistically for uploading safari photos if you are too impatient to wait until you get back to the very nice hotel in Nairobi with the perfectly good Wifi, you spoiled dick. Caution: It is a Kickstarter project which to me usually reads as either a scam or “a lot of money to wait a very long time for potentially nothing”, so there you go.

Sony All-in-One MP3-player/headphones.

Another slow step towards just streaming music directly into your brain, but this one cuts out the continual advertising.

Tumeta Frozen Smoothie Maker.

It’s a tiny cutesy egg that that shits out ice-cream-esque “healthy” desserts that probably still aren’t as healthy as just eating frozen grapes from the freezer, which I am this minute about to do, and it’s totally pointless and every time the temperature goes over 22C I go back and look at the product page like I’ve been hypnotised by the God of Bad Decisions. Why do I want this?

Thank Slim Hand Scanner

In the Future, this is what you’ll be using to digitise the relentless paperwork that continues to happen to your office at the cost of the lunar forests because some fucking backward asswipe refuses to learn how to put their signature on a PDF. You know that.

Filed under: content: review, , , , , , , ,

Redbubble expansion!

More products available with more designs! Let’s have a look at what I have for you, shall we?

First, I’ve been doing some more logo work for ease of embroidering.

And you can get it on anything:

The tile is available on everything, including clothes, bags, duvet covers, and hardcover journal:

The Miffy Faun has made it onto a variety of items, including skirts, bags, journals…

What if people just didn’t know how much you loved cute things and music? Solve that problem with this:

If you’ve ever thought you’d like some of my line drawings on stuff:

Jonah, Levi, and The Real Greek are now available on most items. Mythologically our old friend Cernunnos can be found:

Just casually classing up some notebooks and whatnot.

Hyacinth and Apollo? You can even wear them on your legs.


Devoted to the god of wine? Aren’t we all! Show your affiliation:

More of an Icarus fan, with undertones of Batman? How often do you hear that sentence?

Still not sure people know you’re mad about music?

Pirates come in many forms.

More eclectic than all this?

What about Rocky Horror Pop Art Michelangelo’s David? On leggings?

Perhaps you need a memento mori: The skull always grins because death always wins. Now you can remind everyone else.

Also if there’s anything else in my portfolio you like the look of and want to see on a specific product Redbubble offer, why not drop me a note and I’ll see what I can do?

Filed under: content: artwork, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Grotesque self-pimping!

Hello! I just got an email from my lovely editors at New Smut Project letting me know the anthology I’m featured in (as Melissa Snowdon) got a really nice review from Adriana Ravenlust at Of Sex and Love! And in fact got singled out for attention (okay, okay, she singles most of the stories out for attention because it’s a great anthology full of inventive fiction and such but let me have my moment).

Which I hope stands as further encouragement to, if you haven’t already, grab yourself a copy of Between the Shores and enjoy; and/or pick up Heart, Body, Soul which I didn’t write anything for but which does feature a story by a friend of mine.

Filed under: books, content: publishing, content: review, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

As Simple As Hunger: Bug Stuff

Hello! Have you all bought and begun to enjoy (or finished enjoying, I know you’re fast readers) As Simple As Hunger? Can’t get it out of your head? Want to make people ask you about it so you can talk to them at length?

Well, Redbubble have added a load of new products to their store, which means that I can offer you a whole host of things to catch people’s attention.

Tote bag? You got it!

Tote bag? You got it!

Cover 1 in its entirety is here.

iPhone skin? You got it.

Cover 2 in its entirety is here.

Filed under: book covers, content: artwork, content: publishing, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Centaurs … IN SPACE

Illustrative genius and all-round champion Emma Weakley occasionally does me the honour of keeping me company during my night shift odysseys, as she lives on the literal other side of the world and is therefore awake during what to her are reasonable hours.

At one point I got a bee stuck in my bonnet about my inability to draw a burly, bearish dude-centaur based on the heavy horses like the Breton, aiming for something with thick legs and thick arms, and being gently thwarted by a total lack of art skills, as I usually am.

Emma swooped in and said: alright, what does this guy look like?

And somehow, from this:

Guy Tautoru

(c) Emma Weakley

We accidentally came up with two whole cultures and histories, a raft of characters, and a plot involving prophecies and repetitions and echoes which neatly mirrored the culture of the main character. You can appreciate, I think, how much not-actually-working-at-work this involved.

I mention this because Guy Tautoru (below) and his new friend Eloquent, of the Byasa, now have their own blog.

Also (c) Emma Weakley

So if you feel like checking out some mental landscaping for this project, or more of Emma’s fantastic art and character designs (currently including Guy in a rage, Eloquent in party gear, and Guy’s Nana Tautoru), and possibly in future some snippets of brain dump or MAYBE EVEN WRITING, WHO KNOWS, please feel free to bookmark or follow:

SOLAR BEAR I: sad party centaurs in space

… we’re very talented people but neither of us can manage titles.

Filed under: content: artwork, content: links, , , , , , , , , , ,

Comparison: Travel Chopsticks

Once upon a time, the author of this blog was an undergraduate at university. They lived in a hall of residence and shared a kitchen with twelve other people, about four of whom were thieving fucking bastards who continually nicked their bloody cutlery and just casually used it like it was theirs. Such are the perils of communal living.

Being opposed to starting fights that aren’t winnable when the kitchen is already a warzone (some joker at admissions had put Greek and Turkish Cypriots in the same corridor, sharing the same kitchen, and Opinions Were Aired Loudly, although not loudly enough to drown out the girl on the floor below us who liked to practice the Imperial March from Star Wars on her trumpet at 3am most mornings) I adapted: on a trip to Yo! Sushi (which was a big deal from a lump from West Devon back in 2002) I got some of their retractable chopsticks and kept them in my wallet.

As a result of this solution to the thieving buggers in my halls I learnt how to eat everything up to and including ice cream using chopsticks, and when I finally lost the retractables I mourned their passing and tried to find suitable replacements.

This has proven more difficult than you might imagine. For one thing, the Yo! Sushi retractables are disposable by intention. They don’t clean well: once you’re no longer a student it’s not really appropriate to carry around some bacteria-infested spit-soaked wooden sticks. I mean, it’s probably someone’s fetish and I don’t want them to feel bad about it, but I have also worked cataloguing brain samples for a prion disease research project since then (never let anyone tell you that data entry does not provide you with access to some weird situations) and I’m somewhat more circumspect about what I put in my mouth now.

On the subject of the bacteria-laden wood-tipped telescoping Yo! Sushi disposables: it would be so easy to make these in something more durable and easier to clean. There is a gaping HOLE in the market here, if I were an entrepreneurial person instead of a massive whiner I could just march onto Shapeways and hire a designer and have these things in shops by the end of a year. I’ve studied the design! And because I’m really quite obsessed with this I’ve taken photos so you can too:


click on any of these images for a larger, closer look

travel chopsticks

click on any of these images for a larger, closer look


click on any of these images for a larger, closer look

As you can see, there’s a ridge and dent locking mechanism and the wooden part slides in through a hole at the top which on the intact one is plugged by a little plastic cap. If you were to make the thing in metal (with a rough bit on the tips to help with grip), you could just put in little rubber bungs in that spot – easy to remove so you can completely dismantle both the tube and the tip in order to give it a thoroughly good wash/autoclaving depending on your level of obsessive sterilisation. Also the rubber would grip more firmly and prevent the bun from coming out the way the cap’s popped off these.

On a dull night at work I even sat and tried to draw a diagram, that's how obsessed I am.

On a dull night at work I even sat and tried to draw a diagram, that’s how obsessed I am.

One set of perfectly good telescoping sterilisable/dishwashable chopsticks to a design that ALREADY EXISTS. WHERE ARE THEY?

To save you the weight of my wrath, here are all the goddamn replacements I’ve bought and been dissatisfied with, and why.

The Current Chopstick Winners: Monbento Flexible Retractable Chopsticks

What’s Right With Them: They’re compact, they fit into their own handles, the connecting module is firm, the little chopstick stand that also keeps them together when they’re folded away is handy and cute, they’re easy to wash, and the tips are ridged for keeping a decent grip on your food. They also come in a range of colours.

What’s Wrong With Them: They’re expensive, because they’re Monbento and because delivery from everywhere seems to add an unbelievable additional cost; they’re not telescoping which means there are more pieces to get lost, and the cap is very good at getting lost indeed; and they don’t actually fit in my wallet.

The Not Winners:

Generic Tableware.

The whole kit.

How the chopsticks work.

What’s Right About Them: Cheap as hell, come in a convenient case, ridged ends for food grip, relatively firm connection, are easy to clean.

What’s Wrong About Them: That case will break, and before it does you will be obliged to wrap the chopsticks in a paper towel to stop them from rattling against each other and the cutlery; they don’t fit in my wallet; the screw connection comes undone occasionally in use; no means other than the case of keeping them together; clinkclinkclinkclink; they don’t telescope so when undone you have more pieces to keep track of.

Terra Nova Lightweight Collapsible Chopsticks

Image is misleading: these slot together with a divot, and the tips are made of wood.

What’s Right With Them: Precious little. The case keeps them together and under those circumstances they are quite compact. That’s all I can say in their favour.

What’s Wrong With Them: Everything. They have wooden tips which absorb grossness and cannot be easily cleaned; the metallic finish on parts of it comes off in flakes; they’re hard to get out of their case with any great ease and when assembled aren’t secure (I’ve had bits fall off when I’m using them); they don’t telescope; they don’t fit in my wallet; they’re not hygienic; they’re awkward; and to top it all off they’re expensive.

Muji Travel Chopsticks: No longer available online.

What’s Right With Them: Cheap, and plastic so easy to clean. Come with their own case.

What’s Wrong With Them: Not in any way collapsible; do not fit in wallet as a result, no form of grip on the tips so especially with the glossy finish of the plastic it’s actually very hard to eat a lot of foods, including noodles, rendering them pointless not only as travel chopsticks but as chopsticks in general.

Nice eShop Knife & Fork Chopsticks

An admitted deviation from my stated search.

What’s Right With Them: While these were clearly not going to be what I was looking for, they’ve proven handy so far: the contrast section is easy to handle, they work as chopsticks and as cutlery (Although I don’t link them up as demonstrated), and the tips are abraded enough to have a decent grip.

What’s Wrong With Them: Aside from very obviously not being travel chopsticks I’d add that the slot in the fork predictably gets clogged with food and can actually be kind of hard to clean properly.

Coloured Travel Cutlery Set

The configuration took a while to master.

What’s Right With Them: I’d place these as second to the Monbento. They’re not too expensive, they have their own case, the fork and spoon are also pretty useful, there is a rough patch on the tips for grip, they’re easy to clean, and the connection point is firm.

What’s Wrong With Them: They don’t fit in my wallet, they’re not telescopic – the usual problems. Also they’re ugly as all hell, although that doesn’t rank particularly highly in my list of requirements.

Coresmart portable chopsticks.

What’s Right With Them: In theory there’s plenty going for them: I got them from eBay very cheaply; they look cute; the case is more compact than the option above; the connection looks straight forward, they’re easy to assemble–

What’s Wrong With Them: They literally broke the first time I used them. Fuck off. The connection snapped right off. This is not what I call a reliable set of anything.

Ones I Haven’t Been Able To Test:

Brunton FlipSticks

Not telescoping but removing the “extraneous bits will get lost” issue.

These look like they could be the business (although the wooden tips trouble me for hygiene reasons) and I question how well I would be able to grip the arch. Of course that is not a problem as I can’t get these. Not only are they Not Available from the US Amazon site, when I’ve found them on eBay the postage costs have been so prohibitive, so insane, that the idea of trying them out seems like playing Russian roulette with my bank balance, as if I will pay for these and my job will immediately fire me in an act of hubris to punish me for spending so much money on something so stupid.

It’s not rational but neither is charging me £20+ for shipping some chopsticks, eBay. Get bent.

Collapsible Compact Chopsticks.

I mean it becomes immediately apparent where these aren’t acceptable: they’re not telescoping, for one thing, but on the whole they’re pretty alright in every other area. Can’t see the tips to see if they have grip, but the package looks sound and the chopsticks rest as a means of keeping them together is a nice touch even if it increases, ultimately, the number of parts which can go missing.

Have you been to the link and seen how much they cost? Because when I wrote this post it was in the region of £60.

Pray excuse me while I cackle disbelievingly all the way to hell no, a street in the vicinity of a town known as What Am I, Made of Money?

Nameless Japanese telescoping chopsticks

The holy grail.

These are they.

Here they are: The holy grail. These are they. The thing that I want. Ridged ends for grip. Telescoping. Maybe wallet-sized? Metal! Clean! Compact! Perfect! Beautiful! Why don’t I own them?

Because they’re Not Available on Amazon, I’ve been able to find this Japanese import literally nowhere else, and during the brief period they were available they were MORE THAN A HUNDRED POUNDS. And listen, my quest is great. My obsessive need for telescoping, hygienic, durable, wallet-sized chopsticks is mighty. My endurance is beyond calculation. But my bank balance is as feeble and as ephemeral as the fluttering petals of spring cherry blossoms and even if I were possessed of, oh, even a whole twenty thousand pounds a year instead of my current stipend of “you literally cannot live on this without a partner”, I would not be putting that kind of money into acquiring them.

This is vexacious. Something must be done.

But in a twist!

Because I like to end with irony: I finally found eating implements that fit in my wallet and are easy to clean and light-weight. And they’re not chopsticks.

Droog Credit Card Cutlery


Okay, the cost of shipping them put them at an embarrassing price for some bendy bits of plastic. Okay, I’d probably have been better off with something like this if I was going to insist on fiddly stupidity. I am however beyond shame now. I have weird, bendy plastic cutlery in my wallet and I’m not afraid to use it to scrabble futilely at salads.

But one day I will have those telescoping chopsticks, I’m warning you.

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