Author: Finn Longman

Writer, Irish dancer, and stay-at-home medievalist. I read a lot of books and yell about Cú Chulainn.

Dear Younger Me, from the Future

I thought about writing a regular post summing up the past year and the decade before it, but that seemed like a cliché, so I decided instead to write a letter to my younger self — the person I was as the year turned from 2009 to 2010.

Dear younger me,

It’s hard to know how to start a letter like this. You’ll hate me if I gush about how young you are, because you’ve always hated being patronised. I don’t mean it like that. I just mean… well, you’re not me yet, are you? You’re hardly even you. You’re a half-formed thing, much as you like to think otherwise.

A selfie of me wearing an elaborate Venetian mask with feathers at the top.
Venice, Summer 2009.

But the groundwork’s there. The skeleton of who I’d end up being. Actually, as I stare down my twenty-fourth birthday I look a lot more like you, almost fourteen, than some of the selves I’ve been in between. I do Irish dance again, for a start, just like you do. I compete in preliminary championships and I’ve taken masterclasses with Ciara Sexton. I can practically see you freaking out from here, and you don’t know the half of it.

I quit, though, for a long time. That seems absurd to you — you’re still in love with it, still in the honeymoon period. In about a year and a quarter, you’re going to walk away from it. You’re going to do ballet instead — another thing you can’t imagine right now. You won’t go back to Irish dance until you’re 21. It’s what you need, or at least, it felt like it was at the time, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be an easy decision when it happens.

Then there’s the music. I’m trying to remember exactly where you’re at right now. 2009… oh! Of course. You just joined the wind band. They were playing the title piece from Riverdance and you being an Irish dance nerd, you wanted to be a part of it. It was a great concert, wasn’t it? I remember the high of it. You took up the piccolo this year as well, I think, but I don’t exactly remember where you were at with the violin.

You’re going to lose that.

Sorry. It sounds blunt when I put it like that. It was blunt when it happened. You’ve got about three more years, and then you’re going to injure your wrists, and develop debilitating chronic pain. They’ll tell you you’ll be playing again in a few months and then six years down the line you still won’t be able to hold a fiddle for more than about fifteen minutes before the pain kicks in. You’ll lose your entire social life — this is what happens when you put all your eggs in the orchestra basket. It’s going to suck.

A photo of me with long dark hair, playing the flute in a mostly-empty band room.
September 2011.

It’s going to shape most of the rest of the decade, too. Your entire identity is going to end up moulded by this, which is what I mean when I say that you’re not me yet. You’re still able to trust your own body, trust that you’ll be able to do whatever you like without triggering pain that will leave you unable to write for days on end, or too fatigued to move. You don’t even have any real food intolerances yet, though you’re going to lose the ability to eat fruit some time in the next year or two (trust me, that’s the tip of the iceberg…).

You’re going to lose so much, and it’s going to be so hard, for so long, and there’s nothing I can do to protect you, no warnings I can give that will prevent it. Your body is a time bomb. You could spend your whole life being careful and eventually it would still go off.

You have no idea what’s coming. And for that, I’m sorry. I wish I could tell you now to make the most of it — especially music, which you’ll lose more completely than anything else. I also wish I could tell you to install and get used to voice recognition software before you lose the use of your hands entirely for a few months, because that would really help me down the line, but… I can’t.

Let’s talk about writing instead. Another thing you’ll almost lose — but don’t worry, at least you get that one back. You’re only just beginning to realise how important it is to you. You’ve got two short, crappy novels under your belt (I hope you don’t mind me calling them crappy. I’m pretty sure you’d describe at least one of them that way, and … just trust me on the other one, please), but you’re going to write, like, seventeen more before this decade’s out. Some of them you’ll rewrite half a dozen times. Some of them will be bad, some of them will be good, some of them have potential but they’re not there yet.

You’ll self-publish three poetry collections. Have your poetry appear in a couple of small magazines. Write literally hundreds of thousands of words in blog posts (and then delete all of them). You and Charley (yes, you’re going to stay friends) will help co-write a boarding school mystery. You’ll write YA and adult and fantasy and contemporary and everything in between. Most of it’s going to be at least a little bit gay.

(Oh yeah, spoiler alert: you’re not straight. You’re not even a girl. You have a lot of identity crises coming, younger me, and none of them are going to be easy, and I’m closing off this decade still not having the answers to a lot of seemingly simple questions. Good luck with that.)

A photo of me sitting on a milecastle at Hadrian's Wall, with short fluffy hair and a plaid shirt.
Hadrian’s Wall, August 2014.

It’s going to feel like everything’s taking forever, and you’re going to be struggling to find direction or the courage to take the plunge and just send your work out into the world. Eventually, you’re going to enter something called Author Mentor Match, and you’ll get in. You’ll team up with a more experienced writer (if I tell you it’s Rory Power, author of Wilder Girls, it’ll mean nothing to you, but I promise you it’ll mean something a decade down the line), and she’ll give you the support you need to tear your book apart and rebuild it from the ground up. You’ll make friends, too, with the other mentees — a writing community you haven’t had since Protagonize shut down, and which you desperately needed.

Oh, yeah, right. Protagonize shut down. It’s okay, though. You had a good few years of it, made some lasting friends, caught that writing bug for life, and really, in the long run, it’s probably a good thing that all of your writing from 2009 and 2010 isn’t still floating around online. I know you’ll be annoyed at me for saying that, but I don’t mean it to put you down. If anything, it’s an encouragement. You’re going to get so much better at this.

I guess while we’re on the subject of Protagonize, we should talk about right now. New Year’s Eve 2009/10. You’re about to lie to a moderator who caught you making a sock puppet account to boost your own ratings because you’re way more insecure than you’ll ever admit to being, and you’re going to get banned from the site for a month. I don’t think you’ve had that conversation yet (I think it’ll happen tonight), but… it’s coming.

You’re an idiot, younger me. An idiot for making the fake account in the first place, and even more of one for lying to a moderator about it and then arguing with them when they (rightfully) made you face some consequences for it. I’m pleased to report that you’re going to grow out of that, at least; ten years down the line I’m not as honest a person as I’d like to be, but I’m working on it, and I never did anything like that again.

So. You’re going to start this decade banned from the site. Unable to access or continue any of your existing stories, you’re going to start something new. Write the first few chapters of it and then abandon it until, oh, around April, when you’ll rediscover it and keep going.

That book’s going to go through nine drafts and then you’re going to shelve it. You thought it was a standalone at first, then the first book in a trilogy. In a few years you’ll realise it’s actually a much later installment in a larger series. Then, eventually, you’ll realise that virtually nothing of that original book will survive, but for some version of a few of the characters.

But those first wisps of characters that you began to develop during that month of creative isolation are still going to live in your head in ten years time. Alex Kian Robson? He’s right here. I call the series Death and Fairies, which was a joke that stuck. Alex isn’t the main character any more (he got demoted), but he’s very much there. So is Jennie. You didn’t know what kind of story you were trying to tell yet, but you laid the first stones of it anyway.

So it’s not a waste of a month. It just feels like one. It’s your own fault, but cheer up — things can only improve from here.

A selfie of me holding a pencil, with short hair and glasses.
Cambridge, October 2016.

And they will, in writing terms. I cannot understate how much you’re going to improve in ten years. And finally, right at the end of the decade, you’re going to keep your promises to yourself and you’re going to start querying — properly, this time. It’s a book you haven’t even thought about starting yet, though you’re only a couple of years away from creating the bare bones of its protagonist, Isabel. I think you’d like it. It’s sad and violent and there’s no kissing at all.

It would take too long to tell you everything that happened in the past decade. Some things I think you’re going to have to find out for yourself. You’re going to face… pretty much everything for the first time, I think. You haven’t really experienced much yet. You’re going to lose your grandparents, and that’s going to suck, and your brother’s going to move to Canada (you’ll miss him more than you’ll admit). You’re going to have some pretty dark moments and sometimes it’s going to feel like you’ll never drag yourself out of the hole that you’re in.

But there’ll be brighter days too. You’ll go to Ireland, just as you’ve been dreaming of doing for years already. Multiple times, in fact! You’ll meet Kate Thompson. Maggie Stiefvater, too. You’ll do a degree in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, and get really, weirdly into medieval Irish literature. You’ll start learning Irish, properly this time. You’ll get a job as a trainee librarian and move to Cambridge. You’ll go to conferences, turn your dissertation into an academic article, and start thinking about doing a master’s. You’ll become a Quaker (you don’t even know what a Quaker is yet), after years of struggling with and losing your faith. You’ll love and be loved and there will be people who understand you, eventually.

Right now, you can’t see any of that coming. But I promise that it is.

A photo of me looking back over my shoulder, wearing a gown and hood, with King's College Chapel in the background.
Graduation. Cambridge, June 2018.

And no, you won’t be published before you’re eighteen, or even before the end of the decade. And a lot of what you thought might happen won’t happen. In fact, the vast majority of what went down in the past ten years isn’t what you might be expecting. (Did I mention the fact that you’re queer? You’re… super queer.)

Will you have regrets? Absolutely. Will you mourn missed turnings, abandoned paths, lost opportunities? Of course. Will you find yourself wishing you could turn back time and go back to who you were at the start of the decade?

No.

You’re not me yet. You’re not even you yet. And I’m not sure I’m me now, but I’m a lot closer to it than when I was standing where you are. These ten years haven’t always been kind, but we’ve grown up, younger me, and we’re almost ourselves now. I don’t know who we’ll be in ten years time, but at least nowadays I’m confident I want to stick around to find out.

So hang in there, younger me. You’ve got a long decade ahead of you, but the only way out is through.

With love and in friendship,

Finn*

A selfie of me with a gleeful expression, accompanied by a very fluffy black and white cat.
Boxing Day 2019, with my sister’s cat, Tyler.

*Oh yeah, you’re going to change your name. It’s a short form of delorfinde, so really, it’s not so strange to you; you’ve yet to start using your legal name online. Anyway hi. This is me. You. Us. <3 Wait ’til you find out about pronouns…

Fear and the Future

In the aftermath of the election, it’s hard to know what to say.

Maybe it’s easier to say nothing, to let it pass unremarked as so many things do on this blog these days, but that feels dishonest. I have so much I want to say; it’s articulating it that’s the hard part. I’ve started writing this post three times already. Everything I say sounds either melodramatic or untrue, and I can’t get past that.

How about this:

I didn’t think I had been allowing myself to hope for a different result, until the exit poll was announced and I found myself sobbing.

Or what about:

Ever since I started hanging out with Quakers, I’ve heard a lot of people talking about ‘God’ as meaning ‘the innate goodness of people’, but sometimes it feels like that’s as hard to believe in as a childhood conception of God as a bearded man in the sky.

Maybe just:

I’m scared.

I’m scared about what this means for the future. I’m scared of the country I live in, where I cannot trust people to look out for their vulnerable neighbours, where xenophobia and racism are on the rise, where racist rhetoric wins hearts and votes. I’m scared of the inevitable fallout when Brexit happens — a fear I’ve been living for three years already and will continue to live with until the worst happens and there is nothing left to be afraid of because it has already happened.

A blue IKEA shark propped up in a chair holds a Labour Party election pamphlet. It is wearing two red badges. One reads, "Kick out the Tories". The other has a heart with the EU flag and Union flag on it, and says "Better Together".
Láeg mac Blåhaj may be blue but his heart is not. He couldn’t drag himself out of bed yesterday to face reality, but today his expression says it all…

I’m young. I’m trans. I’m disabled. This government doesn’t care about me. It has already killed disabled people with cuts to benefits and the NHS, and it will kill more of us. If the NHS goes under, I have friends who will die. You see what I mean about the melodrama? I try and state it like the bald fact that it is, try not to let the emotions creep in, but it still sounds dramatic: this is a matter of life and death.

But it is. I don’t know how else to say it.

I wouldn’t think of myself as a single issue voter — I care about so many things. I care about the environment, I care about peace, I care about equality, I care about creating a system that doesn’t work people into the ground just so that they can survive. I care about education and the arts and the idea that everyone should have the chance to thrive, not merely to keep breathing. There are dozens of things that matter to me.

If there were to be a single issue, though, it would be the NHS.

I’m lucky, so far, in that none of my lifelong health conditions are the variety that have to be continuously medicated or they become fatal. I rely on the NHS for those frequent blood tests, the B12 injections, the extra vaccinations to support my immunocompromised system. Without them I would suffer. Without low-cost access to medication I would struggle. But others? Others would die.

Others have already died, abandoned by a benefits system that will leave them with an unplugged fridge and no insulin, or declared fit to work while terminally ill.

And yes, I have complained about NHS waiting lists and I will probably complain again. I’m currently on three, the longest of which is approximately two years, the shortest of which was a minimum of three months and I’ve yet to hear from them. But I know that those waiting lists are the result of cuts and deficits and strain imposed by the quiet privatisation of different services. By the lack of proper governmental support for mental health services. By this country’s rampant and growing transphobia, and the lack of funding for healthcare to support trans people.

(The rise in vocal, vicious transphobia in this country is another fear I live with constantly, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I suspect it will get worse. I can’t do anything about that, either.)

A black satchel covered in pin badges. Slogans include "trans rights are human rights", "avenge Oscar Wilde", "kick out the Tories" and "Quakers oppose all wars".
Books and politics — and a little bit of Ogham. Perhaps this bag is meant to symbolise this blog.

I see my friends in the US crowdfunding to afford medication they need to live. I see people bankrupted by medical debt while dealing with the grief of losing family members. And I can’t fathom how anybody could look at that and think it was something to emulate, but I’m afraid that some of the politicians our country has just elected think exactly that.

I hope that my fear is unfounded. I hope that the people who say, “They’re not going to sell off the NHS,” are right, just as I hope their promises to fund it aren’t yet more lies spouted by spineless, heartless cowards who will say whatever they have to say to convince people.

I hope that I am wrong.

I can’t express how much I hope that.

I hope that Brexit doesn’t destroy this country. I hope that it doesn’t send food prices through the roof, make it impossible to obtain certain medications, or result in a huge deficit of medical professionals. I hope that it doesn’t destroy our relationship with Ireland. I hope that those who have made their home in Britain are allowed to stay, made welcome rather than treated with suspicion and bureaucracy.

I hope all of these things. That doesn’t mean I believe in them. Hope can be a ruinous thing. We cling to it until it shatters and the shards of it slice our hands to pieces. Hope isn’t enough; to thrive in the face of something like this takes work.

I wish I could promise to put that work in, to fight for all of us, to agitate for change, to be an activist and a pillar of the community and a support to those around me… but I’m so tired. Some days it takes all of my energy just to get out of bed. Fatigue is a full-time job, and that scares me, too: the knowledge that I don’t have the strength to stand up for myself and my friends. I admire those who have it in them to be an activist, but I know that I’m not one of them. Not at the moment. Not when I’m barely coping as it is.

My method instead is avoidance, and perhaps that’s cowardly, to pretend none of it is happening, but sometimes all you can do is distract yourself as a way of barricading your mind against the constant fear. Yesterday, I finally finished writing the gay werewolf novel I was working on for NaNoWriMo, because it was a distraction that I needed. I’m not sure what I will work on next, but I have a dozen small projects that I can lose myself in. Perhaps that’s the easy way out, to refuse to face up to reality until it forces itself on me, but I know that my powerlessness and anxiety will break me if I allow them to be my focus, so I have to look elsewhere.

I have to find peace where I can.

Yesterday, I spent half of my lunch hour in the college chapel, seeking silence, somewhere to hide from the world and the screaming headlines and the fear burning electric through the inside of my head. I found a kind of peace there that quieted my mind a little. Oh still small voice of calm. This world is so loud, especially at the moment. It seems harder and harder to seek that quietness, and part of me feels guilty for trying, when it feels like I should be out on the streets with a placard and a chant.

But all of us can only do what we can, and for me, at the moment, it feels as though existing is all the resistance I can offer. Continuing to be me, refusing to apologise for all the things that I am: queer, nonbinary, pacifist, creative, exhausted, loving, helpless, disabled. Continuing to exist in a world that only offers boxes I don’t fit in. Allowing myself the shocking luxury of unapologetic rest.

I am afraid of what the next five years will bring. I’m afraid of my own helplessness. I’m afraid of my country and I’m afraid for my country and I’m afraid for myself and I’m afraid for everyone more vulnerable than me, who don’t have the privilege of safety nets.

But I hope — desperately — that I’m wrong.

From Student to Trainee

So, as most of you are probably aware, in September I started a year-long post as a graduate trainee librarian at Christ’s College, Cambridge. The aim of the role is that I get to learn the ins and outs of academic librarianship, gain experience across all the varied requirements of the role, and work out if I want to go on to library school (and if so, what kind of a focus I’d like to take with that).

The trainees have a blog, CaTaLOG (Cambridge Trainee Librarian’s Online Group), and a couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about my experiences of returning to an institution I knew as a student. I thought now that it’s been up there a while, I’d cross-post it here, so that those of you who have been wondering what I’m up to can read it too.

(Although of course, feel free to go and follow the trainee blog too.)


From Student to Trainee

(originally posted on CaTaLOG on 13th November 2019)

I was a student at Cambridge before I was a trainee — I studied Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic (ASNaC) at Newnham College (my focus was very much on the Celtic; I specialised in medieval Irish). It’s been an interesting experience to return to a university I already know well, and experience it from a different angle: a different role, a different college, an entirely different experience.

Now and again I find myself retracing my steps and visiting familiar haunts like the UL or Newnham, but as a trainee, I see an entirely different side of them. Part of that is the opportunity to go behind the scenes — the UL seems intimidatingly huge as a student, but through a door or up a different set of stairs it’s like an entirely different building contained within it, a labyrinth of staff-only corridors and rooms. Part of it, though, is realising how much is available to students that I didn’t take advantage of as an undergraduate, and with that realisation comes a pang of regret for all the opportunities I feel like I wasted.

Our first visit of the year was to the UL. Due to a prior commitment I was only able to come for half of the trip, so I missed the opportunity to see Rare Books and Digital Services. I did, however, manage to join the group for the visit to the Manuscripts Room.

Now, as a medievalist, I tend to get overly excited about manuscripts anyway, but to have them up close in front of me was… something else. There, in front of me, was a Book of Hours, liberally decorated with gold leaf. There, in front of me, was a little marginal drawing of the sort I might have retweeted on Twitter from one of the many medievalist accounts I follow. Right there. Not behind a glass case, not in an exhibition, but inches away from me.

Image of a medieval manuscript with a decorated initial and a marginal illustration of a half-man, half-bird figure.

And what really struck me was that it had never occurred to me, in my four years as a student, that I could have come to the Manuscripts Room at any time. I didn’t know that I was allowed. I didn’t know that I could request to see certain medieval texts simply for the joy of seeing them (and not because I was some high-flying researcher with a monograph to write).

I think, probably, that this is something a lot of undergraduates don’t realise — and of course, for those outside of subjects like ASNaC, there’s probably limited appeal in the opportunity to stare at some old books. But I’m glad to see that some are taking the chance that I failed to realise I had — a group of first year ASNaCs went to the UL to see their copy of Bede recently, and I admire them for that.

More recently, we visited Newnham for some training in how to use this website, and afterwards received a tour of the library. Having had a number of late-night essay crises in the Newnham library, I assumed I knew it well enough that there’d be little to surprise me on the tour, and it’s true that most of the Working Library was familiar to me.

(Although it’s only since graduating and having the opportunity to visit lots of other college libraries that I’ve realised how lovely Newnham’s is, and how completely spoiled I was as a student there to have access to that.)

But then we had the opportunity to visit the Archives, the closed stacks in the basement, and the Rare Books Room — a room I didn’t even know they had. If you’d said to me a week ago, “What does Newnham have in the way of special collections?” I’d probably have given some answer about some old children’s books (true) and some interesting material objects (also true); I didn’t know that they had 6,000 early printed books and a handful of medieval manuscripts, all stored beautifully in a dedicated room built in a style in line with the rest of the library’s architecture while suiting the unique needs of old books.

I walked in and all I could think was, “Why didn’t I know about this?” And the answer, I guess, is that I didn’t ask. It never occurred to me that I could. I knew that the UL had manuscripts, but I assumed that you had to be a Serious Researcher doing Serious Research to be able to look at them; I guess there was some impostor syndrome at work, that I wasn’t ‘good enough’ to access that material.

I’ve been thinking, also, about how it took me until final year to ever request a book from my college library, and how I think I only spoke to library staff on two or three occasions (I generally went to the library late at night, when the desk was unstaffed). Now that I’m on the other side of the desk, I realise how much I missed out on by being too worried about being annoying or presumptuous.

Image of an aisle in a college library. On the left are crowded, colourful books; on the right is the end of a shelf with a poster giving the classmarks of books shelved there.
Christ’s College Working Library

It’s made me realise that we, as libraries, can do more to make students aware of those materials, to do more to encourage students that they can access special collections if they need or even want to. To make it feel safe to ask those kinds of questions — “Can I see some old books?” “Will you buy this obscure text?” “What kind of archives does the library keep?” — without feeling embarrassed or ashamed.

The fault here is not on the librarians; I’m an anxious person, and I’m fairly sure that was a major part in my failure to ever approach the library desk unless completely unavoidable. But at the same time, if somebody had reached out to me as an undergrad and told me what I was allowed to do… maybe things would have gone differently.

I’m grateful, at least, that I get a second chance now to experience what I missed the first time around. To have spent four years in Cambridge, of all places, and never to have looked at any special collections material whatsoever, is a crying shame — but I’ve got no intention of making it five. And if I can convince one student to take advantage of this opportunity, to go and ask their librarians about their college’s archives or rare books, then I’ll feel like I’ve achieved something.

Eleven Novembers

November again. It seems to come around so quickly.

I think I’ve forgotten how to blog. I sat down with my lovely, empty site, and the knowledge that I could write whatever I wanted, in whatever style, and not feel like I was breaking with any kind of tradition. A new start! A clean page! And absolutely no ideas as to where to begin!

But hey, that’s kind of in keeping with the whole National Novel Writing Month thing, really. Start a brand new novel. Try and write 50k of it in thirty days. Ignore the inner editor and the self-doubt and the writer’s block and just give in to the sheer joy of creation — that’s what it’s meant to be about. And I’m usually pretty good at that. Writing fast is my entire modus operandi, and the only reason I’ve ever finished anything.

It’s just that apparently that doesn’t work on blog posts.

But in an effort to circumvent that particular kind of block, I borrowed these tag questions from Lorna @ Gin and Lemonade, and I’m going to give them a go.

1. How many times have you participated in NaNoWriMo? How many times have you won?

This will be my eleventh year tackling this particular challenge. I’ve done and won NaNoWriMo ten times, as well as a handful of Camp NaNos (a mid-year, set-your-own-goal more flexible NaNo challenge) and, back in the day, I even did Script Frenzy a couple of times. I’ve yet to ‘lose’ NaNo.

2. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

I am absolutely a pantser. My first year doing NaNo was also the first time I’d ever written a novel in my life. I sat down on November 7th (having just heard about it, a week late) and began, despite having no characters, no plot, no genre — and no idea how to write a novel. Still hit 50k, with several days to spare. I’m obnoxious like that.

This year, I’m working on a retelling, so much of the plot is already done for me. But I’m winding it back a few years and exploring some of the backstory to the original story before I dive in, which means I still have to figure out some of it for myself. I did a bit of planning on October 31st, mapped out an approximate outline for that part of the novel… and have already deviated from it.

3. What are the titles of the projects that you have attempted/completed for past NaNos?

Oh, man, this is quite a list:

  • A Sky Full Of Stars (2009)
  • Beneath the Branches (2010)
  • Figurehead (2010); I wrote two novels that year
  • The Quiet Ones (2011); later retitled The Knight Shift after substantial edits
  • Weapons of Chaos (2012)
  • Recall (2013)
  • Bloodied Wings (2014); a redraft and the sequel to Butterfly of Night, which I’ve recently been editing
  • Folk Stories (2015); a series of short stories based on folk songs
  • Happy Gay Magical Novel (2016); never got a real title, never got a plot, never got to the end despite hitting 50k
  • Lie Down Below (2017)
  • To Run With The Hound (2018)

There were also a couple of years, like 2012, where I wrote half of a couple of other novels after hitting 50k early, like the overachiever that I am.

4. What are you working on for NaNo this year?

A retelling of ‘Bisclavret’, a lai by Marie de France. It’s a homoerotic werewolf story from an Anglo-Norman writer and I’ve been meaning to do a queer fantasy retelling of it for years, but somehow never got around to it. Since NaNo has apparently become the month where I write queer medieval retellings that I’ve been procrastinating on (or at least, that’s also what I did last year), it seemed like a good one to tackle.

It doesn’t have a title yet, so it’s on the NaNo site as werewolves & gay yearning. That’s more or less a summary, too.

5. What is one tip that you’d give to someone else that is participating in NaNo?

If you have ten minutes to write, write for ten minutes.

Waiting around for a chunk of sacrosanct writing time or the perfect conditions is only going to make things harder. You don’t have to do your day’s 1,667 words in one go if it makes more sense for you to do them in bits and pieces wherever you can squeeze in a minute. Give yourself that flexibility.

This goes for writing at any time, not just during NaNo. If you make it into A Thing that you have to do in big chunks, it becomes intimidating and hard to work into your daily routine. But it doesn’t have to be a big deal.

6. What was the inspiration for this novel? Do you remember when the inspiration hit you?

I don’t remember exactly when I decided that Bisclavret needed to be a novel, but I do remember getting set an essay on queer readings of Marie de France for a medieval French supervision with Blake Gutt (shoutout to Blake, who is still off doing cool medieval queer theory things), which was my first actual exposure to queer theory, especially in medieval contexts. My essay was over 4,000 words long and got increasingly sarcastic as it went on, as some of the critical articles I was reading were… very frustrating. But it lit some kind of spark.

7. Share the first sentence from your NaNo novel last year.

“He wasn’t a hero when we met.”

And hey, since it’s the second of November already so I’ve started writing, have this year’s first line:

“He isn’t a knight.”

Hmm, I’m sensing a theme…

8. What do you plan to do with your manuscript after NaNo?

Send it to a couple of betas, then leave it to moulder on my hard drive for a few months while I work on other things. I’m meant to be querying Butterfly of Night soon, and I want to edit To Run With The Hound early next year if I can, so those are going to take precedence over editing this one.

9. Are you prepared for NaNo? Are you nervous?

We’ve already started, but no, I’m not particularly prepared. I did a bit of planning on the 31st, as I mentioned, which helped; before that, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and felt like I’d maybe made a mistake to sign up this year. I just finished editing the latest draft of BoN on Monday, so I’m somewhat creatively exhausted. This happened last year as well, though; I finished something else right before NaNo and then dived straight in. Apparently I’ve never heard of taking a break.

Not particularly nervous, though. 50k isn’t an unattainable target for me; it’s actually slightly slower than my average writing speed when first-drafting, as long as I don’t have a lot of external stuff going on. But I feel less prepared than usual this year, and it’s my first time balancing NaNo with a full-time job, so part of me remains slightly nervous that I’ll break that winning streak.

But I need the creative outlet, especially as I’m off dance with an injury and have been for a couple of months, with no change on that front in my immediate future. I’m hoping this will be the distraction my brain needs.


Thanks for helping me past my blogging block, Lorna (and Natalia, with whom I think the questions originated). Blogging is a strange medium these days, when there are so many other forms of social media each with their own unique traits, and I’m still trying to get my head around how to tackle it. But I’ll get there.

In the meantime:

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Tell me about a project you’re working on, whether for NaNo or otherwise.

De-Inventing Myself

Today, I deleted nine years’ worth of posts from this blog.

Around 800 posts. Probably hundreds of thousands of words. Years of my younger self figuring out who I was, talking about my life, sharing my thoughts, slowly developing my skills as a writer and as a person as I continued to live my life almost entirely on the internet.

They’re not gone forever. I’ve moved them all to a password-protected blog so that if I decide I made a mistake, I can import them again. And nothing on the internet can ever be gone forever. Anyone who really wanted to know what fifteen-year-old me thought about something could use the Wayback Machine or something similar to find it; while I admit I’m partly motivated by not wanting all of my younger self’s ignorant, elitist, and otherwise problematic opinions immediately connected to my professional name, I’m also aware that somebody who cared enough could still find them.

The fact is that I have lived too much of my life online, for too long. It’s become harder and harder to keep sight of who I am. What’s the real me, and what’s the online me? Is the me on this blog even really me, or just an entire persona I’ve constructed for your benefit? I’ve often mistaken openness for honesty, and I sometimes think maybe I overshare without ever really being honest and vulnerable.

You don’t know me. You might have followed this blog for nine years, but all you’ve seen is a small part of me. And that’s okay. But I’m not sure the me that I was here is really the me I want to be.

I’m not re-inventing myself. I’m de-inventing myself. Stripping away years of self-creation through text. Can we just pretend it never happened? Can we start again, as though we’ve just met, and all the artifice is gone? Maybe you won’t notice the difference, but I’ll know, at least, that even if I’m dancing the same steps, I’m doing it in new shoes.

I made this blog in 2010, replacing an earlier one. It’s been through four URL changes, three site hosts, and dozens of themes and layouts. And I don’t regret that I blogged my teenage years, because there’s value in being able to look back at those posts and see the progress that I’ve made. Blogging brought me friends, gave me a voice, gave me a platform — even if that platform has seemed to shrink in the last few years. Blogging was the medium through which fourteen-year-old me learned to share my thoughts.

But I’m 23 years old now, and I want to start again.

Hello. My name is Finn Longman. I’m a writer, medievalist, folk musician, dancer, librarian, procrastinator, Quaker, reader — and blogger. I don’t know what I want to talk about yet, but this is where I’ll do it, when I know. It’s nice to meet you.