Foxmask – Juliet Marillier

A book reivew! It has been a while…

Foxmask by Juliet Marillier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of her best, and I have read almost all of them now.

The islands are beautifully described and you have such a clear sense of place; I would now love to visit, as with the Orkneys, Scotland and Ireland. The main characters are real and vibrant, with quirks and flaws. The writing is lyrical, lovely, evocative and of a high standard; you will not be jolted by a clumsy phrase or plot hole (although I think twins became just one child without explanation!). There was plenty of myth, enchantment and wonder, which I love in her stories. It was balanced, and no she doesn’t rush, but there is a dreamlike quality to the work which just draws me in until I have read for much longer than intended. I don’t ever want to hurry, as I don’t want it to be over!

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In addition to the review, I will say that I have a Celtic fantasy on the boil. It is plotted, but not really started. Juliet Marillier and Marion Zimmer Bradley are my inspirations here. There is little or nothing written in this vein about Wales, though – and there should be. We have dragons, Myrddin Emrys (Merlin), Idris and his Cadair, ladies in lakes, giants and maidens. We have the Mabinogion! The Red Book! And much more.

While I am studying coding languages, other language learning such as Welsh and English (you never stop learning even with a PhD in it) will slow somewhat. I find Javascript as exciting as learning any language though, and you can really do some things with it!

Mentorship in tech as a woman and a career-changer

“If you can inspire one or two people in a good way, then you can inspire the world.” Nims Purja, 14 Peaks (Netflix).

I am a career changer heading into tech, and on the lookout for support outside of my course.

Welsh castle

(I should note that I’m with Code Institute, and the support options could not be better – but I won’t be studying forever.)

Also, as a woman career-changing, I want women’s perspectives on it. So I joined Gotara, which offers free upskilling, mentoring and advice to women in STEM, and recently participated in a webcast hosted by founder Sangeeta with Natalie Steck as the guest. The topic was mentorship, and here I discuss some of the insights it gave me. You can watch the highlights here.

I hear a lot of students saying “I don’t know a single web developer.” I am lucky in that I do know people, but I don’t have a mentor as such. Many people will find theirs online by using LinkedIn, Codu on Discord and similar; I have an assigned one for my course.

Natalie began by saying that you have to be really clear on your expectations and let your potential mentor know exactly what you want from a mentorship. This is actually a tough one because I’m so new to it all, I really don’t know! So for now I’m going to wait.

She also said be clear that you want mentoring – people are usually very flattered and say yes! This is heartening for me, as I do have someone in mind, but I very much hate to feel like I’m being a bother… She did say that she has learned from mentees, and that most find it mutually beneficial. I cannot imagine what a seasoned software engineer could learn from me, but I will take her word for it.

Then you must set boundaries on both sides, particularly around time, so you know what to expect from meetings.

How long would a mentorship last for? It might only last until your particular issue is resolved, but it might last a long time and end up with you mentoring some aspect of their career. (I suppose my writing and editing skills could be useful to a mentor.)

As a mentee, I would expect to lead and nurture the relationship. Don’t make them work hard to give! Another participant said they felt it was important to respect your mentor’s time and implement their advice where you can, even when it feels hard. They are helpimg you to push yourself and grow.

Sangeeta asked, “What gives you the courage to pivot in your career?” (From lawyer to sales to tech in Natalie’s case.) She replied that courage was certainly the important factor there. Or madness! I can relate to wondering (as the course demands grow) if I am a bit mad, but I’ve always liked a challenge.

A really interesting point there was that other mentors (bosses, colleagues, leaders) can often see potential that you have not yet realised. They will suggest “You would be good at this,” and you might think they are crazy, but – give it a try.

She stressed that you must believe in yourself. If you’re going for a job, often it will be 50% I have done this before, and 50%, I believe I can do this. And you can say, here’s why I’m the best candidate even though I have not ticked all the boxes. “Jump and the parachute will be there.”

On the question of belief in yourself and being a woman, she said emphatically, “It’s not my gender that does the work. I am unapologetic about being a woman at the table, even the only woman in the room. I don’t even address it.”

But she does try to bring other women in: “Only 2% of venture captial funding [I’m not sure if this is Oz, world or US?] goes to women founding and building companies. We need more women at board level, more women entrepreneurs.” We do. So “have pride in your work. Push forward and pull through. Bring others once you have made it.”

“In life, you have to keep doing what you believe.” Nims Purja, 14 Peaks (Netflix).

This was all so inspiring, and it was amazing how much was imparted in just half an hour. I will be listening to more of these talks, and at some point will definitely take on their offer of mentoring.

I can’t help but look back on my career and life in general and wonder where my mentors were. My father has been one – fiercely intelligent and possessed of the complete conviction that all three of us kids could do absolutely anything we set our minds to. But at work, there is only one I can think of, and that was in my first job. This woman supported me when my immediate boss left suddenly – my team of two was now one, and I had to take on much of her role. This was my first real job! I continued the roll-out of the software, and to this day I am damn proud of what I achieved there, but I know there’s no way I could have done it without Gill. She was patient, always had time for me, steered me gently, spoke to me as an equal despite being far senior to me.

I wish other roles had been similar, but I can think of one where someone I would have loved to have mentor and support me in fact did the opposite. I was too young and green to sort it out, and a service like Gotara or just some support from someone in the industry might have seen it all turn out very differently. Instead I burned out trying to please.

I would also say that one particular teacher was a mentor; he taught me a lot and not just a new language. But our relationship would have benefitted from boundaries of time and expectations of content – we went off on a lot of tangents, but hey they were usually fun! (“Iawnte, ni’n bennu gweithio a mynd i weld castell! – Right, let’s stop working and go visit a castle!”)

In the theory of the hero’s journey (Joseph Campbell), the main character(s) always has a mentor in some guise or other. This is the fourth phase, which is literally called ‘Meeting the Mentor’. They usually appear early on, and give just the right amount of support. Then the student often surpasses the master, and the story sees the mentor fade, but the character remembers. It’s a cycle in stories because it’s true in life. I might not quite know what I need, but I trust that it will appear (and become clear) at the right time.

You Know Nothing

“You know nothing. You know less than nothing. If you even knew that you knew nothing, that would be something. But you don’t.” – Harp, Point Break.

Thus begins Johnny Utah’s first day at the FBI. Nice way to welcome someone to the office…

In fact, Johnny is a “real blue-flame special” as Harp also notes – top of his class, football star, the works. But he’s still made to feel like he’s less than, before he’s even got started.

So, why would I write about coding? I’m no blue-flame special. I know nothing (and I know it).

But of course, I still know more than some. For example, if you want to learn to code, where do you start? I know about that bit!

It took me ages to find Code Institute and the Welsh government’s career-changers scheme (the Personal Learning Account) which would allow me to do the Web Application Development diploma. I kept looking at bootcamps, online courses, even full Comp Sci degrees, but I could never afford them.

(I know people self-teach from free courses, but I want to go deeper faster than I think that would allow me. I also know my propensity for procrastination – Lord knows what I’d end up actually learning.)

The first thing I can write about is that journey. Knowing I wanted to learn to code and develop, but not knowing how to go about it. The barriers to even knowing that it would be a possibility.

The main barrier was still in my own mind – is this really something I can do? Don’t I have to be good at (shudder) maths? And I’m a girl – is it even allowed?! And I’m too old! And so on and so on.

The thing is that even when I am an expert in something, I still feel like this. Imposter syndrome gets everyone.

So, I will just do it anyway! I want to write about my journey because I’ve always loved writing. I 100% want to use those hard-won skills and expertise to back up my journey, and maybe along the way (when I know a little more than nothing) I can be useful to others as well.

Theory is when you know everything, but nothing works.
Practice is when you don’t know anything, yet everything works.
In programming we combine theory and practice; nothing works, and we don’t know why.

Blick Rothenberg vs Jericho Writers

A David and Goliath tale.

I’ve been to a couple of Jericho Writers events, and their offerings are simply fantastic. The free stuff alone is very valuable, and it’s one of the few weekly emails I make time to read. Although I haven’t been writing much recently (which huuuurts) their content often inspires me.

So when I heard they had been scammed to the tune of £300,000 I was gobsmacked. The story is unbelievable. That’s a house-worth of money stolen from them, and the firm brought in to check, Blick Rothenberg, didn’t notice?! Let it carry on?! And now won’t do anything about it?!

I suppose they think that a small business won’t be able to take them on. But they are, in their own way. They’ve created a website to tell the story and a YouTube vid as well. I’m linking to them in the hopes it will help them get some money back.

Oh, and find another firm to use/work for. This is just disgusting.

‘Home Fire’ Review

Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie

I saw something in Mslexia about some furore over this novel and instantly thought, well, I have to read this then!

It’s a bit like Queenie – not quite what I expected from the reviews and blurb. (I should never read them! I always tell myself then forget as I’m turning over and anticipating a new spine to crack.) I find blurbs, especially of books other than lit-fic, are like most adverts – not very good. They’re not written, which I think most people don’t realise, by the author or even the agent, the ones who know and love the book the best, but by marketing people. It’s like those terrible perfume adverts where some silly cow dressed in heels and sparkles shoots a bow and arrow on horseback then ends up in some model’s arms. Could they not instead explain what’s in the fucking perfume?

Anyway, I digress. Queenie was like reading about myself in Britain growing up and making all the mistakes with shit men, shit jobs (or not shit, but not supportive shall we say), not having any self esteem, then depression…but for her, more shit cos she’s black. That world that I only see from a distance, because I don’t really know anyone black or of colour at all.

This is the same. Muslim life. I think I have more of a clue there having been to wonderful, warm Morocco, seen the Atlas mountains and the Atlantic sea, the souks, the palaces, museums, minarets…and the people who are so peaceful, calm, lovely, interesting, so different, wonderful swathes of clothes, jellabahs, the teeny food shops where you can buy evvvvverything, the butchers’ with massive penises hanging off the corner, the jewellery, the way the men look at you even haha, the noise of the azaan, which I must learn, I thought it was just Allahuah Akbar… Anyway to have that duality, in Britain – still so bad as portrayed? How can they dare to seearch a student, a woman, heading to the US like that? And the secrecy – never mention this, that, the other, never search for xyz. It is all true. Living in fear in your own country.

I could see this being made into a BBC Drama on One, for sure. In fact, in the end that’s what I didn’t like about it. It turned into an episode of a drama, racing ahead to the demise… I kind of wanted something quieter and more thoughtful; this started nuanced and studious, then turned all showy and over-the-top.

At the same time, I suppose it could happen. Although, would any country deliver a body to a park..? And why wasn’t Eamonn watched? And why did either of the women fall for him; he didn’t have half of their personalities. I also find it weird that Parvaiz, looking all scared and stuff, went to the British Embassy and they saw him a mile away and wondered what he wanted. What do you think? To blow you up? Or has he realised he made a reeeeeallly bad decision here? Oh, too late…

Unfortunately for me I preferred the earlier characters and sections, especially Isma, who we didn’t get to see much more of, and who was really shafted by the whole thing. Aneeka I just didn’t like – drama queen needing a reality check – or Karamat much; although his conflicts were interesting, he’d gone too far up his own arse. And was dull, basically.

It did make me think about issues like Shamina Begum, if I’ve got that right… The media has a lot to answer for. I can see through stuff like royals-bashing and Q-Anon shite, but when it’s to do with cultures and backgrounds I have little knowledge of, it’s not so easy. What would I do? I hope I’d be kind.

I’m not sure what the controversy was about. This should be read by anyone who has any racism in them, so most of us white Brits who don’t really know our own privilege. Well worth reading, but don’t read any other reviews or blurb on the book (when will I learn) before you get into it. Oh! Too late.


Lordy. No writings for some time!! Well, not on here, anyway.

I have actually had a really fun gig ghost-writing articles for a lovely guy on a great relationships site. I can’t claim it properly though!

NaNoWriMo was the usual flop for me…I had to get my ass moving on Surfergirl’s Seaglass’s website and business plan, and once you’re a few days behind on word count it all starts to look impossible, even locked down with no other fun to be had.

But it’s a real and definite goal to get writing my next novel, ‘Ffynon’ (Well) this year. At least a first draft is required!

Plenty of creativity on the silversmithing side of things, and I use the time at the bench to listen to podcasts on creative things and business advice. While I stay home in Wales, my mind wanders all over the world…


Free Fluff

“It’s a quick video about why you don’t need any special “skills” or “experience” to launch a full-time lifestyle business as an influencer…”

This influencer is peddling courses on how to make and sell courses – and telling people they don’t need any special knowledge to do that. What if you want to make a course about x but you don’t know any more than the next person? Who wants to be taught by someone who isn’t the best of the best at what they do? What if, like most people, you are not the best at anything, and really not qualified to instruct anyone on anything? What if you’re just out to make a quick buck off people, and you make shit courses?

Some of these internet influencer courses seem dangerous. You could pay a lot and really get not much back. I worry that most of these courses could have been written up into a great book, landed a publisher and been assigned an editor, gained reviews and so on. I worry that the ones that couldn’t get published like this are mostly the ones that are shite. I suppose it’s like indie publishing, self-publishing – there are some crappy books, and there are some good books. But with a Kindle title you might waste a few quid and then leave a review so others don’t do the same. With something like a freelancing one I’d like to do, you pay A LOT of money. I mean, like £800. And what if it’s rubbish? There’s a money-back guarantee, but what if it doesn’t work but you don’t find out till it’s too late? Or they quibble, or disappear? I just think there’s a lot of potential for bullshit like the above – bad advice from people who are well-meaning – and some who maybe aren’t. And there’s nowhere for honest reviews – their sites and social media are carefully curated shop windows, which is fair enough, but nowhere gives the downsides, the ‘didn’t work for me’ stories. Even the best books have some poor reviews, a balanced view.

Maybe this is me being too old to grasp the new paradigm…but there was an article about one influencer kid who is basically running a Ponzi type scheme, and it’s fucking with trading, which is real and serious money… People lose money, so they have to recruit new losers, and so on.

Anyway, I’ve unsubscribed from this particular brand of fluff. I still rate some influencers and online course creators really very highly – Renae Christine’s Cupcake Trainings, for example, which is ‘awesomesauce’ (free book image from Renae!). The quality of the free stuff tells me the paid-for would be awesome, totally worth it, but it’s just too expensive for me. Same for the freelancing course. One Of Many, which I also love, is more sensibly priced.

It’s fair play to those who are succeeding with this new way of connecting with people. But I’m going to steer clear of any more of the ‘free webinar with everything you need to know – then the hard sell at the end!’ type stuff. Some of it is bad, bad, bad. I’m quite susceptible to the marketing as well, and just ain’t got the dollar! Also…I just still really like books…and independent reviews…

I’m looking at ways to grow my writing and jewellery businesses, and turn it all into one lifestyle brand umbrella where I get to share everything I love about the surfer girl lifestyle and writing life with people, so I am interested in things like handmade business advice etc. I think there’s some great stuff out there, but I’m also pretty sceptical.

What rules?

“She was already learning that if you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so that they don’t apply to you.” (Terry Pratchett, Equal Rights)

If, that is, if you’re that good at whatever you’re trying to do, they want you regardless. (At least that’s how I’m interpreting it.)

And let’s hope so, because I am going to apply for a research fellowship. I have is a complex and interesting idea for a project, but will they think so? My application won’t follow a lot of the rules, because it’s quite a short-dated opportunity, but I might as well give it a go, right?

Every time I talk myself out of it with sensible advice, something like this pops up and whispers to me, “You want to write this, so why not just do it?”

Gewn ni weld.

Slow progress

Ah, the dreaded ‘under construction’. After a diabolical ISP trashed all my sites, I am slowly rebuilding… Lots more to do here, but more to see on my personal site at Slow progress is better than none, and a bit-by-bit approach will get me there eventually!