Nicola Griffith in conversation with Alexis M. Smith

Summer 2018  ·  Digital exchange

I was nineteen years old the first time I encountered Nicola Griffith’s work. It was 1999. I worked at The Crumpet Shop in Pike Place Market, and on my breaks read books I found around the corner at Left Bank Books. The Blue Place was the first in a series of novels starring the most nuanced (and hands-down sexiest) queer woman crime fighter ever to appear in a literary thriller. I was an avid mystery reader, and an aspiring-writer baby dyke, unsure of whether there was a place for someone like me in the literary canon, and Nicola Griffith lit a way forward.
        Griffith has published many stories and seven novels in multiple genres, won awards from the Nebula and the James Tiptree Jr. to the Washington State Book Award and the Lambda (which she has collared an impressive six times). She’s a literary scholar and an activist, bringing vital critical attention to writing by and about people with disabilities. Her most recent novels are the highly-acclaimed seventh century epic Hild (a sequel, Menewood, is in the works), and So Lucky, a sharp, dark gem of a thriller, haunted by the manmade monsters that our current political reality has lured out of hiding.
        Nicola Griffith and her wife, writer Kelley Eskridge, live in Seattle. We conversed over the summer, just after the launch of So Lucky.


What kind of reader were you, growing up? Do you remember the first book or books that made you want to be a writer?


The same kind of reader most writers are, I think: hungry. I loved to read, and I read everything in reach. Literally. My local library as a child seemed to operate on the principle that if you could reach it you could borrow it. Or maybe it was just that they got confused about some historical writers who also sometimes wrote for children. Henry Treece, for example. He wrote some modernist historical fiction that’s most definitely unsuitable for children—unless you believe casual sexual violence is appropriate—yet I read them when I was eight or so.

The books that made me want to be a writer? All of them. None of them. Every single book I’ve ever read has added to what I know of story and writing; those books made me the writer I am. But did any of them make me want to be a writer?

To me there’s a difference between wanting to Be a Writer and wanting to write. I wanted to write early on; pinning down a description or a moment or a feeling felt like a triumph. I didn’t decide to be a writer until I was in my twenties. Or perhaps it might be more true to say I didn’t realize I wanted to be a writer until I was in my twenties. I had a dream about being at a fancy awards dinner, and winning, and waking up knowing it was the Booker Prize, and that I would win it one day.


Are there books you wish you could go back and read again for the first time? Or, conversely, are there books you read over and over again, for the readings that change with time? Who is in your personal literary canon?


Books I wish I could read again for the first time? None. I only reread books I love. And if I love a book why would I want to forget all the wonderful times I’ve had reading it so far?

The books I reread most consistently at the moment are Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series of twenty-plus novels that begins with Master and Commander. I’ve read the first thirteen a couple of dozen times. I used to reread Lord of the Rings once a year and gain a slightly different perspective each time. But it’s now been five years and I find I’m not pining for it.

What is a literary canon? That’s not a rhetorical question. Those novels without which our work might not be, or would certainly be different? Novels we admire? Novels we love irrationally and reread for comfort
despite their glaring flaws? Exemplars to point students to? I don’t know.

What I do know is that whenever I try to come up with a list it’s very difficult to name books I love by and about women. There are plenty of works by and about women that I admire, but I don’t love them; I don’t reread them, buy them as gifts, or reach for them when I need to know how another writer does things. Why? Because they brim with suffering, rage, or the claustrophobia of domesticity and/or oppression.

The books I love are almost all set in the outdoors, preferably in nature. My old friends and favorites are books where things happen; characters who sit around thinking are boring. I love books with protagonists who have will and agency. I like high stakes. I need also a sense of the ineffable, a kind of wild magic, an almost pagan exhilaration. I like joy—hard times, too, of course, but as both writer and reader I subscribe to characters being vessels hollowed out by sadness in order to be filled with joy—not wry contentment but unbridled, blazing joy.

The first half a dozen Patrick O’Brian books are practically perfect—except they’re by a man about men. Even though it’s nearly fifty years old, I love Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave; if Merlin were a woman I’d never stop talking about that book. Books that I think of fondly include Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset, but they’re all about men (or boys).

The women who write about women whose work I admire and is set outdoors—Joanna Russ, Suzy Charnas, Vonda McIntyre, Octavia Butler, Elizabeth Lynn—are often built around a kernel of rage and depend on the struggle with some kind of oppression. They are often, though not always, more playful at shorter length; this is particularly true of Russ.

This is one of those thoughts that to explore fully I’d have to reiterate my doctoral thesis, so I’ll stop there.


You’ve recently earned a PhD. I imagine that has changed your reading life—or, at least it did for awhile? And what about your writing? Have you noticed a significant difference in either your practice or your experience of the writing? You already seemed to have a healthy relationship with research, both historical and practical (I feel I could almost manage a cabin renovation after reading Stay), but I wonder whether that has changed for you?


Doing a PhD has given me a deep and visceral aversion to difficult fiction. I’m not talking about intellectually challenging fiction, fiction that requires focus, or goes deep into unexplored territory, because none of that feels difficult if it’s interesting. But it has to be interesting. After an entire year of forcing myself to read books I did not care about for their own sakes, I am now quite sure that the only challenging novels worth reading are those that arrest and fascinate me from page one. It’s not worth being challenged for not-fascinating books. Conversely, I’m perfectly happy to read fast shallow books that tell me nothing new as long as they entertain and don’t actively annoy me for a couple of hours.

I no longer read most It Books because most not only are not very well written but say nothing interesting. I’m no longer willing to read as a duty. I’m happy to struggle if I think something’s worth it—I’ll still read horribly written, badly typeset early medieval research, for example—but I won’t read so-called Literary Novels that promise to be depressing.

I still love researching—though so much early medieval research material is best read on a physical page, and so many of those books are not only huge but heavy. While writing Hild it was my habit to sit on the deck surrounded by flowers and bees and hummingbirds, with a pile of dense, foot-noted books, and tell myself I was working… But now I have to prop heavy books on a sturdy bookstand, which means indoor reading only. And now it’s harder to pretend I’m working when just basking in nature…


A couple of years ago I came across a Joanna Russ story, “Souls,” (published in 1982) which begins: “This is the tale of the Abbess Radegunde and what happened when the Norsemen came.” It’s a riveting, raging, page-turner of a story—not at all what one might expect from a historical story about an abbess. What’s the opposite of historical romance?—it’s that. It immediately brought to mind Hild, not simply because both stories take place in Britain in the early Middle Ages, but because of the way both stories are so alive in time and place. The characters live on the page through their actions and interactions, even while the stories themselves are tethered to deeper philosophical and mystical questions. And violence has its own language for the characters of both stories. Can you talk about the role of violence in Hild and your other novels? Is it an expression of that “kernel of rage,” you’re drawn to?


I’m not drawn to rage. The opposite, in fact. I yearn for books by and about women who do things, who have agency in the great outdoors, but who aren’t angry. Books by and about women that are full of rage are often too focused on what women can’t and don’t have, what they can’t and don’t do, as opposed to what they do and why, and how they think, and why. It’s why although I admire those novels I mentioned it’s the shorter, more playful fiction that I love and reread.

Russ’s short fiction is a perfect example. “Souls” is the first piece in Extra(Ordinary) People, which is a marvelous collection: whippy and bright and so sharp you laugh as you realize you’re bleeding out. One of the things I enjoyed about “Souls” was Radegunde’s clarity, her ability to think, to assess and manipulate others rather than constantly re/acting from fear. In that sense I see some similarity with Hild, though Hild of course is perfectly willing to fight physically as well as verbally. And Hild is much less convinced of her superiority; she isn’t weary the way Radegunde is (though perhaps that’s a function of their relative ages). Probably my favorite story in that book, though, is “The Mystery of the Young Gentleman,” which is sharp, witty, genderqueer science fiction. But we are talking about Russ, so that’s not all it is. It’s pulp adventure fiction, with sex and gunplay and gambling, money and reversals and danger. Also a parody of Victorian porn. And, literally, a comedy of manners. Exhilarating stuff. And no rage, no violence.

With two exceptions the violence in my books is not about rage. The exceptions are So Lucky (which is so different from anything else I’ve done that it needs its own interview) and one brief scene halfway through the middle Aud novel, Stay, when Aud’s grief overwhelms her and she loses her shit. Apart from that one scene, Aud’s violence throughout three novels is wholly naturalized: she’s a force of nature, as impersonal as a lightning strike. She’s violent in the way anyone dealing with the criminal underworld is violent: violence is one tool among many, but one her opponents understand. Unlike most violent women in crime fiction Aud is not an avenging angel, a protective family member, or in twisty psychological torment. She uses violence because she can; it’s efficient.

Aud loves life, is wholly engaged in her environment, built and natural. Her violence is part of that love of life, her visceral delight in herself and her world.

Hild’s the same: she loves the world because she understands it; she understands it because she spends time with it; she spends time with it because she loves it. Like Aud—like me, really—she’s a creature of the body. She learns through her body: through what she smells and sees and hears. I think this is what many readers mean when they say it’s immersive and alive: it’s the sensory detail. I link the world to her body: we experience the world through her. Not just her senses but her responses to those inputs: the adrenaline surge, the sickening lurch of danger, the flood of saliva at the scent of roasting pork. It puts us there with her. No, it puts her inside us: her experiences and dreams and lessons are ours. Because she belongs in her world, we belong, too. She lives in a time when might was right; she doesn’t think too much about violence one way or another; it’s just the way of the world. And like Aud, she’s smart and pragmatic: if violence works, use it.

As with Aud, my hope is that the reader learns to think as Hild does, and respond that way, just a little.


So Lucky also deals in rage and struggle. The protagonist Mara says, “Anger is a strange beast… It’s a physical thing that needs physical remedies.” She contains a kind of fury at injustice that propels her to fight for the vulnerable, to be direct with colleagues, to face conflict head-on, sometimes by acting without thinking. But we’re also privy to Mara’s deepest fears, which haunt her to the last pages of the book (spoiler alert, I guess?). The ending gave me chills: where some mysteries have been solved, the monster remains. Mara has multiple sclerosis, known as “the monster,” among some with MS, but there’s more to it than the literal interpretation. That made me wonder about the relationship between fear and anger, as primary sources of conflict in stories. Is the greater tension of the story actually in the fear, which has no remedy? Is there a similar tension between violence and vulnerability?


So Lucky is the first book I’ve written that is overtly about the nexus of fear and rage. It’s the first book I’ve written that is explicitly about an Issue (ableism in this case). I’d be surprised if they weren’t related. The core of Lucky is not fear, vulnerability, or rage; it’s about helplessness and whether you go gently into the good night or not. Are you willing to believe you belong in the crappy little box they put you in—the story of how cripples can’t have or don’t deserve a real life? Or are you going to tell a different story? It takes Mara a long time to figure out she’s been sold a pack of lies about disability—as we all have—but she finally gets there. That’s the problem with implicit bias; it’s insidious. You have to recognize it in yourself, recognize how it controls your responses to the world, before you can root it out. And even when you do see it, it’s not always possible to extinguish it. Implicit bias is like a retrovirus; you might think it’s gone but it’s always there, waiting to flower at unexpected moments. That’s the monster, not Mara’s physical impairments.

Many writers use fear as the springboard for story. It can be useful. There again, hunger—for sex, power, belonging—also works pretty well. It just has to be a good, clear emotion.


I’m curious about your aversion to “It Books” and whether you find literary-novels-of-the-moment depressing because they avoid the kind of tension and conflict we’re talking about here? Is that why they seem depressing? Because they don’t engage in the urgency of action and violence/vulnerability and fear?


They make me impatient because they don’t engage in anything meaningful in a wider context. The big wide world and the people in it matters. Really, who apart from you gives a shit about the ethics of you having an adulterous affair? Or your inner conflict over whether or not you should feel bad about not having a baby? Or whether your dinner party will turn out well enough to be discussed positively in your social circle? No one will die one way or another. The world won’t change. You probably won’t even lose your job or home. It feels pointless. That kind of insipidity makes me want to reach into the book to, say, the privileged, self-absorbed drugged-up deliberately somnambulistic protagonist, pour cold water on her as she wallows in her own high-thread-count existential misery, and yell, Grow the fuck up!

A lot of It novels are depressing. They’re depressing because they focus not on horror (or terror or lust or joy or hunger) but on angst, anxiety, and self-worthlessness. Anxiety and angst are not major, free-flowing emotions; they are a sign of internal dithering. Think of a novel’s premise as an analogue of a self-defense situation. Fear sends a message as clear as a bell: This situation is dangerous; get out now! Anxiety is about second-guessing yourself: It’s not really dangerous, is it? Surely not. I know him; he’s my husband’s friend. I must be wrong… When a character is constantly in that self-questioning mode, it makes me as a reader impatient and irritated. Why don’t they believe themselves and just fucking get out?

I like fiction about people who are clear. How they deal with things can be nuanced, the situation can be complex, their histories can be Byzantine, but their emotions need to be clear; they need to know how they feel; they have to decide what to do. They can be wrong—in fact it’s better if they learn, grow, change their minds, fuck up, etc.—but oh god they need to be clear. I hate characters who dither.


With each of your books I come away with a sense that for your pro-tagonists, intelligence and awareness are at the center of their agency. I guess that’s why I refer to violence as a language for them—one of many they speak. Hild, in particular, speaks or reads many “languages” of nature—we experience the world through her, as you say—and this ability becomes her superpower, but she’s actually the earliest kind of scientist. (I have a friend, a practicing Wiccan who works in IT, who says, “I don’t practice witchcraft, I practice witchscience.”) I feel like this is a shift in the paradigm of how women of her time are commonly represented, at least in literature. But I’m not an academic. (I’ve read Julian of Norwich, and that’s about the extent of my experience with source texts anywhere close to Hild’s time.) As you researched Hild (and the sequel, Menewood) what surprised you most about the time—about the roles of women or anything else?


You and I are closer to Julian of Norwich’s time than Julian was to Hild’s—Hild was born 1400 years ago; her world was more different to Julian’s than I think ours is to Julian’s.

We know so little of Hild’s time. The Anglo-Saxons were not literate in the way we think of it today. Some specialists would have had knowledge of runes, but from what little material evidence we have, they were used mostly as inscriptions rather than communication. Power, influence, and the administration and buttressing of same, would have worked quite differently. Law worked differently, kinship worked differently; war, land ownership, religion, allegiance: all different. Before the influence of Judeo-Christian (via Greek misogyny) values, who knows how women were regarded? I certainly don’t because those writing everything down could not see past their own bias.

All I knew was that the role of women in the so-called Dark Ages could not remotely resemble the bullshit we’ve been fed in which we were merely rape toys and/or brood mares and/or warty old wise women of the wood. Because otherwise how could Hild—born the second daughter of a murdered father, with zero power and influence in the regime of petty warlords styling themselves kings of a feuding, bloody, aliterate, heathen culture—end up counselor to kings of proto-states with a literate, Christian bureaucracy; a teacher and leader of bishops; head of a religious foundation famous for its influence and hosting of the Synod which changed the course of British history; and still known fourteen hundred years (nearly a millennium and half!) later for her power, wisdom, and learning?

Clearly there was a lot going on about which was know nothing. So to write Hild I had to unimagine the last 2000 years of gender discourse. And then I had to reimagine it. But to do that, I had to build the entire seventh century, and to do that, I had to know what was known. So I researched every single fucking thing about the late sixth and early seventh centuries I could find; I research for 15 years. Climate data, analysis of skeletal remains (human and animal), jewellery, metallurgy, agriculture, flora and fauna, building techniques, charcoal manufacture, and textile production. Especially textile production. Fairly late in the process I learned that, by one estimate, Anglo-Saxon women spent 65% of their time on textile production. Think about that: more time on cloth than on sleeping, childcare, and food preparation combined.

Textile production was the tech industry of the seventh century: it lay at the heart of everything. And given the evidence of language, women owned it, in every settlement from farmstead to royal vill. That single fact must have influenced every aspect of life, just as it influenced the novel.


I felt the same way with Aud—who is in many ways the model of the noir detective, but whose relationships—especially with other women—suggest questions about the sexism that permeates some detective fiction. Aud seems baffled by women who don’t claim their own agency, but you subtly turn notions of women as the weaker sex on their heads throughout the series. Can you talk about what it was like creating Aud as a character in a long line of mostly male detectives? What questions, if any, did the process bring up for you about the genre?


So much crime fiction, whether mysteries, police procedurals, hardboiled, noir, cozies, or thrillers, is about the status quo: restoring it by solving a murder; operating outside it, in the case of maverick PIs; shoring it up in terms of the international order for spy capers and thrillers; watching it spiral down the drain in terms of noir. In the crime fiction I read, written in the second half of the twentieth century by men about men, the protagonists never changed. To a degree they still don’t—think of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. When men wrote about women, women were (and often still are) victims—either already dead or alive and being abused. When women started writing about women, we were still the victims, only sometimes now we were also protectors of sisters or children and/or avenging angels. Best case scenario? The female protagonists were full of self-doubt. Or tormented alcoholics, or gamblers, or had problems with impulse control. Or they lacked self-esteem, or were terrified of their own strength, or some damn thing. Some of these women did grow and change, but they were all damaged. There were no competent and confident women who rescued, saved, and protected people just because they could. And they enjoyed their job. That’s what I wanted to see: women as White Knights riding to the rescue Just Because.

I wanted to write a woman as the flawed (but not damaged) hero: James Bond, Travis McGee, Spenser. Why hadn’t anyone done that? I could see a way to do it, so I did.

What delighted me about writing Aud was how easy it is to create a character when you’re not simultaneously world-building. There’s so much room! As with fictional world-building you can still do three things at once with every scene—or line of dialogue, or even sentence—but it can be mood and character and plot; it doesn’t have to weave in any explanations/explications about how a society works. It’s just… the world. It was de-licious. So my question for the genre is, basically, given how fucking easy it is to write character in this genre why had no one before managed to come up with a real woman who revels in being a real hero??


I read on your website that you’ve regained the rights to the Aud novels (from three different publishers), and you’re hoping to reissue all three (The Blue Place, Stay, and Always) and (eventually) to write another in the series. You say, “I’m very fond of Aud and her story; I love writing her.” I, for one, love reading Aud, so it didn’t surprise me to hear that. I feel like writers have a tendency to concentrate on the angst, and on the frustrating parts of the creative process (I’m certainly guilty of it). Can you say something about the love of writing a character, and, perhaps, the joy of bringing a character to life itself?


Aud came from a dream: a naked woman sleeps sprawled, confident as a lion, on the brand new carpet of an utterly bare apartment. She’s the first to move into the whole complex. It’s hot. Orange sodium light slices through the blinds across her hip and cheek; tree frogs churr. There’s a click, and she flicks open her eyes to find a man pointing a gun at her. And in my dream this woman doesn’t wait for him to speak she just rises off the floor in one fluid motion, old-fashioned Maglite flashlight already swinging in her hand, and, crack, breaks his neck. Just like that. From the first click of the gun to the intruder lolloping down onto the carpet like a sack of potatoes: two seconds.

I woke up thinking, Whoa! Then I wondered: What kind of woman could do that—no hesitation, just the right thing, instantly?

I didn’t know. I had trained for years in martial arts and self defense; I’d been attacked more than once; defended myself more than once. Yet the one time I’d been woken from a sound sleep by men threatening to break down the door, rape me, and set the house on fire, I froze for at least 20 seconds before I could respond (though it felt like about a year). It would be lovely if we could respond instantly but mostly people can’t and don’t. So who could this woman be? How could she have become like this—without being damaged?

I was writing another novel but this question was always in the back of my mind as I worked. Then one day I went to the library just to browse while Kelley picked up a couple of things she’s ordered. I found a book from the 60s about Norwegian architecture. Nearby was an even older book in a plain blue binding: Norwegian history. I leafed through it, and came across a woman, called Aud the Deepminded, born in the ninth century. Huh, I thought. She must have been pretty special to be remembered as the Deepminded 1200 years later. And, Oh, I thought. Oh. The woman in my dream was Norwegian. And she was called Aud.

So now I knew who she was not how she had become herself.

I spent three books finding out and it was an almost ecstatic experience. Aud takes so much delight in her skills and in the world in general; she loves life. And at the same time she can be startlingly dense about other people, particularly women. She is constantly baffled by why other women don’t just say what they mean, and act from confidence and conviction. Why do they worry so much? I had a good time with that. Actually, I had a good time with just about everything in those books. I think it will be marvellous to get back to Aud and see how she’s getting on in the brave new world. When Always, the third novel, came out, Twitter did not exist. Amazon was only 10 years old. Seattle was just entering the Great Recession. Oh, I am going to have the best time!

One thing I’m seriously looking forward to is narrating them as audiobooks. I’ve always loved to perform—first with music and now with novels. I’m one of those authors that actively enjoys reading aloud in public and talking to readers. But until So Lucky I’d never been in a studio to record anything but music and radio interviews. Narrating was an astonishing
experience: feeling the work take flight, take shape, take form clothed in the power of the human voice. I loved it. I used to love reading aloud from the Aud books—those books really are designed for voice—so I can’t wait to bring Aud alive that way.

I’m hoping to do that with Hild, too, when I finish the sequel, Menewood. I wanted to narrate the first book, but the publisher wouldn’t take a chance on a beginner with such a big book. But now I’m no longer a beginner…


You also seem to love writing about the landscape. When writers don’t bother to describe the flora and fauna or the climate of a setting accurately, or at least vividly, I lose trust in the narrative as a whole. (Even if I don’t know the particular landscape, I want to get the sensory experience of it.) You write not just precisely, but lyrically and reverently about the natural world in your books. In Hild, you were imagining or recreating a world that, as you say, is very far removed from ours, even in climate (and, as I think about it, in the amount of species die off since her time), and in Ammonite, you create a landscape on another planet. In each, there’s a lucidity to descriptions of the environment that is integral to the story. Do you have a sense of where this inclination toward getting the landscape right comes from, for you?


Natural landscape has always been important to me. I grew up in a big family in a crowded city. The only time I ever had to myself was outside. As a toddler apparently I had a tendency to escape from the house and head for the woods. Combine that with other in-born tendencies—to not sleep much, and to refuse any kind of confinement, including clothes—and we end up with a three year-old walking naked down a city street at dawn on the way to the closest semi-wild bit of land. The Hiding of the House Keys became more and more difficult for my parents as I learnt to climb on furniture and ferret out even the most cunning nooks and crannies. And then somewhere around four years old I began to understand this Obey Your Parents thing, or perhaps my parents worked out that if you put a bolt on the door right at the top, even a four year-old who’s managed to drag a table to the door, plus a chair to get onto the table, can’t quite reach it…

But the happiest memories I have of childhood are outside under the sky very early in the morning. Every year we used to go on holiday to the same house on the coast, and I would wake before anyone else and go stand on the edge of the cliff, and just breathe as the light broke over the sea. As soon as I was allowed to go hiking with friends we went to the Dales and the North York Moors: lovely!

The first short story I wrote with the goal of publication, “Down the Path of the Sun,” (which ended up being the fourth story I published) was just an excuse to describe the landscape of the Norfolk Broads and how at dawn the rising sun lays down what looks like a red-gold path on the water to the horizon. I wanted to travel that path…


I know you have lived in different countries and climates, but you’ve been a resident of the Pacific Northwest for many years. How has the landscape of the Northwest influenced your writing?


The biggest change for me regarding landscape in my writing came when I moved from the North of England to the American South. In the North I’d been very physically fit so my perspective on nature was very much that of someone moving through it. In the South, I got sick with what was eventually diagnosed as multiple sclerosis, which slowed me down a lot. Plus, it was hot and sticky. So I spent much more time just sitting under the trees or by the water and looking. That’s where I learned to observe minutia: the mica glittering in the dirt; the way water boatmen dimple the surface of the water as they skate across the pond; how peeling paint has a tendency to break into an epithelial pattern. On days when I wasn’t well enough to get outside, I would lie on the sofa and watch the quality of light change as it tracked across the tile, then rug, then wooden floor, then up the textured walls.

I’m not sure how moving to the Pacific Northwest has changed my work, except perhaps to help me see just how extraordinary the South is in terms of lushness and color. I couldn’t have written The Blue Place until I left Atlanta and held those semi-tropical colors of my memory against the watercolor wash of green, blue and grey that is the PNW. The PNW is both very fertile and welcoming—the creeks and temperate climate, the sea shore, the endlessly changing sky—and oddly monotonous. For example, on my last visit to the Ho Rainforest it was weirdly quiet under the trees apart from the repeated call of a single Junco. The problem as I see it is that the ecosystem lacks animal diversity because the big predators—lynx, wolves on land, bears by the river, and orcas in the sound—are either wholly or mostly gone, and the medium predators—such as fishers on land, and sea lions and salmon in the water—are increasingly rare. Bring those back and things would change.

The climate of Seattle is very similar to that of Leeds where I grew up: temperate, moderated by a warm marine current, and partially in rain shadow. Not too hot in the summer, not too cold in the winter. Yes, there are miserable stretches in both cities where you really need air conditioning (which we installed in the first house and every subsequent house we’ve ever bought), and miserable stretches where many of us might sacrifice a relative just to make it stop raining; and, yes, there’s very occasional cracking cold; but normally it’s a fecund place hospitable to life—it’s really not hard to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables. These days I don’t do much gardening, so we stick to herbs and flowers, but they bring hummingbirds. Hummingbirds! They are belligerent little things but every single time I see one I feel as though life is a gift. How can the world be beyond redemption when there are hummingbirds in it? Like really fine fiction, they give me hope for the future.

Originally published in Moss: Volume Four.
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