Apocalypse Allotment No. 4: Today I was the Apocalypse

A garden gate, choked with nettles.

Hi, nettles, hi!

As you can see, I have a problem. A nettle problem. See, the nettles believe that it is time for nature to reclaim a land abandoned by humanity, but, uh, it’s not abandoned yet. This bit of land is mine. I already claimed it. And they are preventing me entering my allotment with ease.

What’s more, they are not my only problem. I have mentioned before my greatest foe, cooch grass, and its lieutenant in evil, dandelions, but here be also thistles and dock leaves and all manner of things I don’t even have names for that want to crowd out my plants and make my allotment, well, less pretty.

Usually I fight these battles with brute strength and a garden fork, but as I have continued to be ill (I don’t have Captain Trips, I swear!) and the year is marching on, I decided to use a tool of darkness in my fight for the light and my right to paaaaarty. I caved. I applied weed killer.

I know.

The weed killer I used was a cheap Sainsbury’s own brand glyphosate. If the apocalypse has already happened where you are, you can loot the expensive big name brand Roundup, but you can get the same thing for several quid cheaper by going off-brand, if human laws are still in effect where you are. If you’re going to do this, here’s what to do:

Using Glyphosate

Firstly, wear gloves. We’re going to be spraying poison on plants and it’s not great for humans either. If you get any on you, wash off with water, but not any water you are planning to put on plants. (Do I need to say don’t swallow it? DON’T SWALLOW IT, IT IS POISON. And, in general, follow the directions on the side.)

Secondly, wait until your weeds have proper-sized leaves. Glyphosate works by entering through the leaves and poisoning down the plant into the roots. It is inert when it hits the soil; so, don’t worry, you’re not salting the Earth – other things will grow there again once the plant demon you are fighting is dead.

Wait, also, for a calm day. You want the weed killer to go only on the plants you want dead, not your precious seedlings or carefully nurtured rhubarb. Wind can carry glyphosate to places other than your intended enemy.

Then spray directly onto the leaves of the plant you want dead.

I… used a lot of the stuff today. I did the nettles that are trying to block off my gate, and all the nettles along my fence – I dug those bastards out the old-fashioned way a few years ago, but nettles are like weaponised cooch grass – they have longer, tougher roots, and these went all the way under the central path that runs between the allotments where I couldn’t reach them. So they came back. The only way to destroy them completely is either to leave nothing behind or poison the roots.

I also sprayed many dandelions, much cooch grass (especially that growing between my paving slabs where I can’t dig it up) and the weeds that had started to grow again on my painstakingly de-weeded paths.

Part of the reason I’m doing this is to make my life easier. It’s all very well to be 100% organic, but it’s not possible for everyone, especially if the apocalypse comes on you at the wrong time of year and you need to clear ground fast. In a survival situation you do what you gotta do.

The other reason is that I want a nice looking allotment, damn it. I’m tired of people looking down their noses at me over the fence *mutters something about ‘come the apocalypse!’* and I want a nice looking plot to cheer me in harsh times. Killing the weeds in my paths is so much easier that trying to dig them out again and again and again.

As a result of using weed killer, today I finally got to put my bark chips down on my paths.

My cleared paths, covered with red bark.

My cleared paths, covered with red bark chips.

I’m quite pleased with how it turned out, although I this used the whole bag I had, so I will clearly need more if I ever manage to clear the other paths.

These paths have been partially lined with weed control fabric – ideally I would fully line them, but in the apocalypse allotment, we make do with what we’ve got – then covered with bark chip.

Interesting aside: if you leave your bag full of bark chips on the ground for a couple of months after you get it, ants may nest in it! I discovered quite a few ants, and their eggs, inside the bag. Sorry buddies, this stuff was bought with a purpose – I used the bark chips anyway. I expect the ants will relocate their eggs. I’m always disturbing ants down my allotment. There’s not a lot you can do about it; they don’t generally harm the plants, and I’m not going to let them stop me from growing in the space I have to grow. I’ve heard you can pour boiling water on them, but a) that’s easier when you have electricity (something we will lack in the post-apocalypse future), and b) wtf with the boiling water? They aren’t hurting me!

Anyway, weed killer is tackling my nettles and helping prevent my paths becoming overgrown again.

Why does that make me the Apocalypse?

Well, what we regard as weeds are part of complex ecosystems. Insects and spiders and all sorts of tiny little animals, many of them beneficial, like to hide in weeds. These animals can be important for the soil, or for birds. Weeds can provide shelter for butterflies and solitary bees and all kinds of good things. Not to mention that variation in plant life is itself beneficial. At the very least, it would be better to pull these plants up and compost them, rather than making them shrivel into useless poisoned dead things, like the zombies that stalk the land.

I killed a valuable habitat today in the name of expediency – not to mention all those ants I displaced!

It’s… not my proudest allotmenteering moment, but I have been ill, and I really wanted to make a go of it this year, both for me and my dreams of a bountiful harvest and an allotment I can be proud of, and for you, and this blog series.

So… I am become death, destroyer of nettles.

On a more positive note…

How the Allotment is Doing

The allotment is doing pretty well. In addition to planting the onions and garlic I told you all about in No. 2, I also planted some carrots and spring onions a couple of weeks ago, which I didn’t have time to write up.

Carrots and spring onions are super easy to grow.

Carrots

For carrots, what I do is to mark a line with my trowel, no more than a couple of centimeters deep, and then place one seed every inch where I want the plants to grow. Now, the standard advice is just to ‘sow thinly’ (which just kind of means roughly sprinkle in a line) and then ‘thin’ the seedlings out later, but with carrots the major issue is carrot fly. Carrot fly are attracted by the smell of carrots, which is emitted when you bruise the leaves. I don’t like to take my chances with carrot fly, so I prefer not to have to thin, which would disturb the plants and potentially attract the insects.

Carrot fly damage

Carrot fly damage

What is carrot fly? PESTILENCE, that’s what. More accurately, what we’re worried about are the grubs, which burrow through your carrots leaving a network of tiny holes that you will have to cut out, greatly reducing the productivity of your crop. I would rather risk slightly fewer carrots than getting more carrots, most of which I can’t eat.

A few weeks after planting my carrots well-spaced, and they are beginning to sprout!

Three carrotd and a thistle.

Three carrots and a thistle.

The first thing you notice, once you start growing things from seed, is that nearly everything starts off with two little leaves and is nigh on indistinguishable from anything else. However, within a short period of time, the seedlings grow so that you can notice differences. Carrot seedlings (as shown above) are marked by the two initial leaves being particularly slender. When they start to grow their next leaves, these are more like tiny little hands. By contrast, the thistle that is invading my nice line of carrots above has round little leaves with points on the edges. That is going to have to go before it gets any bigger, but THIS I will weed by hand. I cannot risk weed killer so close to my baby carrots!

You might also notice that the stems of my carrot seedlings are purple – this is because I am growing purple carrots! Although orange carrots are the norm in our supermarkets as they have been bred to be large and sweet, carrots actually come in all kind of colours. I’m growing purple because it will make me smile, but you may prefer to grow traditional orange for its larger tubers.

I am also companion planting my carrots with spring onions and chives; this is, again, to keep away the carrot fly. As the flies are attracted by the smell, the strong, oniony smells of alliums are thought to mask the smell of the carrots.

Spring Onions and Chives

Unlike onion onions, spring onions and chives are always grown from seed, rather than from sets. The seeds are small and black – spring onion and chive seeds look identical, so if you intend to harvest seed later in the year, be sure to label your packets carefully!

Like carrots, I cut a shallow line in the soil with my trowel. Unlike with carrots, I then sprinkle the seeds roughly – ‘sow thinly’. I don’t mind if I need to thin these later. You can either eat the waste plants or move them elsewhere without attracting anything nasty. In this case, I have planted spring onions down the middle of the bed between the carrot rows, and chives at the edge of the bed.

Here are my spring onion seedlings:

Spring onion seedlings

Spring onion seedlings

Like carrots, the first spring onion leaves are long and slender. Unlike carrots, they are tubular in shape, tapering to a point, as the leaves will continue to be as they grow.

The chives I have only just planted today, so I look forward to seeing how they turn out!

Onions and Garlic

Meanwhile, my onions and garlic are getting on apace!

Onions and garlic.

Left: garlic. Right: onions.

They look to be doing well in terms of numbers of leaves, which is important for the eventual size of the bulb. Around about now (May) the bulb will stop adding leaves and will focus on fattening up – this is why it’s important to get onions and garlic in early to maximise the number of leaves they can put out. You can tell the onion from the garlic as onion leaves are tubular, like spring onions, whilst garlic leaves are flat, more like grass, but centred around a single stalk.

Considering how unwell I have been, things are going well, and I have every hope we are heading for a good harvest, despite my miniature apocalypse of weeds.

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The Apocalypse Allotment No. 3: Rhubarb

A magnificent rhubarb plantOne of the joys of adopting an allotment for your post-apocalypse life is finding plants the previous owners have planted that you can take over with a minimum of fuss. I was particularly lucky in that my apocalypse allotment came with rhubarb! Not all that surprising, considering I live in Yorkshire, home of the Rhubarb Triangle. Whilst rhubarb is native to Siberia, it does very well in the rich soils and cold wet winters of Yorkshire. And as my internet handle, ‘Rhube’, is short for ‘Rhubarb’, growing rhubarb is not only a delight, but a must!

Rhubarb is a striking plant with wide green leaves and thick, tart edible stems. The stems are mostly pink, and tend to be pinker the less sunlight they see. Rhubarb can be ‘forced’ by keeping the plant in darkness (or near darkness) so that the stems grow fast, tall, and neon pink, making for the tastiest, tenderest, pinkest eating. I’ve tried it for the first time this year, and let me tell you – it works!

Forcing Rhubarb

Rhubarb with a pot over it

Forcing Rhubarb

Rhubarb farms keep rhubarb in massive, dimly lit barns, but in the apocalypse we don’t have that luxury (or the need for quite that much forced rhubarb!). The small subsistence farmer can achieve the same results on a more manageable scale by placing a large tub or other container over the plant just as the leaves begin to poke from the soil.

To the right, you can see that I have used a very large plant pot, but you could also use an up-turned bin or other container. As you can see, my rhubarb patch is very large, and I was never going to be able to force the whole clump, so I’m just covering one section. These photos don’t really reflect scale, but that is a very big plant pot. Rhubarb grows very big. Note also that I have weighed down the pot with rocks, this is partly because the weather is very wind here, but also because rhubarb grows fast and tall, and I don’t want the rhubarb forcing the pot off itself too easily.

The result, within a couple of weeks, was very pink stems, ready to be picked!

Forced rhubarb

Note how much greener and larger the leaves are on the unforced patches of the clump. It’s perfectly possible to pick and eat unforced rhubarb (and I intend to!) but the forced stuff is pinker, less tough, and more flavourful. I mean, all rhubarb is pretty flavourful, but if, for instance, you want to make bright pink jam, instead of muddy brown jam, forced rhubarb is the way to go.

Finding Rhubarb

By May you’re not going to have any trouble figuring out if you have rhubarb in the land you’ve usurped, but in February, March, and early April you could easily miss it. Rhubarb becomes completely invisible in the winter months, retreating below the soil and lying dormant in its massive roots. This is what rhubarb looks like just as it begins poking through the soil:

Baby Rhubarb

Keep an eye out for the small, wrinkly green leaves. These leaves, which start out tiny and tightly packed, will inflate into the huge leaves seen above.

Separating Rhubarb

As mentioned above, my patch is huge and old. The advantage of finding rhubarb someone else planted is that you can pick it as soon as it’s ready. If you’ve looted* a rhubarb plant from a store, you need to give it a year to establish before you start harvesting. It’s much better to check out what other people have left behind and take over a plot with an already established clump. Every year I harvest more rhubarb than I can possibly eat – this is a plant that will give you plenty to trade, or to preserve in jams for the winter!

The disadvantage to having an old, well-established rhubarb clump is that the clump gets pretty crowded. The large flower spike shown below looks impressive – good enough to frighten a triffid!

Rhubarb with a flower stalk

TRIFFID.

Unfortunately, a rhubarb that is flowering is a rhubarb that is diverting energy away from growing those lovely edible stems. The rhubarb plant grows this when it’s getting too crowded and wants to spawn young somewhere else. The reality is that the seeds are likely to  fall around the plant and make it more crowded. It’s basically not ideal all round. If you see a flower spike, break or cut it off at the base. Sometimes it will just snap off, but rhubarb plants are tough, and you may need shears.

The best solution to overcrowded rhubarb is to split up your clumps every five years, preferably in early spring when the plant is dormant or just starting to grow. I’ve had my allotment for five or six years now, and I don’t think the old guy who had it before could have had the strength to split this stuff up, so it had gotten waaaay overcrowded in my clumps. I had to do something about it.

Here’s what you do: loosen the soil all around your rhubarb with a fork, then, if possible, lift up the whole clump. This was not possible with my ancient clump. Rhubarb roots are huge and all tangled up. Some of the roots were nearly as thick as my wrist. I had to just lift it up as much as I could, and then move on to step two.

Step two is to get a spade and chop your rhubarb down the middle, or wherever is convenient to split it up. I wish I had taken photos of this, but it was some of the toughest physical labour I have ever engaged in and I was kind of busy. I also made the  mistake of trying to separate my rhubarb using only a fork. Don’t do that. Use the sharpened spade you keep around for decapitating zombies. The fork got stuck. Me and my friend used feet and hands and fork and everything wrestling the clump apart. It was hard work, let me tell you!

I had two friends who had wanted rhubarb of their own for years, and I don’t have room in my allotment for more rhubarb – my rhubarb is already overcrowded! So I separated off two chunks, which they took and put in some mud. A lot of mud. Rhubarb needs a lot of space, and if you do decide to grow it in a pot, make sure it is a HUGE pot. I still had a clump left over, which, because I had nowhere to put it, I left on the surface of the soil to… deal with later. Two weeks later, it looked like this:

A tangled ball of rhubarb roots, still growing

I have neglected this poor thing to high heaven, and it’s STILL GROWING. Friends, this is a survivor. Keep this thing in your land just for inspiration, tbh.

General Rhubarb Care

Rhubarb doesn’t need a lot of looking after, it’s pretty hardy. It comes from Siberia, for God’s sake! The main thing is it likes a lot of water. Look at it. It’s HUGE. But at the same time, it has giant roots and can survive dry periods pretty well. If you live in a desert climate… no, OK, this isn’t going to work, but rhubarb is ideal for temperate or cold climates.

Keep it watered. Pull stems from the moment they look long enough until June. Don’t pull too many stems at once – make sure you leave the plant enough leaves to photosynthesise with – and it will keep on producing for you. There will be stems on into the summer, but if you stop pulling in June you allow the plant to top up its energy reserves for the winter.

You’ll have a great crop of rhubarb for use in pies, crumbles, jams, and even just eating raw with sugar. But remember – the leaves are poisonous, so only eat the stem!

*Remember! Only loot after the world has ended!

 

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Review – Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War posterCaptain America: Civil War is fun, and if that’s all you expect from it, you’ll probably have a good time. The plot is reasonably coherent and well-paced – certainly in comparison to Age of Ultron, and even The Winter Soldier.

That said, in a film with twelve superheroes, there are only two women heroes (Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff and Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff), with Sharon Carter playing a minor role that cannot really be described as superheroic. Both Ant-Man and Spider-Man, neither of whom appear on the poster, get more screen time and action than her. Sharon, although she does have some agency, is largely relegated to Steve’s love interest and an uncomfortable substitute for Peggy.

If the film passed the Bechdel Test, I must have blinked and missed it.

Black men have a reasonable showing, with both Falcon/Sam Wilson and War Machine/Rhodey playing roles that matter to the plot, and with the addition of Black Panther/T’Challa taking a central role. T’challa is everything I could have hoped for. Thoughtful and regal in a way that believably marks him as royalty, Chadwick Boseman cuts an elegant and powerful figure that effectively evokes the panther without ever being animalistic or overly literal.

Falcon and War Machine both remain ever-loyal side-kicks to their white male counterparts, and I wish more could be given over to them to differentiate their characters. Whilst Clint/Hawkeye remains the least central of the Avengers, he has a family and complex relationships with the other characters. I really wanted the film to make Sam into more than Captain America’s black friend, Rhodey into more than Iron Man’s black friend, but the two stick to following what their designated white counterpart does, despite the fact that Rhodey and Tony have differed ideologically in the past. Rhodey gets a little more development with what happens at the end… but the form of that developement is (not to spoil anything) not exactly ideal.

Of course one is limited in what one can do with such a large cast of characters, but then… this is part of why I’m not really a fan of these big team movies. They tend to be a sprawling mess where no one gets enough development and what little there is is largely monopolised by the white men. From this point of view, Black Panther’s character arc is the stand out exception. I also enjoyed the development of Scarlet Witch’s character, and especially her relationship with Vision. And we get far more of the Steve and Bucky relationsip (Stucky fans will be pleased! So much more screentime for the angst than in Winter Soldier!). As films of this type go, Civil War is a resounding success, but I’m still left feeling like I wanted more from Bucky and more of Scalret Witch and Vision. These are characters and actors with much more to give than they are being allowed.

Which brings us to the other characters who are roped in to make it feel like a ‘war’, taking up further screentime: Ant-Man and Spider-Man. Again: two more white men. Two more white men whose own films have been talked about exhaustively as taking film slots that could have gone to female superheroes. Paul Rudd is great as Ant-Man, but I would still rather have had the Wasp. And Tom Holland is a fantastic Spider-Man, but, as most aptly put by notabadday (referencing the Spiders Georg meme):

“average superhero gets 3 films a day” factoid actualy just statistical error. average superhero gets 0 films per year. Spiderman Georg, who lives in a cave & gets over 10,000 each day, is an outlier adn should not have been counted

What is Spider-Man doing in this movie when you could have given a bigger role to Sharon Carter, or put Pepper Pots back in a suit (the fact that her absence is frequetly lampshaded helps little), or called on Maria Hill, Sif, or built up any number of the women from Agents of SHIELD? It’s exhausting how Marvel go to the same white male superhero pool over and over again when there’s really no need. Enough with Spider-Man. I like Spider-Man, but I’d like a woman of colour to break up the white male monotony more.

Plot

The plot, as I have said, is fine, although the initial disagreement between Steve and Tony could have been more convincingly motivated. The inciting incident of the film is a bomb going off in the wrong place because Wanda/Scarlet Witch is not able to move it far enough away to prevent civilian casualties. The UN proposes an Accord to institute international oversight for the Avengers. So far, so reasonable. Steve has been all for public oversight in previous films – he was totally against Nick Fury’s secretly building a fleet of airships and totally in favour of airing all of SHIELD’s dirty laundry. So when Steve comes out against this, it’s a bit… out of character.

Later in the film he is given ample reason to feel ‘right after the fact’ – the Accords are manipulated incredibly easily into imprisoning Wanda without trial and ordering a shoot-to-kill on Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier based off a low-resolution photograph that is leaked to the press. It would have been so easy to engineer the split after Bucky becomes a target, when Steve has real, character dirven reasons to resist an oversight that is clearly flawed and endangering his friend. I don’t really understand the thought process that went into this ordering of events.

This was never going to be a particularly deep film, but it would have been much more interesting if the audience’s sole reason for sympathising with Steve at the beginning wasn’t just that… he’s a nicer guy than Tony? Going off the rails to protect his friend, or free Wanda, are much more compelling reasons. The film did feel a bit like it was floundering to establish exactly what Steve’s motivations were.

However, if you’re just in this for some cool fights and witty one-liners with a side-order of feels, this film delivers. The fight choreography is good and the big team vs team battle is particularly satisfying and dynamic. I would have appreciated slightly fewer fights, more character driven story, and more women (especially women of colour), but as this style of film goes, Civil War was above par and certainly an entertaining way to spend an afternoon.

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Games of Thrones, Season 6, Episode 1 – aka, why should I bother?

Game of Thrones, Season 6, promo imageI adored Game of Thrones when it first came out. I had been excited for years before it came out. But even I approached this season with trepidation. I’ll be blunt (trigger warning: rape mention) I’m talking about the rapes. The extra rapes. Rape where sex was consensual in the books (i.e. the rape of Cersei by Jaime (who hates rape and saves Brienne from rape what even?)) and the rape of Sansa, which had previously been Jayne Poole (which was also bad, but… many people were invested in the story of Sansa’s quiet, feminine strength and… it was problematic OK?)).

Our amazing show, which gave us so many amazing female characters in so many different roles that we’ve never gotten to see women play before and all together, not just one or two and… it was amazing, and where it then went the last two seasons left a lot of people feeling betrayed.

What’s more, last season was weak overall. I talk about this at length in my review of Season Five. I know a lot of people who bailed afterwards. I knew I wouldn’t, but as the new season approached… I wasn’t sure why.

But I watched it, and… I was more than pleasantly surprised.

The following is not a review – I’ve not the energy for that – but rather, it is a minimally spoilery list of reasons to watch this episode and hope that things are turning towards the light. (I mean, not for the characters – those fucks are gonna suffer, you know that, right? – but for us as viewers who need things to get a bit less rapey and sexist.) I make it for the sake of saying ‘You may be worried, but these things happen and they are the good things you probably didn’t think would happen‘:

Things are going to get better for Sansa.

Brienne is gonna be FRIGGIN’ AWESOME.

Dolorous Edd is pretty cool. I just like writing that sentence, ngl.

Tyrion and Varys politically analyse Meereen. You know you want it.

Daenerys. Is not a white saviour to anyone (in this episode). Which is good. She’s taken down a lot of pegs. But she’s also pretty awesome. Which is also good.

Sand Snakes. Are snakey. And even if their characterisation last season was lack luster, they certainly make a statement.

Arya. Is on screen and therefore awesome. But also blind and suffers physical consequences for this.

Nakedness… happens. But not in the way you expect it to.

I mean, the first two points were the most important to me, and they satisfied exactly what I needed to make this episode worthwhile, but the other stuff is also good.

And no, I’ve not told you anything about Jon Snow. As is right and proper. Watch the episode if you wanna know about that.

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Officially a Doctor

Me in my graduation robes

I graduated on 22 January 2016, and am officially Dr Ro Smith, a doctor of philosophy in philosophy, passed with no corrections.

Apologies for not posting about it at the time, I didn’t have any photos myself and only just got some through!

I hope everyone is appreciating my sparkley graduation shoes. And the silliest bonnet. I wanted to keep the silliest bonnet.

If you donated to this blog or to my Go Fund Me last year when I was in need, you helped this happen, and I am incredibly grateful to you. I would not have made it without you.

There was a long time – a very long time – when I really stopped believing that I would get here. I had been so ill and poor and depressed for so long. I’m still not physically 100%, and mentally… well, that’s a process, and a long one, which isn’t entirely about the PhD.

Neverthless, I’m really proud, and grateful. I did it. I was capable of doing it, after all. And I did it well. There were a tiny number of typos. That was it.  The examiners said in the end that they would accept it anyway. Typos and all. (I did correct the most glaring typos, though – the photos at the top of my blog are not a lie, I really have had green hair, and red hair, and many other colour hair.)

And so many members of my family came up for me. My dad came from Australia, my mum, two sets of aunts and uncles, my step-dad.

I wish I had been thinner. I wish I had had suitable smart clothes to wear that I could still fit into (the dress I am wearing was more low-cut than I would have liked and didn’t exactly have a graceful fit). I wish my hair looked better – I had fried it in my attempts to go back to blonde for graduation. Maybe one day when I’m better off and thinner I will rent the gowns again and get it professionally done. Still, it’s great to have done it at all.

It is very strange to have it done. I’m still temping at the moment. I need to publish before applying for academic jobs and I’m… honestly not read to leave my city, yet. And most well-paying jobs I am qualified for would involve that, even if they weren’t in academia.

I’m tired, and I’m still ill a lot. And I want to get serious about my writing. I want a first draft of a novel this year.

I also want to relax. I’m getting back down the allotment (you might have noticed). Which is something I was really sad to not be able to give enough time to the last few years. I always promised myself ‘When the PhD is done…’. And it’s important in terms of exercise. I was down there for four hours today. It’s hard to get such good, prolonged exercise doing anything else.

I want to paint and not feel guilty about it. I want to choose craft projects for reasons other than ‘It will be quick’ and ‘I can give it to someone else as a present because that is the only way I can afford presents’.

I’ve bought material and a pattern for an ambitious Daenerys cosplay this year. Still a lot of work in getting that done, though.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the things I want to do, but I’m trying not to do that. Trying to unlearn my habits of continuous anxiety and guilt.

But hey, I’m a ‘Dr’ now, and that’s something. Some kind of validation of my existence and ability and intelligence. Not the only way such things can be validated, of course, but… something I needed to do, for me. Yes, I had something to prove to myself, and to the world. And maybe that’s not terribly healthy, but I needed to do it.

It’s strange and surprising to find that I have done it after all.

Me in my grad robes, closer up.

 

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The Apocalypse Allotment No. 2: Planting and Paths

The Apocalypse Allotment on Judgement Day

The Apocalypse Allotment on Judgement Day

Things move fast in March, and I don’t just mean the new suped up zombies. You’ll find there are a number of things you’re trying to get done at once, but it’s OK to take things a bit at a time.

This week I have been digging another bed, planting alliums, and digging up my old paths. In an ideal world I would do all my digging and ground preparation first, then plant my plants in a carefully staged order. But this isn’t a perfect world. This is the apocalypse.

The important thing is not to sweat it. You don’t want to plant everything at once anyway. As far as possible you want to move in accord with nature, but nature, as we have learnt to our cost, is an unpredictable bastard. Planting things progressingly throughout the season is a good way to hedge your bets. I planted a few alliums (onions and garlic) last week, and a few more this week, as I cleared another bed. What you can plant will depend in part on the time of year and in part the conditions you are working with.

Digging Up Paths and Making Plans

Clearing beds for planting is important, but do not neglect the paths between your beds. If you have the time and the strong young bodies to do it, clear the whole area you plan to farm first, then set out where you want your beds and paths. If it’s just you against a harsh world, you’re more likely to need to do your digging in stages and plant as you go.

Give some thought to where you want to plant what. Blueberry bushes like marshy areas, but a lot of plants don’t. If your ground is of mixed condition, check which plants have specific needs and plan to plant them accordingly. The back of your looted* seed-packets will tell you what conditions your plants like.

'Beds' by Bart Everson

‘Beds’, at ‘At Wise Words Community Garden in Mid-City’ by Bart Everson

You may want to consider raised beds. These are beds raised off the ground and encased by wooden borders, which offers some protection against pests. For example, the feared carrot-fly can only jump 60cm high. A high enough raised bed will neatly defeat them. Most raised beds do not reach so great a depth, but still provide some protection.

If you lack the building materials and time needed to construct a raised bed, fear not! I’m just digging in the dirt, but my beds are still raised a little off the ground. This is because the soil of a path is compacted for walking on, whilst the beds themselves are ‘turned’ as described in my previous post, not merely to ease eviction of roots, but to loosen the ground and improve the structure, so that plants are better able to stretch out their roots without obstruction.

Note that you want to avoid walking on your beds, and factor this in when you’re planning your layout. I’m short and don’t have a particularly impressive reach, which is important for weeding as well as harvesting. It’s important not to lean or step on the soil of your beds as this will destroy the soil structure. For this reason, my beds are not too broad – just wide enough so I can comfortably reach the middle from both sides. However, if you want larger beds, you can get around the issue by using a plank of wood and laying this on the soil to spread your weight over a larger area.

However wide your beds, you will want to dig up your paths as well as your beds as weeds growing in from the paths will seek to take back your carefully cleared soil. Remember: it’s survival of the fittest, and weeds are very, very good at what they do. Give them no quarter.

Make no mistake: no matter what you do, most of the time you spend gardening will be devoted to weeding, but a little hard work at the start of the growing season can save you a lot of time and heartache later.

As I’m working an allotment that pre-existed the End, some of the work has been done for me. Nevertheless, it is suffering neglect. In previous years I had laid down weed-control fabric over supposedly weed-free paths, then put bark chips on top of that. Bark chips both make your allotment look nicer and help discourage weeds. They biodegrade harmlessly and make a good mulch. However, over the years loose soil has combined with the bark chips to create a surface layer in which weeds have taken hold:

A path, bare of its covering, and the weed-control fabric stripped off it.

A path, bare of its covering, and the weed-control fabric stripped off it.

The weed-control fabric still afforded me an advantage in that, in pulling it up, I also stripped away the majority of the weeds ebedded in the surface. You can see above a comparison of the stripped path with the weed-control fabric I pulled off this and several other paths. Most of the grass that had taken over the paths has come away on the surface of the fabric. Incidentally, the righthand fabric is the plastic kind, whilst that on the left is of a more papery, fabric-like material. You can see how the one is more weed-infested than the other. Go plastic, baby – when money no longer has meaning, loot the best!

I then gave the path the same treatment I give my beds – digging it up and sifting out as much of the weed-root as I can. This will turn and raise the soil. Once you’ve done this, walk along the path, compacting it:

A path, before and after compacting

Before and after compacting

Here (below) shows a comparison with a bed and path I dug at the same time. On the right, the path has been compacted, but the bed hasn’t. It’s good to do beds and paths at the same time as otherwise soil from the bed is likely to fall down onto the lower plane of the path.

Before and after of a bed and path, side by side.

Before and after of a bed and path, side by side.

 

Ideally, I would have gone on to remove the weeds from the weed-control fabric, relay it, and cover it with bark chips after having done this. However, the light was fading, and you never know what lies waiting in the dark! I will return to complete this later. In the fading light, I moved swiftly on to planting my alliums.

Alliums

An allium flower head.

An allium flower head.

Alliums are the family of plants that includes onions, garlic, spring onions (scallions), chives, shallots, leeks, and the like. They are oniony tasting; usually with layered, edible leaves; and their flower spikes produce a delightful sphere of blossom (although, if you are growing to crop, you should nip the flower and stem off as soon as they start to form).

Apocalypse farming is all about finding the balance between high-yielding, practical crops, and those with the flovour to keep your mood up in difficult times. Alliums provide a perfect solution. Onions can be used in almost any dish, adding flavour, nutrition, and bulk. One might question growing garlic where you could have a bountiful crop of potatoes, but I submit that the humble garlic can elevate even the simplest dish into something worth eating, and should not be ignored!

Garlic

Garlic is super easy to plant. Just take a clove and stick it in freshly turned soil, root-end down, and gently firm the soil around it. Plant cloves about 10cm/4in apart. The tip should just be poking out. Try to keep the skin intact as this protects the clove. Don’t plant any cloves that show signs of mould or damage – they are likely to fail and may contaminate the soil with fungus or disease. Fortunately, garlic bulbs provide plenty of cloves to choose from. If you’re pushed for space, choose the fattest cloves, as they will likely produce bigger bulbs.

Garlic bulb and clove

Garlic bulb and clove

I’ve chosen Arno – a white-skinned, largeish, medium flavoured variety. You can plant garlic from a supermarket – and I have done so! – but varieties available at gardening centres are likely to do better. This is because supermarket garlic is likely to have been imported from a different climate. Garlic adjusts well to different environments, and gardeners say that cloves saved from last year’s harvest often do better, as they have adjusted to the soil. However, a bulb grown in Spain whose cloves are planted in the North of England (say) will be more vulnerable to rot in the damper, colder conditions.

The main danger with garlic is rot. This will be less of an issue in warmer climates, but in Yorkshire, I always find I lose some of my bulbs.

Ideal time for planting garlic is the late Autumn – tradition has it that it should be planted on Halloween – but if the Apocalypse happens on you in late winter or early spring, you can still grow garlic! The bulbs my be a little smaller, and garlic likes a little frost to get it started, but it will work, and I promise you it is worth it!

Onions

Onions can be had in seed form and in ‘sets’, which are bags of small bulbs; you want to loot the latter. Onions can be grown from seeds, but it takes longer and, tbh, you needed to start earlier. Gather seeds this year for sowing next year; hit the ground running likea zombie with onion sets, for a reliable apocalypse harvest. Good advice on growing from seed in the UK can be found here.

Onions are exactly the same as garlic, except that you should plant them six inches apart. A rough estimate is fine – don’t get too hung up on exactitude –  but if you crowd them too much your onions will be smaller and more likely to ‘bolt’. ‘Bolting’ means going to seed early, and for your purposes results in the plant devoting its energies to flowering, rather than producing the nice fat bulb you want to eat.

I’ve gone for a mixture of red and white onions – Red Barron for the red, Sturron for the white. Sturron is the variety I won first prize for a few years ago, so I know it can grown big! If that was all I wanted, I could stick with them, but I’m growing red onions for flavour and variety. A more varied diet is better for you, as well as tasting good!

My garlic and onion beds

My garlic and onion beds

Once planted, lightly water the beds. Too much water can lift the bulb free of the soil, but don’t wory if this happens, just push it back in. Once watererd, you are good to go. Water onions regularly when it’s dry and feed them every couple of weeks. Apart from that, they basically look after themselves until harvest time in July and August. You’ll know when to harvest because the leaves will flop over and turn brown.

And that’s it! I was hoping to get some planting done on Easter Weekend, but the weather wasn’t with me. Tune in again for my semi-regular apocalypse allotment adventures!

*Only loot in a post-apocalypse situation. If the world hasn’t ended where you are yet, pay your dues.

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‘A Receipt for a Novel’, by Mary Alcock

I enjoy celebrating women’s voices on World Poetry Day, as they are so often forgotten. A few years ago I recorded Aemelia’ Lanyer’s fiery ‘Eve’s Apology’; this time, I’m going for something a bit more lighthearted. ‘A Receipt for a Novel’, by Mary Alcock satirises the tropes and conventions familiar to readers of her time in gothic novels. Many of them are still with us, and her wry humour can provide delight even today.

Alcock was a poet, essayist, and philanthropist. She died at just 57, and her neice, Joanna Hughes, collected her works after her death. Her work received little critical attention, although I hope you’ll agree that this poem reveals a lively and engaged wit.

I’ve provided both a recording and the text below:

A Receipt For Writing A Novel

by Mary Alcock

Would you a favrite novel make,
Try hard your readers heart to break
For who is pleasd, if not tormented?
(Novels for that were first invented.)
Gainst nature, reason, sense, combine
To carry on your bold design,
And those ingredients I shall mention,
Compounded with your own invention,
Im sure will answer my intention.

Of love take first in due proportion
It serves to keep the heart in motion:
Of jealousy a powerful zest,
Of all tormenting passions best;
Of horror mix a copious share,
And duels you must never spare;
Hysteric fits at least a score,
Or if you find occasion, more;
But fainting fits you need not measure,
The fair ones have them at their pleasure;
Of sighs and groans take no account,
But throw them in to vast amount;
A frantic fever you may add,
Most authors make their lovers mad.

Rack well your heros nerves and heart,
and let your heroine take her part;
Her fine blue eyes were made to weep,
Nor should she ever taste of sleep;
Ply her with terrors day or night,
And keep her always in a fright,
But in a carriage when you get her,
Be sure you fairly overset her;
If she will break her boneswhy let her:
Again, if eer she walks abroad,
Of course you bring some wicked lord,
Who with three ruffians snaps his prey,
And to the castle speeds away;
There close confind in haunted tower,
You leave your captive in his power,
Till dead with horror and dismay,
She scales the walls and flies away.

Now you contrive the lovers meeting,
To set your readers heart a beating.
But ere theyve had a moments leisure,
Be sure to interrupt their pleasure;
Provide yourself with fresh alarms
To tear em from each others arms;
No matter by what fate theyre parted,
So that you keep them broken-hearted.

A cruel father some prepare
To drag her by her flaxen hair;
Some raise a storm, and some a ghost,
Take either, which may please you most.
But this with care you must observe,
That when youve wound up every nerve
With expectation, hope and fear,
Hero and heroine must disappear.

Now to rest the writers brain,
Any story that gives pain,
You now throw in no matter what,
However foreign to the plot,
So it but serves to swell the book,
You foist it in with desperate hook
A masquerade, a murderd peer,
His throat just cut from ear to ear
A rake turnd hermita fond maid
Run mad, by some false loon betrayd
These stores supply your writers pen,
And write them oer and oer again,
And readers likewise may be found
To circulate them round and round.

Now at your fables close devise
Some grand event to give surprise
Suppose your hero knows no mother
Suppose he proves the heroines brother
This at one stroke dissolves each tie,
Far as from east to west they fly;
At length when every woes expended,
And your last chapters nearly ended,
Clear the mistake, and introduce
Some tattling nurse to cut the noose,
The spell is brokeagain they meet
Expiring at each others feet;
Their friends lie breathless on the floor
You drop your pen; you can no more
And ere your reader can recover,
Theyre married and your historys over.

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The Apocalypse Allotment No. 1: Starting Out

The Apocalypse Allotment on Judgement Day

The Apocalypse Allotment on Judgement Day

A few years ago I wrote a series of posts for The Girls’ Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse called ‘Dig for when the Canned Goods Run Out‘. They were fun, and I’m still proud of them, but it’s long been my ambition to have another series, taking you in real-time through the work of starting, maintaining, and harvesting an Apocalypse Allotment. That journey starts today.

Whether the apocalypse has hit, or you’re just preparing for the inevitable, there’s no time like the present to find a patch of ground and start farming for the future.

Allotments

Farm for the Apocalypse - Join the Women's Land ArmyIn the UK, an allotment is a plot of land rented from the Council or an independent gardening association for the purpose of growing food (or flowers, or having a small wildflower meadow for bees – you can use them for things other than food, but growing food is their primary purpose). Other similar schemes exist around the world, but in Britain they came into existence as a way for the poor to have access to small plots of arable land, suitable for supporting a family. There’s a strong association with the Dig For Victory campaign in World War II, where people were encouraged to grow their own food to supplement rationing, but allotments or ‘inclosures’ have been in existence since the 1700s.

If you’re preparing for the apocalypse, getting an allotment is a great way to make sure you have something to harvest when the world ends so you’re not left fighting the local War Gang over the scraps in Sainsbury’s. A full allotment (intended to feed a family) is 300 square yards, but most allotments these days are half-allotments, which are easier to maintain for someone with a full-time job. With increased demand from people with busy schedules, some allotment associations also offer quarter allotments, which is what I have. Rent will be set by your local council, but I paid about £20 for my quarter allotment for the whole of this year.

If the apocalypse has already hit, all land is now free! But choosing your site is important. Working an established allotment has the advantage of rich, fertile ground that has been worked for years. It will be easier to weed and turn the earth than a random patch of ground, and the soil is likely to be suitable for growing food. On the other hand, the fact that food has been grown on the same ground for so long can mean a greater concentration of pests and disease, and you’ll likely be closer to what was previously a populous area – more likely to encounter marauding gangs and zombies, or the corpses of those who weren’t as lucky as you (depending on the cause of your apocalypse).

Choose wisely.

Preparing the Ground

This is the perfect time for an apocalypse to hit. Spring is just beginning to twitch into life and you can prepare your ground and begin planting things whilst you live off your stock of canned goods. Check out my first ‘Dig for When the Canned Goods Run Out‘ post for tips on what to loot in preparation for your new life as a subsistence farmer and zombie killer.

A bed covered by weed-control fabric.

A bed covered by weed-control fabric.

Even if you do choose an allotment, though, there is work to do before you can start planting to make the ground useable after winter. As you can see above, my little allotment has become quite overgrown. Even the beds I’ve been working for years are full of weeds.

One way to deal with weeds, if you’re not going to be working the entire space from the get-go, is to lay down weed-control fabric. If you’re looting* weed-control fabric, get the stuff pictured on the left. This is woven black plastic. It is thick and will block sunlight from reaching weeds so that they cannot photosynthesise, without preventing rain from getting through to the soil. You will also find cheaper weed-control fabrics that are thinner and actually made of a kind of fabric. Do not be tempted by these! Weeds will go through them and become embedded in them and as such they are of only limited use. And hey, if the apocalypse has already happened, you can loot the best!

The same ground after the weed-control fabric is removed.

After the weed-contol fabric is removed.

To be really effective, your weed-control fabric needs to be down for at least six months, although any period without sunlight will still weaken the plants. I’ve had this down since last autumn, and this (right) is what it was like when I took the fabric off.

As you can see, it hasn’t totally killed the weeds. Those little green tufts are mostly dandelions, which are just starting to sprout from their thick tap roots. But in comparison to the surrounding grass, there’s a lot that’s dead or severely weakened. This will be a lot easier to weed than a completely overgrown bed or ground that has never been worked.

If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend covering part of your ground whilst you work on the rest. You are not going to be able to work over your whole plot in one session.

The best way to free your ground of weeds is to mark out your bed and work the soil with a fork. A fork is a gardener’s best friend. Whilst a sharpened spade may be better for killing zombies, your trusty fork is what you’ll be doing most of your ‘digging’ with. What you actually want to do is not so much move earth from one place to another as free the weeds from your soil and improve the soil structure by aerating it. Plus, a fork is still a pretty good weapon against any humans you might come across.

Forking. The fun. The joy. The back-breaking work.

Forking. The fun. The joy. The back-breaking work.

Start at one end of your future bed, stick the fork in, lean back on it, and wiggle. Move the fork a bit, and repeat. You’re doing this to loosen the soil. Do this down the whole course of your bed, then go back to the beginning. Stick the fork in, lift, and shake. If possible, shake until only weed roots are left on the fork. Don’t be discouraged if you find this too hard. Soil can be surprisingly heavy, and bouncing it up and down on a fork can tire you out pretty fast. This is the work that’s going to really hurt your muscles tomorrow morning.

Depending on the condition of the soil and how wet it is, it’s also likely that it won’t come off the weed roots that easily. I usually find I have to lift, shake, and then get down on my knees and sift through the disturbed soil for weed roots by hand. You’re going to feel absurd. You’re going to feel like this is a ridiculously labour intensive process. It is. Do it anyway.

Know Your Enemies

The main evils to watch out for are cooch grass and dandelions. (Beyond the zombies and War Gangs you posted a watch for – you have posted a watch for them, haven’t you? OK.) These are way harder to kill than a zombie. You cut their heads off and they don’t give a shit. If you leave even the tiniest bit of root left, the fucker isn’t dead. It will grow back. Leave several bits of root and you’ll have several new plants. The respawn rate of cooch grass is phenomenal.

Cooch grass roots

Cooch grass roots

If you’re lucky, you’ll only have ordinary grass, but lets face it: the world ended, your luck hasn’t been that great lately. The way to tell the difference between cooch grass and other kinds of grass is by their evil, evil roots.

Your ordinary grass has a fine mesh of roots immediately below the grass clump. Your cooch grass root has long, thick, white roots. These roots can grow to a meter or more in length, but break really easily. Even the tiniest bit can grow to a whole new plant. This is the reason you loosened the soil of the whole bed before you started trying to remove roots. You want to get as much of the root out as possible without it breaking. Which is hard, because they form thick mats throughout the top layer of soil (see above right).

A dandelion and its roots.

A dandelion and its roots

Dandelions are a bastard in the other direction. They have long, thick, orange tap roots. To the left is one of the ones I dug up from under the weed-control fabric. The leaves are only an inch or two long, but the roots go on forever. This is how it was able to sprout again, having had no light for months and months. All the energy was stored in its roots. And those roots will sprout again if you leave anything behind.

These things are survivors, and they are competing with you for land and nutrients. You can’t bargain with them. You can’t join forces with them. You can only kill them. Show no mercy.

Compost

Once you’ve rid your ground of its creeping horrors, if possible, add some organic matter. Soil is great, but if it’s had plants growing in it, they’ve been sucking up nutrients. And if it hasn’t has anything growing in it, the nutrients will have been washed away by the rain – you can’t win!

It is for this reason that compost exists. You can loot this from any respectable gardening store, and then begin making your own as the season progresses. There are different kinds of compost. For the environmentally conscious pre-apocalypse allotment, buy peat free! Peat is great for your allotment, but it comes from vital peatland and you’re basically destroying a rare habitat and maybe don’t?

Some composts will say ‘with John Innes’ on them, which can be perplexing, as expressed in this song from Can You Dig It:

John Innes is actually a series of formulae developed by the John Innes Horticultural Institution that are good for compost in various ways (see the John Innes website for more info), but note that John Innes does contain peat 🙁

Spread your compost evenly on top of your freshly turned soil, then mix it in.

To make your own compost, take all those weeds you just uprooted and put them in a pile. If possible, put them in a pile with sides, also known as a compost bin. But don’t just put cooch grass and dandelion roots in. They will take forever to rot down (I mean years) and will not compost ‘hot’ enough. Compost literally gets warm if you’re doing it right. Add additional organic matter from your kitchen waste – including teabags and coffee grounds!

Otherwise, you end up with a compost pile like mine:

My compost pile

My compost pile

Do as I say, not as I do. Learn from my mistakes.

Now your ground is ready for whatever you want to plant! Tune in next time, or subscribe, to find out what I put in my freshly turned mud!

*Note: only loot if your apocalypse has already happened! I do not endorse robbery where humanity’s laws are still in effect!

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Bad Representation vs No Representation

Guest Post by Jessica Meats [trigger warning for discussion of eating disorders].

Jessica Meats

Jessica Meats

Representation is an important subject when thinking about books and writing. It’s something I’m trying to do better at in my own books and something I try to encourage through buying books which represent diversity. One particular type of representation is close to my heart and that’s representation of mental health issues, particularly eating disorders. There are some great books out there about eating disorders, but it’s very rare to find a book that includes these issues without it being the whole focus of the plot.

I thought I’d found one recently. I was reading a young adult novel about a group of teenagers caught up in a war and the protagonist showed definite signs of an eating disorder. The words ‘eating disorder’ or ‘anorexia’ were never used explicitly, but the protagonist showed definite anorexic behaviours. She severely restricted what she ate, she felt physically incapable of eating certain types of food, she had a strong desire to be thin to a point where other characters thought she looked unhealthy. It was even mentioned that she’d been in therapy around her refusal to eat.

Normally, I would be thrilled to find a book like this. A serious issue is there, but it’s in the background; the plot and the characters are focused on other things. It’s important that people who struggle with these issues find mirrors for themselves in fiction. However, then came the problem. The character got better. Just like that. At a point about halfway through the book, the character had a moment of revelation in which she realised she was starving and after that point, she was perfectly fine. For the rest of the book, there wasn’t a single sign of the eating issues which had been a significant part of her character up to that point.

This is dangerous.

This is a bad representation of eating disorders and it can send a very dangerous message to readers. It can reinforce the message to non-sufferers that an eating disorder is a choice, that it’s just teenagers being silly and they should just get over it and start eating again. There are people out there who think anorexia is just an extreme diet, or that eating disorders are a fad. Those people, reading this book, will get confirmation of their beliefs.

Worse than that, it gives the same message to the people who suffer eating disorders. Eating disorders are a form of mental illness. They’re an illness the affects people physically and psychologically. And they’re a disease with a long and slow recovery period. Sometimes, people spend years trying to recover from an eating disorder. Sometimes, people spend the rest of their lives fighting patterns of behaviour that were part of the disorder. Sometimes, recovery seems to be going well and there’s a moment of relapse. All of that can come with a dose of guilt.

It’s really easy for an eating disorder sufferer to blame themselves, particularly when they have bad days during recovery. In the recovery period, they know that there’s a problem that they’re trying to fix, they know the behaviour that’s problematic, but it’s not always that simple. And when they have a bad day or a setback, on the road to recovery, then the guilt sets in. “I should know better.” “I should do better.” “I should be better.”

Showing someone in that difficult place a representation like the example in this book is dangerous. It’s telling people that all you have to do is recognise the problem and then it’s easy. If you’re struggling with getting better, then it must be because you’re weak or stupid or…

It tells people that eating disorders, “Are all in your head,” and that, “You should just snap out of it.” Sufferers hear enough of that already, from the world around them and from their own sense of guilt. They don’t need to hear it from books as well.

Showing someone that eating disorders can be magically fixed in an instant is an insult to the people who’ve spent years trying to stay in recovery, and it’s hurtful to the people currently struggling with them.

So while representation of these issues in fiction is vitally important, be careful how you do it. If you’re a writer and you want to include a character with an eating disorder, or depression, or some other mental illness, don’t have a magical, perfect recovery in there. Treat these issues with care, because bad representation can be more harmful than no representation.


Between Yesterdays, by Jessica MeatsJessica Meats is a science fiction author of both Young Adult and Adult novels and novellas, including, Child of the Hive, Omega Rising, Traitor in the Tower, and Shadows of Tomorrow. Between Yesterdays is her latest book and is the sequel to Shadows of Tomorrow: “When a young woman arrives, claiming to be sent from the future to help them, the Defenders must determine if this is just another trap.

I’m always impressed by the diversity and by the range of female characters in Jess’s works. She is a writer who thinks seriously about how to handle these issues in her works, as well as providing good stories and original science fiction.

Jess is also giving away diverse books every month in 2016 via her tumblr jessicameats

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Hey, who wants to see Star Wars from Leia’s perspective?

Princess Leia with a blaster

[Cross-posted from Tumblr.]

Imagine the ‘New Hope’ is Princess Leia, not her farm boy twin. Imagine the tale starting with how the princess becomes a youthful senator, but when her idealism hits the corruption of the Empire, it doesn’t crumble, but is hardened into joining the rebellion, learning to fight: diplomat and princess by day, guerrilla fighter and leader of the resistance by night! She’s like Batman, but with less ego – she doesn’t need to grandstand, she just gets the job done.

Then, just as she has managed to obtain secret plans for the empire’s new weapon, her ship is captured. Knowing she cannot escape, Leia sneaks off to hide the plans aboard an old R2 unit. An innocuous looking vessel, but one she knows to have been trusted with some unusually sensitive missions in the past. Once the plans are secured, she gives herself up to act as a distraction.

Realising she won’t break, her captors threaten her beloved home world in order to make her give up her comrades. Unshaken in such terrible straights, she uses her quick wits to construct a plausible lie that will buy her world time. But the evil of her enemies is unfathomable – they destroy her world anyway.

Still reeling from the obliteration of her people and her home, the solitude of Leia’s cell is disturbed by a hopelessly naive-looking young man who says he’s here to rescue her. The whole plan seems ridiculously poorly thought through, but when he tells her that he’s here with the general to whom she had sent her plans she decides to risk trusting him. Seizing control of the situation, she rescues her rescuers and they escape (over the slightly-spoilt whining of the more handsome of the two men, who seems to object to a little sewage in the name of saving his life).

Blasting their way through storm troopers, she leads them to escape and gets them all back to the real rebel base in the nick of time so that the plans can be analysed and the weakness of the weapon (whose ferocious power she has now seen for herself) can be exploited.

Her abilities as a shrewd tactician are put to the test as she becomes instrumental in planning the attack that will destroy the Death Star. Some instinct in her (maybe stirrings of the Force?) and a sense of indebtedness leads her to recommend the younger of the two men who made such a botch of rescuing her for one of the attack squads. It’s the right choice, and thanks to the plans she saved and her skillful tactics, the day is saved.

A huge blow has been struck against the Empire, but the war has just begun…

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