More Nuns With Guns!

And there it is! Out on November 1st, the second (slightly longer) adventure of Sister Superior Augusta Santorus and her intrepid squad of butt-kicking nuns – and this time, it’s nastier things than Orks!

Seriously, tho – very chuffed to see this loosed out to the Imperium, and with such amazing support from the Black Library. The cover art is gorgeous – it shows Augusta’s age and experience, and the colour of her armour stands out perfectly. When I wrote Mercy, I made the choice to write about a different Order of Sisters, to step away from the inestimable Martyred Lady, and to create something slightly different, something that I could make my own… (well, kinda!)

The rest of the novella run looks absolutely superb, as well – check them out!

I will be talking about this novella, and about Mercy, at the Black Library weekender in November, and alongside a truly spectacular line-up. Please do come and say hello!


‘Making Monsters’ – interview with editor Emma Bridges

‘Making Monsters’ is a speculative and classical anthology about creatures of myth and legend, and their role in our modern-day lives. Monsters – and how we perceive them – still influence our dreams and hopes and stories, and in this gathering of both fiction and non-fiction, the editors and contributors explore what that means.

The antholology features my story, ‘Water’, a modern take on the tale of Hades and Persephone. And I’ve been fortunate enough to speak to Emma Bridges, editor, about what the anthology means to her…

Q: What was it like working both with classical and other scholars, and speculative fiction authors on this hybrid anthology?

A: One of the things I’m interested in as part of my academic research is classical reception—that is, the ways in which stories and ideas from the ancient world have been appropriated and rewritten in new contexts over time. Related to that interest, I also enjoy talking to creative practitioners about their approaches to retelling mythical tales, so working on this anthology combined those two things brilliantly. I think that when you put academic researchers and creatives into conversation with one another (whether in a room, or online, or between the pages of a book) it’s really interesting to see how the different approaches complement one another—everyone involved can learn something from that process. It’s been really satisfying to see how some of the people involved have also sparked off each other to share ideas and expertise—for example, I’ve seen several conversations happening on Twitter between the various authors, and I know that some of them are planning future collaborations.

Q; Has mythmaking ever ended—what is the difference between writing/painting about Typhon and Medusa now versus writing about them 2500 years ago?

A: Myth is, and always has been, good to think with. Storytelling creates a kind of distance which allows writers and artists to explore issues—political, social, aesthetic, personal—which matter to them. For the ancient Greeks and Romans, the myths they painted, sculpted, sang or wrote about were already fluid tales which they could adapt and rework to suit the needs of the moment. This pliability is one of the most exciting things about myth: the characters remain recognisable, but new artists and writers can create different versions of their stories. In that sense contemporary storytellers are doing things which aren’t that far removed from what the ancient writers were doing; they’re taking familiar figures and story patterns, but adding or changing things to allow their audience to see something from a different perspective. So, for example, in Making Monsters many of the contributions help us to look beyond the dominant ‘hero narrative’ which is there in many of the ancient texts; they turn that on its head and let the monsters—who have been so used to being marginalised, demonised, or shunned—speak for themselves for a change.

Q; With whom, alive or dead, would you most like to collaborate, and on what?

A: I study a lot of texts from the ancient Greek world, and almost all of them were written by elite men; it’s really difficult to find voices of real ancient Greek women which haven’t been ventriloquised by a man. So my answer to this question isn’t just a single person; I’d like to spend some time with a bunch of ancient Greek women of all classes and backgrounds, and I’d get them to talk to me about their views on the tales which they never got the chance to tell for themselves. Then we’d come up with our own versions of the stories of some of the famous mythical women—Penelope, the archetypal ‘faithful wife’ of Homer’s Odyssey, who I’m sure has more to say for herself than Homer gives her (yet her husband never stops talking…); or Clytemnestra, notorious for murdering her husband; or Medea, who in an ancient play by Euripides kills her own children in revenge for her husband’s betrayal. Then twenty-first-century me might have some more ancient voices and texts to work with!

Find out more about ‘Making Monsters, here – and the anthology will be available to buy from September.

Goodreads page.

Review in Publishers Weekly.

Artifice Fun’n’Frolics…!

Lots of Children of Artifice goodness and events coming up…

If you’re at Edge-Lit on Saturday 14th, I will signing at the Fox Spirit Books table at 4pm, plus there will be loads of goodies to be had – including some truly fabulous biscuitage by (the one and only) MotherFudger.

I will also be in the bar, which is something of a rarity, these days, so I hope I can still hold my booze.

On Saturday 21st, I will be signing at Forbidden Planet Bristol at 1pm, so please brave the lofty (and possibly rather warm) heights of Clifton, and come and say hello. If you do want to throw things, buckets of ice water may be best.

From americanfag.tumblr.comAnd I’ll be reading. alongside Rebecca Ley and Micah Yongo, at this month’s Super Relaxed Fantasy Club, held at Titan Towers on the evening of Tuesday 31st. There will be vino and nibbles, and more goodies, and it would be lovely to see you there! 🌈



Book Birthday!

The new book, Children of Artifice is now available to order on Amazon 

Yes, it’s a love story between two young men.
No, there are no hot bare-chested werewolves.
No, it isn’t fan shipping, or eruri kitten-porn.
And no, it’s doesn’t involve being pounded in the butt by a dinosaur.

It’s just two people, who fall in love, even though they shouldn’t. They have their barriers to cross, but I wanted to stay out of closets and guilt, and make those barriers into something more modern and appropriate.

So, Artifice is a story of identity, and family, and politics, and science, and fantasy. But above all else, it’s an urban fairy tale – because, in this day and age, we need these things more than ever.

Synopsis: –

An ancient city, sealed in a vast crater. A history of metallurgical magic, and of Builders that could craft the living, breathing stone.

Caphen Talmar is the high-born son of an elite family, descended from the Builders themselves, his artistic career ruined when his ex-lover broke his fingers.

One night, gambling down at the wharfside – somewhere he shouldn’t have been in the first place – he meets Aden. An uncomplicated, rough-edged dockworker, Aden is everything Caph needs to forget the pressures of his father’s constant criticism.

But this isn’t just another one-night stand. Aden is trying to find his sister, and he needs Caph’s help. Soon, they find themselves tangled in a deadly game of trust, lies and political rebellion.

And, as Caph begins to understand the real depth of the horrors they’ve uncovered, he learns that Aden is not what he seems. And Aden knows more about the coming destruction than Caph could ever have guessed.

Cover by Sarah Anne Langton!

Cover quotes: –

“Danie does it again: a delicious tale that I didn’t want to put down. All the people, all the detail, all the story
– and none of the drag. A one-sitting read of pure joy.” – David Devereux

“Slippery, smart and sexy: an heady alchemical brew of high politics and low magic that’s strong enough to lay anyone low.” – Simon Morden

“A skilful alchemy of raw emotion, renegade sensuality and emboldened fantasy. Ware tears out her readers’ hearts and dips them in molten gold, making every one of us a willing child of Artifice.” – Kim Lakin-Smith

Children of Artifice has a fantastic story, one I would recommend to readers of any genre and age. It conjures beautiful imagery and puts you in a state of living dream, taking you on an emotional journey which stays with you. I am looking forward to the sequel. – Tej Turner

Thanks to Fox Spirit Books, you can also get your mucky mitts on the title at Edge-Lit, and watch out for the Forbidden Planet event, announcing soon!


Making Monsters Anthology!

Very pleased to be part of the Making Monsters anthology, published by The Future Fire, and alongside a wonderful list of talent. Lots of new names (to me anyway) here, as well – so some fantastic things to check out!

The anthology pulls together modern retellings or re-imaginings of classic myths, and I’ve written a contemporary and (sub)urban take on one of my favourite tales, the Hades/Persephone love story. The anthology is edited by Emma Bridges and Djibril al-Ayed, you can get your mitts on the myths this September!

‘Lonely Gorgon’ cover art by Robin Caplan.

Full line up: –

Introduction – Emma Bridges
Danae – Megan Arkenberg
The Last Siren Sings – George Lockett
Field Reports from the Department of Monster Resettlement – L. Chan
Calling Homer’s Sirens (essay) – Hannah Silverblank
Aeaea on the Seas – Hester J. Rook
To the Gargoyle Army (poem) – H.A. Eilander
Water – Danie Ware
Monsters of the World (essay) – Margrét Helgatdóttir
A Song of Sorrow – Neil James Hudson
Helen of War (poem) – Margaret McLeod
The Vigil of Talos – Hûw Steer
The Monster in Your Pocket (essay) – Valeria Vitale
A Heart of Stone – Tom Johnstone
The Banshee – Alexandra Grunberg
The Giulia Effect – Barbara Davies
Caught in Medusa’s Gaze (essay) – Liz Gloyn
The Eyes Beyond the Hearth – Catherine Baker
Eclipse – Misha Penton
The Origin of the Different (essay) – Maria Anastasiadou
Justice Is a Noose – Valentine Wheeler
Siren Song (poem) – Barbara E. Hunt
The Tengu’s Tongue – Rachel Bender
Ecological Angst and Encounters with Scary Flesh (essay) – Annegret Märten
When Soldiers Come – Hunter Liguore
Afterword – Mathilde Skoie

Children of Artifice – Cover Reveal!

And here it is – the beautiful cover for Children of Artifice. Art by Sarah Anne Langton, novel published this summer by Fox Spirit Books.

Love how Sarah’s picked up on some of the alchemical/metallurgical themes of the story, and on the slightly decaying feel of the city itself. Really proud of this little book – it’s an urban fairy tale, a science fantasy, and it’s a very different beast to Ecko (less swearing, for a start) and to the hell-for-leather combat stuff that I normally write. And the story that weaves between the two central characters (forgive me blowing my own for a moment) is one of the single finest pieces of plotting that I’ve ever managed to contrive.

That – and there’s something really quite special about two people falling in love. Particularly when they’re really not meant to!

Synopsis on the Fox Spirit website – with special thanks to Kim Lakin-Smith and Tej Turner!

Orks Vs. Nuns with Guns – Writing for the Black Library!

Writing licensed fiction is a pain in the arse.

You have a great premise. You have a headful of imagery. You know your story and your characters and your bad guys and WHOOOOSH! – off you go…

But it’s difficult. There’s a lot to learn and there’s one HELL of a lot of canon (and cannon) in the 40k universe. Thanks to long years of gaming, I’m familiar with the basics, but even after all those rolling dice, I’d only touched the smallest corner of the Emperor’s cloak.

Writing for 40k has meant a lot of work, a lot of notes, and a LOT of reading. It’s meant highlighter pens in an assortment of colours, and a lot of learning from textbooks, old Schola. And it’s very much been an exercise in both confidence and patience. You write for a license, you can’t write five lines without stopping because you don’t know something. What’s this thing called? Where did it come from? How many rounds does it fire? What’s it made out of? And how do you say ‘this chickenshit outfit’ in High Gothic?

But: it’s also a LOT of fun – writing Orks vs. Nuns with Guns is about as close to pure self-indulgence as it gets. And, quite apart from all my years in armour, the skirmish tactics learned in the cadets and the TA, and the scatter of Latin (mostly choral, but hey) picked up at school, it’s given me the chance to write almost pure action. And an opportunity like that is just too good to pass up.

So: here’s ‘MERCY’, my tale of the Sisters of Battle. And it comes with a big thank you to Lottie and the Black Library for the chance, and to Sister Alec and Sister Superior Jim for their help. And hopefully, Sister Augusta and the Order of the Bloody Rose will have some more adventures after this one.

From the wrath of the editor, our Emperor, deliver us…

Da Orks by A-u-r-e-l on DeviantArt



Children of Artifice – Publication News!

Over the bloody MOON to be able to announce that Fox Spirit Books will be publishing my novel ‘Children of Artifice’ later this year.

Artifice has been a very personal journey. One central character draws on my experiences with my mother and with the relationships of my past – I guess he’s about as close to ‘me’ (a younger ‘me’, perhaps, and necessarily stylised) as anything I’ve ever created. The other is a concept that I’ve been wrestling with for a very long time – he’s been the subject of various forms of exploratory fiction, on and off, for many years, and I’ve never been able to get him quite right…  until now.

It’s not some sweeping saga – I kinda did that. It’s a love story with a sharp edge, an urban fairy tale. It’s a science fantasy with a metallurgical bite and a volcanic undertone. It’s about barriers and expectations, and what happens when you break them; its about family, and why it matters, and what happens when it goes wrong. And, (going to toot my own for a minute, here), I’m really rather proud of the intricate weave of its story.

I’m also really, very pleased that it’s being published by Fox Spirit Books, where I think it’s found the right spiritual home!

2017: A Year In Review

It’s that time of year again. Mountains climbed, achievements unlocked, the ubiquitous ‘stuff wot I done and learned’ post…

Not this year, thank fuck. I’ve done a lot less. I’ve certainly not done any more of that ‘fuck-me-that’s-steep’ learning curve malarkey. I’ve been settled in my own home, at last, and it’s been… quiet.

I’ve stressed a lot less, chilled out a lot more, and everything’s so normal it’s become almost routine.

Rick and Morty Day

I’ve watched my son become a teenager, learned to sit still and enjoy the simple things, reminded myself of all the books and music that I used to love and had somehow lost along the way.

Thanks to a curveball thrown by the internet, I’ve found new family, and – just when I was ready to throw in the creative towel for good – I’ve been offered a couple of wonderful and slightly surprising author-type opportunities that will come more to light in the months to come. (Insert ‘squee!’ here).


It feels like a fallow year, a year to look round and take stock, if you like.  A year to remind myself who I am, why I do my job, and what I actually get out of my writing.

When you have a growing child and a hectic schedule, and so, so many terrifying things that you have to sort out and control and achieve and on and on and on… it’s so very easy to lose yourself in the chaos of it all and to just forget what actually makes you happy.


I get that we all have to be grown-ups, and it’s important to remember that we can do this stuff if we have to… but it’s been a wonderful, almost incredulous, feeling to be able to let it all go.

Polzeath Sunset

My Mother, and The Blackest of Dogs

This is a very, very long post, and a deeply personal one, and it really may not be your thing – there are no clever pictures or gags. I’ve been wrestling with writing something about my Mother’s death for two and a half years, and, because of the complex nature of our relationship, it’s not something I’ve been able to face. Similarly, I’ve spent the afternoon wondering whether I should make this public, because it may not be received well in some places. But, there are two sides to every story, and my Mother had no hesitation in telling everyone that I was ‘not her daughter’, over and over again, so I feel it’s only right to say this stuff at last.

You can stop reading now if you like, that’s fine. But if you do want to know the rest, then you’d better go get some tea.

My Mother was a deeply unhappy person; she had a desperate and constant need for emotional reassurance. It was the product of a hostile childhood, utterly tragic, and a terrible thing to behold. And sadly, it wasn’t something that she ever managed to grow past – it was programmed in, as these things inevitably are. She suffered from appalling, lifelong depression, and she deserved all the pity, and all the love, and all the support, in the world. However, that love was very difficult to offer, because her depression came with a rather nasty side effect.

In short, she needed someone to blame. When I was little, my Father filled that position (long story not being told here). Once he’d gone, however, there was a vacancy. And then I reached thirteen and had the temerity to grow up – I went to a public school (which made me grow up very quickly), I went through puberty and got difficult and grumpy. Suddenly, to her horror and grief, I was no longer a sweet and pliable (and very quiet) little girl. I was a teenager.

And that was where they started: the judgements, the accusations. All the bitterness that she’d aimed at my Father started to come at me. It started small: telling me that I’d ‘rejected’ her, that ‘I didn’t love her’, that ‘I’d turned away from her, broken our elastic’. And I was only a teenager, and I didn’t understand. It was upsetting, and unkind. I tried, in my small way, to explain to her that I loved her but she didn’t listen. I don’t think she could. And in the fullness of time, as her depression and overthinking slowly picked at it and picked at it and it swelled out of all rationality, it grew into ‘you rejected me because I sent you to Ardingly’. And I tried, again, to explain to her that this was not the case, had never been the case. Eventually, as I grew older, it became, ‘you rejected me, because I sent you to Ardingly, where you were bullied’, (actually, the bullying was fairly minor). And I kept trying to make her understand that this had never happened, that I had just grown up, no different to any other child. It was just puberty, nothing more.

It sounds like such a little thing, until I tell you that she kept this up for more than thirty years – telling me, relentlessly, obsessively, over and over and over, that I’d ‘rejected’ her when I was thirteen, that I ‘didn’t love her’, round and round the same track, again and again and again. And it didn’t matter what I did, or said, or how hard I tried to make her understand that I was just a teenager, doing what teenagers do – she was utterly convinced that I’d turned on her, and she just never got past it. Calm explanations were eventually met with red-faced screaming, ‘You never listen, Dan, why don’t you listen, Dan, you’re not hearing me, Dan, you’re awful to me, Dan.’ If I got upset or cried (and it was pretty horrible), she’d scream abuse at me, or spit at me, in utter contempt, that I was ‘faking it’. (I couldn’t cry in front of her, even when she was dying, without her bitterly flinging the same accusation). And if I got angry – well, Gods forbid, that just justified her belief. In my late teens and early twenties, when I came back to Oxted to visit her, this was the sole topic of conversation on every single evening we spent together. Round and round and round.

No, that’s not an exaggeration.

This is only the beginning – it’s the backdrop, if you like – and this part of the story ends in two ways. At twenty-six or twenty-seven, I was at a small dinner party in her flat, and she started the ‘You rejected me, you hate me’ speech in front of her guests, two people I’d never met before. And I asked her to stop. And she kept going, telling these people (in deadly seriousness), ‘My awful daughter, she’s been so dreadful, she doesn’t love me, you know’. I asked her, a second time, to stop. But she still kept going – entering the second phase of the conversation, which was to turn it around and ask for justification, ‘But I had to send her to that school, it was an amazing opportunity, I was working, it was all such a terrible struggle’. (All of which is true – it was an amazing opportunity, and she did work very hard, and struggle). One of the guests, his name was Rob, (and I remember it very clearly), then asked her to please change the subject. The dinner came to an awkward end, and, once they’d gone, she turned on me with such incredible, vitriolic anger that she absolutely took my breath away. She vented at me, ‘You’re an embarrassment, you embarrassed me in front of my friends!’, and I just stood there, stunned.

It was the first time that I’d understood something fundamental: that my Mother didn’t just say all this stuff to me. That she went round telling everybody about ‘her awful daughter’, that ‘she didn’t have a daughter’, that I ‘didn’t love her’. Telling people about this terrible ‘rejection’, and all about this depression-conjured Carnival Grotesque that bore my name and face… I didn’t speak to her for quite some time, after that.

The second end to this part of the story came many, many years later, when my son reached his nines and tens. It was history repeating itself, and one of the most tragic and painful things I’ve ever seen – watching my Mother break her own heart, and being powerless to stop it happening. I watched her undermine her love for her beloved and adored grandson in exactly the same way as she’d done with me. I watched her grief and pain and anguish as it all happened again, the same exact pattern: ‘He’s rejected me, Dan’. And I tried, again, to make her understand, ‘No, Mum, he’s just growing up’ – love manifests differently in a nine-year-old who’s playing BattleSomething on the iPad than it does in a bright and wriggling toddler. But it just kept coming, expanding all the time, ‘You’ve turned him against me, Dan, you’ve made him reject me because you’re jealous, Dan, you’re trying to get him to hate me’. And the worst thing of all was that she’d completely done it to herself – with the depression, with the worry, with the constant overthinking. And it hurt her so much. And, of course, it all started again, the screaming, the hate, the accusations, the going round telling everyone about my latest crime, about how I’d turned her beloved grandson against her because I was ‘jealous’. And I tried to explain, over and over again, ‘Mum, it’s in your head, don’t do this to yourself’, but she wouldn’t listen. She would bawl at me that ‘didn’t know what I was talking about, I didn’t understand’. My Mother adored Isaac, she was a third parent to him as his father and I both worked – she loved him more than anything and we wouldn’t have got through the first five years of his life without her… and watching her doubt and undermine her love for him was absolutely heart-breaking. She needed his love so much, and yet she convinced herself that it wasn’t there.

But, horrific though that is, that’s all just the background. There’s the whole of the rest of the story to go.

Starting with the imagined ‘rejection’, my Mother’s depression found a thousand ways to blame and judge me. It found a thousand things that I could be accused of, a thousand wrongs that I had done her, and that she could carry round to her friends and tell them that she ‘didn’t have a daughter, she’d never had a daughter’ – and hence get the gentleness and compassion that she so craved. She told everyone, for years, that she ‘gave me money’, that she ‘kept’ me, that I ‘kept boys’, that she ‘gave me money to give to boys’… not a word of which is actually true. (I didn’t as much as get pocket money as a child). Yes, there were cheques Christmas and birthday, and the occasional twenty quid in the meantime – and everyone was very generous when Isaac was born – but she never, ever ‘gave me money’, and I’ve never ‘given money to boys’. There were a too many boyfriends, I know that, and I did spend rather a long time unemployed after I left Uni – so I can only guess that, to my Daily Mail-reading, Conservative-voting Mother, the scruffy boys and the unemployment marked both them and me as the worst kind of scrounger. (It’s ironic, though, that the unemployment taught me a very valuable lesson: I’ve been church mouse poor almost all my life and I’ve learned to ruthlessly managed my income. I’ve never lived outside my means. I’ve never not paid a bill. I’ve never run up debt, I’ve never had a massive overdraft or overspent on a credit card. Nothing. Tooting my own here for a minute (and probably because I’ve always been so poor): I manage money better than anyone else I know). In similar vein, she was forever telling people that she ‘followed me round with a cheque book’, implying that she scuttled along behind me in some ‘ungrateful teen’ comedy sketch. But this too isn’t true – it’s a twisting of the endless shopping trips that were her preferred social outlet. These shared trips were very much her choice of activity and I would go with her (of course I would) and she would buy me clothes – because she wanted to. And then, two days later, she would turn on me, and then would come the screaming and the accusations. Again. (And when I asked her to stop buying me things, of course, I was ungrateful and selfish and I ‘always looked so dreadful’ but I’m coming to that).

I was not the daughter my Mother wanted – that was very apparent. She was exceptionally beautiful, her personal style and elegance were astonishing, even right up to her death. And she was a fighter, by the Gods, she was a fighter – despite her crippling mental horrors, she put her ‘face on’, and she went to work, every single day of her life. No calling in sick for Jan Ware, no giving up, no excuses for unemployment or slacking. She did take tablets – Valium, Prozac – in order to cope, but there’s no shame in accepting help, and cope she bloody well did. Even now, I stand in awe of her sheer stubbornness.

But, as our shopping trips illustrated, my Mother wanted a girl. A little girl, a girly girl. A girl with whom she could share her interests – and what parent doesn’t want that, on some level? Her interests were her make up, her clothes, her elegance, her impeccable sense of style and colour, her utterly flawless appearance. Her sense of a thing’s worth (always) was all about how it looked. And this need for perfection was both armour and compulsion – it extended to her home, her furniture, her garden, her car, the stairs up to her flat… and, of course, to me. I should have been a real daughter, I should have enjoyed shopping. I should have been able to share her love of clothes, and colours, and cosmetics, and all things stylish and ladylike. I should have found myself a gorgeous husband (‘a man to take of me’) and/or a top job. I should have been flawless – a proper upper-middle class wife, entertaining my friends with dinner and who knows what else… and then, maybe, she would have been proud of me.

But no. I was shabby and bit feckless. I dated scruffy long-hairs. I joined a re-enactment group. I thumped people with swords. I role-played ‘til the wee small hours. I liked fantasy, and science fiction – things she just couldn’t comprehend. In her flat, I found a letter that she’d written to my grandmother and never sent (one of hundreds) in which she raged about how much she hated my lifestyle, my appearance, my hobbies, my friends. ‘I can’t bear to think of her with swords and shields’, it said, and ‘she buys SCIENCE FICTION BOOKS!!!!’ (Huge capitals and underlined many times). And yes, I did buy books – at fifty pence a time from the stall on Norwich Market. But this baffles me still – why was it so wrong for her Literature graduate daughter to ‘waste her money’ on books? Not booze, not drugs, not hookers, not gambling – but books?

The answer, I think, is in how much she detested my appearance – the money I spent on books, I should have been spending on clothes. On making myself flawless. A girl. She used to go on and on at me, ‘You look so awful, Dan, must you go out like that, Dan, I’m not going out with you in that, Dan, put on something of mine.’ ‘Oh, Dan, your skin, oh, Dan, your hair’. ‘Why don’t you wear make-up, Dan, you would look so much nicer’. ‘Smile, Dan, put some colour in your cheeks’. And it wasn’t only clothes; I was ‘cold’, ‘distant’, ‘butch’, ‘masculine’. I remember one occasion where we were shopping (again) in Croydon, and she was so humiliated by my leather jacket (Bones’s leather jacket, and after he’d died) that she actually insisted on walking five paces behind me. And it was all more evidence, of course, as to how utterly I’d disappointed her, and how I wasn’t a real daughter. After all – surely a real daughter would be exactly whom their parent needed them to be?

I wish, now, that I could talk to her – the leather jacket stuff was just armour, and it was exactly like hers. They might have looked very different on the outside, but they did the same job. I wish she hadn’t been so hypercritical – and so afraid. I wish I could have offered her the reassurance she so desperately craved – and that that she would have accepted it from me. I wish that she could have loved me for what I was, rather than hating me for what I wasn’t – and constantly trying to coax/bribe me to change. (And then blaming herself because I was a ‘failure’). I did, once, try to explain to her that I felt more boy than girl – but she just threw it back in my face, again, and told me (and everyone else, as ever) that I was just ‘aggressive’ and ‘unpleasant’, and that I could be so pretty ‘if I just tried’.

The sad thing of about all of this – my Mother was a single parent (and I know how hard that is) and I was an only child. We needed each other, of course we did. We were both alone, and we should have had a better relationship. But I tried, that’s the silly thing. In my own possibly clumsy way, I tried to reach her, I tried to do things for her, I tried so hard… but it was just impossible. We would have a lovely Christmas together (just for example) and two days later, the Brain Weasels would have struck, and she’d be telling me how awful it had been, and much she’d hated it. (After all, it wasn’t perfect). And it was just exhausting.

Stay with me, we’re reaching the end.

For many years, I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why she was so utterly determined to interpret everything I did as a personal attack, and to hate me even more. Why she insisted on constantly telling everyone these horrendous stories about ‘the terrible things’ that I’d done. I wasn’t terrible, was I? Okay, so I wasn’t what she wanted – I wasn’t successful, or beautiful, or a wonderfully giggly and outgoing girly… but my sins were pretty tame, all things considered. They were scruffy clothes and unemployment and gaming and re-enactment and science fiction. (And the sad thing was that, even in my mid-twenties when I started working, got a flat, and got my shit together – the accusations didn’t stop. Like ‘rejecting’ her, they were completely, obsessively ingrained by then, and they never faded or went away).

After she died, I had to sort out her home – and I found her diaries, which was one of the horrible, tragic and upsetting things I’ve ever done. I’d seen my Mother’s spite and rage and anger in my life, been on the wrong end of some of it – but even then, I’d had no idea what it was really like, what actually lived in her head. Under that poor, gentle, beautiful woman, with all her tragic stories of how terrible her life, there was a boiling, blistering, bubbling volcano of pure and utter venom, of the kind of spite and vitriol that I can’t even find words to outline. It was shocking, and deeply disturbing – and oddly, it made me respect her strength all the more. How had she been able to cope, to get through each day, with all that in her head? Her hatred saturated everything – not just me. It was her mother, and her family, and her friends, and my father, and the man who fitted the double glazing when I was ten, and the people who parked their cars in the wrong spaces, and the company that re-upholstered her suite, and the microwave she had to send back to John Lewis, and the local council, and on, and on, and on, for years… In her diaries, her need – craving – for perfection became a need for complete control (sometimes this happens with deeply insecure people, I guess it makes them feel safe). If something didn’t live up to her demands – if it wasn’t exactly what she wanted – she would hate and judge and despise and reject it.

And maybe that was what happened to me.

And yet, her diaries also helped me understand. I’ve suffered from the same black depression – the rage, the hate, the need to lash out and blame. It’s taken me a while to sort through all of this, but I know now – all that hatred was just a part of her illness, and not her fault. We all have Brain Weasels, those little monsters that whisper to you in the small hours of the morning – ‘She rejected you’, ‘She turned your grandson against you’, ‘She’ll never amount to anything’ – but, if we’re wise, we learn to recognise them for what they are. We do our best not to listen. But my poor Mother never learned that, she never defeated them and they ruled her thoughts and her life. They ruled how she saw me (and many other things), and they conjured me, year by year, layer by layer, whisper by whisper, into the monster that she displayed to her friends. (She once asked my friend if I went out and left my baby Isaac in the evenings, went ‘to the pub’ and just abandoned him – exactly the kind of bonkers thing that the Brain Weasels put in your head). But I know now. I know what the world looks like when you struggle with the blackest of dogs, I know how your view of people can warp when all you can feel is rage and pain, and I know how terrible and lonely it is to stand in that place. I’ve been fortunate – I’ve come out the other side – but my Mother never could. Her diaries were full of such hurt and such fear – the monsters never left her, and they never, ever gave her any peace.

And so, to the end. I did my best to take care of my Mother when she was sick and dying, of course I did, and it was a pretty harrowing time. And it wasn’t because ‘I wanted her money’ (as she screamed at me constantly, and as she told everyone else), it was because I wanted her to see me as myself, to finally understand who I was, if you like. I wanted her to realise that I was ‘Danie’ and not the failed ‘Daniella’, to respect that I was my own person, and to accept me, warts and all. To really be my Mum. I wanted, before she finally went, to help her lose all that hate and fear and pain and judgement, and all that unfulfilled need for love.

Sadly, I failed. My Mother died still unable to forgive or trust me, still hating and judging me for misdemeanours that had only ever existed in her head.

And that’s been a very, very hard thing to deal with.

Footnote: this is not a story that expects a reaction. I haven’t posted this to get supportive responses, though I do hope that others going through the same thing can take some insight and comfort. I’ve needed to let this out, to try and express this stuff fairly and honestly, for a very long time. I’m no saint, but my Mother did me terrible disservice in the things that she went round telling everybody, and I’ve been wanting to set the record straight – but I had to do so fairly, and without anger. And that’s taken a while.

Depression is a terrible thing – and it’s also very selfish. When your world is darkness, it’s hard to see anything else – you become completely immersed in your own pain, and in the struggle just to get though the day. I know that, I’ve been there. It took my darkness for me to comprehend my Mother’s, and now, two and half years after her death, I wish I could just tell her.