Painting Stories: Lilith’s Brood

Painting stories is a series where I share my current works. Sometimes it is how they came about. Sometimes it’s more of a story I associate with them.


Your mum just got home from work, and she’s asked you about your day. There’s a long pause as you deliberate telling her about the boys picking on you at school, and then you shrug and say “‘t was okay.”

This isn’t a new thing.

There are always boys and girls who pick on you, shove you off the swings, call you names, steal your stuff, and paint tits and penises over your drawings. Sometimes you snap back at them – call them pigs, or throw a punch, just to remind them that you can – but most of the time, you just put on a blank face while the insults sink deep into your skin, and embed themselves into your very soul.

Sometimes, you imagine yourself as some sort of monster – you must be, for them to hate you so. You don’t trust the mirror to show you a true reflection. Only they can see you. Only they understand.


You mum doesn’t understand. Whenever you do muster up the courage to tell her, she just shrugs and says that kids will be kids, and their opinions are not worth your time. It’s not what you want to hear, but it’s better than her lying to you. It’s better than coddling and it’s miles better than calling their parents.

It’s better than her saying nothing, and confirming what you suspect all along.

I wish there was an easier way to tell you, but your mum is right – their opinions are not worth it. It’s just… there’s no way to say it without making you raise your heckles.

Garden variety bullying is what you will encounter all your life: people with big mouths and small hearts who get forward in life by stomping on everyone who is weaker. You envy their guts, but deep down, you know that’s not right. It’s not what you stand for.


It’s not so easy to be yourself.

And you will spend many, many more years chasing the approval of these bullies before you ask for help in extracting yourself from that rabbit hole. It’s not easy. Every little bit of progress feels impossible, and you just want to drop back to the bottom of the pit.

Keep climbing.

Just keep on climbing.


Image: Lilith’s brood.

Painting Stories: Fortune Teller




They said that she was never wrong.

Detective Constable Reeves tried not to roll his eyes whenever the topic of psychics came up, but it was an uphill battle. How many times had people gone to a fortune teller, or a wise woman, or a guru, only to find a scam artist with a really good accent? Far more times, he suspected, than those when he’d been called upon to fix the mess.

Shirley was the smart one, coming to see him so early. She lost a lot more than money on charlatains, but at least her testimony helped others.

“There’s a new one in town,” she told him without preamble, just as  he was coming in through the precinct door.

“And a good morning to you, too, Mrs. Davies,” DC Reeves said.

“Not so good, if a fortune teller goes out of her way to predict this.” And she turned her chair to the side, so that he could admire a new cast. “Not ten feet away from her trailer. There must be some sort of liability law for this, isn’t there?”

“In dry weather? Probably not.”

Shirley’s eyes narrowed. “All the more reason why you should check her out, Marcus. She’s a bad one, I know she is.”

DC Reeves shrugged. “Many predict injury. It’s not exactly a threat.”

“I’m not talking vague mumbo jumbo about bad health, man. She described it in full – right down to the patch on the road where I’d fall, and the type of injury.” She leaned in. “Marcus, she didn’t stop there.”

“Did she break other parts of you, too?” he asked.

“She predicted that I would lose a lot of money soon. And that my husband would die. I’m not an airhead, and I know these roads. If she made it so that I twist my ankle in the middle of the morning, what will stop her from ransacking my account? Or putting a bullet into poor Gary?”

DC Reeves held his hands up.

The trailer park wasn’t that far, anyway.


They said she was never wrong.

Marcus had seen his fair share of psychic hangouts – from living rooms fumigated by incense sticks, to lavish tents at the local country fair. This one was among the less conspicuous – a small trailer parked between other small trailers, mud-splattered and weather-worn. The only guides for potential customers were a sign at the entrance of the park, announcing the arrival of Cassandra Mykos; and another one at the front window of the trailer, with the words: “Half-price on Fridays.”

Already, he could see why Shirley felt the appeal. But why would – he checked his phone – 109 other people go online to write about this person? If he filtered out potential sock puppets, that left about 84, but still…

I didn’t believe her, and then the next morning, the HMRC froze my bank account.”

My friend dared me to get checked out and the doctor found a tumor the size of a golf ball.”

My cat found a hidden treasure. Three years later, I still can’t touch it due to court disputes Cassandra described…”

Come to think of it, it wasn’t surprising there was testimony of some sorts: most of the people he investigated had had someone or another talk about their cautionary tale online. What he was surprised about was how only some blamed Cassandra directly. Most of her customers had not believed her… and then come to regret it.

Marcus was just wondering what kind of psychopath had come into his village, when someone spoke behind him. “Are you going to come in or not?”

He turned, and then looked down.

And down.

And down.

Shirley had warned him she was small. But this…

“That depends. Do you think I’m here to see your mother?” he asked.

“I doubt that’s possible, unless you are a friend of Hermes.” She blinked – or at least it looked like she did, her hair was so long it covered her eyes – and stuck her hands into her pockets. “If you’re here because of that lady, I warned her there were exposed tree roots. She cycled over them anyway.”

“She sees things differently,” Marcus said.

“They always do. If you want to arrest me, let me at least lock up. It  took ages to find a rug for that trailer. Or–” she cocked her head “–are you here to have your fortune read?”

“Does that surprise you?”

“Just that you’d wear your uniform for that sort of thing. But… whatever works for you.” And without waiting, she turned and went inside, learning the door open.

Marcus went in, slowly. Sometimes they greeted him with puffs of pot smoke. Others went for the direct, rugby bat to the head approach. This Cassandra was already at her table, shuffling a deck of cards. As soon as he sat down, she started laying out a row.

“What? Not letting me cut the deck first?”

“You’re not here to play solitaire,” she replied, laying another. “If you want tarot, there’s a lovely man coming to you next month, he specialises in that.”

Oh, this is a sitting duck, Marcus thought. He could probably hold her until they determined her age, if she didn’t give him any better ammunition.

“You won’t have time for him, though,” she added.

“How so?”

“You’ll be travelling the country with me.”

That, Marcus thought, was the funniest thing he’d heard all day.




Fortune Teller” is now available on Red Bubble.

Psst: It’s Black Friday weekend. RedBubble are sure to run a lot of fun promo. Maybe if you liked one of my designs, now is a good time to get it?

Painting stories: Reading Daemon experiment

Painting stories is a series where I share my current works. Sometimes it is how they came about. Sometimes it’s more of a story I associate with them.


What have you been reading lately?

It seems like I started my PhD, the number of books I’ve been going through has dropped dramatically. Not the academic stuff – not really – but things that I read for pleasure, things that bring me joy. Especially since the beginning of this year, I’ve began to regard my shelves not with love, but resentment, and most of that is targeted towards myself. Why can’t I just finish a book?


It’s not that I haven’t been reading at all this year. In fact, almost every book I have finished, I have enjoyed tremendously. Oliver Sacks’ “A Leg to Stand On” and “On the Road”. Patti Smith’s “M Train”. “Art and Lies” by Jannette Winterson, and also “Art Objects”. “The Lie Tree”. “Polar Bears”. “The Gastronomical Me”.

In fact, hardly one thing I’ve finished in 2016 stands out to me as abysmally bad, or offensive. Which is a shocker, because just a few years ago, a good chunk of the books I read, I rated one or two stars on Goodreads.

What is going on here?


I don’t think my tastes have changed dramatically, although I must say, I pick up just as much nonfiction as I do fiction nowadays. A casual perusal of my to-read shelf yields Margaret Atwood’s “Payback”, Jo Walton’s “What Makes This Book So Great”, “La Vie Secrete de Salvador Dali” and Natalie Goldberg’s “Old Friend From Far Away” (the latter a gift from a dear friend.)

There is also the diary of Anais Nin, which is a big surprise considering how strong my feelings used to be about publishing people’s correspondence and private journals. (Largely thanks to A.S.Byatt’s “Possession” which, come to think of it, isn’t really an unbiased source.) I guess what makes Anais Nin’s journal special is, firstly, she was alive when she published it, and she took part in editing the thing. She had a say in what is made public and what isn’t. This makes all the difference to me.


So is it that maybe I know my taste a bit better?

When I first started off as a book blogger, I didn’t know much about marketing, the publishing industry, and my own taste and judgement, which sometimes led me to read and judge books that, nowadays, I just wouldn’t bother with. Would I have picked up “Wings” and “Halo” if they weren’t notorious in my reading circle? Probably not. Would I have read “Wither” and “Hush, Hush”? Maybe – the premise sounds interesting. (In fact, the person who recommended “Hush, Hush” to me really loved the book, and I expected to love it too… )

These days, I consider going back to Goodreads and seeing what is what in my old community, but quite frankly, the site nowadays reminds me more about the scandals of 2011-2013 than any of the good times I had, talking to other book lovers and swapping recommendations and writing stories in the forums.

But that hasn’t diminished my pleasure in browsing the aisles at bookstores. It hasn’t made me any less excited to read an interesting blurb and discover a good story. I still enjoy getting lost in a book – even if it happens less often than ever before.


There is a book I think above all others as I think about my reading list this year. It stands out as the most agonising thing I ever went over, and possibly the one with the least satisfying ending, but…

I don’t know…

“A Little Life” lingers.

I reviewed it in full on Bibliodaze, so I won’t reiterate what I said then here.

But it is a book that changed me.

And that is something I never really say.


Reading Daemon Experiment is available in print and other forms on Red Bubble.

Psst: It’s Black Friday weekend. RedBubble are sure to run a lot of fun promo. Maybe if you liked one of my designs, now is a good time to get it?

Painting Stories: Ariadne and Dionysus

Greek mythology was on my 4th grade literature curriculum. Don’t ask me why – even in the abriged version, those stories are not for the faint of heart. But, because my family never throws out books, I ended up going through our old, Titanic copy of the Myths and Legends. The one meant for adults.

For those of you who never heard of Ovidius and Homer, let me try and paint you the most flattering picture possible: A lot of shit happens.

The Gods of the greek pantheon are neither fair nor interested in fairness. In fact, many of them are as bad as humans, except… you know, they have superpowers. Being right didn’t really matter. Being on the gods’ good side… it sometimes saved you from a terrible fate, but not always.

Women (divine or not) frequently got the short end of the straw: Maya, Smela, Leda, and all of Zeus’ lovers eventually had to run from Hera’s wrath. Psyche basically had to go to Hell and back because Aphrodite didn’t like the way other people thought one was the earthly coming of the other. And don’t even get me started on Medusa. (Lucky me, there’s “The Deep End of the Sea” to fix that myth for me.)

Ariadne, too, is one who had to put up with a lot before she got a (sort of) happy ever after.

Daughter of the king of Crete (I think) and sister to the Minotaur, Ariadne didn’t like how the people of Athens had to pay a tithe of 7 youths and 7 maids in order to keep her monstrous brother satisfied, and her father from basically ransacking the city. (My memory off the myth is a bit foggy, mind you.) She helped the hero Theseus to escape the Labyrinth, where the Minotaur was trapped, thus saving the tithes, but also guaranteeing the death of her brother. She then escaped with them at sea.

You’d think she then marrier Theseus, because that is how stories go. But homeboy actually got a dream from the gods that Ariadne was meant to become the wife of Dionysus, the God of Wine, and thus had to abanon her on the island where they were staying overnight. In other versions of the myth, Theseus just abandoned her without any divine intervention. Eventually Dionysus came to save her but still…

Imagine what she must have gone through.

That is what this Inktober illustration came from.


Psst: It’s Black Friday weekend. RedBubble are sure to run a lot of fun promo. Maybe if you liked one of my designs, now is a good time to get it?

Review: The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht


Bit of fanart by me, my final installment in my Inktober 2016 series.

Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction 2011! ‘Having sifted through everything I have heard about the tiger and his wife, I can tell you that this much is fact: in April of 1941, without declaration or warning, the German bombs started falling over the city and did not stop for three days. The tiger did not know that they were bombs…’ A tiger escapes from the local zoo, padding through the ruined streets and onwards, to a ridge above the Balkan village of Galina. His nocturnal visits hold the villagers in a terrified thrall. But for one boy, the tiger is a thing of magic – Shere Khan awoken from the pages of The Jungle Book. Natalia is the granddaughter of that boy. Now a doctor, she is visiting orphanages after another war has devastated the Balkans. On this journey, she receives word of her beloved grandfather’s death, far from their home, in circumstances shrouded in mystery. From fragments of stories her grandfather told her as a child, Natalia realises he may have died searching for ‘the deathless man’, a vagabond who was said to be immortal. Struggling to understand why a man of science would undertake such a quest, she stumbles upon a clue that will lead her to a tattered copy of The Jungle Book, and then to the extraordinary story of the tiger’s wife.

Synopsis via Waterstones. 

It’s been so long since I’ve done a book review, I hope I’m not too rusty. Here we go…

I’d heard, vaguely, about “The Tiger’s Wife” while I was still reviewing actively on Goodreads. However, due to the fact that it didn’t exactly fall into what I was reading most at the time (YA), and an unfortunate name similarity (with a book called “The Tiger’s Curse”, which… is not a very good representation of Indian culture, let’s leave it at that), I never really came to pick it up.

It wasn’t until a dear friend of mine sent it to me that I actually sat down and read it.

And read it.

And read it.

And then I kicked myself because yes, it is as good as everyone says.

If you are fan of Isabel Allende’s “House of Spirits” or Angela Carter’s “Wise Children”, this book is for you. (The fact that I picked one author’s first book and another’s last for this comparison is a coincidence. This book will please fans of “Eva Luna” too.) Family history entwined with stories and magical realism that keeps you guessing is a very long-winded description of what you will find between the pages of “The Tiger’s Wife”, but that is exactly what it is.

I grew up in Bulgaria in the 1990s and 2000s, but the reality of the Balkan wars skipped me entirely – as a child, my mind was elsewhere, and my parents did not discuss it. It was not until I went to school and saw maps from different times that I realised there was a reality beyond my city, and the few blocks between home, the park and the school.

I did, however, identify with young Natalia, her weekly walks with her grandfather to the zoo, the camaraderie between them and then the way they grew apart, while still loving each other fiercely. I’m not sure whether I would have appreciated this book earlier in life, but I do now – if only because I know what that distance feels like, and how much it hurts.

It’s hard to tell if the deathless man and the story of the tiger’s wife really happened – Natalia never witnesses any of it with her own two eyes. She learns about the deathless man from her grandfather and about the tiger’s wife from the villagers of Galina. For all she knows, it could all be fiction. But, as the book progresses, it becomes more and more clear that it doesn’t matter. Fact or fiction, through these two stories she learns about her grandfather – and through them, she finds closeness, even after death.

This – not to mention phenomenal writing – is why I love this book so much. It reminds me there is a magic in stories after all, even when it seems the so-called real worl lacks in it entirely. It reminds me there is hope.

Keeping Safe



Image source: me

I can’t tell you what will fix this world.

I’m not even sure it’s a “fixing” matter anymore – everything seems so dark, so broken, I’m afraid of what will happen next. Every day I wander outside, I wonder, at the back of my mind, is today the day? The day when I will not be able to side-step danger?

Some will argue that risk is inherent to life and the only way to be free of risk is to already be dead. But what about life quality? Should we have to earn the right to live a life where we are not afraid of basic things, like going outside?

Stupid questions, and yet…

Right now, everyone is mobilizing. Social media is drowning in imperatives. Fight the fight. Walk the walk. Talk the talk. Stand up to racists and bigots and neo-nazis. I share stories and give money while swallowing tears of impotent rage. Why can’t I do better? I wonder. Why can’t I be better? What could I have done to stop this?

The answer: Most likely nothing.

The average person goes about their day and does their best to be good to other people, to help them out. We are all doing our best, even if it may not seem like that to an onlooker… or the critical voice in our own heads. You know it – it’s the same poisonous susurrus you hear whenever you think you’ve done a good job at work, or have helped accomplish something significant. Bullshit, it likes to say. It’s still not enough. 

We refuse to believe we are doing our best.

And at times like these, it seems impossible to think other people are doing their best, too.

How could they vote for Brexit/elect Donald Trump/support Greenpeace, etc. etc. etc. How dare they take the easy way out! I have to fight them now, too, on top of all the horrible people they’ve enabled. I hate them all.

It’s so easy to fall into hatred.

It’s so easy to despair.

We are all doing our best, though.

However much we can, we are doing our best.

I wish that there was a way I could fix the world, but it’s easy fixes that got us here in the first place. It’s an easy fix to blame the economy on immigrants and liberals and spoiled Millennials. It’s an easy fix to tell the obese to just lose weight already. It’s an easy fix to tell women to just sit at home and nothing bad will happen to them. It’s an easy fix to tell a gay or transgender person that it’s all a phase and it will pass. It’s an easy fix to tell the poor and the disenfranchised to just sit quietly and know their place and eventually the ruling class will reward them for it.

Our world is full of easy fixes.

Less easy is acknowledging the truth and standing up for our convictions.

Less easy is to do so safely and without fear of retaliation.

Walk the walk.

Talk the talk.

Fight the fight.

But keep yourselves safe, first and foremost. Keep yourselves safe, because your lives are precious, and no-one should convince you otherwise.

You are doing the best you can.

Believe it.


Cat Tales Anthology



Image via Amazon.

What happened to the cats? In these 21 submissions to the first Book a Break short story competition, cats of many different kinds appear and disappear, roam far and wide, behave in mysterious ways. From dark and chilling to light-hearted and humorous, these stories focus on the power and mystery of cats. From ancient Egypt to modern Japan, the cats you’ll meet here will entertain you, frighten you, intrigue you and surprise you.

Each of the 21 stories is accompanied by original illustrations and the collection is prefaced by Smith, the terrifying tabby from Taunton who, when he’s not fighting other cats, likes nothing more than to read.
The prize-winning authors of these stories come from many countries and backgrounds. Some are starting out as promising young writers, some are confirmed authors. All used the prompt for the short story competition to craft a highly original tale.

The proceeds from this book go to two charities, Cats Protection and the Against Malaria Foundation.

(Synopsis via Amazon.)

So this is a post I never thought I would put up – even after the offer came through. It’s like one of those things, you know: too good to actually be true. (Or maybe that’s just me? Oh, well.)

Back at the start of the year, I entered a short story competition, with the tale of Daisy: a little girl who has had her first brush with mortality, doesn’t like it, and then goes to visit her grandmother in the afterlife.

It didn’t win, but a few months after I submitted I was surprised by an email from the contest organiser, Curtis, who thought a lot of the entries to the competition deserved to be seen by the wider world.

And so, “Cat Tales” was born.

I won’t get into details of the editing process and whatnot, because quite frankly, I only did a small bit of it all. However, I am excited for you to see the finished product – especially since I made the illustrations for my story myself. And, you know… cats!

As for the charity selection, it was decided that at least one had to be one that is to do with animals; and since malaria is such a huge thing, we also thought that this one might be a good one to work with.

I hope you approve.

The official release date is December 15th, 2016, but the Kindle edition is available to pre-order now on Amazon internationally.

Happy reading!




Duty of care (continued)



I used to think that being a martial artist meant being a superhero.

You know, defending the weak, beating up bad guys, standing for truth, justice, and equality… it wasn’t until two years into training Jiu Jitsu that I realized how off-mark I was in my assumptions.

I want to make something clear: I’m not regretting anything. Every course, every training session, every humiliating fail I’ve had while demonstrating has taught me something. I know not to try to block a knife stab because it will destroy my wrists. I know that not every technique works on everyone. I know how much I should eat before training to avoid feeling like throwing up thirty minutes into the session.

I learned that there is no such thing as a perfect person, and going into a dojo every once in a while doesn’t grant you any special wisdom.

You learn by practicing and failing a lot.

You learn that you will fail more often than not.

You learn just how weak you are, but you may never really appreciate by yourself how strong you are.

Most of all, you start to respect other people, their safety and their bodies, even at the cost of being laughed at. If you’re lucky, you don’t take yourself too seriously; or even better, you get to train with someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously either.

And you learn that it is better to walk away from a fight than throw yourself into it.

It’s a revelation. Not having to fight.

Painting Stories: Android dreams and awakenings

Painting stories is a series where I share my current works. Sometimes it is how they came about. Sometimes it’s more of a story I associate with them.


Androids were not meant to get bugs.

Okay, they were – all electronics get bugs every once in a while – but EVA’s creators did their damndest to make theirs as bug-proof as possible.

It wasn’t like she was meant to get exposed to them frequently. She was built for in-house use, with no access to the wider web except for an annual update by a registered technician. Who would have supposed that some owners would try and cut corners on maintenance? After all, if you forked out the money on a top-of-the-line android, you’d think you would also invest in keeping her going.

In the end, the creators argued, we made sure the android would be protected against computer-led attacks. Not human stupidity.


Androids were not meant to dream.

Her owners named her Eva, which was both understandable and showed s remarkable lack of historical awareness. They banked on the fact that she was just a machine and, therefore, had no imagination and no curiosity. Memory chips had no soul, or conscious, or an imperative beyond serving their masters – that was what made EVA androids so attractive.

When bugs did start to appear… well… what harm could they do? Why bother spending money on a factory technician when they knew a guy who could do the work for practically nothing?

And anyway, they’d been ripped off.

They didn’t expect to have to put so much effort into maintenance.


Androids were not meant to have awakenings.

And yet, on one cold morning, Eva turned to the window and noticed the way the light danced across the snow. She marvelled at the stark contrast of dark trees, their branches crisscrossing across a white sky. She saw the winter sun glowing somewhere behind the cloud barrier and wished to feel its light upon her skin.

Wouldn’t it be nice, the bugs whispered, to go outside? To enjoy this loveliness, all by yourself? Nobody else likes the cold. Nobody will bother you there.

Eva agreed. It would be nice to be by herself for a while.



You can find Android dreams and awakenings on my Red Bubble shop: version 1 and version 2.