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Finally, another book review! I decided to have a change and write about a comic/graphic novel, since I have been reading a LOT of these recently.

Nimona-350x524

Before I get into the main review, I should say that I’m a huge comic fan. Web comics, paper comics, Image, Marvel (a tiny amount of DC). I’ve become almost as addicted to them as normal books. Which is impressive, as I haven’t been into them for nearly as long. I have noticed that there are few women involved in the comic world so when I found something that sounded right up my street in terms of genre and humour, the fact that it was written and illustrated by a woman gave it an extra boost for me.

Apologies. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Nimona is a standalone (for now) book based on the web comic Noelle Stevenson made of the same name. It’s rare I find many standalone comics that really grab me as they usually need to be a series to build up the character background to pull me in. This isn’t the case with this book, and the characters have stayed with me long after finishing.

To sum up the story quickly, without giving the plot away: Nimona is about a young woman of that name who declares herself side-kick to an evil villain Lord Ballister Blackheart. She wasn’t exactly what he had in mind for a side-kick but considering she can shapeshift, he decides to give her a chance. I mean…who wouldn’t? Their mission: to cause havoc and show the secrets of Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and the Institution he works for.

Nimona is completely (perhaps overly?) enthused about his vendetta, and is always trying to push his schemes further than he actually ever planned. Both characters have interesting pasts that have led them to where they are, and neither of them expects what they find out about the other.

The story is compelling, funny, gripping and incredibly silly but has the ability to pull hard at your heartstrings when you least expect it. I’m reluctant to say too much more about the plot itself as a lot of the magic of the story is in the surprises. But the things I particularly enjoyed are:

  • Nimona herself. She’s loveable, unpredictable, unnerving, all at the same time.
  • The combination of magic and sci-fi makes for an interesting story as it can combine devices and tropes from both genres, whilst adding some new ideas to them too.
  • The morality of the characters. It’s fairly common now to have characters that are various shades of grey (forgive the phrase, I’m in no way endorsing that book) and this is something that Noelle manages here. The question of who is evil, what is evil, who is good and how do you tell the difference is explored in the characters of the story.
  • The art of the comic. The art style is typical of Noelle if you are familiar with the Lumberjanes (which if you aren’t familiar with, go! Seek it out! You won’t be disappointed). It’s almost sketch-like in style, but it is clear and distinctive.

I have to include part of the blurb on the back of the book, as I don’t think I can describe it any better (which is terrible for a writer to admit):

“Nemeses!
Dragons!
Science!
Symbolism!”

Hopefully, I’ve given you enough detail to convince you to read this fabulous graphic novel, you absolutely won’t regret it. If you read it and are desperate for more, as mentioned above, read her Lumberjanes series, and I can also recommend a series by Kurtis J. Wiebe called Rat Queens. I am attempting to work on a similar review for that but as you might have noticed, I’m somewhat erratic with my posts, so go read it now if you like humour, battles, women being kick-ass, and mercenaries.

Next post is going to be another ‘serious’ one, so I hope this has made a nice change of pace.

Write soon 🙂

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Working 9-5?

spoon

I found transitioning from university to working life quite difficult. I couldn’t take regular naps in the day between lectures, I lost the support network the university provided for me to help me get to and from places.
Now this is just my experience and I can’t speak for everyone. But working with ME and bipolar disorder is difficult. There are many factors I need to take into account every day, keep my exertion to a certain level so I don’t trigger a flare up in my ME, make sure I keep track of my mood so that I avoid any potential stress triggers, if possible…the list goes on.
So I’m going to go through the top 3 most important things in working with chronic health conditions.
1. Place of work is crucial.
Now I have had three jobs since graduation. The first one, I was let go. I do not necessarily blame them; I was very ill and trying to cope by pushing myself to my limit and beyond, just to get by. I did not know how to do any better; I didn’t know what to ask for to get the help I needed. But on their part, they did not understand my illnesses or how they could affect my work.
My current job is wonderful. Yes I am still somewhat behind my colleagues here but they have researched and understood my background, what I’m attempting to deal with and there have been two significant deaths close to me which have thrown me. I hate to sound like I’m making excuses but my work understand that I haven’t had the chance to be at the same level as my colleagues because the playing field wasn’t even when I started.
What I am trying to say is that the workplace is important. The way you are managed, how they listen and try to understand your needs and work to them can make ALL the difference to your success at work.
(Of course this also relies on you being open with your place of work about your illness. Maybe this is number 1.5 on the list. Be open and honest or they can’t help you. Occupational health exist to keep you in work if possible, to change circumstances to allow everyone to be on the same playing field).
2. Find your limits
Now if anyone reading this hasn’t heard of the spoon theory, go and google it now, otherwise this will sound a bit odd.
I can tell in the mornings normally how many spoons I have for the day. At my old job and at the start of my current job, I would work as hard as possible which meant I had no spoons left to do much of anything else. I’d go straight to bed after work and sleep for much of the weekend. Sometimes that happens now but what I now do is if I know I have fewer spoons, I work with that. If I have limited spoons it makes more sense for me to work from home rather than expend spoons getting ready to leave the house, do the drive, be around the bright lights and the noises of the office (all things that wear me down). Working from home is something I am incredibly lucky to be able to do, and if you are a spoonie like me, see if there’s a chance to do it too. It has kept me safe from driving when I’m not fully ‘with it’ and it means I get more work done because I can use my limited energy on work, not the things mentioned above.
Finding you limits is the most difficult thing and with many chronic illnesses they can change day to day. But you have to try and find them as it will make a huge difference to your working and personal life.
3. Use your annual leave
This might sound obvious but if you’re anything like me you like to put your best effort in at work and that means dedication. And sometimes you can get so wrapped up in work that you forget about breaks. Or maybe you use your annual leave to go on holiday and you get exhausted doing that (yay holidays making you need a holiday just to recover). What I found most useful this year was using some of my annual leave to just rest. I slept and relaxed and I did minimal tasks, nothing stressful. I think I just about managed a small bike ride with a nap straight after. This meant I was recharged for going back to work instead of getting more and more drained as the weeks went on. I still have times when I have to sleep when I get in from work but it’s not pleasant to lose every evening that way, so if you can block off a couple days here and there to catch up on some much needed rest, I found it did me a world of good.
Note: if you have fully burnt yourself out and you are sick DON’T use your annual leave, take it as sick leave. These are very different things. I had to do it, there’s no shame in it. With a lot of invisible and (visible illnesses I’m sure), there’s sometimes nothing you can do to prevent a flare up. And trying to push through that *every time* only made me worse, and of course my work suffered too.
So that’s my thoughts about trying to work with chronic illnesses. It was more geared towards my ME experiences but I think it applies to mental illness too. I know my bipolar has had a severe impact in my work experience and I am very grateful that I have such an understanding employer to deal with how erratic I was.
If you take only one thing away from this: be honest with your employer. They might not all be great about it but I believe most just want to get the best out of their employees and that can’t happen if you’re struggling by, trying to hide your condition. Be honest, find your limit, and use your breaks.

Can you think of anything else I’ve missed? What have you found is useful at work when living with or without a chronic illness? I’m always eager to hear your thoughts.

TW: suicide

Sorry I’ve been quiet again, things have been busy at work and my health has been topsy-turvy, to say the least. (This is only going to be a short post.)
Additionally…I suffered the loss of a close friend. I lost her to depression and suicide. I’ve cried, I’ve been angry. This is the second friend I’ve lost to it, with two tohers (that I know about) who tried and came close). But I’m trying to take things from her life, instead of focusing on her death. But it is difficult and it is something I have to make a conscious choice to do every day.

She was a roller derby player; she was relentlessly trying to improve at it too. She will inspire me to keep pushing, to know I can always get up when I fall down (and it’s roller derby, there’s a lot of falling). She was a crafty person, she enjoyed making her own jewellery and doing crochet. I have a hundred projects I’m either yet to start or yet to finish. I’ll think of her and it’ll remind me to use my creativity, make something beautiful. She found it difficult being around people sometimes, found it hard to make friends. I know what this is like. But she started roller derby to meet people, to make friends. She will be my reminder to step out of my comfort zone. She was blunt; you always knew exactly where you stood with her. Sometimes I need to remember to just say what I feel, to channel her backbone.

I could do a whole post on suicide, on mental illness. I will in the future I imagine, when it’s a little less raw. But let’s just say I have first-hand experience of an illness and can offer some insight on suicide, from a mentally ill person’s perspective.

Things have been difficult with this going on. But the people left behind after suicide have to keep pushing on, going forward. She couldn’t carry on into the future. So we keep the memory of our lost ones with us, so they can continue forward with us.

Next time I’ll be writing about working when chronically ill; it’ll be more cheerful than it sounds I promise!

Any ideas for future blog posts are welcomed, otherwise I’ll just keep making it up as I go along.

ljjibpM

Ah, punctuation humour 🙂

I’d like to start by saying that just because I’m a tech author does not mean that I will be adhering to strict rules here. I’ll probably make mistakes with my grammar and punctuation, and honestly, the amount of times I went against my company’s writing guide specifications in my last post alone is more than I’d care to admit. However, I don’t really care. This is a blog after all. No one is going to rely on this nearly as much as the content that we produce at work, so I can use all the contractions and different types of punctuation I want! WOOOO!!

There are several ways of answering this.

Of course, there’s the people that think we just spell check what comes from engineering and repackage it but that is an unfair/grossly under-representation of what we do (although don’t get me started on some sentence structures and punctuation (or lack thereof) that I’ve seen since being here).

[NB I would like to point out however, that I know some very eloquent engineers who can write very well. I’m by no means tarring them all]

A common way of looking at it is that we ‘just’ provide the manuals that go along with the engineering products. This makes it seem pretty trivial, but the better the supporting documentation, the more chance the customers will have of avoiding issues or, be able to solve problems if they arise. This should mean the some of the pressure on the Support group is removed.

The other problem with this is assuming that the only way of communicating is by documents alone, usually pdfs. That is probably still the most common method but by no means the only way. Communicating can mean providing face-to-face sessions for training on a particular topic, it can mean posting on forums and blogs so that the information can get to our end users faster. We do presentations that can be recorded and e-learning modules that can better explain concepts and tools and make the user more confident in their knowledge and understanding.

A good way of looking at it is the recent increase in crafting hobbies, like knitting, at the moment. You know what you want at the end and you need accurate and simple instructions to get there. Diagrams are often provided which makes it a lot easier to understand, especially for people that are new to knitting. Patterns also don’t just come on paper anymore. There are YouTube videos and tutorials for specific types of stitches to full projects depending on how much help is needed.

I know a lot of people find this topic a little…dry sounding. But honestly, having to explain the ‘how, the what and the why’ of the products means that not only do I have to learn about them, but I’ve had to essentially teach myself computer science/basic engineering understanding to understand the information on the products! And I love that. Yes, I admit I miss biology but I read popular science books, I get updates from journals I like and talk to my friends still in that area so I’m not completely missing out.

I also think that as much as I love my job now, in the future, who knows where I’ll end up. What I enjoy most is editing, so I would love to get back into publishing one day, be that academically with journal articles, science textbooks etc. or maybe not STEM publishing at all! That’s the brilliant thing about what I do. I feel like it gives me so many skills that I can work on over the years and apply to other specialisms if I want to move on. (At the very least, I can’t imagine me staying in Cambridge forever…I mean, I want to buy a house one day and unless I marry somebody very well off, I can’t see that happening here).

So that is a fairly quick look at what I do these days. If anyone reading is interested in technical communications, please get in touch, ask me questions J I’m happy to help and give advice if possible. I also highly rate my employer and I believe they are currently accepting applications for their graduate scheme (for engineers and technical communications etc.), so if anyone would like to know more about who I work for, send me a private message.

So this is a new topic for this blog, as I am usually writing more about biology, post-university options and things that interest me generally (books, current affairs blah).

But I have been pretty busy with a different type of writing for the last 7 months now. And that is my current job: Technical Author (well…Graduate Technical Author)freedom

SO. MANY. CHOICES (courtesy of xkcd.com/freedom)

Those of you who know me personally know who I work for but just I figure I should keep it to myself on here. Just in case. The big change for me is that it is within the Engineering Sector (I haven’t left STEM! Just changed letters).

Now, this has come with some brilliant advantages and exciting prospects but with change obviously comes challenges.

I am not an engineer. I am not a computer scientist. Before starting to work here, I could not code (I’m at a basic level of learning Python as part of my personal development, although I don’t need that type of knowledge for my role, it makes me feel more at home with my colleagues).

I have had a lot of people ask *WHY* if I’m a biologist (which I am and always will be, at heart) am I working where I am. I suppose there are three answers really:

  • Between working as a Publishing Editor and a tech author, I was working about 30 hours a week at a popular supermarket chain. It was awful, soul destroying, painful (due to the illnesses I have) and paid ~£6.83/hour. Believe me when I say, I was applying for everything out there.
  • I love learning. My old job was at a chemistry company and though that is considerably more relatable for a biologist (especially with a lot of biochem in my degree), it was still a change of discipline. And one that I dealt with well and thoroughly enjoyed (despite how it ended). So I didn’t see why the same wouldn’t be true here.

Now onto the main reason…

  • I got an interview and the job. Now this seems like I’m not really answering the question but stick with me. I saw who the job was for and wasn’t going to apply. But I looked into it as a job role and thought it sounded like something interesting that would lead me to good places in the future (and also thought, hey, if nothing else, it’s application practice). And then I got the interview. Well, three of them. A writing test to do at home, then a phone interview, then a face-to-face interview with a formal writing test and then an HR interview over the phone. And I got the job. So as nerve-wracking as it was (and occasionally still is) to work somewhere like this, *they* think I can do it. There are people in my department that come from other strange backgrounds for this company (English Lit, Linguistics and Translation, another biologist) and people who are closer to the sector but still, not engineering (couple of physicists). Basically what I’m saying is, not everyone in my department is an engineer. So why wouldn’t I be able to do it? As long as I put in the time and effort, inside work and out, I will pick up the necessary skills and knowledge. Which means I get to do a lot of reading (and coding is fun!)

So this post is about the WHY I am here. But when I tell a lot of people my job title, I get a lot of confused looks and mumbles of “Oh…um…what’s that?”

Which brings me nicely to the end of this post and onto the next:

Technically Speaking – What is Technical Communication?

Hope someone out there cares enough to read these, I am enjoying writing again and am hoping to make this more regular (I’ve set writing reminders now and everything).

Has anyone else had a big change of career, or subject base? I’d love to hear from you and why you did the change too.

I received my degree last year. It was not what I hoped I would get but I will leave it at that.

I did, however begin my job at a large science journal publishers, which was brilliant. I moved to Cambridge, which I loved, I started the training which I loved, made friends at the company and genuinely enjoyed going to work. 

Seven or so months in and they decided not to renew my contract to a permanent one and said I should maybe reconsider my career pathway. While I respect their right and decision on my contract with them, I disagree wholeheartedly with the latter sentiment. I even said so at the time. 

I loved my job. And despite what they said and what it all implies, I was *good* at my job. I needed some adjustment time, I admit that and it was longer than most (not all, I point out). However, they knew that when they hired me. I have some medical concerns that mean I sometimes will need extra time.

Anyway. This post isn’t about bitterness. It’s about what it did for me. It did give me 8 month intensive experiece or proofing, editing, peer review, team work, targets, multi-tasking, dealing with high stress customers, solving problems with said clients when there were language barriers etc etc. I came out of this with a whole lot more than I went in. 

And not just that. Most importantly, they gave me the grit and determination to know that working in STM/academic/research publishing is what I want. It is my end goal and that is good as it gives m something to aim for. Maybe it’ll take me a little while to get my foot through another company door but I know that is what I want. I will keep finding opportunities to increase my skill set. So although it was not the ideal situation, I am trying to remain positive.

I a obviously working in the meantime and have stayed in my new city as I have friends here and I settled in really well.

I think this is something very important for every young person in their early career (or career hunting). Deciding what you are aiming for, what you want, gives you the will and direction to look for the right experiences to enhance yourself (and your CV)

One final note: I have even signed up with a recruitment company that works specifically in finding their candidates work within publishing; you can even specify the types of publishing, locations etc. My contact there has given me other places to look for help and advice on graduates getting into publishing. Basically then, I think sometimes you need to not only be always looking for your passion but looking for places other than just the average job sites. To get where you want to in life, all help is good help!

RESULTS DAY

EEK.

I’m so scared. Four years, a chronic illness and mental ill health and I’ll find out if it was all worth it tomorrow.

I keep being told to calm down because I already have a job lined up but:
1) these people CLEARLY don’t know me :chronic worrier:

2) what if the job is taken away? Granted, there was no clause in the contract about needing to achieve a specific grade but to apply you had to have or be expected to achieve a 2:1 or above and to bring your certificate on your start day.

I’ve worked so so hard for this. I just hope it showed and has paid off.

I feel sick to my stomach…though that could be because of all the ice cream.

Better post soon, when things are somewhat calmer!

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