Em's place

Writing, anxiety-wrangling, tea.

A true story

By Emma on March 4, 2014

I’m going to tell you a story, a true one, this time. Are you sitting comfortably? Cup of tea, maybe? Then I shall begin.

I discovered sci-fi in the Camborne library when I was about 8 years old. It was a book called Trillions by Nicholas Fisk and discovering that book and others like it changed my life.

But that’s not what this story is about. That’s a mini-prologue.

Let’s spool on a few years to when I was a teenager. I wasn’t particularly girly, I was in love with Harrison Ford whilst everyone else loved Bros and already feeling like the world did not have a place for girls like me. Then I discovered Back to the Future around the time that BTTF II came out. Doc Brown became (and still is) my hero. I adored him. Indiana Jones, whilst still loved (even now), disappeared from my walls and they were plastered with pictures of a young man and a scientist and a time machine.

But that’s not what this story is about. Let’s say that bit is…. An early chapter.

After my passionate devotion to Back to the Future had run its natural course, the next all-consuming passion in my life was for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

This is where the real story begins by the way. And you’d think that, as a novelist, I’d know where to start a damn story, right? But all of this is important. Bear with me.

Data was my favourite. I adored Picard. Troi irritated me and the rest I was happy to watch but didn’t obsess over. It was shown every week (I think on a Wednesday?) at 6pm and this was before the days of clever boxes that recorded stuff for you automatically. I had to be there, physically, to set the VHS to record and watch it at the same time and then watch it again afterwards.

It drove my Dad crazy sometimes. He wanted to watch the news and when he really, really wanted to watch the news he would try to compromise and ask if he could just watch the headlines and I would spiral into a crazed fidgeting bundle of stress with the remote control in my hand as the newsreader said boring real world stuff so fucking slowly, worrying that I would miss the teaser by the time I could switch over.

I must have been such a pain in the arse to live with.

But that time, every week, was the most important forty-five minutes of those seven days. It didn’t matter that I was taping it. I had to absorb it, totally, as quickly as possible.

Because it fed me.

It’s easy to dismiss intense fandom. I could easily look back on that time in my life and with a gentle eye roll say something about hormonal teenagers or geekery or something equally shallow. Instead, I look back on that time and I know – know - that my obsession with ST:TNG was the best way I could cope with my life at the time.

Let me fill in a few other details.

Some very traumatic family stuff happened between BTTF and ST:TNG which resulted in me moving from East Anglia back to Cornwall to live with my father instead of my mother and stepfather. Out of respect for my family, I’m not going to go into any more detail than that. But it’s important.

After living outside of Cornwall for a total of two years since I was born, I was considered an outsider – an emmet, in fact – and was not welcomed. At times I was actively bullied. I also found wonderful friends who changed my life, but on the whole, my school life was appalling.

I was dealing with that on top of the family shitstorm. I had no confidence, self-esteem lower than the depths of the Mariana Trench and I was the only person in the school who thought that time travel and space exploration were amazing. That I knew of, anyway.

Then my Dad got drafted away and I mostly took care of myself for a year. We had a lodger who in no sense was ever expected to be responsible for me – rightly so – and Dad came home to visit as much as he could at weekends.

It was… suboptimal.

This was when ST:TNG and my obsession with it deepened even further. It wasn’t just a sci-fi show. It became my sanctuary. Now I look back and know that the crew became my surrogate family when my real family life was being put through the mill. Of course I loved Data; I wanted to be him, I wanted to be free of emotions and in love with the idea of being human again. And he didn’t fuck people up with emotions either. He was safe. And Picard? Picard was always there. When I couldn’t sleep at night because the house was empty and scary I used to put on a tape of ST:TNG episodes and drown out the silence with the characters I loved and needed so much.

But this is only one part of the story.

During that heady time where I spent the majority of my waking moments writing fan fic or making scale models of the Enterprise and other ships, I used to have conversations with a dear friend of mine about how cool Melinda Snodgrass was. The legend was that she was wrote a script that the show loved so much they brought her onto the staff. And I used to see her name in the credits, in the stream of male names and think “She did it. She writes Star Trek.”

She was my hero. Not only because she was a woman writing the show that meant so much to me, but because of one episode in particular: “Measure of a Man”. In case you’re unfamiliar with the title, it’s the one where Picard has to help Data prove he is sentient so he has the right to exist and not be declared the property of Starfleet and then dissembled for science.

It is, in my opinion, a beautiful example of science-fiction. It considers the nature of sentience, the human condition, personal freedom, the pursuit of science, duty over friendship, slavery and the future ramifications of single critical decisions. In space. It gave Picard and Riker more depth and it was a Data episode, so obviously, a favourite.

More than that, it was the first episode on that VHS tape that I heard whilst trying to fall asleep. It comforted me, deeply. I knew it off by heart. I used to play it in my head when hiding somewhere in school so I wouldn’t have to deal with other people.

And then last year, I met Melinda Snodgrass properly. I got to shake her hand and thank her, very briefly, in Chicago at the 2012 Worldcon, but last year I got a chance to really talk to her.

It was at CONvergence in Minneapolis and I knew she was one of the highest profile guests there and I knew I would never be able to go and seek her out and strike up a conversation with her, because awkward British fangirl attack times ten. But it so happened we ran into each other in the bar and I was too drunk to dissolve into a puddle of my own insecurity.

We talked. More than that, we connected. I met my hero and she lived up to the ideal I had of her – no, more than that; she became a real person instead of a distant ideal and that real person is simply fabulous.

It took the encouragement of my friend and editor Lee Harris to summon up the courage to tell Melinda how important she was to me as a teenager, specifically Measure of a Man. It was over breakfast on the last day of the convention and we both cried and it was one of the most important moments in my life as a fan and as a professional writer. We are friends now. We correspond.

I correspond with my hero and that only happened because of fandom and a convention and science-fiction.

This is from the Fantasy Faction website which is brilliant and you should go there if you haven’t already.

So why did I have to sit down today and write this out? Why have you read this to the end?

Because I love science-fiction. And I really needed to remember that today.

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{ 15 comments... read them below, or add one }

  1. Paul (@princejvstin) says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Emma :)

  2. Michael Lee says:

    Thank you so very much. This is why I have spent my free time working on conventions and fandom, and hearing a story like this makes it all worthwhile.

  3. Misa Buckley says:

    I wasn’t a girly girl, either. There were no girls living close by, and my school class consisted of three – one of which was me. I grew up on a steady diet of Doctor Who, Star Trek and Space Shuttle launches. I couldn’t ever have a job in space exploration, because I needed maths and my teacher told me point blank that I was crap at it. And yes, that is the word he used.

    So I made up stories. In my head, because what was the point in writing them down? Writing wasn’t a real job. I *just* about managed to persuade my parents to let me do English Lit at GCSE level. That teacher (whose name I shamefully cannot remember) was the first person not to dismiss my dreams.

    But then I left school and had to get a job. Writing was forgotten. For longer than I care to admit. It was fandom that brought me back. That gave me the courage to post stories online. That brought me into contact with the actor who pushed me to submitting my first novella.

    Last August, I got to meet him. He didn’t dismiss the fact I was digitally published with a small press, nor the fact I was writing novellas instead of novels. Every journey starts with small steps, he said. Words I remember every day.

    So yeah, I get this completely. :)

  4. Jodyth says:

    I love hearing stories about meeting people who do live up to one’s hopes and expectations. That it happened at an event I love, to brave and talented you, makes it even better.

  5. ganymeder says:

    I’ve never understood why scifi wasn’t considered “for girls.” I honestly just don’t get it.

    But I love this story SO MUCH. I’m still sad that I can’t meet my literary idol, but I’m so glad you shared your story and got to meet yours. That’s awesome.

    Oh, and love your writing too, btw. :)
    ganymeder recently posted..Pinholes: Traveling through the Curtain of the Night (episode #60)

  6. I grew up on a healthy diet of sci-fi, fantasy and action. It’s had absolutely *nothing* to do with my eventual path as a writer. [grins]
    You get it.
    Congrats on meeting Melinda, definitely the chance of a lifetime. Well-deserved reward for British-fangrrl-times-ten.

  7. ade couper says:

    This was wonderful to read, albeit bringing back some less than pleasant memories of childhood: thanks for sharing, & reaffirming why I love sff.

  8. Steve Theiss says:

    This was a wonderful story! I had the very distinct pleasure of seeing you speak on the subject of anxiety/etc at Convergence and was hugely impressed with how brave you were to share that with us. I also met Melinda at that convention, and she is as approachable and insightful a person as one could ever want to meet. So as important as Convergence was to you, I had the even more amazing experience of being able to meet/speak with BOTH of you! How lucky am I?! Two new heroes for me in the space of a long weekend!

    I, too, grew up on a steady, exclusive diet of sci-fi. If I’d found writing easier I might well have ended up following the same path as you did. Instead I found the “doing” of the science to be a better fit for me, and became a scientist instead. It’s great that life offers the opportunity to live your dreams, whatever they might be!

  9. Toriach says:

    Yep. Totally get it. Shan’t bore you with details but I get it. So happy you got to meet one of your heroes and make a lasting connection.

  10. JK says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! It reminds me so much of my teen years… My dad died when I was 11, and he had just few months before introduced me to the universe of Star Trek. Ther were few other family tragedies in the following years, and Enterprise was my sanctuary too. I had every episode on VHS and used to fall asleep practically every night watching TNG. I loved just to close my eyes and listen to the characters talk and maybe even more importantly, the hum of the warp engine of the Enterprise… Without them, the whole crew and production staff, my teen years would have been nearly intolerable. I owe them, well, if not my life, atleast a good part of my sanity.

    If we ever bump into eachother in Ten Forward, the drinks are on me. :)

  11. Andy Robb says:

    A lovely, touching piece. You made it so.

  12. Toni says:

    Amazing post. Totally made me cry. Really beautiful. I love how our fandoms can ‘save’ us. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for friends I’ve made through mutual love of something geeky, or sometimes having the show itself to rely on, for me it’s Firefly.

    So glad that you got to meet one of your heroes, that they turned out to be as amazing as you thought, and that now you have a lasting connection.

  13. Julie says:

    Thanks for writing and sharing – it touched a chord in me. I grew up in the 70s and 80s on a steady diet of Sci Fi – Doctor Who, Space 1999, Blake 7, Sapphire and Steel… and top of the pile was ST:TNG.
    In different ways and for different reasons it became my comfort blanket. I learned life lessons to guide me as I grew – mostly from Picard – you know them all I’m sure – lines to live by…”There are always options”… “Resistance is not futile”.
    When the show ended I felt physically bereaved. Years later I was lucky enough to get a ticket to see the premier of TNG film in London. I was on my own, but didn’t mind – I was going to meet some very old and dear friends. At the end of the film, the whole cast assembled on stage. In the guise of Picard, Patrick Stewart told us that he’d often been asked his favourite crew member – and like you, he told us it was DATA.

    I look forward to reading your stories. ST:TNG shaped you and I’m sure that will come through in your writing – I’m in for a treat!

  14. Smoph says:

    Emma, this made me cry (in a good way). What a moment to treasure, meeting and becoming friends with a hero of yours.

    I wasn’t an extremely girly girl myself, and loved a good bit of science fiction. One of my fondest memories are of being allowed to stay up to watch Journey to the Centre of the Earth (the old one, with the iguana) and a Star Trek movie with my Dad. I’ve raided his SFF collection a lot over my lifetime, and take his recommendations seriously. It’s a great way that we connect. I wish everyone had that with a parent.
    Smoph recently posted..Going North

  15. Glipkerio Kistomerces says:

    That’s very raw and evidently heartfelt. Can relate to that.

    Glad you made it out, found some sunlit uplands.

    [podcast related aside] So…. That’s how you acquired fluency in speaking Pirate to escape the mike peril. Cornish.

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