I am celebrating my tenth anniversary today! It is the tenth anniversary of my first ever posted story in The Sentinel fandom; my first posted fanfiction story ever, in fact. Happy anniversary to me!
The Sentinel was not my first fandom, strictly speaking, but all my previous fannish involvement had either been on a very small scale (eg writing Doctor Who and Star Wars fanfiction with my friend Karen when I was 12), or entirely as a lurker (Robin of Sherwood and X-Files mailing lists in the mid-nineties). The Sentinel, on the other hand, is the one where I came out of the woodwork. The one where I participated, fully and with great dedication. The one where I got involved in flame wars and wank. The one where I went to cons and met the actors, including flying 5000 miles just for a weekend to go to Cascade Con. This last ten years has been, as they say in the vernacular, a wild ride!
Ten years ago today, I was in a very difficult place in my life. I was trying desperately to adjust to living as a single parent in a rented house in England, having left Ireland just a year before with nothing more than my two toddlers – then aged 2 and 3 - and a single suitcase. I was grief stricken at the loss of my marriage and beautiful home, living on the breadline, suffering from depression and anxiety, wracked by sleep deprivation caused by my older son’s health problems (I was lucky if I got three hours a night) and trying very hard to make it through day by day.
Reading TS fanfiction, which I’d discovered online about 18 months earlier, had already helped to get me through the painful decision to leave Ireland and go it alone with my little boys. It got me through the awful, awful period of the actual move itself (the awfulness of it cannot even be articulated, it was the worst time of my entire life), along with the kindness of friends (such good friends, they took us in when I had nothing) for the nine months it took me to find my feet and get a place to live that wasn’t their spare room. I coped with everything I had to cope with whilst enveloped in a cloud of escapism, spending mornings in the local library using the computers to read fanfic whilst my kids were at playschool, downloading stories onto floppy disks to read on my friends’ laptop back at their house. Blair and Jim’s hurt and comfort and epic love was the only thing that could distract me from my own epic pain, making it at least halfway bearable to keep on breathing.
Nine months after I crossed the Irish Sea, no longer staying with friends but at last renting a house with my possessions newly retrieved from storage (including, oh joy, my own computer), I started to write TS stories of my own. They were for my eyes only; super-secret id-ridden therapy to get me through the day. I never had any intention of showing them to anyone else; how could I? They were complete rubbish, especially compared with all the amazing online stories that I loved so much. Certainly no one but me would ever want to read them, and I had no desire for them to do so, there was too much of my own anguish in there for me to ever want to share them. Not only that, I’d never even seen the show. All my ideas about Jim and Blair, all my vision of them as characters, had come purely from the fanfiction that I’d read.
I eventually got an internet connection installed, and joined my first list – Sentinel _UK at Yahoo Groups. I joined Cascade Times and TS Storyfinders as well, and shortly afterwards discovered Senad and Prospect-L. I lurked on all of them, not feeling able to make much of a contribution. I was still rather too raw from my trials and tribulations to cope with getting to know anyone new, even if it was only online.
Finally, I got to see the show! I scraped together the money to get a Sky subscription, purely because for the first time ever on UK TV, The Sentinel was going to be shown on the Sci Fi channel. I watched and videoed every episode as it aired, but there were no surprises there – I’d read all the transcripts months before, and already knew exactly what was going to happen in each and every one. It was great anticipating the seminal episodes: Cypher, Rogue, Blind Man’s Bluff, Warriors, Survival, Sentinel Too, The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg, and so many more that I was eager to watch. And when I saw it, it was even better than I anticipated, so fantastic to see Jim and Blair on the screen, in colour, brought to life.
I discovered another list a while after that, a list that purportedly had exclusive stories there written by some of my favourite writers – Jael Lyn, Dawn C and others. The list was Sentinel Angst. I needed to read that fic, I needed it like burning! But to do so I would have to pay ‘dues,’ ie a story of my own. Despite my reticence it was too tempting a prospect, I really wanted to read those stories! So I looked through the bits of fic that I’d been writing, trying to see if I could come up with anything that might not be too embarrassing to post. Having found something I thought I might be able to knock into shape I joined the list, intending to stay just long enough to get my sweaty paws on the locked stories. If all went to plan, I’d only have to come up with one story for my dues, then I’d be able to unsubscribe.
For my dues, I posted a short little missing scene for Cypher: I Can Be You Oo Oo. It was terrifying to post it; nerve-wracking and exhilarating, like jumping out of a plane. Despite the fact that I'd been scribbling stories down in notebooks compulsively since childhood, It was only the second story of my own that I’d ever shared with anyone in my life; the first one, an original short story, had only been seen by my husband and a couple of friends (and now perhaps you too, gentle reader, if you wish: The Wild Hunt, posted at AO3 yesterday since it is highly unlikely I will ever publish it anywhere else). Yet here I was, posting a story to a list with hundreds of members, none of whom I knew. What was I thinking!
I couldn’t believe it when I got up the next morning to discover countless emails and comments telling me how much people had liked it. The emails kept coming for days, and wow, how nice it was, at a time when I was feeling so very low, to get such positive affirmation. I will forever be grateful for the lovely and totally unexpected reception my writing got then, and during all the years since. And it’s pretty safe to say that, in very short order after posting that very first story, I was forever hooked on writing as well as reading. I truly do write for myself; I always did. But there is definitely plenty of joy to be found in writing for other people as well.
I Can Be You Oo Oo might have been my first posted TS story, but as I have already pointed out, I had also written several other TS stories before that. Those ones, however, were DEFINITELY for my eyes only. As already noted, I hadn’t even seen the series at that time, I was just totally obsessed with TS fanfic! However I eventually reworked and finished one of those stories for Moonridge. To my enduring astonishment that story has gone on to become my most-viewed, most-kudosed fic at AO3: Lasting Imprint. It is kind of boggling that just about the first TS fic that I ever wrote has apparently become my most popular story. I have no idea why, or who all the people are reading it; I can only assume that it has somehow appealed to the current multi-fandom sentinels-and-guides-are-known zeitgeist.
In early 2004 I discovered Livejournal, which at that time was a thriving haven for TS fans who (like myself) felt out of place on the lists. Most LJ fannish activity was centred around Sentinel Thursday back then, which was – and still is! – a lovely, welcoming community and a great creative playground. The first story I posted there was Sanctuary, which is an epilogue for The Rig. A later snippet posted at Sentinel Thursday went on to be expanded into my epic fantasy AU, The Night Terrors ('epic' by which I mean that it is so bloody long!), which is arguably the story I enjoyed writing more than any other.
As time went on I also posted numerous works-in-progress in my journal, including Not Going Anywhere, Revolution, Kith, or Kin? and Immersion, and in the process of doing so discovered that writing can emphatically be a communal, as opposed to a solitary, endeavour. I have always loved the back-and-forth, the brainstorming and ideas that get exchanged with readers as I go along, and have soundly and gleefully mocked in sonnet form those humorless twerps who have nothing good to say about people who write WIPs! Yes, I am a little bit sarcastic and outspoken at times. That’s pretty much how we roll here in North West England!
I even posted a series of stories (which also started out as a WIP) set in Ireland in the beautiful cottage I left behind. It was indicative of the healing I’d gone through at that point that I was able to do so; leaving that house was the most painful thing I ever did. Writing those stories, The Irish Saga , felt at the time like part of my healing process, as through those stories I was able to look back without pain for the first time and celebrate the beauty of it. It was yet one more example of how fanfiction has been a source of strength for me.
The communal aspect of writing is also evident in fests and fic exchanges, of which I have engaged in several. One of the first of these I took part in was the Sentinel Secrets community, where a short, one-off snippet I wrote went on to be expanded, as another work-in-progress in my journal (yay, unrepentant!), into Conforming to Requirements. Another fest I’ve participated in is the Sentinel Secret Santa fic exchange (which is up and running again right now). Secret Santa is the reason I wrote my slash story Staying Present, as well as numerous festive drabbles and snippets. I haven’t had time to write anything for it the past few years, but I always read it – it’s become an essential part of Christmas for me.
I tend to opt out of fests and exchanges these days, as meeting deadlines outside of my working life is something I would definitely struggle with at the moment. But it’s all still going on – the Sentinel Big Bang has just concluded its latest round, proving that the TS fandom may be a lot smaller and quieter these days, but it certainly isn’t dead yet
just damp! And looking back over what I’ve written, so much of it was in response to a prompt or for a fest or an exchange. Such a sociable time it has been, these last ten years writing in the Sentinel fandom.
The best part of the past 10 years is that I’ve made so many great friends. My first online pal was Fingers, who I met shortly after I posted my second story (the first installment of the Dawn to Dark Series). Fingers shared with me a love of Susan Foster’s GDP universe, and like me was a mother of two small boys. We bonded (ha!) instantly, and have been close friends ever since, our little boys growing into big boys together. And Fingers was just the first; so many other great friendships, both on and off-line, have been forged over the past ten years I’ve spent in fandom. There are far too many to list here, I’d end up leaving somebody important out, and I don’t want to risk that! But you know who you are and you know, I hope, how much I treasure your friendship and good humour (because if you are one of my mates, even if you are someone I’ve only met online, one thing we will most certainly have in common is the ability to have a right good old laugh, including at ourselves!).
It’s kind of fitting, in my tenth year of posting TS fanfic, that the most recent story I posted, just a week or so ago, was a collaboration with one of my very best pals both online and off. Gilly (AKA Panik) and I worked together on Decimated (a story not for the faint-hearted - please see the warnings if you pop over to read). Thank you my lovely Gilly, we were made to write together! It raised a good few quid for Moonridge too, which is another great community endeavour I have been proud to support year after year. Other collaborations I’ve done through the years have been written with Rhyo (Postscript) and Rhianne (20 Things You Never Knew About Blair Sandburg) and I can’t ever forget the brilliant writers who collaborated on the Fanfic Hospital series, which has made me LOL in real life more times than I can say!
This week, I have posted my 81st work to AO3, 79 of which are fanfics for The Sentinel. The stories are not going to end there. I have new ones in the pipeline, some of which are very close to being finished. One of them is a TS crossover with another one of my big fannish loves, Doctor Who, which this week celebrated its 50th birthday (it’s been a week of significant anniversaries for me). And there is a long, angsty, slashy, hurt-comforty one which is almost done, and so many other stories in various stages of construction that, although my writing has slowed down considerably from the heady, halcyon days of ten years ago, it is unlikely I’m going to stop writing Jim and Blair anytime soon.
Ten years ago today was a great day for me. It spurred me on to keep writing and, more importantly SHARING! It was the start of an amazing and endlessly entertaining ten years in fandom, which have helped get me through and distract me from some pretty awful times. Ten years on I’m still a single mum, still broke, struggling with health and family problems and ups and downs, but on the plus side my sons are growing into healthy, happy well-adjusted young men (my life’s goal!), and I’m generally coping a lot better these days than I did in those painful times ten years ago. Meanwhile, fandom has been my constant companion, my light in the dark days, and the friendships I’ve made have enriched my life way beyond the sharing of stories and laughs and ideas.
So, here’s a health to the TS fandom, and the writers, and the readers, and the friends, and to Jim and Blair and all who sail in them. Thanks for a great ten years! Cheers J
Crossposted at http://fluterbev.dreamwidth.org/769739.h