QSFer Otter Lieffe has a new trans time travel book out:
Imagine you had the ability to move through your own life, to revisit your past and foresee your future. Which events would you long to remember and which would you forget? Would you want to know what the future holds?
This is the story of Ash, a trans woman and healer living in a corner of Europe controlled by a militarized state. Amidst the economic crash of the 2020s, this land, once a hub of diversity, saw the rise of a state-imposed monoculture of gender, sexuality, ability and race. Those that didn’t fit, known as the divergents, were imprisoned, expelled or worse.
Ash and her best friend Pinar long ago escaped the City, left behind their days of fighting State oppression, and are eking out a calmer life in the forest, ravaged by the effects of climate change. One day, Jason, a resistance fighter, arrives abruptly into their life, reigniting personal and political drives and they find themselves drawn back into the fight.
Joining trans and queer organisers, sex workers and other members of a hidden underclass, they risk everything to return to the City and face their oppressors. In this fight for dignity, self-determination and their survival, Ash’s ability to transcend time, a trait that until now she has considered her curse, turns out to be a more powerful weapon than anyone could have imagined.”
Written by a trans woman and sex worker, Margins and Murmurations puts transgender, sex work and femininity at the centre of its twisting, multi-layered narrative. In this sensitive exploration of exclusion, intimacy and control, Otter Lieffe calls us to renew our struggles against oppression and to proudly reclaim the margins that so many of us call home.
The old woman’s body felt alive from the run. Her strong legs burned as they carried her along the uneven riverbank. At seventy-four years old, she knew she should be slowing down, should be curled up in front of the fire, but today as she left her home on the river, climbed over an ancient stile and pushed her way through a thick field of bracken, Ash felt younger than ever.
The sun was close to setting but the air was still as hot as midday. After a relentless summer, the land was bone dry—she couldn’t even remember the taste of rain.
Leaning against a fence to catch her breath, she offered some water from her bottle to the land and took a sip herself. Despite the drought, there was an explosion of plant growth all around her: a thick green mat of bracken and nettles filled the valley and young birch trees pushed up towards the light, their delicate branches drooping with the lavender blooms of morning glories.
“It’s so beautiful here,” Ash said to no-one in particular.
A passing crow flying out from the distant forest answered her from above.
Hard to imagine that all of this was corn. Nothing but toxic monoculture as far as I could walk.
She took a deep breath of warm air, thick with pollen. The land itself seemed to buzz with the hum of bees and crickets. Life is coming back though. Despite everything they did to us.
Ash unzipped her backpack and crouched down to collect some nettle tips for dinner, smiling a little as they stung her. At her age, she figured she’d be riddled with arthritis by now if it wasn’t for her daily cup of nettle tea and her regular brush against their stinging leaves. Soon her dark, wrinkled fingers prickled all over with the familiar burn of histamine. When she had collected enough, Ash put her hands together intending to thank the nettles for their sacrifice, but as she did so, a bang rang out from the forest.
She jumped to her feet and yelped in surprise, her heart pounding in her chest.
Gunshots. And they’re getting closer every day. But Ash knew there was nothing she could do about it. I’ve swallowed enough tear gas for this lifetime.
She scratched the stubble on her chin thoughtfully, looked up and stretched her hand out in front of her. Only four finger tips separated the setting sun and the forest ahead of her. About an hour or so until dark. I should get moving.
She slipped her pack on again and, pushing through the abundant plant life, she continued her journey to the forest. It was normally an hour’s journey from Ash’s little river boat to Pinar’s place, the beautiful cabin they had built together at the edge of the woods. In this heat, it would take her almost two and she’d be lucky to get there before nightfall.
Having no way to contact each other, their visits were always unplanned, always unexpected, and yet somehow Ash and Pinar had never missed each other in the five years since they came to this land. Ash knew that when she arrived, the kettle would already be boiling or a pot of soup would have just been taken off the fire in anticipation. It was as if somehow, when one of them left their home, the forest and the river themselves passed on the message and beckoned the other to stay in theirs, to leave the firewood collecting to later, to just sit and wait.
Ash disappeared into the high undergrowth, walking along a narrow path of stomped-down plants they both maintained just by hiking back and forth every few days. Her back was wet with sweat and brambles scratched her arms, but she loved this walk and hummed quietly to herself.
It was almost completely dark when the path suddenly opened out and beyond her in the forest she could hear a kettle whistling.
Not a minute too soon.
As she turned the corner, she saw Pinar, sitting outside her home surrounded by candles, her green eyes glistening in the light.
As gorgeous as ever, Ash noticed.
Pinar was only fifteen years her junior, but despite all that they had been through together, her friend seemed to radiate with youth. She wore an elegant blue dress that night and her long hair cascaded over dark, bare shoulders. She stood and smiled as Ash arrived.
“I had a feeling you might turn up today.”
Pinar waved at a candlelit wooden table and chairs laid out under an old oak.
“I’ll just get the kettle. Make yourself at home.”
She disappeared inside the little cabin and Ash could hear her busying around in the kitchen. Within a minute, she returned with a tray full of homemade snacks, a steaming teapot and a pitcher of water.
“Here we go, I made the blackberry cookies you like.” Pinar bent to put the tray down on the table, stood up and turned to give her friend a hug.
But Ash was gone.
Her body stood just where Pinar had left her moments ago, but the brown-green eyes that stared back at her were completely vacant.
“Ash?” she asked, but there was no response. Her friend’s breath was shallow, her olive skin, cold and clammy to the touch. She was there, but she wasn’t.
“Where are you now, darling?” asked Pinar, picking up a blanket and calmly putting it over her friend’s shoulders. She wasn’t worried. She was used to this.
Ash was somewhere else—in another place and another time. More a traumatic flashback than a daydream and still much more than that, Pinar knew she was visiting, or revisiting her own life.
“Be safe and come back to me soon,” she said and sat down to pour tea.
She has been involved in grassroots activism for over a decade, in Latin America, the Middle East, Europe and North America and has at various times found herself involved in queer community organising, land reclamation, language teaching in migrant worker communities, playing samba in demonstrations and being too tired to get up the next day. She speaks somewhere between 3 and 5 languages and rarely sits still for long enough to watch the seasons change. Apart from working on book two and a possible sequel to ‘Margins’, Otter is now working to establish an International Transfeminist Network across Europe.