A stack of Zenpop stationery subscription boxes.

Review Corner: ZenPop Stationery Subscription Box

A stack of Zenpop stationery subscription boxes.What is it?

A monthly stationery subscription box from Japan featuring some 7-10 items arranged around a theme.  (ZenPop also do other Japanese subscription boxes, from ramen and sweets to mystery boxes.)

How much?

Prices vary, but are approximately:

  • £24 for a single month’s box
  • £67 for 3 months
  • £132 for 6 months
  • £262 for 12 months

Delivery time?

They dispatch from Japan so shipping time varies, but they usually arrive in the UK after approximately 2 weeks.


Rather than dipping my toe into the water with a single box, I took the plunge by starting out on the year-long subscription — and immediately afterwards wondered if I’d lost my marbles.  It’s a lot of money to part with for a subscription box that, with my postal service, always carries with it the worry of never arriving at all* on top of the worry that I’ll hate all the items in the box.

Luckily, neither has proven true.

In each cute (there’s a bunny on top!) compact purple box you receive a variety of stationery items from well-known stationery brands such as MT, Tombow, Zebra and Kuretake, to name but a few, usually arranged around a theme such as “spring” or “Hallowe’en.” These commonly include pens, erasers, washi tape, stickers and notepads, but can also include scissors, glue, clips, rulers — even a small hand-fan for the summer and some craft scissors.

The Christmas box came with an amazing ninja card that was frankly too nice to send!

A ninja Christmas card from the Zenpop December box
Please forgive the washi tape corner weights.

The thing is, if you’re a stationery hoarder like me, so much of it is too nice to use.  It’s something I’m working on breaking this year, because it’s all too nice not to use as well.  Additionally, the monthly brand postcards are ridiculously cute and a few may have found their way onto my notice boards…

Will I re-subscribe once my year is up?

Yes, I think I will. These last couple of years have been depressing enough (for us all) and though I hadn’t expected it when I subscribed, it’s been a real mood-lightener to get something nice (or several somethings) in the post once a month.

Where can I find it?

You can order either a box or subscription of ZenPop’s Japanese Stationery Pack here: https://zenpop.jp/japanese-stationery-pack or check out their Instagram for photos of their products.

The bottom of a Zenpop stationery box.


* Ever since our ‘new’ postal worker started, nothing has gone walkies.  They’ve delivered to this area for several years now, and we know when they’re on holiday because deliveries stop arriving!  So these fears are, now, generally unfounded… except one day they’re bound to leave and we’ll be back to square one.

Best not to think about that.

A purple-haired man in his mid-twenties holds up a sign that reads 'Update: 1-3 January 2021 Social Media, Writing, Updates and Life'

Update: 1-3 January 2021 – Social Media, Writing, Updates and Life

Yes I know it’s only the last 3 days of the week.  It’s a new year, so I’m disregarding the previous half of the week.  We’ll just… pretend it didn’t happen or something. Like I think a large chunk of the population are planning on doing with 2020 in general.

These were supposed to be goals for the week, but seem to have turned into goals for the year.  Not a problem.  I’m not sure I’m quite yet ready for goals for the week again…  Maybe I’ll be able to muster goals for the month in the future.  Maybe.

So without further ado…

Where Did The Solstice’s Store Links Go?

Short answer: I took them down.

(Well, obviously. There’s only me working on the site!)

Long answer: I don’t sell a lot of books; I barely sell any. I’m never gonna hit the #1 spot on… well, anywhere, or get people sending me fanart. But of the few copies of The Solstice I did sell, they were only on Amazon. I checked: nothing on Kobo, nothing on Smashwords, nothing on Apple Books, nothing on Google Play.

But why? If I take it off all those platforms that I’m getting no sales on, then I can enter the book into KDP Select, which means I can take advantage of Kindle Countdowns (and maybe I will when I stop being lazy and figure out what one is) and free book days.  KDP Select also lets the book be available on Kindle Unlimited (so people can read it free, if they want) and the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library.  All I have to give up in return is those non-existent sales on other platforms.

Bit of a no-brainer, really.

The transgender/nonbinary flag in blue, pink, white, pink, blue stripes.

Happy Non-Binary Day!

Yep! Today is a day dedicated to people like me, whose gender is either not fixed, can vary depending on circumstances, or, in cases like mine, is a concept that wandered far enough away that it might as well be in another universe entirely.  (And, frankly, they’re welcome to it.)  Another term for it can be ‘Genderqueer,’ but like most names not every chooses to go by it. (Like me.)

I am… pretty terrible at explaining it – unsurprising, given I usually just refer to myself as a potato rather than any particular gender – so here’s Wikipedia with a fairly on-the-nose (for once) summary.

Non-binary (also spelled nonbinary) or genderqueer is a spectrum of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine‍—‌identities that are outside the gender binary.[1][2] Non-binary identities can fall under the transgender umbrella, since many non-binary people identify with a gender that is different from their assigned sex.[3] Another term for non-binary is enby (from the abbreviation NB).[4]

Non-binary people may identify as having two or more genders (being bigender or trigender);[5][6] having no gender (agender, nongendered, genderless, genderfree or neutrois); moving between genders or having a fluctuating gender identity (genderfluid);[7] being third gender or other-gendered (a category that includes those who do not place a name to their gender).[8]

Gender identity is separate from sexual or romantic orientation,[9] and non-binary people have a variety of sexual orientations, just as cisgender people do.[10]

Non-binary gender identities are not associated with a specific gender expression, such as androgyny. Non-binary people as a group have a wide variety of gender expressions, and some may reject gender “identities” altogether.[11] Some non-binary people are medically treated for gender dysphoria with surgery or hormones, as trans men and women are.

In my case I’m transmasc (because brain) non-binary (because potato); when forced to think about how I look, I tend to see myself as a grey figure with no defining gender characteristics.  Real life occasionally comes as a shock, but that’s why they invented hoodies.  (What do you mean, no it isn’t?)

We are also what the white line in the transgender flag stands for.

Other non-binary authors I follow include:

There are so many talented writers and artists who’re also nonbinary.  You can find more people on the #IAmNonbinary hashtag on Twitter!

Image showing three book covers by Pax Asteriae (Maddeson's Selkie, The Night Fair and The Fair Automaton) overlaid with the text "Revised Covers!"

New (More Blatantly M/M Romance) Covers and Book Layouts!

I've been increasingly dissatisfied with the covers of some of my books, but in a couple of cases the technology wasn't quite up there with what I wanted when I did them.  And in the cases where it was, unfortunately my hardware very definitely wasn't!

Anyway, over the course of several weeks I've been revising the covers, and I'm fairly satisfied with the results.  (Well, until maybe a year from now...!)  Additionally, I've updated the interior layouts of all four books with proper back matter - I suppose I should stop hiding that I wrote four stories, right? - which proved... interesting.

The 'several weeks' in question mostly refers to the amount of time it took to render the images.  My computer, albeit newish, isn't a dedicated render machine; I bought it for playing games I already owned, because I didn't anticipate falling back in to 3D work again. Poor thing hasn't quite grasped what's happening to it yet, but it does the very best it can which, if you give it enough time, is as good as any of the flashier machines with far more advanced graphics cards.

And then, to add insult to many, many days' injury, is that once I'd finished all the covers (and worked out which ones I was supposed to be using for The Fair Automaton) the ebook files kept throwing all kinds of mysterious wobblies.  Images would vanish from inside them, mostly, or suddenly pretend they weren't there when they were. I had to move them all to a cloud drive to keep them in line.

And speaking of 'in line,' I think these are a little more in line with what people expect from the genre. I can't really see them leading to any change in sales, but I'm much happier with them for myself, which is probably more important.  Not, like, a lot more important, but still.

The only thing I'm a little irritated about is that I really, really liked the new cover for The Night Fair, particularly Iphre's hair... but now I've finished, I actually prefer Maddeson's Selkie.  I'm sorry, Iphre!  And the cover for The Fair Automaton is a lot more in line with what I'd wanted - if it hadn't worked out, I'd have gone for a picture of one of the characters leaning over a wooden railing, a scene that happens in the story. But I'd feel a little like I was betraying the plot, since it's the machine itself that's so important to the story, and to North's confused feelings.

What's harder to see in the cover for The Fair Automaton, but what amuses me mightily, is that part of the reflection visible in the automaton's body is actually North.

Well, I suppose you've got to take your enjoyment where you can, right?

Potential Site Changes!

I’m getting restive, and more frustrated by the layout of this site. It works how I want, but there are little things that it’s almost impossible to change due to the template I’m using.  So I think I’m going to rejig things a little and try out a couple of new templates and see what fits.

Who knows, I might end up coming back to this one?  But then, I might find a better fit too.

So if things suddenly start to look just a little peculiar, that’s why.

(I think I’m probably procrastinating… I’m waiting on a slow-moving render to finish!)

Pax Asteriae's July 2020 bullet journal title page, with a distinctly nautical theme and a natty purple life ring. "You can't cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water."

July 2020 Bullet Journal

Only 17 days late!  It took me a little time to find a quote I liked — I’d done the rest of the pages on the 2nd or 3rd, I think — so it’s a very delayed set of pictures.

It didn’t take a long time to create though, what with the not needing any extra pages thing; it’s not like I can go anywhere that might require more exhaustive info.  Strangely therapeutic though, it was the closest to enjoying mindless doodling I’ve come.  (I don’t much enjoy aimless drawing.)

And no writing-related things, because although it’s Camp NaNoWriMo — not that you’d guess, most of the emails have been about the Young Writer’s Programme — my writing progress, as you can see from the habit tracker, is distinctly spotty.  Uninterrupted writing time is hard to come by, even (especially?) when you’re trapped at home.

Colours again provided by the Zebra Mildliners, in particular the gold, smoke-blue and magenta pens from the Deep & Warm set.

If I was in any way organised, I’d already be considering what next month’s theme is.  As it is… well, maybe next time I’ll manage to share the pages before halfway through the month!

Does anyone else bullet journal?  I’d love to see your pages, so drop a link in the comments if you want to share.

Status Update July 2020 - Of Renders, Awards, and Not Writing (featuring handsome naked Alex) - Pax Asteriae Fiction

Status Update July 2020 – Of Renders, Awards, and Not Writing

A 3D image of a naked Alex Jaska, created by Pax Asteriae for their cellphone. (Not this image, obviously; this one's far too small.)

The bank’s sorted, although not without my getting angry. They say they locked my entire account — in the middle of a global pandemic — because I hadn’t logged into online banking in 6 months. Which I would have known, they say, if I’d logged into my online account. But I hadn’t. And they failed to inform me of this in writing so unsurprisingly I had no idea.

I am genuinely considering contacting one of the financial pages in a newspaper to ask if this kind of asshattery is considered normal. I’ve banked with the NatWest for a depressing 20 years (the same amount of time, funnily enough, that I’ve had this mobile number). I can’t see myself banking with them for another 5 now, let alone another 20.

Corporate stupidity aside, life continues much as normal, which is with a fair bit of work and not much writing. My wildly self-indulgent project named itself last night. Peculiar, given I can’t get actual projects to name themselves, but there we go. It’s called The Bastard and the Deep Blue Sea (and I can call it that because it’s wildly self-indulgent and no one else is gonna see it~) and I can even see how the cover will look. I drafted out the text layout last night.

Now I just need to write more than four and a half chapters, when work and home life will allow.

Thing is, I got back into the 3D work I used to do a long time ago, and it keeps distracting me. At least this kind of procrastination is productive, though. To your left there is Alex, one of the Radial main characters. I can now finally render fairly realistic looking versions of my boys. (And that is my new phone background!)

And, bonus, I can now render smutty pictures of them, which amuses me vastly.

The strangest thing about it is, even though it’s procrastination — you can lose hours without even realising just from tweaking skin settings and minutely adjusting lights — it’s a little like digital colouring for me: it forces me to think. The wildly self-indulgent project came about from a render I did for a challenge: I fiddled around, created a character, and suddenly he had a plot and back story and was demanding I write about him. (He may now have changed his mind on that.) A weird but fun post-Fourth Arc story for Radial turned up in my head while noodling around with one of the aforementioned smutty pictures of Milos and Alex.

And, slightly more weirdly, another render I did for that challenge was an Honourable Mention and won me $5. Which I was happy about not for the cash, but because I really enjoyed setting up that render. It almost came together by itself and the end result both came out how I’d wanted and rendered very quickly (not a guaranteed thing!) so I was on the whole very happy.

Not sure what to do with all the renders. I’m having fun creating pictures of Alex and Milos’s everyday life to a certain degree — there’s a sparring picture from the Fourth Arc, and one of Milos training with his long-suffering martial arts instructor (who turned out to look a bit like Sean Bean). I should probably add them to Patreon, free for the ones I already shared elsewhere, and maybe figure out a tier (or add a new one) for the smutty stuff. I don’t know.

So… not dead yet. Still coming up with stories, even if I’m still struggling to actually write. Even when I remind myself that no one else is gonna read TB&TDBS, sometimes I still freeze up. I’ll get over it soon, at least for that. And I’d like to be able to figure out where the story’s going for this intriguing Radial story that seems to start with an unexpected romantic getaway under the guise of work, and then actually turns into work.

We’ll see how things go.

I’ll get around to sharing pictures of my bullet journal at some point too.

Image of a padlock on top of three debit cards beside a keyboard, by TheDigitalWay on Pixabay

Banking woes. Basically, I’m fucked.

On the stroke of midnight 1st July, the NatWest locked my account. I found this out, also on the stroke of midnight, as a Kindle preorder failed to process.

On logging in to my online banking account, I found out this was to force me to give them my mobile number for 2-factor authentication – despite the fact that when I rang customer services last month to enquire when my replacement card would be sent, their system recognised my phone number.

They don’t actually have to take such a heavy-handed approach, but the NatWest will never not take up an opportunity to lock my account.  I can’t ring them now to complain, because my rolling PAYG contract, which I usually top up by £30 every three months in an O2 store because, surprise surprise, they lock my account when I do it online, has run out of money because, thanks to COVID-19, I can’t get into Nottingham to do it.  And now I can’t even top up online because… they’ve locked my account.

Additionally, I can’t just log in and give them my phone number because they’re demanding I use the card reader authenticator they sent me a decade ago, and have never once before required I use.  Since this was, y’know, ten years ago.  I have no idea where it is, so they said they’d send me a new one.

Four days later… no sign of it yet.

So yes. I’m fucked. I have all of £10 in my PayPal account, that I won on the Postcode Lottery of all things, that will go as soon as one of the monthly debits comes in.  I can’t access anything else.  In the middle of a global pandemic.  While I’m a full-time carer to a disabled person.

Because the NatWest have been, yet again, frankly stunning in their incompetence.

Although it shouldn’t be a surprise, coming from an organisation that once encouraged me to use a credit card to pay off my overdraft.

I’m at a loss, I really am.

Although I have a Ko-Fi, I always feel… weird and twitchy asking people for money – that kind of all-over skin-creep, like the thought of someone prodding tiny needles into your shoulders – and anyway, I had to step back from social media for my mental health.  I’m not about to return solely to beg for money.  That’s just insulting.

Let’s hope I can get it sorted by the 8th, or the home-delivery shopping I booked half a month ago (yes, it really is that hard to get delivery slots still) won’t be arriving.

(Incidentally: yes, I have contacted them by email. You can only do it through a contact form, and only once you press send does it say they won’t bother actually answering, but they thank me for the positive feedback. Because they’re an embarrassment.)

JuNoWriMo 2020 Header

JuNoWriMo 2020 – Day 4

Raindrops keep falling on my cat
But that doesn’t mean I ought to wear her like a hat
Nothing seems to fit
‘Cause she keeps crawling off my
She keeps crawling off my head…

Yesterday’s word count: 50 

Didn’t have a great day yesterday.  It’s hard to write when your brain fights against you every step of the way.  It’s just a combination of everything and a healthy dollop of Writer’s Doubt on top of it.  Not Writer’s Block, but the sure and certain knowledge that every single word I write is absolute shit, no part of it is redeemable and the world would be a better place if I just stopped.  Again.

(A lot of people would agree with the last part of that.)

I keep telling my brain that I’m not actually planning on letting anyone see this story.  I fully agree that the world is a better place without my writing, but I’d like to be able to do it in the privacy of my own laptop nonetheless.  Hopefully soon it’ll agree with me and I’ll be able to write more than a couple of hundred words.  It’d be a lot more productive than dumping ridiculous song lyrics into my head every time I walk into the kitchen at any rate.  The above is an example of what I got when I went to use the oven.

I don’t even know why it can do that but not provide an even marginally coherent narrative.  Possibly because there’s only me in the kitchen, not me, a dog, a cat, three loud birds and my mother.  No, I can’t get away with writing in the kitchen.  The table’s too high (or the benches are too low) and it’s in desperate need of a tidy.

Well, no point in whining, even if there is only me here (and the crickets, of course).  It’ll either get done or it won’t, and it’s right now looking like it’s veering towards “won’t.”

We’ll see.

JuNoWriMo 2020 Header

JuNoWriMo 2020 – Day 2

Day start word count: 564

Not off to a great start there.  Every time I sat down to write something either cropped up, or I got Told Things Very Loudly (no, ignoring it does not make it go away, it gets me shouted at instead).  However, today is a very empty work day: an hour and a half in total.  Bad for pay but good for writing… allegedly.  How that plays out in reality we shall see.

Wish me luck!  I’ll need all I can get.  As my status report at the top of the JuNoWriMo spreadsheet says… Get on with it!

(Some light killing of noisy neighbours may need to occur first.)

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