Weekly Newsletter – Issue 05


Issue 05 : 11 February 2018


Welcome to my weekly digest, covering things I’ve been reading, and interesting fact, my favourite posts on Instagram and a few things I’ve spotted that are on my shopping list. 

So January went quickly – or it went slowly, depending on who you ask. For me, it sauntered along at first, stumbled a little bit in the middle and tumbled unexpectedly right smack-bang into February.

I kind of feel sorry for Feb. It’s normally the month that brings yet another blanket of snow, and this time round we’re all a bit tired of it so it isn’t all excitement and sleds – instead, it’s trying to get to work only the trains are all broken and I fell over on the ice this morning and my bum hurts and my coffee went everywhere and can I please go back to bed now. Generally, it’s still cold and miserable enough for people to think that winter will never end. I’m actually trying to be optimistic – the shortest day of the year is behind us now and that means that it’s going to start getting lighter in the evenings. And every day that passes in February is a day closer to it being summer again.



 

You know Grandfather clocks? Those tall clocks that appear in plenty of period dramas, or perhaps stood in the corridor at your uncle’s house where it would deafen everyone on the hour with its obnoxious ringing? Those clocks? Well. It turns out that we’ve been calling them by the wrong name for all these years. They’re actually called long case clocks. (I know, I think that’s a much more boring name too.) Apparently they earned this adorable nickname thanks to a 1876 hit called ‘My Grandfather’s Clock‘ and the name just stuck.

 

More here : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longcase_clock

 


 

1. Deaths-Head Hawkmoth Necklace (SUGAR AND VICE)

This amazing acrylic statement necklace is from the talented Sarah and Matt who run Sugar and Vice Designs. I’m in love with the detail on this, and I can’t wait to make her mine! (£25)

> Available from Sugar and Vice’s website

 

2. Kingfisher Necklace (TATTY DEVINE)

You probably know by now how much a love my novelty items, and my acrylic jewellery – making the list is this colourful kingfisher necklace from Tatty Devine, which is on the pricier side – but you can’t go wrong with the quality and craftsmanship and TD are pretty much my go-to for statement items. I love the little things, like the mirrored feathers and the little fish. Absolutely beautiful. (£125)

> Find it here, at Tatty Devine’s online store

 

3. Hipster Chic ‘Hepburn’ Dress (LADY VINTAGE LONDON)

Every time Lady Vintage release a new collection, I feel like they’ve outdone themselves – and yet they continue to bring out increasingly diverse and fabulous dresses! I love all their latest items – but especially this hipster-themed one, which is hilarious yet still glamorous. I live in my Hepburn dresses, and own at least 12 of them. What harm would one more do, I moustache you? (£50)

>Available in sizes 8-28 from the Lady V site

 

4. Harlequin 50s Dress (HELL BUNNY)

I don’t know about you but the second I saw this dress, I knew immediately that it had to be mine. I literally ordered it that very minute – the pink and black harlequin design is such a stunning combination, and with the rose detailing? Beautiful. And I am a complete sucker for a gathered waist, such a rare treat in the repro vintage world! I hope I am united with this, the love of my life, before Valentine’s Day arrives. Hurry up DPD, I can’t wait this long!! (£46.99)

> Hell Bunny Harlequin 50’s dress is available in sizes XS-4XL

 

5. Orange Puffins ‘Audrina’ Dress (LINDY BOP)

Lindy Bop always do the most amazing prints, and whilst I find the quality of their clothing to vary wildly, I have to say that their recent collection has made me want to buy EVERYTHING. I don’t know if you can see, but this dress has the loveliest puffin print, and on such a vibrant peach background, it has me aching for long summer evenings and iced tea. 

The Audrina dress is a shorter ‘above knee’ version of the Audrey dress, which is another one of my favourites. A shorter length would be ideal for summer…if I can wait that long to buy it and wear it, that is. (£38)

> The Audrina dress is available in sizes 8 to 26 from the Lindy Bop website

 

 


What it means to be queer

I’ve gone through many stages in my life. At times I’d have described myself as heterosexual, regarding homosexual couples with a strange judgement that probably came from a deep-seated denial, helped along with an upbringing that showed very little liberal thinking and encouraged an ‘us and them’ mentality. As far as anyone told me, my dream in life was to marry a lawyer, settle down, get married and have two children. I had no role models in my life that showed an alternative to that – and, I’ve come to realise, all the heterosexual relationships I was surrounded by were dysfunctional and broken. My expectation in life really became about finding a partner who was just less dysfunctional than my immediate family were.

Being a teenager was awkward and confusing. I had a string of ‘boyfriends’ but these were really just companions. I was so afraid of intimacy that I would actually run away whenever things looked like they would cross the line into a territory I wasn’t comfortable with. At one time when I was in my mid-teens, my boyfriend leaned in to kiss me. Just as he was centimetres away from my mouth, I panicked and shouted “You’re it!” and actually sprinted off across a carpark to find somewhere to hide. So it would be no news to say that sex was completely off the menu, and I honestly couldn’t understand why people seemed to actually like, or want, something so horribly intimate.

A few years later I would have described myself as bi-curious, but this was still a little muddled. I was still confused about my identity and who I was, and really couldn’t shake off that weird sense of judgement I’d had drummed into me as a child. If that wasn’t enough, society also convinced me that being bi-curious was just something that all women were, and this was only reinforced by the fact that it seemed most men I came across were interested in women that showed more ‘exotic’ preferences. Being asked to kiss your female friend in a nightclub seemed to be something that impressed the lads, but at the same time, I wasn’t exactly mad at it. In fact, I was more than okay about it. But that’s just being a ‘bit bi’ as all women are, isn’t it?

It was a few years later that I realised that not all women who described themselves as bi-curious actually enjoyed their sexual encounters with women and regularly daydreamed about having them. I thought that was all totally normal. I don’t watch porn, and I never really have. Mostly this is because I can’t find much porn that turns me on. I’m also not exactly into all the unrealistic expectations it sets women in general – really? Am I expected to pay for a Brazilian every two months just because that’s what people are used to seeing? I remember struggling to find anything that matched my fantasies, and actually, I find my imagination in many ways far more pleasurable. I have the freedom to imagine whatever I want to.

When I did first try porn, just really out of curiosity, I remember being primarily drawn to videos that were just women, or both men and women. The only video I still remember watching and being turned on by was a home-video quality clip of a beautiful blonde woman sitting on a chair masturbating. I liked the raw ‘realness’ of it, and I guess what I took away from that was that real experiences to me felt more exciting. I didn’t want to watch someone else’s imagining of something; I wanted to know it first hand (pun intended). Sex wasn’t exciting really unless it felt ‘real’ – unless it felt human.

Then came a number of years of what I would call my ‘sexual exploration’. I didn’t really define my sexuality but instead went on a journey of self-discovery in the hopes that I could find out who I was and what I wanted. I’m bursting with pride at that younger naïve me who realised that there was a wider world out there and just wanted to try everything out, just to see what it was all like.

I actively sought out experiences with different people, mostly casual one- or two-night occasions with men and women – anyone who I thought was attractive. I wasn’t in it for any long-term relationship – I just had a burning fire inside me and I desperately wanted to learn what I liked, and what I didn’t like. It was like an evolution. I came out of it knowing that I hated it when people slapped or punched me in the bedroom. I also discovered that I actually quite enjoy threesomes. I learned that I really can’t stand it when people ‘talk dirty’. And I found out that I like to laugh a lot, I like to get to know the other person. Sex isn’t sex if it isn’t with someone else, and the best sex was sex that was shared – it was sweaty, funny, beautiful, and all about finding that happy place where you share a rhythm with that other person.

That period of my life helped me understand myself so much better, yet it still didn’t help me understand the lables that people inevitably seem to apply to each other. I still wasn’t quite able to assign myself a label I was comfortable with. I was a lesbian when I was in an unhappy whirlwind relationship with a woman I’d drunkenly hooked up with in a bar. After that, I was bisexual. I described myself as bisexual for years as it seemed to cover how I felt I was. However, the more I have felt a sense of belonging within the LGBT+ community, the more I have challenged and questioned myself and these labels we give ourselves. Being bisexual actually isn’t something I’m happy calling myself now, as it suggests that I would never date anyone who wasn’t the gender they were assigned at birth, if they weren’t male or female. The truth is that I’ve never dated anyone who wasn’t cisgender, but that doesn’t mean I’m closed off to the idea. I like to date people because their personalities are beautiful. I don’t really care about their gender. I could call myself pansexual, but pansexual seems to be specifically taking a fancy to anyone and everyone and for me, it is more than just liking anyone – it’s about acknowledging that you don’t have to look or act a certain way to be LGBT+, and feeling like there’s an uncomfortable tinge of politics about it. The role of a patriarchal society growing up did nothing to help me understand myself and I shouldn’t have to be defined by such a specific label. It’s strange to be living in a world where people feel so entitled to question or understand your sexuality, and where you’re either considered their ‘normal’ or you’re something strange to be ogled at.

I’ll be honest. I really struggled with the word queer at first. I thought for a long time that it was just another word for lesbian. I feel really stupid now, as that was clearly lack of research on my part and in some ways judgement of women in a relationship with another woman. I know this might sound really obvious, but it turns out that not every woman in a relationship with a woman is only interested in relationships with women. It also turns out that some women don’t want to appear closed minded, or feel that lesbian can be a loaded term and could exclude those who identify as women.

After a lot of consideration, and a lot of research, I’ve become much more comfortable with being queer. Queer for me is a reclaimed word, but its new meaning is just someone who doesn’t fit within the current heterosexual standard. It feels like an all-encompassing umbrella term that means that I don’t have to define who I am; I’m just not straight. And it’s that simple.

 

 

Further reading:

3 differences between the terms ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ – and why it matters

A glossary of LGBTQIA terms

Wikipedia

My top ten favourite books: fiction edition

As I was a child with a huge imagination, it’s hardly surprising that as an adult, I can’t get enough of a good book! I’ve gotten pretty fussy though as I’ve aged, and whilst I grew up on a potent cocktail of sci-fi, fantasy, and homicide detective stories, I now find myself reaching out towards a non-fiction book. I wonder if it’s because I’m not in education anymore; I miss being forced to learn new things every day, so perhaps I somehow need to keep my brain feeling fresh.

In any case, it has sadly become more of a rarity for me to read a novel, which is a shame because there are so many good books out there. I guess I’m old enough and well-read enough now that I recognise poor writing, and there are so many exciting things battling for my attention that I’m fussy; if the writing is poor and the plotting feels odd, then I just can’t be bothered to finish reading it. A bad book, or a cuppa and a bit of drawing? I know which I choose, every time.

I’ve been thinking about those books that I read (over and over and over again, like that entire year I watched Disney’s Sleeping Beauty every day when I came home from school because –  to a 5 year old – it is terrifying and wonderful in equal proportions) over the years, that each sparked something in me. I’ve definitely read great fiction, or books that might not be brilliant in academic terms but have left me thinking, or inspired me in some way. And I thought I’d remind myself just how absolutely flipping fantastic some of these books were, by sharing my top ten fiction reads.

Because I like saving the best until last (no, really, I do – this is precisely how I eat my food. Anyone eating the best bit first either suffers from death anxiety, or is a sociopath. Sorry if this is you, but someone had to let you know.), here they are in reverse order:

 

10. The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman)

I don’t think any fiction list would be complete without Neil Gaiman. Sadly, I don’t own a physical copy of this book – I didn’t realise I was going to enjoy it that much when I downloaded it onto my Kindle. In fact, I wasn’t really sure about it when I started reading this short novel; intended at a young adult audience, I was merely curious to see what the fuss about Neil Gaiman was all about. And MY GOODNESS this is a book that grabs you at the feels.

It starts with an unnamed protagonist visiting the farm where he grew up, and remembering events from 40 years before. It doesn’t start on a happy note. His parents’ lodger commits suicide in their car. He makes friends with the Hempstock women, living at the end of the lane, and is haunted by happenings he can’t explain. There’s something weird about that duck pond, and a strange power he doesn’t understand – but Lettie Hempstock seems to know more than she lets on.

There are things that really resonated with the child within me; the feeling that you know something quite bad is going on, but adults seemingly unaware of the imminent danger they’re in. There’s a fist-bump too towards those children that just survive by discovering things themselves, left to figure things out, which is how I felt as a kid growing up in a world where adults just didn’t get me.

 

 

9. The Scarlet Pimpernel (Baroness Emma Orczy)

A swashbuckling hero, a love story, spies, smuggling, the French Revolution? A classic by a sassy female playwright-novelist-artist? A genuinely easy-read classic, that isn’t written is overly formal language? YES PLEASE!

This is the first in a series of books about dashing aloof fop Percy Blakeney, who has a secret identity. It’s the French Revolution, and a lot of people are being unnecessarily murdered by those in power, and a secret freedom fighter is helping smuggle those endangered people to safety in England. I wonder who that secret freedom fighter might be? Socialite Marguerite St. Just is also wondering that; she’s being blackmailed into spying for the French authorities, to find out who the Pimpernel is, or they’ll guillotine her brother. And to make things even more stressful, her marriage to air-headed husband Percy is on the rocks.

I dare you to find a novel as fun as this one!

 

8. Mrs Dalloway (Virginia Woolf)

Sadly my copy of this wonderful book (as you’ll see from the picture further down!) has had a traumatised life so far, and experienced a near-fatality with a glass of water a couple of years ago. It just about survived (although needless to say, the clumsy oaf who spilled the water and took their sweet time to clear it up – not me – wasn’t so lucky).

Back in my early twenties, in a youthful attempt to be all bourgeoisie, I purchased a copy of Woolf’s To The Lighthouse at Foyle’s. Although I made it to the end eventually, after starting it again a number of times, I really struggled with it – so I put off reading Mrs Dalloway for a long time. I wish I hadn’t – it’s a beautifully written book. You need some time to digest the sentences as it isn’t the easiest read in the world, but this novel following the day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway as she preps for a party is the equivalent of people-watching from the window of a coffee shop. It’s all those thoughts you have whilst you’re just experiencing life, but instead of confused splutterings of your mind they are expressed in gorgeous turns of phrase, such as:

“Her life was a tissue of vanity and deceit.”

There are also very quotable laugh-out-loud sentences you aren’t expecting, like: “I prefer men to cauliflowers”. This isn’t a book to get excited about, and it isn’t inspirational or motivational. That doesn’t make it any less good though. This is a book to make you think about the inner workings of other people, and yourself. Grab yourself a cup of tea (by cup of tea, I obviously mean a bottle of wine) and some gentle jazz and snuggle into this reflection on life.

 

7. Green Rider (Kristen Britain)

This isn’t a piece of classic literature. It’s very well written, but it’s not on the list necessarily because of that alone; it’s here because it was hugely influential to me growing up. I read this when it was released in 1998 (as with many books I read at that age, this was one that my Dad had bought and I found lying around the house – probably in the downstairs toilet – and decided to read because I liked the look of the woman on the cover. I know, I judged a book based on it’s cover. Nine-year old me was terrible.) and it helped me design a fantasy world in my head where politics, magic and swordplay really came alive and could feature altogether in the same book. I was only 9 when I read it, and it’s no surprise that I started writing fantasy novels when I was 12. Unlike Terry Pratchett (who I just didn’t understand when I was nine) it was seriously written, and I was hooked from the very beginning.

The premise is this: a young woman comes across a dying man in the forest, impaled by two arrows, and just before he dies he asks her to deliver the message he was unable to. The recipient? Oh just, you know, the King. She’s given some jewellery, and although reluctant to at first, she tries very hard to deliver the message – only, she’s pursued by cloaked assassins who seem hell-bent on killing her. You can see why she wouldn’t be so keen. This is the first in a series of Green Rider novels, and this is an absolute cracker, even as a standalone novel. If you like fantasy, definitely have a go at this one.

 

6. Charmed Life (Diana Wynne Jones)

Interesting fact: Diana Wynne Jones went to Oxford University and attended lectures by J.R.R. Tolkien – and if that wasn’t good enough, she also attended lectures by C.S. Lewis. So it’ll be no shock to anyone to know that she ended up becoming a very successful author of children’s fantasy fiction.

I must have read this first book in the Chrestomanci series aged 7 or 8. At the time, I was immersing myself in the best escapism I knew; books about magic, and strange faraway lands. I have read this countless times over the years, and even reading it again as an adult it just doesn’t lose its charm. It’s about sibling rivalry, classism and expectation, selfishness, and an aloof sorcerer known as Chrestomanci. I won’t spoil it too much for you, but the idea is that in this world you are born with magical talent, and that talent gives you privilege. Cat, the younger brother of talented witch Gwendolyn, has no magical powers. When they move in with an enchanter, Gwendolyn is unhappy that her talents aren’t recognised by him, whilst Cat feels as though he is disappointing to the enchanter because he lacks the same powers. Gwendolyn starts making plans that involve parallel worlds, and somehow Cat is caught up in the middle of it all.

I love the different characters, the way the dialogue flows so beautifully, and how Diana Wynne Jones constructs, seemingly effortlessly, this world that is a bit like ours but somehow more magical. It was another influential book on me growing up: to realise that magic and fantasy doesn’t just have to feature in a medieval-like world of kings, queens, knights and swords; it can be anywhere, even in a world like ours. How mind-opening is that as a kid?

 

5. The Thirty-Nine Steps (John Buchan)

I read this before watching the Hitchcock film – and I’m glad I did, because the film is brilliant too and I may have never read it in fear of not enjoying it as much! It’s rare to find that I love both the film and the book of something, and even rarer to love the play too! I saw this at the Criterion Theatre in London in 2011 or 2012 and it was laugh-out-loud hilarious. Slightly slapstick, and a comedy masterpiece.

The book though is a different kettle of fish. Published in 1915 (originally as a series of magazine articles) it follows Richard Hannay, an ordinary man whose life changes when a stranger is murdered in his house. Before he dies, the stranger tells him of a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister of Greece. Not wanting to be implicated for murder, and trusting nobody, Hannay steals the stranger’s coat, and evades German spies watching his apartment by leaving in disguise. He travels to Scotland, where he plans to hide out and decipher the notes in the stranger’s notebook; something about 39 steps. As with a classic war spy-thriller, he is tirelessly pursued by enemies, and tries to get the information he has to the right authorities before the assassination happens.

It’s a really short novel but has plenty of action, lots of cliff-hangers, and it just fast-paced and fun. It isn’t exactly award-winning prose, but then, it’s a good, entertaining read!

 

4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Philip K. Dick)

I absolutely ADORE Philip K. Dick. His short stories are incredibly thought-provoking, and he seems to create poignant psychological stories that are sucked from our deepest fears or thoughts. Famous for science fiction, he’s a master of dystopian fiction, and so many of his books have been made into films or tv series – for example, The Man in the High Castle was a recent Amazon Studios remake of his 1962 alternate history. Even more famous is Blade Runner, which is Hollywood’s version of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

If you’ve seen Blade Runner and didn’t like it, then don’t worry – the book is completely different. And if you did like Blade Runner, then you should be pretty excited about the upcoming release of Blade Runner 2049, I imagine? Ryan Gosling AND Harrison Ford?! I KNOW, I KNOW. Anyway, I digress.

This novel is based in post-apocalyptic San Francisco, and follows bounty hunter Rick Deckard as he pursues six renegade Nexus-6 androids in order to ‘retire’ them. There’s an issue though – humans and androids look identical and there’s no easy way to tell them apart – just some crummy test that appears to identify empathy through some pretty weird questions.

There are a number of themes in the book; it explores the psychological and sociological meaning of what it is to be human, it carefully touches on religious figures and the dangers of believing everything we are told, it looks at the class systems we create, and the value we attribute to material goods. And it ends abruptly, leaving you to think about everything you’ve just read – and trust me, you’ll be thinking about it for a while.

 

3. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami)

I’d never ever heard of Murakami before I randomly picked a copy of this up in the bookshop (not because I had a sudden urge to read Japanese novels; I’ll come clean. It’s because the cover had on it black, red and white minimalist drawings by Israeli graphic designer Noma Bar, artwork I recognised. I didn’t even pick it up for the words. I know, I am ashamed.) but I don’t regret it. After coo-ing over the gorgeous cover, I idly flicked through it, only to end up settling on a page, and – as with any good book – lost track of time a bit. I bought the book then and there, and honestly? I read it on the train home. I read it walking from the station to my street. I read it whilst I fumbled about for my keys. I read it on the sofa. I took lunch in to work and read it over my lunch break. I was addicted.

The plot is weird, I’ll be honest with you. A cat has gone missing, and the main protagonist’s wife might be down a well. Add in politicians, morbid teenagers, psychic prostitutes and a netherworld underneath Tokyo; yeah, this is a pretty surreal kind of detective story. But it does all tie together, and it does so beautifully. I think it’s the only book I’ve read as an adult that I genuinely couldn’t put down.

 

2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

This was my favourite book growing up, and I have re-read it so often. It started the wrong way round really, when I watched the BBC adaptation in 1995. I remember coming home from school and waiting excitedly for 8pm to come round so we could watch the latest episode; I fell in love with Jennifer Ehle’s hair, I hated Lydia and Charlotte, and I was just way too young to appreciate Colin Firth removing his shirt and jumping into a lake (at the time all I could think was – eww, isn’t he going to be really dirty now from all the dirt in the water? And did they not have Weil’s disease then? – I’d learned all about Weil’s disease when I did sailing in year 5, and it sounded horrific.). Once the series had ended, my mum used to read the original novel at night before we went to bed. I loved the way the language sounded, and even better, I loved the way that there was even more in the book that they’d shown on television – there were so many other characters! Who knew that Mr Bennet was actually really witty? And Charlotte was actually not that bad; she just prioritised different things in life. And Lizzie? Oh god, I wanted so much to be her.

I doubt I need to summarise the plot of Pride and Prejudice, but just for fun – this book charts the journey of proud Mr Darcy and prejudiced Miss Bennett as they learn to be less proud, less prejudiced, and end up falling madly in love with each other. Also, there are some other characters, many of whom are absolute farts but all of whom are charming in their own way.

If you’re one of those people that likes the idea of reading the classics but perhaps hasn’t actually managed to read many, toss aside Ulysses, Great Expectations and Moby Dick and try this one out for size. It’s hilariously witty, beautifully plotted, and the language isn’t too much of a barrier; it was published in 1813, so it isn’t modern, but as classics go it’s quite informal. Warning: you may fall madly in love with Elizabeth Bennet.

 

1. Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell)

I think I first read Nineteen Eighty-Four in my early teens, when I was incredibly depressed. I got quite into my dystopian fiction, reading Brave New World, War of the Worlds and The Chrysalids, which maybe didn’t help in making me any happier. None of these touched me in the same way as this book though. There is something about it; every time I read it, I notice something new. And once I’ve raced to the end, I begin looking around me in despair – but in that despair, I’m noticing the things I’m unhappy with and I’m addressing them.

This novel is where the phrase ‘big brother’ stems from; it’s based in a future authoritarian surveillance state. It’s a world of war, and manipulation, where even thinking the wrong thing can get you arrested. It’s a world where the government have invented Newspeak, and their leader – the famous Big Brother – might not even exist. Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth, where he rewrites articles and amends the news, but he actually hates Big Brother and the government and seeks the truth. On his quest for revolution, Winston faces a number of challenges. Will his hatred for the Party be discovered, and will he end up defeating Big Brother? Spoiler alert: he doesn’t, in fact, the opposite.

There are things happening today that make me want to go back and read this book again. All this nonsense about ‘alternative facts’; it’s so worrying. What I love about this book is how it explores the dark underbelly of all of us; betrayal, hatred, revenge, but mainly, control. It has political intrigue, psychology, spying, language. It’s a guidebook for the worst side in every right-wing party, and shows us how bad things can be, reminding us – me – that we need to fight to preserve the freedoms we DO have, and make sure we don’t slip into a world like this. Every re-read is a lesson in appreciation. In Newspeak, this book is “Double Plus Good”.

 

A pile of books

So, in summary, my top 10:

  1. Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell)

  2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

  3. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami)

  4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Philip K. Dick)

  5. The Thirty-Nine Steps (John Buchan)

  6. Charmed Life (Diana Wynne Jones)

  7. Green Rider (Kristen Britain)

  8. Mrs Dalloway (Virginia Woolf)

  9. The Scarlet Pimpernel (Baroness Emma Orczy)

  10. The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman)

 


PS. But what about [enter book title]?

A few of you might be wondering where these are, so here we go:


Harry Potter

The first book I absolutely ADORED. I loved the inventive world she submerges you in, and The Philosopher’s Stone is probably number 11 or 12 on my list. I did get a bit lost after about book six though – I felt like the books became less cleanly edited, and I enjoyed them less and less. I just didn’t find the time to read them all. I know there are probably loads of you screaming at your screen “WHYY WHYYY BUT NOW I HAVE TO HATE YOUUU” but there we have it – sorry JKR, if you ever read my little blog, but you sort of lost me a bit. It’s not to say I don’t like Harry Potter at all – as I say, the first book nearly made the final cut as it is so frigging good – she fits so much plot and creates such a gorgeously vivid world in such a (relatively) short novel.  Compare that to the overwhelmingly boring descriptions of trees in some fantasy books (yes, I am looking at you, J.R.R. Tolkien). Which leads me nicely onto:


Lord of the Rings

Okay, so, The Hobbit (a book for ‘children’) was one of the books my Mum used to read to me at bedtime when I was really tiny, and it is a wonderful read. It’s for kids in the same way that ice cream is – seriously, you can just appreciate it more when you’re older. The Hobbit as a book is probably in my top twenty best fiction books. But Lord of the Rings? Jeesh. Give me the films any day. I think I’d sooner fight Sauron one-on-one armed with just a jellied eel than force myself to sit down and read those long, yawn-inducing landscape descriptions and horrible archaic expressions that go on for, I don’t know, a million pages? I like the ideas, and I can appreciate the details – inventing a genuine Elvish language is pretty cool – but this is a series of books I can only think of using as a very effective doorstop. Or as a bourgeois form of torture for middle class convicts. Anyone who genuinely thinks that the Fellowship of the Ring is their favourite book is trying very hard to impress you with a book they probably haven’t actually read from cover-to-cover.


Any Roald Dahl

Oh, the lovely, quotable, witty Roald Dahl. It’s a shame he isn’t in my top ten. I love his books A LOT – I read Matilda and The BFG a lot as a child – but I just don’t feel they touched me in the same way as many of my top ten do. I love his wordplay, and I think he’s an incredibly talented author – I just don’t feel that they resonate as much. Perhaps they feel a bit too twee or nice – even the bit where Miss Trunchbull twirls the young lady round by her pigtails is written in a light and humorous way. Maybe I never took his books seriously enough – and maybe I should give a few of them another read to see how I feel, twenty years or so later.


The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Yes, you’re right. This definitely should have been in my top ten. It isn’t a very taxing read, but it is an important tale with MORALS. Eat all the delicious food, and you too will become a beautiful butterfly (actual words I say when I empty Hotel Chocolat of their entire supply of Honey and Pistachio mini-slabs. Mmmm).


Any Dr Seuss, but in particular ‘One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish’

I love Dr Seuss because he is totally bonkers. This nonsensical poem has always made me laugh, and I often find myself writing little Dr Seuss-style rhymes, but I thought you probably wouldn’t all take me very seriously if I’d included this one. In case you haven’t ever read it, I’ll quote you some at random (not, of course, that I know this sing-song poem off-by-heart):

Some are sad.
And some are glad.
And some are very, very bad.
Why are they
Sad and glad and bad?
I do not know.
Go ask your dad.
Some are thin.
And some are fat.
The fat one has
A yellow hat.

What a nutter. Thinking about it, perhaps I could knock out Virginia Woolf and replace her with Dr Seuss? She’ll never find out. It can be our secret.


Phew, we are finally at the end of an exhaustingly long post, all about one of my favourite things, books. Luckily for you that’s it – that’s my top ten fiction books!

What are your top ten faves? Any of them the same?

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Blank Page.

This was a short piece I wrote for ‘Tough and Tender: Volume One‘ by the Crybaby Collective (available to purchase via Lulu or Amazon.com)


The blank page.

Blank. Totally, unapologetically blank.

Fingers hovering above the keys, waiting — just waiting — for something brilliant to type. You’d like to type something brilliant. Something meaningful, that people will look at approvingly and think “Yes! This is me!” or frown at whilst internalising a shout of “I disagree!” — or they will be so incredibly moved by the profanity of what you’ve written that they will cry; heavy, choking, nasty tears. Or silent deadly ones that will slide down their face uncontrollably and they’ll hastily wipe away hoping nobody will notice.

The page is still blank.

You are hoping and willing for your brain to conjure up something so beautiful, something so brilliant.

Yet, inevitably, time goes on, and the page is still blank, still empty. You’ve got so much crammed in your head, but nothing wants to come out.


I remember a time when writing was a breeze. When I was seven, I fashioned a ‘night torch pen’, a tiny flashlight tied to a biro, which meant I could stay up until the small hours, scribbling away in one of the many notebooks I had to hand. All sorts of stories would pour out; tales of crazy Mayors, who only dressed in brown and held dinner parties for the local fishermen on a Tuesday, or stories of a cat that thought it was a fondant fancy. Half-written science-fiction novels that started with such vigour but ran out as soon as I realised I knew nothing about aeronautical engineering and that gravity was still a little bit of a puzzle to me. (I still to this day wonder how on earth the Millennium Falcon could come out of hyperspace into the area where Alderaan was supposed to be, and somehow it automatically adjusted for the change in gravity without leaving them splatted against the back of the cabin. I can explain that one to you over a glass of wine if you’d like to discuss further. I am truly a delight at dinner parties.)

I was told off at school frequently for not paying attention — because I was reading ahead, or because I was secretly writing away under the desk. I wrote a 6-part novel when I was 9 about a haunted house, which was based on a school trip we’d been on when I was 7, and I was sent to the headmaster’s office for not working. Instead, he read the entire thing over two hours (okay, 6-part novella, if you will) whilst I sat outside writing in yet another notebook, convinced I was in trouble. Eventually he called me in, told me quietly that I was very talented, and he was happy to read any other stories I’d written.

I started a fantasy thriller when I was 11. I submitted the first chapter — a graphic description of an elf being beheaded by a magician — into a competition for under-14s. It was, perhaps, a bit gory and in hindsight maybe a little more adult that the other entries might have been, but it was good enough to win. I got the impression that it blew most of the other entries completely out of the water. I had the story published, and was given an award, and I was incredibly proud of myself. I continued writing the fantasy thriller — in fact, I even rewrote and completely changed the first chapter. Award-winning or not, I had new ideas I wanted to inject into it. New characters, new approaches. I was buzzing with plotlines and imagined maps of this fantasy world I was creating.

If anyone was destined to spend the rest of their life writing, it was me. But did I? Absolutely not.

I can’t even begin to work out what happened. I was bursting with stories, and then I just seemed to run into some trouble. I wrote poetry and songs at university, and tinkered about with a story — which I wrote a good 75,000 words of. Then about five years ago — I just ran out. It’s like my brain just switched off. Am I an adult now? Was this inevitable? Or have I broken myself, somehow? And if I have, can I ever be repaired?


My fingers tentatively hover over the keys again. I have tried bringing it back, I have really, really tried. I’ve tried notebooks. I used to fill up hundreds of notebooks, with ideas or names or drawings of things that I liked. Now, I have hundreds of notebooks but they reflect what it feels like inside my head. They’re just empty, waiting to be filled, sadly knowing that they never will.

My heart aches slightly as I’m writing this, because I know it to be true. I know it to be the saddest secret I ever have. I still habitually buy notebooks because I know I have the want to fill them, but they just pile up and up and up, and I’m thinking about how much I want to write but how little I have left to say. They will never be filled, and I will never be fulfilled. And that is why I will always be thinking about the blank page. I will always allow my fingers to hover above the keys, as I think about how much I want to say and how I just can’t find the words to write.


This was originally published in February 2017 in’Tough and Tender: Volume One‘ by the Crybaby Collective (available to purchase via Lulu or Amazon.com).
All profits made from the anthology are going to Planned Parenthood.


Why i started blogging (again)

When I was a lot younger, I used to keep a diary.

I kept a diary – detailing every single irrelevant detail of my life (“went to Tesco today and picked up four bananas from aisle 3“) – until I was about 13 or 14 when I realised that I kept re-reading and reliving some terrible things that had happened to me. Childhood trauma (and the Day of the Regrettable Diary Burning when I was 16) aside, I moved on to livejournal (name me a 90s child who didn’t?) and used to update it regularly under a poorly-chosen pseudonym. I kept it until university, when suddenly documenting every thought became something Facebook was used for.

That’s right, I am calling Facebook nothing other than a diary. So sue me.

Other than the occasional Medium post, and a couple of terrible attempts at blogging in the past, I’ve sort of avoided it. UNTIL…early 2016, when I started setting up Quirk & Folly, in an attempt to write more regularly, and document my discovery of modern pinup fashion and my descent from “depressed oddball adult trying to fit in (please don’t notice me)” to “brightly-dressed human who refuses to blend in – come over here and say that to my face”.

Sadly, I had a bit of a tumultuous year, and pretty much failed to get past the “ta-da! I’m ready to post something” bit. I have had a few awful things happen in my life, ranging from relationship traumas to illness in the family. 2016 wasn’t just a car crash in politics; it was pretty traumatic for me on a personal level too. My annus horribilis continues into 2017 – however, I’ve revived my blog, and this time I aim to start doing this properly.

It’s going to be a challenge to make the time to post, but it’s something I’m going to work hard to do. Here’s hoping it’ll be a year of positivity and writing, and not a year of disappointment and excuses.

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