Weekly Newsletter – issue 03


Issue 03 : 12 June 2017


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. 

Oh my goodness, WHAT a week. I’m not sure I could do a weekly summary without mentioning the UK election. Unless you’ve been living under a rock this week (probably very happy and blissfully unaware of this strange new world that is unfolding around us) you’ll know that it was the UK general election on Thursday. And what a nail-biter it was too!

Election chat:

Short story: Imagine it’s a few months ago. Theresa May (UK Prime Minister) is ahead in the popularity polls, and unexpectedly – after denying that she’ll call a general election – calls a general election in a thinly-veiled attempt to try and gain a further majority to push through some horrendous legislation. She refuses to debate the leader of the opposition on television. Both manage to eat hot dogs and bacon sandwiches without being made into memes. The country is pleased that Jeremy Corbyn under Labour will offer free school meals and a fully-costed manifesto, although they are a bit worried about money matters (who isn’t?). They go to the polls on Thursday to cast their vote. The election coverage starts at 10pm, and it all seems to be normal; everyone is expecting a Tory majority.

When SUDDENLY – this mad-looking chap called John Curtice appears, and tells everyone that the exit poll predicts a hung parliament. There is plenty of “oh but the exit poll might be wrong” and “well, you never know with these polls” – and everyone is STILL shocked when Labour gain over thirty seats. THIRTY. And the Tory party lose seats. It’s a hung parliament, meaning there is no overall winner, and everyone is very British about it. Confused about what happens next (Tory and DUP coalition? But they want to remove abortion, and think Creationism should be taught as scientific fact, and don’t believe in climate change – what madness is this?) it looks like everyone has lost the election.

So here we are, in this weird place where our politicians are confused, we’re confused, and nobody knows what on earth is going on. ISN’T POLITICS FUN.

I, for one, screamed in joy at the exit poll and danced up the hallway. Because in a harsh world that continues to horrify me, these small things (like half the British people realising that the Tories might not be the good guys, and Comey’s frank testimony to congress over in the U.S.) fills me with hope. And as a bleeding-heart liberal, hope is about all I’ve got.

Trump chat:

I do recommend watching at least the highlights of Comey’s testimony. It’s very interesting to listen to – but he does also say some fantastically weird things, besides “I can’t answer that in an open setting” over and over again. One of my favourites was, “I worried it was like feeding seagulls at the beach.”. He also quotes Henry II: “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

It’s worth a watch. A fascinating insight into the Trump administration.

Other news:

Beyond biting my nails down to the quick thanks to one hell of a week in politics (students in 50 years time are going to have fun analysing 2015-2017 aren’t they?) I haven’t done an awful lot this week. I’ve been working on a podcast with someone, which is quite good fun, but I still haven’t quite nailed the whole being-in-front-of-a-microphone thing. Is there anyone out there who actually likes the sound of their own voice!?

I’ve also been watching the original Twilight Zone from the 50s. I’ve been putting off watching it for a while, but now I.AM.HOOKED. They are such lovely 25-minute shorts, all with a sci-fi theme to them. Considering they are 60 years old now (gulp) they are still very relatable, and thoroughly fascinating. Growing up with Hollywood of the 80s and 90s, I’ve been trained to expect the plot beats, Save The Cat style, but these always seem to surprise me. The pilot episode had me guessing all the way through, and I really didn’t see that end coming. Please someone, watch the Twilight Zone too, so I can excitedly talk about it with you!

> The Twilight Zone, Season One (1959)


Mark Devenport: ‘DUP deals and dialogue: where are we now?’

Anthony J. Williams : ‘making sense of white domestic terrorism’

The School Of Life: ‘How To Be Sad’ (video)

Sarah Schuster: ‘Texts To Send Someone With Depression’

Tobias Stone: ‘Trump has damaged America, not the environment’

Elizabeth Gilbert: ‘Fear is boring, and other tips for living a creative life’

Nathan Hill: ‘The Nix’ (book)


This week, the Madrid transport authorities tackled a problem that is quite close to my heart: manspreading. In case you’re linguistically curious, in Spanish, they translate that as ‘El Manspreading’. (I’m personally pretty disappointed that they didn’t just make up their own attractive-sounding word; ‘el hombre-extensión’ or, even better, ‘persona-untada’.)

They’ve not gone as far as to make it illegal, but they have put signs up all over the metro asking people to take up their fair share of seat. I only wish they’d bring the same signage over here, as it’s not really the height of summer yet and I’m already at my limit of sweaty strangers’ legs. I was surprised to learn this week that there doesn’t seem to be any similar signage anywhere else in the word, beyond a more generic “don’t be rude, dude” which has popped up on the NYC metro.

I did however discover that -whilst manspreading seems to be okay to do everywhere but Madrid – kissing on the train carries a penalty fine of £42 in Austria. They classify kissing as ‘discourteous behaviour’, which I think is a pretty weird definition of kissing. Eating smelly food? Fine. Putting your feet on the seats? Sure, be my guest. A polite peck on the lips at the end of a date night? ABSOLUTELY NOT.

It’s also outlawed in Eboli in Italy, where kissing in a moving vehicle can incur a fine of up to £415. No, I’m not sure how they reached that number either.

“Kissing must be stamped out!”
“But how much shall we fine those rude individuals who flaunt the rules?”
“How about £40?”
“What are you on, Roberto? I was thinking more…£345?”
“That seems a bit too random. How about £400?”
“Seems a bit…too rounded to me. And I don’t like zeros. Don’t ask me why – probably some childhood trauma.”
“Okay…um, £425?”
“Way too much!”
“£415?”
“Hm, okay. I guess that sounds okay. Of course, nobody will question a fine with such a random amount.”
“I guess it’s quite romantic to chance a £415 fine for the person you love.”
“You disgust me, Roberto.”


A post shared by Beth Evans (@bethdrawsthings) on

in the beginning

A post shared by Poorly Drawn Lines (@poorlydrawnlines) on

 

Support bras by @gemmacorrell #supportbras #gemmacorrell #illustration

A post shared by Ohh Deer (@ohhdeer) on


 

I have no idea where they’ve all come from, but I suddenly have A LOT of brooches. And is that a surprise when cute bonsai brooches like this exist?! I was quite excited when Lottie & Lu launched, selling Baccurelli, Erstwilder and Deer Arrow brooches to us poor sods in the UK whom might otherwise have to deal with expensive import fees – finally, somewhere I can go to get my weird and wonderful brooches! I’m in love with the Japanese collection from Erstwilder, in particular this sweet bonsai brooch, with a little red background. This striking beauty is available from the Lottie & Lu website for £22.

‘Breathtaking Bonsai’ from Erstwilder (via Lottie & Lu)

Oh my goodness – how amazing is this dress?! I am particularly in love with the red, but it turns out there are loads of other colours available on the UV website, including a lovely polka dot. I’m normally not a huge fan of halterneck dresses (as I, um, struggle without a bra, and I think bra straps ruin the look somewhat!) but I love the way this one crosses over at the front, which seems to be a bit more supportive. And I adore the shape, and the flare! Simple, but beautiful. It’s only $78 direct from Unique Vintage, but that might incur some customs fees, which can be quite steep for me in the UK. I found this red version available at Deadly Is The Female, which is a gorgeous store based in Frome, Somerset, which also has a speedy online counterpart. They deliver DPD too (I avoid Yodel like the plague) and their customer service is second to none, so I thoroughly recommend them!

> For UK buyers, ‘Rita’ is still available from Deadly Is The Female for £90 in sizes Medium to XL

caitlin-swing-dress

Anyone who knows me well will know that my wardrobe is pretty much 90% Collectif clothing. Which isn’t exactly surprising, when they keep releasing cute prints like this one! The blue is such a lovely mid-blue, and it’s covered in teeny anchors and helms. A subtle but summery nautical dress. I love their thicker belts too! Sadly, I can’t justify buying this blue dream (yet) as I splashed out on the Jade dress recently, as well as a Jasmine skirt. Here are fingers and toes crossed that this pops up in a sale sometime soon…

This is available in sizes 6 to 22 (the wide range of sizes is one thing I am especially fond of Collectif for!) and is £51. Collectif delivery is £5.50, but is IS DPD, which is one of the more reliable couriers.

> The ‘Caitlin’ Nautical Swing Dress is available direct from the Collectif website


 

In the dark, ALWAYS watch your shadow.

The other night, I was walking home from the station. It’s so dark in the evenings now, and cold, and I was looking forward to getting in, pulling off my ridiculously beautiful but incredibly restricting ankle boots, crawling into my jammies and familiarising myself with a delicious bar of Hotel Chocolat 70% orange flavoured dark chocolate. Mmmm.

I was minding my own business, listening to some Clean Bandit and generally having a great (cold) time thinking about how cold penguins’ feet must get and shouldn’t we send them socks when it gets really cold?, when I pass the lamp-post and I notice an extra shadow. This shadow doesn’t bob in time to me, and as my shadow spreads ahead with the outline of my bag, this new shadow it somewhat streamlined and clearly does not belong to me. I casually glance into the window of the car next to me, using the reflection to subtly take a peek at the owner of the streamlined shadow, and there’s a gentleman with a scarf around his face walking uncomfortably hot on my heels.

To be fair, it was freezing cold and no doubt he was just eager to get home and willing to ignore the British social convention of ‘keep back at least 5 paces’. Just to be sure nothing was going on here, I act as if I hadn’t just sneaked a peak at him and mildly panicked – and I cross the road. My headphones are hidden underneath my scarf/hat, and better than a female James Bond I pretend to caress my ear and as my hand travels back down I tug the headphones out from my phone.

Suddenly it becomes deadly silent. It’s weird how music can give you this false sense of security; like you’re in a musical and any minute some dancing kangaroos are going to conga out from behind a tree singing something about how much better summer is. Instead, I hear my heart thumping and the quick steps of someone behind me.

Shit, I think. He’s crossed the road. There are cars lined up along the road and I use the glass to check. Yep – still hot on my heels. Dammit.

Now I’m not sure whether it’s coincidence or not. Maybe he lives on this side of the road, and it JUST so happened we crossed at the same time? My brain is running through all the excuses, trying to find one that convinces me to stop worrying about it.

No chance. I’ve quickened my pace; his has quickened too. No doubt left. He’s following me.

I gulp back the metallic taste of adrenalin in my mouth and force myself to stop panicking. It dawns on me that there are three options. 1) He’s genuinely on his way home. 2) He’s going to try to mug me. 3) He’s going to chop me up into tiny bits and feed me to his rabbit.

So far, it seems like option 1 is increasingly unlikely, and option 3 is a little far-fetched. The road is well-lit until right at the end, when you’re suddenly plunged into darkness. This was the bit I was concerned about, really. This was, as I had always thought when walking home, a prime spot to jump someone – out of the way of CCTV and after dark it was pitch black so even if you were filming it, you wouldn’t see anything.

I walk past the penultimate lamp-post and glance down at our competing shadows. The distance between us has narrowed. He’s definitely catching up, but I doubt he’ll do anything until I hit the corner. I look ahead – about twenty yards. Right. I’m walking briskly, but not quite power walking; I don’t think he’s twigged that I might have caught on to him and I don’t want to make it too obvious.

Ten yards. I walk past the last lamp-post – he’s even closer. My heart is in my mouth. Questions run through my head; what if he takes my Foyles loyalty card? What if he uses up all the points I’ve collected? What if he takes my Westfield VIP card and uses my 20% discount whilst I’m left crying at the counter begging for the salad man at Tossed to not charge me the full amount? What if he runs off with my whole bag, keys included, and I freeze to death and in the morning a dog discovers me when he starts licking the huge icicle that’s suddenly materialised at the side of the road?

Five yards. And suddenly –

I SPRINT.

My Foyles loyalty card is on the line here, and I take that really fucking seriously. My bag is banging against my spine as I run, and it really hurts, but i’m trying to ignore it. I can hear that he’s started running too – there are four slapping shoe-meets-pavement sounds. I am properly panicking – but there’s a road just 30 yards away, and I’m running for it like my life depends on it. Like my VIP discount card depends on it. I’ve probably got less than a second on him, and that’s not a lot of time considering I’m weighed down with my bag. I only have to get past the pitch black 15 metres and then I’m exposed to the bright lights of a main street again.

I don’t think he counted on me begin able to sprint, because luck has it that I make it to the road, and I hear him slow down and stop suddenly behind me, when the slapping sounds of shoes on the pavement halves from four to two. SLAP, SLAP, SLAP, SLAP. I don’t stop running. I wave breathlessly at the car who had to screech to a halt at the zebra crossing  and the driver who (probably quite rightly) waves back with his middle finger. I don’t care – I am back in the light and I am ALIVE.

Not rabbit food tonight, Mister Mugger.

I run all the way to the door. Tears are streaming down my face, but that’s mostly because it’s fucking cold and the frozen air is blowing straight into my eyes. I can’t really see, but I can make out the pavement through my blurry vision.

I get to the door, and brave a look back.

Nothing. Nobody. Just one mad woman, me, breathlessly panicking at the front door, and cars gliding along the road as though nothing happened. And, to be fair to them, nothing actually did happen.

I let myself in, I sit on the stairs, and I sadly retrieve a popped bag of popcorn from my bag. There is crushed popcorn absolutely everywhere, and I spend days afterwards trying to get bits of it out of the lining of my handbag.


A true story. Originally written in February 2017 on a really fucking cold night.


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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Commute like a total nutter with this one weird tip

Mile End in rush hour is like the next level down from Hell where even Satan refuses to go to; throngs of people armed with what seems like a million suitcases, and armies of commuter clones ready to elbow you out of the way for the benefit of added room for their Starbucks extra-wet skinny soya mocha-latte.

I arrive to the central line platform of Hell at the beginning of rush hour this morning to find the expected crowds are somewhat larger than usual, thanks to a well-timed signal failure.
Figuring I am at the back of a queue of about 500 angry now-late Eastenders, I pop out for a cheeky coffee whilst the queues subside slightly.

30 minutes later, fully caffeinated and ready for some commuter action, I saunter downstairs and wait patiently for the train to arrive on the, now significantly emptier, platform.

The train pulls in — and I am pleasantly surprised to spot a seat available in the middle of a row. Hungry for the touch of that worn, soft, blue fabric that has graced the derrières of thousands of strangers, I gingerly approach, warding off any other seat predators with my best ‘don’t fuck with me’ expression. There aren’t many, so I just look like a mildly disturbed young woman (which is not far from true).
With an expert precision known only to regular Central Line travellers, I twist about and tuck myself into my seaty prize without headbutting the pole. Win.

Immediately, I register a problem. No, it is not the seat itself — which is, it had to be said, just averagely sticky at the edges and only mildly stained.

No, it is a lot worse than that. The large (and by this, I mean tall and broad and with the mean look of someone who could knock a man dead just by tapping his shoulder) businessman next to me has a problem. Which is now my problem too.

This man is a very serious manspreader.
I mean, THE WORST.
Imagine you measured every manspreader in history with a metre stick to mark the distance between the knees: this man would require at least four metre sticks, and is definitely in the upper percentile of gentlemen-whose-legs-are-extremely-wide-apart-when-seated-on-public-transport.
The distance between New York and Beijing would have nothing on this guy; he is virtually running his own airline from knee to knee. Each leg has its own ecosystem.

Initially, feeling that my personal space is being violated by these offending ecosystems, I privately bubble with fury over how selfish and inconsiderate he is being. I find myself getting increasingly angry at the touch of his enormous knee on mine. His patella is doing an excavation to find my hip bone, and it was in every way just as bad as it sounds. It hurts.

Then I have a thought. Why am I just sitting here and letting it happen? Am I not becoming part of the problem if I just sit back, silently infuriated, and allow this kind of behaviour to happen?

London, it was time to make a stand. I do what I’m sure every one of us poor individuals imposed on by these power-high twitheads has always wanted to do, but felt too angry and violated and British about the whole thing to do so.

I TACKLE THE MANSPREADER. HEAD-ON (or leg-on, whatever) in the most passive-aggressive way I can possibly think of.

I widen my legs (luckily I am not wearing a skirt) (actually, so what if I am? I have nothing to hide and that would just add extra drama to my story) and gently nudge my thigh back into his enormous leg — which is no small feat, I tell you.
And because he was just so large and so imposing, just for extra points I push out my elbows. Just slowly, so it isn’t too obvious.

And just like that — war has been declared.

In retaliation, he pushes his knee into mine and the silent battle well and truly begins. I respond by sitting further back in my seat and widening my legs even further. Then everyone else gets off the tube and we’re both still sat there, many other seats now available but still pushing knees. His leg starts shaking so I guess at least he’s putting some effort into it.

This continues for a number of stops. I think about all the empty seats opposite us and dream of a parallel world where I had got on a different carriage and was having a nice, uneventful journey to work. Instead, I am locked in an endless battle of pride and strength with a total stranger, neither of us willing to just give up and move to one of the many, many beautiful empty blue seats around us.
It’s gross; his leg is so firmly wedged into mine that our femurs are basically kissing.

I eventually realise that like true war, this was not going to be won by the troops downstairs. (In fact, my knee is beginning to hurt a bit. And anyway, by this time my legs are so far apart I’m virtually doing the splits. On the Central Line. It’s very uncomfortable.)

No, this needed to be won through charm and diplomacy.

I tap his knee with my finger.
“Do you mind?” I say, edging my knee further into his.

His head snaps up like one ugly balding Jack-in-the-box and he glowers at me furiously. “Yeah, I do actually.”

“Well maybe you could consider how much space you’re taking up.”

He looks incredulous. Oh good, I think. Touched a nerve. Excellent.

And it then descends into everyone’s childhood.
“Maybe YOU should!” He gesticulates at my lap.

I shrug. “You set the example, I’m just imitating it.”

“But you’re on my side of the seat!”

Laughable, because I point out where the line between the two seats should be, were it not for his leg/bottom/existence. (If I could do the emoji face for how I felt right then it would be the squinty grinning face with those little tears of laughter coming from both eyes.) “Actually, see, I’m not,” I reply. “You’ve imposed yourself on both sides around you. That woman to your left has been squashed into the glass. And you’ve actually moved your legs closer since I pointed it out.”

He pauses. “And so what if I am?”
He shoves his knee back into mine. (Mature.)

“Wow. I’m not sure I’ve sat next to someone before with such a total lack of respect for the people around them.”

“And I don’t think I’ve sat next to such a total nutter before. Justify it, so what if I am?”

“Well, I think it could be viewed as sexist if you’re imposing yourself into women’s personal space because you think you can get away with it. I bet you wouldn’t be acting this rudely if I were a large burly man.”

Silence. He looks at me, and it is not a glare, it actually looks like a mixture of embarrassment and horror.

I break the silence.
“You’ve never been pulled up on this before have you.”

Small pause. “No.”

I move my legs back to a normal seating position, and in a voice reserved for only those in which I am EXTREMELY disappointed, I say, “Well, next time be a bit more considerate of those sat next to you.”

The train comes to a stop at the next station.
And wordlessly, he gets off.


Originally written in 2016. Whilst nobody was harmed in the making of this story, some egos may have been.


Pudding.

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)


1.

 

I saw her lying there, beckoning with one finger

a dark lock of her dark hair carelessly caressing her temple.

I knew what she wanted. I could see. She was hungry, but so was I.

 

She was belly-up, round folds of skin with dark creases

melting into the armchair.

Her jumper hoisted up by its rough fabric, but not tweed

Inexpensive. Patchy in places.

but not her smooth velvety skin. Soft, and gently rolling.

 

She was exposed and alone and I wanted to look away but I was addicted to the plush shirring of her body

I wanted to tell her, but her warm creamy thigh was flashing like a beacon and I can’t tear my eyes away from the freckle that winks as she flexes her leg.

Her eyes, oh her eyes. Melting my core with a complicated deep chocolate streak and the burning green fire iris.

The wicked flames burn something within me; a soft and delicate centre that oozes perverted leering and drips with saliva and wit.

Her eyes are locked onto me and finally

 

yes, just like that

 

but more, I need more

 

she gently leans forwards, and I eagerly lean up towards her to glimpse the gaping neckline as it drops towards me and


2.

 

Once again the unstopping mechanism we call time whiles away my day

and we arrive home exhausted, tumbled through the vacuum packed train that aches and groans across the city.

The smog rolls off me as I roll off my uniform and discard it uncaringly on the floor, where it will lie forlorn until Thursday.

The pause as I unthinkingly do it again. We. That word. That loaded, cruel word.

We were two letters, joined together, only making sense as a couple, a duo. Like us, just two letters, but so warm and tender with intimacy.

I am the single lonely letter, always detached and always flying solo.

My heart reaches out to you with every afflicted limb but I’m torn apart and there is no limb left.

I’m just an echo where there used to be a person and a voice, but now there is just a shadowy reminder that I existed.

 

Stop it.

 

I feel it, I burn with desire but I self-douse with a shower of guilt and fading memories of we, of us

of once two letters, now one.

I am starved of you but learning what it means to be without you.

 

Stop it.

 

Casting my eyes about the room, my amatory senses awaken. I prepared for this. I fucking prepared.

A conquest to be had, an affair to be met and forgotten: my aphrodisiac knight in shining armour, my sick fantasy.

I lick my lips and sink into the forgiving armchair and I forget to judge myself, but I’m judging the sweet divine pudding of my dreams staring back at me.

No longer I, but back to me. Now us, now we. I already have a fork in my hand, and there is no time for flirting. I’m an uncouth, capricious delinquent with no time for manners, I lean forwards, and I cry like a baby as I devour you whole.


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.


It’s my birthdate anniversary…yet another year bites the dust!

I can only wish that my birthday will be as pink and minty as this gorgeous photograph.

Tomorrow marks the very last day of my 28th year, which has definitely been a year of ups and downs. Some very major downs, but also some pretty good times. So I thought it might be a nice opportunity to think about the past year and what I’ve achieved.

In my head, I am still 25 years old; I still carry a Young Person’s Railcard, I still get annoyed at being asked to show ID at the supermarket when trying to buy a bottle of Malbec (“It’s Malbec for goodness sake! It’s £15! Do you think I’d be buying something so ridiculously expensive if I was still relying on a student loan?! Do you seriously think 20 year olds can afford to buy wine from Waitrose? Do you see any baked beans in amongst the quinoa and chia seeds and gluten-free sourdough? Do you??”), and I still have my whole life ahead of me to figure everything out.

In reality, I’m not 25. I don’t get cheaper rail fares, and I get hit full whack every time I travel (note: this does not hurt any less as years go by. I can’t wait to be old; I am going to travel by public transport ALL THE TIME.). Nowadays, people so rarely ID me, that I am beginning to worry about the lines forming around my eyes and on my forehead. When I do actually get asked for ID, it’s actually a little embarrassing because I can never remember if I remembered to bring any along with me. The last time, I was in Morrison’s buying a small bottle of bourbon because, being very middle class, it was needed in a recipe for Cranachan our host was making for a Burn’s Night dinner party. “ID?” asked the woman. I fumbled for it, and asked brightly: “That’s very kind of you to ask. How young do I look?” She looked at me as if I was completely mad, and said “I don’t know, like, 19?”. And here’s the thing – inside, I did a happy dance. And yes, I know 19 is still over 18, but she thought I might have been an edge case. And I felt COMPLIMENTED, genuinely. She even managed to look a little bit embarrassed when she checked my age, but I didn’t care. It’s actually nice for people to think you look young, and it’s when you’re not a spring chicken anymore you finally appreciate that.

As for having my whole life ahead of me, I read a slightly depressing Wait But Why article that made me wonder whether I should begin to life a bit more of a death anxiety lifestyle.

How petrifying is this?! This is your life in weeks. Every square is one week of your life. Everything you put off for one week is just eating up another one of those little life blocks.

I’m probably a fifth into the red ‘career’ section, and actually, I am doing okay. Mostly because: I like my job. I genuinely do. But I feel a calling for something more creative, and I don’t believe in birthdays being anything more than a chance to look back at the previous year, and plan ahead a bit. Maybe this is a wake-up call for me to do something before I get to the purple section of ‘retirement’ and realise that I wasted time.


Seven positive things I’ve done during my 28th year

  • I removed myself from some toxic relationships. Friends, partners; people that made me feel bad about myself and encouraged negative thought patterns. I’ve removed more friends from Facebook this year than I ever have, and feel so much better for it. I ended a relationship that was bad for the both of us, and am going through the necessary but difficult process of formally ending it; I’ve completed the first step to making a fresh start on my life.
  • I’ve found my style, and it continues to develop. I’ve been experimenting for the past couple of years with retro styling, and have amassed a gorgeous wardrobe of fancy pants 50s style vintage reproduction clothing. This has been huge for me. Not only does finding clothes that fit me give me more confidence, but complete strangers now compliment me on my style, ask me where I buy things from, and tell me that my style “suits me”. I’ve never had this before. I’ve always hidden from the world in poorly-fitting, grungy, eclectic clothing that made me feel awkward.
  • I made space. I adored having a lodger, but after a few years it was time for a clean break. I’ve been on my own, and I’ve discovered how to fill time and space with things that I love. I’m making my spare room into the office of my dreams, and it now has two desks in it; one for writing, and another longer one for crafting and making artwork. I’m learning how to be on my own, and curate my home with the things I like. I’ve made the space to reconnect with myself, and I feel so much better for it.
  • I’ve made my job my own. I run a small software development team, and I love it. This year, I’ve focussed on hiring the right people, and encouraging an atmosphere of healthy work-life balance, and creating gorgeous interfaces that are used by the whole organisation on a daily basis. I’m constantly learning how to be the best manager I can, and I’m trying to improve myself. This past year, I’ve learned how to pick my battles better. I’ve learned how to reframe, rephrase and rethink. I inject as much creativity into my work as possible, and I’m doing my job, on my terms – and in making it mine, I’m tackling the grey cloud of imposter syndrome that sits right above me, and slowly, it’s evaporating away.
  • I’ve made new friends. I absolutely adore the supportive community of pinups and artists on Instagram, and the Etsy resolution alumni on Facebook. People are wonderful, and sometimes you come across creative and wonderful communities of people that are just like you! I’m ever thankful to all these people I’ve befriended over the past year.
  • I am less scared. I am an incredibly private person, but I’m trying to unlearn that. I’ve been sharing more and more about my life, and I am less scared about being open. I share my mental health stories and my daily outfits on Instagram, and I do not feel ashamed or nervous, and I’m not chasing likes. I do it to share. I’m also less scared about what happens when I say ‘no’. I used to think that saying no to things was always the wrong decision as I felt you might miss out on something. Thing is, if you’re choosy about what you say yes to, it means so much more to those things you DO end up doing.
  • I finally got POTS diagnosed. I’ve been fainting a lot ever since I was a kid, and FINALLY I got my diagnosis – postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. Basically, when I stand up for longer than about five minutes, my heart stops, my blood pressure drops, and I pass out. Cool, huh? The nice thing about a diagnosis is that I can understand why it happens, and take steps to prevent it. And because it’s a diagnosed condition, I have a medical reason to avoid rush hour; if I can’t sit down for a journey longer than ten minutes, then I can’t travel.

Four less positive things that have happened during my 28th year

  • I lost a furry friend. The lovely, hilarious cairn terrier I grew up with finally passed away. He was such a character; incredibly boisterous, very grumpy, and very patient.
  • Family illness. My mum had a heart bypass last year, and there were a few terrifying months for us as a family as she suffered complication after complication. My grandmother was also diagnosed with cancer, and they’re unable to tell us how long she has because they can’t do a biopsy. (To be fair, she is about a million years old.)
  • Gynaecological health problems. I’ve been having health issues of my own, mostly because my body has been weirdly out of sync. At the moment, I’m having full-on periods every two weeks, with acute period pains and bleeding pretty much every.single.day. It has felt like hell. They think it may be endometriosis, which sounds right, but they’re taking their sweet time actually diagnosing me properly.
  • The lows have been really low. I’ve had a few dips this year, sometimes so severe that I can’t physically talk or move. I suffer from a potent cocktail of depression, anxiety and body dysmorphia, and when it gets bad, it gets BAD.

So I guess now that I’ve reflected a bit, I guess I should consider my goals for the next year.

I don’t believe in ‘thirty before thirty’ lists, because life is pressure enough as it is; why add more reasons to make yourself feel like a failure?! However, I do believe in measurable and considered aims. Having a set of goals means I can look back and see what I need to be working harder to do and may even give me an insight into the things that I THINK I want to do, but don’t actually end up doing.


Seven goals for my 29th year

  • Be a better friend. Remember birthdays, remember when the big things happen. And keep better in touch with the people I care about.
  • Read more. I have so many books I want to finish, but I never seem to make the time. It can’t be that difficult to squeeze an extra 20 minutes a day in, can it?
  • Finally set up my Etsy shop. I’ve been considering this for years. I should take the plunge this year and actually sell some of the artwork I spend hours making.
  • Write more. Whether that’s blogging, entering competitions, whatever it is – write more if it. I had two pieces published in February and it would be amazing to get another published before the end of this year.
  • Make the most of mornings. I sometimes get up at 11am and go to bed at past midnight. I actually function better on more sleep, so I think it’s time to address the inner student in me; if I get up early, I can meditate, do yoga and stretches, and eat some breakfast at a leisurely pace. If I don’t, I miss breakfast entirely, and rely on caffeine to propel me through to lunchtime. It’s immature, and I just need to kick myself up the bum and sort out my life like an adult.
  • Drink less caffeine. I drink way too much, and I know it is bad for anxiety sufferers. I’ve been cutting down recently, and now I have mostly decaffeinated. I don’t feel too much different, which suggests that I don’t really need the extra caffeine boost. In case scientific research is correct and caffeine can lengthen your life, I guess one cup a week is a nice compromise, no?
  • Take better care of myself. I recently saw a physiotherapist, which made me realise how much I’ve been avoiding taking care of number one. If I want to make it to old age, I need to be healthier. I should be walking 10k+ steps a day, jogging at least twice a week, and doing something like yoga classes to stretch and keep myself in shape. I know that’s unrealistic if it isn’t a habit though. So, my goal? An average of 10k steps a day, and jogging once a week.

And that’s it! Seem like too little? Too much? What would your seven goals be? I’d love to know!

Anyway, I have far too much cake to be eating, too much gin to be ID’d buying, and the most enormous pile of presents to open (she hopes!). Here’s to a year of fun, success, and chocolate!

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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.

image of my signature