Friday, 24 July 2015

Things and Stuff #19

Things and Stuff is a grab-bag of things that've been on my mind this week. In this edition: utter loathing, a silver lining, and three random nice things

Thing 1: I hated Only Ever Yours, and here is why

[Trigger warning, and spoiler for what I'm about to say: fictional sexual and emotional abuse, but mostly self-image problems and fatshaming, so much fatshaming I can barely breathe, so much I swear it has given me an actual crick in my neck from spending so much time recently feeling furious and upset.]

Only Ever Yours is The Handmaid's Tale for teenagers, so you know it's going to be pretty grim. And it is: this is a universe in which terrible, terrible things are completely normal. This is a universe where girls are groomed literally their entire lives to be perfect, submissive, blank slates. When they turn 16 they will become either wives who are killed at 30, or sex slaves who last less long than that, or sexless teachers who impose these same things on younger girls until they drop dead...

And the absolute worst thing the main character or anyone else in this world can imagine happening to them is to end up looking like me.

KILL IT WITH FIRE (c) Louise O'Neill. This is presented out of context by necessity, but also I think reading it out of context may be the closest you can get to experiencing it the way I did...
I understand that the book is meant to be condemning this attitude, making it so extreme as to be ridiculous, mirroring the thoughts of an anorexic person onto an entire culture to show how absurd the whole thing is. I understand that it's a dystopia and in that context of course the main character would feel like that. I understand.

But excuse me if I don't care. Excuse me if I can't quite focus on the worldbuilding while reading the point of view of a character who believes I am so disgusting I do not deserve to live.

This is not theoretical. When it's as constant as this, it just stops being about the context. I don't care what the author was trying to do. What she actually did was write phrases like 'nobody will ever love a fat girl' over and over and over again. What she did was have her main character be so obsessed with her weight that she does herself an injury, and violently humiliate girls who put on a few pounds (leaving me wondering what the hell these people would do if they saw me - quite possibly have a heart attack and die, which would be fine by me). 

You are god damn right I'm taking this personally. 

I think the real problem is that when it comes to this aspect of the book, this is not some wild dystopian fantasy she's presenting here. This is what people really think.

If you are not fat, you might not know this, or might not care. But this is exactly what people think about people like me. And it's not just airbrushed supermodels in all the magazines and hateful scum on the internet: in a Yougov survey I took recently, about 70% of respondents agreed that people like me should be refused medical care until they lost weight.

Refused. Medical. Care.

I respect people, especially other fat people, who can read this book and simply see its obsession with how disgusting we are as a cautionary tale of where society could go. I totally respect people who can be disturbed by the book as a whole, and tut, and say how awful, we should feel sympathy for these girls because they are victims.

I am not that person. I hated this book and I hated all the characters, and it was a reaction of pure self-preservation, because they hated me first. If I had bought it in paperback instead of ebook I would probably burn it, not because it was a bad book that nobody should ever read, but because I feel the need to exorcise it from my life.

(I really didn't need the abrupt and shallow gay panic section either - yet another example of 'oooooh look at my fancy subtext' without anything to back it up - or the utter lack of any redeeming features in any of the female characters who we actually get to spend any time with, that is until the one good boy comes along and shows the painfully stupid main character the error of her bitchy ways. To be honest, the nihilism of it all struck me as profoundly unfeminist in places. But y'know, mostly the fat thing.)

Thing 2: the silver lining

I've read more in the couple of weeks since I finished Only Ever Yours than I have in ages. I don't know if it's because my day job and my sideline both involve so much written fiction, or what, but reading for pleasure had started to feel a bit of a chore. But in the last week I devoured The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman, which I adored and which made me cry in the good way, and I'm a good chunk into Wake by Anna Hope, which is also really great so far. I think that Only Ever Yours has reset the bar for books I read so incredibly low that I'm finding a whole new joy in it now.

Thing 3, 4 and 5: three things to cheer me up after I've made myself tense and sad writing about this

I had some really good related news last week and also this video is really pretty and soothing (c) Bandana Glassworks

Good advice, Mister J (c) via alias-milamber on Tumblr, I don't know who made the image but the cosplayer is Anthony Misiano

Pure joy (c) Walk The Moon, too many movies to list and MsTabularasa on Youtube

Friday, 3 July 2015

Things and Stuff #18

Things and Stuff is a grab-bag of things that've been on my mind this week. In this edition: UV2016, Sense8, Flashheart, Pride, Weather

Thing 1: Get discovered!
Submissions for Undiscovered Voices 2016 are officially open, and you should submit something! (If you are an unagented, unpublished writer or illustrator of children's books.) As a winner and now organising helper, I honestly can't recommend it enough. Also, do yourself a favour and go and read the guest blogs on the UV website - the wisdom there is better than anything I can do here right now.

Thing 2: It's a bit gr8
Listen, if you hate foreigners, LGBT people, TV with a more interesting cast than it has mythology, or joy, then Sense8 is not going to be for you. 

Literally everybody else needs to give this series a chance. It's about eight people who suddenly start being able to slip into each others' lives even though they're all living thousands of miles away from each other. The how and the why of it genuinely doesn't matter. 

Although this relatively non-spoilery clip demonstrates nicely how it works visually and emotionally and is well worth a watch.

What matters is that each one of these characters is a beautiful perfect cupcake of a human being - they mess up, they make mistakes, they spend rather too much screentime staring into the middle distance looking melancholy, Riley, but on the whole their little faces are perfect and watching them interact is an intensely joyful experience. 

The other day, I was bemoaning having to read a book featuring not one character I actually liked and wishing for something entertaining where good people did good things. My prayers were answered. The Wachowskis know us. They know how we like our relationships, our action sequences, our sex scenes (of which there are quite a few, and they're almost all queer, and it's amazing, because I'm not sure if I mentioned but this is one of the most stunningly queer shows I've ever seen. I put off finishing Orange is the New Black for this, I'm even not kidding. Some shows do this delicate little flirty dance around queer characters and relationships like ooh, don't you like my fancy subtext, isn't it pretty, and then run a mile when they see actual queers taking them at their unspoken word. Sense8 comes along and stomps all over that shit with big rainbow boots on and it's wonderful). 


I think that some people don't like it because they are bothered by the fact that it is very consciously diverse and its message of universal human experience is a little heavy handed. Those people are wrong and can sod off. I think some other people may not like it because they think it's slow or because the mythology tastes of Lost and Heroes, in that there's not much of it and it's likely that if explanations do come they will be incomplete or unsatisfying. Those people are probably right, and can also sod off. 

Thing 3: Laters, Bladder
A late entry that I spotted this morning, the tumblr 50shadesofFlashheart is perfect. Enjoy. 

Genuine Grey quotes, genuine Rik Mayall faces (c) 50shadesofFlashheart 

Thing 4: Pride
Pride happened. I didn't go to any marches. I was proud in my own way, which mostly involved sitting at home playing Skyrim (of which probably more another week). 

I was happy for the people who went to the big marches and had a great time, and I was moved by people who marched in other countries where there's less corporate sponsorship and more rubber bullets. I was really happy for Americans, who can now marry in all 50 states, and I was really happy for people in Mozambique, where homosexuality was legalized in June. 

My point is... I can believe that marriage equality in the USA is important for cultural awareness reasons, and because actual American queers wanted it, and still acknowledge that marriage is not the only thing we need to be fighting for, that this Onion article is basically bang on. And I can think that Pride as an event sounds pretty tiring and believe that there's all sorts of internalised rubbish and corporate bullshit going on, and still be proud. 

And anyone who wants to suggest that either thing precludes the other is welcome to fight me. 

Pride (c) Pride (Pathe/BBC Films technically)

Thing 5: A guide to the operation of your Rosie unit in warm weather

Brr, it's a bit chilly outside
All systems online, ready player one, receiving loud and clear

Average temperature
Systems running

What a lovely day!
Most systems running normally, stress alert activated, please monitor your unit carefully and back up any important files

Woo, summer is here! I wish I was at the beach today!
WARNING, WARNING, DO NOT ACTIVATE, TODDLER-STYLE MELTDOWN IMMINENT. Restrict access to other units. Verbal instructions will not be saved into memory. Do not allow unit to use public transport. Under no circumstances allow unit to attempt shopping. Rage venting systems online, stand well back. Public property destruction mode in 3, 2, 1...

error no rosie detected please reboot

Friday, 19 June 2015

Things and Stuff #17

Secrets, Vespers, Vids, Villains, Pages

Thing 1: A Thing
I saw a thing. I'm absolutely not allowed to talk about it.

Having secrets is kinda fun actually.

My face when I got that one email (c) Cybill/the internet
Thing 2: Beautiful music in beautiful places
The next CEFC concerts are coming up really quite soon, like much sooner than I realised, and I need to knuckle down and practice my ppp top Es and my Old Slavonic Russian Ls (unfortunately, I think I biologically cannot do the Ls the way they're meant to be done, but maybe I can learn to fudge it...)

Gorgeous poster (c) CEFC
We're doing Rachmaninov's Vespers and some other gorgeous a capella pieces in two concerts in July - Friday the 10th in Southwark Cathedral and Saturday the 18th in St John's College Chapel, Cambridge. It's amazing music and it's going to be wonderful - potentially dodgy Russian Ls notwithstanding.

Thing 3: The Return of the Fancy Cannibal
This won't be news to anyone who follows me on any social media, but for anyone who missed it: a long time ago back in the mists of time (Things and Stuff #8 to be exact), I recommended the marvellous Cleolinda's wonderful Hannibal recaps. I stand by that rec, especially for people who don't think the show itself would be for them, but now I have a follow up rec, and it is this:

Watch Hannibal.

Restless Hugh Dancy gif and amazing comment both (c) NBC's Hannibal Tumblr account which is a work of genius all by itself

I was only reading the recaps back then, but then Cleo had to take a break from recapping and I needed to know what happened next, so I started watching.

This show is my jam, you guys. It's just come back for its third season and stuff is happening and people are dead and people are not dead and the fandom is already making plushie versions of people's horrifying visions and the queerbaiting continues to be beautiful, frustrating and hilarious in pretty much equal measure, and it's all so great I swear if you haven't given it a chance yet, you need to. (I also still recommend Cleolinda's recaps, Storify posts and entire twitter feed basically as a way to help you process all of the amazing stuff you are about to witness.)

Like this beautiful nonsense (c) NBC
I have no looming book deadline so I might be spending a chunk of this weekend making Hannibal fanvids because that is how much I mean this squee. A Lot, is how much.

Thing 4: Researching the research
I've come to the point in my current work-in-progress book where the hero needs to encounter the villain for the first time. Unfortunately, even though I have most of a plot in mind, my villain is distinctly vague. I know all sorts of things about him already - it's just his motivation and methods that are still a little fuzzy. Hmm.

So I've spent this week doing a lot of Googling around the setting and themes of the book trying to research some of the directions I could go off in looking for a really good evil motive. It's exciting, because at the moment it could be almost anything, but intimidating for the exact same reason.

Thing 5: Morning Pages
Morning pages is this exercise from The Artist's Way, which is a whole big hippy scheme of how to improve your life and creativity which you have to buy the book or videos to actually access in full - I haven't ever done that, I could, but I'm pretty sure it would be a form of procrastination for me, and I'm not sure how much of the hippy crystals stuff I would be able to stomach anyway.

But I saw morning pages recommended on a blog a couple of weeks ago and I thought I'd try it out. Basically, every morning before you do anything else (at least, before you do any work) you write three longhand pages of whatever rubbish passes through your head. As mundane or silly or angsty as you like.

Basically like this (c) Eddie Izzard
It's supposed to help you sort your thoughts out and get down all the little things that are hanging out in your head so that they're codified and not so scary when you've finished. And it does kind of work, sort of. I haven't had any huge revelations of my inner self or fantastic flights of imagination - but I have also definitely had a few better days because I've written down what I expect to have to deal with that day and how I feel about it.

So yeah, I recommend it as a thing to try. You might not like it. But you might.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Things and Stuff #16

Tabletop, new, Carmen, cafes, Spotify

Thing 1: Dungeons and Dutchmen
I started playing tabletop for the first time ever and I LOVE IT. It's not D+D - it's actually a Swedish system called Mutant which is being translated sort-of-on-the-fly by our brilliant GM. It's a WW2 supernatural horror game set in Colditz castle (not remotely the setting the system was designed for!) and we're all POWs. I'm playing a very short, very strong, rather clumsy young Dutch pilot called Peter Kappel who has a secret Jewish girlfriend back at home and a French ghost lady who seems invested in my well-being, at least enough to do things like help heal me when I critically failed an agility roll and fell off the roof of the castle, breaking half my ribs. It was awesome.

Thing 2: New secret exciting projects
I've been pretty busy writing things recently - and I can't really talk about any of them. Some of them are commissioned, written, edited... but won't be coming out any time soon. Some are out there now in the ether being read by editors who I hope will love them. Some of them are packaged/ghostwritten. Some of them are my very own brand new things.

So because I can't be more specific about any of these, here are a selection of CLUES. Check back again in like six months to a year and we can talk about what some of these mean...

Thing 3: Carmen, a three-dimensional tempty temptress
A friend gave us tickets to see Carmen at the ENO, and it was great. Carmen isn't one of the operas I know very well - going in, my general impression was that Carmen is very sexy, there's a bullfight that everyone's very excited about, and everyone dies. I was pretty much spot on, but I was also really impressed with how the central relationships were handled. 

Carmen was extremely sexy. She was brilliant. A brittle queen living under the constant gaze of men who treat her as a sex object - but still her own person, even if that person is flawed as hell. In the end, Carmen is killed by a soldier she seduced and persuaded to desert for her. And that is incredibly problematic - if the soldier's descent into jealous fury and violence is portrayed, as it normally is, as all Carmen's fault. Normally, the soldier is a naive boy who is tempted and corrupted by Carmen herself, the tempty temptress. 

L-R: two of the other wonderful things about this Carmen, and Carmen (Clare Presland as Mercedes, Rhian Lois as Frasquita, Justina Gringyte as Carmen) (C) John Snelling, Getty Images
But the ENO production I saw was incredibly even-handed and non-judgemental of her - instead of some kind of innocent, the soldier was clearly just as broken as her. The violence was there, right from the beginning. The jealousy was very firmly framed as his problem. Carmen was allowed to be her sexy, tempty, manipulative, practical self, and the production didn't make any of that seem like grounds for murder. I was really impressed.

Thing 4: The habitat of the common or garden writer
As per 2, I've been working quite hard over the last couple of months. I like writing outside my house, as an attempt to trick my brain into think that I'm Going To Work, so I've been bouncing between locations, renting tables for a couple of hours at the cost of a large latte, and I thought I would write up some reviews...  

The British Library cafe
Pros: free wifi, free entry, incredibly beautiful inspiring surroundings. Cons: expensive coffee, squeaky chairs, get there early if you need a plug because a lot of other people had the same idea.

Starbucks, Muswell Hill
Pros: it's a Starbucks. Dim and cool downstairs area for Serious Concentration, celebrity-spotting opportunities (Eastenders actors mostly). Cons: bit cramped, often full of yummy mummies and/or obnoxiously good-looking teenagers. 

Great Northern trains from Cambridge to King's Cross and back again
Pros: total isolation, no wifi, chat between customers frowned upon, nice scenery to stare at. Cons: cripplingly expensive in the long term, fierce competition for seats at rush hour and in the evening, if you don't get to a table you might be sitting on the floor, which is cold and full of bicycles

Costa Coffee, Holborn
Pros: it's a Costa - as Starbucks, no variation, no surprises. Close to the office, nice staff, not too crowded if you get there early. Cons: aggressively air-conditioned, I'm really bored of all the sandwiches, the staff know me by sight now so I have to vary my drink order so as not to feel like a weirdo. 

Tatties, Cambridge
Pros: big space, usually a table except at busy times, nice basic fry-ups and similar cafe fare. Cons: no plugs, not as cheap as it feels like it should be. 

Waterstones cafe, Cambridge
Pros: I mean it's all right I suppose. Cons: I mean there definitely isn't always a table and usually a plug, I don't at all recommend the dais level with the lovely natural light, it isn't remotely inspiring to write books in a lovely bookshop, there isn't at all a nice studious atmosphere because of the Cambridge students doing their homework there, and the food is only mostly excellent. This is definitely not my secret new favourite place in the city. 

My kitchen table
Pros: 10 seconds from my bed, completely free, always get a spot, bra optional. Cons: BYO coffee, 10 seconds from my bed, fast wifi and nothing to stop you playing Dragon Age or watching Netflix instead of working, a bit filthy, management never cleans away the empty mugs. 

Thing 5: I'm a bit obsessed with Spotify.
I promise I haven't been paid to say this, but Spotify is pretty great. There's a playlist someone made with 280 straight hours of musicals. And there's the Lauren Laverne People's Playlist, and there's the new Duke Special album (Look Out Machines, IT'S REALLY GOOD). This is not news to anybody but me, but you guys. Music is good! I like that I have so much access to it! 
Oh god it's so good. Listen to Statues and Son of the Left Hand (C) Duke Special

The State of the Rosie

What am I writing? Still working away on the gay Victorian gothic YA. This month, I have mainly been making things painfully awkward for my...