Saturday, 31 October 2015

No, you shouldn't work for free: part 1

I haven't written for about a month, and at risk of sounding like your typical precious writer-type, not being able to come up with any ideas that had that "must get this down, quick!" spark about them was frustrating to say the least. Ah well, here we are. (And if you thought this bit was too "precious writer-type", you're in for a real treat.)


From: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/exposure

A friend of mine recently answered an ad for a musician to play at an EP launch gig. He sent over some examples of his work, the singer-songwriter who’d placed the ad was impressed, and asked for his rates. The friend gave a fairly unambitious figure, the singer was happy, it looked like a goer. Until a few weeks later, when the singer came back to my friend with “sorry mate, I’ve found someone who’ll do it for free.”

It’s probably the infinitieth time this has happened, and it will go on happening for ever-and-ever-amen – but like George Osborne, cinnamon Aftershock and baking with vegetables, it’s plain wrong and it needs to stop.

The main reason I’m not actively pursuing a career as a freelance writer – aside from a pathological inability to stay in one room for hours at a time, quietly concentrating – is because I can’t afford to. I can’t afford to spend months writing for free, building up a portfolio, in the hope that someone will eventually pay me. I don’t think working for free is helpful, actually – if you’re prepared to give away your thinking hours and brainspace and the words and ideas that result from them, why should anyone start paying you? By doing it for nothing to begin with, you're setting a precedent that will only shoot you in the foot. No-one else.

The thing about the musician incident that really hacks me off is that my friend was screwed over by two other musicians. First, the one having the EP launch: the fact that an EP is being launched at all tells me he would quite like to make some money from his work. Pay your musicians then, mate. 

And secondly, the one who agreed to play the gig for free. I can only assume he barely knows one end of his instrument from the other and therefore knows he doesn’t deserve to be paid to play it. Musicians, writers and artists who agree to work for nothing clearly have no respect for their own crafts. Well done, guys, you just make it harder for everybody else. 

What the singer-songwriter with the hopefully-doomed EP fails to realise is that being an up-and-coming musician – or an up-and-coming anything-remotely-artistic, for that matter – is like being a suffragette. You have to play the long game. You’re not smashing windows and getting yourself imprisoned because it might get you the vote – you’re thinking of your children, and their children. You’re in this together – if you say yes to an unpaid gig, you’re making it OK for the practice of expecting musicians to play for free to continue. You’re screwing other musicians over, and not even really helping yourself. Rent, food and transport don’t pay for themselves, do they?

In these Tory-led, ‘austerity-measures’ times, the Leftie right-brain creative types are one of the groups who suffer most. Funding for arts organisations gets slashed, libraries close, unpaid internships remain rife, and there is literally no point in undertaking a non-STEM degree. But if you think about it for a mere ten seconds, you start to see how bonkers this is. Culture is one of our biggest exports (probably). Doctor Who, Harry Potter, One Direction, Adele, James Bond, Sherlock, Downton Abbey, Ed bloody Sheeran – I don’t have any stats to hand but I know that all of the above have enjoyed success around the world, and they all came from here. I’m not patriotic, really, but when you see artists and writers struggling, due to lack of funding and lack of support, and you look at where the pop culture successes of the last ten years or so have come from, you start to think “guys, what are you playing at? Do you want all this to just… stop?” 

All the creativity – all the mad storylines that could only come from well-nourished, hyperactive imaginations and sensitive, curious minds. All the sounds – lyrics that quietly break your heart over and over, voices that send prickly chills down your spine, beats that reset your pulse. All the artwork – from the grotesque to the bizarre to the pieces you don’t understand, you just think they simply look quite cool. 

If people are expected to produce this stuff for free – and if their fellow artists are prepared to do so – then that’s what happens. Your local music scene, your local arts scene – they dwindle, they expire. The places where new talent would have found a home, a safe space, a learning curve – all gone. The things that tell the stories of human beings, the things that remind us who we are – all gone.

That’s the worst-case scenario, of course. It will never get to that point, because sadly, there will always be someone for whom making rent is not their biggest concern. Which brings about its own much-discussed set of issues: the arts and creative industries become ever-more unobtainable for anyone who isn't rich, white, middle-class and upwards. Gawker nails it in this article: "Artists with million-dollar checks in their pockets are telling other artists that they shouldn't expect to get paid; publications are also telling writers that they shouldn't expect to get paid; and meanwhile everyone wonders why we can't get more diversity in the creative ranks."

There's more to be said on this, but I'm going to revisit it at a later date.

In the meantime, you need to put down/throw away whatever you're currently reading, and pick up a copy of Thirst by Kerry Hudson. Dear God, this book knocked me for six with how brilliant it is. Dave, a security guard, and Alena, a Russian girl who has been trafficked and has now escaped her captors, find each other at exactly the right moment, and so the story of their relationship unfolds. The novel manages to be both funny and sweet, and dark and upsetting, but Hudson's prose is exquisite, and her eye for detail is needle-sharp. Another of those books that you dread finishing because then you'll have to say goodbye to the characters. Read it.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Why you need a WBM*

*Work Best Mate.

My own WBM is on holiday for a few days, so I've been at least 28% more productive than usual, but also 90% less giggly.


If you don't watch Parks and Recreation, you absolutely need to. You can probably afford to skip the first season though.

A few months ago, I felt like I was in a bit of a friendship rut. That sounds bad, but bear with me – I just mean that it felt like it had been ages since I’d made a new female friend. I have a brilliant bunch of girlfriends that I’ve known since school, teenage Saturday jobs and uni, and a brilliant bunch of male friends mostly gathered at sixth form, but once you stumble wide-eyed into the working world, it gets a lot harder to acquire new wine buddies. It also gets a lot harder to keep up with the ones you’ve got, as they tend to scatter. The best long-distance friendships are undoubtedly the ones where you can go months or maybe even years without seeing each other, sending the occasional frantic text or email, and then when you finally do meet up, you just pick up where you left off the last time you were in the same room. I like a low-maintenance friendship – there was one particular ‘incident’ about three years ago where I fell out with someone because he thought I wasn’t making enough effort to stay in touch when we were about 150 miles apart. The fact that I didn’t hear from him for weeks either seemed to escape him rather. I took a dim view of the situation, and that, after receiving some fairly scathing emails that had even my mother gasping in shock, was that.

Anyway. This is not about the mates you hardly see, this is about the mates you see every day. Work mates. Genuine work friendships aren’t as common as you’d think – think of all the colleagues you’ve had in your working life. You’ve probably liked and/or managed to get on with most of them, if you’ve been fairly lucky – but now think of the number of those you’d actually choose to hang out with in non-work contexts. It’s probably a fairly small proportion. But when you do find that person - someone who walks in and just looks like they're going to be your sort of person, and then it turns out they absolutely are - oh, the joy. The relief! Finally, someone to talk to about gigs and books and films and what your real plans are - the plans that tick like a metronome along with everything else you hold in your head. The plans you'll put into action once you're away from this desk, out of this town.

Here's why having a Work Best Mate is the bee's knees...

1) It's lonely being a newbie. Being the new girl in the office is dire. IT haven't set you up properly, you don't know all the office-specific lingo, and worst of all, you don't know who you can moan to and who you can't. I think I cried every Wednesday evening for about a month after starting my job, simply because Wednesdays were always the most stressful day and I didn't know who I could vent to. As soon as you find a Work Best Mate, the clouds lift - or rather, you've got someone to sit under them with you.

2) It's important to have someone who, when the boss brings out a baffling piece of jargon or a frankly bonkers idea, you can share an eyeroll and a "what the fuck? No, me neither" face with.

3) It's also important to have someone to bitch with when things reach the point of intolerability. Under the guise of making tea and getting biscuits, WBM and I hole up in the kitchen for five minutes, vent our frustrations in hissy whispers, and then return to our desks - not necessarily feeling better, just united in rage.

4) Every Thursday Sometimes you need to go to the pub for lunch.

5) Every On the occasional Friday, you need "thank God that's over" G&Ts.

6) You need someone to get the giggles with. I am a terrible, lifelong giggler. As a kid, one of my friend's dads used to try and make me laugh because it amused him so much that once I started, I couldn't stop. It runs in the family - Granny's exactly the same, and once, the Mothership and I made the fatal mistake of catching each other's eye while a relative was telling an incredibly dull non-anecdote. Involving recycling. I had to busy myself with "rearranging the fruit bowl" so that no-one would see my face. I suspect the shaking shoulders rather gave it away.

Inexplicably, your threshold for what you find funny plummets as soon as you're tied to the same desk five days a week. I think it's because you have to get your joy where you can, so whereas outside of work, you wouldn't normally snigger at overhearing someone say something like "gosh, I've never seen one that big before", at work, it's totally normal.


7) Because making new friends is simply one of the nicest things in the world.


I know nothing about these guys, except that I love their electronic-rock-Metric-ish sound A LOT. Have another just to be sure.

Friday, 25 September 2015

In defence of being a massive loner

Greta Garbo. Hollywood icon; professional loner.

Being a newbie in a city where I don't know anyone except the people I live with suits me down to the ground - despite what I've been telling DB. He's not been here very much as yet, due to work commitments and car trouble, and I haven't let him get away with it. Sample quote from most of our recent conversations: "I moved here so we could live together. If I wanted to live on my own, I would be living on my own." Poor boy. It's strange, really - the idea of being on my own does not appeal to me in the slightest, but when it actually happens, I can't deny that I'm in my element.
  
I just like doing stuff alone. Shopping's a great example; I've never been able to shop with anyone else. When I was 12 or 13, and going into town with your mates was about the only thing to do on a Saturday afternoon, I never managed to actually purchase anything. My friends would happily try on things in Tammy Girl and buy make-up in Claire's, but I would struggle. "Why don't we pick outfits for each other to try on?" was an utterance that put the fear of God into me. Invariably, I'd drag my quietest, most tolerant friend into Waterstones, lose her, and resurface forty minutes later. These days, the idea of clothes shopping with Drummer Boy is just as painful. If he's buying clothes, it goes on for hours, and I become the bored, whiny child who needs a boost of sugar to prevent a full-on tantrum: "Oh God, really? We're going back to TopMan? Can't you just come and find me in Costa when you're done?"

And if it's me trying to buy clothes, well, he's no help. "Try on that hideous dress!" he'll suggest gleefully. "And you have to let me see it on you!" Oh, what fun! Usually, I don't have the heart to tell him that shopping is not fun - it is a serious and often self-esteem-shredding exercise in disappointment, and there is no time for frolics - so off I trot to the H&M fitting room, meek as a lamb, to try on something neon or pleather or made entirely of sequins.

My loner tendencies extend to exercise too. I'm not a team player, and haven't been since Year 9 hockey. My activity of choice is usually running, chosen almost entirely because it involves "not being around other people" (and a little bit because once you own trainers, you don't have to spend any more money if you don't fancy it). I am currently in love with running along the seafront down here - there are loads of people around, but you're all kind of on your own together. It's like a big, silent running club. We pound the promenade and barely make eye contact, but we're all there for the same reason.

A conversation with my brother a few months ago left me perplexed. I'd mentioned going swimming after work, and he asked who I was going with. "Erm... no-one...?"
"You're going swimming on your own? Why would you do that?"
"Why would I go with anyone? I'm going to swim. You know, for exercise. Not fun."
"No-one goes swimming on their own. No-one."
"I think most people go swimming on their own, actually..."
I gave up on the exchange very quickly, as he wouldn't be convinced that swimming was a solo activity and I wouldn't be convinced he wasn't talking utter nonsense.
  
This article made me so happy - it was quite the relief to have someone else articulate that need for solitude, and the peace that comes with it. DB was absolutely aghast a few weeks ago when I rejected a phone call from a friend, purely because I wasn't in the mood to chat (I'm sorry! I don't make a habit of this!) and only half-understood when I tried to explain it to him. Maybe it's because I spend all day in an office surrounded by other people (who are all lovely, I might add), maybe it's because I'm naturally quite introverted*. Maybe it's that writer thing of always being an observer (no, it's not that, that's far too wanky even for me). I'm just really precious about my 'alone' time. I need it to be able to function the rest of the time. My head clears of petty clutter, and good ideas and plan start to form and rise to the surface, like Champagne bubbles. 

There are still two things I've yet to do on my own that I'd like to: go to the cinema solo, and eat dinner in a restaurant alone. I don't have a problem with doing either of these things, I've just not got around to them yet. Seeing a film alone sounds like heaven - I wouldn't have to share the Minstrels! I'm not sure I can justify dining alone, as it seems rather decadent, but also conjures images of a melancholy woman in a black-and-white French film, tears falling one by one into her bouillabaisse.
Which isn't really the vibe I'm going for, to be honest.

*I'm not sure I'd describe myself as wholly introverted. It depends entirely upon who I'm with and how comfortable I am with them. If I'm with someone outgoing and super-confident, I let them 'lead'. If I'm with someone quieter/shyer than me, I become the loud one.

Don't get me wrong, I do need other people; of course I do. I love my friends dearly and never find it a chore to spend time with them. An evening of wine and cheese and getting steadily more opinionated as the night wears on, gathered at someone's kitchen table, is one of my favourite things. You can't beat the camaraderie that comes when you work in an all-female office and shit gets manic. Dinner with friends from Way Back is a joy, as warm and soothing as candle-light. But sometimes, I'm going to channel my inner Greta Garbo - it's not personal.

On the Bambi bookshelf


I've just finished the brilliant Americanah and would definitely recommend it, if you're in the mood for beautifully-written characters and subject material that a) really matters, and b) is sensitively dealt with. It's a love story - the ending had me in in tears at Gatwick station - but more importantly, it's a discussion of race and its complexities (the protagonist's reaction to Obama becoming president may also jerk a tear or two).
 

I've come late to The 1975 - and in fact, have only come to them at all because Drummer Boy was playing them in the car - but I am being utterly charmed by them, and they're absolutely confirming my deeply-held theory that the best (and worst) songwriters will always be lust-struck teenage boys. The 1975 are a lot more interesting musically than you might think on first listen - there's stacks of influences in there, layered and slotted like Lego. And while DB and I have been enjoying mocking the singer's Kooks-esque, yelpy vocal delivery, when you write songs like this and this, you can sing them however that hell you like.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Given the choice

After seeing the film Still Alice, I had a recurring dream about being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease (never let it be said I don’t take things to heart). Every time, my reaction was the same – I would run. Out of sheer terror, I would just run. I’m not surprised the film burrowed itself so deep in my head; having seen the decline of DB’s grandparents, who both have different forms of dementia, the worst parts of growing old have been very apparent in the last few months. The violence with which illnesses like dementia tear identities apart – and anyone who’s witnessed it in a family member will know what an utter mauling it is – can’t be hammered home hard enough.

The rejection of the Assisted Dying Bill on Friday was perhaps not entirely a surprise, but it certainly made me do something of a mental double-take. If nothing else, the last few months have taught me that if something horrible and incurable should befall me – if I should permanently lose my grip on reality, or be rendered physically unable to do most of what I can do now – I would very much like the choice as to whether or not I proceed with this life. I am strongly in favour, should the need arise, of a Plan. Calmly made, with love and careful thought.

I understand the reservations that led to the rejection – sanctity of life, the issue of elderly/terminally ill people feeling as though they’re a ‘burden’ on their families, does it mean we’re essentially supporting suicide? Et cetera, et cetera – but in 2015, you’d think we might be doing better on this one. Why is it such a taboo, a place we mustn’t go? If we are ill, and there’s no chance of recovery or cure, and quality of life is draining away hour by hour, and we know that we’re ready – why not? Why must we stay? It’s flippant to trot out the old “we treat our animals better” line, but there’s also some truth in it. If Roly the aging Labrador is looking a bit peaky one day, and the next the vet tells us poor Roly’s riddled with cancer and is only going to get sicker and weaker from now on, what do we do? We take Roly home for one last dinner, lots of doggy treats and cuddles, and then back he goes to the vet for a nice long sleep in the great kennel in the sky (I’m quite hungover, so writing this bit has made me a little tearful. Poor Roly. Poor fictional Roly). The essentials are not miles apart – it’s about not having to live in agony, not having to die a drawn-out, painful death that’s incredibly distressing for everyone involved.

As DB pointed out when we were talking about it (our Friday nights are wild), the survival instinct is pretty ferocious. It takes a lot to overcome it, to make someone decide that they just don't want to live anymore. "I don't know about you, but I'm quite a fan of this living thing. It's pretty good. Can you imagine just not wanting to do it anymore? How bad would your life have to be? How much pain would you be in?" So when someone says they’ve had enough, we should believe them. We should trust them. It’s not a decision you’d make lightly.

Humans have always tried to maintain some control over life and death – there has never not been suicide or abortion. It seems almost cruel that we don't have a legitimate option, a plan we can offfer someone whose quality of life is so poor that they want out. You can legislate to make these things safer and more controlled – or you can make it harder; you can treat all death as shameful and drive it underground, to unsafe, feral territory.

I read this story in another paper a few weeks ago, and it's the words of the coroner that stuck with me - "Part of me thinks, good on you". There's something about the case that's stayed with me - I think of that couple, together for four decades, making the quiet decision to go together, before life became pain and one had to live without the other. And I wholeheartedly agree with the coroner. Because wouldn't we all go like that, given the choice? One last hurrah - Paris, the opera, an exquisite five course meal, a decadent hotel, whatever you like - the person you love, and then nothing at all. We'd toast the years we'd had with the finest champagne and remember all the best times, all the laughter, all the love that shone true and gold.

Politicians have to think in worst-case scenarios - that's how legislation works, I suppose; you figure out what's going to go wrong and work backwards from there. But changing the laws on assisted suicide would be a good thing. No-one's saying they want a free-for-all, they just want an option. The way it's worked in Oregon since 1997 should be used as a model. Perhaps I'm being woefully naive, but I think with the right procedure - having the decision assessed and signed off by two doctors and two psychiatrists, for example - it wouldn't be abused.

It would only ever be an act of love.


Charity singles get a bad rap, and they shouldn't really, because they're actually a great fundraising idea - you pay about a quid, which goes to a good cause, and you get a song out of it. The trouble with most charity singles now is that they're usually a shit cover version of a song that wasn't good to begin with, featuring a hastily-cobbled-together bunch of below-average singers that almost always includes Rita Ora.

Not this song, though - this one's different (and no, it isn't the one you think it's going to be).

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Failure of imagination

On the train back to Brighton on Thursday night (after one of the loveliest evenings I've had in ages), I found myself thinking about the current refugee crisis and trying to imagine the circumstances that might drive me to leave my home, with only the barest of essentials, and undertake a terrifying, life-endangering journey to Somewhere - anywhere - Else. How unsafe would I have to feel trying to go about my daily life before I would risk that leap into the unknown? What would it take to make me abandon this flat and my hopes, and flee?

I have no idea. I couldn’t imagine it. I still can’t - I can’t picture an England, a Brighton, a Horsham that I would fear that much. I can’t picture a situation that would make me so fearful, so truly scared for my own life that the only option would be to run. I vaguely know what it might entail – shadowy images of soldiers, gunfire, bombings, smoke and dust, lives turned to rubble in seconds, sirens, screams, bloodstains. My only ‘experience’ of life in a warzone is an imagining, hastily thrown together using memories of news footage and photographs, novels and films. It is entirely fictional, so I don’t really know how to imagine it.

On the one hand, thank goodness. On the other – it's a failure.

The current refugee crisis is partly down to a spectacular failure to empathise. To imagine. It is a basic human thing, imagination – without it, we wouldn’t have invented anything. Without it, nothing can ever change. Nothing can ever be anything other than what it is, right now, right there in front of you. We would never help anyone, if we could not empathise: “that looks heavy, that must be hurting you, can I carry it?” or “you’re shivering, you must be freezing, have my jacket” or “that looks tricky, how I can I help?” Small sentences, but within each, a tiny, golden spark of understanding that it is good and decent and kind and human to alleviate the suffering of others, if and where possible.

If you can’t imagine what it is to lead a different life, even for just a moment, something has gone very wrong. I think it’s why middle-aged white men across the world deny women access to safe abortions – they fail to imagine what it might be like to have something grow inside you that you did not ask for, or plan for, or cannot support. I think it’s why benefits for the young and the disabled are cut – because someone could not imagine those lives, couldn’t hold an image in their head for long enough for it to mean something. I think it’s why mental health service budgets have been cut – because someone didn’t care to imagine what it’s like when your own mind turns on you. 

The instinct to build a home, have a family, put down roots, is a strong one. The instinct to inhabit that life, once you’ve made it – to protect it, to enjoy it – is just as strong. So when people willingly leave the lives they’ve built, we can assume it’s for good reason. If you have looked at your circumstances, weighed up the costs of staying vs. leaving, and chosen to become rootless, homeless, earthless – you’re clearly desperate. Furthermore, if you’re living under a violent and oppressive regime, and your choices are: being killed, becoming an instrument of that regime, or escape, then by choosing escape, you’re not only saving yourself, but you’re also trying to save everyone else.

It's concerning then that it was the general public who were quicker and more able to empathise, and subsequently act in the face of the crisis, than our government. Not entirely surprising - they have previous, after all - but still deeply worrying. The 'Daily Mail' mentality seems viral at the moment: "we don't have room for them, we can't have them here; why should we help them?" For a start, it's utterly untrue that "we don't have room" - in 2012, the UK National Ecosystem Assessment worked out that the percentage of England that is built upon is... wait for it... 2.27%. And yes, obviously we need green space and farmland and floodplains; as a farmer's grand-daughter, I'm never going to say "pave over the lot". But still: less than three per cent, guys. Don't give me the "not enough room" line.

Like everyone else, I'm glad Cameron's bowed to the pressure to accept more refugees. It's the right thing to do - because not doing so speaks such volumes. Not helping sends an alarming, dark message. It says that we can't empathise. It says we cannot imagine what it is to have a different life. It says: the thought that it could be us one day - by a hideous flick of the wrist and roll of the dice, it could be us, looking for shelter and the kindness of strangers - has never crossed our tiny minds.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Landed.



A place name, plucked from the air during an argument about our future – “what about Brighton?”

“Brighton could be an option! I can get the train back to work – for now at least – and there’s bound to be more going on, musically, for you.”

And so here we are. DB took charge and had a couple of frantic weeks of booking viewings of studio flats and being let down by lettings agents, and then decided to go through Spare Room in a bid to ensure we didn’t end up in one dingy basement room. Every day, Mother Dearest would ask “have you found a place to live yet?” and make her disapproval at the lack of progress known – which, you’ll be surprised to know, wasn’t especially helpful. You can choose your friends…

It was my gamble that paid off in the end (she says, not at all smugly). I answered an ad on Spare Room that had no photos but promised a sea view and a central location, and one sunny Sunday, we headed down there.

Driving past the royal-icing houses that are just so Brighton, hopes were high. And then we came to a brick block at the end of the road. “Looks like that’s it. Oh. Well, it might be nice inside.”

Up to the third floor (DB: “I don’t have a good feeling about this”) and to be honest, I was getting some faintly 'crack den' vibes.

But inside it was …fine. Not perfect, but certainly not the fleapit DB and I were expecting, in our middle-class anxiety.

Tiny kitchen that can only really have two people in it at a time. Tiny bathroom that DB attacked with bleach on Wednesday night and now looks shiny and white – but may not stay that way, given that it’s going to be used by one woman and 3 men. Lucky me. And our room – well, they weren’t kidding about the sea view. Two large windows look out over a little park and straight on the sea.

And that’s my second-favourite bit (the first being the simple fact that it’s our space, away from parents, in a city full of real people and not middle-aged Tories) – I can see the sea every day. I wake up and it’s there, smooth and endlessly blue, sometimes with rain-filled mists rolling off it towards us, sometimes clear and dotted with boats. I come home and I can see it as I leave the station. After work, I charge down there to have the office cobwebs blown from my head by the breeze, and to listen to the roar of seafoam on shingle. For someone who’s terrified of being in it and eating things from it, I can’t get enough of being right by it.

I don't know how long we'll be here for - he needs London, really, and I crave Bristol - but for now, it will certainly do. More than that - I think I could fall in love with Brighton. We're already off to a flying start.


On the Bambi bookshelf

 

We know how I feel about things that are over-hyped - I'm childishly reluctant to partake in them - but Drummer Boy's mother gave me this beautiful hardback copy of The Miniaturist for Christmas, so it would have been churlish not to give it a go. I don't think I can emphasise enough just how far from my reading comfort zone this is - I mean, Amsterdam in the late 1600s, what? Thanks but no thanks - but it didn't take long for me to fall in love with it. Yes, it's set in a time and a place that I couldn't be less familiar with if I tried, but it's so readable, and has stacks of drama and a touch of the supernatural, and really, if you haven't read it yet, you should.


Current inspiration


Apologies once again for the slightly wanky subheading, but really, nothing else fits. A couple of posts ago, I wrote about having a God-awful week, and that streak of shit luck is only just beginning to move on and bother some other poor sod. When everything goes a bit wrong at once, you sort of want to rebuild yourself. Rip up your life as it is and start again. The trouble is, after the age of 20, 21, this is considerably harder to do - you're tied into things more, like jobs and relationships and habits. You can't change it all, but you can make the best of the bad bits while you gradually unpick and re-stitch the bits that have potential. 

Caitlin Moran's novel How To Build a Girl deals with this exact problem; that feeling of "this is not how I want my life to be, so how do I change it? How do I get from here to there?" What Johanna, the protagonist, does is steal bits from other people - so with that in mind, my current source of inspiration is Sali Hughes, journalist, Guardian beauty writer, author of Pretty Honest and all-round good egg. Not only is she a brilliant writer, she also worked her way up from literally nothing. If you read nothing else about housing benefits, you should read her take on the issueThis is also a fantastic piece, and this interview's a good'un.

Over and out.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Corbyn, carriages and catcalls


Image-searched "woman on train". This seemed the least ridiculous result.

I’ll admit, I sort of missed the whole Jeremy Corbyn thing blowing up. I don’t know where I was  - crying over a fruitless flathunt, probably* – but I looked up a few weeks ago and suddenly he was everywhere. With the face of a Geography teacher and, what's this? Proper left-wing politics? Interesting.
 

*DB and I live in Brighton now. Hurrah! It’s a room in a small third-floor flat, and I’m one girl living with three boys so it’s not as clean and tidy as I’d like - but we can see the sea , we’re close to the station and we have a power shower. What more do I need?! To quote the never-not-brilliant Sali Hughes, it’s “a locked door between [us and the city]”, and that’s what counts.

View from bedroom window. Not relevant, just showing off.

Yesterday, Twitter was all a-flutter with the news that Corbyn had suggested implementing women-only carriages on public transport in an attempt to tackle harassment, after British Transport Police reported that sex offences on trains and at stations have risen to 'record levels'.

The facts of the matter are this: harassment on public transport is a known problem. A poll released in October 2014 found that 32% of women in London had been verbally abused on public transport, and 19% had been physically assaulted. It is done to women by men far more than any other gender combination.

And no, not all men - of course #notallmen. I don’t doubt for one moment that men have been harassed by women, and other men, and women have harassed other women. I’m simply saying that if you looked at, say, twenty incidents of harassment on public transport, it wouldn't be hard to spot a trend.

An easy way to test the sexism waters (Are You Sure It's That Bad 101, if you like) is to ask a group of women if they’ve been catcalled in public – when walking home from the supermarket, or going for a run, or just minding their own business, cracking on with their day. I can almost guarantee they will all say that they have. Ask a group of men if they have had comments of a vaguely sexual nature shouted at them while walking past a building site or trying to beat their p.b. on a 10k, and not many of them will say yes. Some will, obviously. But far fewer than the women.

And while we’re on the much-discussed subject of catcalling – it is very rarely a compliment. It is unasked-for, unwanted attention. I mean, personally, I don’t care – I usually walk with earphones in anyway so if it does happen, I either don’t hear it or can pretend I don’t hear it. But just because I don’t give a shit what a group of blokes digging up the road want to shout at me, doesn’t mean other women and girls can shrug it off so easily. The thirteen-year-old girl who happens to look older than she is, walking home from hockey practice – she might not be able to. The woman who was once attacked and now hates walking home alone but has to, because she won't let herself be limited in that way - she might not be able to. Any woman, in fact - any woman at all, pick one at random - she just might want to get on with her day and not be reminded that there are some men that will only ever think of women as sex objects.

Anyway. So along came Jeremy, and he was reported as suggesting women-only carriages as one way of dealing with this very real problem.

First things first though - he did not actually say "if I become Prime Minister, I will introduce women-only carriages". Of course he bloody didn't. What he said was he'd be willing to consult with women on the suggestion (you can read this - written by two of the women who were involved in suggesting seven proposals for dealing with harassment. Straight from the horse's keyboard).

Obviously the problems with this particular option are myriad. For starters, the very word 'segregation' has some pretty dodgy connotations. South Africa. Jim Crow laws. The Troubles. It's not a Memory Lane anyone wants to re-open.

Secondly, it's another way that women would have to modify their behaviour to avoid being harassed, rather than the perpetrators being taught to modify their crappy behaviour.

Thirdly, it raises the question - if a woman didn't want to travel in a designated carriage and was then attacked, would she be blamed? People do still say things like, "dressed like that? She was asking for it, mate" - I think it's just limited to Daily Mail readers, but I've heard these words uttered. There is still a culture of victim-blaming; you only have to look at how the tabloids report sex crime (trust me, I wrote a dissertation on it, what larks) to see this.

So perhaps it's not the solution. When the news made its way onto social media, and all the Guardian think-piece writers downed espressos in unison and started typing frantically, people were making the above criticisms left, right and centre, as well as plenty more scathing and ludicrous ones.

And that's our biggest problem right there. Not that a politician made a suggestion that, at face value, seemed almost reasonable, but after seven seconds of thought turned out to be a touch misguided. But the fact that these ideas can't even be thrown out there without being ripped to shreds. It's one idea. If you've got a better one, brilliant. Let's hear it. The more ideas, the better. The more brains working to solve a problem, the quicker that problem is reduced to mere dust.

But if we keep tearing down, ripping up - destroying, instead of creating - there won't be any ideas.  No-one will suggest anything new because, well, why even try? We're not going to get a feminism superhero who has the perfect solution for all the problems women face. We're not going to get a superhero of the Left who can do everything we want. That's not how life works - it takes more than one person. It takes everyone.

We need to question new ideas, we need to criticise, we need to examine them closely from all angles. But we also have to acknowledge that it takes guts to tackle things no-one else is tackling, and not make it harder for those who are trying.




Friday, 14 August 2015

What we did on our holiday

If this was always my writing view, I feel this blog would be a whole lot cheerier.

I haven't been on a family holiday in years - I can't be the only one who hit 17 and decided that the thought of spending a week in one place with only people I'm related to for company was, well, A Bit Much. Plus, my family are strongly in favour of beach/pool holidays, whereas I can do that for about three hours and then start to go a bit crackers and need to find a museum or an art gallery or a church tower to climb, stat.

But something about working in an office 9-5, Monday-Friday, has made the whole doing-nothing-for-a-week holiday seem much more appealing, so when my mum asked if I wanted to join her and my sister in Greece for a week, I said yes bloody please.

It's beautiful here - all I've done since Monday is eat, swim and gaze in stupefied awe at the crystal-clear Aegean Sea (sorry sorry sorry). So the following is what happens when I don't really have anything to write about...

1) Hotel restaurant buffets make fools of us all.
"What do you mean, I wouldn't dream of having a bowl of bircher muesli followed by French toast and an entire pot of tea for breakfast at home?"


2) Related: no-one does any exercise on holiday.
I tried doing some 'proper' swimming - it's a pain in the arse being one of those irritating people who's just found out how good exercise is - but people kept getting in the way, being leisurely and having fun - so eventually I gave up on that one.

3) You quickly identify that one family you either want to befriend or be adopted by.
It happened on day 2. They arrived at the pool - two couples, with five children between them. Dads in Ray-Bans and Boden shorts, mums trying to keep track of little ones (more on that in a moment). One dad looked a bit like an older version of Drummer Boy if I closed my eyes and thought about it really hard. Children with names like Oscar, Florence and Oliver - obviously. It was love at first sight.


4) You quickly identify that one family you hope either suffer a freak incident of food poisoning or all get nibbled to death by mosquitos.
It happened on the evening of day 2. They were on their way to the marina, as were we, and I overheard them say something incredibly rude about the Russian family standing about eight feet away. Who does that? In front of their kids? Come on.

5) Mothers are mothers, no matter where in the world they may be.
During the course of the week, Mother Dearest and I came to verbal blows over the following: Caitlyn Jenner, me asking to borrow my sister's lip balm, my relationship choices, her refusal to eat anything more interesting than salad. For us, that's pretty good going. She also managed to plan my entire wedding (I'm not even engaged) before we even got off the runway. She'd written a guest list on her boarding pass.

I am now even more convinced than I already was that, whenever the time comes, myself and the unlucky gentleman are going to elope.

6) Airports are weird. 
Our flight was at 6am, so we got up at 2.45. Ouch. Pro-tip: don't spend the afternoon before a 3am start drinking beer and talking nonsense in the sunshine, no matter how much you enjoy listening to your love interest's folk band. You will go to bed feeling mighty strange and full of regret in every shade. You will feel even stranger when you find yourself wandering round Duty Free at Gatwick at 5 in the morning, trying to buy perfume and/or sunglasses and wondering why your heart's not in it. Dude, it's 5am. You are not meant to be shopping, you are meant to be in the land of zizz. Sit down and doze off. Right after you've done Smith's, though.

7) Boys will be boys to the end.
I was finishing a glass of wine in the hotel bar, after Mrs Lightweight and Sister had gone to bed, minding my own business and having a Facebook Messenger "difference of opinion" with DB, when a young man approached and offered to buy me a drink. I declined, but he sat down anyway and we started on the small talk. He looked rather nonplussed when I asked what he did, so I asked if he was a student, and when he rattled off the four subjects he was studying, the penny dropped. "Ohhh, you're an A-level student".
"Yeah. Are you at uni, or...?"
"No... I'm 25."
Conversation over.

8) Gender stereotypes rule on holiday.
When the family in (3) arrived, it was the men who took off with the kids - they couldn't wait to throw their sons into the water and teach their daughters to swim without armbands. One mum was left holding the baby for a good hour - and yeah, it was a super-cute baby, but all it could do was lie on a sunlounger and dribble a bit. Not much fun for mum. After a while, dad came over and said "do you want a go in the pool, darling?" If it had been me, the reply would have been brief. YES PLEASE, AND A COLD BEER. NOW.

On the Bambi bookshelf: poolside edition

Holidays are basically made for reading all those books you mean to get around to but never do, and so far I've done The Rosie Project and Don't Point That Thing At Me.

The former I picked up when I went into a charity shop to donate some books, somewhat defeating the whole point of the visit. It's brilliant. Genuinely funny and touching - though some of the characters aren't entirely realistic, but hey, they're characters in a book - I can't wait to read the sequel (The Rosie Effect).

 The latter was given to me by Drummer Boy at Christmas, because he was very taken with the description of the protagonist, and knew I would be too: "I am Charlie Mortdecai. I like art and money and dirty jokes and drink. I am very successful". And while I wouldn't have chosen it myself, it's a strange little treat - chock-full of so many evil, but oh-so-quotable lines:

"Women are great advocates of sex in bed because they have bad figures to hide (usually) and cold feet to warm (always)."
"I weakened some of the coffee with some of the whisky and drank it, suppressing a gagging shudder".
"...I was wearing my Complete American Disguise: a cream tussore suit, sunglasses and a cocoa-coloured straw hat with a burnt orange ribbon. The effect was pretty sexy, I don't mind telling you. Mr Abercrombie would have bitten Mr Fitch if he'd seen it".

It's like Withnail, or Black Books, but with art - equal parts wit, whisky and skulduggery (was trying to go for another 'w' there but nothing really fitted).



Got to go now, pool awaits.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

How to survive a Truly Terrible Week



I didn't start this blog so I could use it to complain about my life (no, really). I mean, yes, I do a fair bit of complaining here, but I either try and make it relatable, or, if it's personal, do it with a sense of humour and a hefty dose of self-awareness. (Life tip: make jokes at your own expense before anyone else has a chance.)

But God, this week's been a bit of a shocker. I won't go into details, because it would be very tedious - and if you work and/drink with me, you've probably already heard - but in short, there's been at least two work-related disappointments, many flat-hunting setbacks, and lots of arguing and crying. I have a pathetically low tolerance for stress at the best of times, being rather feeble and easily panicked, so I'm glad this Terrible Week is nearly over.

I'm no Pollyanna; it's hard, when nothing seems to be going as planned, to not take it very, very personally. It's also a shame, when you have a job, qualifications, a functioning relationship (by the skin of its teeth, anyway), and a bunch of good friends, to still feel like something of a failure. No, I'm not doing quite what I want to be doing, career-wise. No, I'm not earning as much as I'd like. No, I don't have my own place. The best I can do right now is stick a "yet" at the end of those sentences, and resolve to keep on keeping on.

So, in the interests of this post having at least some redeeming qualities - and not simply being, as a dear friend said the other day, "just a wank on the page", here's how to get through your own Truly Terrible Weeks.

1) Caffeine.

In tearful times, there's a lot to be said for the great British tradition of a nice cup of tea. Ideally, it should be made by a love interest - all other romantic gestures are trumped by a well-timed, unasked-for cup of tea. They just are. 

In sleepless times, you need to up your caffeine game and hit the coffee. If you're ploughing through a tough day/week/year at the office, and trying to do it while sleep-deprived, you're going to need good, strong coffee.

2) Talk to your calmest, most interesting friends. One of the week's few bright spots was having a long chat with one such friend about everything from growing tomatoes to Go Set a Watchman. It was soothing - as long as I didn't focus on the fact that he was due to leave for Japan within 48 hours and I probably wouldn't be seeing him again for well over a year.

3) Remind yourself of, and keep chanting, all the motivational quotes and sayings you can think of. Make your own up if you have too. You'll feel like a walking tumblr, but it will help. Useful ones are as follows:

"Success isn't permanent, and failure isn't fatal."

"For every thirteen no's you hear, the fourteenth answer will be a yes".

"There will always be someone else who fucked up worse, and managed to turn it around" - I don't think this is a common saying, but it should be.

And two old favourites: "it could be worse" and "onwards and upwards".

(You have to believe this nonsense otherwise you'll go crackers or jump off a bridge.)

4) Don't hate-stalk. We all have those Facebook/Twitter/Instagram friends who are achingly smug, and sadly have much to be smug about, so don't do it to yourself. You'll only end up hissing things like "she's 25, how the bloody fuck can she afford a cleaner?" to yourself, at 2am.  

5) It's sod's law that the day you receive bad news is the day someone in your social circle gets a promotion/engaged/baby/frankly obscene payrise. Smile, nod, congratulate through gritted teeth, and take a large gulp of gin.

6) Gin. Wine. Beer. Pick your poison, have a couple of glasses. Any more than a couple and you stand a good chance of weeping yourself hoarse, or restarting a really old fight. Neither of which will make you feel any better, despite what 'drunk brain' may be telling you.

7) Remember who's on your side. And remember too that anyone who gives you advice or criticism is doing it from only one place, one perspective - their own. Parents and grandparents grew up in different times and different circumstances, which will have formed and shaped their opinions and outlooks.

8) You are not obliged to let the bastards get you down. You are allowed to say "sod it, I'm going to enjoy my evening and worry about this tomorrow". If it gets to Friday, and it's sunny, and you're in good health and not alone in the world and still have some money in the bank, then put your face on and get yourself a drink.

9) Shut Up and Dance. The day that massive, camp, super-poppy choruses like this fail to cheer me up is the day I walk into a lake, to be honest with you. Being someone's "discotheque Juliet teenage dream" sounds like a shedload of fun, too, where do you think one would apply for such a position?

On the Bambi bookshelf


Normally, I'd give books that run to 600 pages a wide berth - being of the opinion that if a writer can't finish a story in less than 400 pages, they're just showing off all the words they know as opposed to actually dishing out a plot - but something about this one made me want to give it a go. And I'm so glad it came home from the library with me. Part family saga, part forensic examination of a marriage, part something else entirely, it's incredibly well-written (no overblown, flowery prose here), and quietly addictive. It doesn't feel like an Epic Novel, even though it's been hailed as one. I can definitely recommend.

Friday, 24 July 2015

I can't quit you

Or: the rise and fall of Facebook
I'd quite like to not be on Facebook anymore. Not for any hipster-ish reasons - as knowing my friends, that will be the first accusation, and if that were my reasoning, I'd have deleted my account years ago. It's just kind of... boring now. I sort of can't be bothered. There's very rarely anything good on there. And that's not a specific accusation levelled at the people I'm friends with, not at all - it's simply that my social circle joined it at about 17, and while we've been changing over the last few years, so has Facebook itself.

Teenagers aren't joining it now (I have this on good authority from my 14-year-old sister) - probably because their parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents are, and are posting pictures of their walking holidays and mid-morning snacks, and bitching about the weather/the government/traffic. It used to be where you posted 102 pictures of one night out, then complained and commiserated about your hangover, then planned the next night. Statuses covered everything from the ever-so-slightly-amusing, to the wryly self-mocking, to the unashamed complaining. Now, I don't have too much of a problem with the inevitable rise of engagement ring/wedding/baby photos - well, I suppose it depends on how bitter hormonal I'm feeling, but most of the time, I quite like looking at pictures of pretty jewellery and dresses and cute babies. Who doesn't?!

Because the kids wised up very quickly when they saw that it was where Mum was posting their baby pictures, and decided not to go there, it's become a place for grown-ups to check up on each other. It's a given now that employers will search for the profiles of prospective employees - in an interview last January, the interviewer said to me "I see we've got a couple of mutual friends, how do you know Dan Smith?" (Not his real name, clearly.) This was eighteen months ago, and it felt a bit weird then, but now, I'm just assuming it will happen.

These days, my social media channel of choice is Twitter, which trounces Facebook in almost every way. It moves faster - if you forget to close the tab and then look back after a few minutes have passed, there will be at least 50 new bits of content. With the 140-character limit, there's less space for the braggers and moaners to brag and moan. It's perfect place for writers and wordy types - unlike the rest of the internet, on Twitter, text performs better than images, in terms of content-sharing (Twitter people are MY people). If it's images you're into, there's Instagram.

Twitter is also slightly less showy-offy, and a bit more "let's just share fun and interesting things with each other". Obviously this isn't always the case; a number of high-profile Twitter users - mainly women - have had truly shocking experiences with the site, and it has been very hard to get that abuse taken seriously. But for the small-time, non-famous user, it's a pretty good spot to be. Especially if you like words.

The other brilliant thing about Twitter is the sense of community. A gorgeous example came a couple of Fridays ago, during Channel 4's The Last Leg - while discussing the Budget, comedian Adams Hills suggested that anyone who was in need of, or could offer help (anything  - doing some shopping, mowing the lawn, looking over a CV) should tweet their offer or request with the hashtag #legup. Within an hour or so, there were nearly 16,000 tweets containing the hashtag. "If we're going to get screwed," said Hills, "we might as well push back". It was totally heartwarming - I saw requests for jobs answered with "send me your CV!" as well as fundraising targets being smashed left, right and centre - all because for a few hours, genuinely decent people were connected, held at a virtual stopsign by social media.

There's a short list of things that stop me quitting Facebook altogether:

1) it's a good place to promote the blog. Every time I look at my stats*, the Facebook link is one of the highest traffic sources.

*Something I do embarrassingly often when you compare it to the amount of hits I actually get.

2) it's the easiest way to stay in touch with my farthest-flung friends. (I possibly need to examine my priorities, having just put "promoting my blog" above "having and keeping friends" - but there you go.)

3) the messaging function is handy (especially if you and/or your partner are, to use the technical term, utterly shite with your phones) - in spite of the slightly weird way it tells you when someone's 'seen' your message. I'm certain that's caused a billion arguments since its introduction - "I know you got my message, Steve; what the hell were you doing that it took you four hours to reply, hmmm? HMMM???"

Let's be honest, I'll probably stay on Facebook; it still has its uses, and not enough of my friends get Twitter (what's to get, guys? Imagine a virtual pub, around the time of last orders, where everyone's having opinions quite loudly and merrily). It won't be long before the next social networking site lumbers into view.

On the Bambi bookshelf


It's another creepy stalker thriller; but a straightforward one this time, told from the victim's point of view. Wonderfully dark, the characters cling to you like cobwebs and show up in your dreams, long after you've finished reading. And finishing it won't take long - I'm a fast reader anyway, but I tore through this in a matter of hours. I think I may need to try and move away from stalker stories now, though, as they're starting to freak me out.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Get loud.


When under pressure, or placed in a stressful situation, some people get loud. They shout, sigh, huff, bang doors, slam pens and books on their desks. They cry, and spit snarky retorts across rooms. (I'm one of these people.) Other people go quiet. They retreat, tuck themselves and their messy, unravelling feelings away, and go very still and say nothing at all.

We suspected the Budget would be bad news for the young, poor and vulnerable, and our collective sense of dread turned out to be utterly justified. In short: "Housing benefit has been scrapped for 18-21 year olds, the new minimum wage will not apply to anyone under 25 and maintenance grants for poorer university students are gone, replaced with another loan. Our poorest students will now leave university with a higher debt than those from more affluent backgrounds" (from here).

The comment pieces that appeared in the days that followed were telling: "What have young people done to Osborne to deserve such contempt?" asked The Guardian's Polly Toynbee - to which I suspect the answer has less to do with what they have done and more to do with what what they didn't do - i.e. vote for a party that wasn't the Conservatives. Jonathan Freedland, also at The Guardian, had an interesting take on it. But it's Sali Hughes' piece on housing benefits, from The Pool, that best illustrates what these cuts will mean for young people.

It's simple, and stark - the less money and support you have, the smaller your world gets – and the bigger, darker and scarier the ‘outside’ becomes. Opportunities flicker and evaporate, and the chances to change your situation appear less and less often, and eventually stop cropping up altogether.

You come to a standstill. You are young – late teens, early twenties – but you are not how young people are ‘supposed’ to be, which is sociable, lively, ambitious, and energetic.

You have to spread your energy thinly, so eventually you stop moving, stop dreaming, stop fighting – because moving, dreaming and fighting require fuel and fire you cannot afford to expend.

You stop fighting your own corner, and don’t have anyone to fight it for you.

This is how you crush a generation – you take away their support, you make it harder still for them to progress, you all but tell them they don’t matter. They don’t have a place in this country; it isn’t built for them.

You write them out of their own stories; render them voiceless and inanimate. But in doing so, you set fire to the future. Because that’s what happens if you screw over the young – you burn any hope of a better future; you reduce all the cities and ideas and stories that would have come, had they been given even half a chance, to ash.

Those of us with voices and homes and fuel and heat must now get loud, on behalf of those without. Those of us who can act, should - march, protest, join societies, make it known that this is not what a lot of us voted for, this is not the society we want. Make some noise.


Sorry this is quite a bleak one. You know what's not bleak? This song. Just try not singing along. Just you try.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Give E.L. James a break

Plucked this one out of the air, to soothe my itchy keyboard fingers...

E.L. James did a Twitter Q & A on Monday, and it went exactly as you'd imagine. People didn't hold back - if you want to see the worst of it, check Buzzfeed's take on the conversation. I'm not going to link that one though, because it just seems horribly inevitable that they would screenshot the most scathing tweets, give them some captions and call it an article. Listicle. Whatever.

Although I've criticised the author in the past, and have spluttered with laughter and disbelief when I have dipped into the books, I'm kind of bored by the critical mauling she still seems to be getting.

I'm tired of people slagging her off because they all seem to have completely forgotten that Fifty Shades started as fan fiction. Have you read any fan fiction? That world is a topsy-turvy place. It can be hysterically funny, sexy, dark, wildly creative, and it's a fantastic concept when you think about it - people feeling so much affinity for fictional characters that they start making up their own stories for them - but ultimately, it's just a bit of fun. A writers' playground. Anything can happen in the fanfic world, and that's the beauty of it. People are writing Sherlock - Fault In Our Stars* crossovers. The joy of that is utterly endearing, isn't it? And besides, there are worse hobbies to have.

*They're also writing Sherlock - My Little Pony crossovers. That leap just boggles the mind, quite frankly.

By her own admission, Fifty Shades was James' "mid-life crisis writ large. All my fantasies [are] in there". She said that in an interview. So her critics are laying into her for 1) having the tamest mid-life crisis in history - I mean, come on, who rebels by sitting at a laptop and writing four books? That's the kind of mid-life crisis I want, please - and 2) for writing about her fantasies. God forbid a woman should have a non-vanilla fantasy, and be open about it, right?

And while we're on that bit about her mid-life crisis manifesting itself as a sudden need to write thousands and thousands of words, let's just consider that very thing for a moment. She's written four books - four hugely successful books - since January 2009. How many people do you know who reckon they could bash out a book? How many people do you know who've actually done it? I've been trying to do it on and off - more off than on - for months, and it's really hard. You need to write a lot of words, apparently.

With the publishing industry in its current state, and with so much Content Available For Free On The Bloody Internet (one of my favourite rants), shouldn't we be applauding the authors that sell like E.L. James, celebrating the unanticipated successes, taking heart from the fact that books, whole books, are being bought in their thousands, if not millions?

Aside from anything else, James is laughing all the way to her accountant and back again, as she's reportedly worth £37 million now.

There's a lot of well-thought-out, articulate criticism that's been levelled at her, and that's OK, for the most part - books, films, TV programmes, etc shouldn't be exempt from criticism just because their creators never expected them to become successful. Of course it's worth looking at how women, various minorities, sex, relationships, power and so on are being depicted in popular culture, because that culture can be used as a mirror for what's happening in the real world. And the internet has made discussing and criticising works of art and cultural phenomena something everyone can do. Almost anyone can compose a tweet, write a blog post, fire off a Facebook status. Again, that's great. We can discuss the latest episode of Games of Thrones or Humans as they're shown, in 'real time' and share our reactions, create a conversation. But I think we're still in the toddler-tantrum phase of the internet, really. We're still making the rules for this relatively new environment as we go, and we're not there yet. We haven't quite civilised the space, figured out the etiquette; there's still too much shouting and rage, too many trolls and vitriol.

We just need a little perspective - she's a woman who wrote a story to amuse herself, and it made her very rich. Good on her.

 

On the Bambi bookshelf


Oh, You. I have to admit, I ignored this several times when I came across it in various bookshops, writing it off as one of those trashy summer thrillers that you might grab at an airport WHSmith's, in the last ten minutes before boarding. I don't think it's possible for me to have been more wrong about it.
I found it in my local library - I'm currently a bit obsessed with the place - and the comparisons to Gone Girl reeled me in. (Say what you like about GG but it was one heck of a page-turner.) Having finished Hausfrau, I was in the mood for another addictive, read-in-one-hectic-go piece of literary ass, and damn, did You deliver.


It's a classic tale - boy meets girl, boy fancies girl, boy becomes so obsessed with girl that he follows her, steals her phone, hacks her email and social media channels, breaks into her apartment, gets into a relationship with her, and then things get a bit murdery... It's Fifty Shades if Christian never discovered BDSM* and instead went full psycho. There's no major twist - a couple of minors, sure, but nothing gasp-worthy - but the impact of the book comes from the fact that it's written from the stalker's point of view. He's a brilliant character (unlike Grey, then) and I so, so want to see a film version of this. I know a sequel's due shortly, but a film would be fantastic. It says a lot for Kepnes' skill as a writer that you end up empathising with Joe a lot more than you do with his victims. It even manages to be a bit sexy, in places (yes, I'm doing some major self-analysis as I type that).

Days later, I am missing this book, and Joe, really quite badly.

Here's a fitting song for this post. You'll know what I mean when you listen to it.

*Yes, I am aware that what happens in the Fifty Shades books isn't an accurate portrayal of BDSM.