The Smallest of Updates

Hello! Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve posted, though, in my defence, I think that while seemed a lot longer than it actually was, given, y’know, recent events?

OK, so unless you’ve been living under a rock (which, incidentally, is probably the safest place for you right now), we are in the grips of a pandemic. There are places who are handling it better than others, though I have the misfortune of living in the country with the second-highest death toll in the world. And what do the second-highest and highest death toll countries in the world have in common? Why, heads of government that act more like pantomime characters and crime bosses than actual leaders!

But I could go on about that forever, and I won’t, because I want to discuss higher ideals. I’m surprisingly doing fine in the midst of all this madness, and I hope everyone else is too. Everything from how long we’ll be in lockdown to where the hell my writing’s going to go with this is all up in the air at the moment, not to mention how we’re going to avoid a no-deal Brexit? The clock is ticking…

OK, so, in the midst of all this uncertainty, what can you do? Keep Calm and Carry On? Not a bad idea, but not when done in a way that ignores the plights of everyone around you. Today, as I’m sure most of you are aware, marks Victory in Europe day, the 75th anniversary of the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allied Forces. There are exceptionalists and nationalists in this country which will have you believe Britain is the sole victor and the sole contributor to this victory, but this is a vanity that I really hoped would have died down by now.

This isn’t to downplay the contribution British servicemen played in this historic victory, but we owe a huge debt in the victory to those who stood beside them – the Polish, the many members of the Empire and the Commonwealth, those strange and (usually) lovely people across the Atlantic, those who resisted within occupied countries and even the dirty Reds. On a larger scale, the defeat of fascism was a victory for humanity as a whole, and signified the largest breakout of peace on a continent so defined historically by going to war with itself.

It’s no secret to those who are regulars to this blog or who know me personally that I believe the UK’s attempts to sever ties with the European Union as deeply tragic. This isn’t to say the EU is perfect, but it serves as a reminder how much better pulling together is than falling apart, and in an age ravaged by a viral pandemic, runaway climate change and narcissistic men sitting in high offices (and it is generally men – you’ll notice that the countries handling the pandemic best are generally, though not exclusively, those run by women), that message needs to be reiterated. This is an overwhelming point of VE day, and it’s a real shame those nationalists will tragically miss the point.

But we don’t need to – I began 2020 with the idea that I’d focus more on being kind. I will still attempt that in my own befuddled way. And I feel such a thing is still possible even when obeying social distancing measures.

Not more to say on the subject, other than keep yourselves safe, and try your best to make the world a better place even when those in charge are doing a terrible job.

How to enter a New Year


In the last post, I expressed my fear over the potential for Boris Johnson to secure a large majority in the then upcoming general election. My fears were confirmed, and I am genuinely concerned for what the future holds. Anyone who knows me from Twitter knows that I have been expressing this a great deal, often in colourful language. And for good reason – already, the far-right figure Tommy Robinson has joined the Conservative party, and all early signs indicate that Johnson himself is going to do very little to protect workers rights and the environment when Brexit makes itself known, among other things.

After several days of tweeting, retweeting and liking posts in a kind of cathartic rage, it eventually became clear to me which tweets I liked the most. Not those that reflected myself, spitting like a Visigoth, but those assurances to any concerned people reading them that things can still be OK if we try and work through it, or declarations of solidarity with those marginalized groups most worried for their safety under this new regime that was invited in on the back of right-wing populist rhetoric.

I imagine this probably betrays an overly sentimental edge on my part – I mean, how do I know the future’s going to be OK? The fact is, I don’t. 2019, on reflection, is shaping up to be nearly as bad as 2016, and even though I resolved to feel better at the end of that year, things still went pear-shaped the year afterwards. I can’t guarantee that won’t happen again, or even worse. The world appears to be becoming a less friendly place, even within the context of getting older, and yes, that and all the things that are causing it does make me angry. Anger is a very natural response.

It’s also a given. What isn’t a given is what I choose to do with it.

A bit rich, perhaps, given my catharsis overload on Twitter recently. OK, fair enough. But anger’s omnipresent, and has driven our species since the beginning. Oftentimes it’s a rightful response to some great injustice, and in those circumstances it can be amazingly healthy. But that response is so well-known, that anyone can manipulate it for their own purposes. It doesn’t seem coincidental to me that the alt-right in the West rose shortly after the crash of 2008, just as fascism reached its peak in the wake of the Great Depression. People who were promised the Earth suddenly lost out – with no jobs, no future prospects, they looked for someone to blame. Those who could channel such anger did, and the rest is history. Now, I’m not defending fascists – indeed, most of them weren’t driven by the anger of the mob, but their general detachment from any kind of human empathy and compassion, making their emotional responses to others inadequate shells in comparison to what normal humans feel. But they disguised it, and continue to disguise it, and those who are angry sometimes don’t notice the worst signs because they aren’t thinking straight, and how do they react when people accuse them of being hateful? By doubling down and becoming convinced in their view that the entire world is against them, and all must be sacrificed to fight back.

The drive to anger is not the problem – as I said, it’s often a healthy reaction to a great injustice (indeed, like the massive injustices perpetrated by fascism and the alt-right), but if you seek to right a wrong, be it a perceived wrong you were deceived about, or a genuine wrong that exists, how will you change it? Yes, spreading awareness is a good thing, but if you channel your anger at the figure of it, it’s unlikely to stick. At worst, you would have just reinforced their belief.

The blunt fact of the matter is, there are a lot of people it’s difficult not to be angry with. There are also people it’s difficult not to hate. For the absolute worst people, it may be impossible not to hate them, but leaving them aside, when you find yourself faced with someone whom you have heavy disagreements with on issues you think are important, it’s up to you to decide which route you’re going to go down. If you choose to confront them about it, it’s important you make sure they know exactly why you feel as strongly as you do – it’s not enough for them to know why you feel so strongly about it. In the same vein, if we are ever going to eradicate, and I mean, truly eradicate the worst kind of prejudices that exist in our society, some held with malice, others just through sheer ignorance, it’s important to know why individuals come to hold them. How can people be so full of hate? For limited beings who are used to seeing themselves as the only sensible person in the room, it might be easier than you think.

Looking back on this year, there’s been a lot of anger – from the righteous anger involved in my political activism, to the less righteous (but surely justified to themselves) anger involved in some other people’s political activism, the irritation that occurs when celebs you admire disappoint you, the times when genuinely righteous anger gets taken to a level you’re uncomfortable with, and even anger at oneself, for continuing to be a wretched disappointment to everyone. Lots and lots of anger. Anger is easy. Patience and understanding much less so – but I feel that in most cases, mobilizations by anger should be a last resort.

I will certainly continue to be mobilized by anger, probably for the rest of my life, but sometimes, I do really get tired of it. I (usually) can’t make the world better by shouting at it, or myself better by shouting at myself. For this Christmas-time, and for the New Year, I want to focus on being nice. Why? Because I want the world to be nicer. When you’re motivated by anger, it means you care about something, but often that recognition seems to get lost on the way. How many times have I seen people, motivated by righteous anger, condemning our species as being corrupt, depraved and hopeless, failing to realize that the ability to make the judgement comes from a place that is clearly not entirely corrupt, depraved and hopeless. And the more people choose to unleash their anger in response to wanting the world to be nicer, they are avoiding that chance.

Though currently looking for paid work, I’m also looking for opportunity to volunteer, particularly in local charities, because I want to give something often missing from everyday interactions – just someone taking the time to be nice, altruistic, friendly, compassionate. I have often failed to make that case, and I don’t want it to be a consistent feature.

I get the feeling some people I know might be annoyed at my approach – and that’s fine. I’m aware of the common things people throw out when the call for civility is made. It is, for example, difficult to talk civilly to someone who has their boot on their neck. And as I’ve said, those in such situation should absolutely fight back with everything they have. But for those not quite in that situation yet, it might be worth trying to focus on what we have in common than what makes us distinct. A recognition of common humanity often makes people question the biased, prejudiced beliefs they hold – that, at least, is the testimony I’ve heard from people transformed away from their bigotry.

This will probably be the last majorly political (sort of) post I’m going to make for a while. I want to use this to talk about the things in writing I find interesting, or the stuff I read that I like. Or maybe I won’t post on this again for a while in general, because I’ll be busy with other things. Therefore, when faced with uncertainty (of which there is a lot), it’s important that you remember this:

You exist. You didn’t have to, but you do. Use that. Make someone else’s existence brighter. There are already plenty who do that for me, so it’s about time I did that too, in my own befuddled way. So, have a great Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

Let’s be frank…

OK, so, I meant to post something earlier than this, which was going to be an insight into how I feel narratives about real sincere issues are sometimes badly combined with idealistic elements. I may still do this, but at the time, I wanted to ensure I said what I needed to properly, and well, things got in the way. Including that which I want to talk about now.

Generally speaking, I want this blog to be about the writing I do and the things I read, and whilst this will still be the case (as far as I know) once in a while something important needs to be said. Therefore, this is what this will be about.

Enough preamble – this is about the upcoming general election in the United Kingdom. As of the time of writing, we got to the polls tomorrow, and whilst elections are usually important in and of themselves, this particular one may well be the most important we have faced in our lifetimes, and possibly the most important we’ll ever face – though of course, that does depend a bit on your age.

Whilst my political views do occasionally, er, leak into some of the stuff I say on here, usually as a joke, I try not to let it inform what this blog is about. Some issues are very partisan, and I’d prefer to influence by my writing. And even though I feel the need to speak out now, as I did following the election of Donald Trump in the US, this isn’t so much about me telling whatever tiny number of British followers I have who they should vote for, as such. This is me telling them who not to vote for.

Currently, the Conservative MP Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister of a minority government. This election gives him a very real chance of securing a parliamentary majority, and I firmly believe that this would be very dangerous and an utter disaster for almost everyone in the country, barring Johnson himself and his rich friends. The blunt fact of that matter is, I do believe Johnson is dangerous, and whilst I’ve definitely been no fan of his two predecessors, I’m almost finding myself missing them when I consider the prospect of him running the country virtually unchecked, because whilst Parliament is de jure sovereign in this country, de facto it is the executive that rules the roost, and, because of our utterly terrible First Past the Post electoral system, they can rule even if the majority of people have voted against them.

Indeed, every time I’ve looked at the opinion polls for this election, with the Conservatives ahead, I’ve noticed that the percentage share of the next two most popular parties put their combined popularity ahead of the Conservatives. And this is frustrating, because with them at each other’s throats, they’re giving Johnson a path to victory, which will screw us all over. Therefore, for those who can vote, your best option is voting for whomever in your constituency has the best chance of defeating a Conservative candidate. Tactical voting has always been a necessity under First Past the Post, but this time it may be our lifeline. There are many tactical voting websites to give you advice on this – here is the site I’ve been using, but there are plenty more out there if you just type in the key word ‘tactical voting.’ If you live in a marginal seat (something that this website will also be able to tell you if you’re unsure) it becomes even more vital.

But, of course, why should you care what I think of Boris Johnson? You might like him, or his party, or dislike other parties, or at least feel that he’s a bit of a clown and can’t do us much harm. Well, let me give you reasons to care. First off, his clownish persona is just a persona. He is much more dangerously intelligent and Machiavellian than a lot of people seem to observe, and that becomes evident the more I list the other reasons you definitely shouldn’t vote for him.

  1. He’s an authoritarian.
    For me, this may well be the most worrying thing. Just with the likes of Trump, he pays lip-service to democracy whilst attempting to slowly whittle away its institutions to serve him better. How do I know? Well, if his attempts to shut down Parliament (illegally, I might add, meaning that if all was right with the world he’d be under serious investigations) in an attempt to avoid scrutiny and get his own way weren’t enough to convince you, what about the fact that he threatened Channel 4 with the deadly euphemism of ‘reviewing the channel’s broadcasting remit’, following them replacing him with an ice sculpture after he failed to turn up to the channel’s climate change debate? Ofcom have rejected Johnson’s complaint, and the bias proclaimed by Michael Gove after they wouldn’t allow him to take his place is patently absurd. It was a leader’s debate after all. And all this goes without mentioning the constitutional reforms he wants to make – including an attack on our independent judiciary, which, as you may remember, was key to preventing him from trying to illegally bypass Parliament. Unlike in the USA, where Trump is kept somewhat mercifully restrained by a firmly entrenched constitution, our constitution is uncodified, unentrenched and flexible. It’s based on statute and time immemorial rather than anything else. Our Supreme Court was only established in 2009, making it 220 years younger than the Supreme Court of the United States. Among more codified laws, we have those (such as, significantly, the Human Rights Act of 1998), that are based off European Law, which for Johnson, obviously means they’re only in the way. For a more detailed breakdown of how Johnson will attack our democratic rights, here’s an article from Polly Toynbee. You should only vote for Johnson if you prefer the standards of Putin.
  2. He holds contempt for near enough everybody.
    OK, so his nasty comments are pretty well-documented, and here are some lists highlighting just a few notable examples. Here we have blatant racism, sexism and homophobia, which is always a nice start, but I’d like to add a few examples myself. First, there were his recent comments regarding EU nationals, where he said they’d been treating a country as their own for ‘far too long’, a comment that absolutely reeks of an us-vs-them dichotomy favoured by provocateurs on the alt-right. Secondly, there’s the antisemitism. Yes, the Labour party is currently undergoing a lot of antisemitism controversy at the moment, and yes, it is a serious problem that needs a lot more work than has already gone in to purge the party of such a toxic element, but the extensive coverage of it in the media has drawn attention away from the fact that antisemitism exists in the Conservative party too, is not being addressed nearly enough (not even as much as the Labour party are addressing it in their own ranks), and importantly come from Johnson himself. Back when he was a backbencher, he wrote a novel (I’m feeling slightly sick that we have that in common, and I haven’t even been published) that featured the well-worn antisemitic trope of a Jewish man as an unethical businessman who fiddles with elections. Here’s a more detailed look. And of course, let’s not forget his reaction when he was shown, in a single picture, just what his party’s cuts to the NHS had done to people.
  3. He’s a compulsive liar.
    I mean…yeah. He’s lied so many times and so often, you could probably stay up half the night just by typing ‘Boris Johnson’s lies’ into Google, and I certainly don’t have time to list all the examples of Johnson lying – so, I’ll focus on his biggest electoral claim. His claim to ‘get Brexit done.’ If he wins a majority, Johnson says Brexit will be sorted by the 31st January. Well, no, it won’t. Whilst the actual exit will occur, negotiations on how to construct a future with the EU we’re now no longer part of and no longer have any say in its laws and how they choose to conduct trade with us (so much for taking back control!). Once again, here’s a more detailed look:
    Oh, and another one.
    To put it bluntly, if you’re a Leave voter, voting for a party promising a referendum on the negotiated deal is a much better option for you. Then you will get more of a say on the matter, the essence of democracy!
    Oh, and then there’s what Johnson’s version of Brexit will do to Northern Ireland and the hard-won peace process there, something even Johnson’s allies, the DUP have called him out on. And yet another thing Johnson lied about. I also get the feeling you shouldn’t trust him on the NHS either – even John Major a former Conservative PM, has said that the NHS is about as safe with Johnson as a hamster is with a python, or words to that effect…
  4. He is a friend of poverty.
    If you want to dispute this, you can check the sources yourself, and once again, I’ll include an article that summarizes it better:
    The long and short of it is, child poverty has gone up, homelessness has gone up, and it simply doesn’t have to be this way in what’s something like the fifth or sixth richest country on Earth. And before you start bringing up balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility and all that other waffle, can I just point out that the national debt of the UK in 2010, when austerity was put in place for apparent fear of going bankrupt, was at 74.6% of the GDP. That’s a figure you can look up yourself, by the way. Post-WWII, the national debt was at around 270% of the GDP. Again, look at up yourself. And yet, the post-WWII government managed to spend on the creation of the welfare state, including the NHS, without going bankrupt. Funny that. I should point out that other parties have fully costed manifestos anyway, just to be safe…which brings me to the last point…

    5. None of the parties can really do worse.
    You may dispute this – you may be agreeing with all my criticisms of Johnson, but still not like any of the other people behind the parties running. And that’s fair enough – no party is perfect, and I know plenty of people have legitimate criticisms of them. Many people take issue with the Labour Party by being headed by someone who seems out of touch with traditional voters and too much of a controversial outsider who brought in rouge elements. Many people see the Liberal Democrats as just watered-down Tories who they can’t forgive for overseeing austerity as part of a coalition government. All of these points are fair enough, but the point being missed here is that almost nobody has predicted the slightest possibility that any of these parties can get a majority this time around – what can happen, if enough support is drawn away from Johnson (the only person who seems capable of getting a majority at present), is a hung Parliament, and a follow-up coalition government where the parties can be further held to account by others, and deal with the issues raised then, filtered through Parliament. Their manifestos are more viable, and there will (hopefully) be more of a mood to compromise. I have my own thoughts on the parties running, but that’s not what this is about – who you should vote for, in my view, should be whoever’s best suited in your area to stop an era of Johnson. Once that’s sorted, then we can focus on other issues.

So, maybe this will piss off a lot of people, I don’t know. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, I’m probably still going to avoid overly political posts in the future. This just seemed too important to avoid. Johnson and his criminal cronies must be stopped, and anything I can do to spread that word will make it easier to live with myself. At the end of the day, I’m just one loser sitting around, frantically typing about what he thinks online. It is you, the voters (providing, you know, you’re British), who have the power to make this happen, so MAKE SURE YOU GET OUT THERE AND VOTE. And whoever you vote for, just think carefully about it. For all our sakes.

Writing by Numbers

OK, so…

Yeah, alright, I get it. For anyone who actually is reading this, they will see that my posts have become so irregular, I may as well consider myself a spontaneous occasional producer rather than a regular blogger, and to improve upon that, I will have to get a better grip with what a schedule is, and find appropriate subject matter to talk about. Book reviews and opinions of writing seem to be a good start, though whether I should also get more controversial on everyone is also an interesting question, especially with all the nonsense that’s happening at the moment that I have strong opinions about…

But until then, I did want to post this, if only to have some kind of outlet for myself if nobody else will read this. Because it relates to a lot of the thought processes that go on whenever I sit down to write.

As of right now, I am still waiting for contacted agents to get back to me about my Private Tuition manuscript. I’m well aware that this is par the course for new writers, but I’m sure all those who have been in that situation would also agree that it can get quite demoralizing. Especially when you’re also looking for a job and get a whole heap of rejections or silence ad nauseum, but never mind that right now…

In waiting, I haven’t just ceased writing and am now working on the first draft of another novel, this one within the young adult contemporary genre, and I’m glad that the category it fits into is a little clearer this time. Perhaps more on that in another post at another time.

However, this particular work has been subject to intense review, as I made it the bulk of my major project for my postgraduate Creative Writing course! And as a result, it got some hefty scrutiny. As it is, I ended up passing with merit, but what was said about my earliest draft was definitely interesting, and it got me thinking, sometimes in enthusiasm about my work, other times in despair. Because, as of right now, I have no idea if what I write is remotely marketable. I can only know if people actually decide to sell it, and and people actually buy. And for all that people say about what makes a marketable read, I honestly think it might be one of the great unpredictables.

There is a ton of advice on writing out there, much of which I consume and much of which I give out myself (like, uh, right now), and most of it is well-meaning and good chunk of it is extremely useful. The problem is is that there is by no means any one-size-fits-all approach to writing anything, and this is especially true of fiction, and anyone who tells you otherwise is kidding themselves. Following every single rule you’re ever given as rigidly as possible with no allowing for wiggle room will just render you the ultimate example of someone who paints by numbers, or, as the title suggests, writes by numbers. Whilst it may be a story a lot of people want to buy, is it worth it if it’s not your story? For anyone who says yes…well, great, but if money’s all your care about, you shouldn’t have tried to make it by writing, for God’s sake. Furthermore, it never seems to be the formulaic works that find success (with exceptions, sure), rather those that actually make the imitators want to imitate it. Think of the wave of dystopian YA fiction that followed the success of The Hunger Games – how many of them really had a lasting impact?

Of course, this isn’t an absolute metric. Magical schools were very much a regular feature in children’s fantasy literature before Harry Potter came along, but nevertheless, I do feel there was something about this series in particular that it had in terms of wide appeal and storytelling that previous examples, such as Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch and Anthony Horowitz’s Groosham Grange lacked, for whatever reason. Obviously, that’s quite subjective, and discussing the successes and merits of the Harry Potter series is honestly something that deserves probably several posts. But the point stands – determining what will guarantee a work’s success is so contingent on other factors, it seems futile to put it down to a formula. There’s a quote relevant to this by the successful Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami that I found on one of my bookmarks, because, y’know, random stationery is the perfect thing to find inspiring. And, I’m going to quote it with the beautiful quote tool WordPress has that I was too much of an incompetent dork to use before:

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

Yeah, that didn’t go entirely according to plan, but now at least you can see where the quote is…

And I think he’s right about this, and it also stands to reason that this follows for writing advice – if you only write based on the advice people have given you, you’ll only be able to write what everyone else is writing.

Now, I exaggerated a little in this case, because actually, some advice when it comes to basic grammar, syntax and other foundational matters is pretty fundamental to follow. However, the more abstract and nuanced the subject matters become, the less fundamental the advice seems to be.

There is a lot of advice out there on hooks and inciting incidents when it comes to your story’s opening, and any normal three-act structure whatsit will tell you as much. For someone who had always enjoyed slow burn stories as much as fast-paced ones, and began to write a lot in the former category, partially because I seemed to enjoy the experience so much, this made me feel a little despondent. I couldn’t see ways for my story to serve a fast-paced plot. Now, hooking your reader early on is important, but what I eventually realized was how you do it is subject to a lot of different factors, primarily, what kind of audience you’re catering to and what they would find enticing. If you’re not sure on your audience, consider what you would consider enticing. They say you should write what you’d want to read, after all. Bear in mind that you’re already privy to the plot and will know if exciting moments occur later, but remember – the audience doesn’t know that. You will have to give them something to look forward to. Try and put yourself in their shoes. But, and this is a really important but, don’t fall into the trap of mistaking a hook or inciting incident for something massive, dramatic, action-packed, or fast-paced.

You may be tempted to make the hook or inciting incident the formerly mentioned things because you’re afraid of boring your audience. But honestly, audiences and readers are unpleasable, which I know, because I am an avid member of both categories. Besides, being bored of certain aspects of something doesn’t translate to disliking a work. As of the time of writing, the book I’m currently reading is New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, and I’m enjoying it, but by all accounts it’s certainly not a fast-paced read. Apart from being over 600 pages in length, so many scenes are dedicated to well-timed reflections of characters and the important conversations they have. Some people don’t enjoy people chatting for ages in a work of fiction, but I do (possibly influenced by growing up with Harry Potter, where the ends of each book are usually filled with massive info dumps that I kind of just got used to), and so for me, that’s engaging enough. That’s not to say that everything is – New York 2140 is unabashedly socialist, and whilst I definitely have sympathies with that point of view, it does mean a lot of the book is given over to talk of markets, financing, business cycles, funding and all the rest of it, and to be honest, that side of it is just straight-up boring. It doesn’t help that one of the book’s POV characters works at a hedge fund and won’t fucking talk about anything else unless he’s distracted by his sexual frustration or having to constantly rescue two boys from drowning (it makes sense in context), and he is a desperate bore of a character. That said, the rest of the book is enjoyable enough for me to get to nearly the end of it.

This point about hooks is particularly poignant for the fact that I’m writing within the young adult contemporary genre this time around. That particularly section of literary works is absolutely filled of character-driven stories, and people who enjoy reading character-driven stories, so it seems entirely sensible that any hooks of enticing incidents in the early pages of such books should be character-based – internal and emotional, rather than fast-paced and bombastic. This seemed to be the impression made with John Green’s Looking for Alaska (which I have reviewed here), where the first chapter is merely dedicated to the protagonist’s internal ponderings, where he eventually concludes he wants to go to boarding school to seek a ‘Great Perhaps’ which gives you an insight into how he views the world. For me, though, the bigger hook was the fact that the first chapter was not called ‘chapter one’, but rather ‘one hundred and thirty-six days before’. Before what? The question isn’t answered until you’re well into the novel. By many an assessment, not a great deal happens in that book, it’s mostly the day-to-day life of this particular school, but, as mentioned before, it is the characters and how they all interact that really makes the plot.

This became much clearer upon reading Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay (reviewed here), which, in my opinion, does an even better job in telling an engaging story via very little happening externally, but a whole lot happening internally with the main characters. I won’t go into too much detail here, but check out my review for fuller details.

Given that I opened this particular topic by framing it in advice and feedback I had been given at uni, I just want to affirm that this isn’t to say what the advice and feedback I had been given was basically useless. Most of it was pretty informative, and to be honest, I still feel like more has to be done regarding developing characters in a sensible way and giving enough of an impression of them at the correct moment. It’s the first draft still, so I should be fine given enough time (which, y’know, is something we can never be sure of how much we’ve got, nice and morbid for you). I guess sometimes looking at what other people were writing and being asked specific questions about certain story beats made me despair of my work, because I had too closely associated these kinds of questions with stories that followed formulaic structures. If you feel your story cannot be pigeon-holed into any specific description, relish in it. The concerns for marketing can wait, just write what you want to. First and foremost, the most important thing is getting it all down. And, as I was wisely advised, take risks. You are in complete control of this world and its characters, do whatever you want with it, until you find a solution.

And on that megalomaniacal note, I bid you farewell and thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment, and I may return to this…at some point…



Reading & Reviewing: The Handmaid’s Tale

Oh, hi.

You may have noticed that the title of this isn’t about my writing journey. And, sadly, it turns out that taking a writing course doesn’t leave that much time for it. As of now I’ve not got any deals offered to me, but will get on it as soon as I have more time.

Given the time constraints, why did I think that now would be a good time to write a blog post? My friends, I have absolutely no idea why I do what I do, and I think the sooner you remember that, the better. (OK, so technically, there was some planning to the timing of this but I’ll get onto that at the end…)

We’re back with another book review, and here I’ll be reviewing The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the book I read before the one I’m currently slogging through. Why am I slogging through it? Again, timing. It is in itself an enjoyable read, but y’know…

But what about the one I’m reviewing today? Is it any good? Well, yes. It is. But that conclusion took a while to come to even as I was reading.

The book, or at least its concept, doesn’t need that much introduction. It sort of established itself to me as one the ‘Big Three’ of dystopian fiction that really defined the genre in its modern form, along with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – high praise indeed, given how much these books I hadn’t read cemented themselves as defining points in the genre. As of the time of writing this, I still haven’t read the other two, which has probably earned me a little booing from the non-existent crowd of onlookers.

For those not familiar with it, or at least want a more definitive overview, the book’s premise is essentially this:

Set at an undisclosed point in the near future, the United States government has been overthrown in a coup by ‘The Sons of Jacob’, a group of totalitarian Christian fundamentalists, who manage to keep a low profile to begin with, allowing them to slowly chip away at human rights until we enter the world we see at the beginning of the novel. In the newly formed Republic of Gilead, sex is ruthlessly controlled, particularly for women, who are assigned very particular roles in life, denoted by colour-coded dresses. The Handmaids are the caste given the most focus, and is the group our protagonist belongs to, coded by now iconic red dresses. Fertility is apparently a huge problem in this future, and the official policy of The Sons of Jacob is that male infertility does not exist – all fertility problems are the fault of barren wives. To get over this, the Sons have allowed the caste of Handmaids to engage in ritualistic sex with married men (though always with the wives present) in order to produce children that will legally belong to married couple and not the Handmaid – they provide Biblical justification for this as well, with the cases of Abraham and his wife’s handmaid Hagar (Genesis 16:2) and Jacob and both of his wives’ handmaids (Genesis 30:3, 9). I say handmaids, but to be honest, slave is a more accurate term. As is the case with the Handmaids in this story. Our protagonist goes by the name of Offred, although that is not her real name, as her Handmaid status means she’s only designated a name based on the man she’s assigned to (Offred=Of Fred, you see?) We get to see the world of Gilead through her eyes and her thoughts of the world that came before it.

Perhaps one of the most extraordinary things about this book is the nature of our protagonist, who’s birth name is never revealed. She manages to be both incredibly dull, boring, and irritating, and intriguing, engaging and worth reflection at the same time. I say this with the recognition that she is meant to be – and the book’s epilogue backs up this interpretation – something of an unreliable narrator. Not that she’s lying about the situation she’s in, but rather her perspective is limited, self-centred, and to be honest, feels kind of suppressed. The situation she’s in certainly does elicit sympathy, but not much else. You increasingly get the feeling there’s many more characters in this piece you’d much rather hear about – take Moira, Offred’s best friend, who’s story is mostly told in flashbacks. She’s openly gay and was active in feminism before Gilead asserted itself, and that in itself is enough to engage a great deal of interest, and an opportunity for a window into the lives of queer people, feminists (and indeed queer feminists) in countries that suppress women and the LGBT community wholesale, theocracies being no slouch on that front. But instead, we spend most of our time with this rather unassertive straight woman. It’s enough to frustrate you, but then you realise it may well be the point. I mean, this is a frustrating situation, and not everyone has the means, capability or motivation to resist when the need arises, so it’s possible that you were meant to feel that hopelessness too – it’s not as if the hopeless tone isn’t felt throughout the book. In case Gilead thinks you have too much hope, they suppress that too by displaying the hanged corpses of political/religious dissidents, or just those they deem too sinful, in public, changing them daily so you don’t get too used to it.

The fact is, there a lot of characters in this book who’s stories we don’t hear, and that’s because Offred never heard them herself. Once again, the book is driving home the limits of one life and the frustrations that can result when you’re in, to put it mildly, a bit of a pinch.

And the way this was executed actually led to me to repeatedly question how well it was executed. Several times, I changed my mind on how much we’re supposed to like Offred, or how much of an ideal figure she was meant to represent. My final answer is that – she’s not meant to be an ideal at all. She’s meant to represent helplessness and be the victim of her circumstances. What makes me so sure about this? Well, the most obvious answer is that she simply never does anything.

I’ve seen ineffective protagonists before, and sometimes they’ll end up doing a lot of passive things in the time you spend with them (which, given they are the protagonist, is not surprising), but they’ll never make any active contributions to the plot. They’ll almost always have things done for them rather than take initiative themselves. Offred is this in spades. One of the biggest frustrations she offered to me was how many times her thoughts wandered to her bloody ex-husband. Hey, what gives? I thought this was supposed to be a definitive piece of feminist fiction, and all she’s doing is thinking in adoartion about the men who have dictated her life? (Not an entirely inaccurate description the more you read about their past together.) As for having things done for her, it has to be said that it’s not just the men of the story who do that, although they definitely do. Indeed, another one of the biggest frustrations this story had to me was, trying not to give too much away, was when another female character offered a very significant olive branch to Offred and she REFUSED, partially because of the sex she was at that moment having and the weird emotions that resulted from it. I made me want to holler at Offred and tell her how ridiculous she was being, but then again, she’s only human, and sometimes humans will go with their gut instinct in situations, something she readily admits herself. Worth noting is how the women who step beyond their boundaries for Offred (or around her, at least) never get away with it, being condemned either by Offred’s narrative, or by the ruthless powers in control of Gilead. The men who do the same, on the other hand? Nothing. They get away with it more or less perfectly. Again, deliberate? I can’t help but feel so. The story’s epilogue takes place at the end of the 22nd century, where a male historian is giving his opinion of Offred’s life as described in the book, and spends a great deal time speculating on the motivations of the men involved rather than trying to empathize with her.

This book’s frustrations may well be the best thing about it. The fact that I can read a work of feminist fiction and feel that the protagonist is entirely unhelpful, and above all, fails to consistently empathize with many of the women around her (not all the time, but enough) is really telling, and perhaps showcases a condemnation of totalitarian moralizing and thought control far better than descriptions of hanging corpses can, horrific as that is. This book I think was always meant to be a cautionary tale, but one that runs deeper just than the outset of a misogynist dictatorship, right into the veins of our unreliable narrator. This is a metafictional approach I have to salute in how well it was executed. Is it one I’ll keep going back to? It’s unclear – it’s certainly not a feel-good read, but definitely one which will probably light up the mind upon a reread, and, for those into books that challenge your thoughts in different ways with each turn of the page, it’s definitely one I’d recommend.

How accurately have I interpreted it? It’s really difficult to be sure. I want to bear in mind that my maleness may give me something of a blind spot when it comes to determining the aspects of feminist themes throughout, and I have to admit there were a few areas where I feel that my own personal tastes got in the way. For example – we have a heterosexual woman as our protagonist, which will inevitably make me pull faces at various points at the narrative trying and failing to make men attractive. (Spoilers: They’re not.) Not a failing of the book, just an issue of personal taste. And then there’s the whole smoking thing…yeah…I know this was published in 1985, when smoking was a more mainstream thing, but seriously, these characters treat cigarettes like fucking gold dust, using them as almost impervious bribes and reliefs. I utterly detest the smell of cigarette smoke, and am way too traumatized by graphic anti-smoking PIFs I saw as a child to take it up now. Obviously, I’m aware that nicotine addiction is no small thing to overcome, but it would appear as though I’d be difficult to bribe in Gilead.

OK, this brings me the reason for the timing of this post – something of a Real Talk time. The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985, but I fear its political talking points are very relevant at the moment.

Those who have been following the news know that Alabama has recently passed immensely restrictive anti-abortion laws. The bill in question seeks to prohibit abortion in nearly all cases, including rape and incest, and only makes an exception, as far as I can tell, for when both the survival of the mother and foetus are in question. This bill was inevitably passed by a group of cisgender men, people who’d never have to consider the consequences of this themselves. Ominously, the supporters are even anticipating the bill to be blocked in court (running counter to Roe v. Wade, 1973), but they are wanting to have it pushed to the Supreme Court so a big stink is made about it, and the possibility the newly and highly conservative judges overturning this landmark civil rights case. This possibility sets a worrying precedent that’s already present in the Supreme Court, given Brett Kavanaugh’s dangerous, authoritarian views on presidential power. No wonder Trump fought his corner.

OK, obviously I have my own opinions on the right to an abortion, but for those of you who do consider themselves pro-life, bear in mind that no law, even of this caliber, is going to prevent abortions from happening. All it will do is stop safe abortions from happening, and the kind of backstreet abortions I’m talking about used to be done all the time before people sat up and realized how ridiculously unsafe it was. That’s what we risk returning to if these kind of bills become commonplace – it already happens in countries were abortion is illegal. A 2006 report by the World Health Organization determined that at least 22,800 deaths can be attributed to unsafe abortions annually. Anyone who calls themselves pro-life should definitely take that into account. Also, if you think abortion is akin to murder, does that mean you should investigate every miscarriage that ever took place? Be aware of what you’re agreeing to…

I can’t do a great deal about this where I am, and I know I don’t have a particularly big readership. I don’t even know if any of them reside in the States, but those of you who are reading this, please spread the word, let everyone know that action needs to be taken. Voting in candidates who aren’t awful would be a good start. And for those who are anti-abortion – please consider your position carefully, what it means, and why you hold it. Take the time to learn a little bit more, don’t just react instinctively to the emotive language sold to you – or indeed, Trump’s ridiculous and bare-faced lies on the whole procedure.

Until next time (whenever that might be) everyone stay safe, and remember to fight for your rights.



The (Other) Unveiling

Oh, look, I still exist.

OK, so I know I’ve been neglecting this blog like nobody’s business, but in my defence, it’s been pretty busy. Even outside of the everyday goings-on of Real Life, there are many difficulties a writer must shoulder – trying to make a living, dealing with the omnipresent bane of plot holes, and dealing with the fact that postmodernists want us dead. Worse is going through the many checks and preparations and self-doubts that precede trying to find a literary agent that might get you in connection with a publishing deal. But, and this is a rather ominous and harrowing thing to confess, after many weeks of such agonizing, I’ve finally sent a sample of Private Tuition to a literary agent.

So, now it’s out there. And this is when things change…kind of. I mean, I know this is only the beginning, the agent in question actually needs to like my stuff, and I need to get to work in contacting several more as well, but for now it definitely feels like something has shifted. This is the next big phase, and it’s probably worth commentating on.

And on top of the nerves and palm-sweating, I’ve constantly been paranoid that every single formatting blunder I make is going to be an issue raised by anyone who receives my manuscript or its chapter samples and they’ll scream blue murder at me (I mean, probably not directly at me, they’ll just do it to themselves imagining my gormless face is in front of them so they get a kick out of it) about how awful I am and as if anyone would publish your garbage!

And it gets worse when I acknowledge that, yes, when disclosing my contact information, I seem to have made a slight blunder…but hopefully that won’t register and the agent will just be content in contacting via the email they got the manuscript from…

I have no idea how long I’ll have to wait, or whether any next phases are going to be successful, but until then, it does feel like an achievement. Have I ever published a book? No, not yet. But I’ve got closer than I’ve ever been before.

And at the end of the day, that’s really the most transformative thing. I have written, shared and finished stories before, but actually taking important steps to putting them out into the world is something utterly new and highly pivotal. I have no idea what will come of it (and I’m certainly not ruling out abject failure all around as a possibility because my anxiety won’t let me), but this moment won’t easily be forgotten. I should celebrate with a glass of champagne and a ceremonial cigarette. But as I value my liver and lungs, I think I’ll content myself with…orange juice and QI? Eh, why not?

I will hopefully post a little more regularly (though I’ve said that before), starting with a review for a book I finished yesterday, and I also have a new author website, courtesy of my university which I’ve been working on which includes details of my plans for future works and will be updated with news as soon as I get it.

Until next time (whether that’s tomorrow or nearer the Heat Death of the Universe), take care!

O Christmas Work…

Oh, look, I reused a featured image. Sue me.

So, yeah. This is that obligatory post about Christmas for that time of the year that Christmas tends to come about. It’s usually December. In fact, I can’t remember a single year that it wasn’t in December. Imagine that.

In my previous post, I talked about how I’d started my postgraduate degree in Creative Writing & Publishing, and had started drafting my new novel. So far, that’s been going alright – I’ve now got nearly 10,000 words, and hopefully with plenty more to come along, but there have definitely been delays and issues with the process of getting it together in a swift, organic progression, and you can partially blame my course for that.

It’s not as though I’ve not had my creative work scrutinized before, it’s just that I have to remember that in this case, it’s often the person who’ll be marking me who’ll be making suggestions of what I can change. I can imagine, whatever other difficulties may be associated with the job, that’s one you can be quite self-satisfied with.

“That’s right, just write me the stories I want to read…oh, you don’t want to? Well, that’s fine…as long as you don’t mind a mark reduction…”

OK, I’m pretty sure it’s not actually like that, but I don’t think I’m the only one who’s had that image cross their mind – or else this is mighty awkward.

On top of that, in having to submit a prose piece for an assignment due in January, 3,000 words is the limit. That’s fine – I’ve already got a lot more than that. The problem is, the way I write tends to involve a lot of establishing. If you’re waiting for an inciting incident, you’re probably not going to get it until the second chapter. If that bores you, well, pffft! You might as well watch a film! Or read a book with an inciting incident in the first chapter…

Look, I’m sure I’ll post some other time about why I choose to open a story the way I do. I’m sure I can find justifications for it, but actually my experience with this course has made me doubt how I write blogs too. We had a published author do a workshop talk this one time, and it was all very nice, pleasant and interesting, but when I raised the subject of keeping up a blog online, she advised me that it probably wasn’t a good idea to write for free, because she feels that it robs from people like her who make a living through writing. Well, as you can imagine, that wasn’t easy to hear. Writing is my oxygen, and is anyone really going to pay me for it at this stage…? Nobody’s reading this blog and offering me cash to splurge some random nonsense on a webpage! I just do it for personal reasons, and honestly, isn’t that why most people go into writing for pay in the first place? It’s a bit of a minefield. So, if you do hear of writers starving to death anytime soon, you can probably blame losers like me for it. Or, alternatively, lobby your pathetic government for a decent minimum living wage, rather than having them focus on building a wall or wasting parliamentary resources on trying to lip-read someone who might have muttered something mildly insulting under his breath whilst you were turning legislative processes into a literal pantomime to hide that you’re making a massive cock-up of Brexit…not that you can really get that right.

Oh yeah, this post was supposed to be about Christmas. I guess it’s just way easier to throw political shade than it used to be.

The weird thing is, unlike so much else, Christmas is just the same as it ever was. Still the same old agonizing over not knowing what to buy people, the same old disasters that are inevitable when you’re wrapping presents with dyspraxia and the same old making sure your cat doesn’t wreck your decorations once she’s discovered how much fun they are. And in the midst of that, some genuinely nice moments of just kicking back and having fun, overindulging in Shloer (PRODUCT PLACEMENT) and chocolate and slowly watching your weight go up in preparation for the big day.

I guess that’s what Christmas has done for me this year. Looking back, this might have been the most dynamic year for me since…well, my birth. Graduating, starting a master’s, being on the verge of sending my Private Tuition manuscript and synopsis off to whichever publishers seem likely to have me (which I’m going to get on with as soon as I can)…and all this has been interspersed with some rather fun outings, including spending two days in Brighton with one of my best friends in time for Pride and managing to miss Rose and Rosie in the parade despite them being feet from us (NOTICE ME SENPAIs…), and attending a talk in my own crappy little hometown where I got to see and hear A.C. Grayling and Femi Oluwole talk about how much Brexit sucks. OK, sorry, I’m going to try and keep this as apolitical as possible…

But as well as these very obvious external events, there’s all sorts of dynamics internally as well, and I don’t mean that I’ve had organ transplants. Perhaps it’s an effect of my course or the current political climate, but my desperation to know everything, or at least be well-read in multiple areas of philosophy, sociology, biology, physics, political theory, economics, global issues, ethics, epistemology, culture, literary criticism and just simply having a much wider repertoire when it comes to creative artifacts and art has reached the point where I’m genuinely getting frustrated at how much I still don’t know, and my bookshelf is already overflowing, which isn’t exactly going to get better come Christmas…

But at least Christmas is something that is normal and standard and familiar. Midwinter celebrations have their origins in trying to keep things fine and dandy during blistering cold and bleak darkness, so perhaps it’s fitting that Christmas will hopefully serve as a break from the rather rapid changes going around. That’s not to say all these changes are bad – I’m rather looking forward to what 2019 brings. Well, unless it brings me failure in my assignments, in which case, perhaps I’ll prefer this year…

Hope you all have a great Christmas and New Year.




The Unmoving

[NOTE 1: I’m aware the title of this isn’t a real word, but I can do what I want.]

[NOTE 2: Sorry, this isn’t a Halloween related post. If you want to be scared, just look at Trump’s cabinet.]

So, here’s the real question – how do you know when you’ve finished a book?

I don’t mean reading one – obviously final pages do the job of signifying the end very well, unless you’ve got a vandalized copy where the last few pages are missing, and you have to go on a intrepid search – I mean when you’re in the process of crafting one. You may have picked an ending for your narrative and that’s all fine and good, but then you’ve got to get into drafting, and how do you know when you’ve finished that? It’s an enigma, a mystery, a riddle that I have wondered about and now I have to think carefully about.

So, hi, everyone. I’ve been editing Private Tuition for a while now, and I’ve discovered several things. Firstly, how you take to a scene is going to be different depending on a whole host of contexts. One day when looking at a scene or a conversation I wrote, I might have come back from a conversation myself, being quite elated and fairly distracted and consider it a work of art. Another time I might look at the same scene and find a whole host of problems, because perhaps I’m agitated and eager to get things done and have spent too much time in just my own company. And these thoughts can be cyclic, and they can be combined with the fact that you’re trying to focus on other works of fiction…

Yeah, since I last posted, I’ve started my postgraduate course in Creative Writing and Publishing. Seems very fitting, and it is – there have been a few teething problems which I can’t throw shade about now, but generally I’ve liked it. However, part of the course requires us to prepare a new creative work to work on throughout it. (so more or less the whole course…)

This is fine with me. I already had several different ideas in mind to work on after Private Tuition was done, and I selected one of these as part of my course.

But here lies the problem – I intended to work on these ideas after Private Tuition was done, and it’s still in its editing phase. Not only does this leave me more confused as to when the editing is done, it also leaves my next project feel somewhat premature. I’d barely made it out of the planning phase before I was required to write a scene from it. Oh, the mess that it caused…here’s to hoping I’ll get my head on straight soon enough to work on both these things separately.

Recently, I have been hoping that my editing of Private Tuition will be done soon. That’s not always easy to tell, because sometimes you think you’re done, and then discover you’re not…but I am going to shift to the formatting stage of my manuscript soon, and then work out how this whole publishing thing goes. This stage has, so far, been much harder than the writing phase, so, realistically, I should be looking forward to just getting a draft ready of my next work. It should be child’s play!

Well, let’s see…

Reading & Reviewing: We Are Okay

It’s been a little while since I’ve done one of these – I know I was meant to produce a lengthy series of reviews for books I had been reading en masse for the past however long, but then things happened, including my own writing taking me over. That’s still going on, and I hope to keep you updated on whether I’m nearing the stage of getting my work out there, or, on the other end of the spectrum, am nearing the stage of denouncing it from the rooftops.

Either way, I feel it’s worth writing a particular review for my most recent read. Firstly, because of just how exceptional it is, and secondly, because I was recommending it on Twitter, and after corresponding with the author herself, feel I owe her to actually do this thing properly. So…hi, Nina, if you’re reading…hope you like this review. The pressure’s on a little bit more than with previous reviews, what with the author watching, but hey, it’s still my blog – and it’s not as if I’ve got much negative to comment on.

So – We Are Okay by Nina LaCour. Not my first exposure to her work. I had previously read You Know Me Well, a collaborative novel between her and David Levithan, and Hold Still, her debut novel. Both I enjoyed, but my appreciation for her writing and recognition of it’s consistent good points reached their zenith in this particular work, and has probably now earned its place as one of my favourite books outright, although given how long my reading list still is, who knows how many favourites I’ll end up having…

So, what’s the story? Well, to be honest, it’s kind of difficult to summarize, and I felt that the blurb, when I first read it, didn’t reveal too much either. The story is narrated by Marin, a young woman who has recently started attending college (or uni, as we Brits might facetiously say) in New York, about as far away from her home in California as you can get. And this is quite deliberate – she feels the need to distance herself from what went on in the days leading up to her departure, to the point that she’s not contacted anyone from her old life for ages. Eventually, her best friend Mabel (who has recently been a bit more than a friend to her), comes to visit, admittedly upon invitation, to spend a few days with her during the Christmas holidays, whilst Mabel is otherwise completely alone at the college dormitories, and upon arriving, is, as you’ll imagine, quite curious to know what exactly happened, which slowly gets revealed to the reader via backstory.

One of the most immediately noticeable strengths about this book (and in fact, a consistent factor in all of LaCour’s books) is how well realized the characters are. I have rambled at length about how much I love characters before, and tend to get annoyed when they seem more like stereotypes, archetypes or tools rather than actual human beings. The author manages to avoid this trap however – even though a good chunk of the consists of just Marin and Mabel interacting with each other, every second of it speaks volumes about them, feels so organic, genuinely makes me think that these are two existing people with a convoluted and not fully worked out relationship to each other. One scene that really makes this stand out is near the beginning, where the two of them are having a conversation in an elevator (or, lift, as we boring Brits say), where the topic of discussion is naturally drawn to Marin’s disappearing act. Both characters manage to convey several emotions at once during this discussion – Marin manages to be both defensive of her decision, whilst simultaneously being guilty and trying to avoid upsetting Mabel even more. Mable, which for her part is even more impressive by not being a POV character, manages to display a subtle anger and hurt and Marin’s decision and radio silence, whilst also feeling joyous at their reunion, and I’m possibly detecting a bit of guilt there too, due to recent events in her life which makes the brewing romance she and Marin had previously now not possible. All of this just a few pages – that is some top quality character-crafting there. This kind of attention to detail can also be seen in LaCour’s minor characters. This is probably shown more in her other books, with a lot more characters to work with, but even here, it can detected. You don’t just know the names of background characters, you know their dog’s name too, their family life, their hobbies. No character is neglected, whether you like them or not, and in this book, I’m sure I do.

The degree by which the major characters’ focus is developed is immensely impressive too –  the reminiscing done by Marin and Mabel is just delightful, for lack of a better word. You simply don’t need to be told how close they are, because it’s evident, not just in Mabel flying 3,000 odd miles to reunite with Marin, but simply by how their conversations flowed in spite of the awkwardness that grew between them. Dissections of literary techniques, existential musings, all of these come naturally to the two of them, and it’s just perfect. These are definitely conversations I can see myself wanting to read frequently.

The connection gets even more personal for me, when I reflect on that I decided, halfway through reading, that Marin probably has Generalized Anxiety Disorder, having recognised a lot of her habits and thought processes in myself, particularly in how her concerns and worries tend to develop and worsen until death is considered a likely outcome, and also how later the worries become darker, and more closely related to her doubting the commitment the people important to her actually have, particularly her grandfather. Oh yeah, probably should have mentioned him…well, keep an eye on him, because he’s pivotal. Perhaps what hit closest to home though was how Marin manages to keep her anxieties under control by having the familiar and mundane recited or presented to her – when her roommate Hannah was there, it was the discussion of her biology course that gave her some comfort. With Mabel, it’s talking about her life, no doubt playing into the nostalgia factor, something that I know I find comforting. Rewatching episodes of TV shows or films that I’ve watched plenty of times before is a key way I relieve my anxiety, to the point that’s it become part of the process.

If I’m allowed to interpret, I’d argue that the main themes of this book are loneliness and the fear of simply not belonging, which becomes more apparent in Marin the more you read on, and seems quite cemented as its central theme by the end. And again, it’s something I know all too well, everything from avoiding the unknown and emotionally painful, to undue guilty, to unrequited love, and something that can be eased with just some of the simplest actions from people you care about which you nevertheless realize was quite an undertaking on their part, done simply for you. Many of us will feel lonely, anxious about our place in the world, and sometimes betrayed very often, and recovery is not always straightforward. But if you have a Mabel in your life, definitely hold onto them.

Do I have any criticisms? Honestly, very little stood out to me as worth criticizing. Even though a good half of the book is told in flashback, explaining how Marin got to where she did, a narrative technique I can easily get tired of, it’s perfectly easy to follow and serves the story well. It helps, I guess, that neither story, either the flashback one, or the one of Marin and Mabel in New York, is boring. In a less talented author’s hands, they could easily have been.

If I were to pick one thing, I’d say the ending seems a little off compared to the rest of the book. Endings are difficult, I know, and for spoiler-related reasons, I don’t want to say too much about it, but I’ll summarize in saying certain things about it seem a little abrupt, and somewhat different in tone to everything else, and perhaps I’m just saying that because I would have been happy for the book to be many times longer, but who knows.

Point is, this is a brilliant book – I’d highly recommend it to anyone, and it has encouraged me to read LaCour’s other books that I haven’t yet. Nina, I’m quite jealous of your talents, but you do deserve this praise.

The Unveiling

Oh gawd, it’s been a while…

So, I’ve been going through several drafts of Private Tuition over the last several weeks/months/years, and when I got to the point that I felt that it was vaguely presentable, or at least, there was nothing more I could edit without outside opinions, I decide to send these drafts to some beta readers.

However, it occurred to me quite quickly that I wasn’t entirely sure who would count. Bear in mind this is completely new territory for me. When it used to come to posting stories such as fanfiction and their conspiratorial ilk online, I never checked the damn things, just went with what I had. This is perhaps not an admission that fills many with confidence about my abilities when they hear it, so, be assured in that it’s not a habit I partake in any more.

Point is, I wanted to get a diverse range of opinions in for my novel to get a better picture of how different people would react, but I was also reluctant to include strangers in that list. Suddenly, the problem became apparent. How many people did I actually know who would be willing to read this garbage proto-novel? Furthermore, as with many things in the process of making your writing an actual book, a lot of those who assist you may want paying for their work. Understandable, of course – they need to eat. But with my impoverished financial concerns, you can imagine this’ll make me reluctant too.

As it happens, I have now actually received feedback from a few people, and it’s mostly been very positive, with some question marks, nuanced suggestions for improvement and a whole host of other things that have been welcome. But my gut instinct tells me that I need more, and whilst I’m at it, as has been suggested, I really need to work out who my audience is meant to be.

This is not something I thought with give me that much strife, but it seems to be the most debilitating thorn in my side at this stage in the writing process. Well, that and the omnipresent doubts about whether the story is actually decent or just a terrible work of art that should be regarded with scorn in the centuries to come.

The traditional genres of fiction have never really been solidly defined. They are fluid, and sometimes fitting midway categories that would be better deserving of their own, new category. An example of such uncertainty is the line between science fiction and fantasy. What defines the difference? Well, science fiction tends to focus on the potential of future technologies or future developments on the impact of society, whereas fantasy is more steeped in mythology and supernatural elements, right? Well, maybe. So, where does Star Wars fit in? I mean, it’s not about the future. The famous tagline even describes it as taking place a long time ago. The technologies in it are not the most realistic even for future projections and it is steeped in mysticism, complete with warrior knights and magic swords.

Can’t wait people to tell me I just don’t get Star Wars

And whereas science fiction can contain fictional or (probably) impossible technologies, such as easy to use time travel devices, teleportation that doesn’t kill you and faster-than-light travel, the magic elements in certain fantasy works can sometimes feel a lot more down-to-earth and mundane than the fantastical technologies in certain science fiction, with what’s known as functional magic, or, for the innuendo-happy, HARD magic, and indeed, applying actual zoology to fictional fantasy creatures.

It was a bit of a tangent, but I feel that the same can be said for the genres of adult, new adult, and young adult. Whilst the audience they’re aimed at naturally determines what genre they belong too, what in the substance of the novel determines who they’re aimed at?

Given how young adult, especially in recent years, has fitted itself into genres as diverse as contemporary, urban fantasy, post-apocalyptic dystopian, semi-autobiographical and so on, what features and tropes do we have to look for to classify and story as young adult, as opposed to new adult or adult?

Perhaps the most fitting definition of YA fiction I’ve heard is that a consistent theme of it is that it relates to what it’s like to be an adolescent. But even that isn’t particularly clear cut – Robin Wasserman’s Girls on Fire features three teenage as the main characters, with two as POV characters, and yet the book is aimed at adults. And if even if this seemingly clear-cut example isn’t so clear-cut, I don’t know what help my book’s got.

The protagonist is 28 years old. Adult, surely? And hey, a fairly important supporting character, a work colleague of hers, is also an adult! But wait, most of the other major characters are in their late teens, still at school, and the a good chunk of the plot moves forward based on their character arcs. So, is it actually young adult? But what about things detailed within the pages that the moral guardians might get antsy about? There’s no shortage of swearing, and it practically thrives on talking about sex. Someone gets fellatio in a cupboard – is that going to be a problem? And what about the fact that it constantly goes on about contemporary philosophy and ethical debates? If John Green has proved anything, then there’s no issue with YA being full of philosophical musings. But is there a line to draw?

For now, I’ve settled on the idea that it might fit best as New Adult. This genre’s supposed to be aimed at the 18-30 age bracket, which not only are most of the main characters in, but also me too. According to Wikipedia, that ever so reliable guide, this genre generally deals with issues related to leaving home (not really, but the characters tend to thrive on independence and many in standing apart from their parents’ expectations), developing sexuality (yeah, apparently…) and negotiating education and career choices (also seems to fit). So, have I found the appropriate thing to label it as? Well, again, the doubts come back. The publishing industry is not hugely fond of this genre, and it does seem to exist as a sort of nowhere-land label. It’s not a category you find in most bookshops, and apparently the readership isn’t there, although I know plenty of 18-30-year-olds who read books, so…

If anyone on this site, or Twitter or Facebook is willing to beta read this, feel free to contact me to talk about the possibility, because I definitely want to expand the potential room for opinions, but I want to know who I’m sending it to first.

There are still a few other people lined up, but the specific opinions are looking for explicitly include those of:

LGBTQ people – The novel contains quite a few characters who are LGBTQ, but as I’m not, I think it’s important and I know what you think, because representation is important, but good representation is probably even more so.

People around the sixth form age or slightly older – Might be worth it. As there are many characters who fall into this age bracket, I might want to see if it has the appeal to people of that age bracket. If not, that might give me a clearer idea of which age demographic to market to.

People interested in philosophy and ethics – Pretty much a given.

So, there it is – a slightly reluctant call for more beta readers. Maybe my anxiety will strike again, and I’ll decide not to be so open about opening up the market for betas, and just keep it among people I know. But hey, maybe something will come of it.

If anyone who reads this is interested, contact me and we’ll take it from there. And if anyone just generally wants to talk about the novel, contact me also, I’ll be happy to talk about it.