Holidays · Travel

Schlupping Off

Hello!

How has August been treating you? I feel like it has been a month of either being so hot I can’t move to leave the house or being rained on so drastically I don’t want to leave the house.

I don’t have too much to catch you up on – most of August has involved travelling, moving, travelling and, just to spice things up, preparing to travel. I sort of love it though, even if it does mean I spend too much time thinking about the logistics of laundry. It’s been a month since I stopped updating ye olde social media accounts and it’s too early to tell if my mental health is SUPREMELY BETTER, but I have finished one book draft and one short story draft. I like to think the two things are related? Or maybe it’s just that I’m either hyper focussed or not remotely paying attention, and August was the former. It’s almost as though all the travelling around has been good for my brain and I should do it ALL THE TIME. Or maybe I just work harder when I know I’m about to have the opportunity to turn off my internet for a week or so… and setting up the fuck off polite autoreply on emails is one of life’s most underrated experiences. It’s even better when you know you’ve ticked off every measly little thing on your schedule.

gif of a dinosaur front flipping onto a boat
Real footage of me learning to paddleboard

I do have boring house stuff to do, so I’ll say bye and will pop back in when I’m back from my holidays. Do people not from Essex say ‘holibobs’?

You should.

Look after yourselves!

Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)

Animals... · brain chat · History & Old Stuff · Travel

Chilling Out in Crete

Hello and happy it’s-basically-August! How are you?

I’m doing well, cheers for asking. I’ve spent the last month in Crete, making friends with local cats, learning what the accusative case is – well, almost learning – and successfully asking for both wine and orange juice in Greek. Not at the same time, yet.

Tomorrow I am up at stupid o’clock to make my way home, so today I have been trying to figure out where the time went and also trying to figure out how to pack a jug of raki into my case. I’ve think done a better job with the latter than the former, but I suppose I won’t know for sure until I unpack…

I have A TONNE of photos from my trip, but I will be honest that unless you are very into stray animals or Minoan archaeology, they are not that exciting. Thankfully I am into BOTH so here you go:

Otherwise, I am busy writing a Secret Project that will get a code name when I can be bothered to think of one. Magicnovel is too vague. [redacted]novel will give the game away before I’m ready to talk about it. There are other bits and bobs going on – I am moving back to Uni City in a couple of weeks and I’m desperate to do a better job preparing for second year than I did first; some of my favourite people got engaged and I’m so happy I could puke; I had a wee bout of Covid and some other health news I’m mulling over but generally I’m alive and, despite the neighbourhood rooster conspiring to wake me up from the hours of 3am onwards, am feeling all right. I thought I’d better pop in and say hi while it lasts, because air travel and the British rail system will probably remove all my energy and goodwill in the time it takes to say ‘please ensure your bags are safely stowed.’ Does anyone actually enjoy flying? I never really minded it, but on my flight into Crete it occurred to me that the only bit of the process I genuinely like is walking through duty free after you’ve cleared security. That perfume waft says holidays like nothing else. But the rest – air pressure changes, tiny toilet cubicles, constant bloody queues for bloody everything, recycled air – can fuck right off. I’ve been threatening to take the train from the UK to the Mediterranean for a few years now and I think it’s time I start planning it seriously. At first it was a fun idea, because commercial air travel is terrible for the planet and all that, but the more I think about it, the happier I’d be to never get a plane again for a journey that takes less than five hours. If my ears are going to hurt and my brain is going to catastrophise plane crashes, I might as well be leaving Europe. Get a long enough flight that they give you a little toothbrush.

Okay, I do like the little toothbrushes.

Speaking of things I can’t stand these days, I think I might stop updating my business-y social media pages. I’ve not really bothered with it, at varying degrees, for the last year or so. I think I have a big enough data set now to be confident that not using social media to endlessly shout about my work, knowing the algorithm will hide it from anyone who might actually want to see it, makes me happier than using it. I’ll still be here and on Patreon, and I’ll still send my monthly-ish email newsletters because you gus are lovely, but I reckon it’s time to step back from the rest. I won’t delete the accounts, because I do like to pop in sometimes to keep up with my favourite creators and see what people are chatting about. I write YA stories, so I kind of need to know what The Youth are saying. But the ratio of bullshit:pleasant content has gone from 2:8 a few years ago to 8:2 now, and I’m not sure it’s the sort of system that can be changed from the inside.

It’s getting dark and I need to pack a last few things while I can still be bothered, so I will say bye for now. Let me know how your summer is going – or winter, if you’re in the southern hemisphere. I try not to look at stats anymore so I’m not sure if any of you are. I hope so, I love that half the world is making its way through one season while the other half is at a completely different one. I’m tentatively looking forward to autumn back in the UK, because it’s so beautiful and cosy, but at the same time I never want summer to end. If I had the money and energy to learn how physics works, I’d dedicate my life to bottling sunlight. Carry a vial around in the winter. But then, if I had the money to figure out how to bottle sunlight, I’d have the money to piss off on holiday for a bit in January. By train, obviously, and ferry, like in an Agatha Christie novel.

Right, have a good one. Look after yourselves!

Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)

brain chat · Health

On slowing down, whether you want to or not

I am writing to you from the grass on a little green in town. SUMMER IS HERE. I did realise – after I’d scanned the area carefully and sat down – that I was right next to a fag end, and it might be about to rain, but still. SUMMER. I even brought coffee and sandwiches:

hand holding black travel mug with a tarot design reading 'coffee'
I love this mug! My friend S got it for me for Christmas. Under the hand guard it says ‘tarot readings’

Today I am thinking about slow living, and how I really like it. Sitting on the grass with a sandwich, metaphorically and actually, is not a bad way to spend half an hour. For anyone who doesn’t read The Guardian, slow living is just… taking your time. Less rushing between tasks or jobs or places, more sitting about and collect your thoughts or enjoying the place you’re currently in before going to the next one. It’s the fifteen course meze of lifestyles, not the sausage roll and tea from Greggs while the meter’s running.* I think I’m better at slow living than fast living, a bit because my brain is alwaysmovingreallyquicklyanditgetsoverwhelmingandineedtotakethetimetocalmitdown. A bit because my health takes a lot more work to maintain than I realised a few years ago. If you’re new, hi, I have hypermobility and it causes joint and muscle issues, and IBS (fun fact, hypermobility might cause IBS. The gift that keeps on giving!). Anyway, yeah, physically rushing risks putting out my bad knee or pulling my back, eating quickly gives me a stomachache. I spend a lot of time in Pilates classes doing damage control. I can’t move straight away after eating, which is why I’m staring down pigeons as it begins to threaten to drizzle.

So today I’m reflecting on how I actually quite like having to slow down. I’m good at getting a coffee and reading a book. I’m slow at reading nonfiction, so I take forever to pick my way through set reading. I’m good at sitting round the kitchen table and chatting over dinner. Even when my brain is busy and I’m working on four projects and have eight upcoming deadlines, I’m not too stressed as long as I know I’ve got time in the day to get some fresh air or go and be a human with my friends. Enjoying taking my time is probably why I like the Mediterranean so much. Even though a lot of life has to be quick-quick, there’s no harm in taking your time with other things. Like bureaucracy.

Are you someone else who likes to do things a bit slowly-slowly? Let me know! And, if you’re in the UK or somewhere with an astronomical cost of living, tell me: how do you balance slow living with making a living? I was thinking about time the other day, and how we all have the same 24 hours, and I could in theory work A jobs over B hours and earn C money. But I don’t have the same 24 hours as someone who doesn’t need to exercise religiously, or who doesn’t take hours to read academic journals. I used to think I did, and trying to keep pace made me ill so often that I eventually figured out I can’t keep up with the 60 hour week people. So I actually have D hours in the day into which I have to fit everything that isn’t ‘keeping my body in one piece.’ I can’t really do the health stuff around the uni work or the jobs, because that’s when one of my joints says FRANCESCA, I’M GOING ON STRIKE. And then I am stuck in bed with multiple hot water bottles, some paracetamol and a bad mood. For ages.

I really need to stand up and move around now -I timed it perfectly to finish my coffee and I’m smug – so I will go and walk for a bit, then upload this. Shout if you’re a slow living human! Or a fast living human. Either way, tell me your secrets…

Look after yourselves!

Francesca

*I had not-enough sleep, I can’t tell if the meze/Greggs comparison is the greatest thing I’ve ever written on the stupidest.


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)

Books · brain chat · weather

Rainy afternoon chatter

Hello hello,

Three posts in a week? It is definitely 2011. How’s everyone? I’m sitting in my newly acquired MCR dress* and having a coffee. Today’s a loooong day, because I’m doing an online writing class that starts at 11pm. I’m normally in bed or thinking about bed at eleven, so I feel like I’m doing a very nerdy marathon. I’ve got a small amount of academic reading and one seminar between now and the end of my first year as an undergraduate, so to celebrate I decided to go see MCR again this weekend. I asked about four people to talk me out of the idea and they nearly all talked me into it? Do they want me to come to them in a few months complaining that my savings have disappeared, replaced by, what, good memories? Is this a good time to remind you all that my commissions are open until the end of May… I kid, I kid, this is a no-regrets situation.

Anyway, yeah, this afternoon I am conserving energy and looking forward to my class later. Ironically, my copy of the book I need to reference in tonight’s class is with a friend, so I need to hunt it out on ye olde Kindle and buy it digitally. It doesn’t seem to be available as an ebook from any of the library apps I can think of, and although I requested it as a paperback from my local library, it’s not in yet. Although I’ll always prefer hard copies of books, I fully agree that e-readers have earned their place in the universe of reading tools. I use mine mostly for emergencies, like now, or when I’m travelling and can’t pack 80 paperbacks. I’m going to summer school in a few weeks and I’m already planning which hard copies of books will come with, and which I’ll get for my Kindle. Decisions decisions! Suggestions welcome, I’m always on the lookout for new reads.

I suppose I could go and get that academic reading over with. Maybe have a nap. The weather here is appalling today, although pretty. Britain does look wonderful and lush when it’s raining and misty, doesn’t it? I do resent that I own two separate rain jackets, though. I suppose I could cull my collection but if I’m going to get rained on, I want to do it in a mac that matches my outfit.

gif of a dachshund wearing a raincoat
WHO FILMED ME. (from Giphy)

What are you up to now summer is around the corner? Any plans for the Jubilee? I am going to Southend and drinking prosecco, probably but not necessarily in that order. Might eat a scone. I am assuming scones will manifest themselves in front of me at some point during the bank holiday weekend, it’s basically law.

RIGHT. Academic reading and a nap, here I come.

Look after yourselves,
Francesca

*officially it is a large t-shirt, but when you’re this short you can turn almost anything into a dress with the right attitude.


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)

'10 Years 10 Days' · brain chat · MCRmy · My Chemical Romance (get a category)

In which my Killjoy jacket went on an adventure to Milton Keynes

Hello darlings,

Two posts in a week? Is it 2011? Perhaps perhaps. I tap this out on a train back to Uni City, with The Raven Boys propped in front of me, and when I’m not falling asleep sitting up (quite the ability if you ask me) I am thinking about how grateful I am for all the music and books and creations I get to consume. I’ve slept maybe 8 hours in two or three days, because I’m doing an online writing course taught from the USA, and the first class was the day before/day of MCRMK. So I went from thinking about establishing the mood and tone of a series at 2am to dancing my feet off with twenty thousand odd other people really quickly. And as I haul my arse across England back to uni, in that hangover-esque fug you get from continual interrupted sleep, I’m just thinking about how grateful I am to live in a world at the same time as My Chemical Romance, in the same week of a new MCR tour, and new Måneskin and Hayley Kiyoko singles, and the new Umbrella Academy trailer. How mad is it that we get to be alive at the same time all these people are bringing out new work. 

Maybe this is the acceptable reaction to 11 years between MCR shows, when MCR was in the past tense for 7 of those years. I remember people saying, ‘Fake Your Death means they’ll be back one day!’ and I thought, ‘That sounds like bullshit,’ because the cardinal rule of creating is that you stop when it’s not fun anymore. I made my peace, eventually, with past tense MCR. I never expected a return, much less live shows, much less new material. So I’m here for a dance and a laugh and I’m never going to assume there will be a next time. Also, last time I saw Chem live, I was a barely-sentient child. I had more stamina then, and didn’t have to stop moshing partway through a song in case one of my knees gave out, but I’m more Francesca-shaped now. Spikier, but more solid round the edges. The sad songs mean more now. The angry-determined songs mean more now, and they meant a lot last time. Side effect of life for most of us, I guess? More years on the clock, more people to think of during a song about dying. The dirty jokes are funnier now, too, obviously. I keep remembering that not everyone’s lucky enough to bookend whole chunks of life with live shows from one band. How strange and wonderful to get to do that.

I took a few photos – no spoilers, I promise – but no video whatsoever. I realised yesterday I don’t need to film a clip of a show, because I’m not interested in retaining visuals or audio. I never rewatch videos because it’s not about looking at a version of what I saw. I’m interested in remembering how I felt. The mood and the tone, ha! They’re harder to lose, aren’t they, feelings, because even as you settle back into the averages of everyday life, you never know when you will stumble into a new experience and think, ‘this feels like Blah,’ even if Blah has nothing obviously in common with this new experience. There’s something deep in your brain that recognises the link between the two, and there you are feeling again.

MCR show feelings have only ever happened at MCR shows which is probably why I’ve been in a bad mood since 2013, It’s sort of like seeing your family you don’t see very often, and having a loud party. At the same time as going to the gym wearing a lot of jewellery. And tearing up a bit because everyone likes the set list and everyone’s there with their own lil MCR stories and experiences and what are the odds of all of you all being in the same room, right now, after however many years away? 

It’s also sort of not like that. It’s like… I don’t know. When you come home after a long day and put your slippers on. Oh, by the way, the Killjoy jacket survived and thrived! Very grateful for pockets that can fit entire bottles. I have some not-bathroom pictures, but I don’t like to share photos of my friends on here these days, so you’ll just have to assume a) I have friends and b) we took pictures together. Anyway, yeah, smudged eyeliner and a jacket that smells like Milton Keynes:

Francesca throwing a peace sign in a mirror selfie
Why the pink background blurring? Well, one because I don’t like to share other people’s bathrooms. Or my own, come to that. You never know when you’re accidentally showing the world a medical prescription or awkward cream. And two because there’s a bit of pink MCR merch I nearly bought and may still buy, so, yeah.

No spoilers if you have a show ahead of you, but you’ll like it. Don’t leave til the house lights come on. If your life changed so much in the last couple of years that you can’t go, I was thinking of you yesterday. I was thinking of everyone who couldn’t go because they’re not here anymore, too. I like to think I enjoyed myself enough for all of us. I hope I did, because that’s sort of the point, isn’t it.

Stadium MK just before My Chemical Romance's set, 19th May 2022.

Look after yourselves and if you get to see this tour, tell me your thoughts!

Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)

(All Hail) Creation · Colour · My Chemical Romance (get a category) · The No. 1 Readers' Club

Making a Killjoy Jacket Part Three

It’s been almost 18 months since I last posted about customising my jacket? What is time?! Anyway, it’s nearly done. For the purposes of Thursday’s spiritual experience Milton Keynes show, it is done. I want to add one or two more things, but we’ll get to that.

So, here and here are where I talk about finding a plain-ish, second hand, cigarette-y jacket back in… 2019. I don’t think MCR had even returned, I think I just liked the look of the thing… Anyway, in 2020 I added an Aglionby Academy patch, my Fun Ghoul patch (purchased circa 2012 haha) and the lovely Little But Fierce rose. I’m still pleased about how well the colours match with one another and the khaki. And this weekend I got more pleased, because…

khaki jacket with various patches including Aglionby Academy, Fun Ghoul, Little But Fierce and pink bees.

PINK BEES.

Look how lovely they are! They’re from Batwalk. I’ve had my eye on them for months. Bees are great, they remind me of The Raven Cycle and summer and, you know, a working planet. All motifs I am happy to carry around.

I originally thought they might go on the back of the jacket, because I had a plan for a VERY LARGE patch which, upon measurement, would not fit. So I thought a couple of little bees might work well with some added floral patches? To be honest, I’d wanted to do bees and the VERY LARGE patch, but when I got the tape measure out it was a bit crowded. So I bought the bees and realised they’d look great on the empty front pocket and on the sleeve, covering the slightly-discoloured area where there was an original patch. I suppose it’s the rest of the jacket that’s slightly discoloured? Hmm. Anyway, I was going to sew MCR’s 2001-2013 mourning band on the sleeve, but I a) forgot to bring it to University City and b) it’s huge. Aimed at a large manly arm. I have teeny wee arms. So we’ll re-evaluate what I do with that… one day.

So, the bees went on. Look at them! Love a bee. Thing is, though, a day or so after I purchased them, I realised I was fixating on the LARGE PATCH. I’d also had my eye on it for months. I liked it a lot. I couldn’t commit to anything else, and when you’re going for a slightly hippie-goth look, really liked your original idea and have a budget of twelve pence, you don’t have a lot of choice. So I went back to Batwalk… and purchased:

khaki jacket with a black and white crystal-ball-and-hands back patch.

It’s huge. I love it. It’s also not as big as I thought! I iron-sewed it to the bottom of the jacket to avoid the hood covering it, and there’s enough space left below the hood for… something. I don’t know what, and I won’t find it between now and Thursday, so ideas on a postcard please! Something at the top might make the crystal ball look less wonky, too – it’s not actually wonky, I measured out the layout and the bottom of the patch is centred, but the hands and eye effect are a little dizzying. Hmmmm. We’ll see. The current design is not overtly MCR-themed, but if you get it, you get it. The jacket’s got great pockets too. Look at me, wearing the thing (thank you to T for taking a photo and proving I exist).

short lady with dark hair, wearing a black dress and patch-covered khaki jacket
Remind me to catch some sun this summer. Also I might hem this dress. What do you think?

So, here we are: one Danger Days-inspired jacket, eleven years after it was cool… but weirdly in time to be cool in a more general, strange alternative style way, going by the reactions to Foundations of Decay. I have had a lot of conversations recently in which being an MCR fan has elevated me in people’s estimations. Someone wrote a Guardian article the other day about MCR’s cultural significance. There’s a less-than-grudging mainstream respect for these weirdos now. I guess if you’re odd for long enough, eventually you become cool.

I’m off to prepare for Thursday. Need to rest my voice and do some preparatory stretches. Oh, while I’m here: commissions are open through end of May. Come and join us at the No. 1 Readers’ Club! And if you see me at Stadium MK, say hi.

Look after yourselves,

Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)

Plants · Southend · weather

Lil Bit of Spring in Southend

Hello!

Happy spring! It’s sprung, you guys. It’s here. I’ve been walking. I’ve been eyeing up people’s front gardens and evaluating their tulips. That’s a lie. All tulips are excellent. I went back to Southend for a week over Easter, and she had her best face on. Well, mostly. The Shakedown was back and it was loud. I do not remember it being so noisy. For those of you not from Southend, the Shakedown is a huge motorcycle rally along the seafront in which a lot of people park, look at and talk about motorcycles for the duration of Easter Monday. It’s never quiet, but my cousin E and I were in town when a handful of youths young men were doing their level best to break the sound barrier in souped up mopeds. YOU DO NOT NEED TO REV THAT LOUDLY WHEN YOU’RE GOING BETWEEN TWO SETS OF TRAFFIC LIGHTS. We all know what you’re compensating for, mate.

Serious Bikers, the ones wearing eight layers of leather, who last shaved in 1972, are far more considerate. And their bikes are cooler.

Anyway, here’s the Pier and some boats. One and a half boats. I miss the beach when I’m not in Southend. When I am in Southend, I go to the beach and complain about tourists. All four of them…

My favourite past time, pretty much anywhere, is to hang out in a cafe and read or write. I keep meaning to do a ‘cool places to go in Southend’ series, because there are a lot of hidden gems. Unfortunately the café I was going to start the series with closed during Covid (does anyone here remember Mad Hatters on Queen’s Road? It had Alice in Wonderland decor) and then I forgot and then I moved Elsewhere for uni. Here’s a short version. If you’re in Southend and fancy a milkshake or a really good panini, hit up Utopia. It’s up in the Royals. I went a couple of times while I was back. There’s no wifi so it’s good for hashing out ideas without distraction…

hot chocolate at Utopia in Southend along with a note page reading 'Bezzina's to do'

I also hung out in Molo Lounge a few times, but the only time I remembered to take a photo I was partway through a blue cocktail and no editing can improve the quality.

Right, flowers! Okay, here are just a few I’ve seen lately, and to be honest I usually photograph them so I can identify them later. I’m pretty sure this is a kanzan cherry tree, which are my favourite spring blossom. I missed them when they were at their very best, but still. They’re so pretty!

kanzan cherry tree blossom

The internet tells me this is a camellia. Probably? Most plant ID sites turn up roses when you plug in ‘red’ and ‘spring,’ but I am not completely inept and it’s definitely not a rose. Let’s say camellia.

red camellia shrub

I don’t know what this one’s called, because I literally walked beneath it and thought, ‘this would be cool to photograph.’ I am basically David Attenborough. Suggestions on a postcard, please

green and pink spring shrub

All right, I’ve got assignment work to do. And I want to go outside because my uni, in Elsewhere, is beautiful this time of year and the sun’s out. Let me know if you also get a bit photo happy this time of year! Or if you know what that plant is called…

Look after yourselves,

Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)

Books · Read If You Like

Read, If You Like: Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Welcome back to Read, If You Like, my occasional book chatter series. I don’t love doing book reviews, so I usually style them as recommendations. I think I’ll add a few more thoughts to this one, though.

Read Red White and Royal Blue (Casey McQuiston, 2019) if you like:

  • American politics. I know, I know, trust me
  • A fictional world where Trump was never in the running for the presidency
  • He’s not mentioned once. It was like getting into a warm bath
  • A diverse cast of characters, but not in a ‘look I’m checking a box!’ way (I say this a lot about the books I recommend. But I never get bored of it)
  • Moderately explicit gay sex. Can something be moderately explicit? I’d put this book up the ‘adult’ end of the young adult shelf
  • The phrase ‘British accent’
  • the
  • singular
  • British
  • accent
  • Look, I didn’t say I liked that phrase
  • Polo (the sport, not the shirt)
  • Posh parts of London. Is Kensington Palace even in London?
  • The Internet has reminded me that Kensington Palace is in the, um, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. I used to work just up the road. How did I make it into higher education

So, my other thoughts. Firstly, this novel reminded me that US politics is a shiny, shiny unicorn filled with toilet water, and even though everyone knows that the toilet water is dripping constantly from the unicorn’s nose, everyone upholds the sanctity of the unicorn. ‘That unicorn has integrity,’ people might say fondly as unicorn season rolls around. Not everyone respects the unicorn, but many feel that they should. ‘This unicorn season, we’re going to re-establish the integrity of the unicorn.’ I wanted to believe the unicorn had integrity too! I felt quite warm and fuzzy. This has never previously happened to me in a novel about anyone’s politics.

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston graphic with flags and flowers
I had to get the cover graphic from Waterstones, because the light is so bad in my uni room that I can’t set up a proper photo. I don’t feel bad about sharing Waterstones, because they’re the last new-book bricks and mortar in Southend.

Secondly, it reminded me that in the UK our politics consists of: middle aged men dancing; middle aged men lying; middle aged men jeering at other middle aged men across the Commons. If there was ever a unicorn in Great Britain, it limped out to pasture somewhere between the English Civil War and the poll tax riots.

It’s probably worth mentioning that my library copy is an older edition – last year, the author pulled a line of dialogue about US-Israeli diplomacy because some on social media suggested it was pro-Israel and therefore implicitly anti-Palestine. (That link is a good summary of the controversy, as is this one.) I don’t think I’d have thought that if I’d read the book before knowing about the edits. Having read it knowing about them, my two cents is that the line should have stayed. Partly because I’m not convinced that mentioning Israel in a book ‘unnecessarily,’ as one Twitter user suggested, actually ‘normalises’ the occupation of Palestine. Palestine has been occupied since 1967. We’re past normalisation, surely? Instead of haranguing authors, could our energy be better spent pressuring non-fictional politicians to work harder to end the conflict, and questioning why they haven’t already? I’m not convinced McQuiston’s joke is the problem, is all.

The other reason I think the line should have stayed is that, as an author, I’m not sure how I feel about publishers bowing to readers’ demands that passages are cut from published work.

That’s a lie. All my instincts say that it’s almost definitely a terrible idea. Unless there’s a genuinely accidental fuck up (getting a fact wrong or misusing a word in good faith) why not leave the piece as a time capsule? Every creator looks at past work and sees a thousand opportunities for improvement – it’s part of the job to learn and move on, creating something that’s better because time and practise makes us a more skilful writer and a more nuanced person. Making edits post-publication feels like we’re pretending that the new edition was the only one, like we never went through a learning process. Why does the original work have to change? Why is it not enough for the author to say ‘shit, yeah that line/plot point/passage did not come off as I’d hoped, but I wouldn’t write it now,’ or ‘I didn’t know about X issue when I was writing! It would have informed my work if I had.’ While we’re here, why do some readers think they can demand that an author changes their work? Spending £4.99 on an ebook doesn’t mean you own the author, dude. Point out an issue with a manuscript if you like, but the author’s reaction is their call – they don’t have to listen to you, let alone change their finished work. You didn’t both sign a contract when you picked up the book you’ve taken issue with.

I dunno, it might be because I’m finally reading Nineteen Eighty-Four, but publishers bowing to a small group of shouty people feels like a dangerous precedent, for free speech, for creative industries and for, well, humanity. It could harm writers, who might avoid exploring difficult, important topics for fear of backlash. It could lead to a rigid, unadventurous publishing industry that’s unwilling to fund anything that could lead to controversy – even though every book ever published has infuriated somebody. And it could harm audiences, especially younger readers, because teaching someone that if they shout loudly enough that they’ll get what they want never leads to a humble, empathic human being. Sometimes, Complete Stranger from Anywhere, Northern Hemisphere, you’re going to encounter things you don’t like, that make you uncomfortable, that you disagree with vehemently. This does not mean the thing owes it to you to change.

As readers, I think we have a responsibility to use our little grey cells and figure out if a character making a joke or a shitty comment is the same as the author making a joke or shitty comment, or if the author’s trying to make a wider point. Maybe the author is hoping the reader notices the subtext they’ve woven in. Maybe they’re assuming the reader has enough critical thinking skills to make the distinction between a character’s beliefs and the author’s, or to reflect upon why that joke is there in the first place. In my last book, a man breaks a glass over his daughter’s head. As a writer and as a human, I have to assume that my readers will perceive that character as a bad guy without needing me to pre-empt the scene with ‘PERSON ABOUT TO DO A MORALLY REPREHENSIBLE ACTION I DO NOT SUGGEST YOU DO.’

I’ll probably still have to defend myself at some point. Or defend the bit where – wait, spoilers. Hehe.

Back to Red, White and Royal Blue, because I really enjoyed it once I got over the fact there’s a Prince Henry and a Prince Phillip. And a Princess Beatrice… (I was unreasonably tickled by this, and I have no business being so because I once named a princess Beatrice, too. I was going to change it when I thought of a better name and then forgot. I don’t even know which sister is the real Princess Beatrice. I am digressing. Insomnia! And also I was woken up at 4am by a game of Cards Against Humanity.)

I hope that, if there’s a sequel one day, we get to see actual Britain. It’s always fun seeing outsiders’ interpretations of the UK, because they usually involve pomp and ceremony. The touristy bits. But I’d quite like to read about a cheeky Nandos with the lads, a post-Wetherspoons trip to Maccies, a football fan sticking a firework up their arse. I want clandestine trips to Greggs and a scene set somewhere that isn’t London. Ooh, now I want a pasty. In real life, not in a book. Well, also in a book.

Remind me to set a short story in a Greggs. That got long-ish, huh. I think a lot about critical thinking and fictional work and the author-reader relationship. Probably too much? Part of me wants to write something about a hugely difficult topic, yeet the book onto the internet and log off forever, leaving generations of readers to debate my true intentions and to pick apart lines trying to figure out what they’re meant to learn from the work. I’d have to stop thinking about pasties to do that, though. Ooh, speaking of stories, I asked my patrons the other day about a potential Easter-inspired Bezzina’s story. Let me know if this is something you’d like to see!

Look after yourselves,

Francesca


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