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


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

Ringing in some changes

I am balancing a pot of tea, a cup, a teeny milk jug and a large slice of cake next to this laptop, on a table designed to hold about a third as many objects. I’ve set everything up now, though, so I feel obligated to do something while the tea steeps. So I’m here! Hi!

If you’re new here, welcome. If you’re not new, I feel like I should reintroduce myself. I’m Francesca, I’m a writer and an undergrad at I’m Not Telling You My Uni, studying I’m Not Telling You That Either. I’m from Southend, which is a sprawling, disjointed town city in a corner of England that is hard to get to by accident. It’s so large that I don’t mind telling you I’m from there. Also, parts of it are said to be haunted, which is cool. Also also, it’s the sort of place most people don’t give a shit about even if they live there, so you’re not going to expect nice photos of cute cafes or pretty buildings in real time. There aren’t many of either.

Anyway, I’m writing from Uni Town, which does have nice cafes and pretty buildings. I might talk more about it once I’ve moved off campus and would be harder to track down. Don’t look at me like that, I have no idea if you’re weird.

If you’re not new and raising your eyebrows, I promise I’ve not been replaced by an android (not that I’d know if I had…). I just wanted to make a fresh start, write a post I could stick to the top of the site for newcomers. I nearly removed this entire blog from the internet, actually, but decided to redecorate instead. I’ve been blogging for over a decade, which in internet years is half a century. I needed a change. I was tired of logging on and seeing the detritus of unfinished posts, and notifications from readers who are, upon closer inspection, actually crypro currency blogs. I was going through my subscriber list the other day, out of curiosity – I don’t think I’ve looked at it for years – and I recognised about three names. The rest, I kid you not, are crypto and syndication sites which I am assuming are run by Vladimir Putin’s propaganda department. Most readers from the pre-Covid years have moved on or passed away. So, change. I was going to make a whole new site, and leave this one as a monument to my incredibly unadventurous youth, but I couldn’t be arsed with the admin. Plus WordPress kept telling me I had a free domain to snaffle from the Internet Gods, and I thought, that’ll do.

So. Welcome to Francesca’s Thoughts. If Indifferent Ignorance was predominately opinions and grumbles and adoration of My Chemical Romance, Francesca’s Thoughts is going to be musings and questions and adoration of My Chemical Romance. I started Indifferent Ignorance to share my thoughts on Huge Things, but back in 2009 you had about one seismic global event per year. These days there’s a genuine chance World War III will have broken out before tea. Anyway, I’m no longer interested in speaking for the sake of sharing. If I have a point to make, I’m more likely to make it in a short story or a book. I’m not going to put away my soap box completely, and I’ll be cynical until the sun explodes, but I don’t know if I want to contribute to the general feeling of irritation that permeates the internet nowdays.

On a sort-of related note, I’ve had a shit few years. Handful of years. Almost coming up on a decade, probably. Not completely fucking terrible, but a definite series of unfortunate events. Have you read or seen Good Omens? In one not-spoilery event, a demon conspires to turn the original design for the M25 orbital motorway into an enormous Satanic sigil. The road’s shape, coupled with the fact that most journeys on the M25 naturally inspire feelings of pure hatred, ensure that the entire motorway is a constant source of low-grade evil.*

That’s what my day-to-day has been feeling like, for ages now. A gentle smog of low-grade evil. Not all day, and not every day. But I’ve had enough anxiety and bouts of depression, enough work-based dead ends, enough physical health issues that it really does feel like something’s in the air. I don’t think it’s just me, either – a reoccurring theme in conversations with friends is how out of balance everything feels. Work, home life, the climate, world events. A lot of us are at the end of our tether. I’ve written about it here before, and it’s not improving naturally. I can’t do anything about the wider world, but there might be something I can do at my end of the phone? Maybe?

I was thinking I could start here. I’m crap at having hobbies, because they nearly all become my job. This site never really materialised as a source of income, so I’m going to make a concerted effort to make it a space to hang out and chat. No pressure on me to create or you to cough up. I was thinking I could talk about the tarot – I’ve been shit at reading for myself lately, it’s been months since I did a reading just for me – or my bizarre writing processes or my quest to make the perfect peanut butter biscuit. Or something else entirely. Who knows!

I don’t know what I’ll continue from Indifferent Ignorance. Probably Read, If You Like, because I bloody love reading. Probably occasional income round ups, because my patrons seem to like them and I like holding myself accountable to them. Definitely my ongoing Killjoy Jacket project. Definitely plant posts. In fact, here’s a bougainvillea. I’ve shared photos of bougainvillea in posts before when I’ve needed a photo, and they’re just such a good plant to look at. This is a crap photo but it still makes me feel, I don’t know, warm and summery. ‘Where do you want to go after you graduate?’ ‘I want to embody a bougainvillea in July.’

bougainvillea close up

I’ll leave the little book reminders at the end of posts, too, because I wrote a book, damnit.

I don’t want to remove all my old posts – some of them are quite sweet, in a ‘this kid is an idiot’ way – or pretend they weren’t there to start with. Half of my problem with internet culture these days is the lack of nuance and lack of desire to let people learn. I think it’s important to show that people evolve.

So, in the spirit of evolution, I hope I’ll see you here soon. I hope I’ll be back here soon.

Look after yourselves!

Francesca

* If you want to leave or reach Southend by car, there’s a good chance you’ll meet the M25. I’m saying nothing about what that does for residents’ psyche.


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

A quick chat and a cool tree photo

Hi hi. Happy palindrome day! Apparently today’s date is also an ambigram, which means it looks the same upside down. This feels fitting. A bloke on the radio this morning* kept referring to Russia invading Ukraine as a bit like the Cuban Missile Crisis and let’s just say that if this was 10 years ago and I was still doing GCSE history, I would appreciate that reference! As it is all I can think of is that X Men film.

How are we all? Dealing with the weather? I keep hearing about ancient trees that have come down in the wind, and I think it’s fair to say my transformation into antisocial forest-dweller is well on its way, because I get emotional when I think about it. I was ninety per cent asleep at the time, but a different bloke on the radio** was talking about a thousand year old oak. A thousand years! He said something about it having seen Vikings invade, and I got distracted trying to figure out how many generations of birds would have nested in the tree and missed whether or not the weather brought it down.

I’m not going to Google it.

Did I come here with something to say? I genuinely can’t remember. Every item of news this morning made me sad or furious so I think I was just thinking ‘let’s talk about something fun!’ Oh, that’s why I started talking about palindromes. But I’m not that into maths, so I’ll be honest I’m struggling. This is why I write book reviews or talk about my plants. Letting me start a blog post with no prompts except that I learnt the word ambigram is a terrible idea, especially when the whole point of popping in to chat was to take my mind off – and hopefully your mind off – World Events. I will not feel bad if you tell me it hasn’t worked.

I’m going to sign off and get some caffeine, but here is a photo of a cool tree in Angkor Wat from five (five!) years ago:

tree at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Bloody love a tree. Look at that. Humans make cool buildings that last centuries and trees just… grow through them.

Right, caffeine. See you soon!

Look after yourselves,

Francesca

*Health secretary. He was the Health Secretary.

**Definitely not the Health Secretary.


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: Non Fiction Edition

Happy new year! I don’t usually gravitate towards non fiction, but there are a handful I’ve read over the last couple of years that I’ve really enjoyed, so I thought I’d share them here. As usual, you can find them on my Bookshop.org recommendations.

Read The Importance of Being Interested, by Robin Ince (2021), if you like:

  • A bit of science, but not so much you have to actually be a professional with a specialism in that specific, finickity little bit of scientific research to understand it
  • Anecdotes about physicists, the clergy and the occasional ghost hunter
  • A bit of philosophy, but not so much you need a philosophy degree to understand it
  • A contagious, oozing love and respect for being alive on this strange little planet in this tiny corner of the universe, right exactly now

Read Pandora’s Jar by Natalie Haynes (2020), if you like:

Trick! I already included this in my Greek mythology post but it’s so good I wanted to mention it again!

Read Real Life Money, by Clare Seal (2020), if you like:

  • Non-condescending conversation about finances, with enough of the author’s personal background that you know her perspective has come from the heart and her experience, not a handful of business blogs and an online course
  • Genuinely interesting insights into spending habits, consumerism and financial wellbeing in this weird, advert-driven world
  • Advice about money that isn’t ‘take on a third job, stop drinking coffee and cancel your TV licence!!!’
  • (Is this the place to talk about how the TV licence is an investment in the entire UK arts scene? No? Okay but I want you to think about how it’s an investment in the entire UK arts scene)
hand holding Real Life Money, by Clare Seal

Read Be the Change: A Toolkit for the Activist in You by Gina Martin (2018), if you like:

  • Well, activism, but from the perspective of someone who fell into it by accident
  • It’s by the lady who made upskirting illegal in England and Wales after being upskirted, so like Real Life Money, you really feel the author’s passion for her subject
  • Practical advice for campaigning, writing to your elected officials and educating yourself on your subject of interest
  • It was really useful when I started the Do Something Directory, so if you’re into campaigning, fundraising, activism or think you might like to be, I can really recommend it

How is everyone doing as we edge closer to February? I try not to hate January – it’s not January’s fault that it’s almost always the coldest, Scroogiest month, with many deadlines – but I’m looking forward to St Brigid’s Day (or Imbolc, if you prefer, or, if we’re being boring: 1st February).

I haven’t finished it yet so will have to wait for another Read, If You Like to talk about it, but I’m partway through a book about the folklore of plants. I really like thinking about seasonal changes and how, in years gone by, societies seemed much happier to welcome in new months or seasons with a little bit of ritual. Probably because more people worked the land or grew their own medicines, and needed to pay closer attention to those miniscule changes to their landscape. I’m not going to be sewing carrots or dancing round a may pole any time soon, but I am thoroughly enjoying my afternoon walks, even though they are freezing. I saw snowdrops the other day! It’s still light at about half past five! I might cry when we put the clocks forward.

Let me know: have you read any of the books I’ve talked about? What did you think of them? What are you looking forward to as we make our way through winter?

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 · brain chat

Things from 2021 that I liked and you might like

Happy nearly 2022! I don’t love those look-at-my-great-year posts, so I thought I’d do one talking about some of the lovely things I’ve come across this year:

  • Roman mosaics turned up in Rutland and they’re super duper old and super duper cool
  • The Magnus Archives wrapped up with a truly epic finale
  • Time Team is coming BACK and it’s going to be on the internet for all of us to enjoy
  • David Attenborough survives and, going on the assumption that he has a new show out, thrives
  • The guy who founded the We Rate Dogs Twitter account started a charity providing financial support for shelter dogs with complex medical needs, so they’d be more attractive to potential new owners. I can’t tell you how wonderful the 15/10 Foundation’s Twitter feed is, and how much better you’ll feel if you look at it
  • The Ever Given got stuck in the Suez and I know it was terrible for the economy et cetera et cetera but it was also ABSOLUTELY HILARIOUS
  • Football didn’t come home but the idea that it might was quite nice (in the spirit of focussing on the good stuff, let’s not dwell on the racism or that bloke who stuck a firework in his arse)
  • While we’re on the subject of contests won by Italians… Eurovision came back! And Måneskin took their place as the world’s best rock band, Under 25s Category.

I’m staying in for new year’s eve, just to be on the safe side – although I’ve realised my favourite bit of NYE parties is getting to chat to my mates and cuddle with the hosts’ dog(s), so I’m not bothered about missing General Revelry. Last new year was difficult because there was no option but to stay indoors; this year I’m grateful to have the choice. And I choose to sit in my socks, eat panettone with my grandmother and think about all the books I want to read next year!

Seriously, though, I have a good handful of titles I cannot wait to dig into. I fell off the blogging wagon a little this year, but I hope to continue with book recommendation posts in 2022. A few titles I haven’t gotten around to enthusiastically recommending yet are Queenie, the Six of Crows duology, Robin Ince’s The Importance of Being Interested, Hitchhiker’s Guide (which I’d read once before but it’s like a good wine, it just improves with age), The Starless Sea – wait, I might have written about that. I can’t remember. 2021 had some really shit bits, but it excelled itself book wise. I was going to say it excelled itself film wise, but I’ve only been to the cinema once since Covid started and nearly all the films and TV shows I’ve seen were released ages ago. I liked, um, the animated Netflix one where Tim Minchin voiced a koala.

I just remembered that I almost went back into education to study film. Ha!

What were your highlights of 2021? What are you hoping for as we head into ’22? I’ve got a few modest goals – sort out my sock drawer, finish reading a copy of Frankenstein my friend T leant me on Halloween, get to the end of the academic year in one piece. I’m looking forward to some really mundane things, like Peaky Blinders coming back, new leaves on the trees on my uni campus, new Stiefvater novels, my fourth Covid jab. Ooh, I think there’s an extra bank holiday for the Queen’s Jubilee. I’m not sure if it’s a pandemic side effect or if everyone does it at some point during their twenties and the pandemic’s amplified it, but I’m far more interested in little things these days, things I used to consider insignificant. I saw a cool looking bird the other day. I’m not sure if pre-pandemic Francesca would have spent so much time trying to identify it on the RSPB website (consensus: male chaffinch, possibly). So, yeah, more books and more wildlife in 2022, I guess. Oh, and some of those shows that were originally scheduled for 2020! I’ll believe it when the lights go down, ha!

Happy new year!

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: a Variety of Greek Mythology Books

I began this post when the Ever Given was still stuck in the Suez, but better late than never (which is the attitude you should take with your Christmas present deliveries, eh). I was hoping to read Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey this year to add it to the list, but then I went to university instead. Well, we know which would have been cheaper. Anyway, here is my (current, will be updated when I get my mitts on a few titles I’ve seen floating around the internet) list for anyone who is a mythology nerd, or knows a mythology nerd and wants to get them a Christmas present but their options are limited because I closed my shop this year…* There is fiction! There is non fiction! And all the authors are women because this is my website and I can ignore Robert Graves if I want to!

*Might reopen in January depending on if I can be bothered

Read A Thousand Ships (Natalie Haynes, 2019) if you like:

  • Multiple perspectives
  • Grumpy goddesses
  • Heart breaking scenes of [spoiler unless you know the story of the Trojan War already]
  • Banging one liners. So much of this book is eminently quotable.
  • Ancient Greece and its general geographic surroundings
  • Stabbings
  • It’s very stabby.

Read The Silence of the Girls (Pat Barker, 2018) if you like:

  • Stories about the Trojan War from the Trojan side
  • The realities of war. There are no euphemisms or mentions of women being ‘kidnapped.’ Barker calls a spade a spade, you know
  • It really is quite grim in places but I liked that about it; your mileage may vary.

Read Pandora’s Jar (Natalie Haynes, 2020) if you like:

  • Sarcastic non fiction that’s also really factual and educational
  • I find non fiction quite hard work most of the time, but Pandora’s Jar was very absorbing. I was predisposed to like it, because I love Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics, feminism and Greek myth, but at the start I was a bit unsure if I’d struggle. I didn’t, because it’s well written (yes, I am doing a humanities degree, why do you ask)
  • Beyoncé references
  • Wonder Woman references
  • (who says that the classics have no impact on modern history)
  • Enough information that you can be interesting (or quite annoying) at dinner parties for the rest of forever. Would you like to hear about how Medusa is one of the earliest examples we have of victim blaming? Or about how Euripides’ Medea was quoted at first wave feminism events in the 19th century? Or how we’ve conflated the story of Pandora with the story of Eve? I can go on about this forever mate.
hardback copy of 'Pandora's Jar' by Natalie Haynes
Did you know they released a red version of the cover for Christmas? Because ancient Greece and the Christmas story both have… infanticide?

Read The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller, 2012) if you like:

  • Queer rep
  • Look it’s just very gay
  • (I’m assuming that if you’re here, that is a selling point and not a reason to write in)
  • A look at the Greek side of the Trojan War, particularly from off the battlefield
  • A look at Achilles, who was the most enormous sulky child this planet had seen until Trump took office
  • I mean, you sort of like him in this. Achilles isn’t a sympathetic character in most depictions, because he is very stabby and entitled in a way that rich kids of Instagram can only dream of
  • (You won’t like him in any of the other books I’ve suggested)
  • (I’ve included this book because no one else could have made Sulky McSulkface sympathetic. All the awards for Ms Miller, please, plus extra for irritating all those pearl-clutching purists who didn’t think Achilles and Patroclus could be lovers, possibly because they’ve never noticed any Greek vase decorations.)

I can’t wait to do an updated version of this once I’ve finally read The Odyssey. Did you know Emily Wilson is the first woman to translate it into English? I knew there was a reason I fall asleep every time I try to read Homer, ha.

If you are so inclined, I have a Bookshop.org list of these titles; if you buy one of them through the link I get half a penny or something. I’m going to have to revisit my classics and myth-y to read list; there’s a translation of Beowulf that looks epic, pun intended, and I’ve only read the first of Stephen Fry’s mythology series. I think I read a good Neil Gaiman non fiction book on Norse mythology a while back too? Ugh, I’m off to go and smile at a book.

Look after youselves!

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 · Internet

Reflections on this blog and where it’s going (with a little bit of tarot, it is Halloween)

A few moments ago I pulled a tarot card for this blog. It’s Halloween, it’s the site’s spiritual birthday, it’s a good way to start a post. I thought about the last twelve years as I shuffled, and I was expecting to feel a little melancholy as I did so. It’s Halloween, after all, which for my money is a much better time to reflect on things gone by than new year is. It’s also the blog’s twelve year anniversary, and after I hit five years of blogging I found it impossible to reach this date without reflecting on years gone by. Most blogs last about twenty minutes. It’s discombobulating to think back to what I was doing at fourteen, at eighteen, at twenty one, and know that throughout that time I was here, talking to you.

As you’ll know if you’ve been following for the past few months, recently I’ve been making a more concerted effort to appreciate the seasons. (Autumn, you have been stunning this year.) I wondered today how I would organise this blog into seasons – or sections, because four seasons feels too finite. I think that 2009 through to around 2014 or 2015 was when I was in full ‘this is my space and if you’re here, you can listen to me’ mode. When I finished school, in around 2014 or so, I came a bit unstuck. Partly because my home life was coming unstuck, and partly because leaving school is weird. Both together were a recipe for uncertainty, and I struggled to define what I wanted to talk about.

2015 through to 2018 or so was a series of attempts to identify what this site meant, to me and to the few readers who remained from my school days. I spoke about travel, and being a professional creative, and art. Looking back, it was my entire life that needed redefining, not this one tiny corner of it. Gradually, as I got further and further into finishing The Princess and the Dragon, and as social media seemed to fall further and further into a plague pit of performative, po-faced judgement and toxic positivity, I found it harder to figure out what I was contributing to the world by sharing my thoughts. I was increasingly aware that if my fiction work grew in popularity, I would be more and more at risk of someone reading those old, soap boxy posts circa 2011, finding something badly worded or ignorant, and proclaiming that I should never sell another book. It sounds overdramatic, but in the young adult fiction space, you’re either a saint or you’re cancelled. My work Twitter feed, when I still looked at it, was awash with book bloggers debating the evils of problematic authors and/or their equally problematic content. One author recently edited a couple of lines of dialogue out of a published novel because people online were giving them hell for supporting the Israeli government. Or something. I wondered if I should semi-jokingly cancel myself before someone else could do it for me. I wondered how long it would take to, say, livestream a dramatic reading of all my old posts, during which I could reassess my teenage opinions and, more practically, remove photographs of people I’m no longer in touch with. I wondered if it was worth continuing to blog at all. I’ve been wondering that a lot for the last two or three years.

So you’ll be as surprised as I was that when I was shuffling my cards and thinking back on this site’s many incarnations, I felt happy. I was thinking back to how enthusiastic I was when I started, how hopeful I was that just by shouting into the void, the void might pay attention and change a little for the better. Now, as I write, I’m thinking about all the lovely conversations I’ve had on here over the years, how grateful I am to all of my readers, and how cool it is that I’ve been working on one project longer than quite a lot of people have been alive.

This was the card, the Three of Wands:

Three of Wands tarot card, part of Maggie Stiefvater's Raven's Prophecy deck.

For those of you not into the tarot, spiritually or otherwise, it’s all about sharing your work with others. Sit with your friends by the embers of that fire, the card says, and see where you go.

It feels hopeful, and I am not used to feeling hopeful in regard to my creative work. I don’t say that to elicit sympathy, or pity; being a professional creative is a numbers game. Statistically, I won’t ‘make it.’ I’m not sure what ‘it’ is, to be honest. Creative work as a full time job? I don’t know anyone who’s creative as a full timer, including authors with big fancy book deals. Most of us teach on the side, or speak at conferences, or write articles for magazines on subjects that aren’t necessarily creative. Some of us run podcasts or livestreams, or are fortunate enough to have proper radio shows or full time teaching jobs. Some sell our books to film companies, I guess, and if we’re lucky get to be a part of the production team. Most of us would say that the extra stuff helps fuel the creative work (although the dynamics of balancing the two is a conversation for another day).

I don’t know if this is a blog that will keep going, or how long for. As reader numbers have waxed and waned, I’ve asked myself again and again what the point of talking is if there’s no one there to listen. I’m never going to stop asking myself if there’s any point to sharing what I’m thinking, or what I’m doing. I’m not sure that’s something that can be answered just once. I have a feeling I’m only ever going to get more private, too, as my offline work evolves and as I spend more time working on the Do Something Directory as a relatively professional, sensible managing director whose sharing of personal views are not necessarily conducive to building a non profit organisation. And what’s a blog if not a type of online journal? Maybe we’ll find out.

If I can look back on this blog and feel hopeful, then I can look forward and feeling hopeful, too. I know that as May of next year inches closer, I’m going to want to show you guys my Killjoy jacket and, most likely, write a thousand words about the spiritual experience of seeing My Chem again. Do you remember when I wrote something soppy exactly two years ago to mark this blog’s momentous decade of existence and then MCR had the audacity to steal my thunder and announce a reunion? So rude.

Maybe I’ll share other things, too, like what I’m writing at the moment (social media copy for the Directory, to be quite honest), what I’m reading (I’m about to start a lovely copy of Frankenstein my friend T leant me, I can’t wait) and what I’m up to when I’m not doing those things. Hint: higher education. I could write a whole post on how much more I sleep now compared with before I went to university. Was I just not using my brain that much beforehand, or has close proximity to teenagers rewound my body clock? I don’t know how much I want to talk about uni online (I’m not going to talk about where I am publicly until second year, at least, because I live on campus). And I like having something that belongs to just me. Well, just me and the nine thousand people my mother has been telling about it.

Happy Halloween, lovelies. Go and reflect on the past, this is the best time to do it! I personally am going to make pasta. Look after yourselves and don’t forget to blow out the candles on your pumpkins before you go to bed. No one wants to celebrate Halloween by actually crossing the veil.

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 · weather

Plant Mum Post #3: Giving the Houseplants a Bath and Adventures with Spiders (no spider photos, merely an anecdote or, um, three)

Happy solstice to everyone who observes it! How are you all? I am relieved that autumn feels like autumn – in Southend at least – after the weirdest summer I can remember for ages. Not sure how I got sunburnt in the last week of July and spent the first week of August wrapped in blankets, watching rom coms set in Greece in a bid to warm up. Britain, eh. God, I am so English. When was the last time I came here and didn’t talk about the weather?!

Not about the weather

It was my birthday last week, and 26 got off to an auspicious start when I got back into bed with a cup of coffee and sat on a spider. I didn’t notice until I was making the bed later in the morning and thought ‘… what… is that…?’ I thought initially that a bit of my skin was falling off, so in some ways it was a relief to realise that the blood and bits of tissue were, er, not mine.

Oops.

(I have been having moderately bad dreams featuring spiders ever since, so we’re even, spider world. Do you hear me? DO NOT TAKE REVENGE.) (We’re not going to talk about how I was dusting my printer yesterday and I am ninety per cent sure a spider crawled into the paper tray before I could stop it. RIP little guy.) (Also there was a false widow on the porch the other day, directly below my window.) (I am going to stop thinking about arachnids now.)

Also not about the weather

I gave my plants a wash this morning. I read once that it’s good to put all your houseplants in the bath once a year, and hose them down. It’s to imitate seasonal storms, or something, and get rid of any dust. I think I might have enjoyed it more than they did…

I had to trim back the aloe (not pictured, it’s looking a bit waterlogged as it drains out) after some leaf death. How long are aloes meant to last? This one’s been knocking around for about five years, but what’s left seems okay, with new sprouts. I think I may have done a smidge of overwatering in the summer, because I was watering the same amount as I have during the last couple of summers, when it’s been insanely hot. This summer – sorry, weather again – hasn’t really been like that. The Flaming Katy cutting seems fine, too, minding its own business.

How are the courgettes and the peppers, you ask. Well, I succumbed to peer pressure and put the courgettes outside before they were strong enough to weather some truly bonkers storms (sorry, more weather). Those that made it were promptly eaten by snails. Rest in peace, babies, I will try again another year. The peppers are not that much bigger than they were in June, to be honest. My nan’s plants have all been late blooming this year, too, so I am not too worried. In fact, I have given the peppers to my nan because her flat is usually about 32 degrees Celsius in the winter, so they will likely grow in time for Christmas.

Here are some photos of neighbourhood plants from the last few weeks, just as the season began to turn. I love summer, I love autumn and I always feel like the weeks where summer shifts into autumn are a little bit magic. Sad, but also a bit magic.

I’m off to check the plants are all, you know, not drowned. Wishing you all a spider-free autumn, or at least a spider-free bed…

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?)