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,


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 · dragonnovel · writing


It’s time to introduce you to dragonnovel. After 3 years of writing and plotting and editing and re-plotting, 3 months of unsuccessful pitches to agents (followed by a much-needed edit) and approximately 14 uses of Google to double check different shades of the colour blue, dragonnovel’s done. In the can. Would it be even better with another 6 months of edits? Maybe. Would it have benefited from a professional editor alongside a mishmash of read throughs by my friends and critique partners? Definitely. Do I want to leave the current manuscript on my computer while I wait around for an editor to magically appear? Nope! Oh, here’s the blurb:

This is a book of fairytales, but not of happy endings.

Welcome to the Three Kingdoms.

Princesses hatch plans; princes embark on quests; the forces of evil gather in dark corners like spiders in an ancient tower. There’s an ancient tower. Don’t expect to fall asleep to sweet dreams when you’re done.

So here’s how we’re doing this: you guys remember my Patreon page? I’ve been sharing dragonnovel 1.0 on there for a few months (this is dragonnovel 2.0, by the way. Now you get why I call it dragonnovel). Anyway. There are 24-ish chapters in The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, and the first three plus the prologue are available for the entire universe to read here. They’re also on FictionPress and Archive of Our Own and deviantART and Wattpad; go and read at your leisure. The remaining 21 chapters will be shared with patrons once a fortnight until roughly January next year. Chapter four is actually up now.

I’ve decided to use Patreon to share the book for two reasons. Firstly, I want to share the novel in a fun book club-esque way, kind of like how I used to post fan fictions chapter-by-chapter and watch readers guess what would happen next (helloooo god complex). Secondly, and more practically, if enough people join in with my Patreon between now and next January, there should be enough money in the bank to make a proper ebook and commission my illustrator friends to do some cool drawings. There might, maybe, even be enough for a hardcover copy that I can hide in coffee shops and send to charities that give out free books. Perish the thought, I might even be able to make some money off them… let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. For now, I just want you guys to meet a princess called Amelia. She has a dragon infestation issue and absolutely no intention of being married off.

cover for The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes by Francesca Burke

Membership of my Patreon page (we’re gonna call it the Dragonnovel Book Club or something really snappy) starts from $1 per month. Depending on which side of Brexit we’re on when you read this, that’s about 78p. If you stick around for a year, you’re getting the whole book for about £10 which is quite a bargain for 56,000 words.

Here’s the basic breakdown of where your money goes:

  • 20% Patreon and bank processing fees; costs associated with running a membership platform
  • 40% The Bank of Francesca, because I don’t currently have the financial security to take the time to write (or research or plan) the next book
  • 40% The Make Dragonnovel a Proper Novel Fund, with which I can pay my proofreader and buy ISBNs and convert my files into e-reader files which it turns out is actually quite complex (this page on my new shiny website breaks it all down.)

You can read  about the different membership tiers (and their rewards!) on my Patreon page, as well as see how close we are to reaching the Holy Grail, aka an ebook.

Here’s a thing I need to say before we start. There will be absolutely no hard feelings if you’re a longtime reader of this blog, or a friend, or a family member, and you don’t join this little book club. I can’t tell you where to put your cash. But do not, in a year’s time, ask me why I still have a weekend job. Do not ask me why I haven’t finished the next book yet. Do not ask me why I’ve canned freelancing for a 40-hour desk job (and antidepressants). Do not, under any circumstances, ask when your free copy of The Princess and the Dragon will be in the post. Do not sit around at parties and tell me, or your kids or friends’ kids, to do what they love while they’re young and have nothing to stop them. This is me, doing that.

Now that’s been said, LET’s PARTY. And by party I mean read the chapters, join Patreon and tell all your friends to do the same. Oh and let me know what you think of the story, it will be nice to hear from you.

Update with links to other blog posts about the novel, illustrations, etc.:

Books · Films · March 2016 · Patreon Reviews

Review: ‘About a Boy’, Nick Hornby

This review  is the first that feels a little like cheating because I had actually seen bits of the film on TV, about 10 years ago. All I could remember before starting the novel is that Hugh Grant’s in the film and so’s that guy who went on to be in Skins (I think?). So my memory didn’t spoil it for me and I won’t spoil it for you.

My copy of About a Boy is courtesy of a university I considered attending long enough that they sent me free things. The parcel contained a letter from Nick Hornby advising that every misstep is not, in retrospect, a misstep (coincidentally I have been clinging to this notion since I decided not to go to university). The book itself follows that concept, predominantly through its two protagonists, Will and Marcus. Will has a life most of us live at the weekends. 30-ish and unattached all but the Countdown schedule, he spends days inside cafes and hours in front of the television, and has a work/life balance of pretty much 0% work and 100% chilling out. Marcus, a 12-year-old boy who’s just moved to London with his mum, has a happiness/life balance of about 30/70.

I can’t tell you how Will and Marcus meet, because it’s one of the funniest parts of the story, and I can’t really tell you too much about the supporting characters, because a lot of them hinge around the plot too. I can tell you that the novel contains a dead duck, Kurt Cobain, Christmas songs and some hilarious one liners that made me miss being 12. (Petition to start allowing adults to say exactly what they think just as much as children.)

Review: 'About a Boy' by Nick Hornby


The story takes place in the 1990s, and it would be quite different if it were set today (who are the 2010s equivalent of Nirvana?!). It was nice to read something that didn’t mention Facebook, actually, but my favourite thing about the book is that the two protagonists are about as different as two people could get while having quite a lot in common, and it was the alternating of points of view that turned the book into a very gripping story. There are a lot of ironic moments, and a lot of sad moments, because Will is judging Marcus at exactly the same time as Marcus is judging Will. All the characters are quite normal people you would expect to meet out and about, so of course they are actually all bonkers and more fun to read about than most superheroes. So go read.


My previous reviews are here; you can support my work by funding me on Patreon every time I review a book here.