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Monthly Archives: July 2014

Social Media and Staying Apolitical

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Like many people, I use social media as a tool. It keeps me connected with those of a similar background, but also provides me with a platform to promote my work. So, how can I avoid alienating my readership while not making it seem like I’m ignoring the world around me?

The obvious solution, of course, is to take a line that everyone agrees on. We’re all reasonable people here, so we all believe in the same things. One side to every story. No grey area. Lovely.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the world doesn’t work like that. The world is full of contentious issues where 55% of people believe one thing and 45% believe the exact opposite. For me, those are numbers I don’t want to be playing with.

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s quite a messy situation somewhere in the Middle East. That bit next to Egypt. Yes. I know, I put it lightly.

In my personal life, I have an opinion on this matter. In my personal life, if I come up against someone with a view that I find troubling, I speak. Or rather, I should say- in my personal life, I have come up against people with troubling views, and I have spoken. I am proud of this.

Which makes it all the harder to remain impartial publicly.

It is very easy to assume, that just because my view is not “extreme”, it will not be taken as such. I have seen friends and strangers make similar mistakes.

One man assumes that, because he browses social media at work, regardless of the intention, he should not have to scroll past distressing images of the conflict. He is an educated man who has taken the time to research the conflict for himself, knows what is gong on, and worries that his coworkers may be distressed or angered to find him looking through such images.

So, he makes an open request, on social media, for the sharing of such images to end.

This is read by another man. He is also troubled by these images. Their content is shocking, certainly, but what makes him more concerned is that he has not seen such images in mainstream media. He feels like people are being blinkered against the realities of the conflict, and the suffering caused by it.

He is as rightfully indignant as the first man was rightfully troubled.

By remaining impartial, I feel guilty. I have an audience. Not a substantial one, but a noticeable one. I have a chance to share my opinion, which, because it is my opinion, I believe to be the best opinion a person could have.

In my mind, the more people who think like me, the greater the chance for the conflict to come to the correct conclusion. My political mind thinks that, by not speaking up, I am wasting the chance to use my platform for good.

It would be social media suicide. All it would take is one slip of the keyboard, and I would be branded an extremist, dragged into a comments-battle until all credibility was stripped from me as my words were twisted my indignant strangers.

I must be content to remain apolitical in public. Yes, it’s cowardly, yes, it’s cynical. But I don’t have the luxury of being otherwise.

However, in private, I know who I am. Ask me on the street, and I will say proudly. Ask me on here, and I will say nothing.

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Writing A Novel: A Terrible Idea

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I have a to-do list as long as my forearm. This was a terrible plan.

I’m moving to Manchester in September to start my Initial Teacher Training, which aside from the obvious problems such as finding a flat and packing up my stuff, presents a whole other plethora of unpleasant tasks which take precedence over novel writing, which is beginning to feel like picking daisies during an air strike.

I don’t know Manchester well. I don’t drive. So, I have to figure out where I’m going to live by spending a fortune on the train and guessing. Luckily, I have been contacted by a complete stranger who has asked me to move in with him and I am so daunted by the prospect of actually looking that I’m seriously considering it. I mean, I’ll probably meet with him beforehand to check for obvious signs of serial-killer-ishness, but for now I’m just dropping mild cricket references into emails in the hope he picks up. As far as I know, there are no serial killers who enjoy cricket.

There’s also the issue of paying for it. I’m currently skint. I cook one large casserole a week and freeze it. If I think I can probably live without a meal, I go without a meal. £540 deposit? Yeah, I’ll just pull it out of my arse, shall I?

Student finance doesn’t arrive until after I start my course. Knowing them, quite a long while after. Aside from the cost of moving, I’ll also need smart shoes, stationery, travel passes, deodorant that actually works, more than two pairs of trousers, more than one dress, and endless supply of tights to replace the ones I inevitably ladder with freshly-cut toenails, membership of a trade union, teaching resources, a new laptop- some urgent, some not so urgent, but all requiring money I just don’t have.

In order to get this money, I have to provide evidence that I’ve been financially independent of my parents for three years. I was at uni for two of them. I have wageslips, none of them very helpful or informative.

I spent a large portion of last summer being chased for £3000 I didn’t have, because of how financially independent I am from my parents. I’m so financially independent of my parents that my dad didn’t even fill in my forms for the last two years, leading to me being ineligible for any support in my final year, and to SFE retracting the support I had received in my second.

If I have to go through that again, I can’t envisage my surviving the next year.

On top of that, correspondence form the university seems to suggest that they wrongly believe me to be an international student. Making me ineligible for student finance and subject to higher fees. I don’t really know what else to say about that one only it needs fixing, now.

It’s a nightmare. It certainly wasn’t this hard last time I went to university. Back them I was in halls, had a bus to take me from my front door to my lecture hall every twenty minutes and had some sort of misguided confidence in my parents’ ability to reliably fill out a bit of paperwork. It was adventure.

This isn’t. Really. it isn’t.

So now, there are no wordcounts. I’m at the stage where leaving the house is considered an achievement. Suddenly, speaking to another human being is a rare and cherished opportunity. I have forgotten what a television is- seriously, I’ve not watched anything since the first week of June.

I still owe myself that coffee and cake. I did well to do 8000 words. But I’m not in a position to run myself ragged just because I want the doner kebab I’d earn for hitting 16,000. Right now, deadlines are out of the window. I love writing. But that’s all the way at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. When my access to food and shelter is endangered, I have no choice but to let my priorities shift.

Temporarily.

What I’m Reading: A Girl In Winter

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A Girl In Winter is set between a summer in Oxfordshire and a frozen January in somewhere desolate, presumably Hull. I do not mean that Hull is desolate, just that there is library in the story, and Philip Larkin (the author) was a librarian in Hull for many years.

So, as I’ve stated, A Girl in Winter was written by Philip Larkin. Yes, the poet. The one who wrote This Be the Verse. You do know it. “They f*ck you up, your mum and dad”? See, you did know it.

If you didn’t, don’t worry, I have it by heart, or you could just google it.

A Girl In Winter is not like that. It follows the twelve hour day of Katherine Lind, a “foreigner”, whose providence is never explicitly stated. During it, she remembers the summer she shared with a boy called Robin Fennel, a delightfully boring sort of boy who she was in love with for four days many years ago.

Descriptive passages were phenomenal. Of course, it helped that I read the book largely in the precise section of Oxfordshire described in the novel, and at the height of a beautiful summer heatwave too, but even the frosted-up windows of the bus Katherine rides with Miss Green and the darkening library at closing-time were vivid in my imagination.

I do not, as a rule, enjoy extensive description. I chase after the action. Still, I enjoyed the novel thoroughly. Characters were realistic, motives were plain and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call it sad, it is certainly rarely cheerful.

Anstey strikes me as the sort of man I should like to push down a flight of stairs and hope he hit his head too hard to testify. Miss Green is a spoilt little girl. Robin Fennel is ordinary, Jane Fennel is strange and Katherine is impotent, an outsider always. They all sit neatly upon their little wheel and play out their parts perfectly.

I was going to talk about the ending, but I won’t. I liked it. You may not. It’s an interesting one.

My recommendation is to the curious- many people do not know that Larkin wrote novels, probably because he wrote just two. Then again, many people know Wilde wrote novels, and he only managed one. A Girl in Winter is a slow read, perfect for eating up the hours on a long journey (not if you’re the driver/pilot) or, if you have time for such things, reading on a cold day indoors.

Not one for thrill-seekers or the sentimental.

What I’m Reading: The Night Watch

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Strictly speaking, I’ve finished reading it, but it’s not a review per se.

Sarah Waters is well-known for her historical novels, which all touch, in some way or another, on lesbian themes. They are exciting, well-researched and actually treat women like humans capable of sexual desire, rather than just being objects of it.

So, after reading Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, I was highly curious as to what a Sarah Waters novel was doing on my 14 year old cousin’s bookshelf. A quick look inside established that the book had been acquired from a charity shop, rather than sought out.

I slipped it out and rearranged the bookshelf to make it less obvious I had removed something. I’m not out to my family because I’m a spanner. I’m not ashamed, I just find it difficult rather to explain that I’m not a lesbian, and that there are alternative explanations for my interest in lesbian film and literature.

I liked Tipping the Velvet. I saw the BBC adaptation first, but thoroughly enjoyed the book too, much preferring the book incarnation of the main character, Nan. That’s not to say the TV version isn’t worth a watch, because it very much is. Off the top of my head, it has Keeley Hawes, Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Vegas in it.

Fingersmith was less good. It was a riveting, complex plot, filled with duplicitous characters, but felt very much as if lesbianism had just been shoehorned into it. It might just have been me, but the ending left me feeling more than a little awkward.

So, I wasn’t expecting much. Doctor of English Literature Waters may be, but the vast majority only have one good novel in them. As Fingersmith wasn’t half as good as Tipping the Velvet, I was expecting The NIght Watch to be only a quarter as good as Fingersmith.

I am glad to announce that I was wrong.

Set, to begin with, in 1947, it marked a departure from the Victorian novels that I had read, which was a pleasant surprise. There were four central characters, all with enormous secrets, and it was engaging to try and work out the connection between the four of them, and what these secrets might be.

As the novel moves on, it also moves backwards, before climaxing in 1941.

Yes, that does preclude a happy ending, which bothers me only because I haven’t read one for quite some time. But it was really interesting to look at these stories as having a resolution, not for the character, but for the reader.

For example, the character of Duncan is first introduced as an anonymous young man being watched from a window by Kay. So much of his story is told from the perspectives of others, that I felt, as a reader, compelled to make the same assumptions that other characters made of him.

I wouldn’t say I was pleasantly surprised by the climax (read above re: no happy ending), but as a reader, I found it utterly compelling to the last.

In some ways, The Night Watch is better than Tipping the Velvet, because it reads simply as a novel, and not a “lesbian novel”. I would recommend it therefore, to anyone who is not particularly squeamish- set partially during the London Blitz and subsequent offensives. There are also some nastily graphic scenes which I cannot spoil, but just take note that this book is honest and brutal and sad.

Chapter lengths make it sometimes a tough read, but the prose is easy enough to follow. Just remember to stop when there’s a change in point of view, rather than trying to continue to the end of the chapter, because you will be exhausted.

So, yes. Utterly recommended, to men, women, straight, gay or anywhere in between any of the options. Just not people who faint at the sight of blood or desperately need happy endings.

Out of my Comfort Zone

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So, this Saturday, I was bored. So, I decided to completely run against my instincts and do something I would never ordinarily do.

You might assume, me being trans, that I’m some sort of super-sexually empowered person who is gender-blind, totally up on being politically correct and can tell a person to check their privilege at fifty paces.

Not so.

As a teenager, I hated being bisexual because it left me in a position of uncertainty. If being gay was a choice, I’d have bloody well heard about it. I was brought up fairly conservatively, so you should have seen the stick I gave myself for being “between genders”.

If I hadn’t lived it, I wouldn’t have believed it existed.

So, deciding, on impulse, to spend the afternoon with a group of strangers who enjoy BDSM was not exactly in-character, I mean, I enjoy cricket and tea and books and knitting. BDSM definitely doesn’t enter into it.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t realise it was excellent writing fodder. The most boring man in the world suddenly wakes up one morning and decides to have a couple of pints with some kink enthusiasts. I still can’t quite believe I did it.

If you’d met me, you wouldn’t believe it either.

I can’t see this particular episode making its way into my current novel, but I have it. That particular life experience is checked off, in the bank, mine to exploit as I wish. But you know what else? I had fun.

Me. In a bar full of strangers who had mostly seen each other naked, and asked me such questions as whether I was interested in tying knots or being tied. I had an amazing time.

So. Do something on impulse. Say “yes” to life. I mean, I spent the first fifteen minutes of the meet hiding in the lavs, but I eventually found my balls, and actually said “Hello” like I’m the sort of person who walks up to random people and says “Hello”.

I’m not getting much writing done. But I’m confident that I will, now.

The Week Off I Never Wanted

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So. I went to a wedding and ended up doing no work on my novel for a week.

To be fair, in this heat, I would have been flogging a dead horse anyway. I don’t know if you feel comfortable working at 29C (84F), but I don’t. So, I probably would have sat miserably staring at an open word document while I sweated out all the electrolytes my brain needs to function, and punished myself for it.

As it was, I read, wrote a little when it suited me, ate outside, took walks along the Thames and played and watched cricket. It was quintessential English summer stuff, and I found it rejuvenating.

If I was the sort of writer capable of taking breaks without them turning into a sabbatical, the holiday I just had would be part of my compulsory routine. It was intensely social, and has made me want nothing more than to retire to my tiny Liverpool bolt-hole and write some more.

It’s well-known that writers ought to read, and I will be reviewing the books I just read imminently. It opened my eyes to various techniques- I returned to Catch-22 a few weeks ago, and it’s evident how it has shaped my writing. I fell that Larkin’s A Girl in Winter has helped with my most prominent weakness, physical description, while Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch reminded me that I don’t have to include every detail to make people care about the story.

It is less often said that writers ought to enjoy themselves, and I can’t think why. Too often, we see the writer as an isolated beast, hunched miserably over a desk, typing out words he instantly hates himself for.

It is more acceptable for artists or musicians to actually go outside, and search for inspiration. Writers sit inside and wait for it to happen, and it won’t. The resulting work will be clawed-out and insular. Yes, that work can be fixed, with endless redrafts and cuts, but the original will be bilge.

Save yourself some time, and go outside for a bit. I’m still too sticky to go outside properly, but I feel better about my novel than I did a week ago. As my greatest enemy when writing is self-deletion, that sounds like a step in the right direction. Doesn’t it?

Setbacks

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Well, much as I can dream of writing 1000 words per day, it doesn’t seem to be a reality this week.

Currently, I am staying with family in Oxfordshire. Green space and blue sky abounds, and my family cannot see why any sane person should wish to be inside staring at a computer screen, or scratching tensely into a spiral bound notebook.

It’s because, if I hit 16,000 words before a certain date, I will allow myself to eat takeaway. This is a rare and exotic luxury in my world, along with ice cream and white wine spritzers, which are in contrast rather commonplace in my family’s corner of Oxfordshire.

Hemingway might have produced his best while three sheets to the wind, but after two days here, I could do with a detox before attempting any more fiction writing. The thought of crafting so much as a haiku makes me want to weep.

Just writing this blog post has been a considerable strain on my resources. Incidentally, the cricket scores have not helped.

I shall try to proceed through the week sober, but it is a constant trial. For now, my word count targets are delayed. Real life 1, Parker 0.*

*If anyone can think of a cricketing analogue, I would be curious to hear it. I doubt that there is, mind.