Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Mechanics of Crushing

Weird things abound in my head these days. Too much time to think.

I swore off love, and that's going great. Precisely no one has fallen in love with me since then, and I've avoided that too. But I have allowed myself a couple of crushes, which is like pretending to be in love without any of the work that goes with it, such as mutual attraction, or having to talk to someone.

In the barmy magazines I read when I was a teenager, crushes were harmless practise runs for when your real big love happened and you got to float down the aisle in a puffy white dress. The assumption that you'd end up married was kind of insulting really, like the prize in life was settling down to watch football every weekend and bicker in the supermarket, ten grand in debt from the wedding. I never wanted that.

I'm not wired up right. I seem to approach things differently from most people. These magazines always had advice like "If he gives you his number, don't phone him straight away." Oh no, I swear I will wait the allotted seven days, four hours and two minutes before picking up that phone. "Don't look too keen." Next time I see him I will shun him or call him names! And my overriding thoughts reading these things was "Why? WHY?! What is the purpose of dicking people around like this?"

It's supposed to be a game, I think. And maybe the build-up is part of it - the uncertainty of whether you're going to get what you want. But I hate uncertainty. I loathe it beyond all things. I drove myself to tears trying to interpret the smallest gesture. Does he like me? Doesn't he? How can I tell? I'd read more of those stupid magazines. Then when I was 16 I ended up kissing a guy I'd liked for ages, even though he'd shown none of the designated behaviours, and I decided they were a waste of time and I was going to wing it.

Since then I've had varying levels of success with men. I've never succeeded when I've planned everything to the nth degree and rehearsed what I was going to say, though. I've kissed men in fields, nightclubs, taxis, the back of a van. I've been repulsed by slobbering, and floored by intense chemistry. And none of it was ever decided on beforehand. Winging it went okay. Some of those memories are very special to me, and I wouldn't change them for the world.

I never found lasting love, so now I have short and intense crushes on men I know I can't have, either for reasons of distance or because they're so far out of my league I would never consider approaching them. The uncertainty is irrelevant because it can't happen. I can't make an arse of myself with men who live miles away, although making an arse of myself never bothered me. Anything but not knowing. I've made the first move (go equality!) and although straight men don't seem to like that as much as they think they do, it worked a couple of times.

I feel like I've had my share, and would only get involved with another man under very strict circumstances. This is my way of appeasing people who say I shouldn't give up. I can say "Well, if this very unlikely thing and this other very unlikely thing happen in this very narrow corridor of unlikeliness then - and only then - I'll consider it." They seem happy with that; I don't think they consider the logistics too much. Why would they? Nothing has ever made me as miserable as love, but before it fell apart there was some happiness there. I'm keeping that close, and throwing everything else away.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Why YA?

It feels like everyone's writing Young Adult these days.

I never felt young, so YA isn't for me. I hated being a child and couldn't wait to make my own decisions and eat ice cream for dinner or lie in bed all weekend if I wanted. To me, childhood was restrictive and suffocating and I fought against it constantly, so I have no desire at all to write about an age when I was fiercely independent with nothing to be independent about. Then I realised the 10,000-word prequel to my current WIP (work in progress) has Ariana at seventeen years old. Accidental YA. Hurrah! Except if it ever sees the light of day it'll be self-published. I'm not trying to sell it to anyone.

It's pretty discouraging when you don't write YA to find it's the big thing, or any other category that doesn't seem popular. Most agents take YA, because it sells, and far fewer take urban fantasy or magical realism or mystery or whatever the hell my WIP is. Particularly baffling is that New Adult is supposed to be university-age main characters but my research shows many writers are being told it doesn't sell. Why do people want to read about high school but not university? I suppose pretty much everyone goes to school and not necessarily higher education, but I read crime thrillers and I've never been murdered.

Are so many authors writing YA because it's where their interests lie, or because it sells? You can't move for YA writers, in all categories, or agents looking to represent them. Romance and erotica sell too but they lean more towards e-publishing - if you want books on shelves it feels like you've got to write YA. Anyone writing well or commercially enough to get published is doing great, and I have no desire to denigrate YA or those who write it, but I hated pretty much everyone I went to school with and can't think of anything more hideous than having to rehash it.

Who's reading all this YA? I know there was an article written about how adults buying YA is shameful or something and I think people should read whatever they fucking want so I'm not saying anything against that, but it can't all be thirteen- to eighteen-year-olds. There aren't enough of them. I'm sure other people have far fonder memories of school and first love than I do. The concept of me having to choose between two boys when I was fifteen is so outrageous it makes me laugh. I was no more attractive then than I am now.

But as ever current trends elude me as I slide into fuddy-duddydom. (It's on the map next to crazy cat ladydom.) If I'm ever fashionable it's an accident. I'm sure by the time my WIP is finished the trends will have moved on again, and agents will be hanging up signs saying "No witches!". Then what? I don't know. Maybe 60,000 words about high school and first love. In my case it'd be horror rather than YA, though. Horror's a tough sell too.

Thursday, 18 September 2014


Things No voters may never complain about in my hearing again. Which won't be for long because I'll go deaf soon.

- Loss of the NHS, including not being able to afford to go to the doctor, pay for prescriptions, or having to sell your house/flat to pay for medical treatment. Because you did read this, didn't you? Didn't you?

- Tories


- Labour

- Liberal Democrats

- Foodbanks

- Poverty, including child poverty

- Trident

- Getting Westminster governments you didn't vote for

- Inhumane and degrading disability assessments. I hope you don't need them, but if you do, tough

- Falling ill and being sacked then treated like scum by the DWP. Again, I don't wish it on you, but will have no sympathy if it happens

- Petrol prices

- Energy prices

- Elderly people dying of hypothermia in winter

- The Bedroom Tax

- Loss of free personal care

- Big businesses paying no tax

- The minimum wage

- Workfare

So that leaves the weather. Nice talking to you.

Friday, 15 August 2014

My first chapter

I'm reproducing the first chapter of my novel here. Bear in mind this is mine, and all mine, and if you choose to steal a rough first draft of some dipshit's unpublished work I will know. I will.

Yeah. But anyway. All comments welcome.

The clock behind me thudded off seconds, mocking my wasted time.

The man in front of me was well-dressed, handsome in a vacant kind of way, and had no useful information for me whatsoever. His girlfriend was missing and he couldn’t think of one single relevant fact. I took my time with him but his monosyllabic answers were getting on my nerves. Judging by the pacing I could hear in the adjoining room, he was annoying my business partner too. I thought of Nico using his favourite method for extracting information – punching – and cheered up.

I tried to be encouraging and sympathetic to the nervous man, but being nice isn’t one of my natural talents. He’d asked me to call him Mr Smith. I get a lot of Smiths. By the time they arrive at Kennedy & King they’ve realised the benefits of disguise and anonymity, something they sadly lacked when they got into the mess they want me to sort out.

The people who come to me either regard me with dumb awe or complete contempt. This guy was the dumb awe type. He found his voice and said his girlfriend went to meet some shady guy she met on the internet. That wasn’t much to go on. I’ve never dealt with anyone who isn’t shady, myself included. My stomach dropped at the thought of explaining why I couldn’t find his girlfriend. I didn’t care. Go find someone who does. But who else in Glasgow tracks down the mystically dodgy? My unique selling point is also my curse, and bad witches like me know all about curses.
          I asked him what protection she’d carried and his eyes widened to the point where I could hardly stand the stupid.

“You mean like a gun?”

I make it my policy not to mock the afflicted so I didn’t laugh in his face, and adopted the tone I use when I’m trying to be patient with bratty children. I’d meant an amulet, charm, demon, spirit guide, witch, sorcerer, maybe even a vampire. A gun would get you nowhere, except possibly shot yourself. Where would she get a gun in Glasgow anyway? Stabbing is preferred – it’s so much more interactive. I fielded more questions but he could tell me little of use.

“So can you find her?” The man’s voice was high and pleading.

“I don’t know. It depends who he is and what he’s done with her. Did you bring her laptop and mobile like I asked?”

He nodded, set the laptop on my desk and fumbled in his pocket for the phone. 

“He told her not to bring any communication devices. It was stupid of her not to take her phone, though, wasn’t it?”

“Not if he’d told her not to.” He could have responded with decapitation, electrocution, combustion. All the fun stuff I used to enjoy. I jolted myself from happy memories and smiled at Mr Smith.

“It never left her side,” he said, with something approaching pride, and slid the mobile across the desk. Another person who ran their life with a little beeping box. He read my name slowly from the business card I gave him.

“Ariana Kennedy. Like that Greek myth chick.” His eyes wandered to the charms suspended over the desk and he stared at them, mouth agape. My patience left the building.

“That was Ariadne,” I corrected, as politely as I could through my gritted teeth. “Thank you, Mr Smith. I’ll be in touch.” He’d signed the forms with a name that looked nothing like Smith, but as long as his credit card worked he could call himself Bozo the Clown for all I cared.

Nico, my demon partner in the agency, wouldn’t come out until the client had gone. Nearly seven feet of rippling muscle, with neon flame-red dreadlocks and a smile that could make your day or ruin your life, he’s even less of a people person than I am. We decided I’m a better actor, so I went up front. He appeared from the small side room as soon as he heard the door slam, eating chocolate as usual.

“He’s still a bit shell-shocked,” I explained, with no empathy whatsoever, after removing the pen from my mouth. No one can ever quite believe they need the services of a disgraced witch and a powerless fire demon. Well, powerless is not quite true. He can still make water boil instantly, which has a few practical uses, but it’s not the jaw-dropping, show-stopping pizzazz he’s used to. After our disgrace, Nico was power-stripped of anything useful. My situation is a little more complicated. 

Nico shoved the last of his chocolate in his mouth and asked what we should do. It was late, and I was reluctant to wander round the Ancient Quarter at that hour, because it might mean talking to the landlady. The Ancient Quarter is protected with a perception filter, and ordinary people shouldn’t be able to find it. I voiced this to Nico and he shrugged.

“Everyone can find something if they’re desperate enough. Pass me the laptop and I’ll hack her email.”

Demons are far more practical than witches.

“Whaddya you get from the phone?” 

I turned it on, and found a few messages from relatives and friends, but no texts more than two days old. The call log had been wiped. She was trying to hide something. Nico tapped away on the laptop and I tried to think.

“I wonder if the boyfriend is in the habit of checking her phone. Either that or whatever she was going to see is very touchy about secrecy. Who can we ask in the AQ?”

“Carlos,” said Nico, in his rumbling Californian drawl. “But he’s pretty sparked out on liquor these days. I don’t think he’d sense a kick to the face. Greta might be able to help.”

Greta is a sorceress who specialises more in glossy firework tricks than any solid magic. She’s incredibly sharp but acts dumb, which means a hell of a lot of information comes her way. I didn’t know where she was but at that time of day it was one of three places, all involving alcohol. I can do as much magic as I have to on behalf of our clients, but nothing that benefits me without potential consequences, so a locator spell was out.

Nico turned the laptop screen so I could see it.

“She deleted all her emails but I should be able to recover ‘em.” The blue light from the screen in our dim basement office made Nico look spooky. “Here we go. She responded to some spam email about karma.”

“People really respond to spam emails?”

“They must do or the spammers wouldn’t bother. Gimme her phone. No point making ourselves traceable.” 

Nico hit some buttons. I heard a tinny but sibilant voice say little. Nico stared at the phone, confused. 

“He don’t talk to demons.” 

I tried, but got a recorded message saying the number was unobtainable. 

“Well, looks like I can do the locator spell for Greta. If that thing can tell you’re a demon just from talking to you it must be pretty powerful.”

Friday, 8 August 2014

Why I'm voting Yes

The referendum on Scottish independence is on the 18th of September. I'm passionately hoping for a Yes, and here are some of the reasons why, and what some of the reasons aren't.

First of all, the majority of Scots do not hate the English. There are some that do, but we pay no more attention to them than any other prejudiced lunatic.

My main reason is social justice. I don't want to live in a country where sick and disabled people are hounded to get jobs that don't exist. It's an employers' market right now - how many are going to employ someone who needs a lot of time off? Or shows any kind of frailty at all really. When I worked in call centres it was common a few years ago to ask for permission to access your medical records. Of course you could refuse, but then they'd find a reason not to give you the job. Employers are no longer allowed to ask health questions, for which I'm thankful, but they've just rephrased it as "Explain in detail any gaps in your employment". With my hearing problems and history of depression I'm worried, and I'm not even especially badly-off at the moment in terms of illness.

The stupider amongst us are always willing to believe tabloid rubbish about how the most vulnerable people at the bottom are causing all the UK's problems. "Look!" says the government, "Look at those poor people! While we snout in our troughs and rip you off for millions in expenses! Haha!" The government judges everyone else by their own standards, and since so many of them are venal crooks they assume everyone else is too.

And I have no faith in Labour fixing anything. No faith at all. Scottish Labour are tanking because they treat Holyrood like a Westminster waiting room, and don't even bother pretending to care what's going on around them. While I have no animosity towards Ed Miliband, there are some very unpleasant Blairites still lurking in Westminster, and I can't see how he would get anything done.

Rachel Reeves in particular scares me half to death - removing benefits for 18-24-year-olds. Yeah, because everyone has a loving family prepared to keep their children at home forever when they can't contribute financially. There are no parents out there knocking their pans in to keep a roof over their heads and simply cannot afford to support working-age children. Nobody ever kicks their kids out because the kids are gay, or difficult, or have mental health problems or addictions. It's not always as clear cut as that either - plenty of people can't live at home for one reason or another. It's another attempt to trap young people in misery. No matter how hard they work they can never afford to buy a house in London, the great black hole that sucks young people towards it, because everything is for, about and in London.

Iain Duncan Smith. I don't think any more needs to be said about that.

Sweet as the Let's Stay Together letter was, it does nothing to address why Scots might want to leave. I think the well-off people who signed that letter, some of whom no doubt vote Tory, would do better to campaign against the ConDem policies ripping the throat out of services the poor, sick, disabled and unemployed rely on. The demonisation of the poor while the UK's wealth is shovelled ever upwards. The backdoor demolition of England's NHS. There's a strong sense of social justice in Scotland, although I have noticed some becoming more vindictive and compassionless.

Compassion is a strength, not a weakness. Clinging to things that YOU have, while not wanting anyone else to have them because they "don't deserve it" is the weakness. As for those who can tell people "aren't really sick!" just by looking at them, sickness doesn't have to be visible to exist. Unless you're a doctor with someone's complete medical history, or some kind of nasty psychic, keep your opinions to yourself.

And can the No vote shut the hell up about Sean bloody Connery? As if celebrities who are either English or not residents of Scotland signing a letter has any more impact on us than a Scotsman so devoted to us he has neither lived nor paid tax here for 50 years. Nobody cares what he thinks at all, and anyone voting either way because a famous person told them to should probably be stripped from the electoral roll with indecent haste.

I'm under no illusions that in the event of a Yes vote Scotland will become some kind of social justice utopia overnight. It'll take time, and effort, and energy, but I believe enough of us have that to make this work. If it's a No I'm passionate about democracy and I'll have to accept that, of course, but I'll be bitterly disappointed. If you think things might get worse after a Yes vote, then they may well might, but they will never get better with Westminster. We can't be the lion that squeaked.

One question for the No voters. It doesn't even require an answer, just a bit of thought. When the Tories have one MP in Scotland, the Lib Dem vote has collapsed UK-wide, and Scottish Government voters are even rejecting Labour for heaven's sake, why do they want to keep us? Think of David Cameron, and all the misery his government has inflicted on people all across the UK, and how he's quite happy to let the English press portray us as whining subsidy junkies, and ask yourself why. A government that only values money and believes someone's entire worth as a person is based on how much they earn. Why?

Let's be the little country that could. Yes.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Insha'Allah, shalom.

Israel v Palestine.

How do I even start?

I do not agree with Israel's actions. Defending yourself does not include shelling a school full of families. I wonder what Israel's government expects the consequences of that to be. Are the children who lost their parents in what they thought was a safe place going to think "Wow, thanks for ridding me of those awful terrorists!" Are the parents who lost their children going to say "Oh, I'm so glad you did that, my three-year-old and newborn baby might have grown up to join Hamas. But they're dead so we're all off the hook now!"

Neither do I agree with Hamas. I don't agree with terrorism whatever stripe it displays. It's not an either/or situation. Not for me anyway.

I grew up Catholic in the west of Scotland. The IRA never ventured to Scotland and I never felt much affiliation with the Catholic church anyway, but I have a sliver of understanding about what being lumped in with unacceptable nutterdom feels like. Guilt by association isn't pleasant, wherever it's coming from.

Three-year-olds are not terrorists. But maybe their parents and siblings are now. There is no peace for Israel while they are killing children. There is no peace for Hamas while they are killing children. Just as not all Palestinians voted for Hamas, not all Israelis voted for Netenyahu. But did Israelis really sit in deckchairs and cheer on the rockets heading for Palestine? Did they really sing "No school tomorrow, Gaza's children are all dead!"? I cannot tell you how much I hope they didn't. Maybe I'm naive but such inhumanity from those whose ancestors suffered so much scares the living shit out of me. I live in hope that it's horrible propaganda.

The real disgrace in all of this - the absolutely fundamental disgrace - is the UN doing nothing. We can all see the western governments' realpolitik in action here. The vast majority of the Middle East's problems have sod all to do with Israel directly, and the few that do are hardly insoluble, apart from Palestine. But what are the surrounding Muslim countries supposed to think when the US unconditionally supports and arms Israel? Is anyone really surprised that Iran wanted nukes? Nukes get you left alone. Ask Kim Jong Un. It's also a good idea to not hit oil.

Yet Saudi Arabia gets to be our friend, despite their rulers not being Muslims - they're barbarians with a Koran. I'm so tired of being nice to unacceptable regimes just because they've got something we need.

I get why Israel feels vulnerable but if it wants to solve that and be considered a civilised nation on a par with the US and the EU, it has to stand back and be the bigger person. It has to stop breeding hatred by killing wee kids. Hamas, vile as they are, are a product of Israeli aggression. Bloody Sunday - the UK government's inadvertent IRA recruitment drive. Opening fire on the unarmed. Nothing is worse. Not even in war. And I don't doubt for a moment that Israelis feel loss of their children as hard as the Palestinians do.

Who ever thought the world would miss Yasser Arafat? Fatah were a basket of fluffy kittens compared to Hamas.

There are too many straw men in the Israel-Palestine conflict. I am in no way anti-semitic, but I accept that some supporters of Palestine are, and will use any excuse to bash Israel over the head. I am also not Islamophobic, but I accept that some supporters of Israel are, and will bash Hamas on that basis. But it is possible to criticise Israel without hating Jews. I know to the casual observer it's hard to prove that I'm not anti-semitic or Islamophobic, but I know in my heart I'm not and that's all I can really do.

Everyone has to stop killing children. If the world can get behind that one basic sentence we might get somewhere.

Everyone has to stop killing children.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Insert your name here

Why do women give their children the father's name?

I have two nephews and they both have our family name. My brother and sister-in-law are getting married next year. She's my sister-in-law anyway. I'm not bothered about bits of paper in that way. But why do my nephews have my brother's name?

I realise this is probably not a popular opinion, but you know the men just shoot sperm, right? Women carry the baby, make it part of their body, put up with the endless lectures about how their body belongs to someone else now, get treated like shit in the labour ward. Then the baby gets a man's name? WHY?

I once worked with a Pakistani woman, I'll call her Asha. She was heavily pregnant, and married. The trainer said Asha didn't have the right paperwork, and Asha asked her why not. Because your surnames don't match. Asha explained that Arabic women don't take their husband's name on marriage. "Oh," says the trainer "So you married a man with the same surname as you and that's why you didn't have to change it?" I mean, really. And people say Arabic cultures are backwards and women-hating.

The Spanish and Portuguese Latin Americans, and Caribbean naming systems give children the mother's name. Because mothers, and women, are important. They don't hand all credit to the sperm-shooter.

My name is my identity. It's my place in the world. It's who I am. Why would I give that up to someone else? Just because he's a man. Just because he married me. Why do women change their name? Go from your father's property to your husband's? I can sort of understand it if you're having children because it's less confusing if everyone has the same name, but why can't he take your name?

Stewart is my great-great-great grandmother's name, and she got it from a man, but she passed it down as hers, until my great-great grandfather changed it. Her son had her name, until he didn't anymore, and now I have it.

I get the feminist backlash thing - oooh, they say I can't change my name and I'm going to prove I'm really feminist by doing it! I accept that the Western naming conventions are going to stick you with a man's name, but you can stop that. There is no feminist gain in swapping one man's name for another. And there is no feminist gain in double-barrelled either. There is one name. Yours. Start now.

I will never have children, but if I did my name is worth more than a man refusing to marry me. A man who will not marry you is not worthy of your child's name. I cannot even begin to explain how much the name Stewart means to me. It's not my legal name, but it is my real name, and that's why I write with it. If a man wants your child to have his name the very least he can do is marry you, although that would make no difference to me. They would still be Stewart. If he can't or won't accept that, if it's so desperately important to him that his sperm gets to call the surname, that child is still yours. Your body, your strength, your sacrifice. And he can fuck off.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Phoned in

My good friend Lisa has prompted this post. She used to work on a sex line. Everything I say below is entirely my interpretation - I neither claim nor want to speak for Lisa, and nothing I say from here on in is a representation of her views, or a view of the work she did.

This is probably a bit outdated too, because who phones a sex line these days? But the issue of wanting an immediate woman is an enduring one. From men who will wank on a bus or heavy-breathe down inappropriate avenues like directory enquiries, any woman with a voice and a body is fair game to some.

My least favourite newspaper is The Sun. I know you probably think it's The Daily Mail, but The Daily Mail is funny. You can clutch your pearls and swoon to every headline. The Sun is currently slut-shaming a young woman who gave blowjobs to 24 men in a drunken pursuit to win a "holiday". She was then presented with a £4 "holiday cocktail". Hahaha. How hilarious. We done you so good. You slag.

Apart from triple-strength antibiotics, if such a thing exists, nobody needs to tell that lassie anything. If she wants to give 24 blowjobs she can have at it as far as I'm concerned. If anything I'm more surprised that 24 grown men would allow their presumably average penises to be on display to that many people. And after they're drunk too. I'm impressed that her mouth was good enough to combat the brewer's droop. She's pretty much a heroine.

Catering to male sexuality is very, very easy. As they're always so keen to tell us, it's just boys being boys, isn't it? I refuse to believe most men are so basic and thick. If it was possible for men to display their penises in the same way that women can display their breasts this might be a whole different argument. At the same time, my personal sexual preferences beyond him being a man are between me and my sexual partner. I, and no doubt they, have many tales to tell, but theirs are not mine to share.

Male sexuality is not a weird and awful thing, in general. Are some men so awful to women because their sexuality scares them, or because women's sexuality scares them? Is wanting sex with something "weak" such a terrible thing? It is to some of them. They hate women but they want them, but their clumsy pick-up lines and jokes about basements and gaffer tape don't go down that well. Who knew?! And the "Lesbians just haven't had good sex with a man!" idea. Really? Are they going to have good sex with you? I can pretty much guarantee that they're not. I'm willing to bet good money that most men who take a keen interest in lesbian sex are those who couldn't satisfy a woman with a guidebook and a torch. It's all about taking their sexual opportunities, slight as they may be, and saying they're sold out. That's right, sexually inadequate men! Lesbians are, to you, sold out.

Phone your sex line. The woman on the end doesn't give a flying fuck about you. But don't delude yourself about your own sexuality, or your sexual needs. That's how you end up hurting people. Don't be ashamed of what you need or want. Just wonder about how you want to get it in real life without terrifying someone.

Sexuality is not bad. Application can take a bit of work.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Open for business

I try not to comment on American political matters, because they've frankly got nothing to do with me, but the SCOTUS ruling yesterday, essentially saying that corporations are not only people but have religious consciences, and the right to make others conform to that, is quite breath-takingly awful.

I did get a very amusing scene in my imagination of Obama headdesking his way round the Oval Office, but the people who support this probably hate him too.

I wonder if women who support the SCOTUS decision about Hobby Lobby would be fine working for a Muslim-owned company that insisted they wear a burqa, or a Jewish-run company that insisted they eat kosher, or a Sikh-run company that insisted they couldn't cut their hair. Of course the decision was only intended to give so-called Christian companies special privileges, but no one could possibly object to other faiths using it to implement their own ethical or religious beliefs on you.

Except all the people who support this law would scream bloody murder. "What about my rights?!" "I'm being persecuted for my Christianity!!!" "WAAAAAAAAAH!!!"

The 16 other forms of birth control still supported aren't really the point here. The point is that your employer - some faceless CEO you'll probably never meet, and if you did s/he'd probably run off for a fumigation afterwards to get the stench of underling off them - now gets to decide what you do with your life. What contraception you put in your body. What additional medical costs you'll bear for having the temerity to own a vagina.

The people who are fine with this are fine with this because they agree. There are unfortunately women out there who hate making decisions and taking responsibility for themselves, and love being patted on the head and guided round their own lives by faceless corporations. What if this corporation decided its female employees couldn't use contraception at all? You have to keep giving birth until your womb prolapses, and you're begging your employer to let the 11-year-old work a few hours a week off the books because you can't afford to feed all these children? Would you be fine with that? Maybe you would. But that doesn't mean everyone else has to be.

That's the danger of this ruling - where next? The bible has some pretty unpleasant things to say about women. It's fine for a Christian company to impose its beliefs on you but not a Muslim one? Believe me, if as a woman you want a decision- and autonomy-free life, our friends the Saudis have some extensive ideas about that.

You can't take other people's rights away because you personally don't need or want them. If you support that, then you can't complain when someone comes to take away yours. Except you will complain - loudly, bitterly and extensively. I hope it's nothing too important to you. The door's open now.

Friday, 27 June 2014

The vegetarian question

There isn't a question really. Just some observations.

Haggis makes me ill. Like proper stomach-churningly ill. But other than that, I don't care if people eat meat.

I'm curious about the cognitive dissonance, though. Why eat cows but not dogs? Pigs but not cats? Sheep but not horses? What is the actual difference?

There isn't one. So as a vegetarian who has never tried to convert anyone, and nor would I, why wonder about that? Well, there's the issue of how meat is raised and slaughtered. Can I have any say in that because I don't eat it? Probably not, but all the fuss about halal meat here recently made me laugh. Because all those people complaining about halal meat rigorously check the source of their £1 chicken, don't they? You can buy a whole chicken. For one earth pound. And not even consider for one moment how that chicken got in the supermarket freezer in front of you. If you were that concerned you wouldn't bother. You would go without chicken. And none of those people complaining have ever bought a kebab at 3am. Noooo.

Halal, kosher, hit round the face with an iron bar. What does it matter how it died? It's dead, and you're eating it. That's all cool - but be aware that the ultimate way to care about animal welfare is to just not eat them, or insist on such high farming standards that you probably couldn't afford meat anyway.

I should be vegan, and I'm not. I'm not a good enough cook, and my life is so unpredictable. Right now I can't eat properly until Tuesday, and probably not even then. I've got no money, and the Lady Madison will always eat before I do. But that's not much of an excuse either. I don't eat or buy honey because I feel sorry for the wee bees, so how hard would it be to chuck eggs, milk and cheese? Since my diet is largely cheese-based, very hard. I need a decent vegan cookbook, and some way of moving my life away from poverty and chaos.

The job I've been offered is working nights and I have no idea how my system and body will cope with that. But it's well-paid, and hopefully I can give Maddie the life she deserves, like a roof over her head and a happily interiwebbed and TiVo-ed mummy, and proper litter. It's hard over here right now. And that wandered off topic.

So yay, eat dead stuff, as long as you know it's dead, and as long as you know it wasn't always. I've been lectured for not eating meat several times - several times more than I've ever lectured anyone for eating it. I think those people probably feel guilty about eating meat and are trying to project their guilt on to me, especially since I genuinely don't care. And the more I say I don't care, the more people insist that I absolutely must. So I'll stop saying it.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Start at the top, or race to the bottom

So, today I went to a creative support company who help you apply for grants/bursaries, find a market for your writing, and support you to go self-employed. Well, that's what I thought. They said they would work with me for 13 weeks with the ultimate goal of self-publishing, because according to them publishers are clue-free and useless, and agents even more so.

I have nothing against self-publishing at all. I know it's not for me because I wouldn't know how to start with publicity, and I don't want to end up as one of the desperados spamming the hell out of people on Twitter and weeping over Just Unfollow. And while I am fully aware there are publishers out there who could use several smacks round the head with Business For Dummies, I don't think it applies universally. I have enormous admiration for writers who go that route, as long as they don't delude themselves into thinking it's the quick way to writing success. Too many do, though.

Agents are much easier to work out than publishers - does s/he charge a fee? If so, run little writer. Not charging upfront fees doesn't guarantee a good agent, or an agent who can connect with your work enough to sell it, or an agent whose work style meshes with yours, but if they charge fees, you run. Given that agents can only eat because they sell things, it would be pretty weird if they took on something they didn't think an editor would buy. And if you're the sort that needs an update every ten minutes, self-publishing is probably the best route for you anyway.

"Everything in publishing takes so long!" said the nice man behind the desk. Let's call him Jimmy, since all Scottish men are called Jimmy. And Jimmy is a nice man - he's well-meaning and I don't doubt for a moment he does everything he can to support people who sign up with him. To be clear, no fees are charged for any of this. He's not asking for £500 to stick your work on a Kindle or anything like that. Jimmy would get no cut of any royalties or any creative input whatsoever. He genuinely believes he's giving the best advice possible, and I'm sure for some it is.

Jimmy told me he'd worked with a poet and poets are pretty much forced to self-publish, so that's totally legitimate. The guy banging out a 250,000 word fantasy epic every three months would probably be better off self-publishing too, but for very different reasons.

I listened to the spiel about how publishers only notice you if your self-published work sells 300,000 copies. Very few self-published titles sell that many. Very few sell 30, once the family and friends are tapped out. When it happens it's news, especially if some supposedly snooty elitist editor turned it down. Did the writer follow the submission instructions properly? Did they send out a mass-mailing addressed to Dear Thingy, with accompanying illustrations and a great big dollop of glitter glue? Was their manuscript printed on My Little Pony paper in purple Comic Sans? Things we will never know.

I'm not suggesting agents or editors never turn down good work, but publishing is a business. If it's the best thing they've ever read but they know 120 people will buy it, they can't say yes. There isn't the slack in the budget for that. Publishing is a marginal business, and the huge successes like JK Rowling and Stephen King might make it look like a megabucks industry, but they're pretty much funding the more humble authors. Authors who'll sell respectably and earn out their advances and get a cheque every six months - maybe a nice cheque - but most writers know they might never be able to quit the day job.

Jimmy's read too many success stories to see the big Amazon graveyard of failures, where hundreds of good books gasp for air under the piles of semi-literate tripe.

Most readers don't have time to wade through the stuff written ALL IN CAPS or an inability to use their, there and they're correctly. Or being told when they leave a bad review that proper grammar and spelling isn't necessary if the story's good. Readers generally care about those things.

I've had a job offer so it's moot anyway, but I wouldn't take up the placement. It might be useful for writers who've exhausted all other avenues, or are writing for niche markets, but it's not what I want for my work. But I wish Jimmy and all those working with him success, however they choose to define it. Because after all, everyone's definition is different. I'd still advise to start at the top, though. Always.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The tipping point

So, I've been wondering for the last few days why men don't get more angry about rape. I don't doubt that there are a sizeable number of men who despise rape, and loathe the idea of being so intimate with someone who doesn't want them with the same ardour.

But here's the thing, from an article in The Guardian: "[T]he former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav, said recently about jailed rapists: "Boys will be boys.""

Oh, really? Will they really? So you can say "Sorry, I've got no job and a limited education so I can do what I like to a woman whether she wants me to or not!"? Sure, there are many great benefits to education but don't tell me men with degrees never rape. Men with jobs never rape. Men with our Western ideas of a perfect life - house, car and shiny things - would never violently stick their penis in someone who was crying and fighting them off.

This isn't a female problem. It never was - women have always had the right to wear whatever they want, drink however much they want, flirt, ignore, shut down, or say no. We have always had that right. Always - no ifs, buts, maybes, or desperate justifications. The problem has always been men who don't respect that right.

I think women have done everything they can to insist on respect for our bodies, our physical autonomy, and our reproductive rights. Men have got to do something now. Men have got to stand up and say that being lumped in with the scumbags who rape, hit or sexually abuse women is not acceptable. Men need to be the ones who say they have to make a difference to women who fear male violence, not bring out the standard defence of "But I don't do that!" If a female friend told you that a burglar had broken into her house, or a drunk teenager stole her car, or some scumbag with no manners pushed her out of the queue in the supermarket, would you say "But I don't do that!"? So why do you do that when it comes to sexual assault and rape? Why do you do that when women find the strength to escape an abusive relationship? Why do you do that when two 15-year-old girls are brutally gang-raped and hung from a tree?

Your value as a man is not in the job you do, or the car you drive, or the house you have. I know society might have given you that impression, that all women are looking for is financial security and a nice car, but it's not true. Your value as a man is your innate respect for other human beings, and their rights to believe, do, say, think, or walk however they want. Your value is in how you educate yourselves and your sons and grandsons to not be a dick. Talk to them about sex, talk to them about why young women might fear them, talk to them about porn and the unrealistic expectations. Talk to them about half the human race and that they're not entitled to so much as a conversation, let alone anything else. Tell them yes means yes, not no means no. Passed out drunk is not yes. Tell them popular culture is not always right. It might be excruciating, but do your best. Always just do your best.

Women are hitting a wall now, and too many men are trying to shut us up by threatening us with rape or calling us ugly on social media, just so we'll stop talking; just so we'll stop pointing out how worthless and entitled some men are. And if you, as a man, are ashamed of that then good. Keep being ashamed. But use that shame constructively.

None of us are just body parts.

Sunday, 25 May 2014


I'm watching Europe go fascist. This is so hard.

I hate A Clockwork Orange - I think it's a nasty little film with no artistic merit, and I despise rape as entertainment - but strapping people to chairs and making them watch The World At War on repeat until they beg for mercy is not a bad idea right now. Why is Europe voting for these people? Is nobody taught history anymore?

All people are my fellow people. I have no interest in separating people along political or economic or whatever other lines anyone can come up with, or putting them into little pat boxes. But the ultimate aim of fascism is total control. Everyone who goes to vote for a fascist party is saying "Take my vote away! Democracy is too hard for me!"

We can all be Eurosceptic, and expecting the EU to be more transparent, more accountable and more democratic are valid and noble goals. But with a European turnout at 36% can you see how not voting and the complaint that the EU is not democratic might just feed into each other? The crazies are having their say. Get off your fucking arse and go and vote. We have postal votes in the UK so if you're housebound or have mobility problems or in hospital or just a generally lazy bastard, you have a vote. Even if you spoil your ballot, or turn your paper into an aeroplane, or make the voting some fucking avant-garde statement about how cool you are for voting, or a great big circus on social media, I don't fucking care. Vote, until you can't anymore. Because that's closer than you think.

When Europe goes fascist, I'm blaming those that don't vote more than those who do.

Friday, 16 May 2014

The art of excuse

Chris Brown, woman-beater and sometime musician, got sentenced to a year in jail. Not for the offence he should have been jailed for, but I've no doubt we're all better off for him not being out in public.

There are an awful lot of "respected" men not being given the same treatment. Scotland's very own sex symbol Sean Connery, a man so deeply in love with this country that he doesn't live here, has consistently refused to explain or clarify his comment that women need a slap now and again to keep them in line. It's not too far a stretch that a man who believes that has beaten a woman.

Then there's Sean Penn, with his "Real Men Don't Buy Girls" sign. Yeah, "real men" tie their first wife to a chair and beat her senseless for days, then humiliate their second wife on national television by saying his idea of a great night is a bag of cocaine and two hookers. He might now be mature enough to understand why his wives keep leaving him, but the public at large doesn't seem to care. You carry on being a real man, Sean. Whatever you think that is.

Michael Fassbender, the current darling of indie cinema, is an alleged woman-beater too. As far as I know he's never made any statements about that, but that might be because the luvvie journalists aren't asking him, or because nobody knows his ex-girlfriend's name so who cares? Aesthetically I agree he's gorgeous, but I wouldn't want to be alone in a room with him.

Bob Dylan spent time in jail for beating his girlfriend. John Lennon was an all-round mysoginistic arsehole. Alec Baldwin made horrendous sexual slurs against his own daughter. Yet they're all cool, right? Great in their fields. Let's just brush over that.

All these men are disgusting arseholes. Chris Brown is getting what he deserves - jail time - but probably not for what he most deserves it for. I don't know if it's racism or the fact he seriously injured a woman we all know to be beautiful, as if beauty protects you from assault. Rihanna's beauty probably made her more of a target, because it would take a very secure man to be with her and not envy her looks and success. I know she went back to him, and that's totally depressing, but success and money don't equate to self-esteem, especially for a woman whose entire career is based on her looks. She's possibly even more insecure than your average woman, because she knows if she puts on weight or releases a bad record then the vultures are circling, and they'll be delighted to pick up over how badly she's "failed". And not being a songwriter herself she has very little control over that.

I do not excuse abuse of women, no matter who does it, and I don't buy their music or pay to see films they're in either. Neither do I excuse women abusing men, although I can't think of a prominent case of that. If you are being abused, please speak to someone. Even if you don't do anything about it right away. And don't let anyone talk you down by saying your abuser is this, that or the other. He might well be a gorgeous film star or insanely talented musician, but that doesn't and can't excuse his behaviour. Fight them all into the jail. As far as we have to.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

On Madison

I'm a mummy again. My beautiful cat Madison came to live with me on 24th April 2014. Here's a photo of her.

I don't know a great deal about her background - just that her previous owners split up, and rather than fight over who got to keep her they gave her away. She also had another cat living with her. Although they tolerated each other they weren't friends, so it was fine to rehome them separately. She's seven years old, which made rehoming her difficult, but my last cat was seven years old when I got him, and a ginger, and he was the best decision I ever made.

Maddie is in need of some retraining. She can't yowl at me all night and expect me to get out of bed. The first night she was here I had to shut her out of the bedroom, because she woke me up at 3am and yowled repeatedly in my ear until I got up. I only got up to shoo her out the room, though. She'll have to learn that my alarm is set for an hour and half before I have to get up and snoozes every ten minutes, because getting me out of bed isn't easy. I leave her everything she needs before I go to sleep, so it's definitely an attention thing. Initially I planned to get another cat a few weeks down the line, but she got here first, and if she is going to turn out to be needy then I don't want to upset her by bringing another cat in. I'll have to see how it goes. Even though getting a kitten and training him or her to be a vicious ninja attack cat, and setting him or her loose on my upstairs neighbour, is a constant temptation.

I Googled how to deal with a noisy cat, and one of the suggestions was scooshing them with water. I suspect her foster parents tried this, but with a bottle that wasn't cleaned properly. Madison smells faintly of furniture polish.

So my home is once again full of cat toys and food and litter. And I couldn't be happier, even though there's some hard work ahead. I hope we can come to be friends, although I will always be in charge. I'm quite a strict cat mummy, but making her happy is my top priority. For now and for all the years I have with her. I consider myself very lucky, and I can only hope she will too.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

What Jesus Wouldn't Do

The Daily Mail sent one of their "journalists" to lie to a foodbank and get a free food parcel. Wow. That's amazing journalism. Have a slow hand clap.

In The Daily Mail's view of things, everyone who's not you is a disgusting bag of human pus who should not be allowed to live. Gas chambers on every corner! Give a kid a packet of crisps, that'll lure them right in. Then we can all live this bizarre white Anglo-Saxon Christian idyll that never existed in the first place.

Why are Daily Mail readers so scared? They're scared of everything. Gay people, immigrants, riff-raff. As if a non-white person might burst their bubble and they'll have to live in the 21st century, and God knows that's a hideous place to be. Whenever I picture a Daily Mail reader I see an upper-middle class white man, probably ex-army when the army didn't exist just to beat up brown people and secure oil supplies, with a big red face and a nostalgic view of people who aren't like him Knowing Their Place. His nervous, belittled wife serves him breakfast tea in a china cup and cuts his bread into soldiers with a ruler lest he get volcanically angry again. He's never physically beaten her, but he might one day. He has two children who loathe him and won't bring friends round in case he starts using demeaning racial epithets again. They're difficult, of course. Liberal arses. Nothing to do with him. He has no more relevance to current British society than a Georgian dandy, yet he clings to the idea that he's the important moral majority of this country.

What a way to live.

Sadly, there are plenty of politicians of all colours willing to indulge this man's fantasy. I'm getting increasingly sick of it. He's a dinosaur, a throwback, a hypocrite. He benefited hugely from his roots and school and upbringing, yet would happily throw a working class kid up a chimney because they're all useless with no work ethic, and the kid's mum's on her own because the dad fucked off at the first available opportuninty but she should have kept her legs shut. A man can't be expected to go without. He wasn't even a soldier - he pushed paper and almost spilled port on his map of the Falklands during a braying dinner party while other young men and women, the cannon fodder, cemented his position by dying in a worthless fight about nothing.

Why do we want to protect or coddle these people? What good have they ever done? If I could ever do anything in my life to offend someone's sensibilities it would be theirs. They have no right to my life or anyone else's. They can long for the days when their postman wasn't black and the local Post Office wasn't run by Asians all they want, but I am not their enabler. Our Britain is not the same, and I have no desire whatsoever to inhabit their Victorian snow globe.

I hope that "journalist" chokes on his Tesco Value cereal - I have no doubt he will keep and eat it - and I hope he can consider for one moment that children might be going hungry tonight because he stole their food parcel. I hope he can go and meet the family that were last in the queue that day and went home hungry because he took their only hope of a decent meal away, look them in the eye, and sincerely apologise. I hope he can reconsider what he does for a living and go to them with two weeks' worth of groceries. Will he do that? No. Because that would make desperate poor people real. That would mean that government policy is to actually starve people to death. That would mean facing evil, and that's not The Daily Mail's agenda. The Daily Mail's agenda is to dehumanise people who need foodbanks. Starvation is not a worthy cause. A worthy cause is getting more red-faced blowhards with not one single idea of what people in Britain have to do to survive to castigate poor people and maybe spit an aneurysm out over breakfast. Hurrah for the Blackshirts is not too far from their psyche, ever.

Any government that tries to put a positive spin on starving its citizens has no moral right to power. Any media organisation that would try to help them out with that has no moral right to exist. It's Easter Sunday, and if God exists and has a spare lightning bolt or two, I have a west London address for him. In the meantime I'll just seethe.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Strip prejudice

One of the women I work with now used to be a stripper and a lapdancer. I love her honesty and she's a bright, brilliant woman. It would be easy for an old hag like me to say it was a terrible thing for her to do, but I don't feel that way. She's a beautiful woman and why not? I wish I'd had so much confidence in my looks and body when I was 21. If I'd ever had the "right" figure, I might have done it. I wouldn't have been so open about it, but I'm generally not an open person anyway.

The thing I've been most encouraged by is how the men in my work react to what she used to do. They have all been absolutely fine with it. None of them have done "that face" - you know the one, where they decide a woman's a slag and are equally repulsed and intrigued. None of the women she's told have been horrified either, and women are more than capable of doing "that face" too. It was a job, just like any other job. We all make our living how we can.

So this is compatible with my feminism how? Well, because she was in control. She knew exactly what was and wasn't acceptable to her. She knew where her boundaries were, expressed them, and enforced them. Every random man who approaches her and says "I know your face!" is a victory of sorts for her, because she would never know theirs. Her most amazing comeback: "Oh, did you get a hand from me? How would I know?" How would she know? She wasn't looking at you. She wasn't there for your benefit. She wasn't even thinking about you.

It's funny how some men can squirm when presented with a naked female body. It's so, so easy for them to view a female body as a piece of meat, as something they're entitled to, as something they can look at and call a "thing". Any man who would go and watch a stripper and call her a slag is a man who can't deal with any woman's sexuality, and is probably a man best avoided. I like looking at hot naked men - it's a thing. Nobody has to be ashamed of liking a hot individual of their choice attractive, so why the embarrassment? I don't think anyone can be a good sexual partner until they accept their own sexuality. I'm as straight as it gets, and I've possibly missed out on some really amazing experiences because of that, but I can't help it. It's just the way my sexuality goes.

It is amazing to have my theory about how many awesome men there are out there confirmed. The men I work with are so cool, and I haven't seen even a hint of disgust cross their faces at my ex-stripper colleague's admission. My only slight concern for her is that she's so beautiful, she may make herself suffer more for ageing than most of us would. But whatever else she does, she will always be bright, sharp and witty, and how many of us can say that? I'd give anything for a tenth of her confidence. I do have the privilege of being happy with my body, but I'm not very pretty and I've always had to use my brain to snare men. Not that too many men are looking to go to bed with a brain, but that's what they get.

And to the people at work asking how old I am - I'm the same age as Star Wars. If any man doesn't know how old Star Wars is, then we're fundamentally incompatible. I'll pass that on to my colleague who's determined to find me a boyfriend. This will be FUN.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Class Resentful

I started my new job on Wednesday. Hurrah for me! I'll be dealing with customers who are in financial difficulty. I know a bit about that myself.

What I have found interesting is the attitudes within my training group. People can be in financial difficulty for all sorts of reasons, but the colleague who admitted she loves Jeremy Kyle and Benefits Street worries me the most. In my previous job I dealt with a lot of people who were in genuinely shit situations. One disabled man I spoke to had all his benefits stopped for not attending an assessment he was never told about. His partner was also disabled and they didn't live together. He had no parents or kids, and his disability had isolated him so much he had few friends to turn to. I gave him £25 for both his gas and electricity, and sort of forgot to send it back to the meter as debt. I am very ditzy. It'll probably get picked up eventually, but hopefully he'll be in a better position by then. Hard to see how with the ConDems in charge, though.

What the resentful section of the middle class in this country always fail to realise is that the government is coming for them next. Unless you're independently wealthy, this government hates you too, and has no interest in your needs. I can understand the resentful middle classes being aggrieved that they're the main target for taxation, but they never seem to wonder "Well, if we made poorer people better off wouldn't that ease our burden a bit?" They'd rather resent the richer people's creative accountants, and kick down.

Historically, the working class made the middle class what they were. Now the resentful middle class see no value in them whatsoever. "Why should I pay for a woman who's had three kids by the time she's 20?" Not, "What educational opportunities can my taxation pay for to prevent people having three kids by the time they're 20?" There will always be women who want to have three kids by the time they're 20. I might think they're a bit insane to lumber themselves with such a jaw-dropping amount of responsibility at such a young age (although I can't imagine wanting that at ANY age), but it's their reproductive right. And never "Why are young men being allowed to shoot sperm into young women and then fuck off?" A eugenics debate is not something any civilised society should be having.

The resentful middle class also want to shelter their own children from the influence of these shabby ruffians. They mortgage themselves to the eyeballs to get their kids into good schools, without once acknowledging that if all schools were good they wouldn't have this problem, or employ private tutors to coach their kids into passing independent school exams. Or pretend to be religious to bump the Church of England lists. Then they work hard in well-paid 60-hour-a-week jobs where they never see their children anyway, without once wondering "Why has society put me in this position? Oh, yeah. I've got a mortgage that's six times my salary to pay off."

It is possible in the UK for a couple to work 40 hours a week each in a minimum wage job and still not make enough money to keep themselves, let alone children. The resentful middle class will say "They just don't work hard enough!" or "Why don't they just go and get a better job?" The question is never "How in the holy fuck have I found myself in a society where working people can't take care of themselves?" Never "Why don't employers pay people better?" Or "Why are the sociopaths running the country so keen to tell us that poor, sick and disabled people are the enemy?" It's an illusion trick Dynamo would be proud of.

So, it's kind of hypocritical of me to work for a bank now, isn't it? Except I've taken a job where I can actually help those at the bottom who are getting shafted. I can make a difference to their day. I can make their life a bit brighter, at least for a while, and point them to organisations who can help them. So I'm fine with my decision to accept the job I have.

I have very little patience for people who think the poor are poor because of their own lack of morality or work ethic or whatever else, or those who can't or won't understand what poverty, lack of prospects, and hopelessness can do to people. I find it hard to believe more people aren't criminals. Those at the top are showing this country that being honest, hard-working and ethical does you no good whatsoever. So if a few dodgy characters get past me, I don't really care. Plenty got past a ballot box.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

When Publishers Go Bad

Some of my very best writer friends, who are some of my very best friends in general, are struggling with a bad publisher just now. I won't name the publisher, because it seems in writing circles slagging off a publisher you're not personally affiliated with is Bad Form.

I get being professional - absolutely. Don't tweet, phone or write to agents or publishers to castigate them for not getting your genius, no matter how true you think it might be. It usually isn't. Coming across as unhinged isn't going to do you any favours no matter what business you want to go in to. But professionalism has to go both ways. And if I, as a writer, think a publishing model sucks I should be able to say so publicly without some kind of "difficult" label being dropped on my head.

There is more to being a publisher than putting out books. Shock, horror - publishers are supposed to do some WORK for their writers. Few writers these days will shun any kind of social networking, but naturally anti-social writers (of which I am one) may be unwilling or bemused by the whole thing. I've been on Twitter for a year and still have no idea how to work the damn thing. And that's where the publisher's marketing department comes in. Putting in an "I will tweet occasionally" clause is not an outrageous thing, but what's the point in tweeting to a yawning void?

If a publisher is going to insist on that, then they have to be actively tweeting and using social networks too. They should know the market your novel is aimed at inside out, who is following them, and tweet accordingly. They should have marketing avenues and possibilities in their head before they even think about accepting a manuscript. Publishing is supposed to be about what a publisher can sell, not how much a writer can spend on petrol, or how many hours a day they can spare to monitor a Twitter hashtag. If someone's following a publisher's science fiction/fantasy imprint there's a good chance they're going to want to read that science fiction book they've just released. If a publisher can't even be bothered to distinguish between their imprints then why would I bother submitting my work to them?

This publisher's case is more insidious, though. It involved snaring writers from a well-known writers' forum whilst claiming to be an angelic paragon of virtue. How they saved writers from another bad publisher. That was a genuinely horrific situation for all the writers caught up in it, but to my mind this is worse. I knew the owner of this particular publisher had a difficult personality long before any of my friends got involved with her, and I personally would never have worked with her on that basis. She is a fantastic editor and a very good writer, but she has no idea about marketing and refuses to either learn or delegate. In the interests of balance, on one occasion in a non-writing related way she was very kind to me, and I will always appreciate that. 

As writers, we can all warn someone but we can never warn everyone, and I know the people directly involved with this publisher are warning everyone they know. If anyone wants or needs the identity of this publisher, they're of course free to tweet me or ask via PM on Facebook.

My best unpublished advice is ALWAYS wait two years to submit to any start-up publisher, no matter who they are. Even if you're rejected, your multiply-drafted, headdesked-about, cried-over, beta-read-and-started-all-over-again work is ALWAYS worth more than a bad publisher. It's not necessarily worthy of a good publisher, but I guarantee you it's worth more than a bad one. Start up and work down. Always.

Monday, 3 March 2014

My White Straight Feminist Privilege

I do not hate men. Handsome men are my biggest weakness. Show me a handsome French-talkin' Frenchman and I'm there with bells on. I'm also a big fan of Scandinavian men. With good conversation, obviously. Line any and all of them up as far as I'm concerned.

Why am I even qualifying this? Fuck it, I'm a feminist.

I am a feminist mostly because I'm sick of straght white men being at the top of the tree in this world, regardless of whether their opinions, talents or qualifications have any relevance or not. But what really pisses me off is straight white men who refuse to acknowledge their privilege. What pisses me even more off is straight, white middle-class women who also refuse to acknowledge their privilege. I'm a straight white working-class woman - my parents don't have money and I have no trustafarian cause to align myself with in an attempt to act poor when I'm not. Can we leave off Jane Austen appearing on the tenner and work for the homeless single mothers councils are trying to dump on other local authorities instead? No? Fuck off then.

But I am still white. And that gives me far more advantages in life than most average white women like me would care to admit. Don't be ashamed of your privilege - we can't help that. It's been dealt to us. Just be ashamed of what your privilege causes. You can't be anything other than what you are, but I will and can use my position as a white straight woman to say it's not that easy for anyone else.

I know my white privilege is a thing. Even though in the patriarchal hierarchy I am still less than the white, straight male, I have a hell of a lot of power in this society. As the white straight female I'm second down the ladder, maybe even third behind the white gay man. And sorry to say that I have encountered more than one white gay man who has been horribly racist and/or misogynistic. I would be the last person to say that gay people have it easy but there is still a white male privilege there, especially if they're not out. Nobody is bound by any law or convention to be out, but finding bigotry within the confines of people who face a bigotry all of their own is the most depressing thing I can think of right now.

White, straight men who won't admit their privilege, or will even go on long and what they think are articulate, intelligent rants about how they're the lowest people in society now have no fucking idea what goes on with the rest of us. No fucking idea. Acknowlege your privilege. Otherwise you're going to look like an arsehole.

Why should I, an unpublished writer of urban fantasy who works in a bank when she's not being all kick-arse and awesome on this blog, have any more say in society than my black or Asian brothers and sisters who are doing exactly the same thing? There is no reason for my privilege, other than the fact that I am white and straight. I''ve done nothing to earn or deserve my privilege, and my non-white brothers and sisters fight all the time to be so accepted that their race doesn't matter. It still does, though.

You cannot be racist against white people. You can't. Nobody can. Racism is an exercise in feeling superior because it's not your problem. I may suffer sexism in my life but I will never suffer racism. Racism against white people does not exist.

I'm a feminist because I think the patriarchy is as damaging to men as it is to women. I'm a feminist because I want to stand up with a man and be his equal. I'm not interested in putting men down, or waving around a "man card", because I have no expectations from a man other than be my best friend and take sexual directions. In my experience, though, most men don't want a woman to be their equal. They want a woman they can control, just a wee bit. I am not that woman. And all the men I know who don't think that way found amazing wives, because they are men with high standards, and without exception their wives are beautiful, talented women with opinions and their own lives and friends and they are adored by their husbands, on an equal partnership level. I've never got that lucky yet. I'm a feminist because I want women to be the person they are, with or without a man, and whether they're gay/straight/lesbian/bi/trans* or any combination of sexuality or none. And I want them to be that woman, and have the men/women who would be interested in them to accept that task.

Women have far more to lose from not being themselves than they have to gain from acting the way society expects us to. Don't shave your legs for two weeks. Go on, do it. Does he or she still love you? They should.

In my mind, you are all my brothers and sisters. Work with me on that. We can do this. We can fight the white straight male patriarchy. I'm a white straight woman, and my privilege is part of the problem. We can change that. Let's go.


Monday, 17 February 2014

Anti-social socialising

I am so sick of people using social media to abuse others.

Yesterday, someone tweeted prominent professor of classics Mary Beard "However, I would like M Beard to shut up, but as a woman I can say that". So I could have tweeted "Fuck off back to Closer magazine, you vapid eighth-wit!" in response and that would have been fine, because I'm packin' the double X, right?


I think those who use social media as a platform to abuse need pity rather than confrontation. They're probably very lonely, judging by their appalling views and personalities, and any kind of response to their abuse is giving them the attention they crave. Of course threats of violence, such as those made to short-track speed skater Elise Christie, should be dealt with swiftly by PC Plod. I hope those who are abusing Ms Christie have a cabinet full of Olympic medals, otherwise they're going to look really sad and pathetic.

Is it any wonder though, really? Professor Beard also made the point in her recent lecture about bad behaviour in Parliament, where women MPs are frequently heckled and shouted over when giving speeches or asking questions. Given the current front bench are almost exclusively men educated way above their intellect and instilled with the arrogance of their born to rule class, shouting at women is easy. God knows running a country competently is way beyond their abilities. This circus of blaming the poor, sick, disabled and unBritish for the mistakes of the bankers isn't washing anymore, but I'm sure they're plotting who to spit venom at next, ably assisted by their toxic lapdogs The Daily Mail and The Daily Express. Has anyone been on The Daily Mail's website today? Just wondering who they're calling fat or old, or which 14-year-old daughter of a celebrity is getting the "leggy lovely" treatment. Probably two pages after their latest hysterical piece on paedophiles hiding up every tree. Don't worry, parents, they're just Daily Mail photographers. Then we have the likes of Katie Hopkins, who seems to be employed by television producers solely to troll those she feels are beneath her, as if having a kid called Tyler is worse than fucking a married man in a field. She seems quite proud of her status as husband-stealer, but once a cheat always a cheat and in ten years' time she could well be catching him in a field with a hot 20-year-old. Karma is a beautiful thing. With politics, the press and television swimming in the sludge of contempt for others, is it any wonder inadequates feel comfortable abusing people on social media?

But women have a role to play in silencing other women as well, as our friend in the second paragraph shows. I was told frequently by other women that I should hide my intelligence because men would find it intimidating. I'm not interested in men who are intimidated by intelligent women. Sure, I could giggle and twirl my hair but where would that get me? As soon as I started talking about Star Wars the game would be pretty much up. The women who told me that based their entire worth on getting a man. They judged themselves purely by who they were married to, as if standing on their own would have them marked out as some kind of weirdo. Never mind that most of them were in desperately unhappy relationships, because God forbid you be happier alone than with a man. Of course, given my current situation they were probably right, but stuffing down my opinions so a poor widdle empty-headed man doesn't feel fweatened is just not my problem. How many women have stuck themselves with a total bore because they won't admit they know all the answers on Pointless? Quite a few I expect.

So men abuse women online because they're inadequate, and women abuse women online because they want to show how feminine they are by not using big words and trying to shut up women who do. Well, as ever, it's not that simple. What we really have to address is when "feminine" became synonymous with "dumb" for some people, and why some men feel so powerless and lost as women slowly but surely rise up to meet them. If their masculinity is based on femininity being subordinate, then there are going to be more and more inadequate men turning up to abuse others. I do pity them, and hope they can find a peace within themselves. As for my sisters, they should probably give back their equal pay and maternity rights if feminism bothers them that much. Somehow I doubt it does.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The trouble with misery

I've never done anything successful in my life. Most people have. They've got a degree or found a job they love (or can at least cheerfully tolerate). They've found someone to spend their life with, maybe had a kid or two. Bought a house or a car or have a nice holiday every year. It depends how you measure success, I suppose. But by any measure other than "Breathed in and out every day", my life is just a long string of failure.

I am so unhappy just now. So angry and frustrated and annoyed with myself. Why can't I just go and do something good, something worthwhile, instead of lying in bed all day crying because my electricity's about to run out and I haven't eaten properly for a week? The worst part is there's no end in sight. I can't even get an interview let alone a job. Most of the time I can't even get an acknowledgement of my application. I dread Mondays, when the jobhunting starts again and I throw my CV down the internet job black hole, to semi-literate agency workers looking for "administartors" with good attention to detail, and presumably some idea of how to work a fucking spellcheck. To say nothing of the ones illegally demanding a car (against the Disability Discrimination Act because they're saying "We don't want anyone blind, epileptic, diabetic or with some heart conditions") or the agencies so financially precarious (or trying to exclude the unemployed) they want me to pay for my own criminal record check. It's "only" £25 they say. Might as well be £250 for all I can afford it.

Between bank charges, trying to keep my lights on, waiting for my internet and mobile phone to be cut off, and wondering if I'm ever going to have any kind of financial freedom ever again I am exhausted. Completely worn out. So demoralised that I go to sleep hoping I'll wake up with another life. Or maybe there'll be a job offer, or maybe I'll find £20 in the street. Then in the morning it takes me half an hour to talk myself into opening my eyes to the same old shit, because those things never happen. I just wake up as me again. In the same place. With nothing there.

I go along cheerily enough and most of the time no one can tell anything's wrong but inside I am screaming. I am so terrified - I can't survive many months of this. Most of the time I just want to go under quietly, just turn into an unthinking unfeeling shell who drifts through life with no idea what's happening. I try to be grateful for the things I have - my wee flat, my bed, my friends, but I understand why people end up addicted to stuff. I'm most grateful I can't afford to get addicted to stuff. I'll have to give up smoking which is just about my only pleasure in life. All because some faceless employer doesn't want me. But who does when someone's as miserable as I am? That's where the vicious circle kicks in.

I do try so hard to be positive. But right now I can't do it. I'm going to bed hungry again and the money I'm getting on Tuesday is all gone before I even see it. But maybe something will happen. Maybe one single good thing will happen. Or maybe I'll find out things can get worse.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Blind as an old blind bat

I couldn't get in to my blog! It was awful. Anyway, I'm back now. I'll have a biscuit to celebrate.

I've finally booked an eye test. I've only been promising myself one for the last seven years, so it's been pretty efficient for me. I seem to be okay reading and with distances, but even half an hour on the computer leaves my eyes dry and stinging, and they're often sore when I wake up. Is it possible to just need glasses for looking at a screen? Quite possibly, but I wouldn't know.

My mum says her eyesight got a lot worse after she got glasses. Maybe your eyes get used to the magnification so everything without them looks tiny. My dad drove me a job interview a couple of weeks ago (I didn't get it - imbeciles) and handed me a street-by-street. I couldn't read it - it was too small. He gave me a pair of glasses he'd bought in a pound shop. My dad has all sorts of interesting and varied problems with his sight and equally interesting and varied ways of avoiding the eye hospital. He's worried they'll find out he hasn't been wearing his contact lens (he's blind in one eye) and berate him, so despite his complex prescription he just buys glasses for a pound. Marvellous. But I could SEE the tiny wee print. And that's when I knew.

But really I've known I've needed glasses for ages. In fact, I've probably needed them since I was about seven years old, since I've always had to squint to see things properly. I've heard it called the "California squint" because they have such strong sunlight a lot of people have to close up one eye to see anything. I live in Scotland, though, so I've got little excuse in that department. Squinting to see in the dark at 3.30pm, aye. But sunlight's not the issue.

And, more seriously, I think I'm going night blind. Most people's eyes adjust to the dark after a few minutes, but mine don't anymore. If it's black it stays black. I'll discuss that with the optician. Then I'll have to find glasses that suit me. I have shaky hands and long nails, so contact lenses are out, and the thought of laser surgery scares me half to death. But it's a new experience, and I'm always happy to have those.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Delivering happiness

I went to leave a good review for the delivery service Yodel, because they got my dad's book to me about a week before I was expecting it. All he has to do now is read it. Any day now I'm sure. It seems I'm in the vast minority in my happiness with Yodel, and I got sucked into reading all the bad reviews. I've had a few thoughts about this.

1. I didn't know it was possible to spell "appalling" in at least eight incorrect ways. Also general literacy levels are not good. Some of them are barely coherent, and at least one woman's parcel must have contained a full stop button for her keyboard. If you are going to complain to a company and you're barely literate, it's a good idea to get someone with a grasp of basic spelling and grammar to spew vitriol on your behalf. If the complaints team have to spend two and a half hours working out what the hell you're on about it slows down the process considerably.

2. A heart transplant is urgent. A DVD boxset is not. And why order next day delivery when you know you won't be in and then bitch that you weren't in when they came? Logic fail. And who waits a month for something without once contacting the retailer? That doesn't ring true to me.

3. I used to work for a well-known UK department store in their .com customer service. This is how I know all delivery services have their contracts with the retailer, not the recipient. All the people complaining that they can't get through to Yodel are stopping the only people who can do something about it getting through to Yodel. Why do they think it takes the retailer so long to get hold of them? The exception to this is people who have ordered a lot of stuff at once or aren't expecting anything so don't know who the sender is. They should be able to speak to someone.

4. Ordering all your Christmas presents on the 22nd of December for next day delivery just isn't going to fly. Do you think you're the only person in the UK who thought to shop online and left it to the last possible minute?

5. Buying a mirror online and expecting it to arrive in an acceptable condition is far more optimistic than I'd ever be. I once got the train home with some glasses and that was as much stress as I could handle.

This isn't to excuse drivers who steal, lie about attempted deliveries, or throw parcels over eight foot fences. I know that happens. I know some drivers open everything first to check if it's worth nicking, leave lamps under bushes in the pissing rain, and turn up at people's doors with fags hanging out of their mouths. This time last year I had a thick ear listening to complaints about what some delivery drivers get up to. It's just as well people don't know what goes on or no one would ever buy anything online. I just think some people lose perspective at times, and there's an awful lot of special snowflakes out there. I do laugh at people who say they'll sue for breach of contract, or invoice for time spent in waiting. £50 an hour! And they're obviously not lawyers because then they'd know there's no breach of contract because there IS no contract. They'd have to go after the retailer, and very good luck with that.

Anyway, happy new year. I'm still a curmudgeon obviously. Some things never change.