Monday, 31 December 2012

What I Learned in 2012

[So this year me and my very good friend and Favourite-Ginger-Who's-Not-A-Blood-Relative (yeah, take that Catherine Tate) Rachel decided it'd be a good idea to do twin Lessons From 2012 posts. And by decided I mean it was her idea. Her post is here, not least because she calls me "Lady" Kate Taylor, he favourite angry feminist. And because she's nice she didn't use quotation marks.]

The alternate title to this post is The Art of Not Caring. That's not to say that caring is bad or you shouldn't do it. In fact it's the opposite: caring is precious and wonderful and shouldn't be thrown away on just anything. Look at it this way: every person has a certain amount of fucks they can give. Some people have endless fucks, while others are more laid back. Some people are discerning in who/what they give their fucks to while other people hand them out like candy and that's okay. The world would be boring if we were all the same. Fucking boring.

The problem comes when people give out fucks faster than they can replace them. It's basically kind of like the banking crisis, only instead of debt you have apathy. Fucking apathy. So if you often find yourself emotionally weary, tired or routinely exclaiming 'I just couldn't give a fuck' then perhaps it's time to be more selective about what you give a fuck about. Now I have a Problem with telling other people that their problems are unimportant: it is not to me to decide that that two week war you've had going on in the comments of that Youtube video is a waste of your time. If you want to give money to a charity which refurbishes inner city parks it's not my place to start yelling about how you should be giving your money to children, or the rain forest, or cancer instead however strongly I feel about those things. However there comes a time when you have to look at the places your energy fucks are going and think: is this really worth me yelling at a stranger in the Internet? Are the good times with this person worth the bitchiness when they're upset or hungry or bored? Am I wasting my time fucks?

Let me illustrate. For most of my third year at university I was Not Happy with my established friendship group. I want to say right now that this is no one's fault, just one of those things that happens sometimes and me and the people in question are all on good terms, though no longer as close. I don't want to air any more of my dirty laundry on the Internet than is necessary to prove the point so let's just say that certain new dynamics left me feeling like an outside, desperately missing the people my friends used to be. In their defence my natural instinct to protect myself may have helped to drive them away but there were also things I was not definitely not just imagining. Some people were more blameless than others. If they're reading this and remember it differently then I hope they realise I have no hard feelings, still adore them and am only mentioning it in even this very tangential, anonymous way because of the life lesson it led me to.

I was miserable. I didn't want to give them up. I didn't say anything about it to our mutual friends but one day I was so visibly down that Rachel, a girl I'd only recently met through the Writers Society, cancelled her plans and took me out for cocktails. Even though she had a nine o'clock start the next day. I've had strangers do a lot of nice things for me in the past: the three year old who returned my dropped passport, the stranger who wrote me a three scene play in iambic pentametre one Christmas, the man who stopped me at my waitressing job because his (female) friend had just called me beautiful in a foreign language and he didn't think I should miss out on the compliment, the parents who looked at their new, pink, squish-faced, noisy little baby and didn't immediately leave it on someone else's doorstep but instead ended up raising it. Rachel taking me out for cocktails remains firmly in my top five, not least because it was one of the things which lead me to a wonderful, supportive group of friends who never cease to be better than I believed possible and, crucially, have yet to make me want to punch holes in a wall.

Slowly I stopped caring what my other friends said, or did, or didn't say. It was a painful process: I essentially gave up on people I had a lot of genuine (and deserved) love for. Everything in my body told me to hang on, be patient, be loyal but once I let go I felt like an anchor had been cut. Anchors are ambivalent things: sometimes they keep you safe, sometimes they drag you down. The difficult thing is knowing which is which. I ask again: what areas of your lives are making you privately miserable or exhausted or cross. And how many fucks do you give?

This is, of course, your decision to make, but here are some of the things I'm Not Caring about in 2013.

*What people on the Internet think about pretty trivial topics. I had a minor epiphany this week, arguing with someone about fake geek girls. Every comment got more condescending and unlikeable until I snapped. "You know what," I said [paraphrasing wildly] "I don't need your respect. As a stranger on the Internet you mean literally nothing to me. I'm done trying to live up to your standards. If I want to wear a Wonder Woman tshirt as a fashion statement I will. You don't own geek culture. It is not yours to protect. And I am not going away. Direct further questions to John Scalzi's blog post on the subject, moron." I didn't even mention the many geeky things I do do because they are not the point. They are not his to judge.

*What people on the Internet think about important topics. I'm sick of being told my problems aren't important by activists who spend all their time on Tumblr*. Not you. I know because you're still reading, not writing a furious comment telling me I'm doing feminism wrong, or about how I'm not talking about your pet issue (on my own personal blog) and this makes me sexist/racist/homophobic/the devil or (and I kid you not this happened) "oppressing larger people by weighing under 180 lbs". No I don't understand that last one either.

It's great that people have so much passion and are trying to do things about it. I have a lot of genuine respect for them. Social media pretty much saved the world from President Romney (or denied the world President Romney: whichever way you look at it that's a lot of power). And that's great, it really is. So can we stop jumping on people with very little influence and get back to bringing down politicians, campaigning for reproductive rights, putting pressure on homophobic countries by supporting trade sanctions, or raising awareness to the lack of people of colour in the media, or raising awareness for mental health issues or any of the many other, valuable things online activists do?

*Things that are really important but I can't change right now. A lot of things about the modern world are really genuinely galling. But when a problem gets so big you can throw fuck after fuck at it and it doesn't even chip the paintwork you might as well save them for a place they can do some good. For example there's not much that I can do right now about... oh all sorts of things. The snobbery towards the fantasy genre, say. But if I keep my head down and write the sorts of things a moderator wants to read ad pay my dues and come out with a second Very Expensive Piece of Paper declaring that I am in fact a Competent Writer (and the actual skills I acquired getting said sheet of paper) I will be in a better position to argue and still have a ready supply of fucks to give.

So Happy New Year, one and all. May all your fucks be well spent in 2013 and afterwards. I hope 2012 has been kind to you and 2013 is fucking excellent.

*Seriously, I wouldn't mind so much if people told me what is more important than the right to control my own uterus.**
**I accept that lots of things are equally important, but that's not the same thing now is it?

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Writer's Resolutions 2013

New Years Resolutions. They have a reputation for being abandoned by February at the latest. I've known some of mine beat the Christmas tree on its way out. I think the reason that this happens (apart from basic human nature) is that a lot of people make resolutions to make resolutions, not because they have a specific thing that they really want to change. In past years I haven't bothered unless there's something I really want to do. But since I've been reading other writers' blogs and seeing them chart their own progress I wanted to see if something like that would work for me.

So, without further ado, here is what I want to do in 2013 and what I hope will come out of it:

My 2012 Writing Resolutions

*Write absolutely every day, no exceptions. Twitter, essays and shopping lists don't count. I've sworn to do this several times and I am a lot better than I was. But an MRes, especially a full time one, is kind of a big deal. Sometimes I spend so long chained to a desk I need to turn my brain off for a while afterwards, make an omlette, watch bad television and read something where I don't have to think about the Themes or Literary Significance. That said, some of the best and most game changing scenes in my novel happened because I'd been neglecting it for ages and needed to write something before I forgot how. It doesn't take long to scribble down a few ideas before you go to bed and while they're not always brilliant there's usually something salvageable there when you come back to it.

*To finish what I start. I could write 20k in a week but it wouldn't do me any good if it was all half finished short stories and abandoned novels. Better to write (and refine) two thousand good words you can use. This is part of the reason I haven't done NaNoWriMo the past few years: there's no point adding another 50,000 chunk of a novel to my hard drive when there are four (!) gathering dust and another one already in progress. (The other reasons is that university deadlines inevitably get neglected and since I'm in so much debt I may as well try and get the best marks I can.)

* Stop reading those writing advice articles. I must have read hundreds over the years so they very rarely tell me anything new and when they do it's always something ridiculous like "paint your office blue" or "stand on one leg to aid concentration". Advice from authors (especially ones I like) is good but mainly boils down to "write lots", "carry a notebook" and "edit", which I'm pretty much doing already. Sometimes they contradict each other on things like the best sources for feedback but if they contradict each other you're going to have to go with your gut anyway. Just because you love Neil Gaiman or Holly Black doesn't mean their writing process will be the same as yours. Find out what works for you and stick with it.

My Goals

*To publish a Kindle anthology.

* 2012 is going to be the year I finish my novel. Or, at the very least, finish a coherant first draft of it.

*To get relevant work experience and a job that pays me.

I always love to hear from people but this time I'm especially curious. What do you think of New Year's Resolutions? Do you make them? Do you keep them? And if you're a writer, do they help you in your writing?

Wednesday, 12 December 2012


So one of the painful realisations of growing up is that the shine tends to go off Christmas as you get older. Maybe it's because you have more money and in this cynical modern age we're deadened to the excitement of a bunch of new stuff. Maybe it's because Christmas is For The Kids and once you're not a kid you have to maintain the same illusion of Christmas cheer that was being put on for your benefit a few years ago. Maybe, like a lot of things, it has scarcity value: after a while you get jaded.

I talked to a friend recently about Christmas. I celebrate a big family all-the-trimmings, he does not. He is a Christian, I am not. I want to say before this goes any further that this friend is not the joyless, Christmas-hating stereotype: he is a warm, funny, deeply tolerant person who would prefer to spend the holiday doing good works than eating too much and getting presents. I don't want to defend the way I live my life by being snide about his. But at the same time I value Christmas because it gives me a chance to visit the family I see three times a year. It gives my parents a chance to buy things for their wayward eldest daughter -their only child not at home- so I have a working hair dryer, a new coat, boots without holes in and other little extravagances I can't afford on a student budget so they know I'm warm and dry and supplied with interesting books while I'm off in the big city. I like buying them presents too because it shows that I've taken time to stop and think about them. It's not just about presents though: for the last two weeks I've been able to think of nothing except seeing my dog again and she doesn't give me anything except slobbery kisses. Christmas is the time when I go home, rejoin my family, watch bad movies under a blanket with my brother and sister, peel vegetables on Christmas morning. They are golden. I will only ever get so many. Assuming I'm not unemployed or in further study next year my future Christmases might only be overnight visits, if that. As the length of time I can stay a student dwindles these family holidays become more and more precious.

Thinking about Christmas this year I realised that the things that get me most excited about it are my own personal traditions. Not big things, usually not very expensive things, just little weird personal things I do every year as the days draw in.

Every year I curl up with Terry Pratchett's Hogfather and spend a few evenings catching up with Mr Teatime, Susan Sto Helit and the anthropomorphic personification of Death. I'm not sure how many years I've been doing this, maybe as long as I've been at university. Maybe I started it in the winter of my first year, feeling cut off from family life and needing to reinforce my roots. Maybe. Maybe it just happened. Traditions are all about inventing your own mythology.

Maybe this year I'll buy the DVD adaptation, watched years ago but never actually bought. Or not: the adaptation is perfectly cast, beautifully designed and a faithful but succinct retelling of the book. It understands the knife edge Sir Terry walks between poignancy, whimsy and terror and doesn't try and dumb anything down or shoehorn characters into stereotypical roles.

But it's not the book. I'm not going to compound the cliche of a Christmas traditions post by making statements like "reading is more personal than watching" except, that films tend to be a social, shared experience, prone to having family members come in and loudly exclaim "what are you watching?", "is that a skeleton?" and best of all "what's Del Boy doing in Middle Earth?" I can't snuggle down under the blankets late at night to watch the DVD. I can't curl up in a chair and disappear into it. I can't sprawl on the floor in front of the fire, the dog's head* on my knee, breathing in the smell of wood smoke, hot metal, warm dog and the vanilla smell of old, well thumbed books. Well I guess I could, but it wouldn't be the same. It wouldn't be Christmas. 

As well as a reading tradition I also have a writing tradition. Years ago, before I'd grown the thick skin necessary to share my writing in the real world, I used to write online. First fanfiction, then parodies of bad fanfiction and then back to fanfiction again, until I went to university, had to read my work aloud in front of people and promptly lost any sense of bashfulness. But before I decided to concentrate on my own stuff I'd already taken part in the Yuletide Treasure annual rare fandoms fanfic exchange. The way it works is you give them a few suggestions n what you'd like to receive, offer a few fandoms you'd be willing to write in and everyone gets something custom written for them to open on Christmas morning. The first year I did it someone wrote me a three scene prequel to Midsummer Night's Dream. In iambic pentametre. For a stranger. I don't think I've ever been more touched by a present in my life.

I go to bed on Christmas Eve wondering about what someone's written for me and whether a different someone will like what I've written for them. My mum's cry of 'put the laptop away and talk to people' is almost a Christmas tradition in and of itself. And I do. But Yuletide Treasure is such a geeky, open armed, warm hearted tradition that it doesn't feel like Christmas day until I've checked it. When was the last time you worked on something for weeks just to make a stranger smile?

There's an argument (not a bad one, a Christmas one) between my brother and sister about how to decorate the tree. My sister favours an arty, minimal composition of one tasteful base colour and a selection of bird ornaments, whereas my brother prefers the traditional just-throw-everything-at-it-and-hope-it-stays-on look. I change from year to year but this time I think I'm on my brother's side. Last year I found some little knitted woolen angels I used to buy at Brownies Christmas events back in the day and I can honestly that they are the only good thing that came out of me going there. Anyway they were pretty grubby and about to be thrown out but I cleaned them up and they turned out good as new. They're pretty badass, to the extent that a knitted woolen angel can be badass, and the thing I look forwards to seeing on the tree every year.

What are your traditions? What are you celebrating this winter? Will you be taking part in Yuletide Treasure? Let me know in the comments.

*This image is tinged with sadness because when I started reading the Hogfather it was a different dog I was curled up with.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Kate Reviews: Skyfall

Skyfall. How do you describe what is already being described as the highest grossing, even the best, Bond movie of all time? Of course it's in the nature of reviewers to describe things as the best (or worst) thing of all time, but I think in this case they might actually be right. Mild SPOILERS from this point on.

Bond have always have never been afraid to titilate but in Skyfall the camera lingers most over the scenery. The roofs of Istanbul, the Shanghai skyline, the Scottish highlands... Bond's various romantic entanglements take a backseat after what's happening between between the location guy and the scenery.

Speaking of which, MEET BOND'S LOVE INTEREST!!!
This is Eve. Don't call her a Bond girl.
She's smart. She's tough. She's Naomie Harris. She's sexually empowered (who can remember the last time someone seduced Bond who wasn't a) evil, b) not long for this world, c) both?) She's funny and brave and remains manificently indifferent while Bond hits on another woman in front of her hours after they have sex. Yeah, Bond's still kind of a dick at times but to be fair she did accidentally shoot him near the start so... they're even I guess?

Bond's supreme dickishness kind of coincides with the other love interest, Severine, whose basic function is to make eyes at Bond, smoke sexily, have steamy shower sex, stand dramatically on a boat and then get shot in the head. Literally, those are all of her scenes. The actress does a decent job but it's obvious she's as much of a relic as the Aston Martin that turns up at the end and like the Aston Martin you get the impression that she's there because it wouldn't be Bond without her. Also, the film loses some inclusiveness points here, as Severine is a victim of child sex trafficking and it is never acknowledged by Bond or the script that sneaking up on her in the shower and having sex with her, literally without a word of explanation, might trigger her a little. But no, Bond can get over seeing her shot in front of him, literally hours later, so I guess trauma just doesn't exist in this world. Basically Severine's character (or rather the way she's treated by the script) is a blackhole of bad: every time she's on screen it's like the film forgets it's trying to be progressive and just goes straight back to the days of disposable, interchangeable fuckbuddies (apologies for profanity but that is not how you treat a love interest). On the other hand she apparently has a Berretta strapped to her thigh so... empowerment?

Ben Wishaw
Of course neither of these women qualify as the female lead. This honour goes to Judi Dench's M. Without killing the entire ending for you, Skyfall is very much the Judi Dench M's swan song. There's this serious, adult melancholy to the film, this tension between the old school spy thriller fun and the way it does or doesn't fit into a modern world full of modern crime. There is serious doubt from quite early on about whether M will even be around at the end of the film, whether they need someone younger and more modern to replace her. Speaking of which, this is Q. Yes he's dreamy. Yes he's a good actor. Now back to M.

M actually gets to do stuff in this film, rather than just setting things up for Bond. Although he's a very individualist character, Skyfall did a good job of creating an ensemble while still maintaining Bond's emotional distance from it. His emotional distance from M however...

Bond and M have always had this sparky, belligerant screen chemistry as far back as GoldenEye, when he was Pierce Brosnan, which makes their interactions often more interesting than his interactions with the film's resident Bond Girl. Platonic chemistry, I hasten to add, although much has been made (admittedly most of it by me) about Bond's handog little "I guess I'll find a hotel then..." after he finds out that MI6 has (quite reasonably) sold his flat while he was off being presumed dead and doing shots with live scorpions in because...why? Anyway, M who is awesome tells him he's bloody well not sleeping there (actual words) and they go back to their standard slightly Oedipal brand of grudging affection, only this time they're really exploring it. And I'll take your 'ewww' and raise you a 'well it worked for Hamlet'. Also the Lannisters.

Speaking of dysfunctional Oedipal relationships (though really, is there another kind?) we need to talk about the villain, Silva, played by Javier Bardem. He's openly bisexual, not in a campy sexual-chemistry-with-the-good-guy way, but in an actual honest tries-to-seduce-Bond-and-it's-legitimately-hot way. I admit, I may have been wary going into this but it was treated really tastefully by the writers and Bond, not in the eeeew cooties way I'd half feared. It's restrained and intense with this crackling tension and it's never precisely clear who's trying to double bluff who. No one's masculinity is challenged, even when Bond hints at his own bisexuality and best of all none of it is played for laughes. Not that that stopped the people sitting behind me from giggling nervously but to be fair in most blockbusters it would have been. Also, without spoiling anything, there's a point where something happens to Silva's face and whoever did that make up/special effect, that person should get an Oscar.

One of the really great things about Skyfall is the sheer level of concentrated, uninterrupted awesome. I'm trying to keep this vague for people who haven't seen it, so I'll use an example from eariler in the film. There is a motorbike chase on the roofs of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Then inside the Grand Bazaar. Then a fight on a train. WITH A JCB! And all that in the same chase sequence. And through all this M, being updated by Bond's driver/partner Eve, keeps acting surprised. Oh M, you think it's unrealistic that he's driven a motorbike up a steep flight of stairs, jumped between roofs and smashed through a window without damaging it or himself? ...Have you ever met Bond? Did you not read the mission report about that time he drove a tank through central Moscow? (And when I say 'through' I mean there weren't a lot of walls left afterwards.) Do you not watch your own films?!

The film's over abundance of awesome almost becomes a stalling point. 'This film is too awesome,' I found myself thinking. 'I can't process the awesome because another awesome thing is already happening. I wish it'd be mediocre for a little while so... OMG ICE LAKE DEATH CHASE!!!' Of course when the very worst thing you can say about a film is that it's too awesome that's not really going to discourage people from buying tickets.

Overall I give Skyfall ALL OF THE STARS!!! although when I've calmed down a bit it's probably a 8/10, but only because I knocked a point off for that thing with Severine.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Gone Writin' (Again)

For those of you who are wondering about the title, it's very like gone fishin' except it's a lot harder to eat words than haddock. Or easier if you're a vegetarian, which I am.

My course has kept me on a steady diet of words, mostly phrases like "I'm going to go out drinking all the time this year" or "creative writing should be easy right?" It's not. It's fun and challenging but because you set your own syllabus it's impossible to know if you're doing enough so you have to walk a knife edge between reading far too much and reading everything and the really scary part of this is that you have no idea which side you're leaning towards. Everything I planned to do this year is falling off a little.

I have a lot of reading to do and a lot of ground to break*. Which is why I'm giving myself the month of November to get some actual work done. It's galling to leave a gap in my update schedule and to push planned entries back until the new year but there you go. If I come out of this year with a good mark it'll be more than worth it.

See you in December.

*The three main texts I'm working on right now are House of Leaves (here's a tip: don't speed read it late at night), Slaughterhouse 5 and (get this) A Series of Unfortunate Events so I'm not complaing.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Remembering When This Was A Writing Blog?

So. There's been a lot of posts about issues really. Feminism, internet privacy, that time I met Caitlin Moran. If you follow this blog because you wanted to see my writing you may be disappointed*. I could write something impassioned about activism and the importance of standing up for what you believe in but to be honest the whole reason this posts exists is that people are probably getting sick of that sort of thing so instead I'm going to let Chumbawamba explain it in the medium of song.

The world is a scary place. The recession doesn't seem to be going away. The Tories are in power in England and things aren't looking great for the Democrats in the US. Reproductive rights are under attack. To many girls of my generation have had misogynistic jokes so ingrained that they believe they don't need feminism, even though they aren't entirely sure what it is. Roughly century after the Suffragettes we still have to fight over issues like 'rape jokes aren't funny' or 'maybe don't slut-shame a twelve year old'.

I don't like this. Of course I don't. It's exhausting. Given the choice I'd rather write about the books I love (or love to hate) and the latest film to come out of Hollywood and the book I'm writing. Those things make me angry. Facing up to issues make me sad and angry and powerless. I don't do it because I like it. I do it because I'm afraid if I don't then nothing will change. I'm not especially influential and I don't even have all the answers. But I hope by challenging sexist language and making a fuss on Twitter I'll start a series of ripples that'll start in making someone think and, years later, contribute to equal pay, reproductive rights and an end to the stupid sexist language we block out or even contribute to every day.

And then I can sing about love.

*And I say that to both my followers.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

North East Feminist Gathering 12

Alternate title: Remember when this blog used to be about writing?

So this weekend I was at the first North East Feminist Gathering. It was a lot of fun: there was feminist drumming and feminist poetry and all kinds of things that are not inherantly feminist but were a nice break inbetween the sessions of reproductive rights and grassroots activism. Caitlin Moran was not there, which is surprising considering how often she's been featured on this blog recently. In writing news, I wrote a pantoum* which was actually quite good but which may be appearing as part of my MRes portfolio so won't be appearing online at this time until I work out how that affects my copyright.

Anyway, having been doing that all weekend I haven't had much time for blogging, so here is picture of a heavy horse sculpture from Glasgow.

*an Indonesian form of poetry, featuring patterned repetition.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

An Open Letter to the Internet: re Caitlin Moran Twiter-gate

What is there left to say about the Dunham-Moran scandal on Twitter? For the last week or so it seems like everyone on the internet not only has a strong opinion about what happened but is set on expressing it in capslock. I don't want to rake over it again. I don't want to dismiss the (entirely legitimate) problem of lack of diversity in television. I don't want to vilify a person I don't know for a tactless reply to someone who was, let's be honest, harrassing her on Twitter.

Here's the thing, internet. I actually agree that all kinds of groups of people are under represented in the media: not just on terms of ethnicity but also sexuality, class and ability. Some of these issues affect me personally or at least someone I care deeply about. Some I just care about because I'm a human being with empathy and I know what it's like to be ignored sometimes. By all rights I should be joining in the anti-Moran witchhunt still going on on Tumblr right?

No. Because when you want someone to agree with you you do not start by harrassing them over Twitter. It is not how you open an honest dialogue that might lead to actual change. Even the most reasonable person on the internet (admittedly not a sample group well known for being reasonable) is probably not going to agree with you if you open your argument by screaming at them and calling them a racist.

It's perfectly understandable to be angry that you still have to fight this fight. I am sometimes angry over the issues I have to face. But yelling at people does not make them like you. More importantly it does not make them empathise with you. And I'm guilty of it too: the guy I snapped at yesterday in the library for saying, apropos of nothing, "Catherine Howard [fifth wife of Henry VIII] was a prostitute and a slut". I hold that he was wrong to do so, not only because it was untrue but because slut-shaming a historical figure at a table entirely populated by feminists, history students and feminist history students is a Bad Idea. I admit that yelling at him probably didn't give him the best portrayal of feminism. It did not make him agree with me. It just made him confused at why some crazy woman was shouting at him.

Which leads me onto my next point: nobody is perfect. If you are one of the people who has been crucifying Caitlin Moran will you please take a moment to imagine that people had been scrutinising everything you've said for the past week, or even month. Can you honestly tell me that nothing you've said could be interpreted as sexist or ableist (don't forget, you can be misquoted, so even using words like 'crazy' or 'depressed' or 'I'm so full of cold I want to die' count) or homophobic (be honest, as a kid you probably used 'gay' as an insult) or racist (those photos of you playing cowboys and indians on your seventh birthday might yet come back to haunt you) or prejudiced against religion, which is not the same as racism.

The difference of course is that you are probably not famous. The percentage of people who care what you think on the internet is much lower than the percentage of people who care what Caitlin Moran thinks. You can say insensitive things without being called on it because far less people are watching. There has been a lot of talk about the various priviliges that Caitlin Moran has but there is one privilige that you have and she doesn't and that is the privilige of relative anonimity on the internet. And no: I am not for one minute comparing that to white privilige, or straight privilige or the frankly dubious 'class privilige' of someone who was born to a working class family of seven children and who is still outspoken about benefits and other issues facing the working classes. Because that would be really stupid. I am just politely asking that you extend Caitlin Moran the same empathy you believe she should extend to you.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

In Which Kate Meets Caitlin Moran. Scream!

So, two weeks ago today I got to meet Caitlin Moran. I know. SCREAM!

She was as lovely in person as in print and is clearly a natural storyteller. She's funny, unpretentious and managed to make a whole room agree that maybe if you want to go into the music/publishing/media industry you should actually support it by you know, paying for stuff. A room full of twenty-somethings no less.

Which is a good point: as a writer it's hard to get paid for anything when there's so many young hopefuls (some of them more experienced than you) willing to do it for free. In theory, doing stuff for free is supposed to generate exposure and give young writers something to put on their CV. In practice... well it helps. But your writing has the value you give it and paid contributions tend to count for more.

Anyway, if you ever get a chance to hear Caitlin Moran speak I advise you to take it. Not only is she really, REALLY funny, she's also super nice. Anyone who stays until everyone in the (really long) signing queue has been seen, despite having a train to catch, is good people as far as I'm concerned.

On reflection I thought this picture would look
 better than the face melty one. You're welcome.
Due to the timescale (and my friend Rachel distracting her with an awesome owl hat) I didn't get to speak to her for long. I did however get a hug, which was good for two reasons: the first being that Caitlin Moran gives awesome hugs and the second being that it didn't require my to say very much. It's really hard to speak when you meet one of your heroes but at least I didn't dissolve in some kind of Raiders of the Lost Ark scenario for looking too closely upon the Goddess Moran as I was half afraid would happen. That's a compliment. I think.

Also, I got a signed copy of her new book for my mum's birthday and brought along my old copy of her first book for myself, a situation which led to her thinking I was called Margaret. Which I take as proof that a) I am a good and selfless daughter and, b) Taylor women have a family resemblance so strong we're destined to be mistaken for each other even when we're hundreds of miles apart with a thirty year age difference. If I go to the village where my mum grew up old ladies I've never met have been known to start talking to me on the basis that I'm 'obviously Margaret's daughter'. Although this is the first time I've been mistaken for a relative the other person had never met. Obviously we all need to start wearing t-shirts with our names written on, Flash Gordon style.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Freshers' Flu

Well, as a post grad student I haven't done Freshers' Week (for one thing it's full of freshers) but I have managed to get a (un)healthy dose of freshers flu. This is because freshers basically run on cheap booze, pot noodle and adrenyline. It's kind of impossible to get sick. They just don't have time.

It's like Tainted Love, but instead of lust it's swine flu.
For the rest of us however it's kind of risky to leave home without a protective sneeze guard, let alone go into a packed dark room with them. So consequently I'm going to spend this week unpacking, blowing my nose and not updating my blog.

Sorry guys!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Remembering the Nostalgia Critic

[Major spoilers from the start regarding To Boldly Flee and the Nostalgia Critic.]

I was going to write today's post about the night I spent packing to go back to Newcastle and watching To Boldly Flee that was going on over on That Guy With The Glasses all the way through before the finale was posted on line. Except that didn't happen.

Instead I spent the night huddling in bed, glued to my laptop screen while a storm raged outside. The quality of the writing, acting, effects, even the score made me very, very happy. The ending broke my heart. I couldn't write about putting things into bags and boxes when I'd been exposed to something this clever and funny and beautiful and joyous and sad. So this post will be dedicated to those who boldly fled, the living and the dead of them.

For those who don't know, this is the Nostalgia Critic. Comedic persona of Internet reviewer Doug Walker, the Nostalgia Critic has been the flagship of review site That Guy With The Glasses since it started five years ago. He's kind of a big deal. And now he's dead, killed off by his own creator.

Obviously his fans are UPSET. Every other post on Tumblr seemed to end 'I am openly weeping' 'Literally in tears' 'Doug Walker made me cry'. At some point someone quoted a line from Slaughterhouse Five and I was so stunned and overwhelmed I read the whole thing. The majority of fans, while sad, are being supportive of Doug Walker and his decision. The minority... not so much. I've seen people threatening to rage quit, calling the way it was handled an insult to the fans and generally being the douchebags people are on the Internet when the person you're bad mouthing can't physically come over and punch you. Those people aren't just stupid because Doug Walker is a real human being who's entitled to his own life and maybe doesn't want to spend it yelling into a web cam. They're stupid because To Boldly Flee was really, REALLY good.

It absolutely a product of it's time (there's a lot of anxiety about SOPA which shouldn't be outdated as, away from the public eye, the fight for a free Internet is still going on), both the time it was written and the career changing decision it was building up to. Somehow though that makes it better: more ephemeral and evocative, like a fly caught in amber. Like the old political cartoons we used to write whole essays on in History ("Mommy, Wilfred wrote a dirty word!" one read. The word was Roosevelt.) The film was a product of the anxiety on the site (many of the contributers use it as their sole source of income) and the Internet in general and that shouldn't be forgotten.

Rob Walker (Doug's brother and writing partner) made this statement on his facebook:
Those that keep complaining about us referencing SOPA need a reality check. It's not dead. Like a ninja, it just slinked away into the shadows and is waiting for the right time to strike. If you think I'm harping on old news in my script for To Boldly Flee, just know that Doug and I both agreed to keep it in there for a reason, despite SOPA's last minute shelving. We don't WANT people to forget. We want them to remember. Let it be a time capsule and a reminder of what the suits nearly got away with... and STILL are.
He included this link to demonstrate what's still happening.
For those who haven't seen To Boldly Flee (and don't mind being spoilered) the basic plot is that the Nostalgia Critic, who is suffering from survivor's guilt after the death of his friend Ma-Ti*) is put under house arrest pending trial for copyright violations. When he begins to receive messages from Ma-Ti about a mysterious 'Hole' he summons the other critics, turns his house into a spaceship and sets off to Europa, the icy moon of Jupiter to try and atone for taking Ma-Ti for granted. Since in the last two anniversary specials he's been either a power crazed dictator or a money grubbing exploitative boss, the others are naturally sceptical but go along to stop the law and save their careers. There's also a love triangle, psychotic robot doubles, comedy scientists and a plant that really ties the room together. And then General Zod gets involved and just watch it, watch it now.

The Nostalgia Critic has gone from being a 2D caricature to an actually legitimately good person. And this character building is what makes the ending so inevitable and so shocking. After driving a (flying) car straight into the plothole the Nostalgia Critic comes face to face with Doug Walker who explains that he is not a real person but a fictional character. Not only that he was always supposed to be an unlikeable character, intended to be laughed at rather than with. It could so easily be crushing and existential. But the Walker Brothers made it beautiful.

NC: So I'm just a character?

Doug: Well you were at first, but now you're something else.

NC: What?

Doug: Evolved.

NC: What do you mean?

Doug: Think about it. Would the dictator from Kickassia actually give a shit about his friends? Would the money-grubbing egomaniac from Suburban Knights actually give a crap about a dead Indian boy? I didn't expect that when I started writing you long ago, but ever since then, you've changed. You've literally leapt off the page and taken on a life of your own. It became less of me writing you what to do and you telling me what to write. (NC is still confused) And seeing where we are, I guess that leaves us with one last choice.

NC: What's out that door?

Doug: Reality. [Quotes from the Channel Awesome wiki.]
It's especially beautiful to me as a writer because that is how it works. When you write about a character for a long time -at least if you do it right- you fall in love with them. I'm not talking about making them more attractive/powerful/etc but about the way their flaws become good things. Nissa my main protagonist is a prickly ball of barely contained self loathing and rage which is exactly what I love about her. Her younger sister becomes so evil she'll casually kill a man's children to get his attention but I love her unreservedly because I understand the things that have lead her to that point. This is what a character is. This is what being a writer is.

The Critic is given a choice: he can go outside into reality and write his own story but if he leaves the story will collapse without him. All his supporting characters will cease to exist. All his friends. At this point the instrumental version of my old school leavers song, I Vow To Thee My Country, started to play. It was the song I sang to say goodbye to friends who were moving on and the song I sang when I was leaping into the great unknown of secondary education. Eleven years later and I still knew the words. All of them. I'm not a Christian but the song means a lot to me. When I hear it the world goes still. It's sweeping and inspiring and fundamentally it's about caring enough about something -a thing or a person, or a group of people, or a whole world, enough to sacrifice yourself for it. It's about love.

While the other reviewers are pulled into the Plot Hole, reminiscing about their first reviews and complimenting each other, the Critic chooses to save the day. He merges with the plothole, expanding it into a new, contradictory universe where his friends can live, it is implied, with some measure of freewill. It ends, as all things should, with a party, though a bittersweet one. Life went on and people remembered. They were nostalgic for the Nostalgia Critic.

The ending of To Boldly Flee gives me hope on so many levels. As a broke student it gives me hope that it's possible to make a name for yourself with a camera and talent. As a writer it gives me hope that even a caricature who was never intended to be likable can evole over time to the point where (large sections of) the Internet stops to mourn his passing. As a human being it gives me hope because all of us, even those of us made of pen and ink, celluloid and imagination, are redeemable. You may never fly a car through space but within you is the potential to be a hero. It's in everyone, the people you don't like and the people you do. And within every writer is the potential to move and audience to tears, to change the way they think or even just to make some girl with a blog temporarily a little bit nicer to everyone around her.

I was on Tumblr not long after the episode went up and already people were pouring their hearts out. the way the Nostalgia Critic has legitimately changed lives touched me as much as the film itself. There was an English graduate who wrote for the first time since finishing her** degree, a theatre student who found her love of film reawakened, a score of people who'd moved to a new city, or felt unpopular and alone who cited the Nostalgia Critic as the thing that made them laugh again.

There was an extra note of sadness this year as Spoony, one of the most popular contributers on the site left after a disagreement with Obscurus Lupa, another contributer, about whether it was appropriate to joke on Twitter about raping your coworkers (Jesu Otaku). Since he a) has been diagnosed bi-polar, and b) made a freaking rape joke on Twitter, people jumped in to defend or vilify him. I was online as he was suspended and watched the increasingly bitter comments with equal parts horror, concern and that nasty little impulse that makes people look at car crashes. Long story short he left the site permanently and now various sections of the fandom are out for various people's blood. That's the cliff notes version.

The problem was that this guy was playing three separate roles (two of them major roles) without which the film would not make sense. So fans watched an ending where Spoony was resurrected by Santa Christ*** and brought into the brave new world miraculously alive. It was Spoony we saw being hugged by his surviving colleagues, many of whom won't even speak to him anymore. Some people felt that his resurrection should have been cut but I disagree. I disagree because as Spoony the character was resurrected, Spoony the creator began to redeem himself: admitting that watching the film was bittersweet, acknowledging he was at least partly to blame, making a commentary where he explained himself. You can find it here.

It bears mentioning as well that the day after the final part of To Boldly Flee aired, Doug Walker appeared as  himself, announcing that yes the Critic was gone (although he hasn't ruled out cameo apperances) and no, the site was not closing. He was moving onto new projects. The site had bought a studio. Like the Critic he was taking a leap into the unknown. As the person who was so physically afraid of screwing up this year I literally threw up as a kind of rudimentary defence mechanism while packing the car to leave, this resonated with me. It made me want to be better and braver, to take more risks and keep my friends safer. And as a writer, making someone feel that way, that's the dream.

I'm going to end with words truer and more beautiful than mine. I can't credit a source except the place where I found it because it was submitted anonymously. I've included it in full firstly because I think everyone should read it and secondly because you have to follow a few links to find it. But I'm glad I did.

I loved the character of the Nostalgia Critic, I didn't think the show was getting old, and I'm not impressed by the ‘going out before it got stale’ thing. All that said, I loved Doug decision to end the character and the way it was done. Personally, the timing was impeccable. The past month or so, I've been finding myself romanticizing letting go of things, or destroying things one would seem to hold onto 99% of the time. Ending things can be beautifully cathartic, almost to the point where that cathartic experience is enough reason to end things (almost, though). My habit of every Tues night/Wed morn will change. Thoughts like that have become profound and interesting to me. Furthermore, Doug and Rob found a way to end the character in a cathartic way at the end of To Boldly Flee. The way the story was set up, and the selections for the score, I mean, it was beautiful. It truly was.

I saw my ‘Boss’ a couple of weeks ago, and he's someone who has been around a long time, and is starting to see some of his friends and other things fade from existence. He didn't seem sad, though. He seemed, defiant and delighted with the way things have turned out for him personally. He said: 'As you walk on through life, your life is filled with ghosts. Not just people, but old buildings, and old cars you had. They all find some place, and something deeper than memory. They get in your bones and in your blood. And they become a part of who you are. And I think that's a good thing. Cause when we were young, you know, they told us that ghosts were, "ooh, ooh," to be frightened of. But as you grow older, ghosts are the things that walk alongside you and remind you of the preciousness of life. And the value of good things in your life. You know, the presence of love. And how that love and spirit carries on after those things are gone.' My feelings on endings were vague at that point, but they were certainly cemented after that.

After TBF was finished, I couldn't remember when I first ran into the Nostalgia Critic. Luckily, I remembered the blog post, Googled it, and saw it was November 22, 2008. I thought back to what was happening to me at that time. I was finishing college, the best 4 years of my life. Also, the most important building of my cultural existence and childhood, as well as the place of my youngest memory, had an appointment with the wrecking ball. It was a time where I was scared because I was thinking that maybe I ain't so young anymore. Perhaps that's what helped me become a fan of NC (aside from Doug being a talented comedian). Here was Nostalgia being justified. And I think that is something of a common thing for anyone who could identify as a part of the current youth of the world like I do.

In the four years I’ve waited every week for a new NC, though, I’ve acquired more ghosts. The house where I was a baby in was knocked down. I’ve said goodbye to jobs I loved, my hometown, and a place 2,500 miles away that opened itself to me so I could get my MA. I’m only at the quarter-century mark; but when my dad was there, he was changing my diapers; and when my mom was there, I knew how to read. Realizing all this, all of a sudden, I feel old. But unlike four years ago, I know that’s not a bad thing. I’m not afraid of the wrecking ball anymore. In fact, I’ll revel in it should it come. Ghosts are to be celebrated, and I feel lucky now that I have many ghosts ahead.

As an crack amateur scholar of comedy, I feel confident in saying Doug has serious chops. And he’s going to do projects that will absolutely kill. So the end of the Nostalgia Critic isn’t something sad. Because it ended, we know that it happened, and potential for new things are opening up. That’s exciting to the highest degree. And it’s very cathartic, and I love those feelings. It asserts that we are alive, and we have tremendous stories to tell. Bring on those wrecking balls and those ghosts.

And, I’d like to wish anyone reading this (and even those who aren’t) a long life filled with many ghosts.
I wish you all a long life filled with ghosts. May all your films involve love triangles, psychotic robot doubles and mad scientists, except the ones that don't. And may you be changed for the better by the things you watch, no matter how unexpected.
In memory of those who boldly fled.

*Yes, the one from Captain Planet. Kind of. It makes sense in context.

**I assume. Most fanwriters are female so it's the default pronoun in fandom.

***It makes sense in context. See note on Ma-Ti.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

A Song Of Ice And Fire: Who's Going To Die Next?

Please note that 'everyone' is not an answer. Even if it is probably true.

Following a reply on this post, I've been thinking a lot about which favourite characters we're going to have to say goodbye too in books six and seven. And when I say 'say goodbye to' I mean 'watch helplessly as they're graphically killed off.' I want to make absolutely clear that said reply was well thought out and intelligent and that I am in no way trashing that person's opinion (I'd credit them but the comment was anonymous). I just disagree about the likelihood of that many named characters surviving.

There wil be MASSIVE SPOILERS from this point on. Seriously, if you haven't read the full series then don't read anymore. This will ruin so many surprises. Apologies to people who follow the TV series: I'd like to predict something for you but seeing as I already know what happens in the next three books I can't see that working out.

The Living:

Theon Greyjoy: Theon is an interesting character and I'm not just saying that because of the crush I have on Alfie Allen who plays him on the show (fun fact: he's that Alfie Allen). After what went down at Winterfell it seemed like there was nothing GRRM could do to make him sympathetic again.

Enter Ramsay Bolton.

Theon has had such a long, painful character arc, it's difficult to believe there isn't going to be some kind of pay off. Like maybe, just maybe, a bittersweet ending.

[In fact, if it wasn't for the fact it's going to be OMG so obviously Daenerys, I'd believe that there was a chance that the Greyjoys might stop squabbling and just take the Iron Throne together. This isn't so much a prediction as a hope but I really want to see Theon and Asha bond as siblings and learn to appreciate each other's strengths. Because as a team they could be unstoppable.]

Tyrion: I'll be brutally honest: after his rape threat against Cersei (I don't own that volume so I can't look up the page number but it's when he's trying to find Daenerys) I have major issues with considering Tyrion 'one of the good guys'. Because someone who uses sexual violence as a weapon is a hateful person, no matter how many funny lines they get or how much parts of the fandom hate the intended victim. I can see him plausibly becoming a complete monster and/or being exposed to some kind of horrific catalyst while in slavery that makes him realise that revenge isn't worth becoming said monster.

That being said, I don't think GRRM will kill him. There isn't really an ending that seems right for Tyrion that doesn't involve being crushed by an elephant at the moment of climax while lying between twin prostitutes fresh from the pleasure houses of Lys. And that's before you even get to the jackass and the honeycomb.

From the first book I was convinced that Tyrion would not only outlive the rest of the cast and five books on his chances are only improving. Mainly because everyone else is dying.

The Dead:

Theon Greyjoy: I haven't ruled out the possibility of a bittersweet death.

Jon Connigton: Although since he has terminal greyscale I see this surprising no one.

Walder Frey: He's really old and he's pissed off a lot of people. Something's got to kill him.

Ramsay Bolton: I have a theory he's going to set his dogs on Theon, forcing them to choose between their friend who used to roll around on the floor with them or Ramsay Bolton. And who could blame them for biting the hand that fed and (probably) whipped them? I've never yet met a person who doesn't want to kill Ramsay Bolton by fire. In fact I'm kind of worried just because I typed out his name three times...

Lady Stoneheart: The psychotic break and recent spate of hangings not withstanding, Catelyn Stark was a good person and I believe a few things could bring her back and persuade her to finally let go of life. These are, in no particular order:
-being reunited with one or more of her children
-killing Petyr Baelish (for murdering her sister and grooming her daughter)
-receiving Ned's remains.

This theory depends a lot on the dramatic principle of catharsis. Simply said, in a tragedy focussing on one character a fatal flaw will lead to a catalyst and from there lead to a series of increasingly bad events that escalate until things reach breaking point. From there there are two possible outcomes. Either the character will recognise his/her flaw and attempt to put things right but die anyway or (and this is the real tragedy) s/he won't learn anything and will either die not having learn or live and continue to go on making the same mistakes. In the first option the audience leaves feeling cleansed because the dangerous elements have been wiped away and the survivors (both of them) are free to go about establishing a better world. That's catharsis. I don't know the technical term for the second option (unless you count 'downer ending') but if you do then please let me know.

When there's an ensemble cast like in ASOIAF there aren't so much character flaws as flawed characters (there's a distinction in there somewhere). Robert's selfishness, the Lannister's ambitions, Cersei's complete and utter inability to accept she doesn't know everything, Ned's honour, Joffry's sociopathy, Theon's daddy issues, everyone's treachery... Catharsis here won't be measured in the death of one character but the death of dynastys. And for Catelyn Tully Stark to rest in peace, Lady Stoneheart has to die.

Under that logic I should also probably predict the deaths of: Petyr Baelish, Cersei Lannister, the uncles Greyjoy, the Freys, the Boltons, maybe even cuddly, lovely Ser Jorah everyone-forgets-he-traded-slaves-that-one-time Mormont. And hell, even Daenerys has killed a metric fuck ton of people.

Of course I don't believe for a minute that GRRM of all people is compelled to give us a happy ending.

The Undead:

Bran Stark: Meera's too old for him, Jojen's pining for home and he still hasn't managed to find a way to walk again. I see him retreating more and more into his warg powers (every fibre of my wants to call it Borrowing but then I was a Terry Pratchett fangirl before I'd ever heard of George R.R. Martin). Plus his whole family are either dead, presumed dead or zombies. Even the servants who raised im have been slaughtered and I suspect, if it comes to it, Meera will choose Jojen over him because he's family. The brutal fact is that Bran doesn't have much going on for him in Westeros. I wish it wasn't true. Warging allows him not only to walk but to fly. I don't think he'll want to give that up.

Jon Snow: Melisandre isn't going to let him die... Is she?

Benjen Stark: Consensus seems to think he's Coldhands and I see no reason to disagree.

A suggestion it is physically hurting me type: Please, please not Brienne. Jaime said she "looked older" (I hear hanging can add ten years) and while I believe absolutely in her honour, there's no denying that she was behaving suspiciously. Perhaps she did hang and was resurrected. Perhaps she can't stand to see Podrick die.

Normally I'd believe that no writer could possibly be so cruel as to have a character as good as Brienne killed by the zombie abomination of their former liege lady for a crime which she not only didn't commit but which she would never commit and being given a choice between killing the man she loves and letting two innocents (and herself) die. After she went through hell, high water and sexual harrassment trying to find her killer's damn kids. I also believed that Ned Stark was probably going to make it, King Robert wouldn't let his wife butcher a twelve year old girl's pet in front of her and that J.K Rowling wouldn't kill just one of the Weasley twins. And look where that got me.

What are your predictions for the next two books? Who will live and die? Have I missed out your favourite character? Let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Why Write Strong Female Characters

As a writer and a feminist (and a writer who is a feminist) I am getting really, really sick of terms like Strong Female Character or Strong Independent Woman being used to bring characters down.

What. The. Actual. Fuck?

I want to say that I get the joke but honestly I don't. I am officially on the Internet, admitting that I don't now something. This is a 100% genuine plea for someone to explain to me how something that would be a compliment (to me one of the highest possible compliments) in the real world is a deathly insult to a fictional character. I am not being sarcastic. I am not being facetious. I genuinely don't get it.

I understand that in this video on female super heroes the Nostalgia Chick is using it to talk about characters written by men, to appeal to men. One of her main issues is that super heroine Barb Wire dresses "like a  real prostitute in the context set up in this world" and looses her temper when a man calls her babe. I think at one point she drops a flaming car on someone for that. 'Empowerment: as conceived by a thirteen year old boy' reads the Nostalgia Chick's gleeful caption. And she has a point. There's a difference between slut shaming and pointing out that someone is wearing an impractical costume for no other reason to get the male viewership up (because what man would want to watch something with a female protagonist unless she was half naked right?). To her credit the Chick acknowledges in the credits how close this line of argument strays to victim blaming and is uncomfortable with it. But she has a point. I've been going clubbing and on bar crawls long enough to know that if I go out dressed a certain way I will probably get hit on and frankly if I'm not in the mood it's a lot easier to dress down than to debate feminism with someone who is a) drunk, b) an idiot (knowing my luck) and c) in a noisy room while d) looking down my shirt. And no I shouldn't have to. You shouldn't either. Your wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and girlfriends shouldn't have to. I really hope that one day we'll move beyond that. It just hasn't happened quite yet.

Kate Beaton, creator of this has come out and said she's not criticising feminists in her comics. She's talking about Strong Female Characters. Who are completely different from female characters who happen to be strong. And nnnrrrrggghhh ERROR ERROR MR JELLY REBOOT UNIVERSE AND TRY AGAIN.

What I don't like about the term is that it's misleading. Where do we draw the line between a Strong Female Character and a female character who is strong? Is Princess Leia part of the problem? Or Buffy Summers or Hermione Granger? I have (lovely) friends who have genuinely told me that they don't like Zoe Washburne of Firefly because she's too strong and too independent and "the whole warrior princess has been done". Equal rights do not have an expiry date. A genuine quote (now forever seared on my memory) is "sometimes there's nothing wrong with wanting a hero to rescue you". And there isn't. In the 1950s!*

Where do we draw the line between a well written character who doesn't appeal to someone's personal tastes and a badly written one who is unsympathetic/unbelievable/both? Where do we distinguish between a so called "Strong Female Character" and a female character who is strong? Is Katniss Everdene okay? Is River Song? What about Princess Merida? Mulan? And if they aren't then what about their male counterparts: is there any attribute of River Song (except her origin) that can't also be said about Han Solo (or, in universe) Captain Jack Harkness? And does anyone really believe that those comparisons would even be made? John McClane is just too awesome: I mean sometimes there's nothing wrong with relying on other people, god! And don't even get me started on Batman: a martial arts master, genius, scientist, billionaire playboy and the world's greatest detective? Like anyone's going to buy something as patently unrealistic as that.

Female characters are held up to a far greater standard of scrutiny than male ones are. Catwoman will always** be a female character whereas Batman is just a character. She has to be a Good Role Model for young girls while still appealing to a male readership. He can just get on with kicking ass and wearing capes. No wonder that many so called Strong Female Characters aren't well received: they're trying so hard to appeal to everyone they end up being loved by no one.

Not feminine my ass.
There has been a lot of talk on the internet recently about the term Mary Sue and whether it's even relevant anymore. There are a lot of better articulated posts than mine (not to mention I could write a series of posts on this topic before I scratched the surface) so I'm going to link rather than write. There's a post here which defends Mary Sues, saying that the criticism against them is "a tendency to mock women for having wishes to fulfill, or for thinking there stories are worth telling." As someone who learnt how to (and how not to) write from Mary Sue parodies I disagree with this article but I thought the quote was interesting. As I said, I'll do a full post on  the issue of whether the term even means anything anymore another time.

But the basic argument is that Mary Sue has gone from meaning 'a character who does not serve the story but uses it for their own gratification' to mean 'a female character I dislike'. Mary Sue has a male equivalent Marty-Stu (or Marty-Sam, Gray-Stu etc) but the naming pattern suggests the truth: that the females are the most common and deadly of the species. Accusations of Suedom (the technical term) are far more common and more heated when aimed at female characters than male ones. I've heard Katniss Everdene called a Mary Sue because 'two boys are fighting over her', but no one seems to care that James Bond, Robert Langdon or Indiana Jones have at least one new love interest every film and/or book and never seem to call them after the story is over (kudos to Jones though: the reintroduction of Marion Ravenwood was one of the few things I thought Kingdom of the Crystal Skull got right). It's forgivable when a dashing man gets the girl(s) every time because it's harmless good fun but Katniss can't even have a single conflicted love triangle without being seen to rise above her station. Zoe Washburne has been criticised for having nothing inherently feminine about her*** (apparently her roles as wife and aspiring mother don't count) and could 'just as easily be played by a man'. By a person who idolises Jayne Cobb, by the way. Because a man being too masculine, that'd be just silly.**** Is it so hard to believe that in that world anyone who can hold a gun (and isn't trained in some specialised skill like healing the sick, keeping the ship running prostitution) learns how to use one?  Really?

This attitude has lead to the sinkhole of circular logic that I believe has contributed the growth of so called Strong Female Characters. As we know, characters have to be flawed. And because female characters attract this extra scrutiny female characters need more flaws to balance out anything that is better than average about them. So your respected doctor? She's either unmarried and childless because she spends all her time on her career (never because she wants to be), or an alcoholic, or has crippling self esteem problems. Your demon hunter? She can't get a date and/or has severe anger issues. So female protagonists are so weighed down by unnecessary flaws (as opposed the normal, compelling kind male characters get) that they can barely function. And so writing a decent female character becomes almost impossible and writers try and make them more likable by making them more flawed and before you know it it's goodbye Buffy and hello Bella Swan.*****

Not being one to depress everybody without at least suggesting a solution, it's time for the 'so what do we do about it' portion of this post. So what can we do? Firstly come up with a different term: faux-Amazons, Straw Feminists, whatever you like. Secondly read (or write, if that is your wont) realistic, strong, empowered women and make legitimately strong female characters the norm. Thirdly read Judith Butler ("gender is performative") or Simone de Beauvoir ("one is not born, but becomes a woman") or just about any gender theorist and realise that hardly any of this stuff we surround ourselves with is intrinsic to what parts we're born with and is instead just the product of millions of years of made up bullshit and really we're not that different from each other. And that is both possibly the most grumpy plea for tolerance on the internet in... oh at least the last four seconds and also the kind of thing I really wish we'd figured out by now.

I'm going to answer the question I raised in the title with the words of a writer who shaped a lot of my worldview as a child. Because of him I know that there are far more than one ways to be strong and not all of them involve karate, vampires and balls of magic. But if you want to spend your nights in the graveyard with a bag of stakes and holy water then that's god too. Doesn't make you any less of a woman.

'Really' counter: 7

Existential crises while writing this article: 2

Necessary disclaimer: I'm a huge fan of the Nostalgia Chick and I think Kate Beaton is pretty funny. I have massive respect for both of them, I just wish they'd use different language in this one specific case.

 *Okay, that's unfair: everyone is entitled to like whatever character archetypes appeal to them. I'm certainly not apologising for mine. But I physically cannot understand a form of wish-fulfillment where you actively want to be weak. The only equivalent I can think of to explain this to them is what if I decided I wanted to be ugly? They wouldn't understand me. I don't understand them. And that's fine because we're all different and etc etc but really? Your highest form of wish-fulfillment has someone else as the star. Really

**Always here meaning: until we as a society lower our tolerance for sexist bullshit. Hopefully that isn't the same thing as 'always' meaning: forever.

***Bear in mind that the three other women are: a high class prostitute; a mentally troubled waif/super soldier; and a cutesy mechanic with the romantic sensibilities of a fourteen year old. All interesting characters but would you really want to be them?

****Or too feminine. Whatever.

*****I like to read Twilight as a tragedy about the assimilation of a self absorbed teenage girl into a vampiric cult. Bella Swan is actually an incredibly flawed character. It's just a shame that very few of her flaws are intentional.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Just a quick note...

Well hello there internet!

Heeeeere's Kate!
I've been having a busy few weeks for various reasons, some of which are hilariously funny and some which are markedly not. The main ones include my parents going on holiday, two elderly relatives suddenly being hospitalised, having to find somewhere to live next year, getting stranded in Newcastle overnight and my body going on strike with some weird 24 hour thing to the point where I had to stop eating to go and have a lie down. Twice in the same meal. 

Anyway things are (hopefully) a little bit more settled now so starting from tomorrow I'm going back to structure and weekly. See you there. 

Friday, 31 August 2012

Goodbye August

This month I've:

-turned twenty two 

-been ID'd (and vaguely flattered by it) *facepalm*

-flipped over the TGWTG fourth year anniversary event. Seriously, check it out: it's awesome. It has evil robots and everything. 

-nearly ended up homeless in Newcastle on bank holiday Friday, due to a problem with the trains and all the youth hostels being full. Fortunately I have good friends and managed to find a couch to sleep on.

My MRes starts soon and I'm as scared and excited as I was in 2009, packing to leave for university. At least this time I know my way around and have some really wonderful people waiting for me.

Wish me luck. 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Scattered Impressions of London 2012 Olympics

So the Olympics are over.

As someone who has loathed team sport since about 1994, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this year's Olympics. Maybe it was Danny Boyle's stunning opening ceremony. Everything from setting it inside the song Jerusalem to forging the Olympic rings was inspired, especially considering most people had been expecting us to fall far short of the Bejing ceremony. Maybe it was the fact that we excelled at something for once or that this year I was more invested in the atheletes because I was watching the little human interest segments. Maybe it's because after my own graduation I appreciate acheivement not just as a personal thing but as something that affects a whole family:  I think I was more keen for my parents to be at my graduation than I was. Them seeing me there was the point. So the emotional dramas seemed a lot closer to home this year.

I didn't think the closing ceremony could top the opening one and it didn't but I think it was about equal. There was a different atmosphere, far more wind down than warm up and I found it very interesting.

Anyway, as I'm still frantically trying to sort things out for next year, I'm going to end this with a list of my favourite things from the Olympics:

1) The two unknown female rowers who won gold when they weren't expecting to get into the medals and who were completely shellshocked during the interview. My favourite quote of London 2012 may be: "We won the Olympics!"

2) Jessica Ennis crying tears of sheer joy on the winners podium.

3) An athelete (I forget whic one) thanking all the people cheering at home... about twenty seconds after I'd told my mum and brother to 'be quiet: they can't hear you.'

4) The fifteen year old newcomer from Lithuania who completely sledgehammered the competition.

5) The way everyone fell in love with Mo Farrah.

6) And Tom Daley.

7) Princes William and Harry being interviewed together as brothers. Not an athletics thing; I just think it's nice the press remembers they're still brothers after the Royal Wedding (I have to capitalize it or they'll revoke my British license and then I won't be allowed to wear bowler hats).

8) The heavily pregnant torchbearer.

9) The judo womens silver medalist mouthing 'I love you, Mum,' into the air to her late mother.

10) Jade Jones. Just Jade Jones.*

11) The opening and closing ceremonies. Of course.

12) Watching Brazil beat Korea live in Manchester. Mostly for the mexican wave that lasted about five laps of the stadium. And my mum being one of two people in the entire stadium to support Korea (apparently they had better kits).

Weirdly even typing some of that is making me weirdly emotional although I'm pretty sure my uneasy truce with team sports is now over. The thing that made the Olympics for me this year was the hundreds and hundreds of personal stories.

Normal service will be resumed shortly.

*I used to do Tae Kwon Do and it is the only sport I have ever really loved. Even if it wasn't I suspect seeing the British champion win by about fifteen points to one would have made me deeply happy.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Things I Learnt at the Olympics

Like a lot of people, I went kind of crazy posting about the Olympics opening ceremony.  I actually got invested this year, mostly because the opening ceremony was so unexpectedly fantastic (I was expecting it to be behind the times because...well we're Britain). Needless to say it blew my mind. And that's before we started winning. (For a small country like Britain, third place behind two major super powers *is* winning. Plus we beat long-time rivals France and Australia so...)

Here's a small selection of some of my thoughts on the farmers, dancing nurses and the man who gave away the internet.

@Kate_T_Taylor: #ThingsILearntAtTheOlympics Hospital is a scary place. Especially if Sir Danny Boyle designed it. #OlympicOpeningCeremony

@Kate_T_Taylor: #ThingsILearntAtTheOlympics Suffragettes make me tear up #EarlyCareerAspirations #ThatBoatSailedAWhileAgo

@Kate_T_Taylor: #ThingsILearntAtTheOlympics Mary Poppins is our cavalry #OrShouldThatBeAirForce

@Kate_T_Taylor: #ThingsILearntAtTheOlympics I take back everything I ever said about Daniel Craig being too serious as James Bond #ParchutingWithTheQueen

@Kate_T_Taylor: #ThingsILearntAtTheOlympics Monarchy is the way to go.

@Kate_T_Taylor: #ThingsILearntAtTheOlympics There are a LOT more countries in the world than I had previously thought.

@Kate_T_Taylor: #ThingsILearntAtTheOlympics "Does Richard Branson own them yet?" #TheVirginIslands #CommentaryByMyMum

@Kate_T_Taylor: #ThingsILearntAtTheOlympics All the flags in the world ever.

There were a lot more than that but most of them were hysterical 'OMFG LOOK AT THE CAULDRON!!!' kind of things and a blizzard of retweets I didn't want to reproduce without being sure of the Twitter ettiquette (Twettiquette?)

I'll put a proper retrospective post up on Wednesday after I've watched the closing ceremony but I wanted to put something Olympics-related up on the day.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Gone Writin'

I'm taking a couple of weeks off updating this blog to focus on my novel, which is actually moving forwards for the first time in months. My picture of the trilogy overall is becoming a lot clearer: I'm getting a better idea of the key relationship which is going to generate a lot of the conflict, the things that will tear my heroine apart, the things that will keep her going... Things like that. Important things.

I also have to deal with a few real life demands like ensuring I have food and housing next year. I've been having recurring dreams about being still stuck packing to leave my last house (which was crazy stressful) so I think it's time to lock myself away and deal with that until it's done.

Enjoy the Olympics.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Phrases I'm Trying To Start

You know those things you say that you wish other people would too? Well these are mine. Feel free to leave yours in the comments below.

"Who stamped on [your/her/his] goldfish?" The alternative to 'who pissed on your chips' that's so ridiculously horrible you can't help but laugh. It's also less soggy sounding.

"Clam bake" Like a sausage fest but y'know, with women. Mostly used to describe my own fiction when I forget to put male characters in.

#FeministRage Sometimes someone says something so offensive you couldn't even list everything that was wrong with it, let alone fit it into 140 characters. Happily #FeministRage lets everyone know you're pissed off without eating up your word limit.

#MorriganDisapproves What's worse than some randomer off Twitter disagreeing with you? The disapproval of a fictional apostate of course. Not only does she have the confidence necessary to wear a flimsy scarf as a shirt (and you need confidence for a really withering put down), she can also drain the life force of people who disagree with her.

#LearnToSpell Like the above but meant to combat bad spelling/grammar instead of misogyny.
Fifty Shades of Greyjoy Basically it's what would have happened if Esgred was who she said she was. It's cute because Theon thinks he's Christian Grey.*
It might also look something like this:

*Admittedly Fifty Shades of Greyjoy becomes less funny when you know about the stuff that goes down with the Boltons.

** Or possibly funnier, if you're a socipath.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Goodbye July

This month I've:

-been invited to my university's academic congregation, where I met Bryan and Mary Talbot! Who are lovely.

-graduated with First Class Honours.

-moved home for the summer, where I get to see my dog and my family.

-somehow won a studentship for the MRes I applied for.

And okay, I can't even get an interview for a data entry job. And I have nowhere to live next year and everyone I know already has something lined up. And I'm going to have to spend every free minute applying for work experience (and hopefully actually doing some work experience) and think about a part time job. But that's fine. I'll deal with that later.

This month I'm leaving things on a victory.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

My Writing Process

I'm back home and mostly unpacked. My parents and brother have gone on holiday without inviting me but since said holiday involves them walking up increasingly high mountains in increasingly bad weather I can't really fault them for that.

Progress on my novel is... progressing. Slowly. A while ago I had a major plot epiphany. And by epiphany I mean 'carnage'. An entire family (including their five employees and an unborn baby) didn't make the cut and took 2/5ths of the plot with them. They were replaced by a veteran, a runaway and a dog and I'm not sure whether the dog is going to be in the final draft. The plot has also been restructured so instead of taking place over ten years it takes place over a couple of months with flashbacks. The heroine meets her second love interest when she arrests him, not when he tracks her down after being paid to retrieve and bury her body (reports of her demise were greatly exaggerated) and meets her first love interest (for the second time) it's because he's trying to take said prisoner and she isn't having it not because... actually I never got round to plotting that part.

The old novel was an accumulation of odd scenes I'd thrown together, scenarios I'd written, possibilities I'd made up. Some of them worked and some of them didn't. Some of them worked as a standalone episode but not in this novel. Like, the story arc of my character working in a stable for a while was fine but if her first love interest was in charge of a sizable chunk of the army then wouldn't that make their relationship kind of awkward and unequal? Wouldn't it be better if she was the blue-collar court-mandated law enforcements to his spiritual holy order of knights? Relationship dynamics have changed, backstories have been temporarily withheld to improve pacing, death scenes have been hastily written before I got too attached. It's been tough: I've lost tens of thousands of words of novel. Which is scary, considering I was only at about thirty thousand to begin with. My confidence has been knocked but it'll come back and at least I don't have all these nagging doubts about a plot that just will not fit together.

That started out as being an excuse for why my novel has been going forwards so slowly but it's turned into more of an explanation of my writing process, which is basically to scribble down a whole pile of 'Might Happens' and slowly, painfully sift through for the actual 'Will Happens'. As writing processes go it's messy, disorganised and requires the guesswork of Sherlock Holmes and the patience of poor beleaguered Dr Watson. Much like myself.