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Fifty Shades of What the Fuck:

Why Readers Continue to Astound Me.

Seeing as everyone else has been writing about Fifty Shades of Grey, and you can’t seem to swing a synonym without someone ranting or raving about it, I thought I’d publish my own thoughts here. Deep in the heart of the internet where no-one will ever find them.

The book is awful. We know this. The people who read it, published it and even the ones who liked it, know this. It’s just a fact. The poor dialogue, badly created characters, faux tense love affair, and the ‘love a rich man’ attitude, throwing in references to expensive technology at every opportunity. And then, there are the sex scenes.

So, just in case you’ve been living under a rock (you lucky thing, you) here’s the skinny: Anastasia Steele (yeah, of course you’re called that) accidentally meets young, handsome entrepreneur Christian Grey when covering an interview for her roommate, who’s on the college paper. (Erm…that doesn’t happen. No, really.) He then stalks her a bit, using all his resources, because he’s super rich, and then decides to proposition her. Not in the ‘let’s date and then have sex’ kind of way. More in the ‘I want to beat you with sticks till one of us orgasms or dies’ kind of way. Therein, lies the all-encompassing crux of the story. She likes him, but doesn’t want an S and M relationship, he likes her, but doesn’t know how to do the standard relationship thing. Dum dum dum. Drama.

There are many, many things wrong with this book, the majority of which come down to bad concepts and bad writing. But what I’m more worried about are the responses from women reading this book, and the way women are presented.

Anastasia is a virgin. In her second year of college. In all likelihood, she’s not going to start an S and M relationship straight away. The ‘young woman coming of age’ drama has been a storyline since forever. EL James jumping in with a girl who orgasms five times the first time she has sex, then happily agrees to sex on her period, is not only misleading and confusing, but just…gross.

It’s pretty damn offensive to the S and M community. I doubt James has actually taken part in S and M situations, and she has said in interviews that these are her fantasies that she’s expressing on the page. That’s fine. But S and M is a legitimate sexual choice for certain people, and whilst Christian sets out a set of rules and limitations, James ruins this by later explaining that the reason he can’t have a ‘vanilla’ (boring, have-sex-in-front-of-the-television-almost-comatose type) relationship, is because his mother was a crack whore and he was pretty much sexually abused by a Mrs Robinson character.

This is BAD CHARACTERISATION. Is also sends the message that you are only into this type of relationship if you are massively fucked up. It then alternately makes women desire this kind of relationship. Hence all the readers should feel fucked up. Or they suddenly want to nurture the poor twisted hot guy, as is the way of silly women.

I have a problem that this should be ‘you’re’, but that’s just me.

Women talk about this relationship as if it’s an ideal. This seriously worries me, because the ‘great romance’ between these two characters is terrifying. If your best friend was in a relationship with a man who bought her a phone and a laptop so that she could text him and phone him wherever she went, told her what she could and could not eat, what to wear, what to drive, and isolated her from all of her friends, whilst demanding she stay in his house to be a sex slave, would your response be ‘Oh, but he’s so rich and dreamy’? NO. At least I hope not, or you’re a bad friend. Your response should be ‘this guy is a terrible control freak with endless resources and a desire to put you in dangerous situations and hurt you. Get out, idiot.’

I worry that if young women are reading this and believe this is an ideal relationship, all equality, friendship and other stable bases of romance will be gone, and we’ll be pretty much throwing away a good part of the women’s movement. Do not date control freaks. At best, you will end up alone six months down the line with no friends, no home and no idea of what you think of anything. Worst case, you’ll be trapped in a Red Room of Pain.

-Sex Personality vs Real Personality

Okay, so how you are in bed is your own damn business. Perhaps you get a little wild, speak a little differently. But when the voice of your main character goes from ‘I want you, and the thought of anyone else having you is like a knife twisting in my dark soul’. (Please excuse me whilst I throw up somewhere. Have you got a colour palette for exactly how dark your soul is, Christian? Are we thinking Pantone 2767? Let’s not be vague or melodramatic here) suddenly gets into the bedroom and becomes all ‘yeah baby, do it for me, yeah.’

Really? The overdressed, overeducated, control freak suddenly resorts to ‘yeah baby’s when he’s an S and M expert? Nope, not buying it.

-The Sex Scenes Aren’t Sexy.

There, I said it. I’m sorry, maybe it’s that I’m not the target market, which appears to be sexually frustrated mothers of a certain age. Maybe it’s because I unashamedly read a fair amount of chick lit that has decent sex scenes. Hell, even regular fiction has good sex scenes. There’s a few bits in American Psycho that are very steamy before he goes all psycho killer on them. So, in the same way that you should not think this is an ideal relationship, please do not think this is ideal sex. This is pretty much the poor literary equivalent to all those Cosmo advice columns on how thwacking his member with a tennis racket will make him like you more.

 

The possible contenders….

Well, there is a far from comprehensive list of reasons this book is not only bad, but potentially dangerous for the clearly baffling reading public. Also, you should check out this list of most hilarious quotes from the book. And, speaking of American Psycho, I’m really intrigued as to why Brett Easton Ellis is so obsessed with the series. He’s been posting up possible actors to play Christian in the film adaptation on twitter. And I have to admit, as much as I hate this book, there is likely to be a hottie playing the ridiculous main character. And as we all know, it’s fine when it’s a bad movie, just not when it’s a bad book that outsells Harry Potter.

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Say it Loud, Say it Proud: I’m a Manic Pixie Dream Bitch

As I’m sure you all know by now, it’s International Women’s Day. A day that responds to the need to recognise the struggle women have and are still facing for equality. And I suppose, if I’m going to get my female blogging hat on (It’s a deerstalker, FYI) then I could write about anything. I could write about body image, about the sexism of body art and tattoos, or Jay-Z suddenly realising after having a daughter that maybe he shouldn’t say the word ‘bitch’ so much.

But nope, whilst all those things fascinate me (Jay-Z slightly less so, that just seems stupid) I decided to write about something that’s been bugging me for a while now:

I want to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

 

To be clear, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a character model that frequently appears in indie movies. She’s usually played by Zooey Deschanel, my girl-crush du jour, which might be clouding my judgement. A MPDG is an excitable creature, beautiful without being self-involved, fun-loving, able to take joy in small things. She usually exists as a male fantasy, this perfectly strange girl who teaches them how to enjoy life.

 

I want to be her. And I want her bike. But still, whimsy is exhausting.

If you’re still not entirely sure what an MPDG is, look at Deschanel’s character ‘Summer’ in 500 Days of Summer, or her character Allison in Yes Man, who teaches a class on ‘Running Photography’ and is lead singer in a band called ‘Munchausen by Proxy’. Possibly even Natalie Portman’s character Sam in Garden State, a sweet, out-to-live-life type girl who has funerals for her hamsters and is a pathological liar (but you always know when she’s lying, because she feels bad and tells the truth afterwards).

These girls are everything the poor little self-obsessed, bored-with-life, ‘stuck in his own head’ indie boy could dream of. A beautiful girl who picks him! Him! And she’s fun and crazy and makes him do things! You know what that’s called in the real world? Co-dependency.

 

I want to be her. And I want her headphones. Maybe this is a wardrobe-based rant.

Could we take a second to think of the MPDG when she’s not catering to some selfish male fantasy? Does she have hopes and dreams? Is her life exactly the way she wants it? Is she harbouring some dark secret? Is she terrified that her crazy spontaneous nature and desire for new things and underwhelming men is, in fact, a symbol of how fucked up her life is? Life is hard for the MPDG.

 

At least Ramona knows she's messed up. But no-one likes that many varieties of tea without purposefully trying to be quirky.

It’s like being in the beginning of a new relationship, you know, the part where you’re both trying to be infinitely more appealing and interesting than you actually are? Do you remember that? Right, so do you get how exhausting it is to be like that all the time? We should go here, do this, I know, we’ll have this plan and everything will be amazing and life changing! Well you know what, you want spontaneity, make it happen yourself. Don’t wait for some perfect girl to do it for you. Jeez.

 

So yes, I wanted to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and I think at some point, most ‘indie’ (urgh, there’s no better term, sorry) girls have. Because our role models from most films suck. Because even when we find a role model who has cute hair and rollerskates and does photography running and plays the ukelele, or sings crazy lyrics in a kick-ass band, we have to remind ourselves that she has been created by men, for men. She does these things purely to remain interesting. She may not know that she does, but she does.

 

So, I propose, this International Women’s Day, as a love letter to all the possible-but-somehow-better-than-MPDGs I know, that we take back the dream girl, because she’s a reality. Yes, okay, we want to sing songs, and climb trees and jump on a boat to nowhere and dance barefoot in the rain. We want firelight festivals and drunken karaoke, and taking a chance on the unexpected. But sometimes we also want to start our own businesses, own our own homes, or spend an evening in front of the television in the baggiest, ugliest pyjamas ever known to human kind.

 

The closest I can get to a Manic Pixie Dream Bitch- Juno. She's crazy, kooky, but still real. And makes decisions for herself. Here's hoping we don't all have to deal with teen pregnancy to get to this level of awesomeness.

And we want to do this, not because it’s manic, or supernatural, or dreamlike. Not because it makes us elusive and endearing to men. Just because it’s fun, and it’s ours.

 

So, I’m declaring myself a Manic Pixie Dream Bitch. Who’s with me?

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MookyChick Flash Fiction Runner-Up. YEAH BOIYZ!

Yes, I used the word ‘boiyz’. Which, firstly, is not a word, and secondly is meant to be ironic, seeing as the MookyChick Flash Fiction competition was feminist.

I feel like sometimes I should explain Feminism (why thank you, A-Level politics, I remember this module). But you can clearly Google it. As long as you don’t automatically think that Feminism means we hate men, we don’t wear bras, we don’t shave our legs and we automatically believe that anyone with a penis is stupid. These are not feminists. Well, maybe the old-school ‘burn your bra’ femmies did have a point, and I’m sure that high heels are instruments of mass-torture. Also, shaving your legs is just a pain.

The point, dear hearts, is that the modern day feminist is an egalitarian (equality! Woo!) who happens to be interested in female issues. Because, most of the time, we are female.

So, there endeth the lesson. You should check out MookyChick’s site here, because it’s super-fun, and pretty much encompasses all the stuff I love, like writing stuff, and making stuff, and how to protect your house from ninjas. Yep. Oh, and this is my piece.

This is their Mission Statement, which is awesome:

Mission Statement

Mookychick believes that climbing trees and riding giant turtles is more fun and girly than worrying about make-up. But if you want to worry about make-up instead of turtles? Fine by us. Be you feminist, witch, vegan, horror junky, intellectual, Xtian, corset queen, geek, unicorn, sea monkey… be you into alternative style, comics or jock culture… we will always love you.

I’ll also point out that this was the first actual money I earned by writing. So I’m going to go right ahead (or ‘write ahead’- chortle!Gah Hah!) and start calling myself an actual Writer now. Sure, ‘Barista by Trade, Writer by Nature’ has always been my kind of summary, but let’s face the facts. It’s not always about the money. So far, from writing I have gained various free festival tickets, cinema showings, the chance to debate climate change at The Eden Project, and a private gig in my back garden. Not too shabby.

This is me. Making a face. With a cheque.

But somehow, money feels like a ‘real’ achievement. Because that, in this capitalist age, is how we define  success. (I’m not complaining, I have some money! Real money! That I didn’t make through serving coffee, but by putting words on a page. Sheesh!) So even if I don’t make any more Writer Money for a while, I shall know, that I once came runner-up in a competition, and won £25 for writing less than 300 words. And that, apparently, they were good words. Like, with a point, and everything.

So there’s my little explanation on how it feels to make money for the first time as a writer. And that I’m calling myself that now. A professional writer. Oh yes. And it feels good, my friends, it feels good.

I’ll also be uploading a new short story called Numbers. It’s about the outcome of giving a rather nice guy a fake number. Intrigued? Sure you are! You can hover over the Fiction tab to find it.

Oh, and you can jump on over to Pop Culture Playpen to see my article on Rihanna, and how she’s a bit unnecessarily sexy (in keeping with the feminist theme). Maybe next week I’ll do one on how Adam Levine is the boy-whore version, you know, just to be an egalitarian. (See, aren’t you glad you were listening?)

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A Crafty Update

Hi there gentlefolks,

So I’m back from my travels around the globe, settling down to the ways of writing and workshopping, with a fair bit of serving coffee in there for good measure. So I thought I’d give you a little update of where I am with my writing.

  • My novel is currently entered into the Mslexia Women’s Novel Competition, and has been longlisted. I won’t know until January if it’s got any further. I’m trying not to think about it too much. Eep.
  • I entered the MookyChick Feminist Flash Fiction competition and got shortlisted. Made it to the final ten (you can read them all here) and will find out about that next week. Eep again.

In other news, I’ve started my latest book project, a kid’s book that is currently called ‘Friday Jones and The Thirteen Club’. It’s got a feisty nine-year-old as a kick-ass (although nine-year olds should not say bad words like that) heroine who gets sent off to a boarding school where weird stuff keeps happening. Think Sherlock Holmes meets Lyra from His Dark Materials trilogy. With a bit of Famous Five in there for good luck. Because lemonade is spiffing!

I thought I’d take a second to say I tried some craft-making whilst hanging out with friends in San Francisco. Or rather, taking craft-making supplies to a cocktail bar, and watching as with each drink, my creations got miraculously more brilliant! How strange!

So I made what I call JudgeMENTAL Bookmarks. This is one more step in my fight against the Kindle. Books. Paper. Real books, that smell like old paper and feel like paper and can be folded and written in and passed on through second-hand bookshops type books. There is nothing I love more than finding old train tickets in used books. It’s magic. So I present to you, my snarky bookmarks:

 

And if you can believe it, I sold one! The good old USA, land of opportunity, place for artists to make a buck. A buck fifty, actually. 

So yeah, my point here is (possibly) that taking a break from your own creative area to try something new, even if it’s something you’re not entirely sure about, is worth it, just to get you out of your own headspace. Speaking of, here’s a song I wrote, that was recorded by a friend whilst I was out in SF. You can find it here.