The other day I wrote about finding tarot cards for my Halloween costume and promised pictures. I forgot to take any photos (always the sign of a good party) but I’m aware that many of you will have been waiting for pictures with BAITED BREATH… so I put some of my jewellery back on this morning, used my shawl as a tablecloth and took some photos of Maggie’s Raven’s Prophecy deck, which was shipped with satisfying speed and arrived Friday morning. The cards came with a how-to book, which is good because I ended up reading for half the room.
I didn’t think the cards would be simplistic, necessarily, but I did underestimate how bold and intricate they are. The art has been carefully considered and planned out for all 78 (!) cards. They’re also way bigger than playing cards, so if you have the hands of a small child (hi) you might have a bit of a job shuffling.
The only thing the cards didn’t come with was a bag, so I repurposed a clutch for the occasion:
Very little of my extended family’s group chat footage is suitable for public consumption, but my aunt (hi Jo) did get a photo of yours truly in wait for her Peaky Blinders audition.
That’s three necklaces, six bracelets, five earrings, one fantastic purple dress I will legitimately wear again and a shawl that doubles as a tablecloth, all for the high high price of £9.05 including the carrier bag. I have no idea why regular shops exist when charity shops are full of fabulous garments waiting to float their way into my wardrobe. Most of the necklaces belonged to my grandmother, who I think would approve of the amount of hair I’ve got these days, and that second glass belongs to my aunt, probably.
I will share photos of the Etsy deck as and when it arrives (I’m so excited for cute little coffins!) and may or may not start moonlighting as a tarot reader. I have no idea how many tarot readers are atheists, but that might be a good selling pitch. ‘I read your cards; you decide your future.’ ‘Reasonably priced tarot readings inside… spiritual advice not included.’ ‘I’ll tell you what the pictures represent; you’ll have to decide if they actually mean anything to you.’
This evening I bought two sets of tarot cards. Officially it’s because I’m going to a Halloween party at the weekend. Unofficially, I feel really guilty about a small amount of book piracy in 2015.
Officially, I need tarot cards for my costume. I don’t, really, but the dress and shawl I bought in a charity shop are actually just a regular dress and shawl, so I feel like I might accidentally just look like an eccentric if I don’t bring props. I left it way too late to buy anything fancy – and it’s a house party, not a seance – but I probably could’ve just bought a used deck off eBay or Depop. Instead, because I’ve been meaning to learn more about the tarot for ages, I trawled Etsy and Folksy and eBay and Depop looking for a deck with I genuinely like. No faux realistic graphics. Nothing with too many cats. No pictures of ethereal nymphs wearing gauze.
I found this cute major arcana deck on Etsy with incredibly sweet coffin-shaped cards, but the processing time is up to two weeks! So I bought it anyway because I wanted to support an indie artist (and because incredibly sweet coffin-shaped art, it turns out, is totally not an oxymoron). But I was still thinking, you can’t just dress as an eccentric, Francesca. You already are an eccentric, Francesca. So I trawled for decks with one-day shipping. They were all ethereal nymphs! Or quite expensive given this is a house party not a seance.
Then I remembered that in 2015, I bootlegged a copy of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Dream Thieves. If you’re new here, Maggie’s Raven Cycle series, in which The Dream Thieves features, is my favourite book series. I’m trying to be kinder to myself when considering past actions, so I am going to reflect upon my reading of a pirated copy-and-paste edition of TDT as a minor moral misstep during a time in which a fictional world brought me great comfort. Also, my library was taking forever to get its copy in.
I knew it was a shitty thing to do though. Then I bought a couple of Maggie’s books used off Amazon, that tax paying, small business supporting gem. Have I mentioned I’m now an indie author.
I’ve since atoned for my sins: I have a print from Maggie’s official store on my wall; at least three of the Maggie books on my shelf were purchased from a bricks-and-mortar shop; I’ve bought copies of her work for family; my YALC ticket that time was absolutely not scalped unlike My Chemical Romance tickets 9 years ago but that’s for another day; her next novel is pre-ordered at my nearest Waterstones.
So when I was considering one-day shipping and a costume prop I will realistically be too drunk to focus on, I got Maggie’s Raven Prophecy deck from Waterstones. Express shipping straight to the front door.
Officially, I’m a professional indie creator and a little bit into karma. I can’t ask people to buy creepy cute art from my Etsy shop if I don’t get my own coffin-shaped tarot decks on Etsy; I can’t ask people to buy my weird magic YA novel instead of moaning about why it’s not already on Amazon if I don’t buy weird magic YA novels somewhere that isn’t Amazon. Or, in this case, buy the tarot card-companion to the weird magic YA novel. And really, if we’re being spiritual, the whole reason I have a vague interest in the tarot is The Raven Cycle, so this is quite… cyclical.
I’ve just now realised I don’t have a tarot guide. I have no idea how to read the multiple decks I’m expecting in the next one-to-fourteen working days. Good thing I’ll be three sheets to the wind for most of this party, then!
Did I ever tell you guys about the time I had my tarot read in Thailand? I can’t remember if I ever wrote about it. I can’t remember much of the reading, to be honest, except that I think I was supposed to get married at 24 or 26. It was dark, though, so maybe she interpreted marriage when she should have interpreted huge professional success. Or the desire to drive on motorways. Not sure how specific these things get.
If either of these decks actually turn up by Saturday evening, I’ll post pictures of them with my costume. I’ve bought a lace scarf and gloves off Depop that was originally for an ’80s night… I’m starting to think I’m just going to look like one of the Shelbys.
Update: I did in fact look like one of the Shelbys. I’ve put multiple card/costume photos here.
My brother left a couple of things at home when he went back to uni over the weekend: a computer cable and a cold. Not one that’s bad enough to lie on the sofa declaring total uselessness, but bad enough that I would like to do that.
I promised more Malta photos, so here we go:
This is St Paul’s wrist bone, apparently. It lives in St Paul’s Shipwreck Church in Valletta (not to be confused with St John’s Co Cathedral or St Paul’s Pro Cathedral, which are both also in Valletta). I can’t tell you how much I was hoping it would move as I looked at it and extend a golden middle finger.
This is a Caravaggio painting, in St John’s Co Cathedral. I can’t remember what it’s called, nor the name of the other, much larger one that also lives in the cathedral. I don’t know what I’m looking at, art-wise, but Caravaggio’s paintings did make all the others in the cathedral look like they were done by small children. Caravaggio was a member of the Knights of Malta for a bit – I think he got expelled for swashbucking and murder – but they got some cool paintings out of it so all’s well that ends well. Except for the murder victims.
Houses in Malta have names as well as/instead of numbers and this was my favourite. Other contenders: Joan d’Arc and America (a whole street had American-inspired street names, turned out the embassy was down the road I think).
I trotted around half a dozen cool museums in Gozo’s Citadel, because you pay something like 10 euros and get entrance to a bunch of places. One of them was a museum of Christian paintings and I shit you not, every Jesus had the face of a middle aged man. Cute lil chubby baby from the neck down, sensible accountant from the neck up.
In the time it’s taken to put this post together I’ve eaten half a pot of salsa, so I’m pleased to announce that my airways are clearer and that I will probably be suffering a digestive complaint in half an hour. You win some you lose some ahhahaaa.
RIGHT. ONTO OTHER BUSINESS.
First of all, can I just say that until today I thought that Thomas Cook (the man who started the late travel company) was the same man who explored then-unknown lands and got killed by angry local Hawaiians in the 18th century. I’m never sure how I feel about the ‘explorers’ of yore who went around invading places and enslaving local people, and I dunno if James Cook (explorer) was a slave-y explorer or just someone who liked going to new places.
Ah. I just figured out that the slave-y explorer I was thinking of was Christopher Columbus. James Cook was a completely different person. I THOUGHT I WAS WELL READ HOW DID I CONFLATE CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS WITH A DERBYSHIRE BUSINESSMAN.
This is a good opportunity to segue into my next item: I’m researching a new potential project and have put together a survey about it. If you have 3-5 minutes and have recently felt frustrated and/or hopeless when consuming the news, I’d appreciate your input. It’s completely anonymous and will let me know if my idea is worth pursuing. Clearly I need some help with my general knowledge, so please do take a minute to help me out…
Hello from Sliema, Malta! I booked a holiday about five days after Fred died, because I think international travel is a better solution for emotional turmoil than drugs, and so far so good.
Malta is very beautiful, although to be completely honest I’m not in love with Sliema – it’s a bit too concrete-and-cranes for my liking, although the transport links are fantastic and it’s a thousand times cleaner than Southend. I’m writing this in a restaurant on Sliema sea front, one of those that could be picked up and put down anywhere in the Mediterranean and not look out of place. Aerosmith is playing, the football is on, the menu is entirely English language and suitable for people who want to eat the same way abroad as they do in the UK. I can’t complain, though: most Maltese food is pasta plus pasta plus pasta, which is still off limits to me.
I’m completely knackered this evening because I took a bus up to northern Malta this morning and caught the boat to Gozo, via Comino, then spent another thousand years forty minutes on a bus then used the hottest part of the day to wander around Gozo’s Citadel. I always seem to exercise more on holiday than at home (got lost in Valetta the other day and probably walked about six miles, door to door) so could I have another holiday, please.
I’m going to sit here as long as my laptop battery lasts, because the girls in my hostel dorm are really into closing the windows and putting the fan as far away from the bunks as possible. There are four of us and it’s about 25 degrees here even at night. The air is cooler outside, and I’m at that point where I’m one bead of sweat away from hoping they all die in their sleep, so after the battery goes I will probably walk to a gelato place. There are millions of gelato places here. I had ‘Maltese flavour’ ice cream a couple of days ago, which I am still trying to figure out the ingredients of. I don’t want to Google it! Pistashios? Currents? Something Christmassy.
Tomorrow is my last day, so I am going shopping in Valletta. I don’t have any need for artisan glass, which is one of the main products here, and to be honest with you, if I buy another doily I will transform into my grandmother, but… lace is big here. And my grandmother was half Maltese, which explains why all the lace doilies I’ve seen look familiar. I also have two Maltese crosses to my name so I think that leaves… a shitty Chinese bracelet or henna tattoo. Kidding! I’ll come back with something lace, something with a cross on and realistically some olive soap. I actually already bought some from a little shop called The Soap Cafe, which is part of a Sliema independent shop co operative thing called Souvenirs That Don’t Suck, but another couple of nights in that dorm room and I’m going to need it.
I’m honestly dead on my feet so possibly I will skip the gelato and go back to my hostel – maybe I’m so tired I won’t actually notice how stuffy it is? I have a full day of getting lost in Valletta tomorrow, so I need my energy. The city is a fantastic rabbit warren of hilly roads and hidden walkways, it’s brilliant for stumbling on little places by accident. It’s a bit of a faff in terms of finding your way to the ferry port though, because Valletta actually juts out into the sea and there are two ports and look I thought I had the right one and an hour later I gave up on the road signs, used my phone and stumbled across a whole new bit of city.
I started this post on 25th March 2017, when I got back from the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. Then I fell asleep, hung out in Chiang Mai and Pai for a few days, tootled off to Bangkok and flew back to Heathrow what a mistake so this post has spent the last two-plus years as a list of bullet points. But today is International Elephant Day, apparently, so here are some elephants.
According to my bullet points, elephants consume 10% of their body weight each day. They can have many teeth in their lifetime (sets of teeth, presumably), and their lifespan in the same as humans’.
I visited the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai as it it was the only one I could find without a single bad review. The elephants who live there are rescued from illegal logging or circuses; there are no fences; the elephants are pretty much allowed to do what they like. Some ‘sanctuaries’ that have rescued elephants from circuses or the like will employ the same methods of control (prodding them with hooks to get them to behave) and allow visitors to ride them, which apparently is bad for their backs.
None of that happens at the Elephant Nature Park. Our guide (whose name I did not record, my bad) explained that they only tempt the elephants with food, and if they aren’t interested then whatever, man, do you want to get trampled by an elephant? I am paraphrasing. Our group had fed an old lady elephant (who refused any food she didn’t like) and we trotted down a trail some distance away from another elephant. Our guide just said, ‘he’s not into people. We’ll leave him,’ and ta daa off we went.
Fun fact: African elephants and Asian elephants are completely different species. I dunno which one Dumbo was because I only saw that film once, when I was maybe four, and it made me cry so much I’ve refused to go near it since. I have a feeling the picture book version I had did the same. Interestingly (thanks bullet points), if an elephant is kicking and moving its head back and forth, you’re seeing signs of neurosis, ie it’s gone mad. If you’ve seen an elephant in a circus or ridden one, it’s been broken as a young elephant in a process called ‘crushing’. They are tied with ropes and unable to move at all, prodded with nails or burnt until they can obey basic commands. Some zoos and circuses train the elephant to ‘draw’ with a paintbrush and sell the ‘art’ to tourists.
As part of the day, visitors get to help wash the elephants! They are well up for a bath, although it’s a bit more like throwing paint at a wall than it is helping someone wash their hair.
Sometimes the humans missed the elephants and got each other… those knobbly bits on their heads denote age, if I remember correctly. We got the opportunity to pat the elephants too, if they liked people. I was not absolutely convinced it’s a good idea but, reader, it was. They’re all hairy!
You have to approach them from the front so they can see you.
Also, elephants like scratching posts. They enjoy dirt baths. They are incredibly, ridiculously, cute.
I mentioned that the park didn’t really do fences. At one point a herd of water buffalo came wandering through and our guide just said something like, ‘oh, they’ve come in from the other side of the mountain.’ A few of the stray dogs who hang out there barked. The elephants did not take notice.
My final bullet point is that the elephants may have hip or foot problems from logging (don’t we have machines to do that for us now?) so they can add that to their list of problems, which already includes ‘being used in bullshit circuses’ and ‘being killed for their ivory because for some reason it is fashionable to have stuff made from elephant teeth’. They are also facing habitat loss, because who isn’t these days.
On the off chance you ever visit northern Thailand, I highly recommend you visit the Elephant Nature Park. It’s absolutely lovely… and I recall the buffet being very tasty.
Want to help the elephants on this fine International Elephant Day? And on every single other day? Here’s what you can do:
Never get on an elephant for a ride
Don’t visit a circus that uses animals
Don’t buy ivory, even if it’s ‘antique’. I can’t remember the name of the show but I once saw an Attenborough programme in which someone pointed out that although the UK has banned ‘new’ ivory, if it is considered ‘antique’ then it’s fair game to sell… too bad no one really knows if a bit of ivory is antique or not!
Buy elephant coffee (no it isn’t made from elephant dung, although elephants are very important ecologically, as they spread seeds through their dung)
I just read an article about vagina steaming and I cannot unread it, so here you go. I understand the theory – I am a big fan of sticking my face over a bowl of hot water when I’ve got a cold – but I feel like a lot of people need to have a conversation with themselves about differing areas of skin on the human body. As in, one of those things is not like the other so don’t fucking steam it.
I had something to actually write about earlier, and I can’t even remember what it was. Climate change, I think. But I can’t form coherent thoughts any more because what on earth possesses people to steam their vaginas???
I have to think about something else. Um. I have an mild infection in one of my wisdom teeth. If left alone, I imagine the infected tooth probably looks a lot like a scalded vagina. GOD I CAN’T STOP.
It’s now been 15 minutes.
I mean how do you even go to A&E with that sort of complaint? ‘Um yeah hi I decided to indulge in alternative medicine and I appear to have caused such severe damage I couldn’t sit down properly to drive here.’ ‘Yes ma’am don’t worry, take a seat.’ ‘No I really can’t.’
Attending YALC this year was a last minute decision, by which I mean I bought my ticket on the Wednesday and went on the Saturday. I thought it might be nice to visit as a reader, because it’s this heart-warming day of bookish people who are really friendly and polite talking about books with other bookish people who are friendly and polite. It’s also a great place to pick up books on the cheap without resorting to Amazon or ripping off any authors, which I think justifies the train fare and ticket entry. You also rub shoulders with those authors, who are also bookish and friendly and polite. Everyone is just… there for books. IT’S HEAVEN.
(Side note Jason Mamoa was there on Saturday. Not as a guest, apparently he just wandered through on the way to Comic Con downstairs. That is why you should go to YALC.)
I also went to do some work for The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, and by work I mean ‘hand out some hastily-designed business cards to the cool indie publishing houses and sit in on the agents’ arena talks’. This was probably less successful, as a) even most indie publishers won’t take unsolicited manuscripts even if they did look up the project, and b) by putting the book on Patreon myself I might have accidentally harmed my chances of it getting picked up by an agent. It was really good to hear more about getting an agent from agents, because it highlighted what I could do if I were to pitch The Princess and the Dragon a second time around. Possibly I should have pitched it as YA, not middle grade, a thought that did not occur to me until I was doing the second big round of edits and realised that it’s not really a middle grade book. Possibly my cover letter could have been stronger. Possibly the agents I pitched to just didn’t, you know, vibe with my weird angry princess and her strangely Catalan-esque kingdom. It’s hard to know for sure when they’re too busy to provide feedback.
Basically, pitching to an agent is as soul destroying as applying for a job, except the process is even slower.
That being said, I learnt a lot and I met approximately 473638 different booksellers and agents and publicists. Everyone is so genuinely friendly that even if an agent says something you’re not happy to hear, like ‘the market is kind of saturated with fairy tale retellings’ or ‘if you re-pitch your book, you could just not mention your Patreon’, you don’t particularly mind. Even if I was writing The Princess and the Dragon before all those retellings came out and I’ve never even read any and even if I’ve put more effort into my Patreon than I did most of my GCSEs. But let’s not dwell on that.
I popped downstairs to Comic Con for a bit while I was there. It was way too hot and crowded but does have a very cool artists’ alley that’s also probably worth the ticket price. I met a handful of artists I would kill to commission Princess and the Dragon art from. There were a few cosplayers I would commission clothes from. The talent floating around these conventions is intense. If I were genuinely wealthy and needed some artwork made for my house or something, I’d just hang around Comic Con all weekend. Life goals, huh.
Right, 2019, you need to get your act together. We’re approaching 2016 levels of fuckery and I’m starting to get suspicious and slightly paranoid. Fred had a seizure and died last week. When I stop having horrible flashbacks and feeling guilty for not doing more for him, I’ll probably feel philosophical about the circle of life and reflect on how he enjoyed 13 years of stealing food, leaping from second story windows and unwrapping Christmas presents… but I’m still in shock and I can’t believe two of my best friends died within six weeks of each other, so at present I want to run away to an island somewhere for several months.
This is definitely one of those years where a lot goes on, and we’re only half way through. I know people who are dealing with illnesses in the family, or illnesses of their own, or who generally have A Lot Going On. Don’t even get me started on how you switch on the news and it’s a barrage of the-UK-is-falling-apart-nuclear-war-might-happen-next-week-the-planet-is-dying-and-it’s-to-late-to-stop-it-by-the-way-Trump-might-get-a-second-term. I’m getting a bit paranoid that my grandmother’s going to have a fall, or an earthquake’s going to hit Zante when my family’s out there, or nuclear war might actually happen but the planet is actually dying so does it matter. I know this is a black hole way of thinking, so I also keep thinking, ‘let’s find an excuse for a huge party! Let’s go backpacking! Let’s put the whole of The Princess and the Dragon on the Internet for free! Let’s retrain in something useful like ecological management! Is ecological management even a thing?’
I don’t think ecological management is a thing. I think I’m thinking of those people who look after forests and lobby Parliament to ban single use plastic. Eco warrior? It’s too early for compound phrases. You know what I mean. Sometimes life forces you to put things into perspective.
What a cheerful post this was. Here are photos of Fred from a few years ago. He was quite hard to photograph until he got elderly, because when he was younger he only had two modes: asleep and Doing Stuff. You’d aim for the picture on the left and get the picture on the right.
Legitimately the nosiest dog who has ever lived. I think I’m going to Google ‘ecological management’ now.