Things from 2021 that I liked and you might like

Happy nearly 2022! I don’t love those look-at-my-great-year posts, so I thought I’d do one talking about some of the lovely things I’ve come across this year:

  • Roman mosaics turned up in Rutland and they’re super duper old and super duper cool
  • The Magnus Archives wrapped up with a truly epic finale
  • Time Team is coming BACK and it’s going to be on the internet for all of us to enjoy
  • David Attenborough survives and, going on the assumption that he has a new show out, thrives
  • The guy who founded the We Rate Dogs Twitter account started a charity providing financial support for shelter dogs with complex medical needs, so they’d be more attractive to potential new owners. I can’t tell you how wonderful the 15/10 Foundation’s Twitter feed is, and how much better you’ll feel if you look at it
  • The Ever Given got stuck in the Suez and I know it was terrible for the economy et cetera et cetera but it was also ABSOLUTELY HILARIOUS
  • Football didn’t come home but the idea that it might was quite nice (in the spirit of focussing on the good stuff, let’s not dwell on the racism or that bloke who stuck a firework in his arse)
  • While we’re on the subject of contests won by Italians… Eurovision came back! And Måneskin took their place as the world’s best rock band, Under 25s Category.

I’m staying in for new year’s eve, just to be on the safe side – although I’ve realised my favourite bit of NYE parties is getting to chat to my mates and cuddle with the hosts’ dog(s), so I’m not bothered about missing General Revelry. Last new year was difficult because there was no option but to stay indoors; this year I’m grateful to have the choice. And I choose to sit in my socks, eat panettone with my grandmother and think about all the books I want to read next year!

Seriously, though, I have a good handful of titles I cannot wait to dig into. I fell off the blogging wagon a little this year, but I hope to continue with book recommendation posts in 2022. A few titles I haven’t gotten around to enthusiastically recommending yet are Queenie, the Six of Crows duology, Robin Ince’s The Importance of Being Interested, Hitchhiker’s Guide (which I’d read once before but it’s like a good wine, it just improves with age), The Starless Sea – wait, I might have written about that. I can’t remember. 2021 had some really shit bits, but it excelled itself book wise. I was going to say it excelled itself film wise, but I’ve only been to the cinema once since Covid started and nearly all the films and TV shows I’ve seen were released ages ago. I liked, um, the animated Netflix one where Tim Minchin voiced a koala.

I just remembered that I almost went back into education to study film. Ha!

What were your highlights of 2021? What are you hoping for as we head into ’22? I’ve got a few modest goals – sort out my sock drawer, finish reading a copy of Frankenstein my friend T leant me on Halloween, get to the end of the academic year in one piece. I’m looking forward to some really mundane things, like Peaky Blinders coming back, new leaves on the trees on my uni campus, new Stiefvater novels, my fourth Covid jab. Ooh, I think there’s an extra bank holiday for the Queen’s Jubilee. I’m not sure if it’s a pandemic side effect or if everyone does it at some point during their twenties and the pandemic’s amplified it, but I’m far more interested in little things these days, things I used to consider insignificant. I saw a cool looking bird the other day. I’m not sure if pre-pandemic Francesca would have spent so much time trying to identify it on the RSPB website (consensus: male chaffinch, possibly). So, yeah, more books and more wildlife in 2022, I guess. Oh, and some of those shows that were originally scheduled for 2020! I’ll believe it when the lights go down, ha!

Happy new year!

Look after yourselves,
Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)

Read, If You Like: a Variety of Greek Mythology Books

I began this post when the Ever Given was still stuck in the Suez, but better late than never (which is the attitude you should take with your Christmas present deliveries, eh). I was hoping to read Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey this year to add it to the list, but then I went to university instead. Well, we know which would have been cheaper. Anyway, here is my (current, will be updated when I get my mitts on a few titles I’ve seen floating around the internet) list for anyone who is a mythology nerd, or knows a mythology nerd and wants to get them a Christmas present but their options are limited because I closed my shop this year…* There is fiction! There is non fiction! And all the authors are women because this is my website and I can ignore Robert Graves if I want to!

*Might reopen in January depending on if I can be bothered

Read A Thousand Ships (Natalie Haynes, 2019) if you like:

  • Multiple perspectives
  • Grumpy goddesses
  • Heart breaking scenes of [spoiler unless you know the story of the Trojan War already]
  • Banging one liners. So much of this book is eminently quotable.
  • Ancient Greece and its general geographic surroundings
  • Stabbings
  • It’s very stabby.

Read The Silence of the Girls (Pat Barker, 2018) if you like:

  • Stories about the Trojan War from the Trojan side
  • The realities of war. There are no euphemisms or mentions of women being ‘kidnapped.’ Barker calls a spade a spade, you know
  • It really is quite grim in places but I liked that about it; your mileage may vary.

Read Pandora’s Jar (Natalie Haynes, 2020) if you like:

  • Sarcastic non fiction that’s also really factual and educational
  • I find non fiction quite hard work most of the time, but Pandora’s Jar was very absorbing. I was predisposed to like it, because I love Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics, feminism and Greek myth, but at the start I was a bit unsure if I’d struggle. I didn’t, because it’s well written (yes, I am doing a humanities degree, why do you ask)
  • Beyoncé references
  • Wonder Woman references
  • (who says that the classics have no impact on modern history)
  • Enough information that you can be interesting (or quite annoying) at dinner parties for the rest of forever. Would you like to hear about how Medusa is one of the earliest examples we have of victim blaming? Or about how Euripides’ Medea was quoted at first wave feminism events in the 19th century? Or how we’ve conflated the story of Pandora with the story of Eve? I can go on about this forever mate.
hardback copy of 'Pandora's Jar' by Natalie Haynes
Did you know they released a red version of the cover for Christmas? Because ancient Greece and the Christmas story both have… infanticide?

Read The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller, 2012) if you like:

  • Queer rep
  • Look it’s just very gay
  • (I’m assuming that if you’re here, that is a selling point and not a reason to write in)
  • A look at the Greek side of the Trojan War, particularly from off the battlefield
  • A look at Achilles, who was the most enormous sulky child this planet had seen until Trump took office
  • I mean, you sort of like him in this. Achilles isn’t a sympathetic character in most depictions, because he is very stabby and entitled in a way that rich kids of Instagram can only dream of
  • (You won’t like him in any of the other books I’ve suggested)
  • (I’ve included this book because no one else could have made Sulky McSulkface sympathetic. All the awards for Ms Miller, please, plus extra for irritating all those pearl-clutching purists who didn’t think Achilles and Patroclus could be lovers, possibly because they’ve never noticed any Greek vase decorations.)

I can’t wait to do an updated version of this once I’ve finally read The Odyssey. Did you know Emily Wilson is the first woman to translate it into English? I knew there was a reason I fall asleep every time I try to read Homer, ha.

If you are so inclined, I have a Bookshop.org list of these titles; if you buy one of them through the link I get half a penny or something. I’m going to have to revisit my classics and myth-y to read list; there’s a translation of Beowulf that looks epic, pun intended, and I’ve only read the first of Stephen Fry’s mythology series. I think I read a good Neil Gaiman non fiction book on Norse mythology a while back too? Ugh, I’m off to go and smile at a book.

Look after youselves!

Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)

Pre-Empting Burnout and Turning Off the Internet for a Bit (except not here, here is nice)

This time a month ago I wrote about feeling like we were all living in the Nine of Wands. I still do, but the end is in sight. Or if not sight then it’s around the corner and down the road a bit. My diploma is almost finished. This stage of lockdown is almost finished. I got my eyebrows waxed yesterday and I feel like I can finally do my sarcastic eyebrow raises with precision. My final hand in date is the same day the lockdown eases up, which I only realised last week. It’s all a bit… soon-but-also-not-soon? Time has moved so differently since the pandemic began. Except for my eyebrow hairs, which have continued their mission to become one single eyebrow. (No shade to the Frida Kahlos of the world; I wish I had your gumption but I was brought up in a time of tweezed brows and the societal damage has been done. Also I really love that slightly sharp look that comes with a well defined brow. All the better for expressing my distaste for idiots without saying a single word.)

Point is, I’ve got a few important things to do – finish my final project, reread the entirety of the Raven Cycle and the Dreamer Trilogy before Mister Impossible comes out, repot some of the more substantial courgettes – and I reckon it’s time to do the smart thing and go on an official holiday, so I can focus properly and not collapse into a heap when something minor sends me into a tailspin. If you’re a colleague and you’re expecting to hear from me next week then ignore this completely: I’m a) not going anywhere and b) really just turning off my social media. I can’t afford to stop working. I’m thinking of this as more of a break from other people’s voices, even if those voices are really funny on Twitter. I’ll pop in a few times a week to check my messages but otherwise I’ll only be posting on this blog, my Patreon or sending out my monthly-ish newsletter. This blog doesn’t feel like work (and I have lots of posts I want to write up!) and Patreon technically is work but is also mostly me doing tarot readings and telling short stories. Which I will have more head space to do once I’ve turned off all the Twitter voices, handed in this soul sucking, brain eating final project and remembered what it is to be a human being again. I might… go to the shops. WITH NO PURPOSE EXCEPT TO BROWSE.

The thought makes me dizzy.

If you need me urgently, hit me up at francescaswords [at] outlook.com. I’ll get back to you within three business days. I’m not sure when I’ll be back to posting regularly on social media: maybe June? July? I will set up some posts to feed the algorithm, but if you need me… check back here, I guess. Here is a picture of my life post-diploma:

spine photograph of Maggie Stiefvater's UK editions of 'The Raven Cycle' series plus 'Call Down the Hawk. Partial showing of Iris Murdoch's 'Existentialists and Mystics' and Brandon Sanderson's 'The Final Empire', also in paperback.

My darlings. I haven’t read The Raven Cycle since 2019, since before Call Down the Hawk came out. Soon, my precious, battered, non-Insta-friendly paperbacks, I will inflict more spine damage and probably use you as coasters. Can’t bloody wait.


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)

Psst, Paperback Edition of The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes Available Now!

Surprise! My baby is now available in corporeal form. A few weeks ago I asked on social media how people feel about audiobooks versus physical books (you guys were unanimous, physical it is). I’ve been wanting to test the waters for a print copy for a while, not least because my Ultimate Dream is to have a iridescent, map-on-the-front-pages, probably-linen-bound hardcover. With a little ribbon for keeping your place. You know the type of book I mean: the type that is a work of art.

Anyway, those are expensive and since I’m self published, I’d have to figure out some sort of pre-order system to gauge demand before committing to a print run. I don’t fancy being stuck with books I can’t sell, even if they are linen bound with a ribbon. So I thought, let’s do the smart thing and have a sort of soft opening using Amazon’s print on demand system.

I’m pretty sure I’ve bitched about Amazon on here before, but if I haven’t: it’s an unholy trinity of bad packaging, ethically questionable business processes and is at least partially responsible for the devaluation of the book industry.

Unfortunately for the high street but fortunately for my bank balance, Amazon does print on demand really well. It took me about half an hour to upload my files, less than 72 hours for Amazon to check the details and tah-dahhh. You can now order a paperback of the world’s best YA fairy tale. It cost me zero pounds, because I downloaded a Photoshop trial to design a back cover and spine. The book is priced exactly as the ebook at £7.99 (well, it is until Bezos discounts it to 89p). I will make about £2 on each copy, assuming they sell at full price, so I need to sell about a thousand copies to afford a posh hardback. Less if I’m willing to put all the money toward the hardback, but I’m quite invested in earning a wage. This is probably a good time to mention that after 11.5 years of blogging, I’ve joined the Amazon Affiliate programme with the strict goal of scraping every last penny from this paperback as I can… the links in this post are all affiliated. I think a lot of you would have to click and buy for me to hit the minimum payment threshold of £25, though, ha.

Anyway, I am already in profit, because a few members of the No. 1 Readers’ Club have bought some copies (this is why you should join the No. 1 Readers’ Club). I haven’t forgotten about doing a quarterly income round up, by the way! The last quarter ended a few weeks ago but I have diploma work to finish, so I’ll probably get the post done in a month or so. My ebook royalties aren’t in, so it’ll be a short post.

As with the ebook, I’ll be paying it forward with three copies: if you or someone you know wants a copy but cannot afford it, hit me up and I’ll order you a copy to to your mailing address. I’m also doing a giveaway right here on this very blog! To win a signed copy of The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, comment on this post and tell me your favourite fairy tale or folk tale. Mine changes all the time, but Femlore Pod recently did an episode on Lieutenant Nun, who is fascinating. The contest ends on 30th April at 11:59pm BST, it’s open internationally, and I’ll pick a winner at random the next day.

Oh, one last thing:

If and when a hardcover run becomes a reality, I may pull this particular paperback. Ideally, one day I’d like this book to have a permanent home with a publishing house that can do hardcover, paperback, audiobook et al and handle all the logistics (and ensure that Amazon is not the only paperback retailer). That would mean a different ISBN, different blurb and spine and whatnot. So there’s a distinct possibility that in twenty years’ time, this particular Amazon offering will be like first printings of MCR’s first record: rare and sold on eBay for inflated prices. That’s actually already happening to an extent; the book’s been live for a week and someone’s already selling ‘used’ copies at a premium. What they’re actually doing is drop shipping: buying new copies and sending them straight to the customer, because they are [censored because it’s too rude even for this blog]. Anyway, if you’d like to be a part of history, just saying, the book is here.

'The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes' paperback on shelf
Much love to my cousin Ellen for taking The Princess and the Dragon‘s first ever shelfie!

Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)

Read, If You Like: Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

Is it hugely shameful to have completely missed this children’s classic when I was an actual child? I don’t know how it passed me by, especially as there’s been a copy on my shelf for ages. I’d have loved this story 15 years ago… to be honest I quite loved it now. So let’s not beat about the bush:

Read Anne of Green Gables (LM Montgomery, 1908), if you like:

  • Chatterboxes
  • Nature
  • Really wonderful descriptions of nature, honestly, A***
  • Gently irritating characters who are well written enough that you they grow on you after a while
  • A look at early 20th century Canadian life
  • A warm feeling of cosiness
  • Slow living, which I suppose was just called ‘living’ a century ago
  • Honestly it is so cosy, it was a perfect January read.
photograph of 'Anne of Green Gables' by LM Montgomery, 1980s TV tie in Penguin Edition
I wanted to add some leaves or suchlike to the photo, but the background – a footstall my grandfather made that I use for propping up my laptop – seemed suitably rustic. Also I KNOW it’s a bit wonky ugh what are you, Instagram.

I’m probably going to give my copy of Anne away for bookshelf space reasons, but I very much hope to return to the world in future. I knew there was a series of Anne books and my instincts with series is to wonder if the author’s stretched things out for money or reputation, but I could live in Avonlea quite happily for years, and I got the impression LM Montgomery felt the same way. Maybe I’ll keep my copy after all…

The only thing part of me wanted more of is general background about Canada. We learn a lot about the world of the Avonlea and its inhabitants, but aside from Murdoch Mysteries (okay, including Murdoch Mysteries) I know almost nothing about Canadian history. The Home Children are mentioned in passing, as well as some political events, but I’m always after more. To be honest I think I’d prefer a list of good history books over a novel with more background: this really was one of those perfectly formed little gems (and it wouldn’t have made sense for Montgomery to spend paragraphs spelling out context, as her audience would have already known it). I also think it’s asking too much to expect a children’s book published in the 1900s to cover the intricacies of the Home Children, too, so I’ll shut my gob and look forward to reading the next instalment.

Other books I’ve devoured lately: Natalie Haynes’ Pandora’s Jar, The Scorpio Races, Brian Jacques’ The Taggerung (another children’s book that was on my shelf for so long that I’d stopped being a child when I read it AND NOW I learn Netflix is turning the whole series into a show. How did the entire universe of Redwall pass me by until the age of 25?). I’m partway through Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen and I think that might be my next Read, If You Like because it’s a really meaty story so far, with absolutely nothing in common with Anne of Green Gables except maybe the book name/character name element. Would you like to see any of the above as a Read, If You Like? I’m thinking of doing two or three books per post, if those books have similar themes. There are so many books to talk about and so few weeks in the year.

Did you read Anne of Green Gables as a child? Did you get the same ~ feelings ~ that I did as an adult?

Look after yourselves!

Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like. If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers.

Thoughts on the Epically Long Bad Book Review (by a confused reader and slightly nervous author)

Picture the scene.

You’re browsing the internet. You find a page of reviews for a book you loved, or perhaps fall down a book blog rabbit hole. You spend a delightful tea break reading all the posts from people who, like you, find this book FANTASTIC. You are warmed in your soul; you feel connected to these reviewers, these strangers across oceans; you’re joined by the thread of mutual appreciation.

And then.

Snuggled amongst the posts, like a wee moth in a dresser of comfy jumpers, is a two star review. Not just a two star rating. There’s prose. It’s five paragraphs long. It runs to hundreds of words. It’s an Epically Long Bad Review.

You’re devastated. Well. Displeased. Perplexed. DID THIS PERSON READ THE SAME BOOK YOU DID? Maybe they were born without good taste. That’s not their fault. But, you think, five paragraphs and hundreds of words? That’s quite some commitment when you consider edits. Why? Whyyyy?

Okay back to first person. We all knew I meant ‘me.’

I am, obviously, writing this now not because I’ve only just discovered book reviews but because I’m spending a lot of time on Goodreads and engaging with the #bookstagram tag as part of the promotion for The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes (blog tour ongoing!), so reviews are very much on my mind. I’m also using Goodreads to keep track of my reading and share my thoughts on some books (my reviews are either very earnest or your drunk auntie at a party, no five paragraphers from me unless it’s a Read, If You Like). Thus, a lot of time on Goodreads. I’m also trying to focus my energy on things that either feel productive or are genuinely enjoyable, because if 2020’s legacy is anything, it’s ‘let’s try to enjoy this tyre fire of a world before the planet dies completely…’

So, yeah, I’m perplexed by the existence of the Epically Long Bad Review. Why would you put so much care into a blog post or Goodreads entry explaining why you hate a book? It feels counterproductive at best and, at worse, like you’re wallowing in bad feeling. You didn’t enjoy a novel, it wasn’t worth your attention… so why are you telling us about it? Why, when, according to the internet, you will only live for 40,000,000 minutes? It’s not the author’s time you’re wasting, you know?

In the interests of balance, because I used to want to be a journalist

I’m not against negative reviews in general. It’s good to tell potential readers, ‘don’t read this book if you don’t like memoirs written by a famous person who is not naturally an author, whose prose feels a little like walking through mud.’ Or ‘I didn’t love the arguably unnecessary violence in this novel and you might not either.’ That’s useful. I want to know if a book deals in heavy themes with all the nuance of a sledgehammer. But who are you really serving by spending paragraphs and paragraphs talking about each and every terrible aspect of the book when you could say the same thing in a couple of sentences?

Maybe I’m overthinking this. One reader’s five star review is another’s one star, after all. ‘The prose felt childlike and the plot moved too fast; this is a juvenile waste of my time,’ is another reader’s ‘the writing was direct and didn’t faff around. The pacing was so fast, I was on the edge of my seat and couldn’t put it down.’ I think I’m really just in awe of the length and detail of some of these Epically Long Bad Reviews. It’s the love that goes into them that bemuses me.

Kermit the frog typing manically from Giphy
from Giphy

Time to declare my conflict of interest

Obviously I’m biased about reviews when it comes to one particular writer over all others. I’m a newly-published author who needs good press. At time of writing, I’m organising that blog tour for The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes and crossing my fingers for good, or at least neutral, feedback. At the moment, as there are so few reviews up for the book, I’d rather none of them were less than four stars. If they are less than four stars, I’d prefer there wasn’t a five paragraph explanation of everything the reader hated about it. Not because I’m personally offended by the review or the reviewer – I know they aren’t being personal. I also know I wrote a book that stands up with, if not the best of them, than at least not the worst. I feel reasonably confident in saying that because I’ve read thousands of novels in my life and watched thousands of films and TV shows: I can tell the difference between a well executed plot and a badly executed one. I can identify good prose versus prose that just needs a bit of polishing versus prose that’s genuinely terrible. I know the next novel I write will be better, because I’ll have had more practise and read more books. So although I may spend a few precious seconds of my 40,000,000 minutes reading that Epically Long Bad Review, thinking ‘god that reader has no taste,’ I’ll survive.

Plus, in ten years’ time, if The Princess and the Dragon has hundreds of four-plus star reviews, reports solid royalties and remains a piece of work I’m proud of, I’m not going to give a shit if Briana from Nottingham found the writing immature and the sub plots boring. I might get drunk with my mates and read Briana’s review out loud when we have a get together, because I’m drinking a gin and tonic purchased with those sweet royalties (you would too, don’t pretend otherwise), but I will be fine. And I won’t nurse a grudge against Briana for her honesty.

That’s ten years’ time, though. While I’m getting this book off the ground and trying to recoup some of the publishing costs, I’m mindful that Briana and her Nottingham-based book-themed Instagram could impact my burgeoning reputation. Does that mean Briana shouldn’t post her honest opinion? Of course not. Free speech, man. I might curse you and the potential damage to my gin and tonic money, but your time’s your own to do with what you will, and freedom of expression is as important when you disagree with that the thing being expressed as when you agree with it (it might be more important when you disagree). If you think my work should be thrown in the proverbial bonfire, you’re more than welcome to tell people that. But what do you really want to achieve by it? Do you want me to see fewer sales? Do you want to dampen some of the noise around my book’s release?

I respect that if you also think that I should be thrown in the proverbial bonfire – maybe we disagreed on Twitter once, or you don’t like how I run my businesses, or I stepped through a door you were holding and didn’t say thank you. If that’s the case, I understand that telling people to avoid me and avoid lining my pockets is something you might want to spend time doing. (I especially respect that if you’ve had experiences with an author who’s been racist towards you, or you saw them being rude to fans at events, or they’ve been accused of plagiarism by a credible source, etc. There’s another conversation to be had about the line between a creator and their work, and how much one can be considered separate from the other, but if you think a person’s actions cause another person harm, you arguably have a moral duty to do your level best to talk about it.)

But if you just didn’t click with the book I wrote? I’m not sure what you’re aiming to do in five paragraphs that you couldn’t do in five sentences or less: ‘this book wasn’t for me, because of [reason]. I also didn’t like the way [something] was portrayed and I thought the prose was [something else]. If you do like those things, you might have better luck than I did.’

Alice curtsying
From Giphy I believe

Just saying. You stretch your free speech muscles, woo. I’m glad that you didn’t feel like you had to lie about how you felt while also feeling relieved you were reasonably objective. My sales and reputation can continue growing, woo.

When it comes to my own reviews or recommendations, I don’t review anything on Goodreads that I consider anything less than four stars. It doesn’t feel necessary. Not when my three stars is another person’s five. Not when I know how long it takes to write a novel, and how much soul goes into each draft and edit and late night hunched over the computer. It feels like I’m being a bad author by talking shit about another author. We all earn peanuts at the end of the day, we all do the work because we love it and we all want the publishing industry, book selling industry and reader communities to thrive. Like I said, I’ve got better things to do with my 40,000,000 minutes.

What are your thoughts on the Epically Long Bad Review? I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether you’re a vivacious reviewer, a causal reader, an author or a mix of the above. Do you write long reviews? Do you write short reviews? I think that, as a reader, I’m still perplexed. As a writer, I’m definitely slightly nauseous every time I see there’s a new review for The Princess and the Dragon. I don’t think that will go away any time soon, even if I do figure out the point of the five paragraph bitchathon.

Look after yourselves!

Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Or we could just get coffee? If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my book, The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers.

Read, If You Like: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Welcome back to my occasional book recommendation series! I don’t like to overtly review books, because what I disliked about a novel might be what someone else liked about it, so it feels unfair to the author to write a post moaning about a novel I didn’t like. I also personally try to avoid reading too many reviews before reading a book, in case it doesn’t live up to the hype or I feel obliged to agree with reviewers when I actually don’t. Let me make up my own mind, I guess is what I’m saying. That said, I enjoy doing Read, If You Like because some of the best recommendations I’ve had have been where people have said ‘oh, you like X and Y book or film? Then you’ll probably enjoy this one!’ They are usually right.

So without further ado, the first Read, If You Like for 2021!

Read The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath, 1963), if you like:

  • Candid, realistic depictions of mental illness (note that if you are currently in the depths of depression, you might find that The Bell Jar either speaks to you and gives you hope or just pushes you a further into the depths, so please consume responsibly and also seek out some professional help)
  • Protagonists, like our lady Esther Greenwood, who are simultaneously very annoying and very real. I have met various Esther Greenwoods. I have been a bit of a Esther Greenwood. I think a lot of teenage girls and young women stray into Esther territory at some point, not necessarily in terms of her mental illness but in terms of being frustrating, frustrated and hugely overwhelmed by life’s opportunities
  • A snapshot of 1950s Americaaaa
  • With all of its lovely bigotry, I should add, just as a heads up if you’re not in the mood for casual racism
  • So much has changed
  • Deliberate, easily readable prose (Sylvia Plath was a complicated human being but this book felt accessible. I was expecting to find this A Very Tough Read, given its main topic is mental health, and although I didn’t skip through it, the prose is concise and draws you in. It’s not one of those books where every sentence feels laboured)
  • Irritating secondary characters
  • Some of them are so, so irritating
  • Reading around the subject, to an extent. Adding this in because on the back of my copy, the blurb proclaims that The Bell Jar was published a month before Plath’s suicide. I assume this nugget is on most blurbs. It was impossible, therefore, to read it without drawing parallels between Plath’s life and Esther’s. I studied Plath for a while at A Level so I remembered a bit about her experiences of depression and her death, and I kept thinking, ‘this feels autobiographical.’ To write about depression that well, you really have to have experienced it, which is probably why the book feels authentic. It is authentic. It’s also just a bit sad, you know? It’s hard not to wonder what sort of person Plath would have become had she lived past 30. So if you don’t know much about Sylvia Plath before reading The Bell Jar, except for what’s on the burb/author page of your copy, you might feel compelled to Google her afterwards. And if you did know about her, then that knowledge will colour your experience of The Bell Jar, and then your reading of The Bell Jar will influence how you feel about Plath. They’re always going to be linked in the reader’s mind.
Spine of 'The Bell Jar' by Sylvia Plath, plus a pen and pencil, on lined paper and envelopes.
I tried to do a proper photo of the cover, but it’s so grey and rainy here today that the lighting/shadows made everything very, very ugly. Enjoy this book spine instead!

So, yeah, not the easiest of reads but definitely worth a try if you’re interested in any of the above. I am cleansing my palette, I should add, both with Pandora’s Jar and with The Scorpio Races, which I actually tried to borrow from the library in November but lockdown got in the way. It is a very November book, The Scorpio Races. Pandora’s Jar is about women of Greek myths and how history’s done them dirty, ie by calling Pandora’s jar a box and conflating Pandora with Eve. The Bible’s Eve, not, like, Killing Eve’s Eve. You probably got that. Um. Follow me on Goodreads if you want to keep up with what I’m reading. I think I’m following myself on Goodreads. How is that possible when I only have one account?!

I will see you soon-ish for another one of these, maybe for Pandora’s Jar? With the country in lockdown there’s not much to do except my college work, writing and reading, and you guys don’t need to see my notes for the Effective Business Processes assignment. I drew a diagram the other day that looks like a blueprint for a bathroom’s plumbing. It actually has something to do with ‘critical path analyses’.

Told you you wouldn’t want to know. Leave a comment if you’ve read The Bell Jar, or Plath’s poetry – what did you think of it?

Look after yourselves!


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Or we could just get coffee?

New Year’s Intentions 2021 aka Aiming to Survive the Year

Happy new year lovelies!

How are we doing? Does 2021 feel any different from 2020? I’m not going to write a post about Girl Bossing© 2020, nor a detailed plan for Girl Bossing© 2021, because who can actually take that seriously? I’m writing this in December of 2020, and have not at time of writing come across any ‘2020 was MY YEAR’ social media nonsense. I’m hoping I don’t. [Update from 2021 Francesca: I didn’t! People read the room, huh.]

2020 had some highlights, but let’s not insult our collective struggles by pretending that any of us ‘won’ the year. That any of us have managed to continue with milestones like having babies and celebrating birthdays and buying houses since the start of the pandemic is testament to humanity’s determination to create nice things however we can… but shall we not brag to our grieving friends or jobless family, eh. With that in mind, I wanted to share a few new year’s intentions. My only real goal is to survive until 2022, but I’m living in tier 4 for the foreseeable future and I need to feel like I’m working toward something, so I’ve got some gentle intentions, too:

Read some books

For the first time ever, I’ve made myself a reading list for the year. It’s composed partly of books on my shelf with unenticing covers, or meaty non-fiction I haven’t had the brain power for, and partly of books I just think sound cool and haven’t gotten around too yet. I’m going to try to share some of them on here too. Expect some YA, some pretty covers and probably some mythology.

Copies of 'Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race' by Remi Eddo-Lodge, 'How to Build a Girl' by Caitlin Moran, 'House of Ashes' by Monique Roffey and 'Eileen' by Ottessa Moshfegh
I guess I’ve committed to finishing these, huh.

Write some books stories

Yeah, probably no book releases this year. But I’m not working as a freelancer anymore so I have a bit more time to split between college and my writing. I’ve made myself a timetable and everything, with writing time allocated its own colour. I tend to work obsessively on one thing for hours/days/weeks/years and then burn out, so I thought I’d try giving myself time to do specific things. I’ll be sharing stories with the No. 1 Readers’ Club on Patreon, although they won’t be as regular as they were last spring (one story a week can’t happen now I have college if I want to, you know, not melt). There might be one a month, there might be one every two months. Let’s see how the year plays out. They should be good, though… I’ve had a lot of short story practise in the last year!

And that’s it. Well. I’d also like to grow my business while maintaining (who am I kidding, while building) some sort of work life balance, but I think these two intentions encompass that. Reading improves my writing while removing me from the hell of our current reality. Win win. Sharing books I’m reading may help grow this blog; sharing short stories may help grow the No. 1 Readers’ Club, both of which will in turn pay my bills and provide more time to read. The circleee of liiffeeee…. plus I’ll have learnt some new words.

Do you have any intentions for the year? How is 2021 treating you so far?

Look after yourselves!

Want to support this page and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Or we could just get coffee?