Indifferent Ignorance Awards 2017

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

Book of the Year: Backpack & They Both Die at the End

Two books have defined my year. The first is Backpack by Emily Barr, which was actually published about 15 years ago. It’s about a girl who goes backpacking in South East Asia, and I found a second hand copy in a shop in Hanoi. It’s also about a string of murders of backpackers in South East Asia, so I possibly made a mistake by staying up late to finish it in my bunk in Laos in almost the exact place where some of the action happens. It’s a brilliant take on the whole ‘British person goes travelling to find themselves’ narrative and has some good twists, so you should definitely read it from the comfort of your English armchair and then book yourself a flight to Asia.

The second book is They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera. I started using GoodReads this year to keep track of all the books I see on Instagram and in those often questionable ‘recommended books for x’ lists, and I’m really glad I listened to the recommendations for this one. My review of it is here.

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera UK edition on a map background

Special commendation to: Angie Thomas‘ debut The Hate U Give. I want to do a proper review for it so I won’t say too much except pick it up right now and read until you reevaluate your world views.

Album of the Year: Melodrama

I know who my Lorde and saviour is, thanks.

 

Right, onto the news.

The ‘I Can’t Believe I’m Living Through This Shit, Although it Will Probably Kill Me So At Least There’s That’ Story of the Year

There are so many options, so I’m just going to list my favourites, aka the ones I’ll be complaining to my grandchildren about:

  • Trump’s inauguration
  • Another election how many fucking elections does one country need
  • When the DUP won the bloody election
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg’s opinions

The ‘I Witnessed this Shit Live and Wish It Had Killed Me’ News Story of the Year: Brexit

Brexit. All the Brexit. Big Brexit news on the actual news and little Brexit conversations in my house. Blue passports. The Daily Mail. Random people on the news with opinions about Brexit. The fact that, despite the entire country’s obsession with Brexit, very little tangible Brexit has occurred. So Ireland won’t have a boarder? Was anyone ever really going to look the Irish people in the face and say ‘hey I know there was a decades-long violent war in this beautiful land about boarders and sovereignty that was concluded with great effort on both sides, but I really feel that we ought to put a giant bloody wall up and reopen wounds that are only just starting to heal because BREXIT MEANS BREXIT’?

Probably not.

Special commendation to: the American government. Obviously it was tough to choose between Trump and Brexit, but on reflection I have decided that Trump will eventually be impeached, die from all those Cokes he drinks or come to the end of his term and deny he was ever president in the first place. The clean up process won’t be pretty, but I have confidence in the better part of America. Or the part that doesn’t want to die from climate change and nuclear war, anyway. The process and effects of Brexit, on the other hand, are likely to chug on until I reach retirement age which I am assuming will be 95. But who cares as long as we have blue passports!

Outstanding Achievement for Distracting Me from the Horror of the Year for Five Minutes: Blue Planet II

Thank you, little puffin families, for restoring my faith in the husbands of this world. You guys saw what puffins go through to bring back food for their pufflings, right? And the parents split the childcare! I wish I understood science because studying puffin families sounds like a nice job to have. And did you see the sea lions hunting tuna? How do humans think we’re the smartest species I frequently can’t locate tea bags.

Special commendation to: the country of Australia for passing equal marriage (congratulations, you have one-upped the UK) and every Women’s March placard, poster and pussy hat for warming my feminist bones.

Outstanding Social Media Moment: the Big Green Bookshop vs Piers Morgan

The Internet has been a double edged sword this year; the news is so important that it’s hard to look away, but so awful and consuming that it’s equally as important to know when to look away. But sometimes humanity proves it’s all right, and my favourite example of that this year is when the a man named Simon, who co-owns the Big Green Bookshop in London, tweeted Piers Morgan the entirety of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Until he got blocked, anyway. If there’s one thing the people of Britain can agree on, it’s that Piers Morgan should piss right off – and I feel the Big Green Bookshop gave us all a chance to rally together and express our collective love for Potter and our collective loathing for Piers. Please support your local independent bookshops.

Indifferent Ignorance Homophobic Dick Award: Everywhere?

I can’t remember their names and I won’t look for them because I don’t wish to give them further exposure, but some ‘gay cure therapy’ people were on morning TV this year. I think it was Good Morning Britain, but I won’t check and give the news articles any more views. I can’t dish out an award without knowing the names of the people I’m awarding, though, so this year’s winners are the member states of the United Nations. News broke some time in February about the detention and murder of perceived gay and bisexual men in Chechnya. The UN has confirmed and condemned it, but as far as I can tell the only country to have actually done anything to help is Canada. It’s also still illegal to be gay in 72 countries – countries whose human rights records are generally lacking. The Guardian did a handy map indicating levels of legal status of LGBT people globally, and it looks a lot like maps indicating press freedom and women’s rights. I feel like if one of those things can improve in a nation, the other two will follow, but I would also like to learn more about how that can be done in the next year. Primary education? Free access to the Internet? Democratic election processes? I will report back with my findings.

Indifferent Ignorance Ignorant Fuck Award: The Donald

Ugh. Ugh. It’s Trump. It was always going to be, really, but Jacki made a point in her comment on my nominations blog: Trump is a figurehead. If someone who had never heard of Trump were to take everything that is ignorant about Western culture in 2017 and mix it up and cook it and craft a little figurine, that figurine would be Trump. He represents the worst of us.


Look, a line representing the end of the year. A fresh start. I’ve been thinking about all the winners (and losers, ha) and next year I’d like to reboot The Six O’Clock News but with a twist. Every time I’ve turned on the news this year, either on an app or Twitter or the TV, the ratio of awful story:nice story has been about 9:1. So next year I want to find a story that has a happy ending or a fun twist. Like this 16 year old who got into Harvard (thanks Jacki!) or this dog whose bones were surgically regrown in a lab so she didn’t need her leg amputated. I like to think there will be enough material out there to fill a blog post or two… what do you reckon?

I won’t be back on here until some time next week and/or when the NYE fug has lifted, so happy new year! May your return to work on 2nd January be as painless as possible.

Read, If You Like: They Both Die at the End, Adam Silvera

Sometimes you read a book you weren’t expecting to be anything other than a book, and then it turns into a small piece of your rib cage. I am very pleased for this to have happened with an author I had only vaguely heard of, because now I can devour the rest of his books at breakneck speed and if they are as good as this one, I may need to add a rib or two.

They Both Die at the End, Adam Silvera (2017)

Read, if you like…

  • Death (the title is not a metaphor, and that is not a spoiler; I’m mentioning this first because I am aware not everyone has come to terms with their own mortality and if you haven’t you should this book is possibly not the one for you, although you will probably get the most out of it)
  • New York, but not the touristy bits
  • Diverse novels in less of a stock character way and more of a ‘oh, I guess this ticks several diversity boxes but I didn’t notice because the characters were too busy being REAL LIFE PEOPLE THAT I COULD PRACTICALLY SMELL’ way
  • Fiction that is futuristic insofar as it is more like a story about facts we haven’t invented yet
  • Pushbikes
  • Being arty on Instagram
  • That feeling you get when you finish a novel that’s a bit like missing a step
  • That feeling you get when you’re in a crowd at a concert singing along with several hundred other people you’ll never see again
  • Waterfalls
They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera UK edition on a map background
The map background is indicative of themes within the narrative etc etc and coincidentally the only thing I could find that halfway complemented the orange-yellow-iridescent blue look

You can get They Both Die at the End from all good libraries and bookshops.

‘Am I Screwing Over the Book Industry By Releasing My Work for Free?’ and Other Existential Questions

Over the weekend Maggie Stiefvater wrote about the implications of book piracy and, when the Internet told her off, told a story about dealing with book piracy. You can read them both at your leisure (the story is worth five minutes of your time for its sneaky genius alone). Today I want to talk about the questions it threw up for me both as a reader and as someone who posts writing on the Internet for free.

First off, I work at a literary consultancy a day a week so I know a minuscule amount about publishing. I know a little more about writing and way more about reading. But I do know that publishing fiction in 2017 is not the easiest of things. Books are luxuries and household incomes are not always at luxury-buying levels. Savvy publishers will buy a book whose content or author has a reasonable chance of making them a profit before they consider some left-field niche wee book from a new author. My Everyday Acts of Murder series, currently available for everyone on my stories blog, probably won’t get an ISBN-d print edition until I have 8 million Twitter followers or have been to the Olympics or something. So yeah, books are hard to produce and expensive to buy. People are broke. So let’s think outside the metaphor and share art and make money in other ways?

Enter: me, using Patreon to offer readers an early release of my stories, plus some other little perks I can feasibly create with no budget, from one US dollar per month. You guys get free content, I get money from those of you who care enough to pay me, everyone is fulfilled!

Except.

Maggie points out that ‘if you take away a paying-for-art model, you end up only getting art from people who can afford to work in their spare time or art that is supported by patrons — both models that we have seen before, both models that end up giving you art produced by and for a homogeneous and upper class group’. But Francesca, you’re thinking, you aren’t upper class and homogeneous, we aren’t upper class and homogeneous and we know you can’t afford to give your work away for free! True. I had to double-check what ‘homogeneous’ means, for one thing, and for another I don’t give any other type of my work away for free – not my marketing services, not the stationery I design on Etsy (or not since I made my watermark uncroppable, anyway). So why did I go for the free-content-with-paid-perks-available model?

Before I opened up my story blog I spent several deeply unsatisfying years trying to find a job that allowed me to say ‘I’m a writer’. Eventually I decided to just go and be a writer. Running my own blog gives me the freedom to make what I want and when. I’m always working on something, because a blog can go on indefinitely, and I can interact with my readers in real time. No one directs me (I do have a critique partner, though, I’m not a complete heathen) and it’s my space, just like this blog is. Although you can have a character named after you for a dollar (one dollar!) or suggest a story prompt, I choose what I do with your name and your prompt. F r e e d o m!

Except.

Am I removing piracy’s power by putting everything online myself for free, like Maggie did by flooding the Internet with her own book, or am I ripping myself off and lowing my own standards? If  individuals personally gave me hundreds of dollars of their own money, could I still claim to be completely independent? Would I feel beholden to them and their ideas? When someone throws a tantrum on this blog or Twitter, I can comfortably tell them to fuck off. What happens when that person is paying for my car insurance? Were I to publish a full-length novel, would anyone buy it or would they assume I should post that for free, too? I could conceivably follow the route of never charging up front and rely on people buying perks on Patreon forever, but there’s an economic theory I can’t remember the name of which stipulates that people will pay what they think an item is worth. If your price is low or non-existent, as I have learnt with my Etsy, people will assume it’s not worth paying for. If you demand money, they know that what you’ve got to offer is worth money. I feel like that applies to the book industry as a whole – if I offer my work for free and a person who happens to be a fan of The Raven Cycle likes it, will they resent Maggie for not releasing her work for free as well? Am I devaluing books everywhere? Will I become exclusive and homogeneous? Am I ripping myself off? And is it a new level of narcissism on my part that I read about a New York Times bestselling author’s experience with piracy and immediately worried about my own work, which as an audience of about a dozen people, being pirated?

(Yes.)

This is the bit where I tell you I once read a pirated copy of The Dream Thieves. I could offer the excuse that I was in a bad state mentally at the time, which I was, or that I had the book on order from my library, which it was. But I know better and I could have exercised restraint. I just didn’t. Sorry, Maggie, it was a dick move on my part.

Book piracy is easy and free and right there. It’s not going away unless a lot of people grow a conscience, which isn’t likely, or until enough authors or publishers or agents find ways to beat pirates (ha) at their own game. At the moment, me sharing stories on a blog is also easy, free and right there. I like it. I feel like I’m working hard to create fiction I’m proud of, and I know I can be proud that I’ve tried another way of making money from something I enjoy and am good at. Karma probably exists after all, because I earn one dollar a month on Patreon and will realistically one day have to send a cease and desist to a shitbag on Etsy who thinks they can copy and paste my designs. I haven’t even talked about second hand books today, because unless they’re advanced reader copies someone paid for them originally, but would publishers be less inclined to cut a series due to low sales if they knew how many second hand copies were in circulation? Should second hand sales count in sales figures given that most people who can’t afford a new book will go to their library and/or favourite second hand bookseller before looking for a pirated copy? Would less people pirate books if we had more libraries?

I don’t have the answers – I barely have coherent questions – but I feel like the only way any of us are going to keep seeing books in shops is if we keep talking about what books are worth, and what writers are worth, to us as readers. Some people will never place value on other people’s art, and instead of debating whether piracy is inevitable, we should probably just concentrate on making it really, really difficult. So tell me your thoughts on free art versus paid art and all of that versus piracy. Tell me how you would end pirated books. Have you ever confronted someone you know is pirating books? I’m kind of done with repeating the word ‘pirate’ even if it is Halloween…

(If I ever show signs of becoming remotely homogeneous, you have my permission to punch me in the face.)

PS I remembered I had photographed my dogeared shitheap partially second hand copies of TRC but I seem to have lost ‘Blue Lily’. How appropriate.

Broody BFF Challenge: YA & Music (ft. Maggie Stiefvater, Troye Sivan and… fan fiction)

Okay, so you might have noticed I’m a Maggie Stiefvater fan. I reviewed The Raven Boys way back, I met Maggie at YALC last summer and offered her my dad’s Mustang, I irritated my brother into reading The Raven Cycle and he took The Dream Thieves to Asia with us and now it looks like this:

 

Coincidentally I’ve also been trying to practise my screenwriting, and since I cut my prose teeth on FanFiction.net (yes, you can still find me on there and no, I’m not providing a direct link) I thought I’d do the same with scripts: using a book as a template so I could stop worrying about inventing a story and focus on practising how to tell it. Since The Raven Cycle is one of those books that has found its way into my bloodstream and will never leave, I played around with ideas for a Raven Boys TV show (this was way before the actual TV series was announced). I have index cards and post it notes and tiny little Fade In documents, and it’s safe to say I will look at them again when I want to pull out my eyeballs with embarrassment – think very bad fan fictions, then think of something worse. 

Onto the #BroodyBFF challenge. Last year The Raven King came out and if I love my own books half as much I’ll be pleased. I won’t give anything away but there is a scene that reminded me of a song. Or the song reminded me of a scene, I can’t remember which came first. If I were writing this in a show, I thought to myself, this is how that episode would end. Here is the song:

It would not be a spoiler to say that Bite is not really about anything to do with that scene – it’s about certain clubs with sticky floors and certain men who visit them – but I can’t not think of The Raven King when it comes up on my playlist. Which, once you’ve read the books, is either really appropriate or really inappropriate. Kind of like fan fiction is, now I think about it.

Am I looking forward to the TV show? No. I’ve only ever come across one good book-film adaptation, and that involved the book’s author, who is also a screenwriter and director, doing the screenwriting and directing. As far as I know, Maggie Stiefvater’s long list of talents does not include those things. Also, I’m not writing it. That scene will never end that way with that song. So probably one day I will either write that scene myself into my Fade In documents to satisfy my artistic hunger or I’ll put it in  piece of my own work instead. It’ll be fucking awesome.

I’m at Village Green this Saturday so Read, If You Like... will probably go up Monday. If you’re one of the #BroodyBFFs, link me your blogs! And if you’re involved with the TRB TV show, I am prepared to trade four books worth of script feedback for my firstborn child.

Read, If You Like… Ostrich Boys, by Keith Gray

I could have sworn that I reviewed this way back in the day before I called it Read, If You Like, but I can’t find it so clearly it didn’t get past the idea stage. I’ve had this book lying around for ages, and although it took me a while to get to it, it was one of those that surprised me in the best way. It’s either on the children’s end of YA or on the young adult end of children’s (do we let children read the word ‘tits’? I just saw it when I was flicking through) but I think it’s one of those that, should you be emotionally mature enough for tits, you’ll enjoy it.  Anyway. I meant to blog on Saturday, but I looked up the publication date for Ostrich Boys just now and it was actually published on this exact day nine years ago. So that’s a point for my lack of organisation…

Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray (2008)

Read, if you like…

  • Groups of kids
  • Grieving kids
  • Kids who kidnap
  • Okay, one of the kids is a dead kid. Not in a ghost way, in a ‘present in our thoughts’ way
  • Day trips (as in one trip over multiple days not multiple trips)
  • Ostrich metaphors
  • The hamlet of Ross in Scotland
  • Honestly, the best thing is the kids read it for them

Ostrich Boys Keith Gray

I was going to give this away but now I think about it, I might keep it on and read it again. I think it’s one of those that you can take something from each time you pick it up. Also, it involves teenagers kidnapping an urn of human ash, so it’s worth reading just for the escapism (if you’ve ever actually kidnapped an urn of human ash, hit me up. How’d it go?). I’m rereading The Raven Cycle at the moment but I think I’ll make it on to something new next week. I’m a bit harassed with Village Green until Saturday – I have an internship to attend, hair to dye and several paper bags to stamp before then – so comfort reading is paramount. A stiff drink may be in order on Saturday night. I should probably go and stamp some paper bags. Any ideas for my to-read list?

Read, If You Like… #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

If any of you are familiar with Sophia Amoruso, the ‘#Girlboss’ movement/Insta hashtag and/or Nasty Gal, you are probably aware that Nasty Gal is a clothing brand, originally on eBay, that enjoyed one of those meteoric rises to fame that puts its founder on the Forbes front cover and wields legions of loyal fans. Said founder, Sophia Amoruso, amid the meteorism, wrote #GIRLBOSS as a part memoir and part ‘this is how a young woman can become a financial success’ guide book. Last year Nasty Gal went bankrupt, and has since been sold to BooHoo. If I hadn’t read #GIRLBOSS before the bankruptcy, I would look at it and think ‘clearly this woman has no idea what she’s doing, why would I read that?’ But I had – it was recommended to me last year – and when I gave it another whirl a few weeks ago, I found it as inspiring and helpful as I had the first time round. Most businesses fail and most within the first five years; Sophia was at the helm of Nasty Gal for the best part of a decade, and the company is actually still going. So with all that in mind…

#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso (2014)

Read, if you like…

  • Self help books that don’t require a PhD in Translating Corporate and/or Hippie Bullshit
  • Cute illustrations
  • No-nonsense advice. Sophia does not mince her words and the book’s underlying massage is ‘get off your bum and get to work’
  • Words of financial wisdom that don’t sound like your Careers teacher went off on a rant about Millennials buying avocados
  • A really Instagramable cover and hashtag
  • The occasional slightly annoying almost-cliche. I nearly didn’t include this as a point because I’m aware people have difference levels of tolerance for sage advice wrapped up in snappy, alliterative sentences. My tolerance is very, very low so maybe I picked up on the odd sentence here and there, but the advice itself is solid gold so who cares
  • An entrepreneur who doesn’t tear down the competition or pretend they were born with a company that had already succeeded. Other ‘girlbosses’ have passages in the book, and Sophia is very open about her past lives as a freegan and a petty thief. She started her eBay store as a way to avoid getting a proper job, so she kind of had me at hello
Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso review
That stain? I dropped the book in the sink.

Maybe this is a book too close to home for me not to recommend it. I also run an online shop, swear frequently and dislike being told what to do; I think what I like most about #GIRLBOSS is that Sophia is all of those things and she’s successful. Bankruptcy or no, she’s one of America’s richest self-made women. This isn’t a book about somebody I could never recognise in myself – it’s about somebody I recognise in a tonne of people I know, most of them young women who are usually patronised by people with Sophia’s level of money and influence. So if you’re in the market for something that might improve your bank balance, get this. From the library, obviously.

Read, If You Like… The Midnight Fox, by Betsy Byars

As you read this I’m probably staring at my newly-carpeted bedroom, sighing in happiness and planning the perfect way to display my MCR CDs. Operation Instagramable Bedroom will be in full swing, ladies and gents, and there will be fairy lights. Anyway, this week’s Read, If you Like… is something I’ve had on my shelf for a good decade. The cover wasn’t interesting enough to pull me in, but it’s a Puffin Modern Classic so I thought it was one I should probably read at some point to score literary brownie points. I ended up enjoying it way more than I thought I would, so well done Puffin.

The Midnight Fox, by Betsy Byars (1968)

Read, If You Like…

  • Children’s books
  • Something you can finish in an evening
  • Animal stories
  • Snapshots of Deep Southern ’60s life
  • An author who doesn’t patronise the children she writes for either linguistically or socially
  • Retrospective storytelling (there might be another term for this? The main character is looking back, like To Kill a Mockingbird which I am assuming you have read)
  • Stories about families
The Midnight Fox by Betsy Byars, 1968, Puffin Modern Classics
That white smudge is a price sticker, not a special piece of 3D illustration. The fox looks like she’s gazing at it though haha

The afterword in my edition points out that Betsy Byars has written a male main character whom small boys will ‘tolerate’ because the plot isn’t particularly packed with action; I have a good gut feeling that boys, when left to their own devices, do not give a shit, but I like the notion that Byars decided to write a male hero who doesn’t fit Ye Olde Gender Sterotypes. That could explain why the novel is a Puffin Modern Classic with its own afterword.

I’m not sure what I’ll review next week because I’ve not read anything new lately – my books have been in cupboards behind clothes and handbags and other books, and a bed covered in boxes has been in front of the cupboards, so I’ve been reading an old edition of The Economist… as fascinating as the rise of Bitcoin is, I might have to review something I’ve read loads of times, or pop down the library. Any suggestions?

Today is Shit, so Here’s a Story. ‘How I Met Brooding YA Hero’

To be honest, we’ve all met him.

His eyes are the colour of the ocean, or midnight, or brilliant saffron, or blazing ruby. His skin is either chalky white, like the undead we suspect he might be, or the beautiful, ethnically ambiguous ‘heavily tanned’.

His grades are always top of the class, but we’ve never seen him study. He’d never be seen in a gym, but when you catch a glimpse of his stomach muscles, you have to sit down. He’s a punk street racer, a shy nerd, an outsider who just moved here. He’s softly spoken, but he’s angry, his eyes blaze.

He has a younger sister in our class, or a best friend we know from Biology. He owns a motorbike or sports car usually unavailable to financially-dependent seventeen-year-olds. He’s always seventeen. His parents are never around – in fact, he’s probably damaged from various childhood traumas. Not that you’d notice on a day to day level.

He had a girlfriend – also beautiful and sophisticated – but things ended when he met you. He’s got a past, and you’re getting dragged into it… but you can’t seem to back away. He’s charming, he’s brilliant, he’s in love with you.

Wait, not you.

He’s in love with the main character in the YA novel you’ve been reading. Or the YA novel you read a few years ago. Or the YA novel you haven’t picked up yet. He’s a pale imitation of Mr Darcy or Heathcliff, and he seems to have the same traits as the author’s husband or childhood crush. He’s a bundle of contradictions (or a bundle of whatever the author wants in a man, which is often the same thing). He’s the least-changing, most-perfectly-formed character in the book, and his hair usually smells wonderful.

He’s Brooding YA Hero, and he’s fucking boring.

Thankfully, there’s something out there to help you cope with this genre-wide plethora of unrealistic manliness, and it’s a Twitter page. I actually found it on Tumblr, where someone had screen-printed some highlights. Like these:

I could go on forever, but you should just have a look for yourself.

I’m telling you all this because I recently joined #BroodyBFF, the official street team for old Blazing Eyes Perfect Abs. Essentially it means I get to take the piss a bit more in challenges like this post, and I do it in the company of other readers and writers who’ve seen just enough of brooding YA heroes to know they absolutely cannot take any more.

Unless the main character looks like us, in which case we’re there.