The Queen is Quite Lovely Really, and Free Etsy Delivery (unrelated)

Hay birthday, your majesty. I can’t wa as lyrical as I would like to about the Queen turning 90, for reasons obvious when you notice that ‘hay’ was meant to be the word that comes before ‘birthday’ in the song we’re forced to sing when the ageing age, and that ‘wa’ was meant to be the word that has the same letters but a different meaning to the gross stuff that we get in our ears.

TL;DR: I need to buy a new keyboard before any more keys start to stick. I can’t afford to get another fancy ergonomic one, so I think I will head to Amazon with a voucher and get a standard ergonimic one instead. I’m going to miss this one, although it is unfairly enormous and makes me feel like an 80 year old, because it is so fuckin’ comfy. It’s cushioned. Cushioned keyboards should be mandatory.

Back to Elizabeth II. I have never considered myself an ardent monarchist, but I’m definitely not a republican either (thank you to sellchecker for fiing that for me. While I’m at it, I’ll let it fi sellchecker and fi too – oh wait it’s not that clever) and I think that’s down to her. How many 90 year old ladies continue their day job aged 90 having committed to it vocally half a century before, and do so followed by the tabloid media, 80 security guards and a husband constitutionally banned from walking alongside her? Also, let’s face it, without the Royal Family the UK’s international influence would be even shittier. What else is there for tourists to do in London but visit another royal-related building?

I can’t remember if the walking-alongside-the-queen thing is a rule or tradition, but I think if I were her I’d bloody hate it (and swear too much at foreign dignitaries, etc) so long may she reign over us, contribute to tourism and international goodwill, and fake being okay with our terrible choices of government.

That’s it, I’m going to Amazon. I can’t take this any more – what if the F goes? How will I communicate?

Oh, before I forget: with Shakespeare’s (oh, you can correct that) birth and death day this week, Charlotte Bronte’s birthday today and The Raven King out on Tuesday, I thought I would celebrate on Etsy. Enter CHECKTHEATTIC at the checkout between now and the end of the 26th and get free, er, mailing. You know, that thing that gets tacked on to the end of every online sale. The, er, carrier charge. THESE. I WILL COVER THESE.

Elizabeth II 90th Birthday
Oh look, that links the two subjects nicely.

Because Jane Eyre should have checked the attic, right?

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A Retrospective of the Fiscal Year and Dubious Freelancing/Artist Advice

Who’s excited for the end of the financial year? Who wants it to be 6th April already so they can relish a clean slate and make 2016/17 the year they go up an income threshold? Who sometimes wishes they had someone else to make tough decisions regarding business card expenditure?

Yep.

Since we are nearly at the end of this fiscal calendar, I thought I’d reflect on what I’ve learnt since 6th April 2015, as a writer, shopkeeper and digital marketing freelancer and share some of my pearls of wisdom.

  • It’s genuinely really hard to invest in necessities like business cards and packaging when you have no capital. Use some savings (or visit one of those bank things or find some investors) to get you off the ground. It will cause less stomachaches.
  • Speaking of packaging, it’s completely okay to reuse bubble envelopes if they aren’t scummy.
  • You might think you can predict what will sell, but you can’t. You just learn to guess what your customer wants, and even then they will probably surprise you.
  • If a product isn’t working, photograph it better. Or replace it with a better product.
  • Photographs.
  • Photographs.
  • Photographs.
  • 80% of your time is spent marketing and organising, 10% is spent corresponding, 5% researching and developing and perfecting, and 5% making the art you sell.
  • Look after yourself, mentally, physically and financially, because freelancers don’t get sick pay, holiday pay, pension schemes or sympathy when they’re ill.
  • Always try to correspond with clients or customers in the same way your teachers wrote home to your parents: politely, firmly and with the spellchecker on.
  • As a freelancer, you make your own motivation and set your own timetable. I’ve learnt that my motivation is my desire to spite the people who think I should get a ‘real’ job, and nothing sets a timetable like knowing you have 8 hours to complete 12 hours worth of work.
  • If you’re not busy, clean your desk and do your accounts because when you are busy, you will come downstairs and realise you work in a pigsty with no recollection of where your money went. Oh and if you’re not busy, you probably need to improve your marketing.
  • Taking a step back from this blog last summer was one of the best decisions I made all year.
  • My readers and my customers are the strangest, most eccentric and most generous people. (I already knew that. You’re welcome for the reminder.)
  • Social media marketing is about being social. Not copy and pasting the high five/praying emoji onto  twelve Instagram posts alongside the phrase ‘keep up the good work!’.
  • Marketing.
  • Marketing.
  • Marketing. Work out who your customer is. Work out where they are and what they want. Go to them with the thing(s) they want.
Artemis was right, Greek mythology poster postcard by Francesca Burke
In retrospect I shouldn’t have been surprised that this was a hit with the asexual and aromantic bloggers of Tumblr.
  • #GIRLBOSS the shit out of your life, because no one else will do it for you.
  • Read #GIRLBOSS. Even if you are a guy, non-binary or allergic to hashtags.
#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso, girlboss.com
from girlboss.com
  • Nothing is more isolating than being the only person you know who does what you do and working from home while you do it. Find other people who do something similar and meet for coffee, follow their blogs and write your own, or join an Etsy team. Or all of those things.
  • A wise man in a World War II film I saw recently said something along the lines of ‘if you want something done, ask a busy person. People with all the time in the world never get anything done’. TL;DR: if you really want to make art or write a book or start a business, you will make the time to do it.
  • Paying yourself with meagre wages, knowing you can account for earning every single pound, makes up for being perceived as unemployed by your nearest and dearest, explaining that you post to the Internet for a living but no, you can’t wire up a wifi connection, and working on a Saturday night because you can’t afford to go out, move out or use up the bubble bath.

Most of the time.

Now bring it, 2016/17, I want to win at this game.

Review: ‘About a Boy’, Nick Hornby

This review  is the first that feels a little like cheating because I had actually seen bits of the film on TV, about 10 years ago. All I could remember before starting the novel is that Hugh Grant’s in the film and so’s that guy who went on to be in Skins (I think?). So my memory didn’t spoil it for me and I won’t spoil it for you.

My copy of About a Boy is courtesy of a university I considered attending long enough that they sent me free things. The parcel contained a letter from Nick Hornby advising that every misstep is not, in retrospect, a misstep (coincidentally I have been clinging to this notion since I decided not to go to university). The book itself follows that concept, predominantly through its two protagonists, Will and Marcus. Will has a life most of us live at the weekends. 30-ish and unattached all but the Countdown schedule, he spends days inside cafes and hours in front of the television, and has a work/life balance of pretty much 0% work and 100% chilling out. Marcus, a 12-year-old boy who’s just moved to London with his mum, has a happiness/life balance of about 30/70.

I can’t tell you how Will and Marcus meet, because it’s one of the funniest parts of the story, and I can’t really tell you too much about the supporting characters, because a lot of them hinge around the plot too. I can tell you that the novel contains a dead duck, Kurt Cobain, Christmas songs and some hilarious one liners that made me miss being 12. (Petition to start allowing adults to say exactly what they think just as much as children.)

Review: 'About a Boy' by Nick Hornby

 

The story takes place in the 1990s, and it would be quite different if it were set today (who are the 2010s equivalent of Nirvana?!). It was nice to read something that didn’t mention Facebook, actually, but my favourite thing about the book is that the two protagonists are about as different as two people could get while having quite a lot in common, and it was the alternating of points of view that turned the book into a very gripping story. There are a lot of ironic moments, and a lot of sad moments, because Will is judging Marcus at exactly the same time as Marcus is judging Will. All the characters are quite normal people you would expect to meet out and about, so of course they are actually all bonkers and more fun to read about than most superheroes. So go read.


 

My previous reviews are here; you can support my work by funding me on Patreon every time I review a book here.

International Women’s Day/Celebrations: Judith Kerr

If 2016 has taught me anything (other than how irritating election and referendum rhetoric is), it’s that you should never take people whose work you like for granted, because one day they’ll be dead and you’ll be paying tribute alongside everyone else who had forgotten to pay tribute in the previous 40 years, wondering why you never celebrated their work before. Since it’s International Women’s Day I wanted to kick off this series with an international lady who at 92 is still working.

I’ve written a couple of times about Judith Kerr – once when I met her at Hay and again when I reviewed When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. I don’t have anything to add about the quality of her writing or art, or about the importance of her novels in educating children about the war, or how the Jewish refugee crisis in the ’30s and ’40s draws parallels with Syria’s. I just want to say that reading her picture books makes me really, really happy.

Mog the cat by Judith Kerr.
from tygertale.com

Her stories are simple and funny, her illustrations are so cute and for however long I’m reading, I’m in Judith Kerr Land. Everything there is simple and relatively easy to understand, the people are nice and until I finish reading, the world is a good place.

 

Review: ‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe’, Benjamin Alire Sáenz

This is a spoiler-free review except for the bits you can guess from the title.

Oh look, something else I originally saw on Tumblr, probably courtesy of feistiest. You know how they say you should never judge a book by its cover, but we all do? With this, the cover – by  Chloë Foglia -made me want to get the book. Look at that typography and those colours and those illustrations this is going to be a beautiful novel.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe from Wikipedia.org
I couldn’t find a cover that wasn’t covered in award stickers. This is from Wikipedia. Look at that night sky.

It is a beautiful novel.

Like the best books, the action starts from the very first sentence, so I can’t tell you too much background information without spoiling the story, but the title pretty much implies the premise: a guy called Aristotle meets a guy called Dante and together they discover the secrets of the universe/survive their teenage years. Set in El Paso, Texas, across a couple of years in the 1980s, the novel is a lot like The Perks of Being a Wallflower in that it could have been set last week and will be devoured by teenage readers for decades to come (it was actually published in 2012).

I had never heard of Benjamin Alire Sáenz before I read this – and I am definitely pronouncing his name terribly wrong – but I think he is a writer I would like to read more of, because Aristotle and Dante, and Aristotle and Dante, are wonderfully written. Some topics are quite hard to cover without sounding like a textbook or news story – again, I can’t really tell you what they are without wrecking the plot – but it’s funny, occasionally irreverent and often slightly uncomfortable. The whole book is just like seeing inside someone’s head, which is so hard to achieve as a writer and so satisfying for the reader.

It also won a handful of awards, which is nice because it’s quite rare to find a critically acclaimed novel that’s also fun – I finished it in an evening. If you liked The Perks of Being a Wallflower, if you’re interested in what it was like to live in Texas in the 1980s (I wasn’t but now I am), if you’re interested in Mexican culture, if you like scruffy dogs (it is not a spoiler to tell you there is a scruffy dog), if you like boys with long names and books with pretty covers, go find a copy and curl up for an evening with Ari and Dante and watch them discover the secrets of the universe.

None of them are about the science of life on earth, by the way. I did originally wonder if it was a story about physicists.


My previous reviews are here; you can support my work on Patreon every time I review here.

Harry vs Voldemort and the Art of Waiting

For someone who loathes Valentine’s and all it represents, I have been making an awful lot of Valentine’s-related stationery lately. Buy now to make your friends laugh! Buy now for an alternative Valentine’s gift! Buy now so I don’t have to get another job!

I have spent the last week or so trying to focus on my work in that self-help book kind of way. You know: focus on a task until it’s done, prioritise your goals, live in the moment. Finish those Valentine’s designsTurns out talking to you fuckers hasn’t been a priority. Generally, it works. I can sleep at night knowing I gave my best performance. Except I actually sleep at night beneath three blankets and the weight of no discernible progress, so there’s a chapter missing in those books. ‘What to Do When You’ve Started Implementing Your Plans But the Stats Aren’t In Yet’. I have found that binge reading the work of Maggie Stiefvater helps. So does listening to MCR songs you’d forgotten you’d forgotten.

One of my new year’s intentions was to chill the fuck out, so let’s all be patient, remember that we are only three weeks into 2016 and keep in mind that life could be worse – we could be that bloke they based The Revenant on.

And yet.

Catching up with Blogging 101 tasks, I’m having a bash at writing to a prompt, and one of the Waiting Room ones was ‘“Good things come to those who wait.” Do you agree? How long is it reasonable to wait for something you really want?’ As a freelancer I am my own boss, with absolutely no Monthly Targets or Quarterly Team Goals or Bullshit Exercises To Stop Employees Quitting. One of the reasons I didn’t want to work in an office was the likelihood of Bullshit Exercises – they make me feel the same way as grey suit trousers and nude lipstick does. I have goals with my marketing clients, of course: ‘make them money’, usually narrowed down into ‘build Instagram’, then trimmed to ‘write five snappy posts’, then ‘turn on the computer to write five snappy posts’, then ‘get out of bed because the computer is downstairs’. At the end of all that, the client should have visibility and therefore money, and I should continue my tenure as the Instagram person, and I should therefore have money.

All because I got out of bed, and without a grey trouser suit in sight.

Sometimes Instagram does not build quickly. Sometimes my posts are not good. Sometimes people are tight and refuse to part with their cash despite enjoying a pretty and well-tagged Instagram picture twice a day. These people are dicks.

Back to waiting for good things: with the exception of new Stiefvater novels, I am not content to simply wait. I must be doing something to, at the very least, pass the time. Ideally I must be implementing a scheme to make the good thing happen so that it happens more quickly, more efficiently, and with less time to moan about waiting. It might still take five years, but if I hadn’t made an effort then it might have taken ten. It might not have been as good. Here is a list of good things that came with waiting:

  • I left school (I waited 13 fucking years)
  • The conclusion to Harry vs Voldemort (six years)
  • Danger Days plus Conventional Weapons (four years)

I did very little to hurry those along except exist and bide my time. Probably could have entertained myself more in retrospect. Here is a list of good things in my life that came because I made them happen:

  • I can write without a wrist brace (three years, physio, sheer force of will)
  • A large portion of my hair is pink (a few months, some savings)
  • Doors on my cupboards (a week, a screwdriver, lack of patience to wait for someone else with a screwdriver to do it, especially when that someone is a man)

Here is a list of good things I will also get if I a) wait and b) find a screwdriver:

  • A healthy return on my investment of Valentine’s designs
  • The ability to type on a regular keyboard with a regular mouse, without my fingers and wrists turning numb
  • Money to travel more and move out of my mother’s house and eat well without selling a kidney on the Internet, engaging in prostitution and/or getting that other job.

The question is, how long am I willing to wait. 10 years? Six months? Until my pink hair has grown out? It could take me longer to leave home than it has for Richard Gansey III to find the dead Welsh dude, and I don’t have a Camaro or Blue Sargent to soothe my frustration.*

So, if you are in a commenting mood, let me know: how long is it reasonable to wait for something you want? How long have you waited in the past for something? Are you still waiting? Let’s wait together.

*That is not a spoiler.

Indifferent Ignorance Awards 2015

Here we go again…

Record of the Year

My stereo has been home to two CDs more than any others this year: Chantal Claret’s Battles of a Heavy Heart, which if God existed would be available in all good music shops with a world tour. As it is you can buy it directly from Chantal’s site and follow her on social media to pretend she’s on a world tour.

The second CD actually came out last year, but I am always late to the music party, so I would like to highly recommend this Hozier chap. I think he may go on to big things. Remember when I lost my shit over the Take Me to Church video? Make a sequel.

I’ve also recently fallen back in love with Fall Out Boy (thank you to whoever made a Tumblr edit to The Kids Aren’t Alright and The Raven Cycle). FOB are a band I forget I love until I’m listening to them, then I can’t remember why I don’t listen more often. I got American Beauty/American Psycho a few weeks ago and my ears are so happy they want to set something on fire.

Video of the Year

I forgive you for Call Me Maybe, Carly Rae Jepsen. I’ve also come to really love Call Me Maybe.

Book of the Year

This is hard. There’s The Raven Cycle, which has stolen my heart (and will break my heart when it concludes in April), When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit… but because I didn’t do book reviews when I read them, and because I went to a talk with the authors who were lovely:

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

I wish this had existed five or ten years ago. Basic summary: there is a kid who is transgender. I can’t tell you any more than that because there are twists (don’t worry, she doesn’t ‘go back to normal’), but I finished it in an afternoon and it’s amazing.

Trouble by Non Pratt

A girl called Hannah gets in trouble. Some random guy offers to help her out. ‘In trouble’ means pregnant, by the way.

The ‘I Saw This Shit Live’ News Story

Once upon a time there was a Liberal Democrat named Paddy Ashdown. As it became apparent that his party lost a general election more severely than Sepp Blatter lost his morals, he refused to believe the exit poll and threatened to eat his hat if the poll turned out to be correct.

Then, like all good politicians, he did a U turn. The end.

The ‘My Twitter Timeline United Like It Never Has Before’ News Story: Equal Marriage

I’ve never seen so many people so happy as when Ireland held its referendum and when the US Supreme Court sorted their shit. I do have quite a selective timeline, apart from that one day I accidentally followed the Westboro Baptists, but it’s not usually entirely focussed on one thing. So I think everyone should be allowed to get married, all the time, because it makes everyone stupidly happy.

Equal Marriage Celebration.png
Even lawyers win when love wins

The Homophobic Dick Award: Kim Davis

So it turns out not everyone was stupidly happy about letting the queers get married. Some were stupidly stupid. I will devote no more of my time to her than this paragraph.

The Indifferent Ignorance Ignorance Fuck Award: Donald Trump and Daesh

I am upset that this year, like most others, one winner of this particular category is American. Come on, rest of the world, raise your game. Although reluctant to pay either of them any more attention, I felt that both Trump and Daesh deserve the award for similar reasons: they are both ignorant of human empathy, dangerous when armed and an embarrassment to their respective cultural and racial groups. I actually chose Trump before Muslim Visa Gate, but that clinched it. America, if you’re reading, kindly do not allow this gentleman to run your country. Sincerely, everyone. I was going to ignore Daesh as one does an attention-seeking child and Katie Hopkins, but if they are reading this then they’ve sat through Tom Hanks lipsyncing, a video of two men kissing and Paddy Ashdown, so they’ve got a good idea of what hell will look like when they get there.


 

All right, that’s it for 2015. I think next year I will keep track of people who are doing their bit to eradicate ignorance of the likes of Trump and co. Doctors, artists, civil rights activists, etc. Balance the decent person:motherfucker ratio. My instinct tells me we’ll need them when the US election heats up if not before.

Happy new year to everyone!

Review: ‘Persuasion’, Jane Austen

If you are aware of Jane Austen’s work, you may have noticed a trend of intelligent women, social comedy and weddings. I will not be spoiling this particular novel by saying that Persuasion is no exception.

Turns out I have a reading list, and, weirdly, quite a bit of what I’ve read so far is on it. I thought Persuasion was too, but it turns out that it was actually Sense and Sensibility. I’ll do that one too.

Persuasion starts with the lovely if socially-ambitious Elliot family, whose daughter Anne is the main character. Eight years before the novel starts, Anne was persuaded by well-meaning relatives to abandon her engagement with a lowly (read: neither rich nor titled) gentleman named Frederick Wentworth.

When we meet her, Anne is 27 and basically preparing for life as a spinster. Because who would marry a 27-year old god look at those wrinkles. Within a chapter or two, Anne’s family have been forced to move to Bath and rent out the family home to an Admiral, because they have approached their finances with the air of ‘spend for the person you want to be, not the person you are’. Some things never change, huh.

But wait. Who should be acquainted with the Admiral and his family but Frederick, whom Anne has never really stopped loving despite trampling on his socially-inferior heart… What’s more, has Frederick been bumming around these past eight years claiming benefits? No, he joined the navy and rose to the rank of Captain.

I think that is a big deal.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Anne spends the next few hundred pages despairing of her hypochondriac sister, her accident-prone in-laws and her mangy cousin, and tries not to freak out about how hot Frederick still is. Which is hot. Plus he knows how to drive boats across the Atlantic wearing a funny hat. (That’s not a direct quote.)

Do they get married? Does the mangy cousin stop being mangy? Will I have to read the novel again, as I did Pride and Prejudice, to fully absorb Austen’s sharp humour? Should you read this novel if you’re a fan of that Colin Firth Mr Darcy scene which isn’t even in that novel?

Oh, the literary questions.


 

My previous reviews are here; you can support my work on Patreon every time I review here.