‘Romeo, Romeo, where are you Romeo?’

I read the other day that the average deposit for a home in the UK is currently £80,000 and as my reactions were limited to either throwing myself into work or jumping off the QEII bridge, I’ve been writing a lot. I don’t want to show it to any of you yet (for a staunch non-spiritualist I am ridiculously superstitious about sharing work before it’s done) but I’m quite quietly pleased with myself for having picked up a pen.

It got me thinking about that other great writer great pieces of literature, and I wondered if any of you have been watching Upstart Crow? It’s on BBC2 on Monday nights should probably be required viewing for every student studying Shakespeare. It was written by the same guy who co-wrote Blackadder, so maybe we should just appoint him head of schools and be done with it.

Imagine the exam papers.

 

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Behind the Scenes, Friday 13th Edition

So it was on this very day, sort of, that I released my Ghost Stories zines last year. If you haven’t read them – and you should – they’re full of short stories, advice columns, quirky advertisements and art all pertaining to death, the afterlife and magic. And I hadn’t even heard of Maggie Stiefvater then. Anyway, I don’t have a Volume IV to share with you all, but I have made even more ridiculous death/the afterlife/magic work since, so I thought I would take today to share a bit about how and why I ended up with so many macabre-ish, funny-ish arty-ish things in my portfolio.

Ghost Stories

A couple of years ago I wrote a (very) little story for The Story Shack about something that in retrospect sounds suspiciously like the church watch on St Mark’s Eve. It was sitting by itselfie on the internet and last January I noticed that 2015 contained three Friday 13ths. I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth and it’s useful to have solid deadlines, so I thought I could do a project to practise my Photoshop, actually write and maybe have a laugh. My friend Ruby, who proofread, had less of a laugh. By 13th November I had three relatively well-formed zines, a more thorough understanding of the YouTube playlist format and a healthy respect for the black and white filters on Photoshop. I kind of love Ghost Stories – I mean, I also hate it because I read it back and think ‘ew’ – but it’s the first thing I made after I finished school for the hell (ha) of it, and it reminded me why the term ‘black humour’ warms my soul. Now go warm your soul.

Ghost Stories Volume I by Francesca Burke

 

Hell’s Belles

You know that feeling when you’ve recently quit a job, rediscovered supernatural YA novels and decided to dye your hair pink and commit to being a full time eccentric? Last autumn I tried to supplement my income with waitressing, which to cut a long story short was not the career for me. When I rejiggled my freelancing so I could afford-ish to go back to marketing full time, I realised how much I valued being my own boss, muttering swearwords, blasting Fall Out Boy and making ridiculous things because I could. There’s a stall in Southend high street selling home accessories that say things like ‘eat glitter for breakfast and shine all day’, ‘life’s a journey’, etc.; I always wanted to paint them black and ad lib… so I did.

I even made stickers. Hell’s Belles – which was also influenced heavily by the pastel goth tag, 9 years of listening to My Chemical Romance and the exact colour I wanted my hair – is one of my favourite lines on my Etsy. It’s weird, either offensive or funny depending on your sense of humour and made of everything I’ve been interested in over the last couple of years: magic, cynicism, cursing, cynical cursing and inspirational Instagram posts.

I have a suspicion I’ll make more of one or more of the above. Look out around Halloween.

Book Hangovers & Nine Hamlets

Good news: I’ve worked out how to live with a fucked keyboard. Bad news: I haven’t gotten off my arse to buy a new one. I did get off my arse when I got a text last weekend that my copy of The Raven King was in Waterstones – literally as I walked through the door after a day of working opposite my local Waterstones, half an hour before it closed. I haven’t physically run that much since year nine cross country, holy shit. Cue an evening of ignoring the universe and wondering who I can sell my soul to in order to write that well.

In short, I’m book hungover. I also missed this:

But I think Shakespeare would have approved of my forsaking him for a story, so thank u Internet for letting me see this later.

Could I buy all the Raven Cycle merchandise I can find and call it a business expense? Insofar as I have remembered how much I love books and how much I want to make books all the time. Maybe I could enter it under Misc: inspiration. If David Cameron can stash his cash in South America, surely I can buy a couple several t-shirts, some stickers and a handful of posters with my HMRC-approved cash?

Or maybe I will just go and reread the series and plot ways to absorb Stiefvater’s evil genius. The temptation to make a sacrifice joke here is potent.

 

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?

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.