A Bullet-Point Decade

Inspired by Maggie Steifvater, I have compiled an out-of-order list of things that have happened to me this decade. I’m going out later so I’ll probably get emotionally introspective initially while I’m washing my hair and then while I’m varying degrees of tipsy; I think a list is good for stating unequivocally that things happened, regardless of how we felt about them at the time.

  • Wrote one novel, a dozen or more short stories and a number of fan fictions that we will be leaving in this decade
  • Visited 6 or 9 countries (thereabouts? Does France count if you’re driving through it)
  • Discovered that Pilates is actually a great idea
  • Passed all my GCSEs and about 80% of my A Levels
  • Scrambled up a set of steps at an ancient Cambodian temple using both my arms like a spider and promptly almost fell to my death because a tourist laughed at me and I lost concentration
  • Saw My Chemical Romance play twice; mourned My Chemical Romance; rejoiced at the return of My Chemical Romance
  • Wrote 685 posts on this site
  • Broke at least one toe
  • Met one of my best friends and reconnected with multiple old ones to the extent that this decade feels more friend-y than the previous
  • Met Judith Kerr, an author who illustrated my formative years; she was lovely
  • Meditated for 192 hours, apparently
  • Met Maggie Stiefvater, an author who is illustrating my current years; she was lovely
  • Actually met a tonne of authors (Stephen Chbosky, Adam Silvera, Becky Albertalli), all actual gems
  • Dyed my hair multiple rainbow colours and forgot to take photos almost every time
  • Learnt to drive
  • Burnt the skin off part of my right arm with Tiger Balm
  • Said goodbye to two of my aforementioned best friends and two grandparents
  • Read some Jane Austen
  • Became self employed
  • Learnt to make curry
  • Did more physio sessions than I can count
  • Got 3 ear piercings
  • Tried to read The Iliad twice, twice put it down for another day because god Homer have you heard of a line break
  • Figured out how the London Underground maps work
  • Learnt what tarot cards are
  • Diagnosed with IBS; found a fix for IBS that I’m tentatively excited about
  • Learnt to hula hoop

I started this decade at 14 and am ending it at 24, which seems like more years than actually fit into a decade. The next one will be incomparable in a lot of ways, although I fully plan to increase the novel count and would quite like to hula hoop more.

Let me know your bullet points – we should all have at least 10 when you think about it – and look after yourselves in the next decade. Happy new year!

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: ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’, Judith Kerr

Polite notice/potential spoiler alert: this one might make you sniffle. And, um, it’s about a Jewish family in the 1930s. But not quite like how you’d think.

In 2013 I was lucky enough to go to the Hay Festival and attend an interview – which was more of a conversation – between two of the most prominent writers my childhood, Judith Kerr and Michael Morpurgo. I learnt that Michael Morpurgo failed his 11+, that Prince Philip read Mog and that Judith Kerr is not, as I’d assumed, born-and-bred English. She was born in Berlin, where her father, Alfred Kerr, was a big deal in literary circles. He saw the writing on the wall and spoke out against Hitler before a lot of people did… He was also Jewish, so his name was on the top of a list the Nazi party published stating who they would shoot should they come to power. He moved his family to Switzerland in 1933, just before the Nazis were elected.

I wouldn’t normally add so much background to a fiction novel – and you certainly don’t need to know it to read When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit because the novel is, technically, a children’s book. It’s funny, it’s easy to read and its main character, Anna, is a little bit like every seven-year-old who lives with her brother and their parents. The whole story takes place before 1939 – war isn’t really mentioned – and the plot concentrates on Anna’s experience leaving Berlin for Switzerland. Then her experience leaving Switzerland for Paris, then Paris for London. First and foremost it’s a children’s book, about children and aimed at them. But it’s also an autobiography; Judith Kerr writes in the notes that she wrote it to help her own children learn about her childhood.

Course, reading When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit as an adult, in the same week Syrian children were drowning in the Mediterranean, it was surreal to realise that Anna and her family were some of the first refugees of the Second World War. It also made me want to cry my eyes out, because Anna is almost completely unaware of what’s going on outside of her little world; anti-Semitism, the probability of war and the realities of seeking refuge in a foreign country aren’t such bold themes as they would be in an ‘adult’ novel. That’s what makes it so poignant (and a little bit ironic). Finishing the book made me want to find anyone who opposes helping the current refugee crisis and throw them into a dingy off the coast of Greece. This novel is historical, but it also couldn’t be more current.

WHSPR

I got to meet Judith Kerr at Hay, and at the time I didn’t realise how lucky I was to meet her and to see her interviewed. Mog the Forgetful Cat and The Tiger Who Came to Tea are classic children’s stories, but it’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit that you should make your children read as soon as they’re old enough to get through a prose novel. Then you should borrow it off them. (If you buy it, try to get hold of the Essential Modern Classics edition; there are notes from Morpurgo and Kerr plus a bit of historical background.)

I’m off to read the next book in the series. There are two more, obviously… there’s the war to get to yet. I’m just glad I know Anna has a happy ending.

You can support my work every time I review a book using Patreon.

Indifferent Ignorance Awards 2013

They aren’t in June 2014!

Book of the Year

This one was tough… A Thousand Splendid Suns, We Need to Talk About Kevin, my John’s Gospel commentary by AM Hunter…

No really, you should compare Hunter to some of the others. Little tip, scholars: when it comes to sentences, less is almost always more. That aside, I think Uncle Rick gets the prize. House of Hades is brilliant and perfect and yes aimed at twelve-year-olds but let’s face it, people, children’s books are usually better than adult ones. Harry Potter, Mog the Forgetful Cat, etc. Oh Uncle Rick, teach me your secrets.

Album of the Year

How I Learned to Stop Giving a Shit and Love Mindless Self Indulgence, by Mindless Self Indulgence. I paid for the album, I listen to the album. It is a piece of genius. That is all.

New Favourite Website of the Year

Hmm. I’ve discovered Vice, a news magazine (although someone online pointed out that its narrative voice is disturbingly similar to that of the Daily Mail, which I must say has put me off a bit), Effing Dykes, a queer blog (and so genuinely not safe for work that I’ve not quite had the courage to devote an entire post to it yet) and Tumblr. Okay so I already knew Tumblr, but I joined because it made it easy to follow nice art. That and a deep desire to infiltrate the world’s bitchiest blogging network from within.

New Favourite Artist of the Year

Viria. Her art is beautiful. Ahhh. Her work is set as my phone and iPad background. The whole Tumblr thing was also induced by Burdge, Andy and Minuiko.

Old Favourite Artist of the Year

Ruby. She made this into an illustrated story for my birthday. The individual pictures are amongst others here (I’m hoarding the finished product but don’t worry we’ve decided if all else fails we’ll write children’s books so you’ll be able to get both our work in one book. Cool, huh?).

Most Family Member-Like Famous Person on Twitter

I actually can’t decide between Uncle Rick the Troll Queen or Uncle Gerard the MCRmy’s Therapist. Genuinely, the jury’s out. Let me know your thoughts (the best Twitter moment was when someone Tweeted Gerard the Russian Mark of Athena cover, on which Percy bears a striking resemblance to G. Aha).

Most Depressing Internet-Based Phenomena

The title’s probably a misnomer because it doesn’t involve idiots talking shit behind the safety of a computer screen (that comes later!). Anyway: those of you into the whole Percy Jackson thing might remember this:

'Putting the Fun Back In Funeral'

I know, it’s incredibly clever. I do others like it. It was inspired by one of Viria’s pieces – the one set as my phone background; I had the idea going up the stairs which was interesting. I originally put text on her drawing. Quite a while after I published the poster, I posted the bootlegged one on Tumblr:

Bootlegging Viria
Drawing by Viria

I wonder which has had the better reception.

Hm.

Indeed.

It’s a good thing I chose an artist I really love or I might have become bitter.

Live Show of the Year

I saw Jesus Christ Superstar, MSI, a ‘revue’ at school in which my friend Sarah was splendid as a 1920s hockey player, my year’s pantomime-which-I-sort-of-helped-write, an actual pantomime, an interview between two of the best children’s authors around today and a poetry reading by the bloke off Homeland and Narcissa Malfoy.. But I think my favourite live band (discounting MCR because it’s MCR) is an ever-changing group of part-time musicians who play in a restaurant I like in Greece. I understand 10% of the lyrics, make eye contact 0.001% of the times I walk past and have been known to sing along to songs that are the Mediterranean’s version of Mindless. But it’s nice, and even if I found a YouTube clip (creepy as I’m there a lot) it wouldn’t quite convey the atmosphere, if you know what I mean.

Insult of the Year

“You’re a doody head.” Enough said.

Happy Moment of the Year

When I remember it’s not June and Donnie’s still here. I like Don and Fred better than I like most things, no offense, and they are my friends. It’s like having human friends but the dynamics are different – humans tend to be more forward about nicking your food. Get a pet, seriously. Unless you are incapable of looking after one due to a) lack of money, space or permission (volunteer somewhere instead), b) lack of time or motivation or c) aversion to pets. You know who you are. Yes, I’m including those of you who get pets because you think it’ll be fun or make you look good. At times, e.g. in a field in December, it will do neither. But then they look up at you, covered in slime, and you think “I love you little dog. Now let’s go home and hope we never have to leave the house again.”

Indifferent Ignorance Commenter of the Year

Jacki, whose wise words you will find if you scroll down a few posts. Getting people to comment on work is like pulling teeth (remind me that I have a piece of work about that to show you), yet is the best way of differentiating readers from spam-bots and ‘glancers’ – people who have a click and a scroll then go somewhere else. But it’s like being the first person to take food from a buffet: no one wants to be that person, though once someone has taken the leap they’re comfortable joining the queue. Weird. Anyway, Jacki comments a lot and for that I am grateful. Please accept this garbled post as a token of my appreciation. Ta.

Indifferent Ignorance Homophobic Dick Award

Maria suggested this category and I love it. Who to choose? Tony Abbot the Australian Prime Minister, who revoked equal marriage rights after people had got married? The guy whose work I heartily abused when Tom Daley came out? The parents of a child I saw a few years ago who had dressed their eight-year-old in a t-shirt with an arrow saying “I think he’s gay!”? People who stopped reading – or stopped their children reading – Heroes of Olympus when they found out about Nico?

Can’t choose, man.

Indifferent Ignorance Ignorant Fuck Award

Matt Forney of I-only-screw-insecure-women-wait-that’s-all-of-them fame infamy arseholery.

Arseholery. Is that a thing? It should be.

His site used to have a thing where sites that had discussed the post were lined underneath and the one I did was there. I guess too many people were discussing the arseholery though because the layout’s changed…

Okay I think that’s everything I said I’d put in. If I’ve forgotten something or someone please let me know.

That’s called asking for a comment, ladies and gents.

I hope 2013 was as happy and safe as everyone wished it to be; if it wasn’t then I wish you happiness and safety for 2014. Even you with the pet you shouldn’t have bought, reading Forney and nodding in agreement.

Maybe not but I’ve been on a lot of cold medicine and perhaps the Christmas spirit of forgiveness is shining through.

Ha ha.

Happy 2014 snowflakes!

The Hay Festival!

How has your half term been? That’s nice.

Right, pleasantries over, let’s talk about mine. We’ll leave out Monday and today, because I mostly stayed at home and with Fred and Donnie, and I do that a lot.

Let’s chat about the Hay Festival. I was only at the festival and in the town, Hay-on-Wye, for one full day and two part-days (Tuesday afternoon to yesterday afternoon) but I’ve already decided that I a) want to go for the whole ten days as soon as school finishes and b) it’s seriously worth considering calling myself a ‘consulting writer’ or something equally as distinctive/pretentious so I’ll get asked to go there and talk about books in a marquee. It was great.

I mean, we were in a cloud…

Hay-on-Wye

… and a bloke who turned out to be Johnny Vegas woke us up when he fell out of a nearby pub Tuesday night…

… and I had to listen to poetry

But it was read by the bloke in Homeland and Narcissa Malfoy, and they are both excellent actors, so my faith in the art form has been restored quite a bit.

Via TheTelegraph.co.uk

You hear that, AQA? My faith in poetry. Restored. After an hour of sitting still in a dimly lit tent in Wales, in a cloud. Listening to it read. No essays, no highlighters, no “comment on the view that…” Just poetry. Keats, Shelley and Byron, for that matter. My God, it’s not hard. It might be expensive, getting Damien Lewis and Helen McCrory to read the spec to every English class from GCSE upwards, but it’ll be worth it.

I also watched – and part of me still can’t quite believe it – Michael Morpurgo interview Judith Kerr. As in, he of War Horse fame and she of Mog the Forgetful Cat, who formed a large part of my formative years and is probably to blame for my deep love of all cute animals.

From VintageChildrensBooksMyKidLoves.com

I learnt a lot of inspiring things, including the fact that Michael Morpurgo failed his eleven plus and Judith Kerr failed her illustration diploma (does this mean I one-upped Michael at the age of eleven?)… Judith was also a German refugee whose family fled to Switzerland shortly before Hitler was elected because her dad was both an anti-Hitler writer and Jewish. Oh, and she turns ninety around about now. She read Mog the Forgetful Cat, which felt a bit like I was experiencing my life from an outsider’s perspective, and a bit from Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, which might go on my holiday reading list. She and Michael also read The Tiger Who Came to Tea between them, which was fun, especially when she had to tell him “that was my bit.” I met her at a signing afterwards and she was lovely. Writers are people too! Oh, and apparently Prince Phillip reads.

I also learnt, from a retired Canadian economist with whom we had breakfast, that the UK’s distribution of wealth is currently at the worst its been since the Victorian era (I foresee a Sherlock episode), and that Rowan Williams’ greatest disappointment in terms of his tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury is that woman bishops didn’t get legalised (he knows the people who run the B&B we stayed at, and comes to the festival a lot).

I could have stayed there for the entire ten days, clouds and all, and spent another ten days exploring the town’s bookshops. There were old books and new books and books too heavy to hold and signs asking people to please respect Hay’s source of income by not using a Kindle.

Heaven.